One by one, the rest of the youngsters recited the chant until only Sarn, Sovin, and Jamus were left at their desks. Sorra almost felt sorry for pathetic little Sovin, whose meager talents made him even more dependent than most on Words of Chanting to develop a weave. To make matters worse, he had a poor memory for spells and would often jumble the words even after he had managed to learn them. Sarn was just too high spirited to take the time and effort required and would usually need a threat or a missed meal to be convinced enough to apply himself to the task. Jamus was, in her mind, the most rebellious and deliberate in his laziness. Refusing to bother with chants out of an arrogant belief he needed none in the making of Magic.
With the three boys moved to the front desks, Sorra stood at her lectern and for a long time simply stared at them, weighing her options carefully. Then, she drew a red fruit from the air and placed it on the table to her left. “Here,” she said, “is a fruit from the far west of Turan, one of Aberdal Province’s favorite delicacies. I expect only truth from you. Have any of you seen such a fruit before?” All three shook their heads. “Good. Then here is your duty. Sift the fruit and once you have so done, give me your hand. I will visit your mind and sort the sifting into a Spell of Creation. If you have indeed Perceived the truth of this pollendor, my Spell will create a duplicate of it here on the table. If you have not succeeded, you will sit here until Norwin’s Turn if need be until you can do as I instruct.”
Sovin furrowed his brow in determined concentration, his lips moving rapidly and though Sorra could hear only an incomprehensible mumble, at least she was pleased he was trying. Sarn chose to open his lesson book and begin reading the words in a soft murmur, over and over without even looking at the fruit. Apparently, he was going to at last conquer the rote, and again, Sorra was satisfied. Jamus simply sat back, took a casual glance at the fruit and with his typical maddening defiance, began staring out the window.
The Wind began to turn, the first breath of Sowin brushing against the curtains, while Sorra waited. Midmeal was surely finished by now and Mistress though she was, her stomach protested its hunger as well as anyone’s. She hoped the cooks would welcome her to the kitchens and made a mental note to further assure that none of the three boys would get so much as a crumb to eat themselves until Lastmeal. It would be small revenge, but fitting, she decided.
Sarn was first to come to her. Gently, he pressed his hand into hers. He whispered the Chant and then let her find her way into his thoughts. There, the Mistress of Beginnings found the pollendor’s secret, Perceived in perfect detail. One quick gesture of her free hand placed a shiny red fruit on the table next to the first and she freed Sarn’s fingers from her grip, “Done, at last, Sarn. You are adept, you know. I would hope one day you learn to do as you’re told without such punishment.”
Sarn fixed his sharp eyes on her face and grinned, “I always learn, Madam.”
Something in his tone made Sorra shiver, but she dismissed both the feeling and the boy at the same instant. Then she watched thoughtfully as he ran from the room.
Sovin was waiting to be next, his limp little hand reluctant to touch hers, so that Sorra finally had to grab it herself. She relaxed her grip when she noticed the look of panic in his eyes and then said gently, “Go ahead, Sovin. I’m ready.”
The boy intoned a fair version of the Chant, missing more the rhythm of the pattern rather than words themselves and the squeezed his eyes shut, tensing his body as he let her filter into his mind. Sorra sighed when she found the Spell, its Weaving loose and incomplete. But, she tightened a thread or so to help him along and then gestured. A half ripe pollendor, with a misshapen curve appeared on the table. Ugly and half formed, it was not perfect, but it was a pollendor. Sovin’s groan of relief made Sorra drop his hand and before she could wave him away, he had bolted in panic out the door.
That left Jamus. “Well, boy,” Sorra said, not bothering to hide her exasperation, “Have you learned the Chant yet?”
Jamus shook his head, “No, Mistress. You said I was to sift the fruit until I knew its truth. You didn’t tell me to learn the Chant.”
One more time, Sorra gritted her teeth and bit back her rage. Jamus’ insolence deserved a response, but perhaps letting him make a fool of himself would be better than anything she could say. “Give me your hand, then,” she said, her jaw tight. “Let us see your version of the fruit.”
Jamus grip was sure and firm, his slender fingers twining confidently with hers. Sorra started at his touch, an intense and inexplicable feeling aroused as his flesh pressed against hers. She fought a totally unexpected and inappropriate urge to reach for him with her arms, longing to close her body against his. It was a struggle, one to be quickly lost by a lesser woman, won now only by Sorra’s own fierce self-will. She threw her thoughts to the task at hand, found the center of his Perception, gestured with her fingers to Create whatever he had sifted, and then yanked her hand free of his, falling back against her stool to steady her shaking knees. If touching him had been torment, the sight of the fruit which appeared on the table was torture. There lay another pollendor in perfect replication to the first, down to every visible spot and stripe. Sorra stared at it, her mouth dropping in surprise. She was absolutely certain it would taste, to the last drip of syrup, exactly like the one she had drawn from the River herself.
“Is it all right, Mistress?” Jamus asked innocently.
Despite herself, Sorra sputtered, “How….how, without the Chant…?”
“I Saw, Mistress, that’s all, and then I thought about pollendor trees in Aberdal and wondered how they might look in full bloom. From there, it was a small thing to see the fruit ripen and I let my hand pluck one for you. To Understand one fruit is to Understand all, isn’t it? Surleps, apples, and pollendors…how much different can they be?”
Somewhat composed, Sorra continued, “Not so different, perhaps, but not so much the same either. This pollendor is identical to mine. How could you make another one exactly the same?”
Jamus smiled, “That’s what you told me to do, Mistress. I was only following your directions.”
Sorra wondered what effect a scream of frustration might have on the rest of the Keep, then swallowed hard and said, “Your pride will defeat you some day, boy. There are many who will not tolerate a braggart as much as I. You’ve already missed midmeal, and the wind has changed. I would suggest you attend Mistress Joria’s class this Sowin with an ounce of humility. She is not as lenient as I am with children who mock their elders.”
Jamus opened his mouth to protest, then snapped it shut, lowering his eyes to the floor instead as he nodded meekly. He had never intended to boast, but had merely done the most natural thing in using the Magic. He knew Sorra was angry about it though, and didn’t want to suffer much more of her tongue-lashing. Keeping his eyes fixed on the floor, he didn’t watch her leave. Instead, he let the sound of her footsteps out the door guide him and then he slipped out into the hallway himself and made his way to his next class.