Lorraine, France, 1662.
A dead bird. A bad omen.
Beata felt a cord stretch taut inside her, its tremors spreading to her fingertips.
“What happened, baby?” She picked up the lark from the doorstep, and cradled it in her palms. “Were you fleeing a hawk?” The lark didn’t stir, toes curled.
A dead bird fell by the door once, five years ago, when Beata was eleven. Days later the door splintered under pummeling fists, and Beata’s life split forever into “before” and “after.”
Before, sunlit and spring-colored, smelled of Mama’s potions, fresh hay, and honey.
Before, specks of dust danced in the orange rays of sunsets framed by the window, as Mama tended to patients. Before, warmth—sour-smelling, cinder-smudged bread, Mama’s hands brushing Beata’s hair—filled their quaint world.
Then flames engulfed Mama and Beata’s house, “the witch’s lair.” Smoldering coals, all that was left of Beata’s before, turned cold and grey. Grey were the stone walls of the village square. Listless grey dust covered the street leading to Aunt Symonne’s house. Grey figures shuffled by—Mama’s killers, Beata’s new neighbors.
The grey had almost swallowed her. Until, out the darkness, she’d conjured the blue light—her own magic, a connection to Mama that had colored Beata’s after.
Blinking memories away, Beata carried the lark down to the creek. She ripped a curved
strip of bark from an uprooted willow, and set the makeshift raft with the tiny body afloat. A moment later, the babbling current swept it downstream. “Carry the bad luck away,” Beata begged the water.