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Born on a Glumday

Kate Heartfield is a newspaper journalist and fiction writer in Ottawa, Canada. Her stories have appeared recently in Crossed Genres, On Spec and Lackington's. Her stories "Cattail Heart" and "For Sale by Owner" were published in Daily Science Fiction. Her website is heartfieldfiction.wordpress.com and she is on Twitter as @kateheartfield. She is working on a historical fantasy novel.

Empathetic magic is cruel magic: the more skilled the wielder, the more he risks every time he enters the trance. Now that you are senior apprentice, it will not get easier. It gets much, much harder.
You know this. I know you know this. You are a young man; you know everything. But don't you roll your eyes at me, Makin. I am an old woman. I know everything plus one.
Remember: The days and their moods do not belong to you. They act on you as they act on everyone. The role of the pathoturge is merely to intensify and direct the emotions of the day. You must never fool yourself into believing you are in control.
We have plenty of orders to fill every Blitheday, to be sure, but all on willing subjects. In most cases, our clients are the subjects. They merely want to be happy.
Still, remember that the pursuit of happiness has its dangers. Your mother wanted to be happy, I suppose. That's why she left you on my doorstep, still covered in the muck of birth. I have never been mother material but I knew I could teach you, keep you fed and clothed. What is one more apprentice, I thought? One more little mouth to feed?
Remember, too, that happiness takes work. You may find it especially hard, as you were born on a Glumday. Close your eyes, Makin. We have a wealthy merchant to start with; that ought to be easy. Where is my drum? Let's begin.
All magic today is grey and biting. I know, you've heard it all before. Humor me. Our orders today are for the moods that crawl, for the toads and snakes of the mind. Revenge and desperation. All magic today is an intrusion. The day is meant for funerals and for reading under the covers. Everything we do to intensify that sadness is a hubris that nature will answer. I will drum softly. You have a tendency to overdo the Glumday trance.
Makin, do you still have no lover? You're a man grown, now, you know. Don't you roll your eyes. Do you yearn for it? I believe you do. You always come early to work on Ardentdays. You want to feed on the same emotions you feed to others. It is an intoxication. Rots the mind. Especially dangerous for you, given your inclination for melancholy. The higher the peak, the deeper the trough.
Remember your mother.
Let's see. What do we have today? A love wish for a coffee-bar maid in North Hridd. A marriage out in some small village: ah, Jassafrass, yes. And oh, but oh, here is another, a wish for passion itself. A directionless murmur. Those can be tricky. Those can unmoor even an experienced pathoturge. Makin, I have stopped the drumming. That's enough.
Listen to me. Don't shake your head. Makin.
Makin? Are you there? Are you coming out? I have stopped the drumming. You are commanded back. The day cannot have you.
Dear boy. Dear child. I've lost him.
Makin, wait. Wait until tomorrow. I am coming for you.
I doubt you can hear me, Makin. I need to say this anyway. I would not do this to you, if there were any other way. If the antidote were my heart's blood, I would give it to you. But there is no antidote for love but fear. Grimday follows Ardentday for a reason.
I am going into the trance. I will have to terrify you, so I will have to terrify myself. Believe it is for your own good. I reach out to you now, my apprentice. Can you feel me touching your hand? Can you hear the drum? I am going into the fog. It is cold here. There are whispers. What is that tapping? What is that behind us? Look. There is a face. Look.
Makin, I am lost.
Can you hear me? It is Elbela. It is your master.
I know I am lost in the fear. I see nothing but fog, hear nothing but the drum, and sometimes something like laughter.
I have not seen you for some time and so I hope, oh, I hope, that I managed to pull you out. That the fear was enough to counter the pull of passion. My dear child. Are you back in the living world? Makin, if you can, if you are safe, please help me. I know you can do it. Help me. Please help me.
No fool like an old fool. Mark this lesson. Mark this last lesson. Arrogance and fear are two faces of the same beast. I should have known better than to go in to fetch you myself. I was afraid for you; I began afraid. I have been afraid for you since you first curled your hand around my finger. I did not trust another to do the job. But I should have sent one of the apprentices. It would have been safer. I brought too much fear into the trance with me and fear is powerful magic. Oh, I am a great pathoturge, certainly. A great idiot, too. I wrought too well.
What is that? Who is there?
Remember this, Makin, if you can hear me. Remember: the more skilled the wielder, the more she risks. Empathy is cruel magic.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Author Comments

I have a vague memory of a square, painted biscuit tin in my family kitchen, when I was a child, with the old rhyme that includes the line, "Wednesday's child is full of woe...."

- Kate Heartfield
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