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The prince waited.
He was, of course, in his famous castle, which surmounted a steep spur of the Labyrinthine Mountains. The walls of the castle were white, its roofs slate blue, the banners that flew from every parapet a deep sapphire.
Contrary to what mages from other realms often believed, the castle was a private residence and not the prince's administrative seat, which was two hundred and fifty miles west-‘and currently occupied by the regent.
For the prince, at sixteen, was still a year and five months from taking the reins of power. But it was not for the day when he would rule in his own right that he waited, but something else altogether.
He called that someone Fairfax. He'd never met Fairfax. He didn't know where to find Fairfax. On some days, he doubted that Fairfax existed at all.
Yet he waited.
Because nothing else mattered, only Fairfax.
For centuries historians and magical theorists have debated the correlation between the rise of subtle magic and the decline of elemental magic. Were they merely parallel developments or did one cause the other? An agreement may never come, but we do know that the decline affected not only the number of elemental mages-‘from approximately three percent of the general population to less than one percent-‘but the power each individual elemental mage wields over the elements.
This was already very much in evidence generations before the events of the Last Great Rebellion. Long gone was the golden age of elemental magic, when mages could set a mountain in perpetual motion or cleave a landmass in two with surgical precision. In Y.D. 1031, the year Iolanthe Seabourne turned sixteen, the strongest elemental mages still managed impressive feats. Some quarry workers regularly lifted twenty-ton blocks of stone, the record of the decade being one hundred thirty-five tons. But most elemental mages were scarcely more than curiosities and made few uses of their dwindling powers.
–From A Chronological Survey of the Last Great Rebellion
Fire was easy for Iolanthe Seabourne.
In fact, there was nothing easier.
She also commanded water and earth, but the element for which she had the greatest affinity had always been fire. With a mere thought, she could summon a roaring flame and bend it entirely to her will.
On this bright April day, standing on a high bluff, she did precisely that, sculpting a great mass of fire into a perfect sphere twenty feet across, suspended above the pounding surf of the North Atlantic.
She never directly touched fire, of course. But always, when she manipulated fire, she sensed its docility, as malleable as clay.
Mastery, control, power-‘fire gave her such sweet illusions.
She beckoned with her fingers. Streams of water surged up from the waves, arced over the fireball, and spread to form a globe enclosure around it. Stray droplets gleamed briefly under the sun before falling into the flame and sizzling into puffs of steam.
Spectacle, originality, excitement: those were Mrs. Oakbluff's requirements.
Iolanthe flicked her nails. The shell of water shattered in a burst of splashy glitter. She yanked her hands apart. The ball of fire split into sixteen trails of flames, one for each of the torches along the path of light at Mrs. Oakbluff's daughter's wedding.
Master Haywood's annual review was scheduled to take place the day after the wedding: Rumors were rampant that Mrs. Oakbluff planned to dismiss him from his current post of village schoolmaster.
And so it was that Iolanthe had volunteered to perform the lighting of the path. I can give you a better show than any mage you can hire from the Majestic Circus, she'd promised Mrs. Oakbluff. And with the money you save, you can serve white caviar at the wedding.
She knew Mrs. Oakbluff wanted to impress her snooty future in-laws. White caviar might not be enough, but it was a start. And maybe, just maybe, if the wedding proved a tremendous success, she might give Master Haywood another reprieve.
Mrs. Oakbluff had looked at her with an expression of kind pity. Sometimes I forget which one of you is the guardian, which one the ward.