Leya had not minded that the Lord Shadecliff had bought her when she was a child. He had let her try a handful of different crafts, and she had been happy when he’d decided she should master embroidery. Once her fingers got used to it, she could get lost in the task for the whole day.
However, after noticing that some tasks given to her, with charts she was instructed to follow very carefully, felt even more absorbing, she started wondering.
When the flames she had embroidered on the lining of a winter coat felt warm to her touch, she was certain that he had her working magic. But he never explained anything. Of course she would never dare ask him right out, questioning him was not her place.
The next time he brought a pattern to her himself, a complicated circular design on a wall hanging, she rallied her courage. She kept smiling, and traced the lines with her fingers, trying to look more entranced that she already was. “My Lord, may I ask what this is for?”
“You do your work. That is all.”
So Leya did. It was not a bad life. Steady work and never worrying about food and shelter and these things. She should be happy.
But a voice in the back of her head took to asking, now and then, if she had stayed in the big town by the coast, would someone have discovered she had a gift, and taught her how to work magic of her own choice? It was treacherous. Maybe what she was doing now was the best she was capable of. Maybe she would have been overjoyed... if she actually knew what she was making, more than occasionally.
These doubts had settled in her mind already by the time the Lord Shadecliff gave her the biggest task yet. He spread a cloak of the darkest silk velvet on Leya’s big worktable, and gave her wire to work with. When she tested it, it was hardly stiffer than thread. It was silvery, but brighter than any silver she’d seen before.
The crinkle of paper drew her attention from the wire. Her Lord spread the scaled down chart on the cloak. It showed a pair of wings, and a complex symbol between them.
“Do you think you can do this?”
He had never asked such a question before. Leya took a moment to consider his tone. No mockery, no censure, just a question. She took the chart to the window to study it in the best light available. “As long as there is enough of the wire, yes. It will take a while, though.”
“Time and material are not an issue.”
Leya thanked him, and he gave her a nod in parting.
And the next weeks and months, she worked on this project.
She trusted her instinct, making minute adjustments to the pattern where they seemed off. The shimmering lines of the wings followed her into her sleep, singing like harp strings, bright chords rising to the stars.
Confidence growing, Leya found when working on the sigil in the centre of the cloak, there was something missing. After that realisation, sometimes when taking a break, she would try to figure out what, looking at it from all different angles, closing her eyes and running her fingers across the velvet, and finally, laying wire across the space that seemed too empty.
Wary of anyone seeing her, for the first time she consciously took note of the times of day when most people were busy, and not passing her open window.
She could feel the sound in her fingers, and experimented until the faint hum turned into a jubilant chord. The simple curve burned into her memory, she went to work again. It went slowly now, since her concentration was divided.
There was no way her master had forgotten this part, or at least it was very unlikely. But why might he have left it out deliberately? While she continued her work, she wondered why he might have done that. Maybe he was worried she learned too much about magic. Or maybe there was some special significance to the missing line. It might bind the magic to himself, or maybe he just wanted to add it himself because he didn’t trust her abilities. The last option seemed unlikely.
In the following days and weeks, the further the work progressed, the firmer the wings took hold in her mind. She saw echoes of their shape in the fall of a skirt or a pattern of cirrus clouds in the sky. Her dreams were filled with their song, and the sight of mountains from among their peaks, the sky not endless, but still vaster than she had seen it in years.
Leya wished she knew what her master had planned for the cloak. Was it for himself, or for someone else? Would it be put to use? Or would it be locked away safely, excluding rare occasions to show it off? The magic she was weaving yearned for the sky even more than she did, and locking it away would be a crime against nature.
“I know how you feel,” she whispered when she was working on the last feather, and called up a memory of the ocean on a clear day. Whatever it was that ensouled her embroidery seized on her memory, elaborating it, bringing it into sharper focus. Leya could hear the gulls and the breaking waves, and feel the wind on her face. “Could you take me there?”
The answer was a wave of pure joy washing over her, like the air streaking over a flying bird’s feathers.
It was a mad impulse. It would be theft - both of the cloak she made from her master’s materials, and of herself. But Leya had had light and freedom at her fingertips for months, and when homesickness joined in to lure her, she made up her mind.
She returned in the night, carrying a small bag with what little she could call truly her own. In the dark, working by feel and a strange sight the magic provided, she completed the last feather, and added the line that was missing in the chart — the chart which she had not used for the second wing at all.
The cloak was finished and bundled up just long enough to leave the manor. On a hillside she shook it out, then wrapped it around her shoulders. When the sigil settled on her back, she felt a warm prickling sensation that spread from between her shoulder blades over her whole body.
“Let’s see what you can do.” Leya’s sight shifted, showing the nearby trees with every leaf outlined in golden light, bright red flashes betraying small animals. She spread her arms, feeling lighter and stronger and more alive than ever. She ran down the slope, and surrendered to the magic she had created. One mighty beat of wings lifted her over the treetops.
No matter if she were caught or not, she would never return to Shadecliff.