Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 10
Stories
Sweetly the Dragon Dreams
by David Farland
The Fort in Vermont
by David A. Simons
The Tile Setters
by Ami Chopine
A Heretic by Degrees
by Marie Brennan
The Absence of Stars
by Greg Siewert
Pi
by Mette Ivie Harrison
The Robot Sorcerer
by Eric James Stone
Tales for the Young and Unafraid
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

Pi
    by Mette Ivie Harrison
Pi
Artwork by Scott Altmann

A perfect circle.

A ring.

A bracelet.

A necklace.

All will work. Made of gold or silver or brass or tin. Doesn't matter. A precious stone set in the middle, or not. It's the circle that matters. The magic of pi.

The number goes on infinitely, and so the power never stops. The universe is made of numbers, though most do not see it. Sun, moon, stars, earth, all held in their place by numbers. The turn of the seasons. The fall of rain. Thunderstorms, earthquakes, droughts and famines. The ratio of predator to prey.

But that is too complex for most. They are content to know that a circle is all that they need. They try to make a circle of their own, in the dirt with a stick, or on a pottery wheel with clay. And when it does not work, when the magic goes wrong, they come to me.

As if I can change the value of pi just by commanding it to be so.

I, Costanzo Angelo Bello, son of Costanzo Angelo Bello, think well of myself, but I at least know my own limitations.

You will see for yourself if it is true.

One morning, I was in my home, beginning my day with my chanting. No religious nonsense, simply the digits of pi. I had in my mind 16,000 digits of pi memorized. It took me most of two hours to get through them all, but it cleared the mind and it made me look good when the customers came to call.

No, I did not live in a circular home. That would have been ridiculous. All that power shooting out all the time.

But there were circles aplenty.

I had one circle displayed over the front doorway, just for show. It actually had one deviation on the left side, though it was very slight. This circle calls magic to itself, but the power flows right out as soon as it comes. Which is just as well, since I would not wish to be blamed for magic another grabbed from it and used for their own sake. It merely marks my house as one of a mathematician.

Another circle was drawn faintly around my sitting chair. It helped me concentrate, to see the future that would come from this action or that one, and had generally kept me safe -- and alone.

The circle that no ever one saw is the one that came to me from my father. It is rather ornate, and it embarrasses me, which is why I keep it hidden away. I left my father's house when I was fourteen years old, and took this circle with me, my only inheritance. It is a gawdy piece, but with less power than it seems.

It is made in white gold, with one large sapphire at each of four points, and diamonds studded throughout. It looks at first glance like a necklace made by a superior goldsmith, but then you must notice that there is no clasp, and it is too small to fit over any head but a child's. Or perhaps if it were meant to be a crown, it could set atop a ruler's temples. Too flashy for any real ruler, though, I think. A prince who must wear his power on his head like that has none of the real kind and it would be all the better if it were taken from him.

The circle rests in the chest in my workroom. At the very bottom of it. I have never used it, though I will admit that I have sometimes taken it out, only to let my hands feel the smoothness of the gold and feel the magic that emanates from it. Tempting, yes. But it is my father's circle, not mine. His pi.

My mother died at my birth, and I had never known love from him or from anyone. I had known only his cruel teaching of the magic.

I had learned, oh I had learned very well.

I knew that it was his circle he cared about more than me. He could see no power in me, for I had no beauty. He thought to gain all he wished through his circle, and so I took it from him to prove his weakness. I ran far from home and never returned.

I set myself up with my own magic. I prided myself on that.

But as I said before, I knew my own limitations.

I understood the magic of pi, but the art of love between a father and son? I had no knack for that. I had no patience, and so I was glad that I had never sired a son.

I had married a woman once, when I was newly established as a mathematician and believed myself wealthy enough to have a wife. Even then, I had made sure to tell her in advance I had no interest in children. She agreed to it readily enough, but in a few months, was determined that she could change my mind. She had her friends with new babes come over, as if the smell of them would make me change my mind. She asked me if I loved her and told me that this was the only thing she would ever ask for.

And when that did not persuade me, she asked me if I wanted my magic to die with me.

I thought it more likely it would die sooner rather than later if I stayed married to her, so she got a generous settlement, and no one need feel sorry for her. She married again, and I think she has five children now. She looks a fright, wide as a cow, and with a face like a sausage. But she is happy, for all she has none of my magic.

I was well rid of her, and she of me.

Yet I thought of her sometimes, too much. She haunted my thoughts, she and the child she might have had with me, a ghostly, homely face peeking out from above her shoulders.

No, better for the child, as well, that it had never been born to me.

Or so I believed until the day there was an imperious knock at my door.

I heaved myself out of my chair, and away from the never-ending stream of soft power that came from my circle there. I walked ponderously to the door and opened it.

I looked down.

There was a child there, perhaps seven years old.

I could not tell if it was a boy or a girl. It was dressed in a strange combination of clothing. I could see clean undergarments showing through at the top of the over-sized trousers which were held up with a crude bit of twine. The hands were filthy, but not the arms, nor the legs, as if it had washed its hands in mud.

It smelled like dried flowers combined with perfumed wax and figs, this last no doubt what it had eaten for breakfast.

"Get out," I said harshly. "I do not allow beggars at my door." I raised a hand.

"I am not a beggar, Maestro," it said, in a voice so strong and sure that I looked up and lost my concentration.

Damnation!

All the magic I had been balling up to send out to push it away dissipated into nothingness. A few donkeys who passed by would probably be the only beneficiaries of it, and they would not even notice.

"Who are you, then?"

The child ducked its head and then pointed inside. "If I may come in --"

"You most certainly may not. Tell me who you are or get out."

There was a long hesitation. I could see the child was not used to being spoken to in this manner. Of course, I knew already it was no street urchin, but now it was becoming more obvious it was not a merchant's child come to play some joke on me, either. Not that I cared, particularly.

The child looked around itself one way, then the other way. It leaned into me, and said, "Maestro Bello, my name is Liliana Elisabetta Josephina Tarasco," she said, and then put her arms to her hips, waiting for my response.

Clearly, she expected that I would recognize her name. I did not.

"Yes?" I said. I was not merely pretending to humiliate her. That was a pleasant side benefit.

Her face clouded, and her mouth pinched. "I am the daughter of the Lord Joseph Frederico Tarasco. The cousin of the prince."

"Oh," I said. "The fool." I'd met him, once, years ago, and had needed to see no more than the gawdy ring he wore on each of his fingers. All set with a different gemstone, in a different metal. Gold, copper, silver, platinum, tungsten, and on and on.

Oh, there was magic in them, sure enough. But not nearly so much as the man thought there was. Or let others think there was.

I had had no idea he had a child.

"And?" I asked again.

"And I want you to teach me," she said. Hands back on hips again.

I stared at her and decided I'd guessed her age wrong. She had to be nearly a woman to have that much vitriol in her.

"Thank you for asking, but no. I decline the honor," I said. I turned back into the house.

"You can't do that!" she cried out.

I stopped. Turned back to her. I have no idea why. Not out of sympathy, that is for certain. Or warmth. I don't have any, for anyone.

"What are you going to do if I don't?" I said. "Tell your father on me?" I deliberately treated her like a child, expecting her to stomp her foot and act like one.

Instead she brought out the tears. A woman's weapon. "No," she whispered. Her face was suddenly dripping.

It took me a moment to realize she was using magic for it.

She had a necklace hidden underneath her shirt. A crude necklace, made of tin and with no ornamentation that I could see. No doubt the only thing her father would spare her, the selfish bastard.

"Please," she went on. "Please, I'm desperate."

"Obviously," I said drily. I stood there, thinking that I really did not want to have this conversation with her on the street. Nor did I want to invite her into my home. I did not want her to think I was making any promises, and I did not teach anyone about magic.

"You are angry at your father?" I asked quietly.

"Yes," she said.

"Because he will not teach you magic?"

"Because he sees no value in me," she said. She turned to the side and I noticed that there was a livid bruise on her shoulder.

Her father was a brute, as well as a fool, it seemed.

But still, I shook my head. "No. I do not teach magic." I knew myself to be moody, unpredictable, and utterly unable to sustain a relationship with even a dog. She would be better off with anyone else, perhaps even her father.

"Why not?" she demanded. Then softened it with "Maestro," and a slight nod of the head.

As if her father's court flattery would work on me.

"I do not have to explain myself to you," I said, glowering.

"No," she agreed. "You do not."

And still, she did not leave.

And I did not go back into the house.

We stood there, we two, staring not into each other's eyes, but beyond. I looked into the street she had walked past. I lived in a small house on one of the nicer streets in the city. The river was not far away, which made it easy for shipments of my supplies to come to me. I never went out to get them myself. And the cathedral with its gold, shining dome was there, as well. A dome that was a perfect circle and had enough power to make people believe in religion who did not know much about anything else.

She, I must assume, saw the signs of neglect in my house. I was not a slothful man, but I did not reserve any time each day to clean, and so there were things that simply waited until I could stand them no longer to be taken care of. The filth on the walls. Done with a flick of magic, if I noticed them, and was willing to accept the cost. The broken tile on the step. The stench of unwashed flesh -- mine -- that now wafted around both of us.

"I could help you," she offered.

"No," I said.

"I could do any work you wanted. I would be your slave."

"Ha!" I said. The thought of a child of her temperament and upbringing being a slave to anyone was ridiculous. And against the law.

"I would be very quiet," she wheedled.

"You have talked non-stop since you got here," I pointed out.

She opened her mouth to contradict me, then a gleam came into her eyes and she pressed her lips together. She looked down at the ground and shifted her feet, then seemed to notice that made noise, as well, and held them together.

It took immense effort on her part, but I simply waited. I wanted to see how long it would last.

My magic counted the minutes.

Ten had passed by, and she had not made another noise.

Well, then. I was willing to admit that she had greater patience than I did. But that did not mean I would teach her magic.

"Oh," she said then. Her eyes were narrowed and her head was tilted up.

I realized she was looking at the circle on the door.

"What?"

"I guess you can't help me, after all," she said. And shoulder slumping, she began to walk away.

I do not know why I did not let her. It did not matter the reason she had finally decided to leave. This was what I wanted. I had won.

But I hurried after her, my stomach flopping at me as it has not in many years. I grabbed hold of her and turned her to face me. "Tell me what you saw," I demanded.

"Your magic," she said. "It's not what I thought it was."

Was this her idea of being kind? She looked like someone who had swallowed a lemon whole and was trying not to allow it to come back up.

"The circle on the door," I said.

"It isn't perfect," she said. She cringed, ready for me to strike her.

I bit my lip. She made me angry, but hitting her would only release more of my magic than I had already lost because of her visit today. And besides, I did not want to be simply another color on the canvas of her body of bruises. I did not want to be like her father.

"There's magic in it," she said. "But --"

"Even your father could do better?" I asked her.

"Yes," she said.

"And you?" I asked. "Could you do better?"

"Yes!" she said, holding herself a little taller. Not that it made much difference.

"Show me," I demanded.

She stared around the street. There were broken cobblestones aplenty, but any one of them could ruin a circle if it wasn't quite the right shape. She was right to look to something else.

She finally picked up a tiny thorn that I had not seen. Using its sharp edge, she cut a circle onto her hand.

A perfect circle.

I marveled at it.

Not that it was better than the circles I could make myself. But at her age -- I could not have done it. A part of me was jealous of her gift. Another part of me was purely caught by the beauty of what she had done. Once you have begun with magic, there are times when you are not yourself anymore, times when the magic becomes you. This was one of those times.

Her hand was dripping blood, which only added to the beauty, somehow. She did not seem to be in pain at all. But she was not using the magic to heal herself. She was holding it in.

I admired that in her, as well.

I knew how important control was to the magic. Her father, for example, did not have it. He could not save up magic anymore than he could save up his coin, or his -- well, his other powers.

"Are you sure he is your father?" I asked her suddenly.

She laughed, once. Then sobered. "Yes," she said.

She pointed to her eyes, the same color and shape of his. I had never stared long at his, never bothered with them, but now that she pointed them, I could see them clearly in my mind. They were the same color blue, but in her face they were deep and endless, like a pool that has no bottom.

I nodded at last.

"You'll teach me, then, Maestro Bello?" she said. She danced on her tiptoes. She had no coordination. That was also sadly like her father, who was a man who could step on a woman's feet three times in two steps, and often did.

She fell over.

I reached down and gave her a hand to help her to her feet.

She seemed surprised by the gesture. I was no less.

"I will consider it," I said, though I knew I was taking back my earlier agreement. It was caprice, but she might as well get used to how I truly was now.

"I will come back, then," she said.

I was surprised she didn't press me.

"Tomorrow?" she asked.

It had been what I was thinking, so I had to change it. "In one week," I said. "And I have given no promise that I will teach you magic. Only that you may work in my house, at whatever tasks I set you."

"I will come," she said.

"In the afternoon," I added. "I sleep late."

She nodded.

I walked away from her. When I got to the door, I looked at the circle again. And was surprised that she had been so disappointed in it. It would not be obviously wrong to many.

She was still waiting in the street, watching me, when I went back inside.

I earned a thousand gold coins for easing an aging, wealthy uncle out of this world and into the next, and another thousand for making a girl look old enough and beautiful enough for marriage.

But I thought only of Liliana.

I was irritated that I had told her to come in a week. I could have said a day and saved myself much torture. But it was her fault, of course. Hers and her father's.

The day came at last, and I woke early. Which was guaranteed to make me testier than usual. And then I found myself saving my magic and drinking my tea cool instead of piping hot, because I wanted to show off for her when she arrived. As if a girl her age could compete with a man thirty years her senior, even if she was a prodigy.

There was a knock at the door.

I did not go to answer it.

I waited until it came again.

When I opened the door, I was looking at the knees of a man dressed in livery. Horrible colors, if you must know. Green and blue should never be put together like that. Not dark blue and that particular shade of peacock green.

"What?" I said.

He handed a note to me.

I opened it, expecting to find a request for me to provide magic at some ridiculous ball for the nobility. I could vent myself on the messenger, then. That would distract me for a few moments until she came.

But the note was from Liliana. It said, simply:

I am sorry I cannot come.

Sincerely,

Liliana.

She wrote a note like this to me? When it was she who came to me to beg me to teach her? How dared she!

I would punish her. I busied myself thinking of ways to hurt her. Her hair, for example. If it was pulled out strand by strand, with no respite. That might be good enough. Or if she were to have boils on her fingers and on the inside of her nose. I had a boil on the inside of my nose once, as a child. Terrible thing. My father had not bothered to use his magic to cure it. He had left me to suffer.

"She is very ill, sir," said the messenger, calling me back to myself.

"She has a disease?" I asked.

"No, sir," said the messenger.

"What, then?"

"Ill, sir," was all he would say.

Finally, I realized he meant it was her father. He could not say such a thing aloud, for it was her father's livery he wore. It took some courage for him even to hint at it. He had never met me, and must know that I had an uncertain temper. What if I reported him to his master?

"Thank you," I said. "You may go."

My anger dissipated as I considered the thought that she was nothing to her father. A girl with little beauty and less in the way of wiles. What was ahead of her in life? She had her magic. That was all. And her father did not seem to see even that.

But what could I do for her?

I earned more money.

Stirred up a civil war.

Caused a woman to miscarry her firstborn son.

Ate far too many fried mushrooms.

Made a man go mad.

Three days later, she came again.

She looked pale, and she wore the same not-quite pauper clothes, to disguise herself. Every place I could see her skin, it was bruised.

"How old are you?" I asked her brusquely.

"Does it matter to the magic?" she asked.

It didn't. "Don't speak back to me. If I ask a question, you answer it. If I tell you to do something, you do it. You asked me to teach you, did you not? And now you will tell me what is or is not important for me to know?"

One shoulder shrugged, and there was a small gasp of pain. She held herself very still, and slowly relaxed. "I am thirteen," she said.

And I had thought her seven. It said how much I knew about children, did it not?

Well, thirteen. Old enough for her father to think of marrying her off, certainly. With a little money to sweeten the arrangement with a wealthy lecher.

She had come to me as an escape.

I found I could not turn her away.

"Come in," I said.

She went past the imperfect circle and saw the one around my chair. She could not help herself. She walked around it, then put out a hand to touch it -- I thought to draw from it.

I used the magic to push her back roughly.

She sprawled on my floor, staring up at me in bewilderment. "I wouldn't take it," she said. As if she was above such a thing.

A starving man may think he is above stealing bread, but if so, he is simply not starving enough yet. In my experience.

She stepped away from the circle.

I stepped into it.

Ah, that felt better.

"So, tell me what you wish to know about magic," I said when I looked up again. "Since that is what you've come for."

"Aren't you supposed to tell me?" she asked. "If you are the teacher?"

I shook my head. "That would be work for me. This way, it's work for you."

She thought for a moment. "Are there limits to what magic can do?" She held herself stiffly, but stared down at the edge of a bruise peeking out of her shirt. There was anger on her face, and hurt.

"Are you asking if you can kill your father with magic?" I said bluntly. "Because it's going to be tiresome if you don't come out and ask directly."

She glanced up at me, startled. "I don't want to kill him," she said.

I was sure it was a lie until I looked into her softening, dark eyes. "You love him," I said. I couldn't believe it.

I had seen the same expression in my wife's face, for the first few years, before it died. It had frightened me, because of the burden it placed on me.

I wondered if Liliana's father had ever even noticed that look in her eyes.

"He is my father," she said.

"He is petty and cruel and he treats you like an old boot." Not so different from the way my father treated me, actually. And I never felt any loyalty. Why should she?

"He is my father," she insisted.

"And so you think it is virtuous for you to continue to love him, no matter what?" I said. I had no interest in people who thought that life was a game for the kindest. That was what they taught under the dome, for those who must be taught never to think of magic of their own.

"It is not a matter of choice," she said crisply. "I love him, even if I do not want to."

"You love the idea of a father, then," I said. "The idea of a man who will protect you and care for you and do what is best for you, regardless of his own needs."

"I love that," she said. "But I love him, too."

"He has good qualities, then?"

"Some," she said.

"Such as?"

"He laughs at my jokes," she said. There was a pause as she tried to think of another. She couldn't.

"Your jokes must be bad," I said, remembering his sour personality.

"Terrible."

I had to work not to laugh at her, and hated that her father and I might share even that one thing.

"Let us go back to magic," I said.

"Limitations," she reminded me.

"Ah yes. Magic cannot be used for happiness. Not for your own or anyone else. If you try to use magic for that, it simply slips away, as if it had never been born in a circle in this world." I had learned that even before I left my father.

She looked as devastated as I had been then.

"Go on. Ask more," I said, not wanting to feel with her.

She asked, lackluster, if a pentagon had any power. I told her that was for another teacher, not for me. I had the magic of pi, not phi.

She asked where magic came from.

I told her it came from the sun.

"Do you really know that?"

"The sun is a circle," I said easily. I would not admit to ignorance on the point. Not to her. Not yet.

She asked how much I charged for magic. If it ever pained me. If I could ever retire and use magic no more. When the magic would end. If females had less magic than males. How a battle between magic worked. If I had ever taught anyone before. If I loved my father.

"No," I said proudly. "Never."

She went away then, said it was nearly dusk and her father would be expecting her.

When she was gone, I was glad of my quiet again. I had never enjoyed resting so much. Yet I dreamed of her.

She came again the next day, though we had not talked of how often her lessons would be.

I told her to wait another week.

Liliana came back exactly seven days later. This time she asked me to show her my workroom. "I want to see how you make new circles."

I showed her five in a row.

Then I told her it was her turn to make one.

Hers was even stronger than the first she had done on her arm. It was nearly as strong as any of mine. But rather than offering praise, I pointed out what she should have done better. Making the circle out of the material she wanted to use the magic on, if she could. Making the circle large enough for her to fit inside it, so that she could control the magic better.

"Next week again?" she asked, when we were finished. She was dripping sweat by then, and I wiped at her face with a cloth I kept for myself.

I did not want her sweat all over my floor. There was nothing else to it than that. I did not like to make more work for myself, and I had little time to spare at the moment. Or energy, for that matter.

There were rumors that there were plots against the prince. I had no love for the prince myself, but I was being paid to find out who was behind them, because he had plots of his own.

"I told you I would work for you," said Liliana. "I can scrub your floors. I can cook food for you. I will be a messenger for you, if you wish it."

"Next week," I said firmly.

It was another month before I allowed her to come more than once a week. And suddenly, it seemed she was coming every day. She became invaluable to me before I knew it. I did not have her work my magic directly. Not often, anyway. But it helped to have someone who could set things up for me, who was better socially with others. I did not have to steel myself to keep my tongue in my mouth. Despite her first day of honesty with me, she could bat her eyes and tell a pretty lie as well as any other noble.

And she came back to me and told me stories that made me laugh with their darkness.

"My father laughs, but not as loud and generously as you," she told me one day. She looked surprised. "You give out bits of magic when you laugh."

"I am nothing like your father," I said, all humor gone.

She left soon afterwards, but came back the next day.

I do not know when she stole my father's precious circle, precisely. I noticed something was wrong the day she did not come back. The messenger came to tell me that she was "ill" again, and I thought at first that the feeling of emptiness inside me came from missing her presence. I chided myself that I had become so used to her in so short a time. I told myself that I should keep her from coming so often, so that I could stand on my own again. I did not want to become dependent on her magic -- or on anything else.

But as the day went on, I felt cold. Despite the fact that it was summer, and the most beautiful I had seen in many years. From my doorway, I could see the fields in the distant, green and beautiful, their own kind of magic, even if there was no mathematical perfection in them.

I ate dinner that night, and it felt sour in my stomach.

Then I began to search the house.

It was not until I had looked all through the front room that I realized what I was doing.

Then I went straight to the workroom. She had been spending more time there than anywhere else. Despite her offers to be my slave, to do all my menial tasks for me, she had done very little of any work but magical.

I opened the chest, rummaged through it, and found the evidence of the theft. But by then, I could feel that it was gone.

It was strange.

I was angry with her, but I did not quite believe it.

It made no sense to me.

My father's circle had magic, to be sure. But she had more magic of her own than was in the circle. Had she done it purely to anger me? To demonstrate to me that she had passed me in her knowledge of mathematics? Or was there some revenge in it?

I could not think what I had done to hurt her. I had been sharp with her at times, I knew, but her father could be no better with her and she loved him still --

Her father, who was hungry for magic, and other power.

Her father, who flattered the prince to his face and worked manipulations behind his back.

Her father who would see the beauty of such a circle, and never notice the weaknesses.

She had taken the circle for him.

He was the one behind the schemes to depose the prince.

From the beginning, she had come to help him.

She had warned me. She told me she loved her father, despite all. She had been honest with me from the first. I had not listened.

I could kill him.

I could kill her.

But I thought of the messenger who had come to tell me she was "ill" again. She had brought her father his prize, and how had he rewarded her?

As he always had.

I could think of no more punishment than the one he had already given her. And if she loved him still, after this -- let her.

I waited a day. And told myself I only pitied her.

I waited another day. And thought of my own father, his face over mine, as my cheek stung from his power.

The next day, there was a new prince in the land.

The day after that, there was another knock on my door.

Liliana, dressed in a pretty gown of gold and green, perfect for the daughter of a prince, stood before me, head held high.

"You were right when you said you were no beggar. You are a thief instead," I told her bitterly.

"I love him," she said. "I never lied to you about that."

No, I had lied to myself. But that did not make me wish to forgive her.

"Go to the dome. Make your excuses and your confessions there. I care nothing for either," I said, with a wave of the hand. I turned, as if to leave.

"Please," she said. "I want to learn more." She grasped for my shoulder.

The effrontery!

I turned back and sneered at her. "And you think I will teach you, so that you can return to him and betray me once more?"

She bowed her head. "He has no use for me any longer," she said. "He has magicians all around him."

I knew of them, and knew of their worth. And hers.

As I had always thought, her father was a fool.

But Liliana?

"You love him still?" I asked.

She said not a word.

"Bring me back the circle and I will take you in again," I said. Her father had his use from it already. It would not hurt him to lose it now that he had what he wanted. She could bring me back my past, the talisman of what had made me the man I was.

"No," she said, her neck stiff.

I wanted to be angry with her, to strike at her with magic, to make her stagger back.

And then I saw my father, his face above mine, as my cheeks stung with his rebuke.

Only now I was in his place, and she was in mine.

She stood there, head held high, defying me as I had defied him.

My father had given me an ultimatum, too. I had seen the anger in his eyes, and had held up my chin with pride in refusing him. We had stood on a threshold, as she and I were standing. The argument had been over sending magic into my mother's grave. I could see no point to it except that my father wished to drain me and make me weaker than I was.

Here she was, myself in female form. All but for one thing.

"You must promise never to steal from me again," I said.

"You would not believe me if I did promise it," she looked me in the eyes as she said it.

"Then you must work with me to defeat him." She must give me something.

"That is the one thing I will never do with you," she insisted. "Anything else, but not that."

She wanted me to take her in without a renunciation?

I thought of myself, returning to my father's house, after all that had been said between us. Impossible.

"Leave, then," I said, with equal measures regret and fierceness.

But she did not leave. "I will always love him," she said, the words forced through her twisted lips. She took a breath, and added, "But I need not love only him."

There was a long moment in which I thought that I was still too much like my father, that I could not accept what she could give.

And then I looked her in the face and saw the absurdity of the two of us, apart. I laughed.

She laughed with me, for a long while.

And I felt her magic sputtering out of her in bits and pieces, as mine did.

There was no one there to gather it. It fell freely into the world, back from whence it had come.

"You are stubborn," I said, when I could breathe again.

"No more than you," she said.

"Indeed," I admitted. We were as well matched as any father and daughter could be.

From that day forward, I taught her all I knew. As I failed in strength, she grew. But she did not leave me.

When I was on my death bed, she recited the numbers to me, as a comfort. I could not hold them in my mind long enough for them to be of use to me. She brought me a circle she had made for me on her own, one of tin, with no stones, but her name and my name written on either side.

I held it and knew that when I was gone, it would be hers, as my father's had been mine.


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