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I scribble a quick note to Aurora, telling her I need her advice as soon as possible. I don’t expect an immediate reply, but apparently my cryptic message catches her attention.

Have they fallen in love?

I struggle to put together words.

No, they have not. Heinrik has offered the chance to go home if she wants. She will ask to visit home before making her decision, but I think it likely she will come back here. She has grown accustomed a life of luxury. And despite her complaints, she and Bear have formed a close friendship. I believe Heinrik is even beginning to grow on her. But that’s not why I need your advice.

What is the problem, then?

For the first time, I feel guilty. Not just about the way he kidnapped Ingrid. I think I may have made a mistake cursing the prince like this.

There’s no response. I fidget nervously. It may be that I’m about to fail my final test. The thought that I might never become a sorceress is crippling. Aurora writes back, but the lines blur together and I can’t read it, even if I want to. My breathing grows faster and more shallow. I don’t know what to do anymore. I just don’t know what to do. The words repeat in my head, over and over, and I realize I’m saying them aloud.

“I don’t know what to do. What have I done? How can I fix this? What am I supposed to do?”

A gentle hand begins rubbing my back. I stiffen. Ingrid can’t see me like this. It would bring up too many questions. Besides, when I lose control of my emotions, it makes it harder to keep using magic. My disguise has completely disappeared.

“Oh Nova. You poor child.”

It’s Aurora. She must have gotten worried when I didn’t respond to her message.

I look up at her through bleary eyes, at an utter loss.

“I never told you about my own sorceress test. I think it’s time I told you that story.”

“But I thought you weren’t allowed. The tests are sacred. Apprentices can’t know what sort of thing to expect.”

Aurora nodded. “That is…partially true. Most sorceresses don’t discuss the tests with their apprentices for that reason. But I had other reasons for avoiding the subject. Pride, or embarrassment, perhaps. In this case, however, I think the help it might offer you is worth the unpleasant feelings.”

I sit up and listen with rapt attention.

“My final test was to identify a person in need and help. I found a young girl, a nobleman’s daughter, but her parents had both died. She lived with her abusive stepmother. This girl, Ella was her name, was resigned to her life. She was such a kind and gentle creature, I couldn’t help but want to aid her. I was so confident, more than I had reason to be. I’m afraid I went too far.”

“What do you mean?”

“I arranged to send her to a ball, a masquerade. I…influenced the prince, so that he only had eyes for her. The magic was so strong, I could only keep it up until midnight. I managed to warn her and she got away before the magic wore off. I had just enough power left to cause her to lose a shoe. The prince found it.”

I look at my mentor with new eyes. Every person on the continent knows the story of the servant girl who became queen with the help of a kind fairy godmother. It’s the type of sorceress I’ve always aspired to be. And Aurora did it as an apprentice.

“I made a terrible mistake, Nova.”

“What do you mean? I know how the story ends. Everyone knows how it ends. It’s a legend!”

“Well, it is now. You don’t know how much of the story is left out.”

“Left out?”

Aurora sighs. “I overestimated the intelligence of all the people involved. I should have left something other than a shoe! The prince was so infatuated with the girl he met at the ball, he insisted he would marry whichever girl fit the slipper left behind. Of course, the shoe fit nearly a hundred women, from young maidens to widowed grandmothers. He had no way of knowing which girl was the one he fell in ‘love’ with. There were riots in the streets and the monarchy almost collapsed.”

I can’t even blink, I’m so entranced. “What did you do?”

“I was lost. But then my mentor told me the story of her final test. You probably know it. The mermaid who wanted to be human? She caused a lot of trouble with that ruse. But she told me something that helped me figure out what to do. I’ve never forgotten her words, and whenever I perform magic of any kind, I keep them in mind.”

“What did she say?”

“Magic cannot change the nature of the world. It can only enhance what is already there.”

The words sounded like a spell, there was so much power in them.

“I suggested to the prince, in disguise, that he hold another ball for all the women the shoe fit. Perhaps he would recognize his love if he saw her in the same situation. I gave Ella a new dress, but I didn’t cast any of the spells to catch the prince’s eye. I left it entirely up to her. Fortunately, her experience at the first ball gave her all the confidence she needed to approach the prince. He recognized her, they got married, and the rest is history. So you see,” she says, gently stroking my hair, “magic isn’t the way to have them fall in love. Get to know them, but more importantly, help them get to know each other. They may even learn something about themselves in the process. You might learn something too.”

Aurora’s voice fades as she disappears and I fall into a deep sleep. I wake the next morning, refreshed. The events of the night before seem blurry, as if I had dreamed them. I shake off the haziness and check on Ingrid.

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