Tattoos and Portents–4

Chapter 4

Hester and Raven's Christmas tree

A witch I’d never seen before—and I know almost everyone in Muddy River—met me at my school’s door the next morning. I could feel her magic, and it was fairly strong.

She looked nervous. “We just moved to Muddy River. I’m half witch, and my husband’s half warlock. Our daughter’s ten and has no magical training.” She motioned to a young girl sitting in their nearby car. “We live a little outside of town, near Aurel and Carlotta. He suggested sending Blythe to your school.”

Aurel was a vampire who’d helped us in several battles lately. Raven and I were fond of him and his newly changed wife. In fact, they were two of the people we’d invited to our house for Yule dinner, along with Derek and Prim and others. Aurel and Derek enjoyed sharing stories of being vampires. They both loved celebrating Yule with us.

“Derek and I talked, and we could never go out in the light until we came to Muddy River,” Aurel told me. “Your potion protects vampires from the sun. We spent decades living our lives in darkness. Celebrating the yule log’s warmth and light has special meaning for us, in fact, for every vampire in town.”

If Aurel recommended my school to his new neighbor, there was no way I’d turn her away. I smiled to reassure her. “Blythe will be a little behind everyone else, but we’ll help her catch up. First, though, I need to know what kind of witch she is—earth, air, water, or fire.”

The woman motioned for the girl to join us. She reluctantly got out of the car and came to us. Blythe was average height for her age with the pinched expression of a worrier, clearly self-conscious.

I waved my hand to unlock the school door and motioned them inside, trying another smile to put Blythe at ease. No luck. She glanced at Claws nervously.

“He’s my familiar,” I told her. “He loves my students.”

She stepped a little away from him.

I gave up on niceties and said, “Let’s find out what kind of magic you have. Throw energy at me.”

She blinked. “I don’t know how.”

“No problem. Just raise your palm and try to shoot me. Don’t worry. You won’t hurt me. I can block whatever you throw.”

She raised her arm, aimed her palm at me, and a weak flow of energy fizzled before it reached me. “That’s a start. You’ll get better at it. You’re a fire witch. There are a few others in my classes.”

The girl’s shoulders stooped as she sank into herself.

I tried another tack. I turned to her mother. “By the way, I’m Hester Wand, the high priestess of Muddy River’s coven. My mate is a fire demon, Raven Black, the town’s enforcer. Welcome to Muddy River.” I looked at Blythe to include her in the greeting, and she moved to stand slightly behind her mother.

“We’re happy to be here.” The woman placed a reassuring hand on Blythe’s shoulder. “Thank you. I’m Bronwen, a ceramic artist, and my husband’s Evander, a landscape painter. We hired a graphic artist from Muddy River—Tristan—to create a website for us and another Muddy River resident—Festus—to advertise it for us. That’s how we heard of Muddy River and decided to move here.”

“I’d wondered what brought you. Not many people know of us.” Any more conversation was cut short when the school door opened and students rushed inside. As Asch passed me, I motioned for her to join us. “Asch, we have a new student. She’s a ten-year-old like you.” It would be nice for Asch to have another student her age. I knew she’d felt a bit like the odd girl out with only younger and older students to mingle with. She was tall for her age, so looked older, but inside, she was still a fourth grader. “Blythe’s a little nervous meeting new people at a new school. I thought you could make her feel more at home.”

Asch’s grin widened as she reached for Blythe’s hand. “Come on. I’ll help you get started.”

Blythe hesitated, but Asch gave her a tug, partially dragging her to table.

I hadn’t had time to write the day’s lessons on the board, so said, “This would be a good time for each of you to study your grimoire’s before today’s lessons. I’ll be with you soon.”

Drawers opened, and my little witches reached for the books of spells. Asch motioned for Blythe to sit closer as she showed her the pages of her book.

I turned to Bronwen. “May I ask if there was a reason your family decided to move here now, after the school year started?”

Bronwen’s expression turned serious. “We’d have stayed south of here in Kentucky, but too many bodies started disappearing before they even made it to the grave. Actually, before they even made it to the morgue or funeral home most times. It worried us.”

“Where did you live in Kentucky?” I asked.

When she described the area, I realized it was close to the town where Festus had traveled. A frisson of excitement sizzled through me, but I didn’t have time to dwell on that now. I had a class to teach. I thanked Bronwen for coming and went to the board to write down lessons for each grade group in the room. Even as I wrote, though, I could hardly wait for the day to end. I wanted to share my news with Raven.

As always, when I wanted time to pass quickly, it didn’t. We had a good day, and the students were as excited about the new spells I was teaching as they were about the upcoming holidays, but my mind kept wandering to Bronwen’s news. When the day finally ended, Claws and I walked faster than usual to get home.

Raven looked up from his laptop when we burst into the kitchen. He’d already poured a glass of wine for each of us, and he pushed his work away to hear about my day. When I told him about the new family who’d moved here and why, he frowned. “You mean someone dug the bodies up?”

I shook my head. “That’s not how she made it sound. She said that the bodies disappeared before they made it to the funeral home. No embalming. They died and disappeared.”

Raven leaned back in his chair, rubbing his strong jaw. It had the hint of stubble, and he looked sexier than usual. Frowning, he said, “Brown and I have been working together on this missing girl, but he’s had to spend most of his time on a murder case in one of the mortal towns he’s in charge of. He’ll be happy we’ve made a tiny bit of progress on this.”

“Is he coming with us to the voodoo village on Sunday?”

Raven nodded. “Him and Meda both.”

That made me happy. Meda was in my coven, and I enjoyed spending time with her. We could gossip on the long drive.

Raven grinned at my expression. “She wouldn’t let Brown come without her, said that she’d sit in the backseat with you, and you two could catch up on the way there.” My fire demon had spent decades avoiding close contacts of any kind and was just beginning to appreciate the joys of having strong friendships. It amused him to watch me and my coven get together.

He told me about his day, mollifying residents who were complaining that there should be more holiday decorations in town, before we climbed to the attic to take my Yule decorations out of storage. The third floor of my home was spacious, and I used most of it as a workroom to study magic and perfect new spells and protective pouches. I’d made a study on the first floor for Raven, but he preferred to work at our old wooden kitchen table.

After we dragged all of the boxes downstairs, we started making supper together. Nothing fancy—pork chops and sautéed apples with a salad. Once we ate and cleaned up, we went back to decorating. When we finished, cauldrons, wands, moons, and stars hung from tree branches, and a witch dressed in a black pointed hat and long black dress sat on the fireplace mantle with her legs dangling over the edge, dressed in red and green striped stockings.

We stepped back to study what we’d done.

“I like it,” Raven said.

So did I. The kitchen could wait till tomorrow night. We grabbed our books and settled in the living room to relax. By the time we left to visit the voodoo village on Sunday, the house decorations would be done.

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