Shade and Sorceress
other students, whom she saw only as a group of pinched, unwashed faces staring at her with undisguised hostility. She remembered how she had felt sitting down at her desk that first day, shivering and miserable in her boots and coat. It had seemed impossible, intolerable that this would be her life from now on. And yet within a few weeks that long walk to and from school was simply habit, and if she was lonely at school, that too was nothing out of the ordinary. She got used to everything in the end, simply waiting out the worst until she and her father moved on.
But this was stranger and more frightening than the Karbek mountains, the scowling men with guns at their hips in Huir-Kosta, or the bandit raids in Quan, and she was entirely alone, without her father to comfort and take care of her. She longed for his broad, cool hand on her forehead, his wry grin and laughing eyes. She wanted to be in Holburg, in her own bed, listening to the wind in the trees, straining for the sound of the surf. A sob swelled in her chest. Before she released it she heard a little scuffling sound and a soft mew. She looked up to see a lanky grey cat at the foot of the bed looking at her with bright, inquisitive eyes.
“Hi, you,” said Eliza, reaching out a hand. The cat approached, sniffed her fingers once or twice, then rubbed its face up against her hand. A purr rose from its throat. Eliza lifted the cat onto her stomach and lay back against the pillows, her tears unshed. In fact, she was terribly tired. With the warm body of the cat against hers, its deep purr soothing her, she fell quickly and soundly asleep.

~ Chapter 4 ~
When Eliza woke to her second day in the Mancer Citadel Missus Ash was already in her room drawing the curtains.
“Good morning, chicken,” she chimed. “I’ve got a hot breakfast ready for you in the kitchen.”
Eliza sat up. She could feel the warm spot next to her where the cat must have been just moments before and looked around the room for it. Missus Ash chuckled.
“Looking for Smoky? He ran out just as I came in.”
“Is he your cat?”
“He is, aye,” said Missus Ash. “You dinnay mind him, do ye?”
Eliza shook her head. “I like cats.”
“Lah, that’s fine then. He took to you quick enough, to spend the night in your bed. I’ve never seen the like with that cat.”
“My father’s Sorma,” said Eliza. “Animals always like me.”
“That explains it!” said Missus Ash with a smile. “Lah, do you wear that thing to bed, too?”
Eliza remembered the heavy pendant around her neck. “They said to nary take it off,” she said.
“Very wise, no doubt,” agreed Missus Ash. “Come on. Let’s get some breakfast in ye.”
In the kitchen, Eliza devoured a hot bowl of porridge with brown sugar and golden syrup and then asked Missus Ash for the second time, “How did you end up working here?”
“That’s a story too long for this morning,” said Missus Ash with an odd smile. Eliza was disappointed but couldn’t think of any way to press her for more without being rude.
“So Charlie has been coming here during the holidays since he was a little boy?” she asked.
“Aye, that’s right, chicken.”
“Where is he now?”
“Up to no good, I spec. But you’ll nay be joining him in that this morning, Miss Eliza Tok. You are to report to the Spellmaster in the Library.”
“What for?” asked Eliza, alarmed.
Missus Ash gave her a twinkling little smile. “Your lessons, o’ course.”
~
Missus Ash took Eliza to the top floor of the north wing. They had to take a great many breaks on the way up and Missus Ash was panting for breath by the end.
“No reason they cannay install an elevator,” she muttered, walking Eliza down the length of an empty hallway. “Now, where is it, where is it?” She paused and knocked on the wall. A door appeared a bit further down and opened. A Mancer with a silvery hue to his skin stepped out and greeted them. His eyes had a softer light than the other Mancers she

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