"My dear, if you didn't have potential, you'd be ashes on the wind, if you had no business being here...you'd never have made it past the front door. Now get some rest, you're going to need it."
Although Elsbeth did feel reassured, just a smudge, she frowned at Seth. A jumble of emotions pushed and shoved for dominance in her brain. Seth was arrogant, so certain of his abilities as a teacher that he didn’t seem to have any doubt he could train her… and yet, his pompous faith in himself didn’t do a whole lot to ease Elle’s insecurities about her own ability. The noblewoman also supposed that she should feel a little silly to expect any sort of praise at this point, but it would have been awfully nice if her new teacher had expressed a little faith in her. He didn’t seem to have any interest in getting to know her as a person. It wasn’t that Elle expected Seth to be her friend, but all of her best coaches had always known that understanding how a person’s mind worked meant you were better able to help them understand and perform the task you asked of them. There was disappointment, too: Elle got along with some of her teachers better than others. She was a touch sad that it didn’t seem she’d get along with Seth.
The Slayer had fixed her new tutor with the steel stare for another moment. It had been known to make people most uncomfortable, but the mage seemed unaffected. So Elle rose, nodded to him curtly, then strode out of the study with her lips pressed firmly into a thin line. Waiting outside the door was the same household servant who’d led her from her room to dinner, and he led her back to the same quarters.
Yunkai and Serena didn’t appear to help Elle out of her clothes. Of course, handmaids were a luxury that only a highborn woman like her would be accustomed to, and they probably had normal duties to attend. They’d at least cut the wicks down on her candles. The household staff had also brought in all her trunks and belongings. They’d taken all her clothes -to be laundered, Elle hoped- and left her with a clean nightshift and some strange new garb.
It was a pair of black trousers, obviously designed to fit loosely and made of light, soft cloth. There was also a black shirt with ornate fasteners up the front, modest and squarely cut… except that it was sleeveless. Elle arched a slender brow. That was bordering on indecent, but if it was special mage garb and there was a particular reason the top was cut like that she supposed she could endure.
Exhausted, the noblewoman set the clothes aside. There was a fresh decanter of rosewater, so she washed before unbraiding her hair and brushing it smooth. Then she traded out her blouse, skirt and boots for the simple nightshift and crawled into the spacious, canopied oak bed. Elle couldn’t quite tell what the mattress was made out of but it was exquisitely soft, the linens clean and sweetly scented. The young woman fell asleep mere moments after her head hit the pillow, too tired to be kept awake by anxious thoughts.
Elle had never heard a cannon fire before, but she might later recognize it as the sound which jerked her forcibly into wakefulness that morning. Startled and confused she sat bolt upright in bed, blinking and whipping her head around, searching for the source of the noise. When the woman’s steely gaze finally focused, she found not an attacking army but Seth, cheerfully standing over her bed.
“Rise and shine, lady Elsbeth! We have a very busy day ahead of us!” he crowed.
The woman scowled, seething with rage for a split second before she realized that Seth was standing at the side of her bed, staring down at her, and she was wearing nothing but a nightshift! A hot blush rose to her cheeks and the back of her neck as Elle snatched the blanket up to her chest.
“Are you mad?!” Elle cried, embarrassment lending heat to her indignation. “Get out of here! I’m not dressed!”
Obliging, Seth turned and left the room, closing her door behind him. She sat in her bed for a moment, vibrating with anger, before she tossed back her covers and got dressed. In return for the rude awakening, she took her sweet time washing and dressing, carefully winding her burgundy hair into a long plait.
Elle’s feeling of overexposure wasn’t helped by the sleeveless shirt, though she noticed how free and unrestricted her movements were in the getup. Seth had been waiting outside her door and gave only a mute nod of approval when she emerged. She followed him through some unfamiliar parts of the manor and out into the fields behind the dwelling. There was a big, circle-shaped path worn into the grass and Seth instructed her to run on it. When she attempted to ask him why this was included in the lesson plan… he simply shocked her.
A lightning user. And that’s what he’d hit her with, a tiny little dose of his precision lightning. Elle was indignant and angry all over again.
“I don’t know what you think you’re doing,” the woman began, moving to put her hands on her hips, “but if you just zap me every-”
Her sentence turned into a cry of pain when Seth hit her with the lightning again. It felt like all the nerves in her body went white-hot with anguish for a split second before it evaporated. Elle saw stars, and her knees buckled. Of course, Seth let her fall into the dirt. It took a few seconds for the female to catch her breath, and when she finally stood again her legs were a touch wobbly. At least now she knew what it felt like to get hit with one of those.
Seth only pointed at the track. Elle glared at him, and then strode off. When her feet hit the worn circle, she started jogging. The first time she finished the circuit she made the mistake of slowing down as if she were done. He zapped her. It wasn’t as intense as the second lash, but it still made her stumble and almost fall. Grimly, she set her pace again. Of course, the anger lent her strength… until the middle of the third lap. By the fifth lap, every muscle in her body was screaming at Elle to stop. Her heart was thundering in her chest and though she was sucking in air through her dry, open mouth, she just couldn’t get enough. As she neared Seth again she was slowing, afraid of the shock but utterly unable to continue. He raised a hand, signaling her to stop. Elle slowed to a walk, and four steps in front of the mage she fell to her knees and threw up bile into the dew-wet morning grass.
Though Elsbeth was by no means in poor physical shape, by the end of the workout she was barely able to walk. The noblewoman was drenched in sweat, her hair sticking to her face and neck, her clothes sticking to her back, stomach and chest. Her muscles felt like gelatin, trembly and weak. She was nauseous, and her head was pounding. The entire time she had been silent, making him stop her at each exercise, not letting up until it was done, never giving him cause to shock her again. She had decided he actually wanted her to hate him. He was well on his way to accomplishing his objective.
She was on her hands and knees in the dirt, trying to catch her breath after the sprints, when Seth finally said, “Very good, now you can eat breakfast.”
If Elle could have spoken right then, she would have told him that the last thing she wanted was breakfast. But she was too winded to even speak. By the time she was finally able to talk, and stand, Seth was entering the manor. Of course he wouldn’t help her walk inside.
Finally, she staggered into the dining hall. Seth was eating his food as Elle flung her battered form into the chair and started serving herself. Her arms cried out even at that small effort. The noblewoman started by sipping water and tea, mixing in the occasional bite of porridge until her stomach ceased its quailing. After that, she ate heartily. Elle grudgingly had to admit that whoever Seth had cooking for him was a culinary master. There were fluffy buttermilk biscuits and sausage patties both smothered in white gravy, oat porridge with blueberries and cream, poached eggs, baked cinnamon apples, and crispy strips of fried bacon.
The Slayer had no idea if the Mage watched her eat: she didn’t look at him even once. Though it was magic he’d used to strike her, Seth might as well have hit Elle with his fists. She’d only had one other tutor who’d hit her, one of the first they’d hired to teach her sword fighting. Every time the young girl had made a mistake, the maestro had struck her across the backs of her thighs with the flat of his blade. The first time she’d shown the welts to her mother was the last time Lady Elsbeth had seen that particular tutor. She didn’t know if she could fire Seth. Would he stop her if she tried to leave? And why had he struck her?! If he’d only explained that she needed to be in better physical condition to handle the demands placed on her body by magic, she would have gladly done whatever he asked of her. There was no need for him to strike her. Unless, again, he wanted her to despise him.
And Elle didn’t think that she could learn magic just to spite the man.
She sighed and took a sip of her tea, a grim look on her face as she stared at the wall behind the chair across from her. It hurt her fingers to clasp the china handle, and it made her arm ache to raise the cup to her lips.
Only when the last sip of tea had been taken from the cup and the last morsel consumed from her plate did she dare to cast a discreet glance over at Seth… but he was gone. He’d left quietly, and she’d been so consumed by her furious thoughts that she hadn’t even noticed he was gone. Elle chuckled a little. She was very good at being cold when she put her mind to it. Didn’t have to pretend not to notice his departure.
When Elle arrived back at her quarters, Serena and Yunkai were just finishing filling a large copper tub with hot water. The young woman wanted to weep at the chance to soak her aching frame in the bath. She remained stoic, however, and politely asked the women to leave rather than help her. Just as she had taken her time with the meal, Elle intended to take her time with the bath. The only thing that kept her from lingering overlong was the fear that Seth might burst into the room and drag her from the tub. After all, he hadn’t hesitated to startle her from her bed that morning.
She blushed again over the thought that he’d seen her in her bedclothes. How humiliating!
So she didn’t bathe quickly, but she didn’t exactly linger. Elle took her time checking her skin to see if the shocks had left any marks on her. They hadn’t. So, there was that at least. It didn’t make Elle feel any better. She toweled off by herself, and was brushing out her hair when Serena knocked and came in without being bid to do so.
“May I help you with your hair?” the woman asked gently.
Elle somehow knew that Seth had sent Serena in to hurry her along. She narrowed her eyes at the mirror, looking at Serena’s reflection over her own shoulder. Then she mutely held up the comb, and waited.
Serena went to work on her hair, braiding it into a lovely and efficient coil around Elsbeth’s head. As she neared the end of the plait, the serving woman finally broke the silence that hung between the two women.
“You’ve been awfully quiet,” she said carefully. “Everything all right?”
“No.” Elsbeth said flatly, and left the single syllable hanging orphaned in the renewed silence between them.
Serena paused. “What happened?”
“You’d better hurry,” the younger woman replied, this time a little more tersely. “Your master is waiting for me.”
You could have warned me that he was a lunatic, the noblewoman thought as her eyes met Serena’s in the mirror. But you held your tongue. So I’ll hold mine.
The elder woman finished braiding Elsbeth’s hair quickly and expertly. She curtsied, mumbled a ‘m’lady’, and hustled out of the room.
Hair braided, Elle dressed herself in an identical black ensamble. She had to take a deep breath before opening the door, afraid she’d find Seth tapping his foot on the other side. There was no one there at all… which was both a relief and a source of confusion. What now?
Briefly, Elle considered fleeing the manor altogether. She had a Slayer Steed in the stables, and she could probably be halfway back to town before Seth missed her. If she could get to the village, she could send word to her father. It would be a few weeks until he arrived with a large portion of his army to rescue her, but Elsbeth could endure until then. Then she considered the number of men someone like Seth could probably kill before being defeated… and despaired.
She didn’t know what expression she wore when she opened the door to Seth’s study, but unsurprisingly he didn’t seem to notice or care about her depressed mood. Perhaps he hadn’t known her long enough to realize that the stony silence betrayed an emotion far more intense, boiling beneath the surface. With only a gesture of the hand he bade Elle follow him, and they were heading back outside. The noblewoman nearly panicked. If he was going to put her though another physical training session, he’d wind up shocking her to death before she completed it.
To Elle’s relief, Seth led her outside through a different door. They went into a grove of trees, more specifically the giant stump at the center of the clearing. A soft breeze rustled through the leaves and grass, making them sigh at its passing, and the warm sun on Elle’s face felt just a little like her mother’s comforting hand. Seth walked over to the stump and gestured for her to sit on it. Grudgingly, Elle obeyed. When the mage sat crosslegged in front of her, she backed up until her rump was hovering on the edge of the flat surface. She was as far away from Seth as she could get while remaining on the natural pedestal.
“The key to using magic, is control, discipline and focus...the reason you have not been able to access your magic again is because of two things.” Seth said. “One, magic can only be utilized through great mental strength and focus, or two...through great times of stress, I'd say a dragon attack definitely counts, for in that situation you instinctively guide magic to protect you, and magic does react to emotions, so that is why that works. However, emotions can greatly enhance the power of your magic, but it can also cause the magic to control you, and it may not do what you want it to or have unpredictable effects, this is extremely dangerous, a mage must be in control at all times as magic is by its very nature, volatile and dangerous, it can and will destroy you if you cannot control it. For example, I once saw a student accidentally vaporize half of a wall in his room because he was very angry at his neighbor, if he had let his emotions spiral further out of control...he may have been arrested for manslaughter my dear."
Elle listened quietly to Seth’s little speech, resentful and finding it difficult to concentrate on what he was saying instead of how angry she was with him.
"That is why, after your morning calisthenics, you will be meditating here, honing your abilities of focus, when you have practiced enough you will be able to feel the magic in the air and inside yourself, when you can do so, you will inform me, do not attempt to try and manipulate the magic, if you survive...you will incur my wrath if you do so, if you thought I was being strict before..."
That right there was all the sarcastic, angry replies she could bite back on. One slipped out.
“Strict?” Elle hissed, spitting the syllable at him like a venomous cobra. “That’s not the word I would use. I’d say more like brutal and abusive.”
And once the one escaped, all the other furious little thoughts came spilling from Elle’s lips.
“If magic is unpredictable and fueled by emotions, it would be most unwise for you to start teaching me anything at this point. I’m like to kill us both and destroy your house in the process. If you want me me to be calm, focused, and receptive, you should probably start by not beating me up all morning. And if you are going to continue to strike me, at least use your own hands so I can just hate you and not magic itself.”
Again, the noblewoman was trembling with rage. Visibly.
“You’re also a fool if you think I haven’t tried meditation to awaken my magic. It doesn’t work, but I’ll be happy to try again. And if that’s all you’d like me to do with this time, I’m perfectly capable of meditating by myself until lunch.” She paused, glaring at him again. “So unless you’d like to slap me for my insolence, you may leave me. Now.”
With that, Elsbeth turned around on the stump so that she was no longer facing him. She straightened her back, rested her hands lightly on her knees, and closed her eyes. Though it might have looked like she was starting the process of calming and centering herself, she was waiting for a jolt of lightning to hit her from behind.
Maybe that was what it would take to release the beast inside Elle. Stress and danger, right? It would be absolutely fitting if Seth did provoke her into an unstoppable fury. She might not kill him, but the Slayer hoped she’d at least hurt him enough to teach him a damned lesson.