Disclaimer: I do not own Morwen, nor any of Wrede's characters. I'm just here to have fun.
I'll try to update this at a decent rate, but I'm making no promises! And I appreciate critiques greatly.
Once upon a time, in a small village off the coast of the Fifth Sea (second largest in the set of seven), there lived a beautiful young woman who was not of royal blood.
This fact puzzled the school's only teacher, a sorely put-upon ex-wizard. Everyone knew that young ladies of exceeding beauty and intelligence, for the young woman was intelligent indeed, were supposed to be orphans, solitary and desolate, waiting to find their true purpose once they had come of age. But the young woman was one of the middle children in her family of seven, and, as she had inherited her mother's pale skin and pointed chin, and as she had her father's unmistakable ginger hair, there was no questioning her heritage.
She was also, indubitably, a nuisance.
Jasper Higgins, said ex-wizard-now-teacher, tapped his pointer stick (a useful device used primarily for pointing) against his desk and suppressed a sigh. The girl had potential, any fool could see, but he knew very well that there was no future for the children of small, nameless villages. The most they could hope for was a moment of recognition in someone else's story, a brief cameo in some knight's adventure. He knew this. The other adults of the village, and even most of the children, recognized this. But the girl-
The girl had raised her hand again.
"Yes, Morwen?" Jasper asked dully, hoping briefly that the other students in the one-room school wouldn't hear. His hope was in vain; all twelve looked up, anticipation clear on their faces. A suppressed giggle echoed through the room.
"I've finished my maths, sir," she said quietly, sticking her chin out.
Jasper resisted the urge to cover his eyes, holding his hand out instead. "Well, then, give it here," he said gruffly, preparing himself for the worst. The girl stood up, scraping her chair back across the floor before briskly walking up to him, slate in hand.
He didn't even have to read the numbers before he started cringing. He had assigned her multiplication with numbers of three digits, which most girls her age (around ten years) had no need to know; she had written the numbers underneath each problem steadily, with no sign of spare work around the margins. She had also finished the set in somewhere under five minutes.
"Morwen," he said desperately, "did you check your work?"
"Always, sir," she said, in such a way that it almost seemed like a challenge, despite her modest stance.
"Right." Ten-year-old-girls who had had no schooling previous to his arrival were not supposed to absorb knowledge at such a rate. "You may return to studying your reader, then."
Morwen hesitated, then ducked her head and hurried back to her desk. The other children whispered behind their hands at each other as she tripped over something, catching herself on the back of her chair. Jasper caught a glimpse of something grey and fuzzy disappearing under her desk, and barely yanked his hand back before it shot up to hide his eyes.
"And, for the last time," he growled, a headache stirring in the back of his mind, "do not bring your cat to class!"
Jasper had originally thought that travelling to a small, nameless village would be a brilliant plan. The Society of Wizards did not like dropout students; in fact, most student wizards who left the college disappeared mysteriously within a year or two. He'd also thought that educating the young people would be a challenge, but a fulfilling one. For most of them, it was; he'd been thrilled with the slow progress his students had made over the past few months.
But Morwen, who had entered his schoolroom not knowing how to count or read, had picked up sums and subtraction with alarming speed. As soon as he provided her with an entry-level reader, she'd begun to teach herself how it worked even while he was teaching; she had mastered it within four days, and respectfully requested the next level to study. By now, Jasper was sure that she'd exhaust everything he knew how to teach within a few months. And what would he do with her then?
He leaned back in his chair, observing the girl again. No traces of inner magic, so she couldn't be a fire-witch; her ears weren't pointed, so she wasn't an elf in disguise (elves sometimes made themselves appear to be humans in order to wreck havoc, but their ears always remained pointed, a dead giveaway). If she was enchanted, he would have been able to tell. Outwardly, she looked just like the rest of the village's children, apart from the small grey cat that followed her everywhere.
Perhaps she would grow to be a merchant's daughter, who was blessed for her sweet disposition and dropped in some prince's ball? Unfortunately, her father was a carpenter, and the nearest castle was leagues and leagues away. Nothing seemed to fit.
Jasper jumped, startled, when his wristwatch (the only one within fifty miles, as far as he knew) pinged brightly, signaling the arrival of three o'clock. The students all looked up expectantly at the tinny sound, and he smiled and gave them the briefest of nods. Needing no more encouragement, the mass of six-to-sixteen-year-olds swarmed out of their seats, talking excitedly as they headed for the door. Morwen was instantly surrounded by three other ginger-haired children, all her siblings; she talked brightly with them as they left as well. Jasper noted that, this time, the girl had not taken her reader with her. She'd ask for the next-highest level the next morning, he concluded.
One of the children had not run outside with the others. Ted- a black-haired lad, nearing adulthood in his mid-teens- stayed behind to straighten the chairs and desks, put the occasional book or slate away. Ted was Jasper's assistant, and the only other person in the village who he could talk to in an honest fashion. This was mostly due to the fact that Ted had traveled with Jasper, away from the University, in the first place.
"Jasper," the boy said eagerly, as soon as the footsteps outside had faded away, "could you show me that spell you were talking about this morning now, because I've been thinking about it and-"
"I can't do magic anymore, Ted," Jasper said automatically, annoyed. "You know that. I don't have any of it to work with, so there's nothing I can do."
The boy rolled his eyes. "I know. But, you could tell me how it works. Come on. Please?"
"Later." Jasper resisted the urge to roll his eyes as well. "If you wanted to be a wizard, Ted, you should have said so earlier. Then we wouldn't be here at all."
"I don't." Ted grinned. "I'd much rather be a sorcerer."
"Good grief," Jasper muttered to himself.
The boy was impossible. Sadly, he was also his ward.
"You can say that all you want," he replied darkly, standing up and walking over to close the schoolroom's door, "but—"
He paused, and frowned. There was something sitting in the doorway. It was small, fluffy, and such a dull gray in color that it almost blended in with the surroundings, but the piercing green eyes that peeped out from the fur were undoubtedly intelligent.
"Oh lord," Jasper said.
He hated cats.