Tiffaniel walked with heavy steps until she came to the bow. She stood on the deck of the forecastle between the two forward ballista that faced outwards on locked pivots. Reaching the railing, she looked down to the bowsprit, in the shade of the sprit-sail and seated cross-legged was Sialin. Over the sound of the waves and the breeze in the rigging she could just make out Sialin’s voice, singing a tune she had never heard before. Tiffaniel sighed heavily before making her way down, being careful not to fall as she descended the ladder.
Without turning, Sialin’s voice reached her, ‘Ahh, the Firebrand. I hear frustration and anger in your steps and breath. Making your displeasure known to all is not a boon, but a hindrance to you and those that care for you. You are betraying your mood and intent to those before you.’
Tiffaniel stood at the base of the ladder, facing Sialin, ‘But, I do not have fire magic. Why call me “Firebrand”?’
‘Just because you do not possess a thread of fire does not mean your heart is incapable of burning with anger and rage. If it didn’t, and you were truly ice cold through and through I would be very worried for your future.’
‘I suppose.’ said Tiffaniel quietly.
‘You suppose, Firebrand?’ Sialin chuckled to herself, amused. She continued to look out at the waves and started humming again, letting her amber-toned voice escape, singing gently in a language that Tiffaniel did not understand.
‘It’s beautiful.’ said Tiffaniel, standing beside Sialin.
Sialin looked at her and smiled, ‘That it is.’ she said.
‘I don’t understand it, the language, what is the song about?’
Sialin smiled again, ‘It is the language of my people, the Fyrelves. The song is of love and a promise, hopefully kept.’
Tiffaniel frowned lightly, ‘I am elven, but I only speak common. Fire elves? Is that why you can bend fire?’
Sialin shook her head, ‘I see that you have been too long among the ignorant commoners of the Enclave. A shame. I never asked, but did you not continue learning elvish while you were here at the Enclave with your parents?’
‘I used to be able to speak it, I think, when I was younger. But in the Enclave we only spoke common tongue.’ said Tiffaniel.
Sialin nodded slowly, ‘I think I understand, I have noticed the people here do not appreciate outsiders.’
‘I know some elvish words. But, only a few.’
‘You should have Selera teach you, since you spoke it before, it will be easier to pick up.’ offered Sialin, standing and leaning against the mast.
Tiffaniel immediately grew rigid, the temperature around her dropping a few degrees.
Sialin watched her impassively, ‘Little Firebrand, you need to stop this unnecessary aggression. Calm.’
Sialin noticed icicles starting to form on the nearby ropes, she stepped forward, her long auburn braid hanging down her back, shifting like a snake.
‘Firebrand, it is plain to see that you do not know your sister. You have made it clear that you are not willing to let her into your heart even after nearly a year. I find this ridiculous and I am personally affronted by your behaviour. The whole crew has watched while you vent your frustration and anger at every chance you get. You need to start calming down. We are here to help you.’ she held out her hand to Tiffaniel.
A sudden cold snap descended on the bowsprit, ‘What is Selera to you? She’s just a shipmate.’ Tiffaniel spat, batting the offered hand away.
Sialin’s smile grew sharp, her eyes lit with flame. Without warning her hand snapped out, slapping Tiffaniel’s face, instantly bringing tears to the girl’s eyes along with the shock of pain exploding across her cheek. Tiffaniel dropped to her knees.
‘Watch your tongue, Tiffaniel the orphan. That was a warning. The next time you open your mouth understand that your words have power and can attract consequences. They can build friendships, they can make enemies and they can bring on an early onset of death.’
She stood over the girl, watching on as Tiffaniel’s tears hit the deck, while she knelt with one hand holding her face.
‘Save your tears, Tiffaniel the orphan. They are worth nothing to me.’
‘S-s-sorry.’ Tiffaniel stammered.
‘As are your apologies, worthless and empty, Tiffaniel the orphan.’
Sialin leant against the mast, her arms crossed, shaking her head slowly, ‘Get up, Firebrand. Your lessons for today have already started. Obviously they are sorely needed. The first was humility. Now for the second: respect. You are to do as I say, without question. If you do not, I will not hesitate to strike you again. I will not stand for being treated like detritus beneath your feet. You have a temper that needs to be controlled, and I have no qualms about setting you straight. From today onwards, you and your brother are in my care for your tutelage. That includes improving your manners, even by force if needs be.’
Sialin narrowed her eyes, ‘Get off your knees and stand, Firebrand.’
Tiffaniel slowly stood, her cheek on fire as she wiped the tears with her sleeve.
‘Now, Firebrand. Explain the reason for your anger.’ said Sialin calmly.
‘I hate it when Ven is angry with me.’ she said in a quavering voice.
‘You hate when your brother is angry with you? You are angry with everyone. Dare I say it, most of the time. We have all noticed he is exceptionally resistant to your moods. What did you say to make him so?’ said Sialin, her eyes narrowing to slits.
‘I said that…’
‘You look me in the eye when you speak to me.’ snapped Sialin.
‘I-I don’t like it when Selera decides things for us, I don’t like it when he sides with her. She is not our mother. She didn’t even care for us until our parents died, we didn’t even see her. She only came because she felt obliged to, we are just baggage to her. She only cares about our parent’s work and their money.’ Tiffaniel said, the level of aggression rising in her voice again as she stubbornly glared at Sialin, steam rising from her breath as the air chilled around her again.
A sharp crack split the air as Sialin’s hand flew again, striking Tiffaniel down. The soft tinkle of ice breaking as it fell to the deck behind her. Tiffaniel’s vision blurred as she slumped down; she dazedly watched Sialin sit, just out of reach, facing her in the shade.
The fyrelf’s words came to her over a great distance, ‘Selera does not deserve this poisonous vitriol after everything she has sacrificed for you and your safety. I have held myself back, but I will not stand for it any longer and I will do what she can’t bring herself to. You were such a sweet and curious girl, but you have grown into an insolent brat. Before this week is up, I swear you will understand your place, Tiffaniel the orphan. You dare bring your power to bear against me again, a slap will be the least of your worries.’
After a few moments, Sialin started to hum again as she watched Tiffaniel raise her head slightly before dropping back on the deck. Waiting a little longer, she rose and shifted the girl’s limp body into the shade, propping her up. Shaking her head, she made a small gesture and pressed a hand to Tiffaniel’s chest, an almost indiscernible blue light seeped through the girl’s robes and into her skin. She tilted Tiffaniel’s face to the side and looked at the red handprint across her cheek. The swelling stopped and receded slightly but remained as a warning, visible and angry.
‘So ignorant that you don’t even know your heritage. Just what exactly were your parents doing the last six years? Either way, you can sleep it off.’
Sialin sat again in the shade, calmly looking out over the waves. The feeling in her chest swelling as she distractedly looked towards the land off their starboard side. She started to smile again, singing quietly to herself as Tiffaniel stirred feebly behind her.
* * * * *
The Captain and Groyven sat at the end of the main desk that dominated the centre of the floor of the cabin. Hunched over a parchment, deep in discussion.
‘Groyven, good. See how we can use the currents along the coast to our advantage?’
‘Yes, we can plot a course along them, even tacking into the wind the currents will aid the passage of the ship.’ Groyven said as he laid the pencil down.
He looked at the Captain with a question, ‘But, we are moving against the wind and I have not noticed Darius using tacking manoeuvres. The current can aid us, but not to this extent.’
The Captain smiled, nodding. He looked over to Selera who was lost in thought.
‘Selera, he is a sharp one.’
‘Shhh, I am concentrating.’ she said without looking his way.
Groyven looked at his elder sister as she inspected the item they had obtained that morning. She had a book full of notes and scribbles in a foreign language open on the desk alongside an envelope full of loose papers. Lifting a small magnifying glass, she turned the item over and carefully started inspecting its base.
The Captain raised his eyebrows and looked back to Groyven, ‘You are right, something is amiss. What do you think is happening outside?’
Groyven pondered the notion. He quickly stepped to the array of small windows that opened to the stern of the ship. There was no wind pushing the ship, somehow they were sailing dead against the wind without consequence. He frowned in thought.
‘Spell craft. It is the only way. One of the ship’s spell-runners. It is not wind control, or redirection of airflow. When we were outside, the sails were full. But, we are sailing against the wind, so the sails should not be full. This is confusing.’ said Groyven with an apologetic smile on his face.
‘You are thinking the right way.’
‘Could it be some type of conversion magic? Mirroring, or something like that? I know I can do something like that with my flames. I can sheath myself in fire, but it feels cool, barely warm. All of the heat is directed away from me.’
Selera looked up and stared at him over the desk, ‘Ven, what have I told you about doing that? One mistake and you will be scarred for life.’
‘I promise, I won’t do it again, until I am older.’ he said.
‘No lying, Ven.’ she said as she looked back down at the open book, flicking to the next page.
‘I will be careful, I promise.’
Selera glanced up at him, ‘If you must do it, at least make sure one of the spell-runners, preferably Sialin, knows what you are doing so they can supervise you. You are on board a ship made of flammable materials.’
‘No, not on board, I would never do that here. Not after the last incident.’
‘Make sure of it little brother, Darius may not be so forgiving next time.’
‘What happened last time that Darius would not be so forgiving of?’ asked the Captain.
Selera looked at him, ‘Whose magic blistered your first mate’s hands?’
‘It was an accident. I just wanted to warm the wheel a little. It wasn’t my idea.’
‘That excuse does not work, you went along with it and enacted it, you are at fault.’ said Selera without looking up, ‘Though, Ven, I am proud that you faced your punishment without complaint. Unlike our sister.’
‘So that was why you were in the galley with the cook all last week?’ said the Captain.
‘I was the fire that cooked every meal. I was so tired I could barely walk. Tiffaniel was catching fish for coming up with the idea and talking me into it.’
‘There is nothing quite like overtaxing your spell craft as a punishment.’ said Selera.
Groyven winced while nodding.
‘That was what she was trying to get out of, she wanted to be with Illias rather than Sialin.’ mused the Captain.
‘She will not be having any more tutelage with Illias.’ said Selera offhand.
‘Because it is what she wants, the easy path for her is to use her skills at their most destructive. That is Illias’s interest, unfortunately it is her interest too. She needs to control and temper her skills to the point where she can chill water without cracking the glass or reducing the temperature in a room by a couple of degrees without those around her realising it was her doing.’ Selera sighed, tapping the desk.
‘She might not like it, but Sialin is a better match. Especially for you Ven. She really knows how to tease out the subtleties in a skill.’
‘I know Sialin is like us, Selera. She has the Demon’s Thread, I can feel it.’ said Groyven.
Selera looked at him carefully, ‘She does, but more importantly, she also wields fire. Not the same as yours, ethereal fire. She told me that she has been assessing your skills and capacity. She thinks you are ready to start some proper training and she has been expressing an interest in taking you on as her apprentice or understudy.’
‘Me? As her apprentice?’ said Groyven, his eyes wide.
‘There is no need to look so surprised, Ven. Yes, I think you would benefit from it. That is if you want to consider training in the Academy of Spires in the future. Would you like it to be so?’
Groyven squirmed slightly, trying to contain his excitement, ‘Well, yes. But, Tiffaniel?’
‘I am not talking about Tiff. Tiff is… She is not ready yet. Sialin has spoken to me of her impatience, her unwillingness to practice the finer aspect of her skills. I am starting to think that it may be best to train her in another art more traditionally. So she learns the importance of control indirectly. Sialin can help her tame her skills if Tiff would just let her guide her.’
Selera stood, came out from behind the desk and sat on the edge in front of Groyven, ‘Sialin is exceptionally skilled, and at times she can be ridiculously dangerous. Some of the things I have seen her do with her fire beggars belief. Regardless of your decision, from now on she will take you in the afternoons to teach you the art of weaving with the thread.’
‘But Selera, couldn’t you teach me?’ said Groyven.
‘I will, but I am not skilled with fire, neither with ice. So I am limited. You know this, my little brother.’
She tilted her head and looked at him sideways, ‘You don’t like Sialin?’
Groyven quickly looked away from her gaze, heat coming to his cheeks.
‘Oh, you do like her, you always have, so no complaining. If you listen carefully and do as you are asked she will prove to be a gentle and inspiring mentor for you. But, I warn you; prove yourself to be difficult and she will show you a side of herself that you wish you never saw.’
‘I will try my best, sister.’
‘You have decided already? Then you know what to say when she asks you.’ Selera smiled and ruffled his hair, ‘Do as you say, try your best. Maybe it will light a fire under Tiff and give her a little competition to see her twin improving rapidly. Ven, please don’t disappoint Sialin, she came to me with this idea, something to keep her and her mind occupied.’
Groyven looked at her with a curious expression. Selera looked at him, ‘No, don’t ask.’
She glanced back to the desk before looking at him, ‘The lesson. The sails, it is a little like your ability with your flames. But, it is surprisingly simple, create an area of turbulence directly in front of the ship, directing the wind’s natural flow into a horizontal rotation, like a wave heading to the shore. Immediately behind this turbulence a vacuum is created, filling the sails and dragging the ship forward.’
‘Redirection? Creating a negative air pressure in front of the sails.’ queried Groyven.
‘Yes, here, I will show you.’ said Selera as she picked up a pencil and drew a diagram of the air flow over the ship.