C. Dale Brittain

Daughter of Magic


She was slimy, streaked with blood, squalling, and so small I could hold her in my cupped hands. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.

The midwife whipped her away from me, washed and dried her tenderly, then laid her, wrapped in a blanket, on Theodora’s breast.

“Thank you,” said Theodora weakly. Her face was pale with exhaustion, but she looked, if possible, even happier than I felt. “You can take a rest now.”

The midwife looked at me distrustingly, as she had for the last two hours, but closed the door behind her as she left. I sat down beside Theodora, brushed the sweaty hair away from her forehead, and kissed it gently. Our baby found the nipple, stopped crying, and began to drink.

“We’ll call her Theodora,” I said, touching the baby’s impossibly small fingers with one of my own.

Theodora smiled but shook her head. “We’ll do no such thing.”

“But I thought that was your mother’s and grandmother’s name before you.”

“And further back than that. But if our daughter and I both have the same name, either you’ll call her Theo or some such foolish nickname, or else you’ll start calling me Mother. That’s what happened to my parents.”

I laughed. “I’m unlikely to start thinking of you as my mother. But we’ll name her whatever you like.” I handed Theodora a cup of water, and she drank deeply. “I thought childbirth was supposed to be easy for witches.”

She looked at me in amusement over the rim of the cup. “I’m never going to persuade you I’m not a witch, am I. But I gather you have never seen any other woman give birth?”

“Of course not. And the midwife almost didn’t let me be here.”

“Fathers aren’t usually welcome. But this was an easy birth in comparison to most. Even with the best magic, neither birth nor death will ever be painless.”

I nodded. “Death I know about.”

“And now you know about birth.” Our baby was drinking more slowly now, and her eyes were half closed. Theodora stroked her tiny tuft of hair as if in wonderment. “Her hair’s going to be lighter than mine, almost chestnut colored.”

The same color, I thought, that mine would be if it hadn’t turned white when I was twenty-nine.

“I hope her eyes stay blue,” added Theodora.

I had a vague sense that babies’ eyes, like kittens’, changed color in a few weeks, but I didn’t say anything.

“We’ll name her Antonia,” said Theodora.

“An excellent name,” I agreed. I would indeed have agreed happily to anything. Such an obviously perfect child would have given beauty even to an ugly name. I imagined for a moment all the wonderful things that Antonia would do while growing up. “We’ll have the bishop baptize her.”

Theodora too had almost started to doze, but at this she opened her eyes and frowned. “I don’t think the bishop will want to baptize an illegitimate child himself.”

“The bishop and I have been friends for twenty years, and he likes you. He’ll be happy to.”

“And aren’t you worried about what the wizards’ school will say if one of their graduates publicly acknowledges his liaison with a witch?”

Since I had no intention of worrying about what the school did or did not think appropriate, I stayed with the topic of the bishop. “It’s certainly not Antonia’s fault that her parents were heedless. And-” I hesitated, not wanting to put pressure on Theodora while she was weak. But I had to say it. “We can still be married.”

I needn’t have worried about putting pressure on her. She just smiled and leaned back against the pillows, closing her eyes. “We’ve already been through all this, Daimbert. I can’t let you destroy your career as a wizard by marrying me.”

I should have known she would say that. I kissed her on the cheek. “Just remember I love you,” I whispered, but both mother and baby were already asleep. Carefully I adjusted the blanket around them. I had no way of anticipating that five years later I would decide I had to kill a rival for Theodora’s affections.



The clash of swords shattered the night stillness. For a second I tried to incorporate the sound into my dream, but then I sat up abruptly to hear the clang of steel on steel with waking ears. My casement windows opened onto the castle courtyard, and the sound came from the direction of the gate.

In a second I was out of bed, my heart pounding wildly, fumbling with numb fingers at the door latch. We never had armed violence here in the kingdom of Yurt. The night watchman had for years been only a formality, but this sounded like real fighting.

But by the time I was out in the courtyard, the cobblestones cold and hard underfoot, the clashing had stopped. The night and silence were ominous.

I flew through the courtyard toward the gate, shaping a paralysis spell for whomever I would find. A lantern burned where the night watchman should be standing, and by it was a large indistinct lump. A cloaked and hooded man bent over it, apparently tying it up with a cord.

“Who are you?” gasped the indistinct lump in the night watchman’s voice.

Two more seconds and my spell would be ready. But the hooded man spoke first, as though in mild surprise, and at his voice the watchman gave an amazed laugh. “I am Paul, your king. I thought I was well known to you.”

I dropped to the ground, abandoning my spell, caught between anger and relief. The watchman seemed to feel the same way. “But, sire! Why didn’t you tell me who you were rather than attacking? I might have killed you!”

“Yes indeed,” said King Paul cheerfully, pushing back his hood. “The king of Yurt came very near to being killed by his own watchman! And very pleased with you I am, too. But you probably don’t want to lie there bound all night.”

He saw me then. “Good evening, Wizard,” he said, looking up from undoing the knots he had just finished tying. “I decided not to spend another night at that old ruined castle I’ve been exploring but to come on home.”

I took and let out a deep breath. “I hope you realize, sire,” I contented myself with saying, “that you came very close to being trapped at best by a paralysis spell-or even transmogrified into a frog.” The problem with being Royal Wizard was that I was supposed to have mature wisdom to offer my king but was not in a position to spank him as though he had been twenty years younger.

“Then I have both a competent wizard and a competent night watchman,” Paul said cheerfully. “Have you ever been to the ruined castle, Wizard? It’s over in the next kingdom, but I think you’d find it very interesting. I’ll just take care of my horse; I left him outside the moat. Good-night.” And he disappeared back out the gate.

I helped the watchman up. He rubbed his wrists where they had been chafed by the cord and retrieved his sword. “And I helped train him myself,” he said with pleased pride.

This was not my own reaction. Paul had been king only a few years, and if he thought testing his castle’s defenses by putting his own life in danger was nothing more than a joke, then he needed to find more to do to keep

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