It was the most intense month of my life, and it didn't even really happen. Every 'morning' we would wake up and go for a run with Grigorii. I thought running in principle was simple, but Grigorii corrected everything- breathing, pacing, timing, the way I turned my feet. Eventually I was able to run the entire distance of our morning jog without stopping, so naturally, Grigorii doubled it.
After running we would dash back to the farm house and eat breakfast during our thirty minute break. By then, the others were usually up and doing their own exercises around the fields, and then Ardon and I would split up. On odd days he would head off with Yumiko and I would learn the 'art of the sword' with Katsuo. When my arms were burning enough to make me drop my sword, Katsuo would then cry "drop and give twenty!" This was his preferred method of torture anytime I failed him. It meant that I had to get on the ground and do an exercise called a 'push-up,' an exercise in which I put my hands and toes on the ground and proceeded to lower and raise my entire body. It took me more than a week to get through twenty at once, but when I did, I had to give him fifty.
After sword practice I would go eat lunch, and then Ardon would leave to learn knife and hand-to-hand fighting while I would leave with Beniamino to study by the river. He was the only trainer who did not try to force me into some sort of physical activity, and I relished the stillness. Before he told me what I was, I had insisted he explain what he was himself and was surprised when he blushed.
"Well, I'm a magus," he said, trying to dodge the question.
"That's just a singular. The people here are all called magi," I said, a little impatiently. "What kind of magi are you?"
He was usually such a chatterbox, but he took his time before he answered me. "Well," he finally began. "A magus- what I am, what the people are named for- is sort of like an enchanter, a jack-of-all-trades. Only...somewhat stronger."
"Stronger how?" I prompted him, eager to learn.
"A magus is someone who can do everything, from witchcraft to summoning, with no trouble. There are varying degrees among the magi, of course," he said hastily. "Some of those who try to do everything cannot succeed in one part, like potions or raising spirits. There are a few magi who cannot fully grasp every ability a mage can do, so they can be considered green magi, or blue, depending on their level of magic."
"What's the best colour to be? Is that your colour?" I pointed to the white armband around his lean bicep.
"Yes, that's my colour," he said, avoiding my eyes.
"So is white the best?"
"I guess you could say that, but black and red are almost as good, really, there's almost no difference!"
I sucked in a breath, impressed. "Here I am being taught by a master. I have not shown the proper respect." I stood to bow.
He grabbed my hand and pulled me back down on the rock next to his. "Stop it, now, don't go all noble on me, bambina," he said with a frown. "You are here to learn, not 'show respect.'"
My mouth twitched to the side. I couldn't decide if I was comfortable pretending he was normal or not. "Alright. What am I, then?"
He smiled, glad of the subject change. "You, mia cara, are a mage. I may have lost the bet, but I am very excited to teach someone as limitless as a mage."
"What is Ardon?" I asked.
"Ardon is going to be a decent summoner when I get through with him," Beniamino admitted. "But don't worry- summoner's might be rarer, but the spectrum of talent in them is clearly defined. You are going to be much more flexible magically."
I tried not be too disappointed Ardon had beaten me again. "Okay...well, what does my power speak through, then?"
Beniamino took my hands and closed his eyes. "Concentrate, bambina, we will see."
I closed my eyes and concentrated on the feel of his long fingers holding up my palms. I looked into my mind and found the tunnel that led to my magic. I imagined being there, in the source of my power, and was. It overwhelmed me, but when I focused, I could feel grass beneath my feet, whispering to me. Birds chirped overhead and I understood them. I didn't see a pool of magic, I saw a wild place full of plants and animals before it all opened up and I fell into an ocean full of life.
"Nature," I whispered. "Is that what I am?"
We opened our eyes and laughed. "It was a beautiful place to be, and I hope you can appreciate it," Beniamino said. "Yes, mio cara, nature is the path your magic has chosen, and a useful path it is. It will be a challenge to teach you this, when all the world is still, but we can learn together, yes? Tell me, what can you sense?"
I closed my eyes again and listened. "I hear no animals, not their sounds or thoughts- not even a heart beat- but the flame of their lives is clear to me."
"Tell me about the willow by the bridge."
I took a deep breath and tried to keep a hold on this feeling. "There is a bird at the top of the tree," I said slowly. "The tree is healthy, and there is an ant colony at it's base. They are too many to count..."
"Can you move the grass, bambina?" he asked softly. "Make it lay flat, as if the wind were blowing strong."
I opened my eyes and looked at the patch of grass nearest us. I tried to imagine it bending, bowing itself to the ground. I thought I saw a few blades twitch, but I was getting a headache and the magic was slipping.
"Perhaps that is enough for today," he said gently. He stood and offered me a hand, tugging me up. Men always pulled too hard, as if they expected me to be so heavy! I thumped into his chest and he apologized with a laugh. "Let's get you back to Grigorii so he can make you jump."
After the second run of the day with Grigorii, Ardon and I would head back to the house for dinner and a study session that lasted until we passed out at the table and were dragged or carried to our beds.
On even days, we would trade places. I would head to play bows and arrows with the silent Yumiko who's preferred punishment varied from her brother's in my instances of failure. She made me do 'crunches,' an exercise in which I would try to sit halfway up in various directions, and 'lunges' which I loathed with a passion- I would get down on one knee and then get back up only to go down on the other knee in a lap around the archery range. I did not like my trainers. After lunch, I would go to Grigorii who would toss me around like a ragdoll for a few hours. He swore I was getting better, but the only thing I felt I improved at was falling.
At least Grigorii didn't punish. When he was done throwing me around, we would wait for Ardon to finish with Beniamino and then go for another run, a run that seemed to get longer everyday, and then dinner, studies, bed.
Work, food, work, food, work, food, study, bed...
Work, food, work, food, work, food, study, bed...
For thirty days I was drilled like a soldier without relief. My only peace came from the lack of time to worry about Brannagh...and then the time came to break the spell.
We all walked back to the circle where all of this began at the end of our last day. I was worn out once again from the day's tasks, but I snapped into focus when Beniamino went to stand in the circle.
"I will be the catalyst this time," he said with a wink at me. It was strange, but I had grown very fond of my magic teacher in this false month. "Katsuo, Grigorii, Yumiko- stand behind the enchanters. When I count to three on my fingers, you must all push them forward at once, and then I need Saoirse and Ardon to break the magician's circle."
Beniamino started chanting, softly at first, but then it grew louder. He shoved a fist in the air and ticked off numbers as he spoke.
There was a boom like thunder as the enchanters stumbled forward, and Ardon and I ran to break the circle, kicking through the dust to mar it's intricacies.
"Did it work?" It was the summoner who spoke first, and we all turned to her.
"Look at them! The girl has transformed- it worked!" The witch cried. Cheers went up, and I couldn't help but be elated for them as well. They had done it, the most complicated spell they'd ever attempted was a success, and because of that, we might save Brannagh.
I was slightly distracted, though. "What did she mean, transformed?" I demanded softly to Ardon as he stood beside me.
He chuckled. "Have you looked in a mirror since we began? You were such a soft little thing. Now you might have a fightin' chance against squirrel- it's a world of difference!"
I scowled at him. He knew I could hold my own.