Gwyn turned her pockets out, searching in vain for a handkerchief. When none seemed forthcoming, Robin sacrificed one end of his scarf with all the air and dignity of a martyr. She buried her face in the soft red wool, mindful not to tug too hard, as her cousin was still wearing the rest of it. It smelled of the wild with a hint of blackberry, and made her stomach fizzle as though she was the one accustomed to swooping through the air and gusting with the wind.
“Really, it’s for the best,” Robin said, patting her awkwardly on the shoulder and looking everywhere but at her.
“I-I don’t s-see how,” she whimpered. Now that she’d started crying, she was having a difficult time stopping. It was as though each tear was determined to draw out all the sadness and frustration she’d ever felt, and no fewer than tens of thousands of them would be up to the task.
He gestured to the room. To the murky walls with anonymous stains that were streaked with grease. To the rafters stuffed with cobwebs and lost dreams. To the the filthy floor gritty with bracken and debris that must have blown in when she’d been locked up.
“You’re in a cage, Gwyn, and the sooner you accept that, the better.”
She worked her mouth soundlessly as both her face and throat caught fire. Hurt blossomed like the rosiest of the queen’s poppies, but without the delicate edge. She dropped the bit of scarf her cousin had offered her and stepped away, her tears still flowing, but silent and fast.
“You’re as bad as she is,” she whispered, wondering for the first time if discovering her magic had been a mistake. Just one more thing to add to her misery.
Robin shrugged. “Undoubtably. In my own way. But I’ve not lied to you yet.” He leaned down and took her hand in his, tightening his grip when she tried to let go. “What you want is your hand held. Someone to pat your head and cry with you.” He shook his head. “I won’t give you what you want, and you’ve already got at least half of what you need.”
“Then what are you here for?” Gwyn cried, wrenching her hand away. Her fingers sparked crimson and gold, and she buried them in her skirts.
Robin grinned, though his step faltered slightly. “Why to give you the other half,” he said as though this were only common sense. “A nudge really, considering you’ve gone ahead and gotten the hard part out of the way.” He nodded at her hands that were defiantly spitting out sparks of magic in the same quantities as her tears.
She sniffled and turned her back on him, not quite ready to forgive him. But she held up her hands and aimed them at the door. Her conscience nudged her, reminding her that she knew how to make doors now, but a bigger part of her wanted to blow a hole through the wall of her prison. It would be a lot harder to lock her up when she could walk through the hole whenever she pleased.
“No,” Robin said, pushing her hands down. “Not that way.”
“Why not?” She was still furious with him, but couldn’t deny how pleasant it would be to watch the Ruby Queen hop up and down in anger as she tried, unsuccessfully, to cage her in again.
“Because the Bandersnatch isn’t something the queen thought up to give you nightmares,” he said, his expression grim. “And there are enough wards to keep all but the strongest trapped in here. While I admire your forthrightness, there really is a better way.”
Gwyn sighed. Her cousin was the most maddening person she knew, but no matter how hard she tried, she could never stay mad at him for as long as he deserved.
“Then show me how.”
Grinning, he bowed. “I thought you’d never ask.”
She resisted the urge to yank on his scarf and tweak his ear. Instead, she just folded her arms and waited.
“The first thing is to figure out what sort of magic you have,” he said, strutting about the room as he studied its contents and filed them away for further use.
Her hands were quiet now, with barely a sheen of gold, and she wondered if most of the day hadn’t just been some mad, wonderful dream. She sighed, wishing Lyra was here. Her friend would have known what to do and made the doing fun. “I—I can make doors.”
The words trembled off her tongue, barely audible, and she shivered. As much as she loved her cousin, she didn’t entirely trust him, and it was never a comfortable thing to uncover a part of your heart, one of your deepest secrets, and hold it out to someone else who might not understand.
“Hmmm.” He had his chin in his hand and stroked it as he thought. Yet even in his deepest of concentrations, mischief still lurked in the corners of his mouth and eyes. “By door, do you mean doors?”
Gwyn nodded. “I’m not very good at opening them, and I haven’t quite got the hang of doorknobs, but yes. Doors.” She sketched a rectangle out in front of her with a finger, surprised and delighted at the thin line of gold that outlined her point and hung in the air between them for a moment before it faded away.
Robin’s eyes had widened at her magic, but then he fell into a deep thinking silence, punctuated only when he muttered to himself. He paced about the room, muttering and brooding. Coming up with ideas, then discarding them with a shake of his head.
To pass the time, Gwyn focused on her magic, willing it to be a little stronger, but not strong enough to have teeth. Eventually, she managed something that she was confident wouldn’t bite her fingers off and started experimenting.
She began with rectangles, as that’s what she knew the best, then moved on to circles and hearts, swirls and scribbles, raindrops, and great arching rainbows until whatever shape her finger traced was drawn into existence as though her fingers were quills dipped in gold ink.
“I’ve got it!” Robin clapped, crowing with delight.
Gwyn jumped, startled, and her creations fell to pieces before dissolving away. “What have you got?’
“Why the key to your magic.” He grinned.
. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .
© 2016 by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved.
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