Stephan's Story: Stephan's First Kiss? Or Near Miss?
Dark halls lighted by candles! I tried to press my wispy white curls against the sides of my head but I couldn’t see enough in the mirror to be sure what I was doing. And by my age I had learned to avoid squandering my Magic on such trivial needs.
Still, squinting because of the dark and leaning down from my awkward tallness to look in the mirror again, I pulled at a wayward ringlet and tucked it behind my ear. Stepping back, I checked my bearing: strong, in control, in my prime.
A pale figure passed quickly behind me, his (her?) footsteps muted by the thick carpet. The members were collecting.
I caught a scent of … what? Cedar? The memories this scent evoked eluded me, something like walking in cool woods on a hot day.
I gathered my thoughts. The meeting would start very soon.
For whatever reason, I was nervous about this case and the meeting about to start. I wanted to make it go away. Why must the committee always interfere, always take umbrage at the slightest self-expression that deviated from the accepted use of Magic? Why was there no room for individuality?
Well, of course we were all highly individual, we recognized that. Some had powers others could barely discern or comprehend, while others of us were endowed with more showy forms of Magic.
And I, Stephan, certainly was in the forefront of those who wanted something universal to keep all these expressions of Magic under some sort of control, or self-expression could lead to mischief that would call undue attention from the Ordinary world.
I continued to wonder where the true balance lay between using our powers, our gifts I guess you could call them, and abusing our powers. I turned away from the mirror, and my inner reflections as well, and entered the chamber.
All stood. I quickly sat and motioned them all to their seats. All sat. That is, all sat but for the woman in white – someone I didn’t know but who was no doubt the subject of our meeting. She! She alone remained standing.
She stared at me in a most disconcerting manner from the far end of the room.
I kept my gaze on her, hoping that my face was relaxed enough to disarm her attempts at intimidation. Surely it was intimidation she had in mind.
I pinched my forehead, hoping to remember the details of the case. I looked down at the notes that had been prepared for each committee member, myself included. Then I felt the chamber tremble and rumble. Or rather I heard it rumble. I looked up to see our guest smile smugly to herself as she sat down.
Surely that had been an earthquake.
My first thought was that she was taking the upper hand. No one could make an earthquake but a supremely capable, hugely powerful Earth witch! But then it had been just a rumble, no damage done, and from deep inside me came the thought, almost a tickle, that what I had just felt was almost a kind of flirtatious greeting.
I looked around me. A few of my fellow judges looked here and there uneasily, while others seemed oblivious of the quake.
I lowered my head again as if to study the papers in front of me. But my eyes were seeking out the face of the plaintiff. I wanted to know what she was up to, intimidation, perhaps anger? – or perhaps flirtation, came the thought.
Ridiculous, I retorted.
Certainly I knew the case from memory, now that she had given us a taste of what she had been accused of. Mischief! And as we could see, unabashed mischief! Hardly a penitent plaintiff!
I was surprised. The Committee on the Practice of Magic had traditionally had enough power that the very thought of being called before it was sufficient to intimidate the most daring.
So who was this woman sitting casually at the end of this august chamber, the one looking at her palm as if she were reading something there? The one smiling?
Miranda Duncan. Old royalty, it sounded like.
And oh yes. An Earth witch. Pretty much THE Earth witch. The greatest of all, some said. An intense Power among us, the powerful. And the one most likely to abuse her power, I thought as I looked through her record.
She appeared to be in her 40s, old enough to know that throwing her Magic around could cause permanent disruptions in the balance of Powers or even be verifiable by the Ordinaries. Enough unexplained perturbations and they would become certain of Magic and the most important line between us and them would begin to erode. Or be breached, just as bad.
In my 70 or so years in leadership positions, I had seen others of the Magic folk throw their craft around wantonly. I had seen selfish D’jinn and evil Centaurs break the ages-old basic principles that have kept the world structured and functional. I have seen young children discover their Magic too early, and teens rebel against the very concept of the rules just as they come into the full knowledge of their own powers.
But a witch in her 40s usually knew better. So why the rumbles, which really amounted to not much?
The committee members sat calmly facing me but I could feel the electricity in the air. After years of back and forth, we finally had the infamous Miranda before us for questioning. I stood and looked at each face lifted toward mine.
The process had gone smoothly. Miranda had been reprimanded by the committee. The committee had been ignored by Miranda, who had spoken not a word. She had been led out by the same officers who had brought her in, or their counterparts. Now it was time to deliberate.
I opened the discussion and listened to each argument. The indiscretion on the docket, which she had not denied, was of having too many husbands. It was unseemly and this gathering of a dozen utterly seemly and rather oldish and ordinary-seeming men predictably objected.
The irony had to do with the actual nature of the group: their Magic, collectively, transcended virtually every other power on Earth.
So I said, “What , are you afraid of irregularities among us? Who among us can honestly say he has been utterly discrete all his life?”
Every hand went up. Everyone looked deeply solemn.
Then the table began to shake.
It was not a violent shake.
The committee sat as one with their hands raised, looking dourly at me. The table drew the occasional sideways glance but no other signs of noticing it were forthcoming from the dozen.
I decided we should end these proceedings quickly. The plaintiff would need to repent of her wanton ways, and perhaps a simple confession would lay the whole matter to rest.
An electric sizzle in my brain caused my hands to twitch. Drat! The signal that I was slipping away from Truth was going off full volume.
The bailiff at the door waited. I looked around the room again. What had triggered that warning? What WAS the untruth I had thought?
Surely the facts of the case were known and in fact as we had just seen were undisputed. And my judgment that we should give her a barely noticeable slap on the wrist had plenty of precedent. So where had the untruth lain?
I wondered if I had been having a stroke instead of a warning of straying from the truth. But I felt fine.
I signaled the bailiff and he turned to the door to get the plaintiff. To get Miranda. I tensed myself against a possibility of the floor buckling or the table tipping over. I kept an eye on the door.
Neither bailiff nor Miranda appeared.
My anticipation rose. Who was this mischief-maker that she would toy with the highest council in the all the Magical realms? Because I was certain she had mischief on her mind.
The committee members were chatting among themselves. No one seemed in a rush, no one seemed to notice anything unusual.
I alone sat in my chair, disengaged from those around me, sweating. Miranda! Who was this witch?
The door opened. But no one appeared through it.
The others were still talking, sometimes bickering, amongst themselves. I got up and strode to the door, then peered around the corner.
Miranda stood there. A wisp of translucence. She motioned me into the hallway. All was dark and quiet there, with no one in sight, no bailiff nor any of the bustling staff that usually filled the halls.
I went. She stopped. She was taller than I had thought. I barely had to look down at her.
She moved closer to me. I couldn’t move my feet. My arms entwined her. Her sigh felt like a fresh breeze, cool and exquisitely refreshing.
She kissed me. She smelled like roses, like jasmine, like mint, like cloves. Her hands brushed lightly against my face. The wind from her breath blew my curls into disarray. Her face was lighted like the palest of full moons. Her eyes opened like black poppies hit by sunlight. Her embrace was strong and firm.
We were just out of the candlelight. I could sense the committee members leaving the chambers. Friends in groups of two or three talked in hush tones or shared a moment of levity.
The chastisement, the hearing, the seeds of intolerance and fear had evaporated from them all.
And I could feel it all slipping from my mind. I chased a few responsibilities as they fell away from conscious thought, then willingly let them go.
They were replaced by Miranda, she who filled my chaste soul with longing and fulfillment, both.
The candle dripped its last and sputtered. Still we stood entangled body and soul.
Then we were running barefoot across cool grass toward the rising sun. And that was the end of night for me.