He wouldnt give over. It runs in your blood. Youve inherited the gift from your mams father.
I shook my head no. My grandfather was an ostler. An honest man.
He was a horse-charmer, if you remember well.
Tibbs voice summoned the memories. I was sat on Grand-Dads knee and he jostled me so that I could pretend I was riding a bouncy pony and all the while he chanted the Charm to St. George to ward horses from witchcraft. Enforce we us with all our might to love St. George, Our Ladys Knight. Grand-Dad died when I was seven, but hed taught my mam all his herbcraft for healing beast and folk alike, which she, in turn, had taught me, though Mam herself had no dealings in charms.
What a marvel. Grand-Dad working his blessings in the stables at Read Hall, beneath the Nowells very noses. He must have served them well, kept their nags healthy and sound, so that instead of reporting him for sorcery they became his protectors. Perhaps that, indeed, was why the Nowells had given Malkin Tower to Mamit did no good at all to vex a cunning man by treating his daughter ill.
Still the knowing made the sweat run cold down my back. To think that I carried this inside me. I could not say a word, only pray that Tibb would vanish again and leave me in peace.
My own Bess, do I need to give you a sign or two? Youll see what Ive said of Liza will come to pass. Now Ill give you more knowledge of the future. Before the moon is new again, Elsie will bear a son.
In spite of myself, I laughed. Any fool can see shes carrying a boy from the way shes bearing so high and wide. I dont need a slip of a lad like you telling me about wenches bearing babies.
My mocking didnt put Tibb off. He only coaxed me all the more. Theyll name the lad Christopher after his father and youll see your Kits father in the little lads face, my Bess. Youll feel so tender that the years of bitterness will melt away.
Tears came to my eyes when I remembered my lover who had given me such pleasure before he bolted off, never to show his face again, leaving me to bear my shame and endure an angry husband fit to flay me alive and the gossips wagging their tongues and pointing. My husband refused to give the baby his name, so that was why my Kit was named Christopher Holgate, not Southerns. As punishment for my sin, I was made to stand a full day in the pillory in Colne marketplace.
Thats not all I can tell you of your future, said Tibb, nestling close, his breath warming my face. In time, your Liza will marry an honest man who will love her in spite of her squint.
Fortune-tellings a sin, I squeaked. In this Curate and the priests of the old religion had always been of one mind. A dangerous thing, it was, to push back the veil and look into the future, for unless such knowledge came from a prophecy delivered by God, it came from the other place, the evil place, the Devil. Diviners and those who consulted them would be punished in hell by having their heads twisted backward for their unholy curiosity.
Still Tibb carried on in a voice I couldnt block out. Liza will give you three grandchildren.
How seductive he was. If only I could trust him and believe that my Liza would be blessed by the love of a good man, a happy family.
Her first-born daughter will be your joy, Tibb told me.
Youll love her till you forget yourself, my Bess. A pretty impudent lass with skin like cream. A beauty such as you were at her age. Shell be your very likeness and youll teach her the things that Ill teach you. His voice sang with his promise.
Excerpted from Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt. Copyright © 2010 by Mary Sharratt. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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