I walked to Hawke's mansion, trying to reason away the gnawing unease I felt. My brain had reviewed all the facts I knew a dozen times; I knew that my plans were sound, and yet worry lingered. It takes only one uncalculated factor to set the best logic awry. I had learned this the hard way.
Hawke was not finished annoying me. When I arrived, I was greeted by a young soldier who fit Quincy Addison's idea of a constable far better than I did. He told me to wait a few minutes before Hawke would see me. I fumed inwardly, but did my best to seem calm; I was not going to let him know how easily he was irritating me. Already I had allowed him to ingratiate me with ease. My jaw set at the thought of how easily he had won my trust and respect. All he had had to do was seem to listen attentively as I spouted off about my pet theories, and I was eating from his hand. Much as I despised Hawke, at that moment I despised myself far more, for having been so easily won.
After a few long minutes, which I spent berating myself for being too trusting, I was shown into Hawke's study. I strode in. Hawke was behind his desk and did not bother to rise, or even greet me; he merely regarded me levelly. As I returned his cool gaze, I noticed that his eyes did not have any trace of that something in the eyes which had come to denote magical powers for me. It was in my mother's eyes, and my wife's, and those of the Magellans, but not in Hawke's. His power must be centered in the demon he commanded. Once we had freed it, he would be no more magical than I. And I could then deal with him on my own territory.
After a long time, when I still had offered no comment, he finally conceded this little contest and broke the silence. "What did you learn about Remington?"
I looked at him coolly. "It seems that Senator Remington has been committing a great deal of embezzlement." Our eyes were still locked. I knew that the evidence against Remington was false, that Hawke had framed him, and as we looked at each other I felt certain that we understood each other.
"How shocking," he said expressionlessly. "Do tell me all about it."
"Don't you have anything more important to discuss?" I demanded, a bit of temper escaping me. "I am supposed to be reporting for duty even as we speak."
He waved a hand lazily. "I assure you that this is far more important. Sit down."
Trying to contain my impatience, I sat. I would clip his claws soon enough.
For the next hour or so, he asked one question after another about the so-called embezzlement. I answered them all more and more briefly until I finally ran out of patience and stood.
"Enough is enough, Hawke. I have to report. I shall see you again in a couple of days."
I waited for him to argue, but he only looked at me composedly. My stomach knotted; I knew that such equanimity in the face of a challenge is a clear sign of danger. When he remained silent, I strode briskly but still cautiously to the door.
I was not surprised to find the soldier waiting on the other side of it. When I opened it, he quickly leveled a pistol at me, saying nothing.
I froze. Hawke's voice sounded behind me.
"Perhaps you could stay and chat a bit longer, Constable." In a less friendly tone, he added, "We can handle this as gentlemen, Crane, or ."
Glaring at Hawke, I returned to my chair. My nervousness was growing steadily. Hawke had to have some kind of dastardly motive in holding me here. I began to curse myself for having come, having allowed myself to become trapped. But what else could I have done? The only way I knew of to put an end to his evil games required that I seem to play along until we had the translation.
Hawke inquired, his manner casual but his eyes sharp and alert, "Did you find anything else about Remington? Anything other than his embezzlement?"
"I don't know what you mean," I lied.
"You did not learn about his bad habits?"
"What bad habits might those be? I don't think he is a drinking man."
Hawke examined me. Once more, I was certain that we understood each other perfectly.
Whatever he might have said was interrupted by a knock. It seemed he had been waiting for it; he called, "Come!"
Another soldier I wondered uneasily how many of them were in the mansion entered and spoke in Hawke's ear in a low voice. His eyes sharpened and at whatever he heard and skewered me.
"Excuse me for a moment," he said. He seemed to enjoy mocking me with his good manners under the circumstances. He rose and led the soldier out the door. I was not left alone, however; the first soldier came and stood in the doorway, staring straight ahead, but obviously ready to prevent me from perhaps searching the room for evidence or weapons. Hawke was no fool. I could not allow myself to forget that.
When he returned, two of the soldiers came with him. I eyed them all warily.
Hawke went back to his desk unhurriedly. The soldiers waited. After a moment, he spoke. "It seems that I overestimated you, then, Constable Crane. My own spies learned something about Remington weeks ago that you did not, with all your scientific methods."
"Yes. So I do not think we will be needing your services after all. In fact, I have discovered someone who will be a far more valuable spy than you will, Constable Crane."
"Indeed." My trepidation was mounting with every second.
"Yes. Lady Crane."
There was a sound in the open doorway. I whirled, expecting to see my wife dragged in. But only one person was standing there, a smirking, reptilian little man.
The next thing I knew, I was in the doorway, my fingers tight around the throat of Simon Purnell. His eyes bulged from his reddening face and he scrabbled ineffectually at my hands.
The two soldiers quickly moved to me and grasped my arms, but I clung to that wretch's neck with all my strength. Another soldier, as well as a tall young man in rumpled courier's dress, appeared and together they dragged me off him. Though they were all husky lads and there were four of them, it wasn't easy.
When he at last escaped my grip, Purnell leaned against the wall, gasping for breath, glaring at me. The four men continued to hold me back. I tried to compose myself, but of course it was impossible. I ached to throttle Purnell, to tear him limb from limb. My whole body was shaking not from my usual nerves, but from a violent hatred I would never have believed a Rational Man capable of. But then, Katrina always changed everything.
Hawke was chuckling. He sauntered over to us. I noticed how the others, all of them, looked at him respectfully. His diminutive stature seemed to have been forgotten. An irrelevant thought entered my head, that if he could make others forget his physical shortcomings, so could I.
Purnell's bulging eyes were fixed on me. His expression was a mixture of gloating and envy, along with a hunger that turned my stomach. "How did you find such a gem? Burris told me about the voice charm she used, to bargain him down about that amulet."
The tiny corner of my mind that still retained some rationality resolved to have another talk with Katrina about McRaker's Alley.
"But now we know something far more interesting," Hawke added. "My demon was monitoring your home this weekend, Crane. A mere precaution, Constable, but one which bore unexpected fruit. Your wife was reading Colonel Dorn's thoughts. With her powers, Lady Crane will be a far more useful spy than you." Hawke smiled. I glared at him.
"But she can do even more than that!" A monstrous light was in Purnell's eyes. My blood boiled. "When we tried to apprehend her"
"She's a witch!" the courier spat. "She was making things fly through the air! She nearly killed Jess, slamming the shackles into his head, and scared Robert out of his wits. And then she made knives fly through the air at me!"
"I warned you not to act against Lady Crane," I told Hawke through clenched teeth. I was livid. Three able men sent to overpower one supposedly helpless woman. Perhaps my own infernal cowardice was not quite so shameful as I thought.
The courier glowered at me. "She's in league with the Devil!" he told Hawke. "You've got to do away with her!"
This was the most horrifying hour of my entire life. The terrified fury in the courier's eyes I had seen that expression once before, in the eyes of my own father, eyes that I had inherited . And with shame, I was remembering my own panic when I learned what my beloved was capable of. But God help me, even when I was out of my mind with terror, I could never have done anything to hurt her. Even when I had believed that she controlled the Headless Horseman and had set him to murder her own father, I had not been able to arrest her or tell anyone of her supposed guilt. I had been resolved to leave Sleepy Hollow and never breathe a word to anyone, to carry the secret to my grave and the closer that was, the better.
Simon Purnell scowled at the courier. "Do away with her? You imbecile! She is priceless! She can conjure magical artifacts for us from all over the world imagine the power we can command with her help! And she can levitate objects! The possibilities!" He leered. "All that, and beauty as well."
My furious lunge at him was so sudden that I almost eluded the soldiers' grasp on me. Quickly they pulled me back, tightening their grips painfully. They laughed softly at my resistance.
"Stay away from my wife," I said through stiff, numb lips, my voice taut.
"I'm sure you will be glad to hear that she is not in our custody yet, Constable," Hawke remarked amiably. His eyes had a gleam that belied his casual demeanour. "The abilities she displayed while defending herself were really remarkable. I assure you she will be well treated, because she is going to be very valuable to us."
"You are going to wish you had never been born," I told him in a low, tense voice. He smiled scornfully.
"In order to acquire Lady Crane, we need to know her Achilles heel. Every witch has one. You are going to tell me what hers is."
"Never." I did not bother to put any emphasis in my voice. Even as I said it, the thought of her recent illness sprang into my mind, along with all the worries that illness had inspired. Just one lucky blow, one trivial illness, and she would be as helpless as she looked. But as long as they did not know that, we had time, we had hope.
"I will do whatever is necessary to gain her secret from him," Purnell assured Hawke, looking more reptilian than ever. "I was mad for her when I thought her beauty was her greatest magic! Now, I would go to any lengths to acquire her."
"You are a dead man," I told him quietly, my voice filled with lethal hatred.
Hawke nodded at the soldiers; a few more had appeared and were surrounding me menacingly. At a less grave moment I would have found it flattering that they deemed it necessary to have so many strapping young men present to keep me in line. I suppose they realized the extent of my desperation.
"Let me know when the Rational Man is willing to be reasonable, Simon Magus," Hawke remarked, turning and heading back to his desk.
Purnell leered again and led the way out the door. A few more strong hands were clamped on me and they bore me down the hall, to a stairway heading down.
When I realized where they were taking me, I fought like a demon, but it was no use. There were too many of them. They half dragged, half carried me through the door, which swung open with a hauntingly familiar creak. When I saw what was on the other side, I found I could struggle no longer; my veins were filled with lead.
It seemed as if this moment had been inevitable since that day when I was seven and found my mother in a room like this one, her beautiful, loving face gashed and bloody .
No medieval inquisitor would have found this torture chamber lacking. There was a spiked chair like the one that scarred my hands, the rack, the thumbscrews, the strappado, and, by way of keeping up with the times, the Tomkins Confessional. And yes, there was an iron maiden. When my gaze fell on that, the world went black.
I awoke when they dumped a bucket of cold water over me. I was dangling by my wrists, which were shackled over my head. My arms were stretched painfully over my head, my feet only barely touching the floor, and my ankles were chained as well. My coat, vest and shirt had been removed. I tested the chains; they were as secure as I had expected them to be. I knew that after staying in this posture for a time, the muscles of my arms and back would hurt horribly. All of this was quite routine; I have seen the procedure far too many times in the constabulary. And Purnell continued just as my fellow constables should have: he pointed out every device in the chamber and described in loving detail exactly what each of them can do to a human body. The descriptions were as nauseating as they were frightening. And it was made worse by the fact that I have, unfortunately, seen many of these acts carried out, more times than I care to remember.
Purnell sidled up to me, leering. He was wearing some sort of ceremonial robe in keeping with his sorcerous pretentions. It was open-necked, revealing a tattoo high on his chest, a pentagram remniscent of the one Katrina once drew under my bed, but not the same. "Spare yourself, Crane. What is her weakness?"
I said nothing. In my mind, I was praying fervently: God, give me courage, just this once in my life. Just this once.
He lifted an iron from the hearth. One end of it was red-hot. He held it an inch away from the skin of my back for a minute before letting it touch me. I yelled. After a long time, he removed it and spoke.
"You will tell us sooner or later. How much suffering will you subject yourself to before you give in to the inevitable?"
I gritted my teeth. He burned my back with the iron again, and again, and again.
I screamed until my throat was raw. I heard a voice begging them to stop and realized with humiliation that it was mine. But I did not tell them how to overpower Katrina.
And in between touching the iron to my skin, he kept asking me questions. What was her weakness? Where was she likely to be hiding? What other powers did she have?
I told him nothing.
Worse were the other questions he asked me about her all the torture in the world could not have made me answer. His words made me strain against the chains, yearning to tear him to pieces. That such vermin should even think about her, let alone think such thoughts . Purnell doomed himself a dozen times that day, and his fate had already been sealed.
I lost track of how many times I passed out. Every time, they simply dumped another bucket of water on me, adding shivering cold to the torment. I do not know how long this continued. My back was criss-crossed with burns, and every breath hurt.
At length I suppose they needed a rest. They left me there alone for a time, still chained, to ache and to contemplate what lay ahead of me. This is also routine. After this interlude of stewing, many stubborn victims are ready to say anything when their tormentors return.
I think it was only a few seconds after they left me that I lost consciousness again.
I woke with a cry from formless nightmares to find myself still alone with the devices of torture. I could not keep my eyes off the iron maiden.
I tried to force myself to think. I would rather endure an eternity of torture than betray Katrina. But I have seen enough confessions literally pried from helpless lips to know how little determination counts for under such circumstances. Sustained torture unhinges the mind, and in that temporary insanity, one will say anything. I had to stop them before they drove me to that point.
Had there been any means at hand I should have committed suicide to prevent them from forcing her secret from me, but I could not even move.
I examined the room, trying to view the hellish implements that lay about as weapons I could perhaps seize when they unshackled me to strap me into one of the devices. But how could I do that if I fainted again when they came for me?
I held that question in my head for a long time. I drew a breath and my newly quiet mind formed a resolute prayer. For once, others' underestimation of me would work in my favor.
When the door opened and Purnell returned with the courier and one of the soldiers, I stared at them. When they neared me, I let my head drop, my body sag against the shackles, my eyes close. I was so weary that it was not difficult to go limp. Assuming I had fainted again, they laughed scornfully and made some remarks I shall not record here. When I heard them I wanted to straighten, but I did not. I would put an end to their laughter soon enough.
I felt the shackles loosen and two men grasped me by my arms. My burns ached at the movement and my muscles protested.
"Where do you want him, Simon Magus?" one of them asked.
Purnell considered. "On the rack, I think. We might try the Tomkins Confessional later."
They dragged me towards the rack. My head down, I opened my eyes a slit. We were drawing near a table on which rested one of the irons they had used on me, still warm. I waited for my moment carefully. Just as we drew near I wrenched out of their loose grasp, seized the iron, and slammed it into the soldier's head with all my might. My back felt as if it were once more on fire at the movement, and the fire spread all through my body, giving me a Samsonian burst of strength.
Blood spurted from the soldier's head, but I did not stop to examine the damage; I fell on the courier and bludgeoned him until he fell. When I was certain that the man who had attacked my wife was dead, I took off after Purnell. I was determined that in order to stop me, they should have to kill me.
But Purnell had already fled, and just before I reached the door he had slammed it shut. I threw myself against it, hoping to batter it open, but it was too late; I heard a bolt being lowered on the other side. Furiously, I scanned the room for another possible exit, but there was none; no door, no window, nothing.
Gasping for breath, I looked around the room and tried to think. It took a moment, but at length my mind cleared enough that I was able to realize that they would have to open the door eventually. They needed things from me, and so they would return. That was what I needed to prepare for.
I needed a weapon. Well, I was in a room full of the worst kind of weapons. After studying the hellish implements around me, I decided to keep the iron I had already used. With that, I looked to my two victims.
I think it was a sign of how desperate I was that I felt neither nausea nor remorse. I knew the courier was dead; I had fully intended to kill him. Only later did I remember that I had always hoped to be able to refrain from killing throughout my career. But I tossed that aside without a thought when that man attacked my wife.
I noticed my uniform jacket, vest and shirt draped over one of the tables, right next to a set of knives of various sizes. Wincing as the fabric touched my flesh, I pulled on the shirt, and donned the vest even more gingerly. With the weight of Katrina's first gift to me over my heart, however, I felt stronger, braver, twice the man.
I claimed a couple of the knives, concealing them beneath my clothes. I did not want to put my uniform jacket back on, however. I would probably have to flee now that they knew I had escaped my chains, and when I did, I did not want to be wearing anything so eye-catching as that blasted uniform with its gaudy silver buttons. I have tried and tried to explain to the High Constable how inefficient anything so highly visible is for our profession, but as usual, he has not listened.
The unconscious soldier on the floor had dark hair, and that gave me an idea. I pulled his jacket and shirt off and positioned him to lie with his back to the door. Of course, his hair was rather shorter than mine, and his back was not crisscrossed with burns, but a few seconds of uncertainty was all I needed.
With these preparations made, I took up a pose near the door, ready with the iron. Distantly it occurred to me that I should be horizontal from pain, but it was not pain now, only a burning heat that served to fuel my rage. I waited.
In time I heard footsteps, the sound of several pairs of boots approaching. I hoisted the iron.
The soldiers burst into the room without caution. As I had hoped, the sight of a dark-haired, shirtless figure prone on the ground caused them a few seconds of confusion. I took advantage of them and felled two of them before they knew what had happened. Purnell was not with them; doubtless he was safe behind some locked door somewhere in the mansion. So he had gotten a stay of execution. But I would tend to him later. I was able to land a few more blows on the soldiers before they realized what I was about and attacked in return. I turned and fled through the door. I did not recall ever having run so fast.
I tore up the stairs and dashed down various corridors, turning corners at random. I could hear them behind me, but they were falling behind. I flew on. I could not even feel my feet touching the floor.
A few times I would turn a corner or burst through a door and surprise a couple of soldiers or ununiformed men. In each case, I simply turned and chose another direction. They usually gave chase, and yet I managed to elude them, to my own surprise.
At one point I dashed into a large, dimly lit room, and what I saw in that room startled me so much that for a moment I actually stopped running. In a large cage was an enormous dog. I think it was Colonel Dorn's dog, Cerberus. But Cerberus was lolling on his side, meek as a lamb. He glanced at me disinterestedly and then looked away. The last time he saw me, I think he was speculating on how I would taste.
Around the dog's neck was a garland of some sort of highly aromatic herb; the same garlands bedecked the bars of the cage, and their scent pervaded the stuffy room. Before him was a plate heaped with meat; its messy appearance suggested that he had already gorged himself on it. It was not difficult to detect that the meat was drugged.
These people were lunatics.
A shout in the hallway from one of the soldiers reminded me of where I was, and I took to my heels again.
It was probably only a few minutes that I spent in the mansion's labyrinth of corridors, but it felt like hours. I had no idea where I was in the house; I could easily have been running in circles. It all looked alike to me; the same burgundy runners on the floors, the same drab paintings of illustrious dead people, the same closed doors everywhere I turned. I was afraid of opening any doors, afraid to find another gang of soldiers behind one of them.
But at last, I turned a corner and found a window, and in front of it, a tiny ornamental table supporting a porcelain vase. I seized the table, letting the vase shatter on the ground, and hurled it through the window. I followed, giving myself a few shallow cuts in the process. Pain shot through my shins as I hit the ground, but I did not have time to pay attention to it.
I glanced around frantically. I was on the side of the mansion. Around the corner, behind it, I glimpsed a hedgerow, a good nine feet tall. I looked to the front, to the street. There were a couple of soldiers, wearing servant's livery but given away by their military bearing, standing by the gate. There was no escape there. But there was the high wrought-iron fence, with its spiked tops. I ran across the mansion's huge yard to the fence and leapt, seizing the bars. I pulled myself over it, scratching myself on the spikes, and hit the street. And there, with the carriages riding by and finely dressed people looking at my shirtsleeves and disheveled appearance askance, I felt safe enough to stop running, to slow to a brisk walk. Surely Hawke's thugs would not dare to apprehend me with so many witnesses.
And yet, as I walked on, something kept nagging at me. In spite of my desperation, it still seemed that my escape had been far too easy. With so many soldiers, surely Hawke could have kept me within his walls. Why, then, was I on the street? He needed me so that he could learn Katrina's weaknesses and whereabouts.
My mind focused on the answer with certainty. Of course. When I had escaped from the torture, he had told the soldiers to let me escape in the hopes that I would lead them right to her. Hawke was clever. A pity he had gone to such lengths to acquire a worthy adversary.
I turned a random street corner and walked as purposefully as I could with my legs still shaking from all I had been through. Soon enough, I was in a humbler district and attracted less attention. Oddly enough, I was not exactly in pain; what I felt was a numb aching all over my body.
I stopped, pretending to rest by leaning against a street pole. As I did so, a furtive glance showed me a young man whose military bearing belied his rather foppish civilian clothing. I was certain he was following me. A couple of more pauses confirmed this.
I had to get rid of him before finding Katrina.
Think, Crane. Use that brain you are so proud of. It has always been your only weapon, even in childhood .
I noticed a chemist's shop and went inside. I bought some laudanum, a few other chemicals and a small empty bottle. My pockets were well stocked with money. Since I had been married, Katrina had always been most particular about making certain that I always had money with me, I think on the mistaken theory that I might get hungry and actually eat something while on duty. As I made my purchases, my pursuer waited outside. Before leaving the shop, I made the mixture I needed in the empty bottle, stopped it up and was on my way.
My next stop was a general store. I bought some cheap stationery, a pen and ink and a book of pins. Again, I took my purchases to a quiet corner of the shop to prepare them for their work. I dipped one of the pins in the mixture I had made. This combination ought to be potent enough even with such a small amount. I only hoped that it would go to its intended recipient. Though I would not mind if its addressee opened it, either. On one of the sheets of stationery I jotted down a meaningless note to the High Constable about not being on duty that day. I then folded the paper around the pin so that anyone who tried to open the letter would be scratched. When I was David's age, I used a similar trick on a schoolyard bully who persisted in stealing my books, though in that case I used a much milder substance. After that incident, my classmates treated me with considerably more respect.
On the street again, I kept walking until I saw what I needed. No uniformed courier for me; I needed an unscrupulous messenger boy. A few urchins waiting to be hired for sundry errands were hanging about, but it took me a few minutes to spot one shifty-eyed enough for my purposes. I handed him the note and a coin and pointed him in the direction of the watchhouse and of my pursuer. He raced off. A very furtive look back revealed what I had hoped for: my pursuer offered the boy several coins for the letter. I smiled to myself.
A moment later I heard him curse as my pin scratched him. I walked on. It was perhaps two minutes that a commotion made me turn around. Several people were gathered around my pursuer, who was half-conscious on the ground, groaning. Smiling grimly, I turned my footsteps in the direction of McRaker's Alley.
It was a simple enough deduction: Katrina had only one close friend in New York. Ironic, that she might now flee for safety to the district I had considered so perilous for her.
However, I was too cautious to go to the Magellans' tenement. If Hawke had troubled himself to meddle with their séance for the Ericksons, he must know of their existence, and possibly of their connection to us. Their home could be watched, for all I knew. I felt certain the watchhouse was; if I approached it, I had no doubt I would be apprehended again before I entered.
A few minutes' consideration showed me a solution. I would disguise my message as a matter of business. I went into the first restaurant I saw. The place was noisy and none too clean, but it offered small, dingy private rooms in the back. It was the kind of place where people who have something to hide go to transact their business. Had I been in uniform, the sight of me would have emptied the place. I paid for a meal to be served me in one of them and got an appraising look from the weathered man I spoke to; doubtless he was trying to discern what kind of misdeed I was about. As he showed me into the room, I informed him coolly that in a few minutes I would be needing a messenger boy. He nodded without surprise.
With the door closed, I sank gratefully onto the stained couch the room offered. Never had I been so exhausted. As if realizing that I at last had time to give it attention, the pain came flooding back, almost doubling me over, so that I wondered how I had come this far without collapsing. I was shivering and felt rather cold. Even in my drained state, I knew that I was in shock. For a few minutes, I allowed myself to simply rest, leaning with my chest and stomach against the arm of the couch to spare my back from contact.
A coarse-faced young woman entered with a tray of greasy food and very bad tea. I forced myself to eat a few bites, knowing I needed to fortify myself, and was genuinely grateful for the stimulation of the tea.
The nourishment, such as it was, gave me a little strength so that I could think through the throbbing pain. I spread a sheet of paper on the dirty table and closed my eyes, considering how to make myself understood to the Magellans and not to anyone else. After a moment, I wrote:
I would like to contact my dear departed Aunt Hildreth and my brother Wilbur. I wish very much to know that they are happy in the hereafter, that they have gone to a good place. Can you contact them for me? I should be most grateful and you would be paid handsomely. Please tell me when a meeting would be convenient for you. If you would, please answer by the same messenger.
I read it over. Satisfied that the Magellans at least, Miss Magellan would understand, I folded it and a few minutes later gave it to the boy they found for the errand.
I spent a restless half hour waiting for the reply. The pain prevented me from truly resting, and it hurt too much to pace. I could only try to sit still, since every move hurt more than I care to recall, my brain cooking up unpleasant conjectures. In spite of the pain, I jumped to my feet when the ragged boy returned. I paid him well; once I scraped out an existence doing such odd jobs. I would have liked to give him even more, but I did not dare draw attention to myself.
With the messenger gone, I unfolded the reply with trembling hands and read Miss Magellan's dainty script.
Dear Mr. Levi,
Rest assured that your loved ones are in a happy place. Your Aunt Hildreth has found rest with the one Hope for her as for all of us, and you will be happily reunited in time, so take heart. Even though she is not with us, she is not far away. With my powers, I feel that she wishes to speak to you, to give you her love and reassurance. It might be best if you were to call on us a few days hence, but if you feel truly urgent then please feel free to come sooner. We would so much like to aid you and your family.
For a few panicked seconds I thought that the note was telling me that Katrina was . But I quickly saw through her façade of religious platitudes and charlatans' patter to her true meaning. Isobel was clever indeed and brave, to offer to let me hide with them. The one hope for her as for all of us . That had to mean Quincy Addison, on whom everything now rested. I tucked the note in my vest pocket beside the book that once saved my life. Still wincing at every move, I left the restaurant and hailed a cab, giving Quincy's address. Every jolt of the carriage on the cobblestones sent fresh pain shooting through me until it pulled up in front of Quincy's residence.
I forced myself to move casually as I alighted, standing straight in spite of the pain. I knew that I was hanging on to my self-control by a thread, and only prayed that thread would not snap before I reached her. Feeling as if I had traveled a thousand miles that day, I strode quite nonchalantly up the walk to Quincy's house and knocked.
The housekeeper opened the door and at once gestured for me to come inside; I think she had been instructed to watch for me. With relief, I entered, feeling my willpower slipping away as I reached safety. In the foyer, I glanced about dazedly. In one of the booklined rooms stood Katrina. She was safe. She was safe.
She was standing in the doorway wringing her scabbed hands, staying back from the front door with obvious effort. Her eyes were red, her exquisite lips trembling. Our eyes met, and we whispered each other's names. No sooner was the door shut than she flew to me and threw her arms about me.
My arms reached for her eagerly, but I cried out in pain at her touch. She drew back as if a snake had bitten her, her lovely dark eyes scanning me for a wound.
"Ichabod ?" she whispered.
Shaking my head slowly, I reached out. She grasped my hands, studying me anxiously. "I'll be all right, Katrina," I said in the most reassuring tone I could manage, right before blacking out.
I think I was only unconscious long enough for them to carry me to a sofa. I opened my eyes to find her unfastening the buttons of my vest, while David and Quincy supported me in a sitting position. I winced as her fingers slightly pulled the fabric against the skin of my back. She froze.
"Ichabod what happened to you?"
I took her hand, moving it away from my buttons. "You weren't reading my thoughts?"
To my relief she shook her head, her eyes wide and frightened. "I couldn't you were within the Dark Wards and then I was afraid to try, afraid that they might be watching for me to use my powers ."
"You were quite right to fear so. They no longer want me, my love. They want you, your power just like Hannelore ." My voice trailed off. I looked at David, feeling woozy. "You're both safe," I murmured, closing my eyes. "Thank God ." I felt so very weary. I slumped against David's supporting arms. I still clasped Katrina's hand, but she caused the buttons of my shirt to unfasten themselves.
"Telekinesis! Remarkable!" Quincy commented, sounding about as surprised as he might have at seeing an out-of-season flower.
She used her telekinesis to lift the vest and shirt off me. David and Quincy lowered me to lie face down on the sofa so that she could see the damage. I had to open my eyes again and turn my head to look at her when I heard her swift intake of breath. Horror spread over her lovely face.
"My God Ichabod, what did they do to you?" She sank to her knees beside the sofa to examine the wounds closely, expert knowledge battling anger and pity on her face. "What were they trying to get from you?"
I hesitated, not eager to tell her that the lurid wounds were inflicted on her account. As it turned out, there was no need; lacking patience for my answer, she eavesdropped on my thoughts, and stared at me, the color draining from her cheeks.
"Ichabod," she whispered. "Oh, God, why didn't you just tell them what they wanted to know? I would never have wished this on you"
"Any man who would betray you under any circumstances does not deserve to be your husband," I declared flatly, momentarily energized. I was angry that she would even suggest I could ever do so, whatever they did to me.
Her warm brown eyes were shining with tears. "No, it is I who am undeserving. Oh, my love, forgive me! If only I had listened to you, stayed away from that market I swear to you, I will never take such a foolish risk again how can I make it up to you?"
I could not help it; I started laughing. My back hurt with the motion, so my laughter was mingled with groans, but I could not stop. She fell silent and looked at me anxiously, probably fearing I had shot my bolt at last.
"Ichabod why are you laughing?" she whispered fearfully.
I grinned through the pain. "I have finally discovered what it takes to win an argument with you!"
Her eyes overflowed. She made a movement as if to embrace me, but remembered my wounds in time, and instead sobbed into her own hands. I reached over and caressed her hair, feeling entirely contented. She might weep all she liked, but I had won more than one battle for her safety that day. I had redeemed myself as her protector. The victory was well worth it.
Behind my tears was a grieved rage so fierce that my sobs could find no words to give it voice. Before me, my severely burned husband sat laughing- laughing- and thinking thoughts that revealed beyond the shadow of a doubt that the torture inflicted upon him had resulted in some (hopefully) temporary madness. Torture inflicted on my account. I let my hands slip away from my eyes, clapping them tightly over my mouth. My tears flooded over them, a molten river at last forsaking the carefully tended boundaries of its banks. To this day, I am not certain what alerted me to the fact that Ichabod's trembling hand had moved from my hair to my cheek... that he was leaning forward, shivering with his own pain, pleading with me....
"Katrina, I- I never meant- please don't-"
"Only if you promise not to put it that way!" I gasped, feeling as if I had not used my lungs for a very long time. Indeed, his ill-chosen humor had all but caused me to cease breathing. "This... this is no victory, this thing they've done to you! It's a horror, an unspeakable... because of me, but don't you dare think-"
"You know that I never would have betrayed-"
"I wish I had killed them all!" I cried, clenching my fists blindly on Ichabod's knees. "If I had left no survivors, then that wretched courier-"
"I am grateful," Ichabod said reassuringly, visibly contrite over his momentary flippancy as his voice grew paler and paler with the strain, "that you left him to me. Rest assured, he was... dealt what he deserved... as much as I loathe to admit it...."
"Lady Crane, your husband is suffering," Quincy said sharply from somewhere behind me.
Both ashamed and indignant, I rose to my feet, wiping my face with a handkerchief that David thrust quickly into my hands. Ichabod's expression fluctuated unstably between annoyance at Quincy's remark and the urge to faint again. I squared my shoulders, pointing at David.
"Get my bag."
David fetched it quickly from the other room, and once he'd handed it over, Ichabod placed an unsteady hand on his arm before he was out of reach.
"David... the evidence... suggests that you kept out of the way... earlier," Ichabod said with effort. David turned a shade whiter at the mention of what he and I had been through that afternoon. "It was the... bravest thing that you could have done... listening to Katrina... do you know that?"
"I know now, sir," David said thickly, unable to keep his own emotion in check. "I wished then that I'd done more, though."
"You did all that was required of you, and of that I am most proud," Ichabod whispered, taken with a grim shudder in the attempt to string his words together clearly. Shaken, I responded immediately to the desperate tightening of his fingers around my wrist.
"Quincy! Tell Beatrice that I will need two separate pans of water boiled, and that she is to admit David into the kitchen," I ordered, not realizing that I had called our host by his first name any more than I had intended to turn his own unchecked manner upon him. I fell on my knees, tearing the bag open. I searched the sewing box frantically, realizing that what I wanted was not there. Quincy's eyes took a turn for the disbelieving when they fell upon the handkerchief. I tossed it at him in my frenzy.
"Hold that! I know it must be here..."
"Katrina," David whispered urgently, "if it's willow bark for-"
"Pain? No, witch hazel... for an antiseptic..."
"You need both. They're at home in the herb closet."
"Damn! Oh!- I meant-"
"Katrina, just get them!" David said through clenched teeth.
"You're not thinking-"
"Never mind!" I cried, never having felt so foolish in my life. I glared at Quincy, who was watching with fascinated amusement. I made a show of holding out my right hand, where two packets of dried herbs appeared. I snatched the handkerchief away without so much as lifting a finger.
"Conjuring... good heavens!" Quincy remarked, showing a trace of astonishment this time.
"No time to applaud," I said rather more coldly than I should have, searching my husband's glazed eyes for signs of more severe shock. I handed the packets to David, who did not hesitate to grab Quincy's hand and drag him toward Beatrice's passing figure in the hall. Ichabod and I were left alone. I felt the box slide out of my lap, but it did not matter. I slid my arms about his neck, drawing his damp forehead to my lips to whisper a prayer of thanks and remorse. Ichabod grasped my hands, crying softly.
"We're a houseful of tempers even here," I said penitently, making note of Ichabod's temperature as my mouth moved on upon his skin. I faltered, "It... was so brave, what you did... in truth, I don't know how you managed to breach Hawke's fortress! If I had known before what I've assimilated from you about the grounds, I would have been-"
"Then all the better... that you did not... for I couldn't have taken seeing you any more beside yourself than- you already are...."
"You'll catch a fever again if you don't listen carefully. Quincy's given us two spare rooms. David was supposed to have the smaller one, but plans are about to change. The larger room is upstairs, too far for you to walk. The small one was used for a servant at one time, but it's here on the first floor. If I support you, can you make it without being carried?"
"Katrina, I r-really don't know... But could... could you...?"
I bit my lip, wishing once again that I could do that which was completely out of my league. By the laws of nature encoded in my genes, I did not have the ability to give motion to human beings. I could lift only the inanimate, those things that did not move of their own free will. I told Ichabod as much, and he nodded, quickly understanding that his mother had possessed a rare and unusual variation on the trait.
"I am only human in this matter," I said quietly. "Ichabod, I'll brace your arms; I'll walk backwards if I have to!"
Which I'm sure looked incredibly ridiculous, but by which method we painstakingly reached the small bedroom. Ichabod moaned as I lowered him facedown on the bed.
"So this... this is what I get for- for being absent without leave," he sobbed, his voice muffled in the mattress. I sent his boots flying so forcefully that they hit the wall on the other side of the room. The bag, which had floated in tow behind us, landed obediently in my lap after I had taken a seat beside him.
"The last thing I want you thinking about is work," I said levelly, which was difficult, for I was once again mortified by what I saw. The wounds extended from his shoulder blades to the small of his back. I counted fourteen burns, judging at least five to be second degree or worse. The largest was located on his left shoulder blade. I wondered why in God's name history had to keep repeating itself.
Alarmed by my lengthy silence, Ichabod asked, "I'm... that severely..."
"No. Not as severely hurt as you could be. But severely enough," I said bitterly, unable to disguise my voice any longer. I prodded one small blister that had begun to form. "You'll be... you'll... Why did it have to be you?" I whispered helplessly. "You'll scar. I didn't get to these in time."
"What's a few more, really?" Ichabod gasped, turning his face to look up at me. His pain-filled eyes begged me to smile. "What are... a few scars when... I still have my life... and you in it?"
"Terrible things that make your wife want to massacre the men who inflicted them!" I said vehemently, so overwhelmed that I bent and kissed him. As much as I wished to permit myself a stifled laugh to cheer him, I could not. Not until I could treat him properly.
"Mmh, this's-aaah!- an odd-"
"Sh," I whispered, drawing back at the sound of footsteps.
"Angle," David finished for Ichabod, who buried his face back in the coverlet out of sheer embarrassment. I gave David a wistful smile, accepting the cup full of willow bark tea and directing him to set the bowl full of steeped witch hazel on the bedside table. He retreated as quickly as he had come, musing, "I guess this means I get the upstairs."
"You guess correctly," I sighed even though he was out of earshot. I urged Ichabod to turn his head. "Raise yourself up on your elbows if you can. I don't want to spill this all over the place. You want to drink it all. It's stronger than usual. And," I said with faint surprise, studying the cup's contents more closely, "it looks as if Quincy's added something that lightens it."
Ichabod lifted himself with a groan and stared at the brew. "It's half laudanum.... All the better, really.... Give it..."
I supported Ichabod as best I could, holding the cup to his lips until he'd drained it. Steeling myself, dipped the cloth that David had left into the warm bowl of witch hazel. I stared at the varicolored nightmare of my husband's back, nearly having second thoughts about causing him more anguish.
"What are you going to do with that?" he asked tensely.
"Clean the area," I said flatly. "It... It's going to hurt, love. I can't change that."
"Couldn't hurt as much... as when he did it," Ichabod muttered with a hatred surpassing my own.
"I'll give you a few moments. Rest," I soothed him. "I'll let the willow bark begin to take effect."
"Not that it will matter much," Ichabod sighed. I closed my eyes regretfully. He was right about that. I waited until his breathing was more even, until he seemed calm. I cautiously applied the soaked cloth to the perimeters of one burn, sponging lightly. Ichabod's entire body quivered, but he settled quickly with a muted cry. I proceeded to cleanse the burn more slowly, leaving a kiss on the back of Ichabod's neck, briefly stroking his hair.
Desire for revenge burned my every nerve. I paused, struck by an idea so ridiculously, dangerously foolish that it just might work. Because individual voices are not distinct in thought communication, anyone doing a broad range monitoring- even the demon- would not be able to tell the difference between two run of the mill house witches gossiping and the encoded conversation of two on the run. Besides, Hawke had no idea where to begin when it came to a precise location... at least my location, but all the same, I could not resist. I began with caution.
Mrs. Keller, I do hope you're in a chatty mood tonight.
Ah, ah! I warned, shaken that Isobel had almost used my first name.
For the love of God, are you trying to get yourself-
Mrs. Keller, be quiet. The more brief I am, the better... God knows, it's late, and you know how husbands are... Besides, unsuspecting fox hunters don't look for burrows where they don't expect to find them, do they?
No, Isobel replied cautiously, taking my meaning. I suppose not. But you're still a-
Now, now, no time to be sore over yesterday, I fabricated glibly. Listen, can you... create visions as beautiful as the ones published in the Journal? Try your hand at writing, invent a world... that's so convincing that whoever taps into it would believe the situation?
Isobel drew in her breath, aghast but finally playing along. I'm not that talented, silly girl! But... perhaps... What on earth are you suggesting?
Do you remember last week's chapter? When Harold returned from battle... collapsed severely wounded on Gertrude's doorstep? Enchantingly heartbreaking, wasn't it? Enough to tear out your heart?
Good... Good Lord... yes...
Write something like it, Miss Keller, to amuse me. I know you could! Something that a shameless reader such as ourselves could get lost in. Really feel the agony as if it were their own- ah, the drama of it all!
Yes. But I'll need some ideas from you, dear, of course! You're the clever one!
You shall have them, my dear. Let's not let quibbles like yesterday's ruin our luncheon again.
Be what, dear?
Ch-Cheery for your own Harold tonight, you little vixen! If headmistress could see you now-
I'm sure she'd be mortified, dear. And knowing how clever you are at parlor puzzles... well, when you finish your charming vignette... meet us... where my lost gems meet the number of gray horses beneath the tree in the road not far from the bridge, I improvised, at the same time trying to concentrate on swabbing a third burn. I smiled deviously. That would leave eleven....
You mean to tell me that you two are there at this hour, and doing- you naughty, naughty girl! Always loved it there, you did. Shall I bring Chester?
By all means! The more the merrier, if you know what I mean, I added, abashed at how completely scandalous the conversation would sound if indeed anyone was listening.
Then, I... shall get my pen at once, by your leave. And see you before long, dear. Your lost gems, you say? Clever, clever. I must think of one twice as difficult for you!
I withdrew my thoughts quickly, shocked at how well Isobel had taken my cues once she understood what I was getting at. Ichabod stirred again beneath my touch.
"You're... mgh!- quiet, my love."
I sighed, shaking off the trance. "It takes so much concentration... I'm trying so hard not to hurt you overly much," I reassured him, rubbing his neck gently with my free hand. "Lie still, close your eyes. It will be a while still, but you'll heal all the better for it."
With that, I closed my eyes and emptied my mind, letting it drop and eclipse my husband's. I stiffened as I worked, filled to the brim with his pain, each burning streak of misery distinct despite my lightest touch. And I prayed that Isobel was channeling it accordingly from my securely closed-off mind into the frame of that gargoyle of a hairpin thief who deserved it.
By the time I finished cleansing Ichabod's entire back, I was weary from cleaving to his thoughts. He had closed his eyes, given in to quieter sighs by the time I selected a salve from the sewing box and applied it gingerly to each burn. I turned my thoughts to Isobel, who was surely as worn out as I. I knew that she would not bother to pack. She and Christopher were probably already gone. I had nearly finished the job when the bedroom door opened a sliver.
"I've come to apologize," Quincy announced, watching me smooth the last patch of blistered flesh over with the greenish-clear ointment.
"No need to," I said with grateful reserve. "You were caught up in the urgency of the moment, and I was stunned by it. I probably needed to hear that."
Quincy drew a modest step closer. Ichabod's eyes opened a drowsy slit. He was heavily subdued by the laudanum and would be asleep before long.
"You've made remarkably quick work of the job, and admirably so," Quincy said softly. "I wish Bea had known the things you know when I cut myself on that bone saw," he chuckled, promptly rolling up one sleeve to reveal a jagged dark scar nearly an inch wide running halfway from his elbow to his wrist. My eyes widened, but I refrained from comment and instead offered a nod of agreement. Ichabod promptly squeezed his eyes shut.
Nodding in satisfaction, Quincy replaced his sleeve and gave Ichabod's back one last appraising glance. "Just wanted to be sure... well, you know, not that I didn't trust you.... I just wanted-" Quincy faltered, his features suddenly tired and sick with a worry that I had seen time and time again on my father's face when I'd fallen as a child, or when my mother had been at her worst. My heart softened.
"I am grateful to you. He'll sleep in peace tonight," I said with a smile. Quincy adopted his old cheerfulness again and murmured, "Good, good!"
"Oh," I called after him, rising as I wiped the ointment off my fingers with the cloth. "Tell Beatrice to keep watch... I expect any moment now, well..." I did not know how to tell him that two more guests would appear before the night was over. At least I hoped they would.
"Lady Crane, you are one surprise after another. I shall keep watch myself," Quincy reassured me, and was gone.
"What, Katrina?" Ichabod asked groggily, opening his eyes.
"I told the Magellans to come here, too," I blurted.
Ichabod was too weary to react. "Probably best anyway," he murmured. "My note's lying around their place... and thanks to me... Hawke's soldiers have probably... set up camp in McRaker's Alley."
"At least soldiers can't read minds. Isobel's clever. I know she'll find a way here."
"I would expect nothing less of a witch."
"Good. Because we'll never leave you defenseless," I said firmly. "I'll be back in a moment. How does your back feel?"
"I can't feel the pain as intensely as... before, it's as if... it's disconnected from me somehow, dulled."
"That's exactly how it should be," I responded, relieved. I brushed my husband's hair out of his eyes before seeking Quincy at the front doors. I tapped on his shoulder.
"There will be two of them, brother and sister," I said simply. "They're the owners of the tablet, and dear friends of ours. Tell them that I wish I could greet them, but Ichabod's in still in a bad way, near sleep though he may be. Show them to another room... if you have one, I mean, or just somewhere that they can spend the night in reasonable comfort. Tell them that... I must speak with them early, six in the morning or thereabouts. Isobel will have no difficulty with these conditions, take my word for it."
Quincy just sighed, smiling and shaking his head, oblivious to the madness that had entered his life. "Go back to your husband, Lady Crane. Your friends are spoken for."
I returned to the guest room, pulling the closing the door quietly behind me. Ichabod was still in a half-daze, his eyes trailing the rosette pattern of the fabric pressing against his cheek. He looked up slowly.
"It's taken care of?"
"Absolutely," I reassured him. "I'm going to make you more comfortable. Just lie still."
The laudanum seemed to wear off in the instant I made the coverlet vanish from beneath him and reappear over him, folded down neatly so that it did not touch his back. I conjured one of our own pillows from home and watched his eyes bulge as it materialized beneath his head.
"Next time, define comfortable!" he breathed, somewhat shaken but suddenly more relaxed.
I gave him a weary smile in reply, causing my gown to vanish and a nightgown to take its place. I let my hair down hurriedly, summoning new sets of clothes for the next day as an afterthought.
"If I had known how useful your abilities could be, I would never have reacted to them the way I did," Ichabod said softly, his speech calm and even once again.
"Yes you would have," I teased, yawning, lifting the covers carefully. I surveyed the situation a moment before slipping into bed beside him, carefully sliding one arm beneath him and about his waist. Ichabod's breath quickened at the shift, but somehow I ended up cradling him so that his head rested upon my chest, the lengths of our bodies touching.
"I thought that I would never hold you again," he whispered.
"I wouldn't let myself lose faith that I would!" I said, tracing the trail of his tears with my fingertips. I pulled the sheet gently over his back, pressing my lips to his closed eyes. He trembled as if some dark vision would not flee from before him.
"I saw the strangest things today, Katrina. The strangest, most terrible things."
"For one, Hawke's torture chamber," Ichabod murmured distantly. "The man has everything, Katrina. Everything that I wish to see torn bolt from blade and put out of use indefinitely!"
"Thank God... none of those things were used on you," I sighed, refraining narrowly from using Purnell's name.
"That's not even half of it. The man has soldiers, Katrina. Perhaps a veritable small army. That courier was one of them."
"You killed him," I said, more a statement than question. "And another man's probably dying of a severe head wound that I gave him."
"Jess? No, he's alive."
"The courier mentioned him by name."
I sighed heavily. I was relieved, in some strange way, but I was curious. I asked Ichabod, "What would you have thought? I mean, if Jess had died?"
"That you did what you had to do. Because I know that you could never kill. I should hope that you could never kill intentionally."
"When I saw what they did to you," I whispered, "I think I could have."
"Certain loved ones will have that effect, will they not?" Ichabod replied gently. "Don't think of it again. I know your heart. You let them live. Leave the worst to someone else."
"And look what happened when I did," I quavered.
"So, there's an army and a torture chamber involved in Hawke's coup"
"And one very drugged canine," Ichabod cut in dully.
The phrase hit me like well-aimed bullet. " A drugged what?"
"They're completely out of their minds. I saw Colonel Dorn's dog, Cerberus, caged and well-fed on meat laced with some kind of sedative. They had a wreath of flowers around his neck. It might as well be April Fool's Day-"
"He can't be!" I cried. Fear's familiar icy hands grasped my heart.
"Drugged? As surely as I'm burned, he is-"
"No. You have no idea what trouble we're in," I gasped.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Horrors such as this one ranked beside my stepmother's dark spellwork. I explained, "I don't know why I didn't think of it earlier, when Quincy explained that this kind of demon's power mounts as it's used. Cerberus is drugged for a reason. Tomorrow is April 30th... Walpurgisnacht, Ichabod. Walpurgis Night. On that night above all nights of the year... Black Magic can be worked with the greatest of ease and the highest efficacy... which means..."
Ichabod stared at me as if once again he barely knew me. His expression quickly changed, however, from shocked terror to complete trust. "Which means what, Katrina?"
"Hawke will use the demon to carry out the final stage of his plot. Everything else is in readiness, as you described to me: his army, his supporters, his funding, his method of punishment for disloyal subjects. Ichabod, the sacrifice of a hound is required in the Plague Spell. They will kill Cerberus upon an altar of stone with a silver dagger, and the proper incantations will be made. On May 1st," I said slowly, "if my guess is correct, the United States Government will cease to exist."
"President Adams... his cabinet... Congress... all state Governors who refused to show any signs of agreement with items planted by Hawke's network of spies... will be dead before the Beltane sunrise. Unless we free the demon," I said bleakly, "and successfully thwart the ceremony. That dog's blood must not be spilt by Hawke's dagger."
Ichabod closed his eyes in pained, weary defeat. He tried his best to stave off tears, but they would not be silenced.
"It's too much to ask of anyone! Freeing the demon seemed well within our grasp, but this... has become some... Herculean task unfit for a man who can barely stand- aaah!"
"My love, in the name of all that is sacred, stop!" I pleaded, but to no avail. His pain seemed to return with each sob, his every breath a new burn. I held him as still as I could, wishing that I could put his mind back where it belonged. I blurted desperately, "What... What else did you notice as you fled? Ichabod, think! Hawke's property- were there any unusual structures, any-"
"Only a hedge row so high that I couldn't have seen into the back courtyard if I had wanted to," Ichabod moaned. "It's completely-"
"No, it's not. That hedge row is the answer. Where else would he conceal a paganistic ritual? I can tell you what you would have seen on the other side of that hedge. At least what should be there."
"How do you know this?" Ichabod whispered numbly.
"Witch mothers make a point of teaching their children what lies on the other side of the line between daylight and shadow. How are we to defend ourselves against evil magic if we do not know how it is worked?"
"You mean that you're as capable of black magic as your stepmother was?"
"Every witch is. Some, unfortunately, choose the darkness. As with all things in life, the path branches somewhere. My stepmother made a grievous error, as have Hawke and Purnell. As for me, I will use what knowledge I have to decide what must be done," I said with renewed determination.
"Know our enemy," Ichabod mumbled into my nightgown.
"Precisely. Please, dear, case these tears and sleep," I soothed him, caging the panic in my unquiet heart. "I will never leave you defenseless."
I kissed his forehead and murmured words that I had never dreamed I knew, as if they were given to me from one who had known his fragile soul since birth. And with a flush of certainty as he drifted reluctantly off, clinging to me, I knew that if I had been wearing Isobel's pendant, I would have seen the woman from the stairs bent close and whispering in my ear.
I must have fallen asleep soon after. I was awakened at some indeterminate hour by the sound of footsteps in the hall. I lifted my head cautiously, lest I wake Ichabod. My heart skipped a beat when the door slid open noiselessly. A candle clasped by a pale slip of a hand appeared. Isobel's blanched countenance hovered above it.
I whispered, barely breathing, "I knew you would make it!" She had solved my riddle. Where my lost gems meet the number of gray horses beneath the tree in the road not far from the bridge. The number of my dead parents, the number of horses named Gunpowder. Twenty-one Tulip Tree Lane. Quincy's address had made me smile the first time I'd pronounced it. A tongue twister, and charming in its ridiculousness.
"I found him," Isobel mouthed, bringing the candle close to her lips. Her eyes glowed with an eerie blue murkiness. I noted that her hair was wild again, undone over her shoulders. "Purnell let down his guard, Katrina... just as you predicted he would. He was using the demon, too, as you had anticipated, to keep an eye on our flat. He assumes he caught me channeling some poor soul who had survived a fire... and not made it past one night... for a client. He got a nasty surprise while he was at it. He'll be sore for hours," Isobel added with a grim smile, momentarily lowering the candle to cast a faint light on Ichabod's reddened shoulders. "Lord," she breathed, "I cannot imagine what the rest of it must look like. With Rishkha's help, I pinned the delusion on him, cut off my own source, and ran. Christopher was indignant, but he followed. He is here."
"Has... Quincy taken care of you?"
"Yes, not fifteen minutes ago. We've rooms on either side of David's. Katrina, he's a strange old man, but very kind. How did your husband find him? How-" Isobel bit her lip, tears draining the cloudy glow from her eyes. "How did he ever manage such a beautiful interpretation as this?" she faltered, raising her left hand in the firelight to reveal the roll of paper securely rasped in it. "Shall I read it, then? End it all tonight, here and now? Katrina, I am so weary of this."
"I'm afraid... that I must ask you to wait. Just one more night... Isobel," I whispered urgently, "Ichabod saw... some disturbing things at the Hawke mansion. Freeing the demon is no longer our only task." I held her gaze, hoping she would understand.
Isobel said one trembling word. "Walpurgisnacht!"
"I believe the ceremony will be held-" I began, my throat beginning to feel raw from the whisper, when suddenly Ichabod stirred. I froze.
Isobel, tonight has worn us too thin. What I have to say must wait until morning. Wake yourself-
Quincy has told me, sister. Fear not, and be quiet, as I could not tell you to do so earlier. Katrina, God help me, but I've grown to love your foolishness! Sleep well, the two of you. Six o'clock in the study. Christopher and I will be there.
"The more the merrier indeed!" Isobel whispered aloud, smiling sadly. "You're brilliant, you know." And she was gone, closing the door as soundlessly as she had upon her arrival.
My eyes fell shut with the weight of love and apprehension too great to bear, dragging me into the depths of sleep. Unlike Ichabod's, my rest was not dreamless. I wandered dark spells and hedges until, with the first light of dawn, I knew exactly what had to be done.
I opened my eyes to find the room flooded in ethereal semidarkness. I searched the walls and spotted a small clock hung in one corner. Five thirty AM. I touched Ichabod's hand lightly where it lay tangled in my hair.
"Ichabod," I whispered, "wake up, love... ah, be still!"
I steadied him as he woke with a start, groaning faintly. He tried to get up but fell back, gasping.
"It's... worn off," he whimpered.
"Yes, that's to be expected," I said gently. "I'll make some more, but you'll have to let me up. We have but half an hour until we meet the Magellans in Quincy's study."
"Yes. I heard them come in the night. I left a message for them with Quincy. All is well."
"I would that it were," Ichabod cried, crawling to the edge of the bed stiffly. He sat there taking deep, ragged breaths. I sat beside him for a few moments, clasping him about the waist and kissing him lightly. He leaned despite the pain, his arms desperately tight around me.
"Can you make something strong that won't make me fall asleep?"
"Yes. Though I'll have to summon something more from home."
"Summon it from Africa if you have to.... Just get it," Ichabod begged.
Leaving him to lie helpless on the bed, I groped my way in the direction of the kitchen. The wooden floor was dry and unfamiliar beneath my bare feet. I crept into Beatrice's domain, finding two pots still sitting on the stove. One was half full of water. I searched the counters and cupboards for something with which to light the stove, but to no avail. The hearth, too, was cold. I stood in front of the stove feeling as helpless as Ichabod.
"Why can I not summon a fire as easily as I can summon a remedy?" I lamented angrily. Just then, the kitchen went warm with a frightful gust of wind. I jumped back as a crackling fire appeared in the stove. I heard a step, giving a yell as I whirled to face its source. Isobel stood in the kitchen doorway, her eyes shining calmly as if wet with tears. She held out something wrapped in a curiously embroidered scrap of cerulean silk.
"I don't know what it is, Katrina," Isobel said simply, "but she left it for you."
"She left...?" I whispered, taking the tiny parcel in my unsteady hands. "Who?"
"Your mother-in-law," Isobel said matter-of-factly. "Johanna. She did that, too," Isobel informed me, pointing at the stove.
I nodded mutely, dazed by Isobel's nonchalance. I wondered vaguely what Quincy would think if he knew there had been a ghost capable of setting the place ablaze under his roof.
"Isobel, how did she-"
"Even I don't know that. Open it," she urged me curiously, pointing at Johanna's offering. "I want to know what it is."
"You mean- You mean she just handed it to you?"
"Yes and no. I was awakened by a pair of hands- hands that I could not see- shaking me. No panic there, not the first time that's happened... but... I caught a glimpse of her when that fell right on top of me right out of nowhere. That warm wind you felt blew the covers right off of me. I dashed after it... and it led me to you, here. It started the fire."
I was too shocked to comment. I unwrapped the scrap of silk and found a handful of an unfamiliar bark nestled in the folds of material. "What is this? I can't... I've never seen... Isobel! I don't know what this is!"
"My guess is you should put it in the water. It'll be boiling soon. That fire's fierce!"
I deposited the bark shreds into the water. "You don't know what it is, either?" I asked incredulously. "You, the medium?"
"You're the healer, not I!" Isobel said with a smile. She peered into the pot, marking with the same measure of awe as I that the pot had begun to bubble industriously when the bark hit its surface. I looked down at the ragged scrap of silk in my hand. The embroidery was done in a darker shade of blue, but I could not tell what pattern it formed. I shook out the square and flattened it on the counter, squinting at it in the faint light. The shape slowly resolved itself into something almost recognizable. I gasped.
She stepped close. "A reindeer," she breathed. "That stitch is exquisite. You can just make out the head- there, antlers... a delicate head sloping into the neck. " Her fingers followed the line of embroidery to the edge of the material, which was ragged, as if it had been torn or very poorly cut from its source. Isobel's eyes narrowed as she picked it up to examine something more closely.
"Have I missed something?" I asked. I felt the urge to snatch it from her and take a closer look myself.
"No. My guess is that you know what I do not about this," Isobel said reverently, indicating a ragged patch that was still doubled upon itself and held in place by a hem stitch. She flipped it over, revealing a faint cast on the fabric, a reddish spray.
"I do," I whispered, my mind swept back in time to a bedside vigil, a confession of memories that had come unbidden and bled through scarred hands. I crushed the silk against my breast, bowing my head. "This... must have come from the hem of her dress..." I struggled to say, my eyes filling. "She..."
Suddenly, I felt Isobel's hands brush my hair, slip something cool and familiar around my neck so that it touched its counterpart. My mind was torn from a white-walled rectory into a room of iron spikes in the swirl of a black cloak and the creak of a red door, a crimson tide washing over me-
I thrust off Isobel's pendant, thrusting it at her wildly. "She died wearing-!"
"Katrina, shhh," Isobel comforted me, bending to retrieve her pendant and the scrap of silk. "It's her gift to you, her recognition of you as family. Your blood is hers," she whispered, indicating the barely noticeable stain. "Keep it with that handkerchief of yours. I can't say what can be done with such things, but I do know that they're the most powerful bindings in existence.
"Yes," I said, blinking to rid myself of tears. "You do not want to know what can be done with them. Unless you absolutely must, which is another matter entirely."
Isobel looked at me fearfully, her eyes asking what she dared not voice. I set the cloth on the counter and stirred the bark, preparing to drain it. With a sigh, I gave in to her query as I prepared the mystery tisane for Ichabod.
"They're... contracts, if you will," I said reticently. "Left behind only rarely, and even more rarely if left intentionally. When- I am dead, someday," I said as straightforwardly as I could, "that handkerchief must be buried with me. Although I could choose for it not to be. I could choose for it to be left with a member of the family. You see, if someone were to burn it... I would be... called on. I believe the tradition was one begun as a way for us to ensure that our families would have us in a time of danger... but... anymore, if it were to fall into hands of malicious intent, well... I would be as good as Jürgen until the ashes are scattered to the north wind."
Isobel's swallowed. "Katrina, you do realize why Johanna chose to leave that, then?" she asked fearfully, not even certain herself. "Because according to what you said, you are the owner of both rare instances of the leaving of such a thing."
I had just finished straining the remedy into a teacup. I froze, staring at the scrap of silk, longing to ask it questions to which it could never give me answers. I closed my eyes, realizing what had been done... and why Johanna had come.
"She anticipates, Isobel, that we'll need her help tonight. And if worse comes to worse, we will."
"Will you show Ichabod? Will he understand- I mean, not to be inconsiderate, Katrina, but can he take it?"
"In his current state, I honestly can't say. But I have the feeling Johanna's taken care of that," I said, indicating the teacup. "If you see her, will you ask her what it is?" I mused weakly. "Wake your brother and get to the study. I'll settle this matter with Ichabod as best I can before we meet. We'll see you in fifteen minutes."
Isobel and I parted ways, leaving the kitchen sealed in tense silence. I tucked the square of silk into my nightgown as I made my way down the hall, a few drops of tea narrowly missing it. Curious, I sucked a drop from my splashed finger. The taste was neither sweet nor entirely unpleasant.
I found Ichabod sitting up again, leaning with his head against the bedpost. I held the teacup to his lips. I could not think of anything to say. I did not know how to tell him that I had no idea what I was administering.
Ichabod's eyebrows furrowed as he drank it down. Once finished, he sat the teacup on a pillow and raised a finger to my cheek, his pained eyes filling with concern.
"I heard you... talking with someone," he faltered. "I heard you scream."
I nodded gravely, taking a seat beside him. I began hesitantly, taking his hand in mine.
"Yes, you did. I'm not sure how to tell you, but I suppose that straight out is as good a way as any. I couldn't find a way to light the kitchen stove, and suddenly... a warm breeze blew in and lit it for me. I turned and saw Isobel standing in the doorway. She had followed the gust.... It led her to me. Isobel gave me... this," I said quietly, drawing the scrap of silk out of my sleeve. "It was full of some kind of bark... a kind that I did not recognize, Ichabod. It's what I gave you," I finished, pressing the scrap gently into his hand. "What she knew would help you most."
Ichabod's recognition was instant, as if he were once again in that terrible nightmare. He grasped my shoulders, breathing hard.
"How long as she been in the house?" he asked unsteadily. "Did Isobel say why she came?"
"Not exactly, but to help us, I believe. I think that she was here last night. I could feel something."
"She lit the stove," Ichabod whispered with feeling. "I remember her, in front of the fire... how she produced sparks from forget-me-nots, drew spirals in the ash while she sang... but I never saw her do such a thing. Never. Can you?" he asked breathlessly.
"If I could, I would have done it myself," I said with a smile, taking him in my arms at last. "She left the material... I think... for a reason that I think you'll be shocked by, but... she's offering her help, Ichabod, for tonight. For what I'm about to tell all of you in the study. If... if something should go awry... burn that scrap. It'll allow her to do something that under ordinary circumstances her spirit could not. And that's what's frightening... I can't tell you exactly what that might be. In dangerous circumstances, dangerous measures may be required. She will not leave you defenseless, either."
Ichabod looked up, swiftly making the connection. "Does that mean... someday... that handkerchief?"
"Don't dwell on it, but, yes. I'll explain the matter later; it can be dealt with in such a way that nothing is left behind. But the fact that what you're now holding's been offered from beyond the grave... we must only hope that things don't go that awry."
Ichabod kissed the side of my head. "I wish you had known her!" he murmured tearfully.
"Hush, love," I calmed him. "Part of me feels as if I already do. Come, we've got to meet the twins. I pray that you can walk." I summoned one of his winter robes from home and carefully wrapped him in it.
"For you, I can do anything," Ichabod said, summoning his courage against the pain.
I filed the blue material in the sewing box before helping Ichabod across the foyer and into the study. Two fair heads flew up in unison. A red-eyed Christopher looked as if he wished the whole thing were a bad dream. His shirt was creased and untucked, and his usually neat short hair had adopted David's rumpled look. Isobel sat across from him, still and composed in her lily-pale gown. Her eyes sought Ichabod's. He returned her concerned gaze with one of thankfulness. Ichabod and I took seats on the couch. Christopher broke the silence rather peevishly.
"Isobel tells me this has become nothing short of a circus."
"Not in those terms, Chris," she reprimanded him, "so kindly reserve your judgment until Katrina proposes what we should do. Unless you have a better idea."
Put in his place, Christopher lowered his eyes and drew in his breath impatiently. "Look," he said wearily, "I'm just tired. So tired. I want it to be over. I wanted it to be over ages ago. I'm sick of worrying about my sister, and I'm sick of worrying about... what's to become of us. All of us."
Every time Christopher seemed intent upon making things difficult, he never failed to redeem his ill-spoken words, however gracelessly. Ichabod shot me an amused sidelong glance, giving me heart. If he could smile again, then I could face a wavering critic without feeling that my night of feverish planning had been done in vain.
"I'll be extremely brief," I said, looking both twins in the eyes. "Hawke is planning a Walpurgisnacht ritual in order to work the Plague Spell. He'll use the demon to carry it once it's worked. If my guess is correct, every key member of the Government will be dead before dawn tomorrow."
I had Christopher's full attention, but Isobel showed enough horror for the two of them.
"The Plague! I thought it was a legend... or should I say, hoped it was. You must have seen the altar, Constable Crane," she said in a trembling voice.
"No," Ichabod replied. "The hound. Drugged with a wreath about his neck, ready for the dagger."
"We can't let it die by that blade!" Isobel cried.
I breathed in relief. "Exactly. Ichabod and I know the location of Hawke's mansion. Its back courtyard is large, fenced in by a hedge row at least nine feet high. I believe that is where the ritual will take place. We have to stop the ritual and free the demon for the most part simultaneously, or at least in quick succession. It'll take the efforts of all four of us. What I'm proposing is sketchy at best. We'll have to find a way to sneak onto the property and conceal ourselves. The ritual will begin around eleven-thirty and reach its conclusion precisely at midnight."
"Impossible," Christopher moaned.
"Not if you would listen!" Isobel said sharply.
"I can devise a way to do so," Ichabod said confidently. I was amazed at the difference in him. Johanna's remedy for pain must have been an incredibly well-kept secret.
"To sneak onto the property?" Christopher asked.
"Yes. I escaped from that very house last night. It's a penetrable fortress, if one knows where to look," Ichabod told him with slight impatience.
"Very well, then... what I know is this: while Isobel reads the inscription, one of us will have to find a way through the hedge," I said, glancing meaningfully at Ichabod and hoping that he would be up to it, "in order to shoot Cerberus. If the dog takes a bullet, their plans are ruined. The blood can only be drawn by pure silver."
"I will," Christopher volunteered, his eyes glowing angrily. "I want a chance at the bastard who took our-"
"Are you blind, or is it truly not clear who she intended for the job?" Ichabod cut in.
"Sorry," Christopher mumbled.
"Someone will have to stand guard, keep track of everyone else's locations. I plan on filling that post. I can track the three of you if we should become untimely separated, as well as intercept any unwelcome visitors." By then, I knew, using my powers within the Dark Wards would not matter. They would be too preoccupied with the ritual to be concerned with my whereabouts. I hoped. Even if they did detect me, the job would be in progress or done. I hoped.
"Katrina, you and Isobel should stay together at all times. And you, Christopher, are not to be far from them at any given time, is that clear?" Ichabod stated. "You'll be armed, all three of you, but if shots must be fired, I prefer that they be fired by the young man."
"Yessir," Christopher sighed, glaring at Ichabod and his sister by turns.
"I suppose that covers it," I said, feeling the incompleteness of our plan like a pain. I could refine nothing until Ichabod came up with a course of entry. He would have all day to do so as he rested, but I still feared the use of a tiny blue weapon would be necessary.
"What about Hawke and Purnell?" Isobel asked suddenly. "They'll be conducting the ritual, no doubt. They'll... need to be taken care of."
"Christopher," Ichabod said slowly, "this leaves an possibility open that I very much hope you can handle. You will have to wound Hawke if Katrina is not there to bind him."
I looked at Ichabod questioningly, amazed at how swiftly he had commandeered the situation. He said, "You're taking some rope. Use your telekinesis to bind him. Death is too good for that him. I have other plans. But if that fails, I expect Christopher not to miss his mark"
"And Purnell?" Isobel persisted. "The conduct of the magic will be in his hands."
"I have other plans for him, too," Ichabod said stiffly. "You needn't worry about anything save freeing that demon, Miss Magellan."
"Soldiers, guards," Christopher chimed in, as if he had been thinking for a while. "What about them?"
"I don't think there will be many within the hedge, actually, if any at all," I ventured. "The ritual is sacred to those who perform it, no matter how dark their intent. Uninvolved bystanders of any kind are taboo."
"We have approximately seventeen hours until the ritual begins," Ichabod said quietly. "Time has never mattered more than now. We shall either succeed or die trying."
He grasped my hand tenderly. Only then did I realize how much more we stood to lose than we had in Sleepy Hollow: our second chance. I wondered if there was any such thing as a third chance, and if so...
Was it our last?
At the creak of a floorboard, the four of us looked up from our moment of silence.
"What about me?" David asked, yawning as he stood in the doorway.
I looked David in the eye. "There is something very important that I need you to do. You are going to eliminate a tremendous load of worry from my mind."
The brief excitement left David's face as he understood. "No!" he protested.
"Yes. You are staying here."
"I can't! Not with you and Katrina facing God knows what!"
"David, I need you to take care of those papers if anything"
"If anything happens to you, you won't be able to stop this ritual, and then Senator Remington will be dead, and so will anyone else who could help. There's no reason to keep me home!"
I shook my head. "I cannot help but wish that you were not so brave, David. Proud as it makes me." Suddenly I realized the most important reason that I had taken him in after his father's death; I was not going to stand by and see another bereaved boy forced to live his entire life in fear. I was going to see to it that his natural courage was protected, not destroyed as mine was.
"You didn't argue when I was the only one who was willing to go to the western woods, so why"
"Because I thought it was your right to help avenge your father," I retorted. I admitted to myself that I had very much not wanted to go into those woods alone, a mere day after discovering that ghosts indeed existed. But had his reasons been less compelling, I would have done it. Thank God I had not had to. "This is our problem. I admire your courage, David, deeply, but we need you to"
Katrina tried another tack. "We need you to remain safe. Please, David, how can we go on if we are worried about you?"
He looked at me imploringly. "Didn't I prove that I can be useful in Sleepy Hollow?"
"Indeed you did. But you should not have to. You're a brave boy. I intend to see you grow up into a brave man. Which means keeping you out of danger till then!"
Reluctantly, David ceased arguing. He sat down discontentedly. I returned to our plan.
"If nonparticipants are verboten, then I suspect that the only people in the ceremony will be Hawke's foremost conspirators. That means Colonel Dorn, Simon Magus"
"Who?" Christopher interrupted.
"Oh." I felt my face harden. "Apparently Simon Purnell likes to style himself after the Biblical wizard Simon Magus. They were calling him that yesterday."
All three of the witches before me rolled their eyes. "What do you expect from a quack like that?" Christopher asked of no one in particular.
"It is possible that the Reverend Burris and Senator Trevayne may also be present. And of course, Hawke may have another conspirator I am not aware of, though I doubt it; if there were another, I would have found some trace of him. So once I stop the ceremony, we will only have a few culprits to contend with. We will take them into custody, and then you, Miss Magellan, will read the translation." My brows drew together. "What will the demon do once we have freed it?" I asked abruptly.
"Return to its own realm," Isobel replied.
"Maybe stopping long enough to kill the one who bound it," Christopher added.
Katrina shook her head. "Purnell wears the sigil."
"Maybe we'll get lucky and he'll forget it tomorrow," Christopher grumbled.
My beloved smiled mirthlessly. "I doubt that. He had it tattooed on."
"Clever," the lad admitted.
"Wait a minute," I said. "What is this sigil?"
"It is worn by those reckless enough to raise demons, to defend them from their own servants," Katrina explained. "It is usually an amulet worn around the neck, but in your mind I saw Purnell's tattoo. It is the protective sigil, and it cannot be removed."
"Indeed." I felt my brows drawing together again as I considered. "Now, as to how we can gain entry to the mansion ."
"Who put you in charge?" Christopher grumbled.
"Need I remind you that I am the only qualified professional here?" I retorted.
I think Christopher was about to make a sarcastic reply, but Isobel smoothly interrupted. "How do you plan for us to get in, Constable Crane?"
"I can think of a few possibilities already, but I must think them through . Let me think about it for a bit, and then we will gather again to work out the rest of our plan." With that, I turned and went into one of the other booklined rooms, settling at the desk. Katrina followed me. I glanced around.
"What are you looking for?" she asked.
"Blank paper to take notes on. Or if I promise not to faint this time, could you get my ledger for me?"
She looked at me in surprise. I was a bit surprised myself; I have never joked about my own weaknesses before. Generally I prefer not to grant them the respect of acknowledging their existence.
An instant later, my ledger was on the desk beside me, even open to the first clean page. I smiled at her.
"I've got a kiss for the Pickety Witch," I said softly. Returning my smile, she moved into my arms to claim it.
"I'll leave you to your thoughts until breakfast is ready. And I warn you, you are going to eat every bite!"
"I'll eat something," I promised as I bent over the ledger. A few minutes later, as I sketched what I knew of the layout of the grounds of the mansion, I heard the murmur of the voices of Katrina, Isobel and Bea in the kitchen.
The fabric of my robe irritated my burns. The pain was not gone, but it was certainly dulled, and whatever potion my my mother had delivered for me had given me energy and confidence. I did not know what the bark was, but I remembered being given it as a child, when I was hurt.
Trying to push away the memories that threatened to overwhelm me, I untied my robe and let it fall over the back of the chair. I continued to write, sitting in my trousers and boots, barechested. This kind of informality is hardly my habit, but I did not think that anyone other than Katrina would disturb me. And by the time Christopher knocked and entered the room, I was so absorbed in working out alternate plans of entry that I had forgotten what I was wearing.
I looked up, turning in my chair as Christopher came to stand beside the desk.
"I know we haven't gotten on," he began stiffly. "After all, you were inconsiderate to my sister on more than one occasion I know, you didn't mean to be. But this is important and you'd better listen. The the way the girls said you were hurt you can't possibly be fit to do this tonight. You must be on the verge of collapse. I'll shoot the hound tonight."
At least he was being tactful enough to cite my wounds as the reason for his doubt of me. "So while you shoot the dog, I will guard your sister? Is that what you are proposing?"
That stopped him. His eyes flickered, and he parted his lips to speak but then closed them again.
I pressed my advantage by continuing. "Of the four of us, Miss Magellan is the least able to defend herself physically. It may have occurred to you, if Simon Purnell knows about your sister, or learns about her ." I did not have to finish; the young man's expression proved that he had indeed considered this possibility.
"That pretender is apt to try to gather himself a harem of witches!" he snarled hatefully.
"I would not put it past him. Though it seems to me a foolish idea. I have difficulty enough with just one. So I naturally assumed that you would wish to be the one guarding your sister, as well as my wife. But, if you truly prefer ." With that I turned to put my pen down on the blotter.
When I turned back to him, Christopher's eyes were wide with incredulity. He stared at me.
"Iso said they were but I didn't think" Words failing him, he stepped behind the chair to examine the burns across my back again. I sighed and allowed him to gawk.
"They were trying to make you to tell them how to get Lady Crane?" he asked. I nodded. "How much did you tell them?"
I turned to look at him, surprised. "Nothing."
His eyes bulged. "Nothing?"
"Well, I think I did mention that I would prefer it if they stopped burning me," I amended caustically.
"You didn't tell them anything about her?" he repeated. "While they were doing that?"
"Mr. Magellan," I said wearily, "people do what they must. Not what is natural to them."
He looked as though he had just received a revelation. I found myself newly appreciating David's greater maturity.
"How did you get here like that?" he asked, still shocked.
"You would be surprised what you can do when you have no choice," I said drily. "And as long as we are talking, you are not going to swear in the presence of my wife again."
The sudden change of subject took him aback. "She didn't seem to mind," he mumbled sheepishly.
I stood up, ignoring the sharp twinges that coursed over my back, and looked him coldly in the eye. "I mind."
He stared at me, more surprised than ever, before dropping his eyes. "Right. Er, sorry."
I sat back down with an air of dismissing him. "Thank you for your offer, but I will be quite ready to stop this ceremony and shoot that hound tonight. We need you to guard the ladies." And it would help immeasurably, I thought, if some of that tea were still left. This thought prompted a chain of speculation. Christopher was heading reluctantly to the door when my question stopped him. "Are the spirits of the dead around us always?" I asked.
"Why, yes. We see them all the time. Well, especially Iso."
"But I meant, isn't there a Heaven or Hell for them to go to? Or do they simply loiter about the world?"
He snickered. "The thing is, once they go to the next world, they can't come back. Except in very special circumstances. So a good many spirits linger for a few months or even a year, but when they see their families going on with life without them, they depart. It's frustrating for them, you see. They can't communicate except through a medium, and they can't do anything, so I suppose they get bored."
"They can't do things in this world?"
"Not usually. They can't normally interfere with mortal lives."
"Normally? What about abnormally?"
He sighed, a bit impatient, but answered my questions as if he were explaining the most elementary facts to a child. "Well, a sufficiently powerful spell can bring a spirit back on command and perhaps allow it to do things. Like a blood contract, for instance I think Lady Crane explained that to you. You'd better make sure that bloody handkerchief is buried with her. Er, I mean, when when you're old and"
"I understand. Go on about spirits interfering?"
"Oh. Well, they usually can't, all they can do is watch, but there is an exception. Twenty years after their deaths, if they've remained on this plane, they are allowed to take action for one year, to set things right or whatever. But it's rare for a spirit to do that; usually by that time everything they cared about is gone or changed, and they generally cross over long before the twenty years is up they need some fairly powerful reasons for hanging around that long. Iso told me about that Headless Horseman. My bet is that the witch waited till he had been dead for twenty years before raising him. It would have been tremendously difficult otherwise are your burns hurting again?"
"No," I whispered.
"Er, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought up the Horseman, I guess Iso told me that he nearly killed you, and Lady Crane, more than once"
"It wasn't that. My burns are hurting again," I muttered, too stunned to realize I had contradicted myself. The previous November had been the twenty years' anniversary of my mother's death. It must have been only a few days after that tragic anniversary that I was sent to Sleepy Hollow, to face the supernatural and to find my destiny, my true love. And the year was not over yet. I stood and paced, ignoring the ache in my back, which thankfully was still dull; when I had wakened that morning, the pain had been so intense it had been all I could do to refrain from screaming.
"How how long has Levi Crane been dead?" he asked hesitantly.
I inhaled sharply. "Crane was not my father's name."
"Crane was my mother's maiden name. When I ran away, I adopted it, in hopes it would help me hide if my father was looking for me." Besides, I had not wanted to claim kinship with him. "And I have no idea how long he has been dead. I have not seen him since I was fourteen."
"I I see." Awkwardly, Christopher moved back toward the door. "I'm sorry I disturbed you. I'll leave you to your deduction."
Christopher left me and I continued pacing. I needed some air. I carefully pulled my robe back on and found the door to the backyard.
I drew a few breaths, enjoying the pleasant warmth of the spring day. A high fence surrounded the yard; a few oaks granted shade, and there was a small herb garden in one corner, rather similar to Katrina's. I looked up at the branches spreading above me, and the sky above them. In spite of the approaching perils and the night's desperate mission, I felt for the moment quite content, that all was well with the world. I had not felt that way since childhood, not until my wedding night.
Was she here even now?
I would probably be asking myself that question constantly from now on, I realized as I blinked away tears. If Christopher's words were true, she must have been with me, watching me, ever since her death. For twenty years she had waited, helpless to aid me in my childhood misery, waiting until she would have the chance to help me again. And then she had, I felt certain, drawn me toward the one great blessing of my life, the kind and lovely woman who needed me as much as I needed her. Had she even guided the Pickety Witch's blindfolded steps in my direction? And I, undutiful son, had nearly botched this priceless gift.
"Thank you," I whispered, not knowing if anyone were even present to hear. I had to swallow tears. But I had no leisure to weep, not now.
My musings were interrupted by a flash of crimson. I turned to view the cardinal, a rather large one. He sang urgently, trumpeting his presence to all. I smiled as I watched the little braggart. And after a moment, he was joined by another. A smaller cardinal of muddy pink, a female, who promptly entered into competition with his song. They argued tunefully for a moment before taking wing, and as they did a flash of rosy brown caught my eye. Slowly, I walked beneath the branch where they had been and stooped. On the ground was a feather, brown-grey, faintly tinged with pink. I picked up the feather, studying it thoughtfully, wondering .
I stood gazing at it for some time before going back inside.
A few minutes later, I was bent over my ledger again, jotting notes as I worked out various possibilities. Hawke had wanted me to escape yesterday; getting back in would not be so easy. Even though Katrina assured me that uninvolved bystanders were taboo, I felt certain that soldiers would be patrolling the wrought-iron fence. Hawke would take no chances of having his nefarious work interrupted. We had to find a way through the soldiers. Stealth seemed wiser than force, but how .
My thoughts were interrupted by a sharp gasp behind me. Turning, I saw Isobel standing in the doorway, her face horrified. I had removed my robe again, and she had seen my burns.
I smiled and spoke lightly. "I am glad these are where I cannot see them. Everyone seems to think they look fairly dreadful. Katrina wouldn't have a prayer of getting me to eat breakfast if I could see them."
"It must have been agony," Isobel whispered.
I felt the smile dissolving from my face. "Having Katrina fall into the clutches of those vermin would have been far more agonizing."
Isobel drew a breath. "I Katrina is up to her elbows in flour and milk. She sent me to tell you to come to breakfast."
"Ask her if she would mind bringing it to me in here," I replied. "Oh, and I did not have a chance earlier to thank you. For understanding my note, and responding so cleverly."
"I am grateful I was able to help the three of you." Isobel moved to leave, but then paused. "Constable Crane may I ask you a question?"
She parted her lips, then hesitated. "Perhaps I had better not. I do not wish to pry."
I rose and took a step towards her, then remembered my half-clothed state. I could hardly move closer to her as I was. Embarrassed, I quickly pulled on the robe. Once I was decent, I walked over to Isobel and took her hand.
"Miss Magellan it is clear that you very much want to know whatever this is. Considering all of the inconveniences I have caused you, I would welcome the chance to atone by doing you a favor."
Her odd violet eyes searched my face, then lowered as she drew a breath. "I if you answer this question, I promise I shan't repeat what you tell me not even to Katrina"
As if it were possible to keep a secret from Katrina. "What is it?" I prompted gently.
She swallowed. "If you had known what powers she had before would you still have married her?"
I did not answer at once. When Isobel glanced up at me, I was smiling sadly. "The real question is when I was finished passing out and calling her names would she still have had me?"
"What woman could refuse a man who would do this for her?" Isobel asked in a whisper, gesturing toward my wounds. Without another word, she left me. Only after she was gone did I fathom the reason for her question. And then I found myself sighing with pity for those marked for such isolation.
A few minutes later Katrina entered with a tray. "Put down that pen at once or I'll send it to the Sahara Desert."
Smiling, I obeyed. Before I could reach for the fork, it floated into my hand. I jumped and dropped it as if it were red hot. Shaking my head, I chided, "My love, my nerves are already frazzled. At least warn me when you're going to do this kind of thing!"
"I'm sorry," she said with a smile, bending to kiss the top of my head. "Now eat. You need your strength."
I picked up my fork again. There was no need for her to use her voice charm on me; I always did her bidding anyway.
I looked at her abruptly. "Why am I complicating things?"
"I have been racking my brain for a way to sneak past the guards who will doubtless be posted around Hawke's mansion. But why don't we simply ask them to let us in?" She frowned, bewildered, and I elucidated, "Why don't you ask them?"
Her face cleared as she understood. "Of course. I can do that."
"Excellent." I finally began to eat, and I did, in fact, please her by eating almost all that was on my plate.
A few hours later, we all gathered again in one of the booklined sitting rooms so that I could outline my fine-tuning of Katrina's sound but simple plan. I had eventually put on my shirt, but spared myself the tightness of the vest. I stood before the hearth, while Katrina sat beside me. The twins occupied a sofa together, and Quincy sat forward on an armchair, listening alertly to all I said. David stood behind him, his jaw set, clearly ready to stand firm if we tried to make him leave.
"When we reach the hedgerow, I want you all to remain concealed until I shoot the hound," I began. "Once I do that, I am going to take Hawke into custody." I remembered the respectful way the others in the mansion had looked at Hawke. He would be the best hostage, I felt certain. "We will keep them under control in this manner until Katrina can bind all the participants of the ritual. There shouldn't be more than four or five."
"Then they might outnumber you," David spoke up. "I had better come with you."
"No," I replied briefly.
"You could use my help!" he insisted.
"He may be right," Quincy mused. "His organ of valor is quite large. And more normally shaped than yours," he added with his usual tactlessness.
"I knew that," I answered softly, looking at the boy with mingled affection and envy.
"I could have guessed as much," Christopher muttered, but he looked as if he regretted his words even before his sister kicked him.
I smiled at Isobel. "There is no need to defend me, Miss Magellan," I told her. "You should hear the things my fellow constables say about me."
As for David, he gazed at me with desperate apology. "That isn't true!" he declared. "In Sleepy Hollow, who dared to go into the haunted western woods to find the Headless Horseman's grave? No one but you!"
"Two others dared," I corrected. I had despaired for the inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow, when the only three people willing to defend it were a woman, a child, and myself. Katrina's hand reached for mine and clasped it reassuringly. I returned the pressure and turned back to David. "You are staying here. Where were we? Oh, yes. Katrina shall bind the other participants while I hold Hawke hostage. And five minutes after that, Miss Magellan, I shall need you to read the translation and free the demon."
"Why five minutes? Shouldn't we"
"I need those five minutes," was all I replied.
I was spared from answering further questions when the tea abruptly wore off. The pain returned as quickly as a blow. I gasped and staggered, leaning on the mantel. Katrina was at my side in an instant.
"You should rest. You will need all your strength tonight," she said softly. I managed to nod in reply, and once more surrendered myself to her care. "David!" He promptly moved to my side. I leaned on his shoulder gratefully, in too much pain to resent being helped. His eyes were full of worry as he looked up at me. "Help him to our room. I will make something for the pain it will be just a moment, my love."
She flew to the kitchen. David supported me as I limped toward the room we had been given. Quincy appeared on the other side of me, pulling my other arm around his shoulders. With relief I let the two of them half-carry me to the bedroom and help me to lie face down again.
I groaned as I settled. "Thank you, Professor Addison," I said in a strained voice. "You have done a great deal for us, for complete strangers ."
"Strangers? You and I are great friends, Ichabod," he said coolly. I was a bit surprised at the use of my first name; it had been years since anyone but Katrina had used it. "I recognized it within a few minutes of meeting you, and so did you. Call me Quincy."
I managed a very brief smile for him. He was right; I had been very promptly certain that he and I were the same sort, and that we would become friends. The unconventionality of his quick acceptance of this was only one of the qualities in him which found sympathy in me.
Bea appeared in the doorway. "Saints preserve us, will you let him rest? The poor lad's got to be near collapse as it is."
Quincy obligingly left the room. David quietly but quite firmly took a seat beside the bed, determined not to leave me. Bea gave me a sympathetic look.
"She'll be here with your potion soon, young man," she assured me before leaving.
I closed my eyes and breathed slowly, trying to forget the pain which was sweeping over me in waves. After a moment, David's voice called me back.
"Sir ." I opened my eyes. His face was worried. "Let me come tonight. Please. I need to help you. I couldn't stand it if anything happened to you!"
Again I managed a faint smile. "I very much need you to do something here, David. I need you to ensure the safety of someone who is very dear to me."
"I thought Katrina was going with you."
"She is. I was not referring to her." His eyes widened and became shiny as he understood. I went on in a low voice, unable to meet his eyes. "Do you think I could stand it if anything happened to you?"
I think if it were not for my wounds, he would have embraced me. As it was, he slowly clasped my hand. When Katrina entered, he quickly left without a word.
"Is something the matter with David?" she asked as she took a seat beside the bed.
"Like everyone else, he does not believe that I can do this," I sighed.
"I believe you can."
"Then I am now twice the man," I murmured as I lifted myself on my elbows to drink the tea she held out for me.
"This will make you sleep for a while. You'll feel all the better tonight," she assured me. I drained the last of it and lay back down, trying not to moan, and failing.
"This is going to be more difficult to explain to the High Constable than the Headless Horseman was. Do you realize that until this past week, my attendance record was perfect?" I groaned, with both pain and worry. "They will use this entire fiasco for all it's worth."
"Shhh. Don't fret, my love. Whatever happens, we will contend with it when it comes. And it will be all right in the end, one way or another."
The pain was worse now that I had moved. I gasped and reached for Katrina's hand. "Talk to me," I pleaded. "Give me something to think about."
Her eyes shone with tears. "Oh, God why did this have to happen to you? Is this the world's repayment for all you are trying to accomplish?"
She swallowed. "Forgive me, my love. What shall I talk about?"
"Tell me all about what happened yesterday." She hesitated, and I spoke more sharply. "Tell me everything, Katrina. Every detail."
Reluctantly, she began to relate the details of her ordeal. The story, as well as her potion, distracted me from the throbbing pain. I felt my blood rise as she told me about those varlets shackling her wrists; I wished I had not killed their leader yesterday, so that I could kill him again. As she described facing that brute down with a host of knives in the air about her, my heart swelled with pride. "My Joan of Arc," I whispered, drawing her hand to my lips. "I wish I could have seen that." Only later did I realize that most men would be ashamed to know that their wives are braver than they. For myself, I felt only admiration, and awe that this valiant woman loved me.
"And then we came here, because I did not know where else to go. And Quincy I mean, Professor Addison he had learned from the translation what was going on, and took us in. I can hardly believe such loyalty from someone we scarcely know."
"I think Quincy can be counted on to do the unexpected," I remarked with some amusement. "Katrina is there any more of that tea left? That you gave me this morning?"
"Good. I shall need it tonight." I closed my eyes, relaxing as the pain ebbed. It was not gone, but it was tolerable by comparison. And I felt reassured, knowing that my mother had offered her help, that I had two witches loving me and caring for me.
"She knows you, you know," I murmured.
"She sent you to me. Found another beautiful witch to look after me." My voice trailed off. A moment later I murmured, "She must approve of you. Pity she couldn't tell me before I knew what you can do. I might not have panicked so then though I suppose I would still have fainted ."
I felt my love's mouth press to my forehead as I drifted off.
But even two witches watching over me could not keep the nightmares away. I opened my eyes with a gasp as Katrina kissed my cheek. She was still at my side, her lovely dark eyes full of compassion.
"It's all right, my love! I'm here. You're safe."
I pressed my face into the pillow, shuddering.
"What were you dreaming about?" she asked gently.
"My father. Beating me," I said flatly. "I suppose the pain in my back caused the dream."
"Oh, Ichabod I'm so sorry for all of it."
"And then, she came. She stopped him."
"She? You mean ."
"Yes. My mother."
Katrina's hand gently stroked the hair out of my face as she began to cry. Wincing, I sat up and put my arms around her.
"Please don't cry, Katrina. I need you to be ." My voice trailed off, and she continued weeping. "Lady Crane," I chided, "your husband just gave you an order." But of course, she continued. "Shall I have to resort to onion torture?"
She laughed through her tears. "Onions to make me stop crying?" And she sobbed again. Perhaps I should not have mentioned torture.
I kissed her mouth lightly, and then her cheek. "I warn you, I will not stop kissing you until you stop crying." She gave a gasp that was something between a laugh and a sob. I continued to punctuate my sentences with little kisses. "Such a wayward bride," I murmured. "How can I ever bring her into line? Well, just so long as you don't laugh. You understand me? Don't laugh. Don't you dare laugh, or else." And of course, she did laugh. I smiled. "So this is how one controls a disobedient wife."
Wiping her eyes, she gave me a wistfully impish look. "I'm only humoring you."
"I will settle for that. After all, if our household is to have a despot, it is going to have to be you." I kissed her one more time and observed her calmer expression with relief.
Her hand pressed mine gently. "I am going to conjure your shirt off you," she warned. "I want to see how your burns are healing."
"Everyone wants to look at these. I should sell tickets," I remarked as I turned so that she could see my back. Her eyes met mine worriedly as my shirt disappeared; it was unlike me to make such jests. Then she focused on my wounds. Her pretty face acquired a grimness at odds with its beauty.
"I'm going to kill them," she whispered.
"No, you are not," I informed her, turning back to her. "Listen to me, Katrina. If at all possible, I do not want you to kill anyone tonight." I paused for a second; it was not an order I had ever expected to give my wife. "Do what you have to do, but please, try to leave executions to me."
"When I see the men who did this to you, I don't know if I'll be able to stop myself!"
"Try," I ordered gently. "Truly, Katrina unlike most constables, until yesterday I had never killed anyone and it is not a feeling I want you to have." I prayed she was not reading my thoughts. What I really did not want her to know was how good it had felt to see that villain collapse before me. It had been an ugly pleasure. I loved her innocence, and I would shield it with my last breath. And if necessary, beyond.
"How can you ask me to show those horrible men any mercy?" she asked in a broken voice.
"Only a few days ago, you said that you would do anything for me," I reminded her softly. "Now I am asking you to do something for me."
She sighed. "And so I shall, if it is possible." She quietly began to apply more salve to the burns. Her touch hurt, light as it was, but the salve numbed the pain a little. "But if you could see these ."
"Cheer up. At least the mgh! the scar my father left must surely be obliterated at last," I replied.
Katrina regarded me gravely for a moment. "Oh, Ichabod this is hardly the time to develop a sense of humor."
"Do you think I will be able to resist reminding you of that remark the next time you tell me that I'm too serious?" I parried. In truth, I was surprised myself at the moments of lightheartedness which had been coming over me since arriving at Quincy's home. Perhaps there was simply too much tragedy present to sustain. "And by the way, Mrs. Crane, I expect not to hear you swearing again."
"What? Oh." She looked a bit abashed, though more amused, as she remembered the fairly mild oath she had uttered while searching her enchanted box the day before. "Did that trouble you so much?"
"Considerably. I am not going to have my wife using that kind of language, any more than I am going to have her hearing it."
"So that is why Christopher was so sullen over breakfast! You scolded him for his language, didn't you?" She gave me an indulgent, pleased look, her usual reaction to my shows of protectiveness. I think she likes to imagine that she does not need it. "I promise I will refrain from using such words if you promise to refrain from getting tortured again," she added tartly. "How do you feel?"
"The pain is not as bad as it was when I went to sleep," I said. "But I fear the reprieve will not last long."
She gently brushed a stray lock of hair away from my forehead. "My love, I have faith in you. But you're exhausted. After what you went through yesterday, can you ."
I took her hands and looked her in the eye. "After what I went through yesterday, my angel," I said quietly, "I can do anything."
She studied me, sudden understanding filling her enchanting eyes. She kissed my scarred palms again, shaking her head sadly.
"Why do you make yourself pay so high a price for faith in yourself?" she whispered.
"To convince myself that I deserve you," I whispered back.
She leaned to kiss my forehead. The touch was like a medal, a laurel wreath.
"Besides," I added lightly, "with so many people doubting me, I can hardly deny myself the pleasure of proving them all wrong. Did you put them all up to it?"
"You know I wouldn't do that!" She searched my face and the corners of her mouth turned up ever so slightly. "But it's working, isn't it?"
I smiled as I gingerly stood up and reached for my shirt. So many times, pride is all that has kept me from fleeing from what I must face. Pride, I thought, is the root of all good.
"Nonsense," my wife said. "What about love?"
"Katrina, stop that."
She lowered her eyes. "Forgive me. I am just so worried. Ichabod it isn't like you to joke about serious things. Or to roam the house half-clothed as you did this morning. You're not acting like yourself at all."
"Perhaps that is not such a bad thing," I said softly as I carefully buttoned my shirt. She came and brushed my hands away, taking over the job.
"What do you mean?" she asked softly, trying to hide her anxiety.
I smiled wearily. "No need to pretend, Katrina. We both know that I'm a coward."
She stared at me, stunned. She and David have always tactfully avoided any mention of my cowardice, treading on eggshells where it is concerned, knowing how hateful the topic is to me. Even during our earth-shaking quarrel she did not cast it up to me. I could not have blamed her if she had, though it would have been very difficult to forgive.
At last she sighed, shaking her head.
"If that is true," she whispered, "then you must be the bravest coward in the world."
There were no words adequate for this moment. Very slowly, I gathered her in an embrace.
Our gazes met for an eternal moment, and in her eyes I saw far more than I had ever seen before. I might almost have had her powers. I saw the infinite love that poured from her priceless heart, and along with the admiration of me that I would do anything to keep, I saw also the compassion for my weaknesses, the fond protectiveness that I had always resisted even as I clung to it like a starving man. But no more, because for the first time I saw that she loved me as much for my weaknesses as for my strengths; such was the generosity of her heart. Her words the night the Horseman wounded me came to my mind: "Though I cannot cure the world, I would make you live happy in it." She had her crusade, just as I had mine. I could hardly try to deny it to her. I raised her palm, still covered with tiny scratches, and kissed it, returning her tribute.
For a long time, we held each other in the silence of perfect understanding.
At last I whispered her name.
Does she know how much is contained in that word for me? All of my love. Everything that I revere. All of the hope I cling to. Everything that I wish to achieve. All of it can be expressed by the sound of her name.
When at last we released each other, she asked softly, "Isobel and I are about to do a spell. May I cut off a lock of your hair, my love?"
"What for? You've already bewitched me."
She smiled gently. "We are asking for success for tonight's endeavour and protection for our menfolk."
"At least this time I won't think it's an Evil Eye," I replied. "By all means."
She took her mother's scissors from her enchanted box and took a tiny lock of my hair.
Driven by a sudden, inscrutable impulse, I asked, "Are bystanders allowed?"
She raised her eyebrows. "If you wish."
I followed her towards the kitchen. Isobel saw us in the hall and fell into step with Katrina, carrying a small basket, her brother trailing behind us. Quincy and David followed. Bea looked up, startled to see such a large-scale invasion of her domain.
"We must use the hearth for a bit, Bea," Katrina said from depths of serenity foreign to me.
Seemingly infected by Katrina's calm, Bea stood back, inclining her head slightly to my wife.
"You could use the hearth in any of the other rooms," Quincy remarked.
Katrina and Isobel exchanged glances. "No," Isobel said in her silvery voice. "We could, but this is best. Now I pray you all, be silent."
I glanced around at the others. Christopher seemed resigned to be outside of this particular event, though not entirely happy with it. Quincy was as alertly observant as ever. David was quite solemn, looking at Katrina with his eyes full of devotion to her. Bea was quite matter-of-fact, as if she were often required to yield her kitchen for spell-casting. And I felt none of the nervousness I would have always before at being in the presence of magic.
Katrina glanced around at her audience with a very slight amused smile, and then she looked at her sister sorceress and promptly forgot all of us.
Katrina and Isobel knelt by the hearth. They did not speak, at least aloud. Perhaps they had already agreed on what needed to be done. They began by lacing their hands together as for one of Isobel's seances. They looked at each other in perfect and serene understanding, and I felt a flash of shame that I had tried to deny my wife this friendship, this sisterhood.
Katrina began to chant softly in Latin. A few seconds later, Isobel's silvery voice joined hers in what I think was Sanskrit; she must have learned the words by rote from someone. Quincy's eyebrows lifted as the women's voices twined together in their separate incantations.
With mutual accord, they released each other's hands, and Katrina took a piece of pink chalk from the basket and slowly, dreamily began to draw her pentagram, the same one that she drew to help me in Sleepy Hollow. Isobel took white chalk and began to draw a completely different sigil, overlapping her circle with Katrina's as their chants continued. In the center of her pentagram, Katrina placed a lock of black hair; at the center of her sigil, Isobel placed another of yellow.
As they finished their drawing and began to sprinkle flower petals and some sort of herbs over the chalk strokes, I studied their faces. This was something I could never share, could not even truly understand. But it was, to my surprise, indescribably beautiful. An infinite tranquility glowed through the two pretty faces, and a power so tremendous that it scarcely needed to act, it could simply be. For a few moments, the eternal power they were aligning with, seemed to blot out their individual personalities, making both of them manifestations of a power far older than man. I should have been afraid, but the true name for what I was feeling was awe. I had never truly realized what the word meant until that moment.
The women had stopped scattering the petals and leaves over their drawings and were lacing fingers once more when a sudden breeze rushed through the kitchen. We all glanced about, but no door or window was open. An instant later, the dried leaves on the sigils had sparked and begun to smolder, causing aromatic smoke to rise into the room. I had seen something similar before, when I was a child.
Katrina and Isobel did not miss a word of their chants, but their voices grew more hushed as they glanced around in reverent surprise at the sudden manifestation. Then Isobel's eyes focused above my wife's head, where I could see nothing; her expression was one of acknowledgement and welcome. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Christopher looking at the same spot, his lips parted in surprise.
Very quietly, I began to weep.
It seemed a long time later that I felt my beloved's hands taking mine. I raised my eyes to hers. A bit of concern was added to that bottomless serenity which lingered from the spell. Wordlessly, she stood on tiptoe and kissed me. I did not even care that the others were all still in the room and saw her do it. She freed one of her hands and dabbed my tears away with a handkerchief, infinitely gentle, as if she expected it to hurt.
"Go and get ready," she said softly. "I will bring you some more of that tea in a few moments."
Numbly, I walked back to our room. The mundane act of pulling on my vest seemed absurd after what I had just witnessed. The spellbook that saved my life was safely in my pocket; beside it, I placed the scrap of blue silk with its reindeer embroidery and its stain of martyr's blood. As I placed it over my heart, I found myself glancing around again, wishing for a moment that I had Isobel's abilities.
I was washing my face, trying to shake the sense of unreality, when Katrina entered with a teacup. I took it from her, set it down on a table, and gathered her in my arms.
She carefully encircled my neck with her arms. "I love you," she said softly. After a moment, she moved back. "Please, Ichabod, drink the tea before the pain returns again."
"It is not gone," I said as I picked up the cup. "It is just numbed."
"Then keep it that way."
I drank every drop of the strange brew. As I finished it, I smiled suddenly. The last time that I had drunk this tea before this day, I had been given cookies with it to cheer me after I fell off a horse I had recklessly tried to ride, not having yet discovered the equine species' unanimous dislike of me.
Katrina searched my face as she took the cup from me, taking heart from my smile. "While you were asleep, we gathered everything that we will need. Dark cloaks to conceal all of us, pistols for all of us, and enough rope to bind an army."
"Excellent. Could you conjure one of my uniform jackets for me?"
"Of course. You are going in uniform?"
"Yes, it lends a certain authority. I am going to bluff them long enough to disarm them."
"I see." A moment later one of those absurdly dapper jackets was in her hands. She held it for me and I charily slid my arms into the sleeves. "And you have the scrap of silk?"
I put my hand to my heart. "Along with your book."
She smiled. "An honor for my gift, to rest beside hers."
Futilely, I glanced around the room again. If she was there, of course I could not see her. "I believe she approves."
"I hope so," my beloved whispered. "She has entrusted me with such a vital duty."
"Thank God that she did," I answered almost inaudibly. Our lips met. I knew that it might well be our last kiss, and if it had been, it would have been worthy.
We each armed ourselves with two pistols. "Keep your hair covered tonight," I ordered; those sunlit tresses would positively glow in the night. "I ought to make you cover your hair all the time. The Mohammedans really have the right idea. No one knows you have a wife worth stealing if she's veiled from head to toe."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" she said in the tone I expect to hear directed at fractious grandchildren one day. I grinned. She smiled at me, but the worry had not left her eyes.
The stimulation of the tea bore me up, sending energy coursing through my veins.
"Tonight will be the greatest feat of my career," I remarked. "And history will never know of it."
She smiled. "That sounds more like the Constable Crane I know and love."
I wondered briefly at her amusement, but did not trouble myself to inquire; doubtless it was something only women or witches understand.
We were almost invisible in our black cloaks as we walked through the April evening. Katrina approached the gate as the rest of us held back. My heart was in my throat as a soldier walked toward her, but her head was high, her step unhesitating. I was prouder than ever.
"Would you be so kind as to open the gate for us?" Katrina asked sweetly. His eyes promptly glazed over and he turned and unlocked the gate. Another soldier neared, and she charmed him as well. When we had walked through, she added dulcetly, "You won't mention to anyone that we were here, will you? You shan't even remember it yourselves."
"Of course not," they both murmured vacantly. I shivered. I trusted her, but it was a daunting thing to see.
"This way," I prompted softly. The four of us warily moved around to the back of the mansion to the hedgerow.
As we neared it, an odd aroma reached us. It was some sort of sweetly fragrant herb, mingled with something I could not identify. "What is that?" I whispered tensely.
My fairy sprite was frowning. "The special mixture they must burn as part of the ritual. It is partly tannis root."
"And what else?"
"You do not want to know."
I took her word for it. I could hear chanting, just one voice, a male one. Latin and Greek mixed with Middle English. Through the bushes, I could barely make out the light of a bonfire.
"Stay here," I ordered in a whisper. I drew one of my pistols. Katrina pressed my hand for a second. The contact steadied my nerves and my hand. I squared my shoulders, feeling my usual tremors and doubts fall away as my purpose sharpened.
Without hesitation, I stepped into the hedgerow's opening and peered cautiously through. There were only four of them: Hawke, Burris, Dorn and Purnell, all wearing ceremonial robes. It was Purnell who was chanting, standing at an altar of black stone, draped with scarlet silk. On the altar was a huge pewter goblet with odd engravings on it; Cerberus, still drugged and garlanded, was tethered before it. Aloft Purnell held a short, ornate dagger of silver. I noticed that he was moving slowly, reluctantly, as if he were sore, and there were dark rings beneath his eyes.
Quietly, I removed my cloak and let it fall to the ground. In full uniform, I stepped inside the ceremonial ground, leveled my pistol, and fired.
I hit my mark perfectly. Cerberus was too drugged to even yelp; he looked up at the sky and then collapsed, and all eyes turned to me in fury.
I stood straight, ignoring the ache in my back, coolly drawing my second pistol. "Halt! The grounds are surrounded by constables."
"I told you not to let him escape!" Purnell shrilly declared to Hawke.
Hawke glared at me. "You've just cost me an entire year, Crane! You will rue this day."
"Not as much as you shall." My gaze was direct and cold. I moved to him swiftly. Dorn moved to stop me, but I was too quick for him; in an instant, I had twisted one of Hawke's arms behind his back and put the pistol to his head. His mouth twisted angrily; I knew that being physically overpowered must enrage someone his size. It would enrage me. I smiled coldly, pressing the barrel of my pistol more firmly into his head. "Show your hands, drop any weapons, or your leader is dead."
Hawke swallowed his rage and spoke calmly. "Do as he says. They shall never prove anything."
"Bluff to the end, Hawke," I told him. "All of you ."
Bind them, Katrina! I thought.
Suddenly Hawke barked out, "Prepare yourselves!"
I glanced around at them suspiciously, but all they did was lower their heads and closing their eyes as if ashamed or afraid. Hawke followed with a few words of Latin.
"Another word, Hawke, and you'll ."
My voice trailed off. Right above the altar a misty shape was forming, odd colors swirling. My chest tightened. Perhaps I would have to tell Isobel to go ahead and free the demon after all, slightly altering my plans.
Then I felt the blood draining from my face, the sickeningly familiar sensation of being too terrified to faint.
"No!" I whispered, staring at the shape resolving out of the mist.
Hawke stepped away from me quite calmly. My hands were frozen, could not move to stop him.
No. No. No.
It was all I could think. My mind was completely stopped, unable to function at all in that shock. This was how I felt the first moment that I saw the Headless Horseman, and when I discovered my mother foully murdered. I could not think at all, could only gaze in total horror.
The figure standing upon the altar was my father.