It was strange for the square to be so eerily quiet.
Normally at this time of day, the place would be bustling with activity: wares being sold, families passing through, goods being transported, trading caravans pulling in.
Today the entire centre of the square is clear, except for the three Seekers, who stand by the well, watched by everyone. Everyone between the ages of 12 and 25 are gathered around the edges of the square, in front of the rest of the adults, me included and I can see a lot of nervous faces peering around at each other.
The girls next to me, a few years my junior, are holding hands tightly and one of them looks very pale. Across the circle I spot Darrien, and his small smile is reassuring.
“You know why we are here.” The lead seeker intoned, pushing the hood of his white-gold cloak back off his head. He was younger than most of us had expected, not an elderly sage at all, although perhaps no longer in the prime of his life. His eyes were piercing though, pale blue-green in a tanned face with salt and pepper stubble. He didn’t look like a scholar, and as he walked forward, his cloak billowed slightly, revealing well-worn armour underneath, and a sword strapped to his hip,
“We are here to seek out those of you born with talents desperately needed by the Realm,” he continued, walking around the square with slow, deliberate strides. “The Purge has left the Realm weak; never before have we had so few Mages. And although the numbers grow with every search, there are still too few. So here we are.” He turned and spread his arms, “As I speak there are Seekers in all corners of the Realm, conducting their search as we do. If you are found to be what we are looking for, you will join us, and travel to the High Court for training as a Noble of the realm.”
He slowly came to a stop by the well as one of the other Seeker’s stepped up beside him with a chest, which he opened with a flourish.
Inside were scales, the side of hand held mirrors, smooth and slick and shiny, the colour of slated grey.
“One by one, you will come up and you will touch a Dragon scale. If you have magical abilities, you will know. And so will we.” He turned back to the crowd, “Magic is in us from birth, if we have the gift, but it takes time to manifest. Do not despair if you are not found today. We will return.”
He beckoned and the children around me began to move forward, some quickly and eagerly, others far more cautiously. I waited until Darrien had picked his way over to my side and then the two of us joined the queue.
“Should I be?” I shot him a small grin; he’d asked me the same question the last time the Seekers had been here, five years ago. Then I’d been nervous, terrified about being chosen and leaving home, while also hoping that I would be. The idea of magic, of being special, a hero… well, it wasn’t exactly a put off.
Nothing had happened the last time I touched the scales, although the texture of the thing had been so sleek and polished I’d had to stop myself from stroking it. No one else had had anything happen either, and the Seekers had left Riversedge empty handed.
“I don’t think so,” my brother answered me, a small grin on his face, “You’re not special at all really.”
I retaliated with a shove, which made him laugh.
Faces peered around at us from further on in the queue, some frowning, some curious, and we pretended to be contrite, although I could tell that Darrien was struggling not to laugh.
“This is a solemn occasion,” I scolded him under my breath, “Look how serious everyone is.”
“Most of them think it’s a waste of time,” Darrien shrugged slightly. His job in the town stables gave him far more of a finger on the pulse than my job could ever give me, “They just want it over with. Then they don’t have to worry about it for another five years.”
It seemed they would be getting their wish. The queue was moving quite quickly, the test being easy and brief, and soon enough it was our turn. Darrien stepped up and laid his hand on the scale, and I stared intently at his bowed head of dark curls.
Nothing happened and he stepped away, shrugging at me.
He wouldn’t be disappointed; Darrien was far more practical than me.
All the nerves I’d told myself I wouldn’t have this time, surged to the front, and I took a deep breath before stepping forward.
I laid my hand on the Dragon scale.
It warmed to my touch, spreading from the palm of my hand and this time I couldn’t help but stroke my fingers against the silky texture of the scale.
Suddenly there were gasps all around me, someone cried out, and I looked around wildly. Everyone was staring at me, or rather, staring at the scale in my hand.
I looked down and almost dropped it with shock, giving a small shriek of surprise.
The scale was no longer grey.
Instead it seemed to burn with an internal fire, ripples of flame blossoming across the mirrored plane of its flattest side. The light shone from it, like it really was generating the light and heat of a fire and I looked around wildly.
Everyone looked stunned.
Except the Seeker.
He was smiling, and my stomach sank, before swooping up into my throat.
“Congratulations,” his voice seemed to ring in my head, “My Lady Mage.”