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Authors: Jennifer Carson

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Hapenny Magick (6 page)

BOOK: Hapenny Magick
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Mae's ears rang as Gelbane's fist caught her in the ear. Tears pooled in her eyes. Bleary-eyed, Mae watched Gelbane saunter across the yard and into the house. The chain connecting her ankles was heavy, and her skin burned under the cuffs. Clouds, like great rolls of grey wool, approached quickly, blocking out the early morning sun. A brisk wind rattled the shingles of the hen house and slammed the barn door closed. Mae pushed the barn door open slowly, peering into the farmyard.

The wizard trotted behind Mae as she dumped the buckets of slop into the trough for the other pigs and unlatched the door that led to the outside pen.

“Please don't say it,” Mae whispered. Her voice cracked with restrained emotion. Her steps were careful and slow as she trudged toward the henhouse. She pulled the door open and wondered if she would be able to get herself up onto the stool in order to reach the eggs she needed to gather.

Aletta's hooves made a soft clicking noise on the wooden floorboards. “I can't do magick when I'm a pig.”

“You need to go, Aletta.” Mae sniffed. “I'll be fine.”

“Are you sure?”

Mae's ears drooped. “I'm sure she'll come back.”

“But—”

“No, don't say it, Aletta.” She couldn't bear to hear again that her mother wasn't ever coming back.

“Who will help you get out of those chains?”

“I will help myself. You and Callum say I have magick. I might as well learn to use it.”

The door creaked open as Aletta pushed against it. “You're sure this is what you want?”

Mae turned away from Aletta's worried expression.

“If you change your mind, just whisper your wish to the forest and Remy will come for you.”

Mae nodded and sank to the floor, the burden of her tears weighing her down. She couldn't believe she was giving up the opportunity to get away from Gelbane. The opportunity to protect the hapenny village she loved. The opportunity to be a great wizard.

Chapter Six

A long wooden table, which once shone with polish, was pushed into a corner and piled high with garbage: unwashed bowls, broken cages, and bits of splintery rope. Mae rummaged through the mess for the tinderbox, unable to locate it. She closed her eyes and pictured the box in her mind—the long copper sides and the worn wood top that slid open. A funny feeling tingled in her belly, and Mae suddenly knew she'd find the box in a broken jug under the table. Mae sighed as she searched through Gelbane's discards. She could clean every hour of every day, but not even a hapenny with a fairy godmother could keep up with the mess Gelbane made.

After finding the tinderbox, Mae crawled to the cold hearth. The chain between her ankles clanked over the wood plank floor, scratching the already marred finish. She tossed a handful of dry kindling into the fireplace. Mae struck the flint and steel together until a spark fell onto the tinder. She blew gently until the tinder burst into tiny flames. Then she piled on thicker twigs and waited for them to catch.

Mae ran her hand over the arm of the chair next to the hearth and her throat tightened. The chair reminded her of the wizard. Her stomach grumbled at the remembrance of the feeling of a full belly. Wiping her hands on her apron, Mae listened for Gelbane before standing and trudging into the pantry. The weight of the iron ankle bracelets had lessened a bit over the last few days, but her skin was raw and tender.

She grabbed a cracked porcelain pitcher from the counter and proceeded to the pantry well. Mae pumped the handle, and water trickled out in a steady stream. She stuck the pitcher under it and waited for the stream of water to stop. A sudden crash from Gelbane's workroom made her jump, smashing the pitcher into the iron pipe and chipping off another hunk of porcelain from the rim. “What the day-old-biscuits is she making now?” Mae whispered with irritation. She'd been easily irritated all morning, which was quite unlike her. But Leif had never gone more than two days without visiting. What was keeping him away?

Gathering eggs into her apron, and the pitcher in her hand, Mae made her way back to the hearth. She poured the water into the pot. The eggs made a sploshing noise as she dropped them into the water. She braced her legs and heaved the heavy pot onto the hook over the fire. As she tossed more wood onto the flames, she peered down the hall toward where Gelbane was working. Gelbane seemed to be making more racket than usual, especially for so early in the morning. Mae shuffled as quietly as she could down the hallway, hoping the noise coming from the room would disguise the rattle of the chain.

The door to Gelbane's workroom was ajar, and Mae could see a portion of one of her guardian's contraptions. She strained to see farther into the room. It was jam-packed with machines Gelbane had worked on and discarded over the years. Things whirled and bounced and whistled. Something ticked; glass tubes vibrated with boiling liquid the color of ginger beer. What looked like a rusty wire cage was half hidden in the corner. She craned her neck to see in further and bumped the door.

“You know you aren't supposed to be snooping in my workroom!” Gelbane instantly filled the space like a curtain drawn over a window. Her guardian snapped the door closed, but not before Mae caught a glimpse of something cowering in the cage.

“I wasn't ‘snooping,'” Mae said.

“Wasn't snooping? What would you call it, then?”

“I was just coming to tell you—” Mae wrung her hands and her mind raced. “That….that breakfast is ready.”

“Good, I'm starving.” Gelbane turned the key in the door, locking it fast. “In fact, I'm so hungry, I think I'll eat your portion.” Gelbane sniggered wickedly as she pushed Mae aside and squashed past her in the narrow hall, turning into Mae's mother's room, which Gelbane had taken over just a few days after Mae's mother had left.

Mae glanced at the workroom door. Gelbane was keeping something in that cage, and she had a powerful urge to find out what it was.

Gelbane poked her head back into the hallway. “Move it, you lazy wretch!”

Mae shuffled past her guardian, through the parlor, and into the pantry. What kind of creature was Gelbane keeping in that cage?

Her fingers shook as she sliced a leftover biscuit in half, catching her fingertip with the knife's sharp edge. The cut stung and Mae wrapped her injured finger in her apron to stop the trickle of blood that oozed out. With her other hand she stacked the biscuits on a chipped plate, balanced the knife on the edge, and carried everything to the table in the parlor.

The fire glinted off the knife blade and made it glow a strange green color. Mae blinked and shook her head. She must be very tired. That or her magick was acting up. She was trying to master it, as Callum had said, but odd things were still happening. At least the pigs hadn't escaped in a couple of days. Setting the plate on the table, she scooped a spoon into the boiling water and fished out the cooked eggs.

Mae held her finger up by the firelight. Her finger was wrinkled like when she spent too much time in the tub, but at least the bleeding had stopped. It was just a small cut, but day-old-biscuits, did it sting!

After peeling off the shells, she sliced an egg and almost choked when she saw the yolk. It was purple, like an oval amethyst nestled in a bed of cotton. She placed the white egg slices in between the biscuits and shoved the yolks in her mouth, hoping Gelbane wouldn't notice.

Mae scurried to the pantry and washed the yolk down with a gulp of water from the pump. Gelbane was sitting at the table when Mae stepped back into the room, just in time to see her guardian snatch a cricket from under the mess of garbage and bite down with a loud crunch. Mae stopped cold. Her stomach rolled. The egg yolks bubbled and threatened to come spewing back up. She'd never seen a hapenny eat an insect before.

Gelbane sneered. Her eyes narrowed and she bared her teeth. “Shut your gob, afore I shut it for you!” Her fist slammed on the table, making the broken bits and bobs dance.

Mae set the cup on the table and snapped her jaws shut.

Curling a fist at Mae, Gelbane growled, “If you have time for snooping and ogling me, maybe you need some more chores to keep you busy.”

Mae shuffled from the room and back into the pantry. More chores! She already swept the chimneys and scrubbed the floors, mucked the stalls and cut the hay, tended the garden, fed the animals and did all the cooking. Callum and Aletta were right; she was a servant in her own home. She'd waited for six long years for her mother to return and all she'd received were vague letters telling her to be good for Gelbane. Well, she was tired of being good for Gelbane. She would go back to Callum as soon as she could, even if she had to drag the chain all the way through the forest.

Mae peered around the arch that separated the two rooms, anxiously bouncing up and down on her toes, waiting for Gelbane finish her breakfast. Now that she'd decided to leave, she couldn't wait for the chance to do so.

Finally, Gelbane lifted the biscuit to her mouth. She gnashed at the bread with her yellowed teeth. She bent forward to take another bite and paused. Peeling the top half of the biscuit off, her face turned scarlet. She lifted her nose like a hunting dog and sniffed, nostrils flaring. “What's that smell? What's that smell?” She dropped the biscuit like a hot potato and pounded the tabletop with her meaty fist.

“It smells like blood! You careless, undersized, not even a mouthful of hairy fluff!” Gelbane rose, sending the chair cartwheeling across the room. “You think I won't notice that you've bled all over my breakfast?”

Mae held up her finger. “It was just a tiny cut. Didn't hardly bleed at all.”

“'Didn't hardly bleed at all!'” Gelbane mocked. She stuck her nose in the air and sniffed again, stalking toward Mae.

Mae stumbled back.

“How can I eat eggs when all I can think about is the smell of your blood?” The glint in her eyes held a sharp edge.

It took all of Mae's strength to scramble onto the countertop, dragging the weight of the iron ankle cuffs and chain with her. Her guardian's heavy breathing roared into the pantry.

“Leave me alone!” Mae yelled as she struggled to pull open the pantry window.

Gelbane caught the chain and pulled. It snapped, releasing Mae from its constraint and flinging Gelbane backwards. Mae clung to the sill with one hand and tried to pull the window open with the other. Finally it came loose, groaning and creaking as Mae yanked it open. She struggled to pull herself through the window, grateful, for once, to be the smallest hapenny in the Wedge. She felt the ribbon on her necklace give way as her chest slid over the wooden sill.

Gelbane's sharp nails raked down Mae's calf and pressed into her ankle. Welts formed and blood beaded up. Her foot throbbed. Mae struggled and kicked her legs, catching her captor's nose with her heel. She saw Gelbane's eyes fill with tears and took the split-second advantage she'd fought to win. She booted Gelbane again, catching her in the chin, and her guardian released her grasp, hands cupping her bleeding nose.

Mae hauled herself onto the grass and hobbled toward the forest, grimacing with each step. A door slammed and Gelbane bellowed, “I'll find you, you little pest! I'll find you and chain you to the hearth this time so you can't run away!”

Mae's head swam, and her vision blurred as she reached the bridge. The forest looked like an oil painting, all big swirls of color and no detail. She fell to her hands and knees as the world turned around her. “You can't stop now,” Mae said to herself, trying to pluck up her courage. “She's bound to follow.”

Aletta's voice echoed in her head.
Whisper your wish to the forest…

A warm, wet nose poked her in the face.

So much for learning to master her magick. The pigs had escaped again. But maybe she could use that to her advantage.

Mae reached out to the pig and struggled to drag herself over its back.

The sharp sound of snapping twigs echoed behind her. Heavy footsteps resonated through the wood. Gelbane!

BOOK: Hapenny Magick
11.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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