It was cold that year. The grease-trap from the restaurant upstairs continued its slow leaking creep across her ceiling, but at least the snow-chill that invaded her square basement slab froze the yellow-brown sludge’s advance.
She had one window, covered with a
lattice of mud and frost. From her desk piled high with paper and feeble penny-candles she could see boots pass in the street outside. Her means were few, so this afterthought coffin was all she could afford. Her gold had better use than wood, or steel, or bowls of wheat. Her gold was for paper, for ink, for magic.
The student held her aching hands as close as she dared to the forest of tiny yellow flames, a rainbow of mismatched candles. The cold would not leave her joints, and the rudimentary spell she had been attempting required an exacting sequence of hand gestures.
“Preposterous,” she grunted, as she often did privately at the endless flailing and chanting required to produce even the most basic of magical effects.
She re-read the passage again, her eyes blurred with repetition and the dull ache between her ears. With grim focus she spoke the arcane words, stumbled over the final consonant, began again, her knuckles full of broken glass she made the careful sigils.
And to her surprise, it worked.
A small gout of flame appeared. Golden and bright, but only for an instant.
The student stared at the empty air in disbelief. She let her hands fall to the cluttered desk, her gaze empty.
“I did it.” The student whispered to no one. “I finally did it.”
She let her head fall slowly to the desk for a moment, then pushed herself up. No coat, no scarf she walked up the cracked stone steps and out into the snow. She took a deep, cold breath. Her lungs full of winter she looked up at the heedless stars and told someone, “I did it.”