Lilith and the ánthropoi had completed their conversation and the lithe women slipped back into the woods. Lilith and Ingrid remained where they sat, talking quietly to one another. I stood, desiring to be brought up to speed — a request anyone would see as reasonable. Except maybe Brindle. He was not happy about being woken up, and harrumphed at me, shaking his head violently from side to side, slinging drool and foam all around him. A glop the size of my fist hit me in the chest and began to slide down the chain mail. He had a way of letting his feelings be perfectly clear.
I took two steps toward Lilith and Ingrid, but Lilith held up her hand to stop me. I had grown annoyed by this point so I took another step forward and she pushed her hand at me, as if to stop me from moving. When I ignored that one as well, she sighed, exasperated and pushed herself to her feet. With extravagant movements she stalked over to me, grabbed my stumpy arm and pulled me around.
Yes, I could’ve jerked away from her, but she had never really been this forceful and bossy before. Now Sparkle, that was a different story. But if Lilith was this melodramatic, I gave in thinking it would just be easier for everybody. Once she had frog marched me back to Brindle she sat, pulling me to the ground with her.
Once I was settled she pulled the damaged wand the ánthropoi left behind and lay the cracked and broken pieces into my lap.
“Can you fix this?” she asked.
I looked at her, curious and a little frustrated. “Just like that? She nearly kills me with this thing, and now you want me to repair it?”
Lilith looked at me for a moment, obviously thinking about her next words. I had a right to my indignation, I felt. Let her ask politely.
“She’s a child,” was her answer. “They are all children.”
I blinked at her. “How old?”
She sighed and reached over, taking my good hand in her own. “Merric,” she said, a tone of patience and something matronly in her voice. “I know you are a brash young man, and I love you in ways you cannot comprehend, but for the love of all things holy can you just repair this item and stay here with the dog while I try to help these children?”
Now, I must tell you, several parts of that exposition warred with one another in my head. Firstly was the declaration of love. Love is something a little like molten glass, hot and dangerous, but something beautiful can come from it if it is handled carefully. I know I loved Liz like no other, and Bob as a close second, but Lilith? I know I had an emotional attachment there, but I had been avoiding delving too deeply into those feelings because of the danger.
Secondly I fancied myself he who fixed things. It was critical to my well being. Lilith and Sparkle were those who solved their problems by hiding and then stabbing, not necessarily in that order.
And she meant it when she said the ánthropoi were children.
“Fine,” I said, doing my level best to keep a pout from my face. “I cannot guarantee it will cast lightning ever again. Seems repairing a physical object does not always, read hardly ever, return it to the magical state it once held.”
She smiled at me and stood, patting me on the knee and bending in to kiss me on the forehead. “Do you best, but do it from here. I need to finish what I’m doing then we can talk more.” She turned and began walking away. Before I could open my mouth she turned and held up both hands. “Fix the wand, Merric. There are some things you need to leave to others.”
Then she returned to Ingrid and they continued their whispered conversation.
I have had moments, Father, which may shock you, where I have acted rash and petulant. I know Brother Durham would not be surprised, but I am ashamed of how my feeling sometimes manifest. I know how highly you regard me. But I am only mortal after all. I am prone to the foibles of youth and the emotions of a young man.
Be that as it may. I set about trying to repair the wand and ran into the problem I had feared. To repair, just as to perform complicated healing, I needed two hands. I was vexed. But I was not beaten. The repair of any object requires one of two methodologies in my experience. First is the use of twin paired lodestones. The attraction of the two stones is crucial as a fulcrum for the magic involved. A second option is to use a bit of spider’s web, which I had in my possession when I entered the valley. Alas, when Eronel had ransacked my possessions, she had somehow discarded my supply of webbing I had acquired from Spinner before he and his clan returned to their island home.
The art of mending is the art of manipulating attraction. Nothing emotional. That would be unseemly, but physical.
As I pondered, a dastardly thought entered into my mind. What if indeed there was an emotional bonding I could manipulate. What if through some fiddling with the divine flow, I could create a sphere around another, changing their disposition toward me and mine? What if I were able to cause an attraction between them and me which would allow me to play upon their emotions to turn an enemy into a friend? Or at least a neutral, disinterested passerby.
Honestly, it was something I would expect a wizard to do. But perhaps it would allow me to get out of dangerous situations without always resorting to bloodshed — especially when most often the blood tended to be mine?
I was still thinkging through how I could make that work when Lilith returned to me with a heavy sigh. She looked into my lap and shook her head. “No luck?”
I shrugged. “I need a bit of spider’s web to try this, and I am shy of that component. And before you ask, yes, I could do it with my lodestones, only that takes two hands which you can see, I am lacking.”
I held up both arms and she rolled her eyes at me. “Why didn’t you say something?” she asked, calling Ingrid over. “We can gather some from the woods.”
I smiled at her, showing my best toothy grin. “You bade me remain here and not interrupt your tutelage,” I replied. I have to say, smug often feels good but I fear it is a dangerous weapon.
Lilith squinted at me and turned to grasp Ingrid by the arm. “Let’s find a bit of spider’s webbing, before I throttle this well meaning and totally frustrating cleric.”
Ingrid stared at me for a moment and then laughed. I had not heard the girl laugh since I met her. It was a surprise, which caught Lilith off guard as well.