After lunchtime in the rural village of Fynn, it was customary for children to take the time to play outside for a while. It gave mothers the time to clean without distraction on the weekends. It gave the schoolhouse teacher an opportunity to have a break before the final lesson of the day on school days. The sun was always at it’s highest point in the sky during these play sessions in the summer, and with the faint wind blowing through the grassy fields and over Lake Fynn, it seemed like it was nothing but pleasant.
A man tending his cows in the tall grass looked up for a few moments, wiping his sweaty, sticky brow. He squinted his eyes, as the sun was still high over the village. He heard laughter from the children, and it gave him a sense of relief. He pushed the brush on the cow again, listening to the bristles brush against its skin. Wouldn’t be too much longer until this one would be killed for meat and leather, now that he thought about it. Though he knew it would only make his daughters angry, as they were fond of this cow.
A scream came quickly from the children. It filled him with a sense of dread. Was that a girl’s scream? When he looked back over, he saw that one of the buildings was letting out huge plumes of fire. Dread quickly turned into panic. He didn’t care about the brush he was using on the cow, but instead he ran back into the village to make sure both of his girls were safe.
He turned around, looking to see where the voice came from. “Clarisse?!” he called out. “Claire, is that you?”
Soon, the farmer heard the voice of his wife. “Frederick, come quickly,” her voice said loudly from across town square. “Ohh, oh... What are we going to do?!” She cried out.
Recognizing his name being called, he ran over to find his wife. Even though she was sobbing painfully, he still knew her from that bright blonde hair. He kneeled down to her to see what was wrong. “Sumia, thank the Goddess you’re all right... What happened?!” He noticed that she was clutching one of their daughters tightly in her arms. Sumia couldn’t utter a word. Her whole body found itself unable to even move in the face of such tragedy. Then it dawned on Frederick. “Claire... Where is your sister?”
“That’s the thing, Papa,” Clarisse said. She was still shaking. “Canti is still inside...” she muttered fearfully.
“In there?!” Frederick shouted in disbelief. “Cantirena!” he said, trying to run up to the burning building. “I... I have to save her!” The heat was almost unbearable. He had no idea of what to do except rush in there to find her. The girl was only six years old, there’s no way she could hold on for too much in such an intense heat.
“I couldn’t handle losing you, too,” Sumia wailed loudly. “Maybe you shouldn’t, my love...”
“I don’t care,” Frederick snapped. “This is a father’s duty to his daughter!” With a deep breath, he mustered up all of his courage and rushed into the fire.
Neither Sumia or Clarisse could see him through the fire after just a second or so. It crackled loudly, and the smoke reached high into the sky. Each minute felt like an entire day. Sumia’s crying was loud enough to be heard over the crackling. Clarisse cried, but it was much more quiet than her mother’s heart-wrenching gasps of desperate fear.
A part of the building caved in and fell, becoming ash almost instantly.
“Canti!!” Clarisse screamed, trying to jump out of her mother’s arms.
Soon, a young man came up to them from behind. He had a staff in his right hand taller than he was, adorned with a bright red jewel at the top. He wore mostly pure white cloth, except for his breastplate and golden adornments on his arms. When Clarisse looked up at him, she found the cover over his face and cloth hat with draping cloth around his head to be peculiar, something unlike anything she’d ever seen before.
“Stand back,” he said very softly. Clarisse sensed he was a gentle soul, and when their eyes met, she was even more certain of her intuition. She immediately wanted to do exactly as she was told.
“But... My husband!!” Sumia screamed as she turned to see the man who just approached them.
“My lady, what I meant to say was that if you do not stand back, I’m afraid you will get wet,” he said, raising up his staff. “Please, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Of ... Of course,” Sumia whispered, pulling her daughter back with her.
The mysterious young man who seemed to be only a teenager carried with him a powerful presence. The skies turned dark above the house, and dark rain clouds formed there. Suddenly, as he waved his staff quickly as if to signal a release, a deluge fell onto the fire.
It all seemed to vanish just as quickly as it had erupted. Steam was left in the wake of the fire, and the crumbled remains of the building had fallen in on itself. There wasn’t going to be many places to search for either Frederick or Sumia.
“My dear,” Sumia yelled into the debris. “Are you... Are you still here?”
A few pieces of wood moved, but no one came out. “I... I think my leg is broken,” Frederick said. His voice was much weaker. Sumia knew he had to have been in such a painful state, as he wasn’t the type to let anyone know how hurt he was.
The mysterious young man turned to look at Sumia. “I am relieved to hear he is alive. What has been broken may be mended with time,” he said. “I will have the knights come to help clear this and free him.”
“But... What about my sister?” Clarisse asked.
“Where is she?”
“She was in the fire!” Clarisse said worriedly. “Canti is why the fire happened in the first place!!”
“What? How?” he thought about it, turning around to the pile of rubble where the building once stood. “...my lady, please, go to the castle and request the knights. Quickly.”
“Will they listen to a common farmer’s wife?” Sumia asked.
“If you tell them that the Royal Mage, Minwu, has sent you, then they cannot deny you,” the magician answered. “Go now. We do not have any time to lose.”
“...yes,” she said, getting up. “Clarisse, do not move from this spot.”
“I will watch over her,” the magician said carefully. “Until we get to the bottom of what happened, I will not leave the scene.”
Sumia ran in the direction of the large white castle in the distance. She and her family lived in the outskirts of the village, which was quite a distance from the royal grounds.
“So, your name is Clarisse,” Minwu said, kneeling down next to her. “Tell me what happened this afternoon. Be honest about everything. I must know the truth.”
“Mama set us out to play after lunchtime,” Clarisse started her story very simply. “But Canti didn’t want to play with everyone else.”
“They’re mean to her. She has a hard time talking sometimes. They call her stupid, but she’s not.”
“Yes, other children can be very intimidating. Go on.”
Clarisse cleared her throat. “Um, well, Canti wanted to prove to them that she wasn’t. So she found a place in the back of the magic shop where she could crawl into and get inside. I wanted to stop her. We aren’t allowed in the place where all the scrolls are kept... It’s dangerous and we’ll be in big trouble for sure.”
“Sneaking into the scroll storage area is not enough to make the whole building catch fire.”
“Canti reached up onto a table and took the first scroll she could reach. She opened it up, and started to read what was on it. She said there were words on it that she didn’t get, and then before we knew it, fire was getting on all the scrolls. From there, the whole place just went... Like a big boom... And then it was really hot and there was fire everywhere! I crawled out of the hole where we went in, but when I got out...”
“Your sister was not behind you. I understand now.” Minwu gave the girl a kind pat on the shoulder. When he looked behind Clarisse, he could see the White Knights of Fynn coming straight towards them. “Your sister will be found, no matter what.”
“...thank you, Mr. Wizard.”
“You have a staff. You cast magic to make the fire go away. You wear strange clothing... You mean to tell me that you’re not a wizard?”
“I’m afraid not.”
Clarisse suddenly seemed disappointed.“Sorcerer?” She asked it as if she was trying to be hopeful that it was true.
“It was not an illusion. That rain was real.”
“Then what are you?”
“Just a man that knows a little magic...” Minwu said. “To make all our lives a little easier. I’m not anything special.”
“Royal Mage Minwu,” a knight called his attention. “We’re ready for your orders, my lord.”
“Very well. We must clear away all this debris to search for survivors. The survivors will be taken to the castle for treatment to whatever wounds they have,” Minwu said sternly. “Let us get started.”
Clarisse didn’t move from where she was sitting on the grass. She watched the knights working through the burnt wood, throwing pieces of it behind where they were looking. A few knights picked up the debris and carried it elsewhere. It didn’t take long before Frederick was uncovered. He was dirty from head to toe, covered in serious burns, and was unable to walk at all. The farmer was carried away, and the rest continued to look through the ashy remains of the crumbled scroll storehouse. She knew her father was still alive from hearing him call out earlier, but she still waited there apprehensively. Why didn’t they find Canti yet? Where was she?!
Minwu walked closer, getting on his knees to pull away at the burned wood. His brilliant white clothes instantly turned gray and ugly as ashes got all over him as he dug through.
“You don’t have to do that, my lord. We’ll keep looking ourselves, sir,” one of the knights said.
“I cannot stand idly by. I refuse to. I promised that I would find the child, and that is what I will do,” Minwu said very sternly. He reached to pull back another piece of wood only to find something shining underneath it. When he tried to touch it, it gave him a little zap to his hand. “What in the name of...” He pulled away more of the debris from around that spot to find a little girl with curly hair lying face down beneath a shining barrier. He put his hand on it again, and it zapped him just like before. “Goddess Almighty...” Minwu breathed out in awe. “...never have I seen a child be able to cast such a spell!”
“Is Canti all right?!” Clarisse asked, getting up to run in there. She was quickly caught by a guard. “Canti! ...Cantirena! Come on, sister, wake up all ready!”
That was all it took for the little girl under the barrier to stir. When she sat upright, the barrier around her vanished. She rubbed her eyes and said, “Stop yelling, Claire! You’ll get us into big...” Cantirena looked up from where she was sitting to find Minwu there, looking down at her. He seemed mystified by what she was able to do. “Uh oh.”
“You must be the infamous Cantirena I’ve heard so much about,” Minwu said.
Cantirena yawned loudly. “That’s my name...”
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to accompany me to the castle.”
“Am... Am I... In trouble?” she asked fearfully.
“You did just single-handedly burn down the magic shop. I’m afraid you are indeed in trouble, and you are going to explain what happened today directly to the King.”
“The king?!” Cantirena asked, shocked. “Am I going to have to go to the dungeons?!”
“That is up to the king to decide.”
She shook her head, but suddenly fell over onto her back. Minwu was curious to say the least, when he noticed that she had gone to sleep in an instant. He knew the kind of energy it took to cast that kind of magic. What kind of child could manipulate that much energy, anyway? It was surreal to think about. Adults typically had to train for years to be able to develop a barrier like that. As gently as possible, Minwu picked her up into his arms. The girl could not have been more than six years old. She had the same face as her sister, which led him to instantly conclude that they were identical twins. The only thing different about them was their hair.
“She’s... She’s all right!” Clarisse said loudly.
“Yes,” Minwu reassured her. “I need both of you at the castle now. Your parents are there, and I have to take your sister there. It would be best if you came along as well.”
“I will,” Clarisse said. “Someone has to try to keep her out of trouble.”
“Is... She the type to cause much trouble?”
“No, but she gets teased a lot by other kids. She once set someone’s crops to die by throwing salt all over their patch because they didn’t make their kid stop teasing her. She lashes out a lot and absolutely hates being told what to do.”
“It sounds like she just needs a little more understanding in her life.”
“A little?” she asked. “Maybe more like, say, a cart full.”
Minwu walked with the little girls to the castle. Today was an important day in his life, and he had the feeling that the events of this very day would impact everything he would do for the rest of his being alive.
Night fell upon the sleepy village of Fynn. Clear skies let the stars shine above a community of mostly thatched roof cottages made of wood, rock, and mud. Guards from the ranks of the White Knights of Fynn stood at the town gates, standing ever vigilant to keep the citizens safe from whatever may come.
In one of the guest rooms of the castle, the family that lived on the outskirts of the village was to await their meeting with the king. The room was nicer than any room in their own house. It was clean and smelled nice. It had a window with a view of all of Fynn. Frederick was in bandages from head to toe, and his dutiful wife kept wiping his face of soot and sweat. Tensions between them all were growing. No one had a word to say.
They had been waiting for a while. Cantirena still had not awoken from when she fell asleep after the incident, and Clarisse sat next to her, never leaving her side the entire time. Both Frederick and Sumia felt overwhelmed by their daughters’ actions, unable to decide what they should do as a family. Unable to form words to ask, as both of them had a hard time understanding magic.
Soon, the door opened. Royal Mage Minwu bowed his head before the family as he entered, and closed the door behind him. “Forgive the wait,” he said. “King Gilbert has come to a decision regarding your children and the incident today. Considering your inability to move, Frederick, he has decided to allow me to inform you.” Minwu stepped in further, looking directly at Cantirena. “The White Knights and I will escort the four of you home.”
“What has His Majesty decided about the magic shop and all the scrolls that were lost?” Sumia asked, fearful of the answer. “We have no money to pay for what was destroyed.”
“I appreciate your heartfelt thought, my lady, however, we never did intend to ask for money from you,” Minwu answered her as gently as possible. “We will keep magic scrolls within the castle from now on, to prevent any further mishaps like this in the future.” He sat on the bed where Cantirena was snoring. “She has yet to wake?” his inquiry was to Clarisse specifically.
She just nodded.
“Fear not,” Minwu said, placing his hand onto Clarisse’s. “She will not be like this forever. This I can promise.”
“How do you know that?” Clarisse asked.
“I sense a remarkably strong will within her. No matter how tired she appears to be, her heart will strive to pull through any trouble. She has an incredible destiny ahead of her,” Minwu continued. “As do you.”
“Me?” Clarisse asked.
“Yes. You.” Minwu smiled underneath his veil. “Frederick. Sumia. I have a question for you regarding Cantirena.”
“And what would that be?” Sumia asked.
“Did you know she was capable of magic?”
Both parents were silent for a few minutes. They both looked at Clarisse sadly. They didn’t want to say anything, but Minwu had a very serious tone to his question. Sumia knew that they would have to come clean eventually, but it hurt so much to have to do it.
“No,” Frederick said weakly, surprising Sumia. “Neither my wife or I are mages. We don’t know the first thing about magic.”
“The power of magic is passed along via blood,” Minwu said. “This is why in many customs, the magically inclined are not allowed to consort with those that are not. It is two distinct societies. If neither of you are capable of magic, then this girl is not your daughter.”
Clarisse gasped. “No! Canti is my sister! That’s my Mama and Papa!” She couldn’t believe those words, which stung her heart. “Why would you say something like that?!” It made Sumia burst into tears.
“Lord Minwu, what you say is true,” Sumia sobbed as she spoke.
“Mama?!” Clarisse asked.
“I did not birth my daughters. The truth is that when we were hiking in the mountains, the two girls were huddled together. Their clothes ripped to shreds, their bodies dirty. The two seemed as if they were abandoned there. They seemed to be somewhere around three or four years old, and there was no way we were going to leave them. We wanted nothing more than to have a child, but the Goddess never gave us the blessing,” Sumia tried to hold back her emotions as she told her story. “I was planning to tell them, but not at this age.”
Clarisse blinked a few times before looking at her sister. Abandoned? They were abandoned in the mountains as babies? This was all so hard to understand. She started to shake. She reached over to Cantirena. “Wake up, sis. You sleep too much!”
“But I like to sleep,” Cantirena mumbled as she rolled over. She sat up next to her sister and yawned loudly. “Besides eating, it’s my favorite thing.”
“That and getting into trouble,” Sumia said sharply. “You’re still not off the hook for using a whole month’s supply of salt to ruin a neighbor’s garden, missy.”
“I... I thought Clarisse was exaggerating about that,” Minwu said with sudden clarity.
“Oh it happened,” Sumia muttered.
”So she is a troublemaker,” Minwu mused with a chuckle. “It does seem like she needs something, doesn’t it.”
”But what?” Clarisse asked.
Minwu took a deep breath before he continued. “Frederick, Sumia... If I may, I wish to ask your permission to take Cantirena as my student.”
“Your... Student?” Frederick was confused.
“Considering that you do not know how to use magic, you wouldn’t be able to teach her how to control magic. I have spent my life studying, and if I can pass along my healing arts to someone with the raw potential as Cantirena, then I certainly wish to do so,” Minwu said. “She may have more ability than the greatest sage born in Mysidia, given the correct training.”
”That may be exactly what she needs,” Sumia said, nodding in agreement. “I think it’s a great idea. We don’t need more accidents like what happened today.”
Minwu bent down to stand on one knee so his eyes would be level with hers. “Cantirena,” he said. “Would you give me the honor of teaching you?”
For a moment, she was mesmerized by his eyes. She knew that he held no anger, no resentment, no lies. Cantirena pulled herself to the edge of the bed, never breaking eye contact. “You aren’t like the school headmistress,” she said quietly. “You don’t... You don’t hate me like she does.”
”Why would she?” Minwu asked.
“Because Canti gets into fights with the kids that poke fun at her. When she gets put on the spot, she tenses up and starts to stutter,” Clarisse said, shrugging. “Canti’s hard for that lady to teach.”
“She hates me. Says I’m a problem and a dummy.” Cantirena said. “I would rather learn with someone that doesn’t hate me.”
“Then you accept me as your teacher?”
She nodded, getting up off the bed to give him a hug around his neck. “Yes,” she said. “Thank you.”
”Saving me from the mess at the magic shop.”
“You are welcome,” Minwu said, putting his hands around her so he could lift her up onto his breastplate. “From now on, I am your teacher. You are my student.” He pulled her closer and kissed her forehead, mumbling something in a language no one else in the room had ever heard.
“Is that a spell?” Clarisse asked curiously. “Magic words?”
”No. It is a special greeting in my homeland. You speak the common tongue here, but where I come from, we have an entirely different language,” Minwu said kindly. “Come, we should get you back home. I’m sure you’d feel better sleeping in your own home than you would in a strange place like this.”
Cantirena shook her head. “This room is actually much nicer than our house. Smells better, if nothing else.”
”Don’t be so rude,” Sumia snapped at Cantirena, causing the child to hang her head down and stare at the pattern in the rug on the floor.
Minwu lifted Cantirena up to where she sat on his shoulders. He noticed how her expression changed immediately when Sumia scolded her. Without even thinking, he gave her a sharp retort.“I didn’t find that as rude as you scolding her so harshly,” he said while walking toward the door. “But I suppose that matter really isn’t any of my concern.” He was surprised at himself for immediately saying that, and before he had the chance to apologize, Sumia stomped out ahead of Minwu.
“Forgive my wife,” Frederick said from the bed. “It’s been one hell of a day today.”
“Would you rather stay here for the night instead?” Minwu asked.
“After what you said, I think she’s probably halfway to our home as we speak,” the farmer said, laughing a little. “She hates anyone being critical of her way of raising our girls, you know? With Cantirena’s behavior problems, she had been getting a lot of shit from the locals, especially other mothers.” Frederick tried to pull himself up, but he was still too weak to move on his own. “She probably feels like she’s not fit to be a mother, even an adopted one.”
Minwu nodded carefully. Something, he wasn’t sure what, made him believe that Sumia’s fate was disjointed from that of the twin girls. He closed his eyes for a second to take in a deep breath. He was going to meditate on the subject before the night was over. It was the only way he could sift through all of the auras that had been around him all day, to see exactly what was giving him this sort of premonition. The mage was known for being able to see the path spirits were destined to follow, even if it was limited.
“I shall call the knights to have them deliver you home,” Minwu said. “Cantirena, Clarisse, you may walk home with me.”
Both girls agreed to the proposal, and were on their way out of the castle within minutes.
“So if you’re gonna be Canti’s teacher, does that mean you’re gonna have class?” Clarisse asked.
“But of course. Textbooks, lessons, lectures. Aren’t all classes done like this?” Minwu asked her.
“Be careful, then. Canti will curl up snoring and drool all over her homework,” Clarisse said, looking up at her sister, as she was still riding on Minwu’s shoulders.
“I won’t let her get the chance,” Minwu said.
Cantirena was laying her head on top of Minwu’s turban, holding onto the cloth that draped down to his shoulders. She yawned loudly. “You are so comfy,” she said, closing her eyes as if she was going to fall asleep right there. “My new teacher is a pillow.”
“See? You’ll kick her out of class on the first day.”
”Do not fall asleep there, or I will have you walk all the way home.”
“...She’s all ready snoring.”
”Cantirena, dear child, you give me no choice but to have you walk.” Minwu pulled her off of his shoulders, and even though she fell over when her feet hit the floor, he didn’t pick her back up. “My student may have potential, but she is very lazy and troublesome. You will learn how to behave if you are to learn from me.”
Cantirena stood up and dusted herself off, even though there wasn’t any dirt on her. They were still in the castle. “I’m not lazy,” she said. “I can’t help that I want to sleep all the time or that I’m constantly tired.”
“But you are a troublemaker,” Clarisse said. “I mean, it’s your fault we’re even here in the first place.”
Cantirena looked around to see exactly where they were. It was the first time she had ever been in the castle and seen such a lavish place. It was beautiful, adorned in gold and silver decorations and lovely bouquets of white roses were almost in every place she could see. “You’re welcome,” she said. “We’ve never been in a castle before.”
Clarisse struggled to find a reply to that, but her sister had pointed out a very valid fact. She found it frustrating, as she wanted to scold Cantirena for being so difficult. Clarisse had a hard time with others a lot of the time because of her sister, and there were plenty of times where she wanted to side with the other kids. She hated being ostracized over Cantirena’s behavior or overly blunt tone. Her lack of social understanding made life much more of a hassle than it could or should have been.
“You.... You... Ohhh, it, I hate it when you’re right,” Clarisse grunted.
Minwu noticed that Cantirena had a smirk of victory on her face for a few seconds, but after she was done being a tough girl, she stood back and grabbed onto his cape. He placed his hand on her head. She gave the impression that she was difficult, but all he saw in her eyes was uncertainty. Uncertainty was only another type of fear, and in all situations, fear could lead to someone make the choices they would not ordinarily make.
“We should not dawdle further, little ones. It would not be a good idea to have you two out and about at night,” he said, taking another step toward the front gate.
That’s when another man crossed his path. A short one wearing a badge of honor on his chest and a red sash wrapped from his left hip up to his right shoulder. His face was ugly, with a long pimply nose that split in the middle, and the rest of his facial features covered in flappy, saggy skin. His face did not match his clothing made of silk and decorated with gold. “Oh,” he said with a very haughty attitude, “I didn’t know you were a babysitter now.”
“Count,” Minwu said, his stern tone unshaken by the dim-witted insult, “I am escorting my student and her sister home. Have you come only to parade around in your royal attire like a peacock during mating season, or do you have official business here in the castle?”
“You would like that,” The count laughed. “Oh, if only I had the time to spare. I’ve heard rumors that I will be promoted soon. And you? I suspect you’ll be changing diapers. Toot-a-loo, my friend.” He waved at the two children. Cantirena winced, gripping Minwu’s cape tighter than she had been. Clarisse just stared at him blankly, curious as to why he was laughing so hoarsely. The count shrugged, then went into the throne room without anything else said.
Minwu shook his head before leading the girls out into the evening air.
“Who was that?” Clarisse asked Minwu.
“That man is Count Borghen, one of the distant members of the Royal Family of Fynn,” Minwu said quietly. “He is in charge of one of the branches of our military.”
Cantirena blinked a few times. “How did his face get like that?”
Minwu always wondered that exact same thing, but he never had the heart to ask aloud. “Goodness, you don’t hold anything back, do you?” Clarisse knew it wasn’t polite to laugh at that, but she couldn’t hold it in. She laughed so hard for a few minutes that she had a very hard time breathing.
She just replied, “I only say what comes to mind. I didn’t mean it to be offensive. I’ve just never seen a man with such an ugly face before. Even Papa, who was burned from head to toe today wasn’t that ugly.”
Minwu laughed, but much less than Clarisse. “Now, now, that isn’t very proper behavior. If you’re going to be my student, you have to learn some manners. First lesson, never say things like that if who you are talking about might have the possibility of hearing you.”
“But I can say whatever I want when they aren’t?”
”You’re not really supposed to do that, but...”
”So the rule is to be nice to everyone, even if they uglier than the inside of a pig’s butt!”
Clarisse looked up at Minwu as they started walking again. “I told you. Canti is difficult. Always has been, always will be.”
“I don’t think she’ll always be difficult. On the contrary, I believe she needs wise discipline and heartfelt instruction to keep from acting out the way I’ve seen her today,” Minwu said, his voice sounding very kind and patient.
“No one else has that kind of faith in me,” Cantirena muttered. “Why do you?”
“Because, you silly little child, you are just like I was at your age.”
By the time Clarisse and Cantirena finally made it into bed, both of them were out very instantly. Cantirena snored loudly, contorting herself so much that it was amazing she still stayed in the bed at all. Clarisse on the other hand was sleeping very neatly, quietly. Sumia tucked in both girls, frowning about what happened that day. Why did Cantirena attract so much trouble, anyhow?
Within the little house were three beds total. The smaller ones were both against the wall facing the north, and the large one was across from that, facing the south. Between all of that was a ring of rocks in the floor. A fire burned there, with a pot being held up above the fire with iron rods. Minwu stood next to the front door, not wishing to intrude further than he all ready had.
She walked in the direction of the door. Sumia looked at Minwu, having a hard time trying to figure out what to say. Her child was the one responsible for the destruction today, which she believed reflected on her as a parent. There would be more whispers at the market among other women. That bothered her so much. Why did she adopt, again? These lingering feelings made her realize the Goddess not giving her the ability to bear children was secretly a blessing, but she failed to realize that before it was too late.
Even though she didn’t have any idea of where to start, Minwu broke the silence.
“I am not here to question how you raise your daughters,” Minwu said quietly. “I am not a parent, which makes me unqualified to instruct you on anything. Forgive me, my lady, for having scolded you as harshly as I did earlier.”
“Your scolding will matter little in the face of what the other mothers will whisper at me while out of the house,” Sumia said. “To be honest, I don’t understand exactly why you would want to instruct Cantirena in magic. Everyone else avoids her if they can, except Clarisse. And even she shows signs that she’s had enough every now and then.” She sat down on a chair close by, and offered a seat to her house guest.
Minwu took the invitation. “Cantirena is full of raw potential... Something powerful, beyond anything I’ve ever seen a child be able to use. Even with strict instruction.” He looked over to where he knew she was sleeping. The light provided by the fireplace wasn’t enough to allow him to see everything in the dark corner. “I wish to teach her to put her power to good use. I want to see her healing the sick or wounded, casting protection spells on children to prevent them from coming to harm.”
“You wish her to be a healer, as you are.”
“The truth is... It is what I can teach, as it is the path I chose when I was in Mysidia,” Minwu said. “To see her go down the other path is too dangerous, if you ask me.”
“The other path? You mean, black magic...” She trailed off, as the mention of that made her feel the sharp stinging sensation of fear.
”Black magic has its uses, and there needs to be a balance between magical forces within our world to keep the sense of balance. Black magic is not inherently evil, as white magic is not inherently good. Just as a shield can be used for attack and a sword for defense. However, the raw power within her body combined with the destructiveness of black magic frightens me. Just having to read a few words from the scroll she found set an entire building on fire,” Minwu explained everything calmly.
“That is a decent reason, but I am sure you’ve found her personality to be...”
“Abrasive? Blunt? Cold?” Minwu asked. “All of these and more. But I want you to realize that I’ve noticed more about Cantirena than I believe you know. She has said a few things to her sister that were more like signals than anything. Yes, she acted haughty... But when she thought no one was looking, she had a very lonely expression. She reached to hold onto me.” He nodded once he finished. “Miss Sumia, you have to forgive me if I sound like I am being overly critical of you. I’m not trying to be. Cantirena needs more than what she’s getting, or she wouldn’t act out the way she does.”
“What do you believe she needs?”
“Someone that understands her. I told her on the way home that I was just like her when I was a child. Unruly, angry, hard to deal with... That is, until a teacher adopted me. When I made my choice as to which type of magic to dedicate myself to, I found my purpose in life. I found my inner serenity. Once I had that everything in my life started to make that much more sense. I wish to give the same opportunity to Cantirena.” Minwu smiled underneath his veil. “She is precious, and that needs to be preserved before she turns into something uncontrollable.”
“Hmm. When do you wish to have her start with you, Lord Minwu?”
“You typically send her with the other children to the schoolhouse in the morning, correct?”
“That’s what we’ve always done, yes.”
“I will come to escort her to the castle tomorrow morning myself. When her sister goes to school with the other children, she will come with me. I can show her the way, introduce her to the guards she needs to know to enter the castle. It may take her time to adjust, but... It’s what she needs, if you ask me.”
“...yes. You’re right. I will place my faith in you, Lord Minwu.”
“Goddess willing, I will do right by your family.”
Minwu’s walk back to the castle was quick. He had every guard shut behind him as he came in, slowly making his way to the Eastern Tower, where he had made his home for almost six years. When he came to the door of his chamber, he opened the door and placed a spell on it. He did not wish to be disturbed. There was too much to do.
Using a very tiny flame from his finger, he lit incense and placed it in a little metal bowl decorated with carvings of stars. The smell relaxed him almost instantly. Minwu brought the bowl to the center of his room. There was a rug of red and white, the same colors known to be on the flags of healers around the world. He sat on it, placing the bowl at the end of the rug. Then, putting his hands on the edge, he bowed down until his forehead touched the rug and prayed to the Goddess in his home language.
After his prayers were finished, he positioned himself upright again. Taking in the smell of jasmine, he crossed his legs and closed his eyes. Minwu cleared all of the thoughts from his head.
Visions came across his subconscious. A man clad in golden armor. Fire. Darkness. Out of the darkness came a figure of light. Small, but loud. Things raced across his mind faster than he could get any good look at them. He saw people from his own past, people he knew that lived in Fynn, and people he had never met before. He saw blood. Lots of people from all over the world died right in front of his eyes. He could hear a whisper in his thoughts from a voice he did not recognize.
The light of cure comes from within the user’s spirit. It is said that the higher your purity, the more effective your cure spells become. If this is the truth, then why am I able to heal and protect, even though I have slaughtered thousands of innocents?
Minwu then heard a reply to that, in a voice he was much more familiar with. His own.
I have no idea why you break the rules of magic. If I understood, perhaps then I would do the same and release the rage of the planet upon you... That is aside the point, however curious I may be about it. What have you done with Cantirena? What have you done with my student?
Minwu opened his eyes. “Cantirena,” he whispered. “Until I met you today, I had not seen any of this.” He held up his finger again, this time writing in the stream of smoke that came from incense. “You are connected to something much bigger than I thought. Our paths intertwine. I am certain I was supposed to meet you...” Even though he felt happy that he was finding the path he was supposed to be on, he suddenly became fearful. Someone was going to come to Fynn in the future. Someone was going to take Cantirena away from him. He looked over at the bookshelf. Minwu needed to train her to take care of herself even more now.
He pulled off his turban and let the trail of smoke out the window.
“As this blessing comes to you, let it relax you. Let it take away your nightmares, and give you a deep rest,” he said gently. “My child, Cantirena.”
The next morning, the sun was ready much earlier than either of the twins were. Clarisse managed to pull herself up to sit for a minute before starting to get herself ready for school. Cantirena groaned loudly and hid her head under her pillow before Clarisse reached over and whacked her. Cantirena rolled out of the bed and plonked on the hardwood floor before managing to get up.
Frederick was laid in bed, unable to move. He didn’t sleep, but he wasn’t quite all there, either. Sumia had a bowl of gruel and a small loaf of bread sitting on the table waiting for them after they cleaned their faces and put their clothes on.
“Cantirena,” Sumia called out as the curly-haired child was chomping on her bread. “Today you will not be going to the schoolhouse.”
”Did I get suspended again?” she asked, not really caring about the answer.
“No, no. You will be meeting Lord Minwu for your lessons now, starting this morning.”
Cantirena looked over at her adopted mother curiously. “Lord Minwu?” she asked. “You mean he was serious about becoming my teacher? He wasn’t just teasing?”
“No, he was serious. We had a long talk over it after you fell asleep.”
Cantirena pushed away the gruel and hopped off the stool. She brought the bread with her as she started out the door.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m gonna go wait behind the house.” Cantirena left immediately out the door, not wanting to let anyone know how she was feeling.
Clarisse looked at Sumia. “...she’s nervous, Mama.” She choked down the rest of her breakfast and finished it off with a glass of milk. “I’ll make sure there’s nothing wrong until it’s time I have to go.”
“You are such a good big sister, Clarisse.”
She smiled widely. “It’s what sisters do!”
Clarisse walked out of the door and closed it behind her. There wasn’t much time until she had to go to the schoolhouse. She walked along the side of the house so Cantirena wouldn’t notice her just around the corner. She could feel her sister trembling inside even though she wasn’t close to her at all.
Cantirena looked up at the sky. When she lifted her hands up, winds flowed around her, brushing the branches of the trees nearby to make their familiar rustling sound. She then put her hands together.
A hand landed on Clarisse’s shoulder, making her turn around suddenly. She found Minwu standing there, holding up one finger over his mouth.
“Does she get like this often?” he asked, trying to keep as quiet as possible.
A few moments passed and Cantirena started to sing to herself. Her voice carried beautifully. The song was lovely as it was sad.
“...what is that song?” Minwu asked.
“I can’t remember. Canti sings it to herself when she’s scared or nervous about something. Mama and Papa don’t know what the song is. No one else knows about it, either... She won’t sing when other people are around...”
“It does not surprise me that she sings, even when no one is around.”
“Why? Most people just singing at random are considered to be weird by everyone else...”
He smiled. “Because her name. Where I come from, the word Canti means ‘song’. I can’t help but find it fitting.” Minwu watched Cantirena very cautiously. He noticed that as she continued to sing, the wind continued to blow that much more around her. He wondered if it would actually lift her off the ground if she went on enough. “Do you know if your sister slept well?” he asked.
“I think Canti has a lot of bad dreams, but she won’t tell anyone about it. She has woken up in the middle of the night, absolutely terrified of something she refuses to talk about...” Clarisse said, turning to leave. “...I know she’s scared, but if I approach her about it, she tries to act tough. She doesn’t want me to know.”
“Maybe she’s afraid it’ll scare you, too,” Minwu suggested, trying to be positive about the entire situation.
“Maybe she is.” Clarisse didn’t have the same outlook about it. She sounded very jaded, very distant from the issue. Like she wanted to care, but she wasn’t sure how to do it. She came across as very frustrated with her sister, as she was the only one who put any effort into trying to understand Cantirena up until recently.
“Where are you going, Clarisse?”
“The bell is going to ring soon. You don’t want Canti to find out that you were listening in to her song, or that you saw what she can do with the wind. She tries so hard to hide it...” Clarisse answered. “So go stand over there near the door so it looks like you were just waiting for her to be ready.”
Minwu agreed quietly, stepping carefully to avoid making noises in the grass. He stopped in front of the door. He was only waiting there for a moment before the large bell on top of the schoolhouse rang. Clarisse walked on her own in that direction, meeting up with other children along the way. He watched them all file in until he felt a presence right next to his.
“...Lord Minwu, I need your advice.”
He looked to the side to find Cantirena standing there, her eyes locked onto the ground. “Anything,” he said. “I’m listening.”
She rose her face so their eyes met, then tilted her head towards the schoolhouse. “What do you think would be the most efficient way to get rid of that building?” she asked.
“Cantirena,” he said, scolding her. He was taken aback to hear her ask such a deliberate, blunt question like that. At first, he wasn’t sure how to react. A few moments passed before he did. “You should not be thinking of destroying another building after what happened yesterday.”
“Lord Minwu, I’m... I’m sorry.”
He nodded. “I forgive you. Let’s not keep such violent thoughts like that in your mind. There is much to do today. Can you read the common language?”
Cantirena answered with a simple “yes”.
“That makes things a tad easier. Now I just have to translate the magic texts I’ve brought with me from Mysidia into the common tongue.” He didn’t seem annoyed about it, even though he was complaining openly. It was a strange way of saying how he felt. “I am ambivalent about the situation.”
They walked together along the road that led through the village to the castle. Minwu kept an eye on what Cantirena paid attention to while walking. He noticed that when she seemed like no one else was looking at her, she seemed very shy and cautious. Maybe even afraid of something.
“You’ll be coming this way every morning,” Minwu said. “I cannot come get you every single day.”
“All right,” Cantirena said, looking back down at the path.
“...is there something bothering you? You seem anxious.”
She sighed. “I... I really don’t want to talk about it.”
“You do not trust me with your thoughts?” Minwu asked.
“It’s not that.”
“Then why do you not want to talk about it?”
Cantirena looked away from the path, her eyes fixated on the mountains in the distance. “Because it’s not important. Never is.”
“Your feelings are always important,” Minwu insisted.
“No. They’re not.”
He frowned for a moment. He remembered how her mother spoke to her harshly often, and decided that he was right about his initial hunch. She did need someone that understood her, and it seemed that she wasn’t getting that understanding. Minwu put his hand on top of her head, catching her attention. She took a moment to look upward at him, curious about what that even meant.
“Listen to me, my child. Even if no one else thinks your feelings are important, I always will. I will always listen to you. You must be able to tell someone, or your emotions will cause you to destroy yourself from the inside out,” Minwu said before picking her up and putting her on his shoulders. “I want to hear what you have to say.”
Cantirena hugged around his head, putting her nose straight down into his turban. Hearing that, her eyes watered. What did she do to deserve such kindness? All she ever heard was how she caused nothing but trouble. She sniffled a few times.
“Here. I’ll take you to the tower, and we’ll discuss it privately. No one in the castle has to hear what’s bothering you.” Minwu walked more quickly then, making is way to the Eastern Tower of the White Castle. When he arrived at the door, he bought Cantirena down to the floor before opening it. “And here we are. This tower is my home and where I do the majority of my work.”
The door opened with a loud creaking noise, revealing a room that held a completely different ambiance than the rest of the castle or even the village. Cantirena saw all sorts of books, bottles, and charms. There were all sorts of scents floating along the air and the closer she got to the shelves full of bottles, she could smell even more. She saw herbs ground into tiny bits. She could hear something bubbling in the distance. Were those feathers of rare birds hanging on the walls? And then she found something like a harp sitting on a table just a few steps away. There was just so much stuff in one room that she had a hard time believing it. Her home was always barren and empty. Here there were decorations, smells, books... She thought perhaps she was still in bed and dreaming about her upcoming day with her new teacher.
“You live here?” she asked, amazed.
“Cozy enough to do my work and my research,” Minwu replied. “All the comforts of my homeland. I like it.”
Cantirena smiled as she agreed with him. “Me, too.”
“So, to our lessons, then,” Minwu said, walking to a nearby bookshelf to pull out a leather bound book. He flipped through a few pages to see if it was the book he wanted to use. “Ah. Yes. Sit down wherever you like, child.”
“You don’t have any desks...”
Minwu forgot about the rigid ways of teaching used in the village schoolhouse until Cantirena reminded him of it. “If you’re going to be reading, you may as well do it comfortably,” he said.
“...all right.” She climbed onto the nearby bed, leaning back against the wall. “Here.”
Minwu put the book in her hands. “Very well. Read the first chapter. If you have any questions as to what words are, or what they mean, feel free to ask.”
“I thought you said you needed to translate the textbook?”
“I do. This is simply an exercise to see how well you read for now. Some of the things in the magic textbook are difficult, even at the earlier levels. Magic is certainly not intended for children as young as you,” he continued, walking over to a nearby table. “But do not feel rushed. You can’t learn anything completely if you are stressed about doing it too quickly.” He sat down after grabbing a few more books, a stack of parchment, and some quills to write with. “Go ahead.”
Cantirena opened the book. She started on the first page, but about halfway through it, she fell asleep.
Minwu groaned. He wanted to help her, but her constant sleeping made it very difficult. He walked back over there and woke her up, then picked her up and placed her in a chair at the table he was working at. “No, Cantirena. I will not allow you to sleep like that. Head up. Read aloud to me if you must to stay focused.”
This was going to be a long day.
Clarisse couldn’t keep her mind off of what her sister might have been doing with her new teacher. She tried to focus on the lesson at hand, but her curiosity made her studies damn near impossible to do. She let her eyes wander around the classroom, caring so little about whatever it was the headmistress was going on about. When could she go outside? She wanted to know if Cantirena was going to have any time off at midday, too. Clarisse didn’t know how a private teaching session worked. She had a theory about it, but she never once heard about someone having lessons between one student and one teacher. Maybe there was a class Minwu looked after in the castle? Well, no, that didn’t make sense once she thought about it, as every other child that lived in the village was in the schoolhouse right now. No one was missing. Clarisse’s head hit her desk in a general disinterest in everything.
“Clarisse!” the headmistress shouted.
“Ma’am!” she sat up straight only to feel the teacher’s stick sting her backside. She didn’t get punished often, and she wasn’t used to it.“Ow. Miss Feodora...”
“Are you looking to cause trouble like your sister? She’s not here because of the mischef you two caused yesterday, am I right?” Miss Feodora asked, snapping her stick on Clarisse’s desk. It made other students shudder in fear every time she swung that stick of hers. Miss Feodora was a haughty, gray-haired woman wearing a solid dark gray dress from her collarbone to her ankles with a long wrinkly nose. Never once bore a child, never once was married, and Clarisse ventured to guess she never once was a nice person, either.
Clarisse was so tired of her teacher downright insulting her sister. She stood up, put her hands on her desk, and said, “Actually, my sister isn’t here because she has a new teacher now.”
“Hm. Perhaps an obedience trainer would do better with that little wild animal,” Miss Feodora thought aloud.
“No. Lord Minwu is teaching her!” she shouted. “My sister is not an animal! She is gifted!”
“You will sit down this instant, young lady, or so help me I will make your backside so black and blue you won’t sit for a month!” Miss Feodora rose her voice so loud that it scared other students even more than just cracking the stick against everything. “Your whole family is trouble. Father unable to work, your mother unable to control her mangy brats. Never spanked either of you devils, did they? That’s all the girl needs. A good understanding of authority.” She snapped her stick on the desk of another student, letting the loud cracking noise echo throughout the one-roomed schoolhouse.
When Clarisse wanted to release her violent rage upon her teacher, a girl behind her grabbed onto the back of her skirt. She looked back to see the girl, terrified, begging her silently to stop before their teacher did something so bad that Clarisse ended up with more than just a few bruises. Clarisse understood. There was a much better way to handle this than approaching it directly, wasn’t there? A smarter way.
“Are you going to sit, or are you going to throw that punch that you’ve been holding back at me?” Miss Feodora asked threateningly.
“I won’t fight you anymore,” Clarisse said. “So stop scaring your students. They get it. You’re in control. Please. Move on to the math or whatever you were going over.” She sat down at her desk, taking another peek at the girl that sat behind her. She gave an expression of relief. Looking back at the chalkboard up front, she tried to pay attention to the lesson that was so rudely interrupted by their own teacher.
I bet if I get in a word with Lord Minwu, she thought, You’ll be thrown in the castle’s dungeons for what you’ve done here...
It felt like ages before all of the students were allowed outside to take a break from their math problems. The kids ran all through town, except for Clarisse. She sat next to the schoolhouse, leaning up against the splintery red wall. She had plans going through her head. When was she going to get a chance to talk to Lord Minwu again? Clarisse yawned. It sure was comfortable outside enough to take a nap right there in the shade.
“Um,” a voice called out next to Clarisse. “Can I... Talk to you?”
Clarisse looked up to see the girl that stopped her before standing there. “Sure,” she said. “You... Held me back from trying to kill Miss Feodora back there. I owe you a thank you.”
“No, I wanted to see her take all of your anger, but...” the girl trailed off. “...I was so scared that if she managed to hurt you, she would end up coming after all of us.”
“Knowing how she can be, that is a very reasonable fear,” Clarisse replied. “My name is Clarisse. You are?”
“Now that is a pretty name.” Clarisse said in amazement. “I wish I could have had such a pretty name.”
“It doesn’t matter how pretty a name is, what matters is how good the work is,” Crystal said with a smile. “Grandpa says it all the time when I go to visit him in Altair. Have you ever been there?”
“Nope. I’ve never been outside of Fynn.”
“My Grandpa is half-dwarf,” Crystal said. “That means I’m part dwarf, too, says my daddy. My Grandpa makes weapons for knights. All of the stuff the White Knights wear at the castle? Grandpa made them.” Talking about her Grandfather made her proud. She sat down next to Clarisse, continuing to explain herself, not really caring if Clarisse was listening or not. “I want to make things with my hands, too, like him. He’s my hero.”
“Ah...” Clarisse wondered what it was like to have a Grandfather. Was hers kind? Talented? Maybe he was a squire, serving a far-away lord, or maybe he was a historian with a large library? Maybe her Grandfather was a master magician and that was where Cantirena’s powers came from?
“I want to be a blacksmith when I grow up. Do you know what you want to be?” Crystal asked. Her smile had not once faded since bringing that whole subject up.
Clarisse thought about it before answering. “One thing I know is I can’t tolerate injustice like what was going on in there this morning,” she said. “I always want to stand up for what’s right. I want to have the authority, if I need to, to put bad people in their place. I will not put up for any of that nonsense when I am a grown up.”
“You should be a knight,” Crystal suggested, giggling. “I’ll make your armor and you’ll come to the side of anyone that needs your help! It sounds like a perfect plan.”
“Only problem is... I can’t make a perfect plan without Canti. She is my twin.”
“Well what does she want to do when she grows up?”
“Canti, she... Well...”
Cantirena is a bit of an enigma when it comes to anything like that. She doesn’t want anyone to know exactly what is on her mind. She doesn’t want to be anything, as that would limit her from being anything else, but at the same time, Canti yearns for something bigger and deeper than what this little village can provide...
“Didn’t you say that Lord Minwu is her new teacher?”
“Lord Minwu is the king’s tactician, strategist, and number one helper. He’s also the royal family’s healer. If she is going to learn from him, then that is what she is going to do,” Crystal said simply. She stood up and brushed the dirt off of her backside. “Break is almost over. We’d better get back inside before that big bell dongs.”
“Right.” Clarisse stood up to do the same. She stretched upward, letting her eyes gaze out back over at her family’s house. That’s when she noticed there was a horse-drawn carriage in front of it. “...wait. What is that doing there?”
“Maybe your sister got a ride home from the castle envoy on his way out.”
“No. Minwu would walk her home,” she said, wanting to run over there to see hat was going on.
“No, if you run off, you’ll get in trouble.”
“I don’t care, I need to see what is going on at my house!”
“I don’t want to see that mean teacher hurt you, Clarisse.”
“I can handle that old bat. I’m stronger than I look.”
Crystal shook her head. “No,” she said defiantly. She was afraid to speak much after that, and Clarisse still wasn’t giving up. “You need to not go over there. Not until the lessons are over for the day. Please don’t go. Please.”
“No!” Crystal shouted at her, tears streaming down her face. “I can’t let her hurt you... Please stay here. I’m so afraid. For you.”
Clarisse was overwhelmed bu the emotional display, not sure how to handle it. She hugged around her new friend. No one ever cared about her so quickly. They hadn’t even known each other for twenty minutes yet, and yet, here this new girl was, bawling in her arms.
It’s hard not to appreciate such blunt honesty, though. I wish Canti would do this at some point. Bear her heart to me. Crystal doesn’t hide anything, and I just met her. Oh, sister... Why do you push me away? Why won’t you cling to me like I’m your only comfort in the entire world?
“All right,” Clarisse said. “I won’t go until after school is done for the day. So let’s stop crying, okay?”
Clarisse sighed. “Then let’s keep going with our day.”
Suddenly, a voice called out, catching Clarisse’s attention. “Claire!” She looked back towards the schoolhouse. Cantirena was standing there, holding a basket. “Claire, are you all right?”
“Sis, what are you doing here?” Clarisse asked, walking over to her. “What about your lessons? Did you run away because he was too strict with you?”
“Nope. The maids gave me a basket lunch while we were reading a textbook, and he said that if you were also on break, that I could share it with you,” Cantirena explained cheerfully. “It’s the same kind of lunch the princess gets during her lessons.”
“That’s great,” Clarisse said. “You know how things are here. We have to wait until we get home to eat anything.”
“I know. That’s why I brought it.” Cantirena then noticed the other girl, Crystal, standing very close to Clarisse. “You... Have a friend?”
“Crystal,” Clarisse said. “This here is my twin sister, Cantirena. Canti, meet Crystal.”
Cantirena stared at Crystal for a few seconds. She walked closer. Her expression seemed weary of this new person, especially after seeing her so close to her sister. But that didn’t keep her from reaching into the basket and offering up a triangular cut sandwich to the stranger anyway. “Your eyes look like the Dwarven sketch in my world geography textbook.” She also gave the same kind of sandwich to Clarisse.
”Canti! You can’t be so blunt with a stranger...”
Crystal smiled. “I don’t mind. I just told Clarisse that I have Dwarf ancestry. That’s why my Grandpa is a master blacksmith and why I want to go into that same kind of field one day. Being told that I look like a dwarf is an honor.”
The three of them shared the basket of food, which was all well made and delicious. Sandwiches of cooked slices of meat, fruit, and goat cheese made them all feel full. Before then, Crystal had never even eaten cheese before. It gave them all deep thought about what was available to those in the castle as opposed to those living in the services to them, but since it was all so confusing to their young minds, they decided to let it slip their thoughts almost as soon as it arrived. Besides, the bell inside the tower of the schoolhouse was ringing loudly, calling all of the children back from the village into class again. Clarisse hugged her sister and bid her a nice rest of the day before turning around to trudge back into the red building. She hated her teacher, and after eating that lunch, until she noticed how she was feeling, Clarisse was jealous of Cantirena’s good fortune.