The Golem-Maker of the City
By Aaron Canton
Hours later, Laika had flopped down on her bed and was staring up at the ceiling when someone knocked on the door. “Laika?” called Mr. Renzeya’s voice. “Can I come in?”
“Uh-huh,” Laika managed. She groaned and looked up just in time to see Renzeya enter her room with a small tray of strawberries and cream. Even though that was one of her favorite dishes, she wasn’t feeling particularly hungry and didn’t smile or grab at the dish. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“I thought I would come see how you’re doing.” Renzeya set the tray on Laika’s nightstand and smiled down at her. “Have you figured out what you’ll do about the Vestigo Guild apprentices yet?”
She slowly shook her head. “Sorry.”
“Sorry?” Renzeya frowned, then shut the door behind him and knelt by her bed. He was a broad man with a muscular build that hadn’t changed since he’d been a mighty warrior with the Viscosan guard, but his hands were gentle as he helped slip a fresh pillow under Laika’s head so she could rest more comfortably. “You don’t need to be sorry.”
“Mmf.” Laika shook her head again and tried to push herself up, but she was exhausted—not least because she’d spent the past few hours pacing around her room as she tried to work out which of the three ideas the guild patrons had given her might actually get rid of Brandon and the other mages. “I know. I just… I should be better at this.”
“Why?” asked Renzeya, but his tone was gentle and not reproving. “Have you done anything like this before?”
“No, but…” Laika was silent for a long moment. Why did she feel like she should be better at this? If none of the other kids could solve the problem, why should she—who was still relatively new to town and who had rarely interacted with friends her own age before—be any better than her friends or any of the other kids?
“But I am really good at magic,” she continued at last. “I can do all kinds of things. And back where I grew up, the mayor always said, because I had power, it was my job to use it to help people. But now I can’t use my powers to do anything useful.”
Renzeya’s frown deepened. “The mayor took advantage of you. Just because you have a gift doesn’t mean you’re obligated to work without end like he had you do. And your golems are very useful. Don’t sell yourself short—”
“I know,” she quickly interjected. “But I still feel like I should be able to do something! I mean, I have all kinds of people helping me—Miss Naphkator and Mr. Cenard and Mr. Reynoll, and Mr. Grannick when he brought me here, and you—and I still can’t figure out which of their ideas is the best one!” She pushed herself up at that. “I don’t want to waste…”
She trailed off, but Renzeya tilted his head and said, “What would you be wasting? Not their time, surely?”
Laika turned away.
“Laika.” Renzeya moved around the girl’s bed so she was looking at him again. “Nobody here is teaching you anything expecting you to beat up a bully every month.” Laika did smile a little at that, and Renzeya went on. “They’re teaching you because they like it. Because you’re a good student who listens and practices and wants to someday use what they teach you to do amazing things. You’ve already repaid them, every time you come in for another lesson and remember everything from the last one. And Grannick’s happy just to know you’re living your life here, away from the village that did you wrong. He’s always eager to hear of what you’ve been up to, even if it’s just running around with your friends. You’re not wasting anything.”
A slow smile formed on Laika’s face, and she thought back to when Naphkator had grinned after Laika had learned a complicated blocking move, or when Reynoll had bought her a candy once she could recite a couple of his stories verbatim, or when Cenard’s eyes had actually twinkled after she’d mastered a meditation technique. And of course there was Grannick, whom Laika recalled was always happy to see her even if she really hadn’t been up to much since he’d last left. But then she thought of the other people she was worried about letting down and her smile slipped. “What about my friends, though? Don’t I need to help them?”
“And I know you will,” said Renzeya. “Because you are a very talented girl. But I’m sure they’d understand if you didn’t come up with a perfect plan the first day, wouldn’t they?”
“There you go.” Renzeya patted her shoulder. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Laika thought for a long moment before slowly nodding. Renzeya had been a great warrior himself, and he’d probably fought loads of bullies. She knew he had to know what he was talking about. And even in her village, she sometimes had to take a day or two to work out a golem problem—surely it was all right she hadn’t quite figured this one out yet. “All right,” she said. “And I’ll think about it some more. Try to figure out which of the plans they told me downstairs is best.”
Renzeya paused and a slow smile crossed his face. “Do you have to use one of those plans?”
“Well, no, but… Naphkator and the others are real smart!” Laika insisted. “They could all make their own plans work.”
“Yes, but they aren’t you,” said Renzeya. “Naphkator likes fighting, so she’s tough enough to fight people and make them back down. Cenard likes magic, so he has experience using spells to win fights. Reynoll likes being diplomatic and making deals, so he’s great at negotiating with people standing in his way. What do you like?”
Laika blinked. “I like all those things. I really like using magic to make golems—but I also like Miss Naphkator’s fighting training, and sometimes I like just talking to people.” She paused as something occurred to her. “Hey… could I maybe use a little of all their plans?”
“I don’t see why not,” said Renzeya. “In fact, if it’s your own idea, it’s probably better suited to you than any of theirs. What did you have in mind?”
Laika described the ideas she was pulling together in her mind, combining little bits of Naphkator’s, Cenard’s, and Reynoll’s ideas. Renzeya occasionally chimed in with a suggestion of his own, but he didn’t seem to feel she needed many of those, and Laika felt her smile growing as the plan came together. “I think this will work!” she said as she finished, eyes gleaming again. “And Brandon won’t know what hit him!”
“It sounds good to me. Let me know if you need any help—although, personally, I think you’ll do fine on your own.” Renzeya stood and flashed a brilliant grin at Laika. “As for materials, we’ve got some stone and lumber out back for the new wing of the guild, but I don’t think it’ll be a problem if you take a few pieces. Want me to send some up?”
“Yes, please!” said Laika at once. “Thank you! And—if it’s not much trouble—maybe a few other materials?” She named them. “Please?”
Renzeya chuckled and agreed before wishing Laika good luck on her quest and leaving her to her work. A few minutes later, porters came up with the supplies, and Laika busily started creating everything she’d need to put her plan into action.
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