Excerpt from “Maiden In Light”

Laurel attempts to bring out her timid cousin Igren’s latent magical abilities.

“Igren, will you have another lesson?”

“If you wish.” The girl rose from the coucherie by her dressing-room windows, where she’d been watching the rain, and came to Laurel. “What shall we do?”

“We must test the nature of your ability. You may command best within the mental medium.”

“The- What-?”

“Some magic has no influence in the material world,” Laurel explained, simplifying the lengthy and tortuous passages she’d gathered from a dozen sources on the subject in her quest to discover an answer for Igren’s talents. “A mental magician exerts her will only in the mental energies of other people and living creatures. She senses them—she reads the thoughts which pass through another mind and she can disrupt them and command their actions.”

“Another of your books,” said Igren, with a smile. “What does it mean?”

“Such magicians cannot cast spells and so are not counted as true wizards, but they are no less magical.”

“You believe I may be such a creature?”

“You certainly have something of the ability. I’ve seen it. But we must test to see how powerful it is.”

“What must I do?” Igren asked, simply willing to do what her cousin required. She would never ask Laurel to create such an exercise for her, but she wouldn’t resist if one were given her.

“You must try to pass your thoughts to me. Think of something, but you mustn’t say what it is. Think at me.”

“But, Laurel, how shall we know that it is my power, and not yours?”

“Yes,” Laurel agreed. How would they be able to determine if Igren had sent a thought to her, or if she had plucked it from her cousin’s passive mind? She was often able to sense the thoughts of her kin and Igren was closer to her than either Orlan or Lord Redmantyl.

“There must be another- Oh, I know! You must have me do something. Don’t tell me. Think it. Will it me.”

“Is that different?” the girl asked. “You will know what I think.”

Laurel shook her head. “No, you must command me. You may not know it from my own will, but I shall. You must trust me for that. I shan’t put myself up against you, Cos.” She sat down on the steps of the platform beneath the bed Igren and Iobethe shared and waited, but Igren hesitated; the gentle maid had never ordered anyone about and to command Laurel was nearly unthinkable. “Igren, do it.”

Reluctantly, she obeyed. Her fingers brushed Laurel’s temples. Her eyes shone solemnly into her cousin’s. The fair brow creased with some effort. Laurel waited, wondering what the unspoken command might be, and then she felt it: she was suddenly dizzy, weary, heavy-limbed, as if she had kept herself awake for many long hours and could refuse sleep no longer. A dark, sparkling whirled up into her head and overtook her. Her eyes blinked once, again, then shut. She slumped against the bedpost.

“You aren’t playing to tease me, Laurel?” her cousin’s voice awoke her.

“Honestly, I’m not.” Laurel brushed her hair from her eyes as the mists dissipated. “You bid me sleep and I vow I did! I would’ve slept if you’d not left off.” She yawned and Igren smiled, timorous but pleased. “Now try again, and I shall resist. We’ll see how strong your powers are.”

Again, she felt the tentative touch of Igren’s thoughts within her own, the whispered urge of sleep, sleep. At the first tingling, drowsy sensation, she rebelled. Igren jumped back, startled.

“You push so fiercely.”

“Most folk will if you use such influence upon them,” Laurel answered. “You cannot always find them willing, or catch them unawares.”

“Then it is a useless talent,” said Igren.

“No. `Tis simply feeble and so must be strengthened to have its full effect. You must push back against me. Try again and if I resist you, you must push harder, as much as you can. You shan’t hurt me.”

Igren stood silently before Laurel, preparing herself for this battle of will against will, then began to assert her subtle influence. At the first timid urgings, Laurel rebelled; the young maid retreated immediately.

“Igren,” she spoke impatiently and pushed out to provoke her cousin to use the powers that must be there. But Igren didn’t resist and suddenly Laurel was no longer defending her own will, but engulfing Igren’s. She saw into that quiet mind, so different from hers, so different from any other she’d glimpsed. She could barely understand what she felt—No single thought was clear. Instead, there was a strange, thrilled fear as that lesser will fell beneath her crushing strength, the sensation of a single spark dimmed, the image of a fluttering bird in her grasp. She could feel the race of Igren’s heart.

Igren shrieked. “No!”

Laurel leapt up. “Igren, I didn’t mean–” As she reached out, her cousin eluded her hands and fled to the dressing-room. Laurel caught her there.

“I could feel you! You–” Sobbing, Igren covered her face and fell to the windows. “Why do you press me so?”

“To make you magical,” Laurel answered, ashamed of herself. She hadn’t meant to be brutal; she’d never imagined that Igren was so fragile. Their struggle had been no different from those Laurel engaged in with Lord Redmantyl during her lessons, but where she repulsed all attempts to subdue her will and grew stronger for the exercise, Igren grew more faint. It wasn’t Laurel’s nature to submit, even when threatened by forces greater than her own. But Igren-

“I am not like you. Sweet Marye, I could never be! I–” The girl twisted to press her face to the coucherie cushions. “I didn’t know what your magic was. I must disappoint you, Laurel. I cannot be more than I am.”

Laurel felt the misery behind these words stab through her. Igren had never been enthusiastic at these informal lessons and she hadn’t realized until now how much it meant to her cousin to be magical, at least a little. She sat down beside Igren and tenderly lifted her. “It’s not for me to be disappointed, Pet. I only wish you to be what you may be.”

“Beside you, I am nothing at all.”

“That isn’t so,” Laurel insisted, but Igren continued to sob in her arms. The windows beaded with raindrops like tears.