“You think I’m an idiot?” demanded Senta.
“I didn’t say anything of the kind,” replied Zurfina calmly.
“I know a fylfot when I see one!”
“Don’t be so defensive, Pet. I didn’t say I didn’t believe you. I merely pointed out that I have been all over this town in the past few weeks and I haven’t seen hide nor hair of this wizard of yours.”
“Well I saw him. I’ve been keeping tabs on him since he got here and I even talked to him.”
“I don’t doubt you,” said Zurfina, in a remarkably soothing voice, “but the level of residual magic around town is no more than I would expect from you and your everyday antics.”
“Are you sure you didn’t miss some?”
“Now who’s being insulting?” The sorceress’s voice suddenly flared louder. “If I didn’t detect it, it wasn’t there.”
“Hmph!” said Senta, and crossing her arms, turned to face the door.
Zurfina sighed. “Children are so difficult. Is it any wonder that I never wanted one of my own?”
“Maybe you should just get rid of me like everybody else does,” said Senta quietly.
Zurfina crossed from the kitchen to the other side of the stairs and put an arm around Senta’s shoulders.
“You’re far too interesting for me to get rid of now. Look, this wizard of yours is obviously far too insignificant for me to concern myself with. You’ll have to take care of him.”
“Me? I’m just a little kid.”
“You know something?” said Zurfina, taking her arm from around Senta and grasping her by the shoulders. “Nobody believes that—least of all me. There’s not a journeyman wizard this side of Xygia who can do what you can do with magic.”
“Would I lie to you?”
“Of course you would.”
“Well…” Zurfina shrugged. “Keep an eye on your wizard, and if he turns out to be a threat to us, neutralize him.”
“What if you’re wrong and he magics the crap out of me?” wondered Senta.
“Then I’ll know better with my next apprentice,” replied Zurfina. “Do you want a sandwich?”
Zurfina waved her finger in the air and, as the contents of the froredor began to fly out to the table and assemble themselves into sandwiches, she started up the stairs.
“Bring my meal up to the top floor. Leave it on the step outside the door. Don’t come in.”
“I haven’t forgotten,” said Senta, watching mayonnaise being spread across a freshly cut piece of bread.
When the sandwiches had been completed, Senta delivered Zurfina’s to the appropriate location. Then she put away the ingredients by hand and sat down at the table to enjoy hers. She was only on her second bite when there was a knock at the door. As she opened it, the cold air from outside blew across her bare shins and feet. It had stopped snowing a couple of days before, but it was still cold out and the world was still covered with a thick blanket of white. Standing outside and shivering was Hertzel Hertling.
“Hertzel!” squealed Senta, giving him a great hug. “Where is your sister? Didn’t she come with you?”
Hertzel remained as quiet as he always did, but shook his head. Two years before, when he and his two sisters had escaped their former homeland of Freedonia, soldiers had killed both their parents. Hertzel, who up until that time has seemed a perfectly normal boy, had lost his voice. And there seemed to be no reason to expect its return any time soon.
“Come in and get warm.” Senta pulled the boy into the house and closed the door after him. “Are you hungry?”
Taking this as an affirmative, Senta cut her sandwich in half and gave him the portion with no bite taken out of it.
“I’ll put on some tea.”
Hertzel took a bite of the sandwich and smiled with his blue lips closed.
Senta put the pot on the cast iron stove.
“Nothing’s wrong, is it?” she asked.
Hertzel shook his head.
“It’s only that I don’t see you very often by yourself.”
She crossed back to the stove and sat down.
“What’s Hero doing?”
“Do you know where Graham is?”
He shook his head.
“So… kind of hard to have a conversation with you.”
Hertzel looked down at the table, took a bite of his sandwich and nodded sadly.
“That’s okay. Really. I don’t mind.”
The kettle on the stove started to whistle, and Senta went and got it. She transferred the water to a teapot, put loose leaves of tea into an infuser and dropped the infuser into the teapot as well. Then she brought the pot and two cups to the table.
“You know, I bet I can be as quiet as you.”
Hertzel shook his head.