They made their good byes and while the town reeve returned to his own office in the building next door, the three women went to the Bishop's Residence. Father Manrel received them in a comfortable study on the ground floor of the building near its business entrance. Being a churchman, he wore a grey kilt under a grey tunic that had silver buttons down the left-hand side fastening. He had knee-high grey socks and black shoes on his feet, while his hair was pulled back neatly into a standard clerical ponytail almost long enough to reach the waistband of his kilt, if that portion of the garment had been on display. His guest chairs were upholstered in blue and he offered everyone tea.
"I don't know that I can," said Liavan honestly. "There has been so much tea for me this afternoon, but please don't let that stop anyone else having one."
"I find," replied the diocese's senior withemaster or withemistress in religious orders, "that tea gives one something inoffensive to do with one’s hands. Holding a teacup can also provide a surprising amount of moral support. Besides, this blend is one that the Bishop's assistant housekeeper makes up herself with rose petals from the garden - I find the scent quite soothing." He poured tea into four tall, straight-sided cups with a lichen-like pattern glazed on them and placed one in front of each of his guests on a small silver coaster before taking the last one for himself. "Now, Withemistress Haucmel, I believe you said something about cursing your mother. I take it that you were not referring to the use of strong language?"
"No, I wasn't," admitted Liavan, and she let Father Manrel lead her through telling the whole story again.
When Liavan finished he observed quietly, "So, in order to lift the curse your mother is required to perform an act, possibly multiple acts, of contrition and restitution with the number defined by her actions in the last thirteen lunar months. It has a certain elegance to it," he admitted. "How do you feel about the whole matter?"
"I'm not sure if I'm more worried that I'm the sort of person who casts curses," admitted Liavan, "or that I cursed my mother, or that I would have said that I didn’t know how to lay a curse on someone, or that there will be penalties from the authorities for cursing her."
"I can find no fault with any of those concerns,” replied the priest. “At this point there will be no penalty from the church in view of the developing provocation you received in the leadup to the act. However, I will require you to visit me in my professional capacity on a regular basis from now until your mother rids herself of the curse. You might indeed be the sort of person to whom curses are second nature, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Like so many skills and talents the key is in how, when, and why you use it. Together I am sure that we can endeavour to keep you on a path of good choices and sound moral behaviour. As for how you knew what to do, occasionally people in our line do make instinctual breakthroughs, but I think you’d be better served going back through your great aunt’s notes again. There may be things in there that, taken together, explain everything."
"So," commented Withemistress Penden shrewdly, "if your mother does raise a fuss about the matter, then the Church has already taken you in hand. What more can she ask?"
"A short sermon on the doctrine of pre-birth innocence perhaps," suggested Father Manrel. "It sounds to me as if she might need it. I will suggest to the Rector of the Cathedral that it might be timely for a sermon on the topic. I don't think there's been one from the cathedral pulpit for some years now. His Excellency might also be open to covering the issue in his regular letter to the diocese."
Liavan asked, "How often should I come to see you then, sir? Once a week when I come to market day?"
"Once every second week should be sufficient," replied the priest kindly, "unless we become concerned about your progress. Shall we meet next market day for the first time?"
"I can certainly do that," Liavan replied, much relieved that no-one was inclined to withdraw her licenses or throw her into gaol. "When do you want me to come and see you?"
"Why don't I come to see you at your stall early in the day?" suggested Father Manrel. "Depending on your mother's actions between now and then it might be best to show that you are under the supervision of the diocese in that you are within my concerns. By the way, it has occurred to me since you came here to apply for your license - do you know what happened to your great aunt's furniture after she died?"
"Some of it went to other family members," said Liavan slowly. "That's how I got some of the notebooks of hers I have, they were in a chest of drawers from her room that I was given. The rest of it was sent to be sold off."
"It might be worth making enquiries with the second-hand furniture dealers," said Father Manrel carefully.
"Sometimes large pieces, particularly large pieces with doors and drawers that can't be opened, can take years to sell. The dealer might still have some of your great aunt's things."
"If you haven't already," added Withemistress Penden carefully, "double check that chest of drawers for anything...unexpected. I've heard of glyphs and runes painted on the underside of drawers, double and false bottoms, and invisible inks."
"If anything is on any of her old furniture," added Anirar thoughtfully, "it seems unlikely to be anything actively dangerous. I mean, Withemistress Haucmel's great-aunt has been gone for some years now, or so I understand, and nothing has exploded."
"You have a good point," agreed the priest.
"I don't think Great Aunt Anglou would have booby trapped her furniture," said Liavan thoughtfully. "Locked it, yes. Set it up to hurt you if you looked at it wrong, no."
"She was a withemistress," observed Withemistress Penden. "We can get peculiar, and none of us like being stolen from."
"I suspect that if Withemistress Haucmel's great aunt had booby trapped any of her possessions, then the family would have discovered it when they cleaned out her room after she died," observed Father Manrel. "As it appears that nothing has triggered since her demise, all should be well. In my experience, the people who do booby trap their possessions seem to aim for a high death count as quickly as possible and generally don't have access to magic."
"That seems a rather sweeping statement, " observed Withemistress Penden.
"Again, in my experience the people with magic tend to take action against their so-called persecutors much sooner than those without," remarked the priest. "It's the other person who dies first, or gets transformed into something."
"You have a point," conceded Withemistress Penden. She turned to Liavan and added, "I would be fascinated to see your great aunt's notebooks, but I freely concede that you have the greatest claim to them. Please, call on me if you find something you would like help with to open, or form an opinion on before you try to open it. I will require a consideration for my help, but it won't be anything excessive."
"I would also be happy to provide advice if you think you want it," added Father Manrel, "but my advice will be in line with the church's teachings and sometimes such advice isn't wanted."
Liavan thought for a moment and said, "Thank you, both of you. I will keep your kind offers and your advice in mind."
Anirar asked, "May I make a personal observation, Withemistress Haucmel? After I apologise for my rudeness when you first came to our house this afternoon."
Liavan simply looked at her, not sure what to say.
"I was...obnoxious," Anirar sighed as she admitted it, "and I left you sitting in the entrance hall because I didn't think you looked like a real withemistress. All the withemistresses I know fortify themselves with enchantments when they go out and about, and you don't have anything," she leaned forward sharply, "except your boots. How did I miss those before?"
"They're very ordinary boots," replied Liavan. "Why would you look at them? As for me not having many things yet, well I have only just started out."
"You don't even have any ordinary decorations on your hat," pointed out Anirar. "That's unusual, but generally not in a good way."
"Up until now I haven't been in a position to choose my own clothes," Liavan replied quietly, "and just now I have other priorities."
"If you're not sure what clothes you want or what colours will suit you," put in Father Manrel, "I can ask the Bishop's housekeeper and her assistant to take you around the seamstresses and the tailoring shops. Sister Malen and Sister Haydor like dressing people and they both have a good eye. I think you might do better with stronger colours than the ones that have been chosen for you before."
Liavan looked down at her pale-yellow tunic with its line of bone buttons up the left front and agreed, "Yes, I think you're right. Marigold or peat would look better, and a stronger green or even blue for the dress."
"Think about it while you're building up your reserves," suggested Withemistress Penden. "Once you know what spells you want to imbue an object with, the choice of that object does become easier. I find that protections go best with some things, enhancements with others, and so on."
"What may not have come to Withemistress Penden's notice," added Father Manrel, "is that different people have different preferences when they choose what to enchant. The late Brother Hendel at the Abbey of St Astram over by Castle Rennard used to put everything on buckles. Belt buckles, shoe buckles, strap buckles, any sort of buckle: he used to say that buckles weren't expected to wear out and people always keep them. On the other hand, many people prefer to use brooches because they can be easily moved around between different tunics or shawls."
"I shall keep all of that in mind," replied Liavan gravely.
"And I got distracted and didn't actually say the words," put in Anirar. "I am very sorry I was rude to you this afternoon, Withemistress Haucmel, and I will try to do better with new acquaintances who don't appear to be within my expectations in the future."
"I thank you for your apology, and I applaud your intention to improve," replied Liavan formally. "That is a thing which is not always easy."
Father Manrel brightly surveyed all his guests and said, "Well, that seems to be all our business that I am aware of, ladies. If there is nothing else, I am supposed to be making a clean copy of one of my predecessor's notes to send to one of my colleagues."
Liavan looked at the other two women and then back at their host, "Thank you everyone for putting up with my nonsense, but I think we've covered everything of mine."
"I have nothing else," agreed Withemistress Penden, who then turned to her daughter, "Anirar?
That young lady shook her head and said, "No, I have nothing else."
They made their farewells then, and Liavan and the other two women separated outside the Residence. Liavan made her way to the spot that would get her home on one step and cast her spell. When she arrived almost on the track in front of her house, she was pleased to see that she seemed to have had no further visitors. She unlocked the house and, feeling the warm air trapped inside, considered whether her contemplated changes should include a verandah to shade the windows and walls. After finishing off her outside chores, Liavan returned to her desk and her interrupted calculations. After dinner she wrote up the afternoon in her notebook before she went to bed.
She woke before dawn to hear stamping outside and looking through her window showed her a giant stag with strange antlers, just like the one she'd seen before in almost the same place as last time. It was pawing at the ground outside her fence as if it was trying to dig a hole, and Liavan didn't know enough about deer to know if this was normal behaviour. Interrupting it seemed a very bad idea, so Liavan took what seemed the sensible step of going back to bed.
Morning revealed a hole big enough to fit the muzzle of the animal she'd seen in, and a pile of fresh dung. Liavan did nothing to the hole and added the dung to her beginning of a compost pile. She went on with her routine because weeds were growing enthusiastically in her new garden. Some of them were useful plants, so she tried moving them to places that suited her more - if she was lucky some would survive. She prepared her cough mixtures well ahead of time and practised the hand gestures that went with the spell on her shoes in case she had to use it unexpectedly and in a hurry. That led to her noticing that the small catch at her magic that happened when she did the spell's gestures happened even while she wasn't wearing the shoes. A little cautious experimentation later and she had found that using just the gestures and pushing a little magic into them let her travel anything between eight and fifteen ells instantaneously. As far as she could tell.
It then occurred to her that if she was going to go flinging herself blindly around the countryside by magic in the course of learning what her spells and boots could do, then a compass and a decent map could be useful pieces of equipment. She had no idea how much such things cost, so she wrote a reminder to make enquiries.
Next market day dawned wet and Liavan swathed herself in her grey overshawl before leaving the house. Market Cranebourne however was fine and sunny, so she took it off after she arrived at her usual spot on the far outskirts of town, folded the garment with the dampness inwards, and put in into her holdall. She was in good time to get her usual spot for her stall and erected it quickly and efficiently while no-one else had time to gawp at how much was coming out of her carpet bag holdall. Today she added her great shawl to the space between the two back canopy support posts so it could dry, and a second folding chair because she was expecting Father Manrel. Business was satisfyingly brisk, except sustained interest in her mixtures meant that the town's miner's lung and forge fume problems were not abating with the warmer weather.
She spent a pleasant half hour with Father Manrel who had some good advice on where to buy a compass, and a few pithy things to say about maps. "It depends on what the map is intended to do," he told her. "I've seen route maps that are nothing but a straight strip of paper with landmarks on the route marked but no indication of direction or the route's relationship to other roads. There are maps that ignore everything outside the landed estates except the royal castles. There are sea charts that ignore anything on land. Before you hand over good money you need to know what it is that you want."
"Something that tells me where places are in relation to other places," replied Liavan. "As the crow flies, and with the roads marked in too."
"You know, I don't know that there is one for around here," said Father Manrel thoughtfully after a moment. "We've got one we made ourselves for the town. St Astram's has one for their lands and Castle Rennard. The Baron might have one and so might the Duke, but they would be for their own use. They exist for the capital and both old capitals, but if you want one for here, then you might have to make it yourself. It would be a worthy endeavour," he added. "Given the breadth of the diocese, the Bishop might buy a copy off you, if you did make one."
"I suppose," said Liavan slowly, "that part of the problem is that there's nowhere up high that you can see everything around here from at once. I mean, you can climb the cathedral tower and see all of Market Cranebourne at once, and how it's laid out and the way Evers Lane curves so it can cross both Foundry Way and Mishel Street, but you can't see the whole road between Market Cranebourne and, say, Castle Rennard."
"Or the bits that the roads don't go through," added Father Manrel. "Those are the bits that get people into trouble."
Liavan nodded and added, "Like giant pigs."
"Swamps and mires," added Father Manrel. "If you decide to go map making, be careful because you don’t know what you might find."
"I'll keep it in mind," promised Liavan.
This is Part 7.
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