Part of the vows to the Living Circle included service to those who needed it, vows that Rosethorn took very seriously. Other dedicates got away with the bare minimum, mixing medicines but never going to deliver them, ensuring clean water, but never actually seeing the conditions where the water was needed. Fewer people went to the slums around Emelan, working directly with those they were called to serve.
To make up for those other dedicates, Rosethorn tried to get down to the Mire once a month, taking medicines, bandages, and other needed supplies to clinics or families. Partly, it was nice to leave the temple once in awhile. Another part of her felt tugged to the Mire, but she wasn’t sure why. But Rosethorn was never one to resist the Gods plans, so she continued to go down once a month.
A particularly vicious summer had created a great need for balm to prevent sun damage. People across the city were succumbing to heatstroke, and while the balm couldn’t do everything, it kept off some of the direct sun, helping to cool the body. Rosethorn went down in the second week of the Mead moon to drop off medicines and teas to help fight heatstroke.
She was shocked at how much hotter the Mire seemed then the rest of the city. Maybe it was everyone packed in together. Maybe it was that the garbage that piled up on the streets gave off a worse stench here. Maybe it was the people who’d spilled out of their houses and onto the street, choking the already clogged roads. No matter what the reason, Rosethorn started to sweat through her cotton summer habit before she’d even made it to the clinic. She stopped on the road and fanned herself with her straw hat, looking around for a stall where she could find some water. Although, did she want to drink the water in the Mire? Normally she opted for tea, since she knew the water was boiled, but it was just too hot today. Was she going to take that risk?
Harsh coughs broke Rosethorn out of her contemplation. She furrowed her brow. A wet cough like that in the summer was surprising. Sounded like one of the lung diseases that could spread fairly quickly if not treated. Rosethorn looked around for the source of the cough.
A woman sat among a pile of clothes, sewing while clutching a stained handkerchief. Her hands flitted like small birds, her needle darting in and out of the cloth so fast it was almost a blur. Rosethorn could see it had been some time since her last meal, the woman’s face was wan and her lips were cracked.
Another rough cough, and the woman looked up, almost as if she could sense Rosethorn watching her. Her deep brown eyes caught Rosethorn’s and held them. Only when the woman blinked and broke eye contact could Rosethorn break away from the gaze.
She felt herself blush. She wasn’t one to stare, but it was like those eyes had put her under a spell. But that couldn’t be possible, that was something only great mages could do. More likely, Rosethorn was just giddy because of the woman’s deep eyes and kind smile.
“Good morning Dedicate,” the other woman said. Though she looked up from her sewing, her hands didn’t stop moving.
“Good morning,” Rosethorn replied. “That’s a nasty cough you have.”
“It’ll pass,” the other woman said. “It always does.”
“Have you been to the clinic? They could give you something for it. I should know, I just restocked their supplies last week.”
The woman bit off the thread and tied it, folding the shirt she had been working on, and picking up another bolt of cloth she started to mend. “Unfortunately, I can’t afford it.”
“But the clinic is free,” Rosethorn said.
“Yes, but if I’m in the clinic, I can’t finish my sewing, which means I don’t make money, which means I can’t eat.”
Rosethorn went to sit next to the woman, opening her basket and taking out some bread pockets filled with spiced beef. “I’ve been telling the clinic they should have a place where people can pick up food for the day, for just that reason. Unfortunately, they haven’t yet taken my advice.”
The woman eyed the pastries, but make a move to take one.
“If I were a different type of woman, I’d make up some excuse for you to stitch up this tear in my hem, as a trade. But I’d rather just skip all the formalities and give you this. If you want, you can go to the clinic with a full stomach, but you don’t have to,” Rosethorn said brusquely. She knew sometimes people felt too proud to accept charity, and she sympathized with that. But everything went quicker when people took the help they needed.
“I thank you,” the woman said. “I’m happy to fix that tear anyway, it won’t take me long.”
“I won’t say no to that. I’m Rosethorn, by the way.”
“I’m Lidalia,” the woman responded, bending down to Rosethorn’s hem. “Ah, your clothes like you, this cotton feels so happy.”
That sounded familiar. “How do you mean, happy?”
“Like it wants to work well for you, I can feel the threads itching to reunite. Not every material is like that, and even cotton can be unfriendly. Not so much here.” As Rosethorn watched, Lidalia didn’t so much stitch the tear as she rewove the existing threads back together. If Rosethorn hadn’t been looking, she wouldn’t have believed it, but it seemed like Lidalia barely touched her needle. When she was done, Rosethorn couldn’t even see where the tear had been.
“Now you all stay in place for this hardworking woman,” Lidalia said. As the words left her mouth, Rosethorn felt foreign magic touch her habit. Nothing harsh or surprising, like enemy magic, more like she was being wrapped in a warm blanket, protected, safe.
“Do you always seal your work with magic?” Rosethorn asked.
“Magic?” Lidalia laughed a light, pretty laugh. “Oh, if I had magic, things may be different. I’m just handy with a needle.”
“No, I felt your magic. The words you just said, I could feel something in them that I’m guessing was your power,” Rosethorn was perplexed. Speaking things into magical workings was an advanced skill, not something a person could do without training. Was Lidalia hiding something?
“Sometimes I talk to the work I do. It’s not anything magic, just something I do when I’ve been working too long. I forget I’m even doing it sometimes.”
Rosethorn saw she’d have to tread carefully. If Lidalia had magic and was hiding it, she could be planning something. If she really didn’t know about her power, that could be even more dangerous.
“Do you find that when you talk to the work you do, it holds longer?”
Lidalia picked up another shirt and started to mend. “I can’t say I notice. I don’t usually follow the life of the clothes once someone picks them up.”
“There can be magic in ordinary things, like sewing or thread. You know stitch witches,” Rosethorn said.
“Sure, but I’m no stitch witch. I can’t make any of those charms or do the little spells for the knots.”
“But there are other types of magic than just spells and charms,” Rosethorn was starting to believe that Lidalia really didn’t realize that she had magic. How had her power not spilled out, become unchecked, by now? Or maybe Rosethorn was wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. She shrugged. “Either way, you’re very talented. And I hope you get to the clinic today, they can clear that cough right up.”
“Thank you again for the food,” Lidalia said. “If you ever need more repairs, you know where to find me.”
Rosethorn smiled, picked up her bag and set off towards the clinic, already planning to come back tomorrow with reinforcements.
“In her late twenties? And you think she’s an ambient mage?” Niko sounded skeptical.
“I know how it sounds,” Rosethorn said. “That’s why I brought you. It’s just a hunch right now, but Niko I swear she put her power into my robe. I felt it.”
“And you’re sure you’re not just smitten?”
“I never said I was smitten!” Rosethorn said, fighting a blush.
Niko just gave her a look.
“I’d feel the same if I wasn’t,” Rosethorn grumbled, scanning the cramped street for Lidalia.
“You’re back!” came a voice. Rosethorn whipped around and saw Lidalia’s smiling face. “Did my magic hurt your robe?” When she said “magic,” Lidalia giggled and waved her fingers.
Rosethorn blushed a little, despite herself. Get a hold of yourself! she thought. Don’t go all silly just because she’s a pretty girl!
Lidalia was pretty, even smudged with dirt and sitting among a new pile of rags. Her cheeks seemed to shine with health and her eyes were bright with mirth.
“Actually, I brought more repairs for you,” Rosethorn said. She’d found one habit that had an actual problem (she’d burned a hole in her sleeve with a candle) and one habit where she had created a very complicated rip, just to see what Lidalia could do. She wanted Niko to watch Lidalia work, to determine once and for all if she had magic. Rosethorn couldn’t see magic the way Niko could, and she wanted to know for sure.
“What did you do to this?” Lidalia said, holding up the habit with the rip down the center. “It looks like you were attacked by a tiger!”
Since that was what Rosethorn was mimicking, she replied, “not a tiger but yes, an animal I was looking after got a swipe in.”
“Glad you’re alright,” Lidalia said. The glint in her eye told Rosethorn that she suspected there wasn’t any animal, but she didn’t say anything.
“And I bought my friend here to watch you work. I hope that’s alright with you,” Rosethorn said. Niko smiled at Lidalia.
“I’m that impressive then?”
“From what Rosethorn said, you are. I’m here to see if all her compliments are true. She couldn’t stop talking about you,” Niko said, knowing full well Rosethorn would get him for that. She proved him right by elbowing him in the side. Hard.
“Are you Rosethorn’s husband then?” Lidalia asked.
Smooth, Rosethorn thought. Checking to see if she was available. Calm down, she may not even be interested in you, Rosethorn chided herself.
“Just a friend,” Niko said. “Rosethorn tends to prefer—”
“Would you be able to repair it?” Rosethorn said, shoving the garment into Lidalia’s hands. There was no telling how Niko would finish that sentence and she didn’t want to know.
Another knowing smile, and Lidalia took the habit. “Ah, so hard on your clothes, Dedicate Rosethorn,” she clucked. “But we will see what we can do.” Lidalia trailed off, stitching and snipping in her repairs.
Niko focused on Lidalia until he winced slightly and looked away. “You were right,” he murmured to Rosethorn. “She’s more powerful than I would have expected too, for someone who has no idea they have magic. Looks like you two will have to spend a lot of time together,” he said.
Niko gave her a look. “Come now, you haven’t forgotten your duty to train new mages, especially if you’re the one who discovers them?”
She had forgotten for a moment, but now that she remembered, her heart jumped. The possibility of more time with Lidalia set her heart racing.
“What are you two whispering about,” Lidalia said, holding the completed habit up. “You have quite the animal Dedicate. It’s claws leave marks almost like a scissor.”
“Well,” Rosethorn forced a laugh. “Animals, you know. That’s how they—”
“Rosethorn mentioned to you yesterday that you have magic,” Niko said, cutting off Rosethorn’s bumbling.
Lidalia rolled her eyes. “That again? And I thought you’d be more sensible.”
“On the contrary,” Niko smiled. “And I know you do. My magic is in seeing things, even seeing other magic, and yours is obvious.”
“That’s very kind but you’re mistaken. I don’t—”
“And now that Rosethorn has found you,” Niko barreled on, almost as if he hadn’t heard her. “She has to teach you. It’s her own duty as a mage. She’s can’t take no for an answer, so I hope you like her face, because you’ll be seeing a lot of it.”
“Hmm,” Lidalia hummed, fixing the burn in Rosethorn’s other habit. “I still don’t know if I believe you, but I suppose there’s no harm in looking into it further. As long as Dedicate Rosethorn is my teacher.”
Was she flirting? This had to be flirting. Could it be? Was that appropriate? “Of course we’d have to eventually find you another—”
“Dedicate Rosethorn will certainly start out as your teacher,” Niko said, pushing Rosethorn forward.
Rosethorn went to sit next to Lidalia and the two exchanged smiles. “The way certain magic works is you pull from the world around you...”
“Maybe you two could have this first lesson somewhere other than a public street?” Niko said, but neither woman heard him, busy as they were staring into each others eyes.