This next part of my Hammer & Magic-story has been a long time in coming and I almost felt something was beginning to freeze over inside me and make me fear that I would grind to a halt with this story, too – because many weeks had been allowed to pass.
Fortunately, it all thawed again once I actually forced myself to start writing again.
That is a good lesson.
Tatiana had not had an attack for a year now, and she had allowed herself to believe that it was over and would never come back.
But if she had been conscious it would not have surprised her that the attacks had come back. And at the worst moment.
The first time had been when she was 10 years old and Oleg had just taught her a particularly intricate spell (for her age) and she was very proud of how quickly she had mastered this new level of magic.
They had been out in the yard behind the barn. It was summer. And since everybody else was in the fields and Oleg had said to everybody else that he would take the young Tatiana back as company whilst fetching some extra tools from the barn … well, they really didn’t need more time than that for her to show him the results of about 50 evenings of intense studies, after the house had gone to bed.
“We have about 15 minutes,” Oleg had said and then leaned against the barn, crossing his arms, a warm smile showing under his great beard. “So if you really want to impress me, I think you can do the spell twice – or maybe even thrice.”
“I have only memorized it twice,” Tatiana said.
That was – if anything – the worst part of magic. That if you had to use it quickly, without reading a spell from your book, then you had to memorize every intricate word in that spell. Even if the slightest syllable was off then the spell might fizzle and your efforts would be wasted.
At the same time there would be a limit to how many spells you could memorize. Some people who were better at reading and remembering could do that memorization more often and many times. Others not so much.
It was eerie … but magic was like a wildfire in your brain: When you used it you forgot the words, even though you had memorized them so carefully. Like magic did not want to be imprisoned in the human mind. It wanted to be in the heart of nature whence it had come.
Tatiana never really knew and she had accepted that she had to memorize spells again and again after she had used them. Or read them directly from the book – which would be slow and cumbersome, especially if the situation required speed.
Now, though, she had all the time in the world – 15 whole minutes. And she didn’t even need to read from her book. She had all the words right there – in her mind.
“Show me,” Oleg said and the smile stayed.
The first one went well – very well.
Tatiana spoke the words and moved her hands (for that was also required for most of these acts) in the intricate patterns she had memorized to perfection.
Then she felt the fire …
It wasn’t like a real fire, though. Not even close. It just had the same effects in her.
But the outside effects were visible – and spectacular:
A ghostly form began to form in thin air, just beside Tatiana.
Oleg raised his one brow.
As the ghostly form quickly solidified and became the spitting image of Tatiana, his smile became a grin.
And it seemed like he would never do anything else but smile at her, such was the pride that he radiated, when she finished the spell and not one, not two – but three perfect mirror images of Tatiana herself had come to life and moved about.
They moved in sync with her movements. When she walked they walked. When she stood still they stood still.
“So – ” all the Tatianas said at the same time – all of them looking expectantly at their fosterfather – “which one of us is real?”
Oleg stepped forward and held out his hand to touch the Tatiana, who was standing in the place where she had first cast the spell, on the cheek. He did so and the Tatiana vanished.
Now there were only three. Two mirror images and one real. The moved about and around Oleg, as if to encircle him.
“You better watch out – ” they said – ” now I will summon a salamander from the deep to have a go at you.”
Oleg shook his head as if he wanted to admonish her but it was clear he was just pretending.
“Oh, you are not skilled enough to summon up a salamander – real or magical, my young koldu’nya.”
“But I am good, am I not, papa? I did good, didn’t I?” she asked – all three of her.
“The best,” Oleg said. “I have never taught anyone so apt with magic. You learn it as if you were born to – ”
Then he froze.
For one terrible moment Oleg had seen how his foster daughter’s eyes had turned white and then in the next second how all three of her had fallen to the ground, collapsing for no reason at all.
Tatiana had felt nothing much, except the after glow of the spell.
For every spell you cast you tapped into the mystical energy that had once created everything on Earth – or so Oleg had explained to her. So if you cast a fire spell you felt fire yourself, and not just the kind that burned out your memory. But really – as if your whole body was on fire for a brief moment. If you cast a cold spell you felt cold.
If you conjured a copy of yourself, you felt as if part of yourself was taken away. Like someone who had eaten and suddenly felt hungry again, or as if you suddenly felt thinner and lighter – but not in a good way. In an exhausting way.
So Oleg’s first theory as to what had happened, and what he later told her, was just that: She had not expected the effects of this particular mirror-spell.
The drain on her body had simply made her collapse, because it felt like her very constitution was diminished when she cast it, like energy was taken away from her to create the other ‘hers’ – the mirror images.
Alas, as the years wore on and Tatiana had more seizures, it became apparent that it did not really matter what spell she cast and what physical after effects that spell had on her.
She just collapsed. For no reason. More often than not when the spell was trying, yes, but once or twice she had also collapsed when she had performed some cantrip tricks for him to make fun – pulling out a little mice of his ear, making a coin dance on a table … that sort of thing.
So Tatiana was the best and the brightest and the most apt of all the young people Oleg Tjertjenko had ever taught magic. She would surely grow to be a great koldu’nya one day. Perhaps she could even become so powerful she would be in line for Baba Yaga’s position in the Council when that time came – many, many decades from now. Or so Oleg had mused.
And then of course, the attacks had crushed any such dream. And any such dream Tatiana may have had. Oleg had been careful not to give her ideas. He wanted her to use her magic for something good – and something she wanted to use it for, when she was ready.
At least that had been the purpose of it all, until the dread war broke out. Then … goals changed.
Tatiana knew little of this. She suspected even less. Certain things had occupied her much more the last year before coming here to Petrograd – such as Yakov.
And of course the fact the she herself seemed to have outgrown the attacks. It was over. She was fully herself. She would never be handicapped again.
Except perhaps by the very human tendency to wishful thinking.
And yet, not even that.
For Tatiana had a streak in her of that special Russian melancholia – toska – which was widespread especially in the country, when you lived as a peasant and did not have much control over your own fate and winters were long and dark.
And maybe also if your real father whom you had never known was someone … reviled.
But that part of her origin had, blessedly, not been too troubling for Tatiana, because she did know she was much loved by Oleg and her foster mother.
Even so … Tatiana felt it often: toska. That deep, sad melancholia that could not be expressed, and hardly explained.
She felt it even despite the fact that she was well on her way to become much more than a peasant girl Tatiana Olegovna Rasputina did have in her heart that particular shadow – toska.
Or perhaps she felt just like that because of her prospects to become incredibly powerful – much more than anyone else in the small community could ever dream of?
Yakov’s tragedy – coming home from war as a cripple – made her feel powerless in a sense she had never felt before. And guilty. Guilty for being all right. Guilty for being on her way to be much more than those other poor peasant girls who would never go to a normal school and just marry and have children and work hard and then die.
That, too, could make you feel toska. At least it had been so for Tatiana.
She had tried to describe it in one of her small diaries, which she had begun making in her 15th year. The only real outlet for her thoughts on everything, because – apart from Oleg – she could not really talk to anyone about how she felt, especially not about magic. So hers was a privileged position in a poor society. But also incredibly lonely.
And Yakov had reminded her just how lonely.
And maybe the seizures were some kind of … punishment?
Tatiana wasn’t sure if she believed in the god of the church, although she had always liked the ceremonies with incense and prayers and beautifully robed presbyters. But how could she not believe in something divine when there was magic and she knew it?
But no one knew the source of magic, not even the Council. And no one knew who decided which people had the right to become good with magic, to have a natural aptitude for it – not just progress through hard work.
Tatiana had the aptitude and the discipline but what if God did not want her to do well? How could she have the right to be special in a society where no one was special?
That last thought came to Tatiana again, when she felt it – right there on the staircase before Bolkonsky mansion.
She felt the fire in her – both mind and body – slowly lingering and then dying out, from the spell use that had apparently cost the soldier beggar his life.
She felt that and an incredible tiredness. She felt like she did not ever want to get up from the stairs again, where she was crouching, like the beggar before her.
She felt like it wouldn’t matter if any of the distant gunshots that could still be heard everywhere in Petrograd ever came near her.
And then she had noticed the thought – sharp as a needle of ice:
I don’t deserve to be a koldu’nya.
And a strange feeling of toska – deep and dark – welled up inside her. She was trapped, and she would never deserve to get out of that particular trap.
So there was no surprise in her heart when the attack came – for the first time in over a year.
And the deep darkness claimed her and became oblivion.
Tatiana lost consciousness.
Fortunately she had been sitting so she did not fall down the stairs but just rolled over until one of the walls – on each side of the great door to the mansion – stopped her.
And then that door opened.