An unusual job can lead to the unexpected — as Stephanie Feldman’s fantasy tale warns and reveals. ~ Fran Wilde, Sept 18, 2022.
The Sorcerer’s Test
By Stephanie Feldman
Tabitha was nursing a sour beer at the Bald Goat when Rosie opened the door. No one else in the tavern took notice of her return; Tabitha was the only one who knew about the job. Rosie hurried over, pulled her chair in close to the stick corner table. Her face was flushed, her eyes bright, as if on the edge of fever.
Tabitha felt something unusual—a flutter of curiosity. Still, she could only articulate the banal worst. “What did he do to run you off?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Rosie whispered. “Didn’t touch me. Barely talked to me.” She shifted her cloak to show the bulging purse tied against her right hip. Shifted the other side, revealed a second fat purse. “But it’ll take me ages to spend this. Figured I should get started sooner rather than later.” She paused. “And it did get lonely up there.”
There: the Sorcerer’s house.
The Sorcerer had lived in the woods beyond Creek’s End as long as anyone could remember. He rarely showed himself. For years, the only evidence of his presence was the colorful smoke slipping from the chimney and the occasional parade of shadowy figures in the forest, always drifting toward the house, never away.
Then Rosie met him among the trees, while on her way to spend a summer evening by the water. People liked to gather a half mile before the current slowed to mud and the sparsely populated town began; they liked to forget, temporarily, that they lived where the stream turned stagnant. Creek’s End.
The Sorcerer needed a maid and he offered Rosie the job. Now that she’d quit, he needed another.
“Go now,” Rosie said. “Before he finds someone else.”
Tabitha nodded. She had nothing else: no money, no work, no reason to stay, and nowhere else to go. She took what came to her. What would a girl like her dream about, anyway?
Rosie grabbed her wrist. “One last thing: Can you read?”
“You know I can read—”
“No,” Rosie said. “The answer is no. Remember that.”
Up from her seat. Out the door. Along the path. Across the creek—where even now people were splashing and singing in the last twilight—and through the woods. All the way to the house, a narrow bouquet of ebony columns shrouded in pearly light, though the moon was hidden behind clouds.
Tabitha approached the door and it swung inward.
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