I just needed a little magic. Just a little. Enough to get the fire started, get the room warm, maybe to save my mother. I heard her moan from her pallet along the wall. I rearranged the wet wood in the fireplace. If I could just get the wood to burn. I could make a little soup, a cup of tea, anything to warm her up. Me too, to be honest.
She moaned again. I knew she had a fever. If the soldiers had just left any of my brothers or sisters behind I wouldn’t be in this fix. But they took all of the people with magic abilities off to fight the war. Father had been taken a year ago. Yesterday, they came for the rest. The wailing and screaming in the village had been horrific. My stomach roiled just thinking about it as I struggled to light the fire.
“Come on.” I willed my shaking hands to strike the flint against the steel but they were too cold. My sister Hilda would have just held her hand over the tiny pile of kindling and it would have burst into flame. A year younger than me she always gave me a hug when she made the fire. It was my job, but she knew I didn’t have any magic. A tear ran down my face. And now she was gone, along with my littlest sister, Maggie, and my big brothers, Todd and Edward. All gone. Dragged away to fight even though Maggie was only eight.
My hands shook more, with anger this time. How were we supposed to plow the fields or plant the crops with so many villagers gone? I glared at the tiny pile in the fireplace, gripping the flint until it cut my hand. The wood smoked then burst into flame. I rocked back from my squat and sat hard on the floor, staring. The flame began to die down and I scrambled to my feet to feed the tiny fire twigs, then sticks, then wood. I piled the wood on, uncaring if I set the house on fire or not. Mother would be warm, at least tonight. I set the kettle on the hob and put the pot on the hook, filled it with water and the jerky and vegetables I’d already prepared. I put two pinches of salt in the pot, unconcerned with where more salt would come from.
Another pot went next to the fire and I filled it with water to warm. Clean water to wipe mother’s face and hands. As I tended her, I finally allowed myself to think about the fire. The mage yesterday took one look at me and passed me by even as the soldiers were dragging my brothers and sisters out of the house. Mother cried out from her sick bed and it broke my heart. There was nothing she could do. She didn’t have any more magic than I did. But, I did have magic. I started a fire!
How had I done it? I just remembered feeling angry. So angry. Rage, that’s what it was. Rage against the king and his stupid war. Rage against the mage and the soldiers. Rage against my mother’s sickness. The water in the bowl I was dipping the rag into began to boil. I dropped the rag into the water and blinked. The water calmed but was hot.
I put the bowl on the table and wrapped my arms around myself. I’d never been so angry before in my life. I did have magic but just a little. I used both hands to wipe the tears from my eyes. So little magic I was of no use to the King but here, well, here I was of use. I wondered how many of the other villagers had tiny sparks of magic?
The next morning I went door to door and asked the remaining people. They shook their heads but I could see in their eyes that they were going to try. The priest, so old that the mage and the soldiers left him behind even though he did have magic, patted me on the shoulder.
“Child. Be careful. Don’t let that rage take over just for a bit of magic.”
He was a fool. All I had left was rage. Hadn’t the King’s men dragged off more than three quarters of our village? “Who will do the plowing and planting, priest? Me? I’m twelve. Mother is sick. The rest of the village is in the same shape I am. Too young, too old, too sick. We’ll starve.”
His eyes filled with tears as he nodded. “True, child. But rage will burn you up.”
“Maybe.” I turned and left.
Mother died not long after I found my rage. It was a hard year. I grew hard with it. We worked together, we survivors. We plowed and planted. We learned to hunt and forage. Winter killed many of us but at the next spring we that remained were stronger. I was leader, even though I was only just come into my womanhood. We gathered wood, nurtured our tiny magics, made plans.
The King lost his war. The new King’s soldiers came through and saw the pitiful remnant we were and went away. We grew stronger. We had children. We made contacts throughout the land with others like us. We hid our tiny magics until it was time. Then we attacked. The mages first, then the new king and his lords. It didn’t take long. They underestimated us. We had no great magic.
I was named Leader, I refused to be called Queen. Many wanted to kill everyone with magic. I said no. Would we kill ourselves? I set the cleverest of us to creating weapons that needed no magic. We would be ready when and if the time came, magic or not.