When the Willow Bears Grapes, Part 2

This session of congenial plotting led to the arrival, the next morning, of a rather uninspiring young man at Sonia Kostka’s door. His clothing showed wealth, prestige, and taste, being a greek silk velvet that matched the green of his eyes and set off the red of his hair and beard. He was attended by a second, dressed in far simpler garb and bearing a stack of boxes.

Upon being shown into the parlor, the man in green bowed shallowly to Sonia and her mother, and said, “I am Aidan Mogen, fourteenth son of his Grace, and I have been sent by his duchess to bring these gifts, from one mother to another.” 

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When the Willow Bears Grapes, Part 1

Beorn Mogen was a man of immense power and immense appetites.

This story is not about him. But without knowing these two facts, none of the rest of it will make sense.

Beorn was one of the most powerful mages born in the 18th century. Of course, what he possessed in raw power he more than made up for in a complete lack of finesse, refinement, tact, or restraint. What he saw, he wanted, and what he wanted, he found a way to get.

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Six Weeks: Prologue

May 1, 1881

There was a grave cut into the permafrost. It was seven feet long and three feet wide. In it, under six feet of freshly turned earth, lay Stian Mogen, Magus and Duke of Hjelm.
There was an old man, sitting on a three-legged stool. He had a long, grizzled beard over a face that was a burnished copper, and he squinted in the midday sun. This far north the air still carried a bite, and he wore a sealskin jacket and tall fur-lined boots. He puffed on a long stemmed pipe, and watched patiently.
Next to him stood a man only slightly younger in years but radically different in both appearance and demeanor. He was best described as fussy: his salt and pepper beard neatly trimmed to a point under his chin, his hair perfectly cut, and even out here on the steppe his clothing was without so much as a wrinkle or speck of dust. He would have been pacing if it hadn’t felt ridiculous. Instead, he frequently drew his watch out of his waistcoat, checked it, and re-pocketed it while grimacing.

There were three women as well, veiled and dressed in black from head to toe. Some things must be done according to tradition, and for this they needed the Sisters. Behind them, five men sat on the turf and played cards as they waited.
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April, 1881

It was after dinner when Rafe found Mariana scrubbing the kitchen floor.

“Don’t we have a kitchen maid for that?” he asked.

She scowled up at him. “You do,” she said. “But she gets up at five, and I sent her to bed already. And I like to do it myself from time to time. It’s… a good thing to do.”

“Understood. Listen,” he said, dropping his voice and crouching down next to her on the floor. “I have a…well, a friend, and she needs your help.”

This time the glare was more heated. “Clean up your own messes, Rafe Greyson.”

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March, 1881: Part 2

Willamina was dead asleep when she heard the voice.

“Hey, you. Wake up.” The accent sounded vaguely American, but the vowels were strangely broad and the words clipped.

“Ung,” she said, pulling the pillow over her head.

“Come on. That idiot brother of yours needs you.”

“Which one?” She was already drifting back off, dragged down by her exhaustion and convinced this was a dream. At least she was until she felt sharp teeth digging into her palm. She yelped, sitting up. The room was empty, except for a heavy animal scent. She pulled her robe on and went up the back stairs to knock on Mariana’s door.

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March, 1881

Willamina was, as always, in the kitchen.

Today, however, it was because of the weather. The spring rains had set in, and it was a cold, damp day. Stephen had come home for the weekend, ostensibly to visit the family. In truth, he and his sister had spent the morning practicing with Casmin. Now, weary but exultant, they both sat near the hearth reading while Mariana readied an early supper. Seeing their exhaustion, Mariana had put on a large pot of strong coffee.

It was this aroma that drew Rafe, red-eyed and yawning, back to the kitchen.

“Late night?” Willamina asked when she saw him.

“Very. Let this be a lesson to you, sister. Getting a man drunk for information works, but you have to stay up late drinking with him. Is that coffee I smell?”

“It’s on the stove,” Mariana answered warily.

“Ah, Mariana, you’re a radiant goddess. You put me in mind of Byron, when he said ‘She walks in beauty like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies…’”

“Ah, Rafe,” she retorted. “You put me in mind of something my mother used to say.”

“What’s that, darling?”

She hoisted a bag of potatoes onto her shoulders. “Don’t touch that, you don’t know where it’s been.” With that, she swept out of the kitchen. Continue reading

The Twins, Pt 2

The next two weeks flew by, and soon it was Stephen’s last weekend home before he and Casmin returned to University. Mariana was preparing dinner, and Willamina had come in to keep her company. Carrying a pot over to the range, Mariana stopped and grunted, glaring at the burner.

“The stove has gone out again. Willamina, could you?”

“Where are the matches?” the girl asked.

Mariana rolled her eyes. “I don’t know, but the coals are cold, and I don’t have the time to rebuild the fire by hand. I know you can do it, just… this once? Please?”

“All right, Miss ‘we must never use our talents frivolously.’”

“HEAVY,” Mariana snarled.

“Right.” Willamina hurried over, held out her hand, and… nothing happened. She frowned, and tried again.

“What’s wrong?” Mariana asked.

“I don’t know. It won’t work.”

Stephen came in then. “What’s the problem?”

“Stove’s out, and,” Willamina said, just as a spark leapt to her fingertips, “ ah, there we go.”

Marianna set the pot down with a sigh. She turned to Willamina then frowned. “Has that ever happened before?”

The girl shook her head, and experimentally called the flame into her hands a few more times.

“Stephen,” Mariana said, “go fetch Casmin.”

After he had left the kitchen, she said, “Now try again.” Nothing. “You always practice together?”

The girl blushed. “We’ve only done it a few times. We didn’t want Edmund finding out.”

Stephen returned almost instantly with the professor.

“What’s the problem?” Casmin asked.

“Not a problem so much as a development,” Mariana said. “Although I am not sure what it means.” She told him what had happened, and he sent Stephen out into the hallway.

“Now try again,” he told Willamina.

“Do I have to? It’s giving me a headache…” Still, nothing. They called Stephen back in, and once he was within a few feet of her, the flame came easily.

“Interesting.” Casmin said.

“Let me guess. Back outside?” Stephen asked.

“Please and thank you.” This time Casmin called up his own flame, although he looked startled when he did so.

“Hold out your hand, Willamina.” He passed her the fire, and she held it for a while before letting it go.

“What is it, Andre?” Mariana asked, watching his face.
“Step back, I want to try something.”

“I always get nervous when you say that.”

He concentrated, holding out his hand. He called fire, spooling it into a ball as he did so. It grew, and then kept growing, putting out more and more light and heat. Soon he was sweating, and the ball was almost too bright to look at. Finally, panting, he let it go. Mariana gaped at him.

“Very interesting,” he said once he’d caught his breath.

Marianna rolled her eyes. “You use that word with great frequency. I am not certain that you are certain of its true meaning.”

He snorted, and brought Stephen back in.
“Well, Stephen, I think we found the source of your fireball problem,” he said.

“What do you mean? He can do them just fine,” Willamina said.

“I can do them just fine when it’s the two of us. They’re nowhere near so good otherwise.” Stephen grimaced. “I thought it was nerves.”

“So did I,” said Casmin. “But apparently, you’re a matching set.” Their identical scowls in response made him laugh.

This didn’t improve Willamina’s mood. “I don’t follow you. Why couldn’t I call the fire just then?”

“Because you can’t,” said Casmin.
“Yes I can,” said Willamina.

“No, you can’t,” Casmin repeated. “Stephen can.”

Willamina glared at him, and then at her brother. “Well, that’s just bloody unfair, isn’t it.”

“But he can’t shape it,” Casmin said. “Not like you can.” He sat down at the kitchen table and looked at them both. He crossed his arms. “We knew your magic was tied together somehow. We just didn’t know precisely how. I realize this sounds like bad news. But here’s what you don’t understand. The pair of you singly have already learned more in the last few months than most mages will ever accomplish. You’ve started late, which explains some of it. But combined, you’ve got more raw talent than any I’ve ever seen. Well, almost any.” As they started to grin, he added, “Don’t get cocky. That mostly means you’ve got the unlimited potential to blow yourselves up. And you have a great deal of work ahead of you. All the potential in the world won’t mean a damned thing if you’re lazy.”

“So in other words,” Mariana said, “both of you, back to work.”

As the twins left the kitchen, she muttered to Casmin, “What was that?”

“My place. Ten o’ clock. I’ll call the boss.”

She made a clicking sound with her tongue against her teeth. “First, the stove.”

“What?” Casmin asked, baffled.

She drew her eyebrows together. “It’s still not lit. You’re the fire mage. Make fire.”

He scowled back but did as she bade, lamenting, “I liked it better when you were afraid of me.”

The Beast

(September, 1819)

They called him The Beast, and he didn’t much mind.

It suited his purposes.

There were two ways to survive being Magus without breaking either the world around you or your own mind. Søren, his father, had chosen one way. A wanderer by nature, he had made Japan a second home. Once he discovered the temples of Edo, he spent hours of each day in meditation or training, honing his self-mastery into an impenetrable fortress of its own.

Beorn frankly didn’t have time for that shit, and restraint didn’t suit him. He was a big man, in every sense of the word: over six feet tall, barrel chested, and heavily muscled, he had grown his tawny hair to well below his shoulder blades. At that point he figured he might as well really dress the part and had grown in a full length beard. His appetites matched his frame, and he made no effort to hide the fact. Again, as often as not it suited his purposes.

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Cooking Lessons

It was still dark when Willamina was shaken awake. She groaned.

“Wake up.” The voice was quiet, but stern and thickly accented.

She shook her head. Bleary eyed, she saw Mariana standing over her bed with her arms crossed.

“What time is it?” she asked.

“Five thirty,” said Mariana. “I let you sleep in, since it’s our first morning. Now get up and get dressed.”

Willamina stared at her before saying, “But… it’s… five thirty.”

“And that is when the work starts.” Mariana raised an eyebrow and stood back on her heels. “Are you going to get up, or stay a child?”

Fully awake now, Willamina sat up. “I’ll be down in half an hour.”

Mariana nodded. “I’ll see you in ten minutes.”

She made it in fifteen, and Mariana counted it as good enough for a first effort. She was pleased to see that her pupil had been wise enough to dress sensibly, or at least had put on what was likely the most sensible dress she owned. She made a mental note to get the girl a set of work clothes.

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The Twins

December 27th, 1880

“Where did you get the orange,Wils?” Rafe had heard that the new cook was arriving today, and he wanted a closer look. He sat now with the twins in the front parlor, waiting.

Stephen scowled. “She seems to have a never ending supply of them these days.”

“Well, seeing as I’m of absolutely no interest to anyone, I can’t imagine where they might have come from.” With a grin at Rafe, she sauntered out of the parlor.

“I never said any such thing,” Stephen complained. Continue reading