18 year old Annie Jenings was bored. She’d done her chores – swept and mopped the floor, filled up the horse feed, generally tidied the three roomed building she lived in with her one remaining parent, and now she was bored. Her da was supposed to be tending to the health of the horses – walking, brushing, whatever – for the folk who paid him, but she was pretty sure he was at the inn, drinking away the money she hadn’t stolen while he slept, and squirrelled away for food.
She supposed that meant he would be gone until the money ran out or the inn kicked him out to sober up. Annie brightened a little, that meant she didn’t need to be bored at home. She could go and visit Irving!
Irving Napier was the 28 year old son of the oldest, and richest, family in the village, and Annie was in the process of trying to seduce him. She had played the game before, on boys her own age, but never seriously (and didn’t some of them get upset about that!), but Irving was different. Not for his money, though that would do nicely. No. He was a shy man, pale from a lifetime spent in study, but beneath the surface was an intelligent, funny, gentle person, and Annie was carefully peeling back his layers. She liked what she found, but she also liked his area of study.
Irving was a witch. He studied magic. Not devil worshipping or any of the nonsense that the superstitious believed. Real magic. He’d shown her – floating objects across the room, lighting the fire without a match, changing his hair colour.
At Annie’s behest, he was beginning to teach her. She couldn’t do anything yet – he insisted she learn the theory, in order to better perform the practical. But another kind of magic was definitely working on him. Last week he had kissed her, as they studied. Held her close, and near drew blood on her lips with his eagerness.
Annie’s body flamed a little, remembering that kiss. None of the boys she’d kissed – and more – had ever made her heat up like Irving did. She realised that she had actually fallen for him, and likely he for her. This only made her more eager to engage in the magic of the universe, and the magic of the flesh, with him.
She walked the fields in her boots, dress hitched up to avoid the worst of the mud, sticking as much as possible to places few might see her. Arriving at the manor house, she walked around to the library, where Irving spent his days, and watched him for a moment.
His head was bowed, long brown hair pulling from a messy ponytail at the nape of his neck. He sat perfectly still at his desk, moving only to turn a page. Annie smiled to herself, pleased that she knew the animation that lay beneath this exterior.
She tapped at the window, and waved when he looked up.
His face broke into a beaming smile, and he stood so fast his wingback chair fell to the floor with a crash, and an inkpot on the desk wobbled dangerously.
Irving righted the chair and motioned her to the side door.
He was waiting when she arrived there, a tiny bit breathless from the speed he had walked.
The moment she was inside, the door closed, he gently pulled her to him, moving slowly, giving her ample time to pull back, before his lips met hers.
She sank into him, wondering if he heated up the same way she did – then quickly ceasing to wonder as she felt hardness rise between them.
They broke apart, both breathing heavily.
“I didn’t look for you today,” he smiled, “I’m glad to see you.”
“My da is at the inn, making my day free. So I did the one thing I wanted to do – come to you,” Annie stroked his face, feeling a slight rasp of stubble where he had missed with his razor this morning.
“Come, I’ll have food and drink brought, and we can continue where we left off last week,” he blushed, “On both topics, perhaps…”
“I would like that. Very much,’ Annie stole a hand down to his crotch and laughed as he jumped.
In the library, Irving revealed that he thought Annie was finally ready to begin the practical side of magic. He warned that it would likely take some time, before she could bring it off, but that the practice would let her begin feeling her way into how magic worked.
They practiced, then they ate a cold meal, then they practiced some more, until Irving sat back and smiled, “You’ve almost got it. Next time, perhaps the time after, you’ll be able to move the pen. And once that door in your head opens, the rest becomes much easier to learn.”
Annie drank the remains of her cold tea, and recovered herself a little. It had been intense, but a good kind of intense. Like, hopefully, the next thing that was to happen.
Irving, as if reading her mind, stood and went to the door, locking it. Then to the windows, pulling shut the thick curtains. He turned on the wall lamps, one by one, and sat on the Chesterfield sofa, a match to the wingback chair. He tapped the seat beside him, and Annie rose from her armchair and went to sit beside him.
Suddenly, he became shy, “I…Annie…I must…I-I wish to…ugh…” He closed his eyes in frustration.
Annie took his hand in both of hers, and placed it on her cheek, speaking to him softly, “It’s ok. Take your time.”
Irving stroked her cheek, as if it were the finest of silks, and tried again, “Annie. I spent my life living in books, and I never saw the outside world. Never thought there was much for me there. Then one day you showed up, filling in for a sick maid, and you actually asked me what I was reading. We talked, and you came back to visit, and again. I showed you what I could do. And instead of running away you came closer, wanting to be part of it. I wanted, over and over, to touch your cheek like this, to kiss you…but until last week I dared not for fear of chasing you away. But last week you placed a hand on my knee as we studied a paragraph, and you looked up at me as you spoke, and before I could even think about it, I kissed you. And you kissed me back. Annie…it was as if my soul opened up to you. I…you can probably guess I’m not experienced. I’ve never kissed anyone before, it was probably obvious. I’ve never done anything else, either. Truthfully, I’ve never wanted to. But with you, something new awakes inside of me. Would it be too far if I told you I loved you?”
Annie brought his hand around and kissed his palm, “Only if it would be too far for me to tell you the same.”
He smiled the smile that lit up the room, and leaned back on the sofa, bringing her with him, “I believe that you are more experienced than I. All I know is what I’ve read in books, and how I’ve…touched myself, thinking of you. Perhaps, then, it is time for me to be the student, and you the teacher.”
Annie pushed him flat on the sofa and climbed atop him, unlacing her dress, “I think I would like that. Lesson one…” she pulled the front of her dress down, and leaned over him.
Irving proved an excellent student, and Annie went home feeling tired, a little achy, and completely satisfied.
Their affair continued, quickly becoming public knowledge as Irving proposed marriage. Annie’s father, though unhappy at the thought of losing his free housemaid, brightened at the promise of receiving a new daily maid, and a weekly sum of upkeep.
Irving fought almost daily with his parents, who refused to accept his engagement until, begrudgingly, they invited Annie to dinner and saw how in love they both were. Sometimes the mud comes off to reveal a diamond, they asserted, and at least it gave them hope for a grandchild to continue their line. With that, they took Annie into their bosom and called her daughter.
The two lovebirds wed, a few months later, and honeymooned at the seaside. All seemed well, for a time.
After a year or so of marriage, Irving, trying to take on more responsibility for the running of the household while his father ran for Mayor, discovered irregularities in the accounting of their business.
Edwin Napier owned many of the houses in the village, and his man, Wallace Wright, collected rents, dealt with debtors, and arranged repairs. Alongside this, Edwin and Wallace imported goods, and exported from the village farms that Edwin also owned.
It made for a confusing set of books, money going between different sides of the businesses, in and out of the house for servant wages and upkeep, and Irving, as he tried to untangle and streamline the mess, realised it was actually intentional. The mess hid money that was siphoned off, and vanished into nowhere.
Saying nothing to his father, Irving showed his discovery to Annie, whose quick mind picked up on the problem as soon as it was presented.
This was suspicious, but without something stronger, they would do little but create a passing scandal and cause themselves no end of trouble. But if Edwin became mayor, he would be even more powerful, and that might render him untouchable.
They needed to know where this money went, and with the help of a little magic, they could.
Both had progressed in leaps and bounds. Working together their singular magic had blossomed. More than that, they were now able to combine their strengths into larger magic. Even more than that, they could create magic that lingered after the fact, or that came into being elsewhere.
They hatched a plan. Irving would bring his confusion to his father. He would act as if he simply thought it was a mistake that they could rectify. A harmless set of irregularities.
Then, using their magic, they would listen in on Edwin and Wallace, who would no doubt meet to discuss this problem. Once they had gleaned more information, they would decide what to do, and how to expose it.
The plan went perfectly. Irving played the slightly clueless son, concerned only for his father’s – and the estate’s – welfare, and together he and Annie created the magic that would allow them to listen to Edwin’s conversations.
It wasn’t long before this bore fruit. Edwin caught Wallace at his house and, after kicking out the prostitute he was currently funding, told him of the problem.
Wallace was all for bringing Irving into the secret, but Edwin refused. He wouldn’t bring his only son – his good, innocent, in love, son – into their business.
Their business of shipping illegally imported tea, gin, and anything else smugglers didn’t want to pay increasingly harsh taxes on.
Their location, inland but close to shipping lanes, made them an ideal stop to switch out, store, and exchange whatever was coming and going from larger towns and cities.
This meant, Irving reasoned, that somewhere in the properties that Edwin owned, must be the place where these goods were stored. If they could find that place – or those places, if multiple – they could show it to the magistrate.
Annie asked him, in earnest, if this was truly such an offence. They were merely bypassing ridiculous taxes, after all.
Irving agreed, but reasoned that all such empires eventually fall, and few would believe himself to be innocent of his father’s crimes. Their silence, even as the law homed in more and more on exactly the type of situation that Edwin and Wallace managed, could result in accusations being levied towards them, too. And even if they escaped trial, the village would ever look at them sideways.
Together, they agreed to send out some magic to trail Wallace. Each day, they looked at the trail, and after a few weeks, the pattern was clear. The wagons came in and out, and both before and after, Wallace always visited two buildings.
Annie wanted to go, under cover of night, to investigate the buildings.
Irving wanted to take their investigations straight to the watchman.
Eventually, they agreed to investigate one of them, together, the next night. There should be no outgoing wagons tomorrow, so the way should be clear, and the goods should be plentiful.
Anxious, they played with magic as they waited, attempting to unlock locks, and make themselves blend with shadows. Somewhat successful, they ventured out at midnight the following night.
The village was quiet, but for some late night drunks, and their magic kept them unseen as they approached the building near the boundary. It was, from the outside, a ramshackle house, just one room and a thatched roof that badly needed patching.
The door, though suitably weathered, held a strong lock, and it took both of them some time to turn all the tumblers, but eventually it clicked open and they crept inside.
Using a bit of magic to allow them better night vision, they looked around.
The room was empty, as if it hadn’t been lived in for some time – which was certainly true. But there was no dust, as there ought to be in an abandoned house. Most importantly, there was a trapdoor under the bed, where the mattress bled stuffing.
Shoving the bed aside, they worked quietly on the heavy padlock that held a chain in place, until the haft sprung open.
Carefully climbing down the ladder, they landed in a cellar that was clearly bigger than the house, with two tunnels leading off – one out of the village, one further in. An escape tunnel, and an access to the other cellar, Irving guessed aloud.
Annie nodded, but her attention was taken by the stacks of crates that filled the room. Tea, wool, gin and other spirits, and not one of them that they checked held the stamp that stated their owner had paid the import tax.
Hugging each other in excitement, they left the house and returned home. They slept late, and after lunch sent a messenger to the village watchman, asking him to meet with them somewhere private.
The watchman, John Poundstock, invited them to dine with him that evening. He promised total discretion from his household, who would retreat after dinner and not disturb them.
Dressed more formally than they ever were at home, Annie and Irving ate with relish the roasted hog with fresh vegetables, and the vintage wine was drunk with great pleasure. Once dessert – a beautifully made pie – had been demolished, they retired to the drawing room, where John asked them to speak freely.
Irving told him everything. He bypassed the magic by making it seem as if he, himself, followed his father and Wallace, and finished with their find in the abandoned house.
John listened in silence, asking a few questions at the end to clarify details. Then, he leaned back in his chair and drank off his brandy in a single gulp.
“I thank you both, for your observance of His Majesty’s law and taxes. I will investigate this house myself, in the company of a deputy who will act as a witness to the magistrate, should I find the items you describe. Please do no more, and await word from me, or action against your father and his man.”
They arrived home, content that Edwin and Wallace would see their downfall, and that their part in it would assuage most, if not all, suspicion against them.
They trusted to the wrong man, however.
John immediately sent a runner to Wallace, urging him to empty the cellar and block the tunnels before he came to inspect them. As such, the following day, he arrived with a deputy, Frederick Bentham, to find the cellar empty, and the tunnels walled up.
When he arrived at the Napier manor house with Frederick, plus another two men, Irving answered with a smile.
“I expect you come to see my father?”
“No, sir,” John nodded and the muscle grappled Irving, tying his hands and then picking him up and throwing him into the back of the prison wagon.
“Wait there,” John ordered his deputy, ignoring Irving’s cries.
Annie hurried out of the library and, seeing John and his muscle approaching, with Irving not behind them, quickly sized up the situation. She raised the pen she still held in one hand, and caused it to fly at John’s face.
He went down with a cry, the pen having pierced through his cheek.
But Annie had no more weapons, and the muscles caught her as she tried to run.
They tied her as they had Irving, and threw her into the prison wagon with him.
John, blood pouring from his cheek, spat repeatedly, using his cravat to staunch the flow until he could speak, “You are both under arrest for witchcraft. I have witnesses, and now I have witnessed it myself, as have my men. I will hold you in the village jail until I can summon a magistrate for trial. I suggest you spend this time making your peace with God, for Satan will not save you.”
Annie spat at him, “You know shit about magic.”
John closed the doors, and his deputy rode the wagon to the jail, while John went to the village doctor.
The jail was a single cell, with a tiny room attached, where someone could guard the prisoners. And someone did, all day, every day, and any time it looked like they might be doing magic – even if all they were doing was trying to sleep – they were given a small but painful cut, with a knife attached to a stick for this purpose. The pain and exhaustion kept them from their magic, and soon the day of their trial came.
They were tied again, and bundled back into the wagon. Cries and jeers followed them to the town hall, where chairs and a stage with a bench had been set up for the magistrate. They were made to stand, and witnesses came forward. Staff from the manor house told of things they had seen – some of them possibly true, others completely fabricated. John, a large poultice adorning the hold in his cheek, told of his own experience. Then worst of all, Edwin came, bringing books from Irving’s library, damning them both for their studies.
There was an offer for them to give a defence, but both knew that pleading would only give amusement to the village, crowded into the hall. Instead, they each turned to the other and used the moment to speak.
“I love you, Annie. I’m sorry you were brought into this,” Irving lowered his head, shedding tears.
‘I’d live this over and over again, for the love we’ve shared. Thank you for showing me what love was, ” Annie held her tears in, keeping her head up and staring the magistrate in the face as he put on his black cap, and concluded this act of the theater by pronouncing them witches, to be burned at the stake.
The sentence had been expected, the stakes already placed, wood and kindling awaiting the flame.
The two prisoners were tied in place, and Irving’s books added to the kindling.
The village was silent as John lit the brazier, and dipped in a cloth-wrapped torch.
The fire caught easily, and the flames licked around and up, quickly finding the feet of the witches.
Annie and Irving turned to face each other, and as the world burned around them, she felt Irving use magic to plant a kiss on her cheek, and whisper in her ear: See you in the next life, my love. Live, and find me.”
Before the impact of the words could hit her, Annie was catapulted out of her body. There was darkness, for a moment, and then…light.
Annie woke in a bed that was not hers, in a room she did not know. The polished piece of copper that served as a mirror showed her a different face than the one she was used to.
In her head, another voice spoke, afraid, “Who? What? Where am I??”
Annie cocked her head, “What’s your name?”
“T-Tessie Huntsman…what’s happening?”
“Well, Tessie,” Annie answered, “I’m now you. And if you want to continue living in my head, you’re going to help me.”
Annie sat back down on the bed, “You heard me. I’ll give you a moment, but then I need you to tell me everything about you, your life, and the people in it. Then, if you agree to provide me information as and when I may need it, and not cause me any trouble, you can stay here, we can be friends, and you can live on through me. If not, I’ll squash you into nothing.”
Tessie went silent for a long moment, “Th-This isn’t a dream?”
“It is not.”
“Then I guess, ok?”
“Good girl, see? We’ll get along just fine. Now, tell me everything.”
In a lush, expensively furnitured room, on a large, soft bed, Justinia awoke with a start. That dream. The past. It hadn’t been so clear in a long time. Was it time? Was he back? Could she finally stop the pretence, the crimes, the games with the Lawkeepers, and simply be Annie again?
She still missed him. Every day.
Justinia sat up and turned, dangling the legs of her latest acquisition over the side of the bed.
“You see my dreams, right?” She asked the voice inside her head.
“Yeah,” the voice said. “That one looked rough. It’s true?”
“It’s true. And I’ve hunted for him ever since, increased my magic, made myself rich and powerful. But all I want is to find him, then we can disappear.”
The voice said nothing else, and Justinia got up to begin her day, a tiny sliver of hope rising in her at last.
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