There were those in the county known to practice the Nameless Art, spells and rituals handed down through the generations by cunning folk who knew more than most. These women understood the mysterious nature of medicine and love and did their best to pierce the veil that separated men and women from knowledge that might save them from ill fortune and disaster. They could mend a broken heart as easily as they could cure a fever, but they did so discreetly, for women were blamed for much of the world’s troubles, and there were known to be witches in this county.
Maria climbed a tree in which to safely rest for the evening, and from that high vantage point she could see blue in the distance, the miraculous sea. There was her future before her.
She already knew that the past was over and done.
She would never again watch another woman burn.
“Love is not always under our control,” she told her daughter.
“It will never be that for me.” Maria was already wearing the red boots, and although she adored the gift, she would avoid her mother’s path at all costs. She vowed she would never let love rule her life.
Mother and daughter said their good-byes on the dock, embracing one another, their true feelings surfacing. Despite all the time they had been apart, they had similar hearts, surprisingly easy to break, but they were strong when it mattered and it mattered now, for they both understood that they would not meet again.
Who she truly was, she kept secret, a stone she had swallowed, those talents and traits she had inherited from the nameless women who had come before her. Maria never revealed how she knew to take in the laundry just before rain began to fall, or how she managed to chase the rats from the garden with a bit of white powder, or why she left garlic, salt, and rosemary outside their chamber door, to protect those inside from ill will. Certainly, she never explained why she refused to venture into the ocean when on their free Sunday afternoons she and Juni went to the shore. The day might be glorious, the sea might beckon, but she knew what would happen to someone such as herself in the water. She would float no matter what, and in doing so, she would reveal her true nature. This was why Hannah had kept herself hidden in the woods, and why Rebecca showed her talents to no one. It was a dangerous world for women, and more dangerous for a woman whose very bloodline would have her do not as she was ordered, but as she pleased.
Men went to war and women fell in love, heedless and for reasons they might never understand. She could stop this and put it to rest right now. She could make an amulet for protection and speak the words that would keep him away; she could fashion an image of him and bury it in the earth outside her window where the centipedes nested, and he would never return. Instead, she ran a comb through her hair, and found her way to the courtyard. Turn back, something inside her said, but there was an element of defiance in her soul ever since the fire. Rebecca had told her that life was short and she should do as she pleased.
In this way, alone and abandoned, shackled by metal cuffs she could not remove and pretending to be someone she was not, she began her practice of the Nameless Art, for one does not have to have the talents of a witch to be called to the Art. She simply has to have the desire to see beyond what is right in front of her.
You never know what you want or need until you are old, for old age is a mystery that is impossible to unwind until you step into its maze.
No one can fall in love with me,” Maria told Abraham. “Don’t wish that on your son.”
“I know love when I see it,” Abraham Dias insisted. “I see it in you.”
He gave her his ring and told her the secret that he had learned about love during his time on earth. Then he closed his eyes. He had nothing more to say; he wasn’t even in the room anymore, not in Manhattan, not in the year of 1691, not in a house on Maiden Lane. He was with his wife when he first met her. How beautiful she was, with her straight black hair that was so long she could sit on it, or wear it wound atop her head so that she looked like a queen who wore a dark crown. When you fall in love like that, time doesn’t matter. This was the secret he told Maria, the last words he ever said.
What belonged to you once, will always belong to you.
Be grateful if you have walked through the world with another’s heart in your hand.
Then he got down on his knees at the gravesite and wept. He had refused to shave and his hair fell to his shoulders; he looked rough, but he cried more than any man the congregation had seen before.
The unmarried women watched him, so moved by his raw emotion they felt their feet lift off the ground. How could a man feel so much? What else was inside of him? If only they could find out, if only they knew, a great mystery would be revealed to them. The married women gazed at their own husbands with disapproval, for the men looked away from Samuel’s passionate display. It was too much for them, it was a story they had forgotten a long time ago, when they were thirteen and became men and locked their emotions away so they might navigate the cruelty of the world.
If she had been another woman, he would have sworn there were tears in her eyes.
A witch’s tears burn, they turn her inside out, they are not meant to be, and yet once they began they were difficult to stop. A witch could drown in her own tears if she wasn’t careful; she could scorch the ground beneath her. As Maria watched Samuel go, she was thinking of Abraham, buried a mile away, an expert on love, who had told her in the moments before his death that he saw love inside her. It looked like a dove, he said, but appearances could fool you. Some people mistakenly believed it was peaceful and calm, but that wasn’t what love was. It was a wolf. If you open the door and call it inside, you must sink to your knees and say its name, you must do so whether you are cursed or not.
That was the mystery Abraham had come to understand. Always and everywhere, love was the answer.
Anyone who had the sight and the ability to see inside Faith to her core would see the damage there, the iron wound, the nights in a locked room, the open window, the cemetery in Gravesend, the salty land and the seabirds in the sky, the loneliness, the bitter taste in her mouth, the father who never showed himself, the mother who wished to believe that all was well with her daughter when there was a crack in everything and the world was coming apart. Faith would be ready for magic when she said she was ready, not when her mother allowed it. She had said yes to magic years ago in the flatlands, with the salt stinging her eyes so that she almost cried, not that she had the ability to do such a thing, not then and not now. Maria Owens could cry, but that was unusual for a witch, and was likely a sign of weakness in Faith’s opinion. Faith, herself, was nothing like that. Even if Maria had wanted to see inside her daughter, Faith had blocked her from doing so. It was a murky and solemn spell she had worked at the Minetta Stream, a fitting place for dark acts; she had used her own blood and hair and the bones of a small sparrow, and had thereby grown invisible to the person who loved her best in the world.
A part of her longed to be saved from the path she had taken, so that she could become the person she might have been if she hadn’t been a stolen child, if she hadn’t learned early on that there was evil in the world.
A nest had been tossed from a branch when the wind swept through. Maria knelt to point out the small fledgling to the baby. The black bird ignored Maria, but he looked at the baby with his glittering eye, unafraid. You cannot choose a familiar, it must choose you. When Hannah held out her hand, the crow came to her and settled beside her, tucked into Maria’s coat. Maria felt the beat of his heart inside him slowing to match the baby’s heartbeat.
They would take him home and wrap him in a blanket and Hannah would feed him sugar water from the tip of her finger. In no time he would be hopping around the house, perching on the staircase and on the brass rods above the damask curtains. By the time spring had fully bloomed, he would be flying. He would never be far from the girl who had been born on a snowy day, whose father had come home from the sea so that he could tell her every story he knew, whose sister took her in her arms to read to her, whose mother would teach her all she needed to know. This is how you begin in this world. These are the lessons to be learned. Drink chamomile tea to calm the spirit. Feed a cold and starve a fever. Read as many books as you can. Always choose courage. Never watch another woman burn. Know that love is the only answer.