Magic Can Be Murder

Chapter 14


"She seemed to be trying to point us at Kirwyn."

I was! Nola thought at them.

Halig asked, "Are you thinking it was Brinna and Alan, and not Kirwyn at all?"

Nola would have liked to kick him.

Galvin shook his head impatiently. "Kirwyn is the one who stands to gain. We certainly have enough independent witnesses who say that father and son didn't get along well, even before this wedding was announced. It's just that Brinna…"

When his sentence drifted off into yet another sigh, Halig finished it for him: "Is so damned attractive."

"I was going to say brave," Galvin said, "brave even chough she's obviously afraid – of us, of Kirwyn. How can such a beautiful young woman be so fearful of every-ching? I find myself wanting to reassure her. Don't," he added quickly, "even tell me. I know how simpleminded that sounds."

Halig raised his hands co indicate surrender.

Galvin continued, "She's funny. And spirited. And says such unexpected things. And she's kind; think of the way she responded to that woman, Crazy Mary."

"Mary," Halig repeated, as though that was the only significant thing Galvin had said. "Does she have anything to do with the murder?"

"I don't see how," Galvin answered.

Nola fervently hoped that meant they wouldn't be going after her mother, even though Nola had practically pointed a finger at her.

"The other choice," Halig said, once more gazing toward the street, though no one was walking by, "is to leave it. Report the silversmith was killed by an intruder, long gone by the time we arrived."

"Kirwyn is a murderer," Galvin said, aghast.

"But one who has what he wants. He's not apt to kill again."

It was a possibility. Not justice in any sense, but it was one possibility of safety for Nola among many chances of disaster.

Though Galvin didn't answer, Nola could see by his face that he wasn't going to agree to this.

Halig finally looked at him, returning his long, hard gaze. He said, "You'll never get Kirwyn without naming an accomplice."

"That's your counsel, is it?" Galvin asked coldly. "Put the blame on some passing brigand?"

"No," Halig told him. "But I would not contradict you if that's what you chose."

Galvin lowered his forehead to his clasped hands. Softly, miserably, he said, "I don't want to do that."

"What do you want?"

"To learn that Brinna is not a murderer."

"Most likely she's not," Halig agreed. "Most likely she only helped hide the money."

"But the money was probably hidden before the crime. There was no time afterward. So she knew what Kirwyn was planning and gave Innis no warning."

"There is that," Halig agreed.

Galvin sighed yet again. "And," he said, "I would like to finish this business without looking like a complete fool to Pendaran."

Halig grunted. "There, I can't help you at all."

Galvin stood. "I'll talk to her in the morning. Perhaps it would be best for you to be present, also."

Halig gave a curt nod.

As Galvin resettled in the kitchen and Halig made his way back to the silversmith's shop, Nola thought that she must come up with a better plan than trying to convince them that despite all the food brought in today, she urgently needed to go to the market first thing tomorrow morning.

He called me kind, Nola thought, which she'd never before thought of herself as. And brave and funny.

None of which was as good as being beautiful, but she wasn't used co any compliments.

Don't get distracted, Nola warned herself, realizing she was thinking more about Galvin than about getting out. At best Galvin would eventually have to leave the premises, which would enable her to sneak away, and then she would never see him again.

At worst he would discover her true nature, and he would arrest her, and she would be banished or executed for witchcraft.

She hated stories with bad endings.

But she hesitated a long time before dragging Galvin's hair out of the water and ending the spell.

Chapter Fourteen

THE NIGHT LASTED longer than any night had a right to, but not long enough for Nola to come up with a plan she had any right to believe would work. Eventually – after she had been reduced to staying awake by amusing herself trying to balance a spoon on her nose – she could hear the stirrings of the household.

Once more she straightened her clothing and fetched her shoes from beside the bed. Did the right one go on easier than it had yesterday afternoon? Yes, Nola told herself, definitely.

Well, maybe.

She tried standing and decided that was easier, too. Or perhaps the ankle didn't hurt as much because she knew that this time she wouldn't have to try to walk quietly.

From the kitchen, she caught the crackle and smell of sausage frying and heard Alan – or Galvin if he was the kind to be inclined to help – setting the table. Halig came from guarding the door to the shop, and she could hear the sounds of Kirwyn stirring in his room.

Nola limped to the window and opened the shutters, untying the bit of string Alan had used to fasten them.

Over the courtyard fence, she could see the street; but no one was about this early. Foolish plan, she told herself. Everything depended on being lucky, and luck was certainly not something she had reason to rely on. But hoping for a passerby was the only plan she had been able to come up with all night long, and it wasn't likely something else would come to her now.

She hobbled back to the bed, intentionally pushing the night chest a bit so that it bumped the wall, and then started to straighten the blanket on her bed.

Galvin rapped against the door frame but didn't wait before he opened the door.

"Oh," Nola said, looking up from fluffing the mattress. "Good morning."

"What arc you doing?" Galvin asked in a tone that was – she liked to think – testy because of concern rather than because of suspicion or lack of sleep.

"Straightening up the room," Nola said, rather than admitting the truth: Making noise so in case you heard me getting up, you wouldn't think I was sneaking around. Better to have him investigate now rather than later. She added with a smile, "One day of lying about in bed is enough." It was hard to sound so bright and cheery when her ankle throbbed and she hadn't slept in days.

Galvin glanced down at her feet, though of course her dress covered her ankle. "Are you sure you should be – '"

"It's fine," Nola lied. "If I don't start moving, it's going to stiffen."

Kirwyn, coming down the hall from his room to the kitchen, paused only long enough to glance in over Galvin's shoulder. "It's about time," he said.

Once he had moved on, Nola blew a kiss after him, which made Galvin smile, and she remembered how he'd told Halig she was brave. The knowledge that she cared what Galvin thought made her blush, and she lowered her head to tug at a blanket that was already perfectly free of wrinkles.

"Don't try to do too much at once," Galvin advised. "Even Kirwyn can't expect you to take on all your usual chores so soon." Which showed he knew nothing about masters and servants. But Nola only smiled and nodded and worked very hard not to weep at the pain in her right leg.

As soon as he left, she sat down on the bed. But sitting, she couldn't see out the window into the street. So she struggled once more to her feet.

How long should she wait? she wondered, as she watched a young boy running on an early morning errand. But he was already gone before she had time to chink. Not long. Someone running probably would have been a good choice, she thought, If the men took off in pursuit, they'd have a harder time catching up. But what were the chances of their looking up from their breakfast at just the right time to see such a person?

Obviously she needed someone walking from north to south – that is, someone following the street from the right side of Brinna's window to the left, which would bring them in view of the kitchen window only after passing Nola, because obviously she couldn't transform someone in plain view of the kitchen window when the whole plan hinged on the hope that someone would be looking out the window.

And she had to act fast, she reminded herself again as she spotted two young women walking together – in the wrong direction anyway – or the street would have too many people, and someone outside would see the transformation.

I can't be too particular, Nola told herself, guessing that Galvin, Halig, and Kirwyn must be finishing their breakfast, and that soon Alan would be knocking on her door, asking if she was coming out for hers or if he should bring it to her. Waiting for exactly the right person could doom the plan in any one of several ways, she thought.

And just as she thought it, exactly the right person walked into sight.

It was an old woman, walking from right to left – walking slowly because she had a cane. Perfect.

Fervently hoping no one else was watching, Nola said the words of the transforming spell. She left the old woman her own clothes, but she gave her Brinna's face and hair.

The change caused no outcry, which was good, for this indicated no one on the street had noticed.

Look up, Nola wished at the men in the kitchen.

She waited, waited.

Had it been too long? Had the woman passed by the kitchen window unobserved? Should Nola change her back?

"Brinna?" It was Alan's voice. Good old Alan.

He was calling out the window, wasn't he – and not down che hall to her room?

"Brinna?" Alan's voice was louder this time. Definitely calling to someone who was moving away without heeding.

Nola heard the scrape of one of the benches as someone pushed away from the table.

"Brinna?" This time it was Kirwyn. Not tentative and amazed, as Alan's voice had sounded with the first calling of her name, nor even the second, louder attempt to get attention from a distance, but an angry bellow.

There was more noise from che kitchen. All four of the men put down cups, knives, plates – whatever they'd been holding – and got to their feet, scrambling to the window. Nola most intensely hoped it was all four men. The kitchen door opened, and she heard footsteps running, but it was impossible co tell how many pairs of feet.

She hesitated, ready to duck behind the bed in case any suspicious soul came to check the room.

But there were no footsteps coming down the hall. Either they had all taken off after the false Brinna or one or more of them were waiting in the kitchen to see what the others had to report, and if that was the case, her plan had failed of itself. She would not let it fail because she feared to act.

As she hobbled to Brinna's door, she let most of the transforming spell drop from the features of the old woman on the street before anyone had a chance to catch up to her. Nola left hair that was yellow rather than pure white and Brinna's very nose, so that the men would think themselves only foolishly deluded rather than tricked. She was growing less and less confident in her plan as time went by and her actions became irrevocable.

She was out Brinna's door and halfway down the hall before she heard the first sounds of the men returning through the courtyard. Actually, what she heard was Kirwyn saying, "Alan, you are such a fool. I have no idea why I put up with you."

Instantly Nola let entirely go of the glamour she had put on the old woman, and at the same time she turned around, faced toward Brinna's room, and transformed herself to look like her mother. "Brinna!" she called in a querulous voice. "Brinna's impostor! Where are you?"

Behind her, she heard the men enter the kitchen – in their rush to leave, they had not closed the door behind them.

She held on to che wall and didn't try to walk, for she didn't want them to see her limping. "I am the true Brinna!" she shouted. "Come out here and face me!"

From behind her, Kirwyn moaned, "Oh, not again!"

"Mary?" Alan edged past Kirwyn and gently took Nola's arm. "Hello, Mary. Have you lost Nola?"

Nola pulled her arm away. "I'm not looking for Nola. I'm looking for whoever that is who's pretending to be me. Can you see today that I'm Brinna?" Nola tossed her head to show off her wispy gray hair.

"Get this madwoman out of my house," Kirwyn demanded.

Alan glanced for direction not at Kirwyn but at Galvin and Halig – for which Nola was sure Kirwyn would make him pay later. Galvin, however, was looking quizzical. He's wondering why Brinna hasn't come out of her room at all this bother, Nola surmised.

And sure enough, the next moment he squeezed past Kirwyn and past Nola and Alan. "Brinna?" he called. When he saw there was no one there, he turned and looked at Nola.

"Gone?" Nola asked. "Good. I knew she couldn't keep up the pretense forever." She began humming and swaying. And hoping that she was making the situation better – not just more complicated.

Kirwyn practically knocked her down in his rush to Brinna's door. "That wasn't her on the street," he insisted. Was he needing assurance? Daring anyone to contradict him?

"No," Galvin agreed, still looking at Nola, still trying to figure out the connection. If Nola had been able to think of anyone besides Brinna whose appearance on the street she could be sure would get Galvin, Halig, Kirwyn, and Alan out of the house, she certainly would have tried that rather than risk what at best must seem a very odd coincidence. But the only other person that they all would recognize was Innis, and neither Galvin nor Halig struck her as the sort to believe in ghosts. And would Kirwyn have rushed out of the house to chase after the father he had killed?

Still, she was left with Galvin standing before her – and no doubt Sergeant Halig standing behind her – trying to resolve Brinna on the street/Brinna not on the street/Brinna not in her room/and old woman claiming to be Brinna.

Of all people, Kirwyn came to the rescue. He stormed past Galvin directly into Brinna's room, as though to make sure Brinna wasn't on the floor on the far side of the bed. "Brinna, you good-for-nothing whore!" he shouted, as though that would convince anyone who was hiding to come out. Although the blanket was neat and flat and obviously not covering anything, he yanked it off the bed, then flung it on the floor in frustration.

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