It’s Greg Laden‘s birthday. As has become tradition, Greg, you’re getting a story for your birthday. I hope you like it.


Claude pasted a smile on his face before driving into the village square and kept it there while he unhitched and watered the horses. It was still there as he opened the back of his wagon and mounted the steps that folded out from the back. It was a calm and serene smile, despite his worries, never wavering as he waited under the awning for the villagers to become curious enough to gather round.

It didn’t take long. Quick glances gave way to pulled-aside curtains and whispered conferences. Children tried to pretend they weren’t looking at him while pushing their friends to approach him. Smothered giggles surrounded him.

Finally, a large man with his left arm bound up in splints and linen marched up to the wagon with a purposeful stride. Claude wondered, as he always did, whether he was finally about to be caught, but his smile stayed warm and easy. “Can I help you, friend?”

“I figured I’d better find out what you’re selling before someone dies of curiosity.” The tall man’s grin was broad and open.

Claude relaxed slightly. He raised his voice to carry. “Goodness, friend, if they’re dying, bring them here immediately! My partner and I trade in cures.”

“Ah. You’re magickers then?”

Claude bowed. “We are at your service.” He preferred to tell only the lies he had to.

The big man winced as he tried to lift his arm. “Do you have something that’ll take care of this?”

“We do indeed. Adele!” Claude turned to find her already standing next to him in the back of the wagon.

Adele frowned sympathetically at the big man’s arm. “Was it a bad break?”

“Was it bad?!” He twitched his arm and winced again. He went on more quietly. “It’s bad enough I haven’t been able to work for two weeks.”

“Oh, dear.” She clucked and shook her head.

The man leaned forward. “I don’t mind telling you, miss. I fainted dead away when they tugged it to straighten it out.”

“You poor thing.” She looked dismayed. “Stay right here. We have just the thing.”

Adele retreated into the shadows of the wagon, and the man turned to Claude. “Good to meet you, by the way. I’m Thierry, the carpenter.” He held out his good hand. “It’s good you came along. Not being able to work sure gets to a man.”

Claude shook it. “I’m Claude, and my partner is Miss Adele. It’s a pleasure to be able to help, Master Thierry.”

Adele returned quickly, holding out a clay bottle stoppered with a plug of wax. “This is what you want.” She handed it to him. “Rub some over the break every evening, then wrap it again in a clean cloth. It may itch, but try not to scratch it.”

Thierry turned the bottle in his hand. “How long will it take before I can work again?”

Adele sighed. “It’ll be another five or six days, I’m afraid, and the arm will be weak for a bit even then.”

“Another week beats another month or more, Miss Adele.” Thierry set the bottle on the floor of the wagon and pulled out his purse. “How much?”

“It’ll be three pence.” Real magickers’ potions would be worth about twice that price.

Thierry’s eyebrows went up. “I don’t mean to argue with a bargain, but are you sure?”

Claude’s smile got wider. “We can’t all be rich men, Master Thierry.”

“You’ll soon be a richer man than when you started.” He handed Adele three pennies and picked up his bottle. “I’ll go let the folks know you’re okay.” He marched off as purposefully as he’d arrived.

Claude winked at Adele. The soft sell had worked again.

The children gathered first, wide eyed at meeting magickers. Claude practiced a little slight of hand for their amusement.

Then came the adults, a couple at first and more as folks saw their neighbors gather. Claude moved down from the steps then, out from under the awning and out of earshot of the wagon. People were willing to tell Adele almost anything, even things they didn’t want their neighbors to hear. Claude enjoyed himself, keeping the crowd happy as they waited, telling blatantly modest stories about things he’d never done. He sent Adele another customer whenever she was ready.

As Claude watched Adele work, he was reminded how lucky he was to have found her. She’d started out timid. Customers standing right next to her used to ask her to speak up. She still couldn’t work a crowd the way he did, but she’d gotten much better. She had a knack of looking people in the eye and, to all appearances, really listening to what they said. She held hands and patted shoulders. He’d even seen tears in her eyes on occasion. No one could have played her part better.

“Well, that’s everyone from the village. I sent some of the kids to run out to the farms, so I hope you’re planning on staying for a bit.”

Claude turned to see Thierry. He pumped the man’s hand as though it had been a year since he’d seen his dear friend last. “We’re hoping to stay through the night, if no one minds. We’ll stay in the wagon.”

“In the wagon? There’s no need.” Thierry pointed across the square toward a handsome, two-story stone building with a thatched roof. “We’ve got a perfectly good public house, and you don’t need to be a rich man to stay there.”

Claude’s smile, which had never left his face, deepened. “I’m sure it’s lovely, and we’ll stop in for dinner, but there are some…” He dropped his voice. “…things that are better not left alone overnight.”

“I see.” Thierry shot a nervous glance at the wagon, as did several other villagers. Claude hadn’t caught anyone snooping in the wagon since he’d started using that line.

Thierry rubbed the palm of his good hand on his thigh and looked around. “So, uh, where are you heading off to tomorrow?”

“We’ve been mostly heading east. What’s the next village in that direction?”

“It’s Elder’s Ferry, but it’s not a village. It’s a good-sized town.”

Someone else said, “Hope you have enough medicine. Probably be plenty of sick folk for you to cure.”

Claude looked around him. “Well, you’re a hearty, healthy lot. I don’t think you’ll clean us out.”

Then he sent Adele another customer. He was as fully relaxed now as he ever got. Things couldn’t have gone better. He let his eyes twinkle at the crowd as he mentally counted his take.


Claude woke himself two hours before dawn. He threw on his clothes in the dark and opened the half door that led from his bunk to the wagon’s seat. Adele was sleeping on the floor, lying between the barrels of steeping “medicine” and the bags of dried berries and herbs they used for color and flavor. All they added was water and a little of the local hooch.

It wasn’t easy hitching sleepy horses to a wagon in the dark, but Claude had years of practice. Soon he was on the seat and ready to move.

South. He’d had no intention of heading east, but the news that there was a town there had confirmed his plans. They didn’t stop in large towns. Towns were big enough to hold garrisons. If and when his misdeeds caught up with him, he wanted a fighting chance to get away.

He shook the reins and clucked softly to the horses. There was barely enough starlight to show where the buildings were. They made a little noise crossing the square, but his experience said honest folk slept soundly this time of night.

Claude was just turning onto the southern road when he saw a tiny blur of motion cross in front of the wagon. The horses started. The rabbi
t or whatever it was had come from the right, and the wagon turned sharply back into the square. It picked up speed.

Claude braced his feet against the board and leaned back as hard as he could, pulling on the reins, but the horses were having none of it. They wanted to run.

He saw the fence in front of them just as the horses swerved to avoid it. The wagon didn’t make the turn as sharply as the animals did. He threw his hands up to shield his face when he heard the fence splinter.

Then he wished he’d been holding onto something. The wagon tipped, one of the front wheels coming up off the ground. As it came back down, Claude heard an ominous crack.

He was riding lower than he should be, even considering he was now sitting on the floor between the footboard and the seat. He heard something dragging, and the horses slowed. They came to rest in the middle of the road leading east.

As soon as the wagon stopped, Claude climbed back on the seat and opened the door behind him. “Adele, are you okay?”

There was no response. Then he heard a tiny annoyed voice. “Wha time’s it?”

“Never mind.” Mornings weren’t Adele’s best time. “Go back to sleep.”

He thought about climbing down, but it was too dark to see the damage. Instead, he waited for the villagers to arrive and tried to come up with a plausible explanation for leaving town so early. He looked at the road. At least they were pointed the right direction.


It was the axle, and that wasn’t the worst of Claude’s luck. Thierry, with his broken arm, was the only wainwright in the village, as well as its carpenter. The only good news was that the wagon had landed right outside Thierry’s shop.

Some of the villagers thought it would be better to send to Elder’s Ferry for help and hope that someone had an axle the right size or would be willing to travel to fix it. Others thought that was useless and the magickers ought to wait the few days it would take for Thierry’s arm to heal.

Waiting was, of course, out of the question. Those few days would be long enough for everyone to realize the medicine they’d bought was worthless. Claude tried not to show the panic he felt. He held onto his friendly, unconcerned smile, but only just. He couldn’t take any useful part in the discussion.

It was Adele who came up with the solution, once she’d had her morning tea. “Harvest hasn’t started, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t all be standing around like this.”

Sheepish grins showed the truth of her statement. She turned to Thierry. “How long do you think it would take you to make us an axle using other people’s hands?”

“You mean tell them what needs to be done?” Thierry’s eyes brightened at the prospect of work. “Three, maybe four days–assuming you’re not all complete oafs.” He turned to his fellow villagers.

There were friendly protests, but four of the young men accepted his challenge. They and most of the rest of the village, who’d found the accident a perfect excuse for a holiday, followed Thierry to pick out a properly sized and seasoned log from his stores.

Claude turned to Adele. “Is there anyone who’s expecting to be cured before the axle’s done?”

She was looking under the wagon at the broken axle. “I don’t think so.”

He looked around nervously. “Unless you have a way to speed things up, you might want to be sure.”

She stood up and faced him. “They like us here.” She shrugged. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Claude stared at her, his mouth hanging open, as she casually reclaimed her tea mug from the wagon’s seat and wandered across the square toward the public house. It wasn’t bad enough he had to worry about them being hung, now Adele was going crazy on him. He hoped he wasn’t going to have to find a new partner again.

His other partners in crime had been so…well, dishonest. Claire had been the first. She’d packed up and left with him when he’d passed through her town. She’d left him about a year later, but most of what she’d packed then wasn’t hers. He was lucky he’d been in the wagon when she left.

He’d avoided romantic entanglements in choosing his next partner, deciding they affected his judgment. It hadn’t helped much. Marc had turned him in to the mayor of a town they’d stopped in, probably hoping to take the wagon while Claude was occupied. Claude had just barely enough warning from the mayor’s daughter to escape–leaving Marc to his fate.

He’d been leery of taking on another partner after that, but he couldn’t really raise a crowd as effectively from inside the wagon. Adele had seemed so harmless, even if he got the odd impression from time to time that she looked down on him. She was perfect once she’d learned to speak up.

She’d made improvements to how they sold the medicine, too. Gone were the days when he just pulled the nearest bottle from the shelf, telling people it was a cure-all. Adele spent time in the wagon for each customer, and every one of them came away thinking she’d given them exactly what they needed.

She was the one who started telling people that the cures would take several days to work, an improvement Claude appreciated. It gave them a much better start before irate customers could come looking for them. Only now she was acting like she didn’t care about angry crowds.

He wanted to chase after Adele to yell at her, but he couldn’t do that here. He couldn’t wring an answer out of her either. He clenched his fists in frustration and kicked one of the wagon’s wheels.

Remembering Marc, Claude made himself a promise. No matter what trick she thought she was keeping in reserve, if Adele betrayed him, he’d make sure she went with him.


“Come on, boys, back to work!” Thierry frowned as he gestured with his left arm. He’d taken the splints off and had it resting in a sling, but he kept using it to talk.

Claude nodded at the arm. “Hurt much?”

Thierry looked down and grinned. “No, but it itches like you wouldn’t believe. Your partner was right. Mostly I can stand it, but when it rubs against the sling…” He patted it gently with his other hand. “Well, it’s all I can do to keep from taking off some skin.”

“You don’t want to do that, not when it’s healing so nicely.” Claude turned toward the young men back at work on the axle. He and Thierry were standing in the open doors to Thierry’s airy and barnlike shop. “What are they working on now?”

Thierry started in on the details of how they were shaping the log to make Claude’s axle, with lots of pauses to yell at the men as they worked. Claude smiled and nodded in the right places, but his attention was all for the arm.

He was awed and amused that Thierry had decided that the pain was itching, just because Adele had told him it would itch. Two days ago he couldn’t even move it splinted. Some people were so desperate to believe they were getting better that they’d convince themselves of anything.

At the same time, he was terrified that Thierry would gesture his arm right into something solid. It should be splinted for weeks yet. If Thierry jostled it hard enough, he’d be likely to pass out from the “itch.” Then where would Claude and Adele be? Not that he’d seen much of Adele in the last couple of days.

Claude noticed Thierry’s voice trail off. He was staring somewhere over Claude’s shoulder.

Claude turned around. Coming across the square were a woman and a girl of about seven. The girl, racing to keep up with the hurrying woman, was quite a sight in this tidy village.

Her curly straw-blond hair was pulling out of her braids and stuck out all over her head. The hem of her dress was torn and hanging down on one side. The dress had probably once been blue, but it was now the same light brown as her hands, feet and the big streak across one
cheek. She was carrying a rag doll in worse shape than she was. Obviously a child who liked mud.

The woman, who Claude assumed was the girl’s mother, was much neater. Her light brown hair was pulled back. Her dress and apron were clean and pressed, if obviously faded. Claude would have described her as pretty if she hadn’t looked so worn and worried.

When the two of them reached the shop, the little girl flopped down on the ground. The woman was winded too.

“Oh, good.” She sighed and relaxed very slightly. “You are still here. I…I need…” She blushed crimson and looked at the ground.

Thierry stepped forward. Claude thought he might be blushing too. It was going around. “Is there something I can help you with, Bernadette?”

Bernadette dropped a half curtsy to the blacksmith. “Thank you, but no. It’s just…”

“Are you looking for medicine, Mistress Bernadette?”

She looked up at Claude and opened her mouth. Nothing came out. Claude hadn’t thought it possible, but her blush deepened.

“My brother’s sick.” The little girl stood back up and patted her mother’s arm. Words came out through her gasps. “Coughing real hard…Aunt Mae says his color’s bad…says there’ll be one less mouth soon.”

Bernadette bit her lip and turned half away. “I can’t pay.” Her words were almost inaudible.

“The baby’s sick? Bernadette, I can–“

She shook her head. “No, Thierry, I can’t let you do that.”

Claude hadn’t heard her approach, but Adele was standing at his elbow. She held out a bottle. “You’ll be wanting this.”

Bernadette’s hands were clenched in fists at her side. She was still turned away from them. “I can’t pay.”

Claude stared at the woman. What was she doing? “Mistress Bernadette, if your son’s sick–“

“I can’t pay.”

“Here.” The little girl held out her doll. “Mama says we don’t take…anything we can’t pay for.”

“Sophie.” Bernadette held one hand out toward her daughter.

“It’s all right. You can have the medicine.” Part of Claude wanted to confess the stuff was worthless, just to make them go away. The combination of need and rigid honesty was making him edgy.

The little girl shook her head, still holding out the doll.

“But I don’t need your–“

“Claude, take the doll.”

Claude looked at Adele. She looked serious.

“They won’t take the medicine otherwise.” When he didn’t move, she turned to the girl and knelt down. “I’ve been looking for a good doll. What’s her name?”


Adele shook the doll’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Elise.” She looked back at the girl. “Do you think we can trade?”

The girl nodded. She hugged Elise fiercely, rubbing her face against the doll’s. It was hard to say who ended up the dirtier for it. Claude was pretty sure the doll was wetter than it had been.

Then the exchange was made and Adele stood up. “Mistress Bernadette, rub some of that on your son’s chest when you get home, do it again morning and night. When he’s breathing easier, give him small sips instead for a week.”

Bernadette nodded, her eyes wet. “Thank you.”

The three of them watched mother and daughter out of sight. Thierry cleared his throat. “Well, I should see how that axle’s coming.” He wandered away without waiting for a response.

Claude shook his head. “There’s a story there.”

“There are stories everywhere, if you stop to hear them.” Adele was still looking after Bernadette and her daughter. She looked silly, hugging the ragged doll.

“What’s yours?”

Adele tilted her head and looked at him through narrowed eyes. “What do you mean?”

Claude decided there were too many ears too close by. He jerked his head to indicate that she should follow him to the other side of the wagon. Once there, he put his head close to hers. “Do you think that was wise?”


“Taking the doll. Don’t you think they’ll have enough to hate us for when the baby dies?”

“But they wouldn’t have taken the medicine if I didn’t take the doll.” She looked confused.

“It’s not medicine.” Claude spit the words out. “It won’t help them.”

Adele looked at him for a long moment, opened her mouth and closed it again. Then she shrugged. “It won’t hurt.”

“Adele!” Claude was shocked at her callousness. She was so good it was easy to forget she was a fraud.

She snorted. “Don’t try to convince me that you’re growing a conscience. You were doing this long before I came around.” She stalked away.

Claude considered going after her, but she was right. What call did he have to talk to her like that? He turned opposite the direction she’d gone and started to walk. He didn’t really want to be alone with his thoughts, but he didn’t want to share them with anyone else either.


That night they held a dance in the square. Visitors seemed rare here, for all they were near a good-sized town. Or maybe it was just that they wanted to do something nice for the people who had helped them. Claude gritted his teeth at the thought. The morning was still bothering him.

Thierry was there. Claude talked to him for a while between dances. He saw him dancing with Adele once, a clumsy proceeding with his arm in a sling. Thierry kept watching over Adele’s shoulder as they moved. Bernadette wasn’t there.

All the young men and boys wanted to dance with Adele. She laughed and tried to refuse, but they wouldn’t let her. She seemed to be avoiding Claude.

When he danced, Claude confined himself to old women and girls under ten. No sense in making more trouble here than they were already in. Mostly he sat to one side and smiled. It was harder than usual. He was worried about how much time they had. The axle was coming along well, but any delay could still mean disaster.

It was odd. The longer Claude thought about it, the less disaster meant arrest or a public thrashing. Truth be told, he’d be sorry to disappoint these people. He didn’t want to see their faces when they discovered he was a fake.

Maybe he shouldn’t find it strange. After all, he’d gotten into this business because he wasn’t any good at anything but talking to people. He enjoyed his job, meeting people and being friendly. He enjoyed telling stories and watching kids’ eyes get big when he talked to them. He enjoyed having people look up to him, even if he wasn’t who they thought he was.

This was the first time he’d really had to face the fact that there was another part of his job. He knew he was a fraud, but he didn’t spend much time thinking about what that meant to anyone else. He’d never stuck around long enough to have to connect what he did with people being hurt. But now he knew these people, and he’d likely to have to watch what happened when they found out about him.

Claude wasn’t wearing his habitual smile when Thierry thumped him on the back and sat down next to him. “Not much of a dancer either, eh, magicker?”

Claude waved a hand vaguely. “It’s not that.”

“Oh, I understand.” Thierry smiled conspiratorially. “These small town entertainments, well, it’s nice to be neighborly, but you must be used to something more grand.”

“No, it’s not….” Claude didn’t want Thierry to keep guessing about what was bothering him. He changed the subject to the first thing he could think of. “How’s Mistress Bernadette’s baby?”

He wanted to take back the words the moment they left his mouth. The last thing he needed to do was to draw attention to his failings.

To his surprise, Thierry smiled. If he blushed too, well, Claude was getting used to that. “He’s doing real well. Sophie–that’s the little girl–she said he’s almost stopped coughing. Even Aunt Mae, old pessimist that she is, thinks he’ll make it. I can’t thank you enough.”

on’t think anything of it.” Claude was trying to absorb the good news. He’d been expecting tragedy. He almost missed Thierry’s next remark. “What did you say?”

“I said it was right nice of Miss Adele to clean up the doll and ‘sell’ it to me. Sophie loves that thing, and I’ll find some way to get it back to her without bruising anyone’s pride.”

Claude murmured something noncommittal, but he was too perplexed to make conversation. Was Adele having an attack of conscience? It didn’t seem possible after her behavior that morning. Maybe she was trying to ingratiate herself with the villagers, plotting to shift the blame onto him. Or maybe….

Claude hardly noticed when Thierry left him to his own thoughts.


If Claude was confused the night of the dance, he was flummoxed by the afternoon they left.

The blow he’d been waiting for had never come. On the contrary, people had been coming up to him for the last day and a half to thank him for his help. A few more folks came to buy medicine. When the time finally came for them to leave, most of the village crowded around him and Adele, shaking hands and pounding backs. There were tears on some faces.

This time, they left in full daylight, and Adele sat beside him on the seat. It took all he had not to ask her immediately what was happening. Then, finally, they were out of earshot of the villagers. He tried to sound calm. “This is hardly the sendoff I was expecting.”

Adele hung off the edge of her seat, turned around to keep waving at the villagers. She chuckled. “Thought it would be something less ceremonious?”

“Less comfortable at least.” Claude realized Adele couldn’t avoid him anymore. “So what happened back there?”

Adele didn’t answer, just kept waving until they were around the first bend in the road. Then she turned around and settled in with a sigh.

“I asked you what happened back there.”

Adele tried to look blank. “What do you mean?”

“We were there plenty long enough for someone to realize that what we were selling wasn’t medicine. But everyone seems to think it worked.” He frowned. “We’re heroes. That was a grand goodbye. I haven’t paid for anything for two days, but we’ve got enough extra food in the wagon to last us more than a week. What happened?”

“They liked us?” Adele sounded hopeful.

“Adele, stop it!”

“I, uh, I need to get something from the wagon.” She reached for the door.

Claude leaned back against it. “You weren’t worried, so you know something about what was going on in the village. If you go into the wagon without telling me what that is, it’ll be to get your stuff. Then I’ll stop and let you off.”

Adele’s mouth squirmed as though it were trying to flee her face. She turned forward.


She held up her hand. “Please. A minute. I’m not used to talking about this.”

He waited for almost a mile. Finally, she sighed. “It was magic.”

“Magic?” Claude was stunned.

She nodded. “I used magic to turn the potion you mix up into medicine. Everybody thought the cures worked because they did.”

“But I…but you….” Claude told himself to shut up. He took a deep breath. “How long?”

“Have I been doing this? Since the start.”


She frowned at him. “Why what? Help people?”

“No.” He thought about what he wanted most to know. “Why is a magicker like you staying with a fraud like me? Don’t you have a council somewhere you should be sitting on?” He had a sudden suspicion. “What do the magickers want with me?”

“Nothing as far as I know.” Adele grinned. “Why? What have you done to them?”

“Nothing as far as I know.” Claude hoped it was true. “Then why stay?”

Adele turned away. “Because the magickers don’t want anything to do with me either.”

Claude had traveled with Adele for three years. He couldn’t imagine her committing any crime bad enough that the council of magickers wouldn’t want her. Not with their reputation. “Why not?”

“I’m not very good.” There were tears in her voice.

Claude couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “For goodness sake, you just cured a whole village of what ailed them. How good do you have to be?”

Adele wiped her eyes before turning around. “I didn’t do all of it. You helped.”

“Me?” Claude stared at her. Then he closed his mouth and looked at his hands, holding the reins. They looked the same as they always had. He couldn’t see any magic. “What did I do?”

Adele smiled the tiniest of smiles. “Magic requires two things. I have the skills. I know what needs to be done.”

“Okay, I’ll agree with that. What’s the other part?”

“Belief.” Adele sighed and looked like she was going to cry again. “That’s the part I don’t have.”

“What do you mean?”

Adele looked at him. “People see you and hear you, and they believe in you. They want to. I…well, I’m not exactly inspiring.” She gestured at herself. “I’m not much to look at. I can’t carry on an interesting conversation. People just don’t look at me and believe I can help them.”

“But…” Claude stopped. He realized he was on the brink of saying something that could lose him the best partner he’d had. He wanted to think about what he was doing first.

Then he looked at Adele, twisting her skirt in her hands. She’d spent the last three years curing people. She’d stayed with a fraud so she could keep curing them. What had he done in that time?

There wasn’t anything to think about. “People believe in you.”

Adele stared at her hands. “You don’t have to be nice. I’m used to it.” Her expression said she lied.

He whooped with laughter. “Since when do you think I’m nice?”

She looked up with wide eyes. “You’re serious.”

“I’m serious.” He sighed. “I’ve been admiring your tricks, your way with people, for years. You have a skill I’ve never had.”

She frowned her question.

“Sincerity.” He shook his head. “You look at people, listen to them, and they can tell you care. They know–and I should have known, if I was paying any attention–that you’re there to help them. When you tell them what they need to take to get cured and how they need to take it, they believe in you. They believe in it.”

Adele looked stunned. Claude gave her some time to think.

He thought about the last three years. Nothing he’d done in that time had been what he thought it was. There were places he could go back to, people he could talk to again. They wouldn’t be looking to arrest him. They’d think he’d helped.

For that matter, he had helped them–with Adele’s assistance. From what she’d said, he’d supplied half of what they’d needed to make them better. Even if he hadn’t meant to at the time, it was nice to know the one thing he was good at had turned out to be good for something after all.

The sun had almost reached the horizon when Adele stirred next to him and spoke.

“There’s one more thing I should tell you.”

Claude braced himself. “What?”

He hoped Adele would stay. If she decided she didn’t need him anymore–and he wouldn’t blame her–he’d have to go back to being a fraud. Now that there was another option, he desperately wanted to be able to grab it.

“I wasn’t completely honest with you.” She rubbed her eyes and looked uncomfortable. “I was afraid that if I told you everything, you wouldn’t need me anymore.”

Claude didn’t understand. “What do you mean?”

“The magickers thought I was a novelty. It’s pretty rare for someone to have only half the talents needed to create magic. That’s how I got so much training before they made me leave. They were sure I’d develop the rest.”

When it sunk in, Claude stopped the horses and turned to face Adele. “You mean…” He couldn’t say

She nodded, a little bit of humor peeking out from behind her nervousness. “If you can raise that much belief, you can probably learn to shape it.”

“I, uh…oh.” He blinked.

Adele grinned, definitely not the timid person he’d met three years before. “I could try to teach you, if you like.”

Claude tried to think about it, but he couldn’t give the idea the attention it deserved. On top of everything else, it was just too much. “Could you do me a favor?”

Adele scrunched her eyebrows together. “What?”

“I’m having enough trouble getting used to being legitimate.” He shook the reins to start the horses going again. “Ask me again in about a month.”

She looked at the wagon and horses then, finally, at him. “I will.”

He believed her.


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