Magic was ruining her life.
Ariana scowled at the cherry blossoms, at the cheerful, chirpy birds and the verdant grass. She hated it all. She hated the one-room smoky cottage, the freshly-tilled fields, even the warm, delicious sunlight. Most of all, she hated the letter in her pocket. “Miss Ariana Summerset,” it said, “We request the pleasure of your company.” It was signed by the King.
Most girls—like Ariana’s neighbor, Kate—would have been ecstatic. They lusted for any magic, let alone Ariana’s particular Gift: silver, the rarest and the most powerful. But silver magic was a cheat. It was wild, uncontrollable. It did things you didn’t want, like turn a perfectly lovely silk dress into boots. (One muddy boot, to be exact.) Or a fragrant lamb stew into trout. (Ariana hated fish.) In short, the magic could give you anything, except what you asked for.
Ariana pulled out the letter. She ripped it in half and let the pieces flutter to the ground. For good measure, she stomped on the creamy, ruffled paper. But she still had to go.
* * *
Amy stared at the clock. 2:31 A.M. Dear God, when would her shift be over? She inhaled sharply, which was a mistake. The doctors’ workroom smelled like chili fries from the cafeteria. Amy would never be cruel enough to force anyone to breathe that—disgusting greasy-paprika-French fries—for hours and hours. Who was responsible for this? She hoped he died of an early heart attack. (It was obviously a guy. No big loss there.)
2:33 A.M. Amy wondered why she became a doctor in the first place. Back then, she had no clue what it entailed. She was simply good at tests. Now she had time to regret every right answer, every elegantly-worded and poetic essay. If only her SATs or MCATs or USMLEs were lower, dammit. Then she wouldn’t be in this fix.
* * *
Ariana stood at the entrance to the palace. She had a distinct feeling of foreboding. Kings did not summon without purpose. And while the King of her country was old, fat, lame, and slightly demented, he was still King.
Perhaps, she was about to become a Queen. Her beauty was famed throughout the land. Ariana smirked; she had smallish eyes, a pug nose, freckles, and curly hair. Her arms were skinny, her chest flat, and her legs long and muscular. No one was going to crown her anytime soon. Queen Who Looks Like a Horse, maybe.
No, the King wanted her for her magic, her incredible Gift. The cloud of joy that ruined her cooking and made her the most useless wizard alive. I wish I was Katharina Hoe! Kate had green magic and grew sugary-sweet, snap-in-your-mouth corn. Her family had been farmers for generations. Kate was engaged to the blacksmith’s son, which was an old tradition, especially since Kate was pregnant too.
The blacksmith’s son was attractive, but Ariana knew he would run to fat. In a couple of years, his forearms would be flabby. Come to think of it, Ariana did not envy Kate that much.
The guards ushered her in.
* * *
“Code Blue. Adult Code Blue.”
When Amy heard the loud-speaker, she was momentarily stunned. A few seconds later, her code pager rang, and she sparked into action. Someone was dead in the Neurosciences unit. Shit. Double shit. And I was having such a quiet night! Amy dashed out the door and took the stairs. She might look like a horse, but she could beat the elevator any day.
By the time she got to the dead man’s room, a crowd had gathered. A nurse was doing chest compressions. They were the slowest, wimpiest chest compressions Amy had ever seen. She shoved the nurse aside and started counting in her head: “One, a-two, a-three, a-four.” Fast, like a real pulse.
Amy felt a rib break under her hands. Craaack. Another rib snapped. After two minutes, she realized she was standing in a puddle of vomit. The dead man had vomited before he died. Her hands were slick with green, foul stuff. Oh well. Can’t be worse than chili fries.
But it was.
Amy looked down at the man she was ruthlessly punishing. He was seventy-two, paralyzed and mindless after a stroke. Amy had the distinct feeling that it was his time to go. And yet, here she was, saving his life.
* * *
The young man lay motionless on the bed. His cheeks were hollow, his skin pale. He was beautiful, Ariana thought, even now: a winter’s child.
The fever had taken its toll.
The King was beside himself with grief.
“Please save him,” the King begged.
“I’m sorry,” Ariana said, “You need a real wizard.”
The King closed his eyes, and Ariana realized that the real wizards had come—and gone—and she was his last, wild hope.
“Give me some time alone with him,” she said.
As soon as the King left, Ariana’s plan was to escape now, while she still had a chance. But she couldn’t tear herself away from the Prince. He was much better-looking than the blacksmith’s son.
She folded her arms. “Hello, Magic. You there, who ruined my dress and my stew and let the chickens out . . . Are you listening?”
The room stayed still and silent. A bit of cobweb floated down from the ceiling. Ariana sighed. She touched the Prince’s hand, which was ice-cold. Unlike her own callused paws, it was smooth and finely shaped. Ariana wondered what it would be like if the Prince opened his eyes and kissed her. Katarina Hoe would definitely be jealous.
* * *
Amy reached deep inside herself and willed the man to die. Don’t come back. Leave, and be at peace.
* * *
Ariana reached deep inside herself and willed the man to live.
* * *
“Okay,” Amy said, “Let’s call it. I think he’s gone.” The nurses gave her resigned, tragic looks. They had failed. Medical science had failed. But Amy hid her smile. She could almost see the man’s spirit float off into the Ever-After. It waved.
* * *
“And then what happened?” Kate said.
“The Prince woke up.”
“Did he kiss you?”
Ariana shook her head. “Are you kidding? I jumped out the window before he could say a word.”
“You’re crazy!” Kate howled.
“Trust me,” Ariana said, “the last thing I need is a Prince.”
Madeline Leong is a writer and doctor in Baltimore, MD. Her home on the web is: http://madelineleong.blogspot.com/