(Written for the RTH Beta Readers Challenge. This story is a sequel to ”Grimtooth’s Traps.)
"So." Stillpoint leaned back into the crimson-leather upholstery of her chair, forearms resting on the polished granite of her desk, hands loosely clasped. She fixed her teenage offspring with the steely, analytical stare her apprentices quickly learned to fear, then let a long silence fill the distance between them.
Candlewick started strong — those called to her desk always did. The fourteen year-old sat up straight in her chair and stared back, unrepentant. But then her blithe attitude begun to crumble under the fixed focus of her mother's silence and cold stare. The confidence in her own garnet eyes melted, and then she began to fidget, bouncing slightly as she jiggled one leg. She tried to hold Stillpoint's unforgiving gaze, then finally faltered and looked down at her lap.
"I didn't hurt it or anything," the mump finally mumbled, nervously tucking a loose strand of white-blonde hair back behind an ear.
"So you don't deny your guilt?"
Candlewick winced, realizing the admission. She scowled and straightened in her chair, and met her mother's stare with fresh bravado. "No. I did it. Just like Morel probably reported it to you. She walked into your office and caught me with my nose buried in Grimtooth's grimoire. But I wasn't hurting it. I was wearing your mouse-skin gloves, and I was extra-ordinarily-careful. I'm not a fool. Grimtooth's Traps is a treasure. It's..." The girl's eyes went unfocused for a moment, and her voice faltered. "It's amazing," she breathed finally, her eyes alight with memory.
Stillpoint heard the emotion in her daughter’s voice, and that unfeigned joy melted her own sense of simmering outrage. She remembered the first time the masters of the House had allowed her, as a lowly but promising apprentice, to feast her eyes upon the relic, and remembered those moments of starstruck wonder with keen pleasure.
"You stole into my office. You irresponsibly handled an irreplaceable artifact, risking damage to pages worth far more to the members of this House than any gemstone or ore lode. And you have no shame or remorse for that?" Stillpoint said, carefully keeping both her expression and her voice grim. They had copies of the ancient book in the House archives, of course; but nothing was equal to the original work, hand-written by the master.
Stillpoint would never admit to pride in it, but she took note of how her offspring continued to hold her grim stare without flinching and without any decent sign of repentance. "The mechanisms in that book... to see the master's notes and the designs in that tome, and know they were written by the great Grimtooth himself, in his own hand..." Again, that flash of joy and wonder lit up the mump's face, and her ruby-red eyes were shining. "No. My only regret is that I got caught. I've seen true genius now with my own eyes, and I know just how much more I have to learn! I'm going to be a master like Grimtooth someday. I'm going to build things as wicked-clever as that. Someday. Just wait and see."
Stillpoint could not restrain the curl of a smile from lurking on her lips. "We will see about that, won't we? You have a lot to learn before you can earn such arrogance. Since by your own admission you cannot be trusted, I shall have the artifact transferred into Master Quickturn's care." She saw her offspring's reaction to that — wounded not at the distrustful words, but at the loss of the book — and found her anticipation of the rest of the punishment blunted. "As for you, my arrogant little snoop — you have been assigned to Madam Comfrey's services until the end of the quarter."
The mump's eyes widened in horror. Almost — almost — Candlewick opened her mouth to plead for mercy, but the girl's pride was too great. Satisfied, Stillpoint flicked her fingers toward the door. "Dismissed."
Stillpoint knew as she watched her child's much-meeker departure; a thrashing would not have made an impact on that stubborn pebble. But a long assignment with the house laundress, and a functional banishment from the workrooms and smithy? It was a punishment that Candlewick would certainly suffer through.
Just as Stillpoint herself had, in her own youth. Months in the laundry had tempered her youthful rashness — but it had not quenched her own ambition. Stillpoint steepled her hands before her and considered the office door her daughter had closed behind her in contemplation. She did not believe that a few months of laboring alongside the elderly laundress would permanently tarnish her brilliant child. No indeed. Instead, she anticipated that it would simply further inflame Candlewick's ambition. The House of the Tinkerers would apprentice that one, for certain. And then it would be up to Candlewick herself to prove whether or not she might someday prove the equal of her masters — present and past alike.