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Authors: Brandon Dorman

A Tale of Magic... (6 page)

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“I know,” Brystal said.

“I mean it, Brystal,” her mother said, and turned to her daughter with wide, fearful eyes. “Brooks is very well-liked in town. You don’t want to make him your enemy. If he starts saying bad things about you to his friends—”

“Mother, I don’t care what Brooks says about me.”

“Well, you
should
,” Mrs. Evergreen said sternly. “In two years, you’ll be sixteen and men will start courting you for marriage. You can’t risk a reputation that scares all the good ones away. You don’t want to spend your life with someone mean and ungrateful.…
Trust me
.”

Her mother’s remarks left Brystal speechless. She couldn’t tell if she was just imagining it, but the dark circles under her mother’s eyes seemed a shade darker than they were before breakfast.

“Now go to school,” Mrs. Evergreen said. “I’ll take care of the dishes.”

Brystal was compelled to stay and argue with her mother. She wanted to list all the reasons why
her
life would be different than other girls’, she wanted to explain why
she
was destined for greater things than marriage and motherhood, but then she remembered she had no evidence to support her beliefs.

Perhaps her mother was right. Maybe Brystal was a fool for thinking the world was anything but dark.

With nothing more to say, Brystal left her home and headed for school. As she walked along the path into town, the image of her mother leaning at the sink stayed prominently on her mind. Brystal worried it was as much a glimpse into her own future as it was a memory of her mother.

“No,”
she whispered to herself. “That is
not
going to be my life.… That is
not
going to be my life.… That is
not
going to be my life.…” Brystal repeated the statement as she walked, hoping if she said it enough times, it might extinguish her fears. “It may seem impossible right now, but I know
something
is going to happen.…
Something
is going to change.…
Something
is going to make my life different.…”

Brystal was right to be worried; escaping the confinements of the Southern Kingdom was impossible for a girl her age. But in a few short weeks, Brystal’s definition of
impossible
would change forever.

T
hat day at the Chariot Hills School for Future Wives and Mothers, Brystal learned the proper amount of tea to serve to an unexpected visitor, the type of appetizers to cook for a formal gathering, and how to fold a napkin into the shape of a dove—among other
riveting
subjects. Toward the end of class Brystal had rolled her eyes so many times her eye sockets were sore. Usually she was better at hiding her annoyance during school hours, but without the comfort of a good book waiting for her at home, it was much more difficult to conceal her irritation.
To soothe her aggravation, Brystal thought about the last page she had read in
The Tales of Tidbit Twitch
before falling asleep the night before. The story’s hero, a field mouse named Tidbit, was hanging off a cliff while battling a ferocious dragon. His tiny claws were getting tired as he swung from ledge to ledge to dodge the monster’s scorching breath. With his last bit of strength, he threw his small sword at the dragon, hoping it would wound the beast and give him a chance to climb to safety.

“Miss Evergreen?”

By some miracle, Tidbit’s sword flew through the air and pierced the dragon’s eye. The creature jerked its head toward the heavens and howled in pain, sending fiery geysers through the night sky. As Tidbit crawled down the side of the cliff, the dragon whipped its pointed tail and knocked the mouse off the boulder he clung to. Tidbit fell toward the rocky earth below, limbs flailing all around as he reached for something—
anything
—to grab on to.

“Miss Evergreen!”

Brystal sat straight up in her seat like she had been pricked with an invisible pin. All her classmates turned toward her desk in the back row and stared at her with matching frowns. Their teacher, Mrs. Plume, glared at her from the front of the classroom with pursed lips and one of her penciled eyebrows raised.

“Um… yes?” Brystal asked with large innocent eyes.

“Miss Evergreen, are you paying attention or are you daydreaming again?” Mrs. Plume asked.

“I’m paying attention, of course,” she lied.

“Then what is the appropriate way to handle the situation I just described?” the teacher challenged.

Obviously, Brystal didn’t have a clue what the class was discussing. The other girls giggled in anticipation of a good chastising. Fortunately, Brystal knew an answer that solved
all
of Mrs. Plume’s questions, no matter what the topic was.

“I suppose I would
ask my future husband what to do
?” she replied.

Mrs. Plume stared at Brystal for a few moments without blinking.

“That’s…
correct
,” the teacher was surprised to admit.

Brystal sighed with relief and her classmates sighed with disappointment. They always looked forward to moments when Brystal was reprimanded for her infamous daydreaming. Even Mrs. Plume seemed disappointed at a missed opportunity to scold her. The teacher would have slumped if her tight corset allowed it.

“Moving on,” Mrs. Plume instructed. “We’ll now review the difference between tying hair ribbons and shoelaces, and the
dangers
of mixing them up.”

The students cheered for their next lesson, and their enthusiasm made Brystal die a little inside. She knew she couldn’t be the
only
girl at school who wanted a more exciting life than what they were being prepared for, but as she watched her classmates strain their necks to see ribbons and shoelaces, she couldn’t tell if they were all phenomenal actors or just phenomenally brainwashed.

Brystal knew better than to mention her dreams or frustrations to anyone, but she didn’t have to say anything for people to know she was different. Like wolves from an opposing pack, the whole school could practically smell it on her. And since the Southern Kingdom was a scary place for people who thought differently, Brystal’s classmates kept their distance from her, as if
difference
was a contagious disease.

Don’t worry, one day they’ll regret this…,
Brystal thought.
One day they’ll wish they were nicer to me.… One day I’ll be celebrated for my differences.… One day they’ll be the unhappy ones, not me.…

To avoid any more unwanted attention, Brystal remained as quiet and alert as possible until the end of class. The only time she moved a muscle was to lightly caress the reading glasses hidden in her dress.

That afternoon, Brystal walked home from school at a slower pace than usual. With nothing but chores waiting for her, she decided to stroll through the Chariot Hills town square, hoping the change of scenery would take her mind off her troubles.
The Champion Castle, the cathedral, the courthouse, and the University of Law each towered over the four sides of the town square. Busy shops and markets filled the corners and spaces between the authoritative structures. In the center of the town square was a grassy patch where a statue of King Champion I stood above a shallow fountain. The statue depicted the sovereign on horseback as he pointed a sword into a seemingly prosperous future, but the tribute received more attention from pigeons than from the citizens wandering through town.

As Brystal walked past the University of Law, she gazed up at its stone walls and impressive glass domes with envy. At that very moment, she knew Barrie was somewhere inside agonizing over his examination. Brystal could have sworn she felt her brother’s anxiety radiating through the walls, but still, she would have given anything to trade places with him. She stopped to say a prayer for him before moving on.

Brystal had no choice but to pass the courthouse as she continued through the town square. It was an ominous building with tall pillars and a triangular roof. Each pillar had the image of a High Justice carved into it, and the carvings scowled down at the citizens on the ground like disapproving parents—an expression Brystal knew well. She couldn’t stop a wave of anger from flooding her stomach as she eyed the intimidating faces above her. Men like them—men like her
father
—were the reason she had such little happiness.

In a corner of the town square, between the university and courthouse, was the Chariot Hills Library. It was a small and modest structure compared to the buildings surrounding it, but to Brystal, the library could have been a palace. A black plaque with a red triangle was displayed above its double doors—a common symbol in the Southern Kingdom that reminded women they weren’t allowed to enter—but the law did nothing to diminish Brystal’s desire to go in.

Being so close to so many books and being forbidden to enjoy them gave Brystal a terrible feeling whenever she laid eyes on the library, but today the sensation was unbearable. The helplessness she felt triggered an avalanche of emotions, and all the fear, doubt, and heartbreak she had been suppressing trampled over her like a stampede. The scenic route home was creating the opposite effect of what she had intended, and the town square suddenly felt like a cage closing in on her.

Brystal was so overwhelmed she could barely breathe. She shooed a cluster of pigeons away from the Champion statue and had a seat on the edge of the fountain to catch her breath.

“I can’t do this anymore…,” she panted. “I keep telling myself that things will get better, but they only get worse and worse.… If life is just a series of disappointments, then I wish I had never been born.… I wish I could turn into a cloud and float far, far away from here.…”

Tears spilled down her face before she knew they were coming. A few townspeople noticed the emotional scene and paused to gawk at her, but Brystal couldn’t care less. She buried her face in the palms of her hands and wept in front of everyone.

“Please, God, I need more than just faith to keep going…,” she cried. “I need proof that I’m not as foolish as I feel.… I need a message that life won’t always be so miserable.… Please, I need a sign.…”

Ironically, after Brystal finished crying and had dried her tears,
a sign
was the first thing she saw. An old and rickety librarian emerged from the library with a bright yellow board under his arm. With shaky hands, he pinned the board on the library’s entranceway. Brystal had never seen a sign posted outside the library before and was very curious. Once the librarian returned inside, she hurried to the front steps to read the words painted across the board:

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