Jack Dawson covets my horse.
It’s written all over him. Talisman is big, dark, flashy, and expensive, and Jack craves all those things. So I have to wonder why Jack’s made a career out of being a stablehand for the last nine years, instead of something more glamorous and better-paying.
We have the arena to ourselves. Nobody else is crazy enough to ride in this heat. Both Tal and I are dripping sweat by the time we’re done practicing half-pass. I peel my T-shirt away from my chest and pat his shoulder, and he blows foam down his foreleg happily. Jack watches us from the corner of the arena, his hungry eyes following us around. It makes me feel strange and hungry for something myself, and very aware of how my shirt clings to my skin.
“Damn, it’s hot,” he complains. “I don’t know how you stand it in those boots.” His own shirt has wet half-circles under the neck and arms. “I’ve got to take this off. I can’t stand it anymore,” he says, and strips off the limp white cotton.
I completely forget to finish the figure eight we’re in the middle of. All I can see is Jack’s bare, golden chest, the red of his sunburned shoulders, the fine hairs in a line down his stomach.
Then he wads the T-shirt into a ball and flings it at one of the chairs along the arena wall. Tal spooks at the flash of white, and in that vulnerable split second, when we’re both distracted, that’s when it happens.
It’s like having my head shoved deep under water. When I manage to fight my way to the surface, Tal and I are twenty yards from Jack, headed towards him at a dead run. And Jack doesn’t know anything’s wrong. People gallop across the diagonal all the time.
I have a vision of fifteen hundred pounds of steel-shod horse crushing Jack’s skull. I shut my eyes and sit back hard and close my fists on the reins.
Somehow Tal does the impossible, skidding to a halt just yards from the corner, flinching as the sand burns skin from his heels. Lather splatters onto Jack. My thighs scream from absorbing the forward momentum without flipping over Tal’s head, and it takes a minute to catch my breath.
Oh my God. That was so close.
“Show-off.” Jack grins and wipes the froth from his hair. He looks at Tal admiringly. “He is so fine.”
“He knows it, too!” I laugh. It’s only a little shaky; maybe not enough for Jack to notice. Jesus. We almost killed him.
He moves closer and rubs Tal’s forehead. He traces the outline of the thin blaze, down the right side, across the muzzle, up the left, slowly, slowly. I swallow hard. He runs his hand down the dark neck like it’s made of platinum, sweeping across Tal’s chest and down one foreleg to the knee. “So fine, so fine,” he murmurs. He runs his fingertips over that wet coat and looks up at me, still grinning. “Sure wish I had a horse like this.”
I grin back, but most of my attention is busy shoving down something that came leaping up again at the smell of sweat and the glide of Jack’s hand across slick flesh. I am very, very careful not to let his hand brush across my leg. I don’t dare, even though I’m on Tal. He is my shield and my protection, but he can help me only so much.
“I have to walk him, Jack. He’s really hot.” And I pray to God he didn’t just tear a ligament, stopping like that.
“I know, I know,” he says reluctantly, and steps back, trailing his hands down those big, dark shoulders. I move away from him as fast as I can.
When Grandad shows up at noon, I lead Tal to the south paddock and turn him out. He bounds off, racing Owl down the fence line, tail high, snorting loudly.
“Look at that,” Grandad says. “You’d think he was a stallion. Any problems today?”
I look down at my feet, biting my lip.
“How bad?” he asks.
“Almost ran somebody down.”
He looks out across the field for a long moment. “But she didn’t get loose, right? Nobody got hurt? So maybe . . . maybe it wasn’t as bad as all that. Maybe you’ve got it licked now.”
I nod miserably. Neither of us believes that, but Grandad never quits hoping.
Jack is wheeling the hay cart in as Grandad and I head back through the stable. Grandad scowls and abruptly stops walking. “Is he working here now?” he asks me sharply. Surprised, I nod. He glares for a few more moments, but Jack doesn’t even seem to notice. “Dawsons.” Grandad grinds his teeth. “They’re up to something.”
That’s news to me. I thought we were friends with the Dawsons. They’re the second-smallest of the old families around here; we’re the smallest.
He looks hard at me and jerks his head towards Jack. “Callie, don’t you ever let him near your horse, you hear me?” He strides off to the truck. I hurry after him, mouth open, wondering what’s changed with the Dawsons, and why nobody told me.
On the second day of school, I’m sitting on the retaining wall by the principal’s office when Mom pulls up. I hop down, swing my backpack over one shoulder, and get in.
“Again?” she says, and sighs. “Oh, Callie.”
“It wasn’t my fault,” I say.
“It never is.”
“I told her to stop. She came up behind me and kept pushing. I told her to stop and she wouldn’t.”
“So you hit her.”
I don’t bother to answer. I watch the trees go by outside.
“Callie, you have got to stop–“
“It’s not my fault!” I yell.
The rest of the drive home is silent. That’s Mom’s acknowledgement that I’m right.
I lean my head against the window glass and fight back tears of frustration. It’s getting worse and worse these days. Nobody understands how hard it is to stop at just hitting. Nobody gives me any credit for that.
And nobody understands how damned good it feels to touch someone.
We’re back from a late fall dressage show with a score in the high 60s at Third Level, which is a very big deal. Grandad is so proud you’d think he sired the horse himself.
“Just you wait, Callie girl,” he tells me as I unwrap Tal’s shipping bandages. “You wait and see. You’ll go far on this fella. He’s got what it takes.” He pats Tal’s withers affectionately. “We’ll put him in the little paddock for tonight. Let him walk around, stay loose.”
I nod, unclip the crossties, and lead Tal out. When I come back, Grandad says, “Come on, Callie girl. Let’s go throw you a party.”
I am very glad to do just that. Nobody else needs to know I’m not just celebrating Tal’s first win at Third Level. I’m also celebrating that I stayed in control under pressure today, even with so many people around, some of them brushing up against me. It was hard, but Tal got me through. Together, we can do it.
The next morning, Tal is gone.
Grandad looks so bad that I’m afraid he’s going to have a heart attack. I keep trying to get him to sit down, but he insists on checking all the stalls and paddocks himself even though I’ve already done it twice.
“Jesus, no,” he whispers when we get to the last paddock and stare out at the empty field. I rub my sleeve across my eyes and notice I’m shaking. We just stand there for a long minute.
“See if any of the other horses are missing.” He starts walking towards the south end of the stable. “I’ll see if all the trailers are still here.”
I break the first stable rule I ever learned and run down the aisles. I look in the stalls, trying to remember which horses are away at shows. When I start to run out the west door to see which ones are outside, Jack is there, blocking the way with his body, arms out as if he’s trying to catch a bolting horse.
“Callie,” he says urgently, “Callie, I’m so sorry. It wasn’t me, I swear. It wasn’t me.” He reaches out to put a hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t you touch her, Jack Dawson.” My grandfather’s voice rings down the aisle. “Don’t you lay one finger on her.” He stomps across the cement. His face is red and sweaty and I have never seen him look so fierce. “Callie, go call the police. And your mother.”
“I will if you promise to sit down.”
“I’ll be fine.” He never takes his eyes off Jack. He doesn’t sit down, either. I run to the truck for the phone.
The police come. Tal is worth a lot of money, so they take this seriously. They ask everybody a lot of questions and look all over the farm and tell us they’ll be working to solve this but it may take some time. Grandad looks terrible, and they tell him, tactfully, that he should go home for now, they’ll handle everything.
We are quiet on the way home. I drive. Grandad is upset about that, but I insist. The color of his face scares me.
Grandma meets us at the door and lifts her eyebrow when we come in. Grandad shakes his head. “Nothing,” he says.
“No, they won’t find a thing,” she agrees, “but you had to call them anyhow. Come sit at the table. You’ve got to eat something.”
Mom is already there. She passes me a plate of garlic bread. She looks very calm, and I have a bad feeling I know why. This is confirmed when she says, “I suppose this means we’ll have to take care of it ourselves. If the police can’t find anything–“
“–then it must be one of the other old families,” Grandma says.
“Very well.” Faster than I can flinch away, Mom takes my chin in her hand and says, “Calpurnia, Talisman has been taken. What is our best course of action?”
I get that sickening pushed-under-water feeling again, and the voice that isn’t mine washes out into the room. “For what reason was he taken?”
Murmuring, and then my mother’s voice again, now hesitant. “We’re not sure.”
“Then I am little able to advise you.”
Grandad’s strong tones. “Worst-case scenario. Assume it was to make Callista vulnerable.”
“Protect Callista. Retrieve Talisman. Bind the thief to this household.”
That causes quite a stir. Loud voices, Grandad’s rising above the rest. “–won’t have that man in my house!”
“Your house?” Grandma’s tartness brings everything to a halt.
“Thank you, Calpurnia. That will be all.” My mother takes her hand away.
I blink and pick up the garlic bread I dropped. I can still feel the ghost of her touch on my chin. It makes it hard to push my morrigan back.
Grandad clears his throat. “The thief.”
“Hmm. Yes.” Mom taps the table absently.
“Callie, did you ever let Jack ride your horse?” I choke on my garlic bread, spluttering indignantly, and Grandad apologizes. “No, no, never mind, of course not.”
“Did he ever ask to ride him? Or groom him? Feed him?” Mom has inherited Grandma’s ability to lift one eyebrow.
“No. Just petted him a couple of times. Everybody wants to pet Tal.” I frown, remembering. “He said he didn’t do it. Didn’t take Tal.”
“Doesn’t mean anything.” Mom dismisses it.
“Might,” Grandma objects.
Mom considers, then nods.
“You’d best have a word with Ben Dawson, all the same,” Grandma tells Grandad. “They’ve been getting . . . ambitious lately. Trying to expand.” Which means they’ve started collecting assets. “After we eat, Edward. Scoot your chair back to the table and finish that plate first.”
I help Grandad wash and wax the truck, and he puts on his best suit while Mom and Grandma figure out the exact wording of the message he’s to take to Ben Dawson. I will never be herald, so I don’t know just what it is that Grandad does, or what he can do. I do know that we shine the truck just as we once would have groomed a horse and polished the tack.
He comes back fuming. He stomps into the kitchen with his shoes still on — almost as big a sin as running through the stable — slams his wallet down onto the table, and starts yanking off his tie.
“‘How sorry we are to hear of your unfortunate predicament, Mr. Aldwine. Very sorry indeed. Such a shame, a val-u-able horse like that.'” He mimics Ben Dawson’s voice sarcastically. “And the whole time, that damned bastard’s grinning at me like he’s licking cream off his whiskers.”
“What’s his formal reply?”
Grandad closes his eyes for a moment. “‘We recognize no thief among us. Bring your proof and make your challenge if you wish to claim one.'”
Mom’s mouth drops open.
“‘Bring proof’?!” Grandma erupts out of her chair. “‘Bring proof’?!”
“They want a war.” Mom’s voice is angry and cold. “We couldn’t ignore the insult, even if we still had any doubts.”
I don’t want a war. In a war, you destroy your enemy’s household as fast as you can, so the first thing the Dawsons will do is kill Tal. That would be bad for more reasons than they know. Bad for everybody.
“What’s Ben Dawson got?” Mom thinks aloud.
Grandma considers. “Ten in the family. Nothing special.” Not like us, she means.
Mom grabs her jacket and heads for the door. “They have a hostage; we need one, too. Jack’s alone at the stable. I’ll go fetch him before Ben calls him home.”
“No,” I say. “Jack is the only one of them who knows anything at all about horses. If you take him, nobody will take care of Tal even a little.”
“Callie,” says Mom, impatiently jingling a chain in her pocket, “you know they’re going to kill Tal.”
I hurt just thinking about it. “Maybe so. But he doesn’t have to suffer in the meantime.”
“Well, we need a hostage,” she says, and she walks out. I hear the truck start up. I go to the bathroom and rub water on my face with shaking hands. I’m careful not to look in the mirror.
It’s almost dark before I hear the crunch of gravel in the driveway. I skid down the stairs, hoping against hope that Mom is alone, but she pushes Jack into the kitchen ahead of her. I squeeze my eyes shut and ache for Tal.
“Hey, Callie,” Jack says. I open my eyes and nod back at him. There are fine silver chains around his wrists and — I gape and look again — one around his neck. He’s not just hostage, then, to be ransomed back by his family when this is over. He’s thrall, war booty. Property. And he doesn’t have a mark on him.
I’d fight ’til I died rather than be taken as thrall.
“Washroom is down the hall and to the left,” Grandma tells him. “Supper will be ready in a few minutes.”
“No, thank you, ma’am,” he says softly.
“You’re already thrall.” Grandad doesn’t pause in setting another place at the table. “Won’t make any difference now, so there’s no sense going hungry.”
“All the same, no, thank you.”
Mom rolls her eyes and shoves him into a chair. I just stare at him. Not a mark.
My stomach hurts too much to eat. Jack sits with a bare and gleaming plate in front of him. He doesn’t even touch his water glass. I am half crazy with worry for Tal, wondering if they’ve got him tied so he can’t put his head down or if they’ve given him dirty water or–
“Jack,” I say, before I even know I’m going to say anything, “you told me you didn’t take Tal.”
“I didn’t, Callie. I swear, it wasn’t me.”
I feel another kind of craziness start to rise in me. I am so wild with fear and hope that I can’t even speak. I stare at Grandad, mouth working but nothing coming out. “Tal,” I manage to squeeze out, a strangled sound. I try again. “Tal! Don’t you see?” I jump up and knock back my chair, fighting down Calpurnia and this terrifying wildness. “Don’t you see?! Nobody else knows anything about horses!”
I am looking at Grandad, but Grandma is the one who gets it first. “Then how could they take Tal? You know he won’t let just anybody handle him.”
Grandad sucks in his breath. “They would have had to bind him with salt and silver,” he says. Jack flinches and rubs his wrists.
My mother swears fiercely. “We’ve been thinking about this all wrong. They don’t know what he is. They didn’t take him as a hostage, or to make Callie vulnerable. They’re not planning to kill him. They stole him as an object, because he’s valuable.”
I squeeze my eyes shut and try to push back Calpurnia. Without Tal, I don’t know if I can do it. “If they’re not going to kill him, then I know where they’ve got him,” I say. “I know where he has to be.”
We take the truck. Mom shoves Jack in ahead of her. I drive, because my morrigan is riding me hard and no one wants to face her down.
I drive as far as there is a road. When there isn’t one anymore, I heave open the door and grab Tal’s spare halter and lead rope. I take the hatchet we keep in the back for emergencies, and I start striding over the scree. The others follow, well behind. The moon is up, but I don’t need it to see now. I am deep into battle rage, and I know exactly where I am going.
On the other side of the hill, on Dawson land, there is a baby heartwood: a small, cold spring, and three young rowans just above it. Tal is pressed against two of them, the whites of his eyes showing clearly against his dark coat.
I start giggling, except the voice isn’t mine, and I feel sick. Calpurnia’s loose. I see my hands come up, and I can’t stop them from running the blade of the hatchet across my lower lip. I hear leaves crunching and look up to see four of Jack’s kin on the ridge, coming down towards us fast. I giggle, blow little blood bubbles, and let the hatchet fly towards Tal. Towards the rowans.
Later, I know, I will be very, very sick at what Calpurnia is doing now. I want to vomit when the blade bites into living wood. Blood and iron poison a rowan. Later, I tell myself. Later.
All the others freeze, aghast. Calpurnia has me rocketing forward in that still moment, taking advantage of their shock. It works. I throw down the halter and grab the hatchet before anyone realizes I mean to do more. One of Jack’s cousins, a young man with bright gold hair, is screaming. None of them can reach me before I chop the blade into the second rowan.
Tal gives a great shiver and leaps away from the trees. His coat is crusted with dried salt. Calpurnia wants a taste, and I can’t stop her. I only hope it will be enough, that she won’t decide to cut him to taste his bloodsalt. The moment my face is pressed to his body, though, she ebbs a little. Touching him is sweet starlight, fresh snow, the scent of autumn leaves.
“Callie!” I have never heard my grandfather’s herald voice before, but there is no mistaking it. Calpurnia swings me around to see that my mother has one of the guards; my grandmother, another. The blond man is writhing on the ground. I ignore him. The threat is a thin, quick woman a few running strides from me. I let her tackle me, and then bring my knees up as we fall to kick her hard in the stomach.
Oh, God, I can feel her skin. I clutch at her, trying to pull her closer. She twists free somehow, and crawls to the rowans, putting herself between me and them. I admire her for that, but Calpurnia kicks her again, contemptuously, and giggles louder and faster.
“Is this all?” Calpurnia howls. “Four mewling infants to guard their treasure? Oh, nonononono.” She shakes her head unhappily. “Well, this will bring more.” And she casually slaps the woman’s hand against the third rowan and brings the hatchet down on it. “There,” she says, thoroughly satisfied, and takes the hatchet and sits down on a rock to wait.
I don’t think about it. I don’t look. Or listen.
“Callista.” My grandfather is walking slowly towards me. “Callista.” That herald voice. “Callista, go and stand with Talisman.”
I find that I can open my fingers and let the hatchet slide out. I can walk over to Tal, who wants to run from the blood smell but doesn’t. I press my cheek against his warm, sweet shoulder, and we stand and tremble together. I want to go home.
It doesn’t take long for the rest of Jack’s kin to show up. Killing an old family’s heartwood gets their attention fast. Ben Dawson does not look like he’s licking cream off his whiskers anymore. His four guards all have fine silver chains around their wrists, to mark them for ransom. The woman looks barely alive. Jack is thrall, the Dawson rowans are weeping sap and blood, and Tal is free. Ben’s in a bad position to bargain.
“Mr. Benjamin Dawson,” Grandad says, with just the tiniest twist of spite in his voice. “We have found our val-u-able horse.”
Ben looks around, taking in the scene. His eyes flit over his people, the rowans, Tal, the blood on me, back to Grandad.
“The girl’s got a morrigan, Ben,” says Jack, and I realize that Ben had been thinking about fighting. Calpurnia starts to giggle, and I press my face into Tal’s shoulder. My lip stings.
There is a long, tight silence. I hear the wind, the trickling spring, feet shuffling, little whimpers, the tink of metal. Ben’s voice comes slow and grim. “What is it gonna take to make peace between us, Aldwine?”
“Every damned thing you’ve got.” Mom means it. The Dawsons will be paupers at the end of this.
I close my eyes and lean on Tal and want to be home. Voices swirl around me but I’m not listening. If I’m not very careful, I keep remembering the rowans, and that woman’s hand. I just want to be home. I want a shower and clean clothes.
There is a soft noise behind me. I turn only my head. It’s Jack, holding the halter and lead rope out to me.
“Thanks,” I whisper, and take them from him. We’re both careful not to let our fingertips touch. I slip the halter over Tal’s head. He’s trembling but he lets me do it, and I almost cry. I don’t want him to trust me that much. I press my face into the hollow by his withers and breathe.
“Does he–” Jack licks his lips. “Does he send . . . that other thing . . . away?”
“No.” I push against the grain of Tal’s coat so that the soft hairs poke my skin. “He’s a talisman. He helps bring me forward.” As long as he’s stronger than Calpurnia, I think, but I don’t say that. I concentrate on the heartbeat under my cheek.
After a few minutes, I realize Jack hasn’t gone. I don’t move, but he seems to know he’s got my attention. He comes closer, only a step away, so close I can feel the heat of his body. He does not touch me. Nobody but Tal will touch me, I think, and it’s hard to swallow then.
“Callie,” he breathes. I don’t turn. “Callie, please. You can make me thegn. Please.” I say nothing. There is a hurting edge to his voice. “Please, Callie.”
Face still pressed to Tal, I say, “My family is very small, and it’s about to become rich. When you’re small and rich, you have to fight to keep what you have. This is just the beginning.”
I put my cold hands on Tal’s nose so I can feel his breath. “My family planned ahead. Here we are, in Quarter Horse country, and I have this huge Hanoverian as my talisman.” I laugh, and there is something in my laugh that scares me at how close it is to not being mine. “Do you know what the airs above the ground are, Jack? There’s this one, the capriole, where the horse jumps up and snaps his hind legs out–“
He says flatly, “You’re training a warhorse.”
That something is in my laugh again. “That’s the kind of planning my family does. And you think–” I can barely get my breath past the laughing. “You think we’ll make you one of us?”
“There’s still time. I haven’t touched food, not even water, and the sun’s not up yet. Please, Callie.”
Like he has any right to ask for that honor, standing there without a mark on him. He makes me sick.
“The woman,” I say, eyes closed, feeling the crusty salt on Tal’s coat. “What’s her name?”
“Is she left-handed?”
Silence. Damn. I feel really bad about that.
“Take him.” I push myself away from Tal and hand the rope to Jack. “Wash the salt off in the spring. And any blood I got on him, too.” I walk away, towards the hostages.
“Callie, Callie, please,” Jack calls desperately, but I ignore him.
Gillian is very pale and her skin is damp. When I kneel in front of her, she opens her eyes and swallows hard but doesn’t back away. She’s braver than I am. I’d run from me.
“Gillian Dawson,” I tell her. “I have an offer for you. Your family’s broken. They can’t rescue you, and I doubt they can ransom you, either. I fought you. I respect you, and I don’t want to see you end up as property.”
“Go on,” she says thickly. Pain makes it hard for her to speak.
“We can use someone like you in the family. Swear yourself to us.”
It’s not a hard decision, under the circumstances. She nods and pulls herself upright. “I swear.”
I try not to look too long at her hand. Very carefully, I slip my forefingers through the chains on her wrists and pull, cupping them in my palms as they fall. I link them together and clasp the makeshift necklace around her, keeping my fingers as far from her skin as I can.
“Gillian Aldwine, I give you my name, the protection of my house, and honorable standing in my family.” I kiss her mouth, and my lip hurts. Calpurnia’s breath catches with the ecstasy of a blade sliding across flesh. I pull away quickly.
“Thank you.” Her voice is slow and weak, and her head drops to her chest when she’s done. I have to lean close to hear her say, “I’ll come to you when I can.”
“Yes. Good.” I rock back on my heels, ready to leave. I want, very much, to stay, to feel skin next to mine. I know better. Before I go, I say softly, “I’m sorry.” She doesn’t respond.
I go to where my family stands with the remaining Dawsons. Everybody steps well aside to make room for me. “Benjamin Dawson,” I say, first thing. “I’ve taken the woman Gillian as thegn.” I don’t have to tell him this. I don’t have to announce it to anyone but Gillian and my family. I’m showing Ben courtesy, but from the look on his face, you’d think I just spat on him. My family looks pleased, though.
Now that I’m there, Grandad formally states the terms of the peaceprice. It’s even steeper than I guessed. The Dawsons gambled and lost, and my family intends to make an example of them. Because of Calpurnia — what she is, what she is capable of — we can do that.
For the first time in my life, I really think about that. About how very advantageous that is.
What was it I told Jack? My family plans ahead.
Some things start falling into place for me.
I barely watch as Grandma nicks Ben inside the elbow and drops salt there to seal the terms. I see hate in his eyes, a helpless anger at this symbol of his family’s ruin. The other Dawsons stare at me, and stand well back. I’m busy thinking.
Stupid, stupid, stupid not to have figured this out before.
My mother grants twenty-four hours for Ben’s family to come up with the ransoms for the hostages. This is a polite fiction. There is no money left for ransoms, so they will be Aldwine thralls by tomorrow night. Ben has lost fully half his family in one day, and mine is stronger by five.
I turn and start walking. Behind me, I hear Ben’s voice, so loud and clear that I know the words are really for me even though he’s supposedly talking to Grandad. “Jesus Christ, Edward. A morrigan. Are you crazy? Why didn’t you drown that girl at birth?”
When I get to Tal, I take the lead rope from Jack. “Go,” I tell him, and there is enough of Calpurnia in my voice that he doesn’t argue.
Ben is shouting now. “She’ll up and kill you one day, you know! They always do. They get so hungry to touch, they up and kill every–” His voice cuts off.
I wash myself in the spring as best I can. I run my hands over every inch of Tal, making sure he’s fine. I’m finger-combing his tail when Mom and Grandma and Grandad come to get me.
“Everything’s settled,” Mom says.
“Gillian?” I ask.
“Jack’s taking her to the hospital. And the hostages are on their way to the house. We can go.”
I nod slowly.
“Pay no mind to Dawson’s mouth,” says Grandma. “He’s just trying to scare you, now that he has nothing else. I never heard of any such thing.”
“Me, neither,” says Mom.
I say nothing. We start back towards the truck. I’m mindful of Tal’s footing.
“I was thinking,” says Grandma after a while, “of the west bedroom for Gillian. Thought she might like seeing the sun set over the hills.” When I don’t reply, she adds, “It’s just amazing what they can do at hospitals these days. Might be she’ll use that hand again, even.”
Grandad nods. “Taver Rood, you remember, after his accident, he had a neurosurgeon–“
I do not listen. I am thinking about how many other old families will look at us — small, temptingly rich — and consider Calpurnia and the rowans and think again.
Grandma is talking about the boys who came back from the War and learned to write with their left hands. I am not listening. I am hearing the leaves rustling and sticks popping beneath our feet, and Tal’s soft snorting. I close my eyes as I walk. I feel the wind on my face, like a soft sweep of fingers.
“Whose decision,” I say when there is a lull in all the other talking, “whose decision was it to put a morrigan in me?” My voice shakes. “Who did this to me?”
The wind plays over my eyelids, my cheeks, my forehead. I hear faltering steps in front of me. I was right. Guilty, guilty, guilty.
There is a long, uncomfortable silence. Tal’s hooves click against stones. The breeze kisses my bangs. I lift my face to it.
“Let’s get home,” my mother says uneasily. “It’s not safe in these woods at night.”
That seems very funny. I start to giggle, louder and louder, and I can’t stop.
The voice is not quite mine.
Copyright © 2002 Tracina Jackson-Adams
Copyright © 2002 Tracina Jackson-Adams
Tracina Jackson-Adams lives in the Snow Belt and rides big horses. Her fiction also appears in Speculon, Weird Tales, and Icarus Ascending, and her poetry in The Magazine of Speculative Poetry, Star*Line, and The Modern Art Cave. She’d like to thank the Nobel Academy — oh, wait, that’s something else.