Leisle and I were Chosen for the Assembly in the same season, the winter we turned a dozen years, and were from the same rural mountain range. I was a Mage of some talent, but she was my Tender, the one who fed me power from flames and allowed me to cast magics I could never achieve alone. I knew from the beginning that I was lucky to have her, for only one in twenty Mages are allowed to bond with a Tender. But it was not long before I realized how blessed I was to have this Tender in particular, how favored by fate I was to know her at all.
I can still see her the day of our first casting. Eyes closed and hair blowing from the magic she pulled off the candle in her hand, she looked like an angel to me. The slight smile she wore only when Tending haunts me to this day, filling me with a bittersweet longing for a girl who was never truly mine.
Leisle cared for me. Tenders usually do care for their Mage, and she cared maybe a little more than is the norm. More than once, she called me sister. It cut me to the core every single time, knowing that she loved me but not in the way I loved her. That she saved for a boy named Addeus.
Addeus was pretty and clever, his words were like music, and his soul was filled with dreams. His empathy and his kindness were of the rare variety more likely found in a children’s tale than in real life. If Leisle were determined to be with a man and not with me, then I would wish for her a man like Addeus. But his parents… They did not agree.
Addeus was of a class where money and standing are more important than things like beauty and affability and closeness to the virtues of Goddess. It didn’t matter to his family that Leisle was gorgeous, graceful, and filled with love both for their son and for humanity. And rather than valuing her rare talent, they saw it as a flaw, for it meant a life spent working in public service, something they considered beneath them. How someone as wonderful as Addeus was born into such a family I could never fathom.
It was decreed by Addeus’s parents than he would marry the daughter of a family friend. The woman in question was attractive enough in body. She paled compared to Leisle, yes, but so did every other woman I’ve ever met. It was her spirit that was ugly, though. She was petty, vain, and easily affronted by the slightest of things. She cared for no one, not even the lapdogs she surrounded herself with, as evidenced by the fact that she once had one killed for barking when she had a headache.
Addeus defied his parents and married Leisle at a public justice the very day after his engagement to the horrible woman was announced. His family promptly disowned him, which he had expected. Between Leisle's income as a Tender and the job he had been offered at a tavern we frequented, the pair would be fine without family money.
I wish the next line was that they lived happily ever after, raising a small family that included a daughter with tending talent who they named after me and a son who went on to become one of the greatest songwriters in our nation’s history. They didn’t though.
The slighted bride’s family took great offence. Disowning Addeus wasn’t sufficient, they held. They wanted him to truly pay, to truly regret the harm they imagined he’d done to their daughter. So they took from him the thing he valued most, the thing that happened to be what I valued most as well. They took our Leisle.
Her body was found in a park partway between the Assembly building where we spent her days with me and and the small apartment where she spent her nights with Addeus. She died quickly, the police said, brought down by a swift poison injected through a tiny dart. It didn’t hurt, they said. So we had that to comfort us as we tried to recover from our world ending.
Killing a Tender is considered treason, a crime even the wealthiest of families can’t get away with. And they didn’t. The jilted bride survived, but her father was put to the ax and his wealth confiscated by the crown. I don’t know what happened to her. On charitable days, I hope she learned the error of her attitude toward life and found happiness as a priestess or somesuch. Most days, I just hope she suffered.
Addeus never remarried, nor made up with his father. When the old man died, the older brother who inherited everything reached out to Addeus and welcomed him back into the family. With the portion of his father’s wealth his brother shared, Addeus founded a shelter for children orphaned by the Annexation Wars. He painted a picture of Leisle on the wall and tells the orphans she’s a saint of kindness who watches over them from heaven. On my weekly visits, I never tell them otherwise.
I was lucky enough to be matched with a second Tender after a magical plague ravished the ranks of Mages. Her name is Vella and we’re as close as sisters. I also have a wife, a woman so wonderful she lights candles for Leisle on the Night of the Dead without any hint of jealousy for my first love. I like to think I’ve lived a life that would make Leisle proud and I can only hope that there is a life after this one so that we shall meet again.
Image is Candle by Felysia Chew (aka Miyuki) who posts to DeviantArt as Ufo-galz. It was posted as a prompt on my Wording Wednesday group on MeWe.