Summary: Alana is the wealthy foster niece of a king, childhood rival of the prince. But when she is discovered to possess magic in a kingdom where magic is punishable by death, she is forced to go into hiding. When her safe haven is jeopardised, Alana is forced to confront her worse fears for the good of all she cares about.
"I hate him!"
The sweet, silent Autumn morning shattered. King Rohon sighed, his wrinkled brow already tensing as he rubbed his temples. He didn't have to look up from the papers scattered before him to know who was about to appear, her childish scream preceding her by mere seconds. The man opposite him chuckled, his blue eyes twinkling from the other side of the magnanimous mahogany desk his wife had bought on their wedding.
"You may say a lot for my daughter, sire, but you must admit that she is consistent."
Rohon shot Henri a glare, and chose to ignore his previous statement, eyes firmly fixed on the document of corn prices as he signed with a flourish. He didn't have time to melt wax for his royal seal before the door slammed open.
He sighed again.
Rohon glanced up, apprehensively, not sure what to expect. Sure enough, he was taken aback by the child before him doused in red liquid. He wouldn't have known who it was, if not for the every-day appearances she led in his offices, and that abominable shriek. She was unrecognisable, curls matted to her tear-streaked face.
"Is that—blood?" Henri leapt to his feet, lurching to his daughter with his face paling rapidly as he grasped her shoulders, all joking aside. Even Rohon straightened his back, eyes narrowing at his ward in concern as death threats towards whoever hurt her echoed in his head. She may be an irritating little minx, but he had known her since her birth six years previously, and she called him uncle.
"Alana! Where are you hurt?" Henri was growing more and more agitated, scraping the red liquid from her skin to try and find the wounds beneath, losing his composure to a degree that would embarrass him later. She was sobbing noisily, her small hands clutching her father.
"Korin—" She hiccupped, and Henri immediately shot an accusing glare over his shoulder at his king.
"What did my son do, sweetheart?" Rohon shifted uncomfortably, sliding from around his desk to bend beside the small girl, eyes sweeping her for cuts. His son was known for his dislike for the girl, his pranks, but never cruelty. Funny, it almost looked like-
"Korin locked me in a c-cupboard and poured tomato sauce all over me." Alana sobbed, scraping the stuff from her eyes and looking up at her father with a beseeching gaze that usually got her what she wanted. Rohon jolted upright, fighting abruptly to control his features. He turned away, trying to choke back a laugh, his jaw working uncontrollably.
"Oh darling, we'll see he's punished." It sounded suspiciously like Henri was trying to stop himself chuckling too.
"Whatever she said it's a lie!" Another voice joined the fray as the door slammed again. Rohon grimaced. Corn prices would have to wait.
"It is not you toad." Alana turned and pointed an accusing finger at the boy, her blue eyes wide in an absurdly red tomato-stained face. Korin elbowed her aside, face thunderous, with an undercurrent of amusement that Rohon recognised from his wife's expressions when she was hiding. Alana pushed him back, her minute size surprisingly strong as she succeeded in knocking him back a step.
"She put slugs in my bed."
"He threw my doll from the top turret in front of me!"
"Because she stole my practice sword and hid it for two days."
"Because he called me a witch and tied me up to burn me!"
"Enough!" Rohon thundered, using the voice of the king in order to scare the two children witless. Korin, at eleven, was marginally less susceptible but he snapped his mouth shut nonetheless. "Alana's family have been here for no more than a week this summer, and she will remain for the rest, just as she has every other year. If there is one more incident you will both be pulling weeds together for the rest of the summer. Is that clear?"
Korin and Alana both looked up at him, young eyes troubled, lips rolling to be chewed under lips. Korin glanced at the floor with a jerky nod. Alana tilted her head to the side with a funny little smile, guileless blue eyes deceptively wide.
"Alana, go get cleaned up. Korin, go and find your mother and see if she needs any help. Now." The pair turned and left immediately, without so much as a glance at one another, though their annoyance and distaste was evident in every cold movement. When the door shut, all was quiet once more. Rohon sank back into his chair, rubbing one hand over his forehead, eyes pained. Henri chuckled.
"I've never seen such childish dislike spanning so many years."
"It was fine when she was younger and couldn't retaliate so brilliantly."
"Oh I don't know," Henri grinned wolfishly, pulling yet another crop-pricing article towards himself, "your son could do with being taken down a peg or two by a girl half his size and age."
"And your daughter could learn to hold her tongue!" Rohon retorted, managing to hold a cold face for a valiant millisecond before he broke down into laughter that boomed around his office. The women of his household were not known for their delicate sensibilities.
"They'll end up desperately in love, of course."
"I was thinking it would end in a desperate act of murder."
With that, the two men fell into the comfortable silence of routine, and shuffled the papers before them as Rohon melted wax onto a document to press with the royal seal.
Six years later.
Korin was practicing at swords. Again. And Alana was being forced to watch. Again.
Being the younger brother of the crown prince, Korin was not in the immediate eye of the throne, and was therefore much more human than Lauron, according to those who apparently knew better. He was still high-born and rich, but he was so much more achievable. The insipid whispers of the gaggle of girls ranging from thirteen to eighteen was set to drive her mad, she was sure. They all fanned themselves with pretty-painted fans in the midday sun, their eyes fixed on the prince fighting in the ring, his torso flecked with sweat. At seventeen he was filling out, that scrawny body she had tackled so often finally getting the better of her feeble twelve-year old frame. One would think that being a prince of near-adulthood, that he would find other things to entertain himself rather than torture his childhood enemy. But no, twelve summers in one another's company, and twelve years of torture in a steadily-escalating monstrosity.
Not that she couldn't handle it. Alana glared at him arms crossed over her skinny chest as she watched him, unimpressed. He was obviously showing off, his muscles flexing in his naked back as he swung his sword too much, teeth gleaming white under a smirk. Arrogant prig.
"I'm bored." Her voice took on the edge of a whine as she tugged on the sleeve of her friend, Elisa, whose eyes were fixed hungrily on the boy. At fifteen she was worlds more experienced than Alana. Korin's partner, Lauron, was one of his friends; as pig headed and shallow as his prince.
"Then go!" She hissed, leaning forward to catch more of Korin.
"Fine, I will." Alana muttered, somewhat hurt, spinning with irritation as she stalked across the courtyard. Before she could get a good distance away, however-
"'Lana!" A voice called after her, a voice far too familiar.
"'Korrie." She replied, voice sickly sweet, without bothering to turn her head. She was aware of the girls watching, unconcerned, as their love-interest jogged to catch up with the skinny, dull-looking child. Lauron was panting, ignoring the exchange, stretching at the waist.
"Father asked me to give you this." His eyes winked very green at her from under the floppy dark fringe, but they were cold where they regarded her. She raised an eyebrow without stopping walking, making him keep on her heels. He held out a piece of paper.
"Go back to your fan-club."
"Take a shower, you stink."
"Mature." Korin grabbed her shoulder and spun her, forcing the paper into her fist before she could stop him, and running back to his adoring groupies. She watched him go, turning it over in her fingers, deciding whether it would make a good missile. Too light. She unfolded it instead, glancing down at the note.
Sweetheart, the king, your mother and I have gone hunting in the woods but would like you to join us for lunch. If you're free we'll be in the forest by the Oak enclosure at 2 O'clock with a picnic. If not we'll see you for dinner. You disappeared before we could ask this morning.
All my love, father.
Alana turned it over suspiciously. It was his handwriting, sure enough, and his seal. She could only assume it was really him and not Korin playing another trick on her. She glanced up at the sun to discern the time, and shrugged, tucking the note into her pocket. No time like the present.
The guards nodded at her politely as she left, recognising her easily and even offering a jaunty salute as she sauntered off the grounds and into the wood. It was a common walk, one she had taken a thousand times in her life until every tree was engrained on her memory. The Oak enclosure was a twenty minute walk away.
"Would you like company, my lady?" A voice called from behind her. She glanced back to find one of the guards a short distance away. "I don't like the idea of lettin' a young girl like you out alone."
"Oh, don't worry, I'm going to meet my father." She smiled, her eyes wide and innocent. The guard smiled at her, with a marginally less concerned nod, watching with avid eyes as she ducked into the forest.
She had always loved it. Mostly because Korin hated it, in the contrary way of children, but also because he never lay his mark there, leaving her to imprint upon her surroundings as she wished. She had tried to make it hers, and had succeeded. A scrap of ribbon, a paper bird, all tucked away in nooks and under branches only she would see. A pile of books under a stump, those were her favourite, close by the small pond she would trail her feet through. It kept her sane when life was too complicated. She wasn't royalty, but neither was she an average aristocratic daughter, what with her father being the king's foster brother. She was treated with confused jealousy, disdain and respect, leaving her head spinning. Court life was exhausting; more so for a woman. A woman who was not even of marriageable age. She was irrelevant.
Alana trailed her hands through the leaves that dripped in a heady green of the height of summer. Sunlight filtered through the dapples and buttered her face as she turned upwards like a stem. Beautiful.
It wasn't the first time her parents had invited her out later into a hunt, not liking the idea of her seeing a kill. She didn't mind, she liked the food, parcelled into cloth and ribbons and eaten with fingers under the sun.
With eyes half closed she traced familiar paths to the Oak enclosure, humming gently to herself.
It was only when she reached it that she realised something was wrong.
Silence. That was not what usually greeted her; usually it was the king's booming laugh that she knew so well, the exhausted pants of exercise, the excited murmur or disappointed grumbles. There should be the snort of horses, at least. Sure enough, when she emerged into the clearing she was alone.
She trailed her eyes around just in case, but she knew she had been tricked. Korin was probably in her room right now, doing something horrible to something she owned. Alana picked up a pebble for the sheer delight of throwing it hard against a tree in irritation, a short scream of frustration warping her good mood. He was relentless. Why couldn't he just learn to leave her alone?
She stomped around, huffing, deciding what to do. She couldn't run back with her tail between her legs, but nor could she stay out here alone for long. Her parents didn't like her being as far as the Oak enclosure alone.
With a sigh she steeled herself for that damn satisfaction she knew would flash in those poisonous green eyes the second she stepped foot in the castle.
But before she could move, it became apparent someone had other plans.
Something—something was behind her.
Slowly, disbelieving, she turned. Korin wouldn't… he wouldn't actually harm her. He wouldn't actually do something that could cause her injury. He was an annoying, arrogant prig but he wouldn't… risk her any more than irritation.
At the sight behind her, she was forced to reformulate her ideas of her childhood enemy.
The wolverine had its nose close to the ground, its hackles shivering as it watched her through filmy yellow eyes. It was a scrawny thing, but still easily bigger than Alana, covered in wiry muscle that hung from ragged bones that let off an alarming heat that suggested some kind of fever. The mad look in its eye and the light froth around its muzzle scared her more than she had ever been scared in her few years. It shook like a leaf, eyes focusing and unfocusing as it watched her, steadily inching forward, teeth salivating at the idea of a square meal.
Pure panic burst in Alana's chest as she held herself very still, staring at the animal with her heart pumping like a wilding. Their eyes were boring into one another, amber on blue, mindless fury on heart stopping fear.
Where had it come from? She had never seen anything more dangerous than a rabbit in twelve years of wandering these woods. And yet here it was, shaking with hunger, dark gleams of bloodlust in its gaze.
Run? Fight? She had no weapons. She couldn't outrun a wolf. She might be able to climb, if she was near a tree, but a glance showed the closest one was a good five metres away, and it was sure to catch her before she could scramble to and up it.
What could she do?
She took a step back. The wolf snapped at the air and jerked closer to her, nose still close to the floor. Alana stopped, her heart racing.
It leapt at her, and snapped at her shoulder, sending a lance of pain that made her hiss and clasp her suddenly bleeding limb with such fear that she thought she might pass out.
Something in her burst. Pure fear made something in her snap.
She kept her eyes locked on the creature's, knowing hers were going wide with useless pleading.
"Please." She murmured, not knowing what she was doing. She felt dizzy with fear and pain, her body swaying towards the creature. "Please."
Its hackles rose yet higher. The child dropped to her knees, her eyes fixed on it. "Please. I know you must be hurting. But please, I'm not ready to die."
Passed her. Alana whipped around, keeping her eyes on it, nearly breaking her neck with speed. Was it playing with her? She felt faint. Fear thrummed like a pulse.
"Stop it." Her voice came out sharp, and she was surprised at how old she sounded; older than her mother, older than the king. Her voice reverberated with age, ancient, soothing. The wolverine lowered its nose further with a whine, eyes beseeching.
It raised its face and howled.
"Quiet, now." She whispered, shifting so she was cross legged, one hand out to the animal. Nothing to lose. "Hush, you can't eat me."
The wolverine lowered itself until it was lying, its skinny belly brushing the leaves. She stared at it in shock. It rolled over like a dog, legs in the air.
Carefully, she inched closer. The wolverine didn't move, merely watched her, eyes sedate. Tentatively, she reached out a hand to touch it, her fingers kneading the fur she found; soft, it must be younger than she had thought in her blind panic.
What on earth? Wolverine's were not petted. Especially not rabid ones.
It licked her hand, licking the blood that dripped heavily from her shoulder away.
Her eyes bugged out of her head.
Something was thrumming in her, something that made her grip the back of its neck firmly. The wolverine whined, nuzzling against her, head heavy on her lap.
"You're beautiful, really." She whispered, suddenly aware that she had bitten her lip until it bled. It panted, eyes fluttering as it rested on her legs.
It ignored her, eyes wide and almost sarcastic; half recognising, as though it saw something in her.
She frowned and tried to remember what she had done before. It was easier the second time, something strange and alien blooming like pressure under her collar bone, like a lake she could dip her hand into.
"Stand up." She said again, firmly, and again that old, old voice came from her like the echo of a hundred women. With a whine the wolverine stumbled to its feet, eyes beseeching. Alana smiled briefly in delight, fingers rubbing between its ears in congratulations. It licked her again.
"Would you like to come home with me? We can see if the court physician can get rid of that fever." She murmured almost lovingly, a maternal grace making her get to her feet, fingers still tangled in its fur. It leaned on her, as though sensing her pain, delirious in its own hunger with a meal denied. Confused, but gratified, she clasped one hand over the wound at her shoulder that bled freely, and kept the other tangled in the fur of the huge wolf as it effortlessly tugged her in the direction of home.
"May I please sit on you?" She whispered after ten or so minutes, feeling so dizzy from loss of blood that she thought another step would kill her. Her voice was effortlessly that other voice. She didn't even think about it, babbling in pain, but the wolf stopped and lowered itself anyway so she didn't even think how strange it was that the creature could understand that other voice. She sat astride it and rested her face against its fur, shuddering slightly at the reek of animal.
"Thank you." She whispered.
She woke when they cleared the forest. The wolf shuddered beneath her, fear evident in the way it shied from the castle walls.
"Go into the castle." She mumbled. "Sneak past the guards."
It lowered itself into a sneak, barely hindered by her weight on its narrow back, and slunk as silently as a shadow up to the gates.
"What the—" A scream. The wolf didn't wait for instructions, but darted past, running flat out and making Alana clutch on tighter, unable to bring herself to be scared. They seemed to have an understanding. Screams all around. Faces, bodies. She didn't care.
"Left here, right—careful of that suit of armour, straight on—oops sorry miss!—right, nearly there—" The wolf followed her directions without query, panting with the effort, tiring fast. When the throne room was within sight, Alana wrapped her arms around the wolf's neck.
"Thank you." She whispered, pressing a kiss into the fur. The wolverine growled, playfully, and skidded into the throne room, which was packed with men.
A beat of silence.
Korin's face, white at the sight of her blood.
The world slowed as guards turned towards her, faces frozen with fear at the sight of the girl covered in blood riding a scabby wolf, the most dangerous animal most of them had ever had to face. The wolf was huge.
"Kill it!" A shriek, her mother?
The wolverine, startled, backed away, leaving Alana where she lay as it darted back, looking for an escape.
"No!" Alana screamed, her voice shattering the noise in a pure, sonorous sound-wave. Everyone stopped.
"Don't you dare hurt her." She shrieked, running towards the animal and wrapping her arms around its neck. Silence.
"What in all the hells—What are you doing hugging a wolverine?" Kind Rohon had never sounded so angry, so scared, half risen with every weapon in the room pointed at his twelve year old ward.
"I found her, and she's mine." Alana glowered at the king, her bearance every inch a princess. No one could say she was a pretty child, with her dark hair and pale skin, but in that moment she was powerful.
"Get away from it Alana!" Her mother was frantic, running towards her with her eyes burning with fear for her only child. The wolverine growled, hackles raising, nudging Alana back in an alarmingly protective gesture. Lisa pulled herself short, shocked and scared as the wolverine began to stalk towards her.
"Stop it, darling. I won't let them hurt you but don't hurt them." She whispered, like an incantation, eyes fixed on the wolf. Immediately obeying her command, the wolf turned and trotted to sit at Alana's heels with a huff.
That was when the screams began again.
"What on earth was she doing at the Oak enclosure?"
"She had this note in her pocket."
"I didn't send it!"
"It's signed by you!"
"Get Korin and Rohon."
Her parents voices were sharp on the other side of the door, as Alana blearily blinked awake. A heavy weight on her legs told her the wolverine had refused to leave her. She smiled, and reached down to scratch it.
It huffed, content, and licked her hand like a dog.
"Alana!" Her mother rushed into the room, her pretty face taut with fear as she pulled herself up short with a glance at her daughter's new pet. "Darling, please tell us what happened!"
"First, could you ask the physician if he has anything for my wolf's fever?" She asked with all the grave seriousness of a twelve year old, her arms protectively wrapping around its neck. It scrambled up the bed to rest its head on her chest, eyes closed sleepily.
"Of course." Lisa answered, clear headed in a strange situation, and sent the maid to run to the physician. "Tell us what happened."
"Korin gave me a note from father asking me to come meet you for lunch after your hunt—y'know, like usual so I thought nothing of it. I did, you weren't there, but she was. She tried to attack me but I don't know—the fear did something to me and my voice changed and I told her not to and she didn't. And then I asked her to bring me here. And she did." Alana shrugged, her eyes on her new pet so that she didn't see the glance exchanged between her parents.
"Alana listen to me—" Her father's normally playful voice was so serious she looked up, shocked, "You must not, you must not tell anyone of this. Do you understand? Anyone."
"Did I do something wrong-?"
"Some might say, just keep it to yourself until—"
"Lisa you don't think—"
Their voices babbled over one another as Alana watched, bewildered.
"Alana," Henri lowered himself until he was sat on her bed, gingerly placing himself far from the wolverine, "do you remember your history lessons?"
"High King Belar said that all practitioners of magic were to be executed. All the kings of each realm bow to his will; even Rohon. If we are right—you might have just displayed some characteristics. To be safe we might have to send you away for a while. Do you understand?"
"You controlled a wild animal with nothing but your voice. Answer me: do you understand?
Before Alana could say another word, the door swung open and Korin and Rohon marched in.
"What happened?" Rohon demanded.
"A freak miracle." Lisa said calmly, with none of the urgency of mere seconds ago. Korin was still pale. Alana glared at him. He had tried to kill her! "But it shook Alana up. I think it would be best to send her away for a while, away from court life, away from Korin." At that she glared at the sullen teenager, making it clear that she knew he had a hand in it.
"Of course." Rohon frowned, concerned and patted her shoulder awkwardly. She smiled up at him as well as she could, taking comfort from the wolf's fur.
"Who sent me the note?" Alana asked plaintively, not really focusing on what the adults were saying. She was floating outside her body, this new feeling, this huge presence under her breast bone suddenly full of terrifying connotations. She knew what happened to practitioners of magic; she had attended a few executions herself. She never wanted to be burned.
"Korin explained that he sent the note to have you sent away while he set up a ridiculous prank here. He will be punished, my lady, for endangering your life and causing you bloodshed." Rohon pressed a contrite kiss against her knuckles, eyes so wide with horror that Alana had to look away. "But I agree, it was selfish of us to force you two together when you so obviously hate one another. It would be best if you were sent away."
And that was it. Her fate was sealed, for the next six years. With not so much as a hug goodbye from her friends, a quick potion and enormous meal for the wolf and a change of bandages, she was bundled into a carriage and sent far, far away, for nothing more than befriending a wolf.
When the tears subsided and her face was pressed against the window, aching with tiredness and fear as the only home she'd known disappeared on the horizon; her kingdom, Lekon, she finally looked at the wolf cradled in her lap.
"Well seeing as you've caused me so much trouble, I might as well name you."
It looked at her through amber eyes, wide and beseeching, cleverer and sharper with the administration of the curing potion and food. It's narrow face was still hungry, but regal, quiet and pretty under matted fur.
"I'll call you Cliona. The Irish Kingmaker." Alana's mouth quirked into a smile, small fingers stroking through its fur as she leaned her head back to watch the world pass her by. That new feeling burned in her chest, growing.
The next few days passed in a blur, with Alana being passed from carriage to carriage, none the wiser as to her destination. She realised that when her parents said she must be sent away- they meant far away. She was grateful. Being burned did not appeal to her. When she inquired her drivers, they answered they only knew the next drop off point, not the eventual destination.
She resigned herself to not knowing.
Clio was growing more and more uneasy with the confined surroundings, pacing the small space with growls that terrified the drivers. When they grew too much Alana would release her with stern instructions to run, but follow the carriage and not get lost. Clio never didn't listen, emerging every few hours, panting and delighted.
The surroundings changed as they skirted each kingdom, heading north with oaks shifting to pines, skies greying, rain sleeting the sides of the carriage.
Boredom was the biggest problem. Alana carefully didn't think about the possibility of magic, ignoring any instinct that told her to use the strange power growing, always growing, choosing instead to watch out the window and think.
And then it was the last drop off. She sat on the grass by the side of the road, Clio curled up in her lap, silently watching for the next carriage. She was hungry, tired, and smelled awful; all she wanted was a hot bath, and to bathe the damn wild animal who insisted on clinging close to her.
Alana looked up, startled, to find the road empty. Instead, a woman of around forty stood, wrapped in a well-worn travel cloak, was looking down at her, greying red curls clustered in a tidy knot on the back of her head.
"Hush." The woman held up one hand, "I did not ask for your name and it's best if I never know. Decide on another name, and you shall go by it while under my instruction."
Alana stared up at her. The woman stared back. The dirty faced girl, wrapped in bandages and with wild eyes, skinny arms wrapped around a wolf, was not what she had expected. Usually those who could afford her protection and tuition were high born, spoiled, and pert.
"Sara." Alana eventually whispered, her middle name falling from the tongue easily. Her mother's mother had been called Sara.
"Sara. You may call me Morrigan. Please follow me."
Alana stood without a word, Clio keeping close to her heels as she trailed after Morrigan. They walked in complete silence for ten minutes, through dense pine-forest that she had seen from her carriage windows for the last twenty miles.
"While under my care you will pose as my sister's child, and you will keep your magic entirely to yourself unless I instruct you to use it. I will establish what type of magic you possess, and teach you to control it until it is inscrutable. This should take a good few years." Morrigan glanced down at her apologetically, but the child wasn't looking at her. "Are you alright?"
"I can feel there's something ahead to the left."
"My home." Morrigan looked down at her, one eyebrow raised. "Describe what you feel."
"It feels like… an aberration. It doesn't belong."
They walked forwards and to the left, to find a small cottage a witch in a fairytale would inhabit. Alana regarded it silently. The door swung open, a boy of about fourteen with curly blond hair and dark eyes emerging with one hand over his eyes to protect them from the glare of the sun.
"Meet Sara." Morrigan smiled, her face warming marginally, "This is Teagan, my other student. He's been with me since he was five years old."
Alana smiled tightly, one hand on Clio, who was growling under her breath. Morrigan hadn't mentioned her yet. Teagan, on the other hand, jumped a foot in the air and stared at it with wild eyes.
"Hells, is that a bloody wolf?"
"A wolverine. Her name's Cliona."
"An earth elemental?" This last was directed at Morrigan, his eyes dancing with intrigue. She raised her eyebrows.
"Perhaps. Stop harassing the girl and finish cooking."
Alana was ushered into the cottage, and Teagan wrinkled his nose comically.
"A bath for our new guest? Guests?"
"Funny, I was going to say the same to you." Alana wrinkled her nose comically, making him laugh.
The rest of the evening was a blur of hot water, soap and food, until she was tucked in bed with a newly fluffy wolf cup curled up against her and her mind spinning. Morrigan had outlined the days for her, with Teagan interrupting with sarcastic tidbits that made her laugh harder than she ever had. Morrigan had softened towards her as the evening went alone, even kissing her on the head before sending her to bed.
It wasn't a palace, but she was content.
Six years later.
"Sara, my dearest, darling, most wondrous sister. Please, pretty please, with the biggest, ripest cherry on top, will you let me down?"
Alana was humming, her nose in a book, reclining against a tree. She glanced up, as though confused, blinking sunlight from her eyes.
"Clio, did you hear something? It sounded like… victory."
The wolf huffed, amber eyes fixed upwards at something dangling from the trees, tongue lolling in amusement. Teagan and Morrigan were the only people, aside from Alana, that Clio deigned to vaguely listen to and not attack. The three of them had a tie as close as family, and the wolf could sense that.
"You are a goddess of brilliance, statues should be erected in your honour as queen of the world."
Alana laid the book down and stretched lazily, allowing herself to look up at Teagan. He was hanging by his ankles from a vine she had convinced to hang him a good ten metres above ground. His face was comically desperate, with undercurrents of begrudged amusement.
"Oh, sorry, I didn't hear you over the sound of my own brilliance."
"Can't you get yourself down?" She smirked, reminding him of the reason he was up there in the first place. He glared at her as effectively as he could, being upside down at her hand.
"We both the damn vines won't listen to me in your weird way."
"Are you calling my magic weird?"
"You talk to inanimate objects."
"Well have fun up there. Clio, home. Actually," Alana stroked one finger down a vine lovingly, "tighten, would you boys?"
Teagan yelped. A strangled garble escaped his lips and a vine leaf feebly flicked.
"I don't get how you do it." Instead, a perfectly effective fireball created out of nowhere, that Alana could never hope to create, catapulted towards her. Alana's power was much more physical; she asked things to do what she liked, and they listened. Teagan's was much more traditional. Able to manipulate particles, he could do things she could only watch with envy.
With a short whisper, a branch whipped around to intercept it, sending sparks firing in all direction. Alana smirked again.
"Let him down then, gently." Alana rolled her eyes, and turned to run through the wood before Teagan could right himself and fire something unpleasant at her in retaliation. His short curse told her the vines had dumped him harder than intended. Her chuckled echoed back to him.
His pursuit was impressive, and very soon he was right behind her, his panting hot on her heels and she was laughing helplessly, begging roots to trip him. She got in the door, giggling, sweat beading on her forehead as her adopted brother tackled her from behind to send them sprawling into the kitchen.
"Children." Morrigan snapped from her usual seat, the admonishment as natural as breathing. Six years, the pair had been the only company of the other, six years of childhood with one another and hilarious torture. Practicing their magic and testing one another for Morrigan's appalling tests in etiquette and politics, as well as history, mathematics, literature and geography. It was an education Alana could have only dreamed of.
Morrigan was a powerful magician in her own right, and had gone into hiding as a young woman when her powers had surfaced. She was a general magician, like Teagan, but could still help Alana in her rather more specific contraband. She was strict but fair, and always there with tea and a shoulder to cry on.
"It was her." Teagan whined, sounding amusingly like a ten year old girl with his crushing weight pinning her to the flagstones.
"Was not." Alana mumbled, sure that her ribs would smash.
"I don't care, stand up."
They both stood, immediately straight faced and contrite, and Morrigan had to suppress a snort. They may not own a mirror for them to look in, or anything particularly breakable around the young uncontrolled magicians, but they should know that expression was not suited to anyone over the age of thirteen. They looked ridiculous.
"We have important matters to discuss. Sit, and act your age."
Alana shrugged and threw herself onto the rug, curling like a cat in her usual position before the fire. Teagan slouched in a kitchen chair, looking at his adopted mother with confusion.
"We have been sought out."
Alana's eyes immediately flew wide, her face paling. Clio sensed her mistress's change in mood and blinked blearily up at her.
"There is a group of magicians; underground of course; who form a kind of government." Morrigan pursed her lips. She dropped that bomb on them as though it was nothing. "They wish to meet you both. There is a danger afoot that they will not share with me alone. They need everyone they can lay their hands on."
"Does that mean we're ready?" Teagan sounded surprised, as though fifteen years of practice was negligible.
"You have been for a while. But I must ask you two for something I never have before."
Alana and Teagan exchanged looks, equally nonplussed.
"I must ask your names, and where you came from before you were with me."
Alana couldn't suppress a chuckle.
"Oh, Morrigan. I've waited six years for your curiosity to get the better of you."
"It's not curiosity, Sara, this is integral. This society would not have contacted me if it were not crucial, I must know every weapon we posess."
It was funny. Alana hadn't tried to conceal her identity from her adopted family, but she had respected Morrigan's wishes and kept it to herself. Now, six years later, the thought of disclosing it felt wrong. That was another girl, a spoilt, upper-born who had been tortured by a prince. Now, she was a country-maid who drew water from the well and practiced magic with her brother and pet wolf over baking bread. Then, she had been a lady. Now, a criminal. If they caught her she would be burned.
"Teagan, first." Alana suppressed a smirk as a look of discomfort crossed his face.
"I don't really remember, I was five you selfish cow." Teagan flicked her ear with a chuckle that sounded a little forced.
"You must remember something." Morrigan said gently, lifting a hand to stroke back the hair of the only son she had ever known.
"My name was Humpthy." Her muttered. Alana shrieked with laughter and horror.
"Oh, darling, would you mind horrible if I call you Teagan still?"
He glowered at her, making the fire explode outwards to singe her hair.
"Sara, be quiet. Carry on, Teagan."
"I don't really know, I remember my father wasn't a nice man. He used to beat me," he glanced at Morrigan who nodded. When he had come to her he had been black and blue. "My mother found I was magic and sent me away without telling him. She was nice. I don't know what happened to her."
He sounded so forlorn, that Alana rested her head on his knees, silencing the mocking that had grown in their relationship.
"Do you remember your family name?"
"Nothing grand." Teagan shrugged. "Sara's turn."
Morrigan nodded and turned her attention to her daughter. She was curled against her brother, dark hair glinting with strands of gold in the firelight; closer to red than brown, blue eyes wide as a summer sky, skin too pale to be fashionable. She had grown to be beautiful, not that she knew it. She looked as related to Teagan's sunny blonde looks as a cat to a dog.
"My name was Alana Catan of Lekon, daughter of Henri and Lisa Catan, foster niece of King Rohon of Lekon." She said quietly, her fingers running through Clio's fur in a familiar move that both recognised from whenever she was nervous. She chewed her lip. "My parents sent me away after I understood how to control Cliona. I came out of the forest riding her. They had to hide me form the king. I'm not her anymore. Now I'm Sara of Greenwood, daughter of Morrigan and sister of Teagan, witch and magician. That's all I want to be."
There was a beat of silence.
"You're royalty?" Teagan sounded strangled.
"Not quite, no."
"I like Alana."
"I like Humpthy."
Teagan hit her over the head. Morrigan was silent as she watched the pair, her face pale.
"This is too good to be coincidence." Her bloodless lips could barely move. "We must leave, immediately."
"You alright?" Alana asked, concerned, flicking her eyes to the kitchen. Obediently, a dusty bottle floated over at her command, its contents swirling.
"Now is not the time." Morrigan leapt to her feet, looking around wildly. "You have five minutes to pack."
They watched her silently for a moment, confused, before gingerly getting to their feet and setting about trying to pack their lives into a small bag each. Alana had taken to wearing breeches in and around their house but supposed that would not do, and changed into a dress, wrapping her only good one in cloth. It was a pale blue, the colour of her eyes, a present from Morrigan on her sixteenth birthday. Far nicer than the travelling home-spun she donned. Teagan seemed to be having a harder time. He had lived in this cottage since he had been five years old.
They congregated in silence at the door, and looked around, unsure when they would be allowed back. Alana couldn't suppress a diz of excitement.
"Come along, Teagan… Alana. Cliona."
They followed Morrigan without a backward glance.