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“Tragic.” Eva was finding her voice, although it was taking effort. “Aunt Rosaria, what are you talking about? There’s nothing tragic about Uncle Arges, unless you mean those horrid Hawaiian shirts. And who’s Willard?” She flapped her hand. “I know that Willard is Aunt Ramona’s son. And I think you’ve said that he’s like Stone, or he was, but he left the family. I didn’t know people could leave the family.” She frowned. “Aunt Rosaria, I don’t normally sound this silly.”
Her aunt patted her leg. “I know, dear. Believe me, I really do. I remember when my aunts had this effect on me. It’s as if you are feeling the whole weight of the family staring down at you from one old lady, isn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t have put it quite that way…”
“That, my dear, is because you are a nice girl. You’ll age out of that in time, I imagine, because you are also a very strong girl, and those two do not often go together.”
Eva coughed, uncertain what to say to that.
Her aunt wasn’t done yet, though. Of course not. Aunt Rosaria was a story-teller. “Argie loved Willard. Not in that sort of way, but as a hero, a role model. He looked up to that boy like he hung the moon. And that, that almost turned into a real tragedy. But it is one thing among many that we failed to see.” She pursed her old lips tightly. Eva thought she might cry; a granny, cry? She’d never seen that.
“Aunt Rosaria, you’re being immensely vague.”
“Turn left here, darling. I know I am. But there are stories we can see clearer, if we look at the pictures, than looking at the truth.”
“And this is one of them?”
“And this is one of them. So.” The old woman coughed, folded her hands, and began. “Once upon a time.”
“Not so very long ago, and yet so very long ago.” Eva remembered the lines as if it had been only yesterday she’d been sitting at her aunt’s feet.
“Very true. Once upon a time, but not so long ago that we’ve forgotten, there was a boy.”
“Was he a prince?” She found she didn’t feel silly; the questions were part of the ritual, after all.
“He was the son of a royal family, but he was not the heir. That was his cousin, the Princess. That was all right with the boy. He didn’t want to be King. He told everyone that could hear that: ‘I don’t want to be King. I want to be a wizard, and live in a tower.’ He told it to his aunties, who patted his head, and told him to wash the dishes, for in this land, everyone had to wash dishes.”
“In that land and in ours.”
“As in ours, yes. Even Princesses. He told his uncles, who clucked and scolded. ‘Boys are not Wizards. There are no Wizards in this land.’
“‘There are wizards in the next land over.’ The boy was determined.”
Eva, lost in the story, pulled herself out enough to wonder what the next town over translated to, in the real world.
“What kind of wizards were there?” She inserted the question, because the story seemed to want it, and because she wanted to know.
“That was the thing. Nobody knew. They weren’t even sure how the boy knew that such things existed. For the royal family, you see, had taken to ignoring all the other nations around it.”
“That doesn’t seem very wise.”
“They were not, truly, the wisest of families. But perhaps that is a goal to which no family can honestly aspire, be they royal or not.”
“So they ignored all the other countries?” Eva could picture both her family and the royals they were describing, one superimposed upon the other, staring at each other and pointedly ignoring everything behind their backs. Her Aunt Asta wore the queen’s crown, in this image.
“They did. But this boy, he wanted to be a wizard.”
“And there were no Wizards.”
“Not in the land they lived in. But the boy insisted. His uncles and aunts told him to hush. His mother and father told him to hush. His sisters and brothers told him to hush. But the boy insisted.
“‘I will be a Wizard,’ he insisted. ‘Not a shiny one, not a brave one, not the best wizard – at least not to begin with. But I am not a Prince; I will never be a King. So I will be a Wizard.”
“Couldn’t he have been a Hero?” Evangaline found she was getting deep into the story.
“He could have been a Hero. He would have been a very good Hero. but his inclinations – and his talents – did not lay in that direction. He had been born, as very few are, to the mantle of Wizard. And he knew it.” Aunt Rosaria’s voice broke, just a little bit. “And the royal family knew it as well.”
“They tried to talk him into a different path. The Hero. The Demon-Slayer. Even the Love Interest. There were plenty of lovely girls around. A Lothario would have had more than enough to do. But the boy did not want to be any of these things.
“The family was determined, however. There had never been any Wizards in the realm. It was not done. It was simply not done.” For the first time in her life, Eva heard her aunt’s voice rise up in broken anger. “And because it was not done, we…” She took a breath, and stared out the window at the moving scenery. “Because it was not done, the royal family told the boy he had a choice.”
“A bad choice.” Eva barely breathed the words.
“The worst choice. He could stop being a Wizard, stop this insistence that he was somehow different from everything the kingdom had strived for. Or he could leave.”
Aunt Rosaria looked back at Evangaline. “And, as almost everyone had known, in their heart of hearts, that he would, the boy chose to leave. What choice, really? He could be himself – or he could stay in his kingdom.” The old woman’s voice broke again. And she looked old, in a way she had not before.
“He left, of course. He left us… the boy left the royal family. He left without taking so much as a bag, a cookie, a silver coin. He left taking not even the clothes his family had given him, leaving behind everything, everything of the family. He left. And for a while, the family thought they could be relieved. The would-be Wizard was gone. They did not need to worry about the things that could not be. They did not need to look into the ways Wizards could be contained. They could have a Princess, and they could be content.”
Rosaria took Eva’s hand. Her touch was cool and papery, but her grip was firm. “It was not until many years later that the family truly learned what they had lost, in sending the boy away.” Her tone was sepulcher, and there was a terrifying crypt-door-closing finality in her words.
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