Queen Of Wands – Part 4
“Tamatha.” Papa’s voice filled the small parlor, making his presence known as if every word he spoke was from a pulpit.
Tamatha gasped. Her head jerked from the tangle of needlework with a start. “Yes?”
“A word in my study,” he said and ducked out. The swish of his cassock trailed behind him as he shuffled away.
She shifted on the uncomfortable wooden seat and tugged at the nest of strings. The needle slipped yet drew no blood as it jabbed her finger. With a ragged sigh, Tamatha slammed the hoop and cloth down beside her. “Retched threads.”
Sinking her face into her palms, she resisted another fit of tears. The skin beneath her eyes was soft and swollen under her fingertips. She’d lost count of the sleepless nights since plague took her William and then her Abigail. They were defenseless against the disease, not lasting more than a week each, yet Tamatha was tortured with survival.
She rose, adjusted her coif, and straightened beneath the ever-present weight on her shoulders. Each footstep toward the vicar’s study felt like a battle as if Tamatha trudged through thick mud.
A mouse skittered along the floorboard beside her, avoiding damp puddles where holes in the thatched roof let in the rain. With no heir and no connection to William’s estate, Tamatha gratefully accepted Papa’s offer to run his modest rectory. But tasks such as picking a new tomcat and hiring a roofer required more strength than she could muster. The mice lived among them now, and water seeped deep into the foundation.
The door squealed when she pushed it, but Papa’s quill continued its scratching. The setting sun cast an ochre glow over half-empty shelves along the walls. Tamatha’s brows wrinkled; her head tipped to one side. Stacks of dusty tomes lined the walls beneath the shelves like soldiers awaiting instruction. Yet their general continued his correspondence.
A single taper flickered in its brass holder on Papa’s writing table, and he seemed not to notice the embers growing cold in the hearth. Tamatha cleared her throat as she moved toward it. “You wished to see me, Papa?”
“Ah, yes. I’m just finishing the sermon. I will be making an announcement this Sabbath to which you should be privy.” He opened a hand toward a small wooden chair, but she waved him off, adding a lump of coal to the hearthstone. As she stirred and prodded, the flames leaped to life, warming the chilly room.
“I have consulted with Lord Winthorpe on a subject that has confounded me for months, and we have reached a solution.”
“A solution?” Tamatha sat back from the fire, searching her foggy mind for a problem that required the patron of their small rectory. She perched on the edge of the chair and slid her hands over her apron.
Papa steepled his fingers in front of his mouth and pressed his lips together as he often did before delivering a lecture. “I have decided that we — you and I — will go to the colonies. Winthorpe has agreed to sponsor the journey.”
“I… I beg your pardon?” Tamatha let out a stiff laugh. “In all my life, you have never held any interest in the colonies. Papa, is this a jest?”
“It is no jest, my dear. I am quite serious. I feel called to evangelize in the new world.”
Her throat clenched, and the last of her already shallow breath escaped. “But… but, why? When all the rumors we’ve had are of nothing but starvation, disease, and conflict with natives.”
“All the more reason to go. I must bring the good word to the darkest places.”
The weight on her shoulders sank to Tamatha’s chest. It wrapped around her rib cage like clutching fingers. Leaping to her feet, Tamatha nearly toppled the chair behind her. “No. It’s far too dangerous. I will not go!”
The room grew warmer as the small fire raged into an inferno, burning white-hot on the hearthstone. A bead of sweat trickled down Tamatha’s spine.
“You will go because you must,” he said firmly, his eyes fixed on hers. “It has already been decided. Winthorpe is sending along three servants. We will have a three hundred acre parcel from the Virginia Company’s headright to do with as we wish.”
Tamatha’s cheeks heated. What on earth would bring about a decision such as this? Desperate tears brimmed the edges of her lids. She squeezed them shut, letting the salty fluid streak her skin.
“Papa,” she said, meeting his hardened gaze. “You cannot think this wise. The crossing alone could kill us — could kill you. Why risk your life when we live comfortably here.”
“I am well aware of the risks, have no doubt. However, I am afraid that staying in England may, very well, kill you.”
“I do not understand. This is our home. What is here that could kill me?”
His features softened, his brows tipping up in worry. “I know the deep pain you have endured these last years. I felt it when your mother passed. Yet, I had you to care for and to distract me. Over time my pain faded, but in you, it has only intensified. I fear that to stay would set you on a path to a bleak and desolate existence.”
He rose and took her hand, but Tamatha lowered her gaze, willing the tears to cease. Behind her, the fire consumed the last of its fuel and settled to a lazy flicker.
As Papa turned toward a stack of books, she felt his shaky movements in the wooden slats of the floor; heard the creaks of his joints in the air between them. His imposing stature, which he so deftly wielded to address his congregation, could not belie his frailty.
He seemed to prop himself up while gently caressing the top-most volume like the shoulder of a lost love. Taking up the book, he settled into his threadbare reading chair. When he spoke, his voice was gentle. “There is another reason I have made this decision. Your mother — she was an extraordinary person.”
All Tamatha knew of her mother was that she had been a healer. She prescribed concoctions made from herbs she gathered or grew to the people in the village and the farms skirting it. She had even safely delivered dozens of babes to their mothers’ arms yet could not be saved when her own child was born.
Papa motioned again for her to sit. Sighing quietly, she followed his instruction, and he placed the book on her lap. It was bound in simple burlap cloth. No title adorned its front or spine, and yet roughly cut crystals and shimmering shells decorated it from edge to edge.
She followed his watery gaze to the window where a bright crimson cardinal preened in the shrubbery outside, shaking the partially melted snow from the branches.
“Your mother left this to you for protection. All these years, I have been too headstrong, too stubborn to see the truth, but now I see to deny it would put you in danger.”
Shaking her head, Tamatha scrunched her nose. Papa did not often speak in riddles, but she could not seem to comprehend him. “From what danger do I require protection?”
“Danger of the worst kind.” Her father took her hand and pressed it against the book. “Danger of a torturous death.”
The wrinkle sank deeper into her forehead as her mind worked. “I do not understand. What could —”
“Listen to me, now, child.” His tone sharpened with impatience. “Your mother practiced witchcraft. She witnessed the burning times first hand and foresaw what lay ahead of you. I begged her not to perform the spells, not to cast the protections at your birth, but she would not listen. Her love for you was so strong, and the spell so powerful that it devoured every last drop of energy she had as you came into this world.”
“Much as I would like to deny the existence of such a craft, she insisted that I give you this, should anything happen to her.” He glanced back to the window where the blood-red cardinal perched, staring in at him. “Her influence over me is just as strong these many years later, and her predictions more and more accurate. I can no longer deny her wishes.”
Tamatha’s jaw moved up and down as she peered at the book.
“If I must give you this grimoire, then I insist we leave England. I must bring you to a new world where people are not burned for their unique power. A world where you will thrive.” His gaze lifted to her, a plea lingering behind the deep lines etched in his skin. “I will do everything possible to protect you.”
The truck rumbled, jostling Tamatha from a fitful sleep. Her lids fluttered open and dusty light filtered into her senses. Bringing the heel of her hand to her temple, she took in the first deep breath of wakefulness.
“We’re almost to the campgrounds, beautiful.” Ellis’ voice was gentle and low as he slid his fingers beneath hers. “You were making little noises. I didn’t want to wake you.”
Tamatha heard herself mumble in agreement as she swiped at strands stuck to her damp skin. “I had a dream about my father.”
“Oh? I don’t think you’ve ever told me about him.” Ellis glanced toward her, his expression relaxed.
“He was as selfless as they come,” she said, turning to the window. A marmalade sky peeked through the spaces between mountain tops. “In the dream, he was at the helm of a ship, steering through a terrible squall.”
“Sounds like a solid fella,” he said, his eyes fixed on the road ahead. “You’ll have to tell me about him when we get to camp.”
“Perhaps,” she replied, noticing, for the first time, faint lines spidering from the corner of his eye. White strands mixed with his sandy locks, blending seamlessly at the temples and spreading out toward the crown of his scalp. “What is the date?”
Ellis lifted his wrist, bringing the waterproof Timex to eye level. “October nineteenth. Why?”
“Today’s the anniversary of his death,” she said flatly.
“Oh, Tam. I’m sorry, I didn’t—”
“It’s okay. It was a very, very long time ago. He lived a long life full of adventure, and he was at peace when he died.”
He wrapped her hand in his, squeezing gently. “That’s not the worst way to go. Hope I can be so lucky.”
A familiar quiet settled as they listened to the sound of the road beneath the tires. The protection spell bottle warmed in Tamatha’s pocket, and her brows raised as she took it out. Holding it out of sight, she twisted the small vessel in her fingertips, examining its contents.
The ingredients she’d placed inside glowed white and began to vibrate, clanging against the sides of the bottle. The bottle heated, the wax seal hissing with pressure, until the cork stopper burst free with pop.
“What was that?” Ellis asked, pressing a finger into his ear.
Tamatha held the bottle in her flattened palm. The thin glass crumbled, turning to dust before her. A sudden gust flitted in through the cracked window. It caught the remains of the spell and pulled them out of the truck.
“Shift in pressure, perhaps? When we stop, I need to look for a book in the RV.”
Ellis gave her a quick wink and turned at a sign that read Happy Trails RV Resort and Campgrounds. “As you wish, beautiful. I’ll whip up your favorite campfire chili while you work.”
Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash. Edited by Haley P. Law.