Van Ella stared out the round window of the carriage and gulped. Below her was a dirt road that looked to have seen far too many travelers - pitted and rocky and hopelessly uneven. Not a road any sensible person should travel in a bumpy carriage. Then, a cloud passed below her and shattered her fragile illusion of safety as she was once more reminded that she was riding smoothly in a magic carriage that was flying over the road, higher - far higher - than Van Ella herself had ever been - even when she used to sit atop the high hills overlooking the valley she used to live in.
With a stifled yelp she turned back to look inside the immaculate carriage and its two other passengers. The inside if the carriage was all in blue leather, complementing the red leather of the Wizard that sat across from her. His knees almost touched hers and she shivered - this time not of fear of flying but of something potentially far more frightening.
He looked at her with is aqua blue eyes and smiled, showing his perfect teeth once again.
“You’ll get used to it. I hardly notice any more. Mane does quite a competent job of getting me around without bumping into any trees ... or mountains.” He looked forward through the glass window towards the black horse with a significant look, and Van Ella could have sworn she heard a derisive snort coming from the horse’s direction.
“He can - he can hear us?” She managed to say weakly. Her stomach was doing flip flops.
The wizard waved his had dismissively. Van Ella got a glimpse of a green ring on one finger that glowed and left a sort of light trail in the air as he moved. If she had any doubts about magic, magicians, and magic animals, they had been left to rest - dead on the ground below her.
Dead on the ground.
That disturbing thought caused her to close her eyes and swallow hard again.
The wizard’s eyes flickered at her discomfort and he stroked his slight beard absently.
“So, it’s so good to finally meet you, Van Ella. I have been looking forward to this for a long time. I’ve never had a Bonded apprentice you know.” He said, looking over to the other passenger that lie curled up in a small furry donut shape.
“Its just been Sparrow and me for so long.”
The black cat opened one orange eye and as Van Ella looked over at the tiny cat, it rolled its eye and snorted once before going back to sleep.
Suddenly the carriage lurched upward for a moment and Van Ella yelped once again. Had they hit something? Was she going to die?
“Sorry Mane, if course I meant to include you.” The wizard said overly loud and passed the back of his hand to his lips and whispered to Van Ella with wide eyes “He’s very sensitive.”
She smiled nervously and chucked despite herself. This Wizard was not like anything she had ever seen - even amongst the wild variations of wizard’s she had encountered on Bonding Day.
“How - how do you even know who I am? And why me? And I don’t - I don’t even know your name. Where are we going? Why is there a cat here? Why is his name Sparrow, I mean that’s a bird’s name after all - ” she choked off the rest of her sentence. She had a tendency to ramble when she got nervous, and this qualified as a class one Nervous Situation.
The wizard templed his fingers together and took in a deep breath. Van Ella’s heart leapt to her throat. Had she offended him? Was he going to change his mind about taking her as an apprentice? Would he throw her out of the carriage?
The wizard’s eyes narrowed in thought, then he looked directly at her and pinned her with his eyes. Flecks of purple were dancing through the blue.
“I don’t know how your Aunt and Uncle treated you, my dear Van Ella, but you have nothing to fear from me. My name is Brand. Well, that’s my Wizard’s name. And it’ll do for now. As for how I know you? Well I’m a wizard after all, and we know things -”
He said this as he leaned forward and tapped the side of his head with an exaggerated gesture that quirked a smile to Van Ella’s lips. He arched his eyebrows in an exaggerated fashion, completing the humorous expression.
Brand pulled off his red leather hat and placed it upside down in his lap. He gestured briefly and an image of a small birds nest appeared above the hat, transparent and slowly rotating.
Van Ella gasped. Inside the nest were three small sparrows, and one very tiny kitten. They were sleeping peacefully together and it did not appear that the baby birds were in any danger from the cat, or vice versa.
“This is how I found her. How she managed to end up in an old tree is beyond me. But when I went in search of a suitable familiar, the signs led me straight to her. I guess you can say a little bird told me she’d be there. Heh.”
Van Ella felt herself relaxing a bit as he spoke. He had such a powerful yet comforting voice she couldn’t help but feel more at ease. And at least he wasn’t going to toss her out the door... yet.
“That was kind if the way I heard about you, Van Ella. Although from a much bigger ‘bird’.” He chuckled and looked out the window himself with a distant gaze. The blue of his eyes matched the clear sky exactly in that moment.
“Does, does she bite?” Van Ella asked as she extended a tentative hand out to the small cat.
“Oh yes.” He said with mock seriousness, and she froze with her hand only inches from the cat.
“But only to my enemies. Of which I would highly doubt you are a member of.” He finished.
A second later she gasped to see the cat had risen and was rubbing her fingertips with its soft fuzzy cheek.
“You got any fish?” It said in a very high pitched girl’s voice.
Van Ella’s eyes grew wide and a huge smile escaped her lips. Brand noted the change of expression inwardly.
“She talks! A talking cat?” She said breathlessly.
“Oh, and a flying horse, a magical wizard, and conjured images didn’t impress you? But a little greedy guss-mouthed cat brings you a gasp? You’re a funny girl Van Ella.” Brand said with his hands in fists on his hips.
Her face fell and Brand took that moment to grasp her firmly on her shoulders and planted a kiss on her forehead. It must have been a powerful spell as the air in the carriage rippled from the impact and Brand’s eyes turned a bright canary yellow for an instant. Van Ella felt as though scales had fallen from her eyes. She could see the magic flowing through the air, through Brand, the cat, even the magic horse outside. For a brief instant she could see how everything was connected, and how magic flowed through everything, even herself. The images, thoughts, and impressions swept over her like a mountainous tide of light and sound and every nerve ending in her body resonated to the rhythm and pattern of the universe.
“Van Ella Margolin, I hereby Bond you as my apprentice. Do you understand and accept this apprenticeship, knowing that there will be many years of hard work ahead of you, and that there are no guarantees that neither you, nor I may survive this alive?” His lips quirked a half smile at the end of that otherwise ominous statement.
Van Ella shivered. She looked over at Sparrow who was nodding quite vigorously - very much un-catlike - and she looked into Brand’s eyes and said,
And the Bonding was complete, but the Apprenticeship was only just beginning.