Anna held her breath as she drew a dragon sinew from the jar. Slowly, carefully, she laid it into the groove she had cut in the ash rod. Only once she was sure that it was safely in place did she let herself relax and start considering the gold clasps that would complete the magic wand.
The door opened and Master Bromhide strode in. The woman who followed him was as young as Anna and had a wild mass of black hair framing her face like a halo.
“Anna, this is Helen, my other apprentice,” Bromhide said with a scowl. “Dealing with you separately has become too much work. Now you can sit together. Don’t let it distract you. I’ll know if the wands aren’t made right.”
He walked back out, slamming the door behind him.
Helen slung her bedding down in the corner of the room, then came to sit at the workbench.
“How long have you been apprenticed to the old bastard?” she asked, testing the balance of an oak rod.
Anna stared at her in shock and amazement. She would never have dared talk about Bromhide that way.
“Three years,” she said.
“Me too. Imagine the lengths he went to to keep us apart. What a control freak.” Helen glanced at Anna’s work. “Nice runes.”
“Thank you.” A soft, tickling feeling filled Anna’s chest. “That’s, um, a good choice of wood.”
“Wood’s never a good choice.” Helen sniggered and Anna looked at her in confusion. “Never mind.”
Bromhide reappeared and flung two rolls of parchment down on the table.
“This week’s orders, one list for each of you.” He picked up the wand that Anna had been working on. “What is this half-finished rubbish?” He smacked her across the back of her head, then did the same to Helen. “From now on, if one of you mucks up, you both get punished.”
Then he stomped out, locking the door behind him.
“I only just started,” Anna said, cradling the half-made wand in her hands.
“Forget him.” Helen put an arm around her shoulders. Anna leaned in and felt some of her sadness float away. “Why don’t we work together?”
“That would be more fun,” Anna said. “But are we allowed?”
“Who’s going to know?” Helen unrolled one of the lists. “Let’s see what’s up first.”
By the end of the day, two small stacks of completed wands sat on the end of the workbench. The apprentices alternated between working from each of their lists, making sure that they would each have something to show Bromhide. They talked and laughed as they worked, conjuring up dreams of running away to other cities where they could be wand makers in their own right. They described the grand houses they would live in, the noble clients they would serve, the fame they would earn. For the first time in three years, Anna’s workroom and home was a place of joy.
The laughter stopped as a key turned in the lock. Each of them hunched over a half-made wand, serious expressions on their faces.
Bromhide walked in. His habitual scowl eased a little as he looked at the pile of wands. But as he peered more closely, darkness descended.
“I told you to each work on your own list,” he said.
“We did,” Helen replied. “Look, we’ve each made some.”
“This was on Anna’s list,” he said, picking up a slender ash stem wrapped around with unicorn hair and silver wire. “But you don’t tie them off this way. She does.”
He pointed the wand at Helen and twitched the end. She gasped and fell convulsing to the floor.
“Stop being so melodramatic,” Bromhide said. “Neither of you can make wands that powerful.”
Anna stared in horror as her new friend writhed in pain. She had accepted so much cruelty over the years, telling herself she could bear it to learn her craft. Seeing someone else suffer was different.
She grabbed one of the wands and pointed it at him.
“Maybe we’re not that powerful on our own,” she said. “But together…”
She twisted the wand in the air. Magic flowed from the ether, through the wand, and into the world. There was a sickening crunch as Bromhide’s arm bent back on itself. He screamed and his wand clattered on the floor.
“I’ll see you both rot for this,” he bellowed.
Anna stooped and helped Helen to her feet. The other girl was still shaking, but she was grinning too. She picked up the piles of wands.
“You can’t punish us if you can’t catch us.” She turned Anna. “Would you like to run away to another city with me?”
Smiling, Anna took her hand and led her out the door.
* * *
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