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Insane writings of an insane mind!

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Juniper Tree
Juniper Tree

The streets of 1845 London were filthy. Beggars lurked in alleys, their grubby hands held out for any offering. Children in their dirty clothes pleaded with passers-by to buy weedy flowers. More and more people suffered since the economic downfall of the 1830's, the need to scrap a living harder then ever.

So it was in the Linette house. Tucked away in a one room apartment, sharing space with rats and bugs, Mary Linette dreamed of an easier life. Wife and mother, she was forced to stay at home to care for her sick son, David. Since birth, he had been a weak boy and each day, he grew weaker still. Somehow, despite the odds, he clung to life for five years. Five long and lonely years that Mary spent by his bedside while her husband and older daughter went out to make the small bit of money that they lived off of.

Mary hated her life. She felt useless as she bathed her son in what little water they had or fed him their meager portions of soup. She should be out there, working in some grand home as a maid or nurse, making money to feed her family and help secure a good dowry for her precious Lydia. Instead, day in and day out, she was forced to watch over the one burden she had in life.

“I just wish something would happen,” she lamented to her neighbor one day. “Either David gets better or not. Why would God just let him hang like this? It must be so painful for David.”

“Hush now,” the neighbor admonished. “Don't say such things. God could very well take David from you, and then you'd be sent to the poor house from the funeral costs.”

That was something else that worried Mary. What if her husband or Lydia died? They were barely making it by with the few coins that they were brining in, but if either of them couldn't work, then they would have no choice but to either become beggars or move.

Slowly – so slowly that Mary couldn't remember when she felt differently – Mary began to hate David. He was the cause of all her pain. He ate their food, lived in their home, and contributed to nothing. People heaped praise on Mary and sympathy on David, but it did them no good. At night, she selfishly prayed that God would either take David, give her husband a promotion, or place a rich widower in Lydia's path. There were nights when she prayed some rich widower would whisk her away.

“He needn't be young or handsome,” she'd reason, “as long as he's rich and can provide. He needn't be too kind either.”

Finally, Mary's prayers were answered. She heard from her neighbor that Mrs. Jane Duptom from down Maple Street had lost her son to gastric fever.

“Oh, how awful,” simpered Mary. “How can they carry on after what the funeral must cost?”

“That's the best part,” said the gossip. “Jane enrolled her son in several of those burial clubs. They each paid her five pounds. That was more then enough for the funeral and some money to live on.”

A burial club! Mary hadn't thought of that. It would be so simple to enroll David in a few. That way, when he died (for she was sure that he'd die), she could collect the money and not have to worry. It was something that so many people were doing, and it was a lucrative business.

Though, it wasn't without its own problems. Mary learned that the burial clubs were not guaranteed. Th sooner David died, the better the payout. The longer he lingered, the less money she'd collect.

“Best be sure your son is really sick, ma'am. Funerals are expensive these days. Especially if you want that boy of yours in a proper grave in sanctified ground. Which, I'm sure a right lady like yourself would want.”

Mary used the money she had set aside for Lydia's future wedding to buy the enrollment to a few burial clubs. Not a lot, but just enough to help cover any financial burdens and repay the wedding fund. She knew that she had to make sure that David died soon. Death was probably already at the door, all she had to do was open it.

She worried over it for a few days before a dark and sinful thought entered her mind. She knew how to hurry David's meeting with Death. She knew how to do this without rousing suspicion from the police. After all, David was already sick. She could just nudge him into a greater sickness.

The next day, after she kissed her husband good-bye and wished Lydia well, she set about her plan. David was sleeping as she started to make him his normal watery soup. Nothing but hot water and a few stringy carrots, but it was all they had. Her mouth watered as she thought of how good food would taste. Surely, God would forgive her for easing her son's pain.

A quick glance around the room told her that David was still asleep. She knelt down and reached in the back of the cabinet. There, she found a bag of rat poison. A few small grains of the white arsenic and David would be at heaven's door. She sprinkled it in the soup and then filled a bowl. It was just enough, she was sure of it.

She turned, intending on waking David up and feeding him. To her surprise and horror, he was watching her. His eyes were so bright and alert, his manner so healthy. It was as if he had healed himself in those moments she wasn't looking.

“David, you're awake,” she said. “Good. I made you your lunch.”

“I don't want it.” His voice was strong, there was not rasp or hint of breathlessness.

“Don't be silly,” Mary said as she placed the soup by his bed. “You know the doctor wants you to eat. You have to keep up your strength.”

“I don't want it.”

“David, don't argue with me. You look well enough to feed yourself. I'm just going to clean up the house for your father.”

She turned to start picking up the few odds and ends that were around. She nearly jumped when she heard the crash. David had pushed the bowl from the small table and was watching her soup seep into the floor.

Her soup. Her wonderful soup that would fix all her problems. Her mysteriously healthy son had pushed her soup away. She could just hear the money flying away. No food for her family, no wedding for Lydia, no hope for a future. They were going to die because David didn't want his soup.

“David, why did you do that? I worked hard on your lunch. Do you have any idea how many days I have to go hungry so you can keep your strength?” Her hands were starting to tremble with rage. How dare he! He was her son and if she said to eat that soup, he should have obeyed her. Honor thy mother and father!

“I'm not eating it,” David said. “I saw you, mother. I saw you put something in that soup. And when father gets home, I'm telling him.”

Mary shook with rage and fear. He would tell. He would tell and her husband would toss her out on the street. This was not her son, but some evil demon in her son's form. There was no way a five-year-old boy would ever refuse food. This was some dark specter that came to torment her!

She wasn't aware of what she was doing. Her mind was numb, her memory blank. She barely recalled rushing forward and grabbing the pillow from David's bed. She had little memory of pushing the pillow over his face and holding it there. She didn't feel it when he scratched at her as he fought to breathe or how long he was still before she removed the pillow. All she remembered was his soulless eyes staring accusingly up at her.

“David? David?”

She shook him, but he did not move. With loving care, she replaced the pillow behind him and arranged his body to resemble how he often looked when he slept. On his side with one arm tucked under the pillow, the other so close to his mouth as he often sucked his thumb. She took a deep breath as she closed his eyes.

With one last look at her son, she turned and ran out of the apartment. She banged on the neighbor's door and collapsed at her feet when she answered. Sobbing, she said David was dead. The commotion that followed was a blur. The doctor had to confirm that David had died naturally. Her husband and daughter had to be summoned from where they worked. She had to slip away the next morning with the death certificate in hand to collect from the burial clubs.

David was buried in the cemetery, under a juniper tree. Lydia was beside herself in tears and Mary worried that her daughter would mourn herself into an illness. Her husband started drinking, working his way through the burial money. Mary had to find work, which suited her just fine.

She started a job with a well-to-do family as a cook. They had a son David's age, and hired her after she told them tearfully about her own son. Her pay was good and there was always food on the table. Lydia soon met a man and married, Mary so proud that she was able to give her daughter a nice wedding. Mary's husband worked less and less, drowning himself in a bottle. It didn't matter so much with just him and Mary at home. She was making ends meet.

Then, slowly, the money wasn't enough. Mary was starting to feel that old burden. Her husband was drinking more, spending more, and working less.

“What am I to do,” she wondered as she cooked for her employers. “I can probably enroll him in a burial club, but what if I fail again.”

I am buried under a juniper tree.
It was my mother who murdered me.
First she poisoned me in my bed,
then she held a pillow over my head.

Mary turned as the childish song filled the kitchen. There was no one there. She couldn't be sure what the song was, but her heart pounded in her chest.

“Anyone there?”

Someone should have been there. Another cook, some maid or servant, anyone. The house seemed deserted.

“Silly,” Mary whispered to herself. “Just stress, that's all. Probably some wind coming down the chimney.”

Still, she couldn't get her problems out of her mind. She wrapped herself up in her winter shaw and headed home, trying to plan the best way to rid herself of her burdens. Poison was a bit risky and she couldn't hold him down long enough to use a pillow. A fall down the stairs, maybe? He was a drunk.

I am buried under a juniper tree.
It was my mother who murdered me.
First she poisoned me in my bed,
then she held a pillow over my head.

“Anyone there?” Mary looked around to see who was singing. She had hear the words a little clearer this time. Something about a tree and a bed. The only thing she could see was a little bird on a tree.

“I'm really losing it,” she thought. “Just a bird, that's all.” She started to walk on when the bird opened its beak.

I am buried under a juniper tree.
It was my mother who murdered me.
First she poisoned me in my bed,
then she held a pillow over my head.

“Oh my God!” Mary heard the song clearly. That demon in her son was now tormenting her. What if someone else heard that bird? Would they know it was her?

Running, Mary darted down an alley. She saw the church and ran inside, sure that the bird demon would not follow her.

“Something wrong, ma'am,” the priest asked. “You look like you're being chased.”

“It's nothing,” Mary lied. “I, uh, nearly forgot that I wanted to say some extra prayers in thanks for my daughter's wedding. God has truly blessed me.”

The priest smiled and went about his way. Mary knelt in a pew and bent her head, praying earnestly that the bird demon would be vanquished.

I am buried under a juniper tree.
It was my mother who murdered me.
First she poisoned me in my bed,
then she held a pillow to my head.

Mary's head shot up as the singing rang loud in the church. The bird was sitting on the alter, staring at her.

“My, what a lovely bird,” the priest said. “And how beautifully he sings. Don't you think so, ma'am?”

“Yes, lovely,” said Mary. “I must go.”

She ran, sickened that the church could not offer sanctuary from the beast of the Devil. Everywhere she ran, it followed, singing its horrible song. And everywhere, people commented on how lovely it was.

I am buried under a juniper tree.
It was my mother who murdered me.
First she poisoned me in my bed,
then she held a pillow to my head.

“Please, God, make it stop,” Mary pleaded. She ran blindly towards her home, trying to outrun the bird. The song was so clear that she could hear David's laughter under the words.

“Please, make it stop!”

Mary Linette never saw the horse and carriage, nor did she hear the people warning her. There were moments of fear and pain as the horse ran over her, the carriage wheels slicing into her. The driver was shocked, his white hands still gripping the reigns.

“It wouldn't stop,” he kept repeating. “I couldn't get the horse to stop. It just went faster.”

I am buried under a juniper tree.
It was my mother who murdered me.
First she poisoned me in my bed,
then she held a pillow to my head.

“David,” whispered Mary before she died. Her husband thought that Mary was seeing an angel and had her buried next to David under the juniper tree.

The funeral was paid for by Lydia, who had secretly enrolled her mother in a burial club.

The Book of Magic: Chapter O1
Chapter One

“He's going to ask for her hand."
Gilbert barely glanced over at his friend. He knew that Thomas was fuming, this visit not working to how they had planned. Both men watched the couple ahead of them, their eyes taking in every movement, ready to pounce at the first departure of decorum. Thomas' hands curled tightly into fists, his whole being focused on the object of his obsession.

“You don't know that,” said Gilbert. “Really, Your Grace, they just met.”

“I know that, Highness,” snapped Thomas. Taking a deep breath, he said more calmly, “I know that. But, look at him! He's fascinated by her and I just know he will ask for her hand in marriage.”

Gilbert kept silent. He knew that the duke had a slight fascination with his sister. Ever since Thomas had accidentally stumbled on Diane in the stable nearly ten years ago, his heart was captured. There were times when Gilbert caught Thomas writing sappy love poems dedicated to Diane's orange-red hair or the way she laughed instead of concentrating on the discussions surrounding the treaties between their two lands. He tolerated it only because he approved of the duke.

“He's touching her,” growled Thomas. Indeed, Prince Luke had reached out and tucked a lock of Diane's hair behind one ear. Gilbert's protective nature snarled inside his heart.

“Hey! Hands to yourself,” he yelled, startling the couple. Diane blushed and took a step back, keeping a respectable distance between herself and the visiting prince. Gilbert couldn't believe that the Loidite prince would dare to take such liberties with an unmarried woman. Praise the Giver he was there to keep his sister safe.

Gilbert waited until the couple started walking again before leaning closer to Thomas. “If we are to keep her from being married to Prince Luke, we must find a good reason for my father to say no that will not lead us into another war.”

“How about centuries of war? The Anstarians and the Loidites have been fighting since the beginning of time. Do you really believe your father would so readily marry his only daughter off to the enemy?”

“For peace, he would,” Gilbert said. Their kingdoms had been in a bloody war for longer then either cared to remember. Now that the Loidites had offered an olive branch, Gilbert knew his father would jump at any chance to keep the peace. He, on the other hand, would rather see his sister marry Thomas and further his own plans.

Thomas made a growling noise in the back of his throat. “You cannot be serious. That Loidite scum is not good enough for her. They still rely on magic! They are not as scientific as you or I.”

“You are not as scientific as you want me to believe,” Gilbert pointed out. “Your king still employs a court wizard. No matter how many of our machines or inventions you use, it's null and void the second you rely on a hexen.”

“Are you trying to insult my kingdom? Need I remind you that it is only through us that you will ever be able to reclaim the lands of Hehkata.”

Gilbert motioned for him to keep his voice down. “Do not mention that in public,” he hissed. “Especially if you still want my kingdoms help when you decide to finally march on Nev.” In more normal tones, he added, “I just know how my father is. He is so desperate for peace that he would marry her off to a hexen if needs be.”

“For Giver's sake, Highness, what about the fact that they don't protect their women? I've been to Loidi with my brother on diplomatic missions, seen it for myself. They just let their women walk around free, mingling with any man they choose,” Thomas argued. “He's touching her again!”

“Prince Luke, take your hands off my sister!” Gilbert started to rush forward to move the prince's hand from Diane's shoulder, but the Loidite jumped back.

“Terribly sorry, Highness,” Prince Luke called back, “but she had some dirt on her dress. All gone now.”

“Diane, if he touches you once more, you will be locked in your room,” Gilbert snapped. His sister nodded, taking an extra step back from the prince. Prince Luke glared back at Gilbert for a moment before turning his attentions on Diane. He tried to pick up the conversation, but it was obvious that the mood had been broken.

Gilbert sighed. He knew his sister well enough, her love for adventure and mischievous nature. Without the restraints of living in Anstaria or Danbar, she could flourish and happily pursue her hobbies. But, was her happiness worth her safety?

“Your Grace, why have you never proposed,” Gilbert asked. “You have been bringing my sister gifts for years, been the only foreigner to see her. In fact, you've been the only one outside our courts to even know she exists. I am not blind, Thomas, I know of your interest in her. I stopped her from being betrothed once, just for you.”

“Someone else has already asked for her hand,” Thomas moaned.

“Nearly,” Gilbert replied. “Lord Volker Vonmeier, a refugee from Goldspar. He came here six years ago, claiming his family had been assassinated in the recent political upheaval. Father took him in and granted him a title, but no lands. As soon as he could, he asked for Diane's hand in marriage.”

“What happened?”

“I convinced Father that Vonmeier was treacherous and planned to use Diane's status to reassert himself in the Goldsparian court. It was rather easy, the Goldsparians are well-known for their lies and murderous ways. If their new ruler lasts more then a year, I'll be surprised. She is the latest in, what, seven in the past six years?”

Thomas gave a low 'hmm'. “This Vonmeier fellow, he's not the pale-haired man I've seen lurking near your sister recently?”

“He is. He hasn't given up on her. I've had the guards escort him away from the women's chambers several times. The only thing that's kept him from being tossed out of Anstaria is that he hasn't actually...touched...Diane.”

Up ahead, Diane broke away from Prince Luke and came walking back. Even subdued, Diane's face radiated happiness. Gilbert was sure she had been glowing from the attention.

“Come on you two,” she said, grabbing Gilbert's arm. “You're missing out. What can the two of you be talking about so seriously?”

“Affairs of state,” said Gilbert. “Nothing that would interest you.”

Diane's blue eyes glittered as her smile widened. Teasingly, she said, “Oh, but I find if very interesting, dear brother, and you know that. Did you know, Your Grace,” she added, turning to Thomas, “that I used to take history and politics with Gilbert as a child?”

“How...irregular,” said Thomas.

“It's not as she says,” Gilbert protested. “She'd grow bored with her own lessons and sneak away, sitting outside the door of my tutor. Little Nosey nearly got away with it, too.”

Diane laughed. “It was just so interesting. I had no idea what they were talking about, but it was much better then poetry and flowers.”

“You still have no idea what we're talking about,” Gilbert said. “Politics go far above the heads of simple women.”

Diane stuck out her tongue playfully. “You'll never guess what Prince Luke was just telling me,” she went on. “He brought a real hexed creature! A unicorn! Oh, Gilbert, come on. He promised to show it to me.”

Thomas looked over at Gilbert. It was clear that he couldn't compete with the lure of real magic. Gilbert, however, knew how to deal with it.

Pulling his arm free, he frowned. “I know they brought that abomination to our lands,” he snapped. “We went through months of negotiations over it. I told him it was against Anstarian law to use magic, talk about magic or own anything magical. He brought it anyway. You will stay away from it, Diane.”

“But, why? I'm not doing any magic and I don't own it. I just want to see it,” Diane whined. “What if I just stand in the doors of the stables and look in? I won't even touch it. I promise.”

“And what if the Ritter Hex find out? Do you know what they would do to you? Even looking at that beast would put your soul at risk.”

Her happiness wilted. It hurt Gilbert to deny his sister, he indulged her on nearly everything else, but it was for her own good. She had no idea what she was asking, the price that they would all have to pay. No, it was best if she put the lure of the forbidden far from her mind.

“Come on, Highness,” said Prince Luke as he approached. “What is wrong with seeing a unicorn? They are common in my land.”

“I will not explain my land's stance on magic again,” snarled Gilbert, pulling his sister closer. “You are lucky we are so interested in peace, Highness, or such an act would lead to your immediate execution.”

“You can't hide yourselves from magic forever,” snapped the prince. “Everywhere outside of Anstaria there is magic. This is the only kingdom with its head in the sand and won't use magic.”

“What use do we have of magic? We can do the same with our science as you can do with magic,” scoffed Gilbert. “You act so high and mighty, flashing your hex around. You may escape most of our laws, for now, but the Ritter Hex are watching you. If you dare to take my sister to the stables, they will take action.”

“What are these Ritter Hex? All I know is that the mere mention of them has the poor princess shivering,” Prince Luke said, pointing to where Diane was pressing herself closer to Gilbert.

“They are witch hunters,” Diane whimpered against Gilbert's shoulder. “They find people who break the law and use magic in Anstaria. Only the royal family is higher then they, but we are not exempt from them if we dabble in magic.”

Prince Luke's brown eyes narrowed as he glared at Gilbert. The anger in his face was only equal to the anger in Gilbert's.

“You use these witch hunters to frighten your sister? Look at her! Is this the scientific Anstaria you claim?”

“Perhaps we should adjourn for lunch,” suggested Thomas. “In separate chambers.”

“Fine by me. I'm sure her Highness will agree to dine with me. We were getting along so well until someone had to mention the boogeyman,” sneered Prince Luke.

“My sister will either eat with me or alone, as is proper,” Gilbert said. “You have done enough damage to her, parading her around the palace like a trinket.”

“The more I learn of your ways, Prince Gilbert, the more I'm glad I was born a Loidite,” said the prince. “Superstition and the slavery of your women. No wonder you came begging for peace.”

Gilbert growled low in his throat. He had to remind himself that his father would not like it if he started another war when they were so close to having some peace. However, he would not swallow his pride and simper for this foreign prince. The Anstarians knew of his kind. It was a Loidite who caused the bloodiest parts of their history. First the Great Unrest, then the Hehkata Revolt – all because of Loidi and their magic.

“Please, stop,” cried Diane, pushing back from her brother. “Both of you, just stop!”

“Is something wrong, Diane,” asked Thomas. “You look pale.”

Gilbert saw Luke's gaze flicker over to Thomas, noting that he used her given name and not a title. For one not on equal standing with her, Thomas was very familiar around her. Diane did not seem to notice or act as if anything improper had just occurred.

“I am just tired, is all. I think I've had too much excitement for the day. I'll just retire to my chambers.”

Gilbert frowned. She did look paler then normal. He kissed her forehead, testing for fever. Finding none, he figured that she was just fatigued by the flurry of activity that day. Women did need rest and quiet.

“I will walk you to your rooms,” Gilbert offered. Immediately, Thomas and the prince jumped in with their own offers.

“No, but thank you. I can walk by myself,” she said. “I am sorry for leaving so early. I had a wonderful time.”

“It was my pleasure,” said Prince Luke, taking Diane's hand and placing a kiss on the back of her hand. He looked over at Gilbert, adding, “I am sure we can continue our conversation later, Princess.”

“I think my sister will be indisposed for the rest of your visit, your Highness,” said Gilbert. “It's obvious she is too frail for so much...uh...adventure.”

Diane said, “I would love to talk to you some more, Prince Luke. Maybe lunch in the garden tomorrow? I'm sure you'll understand if I decline any more visits to the stables?”

“I understand.”

“And you, Your Grace,” Diane said, turning to Thomas, “it is always a pleasure to see you. I am sorry we haven't talked more on this trip.”

“Princess, if I may be so bold,” said Thomas hurriedly, “but I would be honored if you had supper with me tonight. Not in my chambers, of course, but with your brother and my advisors. The conversation will be horribly boring, politics and all, but I'd be very honored if you'd sit with us.”

“If I feel well, I would be glad to,” Diane said. Gilbert motioned for a guard to escort her back to her chambers and the three men watched her leave, each plotting his next move. Gilbert waited until his sister was out of sight before motioning for Thomas to follow him.

“Prince Luke, if you'll excuse us, but the duke and I have some minor details to arrange with the agreement of one of our trade routes. Maybe we can clear it up so as not to bore my sister to death at supper. Please, enjoy the rest of your day, explore the grounds. Perhaps, take a ride? We will see you later, after supper,” Gilbert said as he walked away. He didn't really care if he was being rude to the prince, Loidites ranked just below the Goldsparians for treachery and deceit. He was more worried about how to keep his sister from that Loidite scum's clutches.

“Quickly, Thomas, what can you tell me of the Loidite royal family,” Gilbert asked as soon as he was sure they were out of earshot.

Surprised, Thomas said, “I only know what little bit I've gotten from my travels and from my brother.”

“Anything will suffice.”

“Uh, let's see, I know that King Phillip married the lady Vivian, a distant cousin to some vanquished lord of Goldspar with no connections to the throne and hardly any acknowledgement from her fellow Goldsparians. They have three children. Luke is the eldest and heir to the throne. Though seventeen, he is surprisingly single. I've heard rumors that his uncle, a hexen, revealed who his perfect bride would be and he has spurned any woman who doesn't match the description.

“His younger brother is seven and already a budding hexen. The uncle is teaching him. It is quite possible that he will take over the role of court wizard when Prince Luke takes the throne.”

“You said three children. Who is the third?”

“A baby sister. She is about four now. No claim to the throne, no magical ability, and will probably be married off in a political barter.”

Gilbert nodded, taking this in. He, himself, had married a royal little nothing from the southern kingdom of Elvestaad. His homely little wife managed to give him two homely daughters. The eldest, born a year after his marriage, was the same age as the Loidite's baby sister.

He smiled suddenly. “Thomas, come with me. I think I have a plan,” he said. If all went well, Diane would marry Thomas and secure their alliance, and that filthy Loidite would leave with an offer just as good.

copyright: Stephanie Wideman 2009

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