(a Magical Midlife Mom story featuring Barbara)
“Are you sure you can handle this?”
Zacariah had stopped Barbara on her way out into the Monastery fields, where a brand-new squire was waiting for her first lesson with the Blessed Order.
“Of course,” Barbara replied. She folded sleek, strong arms across her chest, her entire body taut and ready for battle despite her advanced age.
Zacariah raised an eyebrow. “You heard what she can do, right? She will unleash every last bit of her power and—”
Barbara narrowed her eyes at Zacariah. “Do you want me to train her or not?”
Zacariah nodded curtly.
“Then let me do my job.”
Zacariah said nothing as Barbara exited into the heat of the desert, but he did remain at the window, watching what would happen next.
The squires had already gathered for their lesson. They formed two straight lines, kids ages ten to seventeen forming uneven rows as they waited for their teacher to arrive.
All but one: the slouching girl who sat cross-legged in the dirt. She picked at her shoelaces, still wearing civilian attire consisting of a halter top and cut-off jeans, in stark contrast to her companions' T-shirts and sensible cotton shorts. She didn’t bother to look up through her black, uncombed hair as Barbara approached.
Barbara made a beeline for her, stopping just a few feet from where the girl sat. “Get up, Avery."
Avery finally peeked up, her lips forming a scowl. “You again?”
“I told you I’d be the one to teach you your first lesson.”
“And I told you to suck it.” Avery spat in the dirt.
The two lines of squires drew in a collective breath. Olivia, a petite girl with braids, took a step forward. “Don’t talk that way to your superior!”
Barbara cut Olivia a sharp glance. Olivia gulped and took a step back.
Barbara focused back on Avery. “Your teenage angst doesn’t impress me. Get in line.”
Barbara let a long silence hang in the air. “Do you want to go back to the streets?”
That question made Avery flinch. Up until a week ago, she’d been living in an illegal homeless encampment in Las Vegas. It was better than being used as a punching bag by her alcoholic stepfather…but not by much.
“Is Zacariah already kicking me out?” Avery asked, unable to keep the desperation out of her voice.
“No,” Barbara said.
Avery relaxed until Barbara added, “But I will if you don’t follow the rules.”
Avery jumped to her feet, her scowl burning hotter than the desert sun. “I don’t have to listen to you!”
Barbara stared into the angry eyes of this unfortunate youth. It was a story that she’d seen played out so many times with the new Blessed Order recruits. Most had been hurt in some way, usually through violence or just plain neglect. Barbara ached for this kid.
She knew exactly what it felt like to be all alone.
Barbara let none of that sympathy show. “You won’t be able to control your powers without some basic self-discipline, a skill which obviously eludes you.”
Avery laughed without mirth. “What do you know about powers?”
“I’m a paladin of the Blessed Order,” Barbara said simply. “I know about magic.”
“Then show me yours!” Avery screamed.
Barbara waited until the echoes of the kid’s cries faded in the wide open sky. “I don’t need to.”
“Fine!” Avery threw her arms out wide. “Then I’ll give you a taste of mine.”
Waves flew out of Avery. Although they weren’t visible to the naked eye, everyone in the vicinity could feel them. The two lines of obedient squires suddenly broke as it hit them. Some fell to their knees. Others grabbed their heads. A few even ran back toward the safety of the Monastery. They all cried out.
Avery was pelting them with her fear magic.
Barbara gritted her teeth as the fear sank deep into her bones. With Avery's magic focused directly on her, the fear was ten times worse than what the squires felt. It dregged up buried memories: watching fellow paladins die in battle, countless episodes of barely escaping death herself, and seeing her first love's eyes go blank. If she dwelled on any single image, much less all of them, she would go insane.
Instead, Barbara strode forward with purpose, straight for Avery.
The teen’s eyes widened as Barbara closed the distance between them. “H-how is that possible? You should be paralyzed with fear!”
Barbara waited until she was within arm’s reach of Avery before she said, “If I caved each time I was afraid, I would have died long ago.”
Then she slapped Avery, hard, right across the face.
The snap reverberated across the desert. Avery fell. As she lay on the ground, sobbing, the other teens got ahold of themselves and slowly returned to their positions, reforming the lines.
Barbara hovered over a blubbering Avery.
“Go…ahead,” Avery managed. “Send me…away.”
Barbara's shadow blocked out the sun over the teen. “Is that what you really want?”
Avery paused. Barbara was sure she would let loose another sarcastic response but instead she said in a whisper, “No.”
Barbara nodded, the only outward indication of the hope that stirred in her chest. If this girl flung out her fear magic every time she was upset, someone would kill her, sooner or later. But this girl could learn to control her rage and still be saved, despite everything had happened to her.
Barbara pointed at the other obedient squires. “Then get in line.”
Slowly, as if moving through water, Avery wiped away her tears, got to her feet, and dragged herself to the edge of the back row.
Barbara waited until she'd slouched into place before addressing them all. “Let’s get started.”
As the squires began their warm-up exercises, Barbara caught a glance of Zacariah at the Monastery window. He gave her a thumbs up before disappearing.
For the first time all day, Barbara allowed herself a brief smile. Training these kids was tough, but she loved every single minute of it.
Then she wiped the grin off her face and barked, “Ten laps! Double speed! Go…go…go!”
And they all ran. Even Avery.
Read more about Barbara and the Blessed Order in the Magical Midlife Mom series.