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Luck was with her. Whatever spell sheâ€™d invoked that made her tiny and squeezed her inside the bottle had shattered along with the flask. Catani now stood before him, disheveled, but thankfully, as large as life.
Fortunately, her familiar had gone but the dreadful stink from the cat remained. Nevin quickly wove a modified, more directional version of the â€˜Gust of windâ€™ spell which wafted the odor and shards from the broken flask out the door.
â€œThank you uncle! She said, grinning at him, one hand fidgeting with her hair, the other attempting to smooth out the wrinkles in her robe. â€œIâ€™ve been trapped in that bottle almost three hours! Now Iâ€™m behind on my chores! I need fresh eggs and must run to the market!â€ She paused for a moment eying the old man, than choosing her words carefully, she took a deep breath and said, â€œIâ€™m sorry uncle but weâ€™ll have to cancel todayâ€™s lesson!â€
“Sit girl!â€ Nevin said, gesturing to one of the chairs surrounding the little table.
â€œIâ€™ve not come all this way to have you tell me youâ€™ve no time for a lesson! The eggs can wait!â€
â€œBut uncle, my robe is a mess! It must be washed and hung out to dry while there is still sun! Itâ€˜s already dropping low in the sky!â€
â€œSIT!!â€ he commanded, now using a much stronger voice.
Her shoulders sagged; she looked away and mumbled something under her breath. Nevin couldnâ€™t quite catch all the words she spoke but was sure from the two or three he managed to hear, the girl had uttered a curse.
Catani spun around, reached for the one remaining chair at the table, forcefully yanked it out and plopped down hard, hands in her lap, fists tightly clenched. She glared across at him.
Hmm, the girl is quite upset, he thought. Heâ€™d have to remember to pick up a pamphlet for her on Anger Management from the Stonemark Library. Bad enough she was a left-handed wizard, even worse if she became an angry left-handed one! Nevin righted the chair heâ€™d tipped over a few moments before and sat down, facing the girl. He reached under his robe, pulled out a package and placed it on the table.
â€œIâ€™ve found another book for you Cat. Not that it matters, seeing as youâ€™ve hardly touched the ones you already have.â€
She sat, impassive, still eying him, making no motion to unwrap the package. Nevin cleared his throat. â€œWell, ahem, Iâ€™m so glad youâ€™ve responded in such a positive way to my gift! Here, let me open it for you lass!â€ He un-tied the parcel, picked up the book and read the title aloud.
â€œThe Modern Wizardâ€™s Official Dress Code, published and up-dated annually by the Markshire Mages Guild! And a wonderful source of knowledge it is, Cat. I know most of those whoâ€™ve compiled the information. Youâ€™ll find much in it that will be of great value to you. I hope youâ€™ll thumb through it at least.
Theyâ€™ve added a chapter on the care and proper use of the wizard staff. I insist you read that chapter! Iâ€™ll quiz you on it at our next lesson! Some folks have told me theyâ€™ve seen you wandering around with a cross-bow! The old man sighed, rolled his eyes in frustration and shook his head. That will not do lass. You must always carry your staff when out and about!”
“The staff is useless to me uncleâ€ she said. â€œIâ€™m more comfortable with the cross-bow, and every day my aim improves!â€
â€œNonsense child!â€ he scolded her â€œThe staff must be your weapon of choice if you expect to be accepted into the Mages guild. For sure theyâ€™ll turn you away if youâ€™ve not learned to be proficient with your staff. Youâ€™ll be a mage without a guild! Youâ€™ll be known to all as an outsider, a wilder!â€
He shook his head. â€œIn time the guild will search you out and itâ€™s possible theyâ€™ll strip you of your powers! Itâ€™s a rare thing, but Iâ€™ve seen it done! And when theyâ€™re through with you, youâ€™ll be a shell, useless to anyone. Useless to yourself! The only job left to you will be cleaning out stables! Is that your desire? You wish to be a stable maid?â€
â€œI killed a Cyclops with my cross-bow. â€œ She said, still glaring at him.
â€œOh dear child!â€ he exclaimed, placing his hands on the table and rising half way out of the chair. â€œHas it come to this? Now you invent falsehoods to placate me! You did NOT kill a Cyclops with a cross-bow! It would be impossible for you to accomplish that!â€
Catani rose from her chair, hands on her hips and stared defiantly across the table at him.
â€œIt is not a fib, uncle. As sure as I am standing here facing you, I downed a Cyclops with my cross-bow. It is the truth and I swear it!â€
â€œAnd where may I ask, did you achieve this feat?â€
â€œJust outside the east gate of Foothold.â€ She replied.
â€œThan the guards saw . . . and of course Captain Hillar has a record of the encounter?â€ he asked.
â€œWell, the guards were on a lunch break, uncle. So . . .â€ she shrugged. â€œThere is no record of the battle. I was alone. Well the Cyclops was there also, but of course heâ€™s dead now so heâ€™ll not be able to authenticate my story. But I swear to you uncle, I felled the beast with a bolt to the heart. You can believe me, or not. I donâ€™t really care.â€
Nevin sat back down and wrung his hands and sighed deeply. â€œWell, I can see no useful place this conversation will be bringing us to. Mayhap its best, as you suggested earlier, we cancel the lesson. It is getting late and with the forest not safe Iâ€™ll not want to be making the better part of my trip home after dark.
But Catani, promise me youâ€™ll thumb through at least a page or two of the tome Iâ€™ve brought you today.â€
â€œI will uncle. I promise.â€ As the old man stood and turned to leave she nodded a good bye to him. Nevin smiled in return.
Nevin stopped his march toward the door. â€œYes child?â€
â€œYou may borrow it if you wish.â€ She said.
â€œBorrow what child?â€
â€œThe book you were reading.â€ She motioned to the Lurid Tales of the Duke and his Bluestockinged Mistress. It was still lying on the floor where Nevin had dropped it.
â€œYou see uncle, while I was trapped in the bottle I could hear you comment aloud from time to time if you read a passage that, well, a passage you thought interesting! It did not take me long to discover just which book it was you were um, so enthralled with!â€
She smiled sweetly at the old man. Nevin looked at her a moment, his mouth opened and he began to make a comment but could think of nothing to say. Instead, the old man turned and stalked out the door, slamming it behind him.
â€œHeâ€™s such a darling old man!â€ she said, smiling to herself. â€œHow on earth could I ever manage without him?â€