Short Story: Meren's Tranquility

Dusk was Meren's favorite time of the day. Everything seemed to slow down, as though the world moved through syrup or at the speed of a snail on a garden wall. It was tranquil and calm, so unlike the daylight hours.

(This story is about the characters from Hidden Magic and would take place a few years after that story. The prompt used for this was "tranquil.")

Hidden Magic Short Story
- "Meren's Tranquility"


Dusk was Meren's favorite time of the day. Everything seemed to slow down, as though the world moved through syrup or at the speed of a snail on a garden wall. It was tranquil and calm, so unlike the daylight hours. Maybe it seemed so because it was the only time of day she had to catch her breath. Mornings and afternoons were a blur, filled with humans– people– who needed her help. Sometimes she regretted a little that in training her magic into protective, she lost the wild kind she'd once channeled. The elements and forest had never asked anything of her. Of course, they'd returned that favor by causing unexpected results, so it was probably for the best that her magic was now reliable and unlikely to cause, say, a fire to burst into existence or a forest to spring up under her feet. She'd had those things happen more than enough times by mistake.

Besides, it did feel good to help people. There were the protection charms to keep pests out of someone's garden. Many she made each day to protect homes from fire and theft. Not that those were needed in this sleepy town, but word had spread of the work done by her and her partner and now people came from as far away as the capital. This pleased her only because it gave them the money to focus on her favorite types of charms. Ones protecting from illness, injury, and pregnancy were her favorites to make because they were so very close to the kind of healing magic her mother had possessed and that which Meren had always wanted. She knew she didn't charge nearly enough for these, but her master had retired somewhere near the sea and no one else was likely to complain. Certainly not the people who needed them. Her partner simply looked the other way and pretended not to see her giving these away for a song.

As though he had any room to talk. She'd seen him handing over his illusion charms in exactly the same manner far more than once and she, too, always pretended not to see. Some might consider appearance-changing magic frivolous and something on which to charge more, but Meren knew why he focused on these the way she did the healing charms. She was the only one who ever saw him without the disguise his magic granted to him.

While Meren pondered if he would ever allow others to see him as he truly was, she tidied up the counter before flipping the sign on the door over to "closed." A quick glance outside revealed about an hour left of daylight and she planned to take full advantage of this. She grabbed her bow and quiver from where they were stored within easy reach under the counter and locked the door on her way out.

Springwell had no need for a dedicated group of guards, not with her and her master's charms protecting the place from end-to-end, even as far as the most distant farms, but she had learned long ago that it was better to be prepared than to take unnecessary risk. Living among humans didn't magically take away her training as an elven scout, even if her magic had taken her away from her beloved forest. Her volunteers may have only numbered five, but she made sure they knew how to handle weapons and trained regularly. This included herself. The small clearing just past the last house was too rocky for farming and hadn't yet been built upon, so she'd claimed it as a practice ground and archery range.

Meren had just reached what her partner jokingly referred to as her home away from home– if a town of stone and dead trees could ever be truly home– when a bang shook the ground under her feet and rang through her ears. Her skin tingled, the tell-tale sign that this wasn't an approaching storm, but one of her wards being set off. She strung her bow with a speed only decades of practice could grant and dashed back into town. If she remembered right, that ward should be on the opposite side, where the main street joined the trade road which eventually led to the capital. She expected to find bandits or monsters trying to break through her boundaries. Instead she found the town's residents milling around, blocking her view. She stood on her toes to little avail until she finally got someone's attention.

The blacksmith had a dazed look on his ever-flushed face. "It's trees, Master Meren."

Either the noise of everyone talking at once was too overpowering for her sensitive ears and she'd heard wrong or the blacksmith needed his head checked the next time a healer passed through town. "It's... excuse me?"

"Trees, Master. They've come in at the eastern road, or so I've heard."

Yes, he needed his head examined. Meren ducked her way through the taller crowd and worked her way towards her ward that was still sending crackles of energy across her skin as a warning. Trees couldn't possibly have entered town. Trees couldn't walk and they certainly couldn't attack, which should be the only reason the ward would be set off. After the market closed for the day, they were set to only allow the residents in and out. An alarm this insistent either meant someone with ill intent was trying to enter or something had decieved the magic into thinking an enemy was attempting to enter.

Meren froze when she reached the edge of the crowd and looked up. And up. And up. Okay, she would have to amend that thought. Someone with ill intent, malfunctioning magic, or a sudden forest blocking the trade road would do it. This was more woodland than she'd seen in months, always being too busy to take a break and visit her kin in their forest-home, and she fought hard the urge to scale the nearest one like she had when she was younger. Once she had spent days aloft in branches, only coming down for brief moments. She'd even slept in trees. She'd swear this was an hallucination of her own desires if not for the fact that, judging by the conversations happening at her back, everyone else saw it, too. As much as she wanted to enjoy it, as the resident wizard she needed to figure out what had happened. It wouldn't do the town any good if their access to trade was cut off.

The sound of a throat clearing sounded above her head and she raised her head again to find a familiar face smiling sheepishly down at her through the branches. Ah. There was the other resident wizard. She might have known he had something to do with this. Although trees were certainly not his type of specialty.. she tapped the nearest one just to be sure. Her hand met bark, not open air, so these weren't illusionary.

Meren slung the bow over her shoulder so that she could put her hands on her hips. She called up to her partner, "Well? What mess have you gotten yourself into this time?"

"No mess at all, I assure you. This was perfectly planned."

"You meant to put a small wood in the middle of the road?"

"No, no. Not as such. Look, can you help me down and I'll explain?"

Spirits, he better have a good explanation. Behind her, people were starting to chuckle and that was not what she needed. It had been hard enough to get the humans here to respect her when she'd first arrived and everyone mistook her for a child. She was decades older than everyone, except maybe the tailor's granny. With a sigh she went about finding someone who had a rope and tossed it up to the fool she'd oh-so-wisely decided to call her own. Maybe she was the fool.

Phillip slid down the rope in a way that must have burned his hands but looked good to the crowd, a typical Phillip move, and beamed at her when his feet touched cracked stone. Before she could say anything, he held his hands up to forestall her chiding. "I know what you're going to say and no, I'm not sure how to move these. But... well... surprise?"

Meren didn't bat an eye. "Yes, a forest in the road is certainly a surprise. Could you perhaps tell me why there is a forest in the road?"

Phillip rubbed at the back of his neck. To anyone watching, this looked as though his hand vanished behind a curtain of black hair. Meren knew otherwise. He had never been able to grow his hair back, not since the Incident years ago. "It was meant as a gift. You have been so overworked and under-rested that I thought I'd bring some of your home to you since you couldn't go to your home."

That was marginally sweet. Mostly, however, it was dumb. Sweet with questionable decisions, that was definitely her Phillip. "So you put it in the road."

"Not exactly. It put itself in the road. It was intended to go behind our shop where you've struggled to get trees to grow. I believe I passed too close to your ward and the magic in the seedlings interacted with that and my own to... well, you see."

Meren tapped her fingers on her bow. She did see. And knowing Phillip's luck, that was exactly what had happened. He didn't exactly have the best record for his magic playing well with other kinds. It had taken them close to a decade to be able to work in the same room at the same time without their magics making one of their spells go wrong. They still had to be careful with it, but such was how they met and Meren would find it strange any other way.

Phillip stood with haughty confidence, but she knew the signs that he was nervous. She caught his fingers as they played with the cuff of his sleeve and twined them with hers. "Tomorrow we'll send word for an elemental master to come fix this problem."

Phillip waggled his eyebrows at her. "And tonight?"

Meren thought she'd remembered spotting something in particular when she exited the crowd. A quick glance to the right proved her memory right. "One second."

She stepped away from her confused partner to snatch the shovel leaning against someone's shed a few yards away. When she held it out to Phillip, he took it. Perfect. "What is-"

"Tonight you start to clear us a new road."

CONVERSATION

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