Villainy Wears Many Masks

 

 

For a few moments, I was taken with the lurid precision and painstaking detail of the scene before me. The twins must have felt the same, for I heard each of them in turn murmur the same wondering, terrified expression: Heaven help us! The flawless obsidian altar, Purnell's hand-forged sterling dagger held high, the bittersweet smoke of tannis mingled with a draught of human blood unwillingly given....

I had scarce let go of Ichabod's hand and drawn myself back under cover of the hedge when I heard the gunshot. Powerless to resist my own frantic curiosity, I glanced back through the opening, heedless of the prickly branches that clawed my cheek. Isobel's hand suddenly clenched tight over my own was all that prevented me from dashing after Ichabod into the bewitched courtyard. My eyes filled with tears, but whether it was the murky cloud rising from the immolation upon the altar or a swell of pride as I watched my husband overpower the man who had tried to kill his spirit, I could not tell.

Christopher made a subdued utterance of disbelief as Burris and Dorn dropped their guns. Isobel gave him a desperate look, gesturing at the altar. I turned my eyes in the same direction, determined to reach Ichabod with my thoughts since I could not do so with my arms.

Bind them, Katrina!

And in that same instant, I realized what Isobel was pointing at. The burning was almost complete. The smoke had taken on an unnatural thickness, a languorous self-propelled motion. It would take only an order from Purnell or any of the others to unleash the creature that slowly curled itself into being above the altar on Ichabod.

"Christopher, give me the rope!" I demanded in a whisper.

The five lengths of twine were in my hands for barely a second before I willed the first two to appear viciously knotted about the wrists of Colonel Dorn and Reverend Burris. Even as the two of them shouted in surprise, Hawke's voice rose above the others in a string of well-practiced Latin: God have no mercy upon those who have none in the face of the Prince of Darkness.

"No!" Isobel cried softly.

"It's too late," Christopher breathed, a horrible tremor in his voice.

I dropped the remaining three strands of rope as Ichabod's stiff, trembling hands released Hawke. Burris and Dorn fell on their knees, each squeezing his eyes shut as if his life depended on it. Purnell glanced nervously to one side, but Hawke's eyes remained in grim, steady focus upon the writhing pillar of smoke. In one great shift of a soundless breeze, the snaking pillar froze for a few moments before whirling away in a flash of crimson and indigo to reveal-

Abigail Archer.

My stepmother stood upon the altar, garbed in her cobweb gown of black and white, her platinum hair in wild disarray. She turned slowly, deliberately, scanning the courtyard with icy light blue eyes. Her gaze fell upon me, holding mine for an eternal second as her freshly bloodied lips parted in a smile.

I screamed in unison with my husband's tortured cries of "No!"

Hawke's and Purnell's eyes shot in the direction of my hysterical lamentation even as Hawke slapped Ichabod's back, causing him to fall with a moan. Ichabod's eyes were shut tight against the pain but could not stay his horrified tears.

Had he seen what I could see?

I pressed one hand over my mouth, willing myself to take deep, ragged breaths. With my very last ounce of courage I approached my husband and his captors in front of the altar, ignoring the specter that hovered over them. I heard two pairs of footsteps advance and retreat in a flurry of cries behind me.

"NO! NOT ISOBEL!" Christopher wailed.

"Chris, I'm fine! But you-" Isobel gasped.

"Who's got you? Are you all right? Isobel! Katrina? Answer me!" cried a familiar voice. My blood turned to ice as David's running footfalls manifested themselves from the other side of the hedge. I turned in time to see him reach the opening. His jaw dropped and he blanched to a deathlike pallor.

"ICHABOD, THEY'VE GOT HIM HERE!" David shrieked.

"Got who?" I demanded, rushing to his side.

"The Horseman! How did they know? How did they know where to dig?"

"David, they-"

I stopped. The twins were huddled just behind the hedge, clinging to each other as if they expected the world to end and were determined to exit this existence together. David fell against me, hiding his face in the crook of my neck as he had once before. Just then, a band of about ten soldiers came rushing through the opening in the hedge, only to take one look at the altar and flee- with many cries and agonized shouts- in the direction they had come. Steeling myself, I glanced at the altar once more. Abigail still leered at me from her high post, but her expression was unchanged. Nor had she or did she make any move to descend upon us...

I released David, grinning wickedly back at the shade of my stepmother. Purnell and Hawke said nothing, though pale-faced themselves, smiling as if they were enjoying every moment of our terror. I drew both of my pistols and extended them at arms' length.

Regarding my husband's captors, I turned my head to one side thoughtfully. "What are you afraid of, Simon Magus?" I asked, folding my arms across my chest even as I fired a bullet from each gun. The one aimed at Hawke deliberately missed, but the bullet aimed at Purnell grazed his shoulder. The magician howled in pain. Ichabod looked up in shock.

"The demon manifests itself as the viewer's deepest fear!" I cried, rounding on David and the twins before meeting Ichabod's depraved stare. "The vision cannot harm you! David, forget what you see and run for your life. Isobel... now!"

I heard Isobel's tremulous voice drown out the sound of her brother's tears. She held half-crumpled in one hand Quincy's translation, reading it with determination as she held her brother.

"Clever, clever witch," I heard Purnell rasp with effort, dabbing at his shoulder with his robe. Hawke stood over Ichabod, subduing his attempts to rise by delivering sharp kicks to his back. Each of my husband's agonized groans weakened my resolve. It would be difficult to keep my promise while I still had two pistols aimed at the only two people who I would ever hate as much as my stepmother.

"Cut those fools loose," Hawke ordered. His eyes fell on Isobel, whose lips ceased to move just as Purnell used the dagger to free Burris and Dorn. I glanced at the altar. Abigail Archer, Jürgen von Reiker, two pale-haired witches tied to a burning stake, and a host of other varying nightmares vanished in a seething, vaporous hiss.

"Subdue those mediums!" Hawke cried to Dorn and Burris. I barely had time to react.

"Isobel, catch!"

I hurled one pistol over my shoulder and turned just in time to see Isobel let go of her brother and rise to her feet, gun in hand. I ducked as she fired two shots in rapid succession, a bullet from my gun and a bullet from one of her own, her eyes glowing as strangely as they had in the candlelight the night before. Only once Burris and Dorn had both fallen did I realize that Christopher had also fired from where he crouched at her feet. Isobel's second shot had missed Dorn, but her brother's had not. Isobel dropped the gun, her eyes suddenly fearful, as if seeking an absolution that would never come.

Katrina, did I... Did I kill him?

I studied Burris and Dorn. Their still forms lay less than four feet apart, a trace of blood evident beneath each.

I don't know! I responded numbly, my eyes drawn to Hawke, who had begun to struggle toward the mansion with Ichabod.

"Do as you will with them," Hawke called grimly over his shoulder to Purnell. "I have a more pressing matter to deal with."

 

 

Hawke seized me and dragged me to my feet and towards the manor. I was too dazed from pain and horror to resist. Katrina's words echoed in my head, but they were only a series of meaningless sounds; my mind had room only for shock. Was my father alive after all? Or had these evil men raised him from the grave with their hellish arts?

Only when Hawke had me inside was I able to emerge from that mind-stopping horror. As from a trance I emerged, looking about frantically. My useless attempt to resist was cut short by a sudden intense pressure to my back.

"I won't allow you to escape this time, Crane," Hawke told me grimly. He had one of my arms twisted painfully behind my throbbing back and was steering me through the halls, towards the staircase to the cellar. "You've cost me an entire year, and you are going to regret it."

Run, Katrina! Get to safety! I commanded futilely, knowing how unlikely my wayward bride was to obey me. Her words before I was taken inside were finally clear in my head, and I berated myself for yielding our advantage for an illusion.

But I could not give up, even now. I trusted that Isobel would be reading the translation. Hawke's greatest weapon would soon be taken from his hands. My worry was Katrina, where she was at the moment. In spite of my mental command to her, I was virtually certain that my Joan of Arc would follow me into the mansion. Because of that, I had to get free. But the pain in my back, newly awakened by Hawke's blows, was so intense that I could scarcely think.

We reached the bottom of the stairs. I recognized the heavy oaken door to the torture chamber. I did not want to even enter that room again. I waited till I felt his grasp slacken. Only slightly, but it was all the advantage I had, and I acted swiftly. With all my strength, I raised my arm over my head and brought my elbow into his face. Blood spurted from his nose, making my stomach curdle even as the pain in my back flared anew.

Seizing the advantage of surprise, I turned and punched him in the jaw. He staggered against the wall, glaring at me with pure hatred.

"You've lost, Crane. You've lost the battle, you've lost her."

I only smiled. His bluffing was as absurd as it was desperate. I studied him warily, waiting for an opening to attack. My burns canceled the advantage of my greater size; I had to proceed cautiously.

"You damned fool! You're as frightened of her power as you are of your own shadow. He can offer her something you never could: he reveres her power!"

I winced; he had hit a vulnerable spot. But I knew better.

"I have some idea of what he wishes to do with it... and with her. That is not reverence," I murmured hatefully.

"At least he'll be able to stay conscious throughout his first night with her. Which I am sure is more than you managed to do."

My face turned red, but I controlled myself. As it so happened, he was wrong. Though there had been a few moments when it was a near thing.

He continued to taunt me, obviously hoping to make me lose my temper. "Pretending to faint. A woman's trick. You even brought two women with you to a fight!"

I smiled coldly. "Is that the best you can do? My fellow constables have devised far more clever insults for me."

His eyes flickered, focusing for an instant on a point just over my shoulder before moving back to me. I glanced behind me, expecting to see one of Hawke's soldiers or accomplices approaching. There was no one. Hawke seized my brief distraction to run, not into the torture chamber, but into one of the other rooms. It had been a clever trick on his part. Furious, I ran after him. But once again he had seized the advantage; he was standing against the wall, and as I dashed through the door, he was ready to strike my back another vicious blow. I fell with a cry, enraged at myself for having fallen into such a simple trap. Before I could rise, Hawke kicked my ribs, hard. When he tried to kick me again, I seized his foot and pulled him to the floor, where we grappled desperately.

  

 

Purnell's pained eyes scanned the twins' faces and the trembling patch of hedge which I knew David had taken shelter behind, still too stubborn to leave. He then looked at me, and deemed what he saw of greater importance than the other three combined. I had heard Ichabod's insistent plea that I should run to safety, but it meant little when the others were in such grievous peril. I could not leave them. I closed my eyes and sought Isobel urgently.

Take David and run! Return to Quincy, or... I don't care where you go! Just see to it that you are all safe, my sister.

What if I never see you again? I knew without turning that Isobel's eyes were filled with tears.

You will. No matter what, Isobel. I love you. Now, go!

Remember her, then. That you may call her, sister! That she is waiting. She is your hope. I pray she finds a way... Godspeed our meeting, in this life or the next!

I glanced over my shoulder as Purnell made his way toward me. David and the twins were gone. I took a few steps backward, consumed by an anger so fierce I prayed it would engulf the entire place in flames. I brought the remaining pistol level with Purnell's temple, cocking it for emphasis.

"If you come one step closer, you'll be sent to meet your master none too soon," I warned.

Purnell froze, the feverish glow in his eyes a composite of greed, desire, and unacknowledged defeat. I wondered how he could still look at me so, after all that I had done. Denial was a bizarre thing in and of itself, but I could not help but wonder if devotion to black magic only heightened its effect. It had certainly done so for my stepmother.

"You are unlike any woman that I have ever known, witch or otherwise," he breathed heavily, lifting his hand from his shoulder to find it covered in a new caking of blood. "It's just a pity that you cannot bring yourself to do what your husband so obviously forbids. And I thought you were strong, Lady Crane. Imperturbable in the face of male weakness. Surely I was not wrong about what I saw in you?"

He made a swipe for the gun, but I swung it ten feet in the air and pointed it downward at his head. I found myself battling the urge to pull the trigger more fiercely than ever before.

"On the contrary," I said in a strained voice. "I am about to show you how strong I truly am. Take me to where Hawke is dragging my husband or you'll join Cerberus and-"

Reverend Burris had begun to stir, moaning faintly. Colonel Dorn remained motionless, and when Burris' eyes opened a slit, his fallen comrade was the first thing to meet his gaze. With a grim smile he acknowledged my presence, lowering his head onto the grass once more, too weak to rise.

"As I said," I whispered to Purnell. "Cerberus and Dorn. Master and hound, bound in death. I have only to bind you to yours, you wretched cur."

Without a word, Purnell turned and dashed in the direction that Hawke had gone with the pistol in hot pursuit. I gave chase as fast as my legs could carry me, struggling to maintain control of my airborne firearm.

I dashed after him through an open cellar door and found myself barely able to keep up as he turned one corner of the torchlit corridor-maze after another. It was too late when I realized what he was doing. He turned into a low-ceilinged cell, and the gun hit the wall above his head and fell with a useless clink. I was running so fast that I could not stop myself. I tripped as I crossed the threshold and found myself hurtled after him into the cell. As I struggled to rise, tangled in my own skirts, Purnell dashed along the wall and slammed the door of the cell.

I rose shakily, enraged at having been deprived of my weapon. Purnell had drawn the dagger from his belt and was coming toward me. I backpedaled until I lurched into a crevice of solid stone. I was cornered.

"Did you think that you could win?" Purnell asked as if he were scolding a naughty child. "Did you believe that you would spend the rest of your life with that coward?" he leered, leaning so close that I felt his breath upon my lips, the point of his dagger grazing my cheek. Inadvertently, I lashed out in the only way I knew how. If I could use his thoughts against him, I would. But what I read made me so promptly ill that I forgot my intent. Before I knew it, my right hand had encountered his cheek full force.

As he staggered backward with a yelp, I shuddered, too repulsed to find words. I pressed my cheek against the wall, offering a last prayer to He who had seen fit to bless my brief existence with the bliss of the last six months. Magic seemed to pale in comparison to a measure of faith. And as I opened my tear-filled eyes, I heard Ichabod's voice ring from the other side. The sounds of a scuffle became apparent, punctuated every now and then with another man's grunt. He was fighting Hawke with the last of his strength.

Purnell rose to his feet, his breathing furiously heavy. I looked away as he struggled out of his robe, baring both the tattoo on his chest and his mutilated shoulder. He raised the knife, approaching me as I had approached him with the pistols in the courtyard.

"Ichabod!" I shouted, hoping that the echo reached him in the next cell.

"He can't save you now. He's nearer to his deathbed than poor old Reverend Burris. When your opponent is severely burned, size really doesn't matter," Purnell hissed, leaning close as he had before.

A few fresh cries and kicks from the other side of the wall were enough to revive my hope. I ignored Purnell's comment and murmured sweetly, "That's what you think."

"Perhaps," Purnell said distantly, resisting the charm despite its immediate dazing effect.

I didn't waste a second. "None of you can stand it that I'm usually right," I said with annoyance, causing the both the dagger in his hand and the pistol in the corridor to vanish simultaneously.

 

 

I heard Katrina's voice calling my name, and my heart sank. I had hoped against all hope that she had obeyed me for once. And I could not even defend myself, let alone come to her rescue.

Hawke heard her too. We were still on the ground, struggling with each other grimly, his face bloody, my back on fire.

"She's here! Can't you control your wife?"

"No."

As I spoke, I noticed a pistol and a dagger several feet to my right. I was certain they had not been there a moment earlier. She had provided them. But I had to wait for the right moment to try for them; I could not let my opponent get them. I looked away from them, not to draw them to his attention.

"Ask your wife to cast a spell for you, Crane," he advised, pressing on my back. I cried out. "I don't think Purnell has quite all of her attention... yet." 

 

 

Purnell glanced at his empty hands in disbelief. He snarled, lunging at me. "You--!"

I cried out to Ichabod again, ducking Purnell's grasping hands and making a start for the door. I prayed that the pistol and dagger had arrived within his reach. What was more, I prayed that he would use them. As if in response to my cry, one of Ichabod's pained groans echoed from the other side.

"You would be nothing without her, Constable!" Purnell jeered, throwing wide his arms as if inviting attack even though a stone wall separated them. "You would never have made it here if not for her meddling."

"Then I thank God for it!" Ichabod shouted, his voice reverberating back.

"Unbelievable," the magician sneered. "You could not even stand up to the demon's manifestation, a mere illusion."

"You were somewhat stricken yourself, if my eyes did not deceive me," Ichabod grunted, sounds of the ensuing scuffle accompanying his retort. I clung to the doorknob, torn between flight and remaining in a spot where Ichabod's voice could easily be heard.

"Remarkable," Purnell challenged, "that they could even have possibly done so when they were, in fact, closed the entire time."

"They were open long enough!" Ichabod cried.

Purnell's eyes bulged furiously as he reverted back to his gasping, fish-out-of-water self. Ichabod had ingeniously verified what I had hoped against hope was true: my words had stung the pretentious mage... deeply. I moved slowly into the hall as Purnell continued to rant at the walls.

"Katrina!" he cried in desperation. "The silk--" He was cut short by another indeterminate but forceful blow from Hawke.

Without hesitation, I transferred the scrap of blue silk from Ichabod's vest pocket to one of the flickering torch sconces in the neighboring cell. In my mind's eye, I reverently watched it unravel and vanish in a glowing wisp of smoke. The dungeon's very foundation seemed to quake as a thunderous gust of wind tore through the maze of its halls. In the blast's wake, an eerily comforting stillness enveloped me even though Purnell had been swept violently into a far corner of the cell. Its warmth was tangible- completely alive.

A musical voice composed of an incomparable beauty filled my mind:

You need only tell me what I must do, my beloved son and daughter.

 

 

 

It was her voice. I had not heard it in twenty years, except in dreams, but I would have known it anywhere.

"Mother?" I whispered.

Hawke looked up from his struggles with me, too startled by the manifestations to hear me. Quickly he struck me again. I gasped.

My son, my son, what would you have me do?

"What is she doing, that witch of yours?" Hawke demanded.

I can help you at last! But choose quickly- and wisely, little love!

The childhood endearment brought tears to my eyes, but she was right, I had to think, and quickly. Hawke struck my back again. I yelled. The pain was indescribable. I can face terror; I have done so before. It was the pain that was paralyzing me. If only I were not burned, I could...

You needed only to ask, my son. But the fire must go somewhere else when I take it from you, so beware....

And in a breath, the pain was gone. Gone. Still lying on the floor, I moved cautiously. I felt as if I had never been burned at all. I felt wonderful. My eyes widened with astonishment. I wanted to leap to my feet, but caution stopped me. I stayed prone on the ground and groaned. I spoke in a hoarse, low tone. Hawke leaned closer in order to hear me.

"Do you know that there are advantages to being a coward?" I rasped, speaking the dreaded word bluntly.

"Really?" he sneered. "Such as what? Persuading a beautiful witch that you need to hide behind her skirts?"

Normally those words would have stung me, especially since there was some truth to them. But now I swiftly turned and landed a decisive blow to his jaw, moving with glorious ease now that my burns were healed.

"Such as having one's enemies consistently underestimate one."

And I had the pleasure of seeing that knowledge in his eyes as he backed away. I have seen that look before, and it is perhaps the greatest reward my calling offers. I advanced towards him.

"You should have noticed that when Lady Crane is threatened, I tend to forget that I am a coward."

He was crouched over slightly. His nose was still bleeding, and his mouth was already swollen from my blows. As I moved closer, he tried to punch my stomach. I blocked it easily, twisting his arm.

"You really should be careful who you pick fights with," I informed him. "You should have realized that a challenge to my courage would make me as stubborn as a challenge to your size would make you." I leaned closer, speaking softly. "And you should consider carefully before crossing a man who is loved by witches."

With that, I delivered one more decisive blow to his head. He crumpled to the floor, unconscious. I seized the pistol and the gleaming dagger and raced in the direction of Katrina's voice.

 

 

"Ichabod!" I cried, crossing the short distance between the two cell entrances. He ran to meet me, wielding the silver dagger in his right hand. He embraced me fiercely.

I sobbed as I clung to him, a desperate question forcing its way through across my lips with each breath. "Are you all right? Dear God, I thought I was losing you again! What did she do? Is Hawke dead? Be careful, because Purnell-"

Ichabod kissed me hurriedly, pressing one of his pistols into my hand. "Katrina, you must get out. As I love you, run for your life. Find the twins and David; let nothing separate you once you have. I will find you." His arms tightened around me one last time.

I regarded my husband with brief astonishment. "Ichabod, you don't seem to be-"

He steered me in the direction of our entry. "Go!"

I watched Ichabod enter the cell, his eyes fastened on the figure hunkered down pathetically in one corner. Purnell's bloody shoulder and the silver flash of Ichabod's dagger were the last things that I saw before I turned and dashed up the hall, trembling from head to toe. Several moments later, I wished with a vengeance that Ichabod had warned me of what I would hear echoing from behind.

 

 

I heard her light steps moving down the corridor and up the stairs. Then I advanced toward the corner in which Simon Purnell huddled.

My left hand was about to grasp him, my right poised with the blade, when he wrenched away and shot past me desperately. I pursued him down the corridor past a series of cells. He stumbled as he neared the stairs and I was upon him. We wrestled for a moment; when he escaped my grasp, I was between him and the stairs. In desperation he ran in the other direction, dashing through the stout oaken door, trying to close it before I could follow. But he was too late; I threw myself against the door and burst into the room. And then I stopped stock still.

The room he had chosen to hide in was the torture chamber. I looked at my enemy, and at the devices around me. He looked in my eyes, and in them he saw my father's son. It must have been a fearsome sight.

I simply stood there for a long moment, regarding him.

"You are an enlightened man. A humanitarian," he wheedled nervously.

"And surely I will be performing an act of compassion by ridding the world of you."

"You are a man of principle! Of law!"

"I am. Except where the woman I love is concerned."

I looked at the medieval devices at hand. Shall I pretend I was not tempted? Shall I pretend there is any fate I would have considered too horrible for that man?

But I did not choose that route. Nor was it my rational principles that stayed my hand. Rather it was the thought- the feeling that my mother's son, Katrina's husband, must not be tainted with that kind of deed.

Not that he deserved a pleasant death. I raised my fist and gave him a ringing blow that rendered him senseless. While he was half-conscious. I took the silver dagger, and with it, removed the protective sigil from him. He whined as I worked, and his arms tried clumsily and weakly to push me away, but he was too dazed to effectively resist.

Generally, the sight of blood makes me ill. On this occasion, it did not trouble me at all. I only hoped that Isobel's work had not been done too soon.

As it turned out, it had not. Almost as soon as I had finished my task, the room went very cold. Somehow, without sense or reason, I knew. So did Simon Magus, who jolted into full consciousness and made a desperate dash, as if running could save him. I moved to the doorway swiftly, and then I turned. Purnell's flight was stopped as his body began to jerk in the grip of an unseen force. And so at last I learned exactly how Gabriel Erickson had met his end.

To my own surprise, I watched Purnell's death quite calmly. Under normal circumstances even one drop of blood is enough to weaken my knees. Now I watched a river of it, an explosion of it, without flinching. Nor did the sounds Purnell and his attacker, in but not of the air, make me quail. It is amazing what sufficient hate can make one do.

When it was over, I tossed Purnell's tattoo into the hearth- and then lunged backward to dodge the sudden rush of flame it inspired. The flames poured forth from the hearth to swallow the instruments of torture one by one. I remembered my mother's pyromantic magic and understood what her warning had meant. Swiftly, I left the chamber.

Hawke was still where I had left him, half-conscious. He groaned as I bent and dragged him to his feet. I half-carried him up the stairs. When I glanced behind me, I saw that the fire was following me, just a few feet behind. And it continued to swallow the walls and ceiling just behind me as I dragged Hawke through the corridors of his mansion and out the front door. I dropped him on the doorstep of his burning mansion.

When I let him fall, I staggered on, shivering at a sudden vivid memory of fleeing from a flaming windmill with a ghost on my heels. I saw two people running towards me. Katrina... and David. My brows drew together when I saw the boy. He had screamed before I was taken into the mansion, I remembered now, when I had been too horrified to take it in.

They each clasped one of my arms, neither realizing that the pain of my burns was gone. I looked from one to the other, shaking with relief.

"Don't either of you ever listen to me?" I asked wearily.

They both opened their mouths to explain, but I felt a familiar sensation, that of a sudden loss of energy as the heat of emergency evaporated. I lifted a hand, staying their words.

"Don't do anything... until I wake up," I ordered, right before pitching forward into the expected and welcome darkness.

  

 

 

"You've got to be kidding me," Christopher said somewhat weakly, trailing his sister with hesitation as they emerged from behind a large iron statue that was part of the estate's front gate, where I had found them huddled with David. Despite every order he had ever given, spoken or implied, the boy and I had gone running to meet Ichabod as soon as we spotted him depositing an unconscious Hawke on the front steps.

I coughed as the wind carried a billow of smoke into our midst. With rising flames hot upon my face, I slid my arms beneath Ichabod's, giving Christopher a pointed look.

"Does it look like he is?" I asked shortly. "Get his feet. Now. If we don't leave this place, we'll soon be ashes ourselves."

After a few moments' stubborn hesitation, Christopher took hold of Ichabod's boots and struggled with me in carrying him off the grounds. Isobel followed, one arm protectively around David's shoulders. I could see why my sister-in-spirit had taken it upon herself to support him. David looked as if he might collapse himself.

We made our slow, laborious way up the oak-shaded dirt walk to the end of the street. A crowd had begun to gather on the opposite side of the street, various passers-by added to a throng of women and children that had come pouring out of nearby homes. Luckily, they were far more interested in the blaze than in the five of us that fled it, although a few onlookers did point and stare at the fact that the man we were dragging appeared to be a constable. What might have taken half a minute had we all been on our feet took ten. Christopher's hands kept slipping, and David continually opened his mouth as if to speak and then closed it again just as quickly, his wide eyes full of some internal conflict. As we settled Ichabod on the curb, Isobel touched my arm.

I'm worried about David. And I hate to ask you to do something that I know you wouldn't as a rule, but...

I nodded as I folded Ichabod's arms across his chest, reading David's thoughts furtively. What I saw didn't really surprise me, although it did make me regret that I had not offered some comfort sooner.

He's in mild shock, Isobel. I can see why. I would be too if I'd gone through something a second time that I had hoped with all my heart never to see duplicated.

Isobel nodded sadly. The Horseman and the fire... Katrina, say something to him. Ichabod's not going anywhere.

"I'm sorry," I whispered, looking away. I left Ichabod's side reluctantly and put a hand on David's shoulder. He offered me a forced, nervous smile.

"David, I'm glad that you came," I said quietly, embracing him.

"You... you are?" he asked hesitantly, drawing a hand up to his eyes, pressing it over them tightly. He was trying desperately to keep himself from crying. "How can you say that?"

I stroked his cheek, replying with a grateful smile. "Don't you realize what you did?"

"Yes," he said sullenly. "I got in the way. I shouldn't have followed you."

"That's not true!" I said firmly. "David, do you realize that you were the only one to cry out what you saw standing upon the altar? If you hadn't done that, I would never have known the nature of the illusion... in fact, I might not have realized that it was an illusion at all."

"Really?" he asked hopefully, tears gathering in his eyes. "So Ichabod won't be angry with me?"

"Neither of us will," I reassured him, choking up in spite of myself. "Neither of us!"

"We should really get out of here," Christopher said impatiently. "I don't think we want to have anything to do with this explosion. The longer we hang around, the more likely we are to be questioned by the authorities. Ironic, that in a way we are the authorities-"

"Would you shut up?" Isobel said in exasperation, continuing to scan the street. As I released David, I realized what she had been up to the entire time. Her expression went hopeful, and she pointed.

"I see one! But it's going to pass this street entirely if one of us doesn't-"

"You see a what?" Christopher demanded of his sister.

"A carriage, a cab, your bloody transportation," she replied hotly. "You can run faster than I can. Go catch it, direct it this way."

"Are you crazy? That's five hundred yards-"

"Just run. It was your idea."

"It was not!"

"Go," Isobel ordered, raising her eyes and her hands upward in a strange combined gesture.

Christopher went pale, muttered something, and sprinted off. I was too busy trying not to laugh. I couldn't help but compare their exchange to the one that Ichabod and I had on the night I materialized his ledger. The chief reason that men cannot disown their ideas must be that we will not let them. And how little would get done in this world if we were not there to do so!

"What did you do?" David asked timidly.

"Oh, this?" Isobel asked, repeating the gesture with a grin. "He thinks Rishkha and I have some kind of secret signals. Which is partially true. The two of them don't always get along. When I was younger, I used to call Rishkha and have him follow Christopher all day."

"You mean when you were more like your brother," I teased, watching Christopher reach the spot where the cab had halted and plead with the driver.

"Naturally. I wasn't always so level-headed," Isobel confessed.

"Nor was I," I laughed.

"I still don't think you are," Isobel suggested with a mischievous grin.

"Thank goodness!"

After much cajoling that consisted of profuse reassurances that he would be paid well upon reaching our destination, I Christopher and I convinced the cab driver to carry us back to Quincy's. The ride was cramped, and to make matters worse, Ichabod, still unconscious, was wedged in between Christopher and I. With every turn, his head lolled either in the direction of my shoulder or in the direction of Christopher's. Christopher was none too pleased.

"Even if I live to be ninety, I still won't believe this," he whispered to Isobel.

"Who says you'll live to be ninety?" she replied loudly. "Rishkha, could you help me on this one? Tell me-"

"Fine," Christopher muttered, folding his arms across his chest.

I looked down at David where he sat crouched at my feet. We looked at each other and smothered our mirth in our hands for the remaining few blocks. I wondered if Ichabod knew how much more comical his swoons tended to make the worst of situations. He would be annoyed, I decided, but secretly proud that his weakness was in fact our saving grace time and again.

The four of us navigated our way around Ichabod, stumbling out onto the embankment in front of Quincy's residence. Balancing Ichabod on the seat, I thought for a moment before trying to struggle out of the cab with him.

"David, go in and get my bag."

David gave me a strange look. "Can't you just-"

"Not here," I whispered, indicating the impatient driver with a nod. David ran up the front steps, met at the door by a startled Beatrice. He dashed inside without explanation, leaving her alone on the threshold to stare at us. After a few moments' hesitation, she rushed to Isobel and Christopher, her eyes fixed beyond them upon Ichabod and I where we still sat in the carriage.

"I would never have believed all of this in earnest, I swear it," she said in awe, touching Isobel's disarrayed hair and studying Ichabod's ash-smeared cheek sympathetically. "Now I know that what you went through justified Quincy's wringing his hands and pacing."

"He was that concerned?" I asked, touched.

"Of course he was, dear. He has a heart too great for his frail frame," Beatrice said comfortingly. "Come inside. He'll be overjoyed to see you've all returned. And maybe see fit to tell me what this was all about!"

"I'm afraid I must not, although I can't thank you for all that you've done," I said gratefully, feeling my own strength ebb for the first time. David came racing down the steps with my bag in hand, a spry, elated Quincy directly at his heels.

"But that's nonsense," Beatrice insisted, dismayed. "You surely can't mean you're running off to-"

"Home," I said firmly. "I'm taking my boys home."

"What about us?" Christopher asked edgily.

Isobel hit him. "Is surviving not enough for you? There are cabs aplenty on this street! We'll get our own!"

"You can stay here even though you're an ingrate, young man," Quincy volunteered cheerfully. "Friends of the Cranes are friends of mine."

Christopher turned away, red in the face. David handed the bag up to me while Quincy pushed his way after, reaching up for one of Ichabod's limp hands.

"I don't care if it was the pain or just plain fright that did him in," Quincy said to me as I fished for some coins. "He got you out alive. All of you, which is what matters. Tell him I expect to see him when he's on his feet again."

"I shall," I said, dropping a generous payment into David's hand, indicating that he should give it to the bewildered driver. "He will be just as eager to see you."

"But not as eager as he will be to see you, young lady. Let it not be said that there was never a hero risen to fame who did not have a heroine by his side."

"Or in the shadows, or in the air," I said quietly, accepting Quincy's kiss on my hand. "Thank you. Oh, God, I cannot say it otherwise. Thank you."

Isobel's hand found its way around David. It clasped mine briefly.

Just say my name. We can speak of this later. Sister, I am grateful beyond measure that our meeting was on the right side of the veil!

And I, too, I replied, squeezing her hand. "David, let's go," I said, sliding Ichabod into the far corner of the seat and patting the space next to myself.

"Madam?" the driver inquired with slight indignance, as if he could not believe I was making yet another request of him..

"Karrigan Square," I said flatly. "You'll be paid twice what you were just given."

"Yes, madam."

 

 

When I opened my eyes, I was in Katrina's arms beneath the canopy of her fairy-tale bed. Sunlight filtered through the curtains. My head ached. I sat up slowly, trying not to disturb her, but she opened her eyes at once.

"Are you well?" she asked softly as she sat up and reached for me.

I traced the line of her cheek with my fingertips. "Only if you are."

She put her arms around my neck and hid her face against my heart. "It's over," she whispered.

"Not quite. But you are safe now, and that is the important thing."

"And so is America." She pulled back to look at me. "I can't imagine what this country's surviving founders would say if they knew our entire nation was saved from monarchy by a New York City constable whose name they could never guess, let alone they've never heard!"

I smiled at her. "I did not do it alone," I reminded her softly. "I doubt I could have."

"I doubt that. I think Ichabod Crane would always find a way."

I was not entirely certain that she was right, but I was glad that she believed so. Very gently, I kissed her. Our bond had never been more complete or more perfect than in that moment.

"I've got to see your burns," Katrina said tensely. I nodded and pulled off my shirt, then turned so that she could examine my back. She was silent.

"Well?"

"Ichabod, they're..."

"Healed?"

"Gone."

"Gone?"

"As if you had never been burned at all. No scar, not a trace." After a moment she added, "And the scar your father left... it is gone, too. I should have known that blue silk was a more powerful remedy than the herb that came wrapped in it!"

I glanced down and noticed that the scar the Headless Horseman's sword had left that night by the covered bridge was gone as well, as if he had never wounded me. And so was another mark that had been slightly above my waist, an inch-long souvenir of an occasion when I received a shallow cut apprehending a murderer who was armed with a knife.

Slowly, tremulously, I lifted my hands and turned them over. My palms were clear and unscarred.

"Katrina," I whispered, too stunned to move. She moved to look at them. Tears filled her lovely eyes, as she bent and kissed my unmarked palms. I closed my eyes and shed tears of gratitude. For some time, we wept in each other's arms, and when our lips met again we tasted each other's tears.

 

Later that day, I strode into the constabulary with my head high and my stomach knotted, carrying the evidence I had gathered under one arm. How on earth I was going to explain my absence, I could not imagine. The High Constable looked at me as if I were an unusually large insect.

"Well, look who decided to grace us with his presence!"

"I was-"

"Spare us, Constable Crane. We'll hear all about it Friday, at the hearing."

"Hearing?"

"Yes. Your discharge proceedings."

"It might interest you to know that I was investigating Colonel Joseph Hawke on suspicion of embezzlement, and he--"

"Enough of that, Crane!" the High Constable exclaimed heatedly. "I don't know how you discovered that we took Colonel Hawke into custody last night, but don't think you can spin one of your outlandish yarns to reinstate yourself after vanishing into thin air for the last two days!"

I swallowed, trying to contain my temper. "Why did you take Hawke into custody?" I asked carefully.

He considered dourly before deciding to answer. "His mansion burned down and several corpses were found inside. It's possible that Hawke killed them and started the fire to conceal his crime. I suppose if we let you cut the bodies up you'd claim they had bullets in them or stab wounds or who knows what. But I doubt he's guilty of anything. He'll likely be released tomorrow. And you will be released on Friday, and good riddance! Now get out of here till then!"

I parted my lips to protest, but stopped. I would have the next two days to try to bring my story into some sort of coherent order. I would not waste time arguing now; I was simply too exhausted. They would indeed hear all about it on Friday.

I tucked the evidence more securely under my arm. Given my current status with my colleagues, it would be best if I were not the one who presented it. No, I would appeal to someone who was certain to see justice done.

 

 

 

"Ow! Katrina-"

"I know you're not used to this, but for heaven's sake, hold still!"

Isobel gritted her teeth attempting to suck in her already-flat stomach as I gingerly pinned the sides of my old pink taffeta gown in place. "It's really too much, though," she protested earnestly. "I couldn't ask you to- ow!"

I paused, sticking the pin in my mouth as I readjusted the seam. "You're thin as a rail already," I scolded gently. "Don't waste your breath on sucking in what's not there. Just be still." I was awed at her thinness once again, a frailty that seemed to defy the amazing power contained within her meager frame. I would never have imagined the day someone would have to have one of my gowns taken in, as small as I knew myself to be. "That's right," I said, at last sliding the pin easily into place. "Now, what were you saying?"

"I couldn't ask you to give me something so fine!"

"You didn't ask me," I said pointed out. "I insist that you take it, as well as three or four more that I have upstairs. Plus the one that I gave you the morning after Jürgen's visit; I told Christopher to make sure he and David bring it on the last trip from McRaker's Alley."

"You mean I have to go through this five more times?" Isobel asked wearily even though her eyes shone with grateful tears.

"No," I laughed, helping her slip out of the pinned-up gown and back into her own. "I'll just use this one as a model for the rest. Or send them all to the tailor if I lose my patience."

"You've done so much for us. Too much, Katrina! You know we'll never be able to pay you back. Although I'm afraid Christopher might continue to pay you a mouthful more than you deserve."

"Having you for a sister is enough," I said fiercely, embracing her. I cast a sidelong glance at our reflection in the full-length mirror. "Besides, you'd be prudent to accustom yourself to frequent extravagance. And I do believe your brother and I have reached an understanding," I said with an air that I hoped said nothing so much as, I dare you to guess what I mean by that!

Truly, dare her I did. I had lain awake for a long while that morning before Ichabod awakened from his swoon-induced slumber, resisting the urge to dwell upon the previous day's battle as best I could. I did not want to replay those harrowing scenes indefinitely, however great a propensity my mind seemed to have for the habit. I told myself forcefully, What's done is done. We had come off conqueror, and that was all that mattered. As much as I longed to know the answer to the nagging question of who had finally dealt with Hawke's blazing mansion, I had enough sense to finally conclude that it was really none of my concern. And to thank God that Ichabod was not a member of the fire department rather than the constabulary!

My thoughts had turned to a more practical worry: the twins. I knew that Quincy had undoubtedly seen them home safely, or had even kept them in his own home for another night, for all I knew. I took comfort in knowing that no real danger awaited them in either course. But I did know Isobel well enough to realize that she probably insisted they return to McRaker's Alley.

The very thought of the place awakened in me an old unease- that Ichabod would never approve of me setting foot there again for any reason. A fear which had proved itself real enough, I couldn't deny. I had twisted the pillow's hem about my index finger to the point of rendering it threadbare by the time I realized that having contact with Isobel meant as much to me as having David constantly at a hand's breadth. Perhaps I would even miss Christopher, heaven help him!

Which was when I knew that my inheritance would simply have to end up less the cost of another house.

Hoping the quickened pace of my breath would not wake Ichabod, I shut my eyes tightly. I was about to do a very cruel thing, but it was necessary. Not that Christopher agreed that being awakened at six in the morning by his sister's best friend was necessary. Once his mental grumping had spent itself, I quickly informed him by stream of consciousness that I expected he and Isobel to show up as soon as they were up and about. David would then accompany him back to McRaker's Alley for the first load of their things- which I knew would not be much- and take as many trips as necessary to bring it all back to Karrigan Square. He ceased to protest when I broke down and told him out of sheer frustration that I was buying him a home, so he'd better be grateful. I did not want him to tell Isobel, to which he agreed. I had to surprise at least one of them, and I preferred it to be the one dearest to my heart.

The house I had in mind was one that had lain empty for quite some time. Its location on Glenn Church Road parallel to Raleigh Avenue was not as immediately close as I would have hoped, but at the same time, it was not far- a closer walk than Quincy's, most definitely. And so, shortly after Ichabod's departure, a tired-looking Chris and his befuddled but ever-optimistic sister turned up on the front walk. Fitting Isobel for some temporary new gowns had proved the perfect way to allay queries as to why I insisted that they abandon their flat and move in with us.

"It's only temporary," I reassured Isobel, releasing her. I left her standing in front of the mirror as I retrieved four more old gowns from the next room, holding each up so that she could see what the colors would look like in contrast to her eyes. "I'm going to help you and Christopher find a new place. I can't imagine the two of you living in the Alley forever. There has to be a safer location."

"I only hope we can pay the rent," she said hopefully, sitting down beside me on the bed and helping me take out the seams of a rose-colored chiffon.

"You know we'll take care of that," I reassured her, wondering if my excessive tendency to grin had yet aroused her suspicions.

We had not pulled out two stitches apiece when Ichabod burst in with an armful of documents. If he had not been so visibly disconcerted, he might have noticed that there was a guest in our bedroom. He dropped his papers on the very spot my sewing box sat, and they hovered comically, supported by nothing. I had not bothered to render the box visible.

Ichabod acted as if Isobel's presence were as matter-of-fact as mine. "Sometimes it's easy to forget why I do what I do," Ichabod said with light irritation, brushing his hair back, as was his frequent agitated habit. "I hope you'll both come to the hearing on Friday."

I rose, leaving Isobel to be nearly dragged off the bed by the gown when I released it. "Hearing?" I demanded uneasily.

"They're dismissing me for what I believe is properly termed 'frequent unauthorized absence.' But of course the High Constable put it so much less tactfully than policy maintains."

"Sounds like a job Christopher would excel in," Isobel murmured, sharing in my indignance.

"Don't encourage him," Ichabod said flatly, acknowledging her presence for the first time.

I took my husband's newly-healed hands. "I don't understand. Surely they realize that you were acting in the line of duty!"

"Perhaps it was presumptuous of me to think that half an acre of cinders on High Street would have convinced them, too."

"They made it to the scene of the fire?" Isobel asked.

"In time enough to put Hawke in custody, at least. They would not let me intervene in his questioning or present conditions of captivity. And I stood before them with evidence enough to reinforce it!" Ichabod stormed, indicating the papers on the floor with a frustrated wave. "Katrina, I left the guard house believing I could calmly accept a few more days' preparation, but the more I thought about the uncertainty of Hawke's fate, the more immediately I would prefer the hearing. I will not see him go free. If he fancies himself worthy of exile, he had better guess again. I must see to it that he gets nothing less than he deserves."

"Which is?" Isobel pressed, her mind doubtless fixed on the yet unreturned tablet.

"Inglorious imprisonment," I guessed, backed by Ichabod's grim nod. "Like a common criminal."

"Please tell me that things only take a turn for the worse right before they're about to get better," Ichabod muttered. "I won't have the time that I thought I would have. Katrina, I have to get that evidence to Remington today. Even if the hearing must wait until Friday, Hawke's conviction will not."

I kissed his forehead. "Then go. I agree with you."

"Will you find him for me?" he asked with a somewhat pleading smile. "I would rather know his location than waste my time hunting it down. The man must have a dozen appointments."

"Don't tell my brother she can do that," Isobel giggled.

I struggled against the current of the city's thousands to find a man who I had glimpsed in public only once. And found him much closer than I expected.

"Ichabod!" I blurted, grabbing his arm as my eyes flew open. "Our urchin courier's standing on the corner of Raleigh and Glenn Church. He doesn't realize it, but he's just informed me that Remington's to be present in an hour at the Fairfield."

"Oh, Lord," Isobel sighed. "Whatever for?"

"A luncheon, I believe."

"I don't know how they continue to keep the kitchen open!" she exclaimed, throwing up her hands.

"Then, love, I am to be present there in an hour as well," Ichabod said with renewed determination, kissing me quickly before bending to retrieve the evidence. He jumped involuntarily, stifling his cry into more of an audible gasp.

"Uncharm that trunk in the attic before I forget it's there," Ichabod said nervously, glancing away from Isobel in embarrassment.

"By all means, do," Christopher volunteered from the doorway, his arms overflowing with the gown that I had lent Isobel, in addition to her own few. "We all know where we'd find you if you happened to toss your jacket over it."

David hovered close behind Christopher in the hall, scowling at his fellow mover's jibe. Christopher had meant to sound lighthearted, but his attempt at good-natured humor was as ill-placed as it was ill-chosen.

Isobel leapt to her feet, reddening. "How long have you been standing there?" she demanded of her brother. "You chose the wrong way to announce your arrival. Give me those gowns and-"

"Get out," Ichabod finished for her, barely containing his humiliation over the invasion of our private domain. "Everyone except for you," a sharp glance in my direction implied.

Ichabod pressed my shoulder for emphasis as the twins, chagrined, filed obediently down the stairs. I retrieved the gowns that Christopher had deposited on the floor, offering my husband an apologetic smile.

Still clutching the evidence, Ichabod took a seat on the bed, permitting his weariness to get the better of him once we were alone. "I should have asked you sooner if I'd had the presence of mind to, but... what on earth are they doing here? The living room looks like a storage shed! Katrina, I am fond of Miss Magellan, but if you've invited both of them to move in without consulting me, I swear-"

"Sh!" I hissed, laying the gowns out with the others to be altered. I sidled up behind Ichabod on the bed, embracing him reassuringly. "They'll only be here for a couple of days, until the deal on the house is foreclosed."

"House?" Ichabod cried.

"I'm buying them one," I said sweetly, kissing him on the cheek. "I knew you'd understand."

Ichabod nodded in exasperation, surrendering. "Is it the one on Glenn Church Street that's been empty for a while? Pine log construction, brick chimney-"

"Oh, no," I corrected him. "The other one on Glenn Church, closer to the intersection of Raleigh. Charming stone walls, burgundy slate gables, palisaded garden behind-"

"The one that's been empty for even longer?" Ichabod asked incredulously. "It'll even cost more. Though the owner will probably be glad to be rid of it, as I've heard tell the place is...." Ichabod trailed off, giving me the most ridiculously reproachful look I had ever received in my life.

"Exactly," I chimed, kissing him on the mouth this time. "I figured that on the side, this was as good a way as any to find out if what they say is true. But since when did Constable Crane credit rumors of haunted houses?" I teased.

"Ever since his fairy sprite proved that mediums exist," he sighed, returning me the favor. "However irritated I may have been a few moments ago, I simply cannot find it in my heart to oppose you. How is it that I can deny you nothing?"

"Perhaps I charmed you," I suggested insidiously, wondering what would happen if it were used in jest.

"Yes... perhaps..." Ichabod murmured, feigning a trance before collapsing on my shoulder in quiet laughter.

"Oh, come along, Sir Rational, and fear not for the state of your own free will! You have something that Senator Remington will thank you vastly for showing him."

As soon as Ichabod departed for the Fairfield (with much trepidation invoked by Isobel's renewed warnings to steer clear of the kitchen), I talked David and the twins into taking a walk in order to "settle everyone's nerves." As I had anticipated, Isobel paused in front of the beautiful, abandoned address on Glenn Church Street. She hovered reverently at the front gate, her eyes flickering and fixed upon the front porch.

"Can you hear the swing, Christopher?" she asked in a low, distant tone with a sad smile playing upon her lips. "I wish that you could see it."

"I can hear it," he whispered to me, as if afraid to disturb his sister's reverie. "It creaks something awful."

"Would the owner want this taken care of?" Isobel asked suddenly, a wistful glow in her eyes. I could tell that her thoughts had turned to ways of paying higher rent. "It's the simplest kind to take care of. In fact, if I lived here, I don't even think I'd want it to be gone."

"Then you don't have to do a thing about it," I reassured her, putting my hands on her shoulders.

"But I don't even know whose place this is, let alone have I offered to-"

"In a few days, it will be yours."

Isobel blinked at me. "Katrina...?"

"She's no liar," Christopher confirmed, tugging on one of her braids affectionately. "I'm in on it."

I spent the next ten minutes trying to coax a joyfully weeping Isobel off my shoulder. When at last she did regain her composure and we had managed to steer her away from the house, a wondrous thing happened. She looked back over her shoulder, smiled tearfully, and waved.

I was shaken by the eerily distinct sensation that whoever sat on the phantom swing had waved back.

"She didn't die there," Isobel murmured in explanation, drying her eyes. "She just wanted a place to stay, a place that she likes. I won't mind her at all. She must have been a well-behaved child."

I did not require further explanation of my sister. I simply held her in a one-armed embrace for the rest of the way home.

By the time Ichabod returned, Isobel and I had finished sewing up two of her new gowns and had begun to discuss dinner. David, eager to keep the potential nuisance out of our hair, dragged a patronizing Christopher to Colin's house. I thanked God for the hundredth time that Colin's mother was such an easygoing woman.

Ichabod entered the kitchen looking even more pale and tired than before. He studied Isobel and I as we sorted potatoes, tiredly fascinated.

"Are those for a soup?" he asked, making for odd preamble.

"No, a kind of sautée that my mother used to do," Isobel replied. "I'm showing your wife how it's done."

"I trust they've learned to keep any and all tubers out of Old Tory's reach," Ichabod muttered faintly.

I turned to him, concerned. "You didn't have a run-in with... did you?"

"My guess is he did, since that's what they call the redcoat," Isobel whispered.

"Not exactly," Ichabod replied, "but I will never quite be certain how my boot managed to pull itself off while I was sitting in the receptionist's parlor."

"You had to wait?" Isobel asked.

"Not for long, but I was still thoroughly shaken by the time Remington's aide fetched me."

"You spoke to him in person?" I asked.

"For whatever faults he has, Christopher would be proud to know his idol is as kind as he is busy. I placed the evidence in Remington's hands myself. And received some puzzling reassurance, but no matter."

"Puzzling?"

Ichabod nodded vaguely. "Yes. That I have much less to worry about than I think I have. Frankly, Hawke in the hands of those incompetents down at the guard house is plenty to worry about."

Isobel had been silently musing over Ichabod's encounter. "He took your boot?"

"As I said, I'll never know. But it did come off quite roughly."

"That's Tory all right," Isobel sighed. "He likes you. I'm jealous, you know, that the violent ones find you so appealing."

"By all means, take them!" Ichabod pleaded, his expression turning more serious. "Which does remind me. I have given some thought to... I..."

"Yes?" I asked him expectantly.

"No, not you.... I meant Miss Magellan."

Isobel looked at him kindly. "I'm so far in your debt that you could ask me to summon your own demons, for all I care."

"No, I like mine well enough buried where they are, though thank you for the offer, even if made in jest... God knows, with enemies such as I have a propensity for attracting! No, what I meant to say was... would it be presumptuous of me to request one last séance?"

"You've earned yourself a lifetime supply free!" she exclaimed. "Not at all." She grinned mischievously, but her eyes reflected an undercurrent of pure comprehension. "Who shall it be this time? Your sister, perhaps? Or your uncle?"

"No," Ichabod said softly, smiling back. "A certain firefly who has saved our lives on more than one occasion... my mother, Isobel," he added, at once all seriousness.

"She's been waiting for you to ask," Isobel told him. "And so have I."

Ichabod looked at her imploringly.

"Of course you meant now," she said gently, tossing the potato she'd finished peeling into the pot. "This way."

She led Ichabod and I into the cluttered living room. I was grateful that we had not gotten as far as lighting the stove, for having a live flame in the next room while channeling a fire adept somehow struck me as irreverent. If any flames were to be lit, she would be the one to light them.

Isobel rummaged in a crate, pulling out the blue velvet. She draped it across the tea table, and the three of us took the positions around it that we knew so well.

"No ashes?" I asked.

"Not this time," Isobel said. Too flammable.

I see, I responded, wide-eyed.

Not that it'd be dangerous. But for other reasons, symbolic.

I trust you, I said, smiling.

Ichabod offered her his hands before she had the chance to request them. Isobel laced her fingers tightly with his. She sat for a few moments, staring at her lap as if uncertain.

I was concerned. She had never behaved so reticently before.

"Isobel?"

She looked up at Ichabod pleadingly. "I won't lie to you. I don't know what will happen."

And moments after she forced herself to close her eyes and began to whisper, Ichabod pitched forward onto their interlocking hands.

 

Isobel later told me that the séance she performed for my mother was unique in her experience. Perhaps even as a spirit, a witch has special powers.

There were no words, only images… and feelings. The questions I had meant to ask were swept away.

I did not, of course, realize that I had lost consciousness and that my head was resting on the tea table, my hands still laced with Isobel’s. Nor did I hear Katrina's worried queries or Isobel's reassurances. And only later did I learn that, just as I slumped over the table, every candle and hearth in the entire house blazed to fiery life.

I was transported to the glade where she and I used to go, where I would gather forget-me-nots for her and she would levitate at the center of the fairy ring of mushrooms. I was enveloped in warmth, not only that of the sun, but of my mother’s love. In this timeless place, I forgot every moment of suffering in my life. It was as if I were seven years old again, and this woman who adored me was the whole world.

I felt her embrace envelop me. I allowed myself to be swept along. Every moment of unhappiness I had ever known was wiped away, just as her magic had wiped away all of the scars I had acquired in my life.

I felt the benediction of her kiss upon my forehead. And then she spoke to me, but without words. It was simply a feeling, as if I were experiencing her emotions. And what I experienced was the most glowing approval I could imagine.

She showed me everything she had seen in the twenty years she had spent watching over me, unable to intervene. I saw the heartbreak she had felt as she watched me grow up in misery. She could have turned away from witnessing these events, so painful for her to see, and gone on to the next world, but instead she faithfully remained with me, determined to stay until she could do something for me again.

And even in her grief for me, she was able to feel compassion for my father's awful folly, as he saw her face in mine and struck out in terrified guilt.

I felt her fear and hope for me when I ran away. I experienced her worry as I grew to manhood, that I too would become what my father had, and her pride when I found my life's purpose. I felt her compassion for my struggles, both with accepted traditions and with myself. I saw her constantly hovering about as I moved through the world toward my purpose, believing myself alone and forsaken. But I was not.

She showed me her tremendous elation when twenty years had passed and at last she could look after me once more. And the best way she could imagine to do so was to find someone who would look after me for the rest of my life, who would adore and hearten me just as she would have. To her joy, she had found someone who would glory in doing just that and whose life also had a void that I could fill as no other could. Even as she tended to me, she was able to save one of her own kind from the loneliness to which most witches are doomed. And I saw my mother's anxiety as she watched the obstacles that threatened to come between me and the girl she had chosen for me. I felt her delight when the two of us were wed as she had hoped, and the greater satisfaction my mother had felt as she observed the course of our marriage and confirmed that her choice had indeed been a wise one.

And she told me, still wordlessly, that all that we had both endured had been worthwhile, because my work had given purpose to our tragedies. Since then, I have only seldom been able to believe this, to feel this way, but at that moment I had no doubt that I had redeemed our suffering, and her sacrifice.

Finally she told me that while her year was not over, she had now done what she had meant to. And that I had at least two more blessings approaching before her year ended, but she claimed credit for neither. One, I would find, was due only to myself, and the other would be a gift from another.

After she had related all of this, we stayed in the fairy ring glade for a timeless moment. We simply glowed in our love for each other, and allowed that love to heal our hearts as she had healed my scars.

When I woke and raised my head, I found that I was still looking into those warm, mysterious dark brown eyes, but now they were set in quite a different face. Though one that was no less lovely. I released Isobel's hands to clasp Katrina's, and silently wept in my wife's arms, wept with bittersweet happiness as she held me and as Isobel quietly left the room with a tearful smile of her own.

 

I spent most of the following day closeted in my laboratory, preparing my defense. I knew it was a losing battle, but I would not surrender without a fight.

Katrina had informed me that Quincy wished to see me. I sent David to my newfound friend with an invitation to my dismissal hearing. Let them all see the kind of backward mind I had to contend with.

David brought supper to me in my ivory tower. We had scarcely spoken since the night at Hawke's mansion, simply because so much had been happening that there had been no time. Now he set the tray down and hesitated beside me till I looked up at him.

"Sir… I'm sorry I didn't stay away from Hawke's. I tried to, honestly, and I just about went crazy. I couldn't stay away while you and Katrina were…." He broke off and looked at his shoes.

My brows drew together. "I understand that," I admitted reluctantly.

He peered up at me nervously. "Are you angry at me?"

Remembering the odd mix of admiration, gratitude, annoyance and fear for him I had felt when I realized he had followed us, I drew an agitated breath. He was not breathing at all, but waiting for my approval or lack of it as if the world depended on it. I had to reassure him when he looked so anxious.

Gestures of affection are quite natural to Katrina, but for me they are always awkward. I made myself clasp David's shoulder. Our eyes locked, and all we had been through together, the tragedies we shared, our mutual protectiveness of each other, and the unspoken understanding of each other's strengths and weaknesses we have shared since Sleepy Hollow -- all of this was expressed in that gaze.

Before I could lose my nerve, I drew him close, unable to say what I wished to. But I think there was no need to say a word. He returned the embrace promptly, as if he had been waiting for it.

"Are you angry at me?" he repeated in a whisper after a long moment.

"Try harder next time," was all I could say. But I think he understood.

When we released each other, we shared a rueful smile. Swallowing, he spoke more lightly. "Katrina said to tell you that if you don't come down soon, she'll send all your equipment to Constable Green's house."

"I would like to see his reaction to that," I mused. We both laughed, easing the awkward seriousness. "I'm almost finished," I assured him.

Indeed, it was not much longer before I descended. Katrina and Isobel were each stitching on a gown while Christopher toyed idly with a cup of lukewarm tea. None of them were speaking, but the expressive way they kept glancing at each other led me to conclude that they were communicating just the same.

"May I join this conversation, or are only witches allowed?" I asked lightly as I entered the living room.

"The twins have been making plans for their new house," Katrina explained with a smile, clasping my hand.

"We hope you shall both be frequent visitors, Constable Crane," Isobel said with one of her shy smiles.

"You may as well stop calling me that," I replied. "As of tomorrow, it shall no longer be accurate. Katrina, I am going to retire early. I would hate to be late for my own dismissal."

"I, too," Katrina agreed, rising. She did not speak to Isobel, but the look they exchanged convinced me that they were bidding each other an affectionate good night.

In our room, I sat wearily on the side of the bed as I unbuttoned my vest. "You are welcome to stay with your friends, my love," I told her. "I am simply not in any state to socialize tonight."

I bent to pull off my boots, but she conjured them off me. I gave a start, but quickly recovered myself as she sat beside me and wound her arms around me. For a couple of minutes we simply held each other. I wearily leaned my head against her shoulder, twining my fingers in her spun-gold hair.

Without preamble, she went straight to the heart of the matter in a gentle voice. "Is the New York constabulary the only place for your mission?"

"Of course not," I conceded. "I will find a way to carry on. One way or another I shall pursue my quest. It is only… after all the years of work I've put into the constabulary… it is most galling to finally admit defeat."

"Sir Rational, admit defeat? I cannot imagine that. In any case, you have not been discharged yet," she encouraged. "Your defense could still keep you instated."

"I will fight it, but there is little hope. I think they have only been waiting for an excuse to be rid of me."

She kissed me. Then she held her hand before me, scratched palm up. An instant later a red rose from the vase of them on her bureau was in her hand.

I took the proffered flower and studied it. Then I stood and took another from the vase. "Have you ever conjured this one?" I asked.

"No, why?"

I laid them carefully on top of my own bureau, side by side. "I am going to put them both through a chemical analysis to see if there are any discrepancies caused by the materialization process."

She stared at me for a second before beginning to laugh so hard it must have hurt.

I looked at her. "Now what is amusing?"

She caught her breath. "I was considering being annoyed with such an unromantic reaction to such a poetic gesture on my part, but I can't be. It is too perfect an illustration of what kind of man I have married." She ruffled my hair affectionately. "I suppose that Sir Rational and his mind in numbers is going to try to find a scientific explanation for magic now?"

Abashed at my misreaction, I tried to explain. "Well, there must be one, and if I can--"

She stopped my words and her own laughter with a kiss. When my head had just begun to spin, she ended the kiss to speak. "Explain that," she challenged pertly.

So well had she done her task that it took me a moment to find words for a reply. "I believe that is what Aristotle called a First Cause. There can be no explanation." She laughed again, and I shook my head, looking at her fondly. "I shall never understand your sense of humor."

"You mean there is something that Constable Crane's logic cannot analyze?" she teased.

"Constable Crane," I repeated sadly, reminded of what the morrow would bring. I had had enough of playfulness for now. I pulled her closer, inhaling the honeysuckle scent of her hair for a long moment.

She dropped her whimsy to speak seriously, rubbing my back as she whispered. "Whatever happens, I will be here beside you."

I closed my eyes, surrendering to her loving attentions. "And with you, I can face anything. You are the answer to every prayer I felt but could not say before you restored my faith."

She spoke softly, hesitantly, her lips against my ear. "Ichabod… I expected to have to hide so much of what I am for my whole life. I thought that I would have to hide my magic always. Even from you, who I love more than life. You gave me something I never hoped for. Do you know how much that means to me?"

"Do you have any idea…." I had to pause, or my voice would break. "…how precious that is… to me?"

I moved so that I could look into her warm dark eyes, and marvel. After so many years of bleak solitude, I could scarcely credit how full of blessings my life had become.

Our lips met, and we reaffirmed our devotion to one another, a devotion which was far more than I ever expected to experience. Let alone receive. And in that sweet communion, a setback on my crusade seemed quite trivial. With her faith in me, I could find another way if this one was barred.

 

I escorted Katrina up the steps of the courthouse, her hand tucked into the crook of my elbow. At least this would probably be the last time I would have to wear that blasted uniform. Katrina wore the ivory cardinal disk I had given her about her throat. I received several envious glances from my colleagues as they saw her on my arm. The Magellans followed us with Quincy and David. David looked as if he would personally thrash anyone who spoke disrespectfully to me. Quincy was attentive as always, looking more interested than concerned.

As we passed through the anteroom, we had to pause while a few constables escorted a line of criminals shackled to each other by one long chain linked with each of their ankles to the cells. One of the constables was Green, who looked at Katrina in a way that made me wish he had seen how I dealt with Simon Purnell and Hawke's "courier". Quincy examined Green and told me promptly, not bothering to lower his voice, "Stay away from that one. His phrenology is appalling."

I was no longer looking at Green. A few of the men on the chain were familiar to me: a couple of petty confidence men, a counterfeiter, and an embezzler named Joseph Hawke.

I did not realize I had stopped, or that Katrina's hand had tightened on my arm. My eyes locked with Hawke's. No distinguished exile for him, no notoriety. He was a common criminal who had committed an ordinary crime. In his gaze at me I saw the helpless fury of mortally wounded pride. He glanced for a second at Katrina, his look actually frightened as he regarded the woman he had meant to sorcerously enslave. And when his eyes moved back to me I saw the knowledge of defeat in them.

I allowed myself to stand for a moment, watching Hawke march chained toward the cells. At least I had this satisfaction with which to end my career on the constabulary.

When Hawke was out of sight, I drew a breath and squared my shoulders to face my dismissal. I led my companions into the courtroom and stayed by Katrina's side until she was comfortably seated between David and Isobel. Then I stood waiting for my case to be called. The Burgomaster had marked my entrance, but he did not acknowledge me until he had finished the matter he was dealing with. Then he summoned me in his heavy, carrying voice.

I came to stand before the Burgomaster with a high head and a set jaw. I waited silently for the words of my discharge.

"Constable Crane." The Burgomaster’s ponderous voice echoed against the high ceiling. He skewered me with his piercing eyes for a long moment before continuing. "The discharge hearing has been canceled; we have other matters to discuss today."

I looked around warily. I felt certain that the other constables knew what was in the wind, and I tried to gain some hint of it from their faces. The High Constable and the others were all looking at me oddly. I had seen that look before, part surprise, part resentment, part grudging respect, on the faces of schoolyard bullies when I was named head of my class — as I invariably was. Perhaps seeing Katrina had inspired that look this time.

The Burgomaster’s voice interrupted my speculations. "In view of your excellent work investigating Colonel Joseph Hawke" -- my eyes flew to those of the High Constable, who looked as if he were being subjected to one of the medieval devices in which he places such faith -- "Senator Alan Remington has allocated some of the funds recovered from the embezzlement committed by Colonel Hawke and Senator Trevayne, for the establishment of a detective branch of the constabulary." He paused. "To be headed… at his request… by you, Constable Crane."

Even as my shoulders squared, the tension ebbed from them, and I raised my head higher. My hands and stomach ceased their trembling and I could not speak, could hardly even think anything; I just stayed in that moment, hearing those words ring through the still air. It was one of the most solemn moments of my life — surpassed only by the moment when Katrina Van Tassel became Katrina Crane.

Hawke had been right about one thing. I only needed to be liked by one man of vision.

The Burgomaster glared at me, but I think he glares at everyone, no matter what the circumstances. The High Constable approached and handed me a very impressive document, signed by Senator Remington and bearing an official seal; the charter for my new endeavor. I took it slowly and began to read it.

The High Constable spoke as if the words tasted bad. "An office has been assigned to you. You will be expected to report to the Burgomaster regularly on your activities." He did not sound especially cheered by this, and I had just read why: the terms of the charter required me to report. Not to obey. My eyes met those of my former superior. I tried very, very hard not to look smug.

This was the first of the two blessings my mother had told me of. I was not to learn what the second was until Katrina told me at the end of that summer.

And so the following day I took possession of my new office. The High Constable lurked sullenly in the doorway, watching my every move with suspicion. But he and all the other constables had been speaking to me and looking at me with reluctant respect. None of them wished to cross a man who received favors from a Senator. It was absurd, but I had to admit it was satisfying.

I had not been able to sleep the night before, and I had refused Katrina’s lovingly amused offers of a sleeping draught. My mind had been racing with plans all night. There would have to be a course of training for detectives, and I would have to write manuals on all the various branches of deduction I had explored, and I would need supplies of chemicals and instruments… but first things first.

"Since detectives have rather different duties from the other constables," I remarked to the High Constable, "I really see no need for us to wear these uniforms."

 

 

I filled the small eternity of the days since Ichabod's promotion with the task of procuring the twins' new home. While the three of us haggled and signed papers with David looking idly on, Ichabod was caught in a maelstrom of reforms and proposed assignments. For three days in a row, he returned from duty inordinately late, tired enough to collapse after eating only a few bites but triumphant enough to afford our temporary guests a constant smile. As for me, I came to appreciate seeing him off in the morning and holding him after sundown more than I ever had. David, too, grew restless in Ichabod's extended absence, which energy I promptly put to use on the fourth day.

"Don't look so stricken," I told him over an armful of Isobel's astrology books. "This move is less than half the distance from here to McRaker's Alley."

"Yes, but because Ichabod's not here, it'll seem twice as long!" he sulked from behind a stack of small boxes.

I put the books down on the front step, turning to remove a box from the top of his stack in order to see his face. "David," I said with playful concern, "I think you've become as spoiled as I have over these past few weeks. But it can't always be that way. Sleepy Hollow and Hawke are rare, rare exceptions. Ichabod's work will keep him out of the house more frequently, now."

"More like full time," David retorted, his eyes shining with a mix of hurt and envy.

I put the books on top of the box I had taken and continued down the stairs with David close behind. "As much help as you've been, David," I tried to console him, "we simply can't have you constantly in the line of fire."

"I know that," he sighed. "Ichabod said that, too. I just wish..."

I carried my load to the back of the carriage, finding Isobel engaged in a determined attempt to force a bundle of Christopher's clothes into less space than they demanded. "You just wish what?" I asked, depositing the books beside a familiar blue velvet bundle.

"I just wish I could do something to make a difference. All the time," David confessed, handing me the boxes one at a time.

"Your time will come," I said with an air of more reassurance than I actually felt. "Soon."

It was true enough, as I would soon discover. The summer would bring a turn of events that would change his life as much as it would change mine. And though I could not see it in that moment as we went back for the last of the Magellans' possessions, I saw a glimmer of what was to come: a chance and a blessing. In my heart, somehow, I knew... the chance would be David's.

"That's everything," Christopher announced, bounding down the stairs to meet the rest of us at the carriage. Isobel hid her laughter behind her sleeve. Her brother was acting like an eight-year-old boy on Christmas morning.

"Are you sure?" Isobel managed to say between giggles. "You might want to check under the tree one last time. You could have missed something tied up in a big bow that has your name on it."

"Knock it off," he said, gently cuffing Isobel's right ear.

As the four of us squeezed into the coach, I couldn't help but smile. Beneath the twins' constant teasing ran a current of love and trust. Christopher seemed to know only one way to show the depth of his affection, and Isobel was glad to bear it even if it meant tolerating a yanked braid.

Isobel stood in the middle of the spacious living room, surveying the box-littered emptiness of their Glenn Church residence. Christopher had already set himself to prying his possessions open at random, having somehow convinced David to help him. For a long moment, Isobel's eyes fixed on a spot in the doorway of the adjoining tea room.

"Later," she said briefly, blinking in amusement.

"You'll like it here," I whispered, hugging her. "I know you will."

"I just can't believe that all of our possessions combined don't even fill the living room!" she exclaimed. "There are two bedrooms and a bath upstairs. We don't even have-"

"You'll have beds in a few days," I said in my firmest contest-me-not tone.

"Yes, ma'am," Isobel replied meekly, grinning. "I should have known you're a decorator as well as a seamstress."

"More of a decorator than a seamstress," I confessed, pressing a spot on my thumb that I had pricked some days ago during Isobel's initial fitting.

Isobel's eyes had been drawn back to the tea room. Come here, she ordered with a start, indicating that I should follow her. She all but raced into the tea room, and I nearly tripped over her when she stopped abruptly in the doorway.

"Look at her," Isobel breathed. "I shouldn't have brushed you off like that," she said contritely to the empty chair at a small, abandoned mahogany table. "Thank you for going to all the trouble!"

"Isobel, what-"

She cut me off by removing her pendant and quickly looping it around my neck. She slid her hand hurriedly over my neckline until she found my own. She aligned the two amulets with trembling fingers. When she let go, the room spun briefly and went dark. I staggered against the wall, supported only by her arm about my shoulders.

You must open your eyes, Katrina. Nothing has changed.

"Nothing?" I whispered incredulously, for the room was in fact altered. Gauzy lace curtains fluttered from windows that were bare and dusty mere moments ago. The carpet was still threadbare, but the mahogany table was polished and free of cracks. A child's tea tray adorned the center, each piece of white bone china painted in blue with eerily familiar thematic scenes. Shepherds...windmills...

"Would thou like some?" asked the child sitting in the chair, a dark-haired girl of seven or eight with luminescent green eyes. Her dress was quaint and simple, a white winged bonnet and a rose-colored dress of a cut that I realized had not been worn for decades. She smiled at us, offering an empty teacup to whoever would take it.

"Yes," Isobel said politely, closing the distance between us and the girl. She took the cup and pretended to sip. "It's delicious. This is the loveliest housebreaking I've ever attended."

"Thank ye, mistress," the girl said shyly, wrapping her delicate fingers about a second cup. She looked at me uncertainly, and I realized that my dumbfounded look probably didn't give her the best impression. "Dost thou like tea?" she asked me hesitantly.

"Yes," I said faintly, stepping up beside Isobel. I reached out hesitantly, taking the cup from the child's hand. It felt cool, utterly real. As she drew her hand away, her tiny index finger grazed the tip of my thumb, gliding right through it.

"Incredible," I whispered.

"Ah, ah! How can ye say that? Ye must try it!" the girl scolded playfully.

I raised the cup to my lips. "Now I can say that. It's wonderful!"

"Aye," the girl said, satisfied. She took an airy sip from her own cup. "To ye both, and the boys in there. Though I do not think the menfolk care 'bout tea," she giggled.

Isobel had a curious look on her face. "Is this your tea set?" she asked slowly, as if uncertain of how to approach what she wanted to know. "Did you bring it here?"

"Oh, no," the girl said simply, "pouring" herself some more tea. "I found it in the attic."

"What's your name?" I asked timidly.

"Gabriela. And I know ye two be Isobel and Katrina!" she said proudly.

My jaw dropped, but I quickly resolved the motion into an incredulous, "How-?"

When we were here, the other day. She heard us talking to each other. They're very resourceful, Katrina.

Gabriela was oblivious of my disbelief. She narrowed her lovely eyes mischievously. "Do ye want to see what else I found in the attic?"

"Of course we do," Isobel said with delight.

"Nay, I meant to ask Katrina," Gabriela said matter-of-factly. "I think she be much more interested in what I found than ye.... Not that I be insulting ye, mistress."

"Not at all," Isobel said kindly. "But I still would like to see it, too, if it's not a secret."

"Nay, it be no secret!" Gabriela said excitedly, rising from her chair. "If ye listened, ye know," she informed us, rummaging in a small wooden box at the foot of her chair. "Ah, here it be!"

Gabriela removed something from the box. It was wrapped in some sort of blue handkerchief. She came toward me with a look of sudden trepidation.

"It be a gift for ye," Gabriela explained gravely. "And ye mustn't be afraid of it, please!"

"N-No," I said, my lips suddenly unable to move in proper unison. "I shan't be."

"Ye promised," Gabriela said trustingly, placing it in my outstretched hand. "Ye promised."

"Yes," I whispered, nearly dropping it as my hand closed around the soft fabric bundle.

Silk!

"I promised...."

It fell open fluidly, secured by nothing. A small cloth doll with a stitched face and fine dark thread for hair lay nestled in the fabric.

My fingers, though immobile, closed around it as if of their own accord, in direct contradiction of my words. "I- I couldn't take it from-"

"Ye promised," Gabriela repeated. "And I be not much for dolls. I thought ye would like it."

"I... Oh, I do... It's just-"

"Ye missed it all this time. Ye had her once and ye will have her now," Gabriela said, smiling. "Ye had teacups like these, too."

Isobel was looking at me with tears in her eyes. "Oh, heavens," she said softly, and pursed her lips as quickly as she had spoken.

I remember!

"Remember what, Isobel?" I asked, my own eyes beginning to sting.

"If ye listened, ye know," Isobel echoed, much to Gabriela's satisfaction.

"I like ye," she said warmly to Isobel. "Ye listened. Ah, I like ye, too," she reassured me, reaching forward with a pale hand that passed right through my arm. "Come back, will ye?"

"Often," I whispered, shivering. "I'm glad to have met you, Gabriela."

"Aye, and ye," the girl said affably. "Ah, but ye be cold," she said sympathetically. "I be able to help that."

I had no sooner blinked than she vanished.

"Isobel..." I said weakly, leaning against the wall a second time.

"Here," she offered quickly, reclaiming her pendant.

The room seemed to flicker, come more sharply into focus. The windows were as bare and dusty as ever, and the table was in its former state of disrepair. But upon it sat a dust-coated child's tea set, its various pieces cracked and missing paint. In my right hand, I held a badly chipped teacup. In my left, I held a ragged piece of blue silk, in which rested a doll wearing a thin, frayed yellow dress and missing one of its brown button eyes.

"What just happened?" I demanded, wondering at the lack of disorientation I felt.

Isobel calmly took the teacup from me and placed it back on the table along with her own. She took my face gently in her hands.

"It would take too long to explain. Besides," she added honestly, kissing my forehead, "I'm not entirely certain what happens, and I'm the one who lives with it."

"Would you two quit playing around in there and give us a hand?" Christopher called.

"We could use it," David added sarcastically. "It is hard to play Catch The Knickknacks with only two people."

"Christopher!" Isobel yelled, leaving me alone in the empty, sun-filled tea room. I studied the doll's incomplete but somehow expectant features.

Ye promised.

"Yes," I said quietly, smiling even without a fair certainty of what I was smiling about. "I did."

~the end~

 

 

Tales of Romance
Sleepy Hollow