I woke up to the gryphon arguing with Atticus, provided you could call a one-sided debate as arguing.
“Yes, I am the best healer, but there are some times when I need hands and not talons. Now is one of those times…don’t give me that look. I need you to—”
“—man up and help me take my pants off,” I finished with a growl, irately realizing that a slash on my thigh had caused my leg to swell. With one arm very stiff and sore, I had limited mobility.
Atalanta looked at me and blinked, then said, “Precisely.”
Atticus wore a neutral mask that showed a hint of irritation. Three heartbeats later, he still showed no sign of planning to help.
“Fine, then,” I snapped, my voice biting and harsh, edged with a dry throat, “go boil water….never been able to count on a man anyway… Lady, bite onto the cuff.”
Atalanta appeared accustomed to making do, and quickly complied by clamping her beak onto my cuff. First we took off the leg that had the least swelling, then I struggled to work the tight fabric over my enlarged thigh. I’d managed to get a slash that went around most of my leg, and no sooner had I single-handedly tugged the fabric over one side of the wound than the fabric dug into another section.
I yelped as denim bit into the white folds of the cut, took a shaky breath, and closed my eyes.
Cold metal raced over my skin and I felt fabric burst open, releasing my leg from its grip. Jerking, I almost toppled over backwards, but a strong arm held me upright. A knife the length of Atticus’ hand and glinting from hours on a whet stone skimmed my pants, releasing more of my leg. I felt dizzy again, but I did my best to keep from swaying, instead closing my eyes and taking measured breaths. I did not see the magic again, but I felt it pouring off him. I smelled blood. It must be coming from me.
More tearing of fabric, then the warmth of his arm behind my back was gone and a scratchy blanket was tossed into my lap. Four strides and a door shut.
I opened my eyes to find Atalanta regarding the door with slightly raised neck feathers.
“It would appear,” she said, “you made an impression.”
I wondered what exactly that meant, but soon the gryphon set about dressing the wounds previously covered. Numb fingers nevertheless managed to trim dead skin, apply salves, wash, and tie knots in bandages.
She gave me a drink, though I hadn’t seen her prepare it and it was steaming, so I wondered if Atticus had made it instead. I drank it slowly, setting it down in a nest I made in my jacket while quietly searching for the amulet. It was still there, untouched, and my hosts were unsuspecting of my thievery. Ashamed, I did not want them to know. Atalanta fussed over me as a mother would, and I felt concerned over causing her disappointment. Additionally, that amulet was my key home…if I got the chance.
Whatever was in the drink, it made me sleep.
I woke to darkness sometime in the dead of night when the air was still and quiet and silvery starlight filtered through lacy curtains above where Atalanta slept on a cushion. Wide awake and aching, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep again; I was on a straw mat covered in a quilt, most likely Atticus’s bed. Shivering, I stood and dressed in a pair of well-worn wool pants; even with the drawstring, they almost were too large for my slender frame. Suddenly, I wasn’t cold anymore. Maybe it was from all the bolts of heat from when I brushed my wounds. I slipped into my boots, grateful that they had been left to dry in front of a fire now rendered down to coals that glowed when a breath of wind wound its way down the chimney.
I tiptoed past Atalanta, opening and shutting the door without causing her to do more that shift her wings and twitch her lion tail. Outside, it was warm, the way the air softens after a snow storm. Puddles sat in low spots, only a few patches of snow remaining from the night before. I had no idea what it was that drew me outside, exactly, just a feeling, like I was following a pretty path just to see where it went. Glancing behind me in apprehension, I was reassured the cottage was still there.
The night spoke to me with the remaining fall leaves quaking in a breeze before tumbling to my feet, in the hoot of an owl, the hunting yell of a successful fox. Moonlight shone on my skin, the clouds forming to lay out a path of glistening dew. I walked down a game trail. Down then up a ravine, around a hillside. Goosebumps pricked my arms and I shivered, but in an excited way.
Magic ahead. Real magic. Magic like my uncle had done. Magic I’d sworn off once I saw what he was doing with my tiny contributions.
It kept calling me, time and again. I kept shutting it out. I laid down my paintbrushes once I found the subjects animating on the page. I burned my pencils when the devil my art teacher mandated us to draw started to tear his way through the page. In order to not fail the class, I’d devoted myself to drawing borders and serene scenes. Then I saw the symbols I’d hidden in my work, and I burned my portfolio. The smoke was purple and ocher. My art teacher cried when she heard what I’d done.
College. I became a math major, but I confused the numbers and the formulas; later, I found out I was following the algebra of magic. I changed majors, becoming a history major instead. The only classes I could get into were between 700-1500; I didn’t go most of the time, especially not when we had two weeks about the sociocultural reasonings behind the witch-burning craze. The classes about the evolution of headstone decoration kept me up at night. When I went to sleep, I woke up standing over the oldest grave in the cemetery next to my dorm.
Something happened there. I can’t remember what.
My feet paused when I came around the hill, when I caught sight of an abandoned flour mill powered by a windmill such like the one that Don Quixote had his infamous battle with. Half of the tower was crumbled, or at least it looked crumbled.
Soft blue light came from a window as a wizard inside worked his magic; I recognized the pattern as a warm-up spell such as my uncle had done. Unlike my uncle, the magic was gentle, not piercing, and blue like light through water, not bright red-orange like a cackling fire.
Despite my mental cries of admonishment, I was drawn to it. It lit a decade of secret desire in my heart, and I was not strong enough to resist the lure. Magic. I loved it, just that simple. I loved learning it, I loved doing it. I wasn’t powerful, not even remotely in the same league as Atticus was, and while practice would make me stronger, I could never do what Atticus was doing in his workshop. I doubted I would even come close to what Atalanta did with her healing, even as slow and limited as it was. Her magic worked very similarly to modern medications.
My hand touched the stone on the outside of the tower as I wandered over to the entrance; the rocks were as though they’d been warmed in the sunshine. While some of the dismal state of the mill was illusion, there really was a collapsed wall, but Atticus must have put spells on it to keep out the draft and keep in the light of his magic. Downstairs appeared to be used as a root cellar, I noted as I mounted the stairs, taking them two at a time to avoid the missing or severely cracked ones. Only twice did I gasp when I tweaked a wound the wrong way, but the muttering drifting down to me never stopped. I advanced the rest of the way as stealthily as I could manage so as to not bother him.
I peered around the corner at the top of the stairs and breathed in old books, herbs, and smoke. A bit to my surprise, there weren’t many books—just four on his work table, one of them propped open by a small creature greatly resembling a dragon with four rounded rectanglish wings…a dragonfly. The real dragonfly, not the insect with its namesake. The creature was head to base of tail the length of a man’s hand, and its tail was almost twice that, thin, and whip-like. There must be a nest of them around, most likely in some low-lying swamp or shallow runoff lake.
Knowing better than to disturb a wizard during spellmaking, I watched as he added herbs to a silver chalice, grabbing the goblet with tongs and swirling it through the flames a few times while chanting. The silver cup bubbled, blue light flickered from its depths, and then it burped a purple gas. Atticus put the chalice back on his workbench, and the light dimmed, then ended as he uttered a word.
Taking off thick leather gloves charred by getting too close to the flames on occasion, he turned to face me and raised his eyebrows.
I felt I should say something, or at least that he should. I couldn’t think of a single thing.
A sour expression crossed his face—a very slight expression, actually, just a twitchy downturn of the corners of his mouth, and a line over his head. I realized I was staring, and I had no purpose in bothering the man. Moreover, I should be in bed, resting so I didn’t spoil Atalanta’s careful healing job. Perhaps I should even be hoovering over my key home. Would either of them notice if I actually started to wear the amulet? For safekeeping? Shifting uncomfortably, I cleared my raspy voice and muttered, “I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’ll leave you in peace.”
“Wait,” he said, his voice accented like a newscaster off of BBC.
I paused, and he hung up a heavy coat in the tiny wardrobe to clean off a chair for me, then motioned that I should sit. He stoked the fireplace and dropped a kettle on a peg above the flames. Hesitating just another second, I took a seat.
——See my forewarning in Day 1 pertaining to the utter lack of editing. Also, sorry if it ends in an odd place. It’s literally day-by-day, not broken up into chapters.——