It was always my mother.
She is my earliest memory. I can still see her dark eyes laughing down at me, smell the sweet undefinable scent that surrounded her. When she held me close, her hair fell like a drape, and only the two of us existed.
I knew she was important, special. Wherever we went into King, everyone deferred to my mother, spoke to her hushed respectful tones. They sensed the power just as I did, but they were not part of her as I was. They were outsiders, even the ones from the Old Families.
She made a game of that, of teaching me to suss out who came from which family. We walked down the sidewalk, and as we passed people, she murmured softly, only for my ears.
Our home was my playground and my school room. It was the grandest house in town, built by old Gravis for my ancestor Sarah. There were secret closets, hidden passages and cryptic words carved into the stone of the fireplace.
I was four the first time she took me to the clearing. We parked near the lake at full darkness and trudged down a gravel path. When we reached the boulder, she led me into the woods. I wasn’t frightened, and she was proud of that.
The others were already there, gathered in a circle, dressed in long dark robes. I wasn’t permitted within, but I perched on a log just outside. After the chanting ended, my mother spoke for several moments in a language I couldn’t understand. And then she turned slightly and beckoned to me. I stepped forward hesitantly and took her hand.
“Focus on the center, Nell,” she whispered. “Bring the fire. Make it burn. Concentrate.”
I screwed up my eyes and tried to obey. At first, there was only silence, the sounds of the woods. She tightened her grip on my hand, and suddenly power surged through me. My eyes flew open and I stared at the rock pile in the center of the ring.
A bright flame danced merrily among the stones. She released my hand and smiled down into my eyes.
“It’s a beginning.”