Rivens was not looking at Cecily, just chewing on the end of a cold pipe as he stared at the clump of rhododendrons.
“Have you ever used it?”
He scuffed his boot in the gravel and worked the pipe stem with his teeth.
“Aye, I’ve got it.”
“Then it’s all real? I knew it wasn’t just my imagination. Gracia was right!”
Rivens sucked in a long breath, puffed his shrunken cheeks, and let it out in a quavering puff of spicy smoke.
“Gracia, eh? She’s the one who’s been tellin’ ye these things?”
“Yes. No one else saw fit to tell me that I have an invisible power to make things happen.”
“An’ perhaps they were wise not to.”
“Why is that? If I have such a power shouldn’t I be able to know about it?”
“Are ye gonna tell yer mum?”
She opened her mouth, but said nothing.
“It’s not that I don’t want her to know, it’s just that she might not trust me to make good use of it. If it’s really as strong as Mistress Gracia said, then she might not think I can handle it.”
Rivens jerked a grubby package from his pocket and began thrusting dried leaves into his pipe. “I once heard a man describe it as ‘a sword put into the hands of babes.’ Swords can be put to good use of course, but they can also do a great bit of harm.”
“So you think I’m a child? A child who can’t handle this?”
“Down, girlie, down. I didn’a say anythin’ of the sort. Power can be dangerous, and it’s not to be tossed about like a plaything.”
“A plaything?” Cecily felt her face growing hot and clenched her teeth. “I am not a senseless babe, I am a woman and I want to know more about the power I possess.”
“Ye want to know more.” His face remained still, but his eyes had caught a light and shone like very old, very bright, candles. “Did ye ever hear about how Gracia married Lander?”
She squirmed. “I only heard that Master Lander once loved another woman.”
“Aye. Name of Kateryne Beaupel. She were a lovely girl. Beautiful, really. Strong, sharp, had a lovely voice. She was always the quiet one, but wasn’t anyone who didn’t smile when she was nearby. Lander fell, and he fell hard, and for months the boy would hardly eat or sleep, and could only talk of ‘Kateryne, my Kateryne.’ She fancied him too, I s’pose, because they were married pretty soon.”
“Married? How could that be?”
“Now, don’t interrupt me! I’m tellin’ ye the tale. As I was about to say, it was a marriage that didn’t last long. Not long at all. Three—no, it was two months—two months later Kateryne was taken badly ill. Never seen a girl sicken so fast. One day she was workin’ in her garden and I told her I’d bring up some bulbs to plant as it was the time of year to be thinning things out, and the next day she was in her bed twitchin’ and….” Rivens stopped to swallow and was silent for a long moment. Cecily dared not say a word, but waited, taut, like a stretched bowstring.
“There was nought the doctors could do fer her. She died the next day.” He looked Cecily full in the eyes. “No one knew what afflicted Kateryne Walpole, but it wasn’t long before Lander had himself a new wife.”
“You’re not actually saying—”
“I’ve said nothin’. I’d never speak against a woman as good as Gracia Walpole; she’s been a true friend to yer mother, I know that much. Respectin’ all things, though, I wouldn’t say that she was all too sorry to see Kateryne go on. I can’t say that in her position I wouldn’t have been tempted myself.”
“I would never use my power to do harm.”
“That is what the cat said to the mouse trapped in the corner.”
“I’m not sayin’ ye would, girlie, only that when ye’ve got the strength to do yer will, it’s hard to lay low and stay safe.”
Cecily hugged her arms and stared down at the ground, rocking back and forth. “Is this power evil?”
“Power is a muscle. An arm can grab a shovel and dig up a crop of potatoes to feed a family. That same arm can break the teeth out of a man’s head. I’ve known those who’ve used their power to help others; my father grew the greatest garden in the county, and my old aunt raised twenty orphans. I can’t say they never did anythin’ they weren’t proud of, though.”
“But none of us can say that.” The sun had set half an hour ago, and the sounds of dinner rattled and squawked from the castle windows. Cecily pulled her shawl closer and picked up her basket full of herbs. “You know that I love my mum like no one else on earth, and I wouldn’t ever want anything to happen to her.”
Rivens pressed her fingers in his own. “Aye, aye. Jest don’t grab onto more than ye can hold. Jest ye remember who gave ye that power, and to whom it belongs. There are those as have let that power go to their heads. Thought they knew better than God what was good fer ‘em. It doesn’t often end well for sech folk.”
“I only ask to use what has been given to me.”
“That ye will, Cessy. Jest remember.”