Ready for Spring
Unger stood in the shade of a copse of trees on the hill to the south of Milltown, leaning on his walking stick. None of the townsfolk would notice him; they never did. Their inattention hid him better than shadows and magic ever could.
Their inattention was why he was here today. Unger didn’t know whose bright idea it had been to launch paper lanterns to mark the arrival of spring — they’d be far more visible in winter — but every year, the children of Milltown colored bright papers that their parents made into lanterns for them. At noon, when the sun was highest, every family let go of their lantern, letting the heat of the candle inside waft the lanterns higher and higher, up from the valley floor, into the woods and maybe even over the hills. It was a joyous time, a celebration of the return of color and cheer.
It was also a fire hazard and a danger to every animal downwind of the town.
Just last year, he’d had to climb up to an eagle’s nest to put out a fire started by the candle before it cooked the fledglings. He didn’t even want to think about five years back, when they’d had the mild winter after a year of drought — but try to get the mayor to listen to reason! “That’s your job. What else are you going to use your magic for?”
As if Unger should shorten his lifespan, working magic just so these simpletons could have a party. No, he would only use his magic when there was grave need.
The clock in the town square struck noon, the bell’s sound rolling out into the hills. It was time.
Unger glanced up, sharpening his eyes to see the wind — not quite magic, but an unusual ability, to be sure. Over the town, a light breeze was blowing from the east, about at the pace a man might walk if he wasn’t in a hurry. Higher up, past hill height, the strength picked up, and he knew that if any of the lanterns rose that far, he wouldn’t be catching them today.
The lanterns rose in all their gaudy colors, a mass that the people of Milltown no doubt found charming. A few rose faster — those would be the families that could afford extra candles, or larger ones — while some lagged behind, made of heavier paper, perhaps even homemade. Cheers came from the town as the first lanterns cleared the houses below, continuing to rise.
Unger turned to make his way down the hill. The lanterns weren’t traveling fast, but they were many and he was just one. A glint in the corner of his eye made him turn back to stare at the lanterns again. One of them was floating south, toward him, rather than west with the breeze.
Frowning, he took two steps to the east and watched the lantern struggle to match him, though the breeze dimpled its paper. Magic, then, and meant for him. He set off down the hill again, heading closer to the lantern and to the west at the same time, to make the lantern’s course easier. No reason to tax someone else’s magic, make them use more of their strength and life when they’d already gotten his attention.
He met up with the lantern as he forded a small stream. It was made of onionskin paper, and only bore two decorations — the seal of Milltown and a magemark. Unger reached out to catch it in his hands. As his hands enfolded the candle tray, the candle went out.
A voice whispered, “I will help you when I am old enough. You are not alone.”
He waited to see if anything more would happen, but the young magic-user evidently had enough sense not to waste magic making the lantern disappear in a puff of smoke or anything flashy like that. Unger nodded thoughtfully as he folded up the tray and lantern and stowed them in the pouch he’d brought along for collecting bits and pieces. He’d never had an apprentice; he wondered when this one would come — next year, two years?
No matter. It would happen as it would happen. Right now, he had to go protect town and forest alike. As he strode off in the direction of the floating lanterns, he was surprised to find himself smiling. Maybe spring did bring some cheer after all.
— THE END —
My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.
I personally love spring, of course. So right now, I’m holding to the cheerful thought that not only do I have croci, I have hellebores blooming and daffodils budding. I must remind myself of this, as there appears to be some flurries of white stuff outside my window.
Are you ready for spring?