All the signs looked to be right.

Arianna heard rumours, from time to time, about people in the next village over doing magic. Usually they turned out to be made of whole cloth – someone claiming gifts they didn’t actually possess, or someone else being accused of things they couldn’t possibly have done. She did her duty and followed up on them anyway, at least long enough to confirm that the person in question did not actually have any magical ability; but it wasn’t something she put any great priority on.

This time, though, was different.

First off, the alleged magic-user was a boy – a child of eight springtimes. True wild talents were vanishingly rare, but for those that were known, the gifts always made themselves apparent by early adolescence at the utter latest. Too, why would anyone spread groundless rumours about a child? They had no property to usurp, no worldly power to envy, and they’d not had any noteworthy chance to do anyone a wrong worth going to such lengths to avenge.

And even the wildest rumours about this boy had been remarkably consistent and level headed. No doubt they’d grown in the telling, to get to the stature of the brushes and buckets obeying his command to do the washing for him – but even if what had actually happened was something moving on its own when he’d been sent to do such chores, it was still in much the same character as something that a poorly-trained sorcerer might well be able to do. None of the usual rot about inflicting illness with a glance or seeing the future or bringing about a drought.

Well, enough skilled sorcerers together could shift the weather, but an exertion on that scale would’ve been felt by every practitioner of the art as far away as the Star Tower.

Once she’d arrived in Three Springs, it didn’t take long for Arianna to be convinced that this time, the rumours were genuine. The attitude surrounding them didn’t fit that of something that had been fabricated either to discredit someone or to elevate them. There was nervousness, awe, and wonder in a very curious mix.

She was directed to a cabin at the edge of the village, home to a woodcutter and a joiner. It was the latter who answered her knock, tense and weary, frowning at Arianna in puzzlement. “Yes, stranger? Is there something I can do for you?”

“Jessi Farald? I’m Arianna Summers, Journeyman of the Eight Stars Guild.”

“The Eight Stars?” The woman’s eyes widened. “Thank Lyssa. Come in, come in.”

“I hear your boy Jon’s been the focus of quite a commotion,” Arianna began, taking the seat she was offered. If it was a sample of the woman’s craft, Arianna fancied she could supply an entire Guild hall, and not even the pickiest master would complain.

“He’s been frightened ever since,” Farald said in a hushed voice. “He doesn’t understand what’s happening, and everyone’s so nervous – the other children won’t play with him…”

“I’ll gladly talk to him,” Arianna promised.

The joiner hesitated. “You won’t… take him away, will you?”

That was the usual rumour about the Eight Stars, wasn’t it? Arianna framed her words carefully. “Missus Farald, if half of what I’ve heard about your boy is true, he needs training. A wild talent who never learns to control his gift might lose it – or it might flare up at the worst moment and do terrible harm. I’m not going to spirit him away without you and your husband knowing about it – but he needs to be among masters.” She glanced around, but saw nobody else in the common room. “Is he nearby? Or your husband? He should be here as well, if any decisions are to be made.”

Again Jessi Farald paused, but then she nodded. “Jon’s just out back – I’ll introduce you to him, and then fetch Willem.”

Jon Farald was not a large boy, and the way he was sitting hunched up by the stream made him look even smaller. Instead of his mother’s dark hair, he had a mop of sandy blond, clean but in disarray. His eyes were the same dark brown, wide with apprehension about this stranger in his presence.

And this close, there could be no doubt. Power whirled around him in a frantic vortex, a storm waiting to break.

“Hello, Jon.” Arianna knelt a little ways away from him. “I hear some strange things have been happening around you.”

The boy looked at her eight-stars brooch and bit his lip. “You’re a sorceress.”

“I am,” she confirmed. “And you could be a great sorcerer yourself.”

“N-no!” Jon lurched back. “I – I don’t…”

Arianna struggled to keep her surprise from showing. She, like most applicants to the Eight Stars, had come eager for knowledge, and worked hard to be able to cast even the simplest of spells. For her, the first time a candle had lit by her gesture had been a moment of supreme achievement – a triumph that, in all her years since, she’d never quite felt the equal of, in spite of the greater scope of her deeds. “You don’t have to be one if you don’t want to, Jon. But why not?”

Silence reigned for several tense moments. At last, he mumbled, “Please don’t tell my mother…”

Arianna swore to silence, and the truth came out. He’d been ill for some time, and as he was getting better, he’d gone into the yard to help stack wood. He’d had a headache and the chattering objections of a squirrel hadn’t helped it; and then, in a flash of anger, one of the logs had flown over and struck the little beast.

“I didn’t want to hurt it,” Jon whispered. “I just wanted it to leave me be.”

Arianna squeezed his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Jon,” she murmured, and meant it. What a horrible way to be introduced to what could have been a great gift… “But that’s why it’s so important that you come with me. The Masters can teach you to keep your,” not gift, “your power in check, under control – so that such as that will never happen again. If you still don’t wish to be a sorcerer, you don’t have to be – we will bring you back home, with our best wishes. But if you do, you could do great things. Great works of good, Jon.”

More silence was eventually broken by a sniffle. “I’m scared.”

“I know,” she assured him. “So would I be, if something like that had happened to me. But you won’t be alone. We’ll show you the way.” She patted his shoulder. “Come; let’s speak with your mother and father, and I can explain.”

Hesitantly, the boy rose to his feet.

Arianna stood as well, drawing a deep breath. The day was far from done – but at least the worst of it was behind them. What the future held, time would reveal.