[ If you have been linked here directly, please click here first to read the disclaimer. ]


"Oh my bloody god, Cornelia. What the hell have you gone and done now?!"

Cornelia spun around as best she could, encumbered by an eight-and-a-half-months pregnant belly. There stood her sister in the kitchen doorway, and at that moment Cornelia regretted ever giving her a spare key.

"Ag!" she gasped. "Shit, I thought... I thought you were on vacation! I wasn't expecting to see you!"

"That's rather obvious." Agnes was staring at Cornelia's equally-obvious bump. "So whose is it?" she asked, her eyes narrowing. "His?"

Biting her lip, Cornelia nodded.

"Oh god, sis. You didn't do it to try and keep him, did you?"

"I... well..."

Agnes closed the door behind her and heaved a sigh. "Oh, you silly, silly girl. I'm going to put a pot of tea on. Sit down; you clearly need to take the weight off your feet. How far gone are you?"

"Just a couple of weeks left." Cornelia slumped at the kitchen table.

"I trust that you actually want the poor damned thing?" Agnes stood by the stove, waiting for the kettle to boil.

"Of course I do! It's just..."

"Yeah, I know. Just sit tight while I fix this tea and then we'll talk about it, okay?"

"I really messed up, didn't I?" Cornelia mumbled a few minutes later as Agnes poured the tea and placed two cups on the kitchen table. "I didn't really think it through."

"Well, I hate to say it, but yeah. You kind of did, sweetie." Agnes sat down and sipped her tea. "What on earth possessed you to do it? I thought you were going to file for divorce, especially after he was caught sneaking out of that motel he'd been staying at all weekend! Not to mention going off to France for months and just leaving you behind."

"Oh, you know him and his obsession with his reputation," Cornelia grumped. "I figured he'd got himself some bit on the side because, well... things weren't going too well for us at home. He was buried in his work all the time, and he seemed to shy away from me every time I touched him--"

"Doesn't look like he shied away all that much." Agnes directed a pointed look at Cornelia's belly.

"Well that goes back to the whole 'I thought he had a bit on the side' thing." Cornelia sighed. "I figured that, if I got pregnant, he might have something to actually come home for. You know: something worthwhile that would patch things up a bit between us."

"Oh, sis. You should be all he needs to come home to. You and Mortimer. Babies shouldn't be born just because one half of a dying relationship wants to hold it together."

"What am I going to do?" Cornelia whimpered.

"Does he know about it?"

She pulled a miserable face. "No. I didn't tell him, and then he got sick and flew to France to recouperate, and I've not heard from him since."

"Well, no matter what: you're going to have a beautiful, happy, healthy baby. And, whether that feckless husband of yours comes back or not, you're going to love that little scrap with all your might." Agnes growled. "And, as for recouperating in France, what the hell is wrong with doing it at home, with you here to look after him? Who's with him? Some floozy?"

"I don't know. He's got a carer or something, I think. That was the message I got from the hospital."

"For exhaustion?" Agnes arched a disbelieving eyebrow, then sighed. "Oh well. Whatever. I officially hate him on your behalf, anyway."

Cornelia looked away, not wanting her sister to see the tears welling in her eyes, but she couldn't hide them from her voice. "I don't think I'm cut out to be a single moth-- AAH!"

Agnes's teacup slammed down into its saucer.

"Shit," she hissed. "On your feet, lass. I've got the car with me."

Cornelia slowly struggled to her feet, leaning all of her weight on the kitchen table.

"I'm scared," she sobbed. "I've never done this alone. Gunther was with me when Mortimer was born. He held my hand and kissed me and he was there all along, and--"

"Hey, what am I? Chopped liver?" Agnes took her hand with a big smile. "This time around you have your sis to take care of you, okay? You-- what is it?"

"My... my waters just broke." Cornelia stared down at the puddle forming on the floor. "We're not going to make it in time."

"Nonsense! Mum said she was in labour for sixteen hours with you. You're hardly going to pop it out here on the kitchen floor." Agnes kissed her sister's cheek. "Come on, let's get to the car."

"I can't run!"

"Well I'm damn well not putting my back out carrying you. C'mon, you're tougher than this. I know you are. Now shift your arse, mama!"

"You're a bossy bitch, you know that?" Cornelia couldn't help but laugh, though it came out as a slightly hysterical giggle.

"The first thing to know about magic," Valois murmured, as he guided Gunther's hands together in a kind of prayer gesture, "is that every single person possesses it. They just do not know how to release it, or use it. Of course, it is not as powerful as the magic of born witches, but it is the oldest earth magic that is known."

"I never realised..." Gunther whispered, gazing down at his hands, half-expecting sparks and spells to come flying out. All he could feel, though, was a slight, vague, tingling warmth between his palms.

The two of them were standing in the spacious ballroom of Valois's home, ostensibly (or so Valois had said) because it would allow room for the magic to flow. In reality, Gunther suspected, it was because it'd be more forgiving of mistakes.

Valois chuckled, breaking into his reverie. "The second thing to know about magic," he continued, "is that you must trust in your own power. Thoughts such as those will create the very 'mistakes' that you are worried about. Now, tell me: what is the most powerful force on the planet?"

Gunther thought for a moment. "Gravity? I mean, you jump off a tall building and it's gravity that makes sure you're gonna splat on the sidewalk, right?"

"Non. Well, yes, gravity does that, but it is more powerful on a universal scale. It is actually a very weak force on a small scale. Wonderful at holding planets in orbit, but you can break its grip easily - if momentarily - by simply throwing a ball into the air. Try again."

"I thought you said this would be easier than physics," Gunther muttered. "I'm trying to even remember the main forces."

Valois's smile was tender. "I forget sometimes that I am not tutoring a born witch. I am sorry, mon cur. The strong nuclear force is more powerful at very short range, but the most powerful general force is the electromagnetic force, and human beings are so full of electricity that they hum with it, to those with the ability to sense it." To Gunther's querying look, he added, "Yes, I sense it."

"Oh, I remember reading something about that in some of my books. Earth's magnetic field, the ley lines, and all that stuff. It's usually dismissed as sort of... crankish, though."

"Bien sr, for people are frightened of it. There is enough electricity - in the form of potential energy - in your body that, should you wish it, you could explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, although please do not do this. It would be very messy."

Gunther blinked, then laughed. "Um, I'll try not to. So how the hell do you control power of that magnitude?"

Valois smiled. "You speak of control, and this is good. Yes, fine control is needed. Think of this power as the fastest, sleekest car you have ever driven. It is awe-inspiring, beautiful, exhilarating, but drive it too recklessly and it will leave you burning by the side of the road. Therefore we must drive slowly and carefully at first." He winked. "Like little old ladies."

Gunther looked up and grinned. "Well, I'm ready to learn. I can't remember the last time I was this excited about something."

"I know. The electrical energy around you is vibrating. First, we shall harness just a small amount of it; about the size of a pea. Open your hands just a little, mon cur, and focus on your solar plexus. Picture the energy of your body concentrating there in a swirling ball."

Closing his eyes, Gunther did as he was told. He had always been fairly imaginative as a kid, but years of work had somewhat flattened that, hammering and shaping it into a very small place inside him. Now, with Valois, he was finding his way to it again, and he envisioned it resting right in his solar plexus. His creativity and his energy, all merging into one.

"Good," he heard Valois say. "Very good! Now, tell me: what colour is that swirling ball?"

"It's sort of... a golden yellow?"

"Excellent. That is the colour it should be. Mon cur, you are doing so well. Now, picture a stream of that energy pouring out of the ball and into your hands, forming a smaller ball but still connected to its parent."

It was simple to visualise, and soon Gunther had a tiny solar system: a small moon attached to a larger planet, both spinning slowly. The oddest thing, though, was that the 'moon' had kind of erupted up, as though he'd vomited it out.

"You wish to ask something?"

"Christ, Valois, how the hell did you know?"

"I am monitoring you very closely, mon cur. Speak."

"That sort of broke out, like I was, uh, puking it up. It was an urge. Does that make sense?"

"Oui, perfect sense. The solar plexus is the seat of all energy. For the first few times that you access it in this manner, it will feel awkward. Soon enough you will learn to control that energy, and it will flow smoothly. You are doing wonderfully well. Are you happy to continue? You're trembling a little..."

"Yes. It's just excitement."

"Then name a small, material thing that you wish for right now."

"Oh god, uh, anything?"

"Nothing too complex. Something natural, perhaps, that the energy of the world could offer in exchange for the energy you are about to give it."

"An apple, then."

"Focus the energy into one hand and move the other away. Tell the world, silently, that you need an apple."

Okay, this bit feels slightly... weird, but I know it's working. Hell, I can feel it! I need an apple.

Suddenly, the ball of energy in his hand began to swirl upwards in bright wisps of golden smoke, and something was sitting in his palm. The fine trembling of his body began to increase to a shake. Shit, what happened? Did it go wrong?"

"Open your eyes, mon cur," Valois whispered.

"Oh... my... god."

The look on Valois's face was one of utter delight as Gunther stared at the large, juicy apple in his palm.

"I made that?! I mean... that was me?"

"All you. You are a natural. I promise to you: I have never tutored one who found their skill within the first lesson." Valois kissed his cheek.

"I... have got about fifty million questions right about now, but before I start blurting them out at you I need to fucking sit down before my legs give way."

Something scraped along the floor behind them and, as he turned, he saw one of the elegant couches sliding towards him, moved by invisible hands. He blinked, then - as it stopped right behind his legs - he flopped down onto it.

"Okay. I didn't know you could do that, too," he mumbled, biting into the apple without thinking. It was sweet and juicy and warm, just like the one that Valois had conjured up for him earlier in the day on the picnic blanket.

Valois sat down beside him. "Displacement of energy. I need the couch here, the world moves it for me."

"Okay. Explain this 'world' thing to me. You said something earlier about asking for something that the world would give to me in exchange for the energy I was going to give to it?"

"That is what magic is all about, mon cur. Exchange of energy. For every cause; effect. For every action; reaction. The world gives you its energy when you are conceived, and you give it back slowly as you live. Most people die with all of their energy intact because they do not know how to harness it."

"Could it all be given away?" Gunther looked up at him. "What would happen if you gave it all back? Would it stop working?"

"Non. It doesn't work quite in that manner. You recharge, like a battery. For this, you must be one with nature. Walk outside barefoot, swim in the lakes and oceans, sit with your back to old trees whose roots remember the ages." Valois laughed. "Why do you think there are so many ancient tales of witches dancing naked in the moonlight?"

"Do you do that?" And can I watch?

"My power is such that I have no need to, but yes, sometime I take off my shoes in rain-soaked meadows, and I sit quietly and listen to the oldest trees. I reassure the earth that I mean it no harm, and I thank it for trusting me and allowing me to use its power. It is very important to not bite the hand that feeds you."

"I never thought of that old saying in that manner before," Gunther murmured.

"Does it not make perfect sense, though? It--" Valois suddenly looked up, and Gunther waited for him to finish. He looked for all the world like a fox that had scented a juicy chicken on the wind.

After a moment longer, he looked back down at Gunther.

"You should rest, mon cur," he murmured. "The first time that you practise magic successfully can cause the body to go into shock, as it has never been asked to use its power in that way before. Sleep, and I will be here when you wake."

And, just like that, Gunther felt his eyes drowsing and he yawned hugely. "I am pretty tired," he mumbled, as he snuggled down with his head in Valois's lap. The very last thing that he heard before he slipped into a deep sleep was the sonorous ticking of the clock in the hallway simply...

... stopping.

[ Please feedback on this post on the blog. ]

next chapter