Joy looked to Sophia for support, she got an encouraging nod.
She sighed and turned to face the mage.
“My name’s Joy and I come from a small village in the Leaf forests. Ma lived on the edge of the village, even a little removed, as she was the old healer’s apprentice and inherited when she died. I have an older brother Jem, and then there were three other babies who died. There likely would have been more but her husband also died, he worked in the forest, cutting down trees and one fell on him.”
“So it was just Ma and Jem, he was maybe eight or so when it happened, and uncle, who’s on Jem’s Pa’s side would come by to keep an eye on his nephew. He had no kids himself, see, and Jem was the most likely to take over the inn.”
Magister Roxmaine leaned forward, fascinated, “And so how did you come about?”
“Ma says she was in the garden one day and a man appeared at her front gate, and he was hurt. He asked her for help and she brought him in and took care of him. Well, she said one thing led to another. He left a month or so later and I was born just less than nine months after that.”
“So you have no idea who he might have been.”
“Oh no, I’ve met him!”
Joy looked around at the astounded group.
Connor squeezed himself down on the sofa next to Sophia, “I think I need to sit down for the rest of this.”
“Well he came by a year or so after he left and Ma says he knew about me before he’d even walked in the door. He stayed a week or so, but had to leave. He’d do the same thing the whole time Ma was alive. Come by once, maybe twice a year, stay for a few days, never more than a week, and then be off again. Ma used to send Jem off to Uncle whenever he arrived as Jem would always act up and be rude and Ma said it wasn’t fair on me to not have a chance to know my Pa because of Jem’s bad behaviour.”
“So what happened when your mother died?” Sophia squeezed Joy’s arm in comfort.
“She got sick just after he’d left, and by the time he’d be likely to have come back, she was in the ground, and me and Jem were with Uncle.”
“So he never tried to find you?”
“I don’t know, Uncle never let me visit with our old neighbours and they never talk to him or Jem, so I was never able to hear.”
Magister Roxmaine stood and strode about the study, “This is most irregular and extremely irresponsible. Your father would have known the moment he laid eyes on you that you had magic. He should have registered you and signed up you up for school immediately.”
“Ma says he was all set to, but she begged him to let me stay for a few years at least, she didn’t want to lose her baby.”
“Nonetheless, he’s done the wrong thing. You can be registered without being taken from your home. I wonder how I can find out who he is.”
Connor leaned forward so he could see Joy’s face, “What does he look like?”
“He’s tall, I mean I was little and he seemed to reach the sky. He had dark hair and he was tanned from being outside and travelling a lot, but when he took his shirt off to wash, his skin was pale, paler than mine. And he always wore clothes that were very dark brown with very dark red. I always thought it was strange because red is so bright but the shade he wore helped him blend into the forest like he was invisible.”
Magister Roxmaine whirled and headed for the bookshelf, “Good, good, that’s likely the colours of his allegiance. Was there anything else you noticed?”
“He had brown, eyes, same as mine, and he used to let me play with an amulet he always wore. It was really pretty. It was a tree, and was all carved out of dark brown wood but the leaves on it were bright copper.”
“My dear girl you are a treasure and should ensure you keep your eye for both detail and memory.”
She thumbed through a book she’d pulled down, “Here we are, the amulet tells me your father was a woods mage, worked with growing things and nature. Having a child with an affinity for animals would be quite a natural extension. Now here we are, the noble houses with heraldic colours of dark brown and, red you say? Interesting.”
Sophia could barely contain her curiosity, “Is there anyone? I can’t think of any house with those colours in Lillia.”
“You’re right, none in Lillia, but one in Astra and one in Weriban. The Weriban one looks to answer to your description of the shading. Astra colours tend to be very bright.”
Joy looked uncertain, “So what happens now?”
Magister Roxmaine looked up from her reading, “You and I go to Weriban and see if we can track down your father. We can’t have you running about unregistered and untrained, so I can teach you along the way.”
“Joy, you have a gift, a rare and wonderful gift and you need to learn how to use it. I know you don’t want to leave your friends, but wandering about as you are, it’s possible you could become a danger. Some types of magic become rather volatile if they’re left ungoverned.”
Joy looked agonised, Connor was the one to point out a comfort, “Remember, Magister Roxmaine’s the Overcourt mage, so even if you can’t join us on the way to Rimeth, you’ll be able to see us again at Overcourt, and I’m sure Acron will find a way to keep in touch.”
Sophia added another point, “Plus, Joy, it’s Weriban. Wouldn’t you love to do something about your uncle and Jem yourself?”
That got Joy thinking, then reluctantly grinning.
She looked at the mage, “So what am I going to need to do then?”
“Well to start, I’m going to send a few notes out, telling people you exist and that I’m taking you on as my apprentice. That’ll keep the old grumps off our backs about your schooling for a few months at least. Then we’ll need to see if we can start to discover your magic’s preferences, and while we’re doing that, you can start learning some of the basic spells you’ll be wanting to make use of, regardless of your talent’s direction.”
Connor held up a hand as Acron huffed, “Acron’s put out that you’re taking his friend away, and with so little preparation.”
Magister Roxmaine plumped herself down on the floor, facing the dragon and addressed him seriously, “You’ve proven yourself a very good friend to this girl. Without you, she would not be here, and who knows what might have happened. It’s important now, to give her the best chance to make a life where she can be more and do more than her Uncle and brother wanted to let her. How about a compromise.”
Acron tilted his head.
“He’s listening.”, Connor said.
“Joy and I take a couple of days to get organised, I still need to take my delivery tomorrow after all. During which time, you can either stay with us, or visit as you please. Then, we head to Weriban as you and your companions travel to Leaf, and then to your home.”
She continued. “Here’s my suggestion. After we’re done in Weriban, Joy and I come and find you in the Shadowedge Mountains. You’ll need to give her some directions and keep an eye open for us, but I would love the chance to get to know your people better, and I’d be very surprised if Joy’s magic didn’t turn out to be something that dragons at least find useful.”
Acron thought about this, then nodded. Joy smiled, “He said that would be acceptable and that he looks forward to showing us both his home. Although we’ll need to dress very warmly.”