The horses snorted a little as the cart drew to a stop and Briom glanced at the boy next to him. There was still a chance to change his mind, he realized.
Reminded of why he was doing this, Briom’s resolve hardened. “We’re here,” he said.
His face serious for being only eight, Davise slid out of the seat easily. Briom waited a moment longer before he joined the boy on the ground. There were only three steps up to the door, but he was careful, waiting for Davise to go up them first. He knocked, the fine material of his thick cloak opening to reveal the heavily embroidered belt he wore and the thick chain around his neck.
It took a moment for the door to open, though the face behind it didn’t look even remotely surprised. Her dark brown hair had been pulled over one shoulder, and one brow quirked up.
“Hello,” Briom said.
“Well come in then,” Liria said and stepped back.
He motioned Davise in first, and then followed. Liria shut the door behind them. “Mind the glass,” she called and lead the way to the back. “I just put the kettle on.”
Most of the front room was taken over with shelves dedicated to books, but the central shelves were full of detailed glass sculptures. He marveled at these for a moment before stepping through the short door and into the kitchen. “Go, sit,” Briom said and patted Davise’s back gently to encourage him to do so.
Liria smiled. “There’s a cushion on the one in the middle,” she said.
“Thank you,” Davise said politely, and moved to that one, climbing into it and smiling as he settled into it.
Briom couldn’t but smile at that and inclined his head at Liria. “You look good,” he said.
“You mean I look better than the last time you saw me,” she said.
“That’s—well. It’s been a few years.”
“Briom, you haven’t seen me since I was a teen,” she said.
A rare laugh escaped him. She was right and he had to shake his head. “Yes,” he agreed.
“Who is she, Papa?”
He looked over and smiled a little. “This is your Aunt Liria,” he said. “She’s got magic, just like yours.”
Davise’s eyes widened. “You mean with the ice?”
“Indeed!” Liria said. “Specifically, it’s called cyclical magic, and our particular kind deals with the magic of winter. More—ah, forgive me. I’m rambling.”
The kettle whistled and Liria turned, moving to pull it off. “Let me make it,” Briom said and Liria looked at him and he smiled. “It’d be an honor.”
Her gaze narrowed slightly but she nodded. “Very well,” she said.
He smiled a little as he made the tea. He kept careful track of the cups as he added the sugar, he knew his son would like, and a dose of something extra. “Do you take sugar, Liria?”
“Oh, no, I can’t stand the stuff,” Liria said. “Some rather unpleasant memories associated with sugar.”
His son frowned a little as the tea was set in front of him. “What do you here?”
“Oh, for Reverie? Not too much. Mostly just teach.”
“Yes, mostly. Occasionally I’m a little bit of a merchant, storyteller, mediator.” Liria considered it. “That list of titles really has come down. Disappointing.”
“What do you mean it’s come down?” the boy asked.
“Oh I used to have dozens of titles. Let’s see, there was being a scholar, and a professor, tiny bit of a thief but really that one I’m not terribly proud of, adept, messenger, traveling merchant, adventurer in generally.”
“You’ve gone on adventures?”
“Oh plenty,” Liria said and sipped her tea. “Let me see, where to start?”
Briom was silent, letting Liria entertain his son with a story. As she told it, Davise began to nod, tired from the travel and from the additive in his tea.
It was only when his head nearly hit the table and he jerked awake that Briom chuckled. “Bed, I think.”
“Are we sleeping in the carriage?”
Briom didn’t answer right away, only glancing at Liria, who inclined her head slightly. “No,” he said. “We’ll stay here the night.”
Liria smiled as Briom stood, coming over to guide the boy over to the small room off the kitchen. The bed was made, he saw and Liria pulled the covers down. “Sleep well,” he murmured as Davise tumbled into bed.
He stepped out again, closing the door softly and resting against it for a moment.
Liria’s hand was gentle on his elbow. “You know by leaving him here, he won’t be able to leave. He will be Reverie’s next protector.”
“I know,” Briom said and turned away. “But our father is sickening, and I can feel it sinking in. You said you never found a way to break the curse on the home.”
“No,” Liria said and turned away, going to the kitchen table. “It’s worse. There is no curse on the home.”
“What do you mean?” Briom said.
“It’s not a curse, it’s the price of magic,” Liria said. There was a tiredness in her voice as she said it. “Magic extends its price until fully paid. Someone who owned the home before our father used a spell at which point likely killed the original spell caster. Since the spell was cast, the price needed to be paid, if there was no familial or emotional connection to carry out the cost then it would have settled into the area.”
“Then if we moved the family home it would no longer affect us?” Briom asked.
“That’s where things get tricky,” Liria said. “The Baron made it our family home, and when he did so, it could very much mean that the price of that magic will follow our family no matter where they go.”
Briom sighed and had to sink into a seat. “Can you—you’re an expert in magic. Isn’t there something you can do?”
“Unfortunately, not. The price for magic can’t be changed. It’s nonnegotiable, and situations like this are exactly why any magic user needs to be so careful with their spells,” Liria said.
He put his head in his hands with a groan. The silence fell around them for several moments before he exhaled and looked up at her.
Liria was right, he hadn’t seen her in years, though he was grateful she hadn’t mentioned exactly when he’d seen her last. Though watching as she fought their father and a powerful binding spell was something that still haunted his nightmares.
“I can feel it,” Briom said finally and looked up at her. “Father’s gotten sick, so a lot of his responsibilities are mine and I can feel it. Like some lurking beast around every corner. It’s…it’s not like Father yet, but it’s there.”
Liria nodded slightly. “Well,” she said. “If this is truly what you wish, then I’ll look after him, but I do hope you know what you’re dooming him to. He will be Reverie’s next protector.”
“I’d rather doom him to a long life at the edge of this miserable forest than a short one as the next Baron of Storms,” Briom said.
She smiled slightly. “I suppose that’s that then,” she said. “Well, the other bed isn’t much, but I suppose I can at least offer it to you for the night.”
“No, I need to be going. He should sleep until about midmorning.”
“Then I’ll wake you with the dawn,” Liria said.
Briom looked at her. “You can’t be serious,” he said.
“I’m really not much of one for jokes. Outside the realm of my talents, really. Lies, half-truths, stories, those I can all tell. Jokes really do escape me.”
He was silent for a long moment before he nodded. “Very well,” he said. “But I won’t rob you of your bed.”
“Oh hardly,” Liria said. “I’ve known you’d bring your son to me for years. I have two guest beds and I have mine. You’re just going to have to make do with the second guest bed, that’s all.”
“How long have you known?” Briom asked.
“Oh, let me see, I think…twenty six years now?”
“He’s only eight,” Briom said.
“Fate has a funny way of working out like that,” Liria said.
Briom frowned. “You’ve had your fate read?”
“Multiple times, actually. This was just one certainty that never changed. There are others.”
Liria smiled, a little sadly. “I’ve already told you,” she said. “He can’t be Reverie’s protector if he’s the Baron of Storms, and he can’t be the Baron if he’s Reverie’s protector.”
The realization of what she was saying punched his gut. “He’ll become protector when you die,” he said.
“Yes,” Liria said. “That’s years from now. I have a few adventures left in me and you have your fate to live out still.”
“Do you know my fate?”
“I’m many things, but a Fate Reader I am not. If you want to know where your fate ends, that’s something you’d have to ask someone with a different kind of magic than what I or your son possess. Neither of us can tell you.”
by A.J. Helms