The Crimson Mage

The Life and Times of Orenda The Reign Ender

By M.J. Brigaddon

Chapter 18

Orenda watched a human woman light a fire in the fireplace of the office where she sat. Headmaster Quiroris stood before the blaze that sprang to life and opened the book to the middle, then set it on the hearth and made his way to take the seat behind the desk that Orenda sat in front of.

When he spoke, it was not to her, but to the human woman.

“Bring up a tea-tray,” he instructed, “With something for the young lady to eat. She must be famished after her journey.”

The woman nodded, fisted one hand over her heart and the other in the small of her back, bowed slightly and turned to make her way out of the room.

Quiroris turned back to Orenda and smiled, but she was still so full of energy in her mind, and none in her body, that she could not tell if it was sincere. She regretted the corner that she had backed herself into. His eyes told her that he knew she was lying.

“That was unfortunate,” He said in a voice that sounded caring, but Orenda did not know whether or not he was pretending, “I’m glad you’re alright, at any rate. I can’t say the same for the bathhouse.”

A different human came in this time, quietly walked to the headmaster, and waited until he turned and nodded before he spoke.

“Master, this is everything they recovered from the bathhouse,” he said, holding a pile of things that Orenda recognized, “Would you like it?”

“Yes, Samuel, thank you,” Quiroris took them and put them on his desk, “That will be all.”

The man nodded, went through the same strange motions as the woman, and left through the door he had come in.

“Do you have a last name, Ms Orenda?” Quiroris asked.

“Do you have a first name?” Orenda retorted.

“Yes, I do,” he said pleasantly, “It’s Felaern.”

Orenda studied him for some time and did not answer his question. When it became apparent that she was willing to go on not answering until the end of time, he decided to speak again.

“I was fortunate enough to travel here many years ago,” he said conversationally, “Before the colonization.”

“You don’t look that old,” Orenda interrupted.

“Thank you,” He said with a twinkle in his eye, “the secret, I believe, is a good moisturizer and a trusted hairstylist who knows how to mix the proper color.”

“Vanity suits you,” Orenda said.

“At that time, to be fair,” he said, “I was very young. But I did have the good fortune to tour the kingdom of the fire elves. I do not think that religious oligarchies produce many princesses. You must be a rare breed.”

Orenda stared at him and he stared back, and the air in the room began to grow warm.

“Most mages,” he said, “Cannot cast without a focus.” When Orenda did not respond, he sighed and said, “I know that you didn’t mean it when you threatened us. I know that you’re a frightened child who is a long way from home. I want to help you, Orenda. This is a safe space. You can talk to me.”

“No, thank you,” Orenda said.

“It distresses me to know that you could have been hurt,” Quiroris told her, “Someone should have been watching you.”

Still Orenda said nothing. This man was difficult to read and she didn’t know whether or not he could be trusted. He hadn’t thrown her out, which was more than most people would have done, even after he had called her out on her lies. Yet still… the more she studied his face, the easier the lines around his eyes became to make out. It was possible that he really had been to the fire elf kingdom, that he may actually know things that could help her.

“What path do you walk?” She asked him.

He stared at her as if he thought that was a strange question, and she knew that he had no idea what she was talking about.

“The path of knowledge, I suppose,” he answered with a puzzled expression. “I’m more than an educator; I’m a scholar myself. I want to unlock the secrets of the subject of magic. I don’t see a reason to ever stop learning, to ever stop researching or experimenting.” He seemed a little sad when he said, “I thought I would never meet another fire mage, Orenda. I thought you were all gone.”

“No,” she said, “We aren’t.”

“What is your last name?” He asked, sincerely, “Who are your parents?”

“I have no parents,” Orenda decided to tell a bit of the truth, to test the waters, “I grew up in a workhouse. I found a fire crystal and set myself ablaze, and I suppose they felt I was a safety hazard. I found the book by pure chance. It’s stolen, but I would like it back.”

“Where did you steal it from?” He asked.

“Some shop or library or somesuch,” Orenda waved a hand, “I don’t know the name. I have traveled since I lost my job.”

“That’s terrible,” he said and seemed to mean it.

“Do you think anyone would respond well,” Orenda asked him, “to being told that their life is terrible?”

“No,” he said, in thought, “I imagine they wouldn’t.”

The human woman reappeared with a tea tray, set it on the desk, bowed, and went to stand behind and slightly to the left of the headmaster.

“That will be all,” he said pleasantly, and elected to situate the cups and pour the tea himself. The human woman gave another slight bow and left the room.

“Do you like sugar?” He asked, “Milk?”

“Yes,” Orenda said and was unwilling to give further instruction. Quiroris put in a little of both, and she watched as he mixed his own cup the exact same way before he sat back down and reached for one of the small cakes on the tray. He ate in a way that was too dainty for her liking, but she slowly reached for the tray and took a cake herself.

“You don’t know your name?” He asked.

“I was told by the adults,” Orenda took a sip of her tea, “That it was Nochdefache.”

For the briefest of moments this information seemed to unnerve Quiroris in a way that nothing else had. It was gone in an instant and had Orenda not been looking for it, she would not have noticed.

“I see,” he said, finally. “Orenda… you obviously have great magical potential. But… I have concerns.”

“About?” She asked.

“About you being my pupil,” he explained, “For a number of reasons. I know so little about fire magic that I’m not sure I could teach you much. I also… would put myself in a tough spot. If I took in every street urchin,” he realized what he had said as soon as he had said it by the change of the temperature in the air and corrected himself, “every at-risk child who wandered near the grounds, I wouldn’t be able to feed them. And it’s hardly fair to wave the tuition for you, yet not for anyone else.”

“I would have thought that my tuition would have arrived before I did,” Orenda thought aloud.

“In what way?” He asked, and Orenda decided it would be stupid to tell him about Gareth. She stayed silent and he seemed to think that she was talking out of her head as a frightened child again and continued, “And it will be costly to repair the bath house,” his voice lowered and he spoke almost as if in awe, “steamed the paint right off the walls… the whole pool…”

“I will not be indebted for an accident that should have never happened,” Orenda felt her rage growing again, “That place is dangerous!”

“You were not invited to the academy,” Quiroris had authority in his voice, “I’m actually quite curious to know how you got in.”

“Your curiosity knows no bounds!” Orenda snapped.

“Young lady,” He said, without losing his patience but with the air of the adult he was, “I know that you’re upset, but do we really need these outbursts? Considering the circumstances, I’m being shockingly nice. You broke into my home and place of business and destroyed a building for reasons that I have every right to question.”

Orenda had to admit that he had made a fair assessment of the situation.

“I suppose,” she said at length, “That it would not hurt me to pay my debts. I have no money, but I do have skills that can be put to use. I’ve been told that I’m useful in the kitchen.”

“I don’t know that I would like an elf working in my kitchen,” he seemed insulted by the prospect, “You are an elf, Orenda. You’re not a human. I can’t imagine that they had you in a workhouse.”

“There are elves in the workhouse,” Orenda narrowed her eyes, “Not as many of us, of course, but we were there.”

“That doesn’t seem right,” he said, and when he sensed her anger elaborated, “Morally, I mean, not that I think you’re factually wrong. You should have never been in that environment. I’m trying to think of somewhere to put you; calm down. I agree that you shouldn’t be out on the street, but honestly, young lady, some things are below a person of your status. I don’t know how they do things inside the dreadful industrial district, but here on the coast people are civilized. You need to learn some self-respect.”

“That is not a complaint I have often heard,” Orenda told him. His words left a bad taste in her mouth.

“Have you ever had a mage focus?” he asked her, “Or have you been using the fire crystal you found?”

“The crystal,” Orenda lied, “But I have heard that most mages use staves to begin with, and wands as they improved. They seemed shocked at the workhouse that I could cast at all. As I said, I believe they found me to be a liability.”

“Fire is, perhaps, the most dangerous of the elements,” Quiroris stood and began to walk around the office. The wall behind his desk was lined with books and housed a door that was not the one that people had been coming and going through, but he ignored it and walked to a window on the right-hand wall, surrounded by plants hanging from different lengths of chain in earthenware pots.

“Anything is perhaps anything,” Orenda pointed out.

“Yes,” Quiroris said, as if she had mistaken his meaning, “But fire can only burn, only destroy. It is an offensive magic, by its very nature. Earth is more about creating life, nurturing it. It’s very caring and requires calm effort and patience.”

He reached up and broke two bright red flowers off of one of his plants and carried them back to the desk.

“They’re used for two different things,” he explained, “This plant is called salvia. It has medicinal uses for a variety of things, but is most widely used to help people with digestive issues. It can cure pain. Fire can only cause pain. Do you understand?”

Orenda thought of Ali, but she also thought of the cookies, warm and smelling of ginger when Susan pulled them from the oven.

“I don’t think that plant could have grown at all without the sun,” Orenda told him, “All life begins with fire. I can feel it, Felaern. I can feel the fire in your heart, in the sun a million miles above me, the magma rolling and flowing a million miles below me. I feel it in your herth and in the air, and in every living thing that crawls or flies. You’re wrong.”

“I may be, at that,” he admitted, “I told you that I didn’t know much of it. I suppose a society could not have lasted very long without healing spells.”

He handed one of the flowers to Orenda and she took it because it had been offered, not because she wanted it. He walked leisurely back to the window, held the flower back to the plant he had pulled it from and the stones in his ears began to glow as the plant healed. Orenda didn’t understand why he had hurt it at all or what point he was trying to make to her.

“Well,” he said, “It is the middle of the night, after all. Let’s get you settled. We can work out all the financial details in the morning. I’ll also have to commission a focus for you. I don’t even know where one would get a fire staff. I suppose I’ll have to contact the dwarves.”

“You’d like me to stay here?” Orenda asked skeptically. The entire conversation had put her on edge, and she hadn’t known quite what to think.

“I can’t let you waste away on the street,” Quiroris said as if the idea was ridiculous. He opened the door and Orenda heard the ringing of a bell. She stood quickly and gathered her things, including the book about the fire elves.

Quiroris came back a few minutes later followed by the human woman from before, and if he noticed, he said nothing.

“Orenda, Jenny will find you somewhere to stay tonight. We’ll work out all the details in the morning.”

Orenda nodded and followed the woman out of the room.

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