Géta’s stomach kept sending up mouthfuls of lunch as he waited, by turns gazing into the garden in hopes of seeing the Mages and staring out over the field wondering if they’d already passed. It hadn’t been one yet when he’d left for the gate to the Weatherfield, but he was afraid he may have missed meeting them. Pacing a little, he continually swallowed as he hugged his flute to his side. He hadn’t bothered to take it out and put it together and had spent a few minutes in indecision, wondering if he should bring the music he was learning before deciding this couldn’t be counted as an official practice. This was real performance, and it chilled him despite the humid heat of the day.

He turned away from the field and saw four people on the path from the Temple. The woman at the head of the little group wore a tunic with a V-bent arrow through crescent with the points down on the front; an orange, yellow, and blue spiral filled the space between the arrow and bottom of the crescent. The others he could see wore different colors; one with yellow, another with blue, and the last he couldn’t see from where he stood with the others blocking. Géta caught glimpses of red hair, but that was all.

“Are you Géta Disphreni?” The dark-skinned woman in the lead asked when she reached him.

“Yes.”

She frowned, giving him a hard up-and-down look, which he interpreted as disapproval, then waved him aside and went through the gate. Head bowed, Géta let the other Mages go through, finally identifying the color on the last Mage’s tunic as blue. After they passed, he scrambled after them, barely taking the time to latch the gate, and trotted in their wake. They walked quickly, as if they had to be at the Weatherfield by a certain time.

A ways into the field, he felt a kind of tingling over his skin. A glance around revealed nothing, and the sensation ended as abruptly as it had begun. He turned around, walking backwards, and saw the mirage he’d glimpsed yesterday. This time, the headache started right away with it, so he faced forward and ran to catch up.

The Mage at the end of the line twisted, reaching back. Interpreting it as an invitation to walk beside the man, Géta hurried to catch up to him.

“How long have you played?”

He flinched at the abrupt way the Mage spoke. “Since I was four.”

“And you are now?”

“Nine and a half.”

“I hope you’re better at it than you look like you’ll be.”

Géta flinched. “My tutors said I play well.”

The Mage grunted. Géta glanced up at him, noticing now he wore an out-of-style shirt under his tunic. His collar spread open against the front of the brown tunic. The Mage’s ears weren’t even pierced, and most of those Géta had seen in the school had worn jewelry of some sort.

“Asthané, I want you and Héforth to practice like you did yesterday,” the lead Mage announced once they reached a kind of dip in the field. “Alées, come with me. We need to tame your Air Gift before I’ll let you begin training with Asthané. Oh, and, Thané, I want you to try working it on your own, without accessing the Obnubilate Codicil.”

The Mage who’d spoken to Géta nodded. Lead Mage and the girl strode off, and the pair left behind regarded Géta. The younger of the pair seemed curious, but the elder—the one with the red hair who’d spoken to Géta before—scowled.

“Well, take out your instrument and play.” He made a motion indicating Géta from feet to head.

Nodding a little frantically, Géta dropped to his knees and opened his flute’s case. He had his instrument assembled within a matter of moments, but a glance told him the Mage wasn’t pleased with this speed. He swallowed. “D-do you want me to play anything specific?”

The scowl deepened. “I don’t care what you play. Just don’t stop.”

With that, he turned away and beckoned the younger Mage to join him. Panting, Géta raised his flute and began to play. He shifted to sit on his rump in the grass and tucked his feet under his knees, keeping his eyes open. This seemed to be an unsought learning opportunity, and he didn’t intend to let it pass even though he didn’t think he’d ever want to be a Mage. It sounded like too much trouble, at least from what he’d read of the journals he sought. Reading about Mages in histories, reading their diaries, was one thing, but actually becoming one? Not if he had to abandon music, and, despite having come across only a few Mages whose journals he liked, he’d gleaned enough information to know he’d have to abandon music in order to become one.

Maybe, though, if there’d been a way to keep his music . . .

As Géta watched and played, he saw a whirling mass of snow form in midair. About twice the height of the elder Mage, the pillar of blizzard could have encompassed a carriage. A little shadow seemed to flicker under the spell, a hint of mist which rolled back and forth like the waves at the lake Géta’s family had gone to when he was six had done. Even though the snow somewhat obscured these little licking waves of mist, it didn’t completely cover them. The little headache which had started at the tingling mirage increased, so Géta closed his eyes.

He drew up notes from memory, not playing anything particularly upbeat. The mood just wasn’t with him. After a while, his arms grew tired, and his fingertips started to fall asleep. The bit of headache had gone at least. A few of his notes faltered in succession, and he lost the thread of the notes he’d been playing as his arms grew too weary. His hands, flute clutched in them, dropped to his lap.

“Play!”

Opening his eyes with a start, he looked up at the elder Mage. The elder Mage glared at him.

“You broke me from my trance. You’re supposed to play continuously. Weren’t you told this by your precious Priests?”

Géta flinched, raising his flute. The snow on the ground beyond the Mages was melting, and the elder Mage’s glare didn’t depart until the first fresh notes left his instrument. He closed his eyes once more, not wishing to look at anyone or anything. If he did, he’d cry, and then he wouldn’t be able to play. Why did he have to get stuck playing for some rude Mage anyway? Couldn’t the man have been a little kinder? Géta wasn’t used to playing continuously for hours on end. Even his lesson with Master Orsée yesterday had included breaks, though each and every one had been forced by weariness.

The experience didn’t improve from there. He faltered and stopped playing several more times over the next hours, and each time, the Mage snapped at him. Though he wanted to, Géta didn’t snap back, almost too despondent to care about anything besides getting through this process. After he was done, he’d have a week or so where he wouldn’t have to look at another Mage if he didn’t want to, except in classes, and those Mages he didn’t have to play for.

“All right, Asthané, Héforth, that’s enough.”

The sound of the lead Mage’s voice relieved Géta of his duty, and he stopped playing. Not paying attention to his surroundings, he cleaned and cased his flute as quickly as possible—but wasn’t quick enough. A pair of worn brown boots appeared in his view, and he froze.

“I suppose you’re the only flute player here.”

He swallowed. “I don’t know, sir.” Maybe if he kept his head bowed it would appease this Mage.

“I expect you to perform better the next time I see you.”

Géta couldn’t disguise or resist the flinch which jerked his body. The feet departed, and he slumped where he sat, the tears he’d fought the entire time he’d been out here reaching his eyes.

“You two go,” the lead Mage said softly.

He pulled his legs up and hugged them, bowing his head over his knees. A few seconds later, he felt a warm presence settle to his right and a hand grasped his left shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Géta. I’ve never known Asthané to be anything but coarse and abrupt. I think the loss of his last musician struck him deeply.”

Géta shook his head. “It’s my fault. I couldn’t play steadily.”

“That’s no excuse for Asthané to take his frustrations out on you.”

He sighed, shaking his head again, but unable to find any more verbal protests.

The lead Mage sighed. “Well, there are eight musicians, including you, who have no permanent attachment. With any luck, Asthané will be in a better mood next week.”

He nodded, unable to speak, though his tears had dried. A part of him wanted to tell this woman about how things were with him, but he couldn’t convince himself to. She wouldn’t care. He wasn’t that important in the scheme of things.

She squeezed his shoulder again, her arm warm around his back. “Let’s go. I’m sure you have more important things than sitting here in the middle of the Weatherfield to do.”

Géta climbed to his feet, bringing his cased flute with him. The lead Mage walked with him, her hand on his back, as if to lend comfort. Oddly, he felt with her as he felt with Shélan, perhaps because she’d seen him crying and been kind.

“Are there any other Mages who require musicians here now?” he asked.

“Some, but they have permanent musicians and aren’t likely to require your playing. Perhaps if someone new comes in who needs music. Even if a Mage has a permanent musician, if they have a student who requires one, they alternate days with other musicians in hope of finding one the student can work with. We don’t normally have a surplus of musicians, and, usually, it’s an indication we’ll be getting many more Mages in the near future; the more Mages we get, the more who require music will arrive as well.”

“Makes sense.”

When they passed through the tingly area, he glanced back. Again, Géta saw the mirage, and he realized it was like the licking shadow he’d seen beneath the snow in the spell. It had that same kind of ripple. And it brought back the headache, which didn’t help the one his little bit of crying had given him, so he faced forward.

“Thanks.”

She patted his back. “You’re welcome, Géta. It costs nothing to show a little kindness.”

Much to his dismay, Géta woke when it was still dark on Jalza’s Day. It was the one day they had for rest and relaxation, and he’d hoped to sleep in. Apparently it wasn’t to be. Since he’d never seen a point in lying abed when he wasn’t ill, he got up and dressed to take himself off to the library.

There were others present in the Mages’ journal stacks at this hour today, all three of them clad in tunics with sigils. His steps slowed as he observed them, wondering if it would be worthwhile to approach any of them. They all looked too caught up in the journals they were reading, though. With a sigh, Géta went to fetch the journal he was reading and returned to the reading area to settle in the only unoccupied chair left—something with long graceful legs and a brocaded seat and oval wood-framed back, with wooden arms covered in thin padding and more brocade. It was like the chairs his mother had put in the sitting room where she visited with her friends and gave him a bit of homesickness when he sat in it because it felt just as stiff and unpadded as those chairs did. His feet didn’t even touch the floor, just his toes, and he couldn’t cuddle up in this one or sit sideways with his legs thrown over an arm.

After a while, the bells chimed five. Géta couldn’t quite focus and kept eying the Mages, still wondering if he could perhaps talk to one or more of them. None of them were familiar, however, so he didn’t feel comfortable with the idea. Besides, they probably didn’t have time for musicians. A Novice entered while he was gazing around the seating area and went up to one of the Mages, passing a note to her. She departed, leaving two Mages and an empty comfortable chair. Géta rose to claim it as one of the Mages moved to do so, and they met before it.

For a bare moment, Géta considered forcing the issue, then he stepped back to reclaim the chair he’d occupied before, driven to retreat by shyness. The Mage said nothing and sat in the comfortable chair, doing what Géta often did in it—slinging legs over one arm while resting his back against the other. Géta sat for a minute, gazing at the journal he was reading, then went to put it back, leaving his mark in place. He had all day to read journals; perhaps the library would be vacant later. For this one day, he could change his habits. Besides, he had a wealth of homework—twice as much mathematics homework as usual. He could work on that for the rest of the hour before breakfast.

So he returned to his room and settled in to do his mathematics. By the time the six o’clock bell rang, he wanted a break, though he’d gotten a fair amount of it done. It helped it was something he’d already gone over with his private tutor back home, so it was mostly tedious as he proved his ability with the “new” skill.

As usual, he sat by himself in the dining hall. There were even fewer people here this morning at this hour than usual. Certainly no youth. Primarily Priests, with a few Mages—one of whom rose. Recognizing the Mage as the one he’d half-challenged for the comfortable chair in the library, Géta averted his gaze. By the looks of things, the Mage had only just sat down to eat, and, to Géta’s horror, he came to sit across from him.

The Mage set his tray down with a smile, and now Géta noticed the other fellow looked young. No more than eleven, surely.

“Hi.”

Géta put down the meat pie he’d been nibbling from as his appetite crawled away. “Hi.”

“I didn’t mean to chase you out of the library.”

He shrugged one shoulder. “I just went back to my room to do homework which has to be done by tomorrow anyway. I probably should have just stayed in my room.”

“Do you go to the library often?”

He sipped his milk, not having wished for coffee. “Every morning so far.”

“So far?”

“I’m new here.” Géta shifted a little, glancing up at the Mage.

“I thought you were new.” The Mage smiled, picking up his fork. “I’m Udé. It’s an old name, dates back to the founding of the Empire or something. I hate it. What’s your name?”

“Géta.”

Udé grinned. “I like your name. It doesn’t sound like a grunt.”

This induced a chuckle from Géta, and the Mage grinned with a chuckle of his own.

“So you’re a musician?”

Géta nodded.

“What do you play?”

“Flute.”

“Oh, like a wooden one?” Udé cut up the meat pie he had on his tray with the edge of his fork.

Géta shook his head. “A copper one. I’m from Séona.”

Enlightenment lit his acquaintance’s face. “Oh! Yes, the Land of Inventors.”

They shared another chuckle, and Géta’s stomach relaxed enough to make him feel hungry again.

“I’ve never seen a real metal flute close-up. Can I look at it?”

For a moment, Géta sat with his meat pie halfway to his lips. The scent of the spices from the meat filled his nose, and he swallowed. Udé seemed like a friendly fellow, and he was a Mage. Shélan hadn’t hinted anything about the young Mages being uncontrollable.

“All right. Um,” he glanced around. “Let me go get it now.”

“No, wait!” Udé reached after his wrist. “Finish your breakfast first. I can wait.”

Géta sat down again. After a minute spent eating more of his meat pie, he realized he felt comfortable with this fellow. It gave him the confidence he needed to ask a question of his own. “What kind of Mage are you?”

“You’re that new?”

He nodded. “I’ve seen Mages with blue sigils work weather magic, but I don’t know the individual colors or anything about it. My parents didn’t think I’d need to know, so they never had my tutor teach me.”

Udé frowned a little as he chewed, expression thoughtful. “Well, I suppose someone has to teach you, and I don’t mind. It’s not like I’ve got a whole lot to do today. Mainly homework. So, I’m a Fire Mage, orange sigils are an indication of Vlantil’s Gift.”

“Which is fire?”

“Yes.”

Géta nodded. “I think I have it.”

Udé grinned. “We’ll have you wise to wizards’ ways in no time.”

The bed was very, very comfortable. Not that Asthané’s bed back in the High Temple wasn’t, but this was much better. Well, pretty much any bed was more comfortable than sleeping outside on the ground, even in early summer. He could admit to having missed being able to see the stars whenever he’d been back at the post Temple, but even then, the stars had borne no comparison to an actual bed, even if it was made of hay stuffed into a sack. Featherbeds weren’t very common at border posts, particularly in areas where conflict was frequent. Too expensive to transport to the posts, whereas hay could be shipped from the nearest farms. If the mattress-sack had a thick enough weave, though, hay or featherbed didn’t matter. Beds here in the Capitol, however, and particularly in the palace, were more likely to be cotton-stuffed. Made them so blissful for just lazing about in, but Asthané supposed he should get up now. He’d been awake for a good while and needed to use the privy.

He crawled out of bed with a long sigh, thinking he could get used to sleeping here in the palace, especially now he’d had the epiphany of moving the dratted clock out to the sitting room. Last night’s Council session had gone through supper time again, and he’d spent most of the first half of it sitting on a bench with another incredible headache. Proof yet again that interruptions to his learning-trances weren’t a good idea. Unfortunately for both himself and that flute-player, there just wasn’t a way for the boy to gain the stamina necessary for such extended playing without such playing.

Asthané knew he could have been a bit easier on the boy, but it was too late now. There was no way he was going to promise anybody anything, even himself. It was just that he’d been expecting someone with more experience, not some fresh-off-the-farm musician. Playing country dances for one’s family wasn’t the way to build up the stamina necessary for what was required here at the High Temple, and the realization the boy had little to no practice with extended playing had only served to aggravate Asthané’s already unsteady temper. After four hours of interruptions to his trances, he’d been about ready to shove the stupid copper flute down the boy’s throat.

Shaking his head as he came out of the indoor privy chamber, Asthané collected the clothing a page had fetched for him. Today was Jalza’s Day, so there was no particular reason for him to bathe before facing the day. If he could get to the High Temple and some mundane clothes—he still had a few bright, if old-fashioned, outfits in his wardrobe—he just might find a smile for someone. He’d bathe once there. Then, perhaps, he’d venture out into the city for some clothing shopping, primarily because he didn’t particularly appreciate the idea of wandering around in outmoded fashion, though he wasn’t sure he liked this particular feeling.

He ate, then loaded the plates back onto the tray cart with the half-empty coffee pitcher before ringing the kitchen bell, opened his door—and discovered a noblewoman pacing on the other side.

“Uh, hello, um, I don’t know your name or title.” Truthfully, he’d been so mentally blasted after using his Gifts, he was surprised he remembered she was a noble at all.

She regarded him with a smile. “That’s all right. May I come in?”

Nodding, Asthané stepped back. He recognized her a little, remembering she was one of the Councilors. It took another few breaths before he recalled she was the representative of Ruphlan. When he said as much as she entered, she nodded in return.

“I wanted to speak with you about your advocacy of stopping this harrying Inski is indulging in.”

He shut the door. “You have already.”

She faced him, leaning against the back of the chair he’d occupied for his breakfast. “I simply wanted to make sure you were certain of my gratitude . . . and to ask if there might be some way you could work on the other members of the Council for a positive vote.”

Asthané paced a little. If he were honest, he would admit he had a connection to Court in Zéth, but he didn’t particularly want to rouse that problem. Bringing in his ex lover would require more than he was willing to offer right now. In the end, he shook his head, halting to face the noblewoman. “I’ve considered approaching different Council members, but I have no connection to Court.”

She folded her arms under her breasts, tilting her head a bit to the side. “I have heard rumors.”

He huffed a breath. “Let me guess. Of Baron Éeminée of Gervés visiting this same apartment yesterday morning.”

“Yes.”

“Rumor certainly doesn’t waste any time.”

His bitter comment elicited a smile from the noblewoman. “I don’t know what you have between you, but don’t you think it’s worth a try to see if he’ll speak for you in Court?”

Asthané folded his arms tightly and gazed at her shoes. The new style for shoes was apparently blunt round tips, not pointed. The discovery did nothing to help him with his dilemma.

“Asthané, I think it truly comes down to: How much do you want our army on Inski’s border? How much do you want to prevent a war?”

He raised his gaze to her. “A lot.”

“Enough to speak to Baron Éeminée? I’m sure if you enlist his aid, we’ll have some success with the Council. He hasn’t wasted any of his time since arriving six months ago. Now, I’ve heard only rumors, but they all claim he’s got his fingers in any number of activities inside and outside of Court, that he has ties to not only the highest nobles here, but to the lowest people in the streets.”

Asthané stared at her, eyes wide. He’d always known Zéth to be a conniver, but he’d never thought it would go this far.

“Not only that, he still has very firm connections to the monarchy back in Gervés. But it’s only rumor.” The noblewoman shrugged, giving him a glance which would have been flirtatious if it hadn’t come right after the little speech she’d given. “It’s up to you, but I think this war with Inski must be cut off before it can happen.”

He didn’t ask if she’d heard rumors of this developing into a major war as he had. Honestly, he didn’t need to. It didn’t matter if she’d heard those rumors or not. What mattered was her very real concern for protecting her country, and he did have a connection to Court, even though he didn’t particularly like the idea of using it. Not only that, but he also felt at least as strongly as she did about stopping a war with Inski before it happened.

“All right. I’ll see what I can do. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll do what I can.”

She smiled and crossed to him, reaching. He loosened his hands and let her catch them, and she surprised him by kissing his fingers as one might some foreign ruler’s hands.

“Thank you, Asthané.”

He just nodded, stifling the desire to roll his eyes and make a face. She released his hands and let herself out. Alone once more, Asthané glanced around the room. Perhaps he should wear another fire-sigil tunic instead today.

After finding paper, pen and ink, and cover parchment, he wrote a little note to Zéth. It took him a few minutes to decide upon, There is a political necessity for which I need your aid. It brought bile to the back of his throat to have to write anything at all to Zéth, but he did want to do something to encourage a positive outcome to the debates over sending an army to camp on the Ruphlan-Inskiti border. It just made him wish he’d been open to making the friends Zéth had encouraged him to when he was younger. Too late now, however.

Since he never wore his Mage Seal ring, Asthané pasted the note shut, addressed it, then sent it off with the tray cart when the page arrived to take it away. After collecting yesterday’s clothes, he trekked across the gardens to the High Temple. He even succeeded in getting a bath before the day worsened. Jéesan came knocking on his door.

Asthané let her enter, and she strode in, turned to face him, and started in on him as soon as he shut the door.

“You need to apologize to the musician who played for you yesterday.”

He backed up against the door in reaction to his teacher’s ferocity. “The musician?” It took a minute for his mind to catch up, and Jéesan filled it with words.

“Yes. You hurt his feelings, Thané. He may not be the best musician you’ve ever had playing for you, but he certainly didn’t deserve to have you put him down!” She paced a little between the table and chairs and the seating arrangement closer to his fireplace, not looking at him, which was a sure sign she was thoroughly incensed. “What happened to you? You never used to be so hard on people. Not even at your worst before Siéda was assigned to you. Has his death altered your temperament that much?” Now she halted and gazed at him, her expression expectant.

He sighed and leaned against the door. Unable to avert his own gaze from Jéesan’s, he stared for a couple minutes. When she blinked, he did as well, sighing again. “It was aggravating. I’m not used to interruptions.”

She straightened a little. “All right, I can understand that. However, that doesn’t excuse your snapping at him. I asked around. He’s new, an atonement-tithing. How do you think he feels, Asthané?”

His eyes widened at the word “atonement-tithing,” and now he nodded. “Probably out of his depth.”

“Exactly. You know how that feels—we all do. And it was his first week here. He probably didn’t even expect to get summoned to perform. Then you go taking your sour mood out on him.” She swept a hand at him, expression one of disgust now, and turned to pace again.

Asthané lowered his gaze, going over his memories of the previous afternoon. Jéesan was right, he had taken his mood out on the boy. He’d been beyond his typical tactlessness, even cruel. There was no excuse for it. Not even the very real wish it had been Siéda sitting behind him playing, even if it had meant they’d still be on the border. All he’d been able to do each time the light notes from the boy’s flute had stopped was remember how Siéda would have been able to play continuously, using a pick. Not quite the same sound as fingers strumming, but similar enough Asthané wouldn’t have been disturbed. It still didn’t mean he had a right to snap and gripe at the boy.

“Let me have lunchtime to think of something appropriate to say.” What he meant was “to find some tact.” It would take more effort than he usually liked to expend to make this apology, but he couldn’t avoid it now that he’d been forced to face his mistake. This was something Siéda would have done before, and he was actually rather glad Jéesan had been present yesterday. There were still times—not often—when he needed someone to give him a verbal slap upside the head when he’d been unintentionally hurtful.

Jéesan stopped pacing and regarded him. He met her gaze and held it until she nodded and looked away first. “All right. You’d better hurry, or you won’t get any food at all.”

He nodded. “Thanks.”

“I know you didn’t intend to hurt him, Thané, so I just had to make sure you knew you need to apologize.”

“Thanks.”

Géta returned to his room after lunch feeling happier than he had in days. He and Udé had spent the entire morning together, and he now felt like he had a friend. They’d eaten lunch together, going late, and Udé had been reluctant to return to his room, but he had homework too, and had needed to get to it. After arranging to meet before breakfast the next morning, they’d gone their separate ways.

First he opened the window, then Géta dropped onto the chair at his desk and scanned his mathematics homework. He hadn’t quite finished it before breakfast, so set to working out the next problem, smiling a little. Someone knocked on his door about the time he got halfway through it.

Who could that be? Aside from Udé and a couple of the Priests who sat in the watch room, he didn’t know anybody. He didn’t think Udé would come by so soon after saying he had work to do, and there was no reason for the Priests come to him. Today was the traditional day off for work and schools, so he didn’t believe any of his teachers would have sent for him. Whomever was on the other side of his door knocked again.

May as well answer it. Géta rose and crossed to the door. Expecting a Novice, he was surprised when he saw the Mage he’d played for standing in the corridor instead. Just the sight of the man made him feel like curling in on himself.

“I need to come in.”

“Why?”

The Mage frowned at his response. He averted his gaze, shifting a little, unwilling to let the Mage in yet uncertain he wanted to risk anyone witnessing this encounter. If it turned out anything like things had yesterday, it would only be humiliating, and he didn’t want anyone to see him cry again.

“I need to apologize.” The Mage didn’t sound very apologetic, his words were so abrupt; in fact, they sounded as if the Mage didn’t think he had any reason to apologize at all.

Géta flinched, lowering his gaze further. The depression which had enveloped him after their first encounter returned in a rush. “Why bother?” His words sounded dull, and he stepped back to shut the door.

The Mage caught it with his foot. “We’re going to have to work together.”

“Just tell them you don’t want to have me play for you any more.” The first word was faint, and they only grew more faint as he spoke, letting go of the door to step back.

“I can’t do that. It’s not permitted. I have to find a working relationship with one musician before they send me out to the Ruphlan-Inskiti border, and one session is not enough to make that kind of decision on.”

“You said I performed badly.”

The Mage huffed a breath. “I didn’t say that.” He entered the room and shut the door. “I said I expected you to perform better.”

The reminder only served to make Géta wilt further, and he hugged himself, closing his eyes against the tears. “I’m just not any good. Find somebody else.”

A long sigh came from the Mage. “I don’t know what to say to you.” The Mage paced a bit further into the room.

Retreating, Géta glanced at him, saw an expression of irritation on his face as he looked around. “I’ll try to do better.”

The Mage focused on him, and he cringed. “That’s what I want.”

Géta nodded, drawing a long breath through his nose.

“Gods, I didn’t mean to make you cry!”

He glanced again, and this time something broke. “I’m sorry! I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I can’t seem to do anything right. I didn’t want to be sent here, and even though I’m glad I get to have music, I feel like I still can’t fit in. I mean, I think I just made a friend, but I don’t know, and he may have just been humoring me and been thinking I’m just some stupid, clingy musician who he couldn’t get away from fast enough. It probably shouldn’t matter, but it does, and I wish it didn’t.” He looked up at the Mage, imploring with one hand extended. “Just tell me what I’m doing wrong here, so I can fix it.”

The Mage looked stricken. “Jéesan said you were sent as an atonement-tithing.”

Miserable, Géta nodded. “Because I wouldn’t decide on what I wanted to do at home. I just wanted to play my flute and maybe write music, but Father wouldn’t have accepted that.”

The Mage sat on the bed, near the foot, and clasped his hands between his thighs. What gave the Mage the right to come in here and make himself at home? After a moment, he patted the space to his right.

“Come sit down.” It was spoken abruptly, more like a command than a request.

Géta shuffled over and sat down, though he left about an arm’s length of space between himself and the Mage.

“What’s your name?”

“Géta.”

“Surname?”

“Disphreni.”

The Mage nodded. “I’m Asthané Étiée. Do you have any questions for me?” His questions sounded like statements, as if he was a foreigner and hadn’t caught on to how to make the proper inflection for them.

Géta shifted, sniffling, and rubbed his nose with the heel of one palm. “What Gifts do you have?”

“Air, water, earth, and fire. Air, water, and fire enable me to create the weather magic you saw yesterday.”

“Oh.” He bowed his head, but the tears had retreated and his face felt cooler than it had been when he’d been weeping.

“I can never say things right, even when I’m being kind.” Asthané sounded frustrated. He patted Géta’s back and rose. “Good.”

“All right.” It wasn’t all right, but Géta didn’t see as he had much choice. He was a musician, and Asthané required music, so he had to play for him again at some point.

Asthané seemed to hesitate for a minute, then left. Géta watched the door shut, then rolled onto his bed, curling up facing the wall, and tried to find the happiness he’d had before the Mage’s visit. So much for apologies.

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