When a simple hedge wizard discovers his daughter Bella is in possession of extraordinarily powerful magical abilities, he faces a dilemma. Bella is as willful as she is beautiful, and her quick temper and tendency to use magic against those who have wronged her could put both of them at risk.
The widower is loathe to part with his daughter, but he reluctantly does what he knows is the best thing by placing her in the care of Master Jay, an accomplished wizard with important connections in both the magical and mundane communities.
Master Jay agrees to take Bella in as an apprentice, but under the condition that she be subject to his discipline, for Master Jay realizes that in order for Bella to focus her powers, she must first be made obedient. And for this accomplished wizard, the best magic he can work on his obstinate new student is a firm spanking hand.
As their relationship – and Bella’s magical abilities – progress, the young woman learns more about herself, and in the process comes closer to solving the family mystery of who she really is.
There was magic in the air.
Bella could feel it humming around her as she followed her father out of the Midsummer Forest on the path back to Shady Tree. It was rare for anyone to go so deep into the forest, certainly so close to the wild magic running though the trees; she breathed in the air and felt alive, despite her tiredness. Her father had taught her how to find a dozen different plants for potions and, even though she found potions boring, she had to admit that she had enjoyed the walk. It had been too long since she had spent time alone with her father.
But I could be with Adam, she thought to herself. Her boyfriend knew plenty of ways to make her feel great ? and her body missed him dreadfully. She pushed the thought aside a moment later. It was good to go on a walk with her father. He was normally too busy to spend time with her.
She smiled to herself as her father stopped and peered at one of the trees, looking for a suitable place to make a cut and draw out some sap. He was a short stocky man, so different from his daughter that Bella knew that some of the village wives whispered that her mother had cheated on him. Bella, who remembered her mother from when she was a child, knew better. Mother and daughter had both been tall and blonde, with brilliant blue eyes. And they both her powerful magic.
?Not ripe,? her father pronounced, reluctantly. ?We will come back in a week.?
Bella nodded and listened to his lecture as they resumed their walk. Potions were her father?s particular skill ? and the key to his acceptance by the villagers. Few could remain scared of magic when her father brewed them painkilling potions, as well as hundreds of others that enhanced their lives in a thousand different ways. She looked down at her own legs and smiled. Her magical talent seemed to lie in a different place. It was easy to wear a short skirt ? scandalously short, according to the village wives, for a eighteen-year-old girl ? if one could protect oneself from the rigours of the walk.
They were nearing Shady Tree when she heard a moan. Something went prickling down her spine; there was something about the sound that seemed oddly familiar. Bella hesitated ? her father didn’t seem to have heard the sound ? then turned to look in its direction. The source was hidden behind trees and bushes, clearly trying to hide. Bella turned and started to walk towards it, summoning protective magic just in case it was dangerous. And yet there was still something hauntingly familiar about the sound.
She stepped into a clearing and stopped, dead. Adam was standing there … and Clara, one of the other girls in the village, was kneeling in front of him, sucking his penis. For an awful moment, Bella could barely comprehend what she was seeing. Adam, the boy who had become her lover, was cheating on her. How could he? Adam turned to look at her, his eyes going wide with shock and horror. And yet Clara was still sucking him …
?This isn’t what you think,? Adam protested. ?I …?
Sheer rage boiled up in Bella?s mind as Clara let go of his penis and looked up, her eyes widening with fear. Magic boiled through her mind, demanding release. How could he betray her like that? How could Clara try to steal her boyfriend? How could …?
?You … you pig,? she snapped, magic flaring out of her mind. Adam let out a cry of shock and pain as his body morphed into a pig. His clothes tore as the panicking pig strove to escape. Bella had transformed herself before ? or been transformed by her father ? but for a mundane … the shock of discovering that he was no longer human would stun him. ?You utter bastard.?
She rounded on Clara, who cringed back. Once, the villagers had been scared of the wizard and his daughter. She?d give them a reason to be scared, she vowed, as she shaped a very special spell in her mind. Normally, she would never have even considered using it, but this time … this time was going to be different. The spell flared to life …
?Please,? Clara pleaded, no doubt afraid that she was going to spend the rest of her life on a lily pad. ?I didn’t mean to …?
?Bitch,? Bella hissed. She cast the spell. ?I …?
?Bella,? her father said, from behind her. ?Stop!?
Bella ignored him. Normally, she was as obedient as every other girl in the village ? it wasn?t as if her father was one of the less capable fathers, or willing to beat her whenever he was drunk or merely angry ? but this was different. Clara deserved punishment; worse, she deserved public humiliation. She would learn why it was not a good idea to steal a witch?s boyfriend. Magic flared around the girl?s pleading form …
?I?m sorry,? her father said.
There was a sudden flash of magic, too powerful for Bella to fight. Clara?s limbs suddenly felt very heavy, followed by a strange sensation that made her feel as if her body was changing and shrinking at the same time. And then she crashed down into darkness.
Jay scowled as he felt the twitch in the wards surrounding his home shocking him into wakefulness. It had been a long night ? a witch had hexed five men into serving as her slaves long enough to rob a handful of shops ? and he?d wanted nothing more than to go home and climb into bed. Naturally, he had been disturbed ? he checked the clock ? a mere four hours after he had gone to sleep.
He rolled out of bed and reached for his wand as the twitching intensified, then relaxed slightly as he realised that it wasn’t actually an attack. Someone was standing on the porch, trying desperately to attract his attention. He slipped his wand back into his belt, then walked down the stairs towards the door, checking the wards as he went. Careful magicians, he?d learned, lasted longer than magicians who neglected basic safety precautions. Just because something looked harmless didn’t mean that it was actually safe to touch.
The door opened, revealing a middle-aged man wearing a Hedge Wizard?s grimy robes. Jay blinked in surprise ? Hedge Wizards rarely visited the city ? and then recognised the tired-looking man. It had been years since he?d seen Furan and the years had not been kind to him, not since his wife had died. He?d gone back to a village and abandoned most of the community in favour of raising his daughter.
?Furan,? he said, standing aside to allow the older man entrance into his home. ?Are you alright??
?I?m sorry about the time,? Furan said. He was shaking with magical depletion. ?I had to come as quickly as possible. I need your help.?
Jay scowled. Most people who came to him needed his help … but it was impossible to resent Furan. Jay would not have mastered potions without his help, or developed the much-needed skill of empathy to tamper down his power. It was easier to work with mundanes ? or even lesser magicians ? if they didn’t feel that one was lording himself over them.
?I?ll do my best,? he promised. He took another look at the older man, then waved his hand in the air and summoned brandy. ?What happened??
Furan sat down on the chair and scowled. ?Bella,? he said. ?She needs a proper tutor.?
?A proper tutor,? Jay repeated. ?Why??
Furan shook his head, slowly. ?Bella … takes after her mother in many ways,? he admitted, finally. ?She has great power, greater than mine … but she also has very poor control. I hoped that by teaching her potions and other forms of natural magic she would gain the control she needed. But … I didn’t have all the time I needed to devote myself to her studies.?
Jay listened silently as his old tutor continued. ?I knew that she had a relationship with one of the village louts,? he said. ?It wasn’t a problem, as long as she was careful ? and I taught her how to be careful. But he cheated on her with another girl … and she walked right in on them.?
?Ouch,? Jay said. ?You?d think he?d know better than to cheat on a witch.?
?He?s a pig now,? Furan said. He hesitated, then allowed his scowl to deepen. ?I was unable to change him back ? or release the other girl from her enchantment. Bella?s magic was driven by emotion. You know what that means.?
Jay nodded. Spells shaped in the heat of emotion often tended to be far harder to remove than spells cast though cold calculation. It was dangerous to throw such spells at a trained magician ? the spells were rarely structured perfectly ? but a pair of mundanes would be absolutely defenceless. And once the spells had gone to work, they would be extremely difficult to counter. Bella was perhaps the only person who could … and she would have to genuinely want to remove the spells.
?I do,? he said. ?What happened to the girl??
?A variant on the Spell of Unthinking Obedience,? Furan said. ?Right now, she obeys orders without hesitation ? any orders.?
Jay shuddered. The Spell of Unthinking Obedience was considered borderline dark magic, particularly when cast on an unwilling victim. It made the victim follow whatever orders he or she was given, no matter what the orders were ? or who gave them. He?d known dark wizards to cast the spell for their own amusement, or provide tailored versions of the spell for husbands who wanted their wives to be obedient or vice versa. Removing a standard spell was fairly easy, removing one cast in the heat of emotion was much harder. The poor girl?s life was ruined.
Being a pig won?t be too bad, he thought, sourly. But being everyone?s slave?
?Bella is just too powerful for me,? Furan admitted. His bitter tone showed how much that admission had cost him. ?If her mother had lived …?
?You should have sent her to the Academy,? Jay said, bluntly. ?I understand why you didn’t, but you should have.?
?Being involved in the world got her mother killed,? Furan said. ?Do you think I wanted to send my daughter into such danger??
?But she needs to learn to control herself,? Jay pointed out. ?Right now, she doesn’t seem to have mastered the basic lessons …?
?No,? Furan said. ?And I can no longer teach her.?
Jay scowled. A tutoring wizard needed to be more powerful than his student, if only to ensure that the natural student tendency towards defiance was firmly curbed. In Furan?s case, it was far too clear that if push came to shove, Bella would win. And she was his daughter. He?d hold back until it was far too late. The lessons she needed to learn would come hard, if at all. And she was already pushing the upper age limit for formal training in magic.
?I was hoping that you would take her on, at least for a few months,? Furan added. ?You do qualify to be a tutor.?
Jay hesitated, thinking fast. The last thing he wanted was a student, not when there was too much else to do. On the other hand, having a student would provide an excellent excuse for avoiding functions at Court … and besides, he owed Furan. The older man had saved him from himself.
?She would definitely be around other wizards,? he agreed. Growing up among mundanes wouldn’t have done her any favours. Maybe she would have learned the empathy that had eluded Jay for so long, but she would also have been the most powerful of them all. How many of her playmates had suffered under her magic? ?What sort of arrangement do you want??
“The same as I had with you,? Furan said. ?I?d be ceding parental authority to you, with the sole exception that you cannot arrange her marriage ? if you dared try.?
Jay smirked. Mundane families might arrange marriages for their children, but it could be hazardous to arrange them for magical children. But it would provide a legal excuse for not opening discussions, if one of the magical families wanted to try to invite Bella to join them.
?I understand,? he said, flatly. ?How does she get on with others??
Furan considered. ?She was a reasonably obedient daughter,? he said, finally. ?And she did have friends in the village. I know she showed off some magic for her friends, but she never used it to hurt them. She did use it to save a friend?s life once, mainly by accident. That was when I knew just how much power she had inherited from her mother.?
Jay sighed in relief. Magic could turn a young child ? male or female ? into a terrifyingly powerful brat … or a bully. It hadn?t been that long since a missing persons case had been resolved by discovering that all of the young girls who?d gone missing had been babysitting the same girl, who?d turned them all into dolls and hid them under her bed. Quite how her parents had failed to notice that the babysitters weren?t home when they returned was beyond Jay?s ability to grasp. But Bella seemed to have escaped that, thankfully.
?She saved a life,? he repeated. ?How did she do that??
?Her friend ? Perrin ? was gored by an bull,? Furan said. ?They decided that it would be a fun idea to walk through the field where the bull was kept, despite the straw on his horns. The bull came after them and gored Perrin, almost killing her. Bella somehow managed to freeze the girl in a stasis spell until I could get there and save her life.?
Jay lifted an eyebrow. ?How old was she at the time??
?Seven,? Furan said. ?And no, I didn’t teach her the spell.?
?Impressive,? Jay said, softly. Furan had been wrong not to send his daughter to the Academy, no matter his fears. He was lucky that his daughter hadn’t turned into a menace … or the next Dark Lady. And now, after she?d been so badly betrayed, what would she become? ?Very well. I will take her as my apprentice.?
Furan relaxed, enough for Jay to see just how worried he?d been.
?I?d like to see the girl now, if you please,? Jay said. ?How did you bring her here??
Furan reached into his bag. A moment later, he pulled out an elegant stone statue, barely larger than his hand. Jay felt the magic crackling around it and blinked in surprise as he realised that Furan had transfigured his own daughter. The spell was an odd one; if it had taken hold properly, Bella should be held in stasis, her thoughts and emotions frozen until the spell was released. But if it hadn’t worked properly, Bella would be aware … merely unable to move or cast spells. Most transfiguration spells prevented madness, but there were often unpleasant side effects.
?I didn’t have any other choice,? Furan admitted. He looked oddly reluctant to continue. ?Will you explain that to her??
Jay bowed his head. The only way to beat a more powerful magician than oneself was to strike as hard and fast as possible … something that became a disaster when the rogue magician was one?s daughter. Furan, in order to save the villagers, had risked destroying his relationship with his daughter completely. She wouldn’t appreciate his decision.
I wouldn’t have, if it had happened to me, he thought, sourly. He felt a twinge of affection, even admiration, for the old man. I might not have been able to make that decision.
?I will,? he promised. He took the statue and looked down at it. At eighteen, Bella already seemed to be on the edge of maturity … and her face showed promise of true character. She might not be classically beautiful, but magicians looked for character rather than anything else. Beauty was so easy to produce using glamours. ?And I won?t let you down.?
Furan stood up. ?I have to go back home,? he said. ?Please take care of her.?
Jay felt a twinge of pity. Furan had spent years in his village, building up a relationship with his neighbours … a relationship that his daughter had just shattered. One slap was remembered longer than a thousand caresses, after all; the villagers would look at the pig-boy and the enslaved girl and wonder, despite themselves, who would be next. Would they try to insist that Furan left the village? The older man would find that heartbreaking?
?I will,? he promised. ?And good luck.?
He put the statue on the table and walked back to the door with Furan. They shook hands, then Furan stepped out of the house. Jay sighed as he looked past his old tutor and saw the sun starting to rise in the distance. It was clear that he wasn’t going to get any more sleep in the near future. He just hoped that the King wouldn’t call on him before he had made preparations for Bella?s tuition.
Calling for the maid, he issued orders to have a guest room prepared for Bella and then walked back into his study. The statue was still on the table; he picked it up and studied it carefully, examining the magic that had created it. Bella wasn’t quite out of it, he realised grimly. She would have some awareness of her surroundings and time passing. It was clear that she was not going to be happy when the spell finally wore off.
Shaking his head, he put the statue on the ground and cast the counter-spell. A moment later, it morphed back into the form of a young, blonde ? and very angry – young woman.