When Ma stopped the cart in front of the gate, all twelve of us mobbed her.
“Did you get my new blade?” Ry asked, digging through the sacks at the back. He pulled a sheathed sword from the pile and drew it. “Yes!” he breathed, grinning at his reflection in the polished metal.
“The dragon chow is back there, Tomas,” Ma called to me. “And there was a letter for you.”
“A letter?” I paused with the sack of dragon food just hoisted to my shoulder. Who would be writing me a letter, except…
Ma jumped from the cart and came toward me, all smiles. She gave me a big hug, then handed me a very official-looking parchment scroll with a wax seal, with the insignia of the Royal Academie of Magiks impressed in it.
I should have been thrilled. Absoutely giddy.
“Thanks, Ma,” I bent down to give her a quick kiss on the cheek, then walked off toward the back of the house. Glancing back once, I saw her watching me with a puzzled expression.
“All right, everyone help me unload the cart!” She clapped her hands sharply and all my brothers and sisters stopped admiring Ry’s new blade and jumped to help.
Slowly I trudged toward the stone pen out back, balancing the heavy sack on my shoulder and prying open the scroll with my other hand. My breath came faster as I read, “Your recommendations and submitted spellwork were most impressive, however, we will not be able to give a final decision on your admittance unless we conduct a personal interview and entrance examination to be held the week following this upcoming summer solstice. You will please report to the academy at that time if you wish to continue to be considered for enrollment.”
It was what I had always wanted. A chance at being a mage. Everyone had always said I had the talent for it.
As I came to the wall of the pen, Aspen crawled from inside the rock house I’d built for her and looked at me with her wise, golden eyes. I remembered a premonition I’d had the day I got her. “If you buy this baby dragon, you’ll never be a mage.”
Ridiculous, I had thought. Lots of mages keep dragons.
But I wasn’t a mage, not yet, and I knew I couldn’t take Aspen to school with me.
Even if I went, even if I took the entrance exam, what were the chances that I would pass? I was only a country boy, only sort-of apprenticed to the village wizard on the days he had time to bother with me.
Aspen’s long neck snaked over the wall. She sniffed at the sack on my shoulder and made her purring sound. I scratched the fur around her antlers, then set down the sack and opened the top. Ma had made it plain that she didn’t have time to care for a dragon. If I went away to the academy, I’d have to sell Aspen, or give her away. And then, if I failed to get in, when I came back, Aspen would be gone. I’d have lost everything.
“Here girl,” I said, holding up the scroll. “Ready? Fire!”
Aspen shot out a spurt of flame. The scroll caught and sizzled into ash in a few seconds.
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