Villainy Wears Many Masks

I stared at him for a little while, apprehension gnawing at my resolve. Now that the time had finally come, now that he had finally gathered the courage to ask me- I was speechless. I shifted nervously in my seat. I did not know where to begin. I feared that I would overwhelm him. An unconscious man does not listen so well. I sighed, deciding that to start small was my only hope. But, who knew? What was small to me would most likely seem colossally devastating to Ichabod.

"You're certain that you want to know? That you want me to tell you everything?" I asked cautiously, regarding his I-really-don't-want-to-go-through-with-this expression.

Ichabod looked at me and then at the tabletop. "Yes," he said, his voice firm despite his flimsy resolve. "I'm tired of standing in the dark, on the outside looking in."

I nodded slowly, rising. "Follow me," I commanded, moving toward the door. Ichabod stared at me incredulously.

"We're leaving this room?" he asked edgily.

"Yes."

I led him down the stairs and through the hall to our bedroom. I considered myself lucky that I had not needed to drag him. I knelt beside the bed, lifting up the coverlet to expose the dark space beneath it. I swore that a shadow crossed Ichabod's face as I did so. I half expected a large spider to humor him and come scuttling out.

"What does this accomplish?" Ichabod asked with impatience.

"Kneel down," I ordered. Ichabod fell to his knees beside me. "Good. Give me your hand."

"What?"

"If you will not do this of your own accord, I swear that I will do it for you. Pass your hand through the air just beneath the bed."

Ichabod was indignant. "This has nothing to do with what I asked you!" he insisted petulantly.

"It certainly does," I said through gritted teeth. I reached beneath the bed with my own hand and knocked with a solid fist against thin air. A hollow, wooden knocking resulted. Ichabod's eyes bulged, and he looked as if he wanted to bolt.

"What in God's name have I been sleeping above?" he asked with horror.

"Feel for yourself."

With agonizing hesitation, he extended his trembling hand. He hit the wall of substantial nothingness, his fingers brushing the maplewood's smoothness. A chill gripped him so violently that he shuddered. He withdrew his hand as if a snake had bitten him.

"Katrina, I want some answers," he said, the hysteria of the night previous rising in his voice. I sighed and took hold of the charmed box. It appeared slowly at my silently commanding touch as I brought it into the light. Ichabod might have swooned had I not thrust it immediately into his hands.

"Feel it," I urged him. "It's real. Nothing extraordinary."

Gaping at me, he ran his hands over the box, raising its hinged lid with awe. He regarded the herbs, ointment, thread, and scissors inside with a mildly sheepish expression.

"I suppose not," he murmured, daunted. "Why did you... do whatever you did to it?"

"An invisibility charm?" I asked with raised eyebrows. "It's the surest way to safekeep anything of value. These medicaments are some of the most valuable in my possession. The rarest, the most expensive. And those scissors belonged- as did the box- to my mother."

Ichabod closed the box and handed it back to me. "Make it disappear again," he breathed in wonder.

The box faded as I slid it back under the bed. Ichabod exhaled as if he'd just run a marathon. He had survived the first obstacle, at least. I wonder if he would have stopped there, had he known it was only the beginning. I stood up, and he followed.

"What else are you hiding from me besides that conjuring business?"

"Nothing," I replied sweetly, pouring the same charm into my voice that I had used on Revered Burris.

Ichabod's eyes took on an entranced, dazed look. He nodded slowly, regarding me thoughtfully. "Yes," he said distantly, "I suppose it is nothi- what the hell did you just do to me?"

I winced. I had caused the charm to wear off purposely. Ichabod was glaring at me furiously.

"Katrina, this one's no laughing matter for certain! How do I know you haven't been using that on me since-"

"I have not used it on you so much as once in all the months of our marriage!" I replied fiercely. That was God's truth. I would have cut off my own head before using such trickery on him. "I'm above that, Ichabod. Sorcery should not interfere with love."

"Until now," he said icily.

"Don't you think that our circumstances have finally reached extenuating? We're dealing with a supernatural murder and two young mages in peril, hunted by something that they can't even comprehend!"

"Hunted? You did not speak of this."

"Now I do. Isobel feels an unseen presence at her heels any time she's out alone. And I have reason to believe that Christopher feels it to, as much as he does not want to admit it. Did you see how frightened they both looked, standing there on our doorstep? They were distressed something terrible."

"Is this pertinent to the matter at hand? Really, Katrina-"

"Yes!" I cut in fiercely. "It is relevant. It's at the very core of the matter, in fact! Ichabod, my greatest pain is the loneliness that I feel. Magic isolates the bearer, you know."

He looked at me as if he'd never seen me before. Or had, but had never quite thought of me in such a light. A haunted reflection caught and held in his eyes.

"I dreamed of you," he said quietly.

"What did you see, Ichabod?"

"A lost child. A little girl reaching desperately beyond the reaches of her enchanted circle. She was tired of standing alone within it."

I felt my eyes burn. "Which is why I care so much for Isobel, Ichabod. She is the only one who understands. She shares my plight. Even her brother is not half so possessed as she is, as you put it yesterday. We are sisters, she and I. Will you deny me the fellowship of someone who feels my pain?"

Ichabod had hidden his face in shame behind his unsteady hands. "God forgive me," he whispered from behind them. "God have mercy on me...."

I pulled his hands away, holding onto his wrists firmly. My confession was incomplete.

"I am not finished yet. I have more to tell you."

"Katrina, I deserve whatever it is you are about to unleash next."

"This is not a tournament of blame," I said softly. "What do you want to see?"

"I want to see you make something appear out of thin air again," he said shakily.

"The rational man's eyes are never satisfied," I said gently. "Name it, then. Whatever you want."

"Something from the laboratory."

I closed my eyes, still holding his hands. I searched the upstairs room, spun its contents thoroughly, and chose with care. I placed the elaborate glass pipette with its valves and attachments on the bed. I opened my eyes and nodded to the side. Ichabod promptly let go of my hands, staring at the precious contraption that a moment before had not been sitting on the coverlet.

"You could have broken it!" Ichabod exclaimed.

"No, I could not have. That is part of what I wanted to show you. The object arrives unharmed."

"Put it back," he commanded, half-annoyed and half-enthralled.

His eyes never left the pipette. I saw him sway as it faded just as the box had. He made a mad dash for the door.

"Where are you going?" I asked.

"To see if it's exactly where I left it!"

I followed him back to the laboratory. As I had expected, the pipette sat on the table as if it had never been moved. Ichabod just turned and stared at me.

"You're incredible. Katrina, I don't know what I'm going to do with you."

"If you knew what else I've been up to, you'd-" I began, stopping as my heart skipped a beat painfully. The hardest admittance of all was at hand, and I had introduced it most clumsily. My guilt had gotten the better of me.

"What else you've been up to?" Ichabod echoed fearfully. "Katrina, how many more demonstrations do you have planned?"

"None... but...." I bit my lip until I tasted blood. I couldn't say it. I couldn't!

"But what, love?"

And that broke my fear, my uncertainty. Love. If he could call me that again, then I could tell him that I was a changeling if it were the truth.

"Ichabod," I said slowly, "I can read thoughts."

He stared at me blankly as if the statement had not registered. I watched his courage dissolve. The bravery that he'd mustered for my sake could only carry him so far. He went white as a sheet and staggered. I was losing him. I seized him by the wrists and jerked him upright, using my body as a support. He breathed shallowly as we stood pinned hip to hip and heart to heart, gazing down at me in desperation. He trembled as the would-be fainting spell left him tottering in its wake. I was the only thing between him and the floor.

"M-My thoughts?" he stammered at last.

"Anyone's thoughts. Yours, Isobel's, Witherspoon's, Green's.... The list does not end there."

"Dear God.... You've been spying on me! To the devil with your claim that love and magic have no commerce!"

"I had no choice!" I cried. "I was worried sick about you. Absolutely sick, Ichabod! How else was I to keep an eye on you while you went about your investigating? You're in more danger than I!"

My words might as well have been a blow. The realization stunned him to silence. He stared unblinking at my hands gripping his wrists for a long time. The tears in his eyes were ones of shame and unspoken apology. I knew he needed those few moments to grapple with reality. I had not even expected him to remain coherent!

"Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

"You never want to talk about it. You skirt the topic as if it's a poison. I would have told you any time you asked!" I asserted. He regarded my determination with faint wonder, remaining silent a few moments more.

I implored him, "There are times when I long to know what you are thinking, and still I do not eavesdrop on you. It's not as if I'm spying constantly, Ichabod! I told you that."

"Only some of the time," he challenged.

I winced. "Only when I'm worried about you! For heaven's sake, Ichabod."

"And when else?" he persisted.

"I confess that was mostly before we were married. I did it even more rarely then. But it was how I knew you were the husband I wanted... and how I knew that you cared, despite your formality."

"What do you mean?" he asked hesitantly.

I felt my cheeks redden. There was a moment when I had done it when I had not even meant to. I had been alone, unguarded, my thoughts lost in a fairytale where no one was lonely and unloved at the last. In the firelight, I had allowed my power to dance in the shadows unfettered. The intruder had been caught in my web before I had the chance to stop it. I remembered the pale glow of his profile in the doorway, the stammered apology as he tried to leave....

"Do you remember that night in Sleepy Hollow when you caught me reading The Knights of the Round Table?" I asked demurely, eyes downcast. The mere thought of what had been coursing through his head the moment he laid eyes on me in my nightdress affected me inwardly as it had then, despite the things we had done since.

"Why didn't you slap me then?" Ichabod joked weakly. To me, his smile was a miracle.

"I would have had a devil of a time explaining myself!" I replied, returning the smile mischievously. "And besides.... Perhaps I didn't mind."

Ichabod blushed even more deeply than I, struggling to change the subject. "Please, tell me when else you read my thoughts," he begged. "The least that you can do is let me know, lest I go mad wondering God knows what else you've seen!"

I hesitated, opening my mouth only to close it again. How could I give voice to such an intimate crime? I smiled helplessly, holding his gaze as fast as I still held the rest of him. I wanted to know what was crossing his mind in that instant. I could not resist.

He said without speaking, incredulously abashed, No wonder she always knows exactly what to-

"Katrina!" he exclaimed, interrupting his own furtive thoughts. He extricated his hands from my grasp, hiding his crimson face.

"Do you want me to stop?" I ventured slyly, hearing laughter in my voice for what seemed the first time in ages. "Something tells me that I already know the answer to that! I certainly wouldn't want you to if-"

Ichabod looked up at me abruptly, and my heart swelled with hope. My laughter had infected his eyes. And before long, it had infected both of our voices. I am not certain of who reached for whom first. Even if both of us were hysterical with mirth, holding him had never felt so good.

I wondered if I was the only castaway in history to thank God for the blessing of a storm!

 

 

We laughed in each other’s arms until we both had to gasp for breath. Her embrace was unreserved as it had been before the incident in McRaker’s Alley, and I was whole once more. My heart was rejoicing, shedding the pain and turmoil of the previous days even as my mind struggled to catch up with everything. And I would probably be blushing for the rest of my life.

"So all my effort to behave like a perfect gentleman in Sleepy Hollow was for naught," I murmured ruefully at last, cradling her golden head against my chest. "You knew what I was truly thinking all the while."

She giggled again. "For naught? I married you, didn’t I?"

"Thank God you did." I held her more closely, and her arms tightened in response. "Is there anything else? Can you turn people into toads or transmute lead into gold?"

Her voice was amused. "No, there is nothing else."

I had a sudden absurd thought, that I would rather have heard what I had this morning than that another man had charmed her heart.

"I suppose every wife would like to be able to read her husband’s mind."

I was trying to joke, but she looked up at me quickly. "Are you going to be forever suspicious of me now, Ichabod?"

Indeed, how could I trust her now? I had known even before I had proposed that she had the upper hand and always should, but now…. Heaven help me, she could do anything to me. She could read my mind, and plant thoughts there, and materialize objects at will. I had thought I was helpless because I loved her so and could deny her nothing. Now I was seeing that that helplessness was all too literal.

I could understand my father’s fear. But he had not been able to face it. I was an expert on facing fear, thanks to him.

I have not devoted my life to detecting criminals without learning a thing or two about human nature, and a person’s instances of honesty are very telling in judging their guilt. She did not have to tell me any of this. She had been as miserable as I for the last few days, this I knew, but she had not used her magic to convince me that I did not mind her wandering about bad neighborhoods, or that I had left my ledger at home. With her abilities, she could have kept me in the dark about everything that she was doing for our entire lives. Instead, she had made several confessions that she knew would unnerve me, and possibly destroy my ability to trust her.

All of this pointed to her honesty. I was afraid of her and probably always would be, at least in the back of my mind. But in the end, the fact remained that I loved her and could not turn away from her. The Rational Man would simply have to take that leap of faith.

I searched her face. All I saw was love, and a touch of girlish anxiety, and that nameless something in her eyes.

"No," I said softly. "I trust you."

Her eyes slowly misted and she hid her face against my shoulder once more. And this time I would not flee from that frightened young girl who wanted me in her enchanted circle. I stroked her shimmering hair. After the days of keeping each other at arms’ length, this simple gesture was a precious luxury.

"So this is why you were not afraid to go to McRaker’s Alley," I remarked after a time.

"Yes. And I wanted to tell you why you did not have to fear for me, but I couldn’t. You were always so afraid to hear about my magic."

Her softly spoken words might as well have been lashes from a whip. Afraid. I pulled back and gripped her shoulders, looking into her eyes.

"Katrina." My eyes were boring into her, and my voice was hard. Her face grew serious, as if she were afraid she had insulted me. But that was not quite what bothered me. "How many times have you seen me give in to my fears?" I demanded in a low voice.

She gave a small smile, and admiration glowed in her eyes. It is a sight I hope I never forget. "Very few," she acknowledged warmly. "I have never known a man who could be so brave when he was truly afraid."

"I almost never allow myself yield to my own fears, because I always regret it when I do. Like this time, for instance. If I had mustered the courage to ask you about this months ago, I could have spared us both these last few days of hell. Often I am afraid of the things I must do, but I am far more afraid of what may happen if I do not do them." I paused to emphasize what I had to say. "Katrina, listen very carefully. I do not treat my fears with any respect. I do not wish you to either."

She gazed at me as if I were indeed the knight-errant I had briefly acted as when the Headless Horseman came for her. And as she looked at me that way, I felt almost as if it were true. White magic or no, she could always make me twice the man.

I released her shoulders and glanced around nervously. Part of me simply wanted to kiss her and forget everything else, but my mind was not finished sorting out the day’s revelations. I held one of the wooden chairs for her, and then pulled another right beside it so that I could hold her hands as I asked my next question. "Is the world full of people who can do these things?"

"If only it were! Perhaps one in ten thousand people can do some of this. I have only ever known a few. My mother, my stepmother, and now Isobel."

"And that is why you were willing to–" I stopped myself, not wishing to re-air the quarrel we had only just mended.

She nodded tearfully. "Yes, Ichabod. I am so sorry, but how could I turn away from someone who shares my own plight?"

"God help me, Katrina. Now I feel like an ogre for having tried to stop you from seeing her. But I was so frightened for you!"

"I know, forgive me…."

"No, it is I who must apologize. I was afraid to face this, but had I had any idea what you were going through, I swear I should never have let you bear it alone."

She made a tiny sound in her throat and threw her arms around me, holding me tightly. With relief I let my own arms encircle her. I felt the dampness of her tears on my chest.

"You brave girl," I whispered. "You carried this secret all alone, because I did not wish to face it! In God’s name, Katrina, how could you have married such a–" I broke off, groping for words sufficient to revile myself with.

I was stopped by her hand on my lips. "Don’t speak that way about the man I love."

Overcome, all I could do was tearfully kiss the hand that had stopped my words. I cursed softly at the thought of what my infernal cravenness had put us both through, but stopped. Time to berate myself with familiar reproaches about my cowardice later. Now there was a more important matter at hand.

"Katrina…." I had to gather courage to speak. My blasted hands were still trembling. "My love, I would not have disappointed you for the world. You must not keep it a secret when you need something from me. Not ever. However much it may seem to be, because nothing else compares in importance…. I will never forgive myself for letting you endure this alone."

"I forgive you."

I held her hand against my cheek and gazed at her wonderingly. She looks far younger than her twenty-two years, and as pretty as a porcelain doll. Who would guess at any of the abilities or strengths or loneliness beneath that delicate exterior? No wonder I had fallen so instantly and utterly in love with her, hopeless as it had seemed that an heiress with so many admirers might choose a brooding loner. Somehow, I had sensed the truth about her, that we were kindred spirits.

She went through the world seeing things others could not see, knowing things others did not care to hear. Just as I did. I saw the abysmal loneliness of being the only one with such abilities. And I had been afraid to even acknowledge that they existed. But who else could understand her feelings, even if he did not know she had them? Small wonder she had turned from the cheerful, uncomplicated swains of Sleepy Hollow to a tormented fanatic. Small wonder she had chosen me, even blindfolded.

Shall I pretend I did not miss the role of her protector? She had no need of one. But she had another need, and this one only I could fill. Brom Van Brunt might have been able to remain conscious when she made things appear out of thin air, but he could never have understood how it felt to see what no one else saw and do things no other would imagine. Only I could understand her loneliness.

And only she could understand mine.

"I don’t deserve you," I whispered.

Her eyes widened, and she looked outraged. "Ichabod, you are the missing half of my soul!"

I looked into her eyes and did not doubt it. Fortune’s child she might be, powerful beyond a doubt, and yet she needed me. I had almost failed her. That was not going to happen again. Very slowly, I drew her to me once more and lightly traced her delicate features with my fingertips. She looked up at me, her eyes full of joy and, unworthy as I am, gratitude… and yearning. Before I had time to think, we were kissing, and the floodgates opened. The days without her embrace suddenly seemed like years, and I never wanted to leave it again.

"Read my thoughts all you like," I whispered hoarsely, our lips only a breath apart, "but for God’s sake, do not let go of me!"

Nor did she. I barely managed to lock the laboratory door before she pulled me down onto the divan.

And I was a knight-errant indeed, rescuing his lady fair from the only thing she could not protect herself from: loneliness. Usually I hold her as if I were afraid she was going to get away. This time I held her as if I knew she was not. It was the first time I truly felt that she needed me. And as I felt the trembling of her fingers in my hair, I wondered why I had not seen it sooner. Her face was so unguarded as she returned my awed gaze that I felt as if I, too, could read her thoughts.

When my mind began to function again, I found that both of us had tears running down our faces as we clasped each other close. I kissed hers away. I was home once more. I wanted to tell her how overjoyed I was, how much I loved her, but no words would say what I wished to. Then I had a sudden idea.

"Katrina. Read my thoughts." She lifted her head and looked at me in surprise. Then her face became intent. As I bared my soul to her, I shivered as I had on our wedding night. An expression of awed tenderness spread across her exquisite face as she looked into my mind. She parted her lips, but was as lost for words as I. At last she simply kissed me, delicate as a feather. Curious how much passion can be expressed with gentleness.

"I hated being without you!" she whispered. "Let’s not quarrel again, Ichabod."

"Not like that, at least," I murmured back.

"Not at all! I can never bear it agai-"

I wrapped my fingers in her hair and silenced her by kissing her fiercely. She moaned into my mouth, an intoxicating sound, and her arms tightened around my neck. I did not release her until lack of air forced me to. There was surprise in her eyes — I have never done anything like that before — and something else, too, something that made my head spin. Strange, how the least sign of vulnerability from her enslaves me all over again. My next kiss was far gentler.

 

 

We loved more slowly the second time, left awestruck in the wake of an urgent fervor that neither of us had known ourselves to be capable of. His skin against mine sent the same wondering ache pulsing through me as it had the very first time. We wept and soared, searched and recovered what for so many days had threatened to disappear forever. Our vows to each other were blindingly reaffirmed. I thanked God that Ichabod felt no need to rationalize lovemaking.

We lay in a gloriously ungraceful tangle of limbs and blanket for what seemed like an eternity, too wearily infused with renewed devotion to move. I had never felt so completely secure, so completely accepted in my short life. And Ichabod's languid, half-closed eyes told me the same. Still tantalized by his breath on my cheek, I kissed him for what must have been the hundredth time.

"You hypocrite," I murmured adoringly, combing ineffectually at his damp, disarrayed hair. "You clamored for me to keep my hands off of you, and you can't even keep yours to yourself."

"A wonderful thing, hypocrisy," Ichabod breathed in reply, rewarding me with an exhausted smile. For all of our desperation, I could not shake the feeling that neither of us had gotten enough. Nor did I have the desire to. How spoiled we would be, after a day lost in each other's arms!

"Thank goodness you're taking tomorrow off, too," I remarked slyly, resurrecting in Ichabod's cheeks a faint trace of the blush that my mind reading had incited. The first surprise of many since our marriage had been that, behind closed doors, my reluctant, introverted genius was inspired to rites that thrilled the heart and fired the senses. And yet, even in the face of those things, he still had the capacity to blush.

"I'll need to get some work done," Ichabod protested halfheartedly, rolling lazily onto his back so that I looked down on him, my hair a canopy shading us both from the early afternoon sun streaming through the window.

"All right," I sighed affectionately, "but if you think you're rising at the crack of dawn, then you've got something coming!"

Ichabod pouted. "Does that mean I cannot have that something if I stay in bed?"

"Well, perhaps if you behave yourself…."

"I've ruined my chances already!" Ichabod laughed, reaching for me.

I pulled the blanket out from under him playfully, wrapping myself in it. "Not so fast," I teased. "I think that a little punishment is in order."

Ichabod groaned, pulling me close. "Stealing the covers is penalty enough! It's getting chilly in here."

I nodded, grinning. "I can remedy that!"

I fixed my eyes on the window. Ichabod watched in amazement as the split panes closed themselves.

"Ah, the wonders of telekinesis," he murmured, kissing me soundly. "Are you sure that there's nothing else up your lovely sleeve?"

Kissing him on the cheek, I shed the blanket and settled back in his embrace. I traced the pale, smooth planes of his cheeks, marveling at what a beauty his mother must have been. Surely he had not inherited such looks from his father! And then, I remembered.

"Ichabod, there is something," I said calmly.

His eyes fixed upon mine with forced equanimity, his lips only a breath away. I remembered that look from one of many hushed moments we had shared on the night the Horseman injured him.

"I trust you," Ichabod whispered, sealing our reconciliation for all time.

"It's not an ability that I speak of, but rather a possibility that you must be ready to face."

Ichabod nodded. I rejoiced at his calm acceptance of a matter that I had not yet given voice. That was trust indeed.

"When we have children, for I have no doubt that we shall," I said, "there is the chance that they will be born with some or all of my abilities. Your mother was a witch, too, which means she passed a recessive gene for the trait to you."

I could tell by the look in his eyes that such a thing had not even occurred to him. It was several moments before he came back to himself, before his focus returned from some distant sphere of apprehension completely foreign to me. He stroked my hair lovingly. "Daunting, but a risk worth taking," he replied with a faint smile.

"They may even be born with abilities that I do not have," I continued, somewhat daunted myself. "Neither of us have any idea of exactly what your mother could do."

"That is true. Scrawling in ashes and levitating made precious little sense to my seven year-old mind."

"Or," I ventured with amusement, "our children might turn out as rational as you and David are."

Ichabod was thoughtful. He said abruptly, "Katrina, what would your father have done if he had known that he carried the gene? Imagine. He was intolerant of your talents, and yet it is because of his genetic makeup that you inherited them so fully!"

"He probably would have denied it," I observed, astounded. I wondered why I had never recognized the implications. Yet another ancestor that I would never know- on my father's side, no less- had lived and died on a foreign shore, carrying with him or her to the grave the same secret that I had expected to bear alone for life.

"I have resolved to be neither your father nor my own," Ichabod reassured me gently. I was so helplessly content that I would have forfeited all other obligations to spend eternity with him in those enchanted hours. Not only had we learned the meaning of love, but the meaning of magic.

Another hour passed, one of rest and peace, of tender communion. Neither of us had realized just how much sleep we had lost until our eyelids obeyed fatigue's siren-song and our lips stilled dreamlike upon each other's skin. Ichabod was the first to wake. I was subconsciously aware of him shifting and stretching against me, but it only lulled me into deeper relaxation.

"Katrina...." The sound of my husband's voice lured me back.

"Hmmm?"

"Will a kiss wake you, Sleeping Beauty?"

Indeed it did. I wound my arms determinedly around his shoulders to prevent him from getting up.

"You can lie here and be lazy for as long as you wish, my dear," Ichabod said. "I'm going to check on David, and afterward I shall return to pore over my notes for a while. That is, if the sight of you dozing there doesn't distract me," he added mischievously.

"Then I shall endeavor to do just that," I replied with contentment, releasing him. As I watched Ichabod dress, I realized how much I had missed that, too. How could it be that I was the first to ever notice his astonishing beauty? As he smiled back at me- standing there donning his shirt like a god- I was reminded that only the brightest day could love the darkest night. One soul, one hope, inseparable.

Once he had gone to check on David, I decided that I was being silly again and sat up. My mother's proverb ran giggling circles in my head, a giddy child's game bidding lazy Katrina to wake once more. Laughing aloud, I pulled on my chemise and stood to fold the blanket. Ichabod returned to find me in a rare mood. I grinned absurdly as I kicked my heels over one arm of the divan, trying to work the tangles out of my hair without much success. Ichabod laughed, too, a priceless sound of which I had never heard so much in a single day. I noticed his ledger tucked under his arm.

"David hasn't been lonely, I hope?"

"Not with a stack of your fairy tales to keep him company," Ichabod replied with amusement, taking a seat beside me. "The minute I walked into the living room, he tried to hide a book of Middle English ballads under a chemistry text. You have made quite a gentleman of him indeed."

"That's my little scholar," I laughed, swinging upside-down so that my hair cascaded to the floor and my legs dangled over the back of the divan. Ichabod stared.

"I am half convinced that one of these days I'll catch you climbing a tree!" Ichabod exclaimed, tickling my side with one hand while flipping pages with the other. I jumped, tucking into a backward roll and landing at his feet. I sat there on the wooden floor in my chemise gasping for breath, tears of mirth sliding down my cheeks. Ichabod had returned to me one of my lost childhood memories as I had returned his. My mother had called me katjie because once, when I was five, I climbed a tree in the orchard and could not get back down. "Just like a little lost kitten," Mother had clucked as Father carried me to safety. Strange, that it took me so long to realize how lost I truly had been. Ichabod had braved the Tree of the Dead to rescue me. No one's life is uniquely their own, I realized. Each of us radiates outward in ever-widening concentric circles until, at last, our ripples meet and merge. And we are never the same again, yet left as we were always meant to be. I sighed.

"You have grown awfully thoughtful, love," Ichabod observed. "Has frivolity prompted you so quickly to philosophy?"

"Yes," I answered without hesitation, drawing my knees up beneath my chin. "I was thinking about my childhood, and yours. The places that we have been, the places that we are going, the places that we have yet to see." I rose and sat beside him, relaxing against him as he slipped an arm possessively around me. Brushing his cheek, I whispered, " 'O, 'tis most sweet when in one line two crafts directly meet.' "

"I cannot imagine what Shakespeare would have thought of you," Ichabod sighed in wonderment, putting his ledger aside.

"Have you discovered something?" I asked, fingering the black leather book that had been so adventurous of late.

"Nothing of importance. You have proved a most marvelous distraction."

"The tablet," I murmured absently, levitating the ledger on a whim and drawing a nervous gasp from Ichabod. "Do you suppose-"

"Yes, my dear Mrs. Crane, I do suppose," Ichabod cried suddenly, ecstatic, "that I know how it was stolen!"

I brought the ledger to rest lightly on top of his head. "You do?"

"Yes," he replied confidently, snatching the book and holding it securely in his lap. "I believe it was taken in the same fashion that my ledger was taken from Green's possession." Ichabod brushed the tip of my nose with his index finger.

"We need to convince the Magellans to come back here," I said, serious again.

Wincing, Ichabod leaned forward and raked his fingers through his hair. "Do you realize what they must think of me by now?" he asked despairingly.

"Yes. Isobel respects you for the talented detective that you are, and Christopher- well, Christopher just needs some convincing."

"Nothing could have been more convincing than what happened last night, Katrina," Ichabod lamented. "I cannot recall exactly what happened, but I know that in addition to saying terrible things to you, I must have insulted Christopher as well."

"Actually," I said, eyes downcast, "you blacked out before you had the chance to."

"I thought as much," Ichabod replied with disgust.

"Don't lose heart just yet. Isobel reassured me before she left that she will help us even if her brother refuses. And maybe I was dreaming, but on his way out, Christopher actually looked sorry for what he said."

"What... exactly... did he say?"

My instinctive reaction was not to tell him, to protect him. "It doesn't matter, Ichabod."

"I want to know. I will not blame you, Katrina. I deserved to be left out in the open like that. And since I was not coherent enough to face the consequences, I should like it if you would relay to me what is my due."

"Very well." Taking his hand, I admitted, "He said that he knew you were foppish, but that he would never have pinned you for a sissy." I had to scrape the words off my tongue with my teeth, like stubborn hardening toffee off a wooden spoon.

Ichabod just shook his head, his eyes glowing with hurt resignation.

"This proves that I meant what I said about my fear getting the better of me now and then."

"No!" I insisted. "This is a different kind of fear, Ichabod, a kind more trivial than that of the gruesome and the unknown. Besides, I would not call Christopher a qualified bravery critic, considering how heavily he relies upon his sister's ability and hides in her shadow. Isobel holds the keys. Magically, Christopher is nothing without her."

"You mean that he is powerless unless Isobel is with him?"

"For the most part. I have no doubt that Isobel is the firstborn. Whether it be by seconds, minutes, or even an hour, the birthright is hers. I believe that is why he cannot feel whatever is pursuing them when he is alone."

"Do you have proof of this?" Ichabod asked.

"Nothing that I can burn," I answered wryly. "But the fact that he looked as hunted as Isobel as they stood on our doorstep and yet was brave enough to go to the market alone at Isobel's request does make me wonder."

Ichabod nodded in growing satisfaction. A slight increase in the pressure of his hand upon mine told me that his heart adamantly opposed what his mind had just resolved to do.

"Write to Isobel again," Ichabod said with determination. "We will hold the seance tomorrow night."

"Then you've changed your mind about letting a ghost in by the front door?" I teased with gentle concern. I let him know with a look that I loved him far too much to put him at risk of another fit. He looked at me in slight bewilderment, but my humor told him that I must have been alluding to one of his many ravings.

"I have no choice. Never before have I had a case in which the victim had a chance to speak. Now that I have, Gabriel will not be denied that opportunity!"

I did not tell Ichabod, but I found it necessary to offer a substantially larger cab fare than before in order to guarantee Christopher's return. I was shocked upon the arrival of Isobel's ever-faithful reply that Christopher had agreed to accompany her again at all. I paid out of concern for Isobel's safety, for I did not particularly care if her fickle brother decided to be present or not.

Worlds away from the atmosphere of our laboratory haven the day before, Ichabod paced the living room floor like a man possessed. He was skittish, nervously charged by the thoughts of saving face and speaking to Erickson at last. I sat on the sofa, unable to rein him.

"Love, won't you sit down? We have half an hour yet."

"They were early last time, so I expect they might be again," he replied, fussing with the winged collar of his coat as he passed me. I was certain that I would have to replace the carpet due to his beaten trajectory of approximately five feet in either direction.

"David's still upstairs reading, and you know that in his heart he's hoping for more word from his parents. Be calm!"

"If you be calm for me, then I'll be nervous for you. Oh, Katrina, I hardly know what I'm doing! Last time was a lie. Tonight is the truth. There is no hiding from the truth," Ichabod said with a shudder.

I stood and caught him by the shoulders, pressing his ledger into his quaking hands. "You will be calm and sure when the time comes, Ichabod. You have no choice, and I know that you will rise to the occasion. You always have."

"Not the day before yesterday," he replied darkly.

"I'm an exception," I said with a half smile.

"To every rule," he sighed, accepting a kiss with a wan smile.

The brass knocker sounded in that very instant.

"Your second sight is sharper than mine today," I replied, impressed.

Ichabod strode toward the door before I could take charge. He opened it with a confidence that I could only compare to the morning after his first brush with the Horseman. Wistfully smug, all the wiser- I have faced my fears. Who's with me? I could not keep him from the woods this time. I could only follow him again.

"Hallo," Isobel murmured palely as Ichabod opened the door. She held the same dark velvet bundle under one arm, looking even more frail than ever. Ichabod took her free hand, pressing it gallantly against his own palm. I trust you. Are you with me?

"Welcome, Miss Magellan. I would like to apologize for all prior inconveniences that I have caused you."

"I have not given them a thought," she replied, rolling her eyes at a somewhat sullenly penitent Christopher behind, a signal for him to follow.

Ichabod regarded the younger twin with tame levity. "The same extended to you, sir."

"Honored," Christopher mumbled, shaking Ichabod's hand stiffly.

Isobel darted inside, forgetting all propriety and embracing me with unbelievable tenacity. "I've missed you so," she whispered.

"And I you," I replied. She returned my smile, glancing at my bare neckline questioningly. I shrugged. I had not worn the amulet for two days. It was tucked safely in a jewelry box upstairs.

"How are your hands?"

Isobel showed me one barely scabbed palm. "They were not deep," she replied. "And your ointment has worked wonders!"

"If we may proceed," Ichabod urged, leading us all into the parlor where I had set up a table with three chairs on one side and two on the other. David sat in one on the side of three, beaming. I had forgotten him completely. He must have heard the door open.

Isobel quickly undid the bundle, spreading the velvet over the table and giving the packet of ashes to her brother, who had seated himself without invitation. Ichabod was slightly irked by this, but I gave a calm, gracious look that was meant to both sting Christopher and compliment Isobel.

"You may sit," I said. "You are welcome here."

"Exactly what do you have in mind, Constable Crane?" Christopher asked, sounding for all the world as if his voice had been out of use for a few days.

"I have made a list of questions for the deceased."

"I see," Christopher replied, mulling this over. "We've never done anything quite like-"

"I have," Isobel said with mild, proud defiance, satisfied by her brother's mollified look. "When I was seventeen. A friend of mine, Alice, lost her father to a sailing accident. I walked with she and her younger sister Marybeth to the strand where the wreck took place. The younger wanted to ask her Papa so many things. It broke my heart. So Alice served as the other side of the channel, holding my hands while Marybeth stood there asking with tears in her eyes. I assure you it is possible."

Christopher wore a sour look, as if he could not believe his sister could function without him, part of him knowing his comparative weakness all too well. "Who'll channel, then?" he asked, defeated.

"I will," I said, silencing the all-too-eager David with a glance.

"Are you sure?" Ichabod asked despite his underlying queasiness. "I don't want you to end up with hands looking like mine or-"

"It should not happen again," Isobel laughed, free of enmity, devoid of regret that the false summoning had ever taken place.

I laid my hands out on the table, calm as Christopher rubbed the ash into my palms. Ichabod opened his ledger, nearly dropping it in the process. Isobel brushed the excess away reverently, meeting my anticipating gaze.

I have never done this with one of my own kind, you know.

How much more jealous Christopher must be, I replied with a tentative smile. To be honest, I have no idea what to expect either.

"The victim's name is Gabriel Erickson…" Isobel murmured, as if to reassure herself. Her fleeting display of nerves shook me.

"Yes," Ichabod answered even though it had not been a question.

"Who is suspected?"

"Someone who should not be. A madman who has killed many, but not this man."

"How do you know this?" Isobel asked, puzzled.

"Crime scene evidence. Please, take my word."

"The man who is presently imprisoned, then? Why is he thus?"

"Because," Ichabod said hesitantly, "he has c-confessed."

Christopher glared suspiciously. "Confessed? Then why-"

"Because the evidence clearly indicates he could not have been the one!" I pleaded, cutting him off savagely. "This is not a joke. We need to know why this man confessed. And so much more."

"I pray that the Messengers will be compliant for your sake, Constable Crane," Isobel said kindly, taking my hands at last. I closed my eyes. Sanskrit murmurings rolled off Isobel's tongue. My mind clouded, a faint bluish haze. I knew that Ichabod had seen nothing of the sort when he had been in my position. I heard Isobel's breath slacken to silence. Her heartbeat rushed to meet my own in the palms of our hands. My our minds were laid bare, each open and vulnerable to the other.

Gabriel. Gabriel Erickson, please, Rishkha, my friend, Isobel said to a passing shadow in the mist. Has he sent you?

"I have not come on his behalf," Isobel's voice echoed in front of me. I opened my eyes, startled. Her own voice became internalized; the Messenger's commandeered her breath. I closed my eyes again tightly.

Would you please send for him? Someone here needs to ask him some questions. Most desperately, Rishkha! Please find his emissary.

"I will find Mirian," Isobel rasped.

"Wh-Who is Mirian?" Ichabod croaked beside me.

"Silence, visitor," said Rishkha through Isobel. I heard the chair creak beneath the slump of Ichabod's weight. How discomfited Ichabod must have been, to have been called a visitor in his own home! But I knew he had not fainted, for his head had not hit my shoulder.

Another formless shadow flitted in the blue of my mind.

Mirian, hail to you.

"Hail to you, child," said Isobel.

Tell this Lady's husband that he may ask whatever he wishes. If it be your will, my kindred.

"It is my will," Isobel said strongly. "The Lady's husband may speak."

"That means you, Ichabod," I whispered.

"Oh! I... I... I..."

I realized with cold panic that Ichabod was dancing the edge of his sanity once more. I opened my eyes reluctantly and gave him a long, pleading look. His wild eyes fastened themselves purposefully to the open pages of his ledger.

"Is- Is the man presently accused the one who has killed you, Mr. Erickson?"

"Understand that he is not here in person," said Mirian through Isobel.

"I beg your pardon?"

"What I say is true, but what this lunatic says is not. He did not kill this man."

"Do you know this man?" Ichabod asked somewhat more boldly.

"Yes," said Mirian. "He is greatly confused and much dismayed."

About what? Isobel implored.

"His killer."

What about his killer?

"His killer was in the air, but not of it," Mirian elaborated.

"In, b-but not of?" Ichabod stammered.

My hands pulsed with an eerie warmth.

"In but not of the heavens; flesh and blood yet not," Isobel echoed.

"Who killed him, then?"

"Watch your back!" Mirian wailed.

I heard Ichabod's chair tip and scoot backwards. "Wh-What in G-God's name was August St. James' gun doing on the... the crime scene?" Ichabod gulped.

Mirian? Do you know why?

"Ask your wife," Isobel relayed. I heard Ichabod's chair hit the floor as his palms smacked into the tabletop.

"My wife has nothing to do with this, you trickster!"

"No, she does not," agreed Mirian, "but what she can do does. You are mistaken. I am not the trickster. The other one, on the other hand...."

Isobel's breath caught violently in her throat. The... the other one?

Ichabod whimpered. I caught a glimpse of his terrified flashback. The Other comes… I will hold him!

"Yes, child," Mirian said gravely. "The other one."

It can't be!-

I caught Isobel as she slumped forward on the table.

"Isobel!" Christopher cried, grasping her shoulders from behind.

"Can you hear me?" I pleaded. "Isobel. Isobel!"

"I-I'm going- !" Ichabod croaked- "to get some water!"

David rushed after Ichabod into the kitchen. Christopher and I moved his inert sister onto the sofa in silence. Tears slid down his cheeks as we carried her.

"I never understood why it had to be her. I never did," he sobbed quietly.

"What do you mean?" I asked innocently, understanding more than I would admit to as we laid her out carefully.

"This power," Christopher cried, reduced to a frightened boy. "I don't understand why the burden had to fall on her. I wish I could carry it for her.... I wish she didn't have to go through life seeing what she sees, hearing what she hears...."

When Ichabod and David returned with a pitcher of water and a cloth, they found me crouching on the floor beside the sofa with a distraught younger brother weeping on my shoulder. I looked up at my husband with eyes ashamed- ashamed that I had accused this boy of ignoble cowardice.

"See if you can wake her," I told Ichabod softly.

Christopher calmed down quickly enough. He watched with pained intensity as Ichabod rubbed his sister's face with the wet cloth. It was several more minutes before she came to.

"Christopher!" Isobel moaned, sitting up straightaway. I urged her back onto the pillow.

"I don't know what happened," Christopher said miserably, "but I'd have stopped it if I could."

"No one could have," Isobel said dismally, pressing the cloth to her forehead with a shaking hand. "Christopher, it wasn't Mirian on that night when the Ericksons came," she gasped.

"Then who was it?" Ichabod asked urgently, taking her hand. "Miss Magellan, you must tell me what you can."

"The other one," Isobel cried helplessly, burying her face in the pillow. "I don't know who that is!" she sobbed. "I simply don't know!"

 

 

I tried to curb my impatience while Katrina soothed Isobel. There were a dozen urgent questions to ask. I handed Katrina the damp towel, noticing with annoyance that my treasonous hands were shaking. Katrina wiped the tears from the girl’s face, murmuring comforting nonsense. David hovered anxiously behind me, ready to run to fetch anything required. I glanced at Christopher, who was on the verge of tears again. With silent contempt, I passed him my handkerchief. After his scornful words to me. At least I am not in the habit of weeping on the shoulders of other men’s wives.

When Isobel’s sobs subsided a bit, I held the glass of water to her lips again. She managed a swallow. I tried to strike a tone that was both gentle and firm. "Miss Magellan. Do you think you can answer some questions now? It is essential to both your cause and mine."

Both of the twins looked at me in faint surprise. I suppose they expected me to be hysterical. Proudly, I looked into the girl medium’s oddly colored eyes and held her gaze steadily. Katrina squeezed the girl’s hand reassuringly.

"Of course, Constable Crane," Isobel murmured in her soft voice.

"What did you mean when you said that it was not Mirian on the night the Ericksons consulted you?"

"It was a… a spirit I did not know."

"Who acted as a messenger for Gabriel Erickson?" I asked, trying to make sense of how this all worked.

"Yes, but… this has never happened before!" Isobel began to cry again, trembling. I cast a pleading look at Katrina. I think she understood what I meant; her gaze focused on Isobel carefully.

"Isobel, fear not. I am here with you," Katrina said kindly. I hoped that she was reading the girl’s thoughts; I doubted she would be coherent enough to tell me what I needed to know. "What has never happened before? I must know if I am to help you."

The girl drew a shaky breath and glanced around furtively, as if searching for unseen eavesdroppers. I shivered at the thought of it. "It seems… the spirit who spoke for Gabriel Erickson… lied to mislead the Ericksons."

I stared incredulously. "Are you saying that the Ericksons received a real séance, but the ghost they spoke to was an impostor?"

Katrina’s glance at me was wry. "You are going to have to figure out a way to arrest ghosts yet, Constable."

"This is not funny," I informed her. "Miss Magellan, you say you do not know who ‘the other one’ is, but please tell me whatever you can about, er, him."

Isobel’s eyes met Katrina’s. She could not speak.

I ventured a guess. "Mrs. Crane says that you have sensed a malign presence following you. Do you think this ghostly impostor is the same entity?"

"I fear that it is!" Isobel wailed, putting her hands over her face. Katrina rocked her, and Christopher glared at me as if it were my fault that an evil spirit was following his sister. Little as I liked the lad, his protectiveness of his sister was a mark in his favor.

"Do you know anything of the nature of this entity?" I continued, hoping that my questions would distract her from her hysterics.

It was Katrina who answered. "She is certain only that it is not a ghost — that it is not the spirit of any departed human being."

I frowned and tried to sort out the jumbled revelations of the séance while Isobel caught her breath. It was a moment before I said, "And Gabriel’s murderer, in but not of the air?"

Both of the twins shuddered, and Katrina’s eyes were large with fear. And all three of them were far more at ease with the supernatural than I. I felt a familiar coldness in the pit of my stomach, but fought to appear calm.

"It is likely some sort of evil spirit," Katrina confirmed gently.

"Do you have any idea why it might have murdered Gabriel Erickson?"

Isobel swallowed. "If a mortal has made some sort of compact with it…." Her silvery voice trailed off.

"Like a deal with the devil?" I asked, irritated that my voice cracked.

"Something like that."

"The lunatic who confessed…. Could a spirit delude someone, at least a madman, into believing that he had committed a murder he had not?"

Katrina and Isobel locked eyes for a moment, and I shivered again. I am certain they were reading each other’s thoughts.

"We do not know," Katrina answered hesitantly. "Very little is truly known about these beings. Most of it is legend."

"And what does legend say?" I forced myself to ask.

The women looked at each other again, and at last Katrina said, "Nothing coherent."

I was certain she was hiding something from me, but I resolved to wait until we were alone before demanding that she tell me what it was. Christopher evidently had the same thought, because he blurted out, "Iso, you must know what this thing is. Tell me!"

"But I don’t know!" Isobel cried. Her tone, however, was that of one who did know, but did not wish to face. Both of the women refused to tell us what they knew. To my surprise, I found myself exchanging a look with Christopher of shared masculine helplessness.

I drew a breath and stood. At my gesture, Katrina urged Isobel to a sitting posture. I did not care for talking to Christopher, but it would have been unkind to press his fragile sister any further.

"Mr. Magellan, I need as detailed a description of this Sanskrit tablet of yours as possible," I said, turning my ledger to the page on which I had already made a few relevant notations. The last one was a speculation that the tablet had been stolen by means of conjuring abilities like Katrina’s. Christopher was beginning a description when I suddenly lifted a hand. "Wait." I frowned.

A ledger conjured from Green’s home to mine. A tablet vanished from a locked box to goodness knows where. And a gun which had no good reason for being at a murder scene.

Ask your wife. What she can do….

I spoke slowly. "Do any of you have any idea if there is anyone in New York who can…." I choked.

Katrina released one of Isobel’s hands to grasp my wrist. A bit of her strength, her courage seemed to flow into me at the contact. I wonder if that is her magic, or simply her.

"Who can what, Ichabod?"

"Who can conjure," I managed, my lips so stiff they could barely form any words. "Who can materialize things from thin air."

The collection of witches before me exchanged glances. "None that we know of," Christopher said guardedly. "Why?"

"Can these spirits you speak of do so?"

Again, Katrina spoke warily. "Certain kinds." I held her gaze impatiently, but she only pressed her lips together. Never mind. I would find out later.

"I see. Mr. Magellan, if you would continue your description?"

I carefully wrote down everything he could tell me about the tablet. My most careful questioning yielded no sign of forced entry to their tenement.

"Who besides those of us in this room knew of the tablet’s existence?" I asked.

"Only a Sanskrit scholar," Christopher replied. "Shortly after we came here, we thought of having it translated — we have no idea what it actually says, you see. So we consulted a professor of ancient languages. But the fee was far too high."

I noticed Katrina’s chin lifting and suspected that the twins would receive their tablet back with a translation. I almost smiled at her unstinting generosity, but sober thoughts prevented me.

It was clear I was embroiled in a nest of supernatural crimes. A murder committed by an assassin who was not a man of flesh and blood, one spirit impersonating another at a séance, a gun and a Sanskrit tablet mysteriously vanished from their proper places, a madman who confessed to a murder he did not commit…. Was there a connection between them, or had New York ceased to have murders without benefit of ghouls and goblins?

"Do you remember the professor’s name?"

"Professor James Birch. He was very intrigued by the tablet, but I do not see how he could have stolen it, if that is your question. We did not even live at our present address when we consulted him, and we were still using our real name."

"Real name?"

"Our family name was Keller. Magellan is a professional name." Christopher’s expression dared me to disdain his showmanship. I did not trouble myself, but proceeded to other inquiries.

When my questions were done and Isobel was recovered sufficiently to go home, David went out to hail a taxi for them. Isobel and Katrina embraced warmly and exchanged vows of sisterhood. Christopher stood by awkwardly, trying not to glare at me. I stepped to him and held out my hand. "Miss Magellan is most fortunate to have such a devoted protector in you, young man," I said firmly. I was determined to maintain good relations with my witnesses, in spite of my personal feelings for one of them… and my previous errors regarding them. The lad seemed taken aback, but shook my hand rather sullenly at his sister’s glance. I tried to hide my amusement. It was clear that in spite of her fragility and shyness, Christopher was as firmly under his sister’s thumb as I was under my wife’s.

At last David returned and the Magellans left. No sooner had the door closed behind them than I grasped Katrina’s hand and pulled her towards the kitchen. "What?" she asked, surprised.

"This way," was all I said. David followed us, perhaps afraid that another quarrel would start. "It’s all right, David," I told him, smiling. "Go on to your room."

"It’s bedtime," Katrina added. As David accepted her goodnight kiss on his forehead, I opened a cupboard and quickly found what I wanted. I waited till he was gone before taking Katrina’s hands and putting a paring knife in one and an onion in the other. She stared at them, bewildered.

"Onion torture," I explained gravely. "I am going to make you cut onions until you tell me whatever it is you are hiding from me."

She laughed, but her face quickly became serious. "I am not hiding–"

"Katrina." All humor was gone from my face and voice. "You know more about that spirit that is bothering Miss Magellan than you are telling me. What do you know?"

Playing for time, she set the onion and knife on the counter. "Ichabod, I don’t know what this spirit is…."

"But you have a theory." She hesitated, and I lost patience. Grasping her arms, I pulled her a bit closer to me and looked into her eyes. My voice was low with anger. "Katrina, I thought we understood each other now. Stop trying to coddle me! Unless you want another epic quarrel," I ended plaintively.

"No! Ichabod, I do have a theory, but I didn’t want to worry you with it until I was certain. Especially since I do not know very much about spirits." Studying me, she drew a breath. "I think… and Isobel thinks… that this is not a mere elemental or familiar, but a demon."

The words made me cold. She winced suddenly, and I realized my hands had tightened on her arms. I released her and leaned against the counter for support. "What… what is the difference?"

She shook her head helplessly. "I do not truly know, and Isobel knows only a little more about the nature of these entities than I do. But I do know…." She hesitated again, but when she met my eyes she continued with obvious effort. "I do know that they are the most powerful kind of spirit."

"Do you know what they can do?" I managed in a strained voice.

"They can kill. And I think they can materialize objects, as I can. And Isobel cannot see them, though she can sense them. I cannot even do that," she added.

"So it could be anywhere?" I asked, my chest constricting. She held my gaze, and in sudden alarm moved closer and wrapped her arms around me. But though the ground had tilted under me for a moment, I did not lose consciousness. When I regained my balance, she urged me to a chair, and I did not resist. We sat side by side, clutching each other’s hands, for she was frightened too.

"But everyone could see the Headless Horseman," I said suddenly.

"That was the nature of my stepmother’s spell," she replied gravely.

"Is there any defense against these entities?"

"There must be. But what that is I am not certain." She sighed. "I wish I knew more about all of this."

"And I wish I knew a great deal less," I could not help adding. I brooded for a moment. "What are we going to do?" I finally asked helplessly.

"I shall visit Isobel and see what we can piece together about the nature of these beings."

I could not help a half-smile at this. "And I shall not object to your doing so. But be wary, Katrina, if only to indulge me. You might be a sorceress, but your powers cannot defend you from dangers you are not alert to."

"I shall. I promise." Our gazes blended as our fingers laced, and a measure of peace returned to me.

"Don’t you know anything else about these creatures? Anything at all?"

She considered. "Isobel told me a legend about a witch who made some kind of compact with a demon and had it kill her enemies and rivals."

"Like those deals with the devil Miss Magellan spoke of?" I looked at her piercingly, and she raised her eyebrows. "Why didn’t you say so before? That is the key to it all! Just as in Sleepy Hollow. The assassin is a spirit, but his victims are chosen by someone of flesh and blood." Forgetting the lightheadedness that had threatened me a moment ago, I rose and started pacing. "So once more I must determine, who had a motive for killing Gabriel Erickson? And framing August St. James? I have found only one suspect. Colonel Nathaniel Dorn. He hated Erickson for besting him in their military careers, and he hated August St. James for winning the woman he wanted." I stopped, frowning. "Dorn does not seem to be the kind of man who consorts with spirits."

"An accomplice of his, perhaps," Katrina suggested.

"You are brilliant, my angel," I replied, resuming my pacing. I remembered the mandrake roots in the home of Simon Purnell, Purnell who had been a guest in Dorn’s home the night of the murder…. And Dorn was also suspected, by Hawke, of embezzlement. He seemed to have no end of character flaws.

"And you are going to wear out the floor, my love. Settle down."

"How can I, when things are finally beginning to make a modicum of sense? When I am beginning to see the first signs of a solution at last?"

A movement caught the corner of my eye as I paced, and I looked quickly to the counter. The paring knife was floating in the air, cutting the onion of its own accord. I drew in a startled breath, freezing in my tracks. Then I looked to Katrina, whose expression was that of a little girl up to some harmless mischief. Seeing her levitate things made me extremely nervous, though I suppose there was no good reason for it to do so. I wanted to tell her to stop it, but the look on her face prevented me; she was clearly enjoying being able to use her uncanny abilities openly. I could not take that away from her, not after all she had given to me.

"So much for onion torture," I managed, and she giggled. After our house had been somber for so many days, that sound was well worth the unsettling sight of an onion slicing itself. "Is that your way of telling me to stop being serious for the night?"

"Excellent deduction, Constable."

"You win, as usual, my love." A fine Petruchio I had proved to be. I held out my hand. She took it and rose, and we slowly walked up the stairs together. I enjoyed every step. While we had been quarreling, approaching our bedroom had been like walking to my own execution.

As I began to unbutton my vest in our bedroom, I remarked without thinking, "But I don’t see how I shall be able to sleep with so much to think about."

"Perhaps a little more telekinesis will distract you," she said impishly. I turned to her abruptly, warily. She stood smiling. A great painter would have sold his soul to capture that smile on canvas. And as she smiled, the combs lifted themselves from her hair and flew to her dresser, where they alighted. I realized what she was about and caught my breath. The unveiling of Salome could not have been more alluring. Katrina did not move a single muscle as she disrobed. Nor did I. She held my gaze and I was paralyzed, awed by both her beauty and her abilities… and by her feeling for me, which was more amazing than either.

When she was finished, I think I must have simply marveled for several minutes, scarcely able to breathe, before finding my voice. "Katrina… once every few generations, a mortal man is privileged to consort with a goddess."

I slowly advanced towards her and fell to worshiping her again. We had scarcely been out of each other’s arms for a moment since our reconciliation, but still we had not had our fill. Had we been separated for a year, I doubt we would have been more gluttonous for each other.

And even though it was the second night that we were able to drift off to sleep in an unreserved embrace once more, I found myself marveling over this miracle as well.

"I am almost glad we quarreled, so that I realize just how precious this is," I whispered as we lay drowsily in each other’s arms.

"Yes… almost," she murmured.

"Why didn’t you just take me by the ear and tell me everything months ago?"

She hesitated a long time before answering. "Because I was afraid that you would react… the way that you did."

Her voice was very gentle, but I would rather she had slapped me again. I heaved a deep, remorseful sigh.

"I am sorry to have fulfilled your expectations," I said sadly. "I can never forgive myself."

"I wish that you would, my love."

"I cannot. So I shall have to settle for trying to make it up to you."

"How can I refuse such an offer?" She pulled me even closer and pressed her lips to my forehead. "But at least let me share the blame, my love. If you were afraid to hear, I was afraid to tell." When I did not reply, she moved back slightly to look into my eyes. "Don’t you see, Ichabod? We have both faced our fears, and they are behind us. Our bond is stronger than ever now."

"That is true," I murmured. Since learning of her secret loneliness, I had ceased to feel like an intruder in her enchanted circle. I had always been half expecting her to vanish one day, like a fairy bride from a story who in time must return to her own realm. I simply held her for a moment before saying, "Let’s not lose this again. I think a second time would kill me."

She began to run her fingers through my hair, fussing with it as she likes to do. "Then don’t arrest me again," she teased.

As sometimes happens, always surprising me, her playfulness infected me. I seized her wrist and pulled her hand away from my hair. "I won’t have to. I’m keeping you in custody. Forever."

She laughed softly, and a second later I felt invisible fingers parting my hair and lifting the locks of it. She was using her telekinesis to play with my hair now.

I released her wrist and rubbed my scalp. "Stop it! That tickles!" She giggled, and I made her giggle harder by tickling her side. When she began to squirm away from me, breathless with laughter, I stopped and pulled her close to me again. "Whatever abilities the next generation of Cranes inherits, I hope they don’t get that one."

"Why not?" she asked, catching her breath and snuggling closer. Her hair was very soft, and smelled of honeysuckle.

"I can hear it now. ‘Stop levitating Father’s chemicals, or you’ll get no dessert.’"

She laughed. "Oh, dear," she gasped. "Most parents have quite enough to contend with even without children who can do magic. You are a brave man."

I was pleased, but shrugged. "There is no such thing as magic," I said in as pompous a tone as I could manage. She grinned.

"Really? Then... what is your rebuttal to those romantic poets claiming proof of magic in a rose at full bloom, or even in a teardrop?"

"Poets have silly notions about plants and bodily secretions," I replied in the same tone. She laughed at that until I found a way to make her stop.

 

As she buttoned up my uniform jacket the next morning, as if I were incapable of doing it myself, she said coyly, "Couldn’t you take a third day off?"

I chuckled. "It is very tempting, my angel," I admitted, though I knew that she was joking, "but I must continue investigating Dorn. He is behind all of this, I know it."

She looked grave. "How will you proceed?"

I had already decided on that. "I am going to have to investigate his finances. I have reason to believe he is misallocating funds, and a look at what he is spending them on may prove revealing. And I have suspicions about some of his associates, as well." As I spoke, I realized that I had never mentioned Joseph Hawke to her. When this investigation was over, I would have to have Hawke and his fiancée to dinner. The thought distracted me for a moment; I am not used to society, but I found that I wanted to extend my acquaintance with Hawke. Coming back to the matters at hand, I added, "But my first task today shall be to speak with this Professor Birch. Fear not, my love. No matter how many ghouls and goblins are involved, this case will not resist investigation by a Rational Man. The last one did not."

"That is true," she acknowledged, though her smile seemed slightly amused, I cannot imagine at what. I picked up my ledger, and as I did so, yet another connection fell into place. In Sleepy Hollow, she had seemed to understand far more than she should have about my suspicions of her father. Small wonder, if my mind as well as my ledger had been an open book for her.

She escorted me to the door, looking up at me affectionately. Perhaps she expected me to kiss her cheek as usual before I left, but this time I did not fulfil her expectations. Instead I took her in my arms and kissed her mouth quite thoroughly and for a very long time. I don’t know how I managed to leave.

When I reported to the watchhouse, Constable Green approached me. For once, he looked slightly apologetic. "Constable Crane. I didn’t mean to lose your stupid ledger, but I’ll keep looking till…." His voice trailed off and his eyes widened as he saw the book under my arm.

I smiled and said nothing.

"How…." He choked. "How did you…?"

My smile widened. "Magic," I said mysteriously, and walked away.

I heard him mutter to Witherspoon, "Maybe there’s something in this deducting folderol after all."

I kept smiling to myself as I set out to see Professor Birch. My least favorite colleague’s juvenile prank had saved my marriage. I had an impulse to turn around and thank him.

Professor Birch seemed as ancient as the languages he studied. His office reminded me of Notary Hardenbrook’s; dusty, disarranged volumes and papers everywhere, mingled with the occasional artifact. On his desk was a sheaf of papers covered with odd notations, and a small urn with Egyptian drawings and hieroglyphs on it; I assumed he was translating them. I frowned for a second; the urn seemed familiar, but I could not place it. I decided I must have seen something similar in the museums Katrina likes me to take her to.

Having introduced myself, I explained, "I am investigating the theft of a Sanskrit tablet, and since you are the foremost authority on Sanskrit in the States, I thought you would be likely to know who might be likely to wish to steal such an artifact."

As I had hoped, he looked pleased at the flattery, but he could not give me any names — or at least, he would not. I wondered if it was my imagination or if his eyes were darting about nervously as he denied knowing of anyone who would be willing to steal a Sanskrit tablet. To put him more at ease, I discarded my planned questions for a moment to ask him about the urn.

"Ah, yes. Fourteenth Dynasty, very valuable."

"Where did you acquire it?"

"Oh, it does not belong to me," he answered regretfully. "Its owner has entrusted it to me for translation."

"Do you do a great deal of that kind of work?"

"A fair amount."

"Did the owner of that urn travel to Egypt himself?"

"No, he knows several merchants who import artifacts for him."

"Several! He must be a wealthy man." As I said this, a connection formed in my mind, and I knew where I had seen that urn before. It belonged to Simon Purnell.

I was so galvanized by the connections forming that I almost started pacing right there in Professor Birch’s office. The Magellans and the tablet to Birch; Birch to Purnell; Purnell to Dorn; Dorn to Erickson; the Ericksons back to the Magellans…. But though the case was becoming clear enough, what could I do with it? I could hardly arrest Dorn for setting a demon on his old rival. My best hope, it seemed, was to prove that Hawke’s suspicions were justified and arrest Dorn for embezzlement. It seemed rather petty, but it was better than allowing him to get away with his crimes. He had made a mistake by including Hawke in his alibi.

 

I leaned against the front door until my breath and my heartbeat ceased to mimic the wild beating of wings. I passed my hands over my flushed cheeks, over my irrevocably smiling lips. For once, gloriously, the warmth of my husband’s parting kiss did not glow like the sun upon my cheek or my forehead- it burned upon my mouth like fire, a flame that consumed but did not scorch. I do not know how we finally managed to tear ourselves apart. We had whispered our love into each other’s hearts, and our eyes did not part until Ichabod disappeared around the corner at the end of the street. Seeing Ichabod off to work had never been such a poignantly sweet separation.

I moved with light steps into the kitchen, where I discovered a well groomed but exhausted David sitting at the table. He rested his head upon his neatly folded arms. I passed behind him quietly, reaching down to ruffle his hair.

"Either you were up all night reading, or the Sandman just didn’t come," I remarked affectionately. David looked up and offered me a weary smile.

"The Sandman came, but I wouldn’t let him charm me."

"Why is that? Yesterday was taxing for all of us. You need rest."

David glanced away sheepishly. I smoothed his hair back into place.

"I don’t want you to worry about Ichabod and I any more," I said firmly. "We’ve resolved our differences. I expect your nights to be spent under the covers rather than crouching with your ear at the door."

"All right," David yawned, eyes a bit brighter. Not even fatigue could hide his relief. "Exactly… um. I don’t want to be rude… but… I wondered…" he began hesitantly.

"Yes?"

"What it was that made Ichabod faint the other night," David blurted in a single breath. "Will you… Will you show me?"

I was caught off guard. I had not even considered that David did not know my secret in its entirety. I nodded slowly. He would know sooner or later, and I preferred sooner.

"Are you awake? David, I mean alert. I don’t want you to think you’re dreaming."

He snapped to attention quickly. "I am," he said eagerly.

"Good," I breathed, distracted. I was searching the kitchen for a target. I was touched, though, that he showed no fear even when he knew that something unnatural was about to take place. "All right," I said, concentrating on the blown glass vase on the windowsill. I lifted it with care, letting it hover a few inches in the air. I glanced back at David.

"What?" he asked in confusion.

"Look at the windowsill," I laughed softly.

I would have given anything for Ichabod to be there. David jumped out of his seat and rushed breathlessly to the window. He stared at the floating vase with incredulous delight.

"Can I touch it?"

"Certainly."

He fingered the vase, pressing a hand over his mouth when it bobbed tranquilly at the timid prod of his finger. I lifted the vase and willed it to sail in circles around him. David gasped, spinning to follow its progress.

"Can it go any faster?" he asked.

I grinned. This had been a lonely pastime of mine as a girl, and I was thrilled that it would be a lonely one no longer. "Hold on to your hat," I cried.

The vase broke its orbit and sped past David into the living room. He gave a yell and chased it. I stood beside the table, hysterical with laughter.

"Katrina!" David called indignantly from the living room, "That’s not fair! I can’t reach it way up in that corner. It’s upside down, too!"

I let the vase glide dramatically down the wall, bringing it to rest on the floor. A few minutes later, David returned to the kitchen. He carried the vase with reverence.

"You’ve been able to do that all along?"

"Yes," I confirmed.

"No wonder you didn’t show Ichabod!" David laughed. "Was that all?"

"No," I said hesitantly, "but it was something similar." I was reluctant to make an exhibition of my conjuring ability for him without good reason. But then…

"David," I asked, "have you lent anything to Colin in the past couple of months? Something that he’d be likely to forget about completely?"

"No," David said glumly, "but something of mine is at his house. It’s my favorite marble- you know, the dark blue cat’s eye. It rolled under the china cupboard in his dining room. We couldn’t move it to get the marble."

I held my breath for a few seconds before exhaling sharply. "Hold out your hands," I instructed him.

"Like this?" David asked, uncertainly presenting me with his flat palms. There was a glint of nervousness in his dark eyes.

"No, cup them together. That’s right."

"Katrina?" His voice quavered.

"Trust me. If you can handle a flying vase, then you can handle this," I reassured him. I reached for the dark corner in the dining room of a white house with brown shutters at the end of Raleigh Avenue. The air just above David’s open hands flexed itself strangely. David caught the falling marble with trembling fingers. He rolled it as if to verify its authenticity. His eyes darted incredulously between the marble and me.

"How do you do it?" he asked in a thin whisper.

I touched his cheek gently, as if the action would atone for my lack of an explanation. "If I knew," I said simply, "then I would tell you."

David put one hand over mine and smiled, clutching the marble to his heart with the other. "It’s amazing, though," he said with quiet admiration. "I promise you that I won’t faint or tell anyone. Besides, I feel even safer now!" he laughed.

I put my arms around him and laughed, too, my eyes filling with tears at his complete, trusting acceptance. I would not tell him about the mind reading. I had never unveiled David’s thoughts, and I never planned to. His honesty was a rare, inviolable virtue.

I bought some eggs from the Heathrows next door (whose hens often provided a treat and whose rooster often provided a disturbance) and made omelets using some cured ham and the onion that had sliced itself the night before. David nearly spit out a mouthful of tea when my fork started to feed me. I sat grinning and chewing with my hands in my lap while David laughed so hard that tears streamed down his cheeks.

As he helped me clear the table, David suddenly pointed at my sleeve.

"Katrina, one of your pearls is loose."

I froze, setting the plate back on the table. I caught the precious bead just before it slid off its dangling thread.

"I won't be long," I said, heading toward the living room. The gown was my newest one, a rich forest green trimmed in black lace. I tried my best not to trip on the skirts as I hurried up the steps. It was an unusual cut, for the skirts were barely half as full as my others. In addition, the accents were dazzlingly unique: a panel of black satin embroidered with orchids accounted for most of the bodice, and the sleeves, sleek to the elbow without flares, were each darted with a row of black pearls. I marched purposefully into the bedroom, clutching the errant pearl for fear I might lose it.

I knelt beside the bed, pulling the charmed box from beneath it. As carefully as I rose with it, balancing it on my knees as I sat on the edge of the bed, I still lost my grip in favor of the pearl. The box slid to the floor, lid flying open. Ointment jars and glass vials full of dried herbs scattered, and the sewing scissors missed daggering into the hem of my gown by mere inches. Five spools of thread took off in separate directions- the dark green farthest from me- and the pincushion rolled under the bed. On hands and knees, I scrambled for the box. As I picked it up, a soft shhh echoed from inside. The sound had been wood gliding on wood. A small rectangular panel had swung open from the bottom of the box. A cedar needle holder rolled out. In six years of using the box, I had never discovered its secret compartment. I had not even known it existed.

Forgetting the box, I snatched up the needle holder. Cylindrical, perhaps three inches long. I worked the stopper free. A chill came over me. Rather than a needle, a delicate hollow bone barely as long as my little finger slid into my palm. It was yellow with age and just a little thicker than a large needle. A patina of hairline cracks riddled its surface. I stared into the needle holder. A piece of paper was folded and rolled up inside. I set the pearl and the bone on the floor beside me and coaxed the paper out. A tiny, perfect down feather floated out with it, drifting to rest in my lap. It shone like a tiny, wispy bloodstain on the green folds of my gown.

Oh, look, a cardinal! My favorite!

I closed my eyes on tears as I unrolled the paper. As blurred as my vision was, I would have known that delicate penmanship anywhere....

 

My dearest Katjie,

I watch you running barefoot in the grass and cannot distinguish your hair from the sunlight. You charm butterflies to the tip of your finger without a thought, and already you can hear whispers that pass the rest of the world by. As if in answer to my musing, you pause and tilt your head, thoughtful. You, too, can sense that your father comes riding from the Van Garrett orchard, and soon you will race to meet him. I do not know how to tell him that I know for certain that you are what I am. And so I wait another day, another month, another year. You are only five, after all. Yet I dare not imagine how many years have passed by now, as you read this. Perhaps it is only a few years from now, and I have sent you for my sewing box, from which sprung a curious trapdoor when you bumped it, and soon you will come running with your discovery. Or perhaps you have just turned sixteen, clad at last in a lady's finery and surrounded by suitors. Or perhaps-- you are a woman with a house and husband of your own. You are my hope, Katrina, and my prayer. Have faith in him, this man whom you love. Ten times the fool, I, if he does not fear you as your father fears me, for then this advice is given in vain. I cling to the possibility that he does not. But, daughter, if your life proves the mirror of mine, do not despair. How far apart are fear and love, after all? What is love but fear reborn, an unknown come of age as devotion blooms? My fingers ache from chipping away the ends of what once was a cardinal's wing. Keep it close, Katrina. Grow as strong and fragile and fierce as this bone, and you, too, will outlast the joys and sorrows of time.

Ever have I loved you, Katjie, and ever I shall--

Mother

Of course she knew. Even then, she knew. No, she had not foreseen my fate, but her uncanny sense of proper time and season had seen to it that the words were just right. A few of my tears fell on the paper, bringing the seventeen year-old ink to life. A dark tear ran from the tip of the "r" in "Mother." So we wept together for our joys and for our sorrows until I had nothing more to cry to heaven. I folded and rolled the note as it had been, carefully rolling it back into the needle holder. Sometime, I would show Ichabod.

I picked up the tiny feather and wrapped it in a square of tissue. I set it on my dresser beside the bone and put the sewing box back in order.

In minutes, the pearl was fastened to my sleeve once more. I dried my eyes and slipped the marble eye pendant over my head, taking care to conceal it. I swept my hair up, fastening it with a silver pin. It would not hurt to look subtly different for a second venture alone into McRaker's Alley. I remembered the leery old cleric and shuddered.

I returned to the kitchen carrying a black velvet handbag in which I had placed my replenished coin purse and my mother's pistol. David sat at the table, studying the green vase closely. He looked up, slightly embarrassed.

"I wanted to see if whatever you did to it altered the glass. It didn't. Not a scratch, not a difference," he said in amazement. "It's fixed?" he asked expectantly.

I smiled, showing him my sleeve. "Absolutely. Although, the stitch was a more difficult one to match than I thought it would be," I lied smoothly, covering for my extended absence. "David, I need you to keep an eye on things here again. I'm going to see Isobel."

"With Ichabod's permission?" he asked cautiously.

"He granted it yesterday," I confirmed.

"Good. Still, be careful," David said. "Here, take this." He dropped the marble into my hand.

"Thank you," I said, tucking it into my bag. "I promise that I will return safely."

On my way out, I borrowed one of Ichabod's thinnest black uniform belts and threaded my bag onto it by its handles, securing the valuables at my waist. I did not intend on being the victim of a thief any more than I intended to walk.

The cab driver deposited me warily on the outskirts of the vicinity. Though it was not a market day, a few of the vendors kept permanent posts. I was pleased, for there was something that I wanted to find before calling on Isobel. In the aisle that had become increasingly more Bohemian, I was drawn to a small, well-kept table run by a woman with black hair and black eyes. Her smile was warm, her welcome silent.

"Kind mother," I said respectfully, for she was well past her middle years, "how much for a length of this cord and a dozen of your beads?"

The woman named her price, and it was fair. "For what purpose will you use the cord?" she asked, taking up her scissors.

"An anklet," I replied.

The woman nodded, cutting the appropriate length and tucking the cord into a silk jewelry pouch. She handed it to me and said, "Choose to your heart's content."

I nodded gratefully and picked an assortment of delicate seed beads in sea foam jade, white coral, and rose quartz. I selected a few slightly larger ones of a milky blue stone carved in the shape of forget-me-not blossoms. I was about to pay her when something else caught my eye. I dipped my finger into a tray compartment full of ivory ovals inlaid with rings of different colors so that they resembled tiny eyes. I found the offending shape, the one that did not belong: a perfectly round disk carved with the pentacle design that I had drawn so many times by heart. With a rush of triumph, I claimed it.

"Add this," I said to the woman, "and another bit of cord longer than the first."

The woman nodded, naming the final price as I added these last items to the jewelry pouch. Once I had paid her, she took the pouch from me and knotted if deftly with a glittering ring-shaped bead drawn out of thin air, murmuring a blessing of goodwill as she did so. I accepted the tiny parcel and stared at the glittering ring.

"Opal!" I breathed. How on earth had she known that I was born in October? Everyone knows that an opal may be worn only by those born in its month, for otherwise it brings misfortune. I began to protest, "My lady, I cannot accept-"

"You can, and you shall also accept this," the woman said, reaching under the table and producing what appeared to be a ring box. Unprotesting, I opened it. A tiny, hollow glass teardrop bead was cushioned on the velvet.

"Handle that one with care. You need it."

"I will trust you on that one," I said with slight puzzlement, tucking the box and the jewelry pouch into my handbag. The woman's bottomless eyes rested at my neckline, and I realized that my pendant had swung free of my bodice again. She pointed at the hollow marble eye.

"I never dreamed that I would live to see even one of the pair!" the woman said with feeling. "Make haste to her now- your sister waits. Gods go with you."

I whispered mystified thanks and curtsied. I had been so caught up in her spell that I had not noticed the vendor at the far end of the row. When I turned to leave, it was too late. I saw him.

Reverend Burris eyed me with aloof recognition. He pointed in my direction, and the stranger with him looked up from whatever artifact he had been appraising. The man, weak-chinned and instantly abhorrent to the beholder, went pale as he stared at me. In his eyes, I recognized an unspeakable hunger. My stomach lurched. And in that instant- no longer than it takes to breathe- the faint breeze swelled to a violent gust of wind, loosing my hair from the silver pin so that it tumbled about my face in a wild sunburst. The ugly man seemed to choke, eyes bulging.

Run, beloved!

A cold fear so sudden and unfamiliar settled in my stomach that I nearly tripped as my feet simultaneously took flight. In my mind, Ichabod's voice had rung with such clarity that I knew, in my distress, I had only imagined it. I raced through a maze of back alleys and unfamiliar streets until finally, by sheer chance, I recognized the opposite end of the Magellans' tenement.

I reached the dusty-windowed door with burning lungs. Once inside, I was instantly aware of raised voices behind the landlord's door at the foot of the stair. I froze. One of the voices was Christopher. I struggled to regain control of my breath as I approached the door, leaning as close as I dared.

"Mr. Magellan, I have tolerated late payments from you on more occasions than I generally permit," the landlord warned sternly.

"How many times do I have to ask you?" Christopher pleaded indignantly. "Is it my fault that a pickpocket chose me as his next victim?"

"I have not known you to make excuses, but on the other hand, I have not known myself to accept them."

"This is unbelievable!" Christopher growled. "Give us a week!"

Driven by pity and curiosity to snooping, I probed the landlord's mind. I was incensed by what I found: some slightly wealthier tenants, apparently some overly pious Christian folk, had complained about the presence of mediums in the building. What was the loss of two poor tenants in light of the offer of higher rent from some richer ones? Christopher's plight presented a despicable but viable reason to oust the twins. My blood boiled as I quickly delved into Christopher's thoughts. As yet, he was unaware of me. Soon, he would be thanking me.

I gathered without difficulty that his coin purse lay empty in his pocket, drained by a crafty unseen hand as he crossed the market plaza. I concentrated on Christopher's coin purse and half the remaining contents of my own. They merged and became one, landing noiselessly on the floor of the landlord's office. More difficult was tapping into Christopher's nerve impulses, but as he took a shifting step backward, I slid the purse to where I prayed his foot would land. I heard him gasp, heard the grating of metal ground into metal beneath his shoe. I sighed in relief.

"Sir, my purse is here!" Christopher blurted. My heart leapt in thanks that he had not mentioned that the purse itself had remained in his pocket! I heard the clink as he picked it up. "I must have dropped it."

I heard the landlord mutter something under his breath, but some coins changed hands. As I stole up the stairs, I sent a piercing caveat that not even Christopher's dim psychic perception could miss.

Remember whose wife it is that aids you.

Came the startled reply, Lady Crane?

Yes, Christopher. I am at your door even now. I must speak with your sister alone. Notice that there is some money left over. Go pick up the cheese, cider, eggs, and clothespins that you forgot while you were shopping.

Yes, ma'am, Christopher responded, dumbfounded.

But what he said aloud was, "I will pay you on time next month, sir. Mark my words."

"You're a lucky devil, lad," grumbled the landlord.

Isobel embraced me at the door, laughing hysterically. "Come in," she gasped, drawing me into the flat, "and tell me what mischief you caught my brother about downstairs."

I told her. It was wonderful to hear Isobel laugh, even briefly. "I knew you approached because of your exchange with Christopher. I swear that every Sensitive in the vicinity must have heard you!"

"There are others?" I asked, petrified.

"No," Isobel giggled. "But you were shouting something fierce! I doubt he'd have gone back for the forgotten items if you hadn't dragged a reminder out of his subconscious for him."

I was content to let Isobel remain ignorant of the real reason for their near-eviction. I hated to change the subject, but the encounter with Reverend Burris and the lecherous stranger had put me in a somber mood. I felt lightheaded, as if rescuing Christopher had required an intense physical effort.

"Isobel, I have a great many suspicions that I wish to discuss with you," I said tentatively. "My feeling is that you agree with them already, but I want to make sure."

"I don't blame you," she said with surprising enthusiasm, pulling two chairs into the kitchen where a kettle steamed. "I wish to do the same."

"I shall be blunt, then," I said honestly, "but I don't want to frighten you. We both know that it was probably a demon that spoke during the Erickson séance. I can barely breathe it, Isobel, but..."

"You must tell me."

"Ichabod and I believe that the same demon killed Gabriel Erickson."

Isobel did not reply. She raised her hands instead, staring numbly at her healing palms. She closed her eyes, nodding slowly.

"In but not of the air, flesh and blood yet not," Isobel said with a quiet, bitter smile. "Yes, I fear that you are right. Spirits can maim, even kill. What I do not understand," she added with faint amusement, "is how your husband was drawn so easily to this conclusion."

My blood froze even as she handed me a steaming cup of tea and took the seat opposite me. She saw the coldness in my eyes and blanched.

"I did not mean it as an insult," she said in a penitent whisper. "Oh, Katrina, I'm sorry-"

"No," I said harshly. "I didn't take it as an insult. Isobel," I choked, meeting her tear-filled gaze with my own, "my father was killed by a ghost, and Ichabod was there to see it."

"Lord, no!" Isobel cried softly.

"There is more," I continued, steeled by blind hate. "My stepmother controlled the ghost, just as a mortal is controlling this demon."

"What horrors you have seen," she said in a plaintive whisper, taking me in her arms.

"Then look into my eyes, that you may see them too," I sobbed, "for I am loathe to voice them. Yet I know that the answer lies there... in Sleepy Hollow."

Isobel released me, gently tilting my chin so that our eyes met. From start to finish, Isobel witnessed a legend come to life. Seven times, the memory of a fiery axe cleaving pale human flesh in twain flashed in her violet eyes. With a cry she turned her face away, unable to evade the smears, splashes, and nightmares of blood that haunted my beloved. We fell on our knees weeping.

"David's... David's father... he... too?" Isobel gasped.

"Yes."

"And Ichabod, nearly... twice!.... You, nearly.... Katrina, I cannot bear another glimpse beyond his blade at your neck!"

Isobel fell on my shoulder, and I on hers. "I... I shall tell you the rest," I said resolutely. "Ichabod reached the skull in time. He tossed it to the Hessian, who dropped me in favor of catching it and returning to damnation with my stepmother across Daredevil's saddle. Don't picture the tree again, Isobel.... I pray you, do not! What matters is this: the three of us survived. The lesson to be learned is, that in order to defeat a demon, give it what it wants. Not what the controller wants, but what it wants for its own sake."

"Yes," she responded, taking heart even though she was badly shaken. "All that the Horseman really wanted was his head. How strange it is," she observed, looking me wistfully in the eye, "that you owe your present happiness to such a travesty."

"I have come to accept that life is a balance of love and loss, and that the greatest gift comes at the price of the greatest sacrifice."

"Then what must I sacrifice?" Isobel asked desolately. "Clearly, what the demon wants is not in the hands of its human consort. Katrina, it follows me. For all I know, it follows my brother when he is alone, when he cannot sense it. The only thing that we own that it could possibly desire has already been stolen, and I know that you suspect the demon of that crime, too."

"I do. Very strongly," I admitted.

"Then it must want my life."

"I'm not so sure about that. It's acting uncharacteristically by playing cat and mouse with you. If experience tells me rightly, these spirits strike swiftly and directly with a purpose. I think that if it wanted you, it would have killed you by now."

"You mean if its controller wanted me dead," Isobel corrected me. "What if this demon is bloodthirsty for its own sake, is conceited enough to require a virgin sacrifice of sorts? The rules could be gravely altered. It could stalk me for as long as it wants before it takes its pleasure." Isobel shivered.

I couldn't speak. I was terrified that she might be right, but part of me beat wildly against it. I sat in dismal contemplation, prompted to roll the confrontation in the Western Woods through my head one more time-

Horseman!

How wondrous, Ichabod's cry, even as near to death as I had been. The sound of his voice had been the ultimate validation that his life had not been taken by my stepmother's bullet. And I recalled how the Hessian paused, turned, forgot me completely-

Forgot his purpose-

Recognition. Words of compassion, one shred of mortal sympathy...

"Isobel!" I exclaimed. "Have you ever considered addressing the demon? Asking it what it wants?"

"You mean hold a séance for it?" she asked, horrified. "Katrina, it already spoke through me once- and as an impostor, at that! It had its chance! What I don’t understand is why I didn’t sense it, why I didn’t feel something amiss as I do when it follows me in the street."

"Isobel, it gave you a delusion!" I realized. The more I thought about it, the more certain I became. "Just like it gave one to the lunatic who confessed to Erickson’s murder. Only yours was more temporary, to render you insensate of its presence. Both delusions were given under the orders of its controller. The demon didn’t have a choice. It did what it was commanded to do. It could hardly have spoken for itself."

"You sound as if you sympathize with it," Isobel murmured unsteadily.

"To a point, you come to detest the controller more than the entity itself."

"There is some wisdom in that, sister," Isobel said. "But do you know what agony it would be- to be possessed by a demon without benefit of a numbing delusion? It’s agony enough feeling it even within close proximity."

"No one will force you to do it. I certainly will not. I’d do it if I could, for I feel it’s the only way."

"I shall consider it," Isobel said bleakly. "Let’s give your husband a chance. Perhaps he’ll turn up something more."

"I hope that he does," I agreed, "for all our sakes."

"I wish the demon didn’t insist upon remaining invisible," Isobel muttered through clenched teeth.

"What was that?"

"I wish it would permit itself to be seen. I’d feel a lot better if I knew what it looked like."

"Demons can be seen?"

"When they want to be," Isobel said with annoyance. "I have never actually laid eyes on one, and few have, as they generally prefer invisibility. But on rare occasions…"

"What does legend say concerning their form?"

"Some possess human or animal form, but frequently, they are shapeshifters. They appear as whatever they want to be. Whatever suits their purpose. Invisibility, sadly, suits all purposes."

I mulled this over for a while, finding nothing conclusive, but remembering something that had been bothering me. "I’m puzzled by something," I began. "You said that Messengers speak for souls that are either too backward to speak in person or cannot do so for… other reasons. Perhaps it’s impertinent of me to ask, but Gabriel Erickson isn’t disgraced like Ichabod’s father for something that he committed in life, is he?"

"No," Isobel replied. "I’m sure of that. He was a man of valor. Either he is just shy, or he has other business to attend to."

"Other business?"

"His family told me that he was heavily decorated for his courage and leadership during the Revolution. He’s probably a B.A."

"B.A.?"

"Battlefield Angel. I’m sorry," Isobel laughed, her color returning. "There are wars taking place all over the world, at any given time. The Angels attend battles to serve as guides, succor for those killed in combat. The souls of men fallen in battle are potentially the most disturbed."

"You’re telling me," I muttered.

"The Angels’ job is to prevent that, if possible."

"The Hudson highlands must have had a shortage of them during the War."

"It’s not surprising. The Colonies were a newborn protectorate, and fairly peaceful despite the growing fractiousness. There’s a first time for everything, and for North America, the Revolution was it. I’ve seen more troubled war casualties than I care to admit. The worst cases are violently troublesome, especially the Redcoats. There’s an inn on Raleigh Avenue that’s been haunted by one for over twenty years. I couldn’t get near him. He threw pillows and books at me, finally resorting to oil lamps and crockery when I failed to leave. Though I did leave after that!"

"The Fairfield?" I gasped. "Raleigh Avenue is a stone’s throw from Karrigan Square."

"The one and only," Isobel answered. "They’ve boarded up the room that he’s claimed as his own, but they can’t keep him from stalking the kitchen. He steals things. Crocks, pots, pans, cheese grates… He’s fiendishly attached to that sort of thing. They have to rip down the boards every so often and clear the loot he stores in his room. It was the strangest case I’d ever seen. The proprietor thought that a séance was the solution to his problem, but Chris and I never even had the chance to set up."

"If Ichabod and I ever want a night out of the house, then I’ll be certain not to book us a room there," I mused. "Gracious!"

Isobel was smiling. "It’s as laughable as it is pitiable," she sighed.

We finished our tea and spoke or mundane matters, eager to put the supernatural behind us for once. We were interrupted at length by a distinctive series of taps on the door.

"Christopher," said Isobel, rising to let her brother in.

I took advantage of the disturbance, though I was reluctant to leave. "I should go. David’s probably hungry by now." I followed Isobel to the door. Christopher nodded at me respectfully despite his embarrassment, walking past us quickly to deposit his purchases in the kitchen. Isobel giggled on my shoulder as she embraced me farewell.

"We owe you so much," she said, suddenly serious again.

"You owe me nothing," I reassured her. "Just remember what we discussed. As much as I wish we didn’t, we have a considerable advantage over the constabulary in this case. Even if Ichabod can find the man, the demon’s reckoning lies with us."

"Nothing could drive it from my thoughts. God see you safely home, Katrina!"

I hailed a cab immediately outside the Magellans’ tenement, and I leaned into its swaying dark corner the whole way home. The mere thought of Reverend Burris and his customer made me ill. No woman should suffer being looked on in such a manner.

David was a little surprised at how fiercely I hugged him when I walked through the door, but rather than question, he just hugged me back. I was overjoyed to find him as safe as I had left him. With that afternoon’s revelations weighing dizzily on my mind, the air seemed to pulse with disquiet. I was drained, too, by the return to what had happened six months before. The Archer’s heiress loomed forever in the darkest corner of my consciousness.

Only later, as David and I sat reading, did it occur to me that perhaps I was feeling Isobel’s terror. That, possibly, she was transmitting the sensation to me. Was the demon about? Taken by shortness of breath, an irksome lightheadedness… I suddenly went very still, feeling my temples throb and my cheeks whiten. Turning the pages of my book by sheer force of will had become a chore. The current page fluttered weakly earthward from its eerie suspension in midair. I found my throat thick when I tried to swallow.

David looked up from his text in concern. "Is something wrong, Katrina?"

"No…. I just feel faint. I’m going upstairs to lie down for a while."

I wonder if David noticed that the second bolt on the front door slid itself clumsily into place as I climbed the stairs.

I changed into a warm dressing gown and sprawled out on the bed, setting to work on the anklet, hoping the task would clear the unwanted haziness that had settled upon me. Stringing the beads in a multicolored pattern on either side of the cardinal bone had a somewhat calming effect, as I had hoped. The opal ring secured a place directly to the right of the bone. I paused before beginning on the left side to open the ring box.

I studied the curious teardrop for a few moments. I was not familiar with its purpose, but as my eye happened to wander across the room, I spied the folded square of tissue on my dresser- and knew. I fetched it, shaking the tiny feather into one palm as I held the glass tear in the other. My head began to ache in protest as I immaterialized the feather and made it reappear seamlessly within the glass bead. This I strung to the left of the bone and finished off the strand with a delicate seed rainbow.

I tied the finished product around my right ankle. I studied it, oddly pleased by the imbalanced effect created by the opal ring and the dangling feather-tear. I continued my handiwork, stringing the ivory disk carved with For the Protection of a Loved One Against Evil Spirits on the second piece of cord, murmuring a charm for each weaving knot with which I secured it. I sent it floating over to my dresser, noticing how quickly I had to let go, to let it drop. I had a vague inkling of what was happening- what I was doing to myself despite my body’s protest- but I was too stubborn to care.

Ichabod would not be home for another three hours. My head ached more fiercely than ever, and I nonchalantly (a sign of denial, I knew) attributed it to his absence, to my pining for his presence. Although, that was a factor.

I’ll sleep for an hour to pass the time, to rid myself of this, I thought, curling up against the pillows. Just for an hour…

I woke to the light but lingering touch of Ichabod’s lips against my forehead. "I missed you," I cried softly, slipping my arms around his neck. He kissed me gently on the mouth, regarding me with grave concern, lifting my chin as we drew apart.

"My fairy sprite has a fever. Does she know that?"

"Yes," I murmured, "and only her gallant knight, Sir Rational, can quench it."

"I mean a real fever, Katrina. You’re burning up."

"Oh?" I gasped, pressing the back of my hand to my forehead. The voracious heat startled me. My head still hurt. I sat up. "The herb closet," I said dazedly. "Let me-"

"Lie down," Ichabod commanded, holding me so comfortingly that I had no choice. "Your immune system has run to shambles thanks to my foolishness. I should have known. Your small body can’t take that kind of distress for long."

"Our foolishness," I corrected him. "Take one of the packets that I’ve labeled ‘Fever’ from the bottom shelf of the herb closet. David will know what to do with it."

"He told me that you were feeling poorly. That’s an understatement, love. You’ll be delirious if you can’t hold still. For God’s sake, lie down!"

"How can I?" I cried, realizing that I hadn’t thought to put something in the oven. "I forgot about dinner. Let me up, just for a minute. I can make-"

"No. Please… leave it to me."

I could not resist such an adorably pleading look. Ichabod kissed me again and rose.

"One fever cure and one dinner are on the way."

"Wait!" I called when he had nearly reached the door. I snagged the ivory charm from the dresser, struggling to float it in his direction. I had known I would be met with the same resistance, the same dizziness. Pitifully, the charm sagged in mid-flight and hit the floor. Ichabod picked it up, returning to my side with a look of increased worry.

"It’s a bookmark, if you like… for your protection against harm. I wouldn’t want you to lose your place," I offered with a weak smile.

"I shall cherish it as dearly as I cherish the book, my love," Ichabod promised me, taking my hand. His unease was frighteningly pronounced, however. His lips moved as if to say something more, but he only sighed, visibly forcing whatever unnerved him to the farthest reaches of his mind.

"Are you all right?"

Ichabod smiled, shaking his head dubiously. "I’m the one that should be asking you that," he said gently. A third parting kiss, deeper and more reassuring than his trademark, "I am here now." He murmured soothingly, "We shall speak of it… of what each of us has discovered today… when I return. I’ll tell David to heat some water, and then I’m going-"

"To buy dinner from the Fairfield? Don’t! Anywhere but there." I read his thoughts for his reassurance… and my own. I wanted to show him that I was not completely invalid, even magically….

"Why?" Ichabod asked, confused. "I heard that their cook is excellent. I thought you wouldn’t mind giving it a try, gourmand that you are."

"The kitchen is haunted by a deranged Redcoat. I’m not fond of the idea of my high-strung husband having kettles and knives flung at him while he waits for his order at the back door."

"Point taken," Ichabod said, turning pale. "My thanks to Isobel," he remarked, guessing rightly where I had come by such a piece of information. "In the meantime, my dear, please rest."

In his absence, I lay and cursed myself for trying to convince myself that the onset of a fever- all of the signs were there, the signs that I so despised on each rare occasion of sickness that dotted my existence- was a projection of Isobel’s terror. Drifting into a half sleep, I knew that Ichabod had perceived the one thing that I feared most in myself. I wondered why I had not thought to tell him that day in his laboratory, when I had gladly brought all other secrets to light. But my wondering was done in vain, for I already knew the answer.

 

 

Part IV
Tales of Romance
Sleepy Hollow