Chapter 3 - A Wizard Called Rhema Reshith
The man saw his shadow cast over her and took a couple steps back. The sense of difference between them faded to an extent.
He stared at Azriel as she hesitated and thanked him. Then, his grey eyes, which resembled glass beads, roamed downward. They paused on the hem of her apron, which was worn out despite having been washed clean. His gaze traveled to her thin legs and the frayed soles of her shoes. His eyes shook slightly.
“Why are you living like this?”
His voice was deep and slow. She felt like she had heard it before. Azriel was distracted by his voice and belatedly realized that he was asking her something.
“Pardon me? What did you say?””
“Why are you living like this?”
He could have been sarcastic, but it did not feel that way. His tone was dry as if he was reading from a printed text. Azriel looked at him and blinked.
“Do you know me?”
The man shut his mouth. After a short silence, he slowly answered her, “I’m not supposed to, but I do.”
She could not understand him and slightly knitted her brow, “Do you know me or not? Who are you?”
“I am Rhema Reshith.”
“Are you a wizard, by any chance?”
Bewitched by his strange aura, she did not quite notice until now that what the man was wearing was similar to the kinds of robes wizards normally wore. She had not heard of any new wizard moving into town.
‘Oh, could he be the great wizard visiting from the capital?’
Azriel lowered her eyes to hide her surprise, “You must be the one coming from Modjankle. Excuse me.”
“I didn’t come from there.”
“Can I fix the shoes?”
She looked down at her feet in response to his sudden question. Her soles had nearly been torn half off after tripping on that stone.
“If you don’t allow me, then I can’t do it. Give me permission.”
“Can I fix your shoes?”
“My shoes? I’m grateful for your kindness, but I’m in a hurry now—yikes!” Azriel began to answer him in confusion before interrupting herself with a shriek.
She was about to express her gratitude for his kindness when he bent his waist and grabbed her foot, lifting it and causing her body to lean back. At the same time, she could feel something soft touching her hips and giving her something to sit against. When she turned back to check what she was sitting on, she almost hiccupped. Her seat was just empty air. She felt as if she were sitting on a fluffy cushion, but nothing was visible.
Clutching her bag of butter nearly to the point of crushing it, she barely managed to avert her eyes from the strange sight and focus on her foot. The man casually knelt on the ground before her, supporting her foot with his hands. The robe, which was so white she felt scared to touch it, covered the dirty ground of the alley.
“Reshith,” he whispered a spell and brushed the ripped sole with his fingers. Wherever his fingers touched, her shoe was repaired until it looked like new.
Azriel watched the scene with wide eyes, astonished to the point of speechlessness. She was more surprised by his attitude—the way he knelt and held her shoe in his hands—than the actual magic fixing her shoes. Instead of forming coherent speech, she felt like she was going to cough. When her shoes were neat and proper again, the man was about to let her foot down but flinched and stopped. Just over the top of the leather covering her foot was the slightly visible brand burned into her skin. His eyes briefly narrowed. Realizing that he was looking at the edge of her brand, she hurriedly withdrew her foot and stood. She did not want a stranger to find out that she had been a slave.
“Th-thank you for your help!” she bowed her head as she hurriedly escaped the alley.
The man stood and watched as she departed. There was no expression on his face.
Azriel had been starving since lunch. The head maid was in a rage over the crushed butter in addition to the fact that Azriel had returned late. She was even short a few coins of change which must have fallen out of her apron when she fell. Her punishment this time was merely a skipped meal since they were too busy with preparing for the arrival of the wizard from the capital, else the head maid would have grabbed her by the hair.
“You are in charge of water today,” The head maid screamed, frustrated that she did not have the time to beat Azriel because of how busy she was. “Do it all alone!”
The water facilities supplying Colte Castle were dedicated only for use by the Colte family and guests. Water that the servants used had to be carried from a pump located in a far corner of the yard. For one person, it was a nearly impossible job, but she had to do it. Azriel’s body was weak, and she could only carry so much water at once. There would not be enough water—even if she continuously carried bucket after bucket without a break.
Sure enough, busy servants expressed their annoyance at her whenever they saw the water pail empty. She could see red marks on her hands from having to grab the handle of the bucket so often. Her legs started to shake from having to continuously go back and forth between the pump and the water pail on an empty stomach. The wounds on her back were burning as well.
‘This is the worst day.’
She was pumping water with trembling hands when another coughing fit broke out. As she hunched her body and coughed, she accidentally pushed the water bucket. It was about to spill over when pale hands reached out to steady it. Though her eyes were watery from all the coughing, she thought they were beautiful. They were noble and graceful hands as if they had never experienced any hard labor.
“Are you not feeling well?” the owner of the hands spoke as he set down the bucket. “You can’t stop coughing.”
It was the strange wizard from the alley she had fled from earlier. Frightened, Azriel rubbed her eyes and checked again to see if he was indeed standing there. She was not mistaken. Moreover, his appearance could in no way be mistaken with someone else’s.
“You—cough—you—cough, cough…” she wanted to ask why he was here but could not speak amidst all her coughing.
Slowly, Azriel stepped back, still coughing. The man gazing vacantly at her wore the same white robes as before. Even though he had knelt on the ground of that filthy alley, there was not a single spot marring his clothes. He was indeed a mysterious man, appearing out of nowhere without a trace or even a sound.
“Do you want to stop coughing?” the man abruptly asked.
Who wanted to cough? Every time she did, it was hard for her to breathe, and her chest was sore. Instead of answering him, she nodded amidst her coughs. The man then approached her in two strides and bent his waist forward, reaching his hand out toward her. Pale hands with long fingers neared her as if they were about to grab her neck.
Startled, Azriel was about to dodge him, but he grabbed her shoulders to prevent her from doing so. His hands felt chilly as they wrapped around her neck. A strange sensation emanated from his cool touch and permeated her body.
“You are fine now.”
When he removed his hands, her coughs stopped completely, as if they had never existed. The congestion inside her lungs had been cleansed as well. Azriel brushed her chest, which felt refreshed.
‘I guess this kind of a thing can be healed with magic too, but he didn’t make an incantation… Did I miss it?’
She was not a wizard, but she knew that wizards made incarnations when they used magic. It was common sense.
“Thank you,” Azriel looked up at the man as she caught her breath. “I received your help again.”
Since she had been helped by him twice already, she needed to pay him back somehow, regardless of his mysterious identity. She had no idea why he was helping her, however.
The man quietly asked Azriel, who was wavering, “Why are you doing this job?”
“It’s because this is my job. But, Mr. Wizard, um… what was your name?”
“I am Rhema Reshith.”
“Oh, okay. I am Azriel. Well, by the way, how did you get here, Reshith? I didn’t hear that we have a guest coming.”
“Please call me Rhema, Azriel.”
“Well, that’s… How can I dare to call a wizard by his name?”
“I don’t feel comfortable being called Reshith by you,” the man frowned slightly. An emotion close to displeasure or shame flashed across his face, causing Azriel to be taken aback. “Rhema will suffice.”
‘He must not like being called by his last name. I read that a wizard’s surname is not their real name but actually a magical name—a spell… Oh, perhaps he doesn’t want other people to utter his spell.’
“Then, Mr. Rhema…”
“I told you,” he seemed stubborn, though his manner of speaking was calm, “Rhema will suffice.”
‘I can see why all wizards are said to be ill-tempered…’
Azriel changed the subject as she could not get used to calling a strange wizard by his first name, “Well, umm, if you don’t mind me asking, why are you here? If you are lost, by any chance, I can guide you.”
“I’m not lost. I just came to give you this.”
Rhema held a well-packaged box out towards her.
Even before she took it, Azriel realized what it was. The gold-plated marking at the edge of the box looked familiar. It was the same logo bearing the name of the shop that Deborah’s cherished dress shoes had been purchased from. She wore those only on special occasions. Noble children around Deborah’s age would brag about having such shoes and how they were from a famous boutique in Modjankle, the capital of Aucandor. Azriel found it hard to associate herself with something so precious.
“This is… for me?”
“Your shoes seem very old,” Rhema spoke calmly and handed over the box to a dumbfounded Azriel. Then he agonized for a while before asking another question, “You said this is your job. Did you choose it on your own?”
“I didn’t choose to do this, but this is what I have to do. But, Mr. Rhema, this is too much. Why would you…?”
“Azriel! Where are you slacking off again?”
The head maid’s sharp voice echoed through the yard. Startled, Azriel pushed the box back toward Rhema and picked up the bucket. It was empty. She would be met with curses if she came back with an empty bucket.
“I’m drawing water, Head Maid!” Azriel hastily grabbed the pump handle and raised her voice in response. “I’ll be there soon!”
“Did you make a new pump to draw from?” the head maid’s frantic voice was drawing closer. “You must have been dozing off, you shrewd girl! You won’t have dinner tonight, either!”
Watching the girl turn pale as she rushed to the pump, Rhema murmured a question, “Would killing that woman interfering with your life be without permission?”
His words were drowned out by the sound of pumping and bucket sloshing with water.
“What did you just say?” Azriel asked. “I didn’t hear you because of the water.”
“…Never mind. That was a question I already had an answer to.”
Hazy agitation spread like a ripple across his steady face. Then, Rhema muttered to himself as he rubbed his face. He seemed slightly embarrassed.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve felt regret over doing something.”
His disconcerted face made him look like a common person. Azriel stopped pumping and stared at him. There was a sense of deja vu. She seemed to have seen this person and this expression before. When was it…?
“Don’t just stand there gawking! I knew it!”
The head maid came around a hedge and arrived at the pump in a fury. Azriel was horrified at the sight of her and looked back at Rhema. There was no one standing where he had been. He had vanished like an illusion. Instead of a wizard, the package from before was left on the ground in his place.
‘Where did he vanish to? Is this magic? I read that teleportation magic has been long gone for a while now, so how…?’
She had learned about the existence of teleportation magic from a book she had translated into Limble before. It was one of the types of magic that had disappeared during the fall of an older culture. There was little probability she was mistaken since she remembered almost everything she had seen before.
The head maid’s huge hand struck the stunned girl’s head. Azriel flinched and hardly had the chance to scream.
“You! You don’t even pretend to work hard in front of me, now. Why do you even continue to live?” said the head maid.
Expecting to be hit again, Azriel shut her eyes, but she was met with silence. Slowly, she opened her eyes.
The head maid’s arm was raised, but her body was stiff.