Magic Can Be Murder

Chapter 12


But maybe, Nola thought, even if Brinna didn't love him, she felt sorry for him.

No, that was ridiculous. You don't lie to protect a murderer simply because you feel sorry that he loves you and you don't love him back, Nola reasoned. Especially if you were someone like Brinna. Brinna was used to people loving her. Everybody loved Brinna. Nola saw that with Galvin's reactions to her. And Halig's. And they'd only just met her.

More likely Kirwyn had threatened her, convinced her that he could cause her harm – some threat so strong that she would fear him even if he was arrested.

Or it might be that Brinna was simply mistaken. In the horror and chaos of Innis's murder, she had simply lost track of who was where.

But whether Brinna had lied or had been confused about Kirwyn being in the kitchen with her, Kirwyn had to be worrying that she might change her story. That made Brinna a threat to him.

Which made Kirwyn a threat to Nola.

People started arriving at the house, beginning with two young women who had to be the cooper's daughters. They came into Brinna's room – several times – chattering and giggling and asking where they could find this and that in the kitchen. Each time, Nola pretended that they had awakened her, hoping that they'd take her feigned grogginess as the reason why she didn't char with them – rather than that she had no idea what their names were. Eventually they took pity and stopped plaguing her.

But others came then, neighbors and friends bearing food – people whom Nola didn't know, whose relationships with Brinna she had no way of guessing. Many had no compunction about sticking their beads into the sickroom to offer their condolences and their advice, and she feared that they'd see through her act of ache and exhaustion. And it was becoming less and less an act. She had walked most of the previous day and half the night, and she wasn't used to lying in bed doing nothing.

It would be so easy to drift off.

Don't fall asleep, she mentally prodded herself. If the spell dial made her look like Brinna slipped away while she dozed, chat was sure to be the time one last person would decide to look in on the poor invalid.

Eventually the priest came, and the noise of the crowd moved down the hall. They were getting Innis's body for burial. Nola squeezed her eyes tight, trying not to imagine what Innis looked like under the burial shroud, trying not to imagine the sad face Kirwyn would be wearing for the benefit of all those onlookers.

The outer door shut behind the last of them, bringing blissful silence. Nola had to fight to get her eyes back open. It would be so wonderful to res:, truly rest, just for a moment, before she got up and started her long, long way back to Saint Erim Turi to unravel whatever catastrophe her mother had woven in her absence.

Someone knocked lightly on the bedroom door.

Nola gathered the transforming spell about herself like a shawl.

"Brinna?" It was Galvin's voice.

"Yes?" She struggled to sit up.

He opened the door. "Everyone has gone to the funeral," he said.

She nodded, relieved that she hadn't gotten up the moment she'd heard the guests leave. As soon as Galvin left, too…

He told her, "I will remain here. Just in case last night's intruder returns – or some other thief, taking the opportunity of an empty house."

"That's a fine idea," Nola managed to say, hoping he couldn't read her true thoughts on her face, her GO, GO, GO, DAMMIT thoughts.

He smiled kindly. "I'm sorry I disturbed you. But I was afraid you'd wake up and not hear anybody, and then you'd become worried for fear of being alone."

The worst part was she suspected he wasn't goading her as part of some convoluted plan to get the truth out of her, but that he was being entirely sincere.

"Can I get you something to eat?" he offered. "First choice of all that food laid out."

"No. Thank you."

Still he hesitated. She wondered if he was deciding whether to talk to her further about last night. The way things seemed to be going, she guessed that now that she had the answers he wouldn't ask any more questions. And, indeed, what he asked was, "Arc you feeling better? Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?"

"I'm fine," she assured him. Sore, exhausted, frantic, and increasingly annoyed, but fine.

He didn't look convinced. Judging by how she felt, she probably looked too pale and weary for someone who had supposedly rested all afternoon – like someone in worse pain than she actually felt. That worked out to her advantage, for he nodded and stepped back into the hall. "I'll let you rest. Call out if you need anything."

"Yes. Thank you."

Nola sighed and tried to be patient. And to remain alert. Or at least awake. She had to hang on to both her glamour and her wits.

Galvin, too, she remembered, had traveled through the night. Maybe, alone in the kitchen and bored, if she was lucky, he would fall asleep.

She knew not to count on luck.

Better to count on simply going out through the bedroom window rather than one of the doors. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed but hesitated. For the moment, in its bindings, her ankle didn't feel too bad; but she knew that as so on as she stood, the increased blood flow would make it throb.

Though there was no sound from the kitchen, she had to fight the foreboding that somebody was about to burst in: Galvin, or the returning funeral guests – though that was unlikely, for they had left such a short time ago. But maybe the coopers daughters would come back early to ask where Brinna kept the salt, or Alan, eager to fetch something he hoped would please her.

There's time, she assured herself. Don't rush. The important thing is to be absolutely silent.

She tightened the laces on her bodice then found her shoes, which someone – Sergeant Halig, she thought – had taken off when they'd put her to bed. She had trouble getting the right one on because of the swelling and bandages; and once it was on, she was unable to fasten it.

With one hand on the bed and one on the wall, she stood, holding her breath for fear of breathing too loudly. She tried putting just a little weight on the injured foot. It hurt, but not beyond enduring. She tried actually taking a step and had to clamp her teeth together to keep from crying out in pain.

You have to do this, she warned herself. You have to get out of here.

She was able to hobble forth a few steps, as long as she had something to hold on to: the bed, the clothes chest.

It took forever to cross the room, which, when she and her mother had stayed here, had seemed barely large enough to accommodate the two extra mattresses.

You don't have to get far, she reminded herself. Once she was outside, she could take on a different appearance and sit and gather her strength for as long as she needed.

So long as Galvin didn't pick now to look in on her.

Alan had thoughtfully closed the shutters in an attempt to make the room dark enough for sleeping. Nola tried to pull them open, but they simply rattled faintly.

Nola held her breath and listened with all her might. The noise couldn't have been loud enough to have alerted Galvin in the next room.

Could it?

Sure that she had to move quickly to avoid being discovered, she tugged impatiently, and the tiny latch she hadn't seen was yanked out of che wood.

The shutters swung open, one flying free of her grip and slamming against the wall, while the other came back at her face so that she instinctively stepped back. Her ankle gave out under her, and she sat down, fast and heavy.

Galvin burst in.

While it had taken her so long and so many mincing steps to get from bed to window, he was across the room in a few quick strides, just long enough to draw his sword from its sheath with a metallic scrape that she was sure would be the last thing she heard. She'd never before seen a sword blade so close, and glinting in the late-afternoon sunlight it was much longer, much sharper-looking than she'd have guessed. Obviously he'd determined she was a witch and took her trying to escape as proof. She flinched and braced herself and hoped that her mother would be able to get along on her own.

Instead of swinging the sword, Galvin demanded, "What happened? Did someone try to get in?"

She opened her eyes and saw that he had one foot up on the window frame, ready to leap out into the yard, ready to take off in pursuit, except that he couldn't see anyone to pursue.

"Are you hurt?" Galvin asked, with his attention still on surveying the yard.

"No," Nola said, only now beginning to breathe again. "I opened the window." That needed an excuse so that it wouldn't sound like the escape attempt it was. "I was hot and needed some air."

"Did you hear anything?" Galvin persisted. "Did a noise awaken you?"

"I was hot," Nola repeated, finally beginning to believe that he wasn't going to execute her for witchcraft after all. "There was no one out there. I forgot about the latch and broke it."

Finally Galvin looked at her. "Sorry," he said, and she could read the sheepishness in his voice and in his expression and in the way his shoulders slumped and he seemed to get smaller – like a cat calming down after a fright. He was embarrassed for reacting too strongly, for running in here to protect her from a danger that didn't exist.

He set the blade back in its sheath, then crouched beside her. He laid his hand gingerly on her bandaged ankle, as though half expecting that her foot might come off in his hand.

"It just went out from under me," Nola assured him, "I didn't twist it."

He shook his head. "If you needed the window opened, you should have called me."

She said, "I didn't want to disturb you."

It was a ridiculous excuse, and it did nothing to explain why she had needed to put on her shoes.

He didn't mention that. He had started out concerned, then become embarrassed, and now he looked to be moving fast toward annoyance. His voice sounding considerably more patient than she would have guessed from his face, he asked, "Are you hurt?"

"No," she told him. "Well, no more than I was to begin with, after my flight off the stairs."

He shook his head again, but his pique seemed to be melting into exasperation.

Brinna, she reminded herself. Any special consideration was because she looked like Brinna.

He stood and made a show of opening the shutters, then securing them. "Can you stand?" he asked.

Since the alternative was for him to carry her, she nodded.

He moved between her and the wall and hoisted her under her arms. She saw that the reasonable thing for her co do was to place her arm over his shoulder to support her weight, and it was only by happy coincidence that chis put her hand close to his hair.

Though she had no specific plan, she intentionally caught her finger around a single strand, then she slipped down a bit as though too weary to stand upright. He must have assumed that she tugged accidentally, and he neither flinched nor yelped. She closed her fist around the captured hair and, with Galvin's help, was able to hobble back to the bed.

He picked up her legs and swung them onto the mattress. Without a word he took her shoes off, being gentle with the wedged-on right one, and placed them back beside the bed.

Then he sat down on the edge of the bed. "Since you apparently can't sleep anyway," he said, "perhaps we might talk a little more about what happened last night."

She guessed she wouldn't get very far claiming to feel feint, so she didn't try. "What did you want to know?"

"The same that I've been asking all along." His voice was quiet, patient, but intense.

Nola sighed as though weary of telling the same story over and over. "I was in the kitchen," she said, "cleaning up after supper, preparing for the next day. Alan…" She remembered that this morning she had claimed she didn't know where Alan was. "I … wasn't sure where Alan was… at that time, while I was in the kitchen." She made sure to emphasize that, for she certainly didn't want Alan to get blamed for Kirwyn's crime because of her statements. "He'd said he was tired, but I hadn't actually seen him go into his room – it's that cubbyhole by the stairs – though when I was running down the hallway, after Master Innis cried out … directly after he cried out" – she didn't want Galvin thinking Alan had had time to circle back – "I heard the door to his room open, and Alan came running out practically on my heels."

Galvin was looking at her with that infuriating mild, appraising expression, and she realized she was saying too much, covering everything too well in one rush of details that was not characteristic of the way a normal person talked, certainly not characteristic of the vague and elusive way she had talked previously. Despite all its stops and reversals, her speech sounded – even to her ears – rehearsed.

"I've been chinking about our conversation this morning," she explained, "and realized – che way I left it – that you might have gotten the wrong impression."

And that explanation didn't help one bit, she saw.

She closed her eyes, not to be distracted by him, then realized chat might give the wrong impression, too, and opened them. She licked her dry lips. Just go on. "We ran down the hall. I opened the door. I saw Master Innis lying on the floor, his silver scattered about him. I may or may not have seen something in the far doorway. Maybe it was just a shadow. I don't know. Ic was dark and I was frightened."

"Are you frightened now?"

"No," she said, assuming he meant was she afraid of him. Then, "Yes," she amended, in case he meant was she afraid of che murderer coming back, which Brinna might be. Then, "No," she settled on, remembering he had previously asked whether she was afraid of Alan.

There was no sign of the hint of a smile he customarily wore for her. For Brinna, she reminded herself. "Where was Kirwyn?" he asked coldly.

Kirwyn. What should she say about Kirwyn? In the kitchen would exonerate him, I don't know would open her up to suspicion for changing Brinna's story.

In the face of her hesitation, Galvin asked testily, "Do you need me to refresh your memory? When I first spoke with you, you said he'd been in the kitchen with you. After you came back from the market, you said you were alone in the kitchen. Now is your chance to change that answer again, if you want: You were in the kitchen, surrounded by a troupe of singing monks, perhaps?"

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