I scry and I scry but the mist doesn't part, nothing takes, not for all the crystals in my pouches, not for all my spinning magic. The tent is dark. I scry. I don't want to touch the clear crystal. My brother is shouting. I scry. But he's still gone and it's been more than days. It's been months. Maybe. My brother is shouting. I scry. I stretch my fingers, I flex each joint, I lean, I scry. My brother comes into the tent and he says: "What of it, Ellie!" I don't look at him. I tremble. I scry. The tent is dark. "Ellie!" Our brother is dead. I stop scrying. I don't cry. He doesn't want me to. Scry, I mean. I look at my brother: the one who is here with me. I say something like, "Nothing's changed," or "He won't show," or "There are only two of us now." The tent is dark. My brother leaves. My magic curls very close and I wish very hard there was something left to bury. Where do you put his charms without a body. I imagine. His dead skin. His dead eyes. Gaia eats him anyway. Rots and peels. Spits out the yellow bone. The tent is dark. I can't. Bury him, I mean.
Maxwell's magic stings. If I want to go somewhere, I can go somewhere. I'm woman. Maxwell is not. But he doesn't want me to go somewhere or anywhere. So I stay even though it bores me. I loved Maxwell once. So I stay. I lay in the grass a lot outside the tents. I like how itchy the long grass feels. It scratches and I still. I let insects crawl across my belly and arms. My skin reddens. Especially at night when I lay naked under the moon. That's the trick. I like to watch the pale light bend and shape. I like to still. Cordelia worries. She attends to me. Since our brother died. Not Cordelia's, I mean. Maxwell and I. Eleanor, me. Our brother died. Cordelia is strict. I sneak, but her magic always finds. That's the trick. The long grass. Stay hidden. Watch your back.
She peeks over the long grass, eyes dark. "Ellie," she whispers. She wades into the grass and I see her wrapped in one of the dark woven blankets from our shared tent. It's nice to have someone. But she's always watching me. She hides my worst spell books. Her magic hits and traps. I deserve it. I'm anxious all the time now. I think about my brother. The one that's dead. I think everyday I'm falling. Closer to him. I wish I could do things. Like go somewhere. But Maxwell doesn't want me to go anywhere. And I'm sad all the time now, I mean. I'm always tired. They let me sleep. I've laid the trap. Created the threads. Taught the art. No one needs me anymore. Not for the rings. Not for anything. I've done my duty. Now leave me alone. "Ellie." Cordelia kneels. She wraps the blanket around me and scolds some.
I want to tell her all my brother's secrets. What if tomorrow Gaia eats me. She'll eat away the most honest part of him. No one will be there to remember. All those memories, too. The winter we traveled together. Secret: I never want to be king. Secret: our mother is very cruel. I kissed a girl, I told him. I liked it. Now what. When Gaia eats me no one will know these things anymore. No one will remember. That winter, I mean. So I think about that a lot. And about telling Cordelia. Which might be better than writing it. People remember things different in their heads. How. I wonder. Wander.
"Ellie, be brave," says Cordelia. Bravery runs in my family. No it doesn't. Coward. "Your brother wants to see you." His magic was broken. Our dead brother's, I mean. Is what Maxwell tells himself so he can sleep. When I move my limbs are stiff like blue beech. Red welts itch on my legs. Insects burrow into me. There's nothing I can do. Gaia eats us. She is power. Blood. The moon. My magic is turning wicked and black. Everyday. There's no one to be brave for anymore. You're not supposed to talk to it. Maybe he did. My dead brother, I mean. Things go bump in the night. He bumped back.
Maxwell's tent is bright and hot. He lives comfortable and he doesn't live alone. When Cordelia pushes me through the threshold another witch named Diana pardons herself for the dark. Her nightgown is silver, like her hair. Her magic is handsome. She blushed once. It was something our dead brother said. Another secret. Maybe tomorrow Gaia will eat her. Then no one will know. She isn't crying but something is wrong. All over her. Sweat on her brow, she won't look at me. Blasphemy: Gaia is a vampire. She sucks women dry. Slow. I lack.
"Ellie," says Maxwell. I look at him. His eyes are swollen in reds as he stands. As if he's cried. He keeps curling his thumb over the dagger at his belt. Prized. He looks old with his beard. But not too old because his eyes are vulnerable. Unwise. "I've just gotten word," he says, but then he pauses. He stoops, looks like he thinks better of something. I don't blink. I wonder if he will let me leave for good. I might go home. If I went back the black arts would eat me instead. Maybe I could find his bones. Temptation. I could keep them with me. Then Gaia could eat us both together. When the time comes. Live forever. Somewhere very secret there would be that winter we traveled together. All this travail. I'm tired.
"I want to go home," I say.
Maxwell stares. There: tear. Wipe away. Him, I mean. I don't cry. "I've just gotten word," he says. Try again. Wipe away. His thumb curls. His magic stings. Liquor on your open wounds. He's the reason. I can't heal. Secret: I drank a lot when I was your age. You were running out of time, I said. And you knew it. No one else knew it. Only you. I was too young to know. Maxwell doesn't look. "He turned himself, sister," Maxwell says. Hisses: "Niki's dead. They're saying he's gone mad. But what's that supposed to mean, right?" He's bitter. "I sent him off into the cities because he was cracking—but, Ellie, how was I supposed to know? He didn't tell you, did he? He didn't say anything?"
My lips tug: up. Slight. "He's still alive," I say. We all make mistakes. Nothing can kill the best of us. My first reaction. "We'll take care of him. We've got to find him first." Meaning really: take care. Like keep safe. Maxwell's magic flares the candlelight. Be quick. Black magic will find him for me. Use the dark crystals. Scry with obsidian. I don't fear him. Maxwell pulls at my shoulder, twists me around.
"He's worse than dead now, Ellie, you've go to understand," says Maxwell. He says words then, like: betray, dishonor, not one of us, banished, blood, will eat you, monster, undead, won't remember. "I'm sending out some of my guards in the morning. They'll travel into the city and find him. I'm going to tell them to keep him alive… Sister, are you listening? Ellie, I think I should be the one to do it, don't you think?" Kill him, he means. "Don't you think?"
"I'm ready," I say. "'I'll be queen." I'm shocked. So is he.
"Ellie?" he says. His thumb curls over the jewel on his dagger. He turns away from me. "You're not ready," he says. "You've got no idea—not until this war is over, we all agreed. Just wait. I won't—"
"No," I say. "I'm ready. I'll be queen." This is my right. Birthright. I am rightful heir. Woman. Maxwell is pretender. I was distant, cold, trained. Wanted this since I was a child until my mother died. Coward. Men are great warriors. What was I? I couldn't do a thing. I loved my mother. We were close: the same, twined though I was small. But I couldn't be brave like her. I couldn't rule like her. Everything fell apart. Her death frightened me. Changed me. Maxwell rules. Pretender. Take it. I didn't want it. But now I want it back.
I wasn't close to them. My brothers, I mean. Until our mother died. But before she died Maxwell would pick me up and throw me over his shoulder. I laughed and laughed. I loved him. We were schooled together. He knew me best. We played tag in the yard. He was so much bigger. Strong. Death changes everyone. But so does age. His ritual ceremonies changed him. Made him into a man. But he lost his strength. Men are not always strong. Then I thought: he is a fool. Because I heard our mother call him a fool. Poor Maxwell, she said, he could ruin us all if he was given the chance.
Far more distant was Jude. Is Jude. There are different kinds of distance now. We didn't talk much. Until that winter. He liked to brood. Likes to brood. Least loved. Funny magic. Funny in a wrong way, I mean. He clouded it drinking. Smelled bad. Like smoke. It seeped into all his clothes. His things. He smirked at our mother. Talked back to our father. Threw up late at night in the streets near our townhouse. Jude would leave us, said our mother, if he was given the chance. So he was. So he did. Death changes everyone. He changed after he did what was asked of him. But it made him stronger. The winter we shared, he protected me. So I know: he hasn't lost himself. Not really. He's just got stronger. I want him. I'll be queen. Rightful heir. Black magic. I'll find him. Keep him alive. Feed him shapers. End it.
Jude is cruel now. So am I. Like our mother. "Too long, Max," I'm saying. "Too long you've led us. Gaia is angry. If I don't become queen, she'll keep punishing us." Ill logic. I draw my blankets tighter. Rightful heir. Woman.
"You're sick right now, Ellie," says Maxwell. Tries. Ripple. Our magics. "Cordelia!" he shouts. Curls his thumb over his dagger hilt. What has he done? Nothing for us. Drove my brother out. Maxwell is a fool. Cordelia comes into the tent. She looks at Maxwell. I know she chose him once. Bedded him. Like Diana. Here am I: caught. Plaything. He'll ruin us. Gaia is angry. She might eat us all, if I don't take my place as queen.
I strike him with my magic. Fingers clutching tight on the edges of my blankets. Blow out the candles. The tent is dark. Do as I say. Hex him. "I'm your queen." Maxwell's magic wards. It burns, sears my skin: hexes flesh. Heats my lips. My brother is shouting. I don't move. Ward. Webs my skin. Protects. "I'm queen." Magic pours in the words. You're not supposed to talk to it. Or you'll start to split. They'll lock you away. Maybe. Send you to the cities. Look what they did to him. My undead brother, I mean. "I'm queen." Magic thick on our skin. Fire. Hexes, barbed bone. My brother is shouting. Cordelia casts. Quick magic. Snake bite. Brings me to my knees.
Then I am naked. Then there is moonlight. Then I am carried. I can't speak. My magic doesn't speak. Women are alway strong. How could he. Hurt me, I mean. Maxwell. I hate him. "Take her away!" My brother is shouting. I'm ready. To be queen. He won't let me. Blasphemy. I know what's best. Lucid, heavy eyelids, dragging limbs. I think I can hear him. Secret: I'd crown you queen and let you rule. Pout. Black magic. I think I can hear him. Laughing, I mean. Ugly. Don't let go. Abandoned. I rule: blood spatter and scrying. Thing. Run.
Note: For clarity's sake - the "witch royalty" consists of three siblings: Maxwell (oldest and pretender king), Jude (second oldest prince), and Eleanor (youngest and "rightful heir" princess) - their parents have both died. The reason the men are called "witches" like the women - hopefully it's kind of becoming clearer, is because they're a matriarchal society and the men are pretty used and abused. It was more emphasized in my earlier draft and I'm already predicting that I'm going to have to go back and clarify about the royalty, but I'm still deciding where I might go do that so I thought I'd add this here in the meantime - I haven't had many new readers get this far, so we'll see. Also, extra fun fact, Eleanor's narrative style was highly influenced by E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime. So if you actually like it, you should check out that book because Doctorow is much more of a master of it than I!
(C) EMSL (lookingwest) 2009-2012 (id423768); protected under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.