Kender lifted his japerwood staff toward the sun to examine his ox head carving. He’d struggled for days trying to whittle a lion’s head, but the touch of the Vine twisted and caused him anxiety every time he got started, and he couldn’t bring himself to make anything but the most tentative cuts. Not until he listened to the Vine and let it guide him was he able to make progress, and through it create this majestic sculpture. He wanted to show it to Lana, but she’d gone back to her family several days past.
During the next day’s travel he imagined designs for the shaft, a growing pleasure that seemed to increase as the power emanating from the Shard of Safera did.
Lana appeared the day he entered Tannerville. He found her playing skitterball with some of the townsfolk.
“What do you think?” Kender asked.
“It’s very fine.” Lana smiled. “It really is. I might trust you with a tattoo.” She blushed and hiccuped. Kender wasn’t sure why. She was never shy about her skin art. They walked into a grove next to town and sat under an elm.
“There’s more than me at work in this staff,” he said. “But if I were to add something to your illustrations, I think it would be a pretty little creature to complement the flowers, like a yellow-breasted bluebird or a thrush moth.” Kender hitched his mouth. “Maybe a—”
“Enough. Enough.” She looked away, but didn’t hide her pained face. “What about the lower part of your staff?”
“Just a touch of color. Perhaps a ring or two to bring out the wood’s unique grain.” He ran his hand along it. “It is a beautiful piece. Do you want to see me color the ox head?”
Kender smiled and nodded his head. “Watch this.” He threw open his bond to the Vine and drew from it, bringing power and substance into his body and driving it into his hand. He held it over the ox head, and, with a turn of his mind, power and substance became material, lining the face of the beast and spreading. He gasped a little because he expected black, yet the white felt perfect as it covered the the sides and darkened into gray over the nose, into black for the eyes. The horns turned into a light brown.
The finished coloring was magnificent. The scowl on Lana’s face brought him out of his daze.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?” Lana asked.
“Lana. I’m sorry. I thought we were past that.”
“You know how much I long to use the Vine, and it grieves me that I can’t. Every day I’m with my family they encourage me to become a great wizardess. I try to explain to them, but they just don’t understand.”
“You can’t.” It would defile the Vine, and she knew it.
“So you’ve explained, but it’s not right.” She folded her arms and looked away. “I’m getting stronger and stronger every day. Do you have any idea what it’s like to have power you can do nothing with?”
“I don’t have the power over nature to change that for you,” said Kender. “I can’t change what I am, either. Would you tell a mother to stop mothering if you couldn’t be one? Would you tell a soldier to stop fighting? Would you stop a mayor from kissing the governor’s toes just because you can’t bring yourself to do so?”
Kender hoped a hint of levity would soften her.
“I have power,” she said. “I can do things.” She twisted her face into a depraved snarl and stood, her hands open toward the ground like she would throw fire and ignite the grass around them as he knew she could. “Why should I not be who I am?” She strode back into the town.
“Lana!” Kender yelled.
A week with her family, and he was losing her.