Before you email me in outrage that the kids ages are wrong, please remember that this is a prologue and takes place a few years before the actual story.
Éléonore leaned back in her rocking chair and sipped the iced tea from a tall glass, shaped like the center of a daffodil. The spring sun warmed the porch. Éléonore smiled, cozy in all of the layers of her torn clothes. She had been feeling every single one of her hundred and nine years lately, and the heat felt so nice.
Beyond the lawn, a road ran into the distance and on the other side, the Edge woods rose, dense, nourished by magic. The air smelled of fresh leaves and spring flowers.
Next to her Melanie Dove, herself no spring chicken, raised her glass to the light and squinted at it. The sun caught a thin gold thread spiraling inside the glass walls. “Nice glasses. Is that from the Weird?”
“Mhhm. Keeps the tea cold with magic.” The glasses worked even here, in the Edge, where the magic was weaker. It didn’t keep the ice from melting indefinitely as the note with it promised, but it lasted good five-six hours, and really who couldn’t drink a glass of tea in five hours?
“The grandkids got it for you?”
Éléonore nodded. Rose, the oldest of her grandchildren, had picked them out and wrote a nice note. The glasses came by a special courier, straight from the Adrianglia in a box with Earl Declan Camarine’s seal on it, the latest in the stream of presents. Elsie Moore, who happened to be present at the time of delivery, nearly fainted from jealousy.
“When are you going to move there?”
Éléonore raised her eyebrows. “Trying to get rid of me?”
“Please.” The other witch shook her grey head. “Your granddaughter married a blueblood noble, your grandsons been after you for months to move, but you sit here like a chicken on a compost heap. In your place, I’d be gone.”
“They have their own lives, I have mine. What am I going to do there? The boys are in school all day. George is thirteen, Jack’s eleven, and Rose has her own marriage to worry about. I don’t even have a place of my own there. Here I have two houses.”
“Earl Camarine will buy you a house. He lives in a castle, woman.”
“I’ve never taken anyone’s charity and I’m not about to start now.”
“Well, in your place I would go.”
“Well, you’re not in my place, are you?”
Éléonore smiled into her tea. They had been friends for fifty years for the the entire half-century Melanie had been telling anyone and everyone what they should of with their lives. Age only made her more blunt, and she wasn’t all that subtle to begin with.
Truth was, she missed them. Rose and George and Jack, she missed them so badly, her chest ached sometimes at the memories. Their mother had looked for solace in the bed of any man who’d take her until finally her hold on life had slipped and she passed. Her own son, a waste of space that he turned out to be, had inherited the Drayton vagabond bug from Cletus, her husband. He’d made it a point to never stay at home too long and even his wife’s death only held him in place for a little over a year. One day he left, snuck out like a thief in the night, and didn’t come back. All he left the kids was a note with wild ravings about some treasure and how when he found it, they all would be rich and life would be great.
Rose had taken care of her younger brothers the best she could, but Éléonore had been always been there. She watched them grow up, she helped them with their struggles, and she loved all three of them.
But she didn’t belong in the Weird, Éléonore reflected. She’d gone to visit and would likely go again, but it didn’t feel like home. The magic was stronger and she’d probably live longer, but here in the Edge, in a space between the Weird with all its magic and the Broken with none of it, was her true place. She was an Edger, through and through. She understood this small town, she knew most of her neighbors, their kids, and their grandkids. And she had power too. A certain respect. When she threatened to curse someone, people stood up and listened. In the Weird she’d be just a stone around Rose’s neck.
It is inevitable, she reassured herself. Children leave the nest and parents – and grandparents – stay. Everything is as it should be.
A truck rumbled past the yard, Sandra Wicks at the wheel, her bleached-blond hair a teased mess.
“Slut,” Melanie said under her breath.
Sandra waved at them through the window. Both witches smiled and waved back.
“So you did you hear about her ‘friend’ near Macon?” Éléonore asked.
“Mhm. The moment her husband leaves, she hightails it through the boundary into the Broken. It’s a wonder her magic still works, as much time as she spends there. Someone ought to clue George in.”
“Stay out of it,” Éléonore told her. “It’s none of your business.”
Melanie grimaced. “When I was her age…”
“When you were her age, they thought wearing a camisole instead of a corset was risque.”
Melanie pursed her lips. “I’ll have you know, I wore a slip.”
“Well, aren’t you a rebel.”
“It was made of rayon, too.”
A woman turned around the bend of the road. She walked unsteadily, swaying as she put one foot in front of the other, her blond hair rolled up on her head, her face smudged with dirt.
“Who the hell is that?” Melanie set her glass down.
Between the two of them, they knew the entire population of East Laporte, and Éléonore was dead sure she’d never seen this woman before. Woolen clothes, Weird cut. Anybody from the Broken would be in jeans or khaki’s, shoes with heels or tennis shoes. She wore boots and she was walking funny.
The woman swayed and fell down on the side of road.
“Don’t,” Melanie hissed. “You don’t know what she is.”
“Half-dead, that’s what she is.”
“I have a bad feeling about this.”
“You have a bad feeling about everything.”
Éléonore stepped off her porch and hurried down the road.
The woman slowly turned and sat up. She was tall, but thin. Not a teenager, a woman, around thirty or so. Still a girl by Eleonore’s standards.
“You will be the death of me,” Melanie muttered and followed her.
“Are you alright, dear?” Éléonore called.
The woman looked at her. Yes, definitely from Weird and from means too: the face was pretty and unlined, well taken care of at some point, but now dirt covered her skin.
“I’ve been shot,” she said, her voice quiet.
Mon Dieu. “Where?”
“Right hip. It’s a flesh wound. Please.” The woman looked at her, and Éléonore read desperation in her brown eyes. “I just want some water.”
“Éléonore, don’t you dare take her into your house.”
Rose was many miles away, and this girl in the dirt didn’t look anything like her, but somehow there were shadows of her granddaughter in her face. Éléonore grasped her arm. “Try to get up.”
“This will end in tears,” Melanie said and grabbed the girl’s other arm. “Come on. Lean on me.”
The woman pushed herself upright and gasped, a painful small sound. For a tall girl, she weighed near nothing. They got her up the steps, one tiny step at a time, inside, and onto the spare bed. Éléonore pulled her woolen trousers aside. A small red bullet wound gaped in her hip.
“Melanie, get the First Aid kit.”
“I am, I am.” The witch went into the kitchen
“Is the bullet out?” Éléonore asked.
The girl nodded.
“How did you get shot?”
“There was a boy…” Her voice was weak. “Broken arm. I tried to heal the break and his father shot me.”
Healing magic was really rare, almost unheard of. Éléonore frowned. What in the world was she doing here in the Edge?
Melanie popped in the doorway with a First Aid kit. “If you can heal, why don’t you fix the hole in your leg?”
“Can’t heal myself,” the girl told her.
“I think you’re lying,” Melanie said, passing the kit over.
The girl raised her hand. Her fingers brushed Melanie’s arm. A faint stream of golden sparks flared from her fingers, sinking into Melanie’s skin. The dark liver spots melted.
Éléonore gasped. Melanie stood frozen.
The girl smiled, a sad sagging of lips. “Can I please have some water?”
Her hip was still bleeding.
“Get her some water, Melanie.”
“What am I, a servant?” Melanie went into the kitchen.
Éléonore unscrewed a bottle of rubbing alcohol, poured some on the gauze from the kit, and pressed it to the wound. The girl jerked.
“You’re from the Weird, aren’t you? What are you doing here in the Edge?”
“I had to leave,” the girl said. “I had a horse and money. Somebody stole it. I tried to earn more, but nobody will let me heal them. I tried to help and he shot me. He shot me.”
“That’s the Edge for you.” Éléonore squeezed some Neosporin from a tube onto the wound. “We don’t take kindly to outsiders.” Especially some stranger using magic on your child’s injury. She was lucky she wasn’t shot in the head.
Melanie reappeared with a cup. The girl drank in big thirsty swallows. “Thank you.”
“What’s your name?” Éléonore asked.
“Lotte, then. You sleep now. Rest. Don’t worry. You can stay here until you feel better. Nobody will shoot you here.”
“Thank you,” Lotte whispered.
The girl closed her eyes. Her breathing evened out. Éléonore finished dressing the wound.
“Found yourself another bird with a broken wing,” Melanie said. “And you wonder where George gets it.”
“Look at her. How can you turn her away?”
Her friend shook her head. “Oh Éléonore. I hope you know what you’re doing.”