To read Part 6, click here. All parts of this story are consolidated on one page here.

“Don’t think of it as learning how to control fire with magic.”

Glass beads on the instructor’s dress tinkled softly as she spoke. Luz was a short, heavyset woman with black hair, which she kept pinned neatly in a silver clasp, and large dark eyes. She stood near the back of the library, facing a row of desks. Oil lamps along the oak-paneled walls gave plenty of light and a pleasant, woodsy fragrance.

Each of the desks had a shelf with a small candle resting in a dish. Luz had lit the candles with a glance upon entering the library, along with the oil lamps. She had put the candles out again just as quickly, after telling Ina to sit down. Ina was her only student this morning; the other girls had gone off with different instructors after breakfast.

lit candle

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

“It’s more about allowing fire to learn how to work with you,” Luz went on. “Imagine that you are training a dog or other animal. It wants to play with you and have fun, but you can’t just let it do whatever it wants—you need to set firm expectations. For today, you’ll start with this candle on the desk in front of you. See the fire in your mind, send it loving thoughts, and tell it what you want it to do. When it lights the candle, praise it as you would a good, obedient puppy.”

Ina took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and pictured herself lovingly telling a small flame that she wanted it to light the candle. Nothing had changed when she opened her eyes again. She tried once more, but she still had no success whatsoever.

Her attention wandered. The library felt stuffy, with no windows. Wouldn’t it be much easier just to say a magic word or two? If this was a library for witches, then shouldn’t the books be full of spells? But the aisle closest to Ina’s desk looked like it had books of poetry on one side and histories of ancient civilizations on the other.

“Okay, no spells,” Ina said under her breath, wondering where she might have gone wrong. What had she done to catch lightning last night? She hadn’t said anything to it, had she? No, the lightning had simply flashed, and she had reached toward it without any conscious intent.

After the lightning-fire had come to her, it had wanted to play, like a puppy—just as Luz had described. Was all fire so playful? Ina turned her attention to the nearest oil lamp, with its flame shining brightly inside the glass. Did it want to do something more? Would it like to hop over to her desk and spend a little time exploring the candle?

The flame inside the lamp bobbed toward her as if agreeing that, yes, it would. A moment later, the candle on Ina’s desk came to life, burning strongly.

“Nicely done!” Luz beamed. “Now you must praise the fire, like a well-behaved dog, for doing as you told it.”

“Good fire,” Ina said, now starting to feel rather silly, “good boy.”

“That was the easy part, you know,” Luz continued. “Persuading fire to burn is easy because that’s what it naturally wants to do. Putting fire out by magic is much harder. Then you’re going against its natural instincts. You are asking it to trust that you will take good care of it and that, when the time is right, you’ll let it burn again. That takes a lot of trust.”

A memory flashed into Ina’s mind. A small golden-brown puppy sat on a carpet, with a treat not far away. His tail quivered with excitement, but he dutifully sat still. Late-autumn light slanted through the windows. Ina heard her own voice saying “Wait, stay…”

Where had that place been? Why couldn’t she remember—and why had she been taken from that place? Surely the flame on her desk must share those feelings. She had taken it from the oil lamp and invited it to come on a new adventure; it didn’t know why. Now it was expected to snuff itself out meekly, just because she said so? Why on earth would it be willing to do that?

Tears came into Ina’s eyes. Of course the fire would resist. Of course it would! All at once she was crying out, with no idea whether she spoke for herself or for the fire. “How can I trust anyone when I don’t even know why I am here!”

The flame in the candle kept on burning—until one of Ina’s tears fell directly on the wick. Then it went out, with a faint but very final sizzle of betrayal.

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