A/N: After poking through my remaining story ideas and messing around on Facebook, I started writing this story, which is still under construction as I post this initial chapter. This is another of the fun "magical"-aspect suggestions given to me by Misheemom, and I thought I'd see what I could do with this one. Enjoy…
§ § § -- June 3, 2006
"I presume you've fully rested now after the triplets' birthday party yesterday?" asked Roarke humorously as Leslie crossed the porch that Saturday morning with Christian behind her. The triplets, newly two, were as usual upstairs with devoted babysitter Haruko Miyamoto. School was just out for the summer, and there were a lot of happy kids on the island today.
"I think so," Leslie said, pretending to sag with weariness, and the men laughed. "So now all we have to do is brace for the Terrible Twos. Maybe by their next birthday, they'll be well in progress with toilet training."
"As far," Roarke interjected, half teasing, half serious, "as you might be, perhaps, in your extra training?"
Christian's ears clearly perked up at that. "Extra training?" he repeated. "Is this going to turn into another of those irresistible stories we sometimes share?"
Leslie peered over her shoulder at him. "I don't know. It could involve certain trade secrets. And unless you're willing to pretend you never heard the tale, we might not tell it."
"Well, that's trust for you." Christian pretended to sulk. "Tell you what, I'll give you till lunch to decide. Till then…Mr. Roarke." He leaned over and kissed his wife. "My Rose. Have a good morning." He trotted off the porch and departed in the Enstads' car.
Leslie watched him go, then looked at Roarke. "I take it the fantasies this weekend are suitably mundane that you're feeling as if I need a few more magic lessons."
Roarke frowned and put a finger to his lips. "Not so loudly, Leslie. Ah…here's the car, we'd better go." She chuckled to herself and followed him off the porch. Had she pressed the issue, he would undoubtedly have cited the presence of too many superstitious natives around to overhear; but she was sure he just didn't want her accidentally giving anything away. Even with her he was still amazingly secretive.
Wondering what he had in mind distracted her enough that morning that she had a hard time keeping her mind on their guests while Roarke sent them off into their fantasies; as she had predicted, they were indeed mundane. A college coed wanted to be a fashion model, in order to make up her mind about continuing her education or taking an offer she had received a few weeks before; and a clumsy ne'er-do-well had a fantasy to be a doctor, just to prove he could actually do something, even if it was with Roarke's help.
Once both guests were on their way, Roarke studied his daughter, then smiled faintly at her. "Well, then, are you ready?"
"Depends on what for," she said, waiting eagerly.
"Perhaps this would be a good time for you to learn how to mix up simple potions. By the way, how has Tobias been doing? Have his nightmares diminished?"
She shrugged. "Hard to say. Dr. Corbett said when I called her a few days ago to just comfort him when he wakes up and cries in the night, leave the nightlight on in the kids' room, and don't make any big changes in the household right now. She assured me he's just two and it won't be too long before the whole thing fades right out of his memory." She met his faintly amused gaze with a weary smile of her own. "Last night he didn't have any bad dreams for a change. I don't know if that means he's starting to get over it, or if it was just because he had such a wonderful time at the birthday party yesterday."
Roarke grinned. "I suspect Christian would tell you not to question small miracles. Time will tell, Leslie, and try to be patient. Dr. Corbett is right; he's young enough that this won't leave a clear impression on him. He may have the remnants of the memory for some time to come, perhaps even a few years. Did the doctor mention that?"
"No, but I've heard things," Leslie said, following him down the hall that led to the kitchen. "Mostly from guests. I can still remember the one woman we had last year who'd been having this mysterious nightmare ever since she was old enough to have a decent memory for things like that, and how it turned out to stem from a traumatic incident when she was about the triplets' age. So I see what you're getting at. I just hope it doesn't stick with Tobias like that. I don't think we could endure for that long."
"I suspect that in time it will diminish in importance," Roarke said, taking the stairs down to the cellar of the main house. Leslie peered up, from habit, catching patches of clear blue sky from the bell tower far above them. "Due to my profession and their proximity to it, they will eventually come to take most of these unusual incidents more or less for granted. So I don't think you need worry very much about the long-term effects of this one. Now, if you'll find the light switch for me, I'll gather some ingredients and we can begin."
"Something simple, I presume," said Leslie, patting the wall near the foot of the stairs in search of the switch. "Drat it, I always forget where the switch is. I think this is the fourth time I've ever been down here since I first came to live here."
Roarke laughed just as she found the switch and pushed it up, illuminating the entire area with a warm glow. "It's that rare that you're able to keep track?"
"Believe me, that dire warning you gave me my first week here really sank in," she teased him. "My first time was when you showed me the cellar that same week; the second time must have been when Rogan and I were looking for the palliative when you had the bone-eating disease; the third time was when he brought me down here and I helped him mix up the cure for it. So that makes this the fourth."
"I see. Well, if this lesson takes root, you may find yourself down here much more frequently than once every eight or nine years," said Roarke, his amusement lingering even as he circled the room choosing oddly shaped jars and bottles from what seemed like random shelves. Leslie watched, drifting toward the stainless-steel table in the middle of the room, rapt attention on her father. "Now," Roarke continued, "until you can learn to read this alphabet well enough to understand the labels, I'll have to tag the bottles you'll need when you're creating potions in the future. Which means you'll be studying for some time."
Leslie picked up one bottle and peered at the loopy, swooping symbols on its label. "Am I allowed to ask what language this alphabet belongs to?"
"It's the native tongue of all the clans, including mine," Roarke said. "The language has passed from everyday use, but we are still taught to read it so that we can make use of it when necessary. It was the only language my grandmothers spoke." He busied himself placing vials and small measuring implements on the table, then paused and regarded her. "I hope you won't find it too difficult. You're already forty-one, and it's quite a task for someone that old to learn a new language, particularly with any fluency."
"You talk like I'm a tottering old crone," Leslie complained, her voice light but holding a twinge of annoyance all the same. "Anyway, you implied that I'll need to learn only how to read it, not speak it, and I won't need fluency if the only words I have to know are the ones on these labels."
To her surprise, Roarke grinned again. "Excellent, my child," he praised her. "You're thinking. Yes, you're correct, but I feel it would be a good thing for you to attain enough familiarity with the language to be able to read these labels with ease and confidence. That is the first step; the next step will be learning about the various substances in the containers, and after that you will learn not only what they do, but how they interact when combined. Everything you see here has a purpose of its own, in its pure form. Combined, not only do they have an entirely different function, but each ingredient affects—and changes—what all the other ingredients can and will do. Therefore, you have a cumulative effect in sum, which requires you to be immaculately careful about what you combine and in what quantities. Do you understand me so far?"
"I follow you," Leslie said, nodding. "Every action has a reaction, and no two are exactly alike."
"Precisely. Now…let's begin with something simple, as you mentioned a moment ago. Perhaps…" He considered it a moment, then nodded. "Let's try the potion for strength that Julie once used during her days as my assistant."
Leslie laughed. "I remember that. She meant inner strength, but she got outer strength. I still think poor old Charlie Atkins was disappointed about losing all those muscles."
Roarke chuckled and observed, "Perhaps so. In any case, it's one of the simplest potions to make up; it requires only two ingredients, and one of them is plain water. Now, just to see if you might remember anything from that memory you just cited, try to locate the strength elixir."
Leslie shot him a very dubious look that made his dark eyes twinkle with merriment, but she dutifully began scanning all the labels. Roarke watched her, and she felt his gaze on her at first; then an idea occurred to her and she froze in place, casting back to when Julie had granted Charlie Atkins' fantasy to become the strongest man in the world. It was probably just as well Julie had made the mistake of failing to specify inner, rather than physical, strength, for this error provided the only clue Leslie had. She remembered closely watching Roarke pour the potion into a cup…from a solid container, she thought, frowning. Some silver thing, like a chalice or at least a really fancy decanter. And Mr. Atkins' drinking cup was silver too. But I think the potion itself was…was very pale… Brightening, she scanned the bottles again and zeroed in on one substance that was so pale blue in color it looked almost clear. "This one," she said and raised it to show Roarke.
Her heart sank when she saw Roarke stifle a smile. "Are you so certain? Think again," he prompted. "And think very carefully. I gave you a clue a moment ago."
On the verge of retorting You did not!, Leslie caught herself and went back over their last few minutes of conversation. Oh, that's right, stupid, she thought, scowling, and put the bottle back where she'd found it. This time she looked more carefully, and finally chose a jar of deep-blue liquid and lifted it. "This one?"
"Very good, that's the correct one," Roarke said, smiling broadly. "I admit to curiosity. How did you figure out the right answer?"
She grinned. "I recalled that the potion you gave Mr. Atkins was very pale blue in color, and at first I forgot that you said the other ingredient was water. That's why I picked the wrong one the first time. But then I remembered, after you jogged my memory about leaving me a clue, and I went from there." She examined the bottle under the lamp that hung above the table. "Look how deep blue this is…a sapphire color. This must be really potent, since I remember the potion being almost clear in color."
"Good, good," Roarke said. "That too is correct. You're doing very well, Leslie; perhaps it won't be as difficult as I had feared to teach you, at least the simplest steps. Yes, the elixir is very potent indeed, so it takes only a few drops in a container of water to provide the desired effect."
She peered at him. "What's the difference between 'elixir' and 'potion'? I thought the two terms were interchangeable, but you aren't using them that way."
"Because they are not. The elixir is the pure form of any one ingredient; a potion is the completed combination of ingredients. Now…let's try—"
But a voice from above interrupted him. "Uncle? Leslie? Are you here? Haruko upstairs insists you didn't leave the house…"
Roarke went to the foot of the steps leading up through the dining room and into the bell tower, and called up, "We're down here, Rogan. What can we do for you?"
"Ah, good." A moment later Rogan clattered down the stairs, looking a little hassled and very determined. "Uncle, I apologize if this is a bad time, but I'm afraid things have come to a head with Rory. He's finished kindergarten, he's six years old, and it's time he began learning how to use—and control—the powers he was born with."
Roarke and Leslie both stared at him. "And why precisely now?" Roarke asked.
"Because his educational future is on the line if we don't begin now. His kindergarten teacher sent a note home with him yesterday, a very strident note, I might add. It said something to the effect that she was deeply relieved that he was at last no longer her student, that she was fed up beyond imagination with his antics, and that if we didn't see to it over the summer that the lad was taught some self-control, she would strongly recommend to the principal that he not be allowed into the first grade come September."
Leslie's eyes widened; Roarke nodded slowly. "I see. If you don't mind my asking, Rogan, what sort of…uh, 'antics' is the teacher referring to?"
Rogan grunted and rolled his eyes. "Where shall I begin, hm? Let's see…on his first day of school, lo these many months ago, he turned his teacher into an Easter basket. For the class Halloween party, he managed to conjure up a ghost, resulting in the allegedly permanent traumatizing of half a dozen impressionable little classmates. When it came his turn to have his birthday celebrated in his classroom come December, an' he got gifts he didn't like from various classmates, he changed them into things he did like. At the class Christmas party later that month, he changed all the gift tags so that they had his name on them, an' none o' the rest o' the class received presents until his teacher came to us and Julie and I threatened him with no presents at home unless he changed them back. All year long he's been pickin' on one poor hapless little lass, changin' her into all sorts o' nasty things—a rubbish container, a well-used toothbrush, a pair o' muddy shoes, a cockroach an' any number of other unattractive insects, an' once even a toilet. This activity peaked in January when there were no class activities for him t' disrupt. On Valentine's Day, he repeated his Christmas tricks and changed all th' valentine cards in th' classroom so that he received them all…"
"I think we get the picture," Leslie said faintly, gaping at him.
"Och, lass, I'm not yet finished," Rogan scolded, shaking a finger at her, which made Roarke stifle a smile. "On the sainted Saint Paddy's day, he explained t' his class that Saint Patrick rid Ireland o' snakes…an' then conjured up a snake or two just t' prove his point, which sent th' class int' pure hysterics." By now his brogue was so thick that Roarke and Leslie could barely understand him. "At Easter he changed everyone, includin' th' teacher—again—int' Easter baskets. He continued t' change his poor little target into more unsavory things, such as an anteater, a pile o' dirt, more assorted insect pests…once he turned her int' a bicycle an' rode the poor lass all over th' schoolyard afore he was made t' stop. Last month he turned her int' a fish an' refused to put her int' water until th' teacher threatened him with only th' heavens know what. Th' last straw was when he made a bow an' arrow out o' that child an' taunted his classmates by tellin' 'em he was aimin' t' shoot 'em full o' arrows."
"You do have quite a problem," Roarke agreed when Rogan finally stopped and stared expectantly at him.
"Uncle, when ye make that sort o' massive understatement, ye really send me blood pressure t' th' unhealthiest possible heights," Rogan roared, pacing the room. "Julie and I've been presented wi' at least eight lawsuits, all from parents o' children Rory has done somethin' to during the year. We've been told he would be better off under home-schoolin', but he's enough o' a handful when he's there, and Julie needs th' break she gets. She's very, very stressed out about th' comin' summer holiday. The school itself is makin' noise about bringin' a lawsuit against us, never mind individual parents. All this, they say, unless we find some way t' tame that lad an' make him stop!" At this Rogan stopped short, pivoted on the ball of one foot and pointed straight at Roarke. "An' you, uncle, are th' only one on this entire planet who can override th' lad and teach him how t' use his abilities in th' proper fashion! So I suggest, in th' name o' peace on this island, that ye agree straightaway, or…"
Roarke's features had set into stone. "I don't take kindly to threats myself," he warned his cousin's son, in a voice that made even Rogan snap his mouth shut. "Perhaps you'd better calm yourself before you continue."
Rogan cleared his throat. "I apologize, uncle, but we're at th' end of our rope. It's a sheer wonder th' lad wasn't expelled an' told t' wait till next year t' return."
"Why wasn't he?" Leslie asked.
"I managed t' use a little power o' me own to persuade 'em not to," Rogan admitted, a little sheepishly. "'Twas th' only way t' preserve Julie's sanity, poor lass."
"And shred the sanity of Rory's teacher," inserted Leslie dryly.
"Sure an' she never had t' live with th' lad!" Rogan shot back. "He spent enough time changing Julie int' things afore he started kindergarten an' found a bigger target audience. Aye, uncle, that he did, though ye never saw it. We had hopes all year that he'd learn a little discipline, but nothin's come o' it. So now we turn t' you. Ye happen t' be our last resort."
Roarke sighed gently. "Where is Rory now?"
"A' home wi' Julie. I'm tellin' ye, there'll be no peace in our household till somethin' drastic is done. I dare not even imagine what th' lad might be up t' now."
Roarke regarded him thoughtfully, then inquired, "Tell me, Rogan, what do you do while Julie is busy with your son?"
Rogan clearly saw through to the implications of Roarke's question, and protested indignantly, "I've me business t' run! How am I t' provide for me wife an' th' lad unless I'm in th' greenhouse every blessed day, makin' sure I've quality product t' sell?"
"Christian's country has a saying," Leslie remarked, "that it takes two to make a child and it takes two to raise that child. Every time I come over to your place, you're holed up in the greenhouse communing with your plants. What kind of conclusion are we supposed to draw from that?"
"Leslie may have a point," said Roarke. "Does she?"
"Oh, now, uncle…" Rogan began.
"You are the one with the powers, remember?" Roarke put in pointedly. "Just because Julie is a MacNabb does not mean she is automatically expert in the use of the MacNabb magic. Remember, she herself doesn't possess it; and believe me, it's extremely difficult, if not impossible, for someone without magical talent to teach—often, to even handle—someone with it. You, on the other hand, should have much less trouble."
"I haven't th' time!" Rogan burst out.
"Then make the time," Roarke said without missing a beat. "When you reach your limit and you have taught the boy all you can, then you may bring him to me and we will discuss further education in the matter. Until then, however, the basics are up to you, beginning with discipline. And you should know better than most that any child with talents such as Rory's must be handled with particular care and finesse. If I dare go so far, I might say that neither you nor Julie has put more than token effort into exacting the proper discipline on Rory, or his teacher and classmates might not have suffered the effects of those 'antics' you described."
Rogan looked outraged. "So what ye're sayin' is, ye'll not have anythin' t' do wi' Rory till Julie and I've beaten some sense int' the lad, is that it?"
"You and Julie are his parents, not I," Roarke reminded him, "and it is the responsibility of the parents, in all cases, to teach their children how to behave decently in public. I have the right to insist on a student who knows what he is not supposed to be doing, before I undertake to instruct him further in the magical arts."
Rogan's expression was now of one utterly thwarted. "Och, uncle, ye're a hard man, ye know. Ye drive th' worst bargain o' anyone I've ever met in me life, an' that includes me da, he o' not-so-sainted memory. But I must admit, ye've a point…perhaps we've not been as diligent as we should in teachin' th' lad some restraint. Well enough, then, we'll do what we can over th' summer, will that work fer ye?"
"That should be sufficient," Roarke agreed. "In any case, I have several fairly difficult lessons to teach Leslie during these next few months, so my own time is limited as well. If you and Julie can present me with a well-behaved boy by the time school begins again in three months, I'll agree to begin teaching him."
"Aye, then, we've a deal," Rogan said and blew out a long, weary sigh. "Sure an' this'll be th' longest everlastin' summer I've ever known…" He climbed the stairs and out of sight.
Roarke and Leslie watched him go, and Leslie grinned wryly. "The ultimate lesson in how to do the impossible," she remarked.
Roarke laughed. "That depends on how much success Rogan and Julie have with Rory this summer. Meantime, you need to turn your mind to other things. Now, let's look at the potion I created to allow the blind to temporarily see again."
"I thought that came from a flower," Leslie said, surprised.
"So it does." Roarke lifted a small bottle from the table and handed it to her, then took a basket out of a stack of them in a corner. "When Mr. Ned Scott, the newly blind detective, came here to search for the actress Nona Lauren, I made enough of it to cover several such fantasies. As you can see, the bottle is nearly empty, and I must obtain more of the blossoms in order to make up a new batch. If you'll put that in your pocket and come along with me…"
Leslie tilted the bottle and watched the tiny amount of clear liquid within coat the interior, before pocketing the small glass jar and following Roarke up the stairs. "Refresh my memory, are we going to have another blind person who wants to see again in the future?"
"It's a few weeks away," Roarke said, "but yes, we will. However, the difference in this case is that the person in question has been blind from birth. I considered that fantasy long and hard before I agreed to grant it; I do still have my reservations."
They crossed the foyer and headed for the porch. "Then why did you decide to grant it?" Leslie wanted to know.
"The young man's wife recently bore a child, and he wants, just once, to be able to see her and their little daughter," Roarke explained. "He asked for nothing more than that. I questioned him extensively during a telephone call, and he insisted that if he had only an hour during which he could commit his wife's and child's faces to memory, that would be enough for him."
Leslie thought about it. "I guess that makes some sense," she mused. "I read something once about how someone who was blind from birth had his sight restored, and how he had a terrible time adjusting to it because he was an adult, and his brain had long since set itself into a permanent pattern of coping without sight. Do you figure that being able to see, after a lifetime of blindness, would overwhelm him to the point that he wouldn't be tempted to insist that you find a way to permanently cure him?"
Roarke glanced at her over his shoulder and simply smiled. "That's to be seen, my child," was all he said. "For now, let's concentrate on the potion, so that we will be able to grant the fantasy in the first place." She gave in, wondering whether he'd meant to make that pun he'd uttered.
Fairly deep in the jungle some distance behind the main house, Roarke found his quarry and showed it to Leslie: a large, brilliant scarlet bloom three or four inches across, odorless, petals damp to the touch. At his direction, Leslie carefully drew a fingertip along one of the smaller petals, from center to end, and stared at the glistening dew on her finger. "Is this the stuff that goes into the potion?"
"It's one of the two ingredients the flower produces that go into it, yes," Roarke told her. "Now that you know exactly what they look like, you must pick fifteen of these." He then stood back and watched while Leslie searched out fifteen blooms and dropped them into the basket he had given her. It took her some time, for despite its flashy color, the flower wasn't easy to find. Almost an hour had passed before she had collected the required fifteen, but Roarke nodded smiling approval and she felt better about her efforts, which had left her a little overheated and sweaty.
"How about some lunch?" she hinted hopefully. "And I think I could use a cool shower, too. That's harder work than it ought to be."
Roarke laughed. "You'd be surprised," he remarked. "If you think this was difficult, wait until we start to search for the love-in-idleness blossoms."
"Oh, I can hardly wait," she muttered, and rolled her eyes to herself at his quiet chuckle. Raking a hand through her limp hair and leaving it tousled and tufted, she trudged along behind him, toting her basket, her mind full of a cool, refreshing shower.