Gemma slowly reached out and took the charm, her shoulders relaxing from the hunch she had pulled into when the heat spread through her body. “Is this an example of a charm that could be put in cloth—or clothes?”
The mage nodded. “My cloak has the same effect as the ruby. Most gems and precious metals can hold a large amount of magic. They are merely much harder to procure. That heat charm would go for the same price as, say, hmm, a matched team of four horses with good bloodlines and excellent confirmation.”
“What?” Gemma said, her eyes bulging.
The mage shrugged. “It’s why royals can afford such charms for themselves and but cannot afford to outfit their armies. Which is just as well.”
“Is it really that hard to find good quality cloth goods?” Gemma asked.
The mage gave Gemma a quirk of a smile. “You have no idea. I’ve wanted a carpet for ages—there’s an old spell I found that will make it fly—but I haven’t found a good enough carpet yet for a price I can pay,” the mage sighed.
As Gemma watched him, she slowly changed her mind about the mage. Originally, she thought he had to a century old—even if his lips and chin were fine and young-looking. Magic preserved its wielders longer than the human lifespan, anyway. But the more the mage talked, Gemma saw the impatience, the language, and the gestures of a younger man. Was he, perhaps, possibly half a century old?
“What’s wrong?” the mage asked when he caught Gemma staring.
“Nothing,” Gemma said, looking back at the sky. She cupped her hands around the heat charm, relaxing as its warmth worked its way all the way down to her toes.
“I was going to ask you this earlier, but I hope you have something stuffed in your dress as payment?” the mage asked.
I will need to thank Lady Linnea. I had forgotten about the payment, Gemma thought. “Yes, but I’m afraid it will hardly be any better than the previous payment,” she said. She clenched the ruby in one hand and slipped the gold ring out from under her hair-band—which had held it strapped to her head.
Gemma held out the plain gold ring, and the mage took it.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I still cannot see the logic in giving a mage who can spin flax into gold a gold ring,” Gemma said.
“Magic is often hard to understand,” the mage said.
Gemma shrugged and held the heat charm closer to her chest, almost hitting her head on a decorative snowflake carving.
“In a few minutes, I will have to go indoors again. I trust my spinning wheel to go for hours, but I don’t know about this one the palace is lending us,” the mage said.
Gemma nodded. “Thank you for the heat charm, and for helping me up here.”
“It was my pleasure,” the mage said, his voice soft with sincerity.
The sky was pink with the promise of the sun as Gemma sat at the table and ate the last baked apple. It was cold, but still tasty with the zing of cinnamon.
“Finished—and just in time,” the mage said, winding up the last length of gold thread.
“I imagine you must be very popular with royalty thanks to this trick?” Gemma asked.
“No—not many know I can do it. Those that do know belong to the magic community, and they hardly care. Gold is used like a cheap spice by those in positions of power,” the mage snorted. “Here,” he said, handing Gemma a wad of fibers.
When the pink light of dawn hit the fibers and they glowed, Gemma saw that although they hadn’t been spun into thread, the fibers were gold. “No,” Gemma said, passing the fibers back.
The mage smiled—amused by Gemma’s refusal. “Why not?” he said dropping the wad of fibers on her lap.
“I’m a seamstress. I can’t do anything with gold,” Gemma said, picking the fibers up and holding them out.
The mage shook his head. “It’s too late to add them to the thread now. Take them. I would rather you have them than that murderous king of yours.”
“I can’t,” Gemma said.
“This has to be at least equal the cost of the gold ring I gave you,” Gemma said.
“So? How is that a problem?”
“It just is,” Gemma said, sliding away from the small table. “Here, take it.”
“No,” the mage laughed.
“You are insufferable,” Gemma glowered.
The mage grinned and leaned closer. “And you are quite fetching,” he said before playfully tapping Gemma’s nose.
If Gemma had been any less prone to emotional outbursts, her jaw would have dropped at the harmless flirtation. Instead she stared straight ahead, slightly dumbfounded and as enthusiastic as a block of ice while the mage withdrew.
“I had best be off. It would be most embarrassing if the King opened the door and found me here with you. I will drop by your cell later today to hear whatever good news has been bestowed upon you,” the mage said, striding for the door.
Gemma uncomfortably cleared her throat.
“Yes?” the mage said, turning to face her.
Gemma ran a hand through her wavy, brown hair. “I, I don’t think I’ve properly thanked you yet…for everything.”
“The gold thread, the bad bargains, the food…” Gemma said.