"Good night, Grumble."
"Until tomorrow, Sunday."
"Sunday, where have you been?"
Mama was a woman of few words, and those she was begrudgingly willing to part with could sting enough to make eyes water. She took one look at Sunday's skirt and answered her own question. "Dawdling in the Wood again. Well, I'm glad you decided to come back before the bugaboos made off with you. I'll thank you to take that spoon from your brother and get to stirring the pot. He's been at it long enough."
"Yes, Mama." Sunday removed the kerchief from her hair and slid her book into the pocket of her pinafore.
"Thanks, Sunday!" Trix happily handed over the spoon and scampered off to meet Papa, Peter, and Saturday at the edge of the Wood, at the end of their workday, just like he always did. For all that he was two years her senior, Trix looked and acted like he had stopped aging at twelve. His fey blood kept him from growing at the same rate as his foster siblings - ultimately, he'd outlive them all. His blood was also the reason he was allowed to tend the cows but never milk them. Trix had a way with animals, but milk from his bucket was always sour. And if Trix stirred a pot for too long, the stew would be... different. The outcome was never the same. The first time, the stew tasted of the "nest venison, with seasoned potatoes and wild mushrooms. The second time, it stank of vinegar. Mama never let Trix stir the pot for too long after that. She said the family didn't have enough food to go gambling it away, no matter how delicious the end result might be. Mama only ever bet on a sure thing.
Sunday worked the spoon absent-mindedly as she dreamt, scraping the bottom after every three turns. Mama checked on the bread in the oven. Friday set the table.
Most of Friday's dark hair was caught up into a knot, but several curls escaped, much like the halo of iron gray snakes around Mama's head. Friday had been mending - the straight pins in a row down the length of her sleeve gave her away - and she was wearing one of the patchwork skirts Sunday loved so much. Friday was deft with her needle, her own nameday gift from Fairy Godmother Joy. The fabric stallkeepers at the market gave their rags and remnants to the church in lieu of their tithe, and the church in turn gave them to Friday, along with measurements of any newly orphaned children and what articles of clothing they needed most. In return Friday kept whatever small pieces were left. Eventually, those pieces made up Friday's multicolored skirts. They were Sunday's favorite not just because they were so beautiful and lively, but because they were the result of many long hours spent toiling for the love of children her sister might never know.
"Go fetch Wednesday down from the tower," Mama told Friday as she set down the last fork. "Your father will be home any second."
Papa walked in the door as if on command, followed by a very weary Peter and a flushed and bright- eyed Saturday. Sunday imagined that on the verge of death, her workaholic sister would still be flushed and bright- eyed.
"Evening, my darlin'," Papa said as he hung his hat. "Fair weather today, so there was work aplenty. Wasn't much we left undone."
"Good, good," Mama said. "Go on, then, wash yourselves for dinner." Peter was too exhausted to argue. Saturday kissed her father on the cheek and scampered after her brother.
"Hello, my Sunday." Papa picked her up in his strong arms and spun her around. She hugged him tightly, breathing in his familiar scent of sweat and sap and fresh Wood air. "Any new stories today?"
"I wrote a little," she told him. "I mean to do more tonight."
"Words have power. You be careful."
"Yes, Mama." She couldn't ever mention her writing without this admonishment from her mother. Sunday tried not to be disrespectful and roll her eyes. Instead, she concentrated on Papa as he slowly lowered his large body into the chair at the head of the table. "What of your day, Papa? Did you find any new stories to tell?"
Excerpted from Enchanted by Alethea Kontis. Copyright © 2012 by Alethea Kontis. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 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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