Being born into one of the magic bloodlines usually meant a life and career dedicated to the craft. When your family are the only spell casters in the whole valley, your role is simply assumed by most people. But when you're the fourth generation of spell caster, and several of your grandparents were notorious swingers, you might find the gift to be a bit less in demand. And if you found yourself with a prodigy of a twin sister who's name frequently appears in conversation next to "redefining magic" and "limitless potential"... well, then you'd be Taman.
Feeling like the Academy was just an extended family reunion, Taman preferred to spend his days tending to his garden. He faced a lot of quiet resistance to his deviance from his fated path, but he had become pretty good at fizzling basic spells so eventually most of his family stopped demanding that he live up to his sister. They'd joke that she must've taken all the magic in the womb, and that was a suitable enough excuse for him if it made them leave him alone. His harvests always turned out bountiful enough that no one could accuse him of being lazy, and he'd cultivated a few crops that were unique in the whole valley.
But after he tilled and enriched the soil, watered the sprouts, trimmed the wither, and finished his daily chores in the garden, if no one was snooping around, he'd let the magic come out to play. Leaves swirling on impossible breezes, vines dancing to a rhythm in his mind, a whole garden in harmony, enjoying being alive. If he wasn't careful, he'd lose himself in the wonder, and the flora would begin to take wild forms. Mushrooms the size of dogs, trees with spiral branches, flowers creating impressionist collages across the field. He'd stop himself before it got too much. He knew there was more he could do, but he knew the danger too.
Visitors were uncommon, but not unheard of. All it would take is a curious eye looking too closely at a magic-bent cultivar before rumors began to spread. If his cousins ever came by, they'd spot the signs of magical influence, and his charade would come crashing down. Taman liked working the soil, he liked the labor of real gardening. The thought of relying on magic to do all the work felt like giving up a part of himself. But he knew that's what would happen. They'd suspect, rightfully, that he was more magically capable than he let on, and demand he exploit his talent. So he held back, he kept his head down, and he tried not to give anyone a reason to want to get too close. Perhaps, someday, if the village truly had need, he'd give up his secret. But for now, the families are fed, the producers are supplied, and the weather is pleasant. He was content to be the only one to truly understand and appreciate his garden, and to keep his flower festivals private. It didn't need human approval, his garden was there for itself.
Late into the summer, Taman felt the garden beg to dance. He waited patiently for days as some hunters tracked through the nearby forest. After they moved off, Taman gathered a pile of foliage and a few polished stones to begin the ritual. The magic flowed around him, twisting leaves into sacred shapes and elaborate orbits. He began to hum the deep frequency of the grove, and felt every plant pulse in phase. As he breathed, he felt the air and water moving through the capillaries of every trunk and stem, he felt the tickle of the bugs playing at industry, he felt the warm sun soaking into the canopy. The expansion of his consciousness came to an abrupt halt with an unexpected percussive thump. Hopping down from above, Julia, the hunt chief's daughter, was suddenly standing in Taman's garden. With eyes wide, she spoke in hushed awe. "Taman.. that was beautiful. I thought.."
Taman stammered, trying his hardest to come up with a plausible explanation for the clear magic he'd just been involved in. But he knew Julia, she was too keen to be fooled. And the thought of lying to her made him squirm. He'd always been too busy being a hermit to make real friends, but Julia had consistently been kind to Taman. And when his mind wandered to the people of the village, it often found it's way to thinking about her. Reading his complicated expression, Julia interrupted him. "Tam, I don't really know what I just saw. I think maybe I wasn't supposed to see it, but it was so amazing, I couldn't look away. I'm.. I'm sorry for intruding, I should've known not to snoop around."
Taman sighed, "It's.. it's OK. It was bound to happen eventually. I guess the secret is out now."
She stared at him for a moment, clearly working through the details, before finally announcing "Maybe not. Maybe it's just in a slightly larger box. The truth is, Taman, I'm supposed to be out tracking down the fire lizard pack right now. But instead I'm spying on a local.. garden wizard?"
"Garden wizard!" Taman laughed, in spite of himself. "I don't know about that title. Why can't you find the lizards? You're one of the best young trackers we have."
"I know right where they are, that's not the problem." Julia's eyes fell, "I've been leading a hunting party everywhere but there for the last few days. They finally gave up but told me to stay back and keep checking."
"You don't want them to find the lizards?" Taman asked, "Fire lizard glands are pretty important for the valley's pharmacy."
"I know!" Julia protested, "But three summers ago, there were fire lizards making nest in almost every grove around. The forest was lousy with them. Last year, there weren't any at all in the eastern reach, and the west had a lot less. Dad joked that they were just getting better at hiding from us. But this year, I've only found three nests in the whole forest. They already found one of them, so maybe there's only two left in the whole valley. If we cull them now, we might not have any fire lizards in the future. The pharmacy pays so much for the glands, it's hard to convince my family to take it seriously."
"Wow. Julia.. that's really tough, but you're doing the right thing."
"I know," Julia said, "thank you. So now you know my secret too, so we can trade. If you don't tell my family that I'm hiding in your garden, I'll show you how to keep it hidden from people like me. And maybe we can move a nest in here for the winter?"
Taman expected to feel apprehension at the idea of another person plodding around his garden, making plans, expecting attention. But when he looked into Julia's eyes, he felt the whole garden hold its breath with anticipation. Flowers turned towards him, craning to get a view. Leaves shifted in the sunlight to brighten her face. He knew then that she was part of this garden's future, and began to understand the true nature of his relationship to this place. For his garden magic, this was a nursery, a place to grow and mature. The days had been cooling towards fall, but standing there in the grove, lost in the anxious eyes of an inspiring woman, all Taman could feel was the beginning of an eternal spring.