Let it never be said that my life is boring. Well, technically, it has been rather boring of late. Too many evenings have passed recently, when I am the only one in the tavern. But today, or rather, yesterday, was not boring. Oh no, not in the least. Last night, I made light!
Mitternacht came by the tavern. She seemed a little livelier than usual, if somewhat annoyed. She wanted to consult me on a business matter; namely, how would she go about acquiring the bakery as a business. I told her what I knew about business dealings in the Cove and offered to act on her behalf. Then she told me the reason why she wanted to buy it – revenge! Apparently, the way to avenge an insult to the herd, among her kind, is to buy out the offender’s business. I was a little confused as I had not seen any others of her kind, but it seems that she has adopted Aoibheann into her herd. Apparently, Eli, the baker, is the one who has been accusing Aoibheann of being a swayback, which term I did not know, but seemingly serves as the equivalent of whore among the equines. So, that is where the rumours were coming from. Mitternacht was quite angry about this, with all sorts of dire threats, including withholding her services and boiling his blood by magic, which I thought would be a hugely entertaining method, if a little bit of a waste of good blood. I assured her that if he repeated such slanders in my presence, there wouldn’t be enough of him left to require embalming and whatever else it was that morticians did.
She took this last comment as a request for more information and offered to teach me her skills. While I am sure it is a necessary and honourable profession, somehow being a mortician did not appeal. I declined saying I had enough on my hands learning to cook and learning magic. This, of course, after a minor discussion about her memory, led to my first magic lesson. Having assured me that this did not require me to grow a horn, which I was fairly sure, unsubtle innuendoes aside, I was not capable of doing, she gave me a small green crystal, which was apparently a fragment of unicorn horn. She was quite casual about it, giving me the impression that breakages were not uncommon, and no more traumatic than a chipped nail.
She had me hold the crystal and concentrate. She said that in unicorns, there was a place, deep within the body, in the gut, a place that flutters or aches. I could not fathom quite what she meant, but then I remember Mr Chang back on the Odiham Castle telling me about something called Qi after I encountered him on deck one morning, doing some exercises. Maybe it wasn’t the same thing, but it was probably close enough for such a nebulous concept. I think he had described it as a kind of life force, or breath of life. Given my current status, I wasn’t sure I possessed much of either but nothing ventured, nothing gained. I recalled that slow, deep breathing was a good place to start. I wasn’t sure if it still counted, not being accustomed to needing to breathe, but it was something to focus on. Fortunately, I have been in the habit of at least appearing to breathe when in the company of others, so it wasn’t entirely an unaccustomed exercise. It is odd how clearly I could hear Chang’s voice and his fractured English after all these years.
Whatever it was; life force, Qi, breath of life, my centre of being, I found something. Almost, but not quite like the knot of excitement in the stomach before an important meeting. Whatever it was, I found I could focus on it, imagining it to be like a ball of light inside me, slowly filling me up. It was quite a strange sensation. The nearest feeling I can liken it to is sitting in a bath and letting the water fill up around you, that feeling where the surface of the water creeps up the skin. I let it creep up my arms, into my fingers. Mitternacht was telling me to visualise a swirling of energy, so I imagined it as a mini-tornado of light flowing through my fingers. I had my eyes closed to aid the concentration; I barely dared open them, but I had to see. Cautiously, I opened them just a fraction, peering out through my eyelashes… And there it was; a faint, red glow around the end of the crystal. I had actually done it! Of course, the surprise was such that I immediately lost concentration and dropped the crystal, extinguishing the light, but, I did it!
Mitternacht seemed pleased as anything, commenting that at least I didn’t fall off the bed like she did the first time she succeeded. I never knew unicorns slept in beds, so there is something else new I learned. She told me to keep the crystal and to keep practicing. Despite my excitement at the new skill, I felt quite drained by the effort, though I am sure it will get easier. It was the end of my shift, so I wrapped the crystal up in a handkerchief and put it away safely in my jacket pocket.
I can do magic! I wonder what Mother would make of that?