Magic Can Be Murder

Chapter 3


"Alan, go tell my father you have too much time on your hands and see you what he needs done. Do you think the shop runs itself? My father needs to concentrate on the making and fashioning of silver – not on whether there's enough wood for the fire or if the goods are polished to show them off to their best advantage."

Alan looked as if he was about to say something – probably that he had already laid in the next day's wood supply, or that the silversmith had already said enough for the day – but he bit off an answer that could only get him into trouble. He ducked his head and edged out of the room.

Next Kirwyn's attention alighted on Nola's mother. "You, old hag, fetch extra blankets from the storage closet for yourself and your daughter, and make up beds. Tomorrow morning will come soon enough, and if you don't make sleeping arrangements until bedtime, you will disrupt us all."

He turned on Nola. Over his shoulder, Nola saw her mother making the sign to avert the evil eye. Brinna, fortunately, took that as funny, and placed a hand over her mouth to cover a giggle. Nola, who was tired enough co go to sleep then and there, tried to look alert and interested, and most definitely not distracted by anything going on behind Kirwyn's back. Her mother set the still-blackened pot down and left the kitchen – one could only hope she was headed for the storage closet.

To Nola, Kirwyn said, "As for you, your work starts tonight rather than tomorrow morning. I spilled some wine in my room. My bedding needs to be changed and cleaned before the stains set."

"Yes, Master Kirwyn." Nola curtsied to hide the dismay on her face. She fervently hoped cleaning was all Kirwyn had on his mind.

But Kirwyn wasn't interested in her. She saw that a moment later as he tried to snake his arm around Brinna's waist.

"Master Kirwyn," Brinna protested, deftly dodging him. She'd retrieved the wet rag and she Hipped it as she turned, so that it spattered – apparently all unintended – on Kirwyn.

A pretty girl like Brinna, Nola realized as she headed for Kirwyn's room, would have had practice enough avoiding unwanted attention. She wouldn't have caused a scene the way Nola had with the blackberry farmer in Low Beck. Of course, Nola could look pretty, too. She could cast a glamour spell and make herself lovely: stunning, exotic, breath takingly gorgeous, the kind of woman men wrote poems for and sang ballads about. But what was the point? It was safer to look unremarkable, so people wouldn't notice her, wouldn't remember her, wouldn't bother her. Plain as she was, she'd had a close call today.

Working by the light of the candle she had brought with her, Nola stripped Kirwyn's bed. He had apparently tried to catch the goblet as ic tipped off the nightstand and had sent it flying even farther, spraying wine over the top of his clothes chest and onto the tapestry that covered the wall behind. She needed a bucket of water and a rag but didn't wane co go back to the kitchen for fear of Kirwyn, so she went to the storage closet. She could hear her mother humming her lullaby in the room next door, the room they would be sharing with Brinna. From the sounds, her mother must have been stuffing the mattresses as she had been instructed.

There was, indeed, an extra bucket in the closet, and Nola got it, filled it with water, and brought it back to Kirwyn's room. Dabbing at the wine stain that had soaked into the mattress, she worked quickly, hoping to be done and gone before he came back. Then she flipped the mattress over, dry side up, and fetched fresh blankets from the clothes chest. She mopped up the wine from the rug by the bed and from the top of the chest, then she did the best she could with the tapestry. Tomorrow she would do a better job by caking the tapestry down, but if she did so tonight, Kirwyn was sure co complain of the cold draft off the wall.

As she brought the bucket around to the back of the house co dump the wine-clouded water, Nola found her footsteps getting heavier and slower, until she stopped altogether. She'd recognized from the smell chat the wine Kirwyn had spilled had been blackberry wine, and that put her in mind once again of che man from Low Beck, the farmer who had hired them to pick blackberries. She remembered the strand of hair she had taken so long ago that morning. And she remembered, nor only his unwanted advances, but that he had called them witches.

Had he really thought so, or was he only angry?

You're being foolish, she told herself. Surely other women – even other unremarkable women such as herself – had taken offense at his suggestions before. He couldn't suspect her of being a witch just because of that.

That, she reminded herself, and her mothers constant mumblings and oddities.

And the fact that he might have seen her take and save that strand of his hair.

But wouldn't he have said something then if he had noticed?

Unless he had assumed she was flirting with him by taking that hair.

Though surely her later actions disproved that.

Maybe – if he had seen her take the hair – he simply didn't know what to make of such an action.

And that meant she was safe.

Unless he mentioned it to someone else. Someone who knew the tricks of witches.

Don't wish troubles onto yourself she tried to convince herself, troubles that don't even exist. You're overtired and not thinking properly.

There was no reason to suspect that the silversmith's household bought their blackberries from the man in Low Beck, and there was no reason to check to make sure the man wasn't plotting against them.

But she couldn't help herself.

Instead of taking the bucket back to the storage closet, she brought ic down to the root cellar. That the water was wine colored and only as deep as the breadth of two or three fingers would not trouble the spell. Carefully she set the bucket on the floor. Very quietly she said the words that made the water receptive to shadowforms. Then she took from her bodice the little square of unbleached wool where she had placed the man's hair. She had another square of cloth in which she had collected two hairs off che comb on Kirwyn's nightstand and one from the cloak he had thrown over a chair. Not that she was interested in Kirwyn. But Nola always gathered strands of hair when she could, just in case she needed them later, as she needed the former's hair now. Nola congratulated herself on being clever. With one last glance around to make sure she was alone, she tossed the hair of che blackberry farmer into the water.

The hair puckered the surface of che water, then shapes began to swirl and dance. They settled into the image of the man at his own kitchen table. His wife was sitting across from him, mending a shirt by candlelight. The man was snoring. For long moments nothing changed, then the woman finished her sewing and very quietly – voices always just barely came through – she said, "Are you coming to bed or not?"

Nola saw her pick up che candle, and her husband scratched himself noisily and yawned as chough to swallow che entire buckec of water that contained him. He stood; but as he stood, he winced, rubbing at the knee Nola had kicked. His lips twitched soundlessly. It didn't take much to guess that what he muttered to himself was the word "witch." Then he followed his wife to bed and the two of them got in without exchanging another word. In another few moments, they were both snoring.

So much for him setting the town magistrate or witch-hunters onto her trail.

Nola put her hand on the edge of the bucket to overturn it, which would end the spell.

Except that the farmer was still sore and angry. What if he made his move tomorrow?

Only one hair. Only one spell. A spell she had wasted by doing it at bedtime.

Pouring the water out of the bucket would dispel the magic. But Nola wasn't willing to do chat. Once that was done, the strand of hair she had slid off the surface of the jug would never again be able to summon forth shadowforms from water.

Nola couldn't be satisfied with this one picture of quiet in the home of the blackberry farmer. Instead of upending the bucket, she pushed it beneath the stairs. She draped her cleaning rag over it to hide it from sight, even though, she assured herself, no one was likely to come down here to the root cellar any time soon – not during summer, when there were fresh foods to be had. And even if someone did come, she told herself, even if someone came and saw the rag and picked it up off the bucket, even then they weren't likely to see the shadowshapes, if they weren't expecting to see them, not in this dim light. And the voices were too little to carry, especially from under the cloth.

This way she could check on the farmer again tomorrow. If things were still quiet, she would end the spell then.

She went back to che kitchen to help Brinna clean up, but Brinna had finished already and gone to bed. Nola could hear Kirwyn and his father in another room of the house – not exactly arguing, she didn't think, but sounding as chough they were disagreeing about something.

"Good night," Alan called to her from his cubbyhole by the stairs.

"Good night," Nola wished him back.

Chapter Four

THE MORNING WAS full with the making of breakfast, the starting of soup for the noon meal, the baking of breads, the putting down of fresh rushes beneath the kitchen table – daily work that was done quickly with two extra sets of hands to help Brinna's. And then there was the beating of rugs and wall hangings, the laundering of all the linens and clothing in the household save what was currently being worn, the restuffing of Master Innis's mattress with sweet-smelling herbs – all in preparation for the arrival of the silversmith's new bride, Sulis, in five more days.

There was not an extra moment for Nola to slip away to see what the shadowforms in the bucket of water were doing.

But, of course, she made the time.

When she first managed to sneak into the root cellar, she saw that the blackberry farmer from Low Beck was still asleep in bed.

So she tried again.

The second time she managed to slip away, his entire attention was concentrated on mending a boot. Totally useless.

She was about to open the door to the cellar a third time – she already had her hand on the door – when she realized Brinna was watching her. Brinna had been standing at the end of the hall on Nola's previous visit, too.

You're going to bring suspicion and trouble upon yourself where otherwise there would be none, Nola chided herself.

The bucket was safe where it was. No one would go down there unless she led them there. And if someone did happen to go downstairs, che bucket was situated in a corner where ic could not be easily seen. Anyway, who besides a witch would take the time to look into a bucket of water long enough to make out the shapes of living people within?

There would be time enough in the afternoon, ot after supper, to see what the man with the blackberries was doing. Once more Nola told herself, And what he will be doing will be nothing. Angry as he might be for the unexpected rebuff, for the kick in the knee, how much explanation did he want to give his wife or che magistrate? Far better for him to say, "Those women were not only lazy, they were clumsy. So when they broke che jug that carried the water I had so thoughtfully left with them, they ran away rather than be held accountable for the replacing of it."

Still, all in all Nola craved reassurance, and she did not regret setting up the spell and leaving it untended.

Not until it was time for the noonday meal did she regret it.

All morning Innis, his son, Kirwyn, and the servant Alan had been working in the wing of the dwelling that served as the silversmith's shop. Then Alan came into the kitchen to say the master was ready to eat and would have his meal in the shop. Brinna set the food on two trays – Alan carried one, Nola's mother the other – while Nola readied the kitchen table for the servants' meal.

She was just ladling out the last of the soup when she heard a crash from the other end of the house, followed by the sound of upraised voices. She abandoned the ladle in the pot and was faster even than Brinna in racing down the hall and into the shop.

One of the trays was on the floor, wooden bowl and bronze goblet overturned, with chunks of bread and cheese sitting like islands in the spreading sea of soup and wine mixing together. The brownish mess oozed around the leg of one of the display tables and over the jewelry and the belt buckles that lay in a heap on the stone floor, apparently knocked there by the falling tray.

Nola didn't have to wonder who had dropped the tray – whether it was her mother or Alan. She had known it was her mother even before she had seen that a tray had been dropped.

The remaining tray was set safely on one of the other tables, and Alan was just going down into a crouch, already using his hands co try co stop the flow of soup and wine from spreading over any more of the fallen silver trinkets.

Nola's mother, however, had backed against the wall, and she was holding her hands up to form a cross with her two forefingers. "Back, Death, back!" she was shouting over and over, though whether at Innis or Kirwyn wasn't clear.

"You crazy old fool!" Kirwyn shouted back at her, and the louder he got, the louder she became, so the louder he got….

"The necklace!" Innis yelled at Alan. "No, no, not the one that's already covered! Save the – " Innis threw his hands up and gave a growl of frustration as the puddle of wine-diluted soup seeped around Alan's hands and over an intricately worked piece of silver. Innis gestured for Alan to shove the remaining jewelry out of the spreading path of soup, but Alan's hands were brown and sticky and now surely it would all have to be cleaned anyway.

But Nola was not concerned with the jewelry. "Mother!" she called sharply.

Her voice didn't snap her mother out of whatever fit this was. "He's dead, dead, oh woe!" her mother said, almost in a chant now, her voice shrill and frightened. If she even recognized Nola, she gave no sign of it.

What new disaster was this? Nola's embarrassment and the slow, steady dread of discovery withered in the face of this unaccustomed behavior.

Nola had seen people slap someone who was hysterical, but she couldn't bring herself to strike her own mother. She had to fight harder to suppress the inclination to slap Kirwyn. He was continuing to berate them both – and Brinna as well for asking to hire them, and his father for agreeing.

"Mother!" Nola repeated more loudly, more firmly. Then, despite the danger that her panicked mother didn't know her and might lash out, Nola went up to her. She intentionally placed herself between her mother and the men, and put her arms around her mother, and hoped that the men would think…

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