Magic Can Be Murder

Chapter 15


At least this tantrum distracted Calvin's attention away from her, though Nola worried that Kirwyn was furious enough to go after her. The other three would protect her, she assured herself. If there was time.

Kirwyn shoved the chest away from the wall, though there was hardly room for a mouse back there. Muttering a scream of curses, he even threw open the lid of the chest, upending the dinner tray that was sitting on top. Then he kicked the cup and bowl out of his way.

"It is difficult to find a good housemaid," Galvin said amiably, as though that could be che cause of Kirwyn's ire.

For a moment Nola thought Kirwyn might go for his throat, but he quickly came to his senses, which might have had something to do with Halig taking a step forward.

"Maybe," said Alan, che peacemaker, "she left to do the marketing while we were occupied outside."

Nobody pointed out that Brinna supposedly couldn't take more than a step or two without aid. Nor that if Brinna had had a miraculous recovery, she would have come outside right on their heels, which surely one of them would have noticed when they turned back from their wild-goose chase after the old woman.

Kirwyn only said to Alan, "Out. Out of my house. You are useless, you always have been, you always will be – find employment elsewhere." And he stamped his feet like an outraged three-year-old, down the hall toward the silversmith's shop.

He turned back at the doorway to his father's room and pointed at Nola. "And ger that old witch out of here, too!"

As always the word witch was almost enough to make Nola's mind shut down in panic. She was barely aware of Kirwyn slamming the door. A moment later they heard him slam the door between the bedroom and the shop, too. And then, faintly, the outside door.

Calvin looked at Halig with raised eyebrows but wasn't going to say anything in front of outsiders. And at least they weren't looking at her. To Alan, who appeared ready to crumble at Kirwyn's dismissing him, Galvin said, "Don't leave. We need you here until the matter of this murder is settled."

Nola didn't wait for Alan's relief to settle in. She flung herself onto the floor saying, "And I'm not leaving, either."

Galvin sighed. Though his tone indicated he suspected talking to her was useless, he asked her, "Do you know anything about Innis's death?"

Nola tugged at her hair in horror. "Innis is dead?" she cried. And she rocked back and forth, moaning loudly to make a nuisance of herself. "Oh, poor man, poor man." She didn't want to say anything to give them the idea that she knew anything useful, so she asked, "Has anyone told Kirwyn yet? First my mother died when she was giving birth to me, and now Master Innis. They always say death comes in threes. Who'll be next? Ohhh." She shuddered and put her hands up to cover her head.

Galvin asked Alan, "Do you know where she lives?"

Alan had knelt down beside her. "No," he said.

Nola howled louder. She hoped she was giving them all headaches. "Nola!" she called, deciding it was time to drop the pretense that she thought she was Brinna. "Where's my daughter, Nola?"

Wincing ac the noise, Halig asked Alan, "I don't suppose there's any chance you know where her daughter lives, either?"

"Madam," Galvin said as Alan shook his head, "please stop making that noise."

"I'm always noisy indoors," Nola shouted.

"If you don't stop," Galvin said, "we'll put you outdoors."

Far from being a threat, this was exactly what she had been hoping for.

"Noisy!" Nola leaned forward to shout at him.

His patience snapped. With a glance at Halig, who quickly interpreted ic, Galvin moved forward and cook Nola under the arms. Halig grabbed her legs. Nola went ahead and screamed ac the pain of Halig's hand around her ankle.

Halig let go and made a helpless gesture, which Nola guessed was in response to an I-didn't-say-to-hurt-her glare from Galvin.

Lest they become suspicious about a second woman with an injured leg, Nola yelled at Halig, "Don't you become familiar with me, young man! I know you men are after only one thing!" She started screaming again so that she would be ready for the pain when Halig took her legs again.

They picked her up, gently, and brought her outdoors. As soon as they were out in the courtyard, she stopped screaming. "That's better," she said, trying to look pleased with herself though her ankle still throbbed.

She let Galvin and Halig set her down on the bench under the walnut tree.

"Can you fetch her something to eat?" Galvin said to Alan. "She doesn't look like she eats near enough."

Alan nodded.

"And then try to find the daughter," He stooped down to put himself on a level with her. "And you," he said, "behave yourself, or Master Kirwyn will fetch the magistrate."

Nola covered her mouth with both hands, as she had seen her mother do, and nodded earnestly.

Galvin gave a smile of encouragement that nearly broke Nola's heart. She had hoped that they would throw the crazy old woman out, and had not anticipated that they would take care with her. Galvin had told Halig that she seemed kind – well, he had said Brinna, but he meant Nola-as-Brinna. He, also, had seemed kind, but she had dismissed that as his trying to impress the beautiful Brinna. Now she had to fight to keep from leaning forward, from grabbing a handful of hair from off his head so that she would be able to, sometime, see him again.

But she couldn't take even one. She couldn't risk him connecting that with the time he had helped Brinna up from the floor of her room, and she had caught her finger on a hair and pulled it loose.

"And you and I," he was celling Halig, "will go in search of the elusive Brinna."

Halig nodded. He and Galvin were heading for the gate that led from the courtyard to the street, Alan was heading for the kitchen, and she would never see any of them again.

She closed her eyes and reminded herself that this was exactly what she had spent the whole last day trying to achieve.

Chapter Fifteen

ALTHOUGH NOLA WASN'T in the least interested in food, she waited for Alan to fetch the promised meal so that he wouldn't see her leaving the garden. In fact, when he came out bearing a tray, she leaned against the tree, closed her eyes, and made a snoring noise so that he wouldn't feel obliged to chat with her.

She watched through slit eyes as he went out the gate after Galvin and Halig, who had gone out after Kirwyn, who was out looking for Brinna. Her ankle still hurt, but not enough to twist her stomach into a knot. She would be able to walk, she assured herself, at least as far as the wall.

There lay a pile of sticks and small branches and yard debris that had come down during the rain and wind of two nights ago. Nola found a long stick with which she could make do until she found a better one to use as a cane. And with that, she transformed herself yet again, this time giving herself the appearance of an old woman without choosing the face of any particular person of Haymarket.

She fought her inclination to simply head away from the chaos she herself had caused. She didn't know – not for sure – what Brinna's involvement was. Galvin had certainly proposed other wrong conjectures; she couldn't even tell which ones he actually believed plausible and which he set forth just to see what reaction they would get. Maybe there was another explanation to Brinna's claim co being in the kitchen with Kirwyn. Besides, Nola told herself, even if there wasn't – even if Brinna had conspired with Kirwyn to kill Innis – Nola still had used her badly, still owed her for kindness, still owed her explanations … still owed her a warning about Kirwyn.

With the walking stick helping to support her weight, Nola made her slow way co the river, to the barn that stood near che millpond. This one chance, Nola said. Ifshe's not there, so be it. I won't spend any time looking for her.

She realized she was hoping Brinna wouldn't be there, for she couldn't get out of her head the picture of Innis lying on the floor.

The barn door creaked alarmingly.

There was a scurrying sound: slight, but too big for mice. Nola stood in the sagging doorway to let her eyes adjust. Despite the gaps in the walls through which morning sunlight screamed, there were areas of shadow. From one of these areas came Nola's mother's voice: "The walls are crumbling and the roof leaks, granny. But the mice are too timid to be much of a nuisance, and I'm willing co share what breakfast I have for news of the town."


Still being kind to strangers.

Nola let drop the transforming spells that made her look like an old woman and Brinna like her mother.

Brinna scrambled backward into a corner, which actually put her in more light than she had been in before. "You!" she gasped, seeing Nola's face emerge from the old woman's. But she heard the difference in her own voice and lifted her hands to see that they were once more, finally, her own.

"I'm sorry," Nola said. That wasn't nearly enough. "I'm very, very, very sorry." It would never be enough – not for all the fear she had caused. She herself had been afraid, but at least she had known what was going on, what her choices were, even if they weren't much. She was weak from lack of sleep and sore from her fall down the stairs, but at least her body had been under her own control.

"Is it truly you, Nola?" Brinna asked. And that, too, was Nola's doing: Brinna could never again be sure whether who she thought she was looking at was, in fact, who she actually was looking at.

"Yes," Nola said miserably. "Please let me explain – "

Brinna reached into the basket she had taken marketing with her, fetched out a crust of bread, and flung it at Nola, though it fell short. "Why did you do this to me?"

"I didn't mean you any harm," Nola assured her. "And I promise you, you'll suffer no lasting ill effects from it, and I won't do it again, and I'm sorry, but I was afraid, and I wasn't thinking properly, and it was the only way I could think of co keep us both out of danger." That was part of ic. Nola took a step forward, and Brinna slid even further back into the corner, clutching the basket to her. For a moment Nola thought Brinna was about to fling more foodstuffs at her, but then she saw how tightly, how possessively, Brinna held the basket to herself.

How protectively.

Nola sighed.

Despite everything, she realized, she had still been hoping that Brinna hadn't been involved, that Brinna would explain all and somehow prove her innocence. Nola could hear the weariness in her own voice as she said, "That basket holds the money stolen from Innis, doesn't it? You and Kirwyn plotted together to kill him."

Brinna glanced down at the basket co make sure it was still covered, then her fear and anger bubbled over into derision. "Oh, and now you're going to chastise me for being a thief? You, a witch, taking advantage of people and disrupting their lives, stealing their very bodies? I chink we've both made our choices, Nola, so don't you look down at me."

"I'm not," Nola said, though she felt the criticism wasn't entirely fair: Brinna had chosen to become a thief; Nola had never been offered a choice about being a witch.

But she had chosen to use her witchcraft, so maybe that was the same.

"I didn't kill Innis," Brinna objected.

Nola didn't say, "I know," for then she would have to explain that her witchcraft went beyond changing appearances.

Brinna said, "I didn't even steal this." She indicated the basket. "Kirwyn stole it," she said. "He knew where Innis kept the strongbox, under one section of the floor, and then he found where Innis had the key hidden. He emptied out the box and gave the things to me to hide. So this was given to me. I didn't steal it."

Their plan made sense: Brinna could take the money away from the house and hide it somewhere while Innis was busy working, never suspecting his son would kill him that evening, and meanwhile all the neighbors, all the customers could swear that Kirwyn had never left the shop all that day long.

But it was still stealing, whatever Brinna said. And murder: Brinna had known of Kirwyn's plan in time to warn Innis if she had wanted to.

"What did Innis ever do to you?" Nola asked.

"Nothing," Brinna admitted. "But he was old, and he'd been wealthy all his life. And then he decided to get a young bride. And a common maid wouldn't do for him. I was good enough to help him pass the time, but when he wanted a  wife, to produce another heir, he went and asked a wealthy wool merchant's daughter from Linchester. The two of them would have had more money than they knew what to do with. And would she have left me co continue working in her new husband's house, a potential rival? I think not. After running chat household so smoothly for the past two years, I would have been knocking on doors, begging for a chance co be a scullery maid again."

Nola sighed. "I didn't come to hear this. I came to warn you about Kirwyn. I tried to act like you, to say the things I thought you would say. But I didn't realize you…" It was hard to say. "…had helped Kirwyn. Because he thought I was you, and because of the way I was acting, he's become suspicious of you. I truly believe he means you harm."

Brinna snorted. "Well, he would have gone to the…" She looked suspiciously at Nola. "Well, never mind, to the place where I hid this." Again the glance at the basket. "But I went back there myself – after you worked your witchcraft on me." That was probably meant as a reminder that Nola was in no position to tell anybody what she knew – which she had no intention of doing, anyway. "And I cook ic with me. Because I didn't know, either. For all I could cell, you and Kirwyn had come co an agreement without me." Nola must have made a face, for Brinna laughed. "Why did you ever return to Haymarket anyway?" she asked bitterly. "Why did you pretend to be me?"

"It makes no difference," Nola said. "And once I got here, my only intent was to get away." She noticed that Brinna didn't ask about Nola's mother, nor about why Nola needed a crutch. And why should she? Nola was not her concern. But Nola would have asked. Nola finished, "And this time, I won't be back. I just wanted you to know about Kirwyn. You might want to try telling him that you were only trying to distract Galvin so that he wouldn't become suspicious."

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