Curses, Inside-Out: Part Eight
also by Dreagoddess
Lord Darigan was on his feet and around his desk by the
time Lisha was halfway to the door. Even though she was trying to walk with
her eyes shut, her aim was good enough that if he hadn't intercepted her, she
probably would have ended up falling down the stairs instead of hitting something
more predictable and less hazardous such as a doorjamb. She did have one paw
outstretched to feel for the doorway -- it wouldn't have done any good to open
her eyes anyway. The tears would have gotten out, and she couldn't have seen
through them anyhow.
He caught up and put a hand on her shoulder;
she stopped, but didn't turn.
"I said I'd go," she whispered.
"I'd appreciate it," Darigan said quietly, "if
"I don't--" Her breathing hitched again. Her
chest hurt. "I don't know why."
"Come back," he said, "and listen."
The chair, when she got to it, didn't seem nearly
as comfortable as when she had been falling asleep in it last night, but she
folded up her legs on it, wiped her eyes and tried to unsmear her glasses, and
"Meridell is a strange place," Darigan told her.
She sneaked a look at him; he was staring out the window for some reason. "Do
you know it's the first place that would trade with us? And this after the wars.
You've no idea what a shock it was to realize, after I came back to myself,
that there was a treaty and that the Citadel had actually stayed over
an inhabited area at peace for any length of time."
"I know it's strange," Lisha said softly, "but
I -- I like it there, and...Jeran's there. I don't want to go..."
"I didn't say it was an unpleasant sort of strange."
He was still looking out the window. "We could still make things, even if we
couldn't grow food. We could have bought it. The trouble was, even when I had
sense enough to try, most lands refused to sell it. And no, we hadn't attacked
them, though considering our shadow and the kind of magic I was practicing at
the time... perhaps I shouldn't have blamed them for treating us as enemies."
There were still strange tentacle-things growing in the shadow under the Citadel.
Maybe they would wither, or be transformed, when the curses were removed. "It's
different," he said, "to have people... get used to us. Stranger yet to have
anyone want to help."
Lisha huddled smaller in her chair. "I ruined
it, didn't I?"
"Wanting... something else. I said I wanted to
help, but I... I wanted...." She looked down at her knees, miserably. "To be
needed... too," she finished in a whisper.
"I didn't mean that." Darigan went down
on one knee beside her chair, a hand on her shoulder. "Most people, you'll find,
generally want something. It doesn't necessarily make what they do less
worth appreciating. That you want to be needed, and perhaps that you want to
learn magic somewhere you don't have to pretend you already know it... none
of that makes your concern less real." Another crooked smile. "And even if it
did, that's still a far cry from Get away, we don't care what you're offering,
we don't trade with monsters."
"You're not monsters, you're nice," Lisha sniffed.
"And I...I kept complaining about you trying to use me and I was using you."
"I think that's going a little far," Darigan
said, flexing his fingers gently on her shoulder. Lisha assumed this was meant
to be comforting. "I knew you wanted something; I just couldn't work
out quite what it was -- and I trusted you enough to let the matter wait. Considering
I'd probably still be giving myself headaches and seeing mostly the unraveled
ends if you hadn't assisted, I think giving you something to do for a week is
easily a fair price."
"Well...now that you have it all figured out,
I guess I'll go back to playing Meriball."
"Some fresh air would probably do you good."
Darigan stood up and went back to his desk, scanning the notes he'd made earlier
on possible strategies for cleaning up the spells. "I would like to have
your help still, to tell the truth -- but I think it would be better for you,
in the long run, to look into finding a teacher. I wouldn't suggest you leave
Meridell permanently, but surely a visit to Brightvale wouldn't hurt...." He
looked across at her with a wry smile. "I would not say you're a fraud," he
said. "I would say that you're justly celebrated for what you've done -- but
you've found yourself, quite literally, with more power than you know what to
do with, and so far you're taking the hard route to learning it."
Lisha was silent for a moment, then suggested
hesitantly, "Couldn't you teach me? You're good at it, and that way I
could keep helping you as I learn."
There was a thump as Darigan fumbled the book
of all the spells (that were supposed to be) on the Citadel. Fortunately it
had been bound to last. "What? I don't -- I'm not a teacher!"
"But you're good at it!" Lisha insisted.
When he simply stared at her, she leaned forward and asked, "Aren't you the
one who's been giving me assigned reading every day? And explaining how to do
new spells? And giving me quizzes on what I know?"
"Quizzes?" He rescued the book, blinking at her.
"There was the one on the symptoms of magical
exhaustion a few minutes ago."
"That wasn't a quiz. We hadn't even talked about
"All right, all right, you were making a point
and I yelled at you, but you've checked to see if I understood things I was
supposed to know, too. And the other things I said."
Darigan still looked disconcerted. "I gave you
the essays because you didn't have a proper teacher to tell you the basics.
I wouldn't have known where to start." He frowned. "I... suppose no one else
would be likely to know where to start with you, either."
"If you don't want to, I understand that,
but don't say you wouldn't be good at it. You've helped me a lot in just
a few weeks."
"Well, by comparison to what you'd been
"Exactly! I'd been muddling through on my own.
I didn't have any idea of any of the 'basics' that everyone expects me
to, and you still made me understand some really complex magic." She paused,
looking sheepish. "I didn't believe your old essays on how magic worked would
really help, but they did. A lot."
"You have good instincts; you just needed the
explanation. But...." He shook his head. "I don't exactly have the best past
"You've studied magic. You know magic,
including what not to do." Lisha ducked her head. "Like I said, if you
don't want to, just say so. I just think you'd be good."
Darigan was silent for a long moment. "I could
Lisha raised her head, bouncing a little in her
chair and eyes shining delightedly. "Really?"
He couldn't help smiling back. "If you promise
to quit assuming that I'm trying to get rid of you."
"If you're agreeing to teach me, you're obviously
not trying to get rid of me," she pointed out logically.
"Certainly not very efficiently."
She grinned at him delightedly. She was going
to have a real teacher, someone who wouldn't act like she was supposed
to already know all of this and would explain what all of those frustratingly
fascinating books meant. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me yet. I suspect it would be counterproductive
for me to propose this to King Skarl, so I'm afraid you'll have to do that."
"He already agreed to let me come up here and
help," Lisha pointed out. "If you teach me enough, I can help with actually
removing the curses, can't I?"
Darigan regarded her thoughtfully. "That is
going to be a long-term task. Removing them all abruptly would probably be something
of a shock even if not for the fact that they're entangled with each other and
with newer enchantments that we actually need to keep or replace. Breaking and
erasing them without causing further damage by either making the curses they're
entangled with worse or disrupting beneficial spells will take considerably
longer than mapping the curses did -- not years, I hope, but a great
deal of time and a great deal of strategy."
"A lot of my teachers before I came to Meridell
would try to get us to learn things by doing projects," Lisha said hopefully.
"I thought some of them assigned pretty stupid projects, but this is different.
I'd have to understand a lot more about magic than I do now to help untangle
everything, wouldn't I? I don't want to slow you down, but if you have to do
it slowly, maybe I'd have time to learn enough to make it easier."
Darigan chuckled, and she could see in the shift
of his wings and shoulders that some tension there had eased. "Somehow," he
said, "I think you will. Come here and I'll explain...."
To be continued...