Laurel has a dream about a fire:
A shower of sparks burst from her. Fire caught wherever they fell, feeding on the stone, the dead trees, the rags and flesh of the crowd, and grew rapidly, intertwined, rose together in one tower of flame that spurted heavenward. As this raging spire of red-gold surrounded her, the scene melted and changed—no longer a night valley, but the farms
and homes of a little village caught afire. She watched, horrified, as thatched roofs went up and walls crashed inward. Chimneys toppled. The tall grass about a well on the common green withered and crumbled to ashes. Yet the screams of the crowd continued unceasing
in her ears. And the living darkness spread and spread relentlessly, consuming devastated land and sobbing victims at a touch, smoothing ruin and terror into the peace of oblivion. It would swallow the flame eventually.
Laurel woke. She shrieked and swatted blindly at the bedclothes before she realized that they were not burning. There was no fire. But her pulse pounded. Her heart blazed. Her nerves thrilled with released energies and magic glowed bright on her skin. A warning keen of immediate danger rang through her head, yet the night was undisturbed by any menace. No smoke. No sparks. The bed linen was not scorched…
Laurel curled on the sitting-room coucherie, too frightened to think of sleep. She wanted to
speak to her uncle, to seek the comfort of his presence, but Lord Redmantyl would not return from his Wizard’s Keep until dawn. It was still dark, hours before daylight. She must wait. There was a fire. Somewhere. She felt it. She felt the disruption in the flux of energies around her, turbulent as they were after one of her spell-casting lessons. More so. Something had happened. Had she loosed so much unrestrained power to start a fire far away? If so, where? In the castle? In the bed of some poor, sleeping innocent? In a yeoman’s barn? In a field or forest? In a village?
The possibilities were too horrible to dwell upon.
These past weeks, she had struggled to keep control of her magic and she believed she had finally mastered it. There had been no smoldering tapestries, no melted candles, no fires save those she deliberately created. She employed all her will and spent long, exhausting hours in rigorous exercises to perfect her skills, but she had been proud at the results. When she commanded her magic, she could claim it as her own and cease to worry at the explosions of her ill-contained temper. She thought she had worked hard enough. But she
hadn’t, not if this horrible thing could happen, if her powers could burst into a force of great destruction. What if she caused another fire? What if someone had died tonight because of her? Must she always keep guard against it, even in her dreams? What intense levels of
discipline must a full wizard attain before she could call her magic safe?
Redmantyl knew all there was of young magicians’ phenomena. If the worst were true and she had lost control, he could help her regain it. He would understand. He would teach her what to do. She slept again, and woke well after daybreak when her uncle knocked at her door.
“Laurel, is anything wrong? I thought you were troubled. You had a nightmare.”
“No, not a nightmare.” She told him as much as she could recall of her dream—the chanting crowd, the wall, the child, the trumpet’s blare, the great door and what lay beyond. “`Twas so strange, and I have had it before. What can it mean?”
Redmantyl gave intense attention to her description, but he answered simply: “`Twas only a dream. It may not mean anything.”
“Uncle, at the end I saw a fire. There was a fire. I felt it.”
She expected him to call this a dream as well, but he nodded solemnly. “Yes, I felt it too.”
“I think I may have caused it.”
“No, you didn’t. It was very far from here.”
“You know what it was?”
“I cannot say.”
He would not, thought Laurel. Wizards had their secrets. But this secret was hers too. She felt the fire as an expense of her own magic. She had as much right to know the truth of it as any grown wizard, for she was as much involved. It wasn’t fair! Willing or no, she already had a little knowledge, enough to tantalize. Why wouldn’t he tell her more?
“Is it part of the Wizard’s Keep?”
“I can’t explain.” Redmantyl patted her rumpled hair. “It was not your doing, Niece. You must trust me and ask no more.”