“Did you think I wouldn’t notice?” Her master drew himself up as far as he was able. It wasn’t far.
Carlin scowled at him. Did he think she was stupid? “I knew you’d notice. I knew you’d notice right away.”
Her master blinked at her, the wind taken out of his sails. “What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking I didn’t care.” She turned away from him and busied herself at the kitchen sink. The dishes were stacked high, the pots and pans soaking in the soapy water.
She hid her satisfied smirk behind a fall of dirty hair, keeping her face down, her back to him. She picked up a rag and a dish and dipped them both in the water. Cold, of course. Keeping her grumble internal, she crossed to the stove and grabbed the heavy iron tea kettle.
“You can not simply take what you will from my laboratory,” he fumed. “You are an apprentice. An apprentice! I demand complete obedience from my apprentices.”
“So what are you going to do about it?” she asked him, as she lugged the kettle over to the pump. “Oh, wait, I know. You could make me do domestic chores all day long. Washing dishes and scrubbing floors, cooking meals, doing the laundry, that kind of thing. That would be a fitting punishment, wouldn’t it?”
“You mock me!” His face was turning ruddy with rage.
“Yep.” She set the kettle under the faucet, then went around to the side of the pump. She lifted the handle, then slammed it down, lifted, slammed, waiting for the water to begin pouring forth. It didn’t.
Broken again, then. She’d watched the tinker carefully the last time he repaired it. It didn’t look so hard. Maybe she could fix it. If not, she’d be carrying water from the stream. Just what she needed.
“I will… I will…” Her master sputtered with fury.
She put her hands on her hips, abandoning the pump for the moment. “You will what?”
“I will beat you for your impudence!”
“Good luck with that.” She eyed him up and down. She out massed him by at least fifty pounds and six inches. “I hit back.”
If he tried to hit her, she’d smack him. And if he picked up a weapon—a switch, a wooden spoon, even a whip—she’d grab it right out of his hand and begin hitting him with it. In fact, maybe she should take the initiative if there was hitting to be done. Her eyes narrowed speculatively.
He must have read her thoughts in her face, for he took a step backward. “I will cast you out,” he threatened.
“Oh, really?” Carlin didn’t even bother to roll her eyes. “And you’ll pay my apprentice fees back to my father? Where are you going to get them? You spent the first year’s worth on that precious grimoire of yours, the one whose spells don’t work worth cow dung.”
“How do you know those spells don’t work?”
“I’ve tried them, of course.” Technically speaking, she’d only tried a few: the one to turn invisible, the one to fly, and the one to unlock locked items. The last had been the most disappointing. Sure, invisibility would be nice, and flying would be interesting, but if she could unlock locked items, she could take a look at the apprentice contract her father had signed. Surely there was some way out of spending the next six years slaving away for a master whose competence seemed mostly to be in sleeping in late and hanging out at the pub telling stories of adventures that got more implausible with every additional ale.
“I’ve tried them,” she repeated, using a louder voice and enunciating carefully. “They don’t work. That book was a waste of money.”
Not just money, but her money. Or at least money that could have been hers. If her father had been only a bit more reasonable, she could be apprenticed to a nice seamstress by now. Or even a weaver. Why if her mother hadn’t been a Carlin of the Carlins, it would never even have occurred to her father to apprentice her to a magician. Or to give her such a stupid name.
But according to him, her mother’s family was famous for their magical abilities. Giving her their name was meant to open doors for her, to make her ties to their blood obvious. Like anyone in Seastrang cared. Maybe the Carlins were famous, but if so, they were famous in far-off Silvertree.
Carlin wasn’t even sure she believed that her mother was a Carlin. If she really came from a long line of magic users, how had she wound up settling down with Carlin’s father in a town that was barely more than a fishing village and a good two hundred miles from the capitol? That was a question to which her father’s answer — love, my dear, love — had always seemed profoundly unsatisfying to Carlin. Maybe love was nice, but you couldn’t eat it, wear it, or live in it, so at the end of the day, what good was it?
Maybe her mother had felt the same way because she’d disappeared when Carlin was just a toddler.
“Don’t you know anything?” her master snapped. “No spell will work for you until you’ve found your focus. You can’t just cast willy-nilly.”
Focus? That was the first time Carlin had heard anything of the sort. What was a focus? But she didn’t ask the question. She knew that her master wouldn’t tell her anything more if he suspected that she was interested. Instead, she raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know anything. You haven’t taught me anything.”
“You’re not ready.” He puffed out his chest again, looking down—or trying to look down—his skinny little pinch of a nose at her.
“Pfft.” Carlin snorted at him. “That’s what you always say.” She wagged her hand at him. “Shoo. Get out of my kitchen. I have work to do.”