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Authors: Vivian Vande Velde

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BOOK: Magic Can Be Murder
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Just when things were looking up—just when Galvin shook his head at Halig to agree that Brinna shouldn't be arrested—Kirwyn came in with his opinion. "No?" he said with a snort.

He looked about to elaborate when Nola said emphatically, "No." She planned to talk over the objection he made. She knew he was going to tell how the very day of the night Innis was killed, this same woman had pointed at the silversmith and shrieked, "Death!" But Nola was not used to talking back, and her mind had gone blank with fear. How could she have been so stupid not to have realized that, of course, Kirwyn or Alan would mention this? She couldn't think over the thudding of her heart. Frantically she searched for something, and in the interim she realized that, for whatever reason, Kirwyn had obeyed her stern look and had stopped talking.

So she spoke instead to Brinna. "Please think calmly before you get yourself into trouble." It was good advice for herself, too. "You can only hurt yourself by persisting in this delusion. Do you want to end up in prison?" For Halig certainly still looked ready to carry out this threat.

Brinna had stopped crying. She was probably still afraid, but now she was mostly angry. "You're behind this. You switched bodies with me."

Obviously she assumed Nola was Nola's mother. The fact that she was wrong about
that
wouldn't prevent her from saying the one thing Nola least wanted said out loud; she was about to use that dreaded word, "witchcraft."

So Nola once more pictured her mother. With all her concentration—using much more energy than she needed to change someone's form—she pictured her mother cradling her arm, humming a lullaby to the baby in her forefinger.

Brinna hugged herself as though she was cold or distressed. She opened her mouth to accuse Nola of witchcraft. No words came out, only a hum. Slowly she began to rock from side to side, cradling her arm. The hum became a snatch of melody. Nola could see the panic in her eyes. She could see Brinna trying to hold still, to let her arms drop to her sides, to stop humming.

Hating herself for what she was doing, Nola told Brinna, "I'm sure this fit won't last. It won't last long at all." This was all the comfort she dared offer, something she hoped the others would take as her simply humoring a crazy old woman.
It WONT last long
, Nola assured herself. Just long enough to finish what needed doing here—which was to get downstairs without anybody noticing, disrupt the spell going on in the bucket, and be back at the market by noon so the firmer who had driven her into town would return her co the road co Saint Erim Turi. What would happen after that—how she could possibly right things without admitting all to Brinna—she had no idea.

Brinna was fighting the spell, fighting to get words out.

Nola pictured her mother on the step of the silversmith's house that first evening, when Innis had hired them because he would be getting married within the week.

"Congratulations," Brinna blurted out. Her hands fluttered to her mouth as though to push the word she had not meant to say back in. But, "Congratulations," she repeated, just as Nola's mother had, in the voice of one of the others who lived in her head. Brinna sucked in her lips and bit down on them. She couldn't help herself, and the word escaped yet again, in a third voice: "Congratulations." She began to cry again.

Nola felt like crying, too.

And in that moment of sympathy, Nola's concentration slipped. "You're all blind," Brinna told the others. "
Look
at me."

Once more Nola drew the mental picture of her mother rocking the baby, and Brinna resumed humming, although it was obvious she didn't want to.

Galvin picked up the marketing basket she had flung. Did he recognize it as the one with which Brinna had left the house earlier?
Probably not,
Nola reassured herself. Men didn't notice things like baskets. In any case, he put the spilled items back in, then held it out to Brinna. She snatched it out of his hand before turning and stamping her feet every step of the way out the door, angry and frustrated and frightened all at once.

Though wishes by themselves accomplished nothing,
Stay safe,
Nola wished after her, by which she meant, among other things,
Don't do anything to get me in worse trouble.

To herself, she asked,
What have you done? Gotten everyone looking suspiciously at your mother. THAT was very clever. A few more plans like that, and they'll burn you both at the stake.

Alan said to Lord Pendaran's men, "She's harmless. Truly. I had an old aunt whose wits wandered for years, but she never caused hurt to any and—"

"Alan," Kirwyn interrupted, "nobody is interested in you or your various aunties, uncles, or half-wicted cousins."

Alan immediately stopped talking and looked at his feet, instead.

Galvin gazed at Kirwyn with one of his unreadable expressions. To Alan he said, "I understand." To Nola, "You were showing me around the house."

He doesn't like Kirwyn any better than I do,
Nola thought gleefully,
and he has to work very hard not to let it show.
She
had
to like him, ac least a little bit, for that. A moment later, what Galvin had said sank in: Show me around the house.

Finally
. This was her chance. If he'd only said it and meant it
before
Brinna had returned.

Though, of course, then the real Brinna would have entered the kitchen while Nola was in the cellar, witlessly solving one trouble without realizing a worse one had just come up behind her.

Could anything else go wrong now? Silly question. If life had taught her nothing else, it was that things could always get worse.

Galvin must have thought she was hesitating over worry for the spilled pot of beans, for he said, "I must insist that you set aside all else—"

"I recommend a systematic search," Nola interrupted.
Move fast,
every instinct warned her,
BEFORE the next catastrophe hits.
"From the bottom up, starting with the root cellar. From back to front."

Galvin nodded, looking amused at her sudden burst of efficiency.

Nola lit a candle from the fire in the hearth. "Careful," she warned. "The stairs are sturdy but steep."

"Perhaps I'd better—"

But she'd intentionally opened the door so that he had to step back, and by then she was on the narrow staircase and he had no choice but to follow.

Nola held her skirt up out of the way. The circle of light from the candle's flame showed the stairs, showed a crescent of the dirt of the root cellar's floor. From here she could not see the corner in which she'd placed the bucket and covered it with an old cloth. That was behind the stairs, only visible going up, not down. All she needed was to get there one step ahead of him, just enough time to kick rag and bucket over, to send shadowforms spilling into the darkness.

"Careful." Now it was Galvin warning her. "No need to go so fast—" Just as she took another step and put her foot down on the trailing edge of her skirt.

She threw her arms wide to grab the wall but felt only air. And then she pitched forward, head over heels, tumbling down the stairs, which smacked against her hands and knees, and then her back, and then there was a breathless moment of nothingness and she knew she'd rolled right off the edge of the stairs. And then she landed, flat on her back in the dark.

Clumsy fool!
But at least she was in the dark, which meant the candle had gone out as she dropped it so she hadn't set herself on fire.

More important it meant nobody could see that—as well as knocking the breath out of herself—she had knocked the glamour out. She no longer looked like Brinna, but had resumed her true appearance. And wherever Brinna was, she once more looked like herself.

"Halig!" she heard Galvin cry. He didn't wait for the sergeant to fetch a fresh candle, but continued down the stairs, which was foolhardy without a light. How likely was he to make it down without tripping also and landing on top of her?

She managed to get in enough air to hastily whisper the words that made her once more take on the form of Brinna, and made Brinna—Nola fervently hoped she wasn't someplace public during all this shifting of appearances—resume the form of Nola's mother.

Galvin turned out not to be as ungainly as she, for the next moment he was beside her. "Brinna," he said, sounding simultaneously gentle and urgent. He knelt beside her, telling her, "Lie still."

"I feel a perfect fool," she mumbled. She could barely make out the rag-draped bucket, just far enough away that she couldn't reach it.

"Are you hurt anywhere?"

"I'm hurt
every
where."

"Well," Galvin said, "yes, I can imagine. But anywhere more than the rest?"

Nola could hear Halig coming down the stairs, and the cellar grew brighter from the candle he carried.

"Did any pieces of me detach on the way down?" she asked.

"If so, only very small pieces," Galvin assured her. "Did you hit your head?"

"I don't think so." But she couldn't be sure. She definitely felt light-headed. And thinking about her head was a mistake. Brain and stomach finally caught up with each other, and she realized she was going to vomit. Luckily Galvin realized it also. Somehow he got her on her side and supported her head while she heaved out the morning's meal not a handspan from his knee.

Halig, leaning over her, said, "That leg doesn't look good."

For a moment she feared he meant that her concentration had once again slipped, that the transforming spell had wavered and she had ceased to look like Brinna and had once more taken on her true form. But surely they would have reacted much more strongly if her entire appearance had changed. She tried to sit up, and Galvin pushed her back down.

He touched her ankle and she gasped at the pain. She smacked him as hard as she could, which she knew wasn't showing proper appreciation for his not letting her choke on her own vomit, but in any case it wasn't enough to make him let go.

Alan, standing at the top of the stairs with Kirwyn, called down, "Is it broken?"

"Difficult to say," Galvin answered.

"It's only sprained," Nola answered, hoping. "I'm all right. Truly. Let me up."

Galvin looked skeptical, but he helped her sit.

Her back ached, and her knees and shins and palms were sore, and her right foot definitely drooped at the end of her leg. "Just a sprain," she repeated, less sure now, but desperate to get up long enough to reach that bucket.

"Don't—," Galvin started as she struggled to get to her feet, but she swatted his hands away and leaned instead on Halig, who if he didn't look confident in her, at least seemed willing to let her cry.

She fought a wave of dizzy nausea, telling herself that her stomach was empty anyway. "There." She stood with her weight on her left foot, clinging to Halig, knowing that she would not be able to take even one step on that right foot. But she had maneuvered herself and the sergeant a couple steps closer to the bespelled bucket of water.

Be strong,
she admonished herself. While the spell for shadowforms would last as long as hair and bespelled water remained undisturbed, transforming spells lasted only while she concentrated. If she passed out, the spells that made her look like Brinna, and Brinna look like her mother, would dissolve. And yet she knew this was going to hurt like anything.

Since her right ankle would be unable to support her weight, she had to stand on her left foot. So she had only her injured right leg to work with. She took a steadying breath and a strong hold on her glamour, then—as though she fully planned to walk up those stairs—she swung her leg so that it smacked against the bucket. Colored lights exploded in the corners of her eyes, but she didn't faint.

Galvin swore, but it wasn't for seeing the shadowforms revealed. It was because she'd successfully upended the bucket and had—once again—soaked his leg in the process. But the bucket was upside down; that was the important thing. The spell that had been eavesdropping on the man with the blackberry field in Low Beck had ended.

"Sorry," she said, relief and pain and weakness conspiring to make her barely able to mumble the word. She became aware that it was only Halig's strong arm that had kept her from collapsing.

"Here...," Galvin said, and the next moment he'd picked her up and was climbing the stairs, which was so absurd it was embarrassing.

"Put me down," she protested.

"It's the only way
I'll
feel safe," Galvin told her. He carried her to Brinna's room and set her down gently on the bed. "Do you have anything to bind that ankle with?" he asked.

Alan went scurrying to get some cloths, while Kirwyn shook his head and complained, "If it isn't one thing, it's another."

"I'm sorry," Nola told him, told all of them for che trouble she was causing. But she'd be out of their lives soon.

"Broken or sprained," Galvin said, "you're going to have to stay off that foot for a while."

"
A while?
" Nola squealed. She was thinking of the farmer who had offered her a ride—
if
she was back at the market by noon. She was thinking of Brinna, looking like her mother. She was thinking of her mother, up to who-knew-what mischief. Nola tried to swing her legs off the bed, but Galvin pushed her back. She caught a glimpse of her ankle, which was swelling already. By concentrating on what a normal leg looked like, she could make her ankle appear neither bruised nor swollen, but that would do nothing for the pain. "I have things to do," she protested.

"What?" Calvin asked.

Since she couldn't very well say, "Go back to my mother before she gets herself into trouble," or "Leave before everyone realizes I'm a witch," she said the only thing she could think of: "Get the house ready for Sulis, who was to marry Innis and who doesn't know any of this and is on her way here."

In the voice of one who is reminding rather than informing, Galvin said, "Kirwyn sent word this morning and told her not to come. You were standing right there when he said so."

Nola licked her lips. "Maybe." For an excuse she added, "Sometimes I don't listen."

BOOK: Magic Can Be Murder
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