This little snippet is set approximately fifty-one and a half years before the events of Sorcery and Stardust. Enjoy!
Arcana leant back against the edge of the bath, closing her eyes and drawing the scent of lavender into her lungs. When Lesce had bullied her into the room earlier and all but stripped her naked, she’d been reluctant – but now that the near scalding water was lapping at her skin, she had to admit her sister was right. This was exactly what she needed.
Staring up at the ceiling her mother had painted with stylised ferns, she allowed her body to float, taking comfort in the way her magic absorbed the essence of the water. Six months on from bonding with Caelum and she still wasn’t used to it; the power, the constant change in magic school, the staggering scope of her responsibility to the leggy fawn who now shared her soul.
The constant stares from passers-by didn’t help, either.
Shoving that thought resolutely to the back of her mind, she snatched up a loofah and began to scrub her body from chin to toe. She’d been allowed to visit her family as long as Flare acted as escort, which was fine on the surface, but there was no telling how long he and Lesce would be able to stand each other’s company before someone started a brawl. If she truly wanted to relax and enjoy this slice of peace, she had to do it immediately.
Lips curling at the paradox, Arcana finished scrubbing, dunked her hair in the water and set about coating it with her mother’s home-made shampoo. Her hands hesitated as the sleek black strands slid through her fingers. Not too long ago, that straight black hair had been a true, bright cerulean. It had tumbled in wild, cheerful waves to the tops of her shoulders, accenting skin the same pale brown as her father’s over-milked coffee. Now, her skin was the pure, stark white of salt, or snow… or death.
The air around her puckered, and an instant later something large and silver-grey splashed into the bath. Arcana shrieked, the instinctive sound echoing off the tiles even as her magic reacted, sending sheets of water up into the air – where they froze, a lavender-scented wave poised to strike.
Reaching down into the now empty bath, Arcana righted the fawn who’d landed so unceremoniously in her lap and found herself face to face with two enormous black eyes, filled to overflowing with countless tiny stars.
“Caelum,” she murmured, running a hand through the soggy fur atop his head, “What are you doing?”
He flicked water out of his ears, sneezed it out of his nose – then looked immediately guilty as said sneeze splattered across Arcana’s naked chest. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine.” She tickled him beneath the chin and smiled. “Did you go too far?”
“I counted thirty paces.” His tone turned indignant. “I counted.”
“Well…” His soft little nose wrinkled in embarrassment. “I couldn’t remember if thirty came after ten or not.”
Choking back a laugh, she drew him closer, tucking his baby legs beneath his body so he fitted onto her lap. Though they’d been bound together by accident, Arcana loved him dearly; had done so since the moment those bottomless eyes collided with her own. “We’ll practice counting again later.”
“Okay.” He relaxed against her. “Why is the water like that?”
Arcana blinked up at the waves, still poised mid-crest. “Honestly, I don’t know. It just kind of… did that by itself.”
“When I ruined your bath?”
“You didn’t ruin it; you made it more interesting.”
At that moment, the door slammed open and a shorter woman in healer’s robes rushed in. “Arcana, have you seen Caelum? Flare says he – eeek!”
Water fell in a rush, drenching Lesce to the skin. Arcana stared at her younger sister in horror, while what remained of her bath swirled across the tiled floors and out into the hall. “Great Gods of Sorcen, Lesce, I’m sorry.”
“What happened?” Flare, their eldest brother, appeared in the doorway. He took one look at Lesce’s dripping robes and bedraggled hair and frowned. “Trying a new look, sis? I’m not sure it’s going to vibe, but whatever makes you happy.”
A shriek of rage split the air. Lesce whirled on her heel, snatched a vase off the vanity, and threw it point blank at Flare’s head. He dodged with fluid ease and the glass smashed against the far wall, raining wildflowers into the lavender-scented mess below. Shaking a finger under Flare’s nose, Lesce spoke through gritted teeth. “You.”
“Oh, hey, you found Caelum,” Flare continued cheerfully, ducking Lesce’s balled fist as he sauntered further into the room. “Hi there, little buddy.”
The bathroom door slammed as Lesce stormed out.
Arcana raised an eyebrow. “Must you?”
“It’s too easy,” Flare chuckled. “Besides, I’m not the one who threw their bath at her.”
“It was an accident.”
Crouching beside the bath as though the room wasn’t flooded, Flare poked her in the cheek until she turned to look at him. He wore his trademark easy smile, flame orange hair adorably tousled. “Don’t worry. House needed cleaning anyway.”
“Is too,” Caelum argued, rubbing his nose against Flare’s.
“Traitor,” Arcana muttered.
Flare laughed. “It’s a boy thing. We always side together, huh, little brother?”
“How about we leave our sister in peace to get dry?” When Flare held out his arms, the lanky fawn scrambled into them. Heedless of the fact that Caelum’s wet fur was now soaking through his own robes, Flare snatched a towel from the railing and threw it into Arcana’s lap. “Here.”
“Thanks.” She clutched it to her chest, met his eyes as he paused at the door. “The water…”
“I got you.” Flare snapped his fingers, spoke a low word of power, and quite suddenly everyone and everything in the vicinity was dry. “Want cake? I saw some in the fridge earlier.”
Arcana stared at the doorway long after he was gone, Caelum a happy bundle of fluff in his arms. Then his words sank in and she was scrambling upright. “You better not eat it all! I’m still naked!”
“Snooze and lose,” Flare yelled back. “I won’t be held responsible because you’re slow.”
Arcana wrapped the towel around herself and tucked it in, toga style, before chasing her brother to the kitchen.
Cake waited for no one.