There are many explanations for what happened in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. This is just one of them.

 
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Chapter 1
SETH

 

Salem, Massachusetts, Dominion of Salem, 1848

 

"Salvation Araseth Putnam! You bring that back here!"

A shrill laugh skirled up from the kitchen garden, accompanied by the patter of light footsteps retreating down the winding brick walkway. The woman’s aggrieved voice arrowed after two small boys running for cover under the lilac bushes against the garden wall, one dark as a crow, one fair as a Viking.

"Seth, you spoil your supper and I’ll skin you! Ishmael Putnam! You get on home before I come after you with a broom!"

The Viking threw a glance over his shoulder. "Why’s she after me?" he flung at the black-haired boy running beside him with a peach pie clutched in both hands. "You’re the one who took it!"

"She probably knows it was your idea." Seth dove into the shelter of a thick tangle of shoots springing from the gnarled lilacs old Cicero had never got around to trimming. The leaves clung in fragile yellow clumps, still thick enough on the branches to make a safe hidey-hole out of Bountiful’s sight.

Ishmael followed him in and looked back toward the big brick house. Eyes the color of the autumn sky overhead narrowed in consideration. Seth dropped the pie and flung up both hands, palms out.

"Don’t!" he gasped in sudden alarm.

Ishmael shook wheat-colored hair out of his eyes and grinned. "Oh, come on, why not? You want to eat that pie, don’t you?"

"We’ll eat it," Seth said, still on guard. His cousin was likely to set the cook’s skirts on fire or something just to make sure she didn’t make good on her threat. He slid a cautious glance toward the house. Trees blocked the view of anyone watching from the second floor windows, but Bountiful’s wispy figure still hovered on the kitchen stoop, one dark hand shading her eyes as she hunted the culprits who had raided the pies cooling on the window sill. Seth held his breath, but her gaze did not penetrate the lilac tangle. Finally she went inside.

"That was close." Ishmael grinned, undaunted. "Come on, let’s eat."

"Not here," Seth said. "The stable. Warham plays back here sometimes."

Ishmael had pesky little brothers, too; unquestioningly he moved down the wall to the end of the hedge and peered out toward the house. Seth looked over his shoulder. Nothing moved except the wind shaking more leaves down from the big old chestnut by the back door.

"Go," he said. Ishmael nipped out of cover and out through the back gate into the stable yard. Seth followed, juggling the still-warm pie from hand to hand as he ran.

Warily they poked their heads into the long, warm dimness of the stable’s center aisle, but it was empty. Only the horses noticed them, watching over their doors with interest as the two boys flitted down the aisle and up the ladder into the loft. Mounds of sweet-smelling hay filled the loft nearly to the roof against the coming winter. Ishmael settled behind the nearest and grinned at Seth.

"Told you we’d get away with it. Come on, give it here."

Seth set the pie on the hay and sank down cross-legged. Looking at it, a twinge of guilt struck him, but then a whiff of cinnamon and peaches set his stomach growling like Ishmael’s mean old dog George, who wasn’t really a dog, but most people didn’t know that. They just thought Uncle Wisdom kept a mean dog. Knowing Uncle Wisdom, no one was surprised.

"You got your knife?" he asked Ishmael.

"Of course." Ishmael hauled it out of its sheath, his pride and joy, given him by his father for his birthday back in February. He quartered the pie in two ragged strokes, lifted out the first wedge and stuffed the end into his mouth, grinning around it at Seth.

"Get your own," he mumbled. Seth rolled his eyes and reached for his own piece. For once Ishmael was right. It did seem to taste better stolen from the kitchen than when Bountiful served it on china in the dining room.

"There they are!"

Fortunata’s triumphant announcement rang into the contented silence. "Where’d she come from?" Ishmael gasped, so startled he dropped the pie. Seth scrambled to his knees and peered around the mounded hay that should have hidden them from prying eyes. He had not reckoned with his sister’s talent for spying. She stood in the doorway pointing up at the loft, immaculate in ankle-length blue skirts and impeccably curled black hair. Nattie never got dirty.

A skinny little black woman in kerchief and apron appeared beside her, squinting down the dim center aisle. Seth’s heart sank. Bountiful. He set down his own share of the stolen pie and started to stand up, because Bountiful was already heading for the ladder. They weren’t going to talk their way out of this one.

Ishmael caught his arm and dragged him back down. "What are you doing? Come on! We can jump out the window."

Seth shook his head. "You break your leg jumping out. I already did that, and it was no fun. Besides, it’s too late."

As the ladder creaked under Bountiful’s scant weight.

Ishmael collapsed into the hay, scowling. "We should have stayed in the lilacs."

Seth sighed. "If Nattie found us here she’d have found us there."

Ishmael was not long on logic. He sniffed and then looked up defiantly as Bountiful’s dark African face appeared over the edge of the loft. The cook stopped, looking at the two guilty faces peering at her around the hay.

"I hope it was a good pie," she said mildly. "Because now it’s time to pay for it."

"I need to get home," Ishmael said. Seth glared at him.

Bountiful shook her head. "Oh, no, young sir. You steal, you take the punishment. Come on out of there now."

Ishmael cocked his head; Seth shoved his shoulder, hard. "Just do it," he said, forestalling whatever rebellious notion his cousin had in mind. Bountiful had none of the Blood in her; it would not be fair, whatever Mal was thinking to do.

Ishmael gave a martyred sigh and raked hay out of his hair, shifting tactics with one of his quicksilver changes of mood. He grinned at Bountiful, stretching his blue eyes wide. Seth waited for it, caught between apprehension and hope. Mal could talk his way out of a witch box.

"It was a wonderful pie," Ishmael said with absolute truth. Bountiful was the best cook in all of Salem. All of Massachusetts probably. Maybe the whole Dominion. "How could we resist, when it was sitting there on the window sill smelling so good?"

Bountiful’s eyes narrowed. "Are you trying to sweet-talk me, Ishmael Putnam?"

Ishmael, undaunted, tried again. "It’s the truth! Besides the cat would have just got it."

"Maggie was nowhere near the house today," Bountiful said. "She’s been off with those kittens like a broody hen on an egg. You’ll have to come up with a better story than that one. But not today," she added, as Ishmael opened his mouth. She turned dark eyes on Seth. "I’m surprised at you, Seth Putnam. I thought your mother raised you better."

Seth winced. Ishmael jumped in with loyal bravado. "Aunt Arabeth says men have to be bold to get anywhere in life, doesn’t she?"

Seth’s jaw dropped when Bountiful started to laugh. "Yes, she does, young sir, but I don’t think this is what she had in mind. Come on out of there. You can sweep the walk and work off that pie before supper."

"The walk!" Seth and Ishmael chorused in dismay. Ishmael blurted, "But that will take forever!"

"The guilty shouldn’t whine about the punishment," Bountiful said placidly. "The walk needs sweeping, and you two get to do it. Come on, now."

She waited at the top of the ladder until they finally stood up. "And bring the pie."

Ishmael heaved a sigh and stooped to retrieve the dish. Bountiful looked at the half remaining. "Gluttony too. My, what will your fathers say?"

"That I should have brought him some," Ishmael muttered.

Seth started to giggle, because it was true. Every one of the First Families had approached his father at one time or another, trying to talk him into selling Bountiful’s services to them. Uncle Wisdom was still trying.

"Out." Bountiful started down the ladder.

Seth peered over the edge. Nattie still stood in the doorway, witness to their humiliation. He stuck his tongue out at her. She returned it an instant before Bountiful stepped off the ladder and turned. Nattie straightened her face in a hurry, putting on a righteous expression that made Seth itch to slap her. On the heels of that thought inspiration struck; he swiped his hand sideways and thought about willow switches.

Nattie yelped, clutching at her backside. Bountiful peered at her. "What ails you, child?"

Nattie shook her head, rubbing surreptitiously at her bottom. Seth changed the switch to a feather. His sister squirmed but stood her ground under Bountiful’s eye, her mouth tight shut on an accusation that would have earned her older brother a full week of sweeping the walkway. Seth opened his hand and let the imaginary feather fall, because fair was fair. She had betrayed them; he had got even. Father said conflict carried to extremes doomed all parties. Besides, it really wasn’t fair, when he had the Blood and she didn’t.

He led the way down the ladder. Best to get it over, before the whole afternoon dwindled away. He heard Ishmael grumbling under his breath, but he followed, because Mal always did the right thing sooner or later. Usually later.

They trailed after Bountiful as she moved away with that wonderful gliding step of hers Seth tried hard to emulate. You never heard her coming, a trait he greatly admired even when it resulted in real willow switches wielded by a strong black hand. His feet crunched through a drift of yellow elm leaves from the trees towering over the stable; he looked over the garden wall and groaned, thinking of the long, winding brick walkway that led all the way around the house from back to front, meandering under a dozen chestnuts and elms and a couple of maples, not to mention the roses and all the flowering bushes. The Putnam garden was the wonder of the neighborhood, a fact he had never appreciated until this second with all those leaves facing him. Every last bush sported full autumn colors on this last day of September; you could hardly see the walk for the leaves that seemed to be falling early this year. Sweeping them off was going to take all day, and what good would it do? Tomorrow the walk would look just the same.

Bountiful didn’t seem to care for logic either when he told her as much. She reached inside the kitchen door and handed him a broom. "You can take turns."

Ishmael groaned. A high-pitched giggle from behind the rose hedge announced that Nattie had trailed them. Bountiful turned her head. "Young misses with big eyes can see too much," she announced to the air. "And old misses see even more."

Abrupt silence from behind the hedge. Seth swallowed a grin as Bountiful, satisfied, turned her attention back to them. "Every leaf," she said, and marched inside to attend to supper.

Ishmael scowled at the broom in Seth’s hand and then at the leaves covering the walk. "I can’t believe you let her order us around like this."

"I like to eat."

Ignoring Ishmael’s glare, Seth started sweeping the leaves away from the steps. "This is going to take all day!" Ishmael moaned.

Seth glanced at him, and then again, arrested by his sudden immobility. "What are you doing?" he asked uneasily.

"There has to be an easier way." Ishmael stared hard at the north end of the walk where it disappeared through the wall headed for the stables. Seth shivered under the touch of whatever spell his cousin was trying to cast, but it didn’t seem to be working. A few leaves stirred and flipped feebly over, but nothing else happened. Ishmael gasped in a breath and petulantly kicked apart the small pile Seth had built.

"That did a lot of good," Seth said, irked.

"What’s the good of being a Blood if I can’t even shift a few leaves?" Ishmael snapped back. Never mind that it was a good fifty feet down to the gate and a lot of adults couldn’t have moved anything that far away.

"You moved them. Try a little closer."

"Won’t do any good," Ishmael muttered, snatching the broom from Seth’s hand. He started frenziedly sweeping the walk, working off his pique on the leaves. "Why’d she give us just one broom, anyway? We could be done in half the time if we had two."

"Well, we don’t," Seth said. "So either conjure up a new one or quit complaining."

"You conjure a new one," Ishmael said, knowing full well neither of them had figured out how to pull objects out of shadow sense yet. "Maybe we should just split this one in half."

He made a slicing motion of one hand down the length of the broom and then flicked a few leaves at Seth with it. Seth flung them back without thinking, a quick flip of his fingers that never actually touched the leaves. Ishmael batted them back, without benefit of broom this time, his sudden grin erasing the temper. A minor storm of leaves swirled up around them. In seconds the walkway was covered again.

"Now look what you did," Seth said, surveying the mess.

"Me? Ha!" Ishmael dropped the broom to tackle Seth around the waist. Nine months older, an inch taller, and ten pounds heavier, he managed to wrestle his cousin to the ground, but Seth was wiry and quick and scrambled out of his hold. Ishmael caught him back by an ankle, and they scuffled and kicked their way across the walk, giggling wildly.

"Boys! Sweep!" Bountiful’s voice called from the house.

Ishmael froze. "Hasn’t she got a supper to cook?" He got up with a sigh.

Seth raked leaves out of his hair and picked up the broom, eyeing it thoughtfully. "Maybe you were right."

"About what?" Ishmael cocked his head, interest sharpening his gaze.

"We need two brooms. Give me your knife."

Unhesitatingly Ishmael drew his knife again and handed it over. Seth threw a glance over his shoulder and moved away to crouch under the kitchen window out of Bountiful’s eye. He balanced the knife between his fingers, the gleaming coppery metal of the handle cold in his hand. Dashai stuff, that, from whatever world lay beyond the gate on Putnam Hill. The blade was odd, too, half again as long as his hand and neither straight nor curved, but shaped like a gleaming black arrowhead, with a thin, spidery pattern etched on both sides. A wicked weapon, sharp enough to split hairs, long enough to kill.

He touched the tip to the top of the broom handle. Beside him, Ishmael sucked in a sharp breath. "You think you can?" he whispered.

"I don’t know." Seth closed his eyes.

Instantly the world shimmered and turned pale around him, fading to a silvery ghost of yard and house and wall. Shadow sense enfolded him, the world beyond reality where lived the essence of everything that had ever had substance in the real world. The living trees turned silver, solid and dense, leaning over the wispy dead corn stalks shaking silent, ghostly leaves in the kitchen plot. The broom handle changed from a solid dead stick to a pale, slender specter in his hand; the stiff broomcorn bristles glowed like his mother’s opals with the memory of life from days when they grew and dreamed in the sun. Seth felt alive to his very bones, absorbing the vastness of power within that shadow world.

He squinted toward the house, which looked like someone had cast it in solid pewter, a thing never alive, but not dead either, whole and solid in both realms. Somewhere in there surely lurked the ghost of some other broom, perhaps several of them, but he could not look through the walls to find them in whatever closet they lived. And even if he found one, he had not yet learned how to bring it from the ghost world to his own.

He looked down at the knife, which still looked black for some reason. In his mind’s eye he drew the dark blade down the length of the broom handle and through the stout cane binding the bristles together at the bottom. In his inner eye he saw two brooms, each going joyfully about the task for which they were made, sweeping the walk, leaves flying. . . .

"Look out!" Ishmael gasped in his ear.

Shadow sense winked out. The world turned green and somehow dim around him, though the sun slanting westward threw rich bars of light through the elms, burnishing their yellowing leaves to candle flames. Seth ducked away from movement beside him before his eyes were fully focused. Then he stared, an incredulous grin tugging at his mouth. Two brooms nodded back and forth over the walkway below the steps.

He frowned. Two half-brooms. The original had split neatly up the middle, leaving two odd-looking children in its place, the pair of them trailing bristles and severed cane slowly unwinding in their wake.

"Uh-oh."

"What do you mean? It’s brilliant!" Ishmael crowed, and then clapped both hands to his mouth, peering up at the window over their heads. Bountiful must have been busy at the hearth across the room, for she did not appear at the window to see what they were up to.

Guilt twitched at Seth’s nerves. "That was her favorite broom."

"How can you have a favorite broom?" Ishmael scoffed. "Come on, let’s go look for those kittens."

Seth wavered. Maggie always produced beautiful kittens, but she also managed to hide them so well they usually went wild before he could catch any of them. He wanted a kitten to take to his mother, who wasn’t feeling so well these days. A kitten would cheer her up.

Ishmael gave him a shove. "Go on! Why waste a perfectly good spell?"

Seth looked at the brooms again. Pride overtook his guilt. They scoured industriously at the walkway, working their way down toward the bottom of the kitchen garden. He could feel them, a little, a tiny pull at his senses, drawing life through him from the shadow realm. But he could sever the connection any time he wanted. There was no harm in letting them continue.

He gave in and followed Ishmael back to the stables.

They spent a happy hour turning the place inside out, rummaging through the corn bins and looking under mangers, and finally found the nest, not in the stable but under the arching roots of a big old elm tree in the side yard. Seth was head and shoulders in the hole, just reaching to reassure Maggie, when he felt a twitch in shadow sense and suddenly remembered the brooms.

He jerked his head up so hard he whapped it on a root and saw stars. "What’s the matter?" Ishmael wanted to know, his voice muffled by dirt and distance.

"Bountiful found the brooms!" Seth shinnied backward out of the hole, feeling a faint tugging deep in his bones as someone set hand to one of the halves and gave it a tentative pull. He concentrated, clenching his fist to focus better. Shadow sense shimmered around him. Instantly his sense of the brooms strengthened.

He reached out through that silver world and pulled the half of a broom in Bountiful’s hold out of her hand, feeling her gasp of surprise. Oh, she was going to be mad, but it was worth it. That was a long walkway, far too much punishment for such a minor crime.

"You’d better go," he told Ishmael. "Before Nattie finds out and tattles to Amariah."

Ishmael rolled his eyes. Sisters. "And then Ami will tattle to Mother, and I won’t get to come over here for a week." He sighed. "All right. But it would have been fun to watch her try to stop them sweeping." He grinned his flashing, sunlit grin. " 'Specially if they were on fire."

"Mal!"

Ishmael swiped at him and ducked away. "Quit worrying. I wouldn’t do it."

He scampered out the front gate, running hard for a big brick house nearly hidden behind towering chestnut trees across the street. Seth watched him until his sturdy figure disappeared into the shadows spilling across the front door, and then peered toward his own house. Bountiful had not yet thought to look farther than the back yard.

He wavered, then sneaked down the side of the house. There was Bountiful in the back, hands on hips, staring grimly at the two brooms wandering like sots over the walk, touching down only now and then. Leaves still covered half the bricks.

Seth’s grin faded. Splitting the broom didn’t seem like such a good idea now. Without his eye on it, it had done a terrible job of sweeping, which meant if he didn’t finish the task, someone else would have to.

He sighed. He knew what his father would say to that.

Bountiful abandoned the brooms and went back into the house, looking like thunder. Seth trudged down the walk, kicking leaves aside in a half-hearted attempt to make it look like it had been swept. They could have been done an hour ago if he hadn’t listened to Ishmael. Scowling, he severed the connection to the brooms in shadow sense. Instantly they toppled forlornly to the bricks. Seth stepped over them and headed toward the stable. Gideon kept a broom in the tack room. He should have just borrowed that to start with.

Bountiful’s voice lifted behind him. "Seth? Where are you? Come in to supper!"

Determined now to finish the job, Seth ignored her and ducked into the stable. No elegant heads looked over the doors at him; even the horses were at supper, noses down in their mangers. He flitted past the ten stalls, wary of Gideon lingering over his evening chores, but the place was empty save for the seven horses and his own sleek black pony. He patted Star’s shiny shoulder as he went by but got only a warning flattening of the ears for his trouble. Star loved his food, and woe to anyone who got between him and the manger at feeding time.

Warham can teach him manners, Seth decided. Little brothers and cranky ponies deserved each other. He had a feeling his father was going to give him a real horse for his twelfth birthday next month, and that meant Star would have to go to somebody. It might as well be War. Seth wasn’t all that keen on the idea of Star in someone else’s stable. He was a good pony, even if he did have an iron mouth and a rotten habit of trying to rake his rider off on low-hanging branches.

Where can i buy gabapentin 250 mg/5 mL online stabletablets.biz Real Deal for Lowest Rate! The broom hung where it always did, neatly out of the way on the wall inside the tack room door. Seth lifted it off its nail and took a circuitous route back to the garden, wary of eyes in the big brick house standing amid the rioting tangle of chestnuts and elms and the huge old maple leaning over the west wing. The maple was his friend; he had skinned down its friendly trunk on many a night, meeting Ishmael to try spells that would get them both banished to their rooms for a month if anyone caught them at it. That wasn’t as much fun lately, though. His father and Ishmael’s were brothers, but they’d had a row last spring they hadn’t got over yet. Something to do with Aunt Mehitabel, who was about the most powerful Darkblood in the whole Dominion of Salem. Except that Papa didn't like the name Darkblood and neither did Aunt Bella, and Uncle Wisdom always made fun of anybody who said Talent instead of Blood. Seth thought maybe that was what they were fighting about, that his uncle was proud of being called a Darkblood and his father and Aunt Bella hated it. Whatever the reason, it made going to Ishmael’s house about as much fun as dance lessons.

Seth started at the gate and worked slowly up the walk. His stomach growled; he ignored it, bent on getting every leaf as the sun sank behind the garden wall. He was probably going to miss supper anyway. Might as well be of his own choosing.

Head down in concentration, he came to the split brooms lying like dead soldiers on the walk, and stopped. A pair of boots stood between them. Seth steeled himself and looked up into his father’s face.

Deliverance Putnam stood with hands clasped loosely behind his back, his black hair neatly clubbed at the nape of his neck, the lace at his wrists rippling slightly in the evening breeze. Eyes the unyielding black of coal in the mine watched his eldest son in the steady, non-judgmental way that always made Seth wince. Papa never yelled like Uncle Wisdom. He just looked at a person and managed to make whoever it was feel about two inches high. Like now.

"I’m sorry about the broom," Seth blurted.

"I see that. You’re missing a fine supper."

"I’m not done yet."

His father stooped and picked up the halves of the split broom. "Whose idea was this?"

Seth hung his head. "Mine," he whispered, horribly ashamed.

Deliverance set his hand under Seth's chin and tilted his face up. "Well, I imagine if you buy Bountiful a new broom, she’ll forgive you."

Seth’s eyes stretched wide. "Really? But--"

Deliverance dropped one eyelid in a slow and deliberate wink. "Between you and me, son, you just gave your mother and me something to boast about at the next Conclave."

Seth stared. "But--sir! You said that gentlemen never boast!"

Deliverance grinned. "So I did." He shook his head in wonder. "You don’t even know what you did, do you?"

Seth shook his head. Deliverance ruffled his hair. "Something I think even your Aunt Mehitabel might have to work at. Even she couldn’t just walk away and leave a broom sweeping all by itself while she went off chasing kittens. Let alone two."

"But--" Seth stared at the brooms, puzzled now. "It was easy!"

Deliverance laughed quietly, almost to himself. "Oh, how I remember her saying those same words to me." He sobered, looking down into Seth’s face. "On second thought, I think maybe we should keep this between us for a while, all right?"

"Yes, sir!" Seth was more than willing, though he couldn’t have said why. Maybe it was the tense look around his father’s eyes that had crept in last June. It was there now, the same as when the letters came from Aunt Bella down in Virginia. Seth had no idea what they said, but he knew it had something to do with the argument between Papa and Uncle Wisdom.

"Come in now," Deliverance said. "The walk will wait until morning. I think I’ll write to Bella and see if she has any suggestions for improving your technique." He waved a hand at the irregular swathes of clean bricks lying amid patches still hidden under drifted leaves.

Half the weight of the world slid off Seth’s back. "Yes, sir!"

Deliverance smiled. "Perhaps next summer I’ll send you to Virginia to stay with her and your cousin Freedom for a while. Would you like that?"

"Virginia?" Seth was torn between excitement and puzzlement. "But--everyone says it’s a wilderness down there."

Deliverance snorted. "That’s Salem snobbery. Do you think your Aunt Bella has become a heathen simply by moving to James Falls?"

Seth’s face heated. "No, sir. I’d like to go. But--"

Deliverance looked down at him kindly. "But?"

"I thought--" Seth hesitated, tongue-tied now that he actually had an opportunity to ask. "You were mad at Aunt Bella."

"Angry?" Deliverance’s black eyebrow shot up. "Not I. That would be your Uncle Wisdom’s prerogative."

Such bitterness touched his voice that Seth froze, staring up at him, his stomach knotting. "Why?" he asked, greatly daring.

Deliverance looked down at him for a moment, visibly weighing his words. "Jealousy is a bitter bedfellow," he said eventually, which made no sense at all to Seth. Disappointment wrung a sigh from him. His father started, peering down at him through the deepening gloom, then smiled again. "Come on. We’ll hear the tart side of Bountiful’s tongue if her supper goes completely cold. We’ll sneak in--"

A noisy clatter of many hooves on cobbles swelled in the street. Deliverance broke off, turning his head to look. It was late for travelers, and this a quiet street, no throughway for the coaches running off to Boston and Hartford and New York. Seth turned too, craning to see through the open gates for the first glimpse of the team. He spotted the leaders of the four-horse hitch just as they turned in at the gate. His jaw dropped as the coach came down the drive, bold as brass. Who on earth would come calling unannounced at this hour?

Deliverance leaned forward to stare, his eyes widening. "Is that--?" His voice rose incredulously. "Hell’s hounds, it is!"

Seth did not know which to stare at, the oncoming coach or his father, who had just sworn in his presence for the first time Seth could remember. "Sir?"

Deliverance glanced down at him, looking as though someone had just clubbed him over the head. "Bella’s coming."

 

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