‘Is that it?’ Stena crossed her arms and the ball dropped, bouncing off the desk and into the corner of the room. Smeg, Briston’s cat, watched the ball roll past him with some interest, but made no move to chase it. He had been a wizard’s cat long enough to learn what seemed like a good idea sometimes wasn’t. Instead, he licked his paws and resumed his contemplation of the eternal verities.
‘You have to start somewhere.’ Briston bent down to retrieve the ball before Smeg changed his mind and decided the ball was worth killing after all. ‘Usually at the bottom.’ He placed the ball back on the desk. He regarded Stena through half-closed eyes. He couldn’t decide if she would look better as a smouldering pile of ash or as a frog. The ash would be quieter, but there was something about an indignant frog glaring at you with a desperate plea in its eyes to be returned to the human that was so gratifying.
But Stena paid her fees only on leaving and Briston wanted to eat today. He had visions of one of the pies from the shop next to Madame Misty’s Pleasure Gardens. He could eat the pie there, while trying to look as though he was not trying to peer through the fence into the Pleasure Gardens and dreaming about what he would spend his money on if he had more than one pupil.
A girl pupil at that.
If the Guild of Wizards found out he was teaching a girl, then he’d be lucky to be either a pile of ash or an indignant frog. He swallowed and checked the curtains – what was left of them – were securely drawn. He pointed to the curtains with his wand-free hand. ‘Look what happened when you begged me to teach you a fire spell.’
‘Well, you should have warned me about residual discharge from the wand beforehand, don’t you think?’
Briston muttered something under his breath that may have been the first line of the frog spell. Sometimes Stena worried him, she seemed too bright at times. Certainly, she was too bright to be a wizard. Despite the aura of learning, wisdom and understanding they like to create about themselves, Briston knew wizards were not that bright. Who in their right mind would want the power of fire at their fingertips? Certainly no-one with expensive curtains, he was sure of that.
People employed wizards; they didn’t want to become one. This made Briston even more suspicious of Stena. She was a girl and she wanted to be a wizard. Even at her young age, it would mean death, very painful, protracted death in a way that killed the soul as much as it killed the body. But still she’d demanded he teach her wizarding. Reluctantly, he’d agreed, even though the same fate, the same death worse than death awaited him when they discovered he was teaching the secret arts to a girl. She would be much better, certainly safer, learning the secret arts of the Pleasure Garden than wanting to be a wizard. At least then, she could hold her head up in polite society.
‘Come on, teach me something worthwhile, not levitating balls,’ Stena said. ‘Please.’
Briston knew he should send her away; tell her never to come back. But she had a way of looking at him that made him feel so… so….
‘All right,’ he said, rolling up his sleeve and limbering his wand wrist in readiness.