Salem, Massachusetts, Dominion of Salem, 1848
"Salvation Araseth Putnam! You bring that back
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
"Seth, you spoil your supper and I’ll skin you!
Ishmael Putnam! You get on home before I come after you with a
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,
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
Seth winced. Ishmael jumped in with loyal bravado. "Aunt
Arabeth says men have to be bold to get anywhere in life, doesn’t
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
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
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
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!"
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
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
"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
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.
"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
"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
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
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
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.
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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
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
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
Deliverance grinned. "So I did." He shook his head
in wonder. "You don’t even know what you did, do
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
"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
"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.
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
Deliverance snorted. "That’s Salem snobbery. Do you
think your Aunt Bella has become a heathen simply by moving to
Seth’s face heated. "No, sir. I’d like to go.
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
"Angry?" Deliverance’s black eyebrow shot up.
"Not I. That would be your Uncle Wisdom’s
Such bitterness touched his voice that Seth froze, staring up
at him, his stomach knotting. "Why?" he asked, greatly
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