Anoria

Book One of the Family of Wizards series

Anoria is an orphan with few prospects in life. But though she wasn’t born with a talent for Natural Magic she is a bright girl who likes to read and loves to solve puzzles—and she discovers there are other kinds of magic in the world.

It will take some luck and a lot of work, and probably a lot of risks. And it turns out that the most difficult thing isn’t using learning to use magic, it’s learning what -you actually want to be.

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Anoria is an orphan from the Gent Foundling Home, with few prospects and little hope for a better life. But Anoria’s future may well change. For though she wasn’t born with a talent for Natural Magic she is a bright girl who likes to read and loves to solve puzzles—and she discovers there are other kinds of magic in the world.

It will take some luck and a lot of work. But with the help of her new friend Joanna Cooper, Anoria might have a chance to learn magic, because Joanna’s aunt Cordial is a powerful wizard.

Powerful wizards are prickly and easy to offend, however. And even if Anoria meets that challenge, she’ll have to decide whether she should she go adventuring. Everyone knows that to be a true wizard you have to do that, and take all the risks involved.

For it turns out that the most difficult thing isn’t using learning to use magic, it’s learning what -you actually want to be.

Location: Boden House, Brookshire
Date:  10 Barra, 134 AF

As she ate her oatmeal, it seemed to Anoria that the morning had been surprisingly easy. Mistress Boden had stressed, again and again, that Ann must make a good appearance at school, so for once, Ann had stood still for hair brushing and sash tying. Anoria had had to rush her own preparations, though. She still had to make sure that Mark was dressed and ready for the day, even though he wouldn’t be attending school for another year.

“Anoria.” Mistress Boden sniffed. “I did tell you that you must control your hair, didn’t I? I’ll not have a member of my household looking like a ragamuffin. Go upstairs and braid it or something. Right now.”

“Yes, Mistress,” Anoria responded. There was no advantage in pointing out that she had been unable to braid her hair because Mark had decided to hide under his bed. Anoria left her half-eaten breakfast and went to the room she shared with Merry, the girl of all work. She braided her hair so tightly that she felt her eyes were going to pop out of her head, even though she knew that the dratted mess would escape from the braids before noon. It was just that kind of hair, mousey-brown and flyaway. Mistress Boden called that it was time to catch the wagon, and Anoria had to run back down the stairs. Merry handed her a basket that contained lunch and whispered, “I put a slice of buttered bread and ham in there, since you didn’t get to finish breakfast.”

Anoria smiled thankfully and ran to catch the school wagon. Stocky Harold, at fourteen the oldest child going to school from this village, had taken pride of place beside the driver. There were twelve children in the big wagon bed before Anoria and Ann climbed in. Six-year-old Ann, still grumpy from getting up so early, fell asleep quickly, and Anoria ate her bread and ham, relishing every bite. None of the other children appeared to care. It was barely dawn, and most of them seemed to be a bit dazed at the earliness of the hour. Anoria had a little more than an hour to simply enjoy the quiet.

It was wonderful. This close to sunrise, the dew glistened where the rising sun stabbed lances of light through the branches of the trees. The road was flat, wide and white, wizard-made, so the wagon didn’t jolt you around like a road made by shovel and pick. Early autumn flowers bloomed beside the road, and the leaves were just turning gold and red. It was colorful and peaceful, and most importantly to Anoria, it was quiet. Nobody was yelling or demanding attention, for once. The only sounds were the crunch of the wheels on the road and birds singing in the trees.

Location: Schoolhouse, Greenshire
Date:  10 Barra, 134 AF

They reached Greenshire with just enough time to use the outhouse before the teacher began ringing the bell to start school. All the children, now awake and refreshed, ran toward the schoolhouse. The teacher, a spare-looking woman of about thirty-five, stood in front of the door. “I’m Deaconess Margaret Willow. There are two meanings for Deaconess. The first is a student learning to become an intercessor of a particular god. The second, which I am, is someone who has been trained by the intercessors of a particular god in some of the mysteries of that god. I was trained at the Teachers College in New Landrow, the capital of Fornteroy Province, in the teaching mysteries. Now, line up by age, please,” she said. “We shall have to do some tests and see how much each of you knows. Older children to the back, younger to the front please.”

That plan didn’t work out all that well. It was the start of the school year and most of the children had only a vague idea of the age of any children not of their household. Also, they were combining the schools from two towns. Each child surely knew if his brother was older or younger, but how old the boy from the next village was could not be more than a guess. So, following the teacher’s orders, they guessed and often got it wrong. So after . . .

“I’m five!”

“I’m seven.”

“No, you’re not. You’re six!”

“Am so! Well, almost.”

“Not till next month!”

“I’m nine. How old are you?”

“I’m eight. You want to be friends?”

“Naw! You’re a girl!”

“Well, you’re mean, and I’d rather be a girl anyway,” said with anger and a little leaking of tears.

The teacher had to start over, which didn’t put that formidable woman in a good mood. “Five-year-olds come over here!” the teacher didn’t quite shout. A little boy and two little girls approached with great trepidation. A third little girl had to be pushed off by what was probably an older brother.

The teacher called for the six-year-olds, and Anoria took Ann by the hand and led her over to the spot indicated. There were only three, including the boy who insisted that he was almost seven. They got put in with the five-year-olds, much to their evident disgust.

Seven- and eight-year-olds also got clumped together for a total of five.

Nine- and ten-year-olds totaled seven. Anoria, who was ten, a dark-haired girl, and five boys.

Eleven- and twelve-year-olds totaled five.

Thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds, seven more. Including Harold.

There were three fifteen-year-olds in the school, five sixteen-year-olds. Altogether, thirty-nine children from two villages.

✽✽✽

The classroom took up most of the building. It was one large room with the teacher’s desk opposite the door. Along the east wall were images of the major gods, and the west wall had a small bookshelf and several maps. A map of Whitehall County, and in the upper right corner of it a likeness of Count Whitehall, then a window. Next to that was a map of Fornteroy Province with a likeness of Duke Makrslans, the royal governor of the province. Another window, then a map of the kingdom with the likeness of the king inset into the right corner. Another window and a map of the whole world. This early in the fall, the shutters were open and the room was nice and bright. Small tables that two children could sit at were used as desks. Shorter tables were to the front of the classroom and taller ones were toward the back. Anoria quite understood the teacher’s directions to line up by age.

Anoria, after a certain amount of jostling and movement, wound up a bit more than halfway back in the center of the classroom, next to a girl who had a mass of curly, black hair. The girl smiled shyly at Anoria, who smiled back. It would be nice to have a friend her own age, she thought. The girl looked very friendly and a bit lonely.

“I am Deaconess Margaret Willow,” the teacher said. “I know some of you Brookshires from last year, but others of you are new here.” The arrangement for the children of to be carted to Greenshire for schooling had just been made that summer. Unfortunately, that arrangement had doubled the size of the student body. “I shall learn your names and families shortly. Meanwhile, I have some questions to ask you which will allow me to place you at the proper level for learning. Take out your slates. The teacher held up a black slate in a wooden frame. “Down the left side of your slate, write the numbers 1 to 20. Like this.” Deaconess Willow wrote numbers quickly with a piece of chalk on the slate, and held it up again for the students to see.

“We will now have a test on mathematics.”

After asking her questions, Deaconess Willow collected the slates. “You may all take a book to read or play quietly while I check these. Quietly now. And do be very careful with the books. Our patron furnishes them and wouldn’t be pleased to find them damaged.”

The little bookshelf held almost fifty books. That wasn’t as many as the orphanage school had, but was still a great many books to be in one place. There were storybooks for the littler children, to help them learn to read, and some adventure stories for the older children. There were also books on math and alchemy, and books about the gods.

The children who were interested in reading went to the bookshelf. Anoria found a book that at first confused her a bit. All the words were scrambled. Then she realized it was a puzzle book and began to work them out. It was difficult without her slate, which Deaconess Willow still had, but she managed. Joanna Cooper, the dark-haired girl, began reading a simple adventure story that Anoria felt was more appropriate for a younger child. Several of the children sat and fidgeted instead of reading.

Deaconess Willow was halfway through the stack of slates when Ann Boden got bored. “Anoria,” Ann said sharply. “Anoria.”

Anoria looked up from her puzzle book. “Yes, Ann.”

“My shoe is untied,” Ann said. “Come and tie it.”

Anoria began to rise, when Deaconess Willow motioned her to sit down again. Deaconess Willow looked sternly at Ann. “What is your name, child?”

“Ann Boden, ma’am,” Ann said, with a small quaver in her voice. She seemed to realize that she had spoken out of turn.

“You didn’t attend school here last year, did you?” Deaconess Willow asked. When Ann shook her head, Deaconess Willow continued, “And what, Miss Boden, leads you to believe that you may interrupt my school with this kind of demand? I directed that you should all be quiet, did I not?”

Ann nodded, but defiantly said, “Anoria is our servant and is only here because she takes care of me on the wagon.”

Deaconess Willow sniffed. She said, in a tone that brooked no argument, “In this school, Miss Boden, we are all servants to Zagrod. If you do not know, Zagrod is the god of knowledge and learning, and this schoolroom is his temple. I am a servant of Zagrod, you are, and Anoria is also. None of my students, within the confines of this school, is more or less than another. Get that straight, right now. I am in charge. When I tell you to be quiet, you will be quiet. Do you understand me?”

Ann’s face flamed with embarrassment. “Yes, ma’am. But my shoe is untied.”

Deaconess Willow glared a bit. “If you are unable to tie a shoe by yourself,” she said, “you may ask Anoria to help you. At lunchtime.”

As Ann bent to tie her own shoe, Anoria’s heart sank a bit. Ann was bound to try and find a way to blame Anoria for her misstep, as Anoria had already learned. Joanna, who sat next to her, leaned over and patted her hand. Joanna whispered, “That will fix Miss Annie, won’t it?”

Anoria shook her head and whispered back, “She’ll just find a way to make her mother mad at me again.”

Deaconess Willow looked up from the slates and said, “Did I give anyone permission to talk?”

The classroom grew quiet.

✽✽✽

More of Deaconess Willow’s tests followed. By lunchtime, the classroom had been rearranged quite drastically. Anoria, instead of being in the center of the room, was two-thirds of the way to the back, as was Joanna. Harold Boden was in the center of the room with children who were younger than himself and very unhappy about it. Ann was in the very front, with the youngest children.

When Deaconess Willow released them to go outside and have their lunch, Ann and Harold both grabbed their lunches from the basket and went to eat with children of their own age. Anoria found herself sitting alone under a tree in the schoolyard, until Joanna ran out and joined her.

“That Ann must be a problem to deal with,” Joanna said.

“She’s not so bad,” Anoria replied. “She’s just never been to school before and doesn’t know the rules. She’ll learn. I’ll offer to give her some help with her letters. Maybe that way she won’t be angry and make trouble with her mother about it.”

“That ought to work, I think. Maybe she’ll keep her mouth shut at home if you help her out,” Joanna said. “Same goes for that Harold. He didn’t do as well at the maths as you did. You could offer to help him with that.”

“I’ll try it,” Anoria agreed. “Problems or not, it’s still better than the Home was.”

“The Home?”

“The Gent Foundling Home,” Anoria explained. “That’s where I came here from.”

“You’re an orphan?” Joanna asked.

“Ever since I was about a year old,” Anoria said. “I lived at the Home for almost all my life.”

“What happened?”

Joanna was very curious, Anoria thought. Most people didn’t want to know about this sort of thing. “My parents died when a plague swept through Gent,” Anoria said. “And I don’t have any relatives that I know of. So it was the Home or nothing.”

“That’s got to be really hard.”

“Well,” Anoria temporized. “There was a really good school and I started going to it way back when I was really little. And then Master Boden came, looking for someone to help with the little ones on the wagon trip to school. So the school mistress recommended me, as soon as she found out I could go to school too.” Anoria left out the part about often not having enough to eat. About overcrowded dorm rooms and clothing that was always worn and threadbare and never fit. Most of all, she left out the parts about not having a family or anyone that cared for you all that much.

The girls discussed their lives at length. Joanna was the eldest of two children, and her baby brother was only two. She lived just outside of Greenshire, close enough to walk to school. By the time Deaconess Willow rang the bell to resume class, they were fast friends.

✽✽✽

Location: Boden House, Brookshire
Date:  23 Barra, 134 AF

“Anoria, are you ready yet?” Mistress Boden called. “Honestly, a person would think that you just dawdled around to make me angry.” Mistress Boden expected everyone in the household to keep to her schedule and got impatient when they didn’t.

“Yes, ma’am,” Anoria replied, rushing down the stairs. She was late because she’d had to brush Ann’s hair and hadn’t had time to deal with her own. As a result, her braids weren’t as tight as they usually were. “I’m ready. I’m sorry. I had to . . .”

“Never mind,” Mistress Boden said. “Let’s just get into the wagon and go. I don’t know why I ever agreed to attend this picnic, anyway. It would be so much easier just to stay home.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Anoria answered, hoping that Mistress Boden wouldn’t change her mind at the last minute. But, Mistress Boden quite liked to peruse market stalls. . . . “I heard in Greenshire that there are going to be some new stalls open today. There might be some things you’d be interested in.”

Anoria was relieved when the family finally got into the wagon. For this occasion, even the girl of all work, Merry, was allowed to attend. The cook, Jess, had whispered that she was going to enjoy the quiet house while everyone was gone. With Merry to share the chore of looking after Mark and Eve, maybe for once Anoria could get away from tending the children and spend some time with Joanna.

The younger children made the trip something of a nightmare. The older children, Harold and Ann, were used to the trip back and forth between Brookshire and Greenshire. Mark had just turned five, though, and hadn’t started attending school yet. Eve, now three, just didn’t want to settle down and climbed and crawled over everyone in the wagon bed. Finally, a cross look from Master Boden quieted her down, and the last half-hour was spent in relative peace.

Location: Town Square, Greenshire
Date:  23 Barra, 134 AF

They arrived in Greenshire and the family scattered. “Anoria, you take Eve. Merry, you take Mark,” Mistress Boden directed. “We’ll all meet here at the wagon for lunch. And don’t the two of you let these children get into any trouble. I worry so about them.”

Anoria and Merry exchanged looks as Mistress Boden swept away. Anoria and Merry sometimes wondered why Mistress Boden, if she was so worried about her children, so often avoided them. Merry shrugged, but before she could say anything, Mark took off running toward a group of boys his age. Merry ran after him, knowing that she would be in hot water if he escaped her care. Anoria, grateful that it was little Eve she had responsibility for, took the child’s hand and began to walk toward the games for the smaller children.

“Anoria, wait up,” Joanna called. “I’m coming too.”

Joanna came up, holding her little brother’s hand. “Well, at least we’re only stuck with these two,” she said. “They’re not as bad as that Mark.” Clarence had hair just as curly and dark as Joanna’s was. He was a cheerful boy, chubby and happy to see all the people around him.

Anoria nodded agreement. “Poor Merry. He’ll run her a merry chase, all right.” Anoria giggled, then said, “Clarence and Eve might play together, and we’ll have time to talk.”

Anoria and Joanna chattered away, as Eve and Clarence got to know one another. The day passed pleasantly, although at one point Joanna’s mother passed them and gave Anoria a raking glance.

“What was that about?” Anoria asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Joanna answered.

Anoria looked at her friend and tilted her head a bit before asking, “Is she upset that we’re friends? That’s happened before, you know. One mother in Gent wouldn’t let her daughter play with me because I’m an orphan. She said they didn’t know where I was from and had to be careful.”

“I don’t think so,” Joanna answered. Joanna didn’t want to tell Anoria that her mother was unsure of their friendship, and for that very reason. “I don’t think being an orphan is catching, like a cold.”

Anoria’s face was a little pale. “I certainly wish I hadn’t caught it. But if that’s the problem, I’ll understand. Really, I will.”

“Mama worries about what the neighbors think,” Joanna said. “The people here in town know about Old Pruneface being our relation. And you know how they feel about wizards.”

Wizards were both resented and feared, and not without reason. Aside from their wealth and their power, there were forms of magic that could be very dangerous to bystanders, and many wizards felt their abilities gave them license to do whatever they wanted. There were all sorts of stories about wizards killing people in gruesome ways or casting evil spells on them. And, finally, many of the intercessors didn’t approve of magic without a god’s involvement, so they either did little to discourage such stories or even condemned wizards themselves.

“So I don’t have a lot of friends because of that,” Joanna continued. “Mama will realize that, sooner or later. Besides, you’re the best friend I’ve ever had. I told her that. Just give her a little time.”

Anoria nodded, but her face was worried.

Joanna was a little worried as well. Her mother had made some nasty remarks about orphans and their disadvantages as friends. Joanna thought her mother was getting a little snooty lately. Great-Aunt Cordelia had improved the roads and endowed schools, and was even a baroness, but the villagers still remained suspicious of “that wizard Cordelia Cooper.” Joanna was exposed to more taunting and teasing than other children of Greenshire. It was hard to make friends with someone who made spooky noises behind your back. So Joanna was lonely, even in the middle of the village.

✽✽✽

A bit later it was time for lunch, and Anoria had to head for the wagon. Joanna came along, as her parents had headed in the direction of the food tables. The tables had been set up along one side of the village square, and the wagons were parked a bit farther in that direction. “Oh, look, Joanna, your parents are close to the wagon too. We’ll get to eat lunch together.”

The children were getting very hungry by this time. Joanna let go of Clarence’s hand, and he toddled toward his mother. Mistress Debra Cooper, Joanna’s mother, gave him a piece of candied orange peel to keep him quiet while Joanna introduced her to Anoria and Anoria introduced her to Mistress Boden. The two adults fell into conversation, while Joanna and Anoria began to get some lunch.

“Oh, no!” Mistress Cooper shouted. “He’s choking! My baby is choking!”

Mistress Cooper and Mistress Boden were thrown into a tizzy, but Anoria had seen this at the foundling home. One of the intercessors of Barra was trained as a healer. After a baby had nearly choked to death waiting for him to get there, the intercessor had shown all the children how to handle a choking child. So she knew what to do. Mistress Cooper had picked up Clarence but clearly didn’t. Anoria took him from Mistress Cooper.

“They showed us how to fix this at the Home.” Anoria laid the little boy on the table. Then she pressed on his chest and belly. She had to be careful. If she pressed too hard, she could hurt the child, even break the bones in his chest. But if she didn’t press hard enough, the food that was caught in little Clarence’s throat wouldn’t pop out.

Anoria pressed again, just a little harder. The orange peel flew out of the baby’s mouth. Anoria was afraid she had pushed a little too hard and Clarence might have a bruise. He stopped choking and began to cry in fright. Handing Clarence back to Mistress Cooper, Anoria apologized and explained, “We had a baby almost choke to death at the Home.”

✽✽✽

Mistress Debra Cooper had almost snatched Clarence back from the little foundling, but she hadn’t known what to do.

“He’ll be all right now, Mistress,” Anoria said. “The healer intercessor showed us.”

“Why did you push on his belly like that?” Mistress Debra Cooper asked suspiciously.

“You’re not supposed to stick your finger in their mouth. That will likely just shove the blockage deeper. Instead, you use the pressure of the air in their lungs to push it out. He may have a sore stomach after this,” the girl said.

Mistress Gemma Boden was chattering about the natural rewards of respect for the gods and advantages received when one gave charity, as though it was Mistress Boden who had saved Clarence by taking in the girl. Not to be outdone, Debra suggested that Anoria deserved a reward.

“Oh, but the child was only doing what she was taught,” Mistress Boden said, as though she was the one who had done the teaching. “I’m sure she doesn’t expect a reward for that.”

“Even so,” Debra declared, “I shall provide one, with your permission. Next month there will be a village dance. Normally, Joanna and Anoria would be too young to attend, but perhaps this time we might make an exception. If you will let Anoria visit us for that event, she and Joanna will be allowed to attend the dance. And, Anoria, you shall stay in my spare room, if you like.”

Location: Schoolhouse, Greenshire
Date:  3 Cashi, 134 AF

Anoria grew more excited as the days between her and the dance passed. In truth, she wasn’t that interested in the dance part of all this. Mostly the dances were a way for the older teenagers to meet prospective mates. What excited Anoria was the invitation to stay in a spare room. Anoria was a foundling in a world of class distinctions. To be treated as a real guest, not the next best thing to a servant, was special. She didn’t remember life with her parents very much at all. Just a vague memory of being held and sung to, although she wasn’t even sure of that. Her parents had been taken sick when she was very young. After they died, she was put in the Gent Home for Foundlings.

At the foundling home she had lived in a dormitory with a dozen other girls. At the Bodens, she lived with Merry, the girl of all work. Jess, the cook, had a room of her own because being a cook had more status than being a girl of all work. The Bodens did have a spare room, but that was reserved for guests, not for the likes of Anoria. It had not, in fact, been used at all since Anoria had been there and was kept locked except when being cleaned or dusted. To have such a room reserved for guests was itself a matter of status, a demonstration of wealth.

“I’m so looking forward to next week,” Anoria told Joanna. “The Bodens have a spare room, you know. But it’s only used a couple of times a year, when the factors come to buy the crops.”

Joanna, a child of relatively young parents who were fairly wealthy by the village standards, didn’t really understand what staying in a spare room meant to Anoria, but she did understand that it was somehow important to her. “I’ve always wanted a sister, Anoria,” she said. “Someone to share the chores and someone I could talk to. You sound like Old Pruneface. She spends almost all her time alone, you know. If you aren’t careful, you’ll wind up just like her.”

Anoria shook her head at Joanna. “You don’t understand.” Anoria didn’t really know how to explain. She had been an orphan for as long as she could remember, and she couldn’t remember ever being important to anyone. Most of her birthdays had come and gone without so much as a word. She didn’t know it, but the word for what she was missing was “status.” She’d never been anyone’s guest. She was always their charity case or servant girl. To be a real guest—actually invited. To matter to someone—anyone—even for only a day or two. It made you a real person, rather than just the orphan girl. Anoria had no way to explain that to Joanna, who had always been someone who mattered to people. “Your family is rich, just like the Bodens, so you can’t really. My parents died. I can’t remember when I had a place I belonged. When you go home after school, what do you do?”

Joanna started counting on her fingers. “I do my homework.”

She held up the next finger. “Then I spend some time helping Mama.

She held up another finger. “Then we eat supper.”

One last finger went up. “Then I can play, right up till bedtime,” Joanna finished. “What do you do? And why is it so terrible?”

“I get up at first light.” Anoria started holding up her own fingers. “I get Ann and Mark ready for the day at school. If there is time after that, I eat breakfast. Then it’s an hour to school, with all those grumpy children in the wagon. Then school. Then I wait for two hours for the wagon, while I watch Ann and try to keep her out of trouble. At the same time, it’s the only chance I have to do homework or study. Then an hour back to Brookshire, which is the only time I have to read.”

Anoria had to use her other hand, since she’d run out of fingers. “Then, it’s time to get everyone fed, wash the dishes and get Ann and Eve ready for bed. About the only time I have to myself is a half hour between getting the girls ready for bed and going to bed myself. I really envy you.”

“It sounds pretty bad,” Joanna said.

“It isn’t, not really,” Anoria explained. “It’s not hard or anything, and I get plenty to eat at the Bodens. It’s a lot better than the Home was. There were so many children at the Home that you never got a minute’s peace. There was always a chore to do or a little child to take care of. I just wish that I had a family of my own, like you do. And time to study. That sounds wonderful.”

Location: Schoolhouse, Greenshire
Date:  14 Cashi, 134 AF

It was finally the day of Anoria’s visit to Joanna and her family. Today Ann and Harold would take the wagon back to Brookshire by themselves, and Anoria would go to Joanna’s house for sixth and seventh day. It felt like heaven to Anoria. Almost three days without responsibilities beyond a few little chores. No laundry, no dishwashing. “We’ll feed the chickens,” Joanna said. “And Clarence isn’t any trouble, most of the time. Auntie Tess takes care of him, anyway.”

“It all sounds great to me,” Anoria agreed as they walked toward the farm. They turned down a lane, and Anoria saw a slate roof ahead of them. “Your house is even bigger than the Boden’s.”

“Old Pruneface did it,” Joanna explained. “Years ago, back when Grandpa was still alive. Papa said she couldn’t do the walls any smaller, not with the spell she had, so it’s big. After she put up the walls, Papa cut the windows. Papa says that was a lot of work because the walls are stone a foot thick. Mama says that it felt creepy when she moved in. Too much empty space.”

“You know, Joanna,” Anoria said, “You really ought to be grateful for what you have. And it just isn’t right to call someone Old Pruneface, especially when they aren’t.”

Joanna considered for a moment. “You might be right, Anoria. Papa says that things weren’t nearly this good around here, not before Aunt Cordelia came back.”

“Aunt Cordelia?”

“That’s her real name. The Wizard Cordelia Cooper. Papa says that she’s been a lot of help, really. She went adventuring when she was young, and when she came back she bought half the forest. Then she turned some people into pigs just because she could, Mama says.”

Anoria shook her head at this. “Joanna, why would she have done that? There had to have been a reason, if she really did do that. Even in the stories, a wizard doesn’t turn people into pigs unless they’ve offended her.”

“Mama says so. Of course, Papa says it was a goat and it was only one time. I don’t know. I just know I have to be really good when she’s here. That part is really hard, and Mama is really, really nervous. Even Papa walks on eggshells when Aunt Cordelia is around.”

Then they reached the house and ran inside. “Mama,” Joanna shouted, “We’re here.”

✽✽✽

It was a lovely meal. Mistress Cooper had made a roast of pork with vegetables. There was even a dessert called apple dumplings, which was covered in a spicy, sweet syrup. Mistress Cooper had pulled out all the stops for the evening. Anoria was amazed at the variety of food on the table and thought it was all delicious.

“There’s something about food you grow yourself,” Michael Cooper agreed. “Perhaps it’s just the knowledge that it was your hands that brought it out of the earth that makes it a sacrament to Barra.”

“It was wonderful, Master Cooper,” Anoria said. “And Mistress Cooper, you’re one of the best cooks I’ve ever seen.”

Debra blushed a bit. A compliment, even from a ten-year-old, was still a compliment. “Thank you, Anoria. Now, what are you two girls going to do this evening? No chores, not for a guest, so you’ll be able to run and play, if you like. At least until it gets dark.”

“I want to take Anoria for a walk, Mother,” Joanna said. “She’s never been here before, and she doesn’t really know what a farm is all about, since she was raised in the city. We’ll go see everything, the pond and the woodlot, and the orchard. And we’ve got a horse that’s going to give birth any day now, Anoria. We’ll go see her too.”

“Well, go along then,” Debra said. “Come back before it’s dark, though. Auntie Tess will take care of Clarence.” Clarence was a bit grumpy, and Debra was beginning to worry that he had taken sick. Tess was staying in his room, caring for him.

The girls ran out, giggling. “Yes, ma’am,” they shouted in unison. “We’ll be back later,” Joanna added. “I’m going to show Anoria everything.”

After the girls ran out, Debra smiled at Michael. “She’s a very polite child, isn’t she?”

“Certainly seems to be,” Michael agreed. He pushed his chair away from the table. “I’ll be going to check on the mare, Debra. She’s been restless all day.”

“Fine, dear.” Debra smiled. “I’ll handle the rest.”

Debra began to clear the table as Michael went outside. She had her hands full of dishes and dropped them all when Cordelia appeared in the center of the kitchen. Debra was sure the dishes would be broken, but Cordelia waved her hand. The dishes floated in the air. Debra was grateful the dishes were saved but got even more nervous.

“I’m sorry, Debra,” Cordelia said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Debra was always startled when Cordelia arrived unexpectedly. It was just plain rude to pop in without knocking, in Debra’s opinion. But she couldn’t say that out loud. Everyone was very careful to keep their opinions to themselves around Cordelia. Cordelia was a powerful wizard, after all, and there were all sorts of sayings about not offending wizards. Even minor wizards had their dangers, much less the powerful sort like Cordelia.

Debra knew she was red-faced and flustered. Cordelia had that effect on her, even when she was trying to be friendly. “It’s quite all right, ma’am,” she said. “I probably had too much in my hands, anyway.”

“You might let me help,” Cordelia offered.

Debra had trouble not shuddering. She didn’t care for Cordelia’s visits, not at all. She shook her head. “No, thank you, ma’am. You’re a guest.” So far that had been sufficient to deter Cordelia’s attempts at assistance. For all Debra knew, if she accepted the offer, the dishes would wind up in the outhouse.

Cordelia shrugged. Debra wished, sometimes, that Cordelia would just stop visiting and go away. Cordelia, and Cordelia’s reputation, had made the village a bit reserved around Debra’s family.

“As you wish,” Cordelia said. “I’ve just come back from a short trip and thought I’d stop in for a few days.”

“Would you care for some supper?” Debra asked, waving at the table. She hadn’t gotten around to clearing the food off it yet and there was quite a bit remaining.

“I’ll serve myself, Debra. There’s no need for you to wait on me. Is Michael here?”

“In the barn, ma’am. There’s a mare about to foal. I’ll go get him.” Debra rushed out the back door. Michael was a lot more comfortable around his aunt than she was.

✽✽✽

Shaking her head at the vagaries of people, Cordelia served herself some dinner and ate rapidly. She hadn’t taken time for lunch and was a bit hungry.

When she finished, Debra and Michael still hadn’t come back. Cordelia knew that Debra would delay returning as long as she could, so she went upstairs to the spare room. She began to unpack her things and settle into the room that was always hers when she visited.

✽✽✽

“Michael,” Debra said as she looked over the stall door, “She’s here.”

“Not yet, she isn’t,” Michael responded. Debra thought that was an odd comment, until she saw that Michael was seriously involved in the delivery of a filly.

“She’s on her way, though. And I think the mare is going to gift us with twins, too. Give me a hand here.”

Debra forgot about Cordelia in the excitement of the birth. It was the mare’s first, and they had been worried about it for months. She entered the stall and began to assist Michael.

✽✽✽

“What do you want to see next, Anoria?” Joanna asked as the two girls walked back toward the house. They’d seen the woodlot and the orchard. The apples were tiny and green, but the peaches were beginning to ripen and it had smelled wonderful.

“The spare room,” Anoria answered.

Joanna shook her head at this. Maybe if Anoria saw the room she’d realize it was just a bedroom, and not anything special.

“We’ll go there, then. Race you.”

And the girls were off, running as hard as they could.