Mine to Tarnish

By: Janeal Falor

Chapter One

I was never expected to marry well, as I wasn’t bred to have large quantities of magic in my blood. Yet my testing changed that. There was more magic than expected, and I was quickly sold off to a high-paying warlock.

It’s been the source of gossip all morning, and since the class matron is being reprimanded by the chaperone, my classmates can finally overwhelm me.

“Have you been introduced?” the closest girl asks, the others leaning closer.

“He didn’t deem it necessary.” I wish he would have, if only so I could gauge how cruel a warlock my new owner is.

“What do you know of him, other than he's from another city?”

“Nothing.” Unfortunately, I’ll discover more soon enough. In a short week, I’ll be engaged to him, followed by a wedding a month later.

“Girls,” the class matron calls out, shrill as ever. “Enough chatter. Sit up straight and don’t speak. A woman is always proper.”

We promptly comply, not wanting the wrath of this short, angular woman brought upon us. Punishments from her cane are as sharp as she is, though I usually manage to avoid them. My back complains about not being able to relax, but it’s a feeling I’m accustomed to, even if I don’t care for it. Thankfully, mother isn’t strict about the Canon when we’re alone, so I only need conform at class and around Father.

“On what page and paragraph is that rule located?” she prompts.

Rules. It's all we learn about day after day. The Woman's Canon is engrained into us. Even so, I've never been able to memorize it like a woman should. Since it's the only thing we're allowed to read, I just don't bother unless I have to. Of course it's become the biggest reason I will never excel at class.

Clarissa raises her hand. “One hundred and seventy-two, paragraph three.”

The matron lifts an eyebrow, the only feedback she ever gives for a correct answer, which leaves us feeling more like it was the wrong answer. Of course, wrong answers are punished, so there’s little doubt. “The warlocks will be here shortly. There will be no misbehaving. While you wait, think on how you can improve your worth as a potential bride.”

As if there’s a way. No matter how strictly we follow the Canon, we can’t control how much magic is in our blood.

At that moment, the warlock chaperone begins snoring. My lips twitch, but I manage to hold in a laugh. I suppose the matron’s lecturing bores him as well. The matron looks as if she wants to take her cane to him, but she just stands there, waiting with perfect posture at the front of the room.

It’s always a guess as to when, exactly, the warlocks will arrive. Sometimes they don’t even attend, though usually at least one or two from lower-class families make an appearance. It’s one of the few opportunities they’ll have to prove themselves in helping train us how to behave around warlocks. Others with greater magical status and money occasionally come to decide if they would like to make one of us their future wives. At least that’s what they say. It feels as if they come to tease and torture.

I wait in silence, with my stiff back and aching head. The room is so hot, it feels as if my face paint will melt off. The couches on the other side of the room, where we go when the warlocks are present, are always the most enticing during this part of class. Truthfully, they’re inviting any time during the week, except when the warlocks demand we join them there. Our wooden chairs are not meant for the hours of sitting required of us.

About ten minutes later, the young men trickle in, gangly yet strutting. My back goes stiffer and my head aches more. Thankfully, none choose me, opting to sit with other girls. I’m not certain I would treat them as propriety demands in my current mood. Being sold has me jittery and somehow more agitated with society’s ways.

The other girls do well at keeping their gazes lowered while I can’t help but be naughty and sneak peeks. The conversation in the room is flat at first, the tenors of males somewhere between the ages of ten and twenty drifting about, but once their questions give permission for the girls to reply, chatter swarms the room.

It also means the lack of attention doesn’t last. My name is bandied about like leftover scraps of cloth. The girls vainly try to suppress giggles behind gloved hands as the warlocks lead them to me. The class matron won’t correct their behavior until after the boys depart, for which I’m usually grateful. Now I wish someone would hush them. Surely they’ve gossiped enough about me. Why can’t they leave me be? I keep my frustration bottled and lower my eyes.

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