If Crows Know Best (Mage of Merced Book 1)

BOOK: If Crows Know Best (Mage of Merced Book 1)
3.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub










Mage of Merced Volume I


By Aimee L. Gross








Moon Road Press

Topeka, Kansas




This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, places and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.




This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author, except for minor passages used for the purpose of review.



First Edition

First Printing: 2014





Text Copyright © 2014 Aimee L. Gross

Cover, Illustrations and Interior Design Copyright © Aimee L. Gross

All rights reserved.




Library of Congress Number: 2014919945



Moon Road Press

6501 SW Vorse Road

Auburn, KS 66402





To my husband, a good man who just keeps getting better.

Also to our children, who loved all the stories and clamored for more.







What possessed my brother Wils to want to get married, I never claimed to know, but he did ask Annora to come to our mountain and be his wife. I went with him the day he first met her. That morning was the start of my life being turned over like a drying hay-row, and me getting tasked with the care and keeping of his bride. Along with a great deal more, besides.

I walked around the corner of the shed and saw him snatch up the hind leg of the smallest kid in the goat pen.

“What are you doing with the puny one?” I asked him. “You’re not going to butcher it, are you?”

“I’m taking it down to the village, to that girl I heard cures animals,” he said, swinging the squirming kid onto his shoulders. “Get the gate, can you?”

I opened the gate and stuck out my leg to keep the other goats from barging through with Wils. “She’s going to fix it with magic? I’m coming, too.”

“I don’t know what you’d be needed for, Judian. You can do my chores while I’m gone, soon as you finish yours.”

“And I don’t know why I’d want to do your work—I want to see her do magic. If we can get a decent goat for a sickly one, that is worth seeing. What if I could learn how to fix animals?”

Wils sighed and gave over arguing with me quicker than usual. So, we set off together down the sloping track to the village. Morie saw us go by the yard and came running over from the barn, calling out that she wanted to come along.

“Your legs are too short,” I told her, true enough because of being only four years old. “I’m not carrying you back up here. You need to take water out to Da come noon, anyway.” I pointed at the midmorning sun. “When you see the sun straight overhead.”

She pouted while we walked on. Wils shifted the bleating kid and held its hooves in either hand on his chest so it would be still. Soon its head hung low, drowsing. A scrawny thing, it never had fed well although the nanny had plenty of milk.

A warm breeze made walking pleasant, and for a further pleasure I would see something new instead of doing the same old chores at home. When I said as much, Wils rolled his eyes and said, “You always think you have to do more than your share, anyway.” As it was perfectly true that I was the most burdened with work, I ignored Wils and listened instead to crows mobbing an owl in the trees beside the road. Three of them, cawing like mad and rushing at the branch where the owl perched, hunched and glowering. The crows never give up until an owl flees, I knew, no matter how long they must torment the larger bird. Da once said that crows think they have final say in all matters.

Wils told me as we walked how Annora had come to the village to live with her Uncle Werrel and Aunt Lorneh when her grandmother passed, and how before long folks were saying if you had a sick calf or dog or any sort of animal, take it to see Annora; she has “a way” with all manner of creature. As if animals told her what ailed them. When we came upon her home place, she stood in the kitchen garden, picking herbs, with the sun on her hair and her skirts tucked up to keep dry. I saw the look on Wils’s face, as if he’d been struck on the temple with a thick branch. And that was the end of him having any sense, exactly then.

“Bring her over by the shed, there’s a bench,” Annora said.

How did she know the kid was a female? Before she even looked?

So, over we went, and she sat and ran her hands over the kid while we stood, and Wils started talking to her like I never heard him talk to another person inside our family or out of it. The kid nudged her hands and bleated at her like she was its mother, and she let it suck her fingers while Wils yattered on until he said something that made her laugh. I heard him talking to Da about it later that night by the hearth fire. The way he would have given anything to make her laugh again, it was so fair to hear. Da nodding and smoking his pipe.

She never said what was wrong with our kid that first day, but she gave it a dose of spicy-smelling brew by dipping a rag in the bowl and letting the kid suck it off the twisted end. If Wils had been quiet for a moment
I could have asked her, maybe, what was in the stuff. Or if it was even magic, because it didn’t give off sparks or mist or anything. She told us that one dose would fix our kid, and didn’t it scamper around and suck up like mad when we got home. Wils never noticed, pining already for Annora, I reckon. From then on, if he wasn’t down there trailing around after her, he was at home being utterly useless. Staring off down the town road and wishing, I’m supposing, that he was in her company.

Wils making tracks to the village to see her every chance he could meant he was never at hand, for tending goats and all the other work that fell on me instead. Da just laughed whenever I would huff about it, and told me, “Judian, he’s a fine full-grown lad and she’s caught his heart. And isn’t she better than all the village girls who’ve been up here making calf’s eyes at him?”

That would always make me snort, to remember the other village girls trailing around and sighing after Wils. He didn’t give them much to hope for one way or another, Da said, but to me Wils never seemed as put out with them as he should have been. As I would have been. As I
when Da said girls would soon be coming up to trail around after me. For every time Wils came round a corner or looked up from cutting feed, there lurked another girl, simpering, “Hullo, Wils, isn’t it hot?” Or “windy” or “wet” or anything plainly obvious. So, at least Annora never did that, which made me like the idea of her some better. And, she could do magic.

After I’d done most all the work around our place for the entire summer, then he decides to ask her to be his wife. Apples and pears were coming on, even Morie was supposed to be helping in the orchard, though she was generally more of a hazard. A couple of village girls had come up to see Wils, but word about him becoming an idiot had spread round and they looked a bit pouty when they told him it was a warm day, wasn’t it.

“It is,” he allowed. “I hope the weather holds for my wedding, and all.”

That went over well.

“They say she’s talking to animals all the time. Don’t you know what that makes her?” said the dark girl, whose name was Jilly.

“You must be bewitched,” suggested her friend, who had a shiny pink face—Gefretta, the smithy’s daughter.

“I expect I am bewitched, then.” Wils went on picking apples.

“You’re never really marrying her, are you?” said Jilly.

“Is she coming to live here?” asked Morie, eyes wide with fear. Wils lets her get away with anything, while Da’s out working fields. What if she had to mind? And do chores?

“Is anybody going to pick up any apples? And who cares where you live, I’ll still end up doing everything,” I said.

“She’ll come here,” Wils told Morie.

“Splendid,” I said. “Maybe she can witch apples into their baskets. And turn little sisters into rabbits.”

Morie shrieked and threw her apron over her head, together with the paltry few apples in it, one of which clapped the pink-faced girl in the nose. That marked the first time I heard Wils laugh since he became a fool over Annora. Wils offered his handkerchief to help the girl mop up, her nose was gushing buckets of blood. The two girls tried to act dignified instead of furious, but as Wils kept laughing (and I did, too) they gave us up and stalked off down to the village road. Morie watched them go, and said “She has a lots of blood,” which made us laugh again.

Annora’s Uncle Werrel made the long climb up to talk with Da about Wils’s offer for his niece. He was the hairiest man I ever saw; sandy red hair fuzzed out from his head and chin and up out of the neck of his tunic, front
and back
. His arms were frizzy, his fingers, his knuckles even. His face flushed red and dripped sweat, for it was a warm day. Da gave him apple cider and a seat in the shade of the nut tree. I busied myself setting onions out to dry near enough to hear them work around to what he came to discuss.

“You do understand she brings no dowry? She lived all those years with her gran, after her folks died in the South War.”

“Bad times,” agreed Da.

“Her father was my brother, but she went to live with the grandmother on his wife’s side, no blood relation to us. She hadn’t much to come to our doorstep with, and no bride price tucked in the hem of her skirt.”

“That is not news to deter Wils, I believe.”

“He does seem to have a bad dose of it, eh?” Werrel said with satisfaction. “Not that her skills with stock won’t be an asset wherever she lands.”

“Oh, has she been turning a profit for your homestead these months?” Da asked mildly.

“Nah,” he hurried to say. “All and sundry drag animals to her and she doesn’t ask a copper for the cures. Some come round without animals, or with sound ones, as she is a treat to look on.” He gave what I thought was a sly wink.

“So Wils says,” nodded Da.

“And she seems to think he’s a match. I have no reason to stand in the way of the young ones’ plans, see.”

He indeed seemed all too ready to be shed of her, to my mind.

“Shall they plan the wedding for a month from now?” Da said in the same even, affable way as ever he had, while squinting out over the stony slope to the road.

“Well, to be sure, if that’s what they wish. My wife and I won’t be able to put on a wedding for them, see. We haven’t the means to set it out. And her being the niece and all, and not the daughter of the house…” he let his voice trail off with a shrug.

“Likely they’ll marry in Bale Harbour then, and come on up here to settle in. We’ll have a bit of a gathering for them, if you and Lorneh would like to come up and raise a glass to the newlyweds.” Da paused.
For Werrel to squirm?
“Nothing fancy, just a table under the trees, some of the young wine and a wedding meal.”

“Ah, of course if you think so, we’ll do our best to join in.” Werrel wanted to go now—he was stirring in his wooden chair. He drained his cup and held it out.

“More?” said Da, imperturbable as ever. Like a thick tree in the wind. But Werrel was on his way before I set another onion out, fanning himself with his hat and stepping double-quick.

“Where’s your brother?” asked Da, watching our visitor’s back.

“Up in the northeast pasture fixing fence.”

“Go along up and tell him he’s to be married in a month. With the blessing of all concerned, by the gods.”

“And the good riddance for his bride from others, it seemed like.”

“Mmm. We’ll not look for good grace where there is none to be found. Off you go then, Judian.”


So, the month passed, all of us were scrubbed raw, the wagon decorated with bittersweet vines and stalks of grain and the lot of us drove down to collect his bride. Virda, our neighbor downslope for many years, came to help set out the wedding meal for later. Since Mum passed, Virda often came and kept Morie and me when Da and Wils went off to markets. She was stout and practical and had raised a dozen sons who all went off to sea like their da. She annoyed me by calling me a “poor lamb” since I had no mum anymore, but she was a fine cook.

Wils had told me his thoughts about getting married, when I asked him if he would get any sense and purpose after since he surely had none now. He couldn’t laugh enough, and said I’d learn one day what it meant to want someone there at the open and close of every day, to tell things to that you never thought you’d tell anyone. I will avoid it, if that means mooning around like Wils. He said it wasn’t as if the village girls all came up to flirt with him because he was such a good-looking man. Though he is, tall and lean with dark wavy hair and black-dark eyes. All of us are dark. He said it was because we had the largest, richest place in the province, and he looked to inherit it. I had not thought of this. “Does Annora want to be the richest matron in the land, then?”

“No,” he said, “she doesn’t seem to care at all. She likes the idea of coming here, but mostly just because of me.” That led him to blush, which honestly I had never seen before. It was disturbing.

He seemed quite as imperturbable as Da driving down to get her, though. All the dark looks we got going through the village, from the girls who watched him slipping away, did not even catch his eye. On we passed between the high brushy banks of the harbour town road, to her Uncle’s place on the north side at the edge of our village, with Wils and Da straight-backed on the seat, and Morie drowsing with her head on my knees in the wagon bed.

BOOK: If Crows Know Best (Mage of Merced Book 1)
3.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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