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Asylum

By Elizabeth Liberty Lewis

The knock comes late one sunny morning.

My legs tremble as I go to answer the door. Behind it is a stiff, black-coated constable. And behind him are three men with boxes and bags, ready to steal my treasures.

“Adélie Moreau?”

I twist my hands into my skirt, clear my throat, and nod.

The constable lifts a wrinkled paper. “By proclamation of His Majesty the King, all citizens are to cease practice of magic immediately unless given special permission. All magical objects are to be confiscated. Practice of magic and possession of magical objects are grounds for arrest and imprisonment, and so on and so forth.”

He rolls up the paper. His self-important mustache wilts in the heat and stink of the tenement. “Well, girl?”

I don’t understand all the words. But I have heard of this from the other sorcières.

First came registration. Then restrictions. The smart sorcières, the rich ones, have left the country. They warned us this would come. This law. This punishment for something we did not do.

I hoped to find asylum in this country. I thought that here, I would finally be able to work.

I swallow. My throat has already closed up with tears. Besides, I have nothing to say.

I step back and let them in.

The men must stoop to keep their heads clear of my ceiling. Hazy light seeps in through the window. The floor is full of glass—bottles, jars, jugs, and cloches of every size and shape. Against their misty curves press green leaves as soft as the hands of children. Tiny roses on tiny bushes lean their sweet heads against the sides of their bottles. Under a cloche near the window, a beech tree the size of my palm spreads verdant branches in the sunlight.

The men, they do not know where to step; they shuffle and stare, and none of them says a word. A tiny beechnut falls in the silence, clicking like a pin on the floorboards.

I sit on the mattress. I am careful not to glance behind me.

The constable coughs. “Well? Well? Get to it.”

Tears wet my face as they work. They take my beech tree, my blackberry thicket, my trellises of clematis and wisteria. Each one gathered by hand, each one spelled to fit its container. Not many sorcières have my talent. Once a living object is made small, it cannot be large again, and one must also create the world for them to grow. Light, water, soil, air. All these things must be accounted for.

The sorcière must have intuition, and patience, and love. These things, too, must be accounted for.

All my practice. All my years of work.

I have built many worlds for the court. And that is where these will be going: rich men, friends of the king. I grind my teeth as the constable stares into a jar of mossy woodland with curling ferns no bigger than his eyelashes. These are too valuable to waste. They will no longer be wasted on me.

They pack up my worlds, one by one. My room empties. The space seems to grow, seems big as a cave.

I grow stiff sitting there, twisting my fingers, trying not to look behind me.

They must not look there. Please, they must not look there.

The man nearest me inches toward me. I freeze, my skin flashing cold. If he moves any closer…

He meets my eyes, uncomfortable, and leans to peer around my shoulder.

I panic. “Monsieur!” My voice cracks. I jump up, standing between him and the bed. “Please, I—”

“What have we here?” The constable is lifting something from behind the headboard. My hope withers, frostbitten.

A man whispers, “My God.”

It is more perfect, more complete, than any of my other worlds: a miniscule garden in a faceted glass box.

When I was small, my family lived near a monastery. The monks had trained trees and vines and hedges to grow in precise shapes, sketched circles on the lawns in leeks and cabbages, covered their cloister walls with climbing roses.

It was there that I first believed in magic.

I never forgot that garden.

So I took what I had, and made it my own.

I spent countless hours collecting starts, nurturing seedlings and saplings, saving every scrap I could spare to add to this garden—and countless more hours watching light play on its facets, watching the strawberries and apples and marigolds grow. Watching its seasons pass and return, watching each plant and tree thrive under my care.

The constable’s face is red as sunburn. His fingers close on my arm, finding bone. I whimper, and he shakes me. “What else are you hiding from us, witch?”

“Arrêtez,” I sob. I can’t think of the words. Nothing I say will save me, and yet I try. “Please, do not take it. It is—it is mon chef-d’oeuvre, my masterpiece. Please.”

“It’s the law.” He shoves me away. “Take her.”

Rough hands grab me, hold me, though I struggle and kick. I gasp a sob. Rage crackles in my stomach, and I do something I have never before dared to do.

I spark my magic. It rushes out from my core, tingles along my skin, glows in my palms. The constable shouts. Two of his men stumble back, terrified.

I raise my hands—

—and turn my magic inwards.

I once wondered how it would feel, to be made small. I set my teeth against it now. It’s a sucking wind, a screaming void, and it’s over in an instant.

I open my eyes.

The sky is glass. Branches hang above me, studded with apples.

Men are shouting. Their voices are muffled, unintelligible.

I stand up slowly. The air smells sweet. My skirt is wet with dew. My garden rises around me, lush and full, as if it’s been waiting for me.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Liberty Lewis is an avid reader and prolific writer of all kinds of speculative fiction. Her current WIP is a fantasy trilogy for fans of Eragon, Temeraire, and the Dragonriders of Pern. Her favorite authors include Robin McKinley, Frances Hardinge, Maggie Stiefvater, and Brent Weeks. In her spare time, she hunts mushrooms, draws digital art, grows heirloom vegetables, and proofreads stories for Havok.


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14 comments - Join the conversation

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  • Wow! I didn’t see the end coming! 😮 loved this story, Elizabeth. The French words, the beautiful bonsai-esque plants, Adélie’s pain as they took away her life’s work. Amazing job.

  • Liberty, brilliant writing! The discrimination, authorities stealing for their own benefit, her loss and the injustice are well written. Her unique magical powers and her ultimate choice are a precious, organic fit. Wonderful story!

  • What a beautiful, sad story. I love the voice – and especially the small garden-worlds… But I also worry about what the future holds for her, all alone!

  • Absolutely beautiful, stunning work! I loved it! The descriptions of the gardens were so vivid, and the realism of how all her work would go to the pleasures of the rich while she suffered… very powerful.

  • Elizabeth, you did an amazing job capturing Adélie’s emotions, the setting, and the otherworldy magic. Overall, a vivid story with glimpses of gorgeous worlds within worlds that I won’t soon forget!

  • I read this for the first time the other day, but I read it again today because the fact that Adélie is a passive character up until the end caught my interest.
    Anyway, great story! The imagery is extremely vivid, and her thoughts read very organically. The French words help the dialogue feel that way too! And that ending! Did not see that coming.
    I think this is a story I’ll enjoy for a long time.

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