I had always known my mother was a witch.
"Baa! What a waste of magic!" My creator lifted me above her head, giving me a clear, last picture of her sharp, beautiful face: her nose thin and long, her chin a blunt line that ran parallel to her dark, rounded eyebrows.
She was a queen, and never had a woman deserved the title more than she. With a smooth breath that revealed no exertion, she threw me to the floor.
The air whistled around my wood. I expected to be broken. I even wished for it. My life had been short, but miserable, and I had learned quickly that the world was full of magic that did not matter. How many magical things had my creator made and cast aside? How many mirrors had already proven themselves unworthy of her greatness? And now me.
A chip of wood flew off my side as it met the stone floor of the castle. But unfortunately, I bounced and when I fell again, straight on my glass, it was not hard enough to hurt me. I felt still my uselessness in every part. I was still alive. At least as alive as I could be.
A magic mirror? What could I do? I could change a face, but not a kingdom. I was nothing. I was not even worth the effort to destroy completely.
My creator stepped over me and left her magic room. She would send a servant in to clean up the mess she had left behind, a servant kept silent not by an oath but by terror. The queen needed no more than that. From anyone.
What would happen to me next I hardly cared. Perhaps the servant would throw me away. Perhaps I would be sold or given away in exchange for some tiny favor. But I would never be a queen’s mirror again.
I had been merchandise at a magic bazaar for three months. It was difficult to get attention for a small mirror who had become used to silence. Especially when around me there were brash and loud items practically shouting what their magic was.
But today had come a witch who looked through each of us carefully, even me. Her nose seemed to hang off her face like the wax of a candle dripping down the stick. She was marked with pocks all over, and her head was as bald and shining as an apple.
Better to be owned by a dog, I thought. Or a bear. At least they knew what they were and did not pretend to play with magic that was greater than they.
She picked me up, turned me over and squinted at the wide lines of my wood. As though she expected to see the secrets of my magic written there in bold letters.
No. She would be stupid to read. Perhaps she thought there was some mark of magic like the sign of a tavern on a sign outside its door. I had traveled far since my creator had rejected me. I had seen much of humanity and its way with magic. In comparison to most things, I was not so bad as it had first seemed.
But I had yet to meet another queen.
"Would you like that one? I'll sell it cheap," offered the woman who ran the bazaar. She had found me face up in the street, where I had been thrown from the cart of the mother of the serving woman who had taken me from the queen=s magic room in the castle.
How I had fallen!
"A mirror?" asked the witch. "No." She shook her hideous head.
Little did she know how much I might have helped her, if I had chosen. But no, she would have had to look full into my glass first. And that might have broken my magic out of me. I had not been made for faces like hers.
"A crystal ball, then?" asked the bazaar woman.
The witch stared into its misty scene. I could have told the truth about it, if she=d asked me. It told the future rather than the past. Magic, of course, but not much use to anyone.
Of course, the witch did not look at me again. I was nothing to her, less than the nothing of the crystal ball.
"How much?" The witch did not do as the others did, and search for flaws to lower the price before the haggling began.
"Three pieces of silver."
"One," said the witch. "And not a penny more." Her eyes were cold and used to demanding bargains.
"One piece of silver it is." The bazaar woman shrugged, as if giving up.
But one piece of silver was one piece of silver too much. If the witch had a piece of silver to waste, she might at least have tried it on me. If I could not save her face, I could at least speak to her. Keep her company when no one else would.
No. I was becoming desperate. I had best keep my place in the bazaar woman's inventory of magic items. It reminded me of what I was--and what I was not.
The witch took the ball into her ragged cloak and made a sign of disappearance with her wart-clumsy fingers. It took her three times to get it right. I had met some who believed the number three that was magic. I knew better.
The moon rose and the bazaar woman lost her patience. It had been an hour since the witch had left, and no one had come since. Magic did not sell well at night, I knew now. Darkness was the time for practicing their magic now, not looking for aids.
She began to pack up her table. When she came to me, she set me down on the soft ground. She muttered to herself about magic not worth its place in her cart. Of course, she must have meant the crystal ball, but she would be glad to be rid of it now. She would have time to look more carefully among her other things. She might discover she had more than she thought.
"Hmmm," she said, when she had finished packing up her cart. Her eyes caught on the moonlight coming from my glass. She took a step closer, half-bent over me.
I thought how wise she was to leave me for the top. My glass would not be in such danger as before.
Then she turned away, shaking her head. In a moment, I heard the cart rattle down the road without me.
A mistake. It had to be a mistake! I could accept a queen rejecting me. But this bazaar woman? Impossible. She should at least have taken me back where she had found me. I might have had a chance there to be found by someone of the nobility. Someone of value, who would treat a used magic mirror well.
But here, in the forest, what would become of me? I thought again of dogs and bears. What would I do with their faces, if they stared into me? They would not thank me for any change. But if I did nothing for them, I would be lucky if I was not left in a cave for the rest of my days, never seeing light on my glass again.
People may choose their magics, and how foolishly they could choose. Asking for immortality but not eternal youth, for example. Asking for love without pain. Asking for knowledge without wisdwom. Or asking for more magic, never thinking what would come of it in the end.
We things are not so lucky. It is our creators who make our choices for us. Yet perhaps it was as well. At that moment what I most wished for was the magic of cursing, so that I could send it after the woman and her makeshift old cart.
Bitterly, I listened as the night went silent. A rabbit hopped by, sniffed at me, then went on its way. An owl hooted overhead and I caught its reflection and sent it back to it. But it screeched and hurried on its way.
It was a long night. The moon hung above me and refused to move on its course across the sky. The stars were just as abominably slow, twinkling down at me, as if laughing at my predicament.
If only the wood around my glass had been carved with feet, I thought, I might have been able to use my magic to go where I wished to go, to find what mistress I would. But the queen had not made me that way. She had never intended for me to have a life of my own. Yet here, I was, far from the palace, beyond the borders of her kingdom. What could I with myself now?
I was too wrapped in my own misery even to hear the sound of footsteps through the soft grass. But suddenly there was a ragged boot above me, coming down.
Was I to be shattered at last, my magic flung free? I felt a moment of terrible, white panic. I wondered if this was what humans felt at death, and if my creator would ever feel anything like it. She had lived a long time through her magic, and so had need for mirrors to transform her. If only I had been better shaped. If only my wood had been capable of absorbing more magic from the world.
There was darkness, but it was not complete. I did not understand it. Could I be half-dead?
I stared around, then noticed that the the moon was nearly covered by a great, black boot. And there were eyes beyond the boot. Eyes, and a head--a girl's head.
Black hair stuck out in long hanks here, shorter hanks there. The cheeks were broad and rosy-red. The nose was long and had a swollen bump where it had been freshly broken. Nothing magic about her. No reason, really, for me to expend my magic for her.
Except--there was a determination in her face that I had seen before. A hardness in the chin, a set to the brows. I recognized what these meant: ambition. This peasant girl who stood before me might one day be someone.
Yes. A queen.
"Oh," said the girl as she stared at herself in my glass. She put a hand up to her nose and gingerly moved across the break. “Father said I deserved this, but he is wrong. Wrong!”
I did not know if she had or not, but if it brought her to me, I could not regret that it had happened. The girl’s rebellion from her father had brought her to me. And if she could break free from her father=s opinion, then why could I not do the same? My creator had told me I was worthless and I had believed her. But I had learned much about the world since then. And useless magic to one could well be perfect magic to another.
To this other.
"I'm glad I didn't stay, then," the girl said to herself fiercely. Then, as if she were trying to convince someone else, she added: “Very glad.”
It was my moment to speak, to show myself. To take a chance.
"I'm glad, too," I said to her. It was no less than the truth, but oh the danger. If she hated magic as some humans seemed to, I could well have condemned myself to the very end my creator had been too negligent to give me.
The girl only started, then looked around as if to find the source of the voice.
"It is I. The mirror," I said. I did not want her running away in fear of some invisible bandit. She could break me in her haste. And besides, she had to get used to me sometime. Better sooner than later.
She turned me over, examining my wood. A finger moved across the nick in my side. It felt tender still, like a real wound unhealed.
"Magic," the girl whispered. I could not tell from her voice if she was frightened or awed.
"Do not be afraid of me. I am no evil talisman."
She thought and all the lines in her face disappeared as she did it. It was the beginning of a queen's face, that smooth, solid concentration. I could not have been more pleased to see it.
"Why should I care if you're evil or not?" she asked. "So long as you are mine." She turned me back to my face and held me tightly.
I noticed she did not ask me yet what my magic was, nor how it could help her. It seemed to matter to her only that she had something of her own, something that no one else could touch.
"Father must not get it," she said to herself. Then she hurried away from the bazaar and up a long sloping hill.
I suspected she did not have any particular destination in mind. Only away from her father. Fortunately that suited me, as well. A peasant girl with a father cannot be a queen. But a beautiful princess who has forgotten her history--yes, that was possible. The nobility always looked for the exotic.
But I could not keep thinking of her as the peasant girl. She needed a name, even if it was only a temporary one. "What are you called?" I asked her.
She seemed surprised again at the sound of my voice. She planted her feet, looked around herself, then remembered me.
I asked the same question a second time.
Her face went dark. "Father called me--" she bit at her lip and shook her head. "No, I won't say that name. I won't be his girl anymore."
"Then choose your own name," I said.
Her shoulders straightened and she looked into the bright summer stars, her queen's face smooth once more. "Ivana," she decided with a nod. "My name is Ivana."
"A good name," I said. A strong name, I thought.
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