The Willow Knot, Chapter One: Into the Wide World

Little brother took little sister by the hand and said, "Since our mother died we have had no happiness; our step-mother beats us every day, and if we come near she kicks us away with her foot. May Heaven pity us. If our mother only knew! Come, we will go forth together into the wide world."

Myl stood in the chicken run, throwing handfuls of seed to the greedy hens. She threw the grain like stones, as if it would keep them back, not bring them to her.
Eat and eat, she thought. Then you'll be eaten.
She saw her brother's dusty fair hair over the fence, and her hand went to the kerchief that covered her own shorn head. Tyl leant against the post, waiting for her to be done. She flapped her empty apron at the chickens to show them, then caught the fence rail, hooked bare toes over a slat, and swung herself to the other side.
The bruise on Tyl's face had faded to yellow, but he held himself stiff with yesterday's stripes, where the head groom--his master on the morrow--had laid a stick across his fishbone back. He's a child, she raged, to be switched or slapped, not beaten like a full-grown stable-lad.
If this your mother knew, Her heart would break in two. The rhyme buzzed in her head until she wanted to shake it loose. She caught hold of Tyl's threadbare shirt and dragged him around the corner of the capon cote, where they couldn't be seen.

The Cost of Silver, Chapter One: Poor Tom's a-cold. (Shakespeare, Lear)

Kenninghall, Norfolk, spring 1627

The boy Tom huddled against the wall, hands tucked into his shirt for warmth, water dripping coldly off the high thatched eaves onto his outthrust elbows and splashing on his bare feet. He kept a wary eye on the near houses, but they were shuttered and quiet, with no man putting his head out into the wet evening.

'Twould be night soon, when the hunters'd be calling him again, trying to draw him from the chalked circle that kept him from walking into their jaws. Did they find the place he hid after dark, that circle'd do naught to keep them out. They'd pluck him from it and suck him like a marrowbone. He'd seen what was left from that.

Damn you to hell, damn you, you said you'd teach me, seven year safe you promised me and bare five of it gone. Devil take thee. The devil had, too, but his master walked abroad by night still, and he'd have Tom if Tom stepped wrong.

Damn you, you might have let me go free from the bond. Death cancels all debts, men said, but he felt the blood-bond yet, and his master would have all his blood this time.

He must finish this before dark, and make himself safe elsewhere. The door was barred, he knew, so he looked quickly at the window above him, the shutters open for what poor light was left in the day, and went straight up the wall to it, his calloused fingers and toes digging into the scabby plaster, clinging to the lath where it showed, hooking over the timbers, with a charm muttered under his breath to keep him from falling. He tumbled through the window onto the floor within before seeing that he'd reached it.

O let this not be where he waits for me.

The Children of Mercury, Chapter One: An occupation known as painting

With stealth surprising in so stocky a man, Maestro Agnolo di Lorenzo stepped to within a pace of his intended victim. The slender blond youth, silverpoint and cartone paper forgotten on the bench beside him, flicked a third pebble at the old mastiff that slept in a patch of sun. Agnolo cocked his weapon to shoulder height and swung.
The staff hissed through the heavy summer air. Sandro, with the speed of youth and guilt, leapt up and away from the bench. The blow landed not on his wool-clad shoulders, but across his backside, protected only by thin linen drawers. He ran three steps across the kitchen, howling, then turned to face his master. His clear blue eyes were already filling with penitent tears, and his lips, perfect as a carved putto's, opened to spill out a glib apology. "Master! The dog is a better subject awake and alert, not--"
Saint Luke, patron of painters, deliver me from the only sons of doting mothers!
Agnolo frowned and prodded his apprentice's chest with the point of the staff. "Sandro! There are two hanged men in the Prato. Go and sketch them."
Bookwyrms, Chapter One

When I was a kid, a bespectacled bookworm creeping through the children's section of the library, a poster hung in the corner where preschoolers fidgetted through Story Time.

The poster graphic was a book opened like a door, showing the way to a pastel fairy-tale land, castle on a hill and all. I loved that poster and was embarrassed by it in equal measure. The straight-backed chair for the Children's Librarian stood right in front, so I couldn't always read the words as I scuttled by. I knew them, though, by heart.

Books are magic.

Back then it was just a metaphor.


Outside the piledriver slammed, shaking the walls. I pushed my earplugs in harder and hunched over my keyboard. At this rate, McClung Library would collapse before the Dee Centre for Thaumaturgical and Shamanic Studies was two storeys high.

Thud. A book fell off the shelf. I stifled a curse. Since Magic's Return there's been the chance a curse would work, and then what?