have something for you.”
As I joined her, curious and tense because she rarely gave me gifts, she drew a narrow box out from under the bed. Polished dark wood, it was plain and elegant, and sealed all around with a line of wax. I breathed in quickly, the only sign of my surprise. That box had not been under my bed three nights ago when I shoved a bundle of nettles in the far corner for protection from ghosts.
Mother caressed the lid, scratching her nails against the smooth wood. “I made this for you, and it’s to be our secret.” She reached for me and tucked hair behind my ear. Her own blond curls were trimmed just under her chin, always behaving the way she told them to with oil and spray.
“A secret?” I’d never kept secrets from Arthur.
Her smile was knowing. “Arthur wouldn’t mind, but that wife of his …” Something I didn’t understand flickered through her eyes. “She would be appalled, Mab, and take it away, blame me for corrupting you.” Mother laughed. “But you’re old enough now for trouble. Not here, of course, with Arthur. But off his land, there are monsters that wear masks of men, and they will want you—you’re my daughter, and women like us attract it.” Her eyes unfocused and she looked through me, to some distant past or memory I couldn’t reach. “Power in our veins, the will to use it. They’ll always find us and try to take advantage.”
I touched her cheek, and she blinked out of her memory. “So, here are weapons for you.” With her thumbnail she broke the wax seal. The lid opened with a puff of cinnamon-smelling air, and I leaned into it, shivering. Tiny vials lined half of it in rainbow colors, there were braided ribbons, and a thin silver dagger.
To me it seemed nothing more than a simple beginner’s kit, but Mother explained to me what the vials contained—they were no basic ingredients, like salt or ground quartz. No, there was purifying vesta powder, the poisonous yew crystals, and blinding sand. A clear bottle of belladonna. Rust-red carmot, which Arthur had told me of but I’d never seen before—thedelicate potion made from blood witches’ bones that would let us live young forever. Mother had braided the ribbons with bits of her own hair to make them strong as steel, and with the silver dagger she cut off strands of my hair. Together we braided it into the ribbons, and into pieces of her hair. She pricked my middle finger and told me to squeeze painful drops onto each of the cork stoppers so that my blood would diffuse into the potions and powders.
We huddled on the floor of my bedroom, me and my mother, tying all the dangerous spells inside that box to my power, to my spirit, until they could never be used against me, but only toward my protection. I remembered how Mother’s breath fell soft and warm on my cheek, and the smell of her magic as she kissed my finger to heal it. In the dim light, with a single flickering candle, my bedroom became a secret underworld for that afternoon hour, filled with dark and delicious magic.
It was everything opposite of this bright kitchen, where Donna and Lukas and I made bread and charms, where Granny Lyn had danced and Arthur had lifted me once onto the table to hang Christmas streamers.
My mother was gone, and I better understood now that she’d been one of those monsters.
But even she had never used me the way Lukas’s father had used him. She wouldn’t have spent time contemplating how to break the black candle rune, or studying it. My mother would have gone straight to Lukas’s father and cut out his heart to break the curse.
I almost regretted that wasn’t an option for me.
Friday after school, I crashed out onto the soccer field.
I’d been warming up on the track when something light and soft hit the top of my head and fell behind me. A red practice jersey.
“Hey, Hero, up for a scrimmage?” Matt jogged up alongside me.
I scowled at him but slowed down, feet beating steady on the soft