The waiting room was enormous. Far bigger than I’d expected when I applied to meet with the king. Of course, I should have realized, on any normal audience day the room was probably packed with supplicants. But today was a special day. Today was First Day.
First Day is magical. Literally. There are two general ways to celebrate. At home, waiting for the end, which is what a good majority of the realm does, or out mingling with other magicians, waiting to see if this is the beginning.
Only a few people are brave enough to talk to the Twain King on First Day. Or, maybe crazy is what they are. I’m one of those crazy, brave souls. Apparently the old lady in the corner is, too.
Scattered all around the room, sitting in chairs, standing on tables, and laying on the floor, were stuffed patchwork animals. Their glass eyes were making me uncomfortable. They all seemed to be staring at me, no matter where they were. In fact, I could almost swear they moved, just to keep their little eyes on me. Maybe I’m more of the crazy, less of the brave than I thought.
The guards, two to each side of the huge throne room door, are staring straight ahead, pretending not to notice two lowly applicants like me and the old woman. I can’t blame them. The ancient one is bent and crooked and she probably smelled. Not that I planned to venture close enough to find out for sure.
My clothes named me a peasant. Of course, that wasn’t my fault. It was my parents’, but I don’t want to talk about that just now.
I’m nervous, so I pace. Too close to the hag. Yep, she smells. Mostly of cabbage. But there’s something else there, too, something I can’t quite place. Time to be moving on. The town hall clock’s distant chiming says it’s almost audience time.
The whisper stops me in my tracks. I wait. And wait some more. Again, “hush!” The whisper is a little louder and more forceful this time.
“Madam,” I try to be as polite as I can be. One never knows when one might be talking to a magician. “Is there something I can be of assistance with?”
The old woman is startled. “No, but thank you for enquiring.” Her voice is brittle, almost like it’s never used. Not the voice of a magician, and definitely not the voice I’d heard.
I bow to her. Again, politeness. That’s my parents’ fault, too. I stride over to ask the guards a question. As I pass the patchwork giraffe, I hear again, “hush!”
But this time, I saw the lion’s mouth move. I know it was him. Even if I can’t prove it. Too late to try, regardless. The guard on the left just called my name.