“You’re a woman,” the Mayor said. “You can’t be a wizard.”
Ilene sighed. She’d heard that before, at the last six villages she’d visited. The people of Yden were really behind the times. Nevertheless, she had to be polite. “I most certainly am a wizard,” she replied, with a winning smile. “My name is Ilene McMillan of the Eagle Clan and I was trained by Quixoran.”
“The Dragon Clan wizard himself, huh? Well, it doesn’t matter. We’ve already got a wizard working for us. Locklynn is a small town and we don’t need any more help.”
Ilene glanced over at the dusty dirt road nearby, marred with ruts and indentations. Locklynn had probably been charming in the past, but it was now shabby and rundown. Many of the shops had their hand-carved, rooftop shingles either loose or missing, and Ilene had noticed a couple of cracked windowpanes. A short distance down the street, a farmer labored to pump water from a dry well. The spigot produced only a thin trickle for the farmer’s thirsty flock of wooly goats, and Ilene was unimpressed. “Begging your pardon, Mayor, but your wizard seems to be as useful as a leaky teapot,” she observed.
Mayor Henryr bristled. “Poor Kipp’s been melancholy since his wife died.”
“I’m very sorry for his loss but that’s not going to replenish the water in your wells,” Ilene said. “I’ll fix that one over there for you, and then I’ll be off.”
As she turned away, Ilene tried not to let her shoulders slump. Locklynn’s wizard wasn’t the only one fighting depression. After several years of intensive study, Ilene and her twin brother Ian had finally become full-fledged wizards. About a month ago, her brother had secured a position in a nice little mountainside hamlet called Spriteburg. Things had not gone as smoothly for Ilene. Everywhere she went, she’d run into resistance. She knew it was because people weren’t comfortable with the fact she was female. When Quixoran of the Dragon Clan had agreed to train female apprentices, he’d bucked a long-standing, males-only tradition on Yden. Ilene had been amongst the first class of newly minted female wizards. Unfortunately, she’d underestimated the challenges of securing a job.
Ilene walked toward the well, careful to avoid several puddles of mud formed from recent early spring rains. The water had pooled in the craters of the neglected thoroughfare. If it had been up to her, she would have magically smoothed out the dirt surface and covered it with cobblestones. Fresh from her apprenticeship, Ilene had a lot of exciting ideas and limitless energy. She just needed someone to give her a chance to show what she could do.
A few moments later, she’d enchanted the pump to produce a steady, clean flow. It was too bad about this wizard Kipp, but in Ilene’s opinion he was being irresponsible. Despite his personal problems, Locklynn’s residents depended on him to ensure a robust water supply. Ilene filled the trough with clear, sparkling water for any other parched animals that happened to pass by—unaware she’d been followed.
“Er…perhaps I spoke in haste,” Mayor Henryr said, over her shoulder. “I can’t make any long-term promises, but there are a few days’ worth of chores you might be able to address.”
It was hardly guaranteed employment, but it was the best offer Ilene had had. Ilene accompanied the Mayor to the rustic Spinning Wheel Tavern, where they discussed the town’s priorities over a mid-day meal. It was so dark inside the lamp-lit tavern, that Ilene was obliged to fashion a small everlasting orb in order to see her food properly. As she hoisted the shining sphere into the rafters, the Mayor was inspired. “I daresay my wife would enjoy an everlasting orb at our house,” he said. “It’s so difficult for her to knit by lamplight after both of Yden’s suns have set.”
The Mayor added that task to the top of what was proving to be a lengthy list. Ilene’s spirits rose. Not only was her chicken potpie delicious, but also her stay in Locklynn seemed assuredat least for the time being. At a minimum, she’d be able count on Mayor Henryr as a reference. If the town’s wizard remained absent, perhaps the job would become permanent.
The Mayor arranged a room for Ilene over the Tavern. In exchange for her room and board, Ilene worked some spells for the pretty young Tavern owner, Gerty. Ilene made sure that the bread oven would always be hot and the casks of ale remained icy cold. She magically repaired the fabric cushions that covered the benches and chairs, and changed their color from a faded, stained beige to an attractive clover green. There was a decorative spinning wheel in the corner, and Ilene enchanted it with a perpetual motion spell to add a little visual interest to the room. Just for fun, she added an illusion spell that made it seem as if the device were producing spun gold. The end product rather resembled Gerty’s long, blond locks.
Gerty stared at Ilene’s handiwork in amazement. “Can you put a spell on my Tavern to keep it full of customers?” Gerty asked, only half-joking. “Locklynn is dying, and my business with it.”
“I’ll do my best to spruce up the village in the time I’m here,” Ilene replied. “Locklynn is halfway between two big towns. In top form, it’ll be a wonderful place for travelers to stop.”
“I’m so glad you’ve come, Ilene. We all love Kipp of the Bear Clan, but he hasn’t been around very much since he lost his wife,” Gerty confided.
“So I’ve heard,” Ilene said. “How long has it been?”
“Oh, I think we’re coming up to three turns now.”
Turns were roughly equivalent to years on Ilene’s native Earth and she was taken aback. “Three turns?” she echoed. “They must have been together a long time.”
“Kipp and Ferra were married less than a turn,” Gerty replied. “But he was inconsolable when she left.”
Ilene was confused. “Left? The Mayor told me she died.”
“Out of respect to Kipp, we all pretend that’s what happened,” Gerty said with a wink. “Ferra was an attractive girl, but she had ambitions that could not be satisfied in a small town like Locklynn. Kipp can’t quite get over it.”
Although she didn’t say so, Ilene’s sympathy for the Bear Clan wizard was rapidly fading. He was sounding more and more like a big baby. Ilene put Kipp out of her mind and dove into her work with relish. Her stay lengthened into weeks. Locklynn really was a unique and whimsical place. The stone cottages, streams, and verdant countryside reminded her of Scotland, where she’d been born. Locklynn had been founded on textiles, and the surrounding pasturelands were full of wondrously furry creatures called yamas. The horned and winged animals resembled a cross between sheep dogs and llamas—if llamas had wings, of course. Yamas were shorn each spring for their gloriously abundant wool. Ilene loved to make house calls to the outlying farms, where she would enchant the herds to produce different tints of wool. Afterwards, the yamas tended to flock by hue. From a distance, the grassy fields appeared to be covered with streaks of color.
With Ilene’s help, the annual Locklynn Shearing Festival was going to be a tremendous success. She’d managed to connect the village to the Wiznet magical mailbox system that was rapidly spreading across Yden, and invitations were being sent out daily. Her list of chores seemed to multiply like the musical wildflowers that sang alongside the streams. The residents of Locklynn had a pent up demand for the services of a wizard, and it seemed as if Ilene had arrived just in time.
One morning, exactly ten days before the Shearing Festival, the Mayor pounced on Ilene as she was heading out of the tavern to visit the schoolhouse. “We have a problem, Wizard,” he said. “An infestation of woolihoppers has settled at the Goery farm and they are eating the wool straight off the yamas.”
“Woolihoppers? Are those some kind of insects?” Ilene asked, baffled. She’d never heard of them before.
“They fly in swarms, usually after we’ve had an unusually dry winter,” Mayor Henryr replied, looking more harassed than Ilene had ever seen him. “If we don’t stop them, they’ll eat through our whole crop of wool. Kipp would know what to do, but he’s holed up in his house and won’t come out.”
Ilene might be Scottish, but she’d often been accused of having the temper of an Irishwoman. “What a galoot,” she replied. “Take me to the man and I’ll see if I can talk some sense into him.”
Ilene accompanied the Mayor to a weed-choked path just outside of town. The path wound through a swath of forest and over a footbridge that forded a pretty stream. Although it was spring, the water’s edge was still rimmed with ice. When Ilene paused on the bridge to admire the view, a fat laughing frog on the bank giggled at her. Ilene blocked the frog’s magic, but it hit the Mayor and he was obliged to lean against the hand railing until his sudden fit of giggles passed.
As Mayor Henryr and Ilene drew closer to an underground dwelling built into the side of a hill, the wooden door and rounded windows suddenly faded away until they became a seamless part of the grass. “Kipp knows we’re here,” the Mayor sighed.
Ilene was impressed. “Not a bad illusion at all,” she admitted. “You can’t be bothered with visitors if they can’t find the door.”
“It’s Kipp’s way of telling us to go away,” the Mayor said.
“It is, is it?” Ilene cupped her hands around her mouth and aimed her voice at the hillside. “Come out and face me, you useless lump of a wizard,” she bellowed.
“I wouldn’t talk to Kipp in that fashion,” the Mayor said, wide-eyed. He edged backwards. “You might make him mad.”
“That’s exactly what I intend to do,” Ilene replied. “Getting his dander up might snap him out of his depression. He’s been coddled long enough.”
But Mayor Henryr wasn’t about to linger for any wizard fireworks. He beat a hasty retreat to town while Ilene literally rolled up her sleeves. She employed a reveal spell to locate Kipp’s front door and then banged on it with her fist. “You’re needed, you lazy lout. You’ll have no peace from me until you show yourself.”
The door burst open then and Ilene had her first glimpse of the Bear Clan wizard. He was as thin as a bowl of gruel. His streaming, reddish-brown hair was overgrown and wild, having obviously avoided a hairbrush for quite some time. Kipp’s face was unrecognizable, as the lower half was covered in a bushy, ginger-colored beard. But it was his eyes that were the most unusual; one was bright blue and the other was green. Kipp’s eyes may have been different colors, but both of them were flashing with anger.
“Get away from my door, woman,” he thundered. “You’ve got the manners of a stray dog infested with pixienits.”
“Speaking of infestations, while you’ve been sulking underground feeling sorry for yourself, the Goery farm has a nasty problem with woolihoppers,” Ilene snapped. “If it’s not too much bother, give me the spell and I’ll deal with the pests.”
“What are you going to do with a spell?” Kipp scoffed.
“I’m an Eagle Clan wizard, you odd-eyed hermit,” Ilene replied.
“Ha! A slip of a girl like you—a wizard? You’re joking.”
Although Ilene never laid a physical hand on him, Kipp found himself flying through the air. He landed in the icy stream nearby with a huge splash. Ilene stood on the bank with her hands on her hips. “I’ll thank you not to underestimate a female wizard in the future,” she snapped. “Enjoy your bath. From the look of you, doubtless you can use one.”
Ilene used the magical transporter cuff on her wrist to travel directly to the Goery farm. Unfortunately, she transported into the center of pandemonium. Unhappy yamas were bleating as brown flying insects the size of her hand nibbled at their hair. Dane Goery and his family were shearing fleeces as fast as they could in an attempt to save their crop from the jaws of the woolihoppers. Half the town had turned out to help, including the Mayor, but it was a losing fight. As soon as the insects had been beaten from one yama, more woolihoppers took their place.
Mayor Henryr mopped the sweat of exertion from his brow. “Is Kipp coming?” he asked Ilene.
She shook her head. “I’m afraid we’re on our own.”
Ilene jumped into the fray and they began to make a little more progress. She used magic to draw off large numbers of woolihoppers and freeze them. It was slow work, but for a short while it seemed as if they were winning the battle. When another huge swarm of insects crested over the horizon, however, there were gasps of dismay.
“We are ruined,” Dane Goery moaned.
Kipp arrived just then, in a crackling flash of light. He wove a spell over a group of yamas that caused the grazing woolihoppers to whirr up overhead. Ilene magically blasted them with frigid air, and the insects dropped to the grass like hail.
“What does your spell do?” she asked Kipp.
“It makes the wool taste foul,” he replied.
“Clever,” she said. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
Ilene and Kipp moved across the pasture, working together until the woolihopper menace had been eliminated. When they returned to the farmhouse, Dane Goery had brought out several casks of ale to reward his neighbors for coming to his aid. Kipp declined the cup offered to him. He also refused to listen to any expressions of gratitude. “I’m just sorry I was late,” he said. “But I’m heading to the other farms right now to treat the yamas against any more woolihopper infestations.”
Kipp vanished. As Ilene sipped her ale, the Mayor gave her his thanks. “It appears that your approach with Kipp was better than ours,” he said. “What did you say to him?”
Ilene laughed as she recalled Kipp sitting in the middle of the icy brook, soaking wet. He’d had a shocked expression on his face that was only partly due to the temperature of the stream. “You could say I threw a little cold water on the situation,” she replied. “I hope it does the wizard some long term good.”
Ilene kept expecting to see Kipp around Locklynn after that, but he continued to make himself scarce. She became extremely busy as people began to pour into town for the three-day Shearing Festival. All the rooms at the Spinning Wheel Tavern were full, and most of the farmers were obliged to take in borders. Visitors erected tents in the fields—so many, in fact, that the area resembled a campground. Ilene was glad she’d put so much effort into renewing the town. Although it was on the small side, the little village of Locklynn was at its best.
Her brother Ian brought a large number of people with him from Spriteburg. The group included several shop owners in need of Locklynn wool and finished products. It was with a great deal of pride that Ilene watched the spirited haggling over vibrantly colored lots in the marketplace.
Ian joined her. “I admire your handiwork, Ilene,” Ian remarked, nodding toward the lots of wool spread out before them. “You’ve always had a fine eye for color.”
“You’re too kind, Ian,” she replied. Ilene suddenly noticed the new, cherry-red muffler around his neck. “What a beautiful scarf. Did you buy that from one of the booths?”
“Naw, I won it in a game of cards. Poor lad never knew what hit him,” Ian chuckled.
As Gerty strolled past just then, she gave Ian a saucy wink. Ian had to look around to make sure it was aimed at him. “Aye, she wants you to introduce yourself,” Ilene laughed. “Her name is Gerty, and she’s my landlady, so be nice.”
Ian loped off in pursuit. Moments later another man took his place. Ilene glanced up at him and her mouth went dry. He was young, clean-shaven and terribly handsome, with broad shoulders and a shock of thick red-brown hair. She’d never seen him before, so she assumed he was in town for the festival. “Welcome to Locklynn,” she said.
“Thank you. The town has never looked better,” he said. “My compliments. You must be the new wizard.”
“Aye,” she replied, without thinking. “Well, actually, I’m just here temporarily.”
“Really? Maybe you should stick around,” he said. “I’ve heard the regular wizard is a useless lump and a lazy lout to boot.”
Ilene looked him full in the face then, and realized the man had one green and one blue eye. They may have been different colors, but both eyes were mesmerizing. “I don’t know him all that well, to be truthful,” she replied. “We didn’t exactly meet under the best of circumstances.”
“Maybe you two could start over,” he said. “If you’re willing.”
Ilene saw Ian had cornered Gerty next to a booth selling freshly poured battercakes and lemonade. “That’s my twin brother Ian over there,” she said. “If Locklynn’s wizard can manage to get on his good side, he might just stand a chance with me.”
“I’m certain Ian likes him already,” Kipp replied.
“How do you know?” Ilene asked, surprised.
“I let him win that scarf off me just this morning,” Kipp said. “Plus, Gerty’s my cousin.”