A peek into what warmage training is like for a peasant child surrounded by her “betters.”
Raeda stood, children sitting cross-legged in neat rows around her. Sticking up like a weed, as her mother used to say. She hooked her fingers behind her and carefully recited the arcane principle. Concentrating on pronouncing the long words correctly, she lost track of her right foot. Her heel lifted, twirling back and forth.
She glanced at the teacher towering over her. Frowning, he criticized her posture. Ah, her answer must have been right, then. She quickly straightened up, both feet flat, but the tiniest of smiles betrayed her.
The teacher asked another question. He never did that to the Jovan students—ask until they failed—only her.
Raeda blanched, sure they had never studied this. Maybe it was another thing the city children learned that wasn’t covered in the free-schools. Her voice wavering, Raeda made her best guess.
Stupid. Lazy. Inattentive. Disrespectful.
“Kazatu” went unspoken. Raeda would curse her pale skin, if that had ever helped.
She flopped down, not even trying to fold gracefully to the floor, as the others did so effortlessly.
Distracted by whispers, she only half-heard Arred’s question to the teacher—something about using charm spells to disarm opponents. Luckily for Raeda, Arred wouldn’t be casting those any time soon. He could barely manage a simple flame spell.
Arred pointed at her. Wait, what?
The teacher gestured impatiently at Raeda. “Come now, girl, stand! I don’t allow children like you in this class so you can waste my time.”
Allow? A memory flashed—struggling, gripped tightly under a soldier’s arm, twisting back to reach for her parents, their sobs turning to pleas as the man ducked out of the hut. Then later, being paddled for not acting grateful.
The teacher continued. “Mind-affecting spells require you to overcome the target’s will. If your targets are weak-minded, like farmers or peasants…” He waved dismissively toward Raeda. “…you’re more likely to succeed.”
Arred grinned. “And I could ask her to do anything I wanted?”
Raeda wondered what humiliation he had planned this time.
After some discussion, the teacher agreed that Arred could reasonably convince the “farmer” to give him her “pike” for “inspection.”
They looked at Raeda expectantly.
She raised her palms. Empty. No pike.
As though it had just occurred to him, Arred said, “Well, give me your shoe.”
Raeda hesitated. The teacher glared, unflinching. She slid her slipper off, teetering on one leg, and handed it to Arred. Her face flushing hot, she tucked her bare toes under her other foot.
Crinkling his nose, Arred held the shoe at arm’s length, presenting it to the class. Ragged enough from the outside, the tattered patches inside looked even worse. The city children, with their fine slippers and soft stockings, squealed delightedly in disgust.
Raeda’s temper gurgled up from her stomach into her lungs, erupting in fast, fiery breaths. She clenched her jaw, trying to hold it in.
Putting his innocent face back on, Arred asked the teacher, “What if the peasant has two weapons, does the spell last long enough to get both?”
Raeda didn’t wait for the teacher’s nod. She removed her other shoe and handed it to Arred.
Arred beamed in vicious victory. He held the shoes with outspread arms, displaying his spoils, taunting her.
Raeda stopped thinking. She balled up her freckled fist and punched him in the face, as hard as she could. Raeda wasn’t that good at punching—yet—but Arred had even less practice taking a hit. He staggered backward, mouth hanging open, arms waving wildly.
Raeda didn’t see whether he fell. She bolted toward the exit, the teacher’s admonitions echoing wordlessly in her ringing ears. A few more steps and… yes! She was through the door and into the yard.
Older students glanced up from chores as she rushed by. Chickens scattered, squawking in alarm. Then she was past the barn and into the fields. She raced down the path, in the cool shadow of a wall of corn, breathing in its familiar fresh scent. She smiled to the sun and laughed with the wind. Her legs and arms pumping rhythmically, she felt strong, capable, free. If not for the sound of her bare feet smacking against the dirt, she could imagine herself flying.
They would find her. They always did. But for now, she would run. Run and run and run, until she was filled up with it, full enough to face them again.
Those old shoes only slowed her down anyway.
Note — If you want to read more about what happens to Raeda, she’s the warmage narrator featured in this From the Table’s Eye story.
Word count: 750
In response to the Mutant 750 Writing Challenge #50 = word prompt “shoe” plus a photo prompt showing a classroom.