Kender couldn’t believe his eyes when Lana’s fingers threw flame, lighting up the night and incinerating the leftover reeds she’d used to repair her shoe. She closed her eyes and blew softly through her lips. They sat with several others, most keeping their distance, around a fire pit roasting a few rabbits and a pheasant.
“Lana, it’s forbidden,” said Kender. A deep red shawl draped over her head and wrapped around her shoulders as if she’d grown bashful about her tattoos, but her milky face gleamed with fearlessness.
“What are you talking about?” she asked. Her superior tone stung him.
“Fire is one of the powers of belaisan. It defiles the Vine, and it defiles you.”
“You’ve been showing off your little tricks for weeks, and now that I finally learn something, you forbid me to do it as if I was some chattel wife?”
“You’re twisting my meaning again,” said Kender. It was his turn to take a superior tone. “It’s unkind. I do not forbid it—it is forbidden because it’s evil.”
“According to whom?”
“Thousands of years of knowledge tell us—”
“The Vine of Power has been dormant for thousands of years, so from where do you propose this knowledge stems?”
“Can’t you feel how it corrupts you?” asked Kender. He turned the rabbits.
Lana grimaced. “Whatever I feel, it’s the nature of my power. Your power is different than mine.”
“You’re wrong. I could do what you do.”
“Do it, then.” Lana’s voice grew fierce. As much as she pleased him, as much as he fought with infatuation, he did not like her like this.
Kender gritted his teeth but leveled his voice. “You know that I won’t.”
“Then you don’t know what I know.” She spoke with carefree conceit and cut a piece of rabbit off onto her plate. Others did the same. “Why can’t I do the tricks you do?”
“The creative power of women is turned inward,” said Kender. “It’s why you can carry life.”
“Does that mean I’ll never be able to create material from the Vine like you?”
“That isn’t fair.”
“What is fair?” asked Kender.
“It’s not when the creator empowers men with the Vine in greater ways than women.”
“You’ll have to take that up with Urluthe.”
“That’s your answer?” said Lana. “I have no station at the side of Urluthe that I can query him at will. Do you? What claim do you have to his purpose?”
Kender ripped a leg off the pheasant. “I don’t lay claim. But I have knowledge of it even though you ignore me—and you do so at your own peril.”
“Weakness is my peril,” Lana said. “I have to protect my bosom from predaceous men.”
Kender dropped his eyes in fear that she would expose her low-cut blouse like before, revealing the empty space among her tattoos that would be given to a man according to her tribe’s custom.
“The old ways consisted of purification,” Kender said. “We should find a way to do it to you. Then you’d understand. You cannot protect purity with impurity.”
“You can’t protect it with stupidity, either.” She stormed off.
Kender took a bite out of the pheasant leg. “Nor can you teach the blind to read music.” He discarded the bone and held his hand out, drawing power from the Vine in mysterious cooperation, focusing its substance into material until a token formed, a lily on it like the tattoo she’d shown him before. A small euphoria rose through his head, then faded.
He found her sulking, perched upon a sizable bolder, and handed her the token. “This is made from the Vine’s pure matter, and it will respond to everything you do with the power in ways I can’t predict. I can be wrong—but this token will teach you, and being the pure substance of Urluthe’s Vine, it can never be wrong.”
She took it, studied it, and slipped it in her pocket. “I’m going to be a great wizard.” She slid off the bolder. “Don’t follow me.”
As she disappeared into the darkness Kender smiled. She took it.