فصل 10

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فصل 10

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10

I stumbled downstairs the next morning, exhausted from my encounter with witchwater and the vivid dreams that had followed.

“The house was awfully quiet last night.” Sarah stood behind the old pulpit with her reading glasses perched on the end of her nose, red hair wild around her face, and the Bishop grimoire open in front of her. The sight would have given Emily’s Puritan ancestor, Cotton Mather, fits.

“Really? I didn’t notice.” I yawned, trailing my fingers through the old wooden dough trough that held fresh-picked lavender. Soon the herbs would be hanging upside down to dry from the twine running between the rafters. A spider was adding to that serviceable web with a silken version of her own.

“You’ve certainly been busy this morning,” I said, changing the subject. The milk-thistle heads were in the sieve, ready to be shaken to free the seeds from their downy surround. Bunches of yellow flowered rue and button-centered feverfew were tied with string and ready for hanging. Sarah had dragged out her heavy flower press, and there was a tray of long, aromatic leaves waiting to go into it.

Bouquets of newly harvested flowers and herbs sat on the counter, their purpose not yet clear.

“There’s lots of work to do,” Sarah said. “Someone’s been tending to the garden while we were gone, but they have their own plots to take care of, and the winter and spring seeds never got into the ground.”

Several anonymous “someones” must have been involved, given the size of the witch’s garden at the Bishop house. Thinking to help, I reached for a bunch of rue. The scent of it would always remind me of Satu and the horrors that I’d experienced after she took me from the garden at Sept-Tours to La Pierre. Sarah’s hand shot out and intercepted mine.

“Pregnant women don’t touch rue, Diana. If you want to help me, go to the garden and cut some moonwort. Use that.” She pointed to her white-handled knife. The last time I’d held it, I’d used it to open my own vein and save Matthew. Neither of us had forgotten it. Neither of us mentioned it either.

“Moonwort’s that plant with the pods on it, right?”

“Purple flowers. Long stalks. Papery-looking flat disks,” Sarah instructed with more patience than usual. “Cut the stems down to the base of the plant. We’ll separate the flowers from the rest before we hang them up to dry.”

Sarah’s garden was tucked into a far corner of the orchard where the apple trees thinned out and the cypresses and oaks of the forest didn’t yet overshadow the soil. It was surrounded by palisades of fencing made from metal posts, wire mesh, pickets, retooled pallets—if it could be used to keep out rabbits, voles, and skunks, Sarah had used it. For extra security the whole perimeter was smudged twice a year and warded with protection spells.

Inside the enclosure Sarah had re-created a bit of paradise. Some of the garden’s wide paths led to shady glens where ferns and other tender plants found shelter in the shadows of the taller trees. Others bisected the raised vegetable beds that were closest to the house, with their trellises and beanpoles.

Normally these would be covered with vegetation—sweet peas and snap peas and beans of every description—but they were skeletal this year.

I skirted Sarah’s small teaching garden where she instructed the coven’s children—and sometimes their parents—on the elemental associations of various flowers, plants, and herbs. Her young charges had put up their own fence, using paint stirrers, willow twigs, and Popsicle sticks to demarcate their sacred space from that of the larger garden. Easy-to-grow plants like elfwort and yarrow helped the children understand the seasonal cycle of birth, growth, decay, and fallowness that guided any witch’s work in the craft. A hollow stump served as a container for mint and other invasive plants.

Two apple trees marked the center of the garden, and a hammock spanned the distance between them. It was wide enough to hold both Sarah and Em, and it had been their favorite spot for dreaming and talking late into the warm summer nights.

Beyond the apple trees, I passed through a second gate into the garden of a professional witch.

Sarah’s garden served the same purpose as one of my libraries: It provided a source of inspiration and refuge, as well as information and the tools to do her job.

I found the three-foot-high stems topped with purple flowers that Sarah wanted. Mindful to leave enough to self-seed for next year, I filled the wicker basket and returned to the house.

There my aunt and I worked in companionable silence. She chopped off the moonwort flowers, which she would use to make a fragrant oil, and returned the stems to me so that I could tie a bit of twine around each one—no bunches here, for fear of damaging the pods—and hang them to dry.

“How will you use the pods?” I asked, knotting the string.

“Protection charms. When school starts in a few weeks, there will be a demand for them.

Moonwort pods are especially good for children, since they keep monsters and nightmares away.”

Corra, who was napping in the stillroom loft, cocked her eye in Sarah’s direction, and smoke billowed from her nose and mouth in a firedrake’s harrumph.

“I’ve got something else in mind for you,“ Sarah said, pointing her knife in the firedrake’s direction.

Unconcerned, Corra turned her back. Her tail flopped over the edge of the loft and hung like a pendulum, its spade-shaped tip moving gently to and fro. Ducking past it, I tied another moonwort stem to the rafters, careful not to shake loose any of the papery ovals that clung to it.

“How long will they hang before they’re dried?” I asked, returning to the table.

“A week,” Sarah said, looking up briefly. “By then we’ll be able to rub the skin from the pods.

Underneath is a silver disk.”

“Like the moon. Like a mirror,” I said, nodding in understanding. “Reflecting the nightmare back on itself, so that it won’t disturb the child.”

Sarah nodded, too, pleased by my insight. “Some witches scry with moonwort pods,” Sarah continued after a few moments. “The witch in Hamilton who taught high-school chemistry told me that alchemists collected May dew on them to use as a base for the elixir of life.”

“That would require a lot of moonwort,” I said with a laugh, thinking of all the water Mary Sidney and I had used in our experiments. “I think we should stick to the protection charms.”

“Okay, then.” Sarah smiled. “For kids I put the charms in dream pillows. They’re not as spooky as a poppet or a pentacle made of blackberry canes. If you were going to make one, what ingredients would you use for the stuffing?”

I took a deep breath and focused on the question. Dream pillows didn’t have to be big, after all— the size of the palm of my hand would do.

The palm of my hand. Ordinarily I would have run my fingers through my weaver’s cords, waiting for inspiration—and guidance—to strike. But the cords were inside me now. When I turned my hands and splayed the fingers wide, shimmering knots appeared over the tracery of veins at my wrist and the thumb and pinkie on my right hand gleamed green and brown in the colors of the craft.

Sarah’s Mason jars glinted in the light from the windows. I moved toward them, running my little finger down the labels until I felt resistance.

“Agrimony.” I traveled along the shelf. “Mugwort.”

Using it like the pointer on a Ouija board, I tilted my pinkie backward. “Aniseed.” Down moved my finger. “Hops.” Up it swooped in a diagonal line to the opposite side. “Valerian.”

What was that going to smell like? Too pungent?

My thumb tingled.

“A bay leaf, a few pinches of rosemary, and some thyme,” I said.

But what if the child woke up anyway and grabbed at the pillow?

“And five dried beans.” It was an odd addition, but my weaver’s instinct told me they would make all the difference. “Well, I’ll be damned.” Sarah pushed her glasses onto her head. She looked at me in astonishment, then grinned. “It’s like an old charm your great-grandmother collected, except hers had mullein and vervain in it, too—and no beans.”

“I’d put the beans in the pillows first,” I said. “They should rattle against one another if you shake it. You can tell the kids the noise will help with the monsters.”

“Nice touch,” Sarah admitted. “And the moonwort pods—would you powder them or leave them whole?”

“Whole,” I replied, “sewn onto the front of the pillow.”

But herbs were only the first half of a protection charm. Words were needed to go along with them.

And if any other witch was going to be able to use it, those words had to be packed with potential. The London witches had taught me a great deal, but the spells I wrote tended to lie flat on the page, inert on anyone’s tongue but mine. Most spells were written in rhyme, which made them easier to remember as well as livelier. But I was no poet, like Matthew or his friends. I hesitated.

“Something wrong?” Sarah said.

“My gramarye sucks,” I confessed, lowering my voice.

“If I had the slightest idea what that was, I’d feel sorry for you,” Sarah said drily.

“Gramarye is how a weaver puts magic into words. I can construct spells and perform them myself, but without gramarye they won’t work for other witches.” I pointed to the Bishop grimoire. “Hundreds and hundreds of weavers came up with the words for those spells, and other witches passed them down through the ages. Even now the spells retain their power. I’m lucky if my spells remain potent for an hour.”

“What’s the problem?” Sarah asked.

“I don’t see spells in words but in shapes and colors.” The underside of my thumb and pinkie were still slightly discolored. “Red ink helped my fire spell. So did arranging the words on the page so that they made a kind of picture.”

“Show me,” Sarah said, pushing a piece of scrap paper and a charred stick in my direction. “Witch hazel,” she explained when I held it up for clarification. “I use it as a pencil when I’m trying to copy a spell for the first time. If something goes wrong, the aftereffects are less . . . er, permanent than with ink.” She colored slightly. One of her unruly spells had caused a cyclone in the bathroom. For weeks we found spatters of suntan lotion and shampoo in the oddest places.

I wrote out the spell I’d devised to set things alight, careful not to say the words to myself and thereby work the magic. When I was through, the index finger of my right hand was glowing red.

“This was my first attempt at gramarye,” I said, looking at it critically before handing it to Sarah.

“A third-grader probably would have done a better job.”

Fire

Ignite till

Roaring bright

Extinguishing night;

“It’s not that bad,” Sarah said. When I looked crestfallen, she hastily added, “I’ve seen worse.

Spelling out fire with the first letter of every line was clever. But why a triangle?”

“That’s the structure of the spell. It’s pretty simple, really—just a thrice-crossed knot.” It was my turn to study my work. “Funny thing is, the triangle was a symbol many alchemists used for fire.”

“A thrice-crossed knot?” Sarah looked over the frames of her glasses. “You’re having one of your Yoda moments.” This was her way of letting the air out of my vocabulary.

“I’m making it as plain as I can, Sarah. It would be easier to show you what I mean if my cords weren’t inside my hands.” I held them up and waggled my fingers at her. Sarah murmured something, and the ball of twine rolled across the table. “Will ordinary string do, Yoda?”

I stopped the ball by saying my own spell to arrest its motion. It was heavy with the power of earth and had a thicket of thrice-crossed knots surrounding it. Sarah twitched in surprise.

“Of course,” I said, pleased by my aunt’s reaction. After giving the twine a whack with her knife, I picked up a length of string approximately nine inches long. “Every knot has a different number of crossings. You use two of them in your craft—the slipknot and the double slipknot. Those are the two weaver’s knots that all witches know. It’s when we come to the third knot that things get complicated.”

I wasn’t sure if kitchen twine was up to showing what I meant, though. Knots made with my weaver’s cords were three-dimensional, but given that I was working with ordinary string, I decided to work on the flat. Holding one end of the length in my left hand, I made a loop to the right, pulled the string loosely under one side of the loop and over the other, and joined the ends together. The result was a trefoil-shaped knot that resembled a triangle.

“See, three crossings,” I said. “You try.”

When I took my hands off the string, it sprang up into a familiar pyramid with the ends properly fused together into an unbreakable knot. Sarah gasped.

“Cool,” I said. “Plain old string works just fine.”

“You sound just like your father.” Sarah poked at the knot with her finger. “There’s one of those hidden in every spell?”

“At least one. Really complicated spells might have two or three knots, each one tying into the threads you saw last night in the keeping room—the ones that bind the world.” I smiled. “I guess gramarye is a disguising spell of sorts—one that hides magic’s inner workings.”

“And when you say the words, it reveals them,” Sarah said thoughtfully. “Let’s give yours a go.”

Before I could warn her, Sarah read the words of my spell aloud. The paper burst into flame in her hands. She dropped it on the table, and I doused it with a shower of conjured water. “I thought that was a spell for lighting a candle—not setting a house on fire!” she exclaimed, looking at the charred mess.

“Sorry. The spell is still pretty new. It will settle down eventually. Gramarye can’t hold a spell together forever, so its magic weakens over time. It’s why spells stop working,” I explained.

“Really? Then you should be able to figure out the relative ages of spells.” Sarah’s eyes gleamed.

She was a great believer in tradition, and the older a piece of magic was, the more she liked it.

“Maybe,” I said doubtfully, “but there are other reasons that spells fail. Weavers have different abilities, for one thing. And if words were left out or changed when later witches copied them, that will compromise the magic, too.”

But Sarah was already in front of her spell book, leafing through the pages.

“Here, look at this one.” She beckoned me toward her. “I always suspected this was the oldest spell in the Bishop grimoire.”

“‘An exceeding great charm for drawing clean air into any place,’” I read aloud, “‘one handed down from old Maude Bishop and proven by me, Charity Bishop in the year 1705.’”

In the margins were notes made by other witches, including my grandmother, who had later mastered the spell. A caustic annotation by Sarah proclaimed, “utterly worthless.”

“Well?” Sarah demanded.

“It’s dated 1705,” I pointed out.

“Yes, but its genealogy goes back beyond that. Em never could find out who Maude Bishop was—a relative of Bridget’s from England, perhaps?” This unfinished genealogical research project provided Sarah her first opportunity to mention Em’s name without sorrow. Vivian was right. Sarah needed me in her stillroom just as much as I needed to be there.

“Perhaps,” I said again, trying not to raise unrealistic hopes.

“Do that thing you did with the jars. Read with your fingers,” Sarah said, pushing the pulpit toward me. I ran my fingertips lightly over the words of the spell. My skin tingled in recognition as they encountered the ingredients woven into it: the air blowing around my ring finger, the sensation of liquid coursing under the nail of my middle finger, and the explosion of scents that clung to my little finger.

“Hyssop, marjoram, and lots of salt,” I said thoughtfully. These were common ingredients found in every witch’s house and garden.

“So why won’t it work?” Sarah was staring at my upraised right hand as though it were an oracle.

“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “And you know I could repeat it a thousand times and it will never work for me.” Sarah and her friends in the coven were going to have to figure out what was wrong with Maude Bishop’s spell themselves. That, or buy a can of air freshener.

“Maybe you can stitch it back together, or weave a patch, or whatever it is that witches like you do.”

Witches like you. Sarah didn’t mean to do it, but her words left me feeling uneasy and isolated.

Staring down at the page from the grimoire, I wondered if an inability to perform magic on command was one reason that weavers had been targeted by their communities.

“It doesn’t work that way.” I folded my hands atop the open book and pressed my lips together, withdrawing like a crab into its shell.

“You said weaving started with a question. Ask the spell what’s wrong,” Sarah suggested.

I wished I’d never seen Maude Bishop’s cleansing spell. Even more, I wished Sarah had never seen it.

“What are you doing?” Sarah pointed to the Bishop grimoire in horror.

Underneath my hands the writing was unspooling from its neat curlicues. Leftover splatters of ink marred the otherwise blank page. Within moments there was no trace of Maude Bishop’s spell except for a small, tight blue-and-yellow knot. I stared at it in fascination and had the sudden urge to— “Don’t touch it!” Sarah cried, waking Corra from her slumber. I jumped away from the book, and Sarah swooped down on it, trapping the knot under a mason jar. We both peered at the UMO—unfamiliar magical object.

“Now what do we do?” I always thought of spells as living, breathing creations. It seemed unkind to keep it contained.

“I’m not sure there’s much we can do.” Sarah took my left hand and flipped it over, revealing a black-stained thumb.

“I got ink on it,” I said.

Sarah shook her head. “That’s not ink. That’s the color of death. You killed the spell.”

“What do you mean, killed it?” I snatched my hand away, holding it behind me like a child caught raiding the cookie jar.

“Don’t panic,” Sarah said. “Rebecca learned to control it. You can, too.”

“My mother?” I thought of the long look that Sarah and Vivian had exchanged last night. “You knew something like this might happen.”

“Only after I saw your left hand. It bears all the colors of the higher magics, like exorcism and auguries, just as your right hand shows the colors of the craft.” Sarah paused. “It bears the colors of the darker magics, too.”

“Good thing I’m right-handed.” It was an attempt at humor, but the tremor in my voice gave me away.

“You’re not right-handed. You’re ambidextrous. You only favor your right hand because that horrible first-grade teacher said left-handed children were demonic.” Sarah had seen to it that the woman was formally censured. After experiencing her first Halloween in Madison, Miss Somerton had resigned her position.

I wanted to say I wasn’t interested in the higher magics either, but nothing came out.

Sarah looked at me sadly. “You can’t lie to another witch, Diana. Especially not a whopper like that.”

“No dark magic.” Emily had died trying to summon and bind a spirit—probably my mother. Peter Knox was interested in the darker aspects of the craft, too. And dark magic was bound up in Ashmole 782 as well—not to mention more than one thumb’s worth of death.

“Dark doesn’t have to mean evil,” Sarah said. “Is the new moon evil?”

I shook my head. “The dark of the moon is a time for new beginnings.”

“Owls? Spiders? Bats? Dragons?” Sarah was using her teacher voice.

“No,” I admitted.

“No. They are not. Humans made up those stories about the moon and nocturnal creatures because they represent the unknown. It’s no coincidence that they also symbolize wisdom. There is nothing more powerful than knowledge. That’s why we’re so careful when we teach someone dark magic.” Sarah took my hand. “Black is the color of the goddess as crone, plus the color of concealment, bad omens, and death.”

“And these?” I wiggled the three other fingers.

“Here we have the color of the goddess as maiden and huntress,” she said, folding in my silver middle finger. Now I knew why the goddess’s voice sounded as it did. “And here is the color of worldly power.” She folded in my golden ring finger. “As for your pinkie, white is the color of divination and prophecy. It’s also used to break curses and banish unwanted spirits.”

“Except for the death, that doesn’t sound so terrible.”

“Like I said, dark doesn’t necessarily mean evil,” Sarah said. “Think about worldly power. In beneficent hands it’s a force for good. But if someone abuses it for personal gain or to harm others, it can be terribly destructive. The darkness depends on the witch.”

“You said Emily wasn’t very good at the higher magics. What about Mom?”

“Rebecca excelled at them. She went straight from bell, book, and candle to calling down the moon,” Sarah said wistfully.

Some of what I’d witnessed my mother do when I was a child made sense now, like the night she’d conjured wraiths out of a bowl of water. So, too, did Peter Knox’s preoccupation with her. “Rebecca seemed to lose interest in higher magics once she met your father, though. The only subjects that appealed to her then were anthropology and Stephen. And you, of course,” Sarah said. “I don’t think she worked much higher magic after you were born.”

Not where anybody but Dad or I could see, I thought. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I said aloud.

“You didn’t want anything to do with magic, remember?” Sarah’s hazel gaze held mine. “I saved some of Rebecca’s things, just in case you ever showed any ability. The house took the rest.”

Sarah murmured a spell—an opening spell, based on the threads that suddenly illuminated the room with shades of red, yellow, and green. A cabinet and drawers appeared to the left of the old fireplace, built into the ancient masonry. The room filled with the scent of lily of the valley and something heavy and exotic that stirred sharp, uncomfortable feelings within me: emptiness and yearning, familiarity and dread. Sarah opened a drawer and took out a chunk of something red and resinous.

“Dragon’s blood. I can’t smell it without thinking of Rebecca.” Sarah sniffed it. “The stuff you can get now isn’t as good as this, and it costs an absolute fortune. I wanted to sell this and use the proceeds to fix the roof when it collapsed in the blizzard of ’93, but Em wouldn’t let me.”

“What did Mom use it for?” I said around the lump in my throat.

“Rebecca made ink from it. When she used that ink to copy out a charm, the force of it could suck the power out of half the town. There were lots of blackouts in Madison during your mother’s teen years.” Sarah chuckled. “Her spell book should be here somewhere—unless the house ate it while I was gone. That will tell you more.”

“Spell book?” I frowned. “What was wrong with the Bishop grimoire?”

“Most witches who practice the higher, darker magics keep their own grimoire. It’s tradition,”

Sarah said, rummaging around in the cupboard. “Nope. It doesn’t seem to be here.”

Despite the pang of disappointment that accompanied Sarah’s announcement, I was relieved. I already had one mysterious book in my life. I wasn’t sure I wanted another—even if it might shed light on why Emily had been trying to summon my mother’s spirit at Sept-Tours.

“Oh, no.” Sarah backed away from the cupboard, a look of horror on her face.

“Is there a rat?” My experiences in London had conditioned me to believe that they lurked in every dusty corner. I peered into the cupboard’s depths but saw only a collection of grimy jars containing herbs and roots and an ancient clock radio. Its brown cord hung down from the shelf like Corra’s tail, waving gently in the breeze. I sneezed.

As if on cue, a strange metallic clinking and rolling started in the walls, like coins being fed into a jukebox. The musical grinding that followed, reminiscent of an old record player set to 33 rpm instead of 45 rpm, soon gave way to a recognizable song.

I cocked my head. “Is that . . . Fleetwood Mac?”

“No. Not again!” Sarah looked as if she’d seen a ghost. I glanced around, but the only invisible presence in the room was Stevie Nicks and a Welsh witch named Rhiannon. In the seventies the song had been a coming-out anthem for scores of witches and wizards.

“I guess the house is waking up.” Maybe that was what was upsetting Sarah.

Sarah darted to the door and lifted the latch, but it wouldn’t budge. She banged on the wooden panels. The music got louder.

“This isn’t my favorite Stevie Nicks tune either,” I said, trying to calm her, “but it won’t last forever. Maybe you’ll like the next song better.”

“The next song is ‘Over My Head.’ I know the whole damn album by heart. Your mother listened to it all through her pregnancy. It went on for months. Just when Rebecca seemed to get over her obsession, Fleetwood Mac’s next album came out. It was hell.” Sarah tore at her hair.

“Really?” I was always hungry for details about my parents. “Fleetwood Mac seems more like Dad’s kind of band.”

“We have to stop the music.” Sarah went to the window, but the sash wouldn’t move. She thumped on the frame in frustration. “Let me try.” The harder I pushed, the louder the music got. There was a momentary pause after Stevie Nicks stopped warbling about Rhiannon. A few seconds later, Christine McVie informed us how nice it was to be in over your head. The window remained closed.

“This is a nightmare!” Sarah exploded. She jammed her hands over her ears to block the sound, then raced to the grimoire and flipped through the pages. “Prudence Willard’s dog-bite cure. Patience Severance’s method for sweetening sour milk.” She flipped some more. “Clara Bishop’s spell for stopping up a drafty chimney! That might work.”

“But it’s music, not smoke,” I said, peering over Sarah’s shoulder at the lines of text.

“Both are carried on the air.” Sarah rolled up her sleeves. “If it doesn’t do the trick, we’ll try something else. Maybe thunder. I’m good with thunder. That might interrupt the energy and drive the sound away.”

I started to hum along to the song. It was catchy, in a 1970s kind of way.

“Don’t you start.” Sarah’s eyes were wild. She turned back to the grimoire. “Get me some eyebright, please. And plug in the coffeemaker.”

I dutifully went to the ancient outlet strip and shoved the coffeemaker’s cord into it. Electricity leaped from the socket in orange and blue arcs. I jumped back.

“You need a surge protector—preferably one bought in the last decade—or you’re going to burn the whole house down,” I told Sarah.

She kept muttering as she put a paper filter into the swing-out basket in the coffeemaker, followed by an extensive selection of herbs.

Since we were trapped inside the stillroom and Sarah didn’t seem to want my help, I might as well work on the words to accompany my anti-nightmare spell for the children. I went to my mother’s cabinet and found some black ink, a quill pen, and a slip of paper.

Matthew knocked on the windowpane. “Are you two all right? I smelled something burning.”

“A minor electrical problem!” I shouted, waving my quill pen in the air. Then I remembered that Matthew was a vampire and could hear me perfectly well through stone, brick, wood, and yes, single panes of glass. I lowered my voice. “Nothing to worry about.”

“Over My Head” screeched to a halt, and “You Make Loving Fun” began. Nice choice, I thought, smiling at Matthew. Who needed a deejay when you had magical radio?

“Oh, God. The house has moved on to their second album,” Sarah groaned. “I hate Rumours.”

“Where is that music coming from?” Matthew frowned.

“Mom’s old clock radio.” I pointed with the feather. “She liked Fleetwood Mac.” I glanced at my aunt, who was reciting the words to Clara Bishop’s spell with her hands clapped over her ears. “Sarah doesn’t.”

“Ah.” Matthew’s brow cleared. “I’ll leave you to it, then.” He pressed his hand against the glass in a silent gesture of farewell.

My heart filled. Loving Matthew wasn’t all I wanted to do, but he was definitely the only one for me. I wished there wasn’t a pane of glass between us so I that could tell him so.

Glass is only sand and fire. One puff of smoke later, a pile of sand lay on the windowsill. I reached through the empty square in the window frame and clasped his hand.

“Thanks for checking on us. It’s been an interesting afternoon. I have a lot to tell you.”

Matthew blinked at our twined hands.

“You make me very happy, you know.”

“I try,” he said with a shy grin.

“You succeed. Do you think Fernando could rescue Sarah?” I lowered my voice. “The house has jammed the stillroom doors and windows shut, and she’s about to blow. She’s going to need a cigarette when she gets out, and a stiff drink.”

“Fernando hasn’t rescued a woman in distress for some time, but I’m sure he remembers how,”

Matthew assured me. “Will the house let him?”

“Give it five minutes or until the music stops, whichever comes first.” I pulled free and blew him a kiss. It had rather more fire and water than usual, and enough air behind it to land with a decided smack on his cheek.

I returned to the worktable and dipped my mother’s quill pen into the ink. It smelled of blackberries and walnuts. Thanks to my experience with Elizabethan writing implements, I was able to write out the charm for Sarah’s dream pillows without a single splotch.

Mirror

Shimmers

Monsters Shake

Banish Nightmares

Until We Wake;

I blew on it gently to set the ink. Very respectable, I decided. It was much better than my spell for conjuring fire, and easy enough for children to remember. When the pods were dry and the papery covering rubbed off, I’d write the charm in tiny letters right on their silvery surface.

Eager to show my work to Sarah, I slid down from the stool. One look at her face convinced me to put it off until my aunt had had her whiskey and a smoke. She’d been hoping for decades that I’d show an interest in magic. I could wait another twenty minutes for my grade in Sleeping Charms 101.

A slight tingle behind me alerted me to a ghostly presence a moment before a hug as soft as down settled around my shoulders.

“Nice job, peanut,” whispered a familiar voice. “Excellent taste in music, too.”

When I turned my head, there was nothing except a faint smudge of green, but I didn’t need to see my father to know that he was there. “Thanks, Dad,” I said softly.

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