Death Lives In The Water – Snippet 19

We arrived in America in 1792 at Baltimore, where we managed to purchase a wagon and team, large enough to carry us, salt, cloth, and our tools. We have passed other small communities on our way west, some Ukrainian like ourselves; others were from western Europe. And some were freed slaves, strong black-skinned men and women whose eyes bear the pain and sorrow of lives uprooted and families torn apart. In all these places we have found kindness, generosity, and curiosity. The few Ukrainian communities we have encountered are a joy but have made us even more homesick.

We have not found anyone possessed of the power we have kept secret from others, the powers of the old ways that forced us to leave and come to this strange land. We found something similar in one place. We stumbled upon a native village. The people are tall, sharp boned, thick skinned, and proud. They live in strange shelters built of animal hides and shaped like a cone, large and stable at the bottom rising to a small hole in the top where the smoke from the cooking and heating fire escaped. The tribe was at first resistant to having anything to do with us, but when we offered to share our freshly killed deer they relented and let us sit by the great open fire.

It was among these people that Katya first detected power not unlike her own. She told me that I was being carefully observed by a wrinkled, old man who sat in a seat higher than the others. When their meal was finished, and I was about to fill our water jugs and continue our journey, the man rose and pointed the stick he carried at the four of us. It was covered in feathers and symbols, and I saw Katya gasp as she felt the power of it. He then motioned to the child next to him, who ran into a nearby structure and returned with a smaller version of the stick. The old man carefully walked through the gathered tribe to me and held out the smaller stick. Katya, sensing what was about to happen, had already reached into her pack and pulled out a bundle of herbs she had brought with her from Ukraine. Once I had accepted the stick, she pressed the bundle into my hand, and I held it out to the old man.

She knew that the bundle would be saved for as long as it could be, just as she and her siblings would treasure and protect the stick.

The following morning, as we set out again seeking land that would call to us, I handed the stick to Katya. She gasped again at the power of it and carefully wrapped it in a soft sheepskin and placed it in the trunk that held her ritual clothing, books, and candles. She felt it would be necessary to incorporate the stick in any workings in this new world.

We came upon the fertile and forested land on which we settled, just south of where a small but swift river broke off from the Mississippi. There was a narrow portion at the headwaters where the river had not yet gathered strength as it tumbled south down to where it curved east back to the Mississippi.

There was a cotton mill about two miles downriver from the first rapids, but no one lived north of the mill. We built our cottages from stones Mikhail and I carried from the river bank, while Jane and Katya built temporary shelters with tree branches they cut from the birches in the nearby woods. It was mid-summer, and we would be warm enough if exposed to possible predators until at least one of the cottages could be built. My sisters also busied themselves planting the precious apple and cherry seeds they had brought with them and vegetables in a small garden area they prepared, using the team of horses and the small plow I purchased in Baltimore.

Charity wondered again at the hardships they must have faced, both in their journey from Baltimore to this remote area and in building a place to live before the winter storms set in. She also marveled at the construction of the cottages. The exterior was carefully placed stone, but the inside walls were hand cut slabs, carefully fitted together with mortise and tenon joints. The bark was left on one side of the slabs facing outward, sheep wool was stuffed into the openings, and then the stone walls were built over the bark and wool.

This couldn’t have been accomplished in the few months they had before winter arrived. Did they all stay in one cottage at first and then build the next? Did they find shelter elsewhere while they built? Did they have help? These were questions for which she had no answers. She decided to ask Arthur and Jen to look through the other three cottages for trunks she hoped would hold more journals or diaries.

Dinner the following afternoon was a lovely affair. Arthur brought a deep red full-bodied wine to go with the lamb, and Bridgette brought a pear tart she had made under the watchful eye of Maggie. While Morey was the one who was part of the family tree going back to Stephan, it seemed that Maggie was the one possessed of the talent that brought the fruit from the orchard to life. In fact, all of her talent showed itself in her baking and cooking. Charity was delighted to learn that the skill was being passed on to Bridgette. When Maggie was included in the discussions around Charity’s table regarding traditions and spells, her only comment was that it explained why her baking was so sought after. She also mentioned that after once deviating from the old recipes, she never did it again. She refused to go into more detail, and it was universally assumed among the others that the resultant product had been a disaster.

After dinner, Charity tentatively put forth the idea of Jen and Bridgette moving up there into one of the cottages, or perhaps even each having her own cottage. To her surprise, both thought the idea was wonderful and agreed to come up the following day and throughout the summer to select cottages and do what needed to be done to make them comfortable and inviting. Jen was certain her father, Bull, would help in the restoration. She was equally certain that her parents, even though they loved her and her daughter dearly, would be happy to have their home to themselves once again.

Arthur, too, was delighted and suggested that perhaps the fourth cottage could be renovated at some point as living quarters for students who might happen to pass through. Arthur Willingham may have been ordained by the Congregational Church, but very few people knew that he was also highly skilled in the arcane arts and a gifted seer.

The conversation soon took a more serious turn. Arthur had also sensed that something was wrong, and they all compared notes. Arthur was concerned about the missing boys, who had disappeared so soon after Rory’s demise. He filled the women in on the details of Ben’s encounter in the pump house. Charity was equally concerned about the disappearance of the boys, plus the decrease in the number of wildlife traveling through her woods.

They all knew that at some point someone had put a protection spell of some kind on the village so that it would always attract the people it needed. It had brought them Jim Burch, and Arthur himself had felt pulled to come. He also believed that Martin Rutledge had been called and that the reason would be revealed in due time.

But some other protection, unknown to them all, had been broken. Arthur felt the need to know exactly what it was, and soon. He urged Charity, Jen, and Bridgette to go through the trunks stored in the three unoccupied cottages, while he would seek out the assistance of Linda Collier in exploring the newspaper morgue files. He wasn’t sure what he would tell her they sought, but missing animals or people was high on his list. How he would explain it was a different matter.

They settled on a loose schedule of sorts. As Jen had predicted, her father was more than willing to help with the renovation and restoration of the cottages, especially since the Rectory project was very nearly done. Mary had a full schedule of quilt retreats, so money, at least for the summer, was not a problem. They would start renovating the cottages the following Monday, just three days away. And Arthur would start some serious research immediately. Charity promised to spend the next few days going through the various trunks and boxes in the vacant cottages, and after much begging she agreed to have Bridgette come and help. Jen also relayed the happy news that as soon as the mill resumed operations, her father would have his old job back as foreman.

As Arthur rose to leave, his phone rang. It was Jim Burch. Arthur sighed to himself. These days it was never good when Jim called midday or unexpectedly.

“I need you at Harve Sanders’ place. You’re official now, on the clock. Harry’s in St. Louis for a couple of days.”

“Be right there.”