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Authors: Anna Kendall

Crossing Over

BOOK: Crossing Over
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Table of Contents
Published by Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the United States in 2010 by Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright © Anna Kendall, 2010
All rights reserved
eISBN : 978-1-101-44433-7
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be repro-
duced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (elec-
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The city, characters, and events to be found in these pages are fictitious.
Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

To Jack
I ever crossed over, it was market day and I was a little boy, barely six years old. I had spilled goat’s milk on the linsey-woolsey that Aunt Jo had spent weeks weaving, the linsey-woolsey that she was going to sell at market. Hartah beat me unconscious, and I crossed over.
No. That is not true. I must have crossed over earlier, in dreams. There must have been times when my infant self lay asleep, restless and feverish from some childish illness, pain in my head or belly or throat. That’s what is required—letting go, as in sleep, plus pain. Not great pain, but Hartah doesn’t believe that. Or maybe he just likes beating me.
That first time, eight years ago—the milk staining the bright green wool, my aunt’s gasp, her husband raising his head from the table with that look in his eyes, and I—
“Roger,” he said now, “you will cross over today.” Again Hartah raised his head, this time looking at me over the rim of his mug of sour ale.
My neck and spine turned cold.
It was barely dawn. We sat alone in the taproom of an inn somewhere on the Stonegreen Road. It wasn’t much of an inn. Three trestle tables of rough wood on the cobbled floor, two ladders leading to “rooms” above that were no more than lofts with dirty straw as pallets. The beams overhead were so blackened and ill cared for that soot dropped onto the tables. Still, last night my heart had surged with gladness when our wagon pulled into the stable yard. During the summer we almost never slept indoors. But now the first leaves had begun to turn color and the air smelled of rain. Hartah must have hidden a few pennies, or stolen them, to pay the innkeeper.
“Today is the Stonegreen harvest faire,” Hartah said. “You will cross over.” Before he could say more, the inn door opened and four men entered. They were loud, laughing and joking, but no louder than the clamor in my head.
I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I won’t—
But I knew I would.
“Brought your ram, then, Farlowe?” said one of the men. “Puny beast—no prize for you, I wager!”
“Seventeen stone if he’s a pound!”
“Pound of sagging skin and weak bones!”
Rough male laughter and cries of “Ale! Ale before the faire!”
The innkeeper’s wife came from the kitchen, Aunt Jo trailing meekly behind with Hartah’s breakfast. She didn’t meet my eyes. She knew, then, what Hartah would make me do this day, and how he would make me do it.
“Ale! Ale before the faire!”
“You shall have it, then,” the innkeeper’s wife said, a frothy mug in each hand and two more balanced on her meaty forearms. “And breakfast, too, if you’re with money, you scurrilous lot! Good morrow, Tom, Philip, Jack . . . Henry, where’s that pretty new wife of yours? When I was her age, I was never left alone in bed of a faire morning. Or did you wear her out before dawn?”
The youngest man blushed and looked proud. The others roared and teased him while the woman set down the ale. She was broad, red-faced, merry—everything my aunt was not. Aunt Jo set a wooden trencher of bread and cheese—no meat—in front of Hartah and backed quickly away. So cowed was she that she didn’t even realize he would hardly strike her here, in front of men whom he hoped to be selling to later in the day. Her thin body shuddered.
I felt no pity. Never once had she protected me from him. Never once. And there was no bread and cheese for me. Probably Hartah’s stolen coins were only enough for one.
The oldest of the laughing men glanced at me. Casually he flipped a penny onto the table. “Here, boy, water my horse and his burden, the ones with yellow ribbons, there’s a good lad.”
The penny landed midway between Hartah and me. I saw the muscles of his great shoulders shift, as if he meant to reach for it. But the older man watched us, and so Hartah merely nodded, as if giving permission. As if he were some sort of gracious lord—Hartah! Hatred burned behind my eyes. I snatched the penny and went outside.
The day was soft and clear, traces of the gold-and-orange sunrise still in the sky and the rough grass smelling of last night’s rain. I fetched water from the stable yard well both for the horse and for the ram tethered in the cart, its horns bright with yellow ribbons. More wagons pulled up to the inn, farmers arriving for the faire. Their cartwheels groaned under loads of vegetables, sheep, baskets, children. “The caravan comes! I saw it!” a child shrieked, leaning so far over the side of his wagon that he nearly fell out. “I saw it!”
“Hush your noise,” his young mother said fondly. She wore a lavender dress and lavender ribbons in her hair, and her hand strayed to stroke her little lad’s soft curls.
BOOK: Crossing Over
13.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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