Today we're spotlighting Eleanor Glewwe's novel, Wildings!!
Read on for more about Eleanor, her novel, the first chapter reveal, and a giveaway!
Meet Eleanor Glewwe!
Eleanor Glewwe was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in Minnesota. She plays the cello and once braved a snowstorm to perform in a chamber music competition. At Swarthmore College, she studied linguistics, French, and Chinese and worked in the music library, shelving composers' biographies and binding scores with a needle and thread. More recently, she haunted the tunnels under the Minnesota State Capitol as a legislative advocate. Eleanor lives in Los Angeles, where she is a graduate student in linguistics. Visit her at eleanorglewwe.com.
Rivka is one of the magical elite and the daughter of an important ambassador. But she harbors a deep secret: She once had a twin brother, Arik. When Arik failed to develop his own magical abilities, the government declared him a wilding, removed him from his home, placed him with non-magical adoptive parents, and forbade him any contact with his birth family. Now it is as if he never existed at all.
But Rivka refuses to forget her twin brother. Even though she knows she could lose everything—her father, her friends, even her freedom—she sets out to find Arik. She has nothing to go on except her still-new magical powers and her love for her brother. Can that possibly be enough to bring them together again, when all of society believes they belong apart?
First Chapter Reveal
As the train hurtles along the rails, I press my face to the window. The flat countryside stretches to the horizon, interrupted only by a few twisted trees, their black branches still bare. The fields are patched with snow. There is nothing to see in this empty landscape, but I can’t tear my eyes away. After four dark years, I am on my way to Ashara at last.
“Mind your cello, Rivka,” Father says without looking up from the newspaper he is reading on the velvet seat opposite me.
I grip the handle of my cello case. The porters wanted to put it in the baggage car with our trunks. They assured Father that many Atsani magicians had entrusted their instruments to their care, but he wouldn’t hear of it. His own flute case lies beside him.
I will the drab fields and dirty snow to fly by faster, but instead the chugging of the wheels eases. The train’s whistle emits a long shriek. Why are we stopping?
Father looks up. “We’ve reached the border.”
My heart leaps. We’re about to cross from Atsan into Ashara. In a moment, I’ll be in the same city-state as my brother for the first time in four years. Excitement and yearning well up in me until I feel like I’m going to burst, but I’m careful to gaze calmly out the window.
Father retrieves our passports from his briefcase on the overhead luggage rack. We have to wait a while before border control reaches the first-class cars. At last, an officer in a black uniform enters our compartment.
“Ambassador Kadmiel,” he says with an Ashari accent, almost bowing to Father. I watch him curiously while he examines Father’s passport. Surely he is a kasir? But anyone can be dressed in a uniform, and so much has changed in Ashara since the Assembly was overthrown that I suppose anything is possible. Even halani checking passports at the border.
This is all a formality. Our papers are obviously in order. Everybody at the station must know this is the train on which the new Atsani ambassador to Ashara is arriving. But the officer must do his duty, so when he has finished with Father, I hand him my passport.
“My thanks, Gadin Kadmiel,” he says.
I nod, feeling very grown up. I am an ambassador’s daughter now.
The train starts to move again, and my heartbeat accelerates with the rhythmic clatter of the wheels. I can scarcely believe I’ve made it to Ashara. My hands tingle as it sinks in how close I am. I’ve been determined to go to Ashara since the night Mother died, but I had no illusions about the likelihood of my being able to travel that far on my own before I had at least finished secondary school. So when Father knocked on my bedroom door one evening a few months ago, I had no idea that my chance was about to arrive early.
“Come in,” I said, my stomach tightening.
The door swung open, and Father approached my desk. I kept my head bent over the musical score open before me. I knew Father was scrutinizing the music, noting the architecture of the spell, the nuances built into each part to shape the magic in subtle ways.
“Rivka, I have some news for you,” he said at last.
His grave tone made me look up. I couldn’t imagine why he should sound so serious, unless . . . Was he going to remarry?
“I have been appointed ambassador to Ashara,” Father said.
I was certain I’d misheard. “To where?”
“Ashara,” Father repeated. Was he gauging my reaction? I had to pretend Ashara meant nothing to me.
“That’s wonderful, Father.” My voice sounded mechanical. I couldn’t betray my eagerness to go to Ashara, but I couldn’t let him think he could leave me behind either. “Does this mean we’re moving to Ashara?”
“Would you be very upset to have to move?” Father asked.
“I don’t know.” I twisted around to face him. “When do you start?”
“In the spring, around the time you would be starting at Heshom.” Father’s gaze strayed to the envelope from the elite secondary school that was still sitting on my desk. It contained the acceptance letter I had received last week.
“I would go to Ashara with you,” I said.
“I do not want to uproot you from your life here and force you to grow up in a foreign city, Rivka,” Father said. “You know I resigned as ambassador to Kiriz when you were born.” The words rolled smoothly off his tongue, as though it was only ever me that was born.
“I’m older now, Father. I can come with you.”
“It is because you are older that I felt I could accept, knowing I might leave you in Atsan,” Father said.
My heartbeat quickened. I had to convince him to take me.
“I don’t want to stay here without you.” I had to be careful not to overdo it, lest he wonder at my sudden excessive attachment.
“My sister will be your guardian,” Father said. “She has already agreed.”
I teetered on the verge of panic. He wasn’t listening to me.
“Of course, you will board at Heshom,” he continued, “but you could spend holidays with—”
“Father, I would rather go with you. Truly.”
I detected a hint of surprise in his eyes, but it was a pleased surprise.
“My appointment may last for many years, Rivka, and we would not visit Atsan often. I don’t want to take you away from your friends.”
Inwardly, I snorted. What friends? Out loud, I said, “I understand. I still want to go with you. I’d like to see more of the world.”
I held my breath, worried I’d gone too far, but Father didn’t look the least bit suspicious. He almost looked approving.
“Very well. If you are sure, I will make arrangements to take you with me.”
“I’m sure, Father.”
He nodded. “There is a fine kasir school in Ashara called Firem. I will see about enrolling you there.”
With that, he left my room. The moment the door clicked shut, I jumped up from my chair. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt like I’d been set free from a cage. Finally. Finally. Years sooner than I had ever thought possible, I was going to Ashara.
A whistle blast draws me back to the present. I am abruptly aware of the tension of countless spells in the air, a sort of sticky thickness I last felt in Atsan. It was absent in the barren countryside between cities, but now our train is pulling into the station in Ashara. Outside the window, a cloud of steam obscures the platform. Then it drifts away, revealing the people gathered there to greet those arriving. Everyone is still dressed in the black wool coats of winter.
Hefting my cello, I follow Father out of the car and climb gingerly down the steep steps onto the platform. I pause to loop my arms through the shoulder straps of my case and lift it onto my back. Father is already plowing his way through the throng. I hasten after him, the bottom of my cello case whacking my legs at each step. We pass through the station’s high-ceilinged waiting room and emerge on a sidewalk. A line of black automobiles is idling along the curb. By the light of their headlamps, the cobbled street shines with melted snow. Next to one of the autos, a man with a gray beard and a floppy brown cap holds a sign that reads Ambassador Kadmiel.
“Father, what about our trunks?” I ask.
“They will follow us,” he says impatiently, approaching the chauffeur.
Once Father and I and our instruments are settled in the automobile, we drive away from the train station. The sun has long since set, and so my first glimpses of Ashara are steeped in shadows. We pass rows of narrow town houses, their balconies trimmed with fir boughs for the new year. These soon give way to larger buildings with shops on the ground floor, all shuttered for the night. A few autos rumble by, but I see no people, until our driver turns down a new street and stifles an exclamation.
I lean forward to peer out the windshield. At first, I can make little sense of the scene ahead. An auto parked slantwise in the middle of the street. A shattered storefront window. Silhouettes of men darting back and forth like phantoms, flashes of colored light springing from their hands. The air is sharp with the scent of freshly stirred magic.
“What is this?” Father demands.
Our driver, his posture stiff, noses the auto forward. Broken glass crunches under our wheels. As we pass between the stopped vehicle and the shop, I slide across the seat to my window. A broad-shouldered halan in a thick wool sweater stands in front of the damaged store, his hands raised, palms out. Two men loom over him, their backs to me, so close my door would hit them if I opened it. The shopkeeper pleads with the kasiri in words I can’t make out. I glance up at a second-story window and see a woman holding an infant, her fist pressed to her mouth. Her fear rubs off on me.
“What are—?” Father breaks off as though he has realized something. But what?
The auto lurches as our driver slams the brake. Two wild-eyed boys flit around our front fenders, carrying wooden boxes from the shop to the other side of the street. Are they trying to save their father’s wares? A figure chases them, hands outstretched, a dense swirl of darkness where his face should be. He looks like a creature from a nightmare. I hear a shout, and then I smell smoke, not the bitterness of magic but the scent of something actually burning. Our auto speeds down the block.
“Society,” the chauffeur mutters. It sounds like a curse.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
“Nothing,” says Father.
“Nothing?” I say, my voice high. “That man’s face—”
“An advanced masking enchantment,” Father says, as though identifying a spell for a classroom of students.
“But, Father,” I say, incredulous, “weren’t those men attacking—”
“Rivka,” he warns. I fall silent.
No one speaks for the rest of the ride. At last, we turn onto a wide street lined with limestone houses, each one flying a flag. I recognize the banners of Kiriz and Tekova, the black, silver, and red stripes of Xana, and the pine of Aevlia before spotting Atsan’s yellow half-moon on a dark blue field. The driver parks in front of our new home, and Father and I get out.
A woman stands in the doorway of the embassy, a ring of keys dangling from her hand. She is as tall as Father but thin as a rope. Her charcoal dress, white apron, and bun identify her as a member of the halan household staff.
The chauffeur lifts my cello from the trunk and hands it to me.
“Thank you,” I say to him.
“Come in, Gadin Kadmiel,” the servant says. “Welcome to the Atsani embassy.”
I mumble another thank-you, crossing the threshold with my cello. My winter traveling boots click on the gleaming hardwood floor. I squint up at the electric lights glowing steadily in the chandelier overhead.
“Good evening, Gadin Kadmiel,” says an Atsani-accented voice. I start. There is another woman in the foyer. Her dark, straight eyebrows are hawk-like, but her expression is kind.
“My name is Talya Liron,” she says.
I recognize her name. She’s the Deputy Head of Mission and has been in charge of the embassy since the old ambassador returned to Atsan. Now that Father is here, she’ll go back to being deputy.
“Pleased to meet you, Deputy Liron,” I say.
She turns to greet Father as he enters the house. “I hope your journey was smooth.”
“It was, until the very end,” Father says. “We drove through some Society activity on our way from the station.”
Deputy Liron frowns. “I’m sorry you had to see trouble on your first night.”
“Is this sort of thing common?”
Surely kasiri don’t often smash up halan businesses in Ashara. This never happened in Atsan.
“Common enough,” Father’s deputy says. “These halani won’t stop trying to open shops on kasir streets or send their children to kasir schools when they have perfectly good ones in their own neighborhoods.”
I blink, wondering if she and Father are talking about the same thing. Then I realize she means it’s the halani’s fault if their stores are destroyed. Now that I think about it, it is odd that a halan owned a shop in the wealthy district we were driving through.
“Thank you for waiting for us to arrive,” Father tells Deputy Liron.
“You’re most welcome,” she says, buttoning up her coat. “Good night, Ambassador. And welcome to Ashara.”
When the deputy has slipped out into the damp night, the servant introduces herself as Irit Yoram, the housekeeper. She leads us up the staircase to the second floor, which is a maze of hallways and office doors. This is still part of the chancery, the official part of the embassy where Father will spend his days with the diplomatic staff. The stairs to the ambassador’s residence are hidden away in a corner.
At the top of the steps, Gadi Yoram flips a switch, and electric light floods the third-floor foyer. “The dining room and parlor are that way,” she says, gesturing down the hall. “The bedrooms are upstairs. They have been aired out in preparation for your arrival.”
Father nods in approval. “Rivka, go choose a bedroom. Meet me here in fifteen minutes. We will dine out tonight.”
Hoisting my cello case onto my back again, I trudge up to the fourth floor. As I climb, I can hear Father instructing Gadi Yoram in the times we will take our meals and other mundane household matters. Soon their voices fade. The residence is eerily quiet. For a second, I let myself imagine another way things might have been, if Arik had been a magician and Mother had not died. We might all be moving into the embassy tonight, Mother darting gaily from room to room, exclaiming over some exquisite wallpaper or a charming set of candlesticks, Arik and I peering into bedroom after bedroom until we found the ones that suited us best. The vision fades, and I’m left alone in the silent corridor, facing half a dozen closed doors.
After locating the largest bedroom, which Father will surely claim, I choose the room farthest from it. The bed is freshly made with white sheets and a blue coverlet embroidered with silver. An oval mirror hangs over the dresser, and behind thick winter curtains, a window seat overlooks the street.
A few minutes later, Father and I depart for dinner on foot. The early spring night is cold, and I bury my hands in the pockets of my wool coat as I struggle to match Father’s long strides. The warm glow of the restaurant windows is a welcome sight.
A waiter ushers us to a table tucked behind a painted screen. The other diners take no notice of us. I suppose we fit right in with our black coats. It’s a bit disappointing to find Ashara so much like Atsan so far. When our waiter recites the menu, though, his accent reminds me that I’m in a foreign country.
While we wait for our food, Father drones on about having me fitted for school uniforms and selecting my classes at Firem. I nod at appropriate moments to give the impression that I’m paying attention. In reality, I’m trying to figure out how soon I can start looking for Arik.
At a pause in Father’s ramblings, I break in and ask, “What is the Society?”
My question doesn’t seem to surprise him. “The Society for Accord and Harmony is an Ashari civic association,” he says.
“Like your club in Atsan?” At home, Father joined other men of his station at a hotel once a month for dinner and conversation about politics. I don’t see the connection between that and what we witnessed tonight on the way to the embassy.
But Father nods. “Somewhat like that. The Society is dedicated to keeping the peace and promoting social harmony.”
Breaking shop windows hardly strikes me as keeping the peace, and Father must sense some doubt in me because he adds, “Someone must deal with troublemakers, Rivka. If the government is too spineless to confront social problems, it is the people’s duty to take matters into their own hands.”
Just then, the waiter appears with our stewed rabbit and roast potatoes, as well as a jug of red wine. Father pours a glass for himself and then, to my surprise, another for me. He raises his glass.
“Welcome to Ashara, Rivka.”
In the morning, after a tailor takes my measurements for my Firem uniforms, I explore the embassy. The other bedrooms are crammed with the relics of past ambassadors and their families: a child’s bookcase shaped like a birdhouse, a rock collection, a pair of worn binoculars. I descend to the third floor, testing the stairs for creaks so later I’ll know how to go up and down silently. Then I venture down the hallway to the music room. An upright piano with ivory keys stands against one wall. A phonograph sits in the corner beside a small writing desk, where a stack of blank staff paper is waiting for a magician to begin composing spells.
The rest of the third floor consists of the dining room where Father and I ate breakfast, a parlor, a library, and a study. I steal down to the second floor. The offices that were dark last night are brightly lit today. I glimpse an embassy secretary in a black suit through a half-open door, but I hurry past and walk down the carpeted steps to the first floor of the chancery.
Past Father’s and Deputy Liron’s offices, I find a spacious drawing room. Between the silk-covered divans and wingback chairs are little end tables whose lower shelves are filled with books. Kneeling in front of one table, I notice a guidebook wedged between an orphaned encyclopedia volume and an ebony bookend. It is entitled A Walker’s Illustrated Guide to Ashara. It’s thirty years out of date, but I’m excited to find it. I need to start looking for Arik as soon as possible.
The book is organized by district. Every few pages, there is an illustration of some landmark: a covered marketplace called the Ikhad, a bridge over the Davgir River, the Assembly Hall. More useful are the neighborhood maps. Parts of the city seem to be missing, though, and at last I figure out why: at the edges of several maps are blank gray fields marked Lower Classes. In other words, halan neighborhoods. That’s where I’ll find Arik.
Taking the guidebook, I return to my bedroom to fetch my coat. As I come bowling back down the steps into the embassy foyer, someone says, “Rivka, where are you going?”
It’s Deputy Liron, standing in the hallway that leads to her office.
“To ask Father if I can go out,” I say, breathless.
“Alone?” she says doubtfully.
Has Father said I’m not to leave the embassy on my own? I’ve been allowed to go out by myself since I was nine, as long as I told someone where I was going.
“I just want to explore the neighborhood,” I say politely. “I won’t get lost.”
“Won’t get lost where?” Father says, walking up behind Deputy Liron.
I stand a little straighter. “May I take a walk, Father?”
“Ashara is an unfamiliar city, Rivka,” he begins, but without exactly interrupting him, I manage to head him off.
“I found a guidebook,” I say, holding it up. “I know how to read a map.” I must win this battle. If I don’t have free rein to walk about the city, I won’t be able to accomplish what I’ve come here to do.
“Let me see,” says Father.
I reluctantly hand him the guide, resenting this inspection.
“It seems suitable,” he says at last. “But don’t stray too far.”
Outside, the sun is shining, though the air still has a wintry bite to it. The embassy flags snap in the stiff wind. Following a map, I walk eastward, toward the Davgir River and my new school. A few minutes later, I reach a square, and Firem rises before me, all stone columns and oaken doors.
It’s still the break between school years, and there are no students about. I open my walker’s guide again and hunt for one of the gray areas marked Lower Classes. I find a map showing such a neighborhood to the south of Firem. All I have to do is follow a wide boulevard that leads out of this square. Tucking the book under my arm, I set off for the halan district, my heart beating fast. The possibility is small, but there’s a chance I could find Arik today.
Limestone buildings line the boulevard, their ground floors occupied by shops and offices, with a café here and there. Though it is barely spring, some owners have already set tables outdoors. Kasiri wrapped in coats sip steaming glasses of rust-colored tea as they read the newspaper. The air smells of spices, but not the cardamom of home. A few autos creep up and down either side of the street, while in the middle, a shiny black streetcar rattles along tracks embedded in the cobblestones. There isn’t much room left for those of us on foot, and people jostle me as they hurry past. I’m so glad to have escaped the embassy that I don’t mind.
As in Atsan, the kasiri are dressed mostly in black, the women in ankle-length gowns, the men in felt hats. The halani wear more colors, and instead of buttoned coats they keep warm with rippling cloaks in brown and gray. I pass a florist and a tea dealer. Doors swing open as shopkeepers call out to delivery boys. The streetcar spits out its passengers, all halani, onto a platform in the middle of the street. It’s the end of the line, at least for now. Ahead, dust-streaked workers are laying new tracks in the dug-up street.
A few blocks beyond the construction site, the neighborhood changes. The bustle of the city center is gone, and limestone yields to soot-stained yellow brick. I don’t see any black-clad kasiri anymore, and I’m beginning to draw furtive looks from the halani. I keep moving, pretending I know where I’m going.
The street is missing cobbles in places, and tufty weeds stick out between slumps of gritty snow. The gutters gurgle with runoff from the shrinking drifts. There are no autos around, so children play in the streets without fear. Three girls in patched cloaks tear past me, caught up in a gleeful game of tag. They dodge a horse-drawn cart as it comes around the corner, and when the driver shakes his fist at them, they laugh.
I stop and look up at the windows of the apartment buildings on either side of me. Some are shuttered, some obscured by curtains, some even boarded up. A few are clear, but I can’t see anyone inside. Suddenly, the task I have set myself seems impossibly daunting. This is only one halan neighborhood of many in Ashara, and even if I wander its streets all afternoon, how can I be sure of learning whether Arik is here or not? I can hardly go around asking if anyone knows of a familythat adopted a wilding boy from Atsan about four years ago.To even utter such a question would be unthinkable. Nobody mentions wildings.
“Are you lost?”
I turn to face a girl my age. She wears a thick brown sweater and a knitted red scarf, and her long black hair is braided.
“No,” I say. It’s true. I know exactly what street I’m on.
“Are you sure?” she asks bluntly. “Because I don’t think this is where you want to be. Can I help you find something?”
“No, thank you,” I say with all the dignity I can muster.
The girl frowns. “Are you foreign?” Her tone softens. “You must really be lost. This is a halan neighborhood. The city center is that way.” She points in the direction I have come.
I stand my ground, but I have the acute sense of being unwelcome and of being watched by more eyes than I can see. I’m not afraid, just frustrated.
“Where are you from, anyway?” the girl asks.
She cocks her head. “Oh. Well, please take my advice, and stay in the kasir neighborhoods. I’m sure it’s obvious to you which ones those are.”
With that, she hurries away, leaving me to puzzle over her bold words. Do I have reason to fear being in this part of the city? No one would dare hurt me. Still, this isn’t where I belong. Neither is the embassy. Neither is Atsan. I’m not sure I’ve belonged anywhere since I lost Arik. The place I belong is wherever he is.
was born seven minutes before my brother, Arik. My earliest memories are of running wild through our house in Atsan while Father was at work and Mother reclined on a divan, writing letters to her friends or reviewing the cook’s menus for the week.
Like all kasir children in Atsan, we began music lessons when we were four years old. Father chose the violin for Arik and the cello for me. Arik took to the violin as if he’d been born to play it. Music flowed from his instrument like water from a spring. Our parents never had to urge him to practice; he would’ve played all day if he could have. For me practice was a chore, no matter how much I loved the cello.
As we grew older, Father began watching for the manifestation of our magical ability. Most kasir children show the first signs of having magic around eight or nine. Some of our classmates had already shown the signs, and it became a competition to see who would be next. It never occurred to us that someone in our class might not be a magician. We knew such a thing was possible, but it was something we’d only heard about vaguely, like a rare and unspeakable disease. There were words for such children. The official term was changeling. The more common one was wilding, like an apple tree growing in the wild from a seed escaped from the orchard. We didn’t know any wildings. We certainly couldn’t be wildings.
One day when we were eight and a half years old, Arik was watching me practice in the music room. I was staring at the sonata on my music stand. My teacher had assigned me the first movement for my next lesson, which was tomorrow, and I still hadn’t mastered the huge shift in the opening phrase.
“Imagine it before you play it,” Arik suggested. “Then it will come out perfectly.”
“Just because I know how it should sound doesn’t mean I can play it,” I retorted.
“Want me to try?”
I shrugged and held out my cello. We had been trading since the beginning, and we’d managed to get pretty good at each other’s instruments, though whenever Father caught us switching he’d grumble that we were wasting precious practice time on foolishness.
While my twin squinted at my music, I amused myself playing a waltz on his fiddle. I stopped when he raised my bow. The dreaded shift soared under his fingers, exactly in tune.
“It’s not fair,” I said. “You might as well learn my sonata for me.”
He laughed. “You know I couldn’t. Try again!”
Sighing, I exchanged his violin for my cello. I played the pick-up notes and then slid my fingers up the ebony fingerboard toward the high note. I hit it just right, and it sang as I drew it out. Before I reached the tip of my bow, though, a hum began to fill the music room. For a second, I thought it was some bizarre harmonic coming from my cello, but the hum grew louder, engulfing me. I caught a whiff of something unfamiliar but pleasantly spicy. The gas lamps flared on the walls. The next moment, both sound and light subsided, leaving only the mysterious scent. My ears rang. I lowered my arms and stared at Arik, who stared back at me.
Then he grinned. “You’re a magician!” He dashed into the corridor. “Mother, Father, come see! Rivka’s a magician!”
Because we were twins, everyone expected Arik’s magic to manifest soon after mine did. Father spoke of it as a sure thing. As the weeks slipped by, we had to let go of this idea, but Arik and I weren’t worried. We weren’t identical twins, after all.
I had more episodes like the first one. My lack of control frightened me, but slowly I figured out ways to channel my magic. I wasn’t casting real spells, but I could make certain things happen at will. By playing a wrong note, I stumbled upon a particular musical phrase that made the air smell of cardamom. It became my signature trick, until Arik threatened to hide my cello.
“You’re going to make me so sick of cardamom I won’t be able to enjoy Cook’s spice rolls anymore.”
“But it helps me,” I protested. “The more I do these tricks, the less it happens by accident.”
“Fine,” he said. “But at least do some of the other ones, like turning the gaslights blue, or shooting sparks out of your bow.”
Something dampened my high spirits. “Arik, I wish you could do magic.”
My brother laughed. “Don’t be so impatient, Rivka. My magic will come when it’s good and ready.”
He seemed genuinely unconcerned, but the same wasn’t true of our parents. By the time we were nine and a half, they were truly anxious. Mother took to watching us in the music room, lying on the sofa next to the piano. While Arik and I practiced our scales together, she would eye my brother, her brow pinched. Her presence made me painfully conscious of every flaw in my playing, but Arik didn’t mind. He played Mother’s favorite pieces until her brow cleared. Her instrument had been piano, but she rarely played now. She was neither an accomplished magician—she never helped Father cast the wards that protected our house—nor an accomplished musician, but she loved listening to Arik.
When Father came to the music room, it was much worse. One afternoon, he walked in while Mother was dozing and Arik was listening to me practice an étude. I broke off mid–bow stroke.
“Rivka, let us see your sparks,” Father said.
My heart sank. I knew what was coming, but I dared not disobey him. Swallowing, I played an aimless melody of lively triplets. Gold sparks popped above my bridge.
“Very good,” Father said. “Now you try, Arik.”
“I don’t know what to do, Father,” my brother said.
“Imitate your sister.”
Arik’s gaze crossed mine, and I saw the pleading look in his eyes. After all the times he’d helped me prepare for a lesson with my demanding cello teacher, now he needed my help, and I had nothing to offer him. I couldn’t make the magic burst forth from him. The only thing I could do was make Father stop, and I was too much of a coward to try.
Arik raised his violin and played exactly the same notes I had. Nothing happened.
“Try again,” Father ordered.
Miserably, Arik played the melody again. No sparks appeared. My face was hot with embarrassment for him.
“Are you really concentrating?” said Father, his sternness terrifying. “Again.”
“Nechemya, leave the poor boy alone,” Mother said faintly from her sofa.
“I cannot leave him alone when his tenth birthday is rapidly approaching,” Father said. Our birthday was the deadline for completing our official magic examination.
Arik knew better than to appeal to Mother. She might defend him halfheartedly, but she would always yield to Father in the end. Arik played my tune again, improvising some extra ornamentation. Nothing.
“Why can’t you be more like your sister?” Father said. I cringed. “Her magic manifested itself more than a year ago. I don’t understand it. You’re twins!”
“I’m trying, Father,” Arik said in a fragile voice, his gaze fixed on Father’s polished shoes.
“You’re not trying hard enough. Forget about that concerto your teacher seems to think you should learn. This is far more important. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Father.” Arik’s eyes brimmed with tears that he refused to shed, out of pride and fear of Father’s disgust.
Father stalked out of the music room. Immediately, I set down my cello and darted to Arik’s side.
“It’s not your fault,” I said in a rush. “He’s making you nervous. Besides, you can’t make yourself do magic. It just happens the first time. It’ll come soon, I know it.”
Arik nodded slowly. He looked toward the sofa where Mother lay, but her eyes were closed, and she was pinching the bridge of her nose, no doubt plagued by a headache.
“He’s gone now,” I said, as though Father wouldn’t return tomorrow or the day after. When that didn’t reassure my twin, I said, “Play something for me.”
Arik closed his eyes and launched into the piece he’d performed at his last recital. As he played the broad, majestic strokes of the opening, he seemed to grow taller. By the time he reached the fast section, his eyes were open, and he was smiling as his bow leaped joyfully across the strings.
Music might have been the balm that soothed Arik’s hurt, but it could not erase the reality that we were almost ten years old and he still hadn’t shown the slightest sign of having magic. While Mother kept insisting he was just a late bloomer, Father continued to watch us from the doorway of the music room, his expression stony.
One night, after we had gone to bed, Arik spoke through the darkness of our room.
“Rivka, I don’t think I have magic.”
“Don’t say that!” I said fiercely. “It’s not true.”
“It is,” he insisted. He didn’t sound upset or afraid but instead almost peaceful.
“That’s impossible.” I turned onto my side to face his bed, though I could barely see him. “We’re twins. We’re Kadmiels. No one in our family has ever not been a magician.”
“How do you know?” Arik asked.
Fear fell like a shadow over my heart. He was right. If there had ever been a child without magic in our family, nobody would have told us. Nobody would have spoken of it at all.
“Anyway, I can feel it,” said my brother. “I don’t have magic.”
“What do you mean you can feel it?”
“It’s . . . I think it’s the other sense.”
I shivered. The other sense was an uncanny ability to know things one had no way of knowing naturally. It was a gift all halani, and only halani, possessed. If Arik had it . . . I refused to consider what that meant.
“You have to be a magician,” I whispered through the dark. “If you’re not . . .”
I couldn’t say it. We both knew what would happen. The government would take him away, and he would be adopted by a halan family. He would be given a new name. He would no longer be a kasir. His old life would fade away. I shied away from these thoughts. Arik and I had shared everything our whole lives. It was unthinkable that one of us might be a kasir and the other a halan.
“I don’t want to leave you and Mother and Father,” Arik said in a small voice. For the first time, he sounded scared.
“You won’t have to. It’s going to be all right.”
“But what if it’s not? What if they take me away?”
“They won’t, Arik.”
He was silent a moment. Then he said, “We should make a plan, just in case. So we can find each other again.”
“Stop it.” I would burrow my head under my pillow if he kept this up.
“You have to listen, Rivka,” my brother said. “Please, let’s pick a meeting place. How about the arch bridge over the river?”
It was the oldest bridge in Atsan, built in the time of the kingdom of Erezai, before the cold times began and the north lands split into the different city-states. Every year at midwinter, it was hung with lanterns, and at midsummer, children dropped paper boats from its railings into the water.
“The arch bridge, at ten o’clock on Seventhday,” Arik said.
“All right,” I said, even though everything in me rebelled against contemplating a future in which Arik and I were separated. “I’ll come every Seventhday until I find you. I promise.”
By: Eleanor Glewwe
Release Date: November 1st, 2016
Publisher: Viking Books For Young Readers
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