Malina and the Border Banners, Chapter 9 (A Story for B)

Began here.
Chapter 2 here
Chapter 3 here.
Chapter 4 here.
Chapter 5 here.

The Princess of the very long name and her adviser, the sand cat who had offered no name, sat together, finishing a dinner of small fruits and cheeses for her and meats for him. 

Only as she had nibbled up the last fruit did Malina think to ask.  “This place is abandoned. The sand leaks in the gates, pours over the walls. It’s been empty a long time.  So where does the food come from?” She looked at her plate, wondering if it were some strange sort of oasis-illusion. 

“Where does the food come from?”:

“Magic,” the cat repeated. “Surely you have magic in the court of the O Alexandre. Surely you’ve grown up with basic spells. The nurse-fish did not bother you.”

“The nurse-fish were providing food, just as you and your friend the mustang-“

“Excuse me, she’s not my friend. Colleague.”

“-Colleague the mustang were providing a way out of the desert. Or at least,” she added, considering the sand all around, “a way to another part of the desert.”

“This is both desert & not, as it is the borderlands. Just as it is both abandoned & not. Just as the garden grows & does not. Magic.”

“Magic.” Malina huffed. “My parents have some magic… The palace, the city, have some magic.They’re strong and well made – most things that are very strong and very well-made have some magic.”

She was quoting her nanny now. The cat looked up at her. He washed his paw, washed his face with the paw, repeated. 

Only then did he speak. “The magic in the city…”

“…in the City.”  The cat’s ears went back.  “What about in the people?”

“There’s a little,” she offered defensively. “There’s a few seers, some healing-hands; some of the people who are nannies or other child-rearers have that special sort of rearing-magic. People have magic. It’s just not – ”  She gestured at her empty plate. “It’s not a bard’s tale of magic, it’s the sort that makes works more beautiful and more sturdy and makes little illnesses more bearable, bigger ones less dangerous.”

The sand-cat bit at an itch on his back and then pinned down his tail to groom it.  Several minutes passed. Malina was beginning to think that the cat had forgotten the conversation or at least decided it was better not to continue it. 

Then the cat stood up and jumped onto the table. “You will need to learn magic.”

“Learn magic.”  Malina looked at the cat. “I don’t have that sort of a trade. I’m not inclined to raise children and I’m not very good as a wood carver. I tried weaving and i’m tolerable, but a King and Queen’s daughter doesn’t grow up to be a weaver.”

“You believe there is magic in carving and not in diplomacy?”  The cat glared. 

“I didn’t say I was good at diplomacy!”

“You can learn to be good. You can learn to understand it.”  The cat nodded to himself. “And you will learn the magic Dominika wielded. You will have to,” he added. “Otherwise, this whole thing will collapse.”

“I am not reassured. I am not anywhere near reassured.”

The cat hopped down into Malina’s lap. A moment later, it was purring. “You do not need to be. You made it here. You’ve already done the hard part, simply being you. Learning to be Dominika will be easy after that.”

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