I wake to find Nathan still sleeping next to me, even though sunlight streams through the wall length windows. He looks so peaceful and I decide to leave him be. I grab a soft white dressing gown off the back of the bedroom door and wrap myself up in its comforting hug. Steffan and Rayni seem to have prepared for visitors and I wonder if they tend to entertain a lot, or whether they prepared rooms, just in case, after Nathan's trial. Either way I am grateful for their hospitality.
I make my way down the floating glass staircase cautiously. Not that heights have ever bothered me but being able to see straight down, without water underneath me, always tends to make me anxious. Everything about the design of this house is open, spacious and minimal yet it seems so homely and welcoming. I find Rayni and Mum laying out a continental breakfast and I can smell good coffee brewing.
"Morning Hayley, how are you feeling?" Rayni says brightly.
"I'm not too bad thank you. Best night sleep I've had in a long time. Your house is beautiful."
"Thank you. It's a really good blend of Steffan and I. Pottreus is rarely wrong with his designs. Then again, how can he be if the ideas come from us to begin with! Can I get you anything? Croissant? Tea? Coffee?"
"Coffee would be great."
Rayni smiles widely once again before she turns and starts prepping beans in the coffee grinder. She has a beautiful smile; all burgundy lips and straight white teeth and her eyes glow bright against her dark skin. Mum walks over to me, tea in hand, and places her arm around my shoulder before gently kissing my forehead.
"I'm fine mum, honestly." I reassure her after noting the concerned look in her eyes.
"Good," She smiles, not pressing matters any further. "Why don't you go out on the balcony and get some fresh air. I'll bring your coffee out when it's ready."
"Thanks Mum." I respond and I head out through the folding glass doors that have been opened to make the living space seem even bigger than it already is.
It's a warm, clear morning so I take off my dressing gown and hang it on the back of a garden chair before walking over to the edge of the balcony. I fold my arms and rest them on the balustrade, catching my first glimpse of the commune in the morning light and I am overwhelmed by the view before me. The angled rooves and bright multicoloured buildings remind me of the coloured houses of Bo-Kaap. Unsurprisingly, the sporadic scattering of houses doesn't reach too far and, in the distance, to the left of me, there are luscious green fields. To the right, a beach, enclosed by high, white cliffs. The sand seems to stretch on forever and the sea is clear and turquoise in colour. It's paradise, paradise in the middle of the English countryside. I'm taken aback by the sight and the expanse of the commune. There must be one hell of a spell cast on this place for it to remain unseen and unknown in the centre of a heavily populated country.
Looking down, I see Steffan and Rayni's garden, and it's beautiful. Not too big, but large enough for a small lawn space, a relaxing barbecue area and a swimming pool that catches the rays of the morning sun and glistens enticingly. My thoughts suddenly drift to a wonderful place where I am stood here watching an almost naked Nathan swimming nonchalantly back and forth as the water ripples over his tanned skin and I feel a tingling, warm sensation rousing around my midriff. Suddenly, I feel hands move around my waist and I jump as a voice whispers in my ear.
I blush at my own thoughts as Nathan lays a line of soft kisses along my collar bone. He takes my hand and spins me around like a dancer before pulling me into him and kissing me firmly.
"Good morning, I take it you slept well."
"Better than ever. You are so damn beautiful," he grins and tucks a wayward strand of hair behind my ear, "and so worth waiting for." I blush even more. "I mean it! I would've waited for as long as I had to for you to come back to me. Even if you never got your memories back. I would've found you when we were old and grey and we would've lived out the last and happiest years of our lives in a nursing home somewhere, people watching and cracking inappropriate jokes together."
"Sounds perfect." I smile.
With that, he lifts me up, wraps my legs around his waist and leads me to the outdoor furniture, before dropping me ungraciously down on a cushioned bench, in a typical Nathan-like fashion. His ability to shatter a poignant moment between us with an unexpected crazy reaction always makes me laugh. I lie there, my legs flailing in the air and my hair splaying in all directions, yet he stands before me, his black vest hugging his protruding chest muscles, lounge shorts balancing temptingly low on his hips and sculpted, tattooed calves leading down to bare feet. Rugged and animalistic. My dark Raven. He holds out a hand and I take it for him to lift me up and he sits next to me, his blue eyes alight with mischief.
"You're trouble Nathan Gale." I tease as we stare intensely into each other's eyes.
"Oh, you have no idea." He jokes in response.
The sound of footsteps behind us breaks us from our reverie and I turn to see Mum and Raini stepping out of the open doorway and heading in our direction, Raini carrying everyone's drinks on a tray. As Raini places the tray on the table, mum rubs my shoulders from behind and kisses the top of my head and Nathan stands, moving to the other side of the table to pull out the chairs for them.
"Such a gentleman," Raini admires.
"That's me, all of the manners, none of the money." He winks at Mum as she takes her seat.
"Nathan!" I scold and he grins, a full blown, wide smile that makes his face light up and his eyes sparkle, and I remember that smile. He used to tell me that he only ever smiled like that with me. It's been a long, long time since I've seen that smile.
The coffee is delicious, strong, yet milky with chocolatey tones. We sit in silence for a while, breathing in the aromas of morning. Dew laden grass warming in the rising sun, fresh clean air and rich coffee. It is a distinctly different morning to the previous one, with a distinctly different outlook, for the rest of the day, and the rest of our lives.
"No Steffan this morning?" Nathan finally asks, breaking the silence, and possibly feeling a little out numbered.
"The guards who were on duty yesterday have been called to an informal hearing at the court." Raini states matter-of-factly and her expression is unreadable.
"Will he be okay? I'd hate to think of him being in trouble because of me."
"Because of us." Mum corrects me.
"I'm sure it will be fine. They will probably receive a warning and be issued with additional training on the possible effects of herbal magic." Raini jokes as she looks at Mum with an amused smile. "I expect he will return before lunch, I think he's going to try and arrange a meeting with the Impergia for you, he's aware that you need to get back for your new job and your friend's wedding. She might be able to waver on the timings if you are willing to show additional commitment in the short term and you make a plan for your return visits here, and your marking ceremony."
"Your marking ceremony, when you receive your Melyniata."
"The ceremony that is supposed to happen when your sixteen?" I ask.
"The very same. As long as you are ready by then to accept the laws and ways of the Magia. It could take anywhere from several weeks to over a year, depending on how hard you work and how committed you are. I don't see it taking long."
"Raini," I ask curiously, "I never asked you what you do at the commune. If you have a job?"
"It's okay, you've had a lot on your mind. I'm a teacher. I teach children aged eight to eleven at the at the Magian school."
"That makes a lot of sense," I smile. Raini has a certain amount of patience, a kind smile, and a way of explaining things that make it seem like the perfect job for her.
"As well as teaching the key curriculum and basic spells, I start to introduce Magian law. It all seems so official and overwhelming but to be honest, its mostly common sense. Unfortunately, I think you have had quite a serious introduction into the Magian world. You'll soon see that life here or outside the commune, as a Magian, is much more laid back. I'm here to help you, if you ever need anything."
"Thank you so much. I really am grateful." I respond and I genuinely am. As much as I seem to have impressed most people, including the Malefidata Criende, with my natural abilities, I know very little about Magian life. My introduction to the Magia has included the loss of my father, a past full of pain, an arrest, an imprisonment and a court hearing. Not a very positive way to be introduced to anything. My head begins to reel as I am once again inundated by new information.
"What are your plans for the day?" Mum asks Nathan and I, trying to change the subject.
"I have some important calls to make once I have charged my phone." I grimace. I am so not looking forward to the wrath of Jess. Hopefully I can convince my Great Aunt that I need to get back to my life sooner rather than later. There must be some way for us to get home.
"It might be a good idea to phone after the meeting," mum suggests, "that way you will know what time scale you're dealing with and you can give Jess a clearer picture of when you will be around to help?"
"For now, we could swim." Nathan suggests with a mischievous grin. He is either eager to get me to do something fun and take my mind off things, or he is eager to see me in a bathing suit. I can't help thinking that it's a bit of both.
"I don't have a swimming costume." I remind him and his cheeky grin stretches a little further and I hit him playfully on the arm.
"I'm sure I can find something for both of you to wear." She grins and Nathan looks slightly disappointed.
I jump to my feet, pick up mine and Nathan's mugs and head inside.
"Someone's eager." I hear Raini giggle as she follows me inside.
Nathan and I spend far longer in the pool than we planned to, thanks to Nathan showing me how to keep the water at a constant temperature. Apparently, according to Raini, basic manipulation of the elements, such as changing the temperature, the force, or the rate of an element, is taught to children at an early age. I, however, still think it's all impressive. Then again, if Pottreus can build an entire city from raw materials and the imagination and memories of its population, I guess helping a daisy to grow isn't regarded as highly skilful. It's all so fascinating and I can't wait to learn more, but for now, it will have to wait. Steffan is home. We get out of the pool, extremely relaxed, yet extremely wrinkled and throw on our dressing gowns and flip flops and head inside to find everyone gathered around the fireplace, which remains unlit during the daytime. It turns out that Raini was exactly right. Luckily, a stern warning and further training is all that is required. There was no link made between Steffan and Mum as Steffan was knocked out along with the other guards, so they assumed he wasn't involved in it.
Then it dawns on me. My great aunt knew, she knew since the moment mum made her first phone call that we were coming, she knew I would be able to escape, she knew Steffan would help us, and she had done everything she could to aid us. Ultimately though, it was up to me to prove myself as Magian, in front of the court, in front of witnesses, and mum knew it too. There is no doubt in my mind that the Impergia is a very intelligent person and a conscientious leader. Steffan informs me that I have an informal meeting with her at four o'clock and I'm suddenly anxious that she will need to stick to her word, and we will not be able to leave the commune a few days early. Staying the required week wouldn't be so bad but getting home sooner would mean not having to change my start date at work or spend the next few weeks stopping my stressed-out best friend from turning into Bride-zilla. Maybe I can convince Nathan to play at the wedding, arranging an up and coming solo artist to be your evening entertainment is sure to be a strategic peace offering. Hopefully It won't come to that and I think I know what I need to do to ensure that it won't happen.
I need Raini.
I arrive at the courtroom just before four, Nathan has come with me to help me find my way back, and for moral support, yet as the lift stops outside the courtroom the scene is a very different one from the day before. All the doors leading into the courtroom are wide open, and there isn't a guard to be seen. The room itself has also changed, the rows of seats have gone, and the half-moon table is now one circular table in the centre of the room. The only people sat at the table being the architect and the Impergia. They both look smart, but they are dressed in much more casual attire. The atmosphere is much more relaxed, and it feels more like an open conference room than an official court.
"Gravenso Haylana Maia O'Tillania, Ravana dor te Galeo. Please, join us."
I edge warily over to the table and take a seat nearer the Impergia and Nathan sits next to me, between Pottreus and myself. "We are not here today to condemn you Hayley, we are here to help you." She reassures me. "So, let us know what it is you need, and we will see how we can find a way around it. As long as the Law of the Magia is followed."
I can't get over how relaxed she is, Pottreus still looks like he has a stick up his arse, but the Impergia is much more approachable.
"To begin," she speaks again, "I have been informed that you wish to return home slightly earlier than stated during the hearing yesterday. How much earlier? And how do you plan to balance out that missing time here at the Dinitta dor te Magia?"
"If the court allows, I would wish to return home on Sunday, with my mother and Nathan. It would mean leaving three days early. I have studied Magian law for people wishing to live outside the commune for several hours today, with the help of Raini Desere O'Tillania. I would be happy to prove that I have studied the essential laws, and will study any further laws that you request of me before I leave on Sunday. I could then return each weekend, for as long as needed, to continue my training." I glance around and I'm not surprised by the reactions I see on each individual face. Nathan looks proud, Pottreus looks a little relieved that our time together would be few and far between, and the Impergia looks reserved, but slightly impressed, as always.
"The court will consider your request, even though I would suggest every other weekend, you will need time to relax between working and studying, time to reconnect, time to build relationships with other Magia, inside and outside of the commune."Also, Pottreus would have to agree to giving up every other weekend. He has a very busy schedule, so it will have to be considered."
"It suits me perfectly." Pottreus interjects. I was right to think he wasn't too enamoured by the prospect of spending any length of time with me.
"That's good to know. You will also need to accept therefore, that it will take you a considerably longer amount of time to reach your marking ceremony."
"I have thought about that. Raini has agreed to mentor me whilst I am not here at the Dinitta, to pmove things along, My mother and Nathan have also both agreed to support me emotionally, to help adjust to all the changes I already have, and will have, to make. After our session together today, Raini thinks that I have the potential to achieve the mark with three months. If the Criende will allow me to try."
She nods, acceptingly, and turns to Nathan.
"And what say you, Ravana dor te Galeo?"
"I don't wish for much to change for me, apart from my permission to leave the Dinitta dor te Magia to be reinstated. I believe that I have over-paid my dues and all I wish for now is that Hayley and I to return to her home and start living the life that we have waited so long for. I have stood in this courtroom more than once, I am well versed in the laws of living outside the commune."
"Yet you still chose to push them to the limits." Pottreus interrupts sternly and I'm surprised when Nathan does nothing but smile.
"With all due respect, I am glad that I did. If I hadn't, Hayley would now be at home, her memories wiped, unaware of her powers, unaware of the consequences that may occur when they are not used properly. An uncontrolled witch, with a head full of mixed emotions and confusion. Fortunately for us all, her mother saw the signs and brought her here. Now she has proven herself as a talented Magian and I have been excused of any previous convictions. I have no boundaries left to push.
The only thing I have, and need, Is Hayley. And I will stand by her and her needs and her wishes. I will guide her, along with others, to understand and uphold the laws of the Magia."
I stare at Nathan in awe, my laid back, playful man has revealed a diplomatic, mature side that I never knew he had, and I'm impressed.
"I admit that you have served more than your due time," The Impergia confesses, "and I can now see that your actions have always have and will always be the right choices for Hayley. I am also sure that your experiences within the confines of the commune, whether deserved or not, will continue to deter you form pushing any boundaries again."
"I accept that."
"Then I think we can all agree, as long as you prove on Sunday morning that you have learned the basic laws, and those appertaining to leaving the commune, that you may return every other weekend for further study and training on your specific skills with Pottreus. I do have to warn you however, that if you break Magia law, you will be subject to trial and possible confinement within the commune."
"Now that, I am aware of." I smile and she returns my smile instantly.
Problem solved, just like that! Maybe everyone was right, I definitely had a bad introduction into the Magia. This meeting has been laid, back and more than fair. A feeling of hope rises inside me as we all stand together to signify the end of the meeting.
The Impergia moves towards me, takes my hands, holds me at arms-length and looks me up and down.
"I'm so glad you've come home Hayley. I'm looking forward to spending time with you and seeing you grow and develop in our world," With that, she pulls me to her and holds me firmly and I hear her whisper in my ear, "and by the way, call me Aunt Elsie from now on."
I beam from ear to ear as she releases me and shakes Nathan's hand.
"You are a strong, intuitive young man Ravana dor te Galeo. I'm happy that your convictions have seen you right in the end. Take care of my great niece."
"I will Aunt Elsie," he quips and she gives him a scornful, yet playful smile.