In the beginning, I was not accustomed to thinking of my own death. My childhood had been so blithely happy that such thoughts had little place in such a charmed existence. By day I ran the fields and caught butterflies- only to release them again- and by night, I caught fireflies with Glen Haagen and his daredevil companion Abraham Van Brunt. ("Abra-ham! Abra-ham, oink oink!" I used to tease, and he hated it so much that it was henceforth "Brom. You hear that? Brom! Brom Bones to you, Glen, and don't forget it!" As for me, I laughed so hard that he began chasing me and pulling my pigtails and eventually courting me. How glad I am, that I did not fall into the trap of marrying the boy next door at seventeen like Elisabetha and Liesel!)
My mother's death was the first of many changes, of course. The sickness had been so swift, so sudden- that my father had no choice but to dub it brain fever in the mindlessness of his grief. In truth, we never knew what she had. Nor did the sicknurse, apparently, who would shrug and close her vacant eyes as if on tears. As if on tears! I cannot forgive my sensible half for not recognizing the signs of water hemlock poisoning in my dying mother. In my grief, I was no more sane than my father, however, and so a fraction of the part of me that had been eternally optimistic and hopeful was laid to rest in the Van Tassel plot with my mother one windy November afternoon. Imagine! I cried on the shoulder of my mother's killer the whole way home. I also wondered if poisoning myself would be forgivable Thereafter. But one look at my father and I decided against even the vague notion that had entered my head. I still valued being alive too highly, besides.
And then came the Van Garrett murders... and what followed. Death was upon my very doorstep. In one blinding instant, I might have been cut down to the unforgiving forest floor. Truly told, I might not have minded, considering that I believed for a few moments that the only man to whom I would give my heart and soul- my very existence- had been shot. Death was real. Death was everywhere. Death had breathed down my neck.
When Ichabod said that he would rise from the grave to protect me, I was shaken to the core. A tumultuous resistance rose in me. The very possibility of losing Ichabod again was devastating. I would plunder the minds of those wretches for all that their murdering schemes were worth. I decided with cold resolve that I would die before I let them lay so much as a finger on Ichabod. I would discover their plot, and I would be there in my husband's stead. I would not let them take his life!
The decision made, part of me calmly accepted that I would not be alive for much longer. What Ichabod had learned that day, what had reduced him to weeping upon walking through the front door, delivered the last blow. A threat too great to name in full had entered our lives. A demon let in through the front door. How wrong Ichabod was, even in jest! I had been wrong often enough to settle several lifetimes' worth of marital quibbles.
I held myself responsible. I did not even deserve what I realized I might become- a martyr. As Ichabod's mother before me, as nameless ones from the dawn of time...
I wished for the first time in my life that I was not a witch!
My condition, my birthright, my very anomaly- had it caught the attention of these unscrupulous men, who thought nothing of using a force both unspeakable and ungodly to satisfy some nameless avarice? My husband's investigation had for certain, for it was he whom they now hunted. But was I an additional danger to my husband and my ward? A prize to be claimed as spoils- to be slaughtered if necessary- if the stakes grew too high? I felt that, already, they had.
No, I did not say it, did not even let it show as Ichabod treated David's spider bite, not even as I sat musing on the hateful men whose thoughts I had offered to read: I expected to be quite a different kind of sacrifice than Isobel originally had in mind. How fitting, that black magic was once again proving itself damnably strong. Some sorcery too great was involved in this, some inescapable horror. A horror that Jürgen von Reiker had deemed a worthy enough reason to spend his last stab at salvation on warning us of its peril.
My own words caught in my mind, a stubborn endless echo as I sat beside Ichabod in the laboratory. So. His name is Joseph Hawke. So. His name is...
"Katrina? You don't mean to do it now, do you?"
"No," I replied quickly, shaken out of my dark reverie. "I don't... I don't even know if... now..."
"If what?" Ichabod asked with gentle concern.
"If... to do it while they are awake is the wisest thing," I finished weakly, banishing my inward quailing even farther inward.
"You can do it while they sleep?" Ichabod asked somewhat hopefully, even though his unquiet eyes communicated the same knowledge as mine. Those men probably did not sleep until the darkest hours of morning.
"Yes. It will be more difficult since I cannot slip them some eyebright in their evening tea like I did with you, but possible nonethe-"
"Eyebright in my tea?"
I closed my eyes. I felt like banging my head against something hard and unsympathetic. Why was there always one last confession left ungiven? Why did I forget so easily? But I took heart. Ichabod's query was not accusatory. It was curious.
"The night that you invented onion torture... I put some in the tea I gave you... so that I would be able to share your dreams."
He nodded mutely, as if piecing together one last puzzle in the string of them that made up my daunting abilities. "And... did you?" Ichabod asked quietly.
"Yes. It was why I woke weeping with you, in the same instant."
"I felt your presence but could not reach it!" he cried, embracing me fiercely. "But you were there. That is what matters. Thank God for that. And..."
"How young you were. The forest trail you wandered alone. The bruise on your cheek... oh, Ichabod! Did... did..."
"You know that you have no reason to fear asking me about anything ever again, my love."
Despite his reassurance, I lowered my eyes against the pain. "Did your father beat you?" I choked, knowing what the answer would be.
"Yes. Locking me in the cellar he saved for rarer occasions," Ichabod replied bitterly.
"Why?" I demanded harshly, staring wildly about as if I expected Levi Crane to be hovering about as his wife had been the night before. "How could he do such a thing to an innocent child? To his son?"
"How could he murder his own wife?"
I shook my head helplessly. "Did he disapprove of your interests?"
"He disapproved of everything. The books that I read, the solitude that I chose over companions of my own age, the scars on my hands, even- 'Foolish boy, look what you have done to yourself!' Have you noticed a thin white scar on my back?"
"I wondered where that came from," I mumbled hatefully, deftly procuring the image of Levi Crane bringing a riding crop across his seven year old boy's back.
"One I could grow out of, for the most part, thankfully," Ichabod whispered brokenly.
"I will love it out of you yet," I vowed. We held each other in understanding silence for a long time. David's faint snores from downstairs finally dispelled the haunted pall.
I sighed, kissing Ichabod comfortingly. "What did you give him?" I asked with affection, straightening my husband's collar.
"I don't suppose the elaborate scientific term for an antivenom would mean much to a sophisticate in the White Arts," Ichabod remarked with an equal measure of adoration.
"I suppose not," I agreed, finding that I could smile for his sake. He would never know of my sense of impending doom. He would be the one to live, after all, if I had any say in the matter.
David slept for another ten minutes, at which point we descended the stairs, our footsteps being the cause of his waking. He yawned, studying us groggily.
"Can I go to bed? I'm not hungry," he murmured absently.
"Your arm?" I asked cautiously.
"Numb but no pain."
Ichabod was greatly satisfied to hear it. With a nudge he gave me leave to see David up the stairs to his room. When I returned, Ichabod was sitting on the couch, staring at the hearthstones that had been bathed with his tears.
"I gave him a dose that was perhaps better suited to a lad a few years older," Ichabod observed candidly. "That accounts for the loss of appetite."
"Please don't tell me that you've lost yours, too!" I begged.
Ichabod gave me a helpless look that said, "Did you have to ask?" But he pulled me down beside him and said, "Not for you."
"I should hope not," I laughed. "Ah, well... I'm hungry. I shall be ill if I don't eat soon. The past and the supernatural have been known to sicken even the likes of a witch."
"Have you got anything in the house? Perchance I can swallow a few bites for you."
"More than you did this morning, you will! And this afternoon," I added severely. "You can't hide that apple from me."
"I can hide nothing! What will it be, then?"
"Lucky for you, bread and cheese is all that I have requiring no fuss."
"Good," Ichabod sighed, surrendering. "Save the fussing for me."
"I notice that you have grown to like it," I cooed, dragging him to his feet and into the kitchen. Ichabod ate sparingly, but as he had promised, it was enough to satisfy me even more than my own full stomach.
And as I had promised, fuss I did, later that night. With an entreaty that left us both enthralled, I willed the remnant of Levi's belt scar into oblivion.
"You... You would think," Ichabod breathed after quite some time, holding me as feverishly as I held him, "that it was the last night on earth.... Katrina."
That faintness, that beautiful vulnerability in his voice, rent my heart as cherishably as it ever had. I was torn, too, because I had not been able to hide my growing desperation, the fact that life seemed suddenly so much more fleeting and precious. I had not alarmed him, at least. Such tenderness overwhelmed me as I gazed down on him... kissed him, left my tears on his eyelashes... such bittersweet pain!
"I would do anything for you, Ichabod Crane," I whispered plaintively. "Should even forever come to pass, I will love you still."
"Forever is what we have, Katrina! You know that. Nothing is going to happen to you. Sir Rational will not permit it."
I did not let myself cry again. Knowing that his dreams of eternity were ones of contentment, I cradled my husband to sleep even as my mind prepared for war.
So. His name is Joseph Hawke...
I reached to that place in the heart of the city, the place that Ichabod's dormant thoughts sketched for me in perfect detail. Though the mansion was quiet with candle-glow, my blood drained thin and left me. I tightened my arms around my husband in shock. My searching hit a brick wall of nothingness. I could not gain access to a single mind within Hawke's walls.
"No!" I cried softly into the pillow.
The place was wound so thickly in Dark Wards that I could no longer bear the assault. My strength ebbed and trembled before the alien ensorcelment. This was evil so thick that not even my stepmother, as clever as she fancied herself, could have summoned it to lock her own dark secrets in her own dark mind. I began to curse my trusting innocence anew. I could have probed her mind at any time, had I but been wise enough to cultivate suspicion.
I hid my face against Ichabod's shoulder in shame, languishing in the candlelit darkness. I had failed to breach Hawke's defense. I almost dared not try Colonel Dorn. For all I knew, he had used that wretched amateur Purnell's devil-bargain to conceal his own thoughts just as cleverly. But one look at Ichabod's countenance, untroubled for once in sleep, gave me new courage. His survival depended upon me, upon my willing sacrifice.
I plunged a dagger into the sleeping heart of New York once more. And in a flash of blinding red, my plea was answered. The Colonel's thoughts floated aimlessly in the blood that I had drawn- the flood of one too many glasses of brandy. I smiled grimly, closing my eyes, daring to relax. Dorn was an open, sodden book.
I despised the words that read themselves in a tide of drunken gibberish.
So we're set, then, good as set I say as good as set sir yes... Clever man you said he was, but oh I doubt that severely in comparison to you sir... sir.... A good spy? I daresay! Yessir...
I gritted my teeth. Dorn was alone in his study apparently, and yet his thoughts still lingered on some meeting of earlier. A meeting with his superior, I realized, and I did not have to ask who that superior was. I marveled at how pathetic Dorn's lonely celebration was.
And now we'll just wait till he comes? Wait and see if he accepts? Sir, no man could refuse you if he knows what's good for him....
His thoughts were disjointed yet proud, the closeted ravings of borrowed glory. What grand promises Hawke must have made to him! And in return for what? A few swift one-sided queries settled the score: misallocated funds and a military promotion. "Know your enemy," Ichabod had said. I fully intended to. Morbidly determined, I read on.
I'm looking forward to another Erickson job, I am... but who to frame who... when you let that thing out again... No matter, though, is it... only a constable turned traitor if he does; no consequence there, so easy to be killed on the job... Of course, sir, the operative is if, yes, if he turns you down sir, which I doubt, what, with your brilliant...
I turned a deaf ear on Colonel Dorn's sickening self-indulgence. I held Ichabod all the more securely, tears fighting their way back down my cheeks. I had heard what I needed to hear. And I had not wanted to hear a single word of it. I was sickened by how simple it had been.
When you let that thing out again-
Hawke was controlling the demon, but of course, Ichabod had probably suspected that, perhaps even knew it. Whether with help from Purnell or none at all, he controlled it with frightening ease. Distressed, my thoughts turned to Isobel. Appalling scenarios began to unravel themselves from the spool of a forbidden spinning wheel in the highest tower of my shadowed half. Suppose that Hawke used the demon to read Isobel's thoughts. Suppose that he found the suspicions that we had formed on the night of the Hessian's visit, the theory of reading the complete tablet that Ichabod and I had blindly forged. Isobel's life might yet be in danger. I reached for her.
Isobel, please hear me!
I can always hear you, when you allow me to, sister.
Isobel! My relief was boundless. I continued urgently, Things have gotten dangerous. Mark my words! We know who controls the demon.
I felt Isobel's wave of shock. Who? she demanded.
His name would mean nothing to you, and it means nothing to me. He is a sordidly powerful man, and his associates are equally sordid. The murder of Erickson was a favor. A mere favor, Isobel! Can you imagine what the crimes that he will commit in his own behalf will be like? I expect he'll kill again. I know he'll kill again. And this time it will be my husband, if he is not careful! I've decided-
Katrina, Isobel said slowly, terrified. Are you forgetting what you could be getting yourself into?
What do you mean by that? Of course I know what I'm getting myself into! They'll kill me before they even lay their hands on Ichabod, I'll see to-
I don't mean that. Think about what Jürgen warned us of. We have no guarantee that they'll find out about what you can do, but, all the same... Caution is highly preferable to recklessness. They don't know anything about you, really, whoever they are- God, I don't even know who they are! Katrina, fall silent now, hide yourself. I will be all right. I will send you word tomorrow... for I, too, have made a decision. We were wiser in our pen and paper correspondence than we knew!
Then revert to it we shall, I thought numbly, realizing foolishly that my plan to monitor those brutes all along had been a foolhardy one. Isobel was wise to advise me against taking such a risk. I felt Ichabod slip away from me once more into peril. I had to find another way. Isobel, good night and God keep you.
If God dares show his face on such a night, Isobel remarked fearfully.
Please go! I am restless tonight because of another who is restless. Distant but abroad. I can feel it. I have never felt it from within these walls before.
She was promptly gone, sealed off as tightly as before. It had occurred to me that perhaps she was always a nocturnal creature, seldom sleeping, but the fact that she felt another's restlessness sent a chill down my spine. Somewhere in the sleeping city, the demon was abroad.
That night, I followed Isobel's example. For try as I might, I could not sleep. Ichabod was as safely in my arms as ever, and yet he was not. Sick with dread, I waited for morning to come. I dreamed candles and slept the rise and fall of Ichabod's breath, but my eyes did not close.
"Did you sleep well?" I whispered when Ichabod finally woke with the early dawn.
"Rather!" he murmured, yawning. "You have done a marvelous job of warding off nightmares, my love."
I smiled weakly, hollow with exhaustion. "I am glad," I said softly, accepting his kiss as if indeed it would be one of our last. Ichabod sat up, studying at me in the pale, burned-out light. He took my face gently in his hands.
"Katrina, if I'm not mistaken, your eyes are red, ringed, and everything in between. Did you sleep well?"
"No," I murmured, heartsick, leaning helplessly against his chest.
"Did you...? Please, no, not after-"
"Yes. I waited until you were asleep. I didn't want to tell you. I couldn't wake you, not at the witching hour, to tell you what I found!"
"I would rather know at the witching hour than know too late," he said gently, stroking my hair. "Did you reach Hawke?"
"No. I couldn't. He's set Dark Wards around himself so thick that I swear not even the Fates could shear through it. It's terrifying, Ichabod, and let me tell you, it's only half of the terror! I reached Dorn. He was drunk, frighteningly so, and rattling off the most appalling thoughts... They... They will take your life if you are not careful! That's all I could gather- all the more that I could bear to listen to! I doubt that Dorn knows any more than we know. I reached Isobel, worried out of my wits for her almost as much as for you... I can't imagine what more they might to do her, should they realize that the demon's courting her on its own behalf... but she made me realize how unwittingly wise I had been to cut off my inquiry after I'd heard what I didn't want to hear, and..."
I panted helplessly, began to sob. It was all too much. Far, far too much. I doubted that I could save any of us. I doubted that anyone could. Ichabod's arms tightened around me; once more he played the unaccustomed role of comforter.
"Katrina, you must tell me at once what you have done to yourself. At once! There is so much more behind this. I know you too well," he pleaded.
Could I admit it, even in the presence of his unfaltering love? Could I tell him that I wanted to fling myself into the fire for his sake? And that, possibly, in the attempt, my sorcery could unwittingly betray us all?
"Let me die for you!" I cried, unhinged from what I had vowed to silence. "You don't deserve to be caught in the middle of things like this! You never did! I cannot even use my gifts to help you now without constant fear that the demon could be under orders to trace my every telepathic move!"
Ichabod comforted me bravely even though I had chiseled away what foundation he had begun to build for himself. His eyes were now as wasted as mine as he drew my chin up to his level, but they were hardened with the resolve that I had seen in him yesterday. A resolve such as he had never had before. In that, I found reason for hope.
"You know that I never wished strongly for you to pry in their affairs, but that was your prerogative, my love. Your courage is what keeps me here. Do not consider redundant information useless. Refuse to let it be an accessory to our defeat. I certainly do! If anything, I know that your heart is not one given to surrender. Do not start now! There is a way around this barrier just as there is a way around every other, however obscure. Take it from one with experience," Ichabod said firmly. In his faint smile, too, I found reason for hope.
"Yes," I said, my mind beginning to reassemble itself, ashamed of its own cowardice and consternation. Though mortality was a threat, perhaps no one had to die. Perhaps. The danger was now so great that neither of us knew exactly what light could possibly remain on the other side. Light, pale as dawn, shimmering on even paler hair...
"One deduction that I can make," I said, eyes narrowing, "is that proud men believe they will get away with their crimes, and so they have no need to lie to those who they assume they will be able to silence or kill. That's how they see us. This means that Hawke has the tablet. Both halves, I don't doubt. Is Hawke foolish enough to confide the location of his valuables in Dorn?"
"I doubt it," Ichabod said gravely.
"Is there anyone with whom he would share such confidences? Anyone at all? Someone dear to him, someone he loves?" I could not believe my own ears. I could not believe what I was saying. Such was Ichabod's faith in me, capable of dragging me back to myself when I no doubt would have foundered.
"His fiancée," Ichabod mused cautiously. "He was careless about her in conversation, but I do not know how much value he truly places on his Empress. Perhaps that is his weak spot. Or perhaps it is not. He must have an Achilles heel concealed so cleverly that not even Zeus himself would know."
"That is my only hope, though," I said with fresh desperation. "Find out what you can about her, her location, her name, everything-"
"I know where she lives."
"Good. I would still prefer to know her name. I also need a morning to convince Isobel that mind reading, if used sparingly and with caution, may still be an option. God, it won't be easy! I believe she took Jürgen's warning more to heart than I did. She already commented that she's decided on something, though, and I know what that something is. She'll agree to contact the demon."
"When was anything ever simple for us?" Ichabod asked wryly.
"Only in the very last moments of battle, I fear," I said with resignation. I slipped my arms around my husband's neck, just looking at him for the longest time. "You saved me from myself, Sir Rational. From a capacity for surrender that this fairy sprite did not know she had."
"You have saved me from too many things to name. I don't expect you to feel so obligated again," he chided somberly but affectionately.
"You know that's impossible," I whispered fiercely, choking up.
"Then I suppose we shall meet our end together one of these days, each refusing to abandon the other."
"I would not want it any other way, Ichabod."
"Nor would I," he said with conviction, kissing my forehead. "Nor would I!"
Ichabod had agreed to find out what he could about Hawke's bride-to-be. I had agreed to contact Isobel as soon as I could. David did not wake until I had seen Ichabod off to his self-imposed investigation of Senator Remington with a harrowingly sweet goodbye. Of all days, Saturday was not one on which he was obligated to work. But I had come to expect nothing less of his determination. Investigations did not halt simply because it was his day off.
The boy was alert once more, and his arm was no longer swollen. Ichabod had caught the venom with perfect timing. David and I ate together as if it were any other morning. To him, it was just that.
"Why don't we have a picnic?" David suggested as he helped me clear the table. "A picnic lunch. Can Colin come?"
My heart sank into my stomach. "David, I'm afraid a picnic will not be possible today. Isobel and I have things to discuss."
"It's getting worse, isn't it?" he demanded abruptly.
"What do you mean?"
"This whole murder business. I'm not stupid. You're in over your heads again."
"And last time, you were in over yours, if you remember correctly."
"Yes! So let me be again!" David pleaded.
"I cannot begin to tell you what we are involved in, David. Too many of us are in grave danger already. I will not add you to the list."
He glared at me quietly for a while. "I'm not useless," he said testily.
"No, you never were! And the best way for you to remain useful is to stay alive. David, I've come to care for you far too much to endanger you again. Speak of it no more."
"Yes, Katrina," he said apologetically. "It's just that... well, I'd rather it be me than you or Ichabod!"
I was crying in his embrace in no time at all. I could scarcely believe it. A house full of willing victims!
"Set your mind on survival," I told him fiercely, drying my tears, "and stay that way!"
I sent David off to Raleigh Avenue with a loaf of bread and a jar of blackberry jam for Colin's mother, as well as with a warning to resist the lure of harmless-looking arachnids. Collapsing at the kitchen table with pen and ink in hand, I wrote:
Miss Keller~ I must be brief. Come at once, and bring your brother. Much to discuss and much to be done. Time and faith have never been more of the essence. Look to it that you come in safety!
I must be brief. Come at once, and bring your brother. Much to discuss and much to be done. Time and faith have never been more of the essence. Look to it that you come in safety!
So deep had my paranoia taken root that I dared not go into specific detail or use names that would be recognizable to foes on the prowl. My more sensible half reminded me that Isobel's name would be more cause for alert than my own, but I signed with the initials of my maiden name regardless. I was grateful that my father's youngest sister, Samantha Van Coort (by marriage to some cousin of old Van Ripper's), had engraved that hairpin solely with my married name. I was petrified when I read that detail from Ichabod. I had nearly willed myself to forget about the wind in the marketplace tearing it from my possession. In that moment, flight had been more important than crying over spilt sterling.
The only courier in sight that morning was one that I did not recognize, and I entrusted the note to him with barely concealed edginess. I wandered the house in a state of high agitation for an hour and a half, wondering if my message had even reached the twins. A knock on the front door at a quarter until noon ensured me that they had. Annoyed that my hands were occupied by a tea tray, I sprung the lock on the front door from halfway across the living room.
"Come in. It's open," I called.
Isobel was quick to cross the threshold and attempt to relieve me of the tray, but I politely refused, showering her with greetings as I lowered the tray onto the tea table. There was an unusual depth and darkness about her eyes, I noticed, and her hair was loose about her shoulders rather than in her trademark plaits. I wondered what young man could resist such haunting loveliness. Christopher, as if he had read my well-hidden thoughts, remained aloof as he closed the door behind them.
Isobel's hands quickly claimed mine. "He does not want me to do this," she whispered steadily in my ear. I was once more taken aback by her calm, her exquisite mastery of that inherent nervousness she and Ichabod shared.
"Do... You mean that- here? Now?"
"I told you that I have made up my mind. Of course here," she replied.
"At least have a seat first and take some of this ginger tea and sliced fruit off my hands," I invited the twins cordially, looking up to include Christopher in the exchange. He nodded as if very tired and took a seat beside his sister on the sofa. I pulled up the rocking chair. True to Isobel's word, Christopher ate without hesitation while she nibbled rather fretfully, which drew concerned looks from her brother. I couldn't touch anything except for my tea. Isobel and I tried casual conversation, but it was difficult given Christopher's wary silence.
"Where is Ichabod today? Doesn't he have Saturdays off?" Isobel asked thoughtfully.
"Not when he's embroiled in a case that involves every waking moment," I sighed. "He's investigating another name that has come up. A Senator Remington."
"He has my vote," Christopher said firmly, breaking his own silence at last. A shadow crossed the young man's face. "Why is your husband investigating him?"
"He's a political opponent of the principal suspect in this whole farce."
"Who happens to be?"
"I had better start at the beginning," I sighed. "You two have the right to know what Ichabod has discovered, as deeply involved as you are. Isobel, the demon's controller is a man by the name of Joseph Hawke. Formerly a Major but now a Colonel by virtue of some highly unvirtuous activities that he conducts through his associates. Do you remember the misallocated funds? They're being funneled to Hawke through at least two cohorts. Colonel Dorn and Senator Trevayne, as I understand it."
"Trevayne!" Christopher sneered, on the verge of vitriolic mirth. "He couldn't tell the difference between Senate and Parliament if you slapped the Constitution in front of him!"
I was mildly amused. "Perhaps if you shared your political views with my husband he would be far better disposed towards you," I remarked lightly.
"I suppose that the common interests would end there," Christopher grumbled.
Isobel shoved her elbow daintily into his side.
"Pardon me," he sulked.
"Never mind. We're not so much concerned with politics as with crime," I said hastily, sorry that I had let my banter-prone side give in. "The bottom line is the lowest it can get, for certain. Hawke enslaved the demon with the help of an amateur magician named Simon Purnell, who has some... appalling hobbies," I faltered. Isobel dipped quickly into my thoughts and emerged a shade paler. Christopher, curious, in turn sampled her discovery and looked as if he wanted to smash his teacup on the floor.
"Great. So my sister could be next to you on this quack's list, for all I know!"
"We don't know enough!" I cried. "We can only guess from what Ichabod has thus far discovered, and believe me, Christopher, it's a world more than we would have known without him! What you have to worry about is your tablet. Hawke has now has it in addition to the missing piece that the two of you never knew existed."
"Hawke is the thief?" Christopher gasped.
"Through the demon, yes, you genius," Isobel snapped with a touch of exasperation.
"I'll wring his neck," Christopher seethed.
"The tablet means a lot to you," I observed.
"A gift from a father gone before his time? Certainly," Christopher said with bitter grief.
I looked at Isobel for a long moment, imploring. I had been patient in waiting for my own secrets' retribution. She bowed her head.
"All that I said once," Isobel began, "is that when Christopher and I were sixteen, our parents never came back. And after all that you've told me, Katrina, I never offered to tell you from what."
"Isobel," Christopher grated.
"No. She'll know. Our parents' fate is not even half as terrible or extraordinary as that of her own, and still I could not tell her. It was foolish of me, Christopher."
"No it wasn't," I was quick to reassure her, guilt-ridden. "Death is horrible no matter how it comes. You don't have to say-"
"I do. We were always such a delicate topic with them, with their friends. What children like us wouldn't be? You can't just reply to the kind old housewife who asks after your family in church, 'Why, delightful! My five year olds regularly chatter about the guests who walk in through the walls and tell them stories about who lived in this house fifty years ago.' They were so protective of us, Ma and Father were. With what good reason, I need not go into any further. Finally, after sixteen years of barely seeing us and wondering what on earth would necessitate hiding one's children, the good folk of Ebenstown- where they settled after their return from India and had us soon after- grew a little too curious for their own good and for ours, and not in a pleasant way. They considered moving west and found a homestead for sale in Ohio. I don't know why Christopher and I begged to stay home that week. We'd come to love our closeted world, in a way, with what few friends we had... so we talked our parents into leaving us behind. And three weeks later, we found out that their carriage toppled in some ice floes. To make matters worse... a week after they left..."
Drowned. Their parents had drowned. "Yes?" I whispered quietly.
"I didn't understand why someone whispered sadly in my ear, 'They'll cross rivers no more.' I told Christopher in the morning, asked him if he'd heard it, but he hadn't. I dismissed it as I generally dismiss any uncooperative spirit's one-time appearances. The less persistent they are, the less they need assistance, generally. I only wish that... that once... I had listened to one of those passers-by for a change."
Identical tears shed in the twins' eyes, but they did not weep. I took Isobel's hand across the tea table. So their childhood had not necessarily been an entirely unhappy one after all. And who knew better than I the pain of losing happiness and stability? Isobel's reluctance to speak was derived from her undeserved guilt.
"It wasn't your fault. You had no way of knowing," I comforted them.
Isobel placed her teacup on the table. "We had a way, but in our trusting ignorance, we let it pass. It's an old wound, Katrina. Something that the three... four, five of us share. We have made our peace, being in a somewhat easier position than most to do so. But mocking ourselves was the hardest part... to use the gift whereby we might have known to see their souls safely home."
"Don't think of it as such!"
"Try as I might," Isobel sighed with a tearful smile, "Try as I might... Oh, come, I'll help you clear it away. We have work to do."
As the two of us carried the dishes into the kitchen, I was certain that those of the greatest fragility were also those of the greatest courage. What an artful twist of creation, these loved ones of mine! Isobel still did not cry audibly as I embraced her. She smiled again, her eyes more improbably shadowed.
"Let's get this over with," she laughed softly. "My brother's going to be in a terrible state for the rest of the night."
"You didn't have to say anything."
"I did, sister. The things that you shared with me deserved a telling done twice over! You had the right to know, as you deemed it my right to be aware of you."
Christopher waited idly for us to return, dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief drawn from his pocket. "You mean to do it right here, Isa? No props whatsoever... are you sure-"
"Never more so," she replied firmly.
"I'll need a sturdier chair than this one," I said, sliding the rocker back into its place by the door and fetching an alternate from the kitchen.
"Katrina, Christopher was going to-"
"No. I offer my hands again," I said with determination.
Christopher had no problem with that. Isobel seemed troubled by it, however.
"You don't have to do that."
"Yes, I do," I said. And Isobel seemed glad after all.
We sat across from each other, the tea table between us. Christopher kept his place beside Isobel, unmoving. Isobel's eyes never departed from mine as she took my hands. She seemed afraid now that the task was at hand. Little did she know, she would not be alone. I caught the flash of marble at her bodice. I was ready.
"This is something that I have never done," Isobel said, at a loss for any other words. Her eyes flinched shut. She went promptly rigid. My heart ached already, with guilt and empathy. I had made my decision, however. I, too, closed my eyes. And when her breathing went shallow, I carefully transferred the marble hand from her pale throat to mine. It touched the eye and burned.
The mist had come, but with it this time, voices. I was thrown into a realm of half-light and sepulchral chill, robbed of my breath as efficiently as Isobel. Her hands on mine gave no sign of awareness of the theft I had committed. This was not the place in which she had petitioned with Rishkha.
I know you are here, Isobel said sorrowfully, seeking. I did not know whether she meant me or the demon. I felt as if I'd been in the snow for hours on end without my muff and cloak. The cold penetrated bone deep; the moving shadows were gray and hazy and scowled at us even though we weren't truly visible. I would have cried out if I had a voice. But I did not.
I know you are here. I know that you need me. How am I to know if I can help you if you will not tell me? How is it that you stalk me of your own free will even while you are bound? Why don't you answer while I am willing?
Isobel's terrified challenge filled me. She was no more accustomed to this realm than I. I did not regret my decision to follow her directly, but I vaguely regretted asking her to plead with a thing that perhaps-
Cannot answer a command save one given by its controller! Oh, Isobel...
KATRINA! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?
I shook with her violent reprimand. I would have been tossed from my chair were it not for the penetrating cold. You will not suffer this alone, I shot back.
Suffer you shall. The worst is yet to come, if it-
It came. The cold turned to fire in our veins. Our hands were torn apart as we fell, no sound issuing from our lips even as we wailed. My eyes were gouged, blinded by a stream of consciousness that attacked from all sides. I saw things that I could not begin to make sense of, so great was the agony: jungle heat, trees with leaves as tall as a man, a dark-skinned phantom bowing in a forest shrine as he chiseled and sweated and pleaded with some unseen force in a language that Isobel alone understood. A miracle, then... her voiceless speech resounded in the torturous cloud, overcame it.
I am sorry for this, that you were bound. I am sorry that you were not left to your peace, there on that foreign shore. Men are fools and take with them what they will. Yes, I say this of my father, innocent as he was. But now you are here, enlisted once more- or perhaps enlisted for the first time, for all that I know. That is why I call you. I must know... why you have followed me!
The next succession of images was charged with ferocious anger. My scathed eyes saw a gentleman's study. The gentleman himself stood before the hearth, bending to right a fallen poker. Satisfied with his tidying, he smiled, about to turn away when-
He was torn open from the front, a violent strangling upheaval of blood as if snagged on an unseen hook. I could not close my eyes against this. I watched and choked and sobbed and still no sound issued from my lips. I did not know where Isobel was. I did not know where either of us were! The terrible spectacle faded, leaving the cold-heat of the atmosphere a blackish red.
Isobel quavered as if lost to herself for good, You did not wish to do this to Gabriel Erickson?
Frozen, black, bloody silence. No, it seemed to say, but do these things, I must.
Tell me how he enslaved you. Tell me what I must do to free you.
More images: money changing hands in a nondescript antiquities shop, a man who I knew must be Hawke accepting a strangely shaped package wrapped in black velvet that sagged in his grasp like a brick. Purnell by his side, his weak amphibious eyes aglow, his image-thoughts accessible to be: It is a rare find, Colonel. Rare indeed. I will tell you what can be done. For a price, for a price...
You were bought. A terrible thing, yes. But what can I do, when I have neither the fragment Hawke purchased or the half that was stolen from me? I must have it all to have it translated. And only then can I speak- if it be your freedom, these words-
Isobel never had the chance to finish. A wave of rage spun us, flung us back together roughly. No image-answer, this! I felt my hands clamped onto Isobel's by fingers of terrible cold. I shuddered, but my body was not free to move. The icicle fingers plunged through the back of my hands. My palms crawled as if flayed by tiny forked tongues. My body could no longer stand the staid implosion of its cries and shudders by the ever-present flame-licked cold. I passed out.
"Christopher, is she breathing? Katrina, Katrina, answer me!" I heard Isobel sob, her voice sliding to my ears as if forced through a tube.
"Now she is!" Christopher cried. His arms about my shoulders came slowly to my awareness. He was holding me upright in the chair. In reality, my body had never left it.
"You fool," I heard Isobel gasp, all at once reprimanding and hysterically grateful. "You terrible fool."
I lifted my head from the table with a jerk, swaying in the brace of Christopher's arms. My cheeks were plastered with hot tears and my throat felt as if I'd been yelling for hours. I stared at Isobel across from me. Her face was gray, as I inferred quickly enough that my own must be, and her eyes were raw but curiously lighter, as if the shadows they had borne upon her arrival were lifted. I stared down at her hands, trembling palms up on the table. They were covered with blood.
"Oh- God- I- again-!"
Isobel rushed around the table to my side, forgetting her sullied hands and wrapping her arms around me in league with her brother's.
"Sh, no, Katrina," she soothed tremulously. "The... the blood... oh, Lord, but how awful to put it this way! It's-"
My own hands lay palms down on the table. I lifted them, sobbed when they peeled away with a seeping tear.
"Not yours," I said in a faint, hollow whisper.
My hands were scored with lines, dots, squiggles, and dashes that could have been carved by the head of a pin. How such light, shallow cuts showed with such unnatural clarity...
"It's writing, Katrina," Isobel said helplessly.
I did not have to ask what kind. I also did not have to ask whether or not it was contained in the Magellans' half of the tablet. My entire body ached and my hands burned.
"Isobel, there's... a handkerchief on my dresser upstairs," I managed to say before my voice gave out. She brought it quickly, stumbling almost as if she had forgotten how to walk.
Reading my thoughts without a second one of her own, she turned the table in front of me and spread the handkerchief on a clean portion of it. I pressed my bleeding palms against it, hoping against hope that the pressure I exerted was not too much or too little. Taking another unspoken cue, Isobel peeled the handkerchief away.
"My God," Christopher breathed.
Isobel flipped it to the reverse side. The blood had penetrated seamlessly, flawlessly.
"The demon couldn't use any other writing to communicate... it knows no other.... Here we have the answer, and we cannot read it," Isobel said quietly, defeated.
I think this is what the missing half says, I ventured.
So do I, Katrina. Without our half, still, it's useless.
Nothing is entirely useless, a smile curiously finding its way to my lips. We know that Ichabod's conjecture is correct. And we now have something to bargain with. Their secret weapon replicated in the blood of a witch. Think of it, Isobel-
The front door opened. That was how Ichabod found us, a shaken tableau about his tea table. Isobel and I had been in the trance for over three hours. Strange, how so long a time seemed so short....
Perhaps the demon was merciful in its own perverse way after all.
I swiftly rushed to Katrina, elbowing Christopher aside. Her face was ashen, her eyes even redder than they had been this morning and the circles under them darker, her cheeks streaked with tears. I took her by the shoulders. "Katrina! Good God what happened?"
"Im all right, Ichabod." She was trying to look calm for my sake. Isobel, who also looked rather pale, kept a comforting arm around her.
"Nonsense. Tell me what youve been doing to yourself today. At once."
"We just had a séance for the demon," she explained.
"And you insisted upon being brave and" I reached for her hand to clasp it comfortingly. She quickly moved it away, palm downward, but not before a tiny smear of blood got onto my own hand. I seized both of her hands and turned their palms upward, in spite of her attempts to resist my hold.
My breath caught in my chest, and I nearly swooned at what I saw. Her lovely palms were covered in tiny scratches, blood seeping from them slowly.
A dozen nightmare images rushed through my head. Slashed palms, lacerated palms, bloody palms .
"Ichabod." My wifes voice was very firm, cutting through the terrors that coursed through my fevered mind. "I need some salve for this. There is some in the maplewood chest in our room. Its in a small green jar in the upper right-hand corner."
"Ill get it," Isobel offered.
"No," I said, my voice strained. "You stay here with Katrina. I shall get it." My eyes met those of my beloved gratefully. She had been able to bring me back from near-unconsciousness by giving me a purpose of the moment. Numbly I walked up the stairs to our bedroom.
I knelt beside the bed and checked cautiously first for spiders before reaching until my hands met solid air. I pulled the box out. It did not appear at my touch as it had for her. I had to find the clasp by touch, and then gingerly ran my hands over the invisible contents until I felt something like a jar. When I lifted it out of the box, it became visible, and it was green as she had said. I closed the box and pushed it back into place.
As I rose, I found myself reflecting on what I would have thought a year ago had I seen myself. Here I was searching an invisible box for a salve for the wounds a demon had inflicted on the witch I had married. I would have found it amazing enough that I would be married. I remembered something Katrina once said, back in Sleepy Hollow: "Are you so certain of everything?" Not anymore.
When I returned to the sitting room, I lifted Katrina and carried her to the sofa and made her recline. "Im all right, Ichabod," she insisted shakily.
"Nonsense. If I came in looking the way you do now, you would put me to bed so fast it would make my head spin. And as soon as weve shared what weve learned today, that is exactly where youre going." I opened the jar and tried to put some of the salve on her hands, but my own were trembling too much at the sight of the blood on her palms. Isobel quietly took the jar from me and began treating my wifes hands for me.
I moved aside to give Isobel room and drew a breath, trying to compose myself. "Can I get you anything else, my love? Something to drink?" She shook her head. "What happened?" I demanded.
"These scratches form letters," Katrina explained. "Sanskrit letters. The ones from the missing half of the tablet."
"And the demon made them?" I had been fighting light-headedness since the instant I saw her hands, but with something to concentrate on, I became calm and intent once more. At her nod, I pressed my lips together in satisfaction. "Then I was right. The reading of the tablet is the way to free the demon. That is what it wants. And that is what we must do before we can bring these villains to justice."
I noticed that the twins were looking at me in faint surprise. I had seen that look before, from people who had seen me falter and were now seeing my true self. I smiled briefly and looked back at my wife. "Your hands do they hurt?" I asked gently.
"Not much," Katrina evaded, but Christopher spoke up.
"She screamed and fainted when it happened," he informed me.
Isobel shot her brother a warning look. "I dont think it will scar, Constable Crane," she said softly as she replaced the lid on the jar of salve. "These scratches are not very deep."
I clasped my wifes shoulder since I could not hold her injured hands. "It must have been fairly dreadful to make you faint," I said sympathetically. Behind me, Christopher gave a loud exhalation that just barely missed being a snort. I was annoyed, but ignored him. Katrina leaned over and kissed my cheek reassuringly. I reddened. It always embarrasses me when she does that in front of others, though I cannot honestly say I wish she would stop.
But now to putting that pup in his place. I straightened and turned. "By the way, Mr. Magellan," I said coolly, "I have found your Sanskrit tablet." This had the effect I desired; everyones eyes widened, and Christopher looked rather abashed. "Both pieces of it."
"I knew you would find it," Katrina said warmly, still lying back wanly.
"Where is it?" he demanded.
"In the Museum of Arts and Antiquities."
"How the" He stopped himself, remembering there were ladies present. "How did it get there?"
"Her Grace, Mireille d'Aubrecy-sur-Mer, donated it." I looked at Katrina. "It is fortunate you wished for me to learn the name of Hawkes fiancée, because she was the key to locating it. As soon as I heard her name, I remembered something I read a few days ago in the Banner."
"You read the Banner?" Christopher sneered.
"Only when the murderers I am investigating are bribing its editor to publish propaganda," I answered frostily. That quieted him. For the moment, at least.
"There was an item in the Banner a few days ago which mentioned the generous donation of several valuable artifacts and works of art made to the Museum by an expatriate duchess," I continued. "This duchess, I have learned, has been reduced to selling her bric-a-brac to pawnbrokers, so how is she making generous donations to museums and charitable societies? But she is engaged to Colonel Joseph Hawke, who is behind all of these crimes the Erickson murder, the theft of your tablet, and many more things to come, if he has his way. I believe that he is making these donations in her name, in order to establish his wife as the grande dame he needs for his aims."
"This propaganda the Banner is publishing is it about Senator Remington?" Christopher asked tensely.
"Yes, among other things."
"What did you learn about Remington?" he wanted to know. I studied his face, gauging the motive behind his question. It seemed that, whatever his shortcomings, the lad at least had sense enough to respect Remington.
"I discovered considerable evidence that Senator Remington has been embezzling large amounts of government money."
Christophers face was both incredulous and crestfallen. "I dont believe it!"
"Nor do I," I informed him. Stopped, he stared at me. "I am certain that Colonel Hawke, Colonel Dorn and whoever else they have enmeshed in their conspiracy are simply trying to frame Remington for their own crimes, discrediting one of the most charismatic champions of democracy in the process." I hesitated, wondering what Christophers reaction would be if he knew what else I had learned about Senator Remington.
"Why do they want to discredit Remington?" he demanded.
I regarded the young man levelly. "Colonel Hawke fancies himself a sort of New World Napoleon."
"What? This is a democracy!"
"He intends to change that."
"Americans wont stand for that!"
"I quite agree," I told him. "But in the meantime, he could spill a lot of blood in the attempt."
"Blood well spilt, if it keeps this country free!"
For the next ten minutes Christopher and I had a political discussion that was none the less heated because we agreed completely. When I chanced to glance at the ladies sitting on the other side of the room, both of them looked decidedly amused, as if their little boys were finally playing nicely. I grimaced at Katrina and came back to the matter at hand.
"But Joseph Hawke made the mistake of bringing his plans to my attention," I declared. "And the even greater one of threatening Lady Crane. Like many men who are now behind bars, he underestimated me. Fate has chosen me to stop America from backsliding into the medieval institution of monarchy."
Christopher looked at me as if I had lost my mind. I regarded him levelly; he, too, had underestimated me. A gallingly frequent mistake. Admiration tinged with amusement was written on the face of my beloved. I have never understood why she so often looks amused at the most serious moments. Isobel gave me a searching look and then gazed sadly at Katrina.
I continued briskly. "One of the items Hawke donated to the museum in his fiancées name was your Sanskrit tablet, along with its missing half."
"So arrest him and get it back!"
"We must proceed with caution, Mr. Magellan. We have to free the demon before alerting these villains that I am not playing their game."
Christopher fumed. He started to object, but his sister stopped him. "He is right, Christopher. Now that we know where it is, we can be patient for a few days." She looked to me. "What do you plan to do, Constable Crane?"
"Our first step is to have the tablet translated," I said. "I have located another Sanskrit scholar. Tomorrow Mrs. Crane and I will go to see him. Right before we arrive, Mrs. Crane will conjure the tablet from the Museum. It is closed on Sunday, so no one will notice. We will have him copy the writing to translate, and then Mrs. Crane will conjure it back. Once the inscription is translated and Miss Magellan reads it and frees the demon, then I can arrest Hawke, Dorn and their friends on embezzlement charges. I will make certain that the tablet is then returned to its rightful owners," I finished inclining my head toward them.
"What about that mountebank Purnell?" Christopher demanded.
I felt my slight smile fading. "I will take care of him as well," I said in a deathly quiet voice. I hate to think what my face must have looked like, because all of them grew quiet as they gazed at me.
"I suppose ." Christopher agreed grudgingly.
Isobel said solemnly, "Thank you, Constable Crane."
"My pleasure, Miss Magellan. And now, Mrs. Crane," I turned a face of mock sternness on Katrina, "you need some rest."
The Magellans took their leave, Isobel embracing Katrina warmly before going. Katrina was too exhausted to object when I carried her upstairs.
"First you stay up all night, and now this. You must take better care of yourself," I ordered. "We cannot afford for you to make yourself ill now."
"You are right, Ichabod," she murmured into my chest, where she was resting her head. As I set her on the bed, she suddenly looked up at me. "Ichabod, downstairs on the table there is a handkerchief with bloodstains from my hands. You must put it in the maplewood box, to keep it safe."
"Safe?" I frowned at her. Had she pushed herself to the point of delirium?
"The writing on the missing half of the tablet that has the power to free the demon, written in the blood of a witch," she murmured. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end.
"Ill get it," I assured her unhappily. Leaving her to change into a nightdress, I fetched the gruesome artifact, handling it gingerly. Heaven knew what such an artifact was capable of doing. When I returned to our room, she was lying wanly in bed. I put the handkerchief in the invisible box and then pulled up a chair to sit beside the bed.
"I think I am too anxious to sleep, weary as I am," she muttered.
"If you arent asleep soon, I will get you some laudanum." I took her hand, very carefully. "There is nothing for you to be anxious about, my love. This will all be cleared up in a matter of days. Tomorrow we shall arrange for the tablet to be translated. As soon as we have the translation, Miss Magellan can read it and these villains will have lost their most powerful weapon. I have ample evidence to arrest Hawke and Dorn on quite mundane charges. And to keep Senator Remingtons name clear." I frowned involuntarily.
"What is it, Ichabod? I thought there was something you were not telling us about Senator Remington."
I shook my head wearily. "I am going to have to get myself some of those Dark Wards."
She smiled. "I was not reading your thoughts, my love. Garden variety womens intuition was quite adequate for that."
"Can the Magellans read thoughts as well?"
"We can speak to each other with our minds, but they cannot read minds as I can. Your thoughts are safe from them, my love."
"Good. I would hate to see Christophers reaction if he learned the other things I learned about Remington. Because these are true."
I hesitated. "Senator Remington is a good man," I said at last. "But he is addicted to an unnatural vice."
Her eyes widened. "Like that Simon Purnell?"
"No. From what I learned, Remington has like-minded companions, shall we say. Willing participants in these vices. Simon Purnell has no such compunctions." At the mention of the would-be wizards name, cold rage unseated my nausea. Katrina had, indirectly, destroyed yet another certainty forever. I would never have thought myself capable of the retribution to which I had already doomed Simon Purnell.
"It is a good thing you did not tell Christopher, then," she said, closing her eyes. "I dont think I have ever heard him speak well of anyone else."
I shrugged. "At his age, no one was good enough to satisfy me either."
She opened her eyes, dimpling. "And who reaches your Olympian standards now, Sir Rational?"
I smiled at her, remembering how much that pet name had irritated me the first few times she had used it. I had grown very fond of it in time. "Now the sum of worthy souls, in my estimate, has soared to a grand total of one. Exactly one fairy sprite."
Shaking her head and smiling, she closed her eyes again. I sat holding her hand until her breathing grew even and she slept. I watched her face grow peaceful and untroubled, even more angelic in sleep than in wakefulness. Silently, I thanked God for the thousandth time since our wedding.
I regretted having allowed her to read the encounter with Hawke from my thoughts. She had worked herself into a terrible state over the threat to me. I resolved that in the future I would tell her things myself so that I could shield her.
I had almost forgotten that Hawke had threatened me with death. To me, that had been irrelevant. What had been important was the accompanying hint that it was he who controlled the demon, because someone who could do that might be able to carry out his threat against my wife, despite her powers. It had not even occurred to me, though perhaps it should have, that she would think the threat to me was the important matter! And who knew what rash act she might perform now, if she thought it would help me. Once again, I am too fortunate.
And the fact was that nothing was going to happen to her. I might not know exactly how to defend her from this threat, but whatever was required, I would do it. I had not let the Headless Horseman harm her, and I would not let these vile men do so either. I kissed her lacerated palm gently before releasing her hand and leaving her to sleep. I had work to do to ensure her safety and that of my country, I added as an afterthought.
As I was getting my ledger from the sitting room, David came in. When he saw me, he said, "I finished that chemistry book, sir."
"Ah, good. Did you have any questions?"
"Go get the book and come up to the laboratory and Ill answer them for you. Keep quiet, though; Katrina is taking a nap."
A few moments later we were both seated on the battered, sturdy wooden chairs of my laboratory, deep in discussion of chemical reactions. I was quite pleased with how well his mind was developing. I would not have thought I would so thoroughly enjoy training a young mind.
When his questions were satisfied, he hesitated. "Thank you for treating my spider bite," he said, a bit shyly.
"I was happy to do so."
He pressed his lips together before saying, "Sir I know that youre in trouble. With the investigation, I mean. I want to help." He held my gaze tensely.
It took me a moment to find words. "Thank you, David. Just knowing that helps more than you know."
"You avenged my father! And you took me in, as well. How can I ever repay that?"
I looked at him, struggling to find words or a gesture to tell him how much this meant to me. I was exasperated with myself. The only time that he and I are truly at ease with each other is when we are speaking of abstract matters, of science and deduction and police work. Anything more personal and we are both tongue-tied. Will I be so awkward with my own son, if fate ever blesses me so?
I clasped his shoulder hesitantly. "There is no question of repayment, David," I said softly. "I am very grateful I could help."
"And I want to help you now! Im worried about you!"
I sighed. I could not even convince a ten-year-old boy that I could look after myself, even one who had seen me at my best as well as my worst, even one whose respect for my abilities was patent. No wonder my wife insisted upon coddling me. "Let me do the worrying," I said wearily.
He looked both pleased and impatient. "I want something to do!" For a second he restrained himself, and then added, "I let you down before, about keeping Katrina out of McRakers Alley. I wont fail you again!"
"You did not fail me!" I said emphatically. "You know perfectly well that we are both helpless when she has made her mind up. Had I known she was so set on going there, I would never have dragged you into it, and I am sorry that I did."
"Tell me whats going on. How can I help if I dont know?"
"You are a brave young man, David." I hesitated. I could hardly bring a child into this sordid mess, and yet, if he were kept completely ignorant, that too could endanger him. I considered my words carefully. "The men behind Gabriel Ericksons murder have many other unsavory plans," I said at last, "and they are trying to induce me to help them."
He was incredulous. "They think they can make you do something wrong? They must be stupid!"
I acknowledged this with a nod. "Not stupid so much as overconfident. And they do have some compelling reasons to offer. If they think I am not cooperating with them, then well, they have threatened Katrina."
His eyes widened. "We cant let anything happen to her!" he said fiercely. His loyalty warmed me.
"We wont. And so, once again, what I need you to do is simply keep your eyes open. Watch for anything odd, anyone suspicious. I have to seem to play their game until her safety is assured, which it should be in only a couple of days, if all goes according to plan. And then I will bring them all to justice."
"What is the plan?"
Again I considered before speaking. "There are a few things I must do first, but in a few days I am going to turn the evidence of their crimes over to Senator Alan Remington. Can you remember that name?"
"Senator Alan Remington," he repeated.
"Good. I am going to spend this evening organizing this evidence, and I am going to place it in that box." I indicated a wooden trunk in one corner. "That box will be exactly where it is now, but after tomorrow, no one will see it there. I am going to have Katrina put an invisibility charm on it."
"A what? She can do that?"
I nodded affirmatively. "And so that is one thing I will need for you to do. I dont expect anything to happen to me, but if it should, I will need you to take this evidence to the senator. It is of the most vital importance, David. And you will have to keep yourself safe in order to do this, so please, dont take any foolish risks."
He gave a lopsided smile. "Ill stay away from spiders, sir." He added more solemnly, "And if anything happens, Ill take this evidence to Senator Remington, I swear it."
I clasped his shoulder again. "Thank you, David. Youve put my mind at ease."
I gave him another scientific text this time he wanted one about medicine, having become intrigued by Katrinas potions and spent the evening, as I had said, carefully writing up the evidence of Hawkes and Dorns embezzlement. It did seem an inadequate charge, but I had very little else to go on.
On Sunday afternoon Katrina and I walked to the home of Quincy Addison, Sanskrit scholar. I carried an empty valise which I reckoned should be large enough to hold the Magellans tablet. We reached the house, a red brick house on a quiet street, and paused on the stoop. Katrina closed her eyes, and I felt the valise become heavy in my grasp. The sensation shook me, even though I had been expecting it, just as it had shaken me to see her make my trunk of evidence invisible that morning.
I was reaching for the tarnished brass knocker when I paused suddenly. "Katrina, would you oh, good Lord."
I shook my head. "I cannot believe the things I am asking you to do today."
She took my hand and spoke gently. "More magic?"
"Yes." I hesitated a few seconds longer before explaining, "I would like for you to read this mans thoughts, to be certain he is not in some way connected with Hawkes conspiracy."
"Of course, my love."
Without further delay, I knocked. There was no response. I knocked again, more loudly. This time I heard a sound from within. When the door still did not open, I raised my voice as I pounded again. "Professor Addison? Its Constable Crane. I sent you a message yesterday."
A few seconds later the door was thrust open and a short, slight man blinked up at me through his spectacles as if I were some sort of unusual specimen he was classifying.
"Youre Constable Crane?"
"I dont believe it. You dont look nearly thuggish enough to be a constable," he declared. To my astonishment, he without preamble grasped my head in his hands, checking the proportions of my skull. I was too taken aback to protest. "Your phrenology is that of a man of learning! Yes, your logical faculties are strongly developed and you have great compassion and you are high-strung and rather arrogant."
The giggles Katrina had been stifling since he began pawing my head burst through at last.
Quincy continued in a puzzled voice, "The shape of your organ of valor is very irregular."
So is my valor itself, I thought but did not say. Pressing my lips together in annoyance, I reached up to remove his hands. "Thank you for your diagnosis," I said drily, trying to smooth my hair. Suddenly catching a bit of my loves mischief, I added, "Perhaps you could also evaluate Lady Crane for me. Though I really should have had that done before I married her."
Katrina looked as if she could not decide whether to laugh or throw something at me. However, she allowed him to feel her head. After a moment, he quoted absently, "Her worth is above rubies."
I took in her expression and remarked, "I dont believe that rubies gloat."
"Stubborn, though," he added. His fingers moved back and forth over her forehead a few times. "Fascinating!" He peered at me. "A high-strung man like you married to a woman with pronounced psychic capabilities? That was unwise."
"The slight swell at the center of her brow," he explained matter-of-factly. "Very unusual. Denotes supernatural powers." As if he were asking if it were raining out, he inquired, "Why are you not following a calling that suits your mental gifts?"
Feeling a bit breathless from his rapid subject changes, I answered, "May we come in?"
"Of course! What were you waiting for? Come in, come in."
Judging from the house, Quincy Addison was a man of means. Intriguing artifacts abounded, and every wall was lined with books. In the foyer, I glanced through the three open doors which presented themselves; each book-lined room boasted at least one large desk with pages of notes stacked neatly. Quincy led us into one of the rooms, apparently at random, and sat down without inviting us to follow suit. But I had already gathered that this man was too absorbed in his own intellect to pay any attention to such trivia as civilities. Katrina and I sat down uninvited.
In spite of the abundant evidence of scholarly activity, the place was clean and orderly, and I was soon to discover why. A middle-aged housekeeper appeared unbidden with a tea tray. With a resigned glance at her employer, she asked us, "Wont you have some tea? Would you like anything else?" We politely declined.
Without actually looking at the tray, Quincy began stuffing the tea-cakes briskly into his mouth. I gathered this was his habit, to eat what was set before him without giving it a thought. Meanwhile, his gaze was intent upon us. "Well? What is a man of the mind doing solving problems with his fists?"
"I am not," I retorted, offended. "It is possible for a constable to solve crimes using his brain."
He blinked at me. "I have never heard of one doing so."
Katrina smiled at me affectionately and proudly. "That is because he is the only one. He is reforming the constabulary."
"What use is a brain for police work?" he wanted to know.
Naturally I could not resist this chance to speak about my methods. I began with a brief summary of the chemical reactions to common poisons I have learned to detect. He was so intrigued by this that I continued on, speaking about autopsies, about what we can learn from the position in which a body falls, and about the most important factor at all, motive. He was fascinated I think many things fascinated him, actually, for his remarks showed knowledge of many abstruse topics and asked endless questions, while Katrina listened quite patiently.
But at length I had to come to the purpose of our visit. "We have a tablet with a Sanskrit inscription that we need translated. It is most urgent."
Clearing off the desk carelessly, he asked, "How on earth can a Sanskrit translation be urgent?"
"Trust me, it is." I set the valise on the desk and opened it, removing the halves of the tablet carefully. Even though I had known they would be there, I could not help being startled when I saw them. I glanced at my lovely witch, amazed by her for the thousandth time.
"I dont see how this can have any bearing on a criminal investigation." He peered at the inscription intently. "Unless the murderer was a demon."
I felt cold all over. "W-what?"
"Well, this inscription is about the devas, evil spirits. But I suppose, if you are married to a sorceress, that it makes a certain kind of sense for you to be involved in such things."
I found it necessary to sit down. Katrina shoved my teacup back into my hand and I took a swallow of the stimulating liquid gratefully. "Could you please copy the inscription down?" she asked firmly. "I am afraid we cannot leave the tablet itself with you."
Without looking up, he said, "Certainly." He pulled a sheet of paper from a drawer and began painstakingly copying the symbols.
As he finished, I asked, "How long do you think it will take to translate? We need a phonetic interpretation as well as a translation."
Still without looking up, he said, "Oh Tuesday night, I suppose ."
I looked at Katrina inquiringly; I doubted Quincy Addison had a strong sense of time. Amused, she gave me a reassuring nod.
I put the tablet back into the valise and we took our leave. Quincy scarcely seemed to notice that we were going, so intent was he already on the translation. We paused on the stoop once more so that Katrina could return the tablet to the museum. I felt the valise grow lighter as I held it.
"Thank you, my love. Now, we need only wait until ow!"
She had grasped a handful of my hair and given it a firm pull. I grinned helplessly as she put her hands on her hips; she was laughing even as she glowered at me. "Ill get you for this! Having my skull evaluated indeed!"
"I wasnt evaluating you, I was evaluating him!" I protested with laughter, holding my hands up appealingly. She took a menacing step toward me, trying very hard not to smile, and failing.
I made an elaborate show of keeping a safe distance away from her as if that did any good with an angry witch. "Why, I already knew that you were as close to perfection as a mortal can be. If he had not agreed, it would have proven that he didnt know what he was talking about," I pleaded.
She finally surrendered to her own laughter, taking my arm. "You certainly know how to get yourself out of trouble, Constable. At any rate, he summed you up well enough."
I did not bother to argue with her agreement with his charge of arrogance; I could well imagine my fairy sprites teasing response to that. Instead I asked, trying to sound surprised, "You think I dont look thuggish?"
"About as thuggish as Mr. Addison!" I parried gleefully, dodging Ichabod's imminent tickle-attack. I whirled away from him, nearly tripping off the curb into the cobblestone street. Ichabod lunged to catch me, alarmed but still smiling.
Pulling me back onto the walk, he laughed, "I should hope that's a compliment, considering that you once didn't find the trait quite so repellent."
I kissed his cheek quickly to dispel the sudden apprehension that filled his eyes despite the fact that he had made the remark in jest. "Be glad that you were spared the foolishness of an adolescent infatuation," I reassured him wryly.
"I certainly am," Ichabod said with feeling, pausing to gaze at me as the early evening breeze stirred the leaves above us. I leaned into him, caught on his unfinished phrase, mesmerized by the moment. How rare, I thought, must a love so enchanted be? His breath a wondrous rush against my ear, my husband finished, "For I consider myself the most fortunate man living, to have found my true love on the first try!"
"And I consider myself," I murmured when at last our lips parted, "the luckiest woman on earth, considering that my backward husband is daring enough to kiss and whisper nonsense to me in the middle of the street."
Ichabod went slightly red, as I had expected he would. I found myself recalling that night again, when, upon discovering me as I read, his thoughts became such that I might have known his cheeks to be fleetingly crimson had the light not been so dim. I had seen more in those thoughts than he gave himself credit for. By no means was I unused to discovering scandalous notions in the heads of the country lads by whom I had been surrounded since childhood. More than once I coyly denied Brom a parting kiss on account of where his intentions even unintentionally lay. I enjoyed that sly little game, denying a trifle of affection on a count that my suitors could never for the lives of them guess! But only with Ichabod did I find myself more eager to give than to deny. Unlike any other young man that I had ever known, his self-supposed imprudent musings had driven him instantly to thoughts of proposal. How often does desire immediately resolve itself into a lifelong commitment? Almost never. Ichabod Crane's honor, as far as I was concerned, was worth far more in comparison to a ruby than I ever would have considered myself.
As ever it had done and ever it would, Ichabod's touch proved my lifeline to the present. Sometimes I think that I would have been lost in remembrance forever, if not for him. For when all was said and done in Sleepy Hollow, what more than memories would I have had to live for- or to die for- if he had not survived?
"Katrina, Katrina, Katrina," Ichabod mock-chided, tightening his arm about my shoulders and leading us in the direction of Raleigh Avenue. "I couldn't possibly give you the satisfaction of being the sole walking bundle of contradictions in this marriage, now, could I?"
How good it was, to be lighthearted again! At dinner that night, only David was in a somber mood. The boy excused himself early, making an unusually profuse show of yawning. Ichabod sensed my disquiet over David's behavior, and as a consequence I had to fight for the right to clear the table. After winning nothing but a few good-natured blows from the dishtowel, I resigned myself to watching.
On the way upstairs, I finally worked up the nerve to ask Ichabod what was bothering David. I'd been afraid that mention of it would somehow ruin the favorable turn of events. Finally, our hard-won evidence seemed to be falling into place. Even the horror of the demon séance and the pain in my palms were fading.
"David was rather distracted at dinner," I observed. "Is he onto something?"
"Yes," Ichabod replied. "He knows how potentially high the stakes are in this case. He confronted me last night, expressing the desire to help in any way that he could. I gave him stewardship of the papers in the trunk, should any harm befall me."
"It will not," I said with determination, opening the bedroom door before us. "We have every piece now. The tablet's contents are in translation. You've uncovered the full extent of Hawke's scheme, and now you know what must be done to stop it."
"Yes. That is what I hope," Ichabod sighed, his brow creased ever so slightly.
"Please don't tell me you're playing the devil's advocate!"
"In a situation such as this, I've come to the point where it's hard not to. Never again will I plunge headlong into a case without leaving room for reservations. Because, last fall... I made a mess of things long before I cleaned them up."
"What matters is that you did," I comforted Ichabod, drifting after him to the window. "Living proof is the best kind," I added, unpinning the shutters so that they opened wide to receive the night's cool, dark blue sky.
"If life were not so complicated," Ichabod conceded with a weary smile, embracing me from behind, "then there would be no excuse for a solution as simple as you."
"Simple, you say?" I asked with amusement. I did an about-face, pulling him onto the cushioned window seat. I tossed my hair over my shoulder, letting it cascade over the windowsill into the darkness. "Then let's give that equation another go, shall we?" I asked as primly as I could, unable to prevent a mischievous grin from spoiling my schoolgirl demeanor.
"You're incorrigible!" Ichabod muttered, having no more success in keeping a straight face than I.
"Ah, ah!" I scolded. "I require a proof in support of your answer. You must show me step... by... step how you came to that conclusion," I challenged, kissing first his forehead and then his lips and then his neck. "I never was that good with numbers."
"You had better pass the exam afterward, that's for certain!"
The next morning, a knock at the front door interrupted breakfast. David leapt to his feet but was promptly returned to his chair by my warning look.
"Stay where you are," Ichabod said with annoyance, lowering his fork onto a plate that I knew for certain would not be cleared. "Perchance it's Mr. Addison come to ask a few more questions, or..." Ichabod hesitated, at a loss for words. In truth, I was as startled by the caller as he was. Monday morning at eight o'clock was an unusual time for visitors, let alone visitors in our home, a thing of which we had seen none until Christopher and Isobel. I took his hand in concern and rose with him, only to be urged back into my seat.
"Stay with David," Ichabod said in a low voice. "He is too excitable, and this is most likely nothing. God forbid Christopher should show up any time he fancies himself game for a political discussion!"
I nodded, mutely offering David another apple tartelette as Ichabod left the kitchen. He refused, staring at me a little crossly.
"I'm not hungry anymore, thanks."
"Nor am I," I said softly, lowering the plate. I heard Ichabod open the front door. He offered whoever was there a reserved greeting. I was relieved to hear a young stranger's voice in reply- it was a courier, no doubt, with word from Mr. Addison or the twins. I rose from the table and glanced around the corner. I watched the lad on the doorstep tip his hat, place a clean white square of paper bearing an unfamiliar seal in Ichabod's hand, and depart. Ichabod turned around, staring at the delivery as if he expected it to explode. My heart skipped a beat, but I missed not one. I returned to the table, stacking the used plates slowly. David pushed his away warily, looking to me as if for an answer to a question not even he himself was sure of.
"Clear these away, if you would, David," I said calmly. "Mr. Addison's sent word on the translation's progress. I'm going to have a look."
"How do you know it's from Addison?" David asked.
"Ichabod has exchanged correspondence with him a few times from work. He brought the notes home to show me. I recognize Addison's seal," I lied, unhurriedly leaving David to the task I had given him.
Ichabod stood rooted to the spot, reading the now-open note. Quite unaware of my approach, he made no attempt to mask his consternation. Ichabod stared heatedly at the paper, as if he wished to burn what he saw written there. His jaw was set in undisguised fury. I did not need to read his mind, not with such legible outward signs.
"It's from Hawke, isn't it?" I whispered once I was close enough.
Ichabod jumped a foot at the sound of my voice. "Yes!" he yelped, regaining his composure, "Yes, it-it is, unfortunately. What nerve, summoning me when he knows full well I'm due to report in half an hour. By God, this had better be excusable as acting in the line of duty." Ichabod half folded and half crumpled the note, handing it to me.
"Evidence," he said brusquely. "I don't want to see it."
"Understood," I reassured him, glancing over it before tucking it into my sleeve. The missive was brief and a touch impudent, summoning Ichabod to Hawke's home for an undefined "conference of great significance" which "you will no doubt agree is imperative, Constable Crane." I put my arms around Ichabod, glad of his immediate surrender to my embrace. I whispered, "I have confidence in you. I know this game is one that you must play. Soon it will be over, my love. But be careful!"
Ichabod kissed me gently, reminding me that the previous night's studying would stand as proof of our strength no matter what happened. "I shall. The sooner I see this man and his cohorts behind bars or... well, the sooner I see them taken care of, the better!" he said resolutely.
I pressed the book in his pocket. "I'm with you no matter where you go. Always!"
"And I with you, Katrina."
I watched him disappear around the corner as always, this time more full of anger than apprehension. I was irreversibly resentful toward those who consistently underestimated my husband's genius. Hawke was in for the surprise of his life, as far as I was concerned. No, nothing could have and nothing would ever prepare him for the likes of Ichabod Crane. And if necessary, the likes of me.
After committing Hawke's summons to the charmed trunk in the attic, I returned to the kitchen and found David dutifully scrubbing the plates in the sink. He glanced nonchalantly over his shoulder.
"How's the translation coming?" he asked.
I breathed a sigh of relief. David had not been eavesdropping. "Three fourths complete," I said, praying that my foolish words would come true. "We should have it on the morrow."
"We had better. We'll need it," David said quietly.
"Please stop worrying, David. It's all but finished. You still feel that it's this close to home?" I asked incredulously, uncertain of whether I was trying to reassure him or to reassure myself. "You think that this case cannot be solved without another skirmish of sorts under this roof?"
David put down the dishes and turned to face me squarely. There was such concern in his eyes that I was instantly sorry for what I had said. David sighed, "Katrina, take one look at your hands and then tell me if you still don't know the answer to that."
I squeezed his shoulder quickly and retreated to the living room, finding that I had no reply to give. I had worked so hard to push aside my fears of that one night, tried so hard to believe Ichabod's insistence that all would be well. And I still believed in his reassurance. I had forced myself to accept that I was in the wrong, that my fears were largely ungrounded. What bothered me was that David had the same misguided outlook. And as I studied the esoteric scabbing on my palms, the less certain of how misguided David was I became.
I went about the housework in a pensive but not altogether unsettled mood, finding David's unbidden assistance and apologetic smiles ample reparation for what had passed between us. Barely an hour and a half had passed since Ichabod's departure when a second knock sounded on the front door. David put down the cloth that he had been dusting with.
"It's probably Colin," he said, turning to head for the door. I placed a hand firmly on his arm.
"I'll get it. It could be another message. Isobel's fond of sending them around this time."
"All right," David sighed, picking the cloth up and sulkily running it over the edge of the mantelpiece.
I opened the door with a newly cleaned throw rug still slung over one arm. A tall young man whom I did not recognize bowed to me. I noted his courier's dress and the folded slip of paper in his hand.
"With whom in this house do you have business?" I asked.
"Why, the none other than you, Lady Crane. I have here," the man said, unfolding the paper slightly as if to verify its contents, "a message from one Ichabod Crane... who would be your husband, if I am not mistaken?"
"Yes," I said, remaining aloof. I was appalled not only by his nosiness but by the fact that he flouted the knowledge of our names as if it were a matter of great consequence to him. "Please give me what you have brought and leave me to it at once. I don't believe that I'll use your services for the return message. I prefer postmen who realize that what's on the inside of the documents entrusted to them is not their business," I informed him icily, reaching for the letter. The rug slipped off my arm, forgotten.
Much to my shock, the courier withdrew the note, withholding it at a distance. The change in his demeanor was electrifying. His mildly pretentious professional air blossomed into a wicked smile. He shook one finger at me, as if scolding a naughty child.
"I should have listened to him. You've got quite a tongue indeed, my lady, not to mention... well, the eyes to match, for one-"
"How dare you! Give me my husband's note and get out of here at once!" I stormed, taking a furious step toward him. Only when I was well within his reach- only when it was too late- did I ask incredulously, "Wait... you should have listened to who?"
The courier unfolded the paper in front of my face. It was as blank as his expression had gone, cold and calculating. I began to back away from him, grappling for the door behind me. He advanced upon me slowly, as if that was exactly what he had hoped I would do.
"Why," he said patronizingly, "my lady, who else but the good Reverend? Surely you remember-"
"DAVID, RUN!" I shouted over my shoulder, staggering at the sight of two other men, who appeared out of nowhere. They had known about David, and they were prepared to take him, too, if he got in the way. David's eyes widened, and for a few moments he looked as if he would rush to my side. I pleaded with him for one eternal second, and with tears in his eyes he turned on his heel and ran toward the kitchen. I heard the back door open and slam shut. Resisting the urge to scream, I forced my terror back down my throat. Anger as gripping as the fire-freeze of the demons' realm spread through me. I had no choice but to defend my home, even though it would mean giving myself away. I had known that it would come to this. And I had not listened to myself.
Oh, my love, if only you had been right!
The false courier grabbed my wrists, pushing me backwards into the house, followed by the other two. I willed the door to slam shut behind the four of us, jamming the bolt while I was at it. None of my assailants seemed to realize what I had done. As I struggled against the courier, one of the others produced an iron clamp device of sorts and snapped it over my wrists. The courier let go, eyeing me calmly from head to toe. I was terrified, but my instinct told me to wait. At least I had kept the other two from pursuing David. I bolted the back door and quickly unbolted it again. I could not foresee how it would play out. I could only wait, acting moment by moment.
"Lady Crane," he said evenly, "telling the boy to run was unwise. Now you're to be punished not only for what your husband's done, but for your own misstep as well."
"That's a lie," I spat, forcing myself to take deep breaths. "You're just trying to make me squirm. If you wanted the boy, then at least one of you would have followed him. You even closed the door and locked it behind you, for God's sake."
The courier gave me a puzzled look and then glared at his partners. "Jess, you idiot," he said to the shorter one, "unlock it. What did I tell you about keeping a clear escape path?"
Jess sputtered like a fish for a few minutes, unable to explain why the door was bolted. The taller man simply rolled his eyes, as if to say to the courier, "I told you we shouldn't have brought him!" The courier fumed, "Unbolt it now!"
"Yessir!" Jess cried, forcing the bolt open with oafish fingers.
The courier turned back to me, annoyed. I slid the bolt back into place.
"He slid it back again. Quite impressive command you have of your men," I retorted.
"Damn you, Jess, unlock it!" said the tall man, who had not seen what I had done. But Jess had seen something.
"The bolt put itself back! Honest to God, just slid, click, like that!" Jess cried.
The tall man shoved Jess out of the way and slid the bolt for the second time. I promptly dislocated it. The tall man took a step back.
"See?" Jess whined from the floor, pulling himself back up.
The courier had seen it, too. He glared at me and said, "Your husband's clever gadgets won't help you, my lady. I suggest you wipe that smirk off your face."
Jess had scrambled to his feet and was furiously battling the bolt. Each time he slid it back, I slid it in the opposite direction. The tall man tapped Jess across the back of the head in annoyance.
"Leave it, dolt. What have we got to run from, besides? It's just a woman, and if she screams, she dies. No one'll come running to help you, sweetheart."
"Won't they?" I said innocently, raising my shackled hands before me. The three men stared as the device's lock came undone, snapping it in two. They gaped at the two halves as I suspended them in midair on either side of my freed wrists.
"My husband's clever tricks won't help me, no," I said, my helpless tone turning to venom. "But my own? You had better believe it!"
I sent the two iron bars sailing, two unwieldy nails driven by thin air. I struck Jess in the side of the head with one and hit the courier full force in the stomach with the others. With a wail, Jess fell, unconscious. The courier roared and fell not far from him, clutching his stomach. The tall man, dazed, took a step backwards before deciding to lunge at me. I turned the iron bars in his direction, aiming them directly at his head as I ran for the kitchen.
The tall man ducked, cursing as he dropped to the floor. "Hell's fire! She's one of Lucifer's own!"
I heard the courier moan as he struggled to his feet, "Like Hell she is! You're as gullible as your brother, Robert. Drag that doornail to his feet and let's get her!"
"But... but you saw-!"
"I didn't see anything! After her!"
I shoved the kitchen door shut behind me, leaning against it for a few moments, gasping. My head was spinning with the sheer concentration that simultaneous flight and a telekinetic attack had taken. I heard what I assumed to be the courier staggering painfully after me.
"No," said Robert.
The courier stopped in his tracks. I hardly dared breathe as I edged my way along the wall to the cupboards. "What?" he groaned in disbelief.
"I said no!" Robert growled. "My brother's bleeding like all get-out and you want me to chase that devil wench? I don't think so. Jess might not be good for much, but he's family. And I'll be damned if I stay one more minute in this fiery pit. I may be a crook, but I'm a God-fearing man. I'm getting him out of here!"
"Good riddance, then!" the courier shouted. "I can handle one little girl. You two were the ones who fouled us up with your buffoonery in the first place!"
I undid the bolt to save Robert the trouble, causing him to yelp, "God have mercy!" I heard him drag his inert brother, who groaned faintly, to the front door and exit with severe difficulty. The couriers labored footsteps loomed nearer, accompanied by a profusion of curses with every breath he took. By then, I knew exactly what I was going to do. One man was less trouble than three. I knew from experience that bravery often takes a crowd. I was anxious to see how courageous the impudent courier would prove on his own.
I stood between two drawers with my back to the counter, hugging myself and sniffling as if defeated, waiting to die. The courier was conceited enough for the ploy to work. He burst through the door, doubled over and glowering. He had tied his vest about his midsection, and I permitted myself a yell at the sight of the blood seeping through it. In truth, I was shaken by what I had done. I had nearly killed two men.
"As far as I'm concerned, now, my lady," the courier rasped, drawing one of the metal bars from behind his back and raising it as he came toward me, "this affair is no longer an order of His Lordship Hawke. This lies between me and thee, my beauty, and no one else!"
"Is... is that so?" I quavered, shifting from one foot to the other as if I longed to flee yet knew the attempt would be fruitless. "After all... you saw nothing, remember? So how can it possibly be a quarrel between-"
"You talk far, far too much for a lady of your standing," the courier barked, now only five feet away. "I'm going to enjoy killing you. You helped those wretches make a fool of me- I don't know how, though I suppose I should have known they were too stupid to know a faulty piece of equipment from a working one! Any last words, my lady? Did your husband not teach you that it's unbecoming to behave as you do? Any last thoughts on luring death with that infernal impudence?"
"Yes," I said, standing up straight. "Though I really can't say what I think of it, because it was you who brought it upon yourself."
Just as the courier snapped to attention, snarling as he dropped the vest to reveal that he was not torn open but had used some of Jess' blood to enhance his injury, the drawers on either side of me slid open. A dozen pieces of shining cutlery rose from each, taking their places in fatal, orderly formation. I turned the host of blades slowly until each point was in line with a different vital point on his body.
"I advise you to get out of this house, as I so kindly asked you to begin with. If you do not, I'll make a pincushion of you from your eye sockets to your toes. Understood?"
The courier dropped the iron bar, raising his hands slowly. His eyes never once left mine, full of an incredible mix of horror, fury, loathing, and defeat. He bowed to me mockingly as he had once before. I took a few menacing steps forward, watching his eyes bulge at the sight of the knives advancing with me like so many airborne silver soldiers on the march. Panicking, he clumsily fled backwards.
"Under-Understood, understood, Lady Crane! How much will it take for you to accept a gentleman's surrender?"
"A gentleman's surrender?" I echoed, continuing to stalk him. "What gentleman? I was not aware that there was one present. And if there were, he would not be the one from whom I demand surrender, would he? No, I'm more concerned with a spineless, disrespectful cur. I stop here," I hissed, pausing just beyond the kitchen doorway in the living room. The courier stumbled and tripped over the other half of the iron clamp. "If you aren't gone in the blink of an eye, you can say goodbye to your own! Both of them! And I'll only just begin there, kind sir."
He was on his feet in five seconds and out the front door in fewer still. I let my eyes fall to the floor where one half of the iron clamp lay. Blood graced the end of it, and a bright stain as big as both of my fists combined graced a nearby patch of carpet. Dark footprints marked a scuffle in brackish soot drug in from some unknown alley. I was suddenly so nauseated that I could no longer focus on levitating the knives. They dropped one by one at my feet. I gagged, running for the kitchen, desperate to reach the back door.
"David!" I choked, staggering into the backyard. "Dear God, David! Where are you? David... David, please!"
I fell in a heap at the edge of the herb garden, where the year's new crop had just begun to sprout. I clasped my hands fiercely against my heart in hysteria, as if I meant to pray in my madness. "David!" I wailed, pressing my hands together until I felt a few scabs tear.
The neighbors' shed door creaked open. I raised my head and saw David come rushing toward me. Tears streamed down his cheeks, but his eyes gleamed with relief. I rose to meet him, not caring that he ran right through the garden and nearly knocked me over. I held him so fiercely that I thought we might both suffocate.
"I knew you were alive, I knew you were alive!" he sobbed over and over. "I could hear you shouting at them. That was how I knew, that was how I could stay put... but I almost couldn't forgive myself for not staying! I almost failed Ichabod again!"
"David... David," I cried, "no! Don't say that! We're both alive, we're... here.... You were never meant to be my bodyguard. It was my duty to protect you. I told you to run, and you did."
"Are they gone?"
"Yes," I whispered, choking on the simple reply.
"Katrina, what did they do to you?"
"It's... It's not what they did to me," I said, sickened all over again. "They cornered me in the living room after you'd fled, they... put some kind of shackle on my wrists, said some nonsense about... about... David, it's what I did to them!"
David's eyes cleared almost instantly. "What are you saying? They obviously got what was coming to them!"
"I almost killed one of them!"
"There's blood on one of the carpets. He could be dying right now, for all I know!"
"I snapped the shackle and sent both halves flying at them. I hit one in the head, David, and-"
"He deserved it, Katrina! And before you say another word, think about why you did it."
I swallowed my tears and held David close. How could so much wisdom reside in one so young? I dried my eyes on David's shoulder. Fighting in my loved ones' defense was all the justification that I needed.
"Ichabod's in trouble," I managed to say numbly. "At least I'm fairly certain that he is. Those men could have been bluffing. It could have been a ploy of Burris' to... obtain me for his own purposes, but then-"
"A ploy of whose?" David asked, even more confused than before.
"Never mind. They mentioned Hawke, too, however, hinting that they had come after me on his orders, on account of something Ichabod had done- which can only mean that Ichabod either refused some offer or that they've discovered his intentions!"
"That wasn't a note from Addison this morning, was it?" David asked suspiciously.
"No," I sighed, "the seal was Hawke's. Ichabod told me to do my best not to alarm you. I'm sorry that I chose to do so by lying."
"Don't apologize, Katrina. I can't hold anything against you for following Ichabod's instructions. Besides, it worked. But Ichabod's the important thing.... We have to get to him somehow!"
"No," I said firmly, despite the fact that I desperately needed to be wherever my husband was. "I don't know if that's the best idea. Remember, we don't know whether those men were liars or not. We don't know for certain if it was Burris' or Hawke's doing. David, my instinct tells me the same thing that yours is telling you... that Ichabod's facing a terrible threat. But I can't help but feel that we should do what Ichabod would want us to do under such circumstances."
"Which is?" David demanded. "Katrina, it could be a matter of life and death! It almost was for us just now!"
"Hide until he can reach us. Or until I can discern that it's safe for us to go to him... or even where he is, for that matter! Oh, David, what a fool I am! I could have read those fools inside and out, but I-"
"Still can," David said hopefully. "You were in a panic, and you still are. Just focus, Katrina, please... for Ichabod! I know you can find them."
I blinked in surprise. "David, I never told you that I can read minds."
David looked down at his hands, admitting, "I hear more than you would think, sometimes."
"In this case, I'm glad you heard what you did."
Feeling utterly drained, I closed my eyes and launched the most fragmented search I had ever conducted. My thoughts were tossed directionlessly this way and that, but I was quite fortunate to pick up the courier's distress as he fled. For Ichabod... I held the signal as steady as I could.
"Hawke is the one who sent them," I breathed. "He's on his way back to Hawke at this very instant!"
"And?" David asked anxiously.
"That's all I can get. I'm not sure that they even knew exactly why Hawke wanted them to seize me. They only knew that he'd pay them handsomely for it. David, that's what has shaken me so.... They were sent to abduct me, not to kill me. The moment I fought back is when it turned fatal. I feel responsible for... for..."
"Unnecessary bloodshed? Don't, because it sure would have been necessary!" David sad vehemently. "Hawke might have had you killed anyway, just to break Ichabod. I don't want to know what he had in store for you, Katrina. Let's just go. If we have to hide, then we'll hide."
We looked at each other helplessly for a few moments. Neither one of us dared to admit that even though we both knew that we had to conceal ourselves, neither of us had any idea where.
"What are you going to do about the house?" David pressed. "You said there's a blood stain..."
"And about twenty knives scattered all over the floor," I muttered under my breath.
"What did you say?"
"I chased the last attacker off with a bunch of cutlery from the kitchen."
"You're so brave, Katrina!"
"No," I said wearily, "I was furious and scared out of my wits. Come on. We've got to stop this and get away. I'm going to go upstairs and get a couple of pistols and a few other provisions. Take a couple of the knives, if you like, but don't touch the carpet in front of the door or the iron bar. Ichabod... wouldn't want for the scene to be disturbed, and by God, we will have him back! Just as long as we have weapons, I'll see to it that we're well defended."
"You have an idea, then?" David ventured.
"I have, but I don't know how effective it will be. Lord knows how many agents Hawke has out and about!"
"You know where to take us?"
"Yes. To the one place I can think of that Hawke would never know to search."
"Is that possible?" David asked dubiously. "It seems like the enemy always knows everything."
I set my jaw and pushed myself in the direction of the house. David followed, running as if falling one step behind would mean being lost and never found again.
I told David, "I doubt that Hawke knows of Quincy Addison's existence. And besides, I have a translation to check up on."
As we locked the back door behind us, I felt a sense of loss in surrendering the only stronghold any of us had ever known. In the satchel that I carried was the charmed box from under the bed (which I had fetched only last minute upon remembering the bloodied handkerchief), a change of clothes for David, and some money. To these I added two knives that David had quickly snatched up from the floor even while he could not tear his eyes away from Jess' blood and the weapon that accounted for its presence. David carried my mother's small pistol, and I had donned a cloak and hidden one of Ichabod's on a belt beneath it.
I did not know how long we would be gone, or even if any of us would return. I felt very little concern for myself, my heart hardened against what less than half an hour before had reduced it to hysterics. We hailed a cab from what I knew to be the opposite end of Raleigh Avenue from the one the assailants had taken. Despite the short distance to Addison's, I refused to let us walk and risk being seen. Leaning against the leather interior and clasping David's hand as we rattled on, I sent out a plea that I knew I could not risk receiving an answer to:
Isobel, the storm has begun. If... if he is alive, Ichabod will come to you. It will be the first place he looks for David and me. Isobel, I need you to tell him that we have gone where our one hope lies. He will know what I mean, and I regret that I cannot explain it now, for it concerns you most urgently. God-willing, Ichabod will explain everything to you. Tell him, Isobel... that I love him!
Katrina? Katrina, wait-
I cannot! I answered, tears welling up in my eyes as I closed off my mind. They know now, Isobel. They know.
As we neared Quincy Addison's address, I could think of nothing but the courier to whom I had granted his life... to whom I had granted his escape. What a reward, I thought cynically, for sparing a man's life! He had gone directly to Hawke, of that I was certain, and though I could not read his thoughts beyond the garrison of Dark Wards, I knew without question that his report consisted of the havoc he had encountered under my roof. I also knew that Ichabod was in Hawke's mansion. The feeling bore down upon me with each hoofbeat that carried David and me to what I prayed would be safety.
The driver gave me a somewhat condescending look as I paid him, as if I'd been daft to pay him the amount charged for a distance so easily walked. I ignored him and helped David out of the carriage. The coach pulled away, leaving us two wary-eyed fugitives on the curb outside Quincy's residence. I took the bag from David.
"I have no idea what I'm going to tell Mr. Addison," I said bleakly, "but as Ichabod once said, we're going anywhere but here. And this, David, is anywhere." I shrugged, taking a deep breath as we mounted the broad front steps.
David followed nervously a few steps behind. I summoned all of my courage and lifted one door's solid brass knocker. Other than the eerie reverberation produced, there was no answer from within.
"With our luck today, he's probably out," David muttered, disheartened.
"You've never met Quincy. My guess is he goes out about as often as Ichabod did before he married me."
Determined, I rapped several more times. After ten minutes, an odd shuffling made itself apparent. I took a step back as the heavy doors swung open. Quincy Addison squinted at me through a lens-bedecked visor of sorts that gave Ichabod's goggles a run for their money. He carried a dry paintbrush in one hand and a tiny, sharp pick in the other. On his feet were a bizarre kind of spats that almost resembled flippers. I heard David make an odd sound in the back of his throat, as if he could not decide whether to laugh or cry.
"Oh, it's you!" Quincy remarked, flipping the visor back with a creak. "I'd hoped you'd return soon. Because if I've translated that inscription correctly, you're in a load of trouble."
"You... You mean the translation's finished?" I croaked, not sure of whether to be grateful of his assumption or to be downright sickened by the thought of more trouble than we were already in.
"Indeed, indeed! Lady Crane, once I began work, I found that I could not leave it be. That tablet's inscription is the single most magnificent of its kind that I've ever seen, not to mention the deadliest. Won't you come in?"
Without further preamble, Quincy spun on his heel, gesturing for us to follow. David let out his breath, whispering, "And I thought Ichabod was stuck on his job!"
Before I had the chance to respond, Quincy remarked jovially, "Ah, there's how a young man ought to be, curious and good-humored! You needn't be afraid to ask about this getup. I've been picking away at an obelisk fragment obtained from my dealer for months now. It's a bugger to clean, I assure you. Had to design these spats to keep my shoes covered. I couldn't very well keep Beatrice hounding me about the dust creases in the nice leathers she picks out for me. Particular to a fault, old Bea is. As particular as your husband finds you, Lady Crane?"
"In some matters," I responded with a thin smile. I studied this wizened, white-haired wraith of a man and marveled at how spry he seemed for his surely more than sixty years. His tactless sense of humor, I realized, would save me from sinking into despondency for at least an hour or two.
Quincy led us to the same room in which he had held audience with Ichabod and I. He headed straight for his desk, pulling off his visor and tossing it in a careless clatter with the pick and paintbrush. He picked up a scroll of paper more than a foot long and unrolled it, perusing and muttering to himself as if to verify what was written there. David, looking stricken with the burden of our bag, glanced about the room, bewildered. I discreetly motioned for him to sit in one of the chairs opposite the desk. David gawked at me, as though he couldn't believe my sudden lack of manners.
"Yes, do as you're told, lad. Have a rest," Quincy muttered between phrases of half-spoken gibberish that I recognized as Sanskrit.
I took a seat in the second chair, knowing that whatever news Quincy had would be best taken sitting down. As if on cue, the middle-aged maid, Beatrice, hustled in with a broom in one hand and a dustpan in the other.
"For heaven's sake, sir, do tell me when we've got guests a-calling! I've nothing ready in the kitchen whatsoever!"
"Then be a dear, Bea, and get dinner started, will you? Or at least some tea for the lady and this fine boy," Quincy suggested in between breaths of nonsense.
"But the observatory floor, sir! All that God-forsaken Phonecian or Grecian or whatever in the Lord's name kind of dust you've got scattered-"
"Egyptian, Bea. Forget it at once and go to the kitchen."
"Yes sir," Beatrice sighed in annoyance that sounded almost affectionate.
"Takes nerve and patience, my lady, working for the likes of him," she informed me in a whisper as she left the room.
"Lady Crane knows all too well what it is to live with such a man. She married one."
"Bless your heart, love!" Beatrice called sympathetically over her shoulder.
Quincy finished his proofreading and lowered the scroll. Despite the droll remark that he had made seconds before, his expression had gone quite serious. He eyed the bag on the floor beside David's chair.
"Have you brought the artifact with you? I shall be frank. This is a more serious matter than any of you thought."
My heart sank. "No," I said, fear knotting in my stomach.
" 'No' as in you don't want it to be that serious or 'no' as in-"
"As in we don't have the tablet with us," I said, biting my lip. "It's not ours to begin with. It was stolen from dear friends of ours. In fact, I had to-" I choked in the middle of my confession, wondering if he was aware of just how supernatural the powers that he had diagnosed me with were- "steal it temporarily so that you could copy the inscription."
Quincy, rather than a look of mortification, was fascinated. Taking a few excited steps nearer, he asked incredulously, "You what?"
"Had to steal it. The... party who stole it from our friends hid it in the cleverest place they knew of... The Museum of Arts and Antiquities, masked as a donation under a wealthy patroness' name. I... well... conjured it out of there and then conjured it back. That patroness... it so happens..." I faltered, wondering if it was wise to reveal every last detail of the case, "is the culprit's fiancée."
"Why didn't you out and tell me you're on the run?" Quincy asked without so much as blinking.
I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. "Because the truth is almost too strange to be told."
"In which case, I would like to hear it, Lady Crane. Your lives depend on it."
I continued to unravel the rest of the fantastical case, including the Magellans' dealings in the affair and the confrontation that had sent David and I running. Quincy looked troubled when I explained the summons that had come for Ichabod that morning, and that Ichabod had not returned.
"A clever trap," Quincy said darkly. "Clever and despicable. That's the price you pay for double-timing in the name of justice. Sometimes the only way, but the risks are incredible. You are lucky to be alive, Lady Crane. Or I should say, lucky to be a witch."
"I don't know if I'll ever see him again," I whispered. "I don't know if he'll make it to Isobel at all."
"Can you trace his thoughts, Lady Crane, as you say you have been doing so miraculously with these others? Truly amazing! I knew you were something special, but I never would have guessed the full extent of your abilities."
"I cannot," I said wretchedly. "Hawke's mansion is so thickly beset with Dark Wards that not even Isobel's Messengers could break through."
"I haven't the foggiest idea what those may be, but they sound reasonable enough for a man who is controlling one of the devas," Quincy sighed sympathetically. "I will keep you here as long as need be. And I have faith in your husband, Lady Crane. Judging by his phrenology, he also has a hidden streak of bravery that is absolutely incomparable."
"That is true," I said fondly. "He saved my life. In so many ways."
"A story not for here and now, however," Quincy said, resuming the scroll of paper. "I must warn you of what is written here. It must be read by your Sensitive friend as soon as possible. The emergency is in the manner of demon bound to the artifact. The longer it's in another's control, the more potential power it accumulates. If the creature is not freed soon... this Hawke and his amateur magician may well use it- provided they know it is possible- in a culminating act of destruction made possible by an hour most vulnerable to the working of dark magic. Lady Crane, I trust you know when those times are."
"Yes," I said tensely, beginning to wonder urgently what day it was. "Some hours of the night are more charmed than others...."
"We must hope that your husband escapes them as soon as possible."
"We must hope for that anyway!" I said fiercely.
Quincy cringed slightly, as if for once in his life not watching his tongue had hurt. He crossed the room and put one spidery hand over mine. "Lady Crane," he said gently, "I must read you what is written here. I feel it would be of great interest to you."
"You've put a phonetic interpretation as we asked?"
"Yes, and not only that. I have written the English equivalent above each line. Despite the tablet's venomous nature... I must say that the inscription is nothing less than poetry at its most exquisite. Or would you rather wait until your husband arrives?"
"No, read it. I think he would take the news better if he heard it from me."
Quincy unrolled the paper for the second time, breathing almost reverently. David, who had been dozing off, sat forward intently. I fixed my hands on the arms of the chair. I almost expected to feel the chill that I had experienced during the trance with Isobel. Quincy began to read in a hushed tone:
Ancient of days, blackest treasure of the ages:
I call you now, for you have served me well.
Long and hard was the road into daylight;
Longer still was loving the night.
These words I bestow upon you,
My stricken beloved, poison-in-twilight,
Because you have killed mortal shadows
And bloodied the stars with sunset colors.
Come now, and in coming, go thy way,
For thou art in the air, but not of it
And cursed by earth for eternities
Yet to come and never to be.
I free you, my lover, my renegade beauty
In whose arms I was never wont to rest
But in whose un-spirit did I gladly cry
To underearth's lords and minions:
Your mind and my heart shall never
agree until your mind ceases to live
in numbers, and my heart in the mist.
"Dear Lord," I whispered. "The last lines barely match the rest, and yet..."
"They are the loveliest part by far," Quincy finished for me, "and the contents of the smaller half. The half that was missing. It is as if it was written by another soul entirely, a plea for redemption to some god of greater light. To the ancients, religion and romance were often one and the same."
"Has it really changed that much?" I asked, looking up at Quincy with tear-filled eyes. My heart was too full to say what I wished, and that was this: never before had any set of words so perfectly captured my pride and my sorrow. And my love, who was not to be found however fondly I wished it. I wept into the side of the armchair, oblivious to David's pleas and Quincy's awkward reassurances.