I didn't post this a while ago because I felt it would go better as an epilogue to Blood and Satin or something, but it does fit the lessons theme and I wrote it to go here. It's one of the most important developments in Aurelie's character after all. P.S. you should probably read Blood and Satin to get why she's in Maureit, or just remember from the references in Opal Fox.
It was hot, but not the normal, dry heat of home. This was oppressive, the humidity causing the air to press in on every inch of exposed skin, to sink through one's clothes and cause them to cloy, to choke. It was the kind of heat that came from standing in a place where trees had been cleared away and the ground paved over just to amplify it. Breathing came as a chore, something you felt every time you took a breath, the air sliding into one's lungs like a thick paste. Awful.
Aurelie took another deep breath and straightened her back by rolling her shoulders. She felt the sweat running between her shoulder blades and held in a grimace at the thought. If there was one thing her parents could agree on it was that ladies did not sweat in public. With her free hand she dabbed at her neck with a handkerchief; she was twirling a parasol with the other, and while the shade kept the harsh, beating rays of the sun from her skin, it did nothing to conjure a breeze or alleviate the humid air. She could have conjured a breeze, if she had been allowed, and that only increased her annoyance as she stood among the other nobles on the dock.
Of course her grandfather had picked the most inhospitable and oppressive of summer days to hold his grand presentation, he was a showman after all. The royal yacht would have its debut as it sailed past all the becalmed ships drifting in Sea Isle's harbor, its golden sails taut under a magical breeze. The Prince was already in a fit state of excitement, fidgeting in his throne, calling for more people to fan him and then sending them away with childlike peevishness. The last preparations were almost complete, and then he would be carried up the gangplank, the silk draped palanquin protecting him from the worst of the sun and the gazes of the unwashed masses further along the shore.
He liked her, that much had become clear quickly, within the first few hours of the banquet thrown in honor of her grandfather's arrival. As always her entire extended family had had seats of honor, including herself, and she was seated near the end of the Prince's table. Even at fifteen Aurelie was capable in adult company: keeping quiet when she didn't understand the tempo of the conversation, smiling and laughing at the right jokes, making witty retorts; charming, wealthy, powerful. Questions about magic had been passed down to her along a line of noble lords who smiled courtiers' smiles while inside they rankled at the idea that the Baron of Margate's foreign progeny had taken their prince's attention away from their daughters. She did it unintentionally at first and that perhaps upset them the most.
But then, over the course of the following weeks, she started to do it on purpose. Saying things that would evoke a laugh from her neighbors when the Prince seemed to be engaged in a boring conversation. Smiling and gesturing widely enough to catch his attention from across a room without being flamboyant or going too far as she saw some of the other ladies doing. Performing tricks and spells, simple charms that were enough to elicit ohhs and ahhs without being frightening or taxing. Sidling politely towards him while looking embarrassed and shy. She learned seduction by accident and put it to use on a man twenty years her senior in a fit of bitterness.
She had been invited to join the Prince's party on his new toy's maiden voyage. Her cousins, who though younger, had more of a right to be there, had not. Her father had sent her away to keep her out of trouble, to punish her for getting into it. She had found more, and a type she considered more dangerous, more adult. She would let him handle the fallout, it was his fault after all, and this would be his lesson. His lesson for ruining her life.
Something in her had broken that night. When she'd woken up and found only her father by her bed, staring down at her with the stark morning light making his cheeks look hollowed and his eyes deep pits, his arms crossed behind his back and his mouth a straight line across his face. He had ordered her mother and sister to wait in the hall until he was done.
There had been none of the disgust she expected, disgust that she should willingly consort with the lower classes in a manner unbefitting a lady. There had been very little anger there and only a hint of disappointment as he said: "You will never see that boy again."
Just like that, no options, no explanation of what he knew or how, no remonstrances. Just one single statement.
And for a moment a small part of her hated him and he saw it in her eyes as she sat up in the bed, glaring back at him. She had been his favorite, she knew she was still, but something between them had broken and she had no interest in fixing it as she stood sweating on a dock, exiled.
Two weeks she had sat in the house, always under guard, though that was not what they called it. Kingsley had sat with her much of the time and her former playmate and coconspirator was now as determined as her father to prevent her from getting free. Marie was always in a room nearby, on alert to prevent her from using magic to get away. It had taken two weeks for them to let down their guard a little and for her find a way out.
She persuaded Kingsley that she needed a walk in the garden and her father had approved it through a messenger since she was refusing to speak to him and he made little effort to talk to her. She had wandered as close to the horses' paddocks as she dared and whistled. Tinsel had come running, right up to the fence and then over it. It had all been too fast for Kingsley to react. A bit of magic and he was on the ground, she was on the horse and then she was away.
Of course by that point James was gone and no one would tell her where or why. He had disappeared into the ether and not even the most inventive threats she could think of could coax Rolf into revealing how she could find him. He had left her no message.
She hated him too a little.
And distraught she had ridden home to find her bags packed and waiting for her. The next morning she was on the first ship to Margate and the little ball of hate and distrust had thickened and even now was hardening in her gut. James had left her without a word. Her father had shipped her off without a word. Her mother had waved goodbye without a word and only her grandmother, waiting at the docks for her ship had said: "It will all be all right, sweetness. People come and go you know but then most people don't realize it until they're older."
After three weeks of provoking merpeople, or trying to strand boats on sand bars by shifting the currents, of barely eating and taunting everyone around her mercilessly, her grandfather had taken her to Sea Isle. And she had found herself bigger and better trouble.
The day before the Prince had asked her to dance for him, to do a rain dance. It had poured from a clear summer sky in the middle of the day and the ambassador from her native land had snapped his pipe between his teeth. Her dress heavy with water and her skin running with it, she had stood in the courtyard to applause; applause for magic that would have been regarded with distaste by Fennish nobles. The prince had clapped like a little boy and proclaimed that anyone so talented must have a chance to appreciate his new ship.
So here she was, standing in the heat as the sailors signaled down the dock and the palanquin bearers lifted the prince. The guests began to move and she fell in place, enjoying the precedence of a marquis' daughter which put her ahead of even her aunts and uncles. She learned confidence as she strode up the gangplank and was summoned to the prince's side on the raised stern deck.
"We want to know what he is doing," he demanded as she curtsied.
She saw him gesture towards the Dongguo warlock in the bow. The man had his long braid tucked under a traditional hat and was doing preliminary stretches.
"He is the wind mage, Your Highness. He is getting ready to activate the spells on the sails."
"When will he do that?"
"When you give the word, Your Highness."
Her grandfather came hurrying up the stairs and patted her on the shoulder before bowing to the prince and gently pushing her backwards.
"We are all ready, Your Highness. When you give the word, we'll begin."
"By all means go!" the prince cried, sitting forward in his chair. "We want to see how this works."
The Baron of Margate gave a curt nod to one of the sailors, who turned and began shouting orders. In the bow the warlock bowed towards them before turning towards the prow. He raised a hand and in a few smooth movements had activated the spells woven into the fabric of the ship. A breeze began to stir and the gathered nobles murmured. The sails fluttered. The breeze turned into a wind and the sails pulled taught as the ship began to pull away from the dock.
"Excellent! Excellent!" the prince cried as they passed the ships moored nearby.
A wild cheer went up from the masses lining the waterfront and the people on board breathed a sigh of relief as the wind made the day bearable. Up in the prow the wind mage had finished his work and the crew cheered as the ship continued to move and the wind did not cease.
"Wonderful, Margate; we are most pleased," the prince proclaimed. "We will have lunch now. Where is your granddaughter? The lovely girl can explain it all to us. She is quite a lovely girl."
Over sherbet and under an awning set up on the deck, Aurelie sat at the prince's right hand, with the wind mage beside her and talked of elemental magic and charms. That night two letters left on the mail packet bound for Fenningale. Both demanded Charles Dielle recall his daughter before something unfortunate and international took place. One was from the ambassador, which Sir Charles let the maids use to line the puppy box. The other was from Aurelie's grandfather. She was home in less than two weeks.