“You’re taking all of these changes very well.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to him. Thank him? Brush it off? Deny it vehemently? What good would any of that really do? None. What I wanted was to understand him a little. While it appeared I was Atalanta’s charge, I still wished to know exactly who it was that I could be dealing with, and the fist step to understanding that was to listen to him talk. If I could get him to talk, he seemed the sort to not have much a desire to share anything about himself, much less anything that I could consider of value. I suppose, at least he wasn’t one of those people who ran at the mouth about every little thing and yet at the end of the day you don’t know anything else about tham other than they like to talk. A lot. So, I stayed quiet long enough that he continued.
Once again, what was I to say to THAT? Apparently, he didn’t want me to respond.
Twirling a red-gold feather in between his thumb and forefinger, he asked so softly I almost couldn’t hear, “What were you doing here?”
I didn’t know what he was doing here. I didn’t know why the gryphon healed me. Why they’d picked up my sorry hide to start with. Atticus wanted an answer this time, not a mute. Licking my lips and noting their chapped state, I took a breath, then said, “I can’t say.”
It was mostly true. Jericho had stipulated for me to not breathe a word about where or when I came from, how I’d gotten here, and what my mission was. Naturally, I’d assumed he intended me to keep it secret only from villagers and the like, the sort of people who would burn me as a witch…presuming that they did those sort of things here and now. The man I took the amulet from had his house plainly decked out as a wizard’s hut, like it was something from a child’s fairytale or horror story depending on what you looked like. But I hadn’t seen any magic in it. Not like here, where every painting, every knicknack, had its own personality. Not like here, hidden away and secured where no man could find it; where no man should be able to find it. Why had I been shown it? Why had I come? What had made me think for an instant that any of this would be a good idea? Was it his magic that brought me here? I doubted it.
Atticus hid his magic. He was a bonafide wizard, and he might not appreciate being given such a weak and generic answer. Frowning just a little, he stared at the phoenix feather, considering. With a slackened face, he dropped the feather into an ink well that had not seen a drop of ink in years, if not decades…or even centuries for that matter. Some workshops were passed down master to apprentice, becoming more grand and extravagant over the generations; or more and more downtrodden as poor or prideful choices were made by their new occupants. This workshop had lots of love and attention and many relicks lurking in the corners or just out front on the desk in plain view. Magical items liked to pick their own spots, and only a man with talent could put them to any sort of organization. Good shopkeepers were hard to find, and so oftentimes shopping for an item took a good deal longer than it should. The things here seemed happy with their existence and happy with their master. Always a positive sign, maybe that was why I was fighting an urge to just tell him. Or maybe that urge came from a spell on the place. Workshops were notorious for preexisting spells.
He appeared to have accepted my answer, though he was not precisely pleased by it.
“Why not?” his voice was chilled and skeptical. Perhaps he hadn’t accepted my answer after all.
I took a minute to think, well, sort of think. The herbs and smoke made it hard, and I wondered briefly if that was an intention or a side-effect, and if it effected him as well. I didn’t want to just pass out my trust, though it was almost impossible to not do around Atalanta. I supposed that was why he liked her.
At the same time, I could not afford to not embrace an ally. I decided on reserved faith.
“I’m in a corner.”
That caught his interest. Putting his fingertips together in a steeple formation, he leaned back and said, “I’m listening.”
I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to talk about magic, or my uncle, or Thomasina and Jericho, or that stupid amulet or even about my own abilities everyone else wished to exploit. He’d want to use me, too, once he found out. It didn’t matter that I was weak. It was what I did that was important. And being “weak” made me subtle, and that subtlety was exactly what was so desirable in my given trade. My trade, my trade. Since when had I thought to start taking possession of it again? It’d disowned it. I had abandoned it. I had left it in the ditch, the same way I had cast off magic and everything to do with it. And yet, in spite of myself, I found myself drawn to it once again the way moths are drawn to lights, undiscriminating between the harmless kind and the kind that shoots bolts of electricity to any moth drawn too closely to it. A lure. A trap. I needed to keep reminding myself of this. I wanted to trust someone—anyone–the way I had trusted my uncle. Except I wanted it to end differently this time. I was a moth. I was a stupid moth who had no thoughts for self preservation. Or, was I a moth who now knew which lights were dangerous? I knotted my fingers together, trying to push aside my thoughts.
Instead of telling him any of my thoughts, I said, “I know.”
“I want to help you.”
“Why?” it wasn’t supposed to come out so fast, wasn’t supposed to sound insulted…or did it sound desperate?
His hands fell, his mask of indifference melted, and he rubbed his hand over his brow. “I don’t know.”
Dead silence echoed through the workshop, winding its way past vials, filling the tiny spaces between the hairs on a fur coat hanging in the wardrobe, expanding the air between us and pressing against my skin as in a comforting touch.
I wanted to shift uncomfortably, but I didn’t want to break the quiet. Didn’t want to break this spell that had wound its way between us. Nature’s magic. The kind that just happens. The kind you feel but don’t see, understand, but can’t explain, the kind you want to recreate time and again but no matter how you arrange things, you can never force it to arrive. It just happens, and one needs to embrace the magic of the moment.
The magic was here. It was now. We were both ingredients in it, and either we could take part in the pot, or the spell would be lost. Perhaps we could re-weave portions of it again later, but it would be different. Radically different. Was that what I wanted?
I didn’t know. There was too much I didn’t know.
There was too much he didn’t know, too.
The thought just came to me, slamming me as a well-pitched brick to the head would. I had no reason to think it was correct, but I had no reason to think it was wrong. I knew, now that I accepted it. He was just as lost as I was, perhaps even more so. What of Atalanta? Was she lost? Or was she a guide? Who was this Atticus? How did he meet Atalanta? Who put them as partners? What were they supposed to accomplish here? When and where was here? Why wasn’t I flipping out about gryphons and raiders and amulets and forced theivery and near-death experiences?
I was putting too much thought into this. The spell of the moment was slipping away, and the knowledge brought me grief, not relief.
“I can help you, too,” I said before I could think to take it back, or for that matter, even consider what it was I was saying.
“How?” He hadn’t moved since admitting he did not know what provoked him to want to help me. The word was reserved and cautious.
The problem was, I had no idea what sort of help I could provide. “I’m not sure…I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have interrupted you.”
As I brushed past him, he did not call me back to him again. Instead, he sat still, contemplating or perhaps ridiculing himself.
My feet touched the steps, and something in the air made me turn to look over my shoulder.
Brilliant green eyes were lifted, and they met mine. Recognition shot through me.
I know those eyes.
But I didn’t know from where. And in magic, that was a very dangerous thing indeed.
Bolting down the steps, I took them at a bit of a run. Once outside, I ran down the path. It seemed longer than when I had arrived. At times, I swore I was going in circles and the path did not want me to leave. But I was determined, and when the sky grew soft colors in the east, the path lead me to the cottage. The door permitted me entrance without waking Atalanta, and I slithered under the quilt, huddling my knees up to my chest to spread warmth back into them. Through my skin was cool, I did not shiver. Not until my mind wandered and I found myself lingering once again on those bright emerald eyes.
Whew! Adventure today, almost thought I wouldn’t get this part done. Couldn’t work on it until nightfall, so I really had some doubts. Feeling more confident, though!!! Also getting a better feeling for Gayle. She’s so full of questions, poor dear! But I have a feeling that perhaps the others aren’t much better…