My eyes tracked the spinning lump of clay atop the wheel, round and round and round. My stomach churning, I clenched my eyes shut and sucked in deep breaths until the nausea faded and I no longer felt like the floor would come up to meet me.
I had to stop watching the wheel as I daydreamed.
“Your clay is going to dry out, Katrina,” a gruff voice called from nearby.
I glanced at the occupied stool next to me and sighed. It was the only response I could muster for my grizzled mentor. Henry, the earth mage who owned the pottery shop I’d come to think of as my home, leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he held his chin in his palm. “What is it, dear girl?”
“I’m tired, Henry,” I said, dipping my fingers in the bowl of water beside my foot before bringing the shapeless lump of clay in front of me back to life. I turned to sculpting as a form of escape, a way to channel my emotions into something productive. It was a far better method than my previous attempts to manage my feelings, which had only served to decorate my body in small scars, now silver with age. Here, my fire magic was welcomed, not something to be smothered and hidden.
The old man sighed, pushing back the sparse gray hairs that refused to stay in the tie at his nape. “You need out of that house. It’s draining the life from your eyes day by day.”
“I have nowhere else to go.” My frustrations began and ended with my parents; their disappointment in me was a heavy cloak that shrouded my entire life. “They would never let me leave.”
“Pah,” he snorted, waving a hand dismissively as he leaned forward to watch me form the clay. “They cannot stop you. You passed your initiations; you are a full citizen of Sleepy Hollow now and can do as you please.”
His words, however inspiring, were dangerous. Dangerous for him to speak aloud and for me to listen to. If my mother ever heard the sentiment… I shuddered at the thought of what she’d do.
“You know it’s not that simple.” My gaze fell to the floor.
His hand, a rich brown and worn from the sun, landed on my forearm, pausing my movements. “What do you want, Katrina?”
My foot stuttered, and the wheel slowly came to a halt as tears choked me, burning my throat and stinging my eyes. I could not want. Could not dream. My future was at the whims of my mother, and if she had her way, I would be locked away in that cursed manor and left to rot for the duration of my immortality. “It doesn’t matter what I want, Henry. It never has.”
“It always matters,” he told me. Standing, he squeezed my shoulder before leaving me to my creations. From the corner of my eye, I watched him move to his patch of dirt, where we’d pulled up the floorboards to reveal the earth beneath. His eyes closed and his hands and lips moved as he manipulated the mound. One benefit of working for an earth mage, I supposed, was that we never ran out of clay.
When I spun the wheel back to life, I added more water to the clay, trying to resurrect the vase as I pondered Henry’s words. What did I want? My childhood had never been joyous, and from the moment I could remember, I’d only ever had two aspirations: gain my citizenship in Sleepy Hollow and earn my own living working at the pottery shop.
With the recent initiations complete, I’d achieved both. My mother had wondered how I’d tricked the evaluators into believing my magic was stable, but we both knew I’d spent days in bed after, recovering from the mental and physical toll the tests had taken on me. I had barely passed.
Since meeting Henry when I was merely ten summers old, I’d achieved the latter goal. The old mage took me under his wing the second I’d walked into his shop in search of a way to fix the plate I’d broken before my mother discovered it. Shortly after, he’d brought me on as his apprentice and spent every spare minute tutoring me in both magic and the mundane world outside Sleepy Hollow. He worked to ensure I missed nothing, refusing to leave me ignorant about how the world worked.
His efforts were far more than that of my mother. One session with a magical tutor when I was seven had her quickly deeming me a magical failure. After that assessment, she saw no reason to further pursue my education.
Despite Henry’s tutelage, I knew there were gaps in my knowledge, especially around the inner workings of Sleepy Hollow. But I knew the town was a haven for the magical. I knew the magical barrier that kept humans away was a natural occurrence and no feat of spell work. I also knew that the ominous Dullahan roamed the forests beyond the barrier.
My mother claimed Sleepy Hollow as her pride and joy. Her creation. Her legacy. And I wanted out. My mother demanded perfection, and those she found lacking often found themselves the recipient of her ire. Unfortunately, I was her most favored target to extoll her disappointment upon.
Now that Henry had put the words into my ear—the one that worked, at least—a life away from my mother was all I could think about, and moving out of that godsforsaken manor would be the first thing I needed to do. The sprawling house was far too big for our pitiful family of three and served as nothing more than a monument to my mother’s ego. I had no happy memories from that house, and the sooner I could leave, the sooner I could move on.
But I could not begin to fathom a life beyond my mother’s rule until I was out of the manor and in my own space.
I needed somewhere that was mine. Somewhere I could control.
“I want to move out,” I muttered, more to myself than to Henry, though my eyes drifted to my mentor. He was like a father to me, more than my own had ever been, and I wanted—
No, I needed his approval.
As he lowered his arms, the swirls of earth moving from the pit into pitchers at his feet collapsed, and he raised his brow. “From the manor?”
The pride that shone in his eyes as he made to stand in front of me caused my heart to squeeze. No one had ever looked at me like that. He took my hands in his, neither of us minding the dirt and wet clay covering our palms. “Katrina, I think that is probably the best idea you’ve ever had.”
Tears stung my eyes again, but for the first time in a very long time, they weren’t tears of sadness or frustration. “I want my own life, Henry. One of my own making and under my own power.”
“Then you shall have it.” His hands squeezed mine. “And I will do anything in my power to ensure that, my dear girl.”
Sniffing back the tears, I couldn’t stop the watery laugh that bubbled up from my chest. “I’m going to move out, Henry.”
He laughed with me, his voice vibrating through my chest, where it curled into a warm glow. A fire that welcomed rather than raged. “Yes, you are, Katrina.” He cracked his knuckles, nodding toward the table at the back of the room. “Now, let’s see what we can find.”
* * *
“How will I find somewhere without my mother knowing?” I asked, running my hand through my wild curls and gripping the back of my head. For nearly two hours now, every available residence we discovered was owned by a friend of my mother’s. And while it wasn’t surprising, it had me ready to upturn every piece of furniture in sight and set it all ablaze. Sighing, I leaned back from the papers strewn about the table in front of Henry and me and crossed my arms over my chest.
Henry’s sigh echoed my own as he rifled through the papers again. “Surely, there must be something. Let me speak to a friend. She might have space available above her shop.” He paused his movements, looking up at me with a frown. “You know I would take you in if I had the space, my dear. But we both know that a spot on the floor by my fireplace is not what you’re looking for.”
“I’ll take anything at this point,” I grumbled, desperation leaking into my voice. Was I doomed to fail before I’d even started? My dreams were already succumbing to the will of my mother.
I shook my head. No, I would move into a place of my own. I would have something to call my own, even if it did end up being a spot on Henry’s floor.
“I’ll talk to Ciara as well,” I said. “Maybe she heard something from her customers.”
At the mention of my only other friend, Henry’s face brightened. “Brilliant.” He craned his head back to look out the windows at the front of the shop. “It’s getting late. Why don’t you go on ahead before she closes for the day?”
I gaped at him. Despite his fatherly affection, Henry was a demanding boss. He’d never let me go early, and certainly never before we’d finished our orders for the day. “Are you sure? I told her I’d collect some flowers she needed before I stopped by next, so I’d need to go gather those first. I was planning to do that tonight, so I can see her in the morning.”
He laughed loudly, shooing me away. “Go on, girl. Pick your flowers and go see Ciara before it gets dark. Getting you out of that manor is far more important than finishing those blasted vases.”
Jumping from the table, I pressed a kiss to the old man’s cheek, ducking as he swatted at me. “Thank you, Henry!”
He grumbled, but neither of us could deny the twin smiles across our faces as I pulled on my cloak, fastening the button at my throat over the gleaming ruby necklace he’d gifted me just the year prior. Stooping to pick up my spade and basket, I rushed out the door before he could change his mind.
I would move out of the Van Tassel manor. I would live my own life under my own control, and I would do it if it killed me. And given my mother’s propensity toward violence when challenged, it very well might.
The smile slipped from my face at the thought.