Tamantha stepped down as the cart rolled to a halt. "Thank you," she said to Yelena, the old woman who was driving the cart.
"'Tis the barest absence of cruelty," said Yelena. "Ye needn't thank me for it. But be a dear and strike the door, if ye would."
Tamantha nodded and stepped towards the manor. True, letting her ride on the cart had required almost no effort on Yelena's part, but it was still more help than her uncle or the rest of the family had given her in the last two weeks and she was almost absurdly grateful. "Thank you, too," she told the mule, and patted it on its head as she passed. It rolled its eyes as if exasperated.
The manor was bright, warm, and elegant: newly-built, and sitting at the western end of a small valley, with farms to the east and the hills rising behind it to the west. The ruins of the old manor sat atop the hill immediately behind, but that one had clearly been misnamed; the heavy walls and single remaining tower had clearly been part of an ancient fortilice overlooking the valley.
Tamantha put her feet on stone steps and climbed to a wide wooden porch, wondering if she should have gone around the side and looked for a servants' entrance instead. The front door, at least, had a striker; she pulled it back and let the heavy wrought-iron ram fall against the metal plate. The resulting crack! echoed through the house.
She didn't hear any steps, but just as she started to reach for the striker again the door swung open and Tamantha found herself face-to-face with a young man perhaps a few years older than herself. He was in his shirtsleeves, dark hair tousled and framing an angular face, with pale skin and striking gray eyes that had gone silver in the last of the daylight. "Ah," he said cheerfully. "Have you come about the position?"
"Which position?" asked Tamantha, caught off-guard.
"Any of them, actually. Maids, a cook, a gardener or two... Tell me what you can do, and I'll tell you whether we have a place for you." Then he looked past her, and his eyes fell on Yelena. "Just a moment." He turned and called over his shoulder: "Augustus! Mother Yelena's back, and she's brought her cart!"
He turned back to her, then paused again as an older man -- a bit older than Tamantha's father had been, even -- bustled past them, bowing as he went out the door and down to the cart. Tamantha saw him offer a deeper bow to the old woman on the seat before she turned back to the doorway.
"So," said the young man. "What is it exactly that you know how to do?"
"Well," said Tamantha, feeling suddenly as if a large hand had wrapped around her chest and squeezed. She held up her hand, forced her mind to focus, and made a tiny, bright spark above her extended palm.
His expression of surprise was comical, but she kept her face smooth as she let the spark fade. "I'd heard that a wizard lived here. I hoped he might be open to taking on an apprentice."
"Well," said the young man, and this time his voice held an entirely different note.
Outside, the older man was talking to Yelena. "Five bricks of tea!? How in the world did you...? Absolutely we'll take it. Yes, the vegetables too, very fresh... and that bread, I could pair that with a soup tonight and..."
"The bread costs extra," Yelena announced. "'Twas to be my lunch."
"You're just saying that because it smells delicious and you know I want it."
"And what of that?"
The older man laughed. "Nothing! Nothing at all. It's good bread, and it's warm and fresh. We'll pay your extra."
"All right," said the young man, and Tamantha's attention snapped back to where he was standing in front of her. "Just a moment." He turned away as he had before, and called back into the house: "Augusta! Someone to see you!"
There was a momentary silence; behind Tamantha's back, Yelena and the older man were haggling over the price of her goods. Then someone moved onto an upstairs balcony and called, "I'm coming. Did she say what she wants?"
"An apprenticeship," he called back.
The woman who emerged from the balcony and descended the stairs was broad-shouldered and short-haired, straight-backed and graceful. She wore a worn, spun-cloth robe of soft brown, and approached the door with slow, thoughtful steps and a matching expression. "You wish to be a wizard's apprentice?"
Tamantha nodded. "Just so, my lady."
The woman laughed. "Have you any skills? Anything you've developed on your own?"
Tamantha raised her hand and recalled the spark. She could do more than that -- a little more -- but that was enough to make her point.
"A beginner's trick," said the woman, watching as it faded back out. "How long can you hold it?"
Tamantha considered the question, then called it back and held it. "Over an hour," she answered uncertainly. "I used read by it at night."
"Well," said the woman. "There's no harm in being a beginner. I've an apprentice already, but I've room for another if you're willing put in the work." She glanced at the boy. "You've no objection?"
He frowned slightly, then shrugged. "It should be fine."
"Good," said the woman. "Come on in, and let's get you settled."
Tamantha answered with a relieved, "Thank you."