Waiting to be old enough for my magickal education seemed like cruel and unusual punishment sometimes.
My mother did her best to distract me with non-magickal assignments. But when I realized that lessons on coordination, manners, and academics were not related to magick, I pouted and accused her of tricking me. Of course my mother meant well; she knew these skills would be necessary in circle, and I had less time to learn them if I was going to keep up with ten-year-olds.
My sixth birthday only brought disappointment when I found out circles took new students exclusively in the fall. I threw a fit, enraged that the world refused to revolve around me. I had a whole summer to fill! I nursed my frustration by secretly practicing what I could already do. Magick was better than any toy I'd ever had. Unlike a plaything, it couldn't break, get lost, or be left behind, and it didn't wear out or require extra pieces. If only I had a primer for magick like the one I had for learning my letters.
Finally, the milestones started rolling in: we filed papers for my registration (which I got to hand off personally to the postman on his big brown horse, after spending a morning in the yard waiting for him), and soon afterwards we received our invitation to the registration ceremony. It was just an orientation, but to me it might as well have been a summons to the palace. I was beside myself when my mother took me shopping for new fabric and made me a special dress for the event. The waiting had just about killed me, but when the day finally came it seemed like it had gone by so fast. . . .
I wriggled in excitement as we landed at the circle site. My mother scolded me to stand still as she struggled to get the flying harness unbuckled. Once freed, I skipped toward the gathering crowd ahead . . . but then I saw the "children" who would be my circlemates, and I grabbed for Mommy's hand. Some of them looked to be twice my height!
"Where are all the younger fairies?" I asked. But Mommy didn't hear me over the din of merry conversation. When we reached a circle of log benches we stopped walking, and I demanded my mother's attention, tugging on her dress. She had to stoop down to hear my question.
"Mommy, isn't anyone my age coming here?"
"Honey, you know most fairies start circle around age ten."
My face crumpled. Ten-year-olds were quite scarily bigger in person than I'd imagined. Even if Mommy was going to be sitting close by, I didn't want to be abandoned to this pool of giants.
"But can't there be a class just for . . . little fairies?"
"It is unusual for there to be even one six-year-old, Delia." And of course I knew that; my mother had told me this was the only circle that accepted children my age within the Belkin village limits. I wanted to feel special, but surely others would delight in scowling at the tiny freak of nature. Tears came to my eyes.
My mother, finally realizing I was beyond disoriented, drew me close to comfort me, but though her reassurance was soothing, embarrassment flickered through me at being the only student with her mother hovering around her. Despite that, I didn't want to let go of her hand.
"See there, honey, there is a boy you know, little Jasper. See him?" She pointed at a boy who looked familiar from nursery.
"I think I played with him before."
"Yes, well. When I asked your teachers about other young students, they said he would be the next youngest in your circle."
The boy had seen my mother point and was looking at us warily—his narrowed eyes seemed quite a height above my own. "How old is he?" I asked suspiciously.
"He is but nine years old."
I stamped my foot. "Nine?" That was nowhere near my age. And most of the others looked ten, eleven, twelve, the oldest of them already showing signs of transition to adulthood. Young men and women! I felt I'd been ready to learn magick for years, but compared to them, I was just a baby! How could I hope to keep up?
"Mommy—Mom, I don't know if I can. . . ." I trailed off, trying to remain calm.
"If you can what?"
"Be here, come here . . . maybe I should've waited? 'Til I'm older? I think I might be . . . not ready."
My mother laughed. "Delia," she said, "you harass me nonstop about going to circle since you were in nappies, and now you want to wait some more? Where did my big girl go?" She tickled me, making me squirm. "Where is she? Is she hiding in there?"
My mother's confidence began to make a home in my own heart. It was true—if I went home and shelved my education now, surely it would only be a matter of hours before my curiosity would come back in full force. I did want this; I wanted to finally start learning this craft that would become my life. I wasn't a baby. It was time to stop acting like one.
I took a deep breath and let it out. "Mommy, I think I'm not scared anymore. You can leave."
She replied with a huge smile, then bent and kissed me on the cheek. "I will be with all the other mommies and daddies. You be brave, now! I know you will make me proud."
My mother disappeared into the sea of swishing dresses and sparkly wings. I swallowed hard and put on my best confident expression, hoping my emotions would match my face soon enough.
Our group of soon-to-be-students was gathering around the low stage as our parents made their way to their seating. My breath quickened as I saw the wealth of open space around the instruction hub. This clearing was surprisingly large. I hoped most of the classes would take place in the smaller tree-canopied "rooms" I'd seen from the air along the way. A place this big seemed so impersonal, though the seats were arranged in four circular rows which would enable us to see each other more easily. I took a front seat on a simple log bench like some of the others, not sitting too close to anyone. Staring at my lap, I willed my cheeks to drop their blushing.
My attention snapped up when a tall, thin woman with a ribbon-bound bun took the stage, trailed by several other lady teachers. I stared at them in wonder. These people were going to change me so much! I couldn't wait to start learning from them.
"Good morning parents, teachers, and new students," said the elderly silver-haired fairy, resting her hands on the podium in front of her. "Welcome to West Belkin Circle, Spiral Eighty-Eight. I am your headmistress. You will address me as 'Headmistress.'" I blinked. Didn't she have a name?
From there, the headmistress presented the lower mistresses, whose names were lost to me in the blur of introductions. When roll call began and I stood to answer "here" to my name, whispers broke out. The headmistress paused.
"Are you by any chance Gena Morningstar's daughter?" asked another teacher, a plump and pretty woman with a light voice and a blue dress. I turned in surprise to face her. No one else had been questioned about their parents.
"That's right," I said, trying to ignore the whispers.
"Wonderful," she said. "I taught your mother in her circle days. I trust you will follow in her footsteps and be a joy to teach?"
Happiness bubbled up in me. "I hope," I said.
"Awful young though, aren't you?" asked the headmistress. My spirits fell a little.
"I'm six! They said I could join when I was six. I'm old enough."
"Yes, child, well we shall see how you keep up."
I wanted to tell her I'd been doing magick for most of my life, but I just sat down and let her resume the roll call. When the introductions finished we listened to a lecture about times and places and policies. Every student got a schedule card, and I cringed when I saw some of the words on mine were unfamiliar. Did the teachers assume I could read?
Finally the formalities tapered off, and the gathering melted into a reception, where we got berry punch and nice little iced cakes. I threaded through the crowd but couldn't find my mother even when I spread my awareness to search for her.
One of the teachers found me wandering and stopped beside me. I liked something about her presence, and I was intrigued by all the bead jewelry she wore—even her golden curls were encased in a beaded net. I was as high as the waist of her skirt, so the respectful tone of her greeting was a pleasant surprise.
"It's little Delia! Well, welcome to our circle," she said. I accepted the welcome impolitely through a mouthful of cake and did my curtsy. "I want to tell you something important, since you're so young," she continued, stooping down in a way that somehow didn't seem condescending. Her necklaces clinked together. "If you have any trouble with the other children, come to me and I'll take care of it. I know plenty about bullies. I started circle early myself, just like you, so I always watch out for the little ones."
I looked at her gratefully, licking icing off my lips. "Thank you, Mistress. What do I call you again? I forgot everybody's name."
The mistress laughed and told me to call her Mistress Grayhawk. I asked how old she'd been when she'd started using magick.
"I cast purposeful magick at age six," she said proudly. "Our family's cow had a calf that almost died during its breech birth. I was able to coax it back to life."
"Oh," I murmured. I felt a little embarrassed that I'd never done anything heroic with mine.
"What about you?"
I took a big breath. "I did it when I was really little. I used magick to kill a bee when I was two."
Mistress Grayhawk blinked. "Two years old? Then surely you just had an accident . . . ?"
"Oh. Well the bee was kind of an accident but I could do other things after that too. Lady Amina said my magick was awake when I was three."
She was silent, shifting on her bent knee. Then she spoke up: "What sort of other things could you do?"
I told her about my ice experiments of the last few years. I'd recently realized I also held some influence over fire. When I told Mistress Grayhawk about my newest developments in actually encouraging flames and putting them out, she grew alarmed.
"Goodness, you can really do all of those things without ever going to circle?"
"Yes, I did it all myself."
"Could you show me something? I've never heard of a child so young with dependable elemental influence."
"I can show you. See?" I held out my hand and squeezed the reasonably damp air with my magick until I was holding a puddle of water.
"Well, isn't that just something!" she exclaimed. "All that and you've never wielded a wand! Has your mother taught you these techniques?" She was almost suspicious underneath the outward excitement.
"My mommy didn't teach me . . . she always said wait for circle." The teacher watched me turn my handful of water into an icicle, which I used to stir my too-warm punch.
My mother found me then, and shortly afterward the orientation began to break up. I parted ways with Mistress Grayhawk, who seemed a bit less friendly after having been disturbed by the easy way I handled my abilities. I hoped the other children wouldn't think I was strange because of my magick's early manifestation, but I was very, very ready to rise to the challenge.
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