Chapter Eighteen: Briars (3)Mature

Henry shrugged.  “He was gone as soon as you threw Raif off of him.  I don’t know where he went.”

            “You didn’t try to trace him?”

            He shook his head, still clutching Seymour’s pocket watch in his left fist and leaning into the warm, furry body of his canine rescuer.  His thoughts felt milky and indistinct.  “I didn’t think to do so.”

            “You didn’t think to do so?  You imbecile!” His mentor’s voice was growing exasperated again.  “Has nothing I’ve ever taught you gotten through your thick skull?”

            Henry closed his eyes, which had begun to sting with the threat of tears.  Stress clawed at his nerves and anger filled his lungs.  “I already know that you think I’m stupid, Alasdair,” he choked.  “There’s no need to remind me.”

            “Get up.”

            The younger man clung to the dog and did not move.  The Alt-Mage grabbed him roughly by the shoulders and yanked him away.

            “Get up, you wretched excuse for a mage!” he growled, and then added in a more conciliatory tone, “I won’t hurt the animal, in case you’re worried.”

            Reluctantly, Henry stood, his eyes fixed on his feet.  His efforts to hide his shame had failed; tears streamed treacherously down his face to drip down upon the tops of his boots.  He understood that Alasdair felt the need to lecture him, but to humiliate him in front of an audience—that was just cruel.

            “Look at me, Henry,” the Alt-Mage ordered, and when Henry refused, he took him by the chin and forced him to make eye contact.  “You have the potential to go great lengths, lad.  In terms of raw power, you are the most promising young mage I have ever met—you outmatch me by far.”

            Henry blinked.  “Really?”

            “Really.  But it isn’t enough.  You lack something important:  you must have confidence in your own abilities.  You could have fended off that man without the help of the dog.  You could have pursued him, captured or killed him.  Magic is a rare gift, Henry, one that you often seem to forget you have.”

            “I don’t forget,” Henry spat, jerking away and returning his gaze to his shoes.

            “Then why don’t you use it?”

            Because he was afraid of it—that was the true answer.  He was afraid that he would lose control of it and do something awful.  It seemed inevitable.  After all, he had murdered his own parents without the aid of magic—what might he be capable of doing if he were to direct his powers upon other people?  He was certain he would do a great deal more damage than he intended.

            But he couldn’t exactly use that argument, could he?  Not without revealing himself to be a murderer, at least.

            “Why don’t you use it?” Alasdair repeated, forcing him to meet his eyes again.

            Henry shook his head.  “I don’t know,” he whimpered.  “I don’t know!”

            Alt-Mage MacQuarrie opened his mouth, clearly intending to further berate him, but Mialina appeared beside him before he could begin.  “Alasd’thair, leave dze boy alone.”

            Alasdair started to protest, but thought better of it, and with a sigh, relented.  “Very well.  Henry, go lie down.  You need the rest.  And you should have a guard escort you—there’s an assassin loose in this castle, after all, much as it pains me to know.  Go, and beware.”

The End

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