Kage Baker was one of the best-loved writers in science fiction in the decade before her death in 2010, both as a writer and as a person. In April, a collection of 20 of her best short stories was released, the following story included. This story is included in that collection, as is another story set in the same world. Baker set two novels, The Anvil of the World and its prequel, The House of the Stag, in this world as well.
He looked down at her, astounded; but she stood there looking patiently back at him, clutching her red rose. He knelt beside her. “Do you know what Power is?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Power is when you stand up here and make all the clouds come to you across the sky, and shoot lightning and make thunder crash. That’s what I want.”
“I can make magic for you,” he said, and with a wave of his gauntleted hand produced three tiny fire elementals dressed in scarlet, blue and yellow, who danced enchantingly for Svnae before vanishing in a puff of smoke.
“Thank you, Daddy,” she said, “but no. I want me to be able to do it.”
Slowly he nodded his head. “Power you were born with; you’re my child. But you must learn to use it, and that doesn’t come easily, or quickly. Are you sure this is what you really want?”
“Yes,” she said without hesitation.
“Not eldritch toys to play with? Not beautiful clothes? Not sweets?”
“If I learn Power, I can have all those things anyway,” Svnae observed.
The Master was pleased with her answer. “Then you will learn to use your Power,” he said. “What would you like to do first?”
“I want to learn to fly,” she said. “Not like my brother Eyrdway. He just turns into birds. I want to stay me and fly.”
“Watch my hands,” her father said. In his right hand he held out a stone; in his left, a paper dart. He put them both over the parapet and let go. The stone dropped; the paper dart drifted lazily down.
“Now, tell me,” he said. “Why did the stone drop and the paper fly?”
“Because the stone is heavy and the paper isn’t,” she said.
“Nearly so; and not so. Look.” And he pulled from the air an egg. He held it out in his palm, and the egg cracked. A tiny thing crawled from it, and lay shivering there a moment; white down covered it like dandelion fluff, and it drew itself upright and shook tiny stubby wings. The down transformed to shining feathers, and the young bird beat its wide wings and flew off rejoicing.
“Now, tell me,” said the Master, “Was that magic?”
“No,” said Svnae. “That’s just what happens with birds.”
“Nearly so; and not so. Look.” And he took out another stone. He held it up and uttered a Word of Power; the stone sprouted bright wings, and improbably flew away into the morning.
“How did you make it do that?” Svnae cried. Her father smiled at her.
“With Power; but Power is not enough. I was able to transform the stone because I understand that the bird and the stone, and even the paper dart, are all the same thing.”
“But they’re not,” said Svnae.
“Aren’t they?” said her father. “When you understand that the stone and the bird are one, the next step is convincing the stone that the bird and the stone are one. And then the stone can fly.”
Svnae bit her lip. “This is hard, isn’t it?” she said.
“Very,” said the Master of the Mountain. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a doll instead?”
“Yes,” said Svnae stubbornly. “I will understand.”