Fire curled around the chandeliers, lighting each individual candle at once. No one cheered the display, or the Fire Weavers who cast it, yet each time they wove their flame, Sofia’s heart jumped a little. Fire Weaving belong to a higher caste of spell Weavers alongside all who could weave the elemental arts. Only the more arcane, the mastery of space and time itself, claimed a higher title.
An elemental Weaver of each school had been hired for the grand ball, the largest celebration of the solar calendar. Water Weavers filled the fountains, Earth Weavers wove their flowery decorations through the arched trellises, Air Weathers blew a never-ending scent of jasmine. Once done, the Elemental Weavers bowed out of the hall, their job complete.
“Sofia! You’re needed!” Chef called.
She gave the hall one last lingering look. It reflected the prosperity of their society; furniture crafted by the Wood Weavers, cutlery and pitchers from the Metal Weavers, ceramic bowls by the Clay Weavers, and golden candlesticks from the Gold Weavers. But she belonged to a lower caste and her unique brand of magic was limited to a basic human necessity; cooking.
The kitchens bustled as both master and apprentice Cookery Weavers prepared this year’s feast. The masters handled the meat; a delicate spell which required subtle summoning of herbs. Apprentices handled the lesser tasks of preparing fruits and vegetables.
Chef pointed to an empty bucket. Sofia sighed. Potatoes. She sat cross-legged and closed her eyes in concentration. Summoning a humble potato may seem trivial to some, but one had to get the right consistency and know the difference between a russet or a yam. And then one had to decide how the potato should be presented, whether sliced or mashed, then either boiled or baked. It was an art. Most apprentices could only handle one potato at a time, but Sofia could summon a whole bowl full of steaming potatoes fresh for the table.
“Potatoes again?” came a rough male voice.
She ignored it and focused on the shape of a russet.
Something sharp pinched her side and she yelped. A dozen russet potatoes popped into the air and fell on top of her in painful thuds. She opened her eyes to stares and the muffled laughter of that idiot Beni standing next to her. She picked up a russet and threw it at him.
Beni caught and tossed it aside, still smirking. He wore his usual guard uniform, his gruff face clean shaven, his dark hair brushed back. “Careful, potato girl, you’ll fill the whole castle.”
She glared at him. “Shouldn’t you be on guard somewhere?”
“Touchy today are we, miss?” He tossed a scroll into her lap. “From your beloved.” He pulled a kissy face and made a smooch sound before swaggering out of sight.
It was bad enough his kind were allowed to wander the castle. Beni was a particular brand of fool. Somehow, the gods missed certain children at birth and they reached adulthood without the ability to weave, without a caste of their own. Spell-less. Casteless. They took the jobs no Weaver could weave and were ignored for the most part, yet Beni had risen within the Sword Weavers, a casteless boy, and found apparent joy in standing in doorways spying on people. Supposedly, having a guardsman who couldn’t be distracted by spells was useful in a world where everyone bled magic.
She unfurled the scroll. Her heart sank.
“Good news?” Beni said.
“Are you still here?”
She threw another potato, and he skipped off, laughing.
Her heart pulled at the letter. It was full of apologies, excuses, platitudes which meant nothing and then… the news she’d known would come from the first kiss they shared. Her lover belonged to the Fire Weavers, and she was nothing.
Nothing but a Potato Weaver.
The ball kicked off in full swing. Noblemen and women in all their finery wined and dined and danced. All the upper castes and notable families were present. Music Weavers wove their magic and the entire ballroom shimmered. Sofia watched from the kitchen doorway. The Cooking Weavers were not permitted to attend the ball, but she’d thought, she’d hoped… her beloved would have granted her one wish.
To dance just once.
Beni brushed past and shoved a scroll into her hands. “For you,” he whispered.
She uncurled the scroll and stared at the words. Meet me here after the ball. Her lover couldn’t have changed his mind?
The night wore on and she hurried her kitchen duties. The early hours chimed when the last guests left the ballroom. Soon the casteless servants would arrive to clear up the mess. No one wanted the indignity of being a Cleaning Weaver.
Footsteps echoed down the hall and she held her breath. Beni emerged from the shadows.
She gawked at him. “What—what are you doing here?”
“You wanted to dance at the ball, so dance with me. They won’t clear the room until we’re done. And I promise you… casteless don’t need magic to weave a good dance.”
Beni offered his hand.
Sofia took it.