Authors: Jacquelyn Frank
A Kiss of Magic
Yasra Desro put her quill in its holder and stretched out her fingers. As usual there were ink stains on almost every finger of her right hand. She looked up from her desk and the windows that poured light into the classroom beckoned her attention. It was sunny out, probably beautiful weather out of doors. She longed to be out there, running about in the corn fields chasing hedge mice into their burrows and eating raw mesa corn right there in the sun.
Unfortunately she was stuck indoors, at her desk, with about twenty other students who were also wishing they were outdoors. But they had to suffer these interminable tests every year at harvest time. Tests that supposedly showed student aptitude in individual schools. As yet she had shown no aptitude in anything. She was as close to a non as you could get, only her parents were wealthy and powerful majji and wealthy and powerful majji simply did not give birth to a non. Or so they kept telling her.
So every year she took these tests and every year she failed. Oh, not the written tests. She was quite good at a global amount of subjects, each one equally well versed in her mind. She was as learned as you could possibly get, read any book that crossed her path and went searching for those that didn’t. She could study and research with the best of them. She knew more than most about a variety of things both important and unimportant and had studied all the different schools. She tried with all that she was to focus herself on each of them, but none in specific had called out to her and she was beginning to lose hope. She was long past the age of birthing and if she was going to have majic inside of her, it would have shown itself by now.
She was convinced she was a non, but her parents wouldn’t even consider it. They forced her to take these infernal tests again and again, each time hoping the outcome would be different. The written test was the easy part. Tomorrow would come the practicals and she would yet again embarrass herself in front of students she couldn’t even begin to consider her peers because they were so much younger than she was.
Yasra looked to the head of the classroom. Presiding over the test was Esmo Farrin, the obnoxious 8
level Vendii who was her age and ten times more talented than she was and he never failed to remind her of it.
“Eyes on your own test, Yas,” he said when he saw her looking at him. He smirked at her as he said it. As if to say, “What, you again? When are you going to give up?”
Yas stood up and picked up her test. She tossed the paper onto the desk in front of Esmo. “I was done anyway. And I don’t need to cheat off of anyone. I already know all the answers.”
“A non like you? You can’t possibly know all the answers,” he said, shuffling the test beneath a stack of others without even glancing at it.
don’t know all the answers,” she said with a lift to her chin.
“You’re not supposed to know all the answers. The test is supposed to judge what you have an aptitude for.”
“Then I guess I have an aptitude for everything, because I know all the answers!”
“Ha. Keep on fooling yourself, Yas. You’ll fail the practicals tomorrow just like you do every year. The only reason you’re even allowed in here year after year is because your parents are rich and powerful. Otherwise you’d have been declared a non, which you
, and that would be the end of all of this.”
“Believe me, no one wants to see an end to all of this more than I do!” she snapped at him.
“Then you better convince your parents that you’re a non and they will just have to accept that.”
“Who knows, maybe tomorrow I’ll finally test out,” she said. But, it was obvious to them both that she didn’t believe it. Neither did he. His look was pitying and smug all at the same time.
“Face it, Yas. Most students your age are level five by now. Those of us with real aptitude are even further than that.” He brushed an invisible piece of lint off of his trousers. “Even if you did test out tomorrow, you’d be so far behind everyone else you’d basically be going to school with children.”
She didn’t say anything. It was useless trying to defend herself, especially when she already knew all of this and she knew there was nothing she could do to show him up. Even if she did, by some miracle, test out tomorrow, it was clear she would never reach an 8
level anything. He was more powerful than she was and he always would be.
And the truth was, she’d rather be going with children than not going at all. Being a non was worse than anything anyone could imagine…at least in her world it was. Both of her parents were Vendii. majji and everyone knew they were among the most powerful of their breed. Having a non child would be utterly humiliating to them.
Yasra turned her back on Esmo and walked out of the room, fighting back the urge to give in to tears. It wasn't that she didn’t like who she was. She was very smart, known to be funny, and had an overall pleasant personality. It was just that she didn’t like who she wasn’t.
She headed down the stairs and out into the sunlight, sighing with relief to finally be done with that day’s humiliation. It was tomorrow…tomorrow was going to be the trouble.
She probably wouldn’t sleep tonight. She never did before a practical. She would simply sit up all night and try like hell to make herself do some kind of majic. Maybe freeze a small cup of water into an ice cube. Or maybe she could finally figure out how to talk to her cat, Bicky. Maybe she could grow a little seed into a seedling. It didn’t have to be a whole flower. Just a sprout. She would be delighted with just a sprout. She would be happy with any majji house, but she was really partial to the idea of being from Padoni. The ability to commune with nature, talk to animals and grow things had always appealed to her. But at this point she would take anything. Maybe even Necromay, although death majic scared her a little bit. Okay it scared her a lot. But at twenty-three autumns old, beggars could not be choosers. And another autumn was coming. It was only days away. The year would turn old as winter came and then it would be new again. She had been born in the spring, her birth designed that way because spring children were said to be the most powerful. So her parents had attempted to get pregnant only if it meant a spring child. And not just spring but the beginning of spring. The newest of the new. The most powerful. Everything was about power in their world.
Everything was about a lack of power in hers.
Nons, people who had no majic, were very often menial laborers, doing all of the jobs that the majji didn’t want or have time to do. There was nothing wrong with being a non, not in Yasra’s eyes anyway. A non could run a little shop somewhere, selling goods to the majji. That would suit her fine. Becoming a merchant. Maybe having a little bookshop where people would come to research a variety of subjects and written majics. That way she could continue to verse herself on majics of all kinds from all over the world through the books that would come through her shop. She may not have majic, but she was thoroughly fascinated with it as a subject for study. She should hate it, given the pressure she was under to perform it, but she didn’t. It was just too fascinating and varied a subject to be hated. Besides, hating it would just be to spite her parents, and she just wasn’t that spiteful.
She got home after a long, slow walk back. She supposed she could have taken a horse with her to the school, and she would definitely do that tomorrow…provided her parents didn’t come to pick her up in their coach. Which, odds were, they would. Just to make sure she showed up, and to make sure her humiliation was once again complete.
Yasra lived above a tailor’s shop. The tailor’s family lived on the second floor in the bedsit directly above the store, and they had rented out the third floor bedsit to her. Hers was a quaint little home, made of three rooms. One for her bathroom needs, one for her serving girl Bess, and one for everything else. Her parents frowned on the idea that she had given Bess the private bedroom. Bess, they said, should be the one sleeping in the kitchen and living areas. Even Bess said that was how it should be. But if she were going to have a serving girl at all—and her parents demanded she did—then she was going to see to it the girl felt as at home as was possible.
Bess told her nearly every day what a terrible mistress she was. Not that she was mean or cruel, but that she constantly was treating Bess like a guest in her home rather than a serving girl. She insisted on going to market herself, and she more often than not cooked her own meals, which she then shared with Bess.
What it boiled down to was that Bess was more of a friend than she was a servant…the best friend Yasra had ever had. And once her parents accepted she was a non, like Bess was, she was going to share that friendship openly with everyone. Right now she had to keep it quiet, lest her parents who were paying both for the bedsit and for Bess, decide to cut her off in their discontent…or worse yet, fire Bess, leaving her without a job. In these times, when finding a job was so difficult to do, losing a position could be akin to starving to death…and no friendship was worth that. Not to mention she didn’t know what she would do if she didn’t have her parents support. She didn’t work because she didn’t have to and figured it was best to leave what few positions were out there to a non who really needed one.
Still, her parents didn’t give her lavish amounts of money. They treated her like a secret mistress, only not quite as spoiling. They were giving her just enough to maintain herself and very little more. It often put her in the position of having to ask her parents for more money to cover needs they didn’t think of…like new clothing. She didn’t need all the latest fashions or styles, just enough to keep herself looking halfway decent. But when she asked her stingy parents for money for clothes it was always received with a groan or a tsk. “Yasra,” her father would say, “I’m not going to support an extravagant lifestyle! If you want nice things you know what you need to do!”
Oh, she knew all right. They treated her punitively, as if she were not showing her majical ability just to spite them. To embarrass them on purpose. It just went to show how little they knew about their daughter. If they knew her at all they would know she wasn't capable of doing any such thing.
Still, she lived very frugally by choice, as well as by her parents’ design. She suspected that one day, one day very soon, they were going to accept that she was a non and on that day their support of her would be cut off altogether. So she had been squirreling away whatever funds she could, hiding them in various places, always fearing her parents might find her stashes and grow angry with her. She feared a great many things where her parents were concerned.
Now, however, she had enough money to start a small business. Maybe to rent a shop and stock it with books on all manner of subjects. It was bound to be successful in a society as literary driven as theirs was. Sure, there were bookshops to be found in any major city, theirs had two already, but variety would be the key to her success. She couldn’t say how many times she had gone to the two shops in the city only to find them lacking in the subject she was studying up on. Odds were she wouldn’t even stay in this city if her parents were to suddenly disown her. They would probably ask her to leave so that they could hide their embarrassment like the dirty little secret it was.
Yasra let herself in to her bedsit with her key and closed and locked the door behind her.
“Yasra!” Bess cried out, running in from her bedroom. “How did it go?”
“The usual. I’m never worried about the parchment tests. It’s the—“
“Practicals. I know,” Bess said, cutting her off. “Well, come on in, sit down and relax. I will pour you a goblet of wine and you can have a late lunch.”
“I’m not very hungry,” she said as she let Bess steer her toward a couch and sit her down in it.
“Sure you are,” Bess said briskly as she drew a hassock up close and propped Yasra’s feet onto it. “There! Now you just relax. I will tell you all about my day so far. It has been very interesting to say the least. Velufio flirted with me shamelessly when I went to get groceries for tonight’s dinner. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was off his mark trying to flirt with me.”
Because Bess preferred women to men. According to Bess, men were smelly and dishonorable. Women were soft, smelled pretty, and cared about how another woman felt. Plus, she would add with a wink, they tasted better. Yasra would always blush when she said this.
Yas wasn’t a virgin. She’d been deflowered two autumns back by a man named Hurtold. Yas had been impressed with his intelligence, had even met him in the bookshop, and had found herself attracted to him in spite of his being much older than she was and balding a little.
He had been like her, a non who liked to read up on just about anything. She had thought they would make a perfect couple. Right up until the moment she had found out he was already married.
“I-I thought you knew!” he had stammered when she had exploded with temper and confronted him.
“How would I know?” she had yelled. “You never told me!”
In retrospect, he hadn’t been all that much of a lover. There had been a furtive sort of desperation to what he’d been doing. He’d always gotten off far more easily…and quickly than she had. He hadn’t seemed to care very much if she did at all.
Bess had said he was a selfish lover. That she deserved better. That she deserved the best. But Yasra didn’t see how. Everyone knew that the best lovers were from the Aspano house of majic, their ability to create blindingly blissful sex majic beyond compare. They would no sooner lower themselves to take a non as a lover as any other house would.