“You didn’t have to do that!” he muttered. Susan stiffened and gave a little whimper.

The cannonball froze, then turned slowly.

Master Thomas walked back to them, swinging the walking stick in a figure eight, the ruby knob leaving a trail as it cut the air. He walked straight up to Yorik and pointed the stick at him.

“Apologize,” he commanded.

Seconds passed. Yorik said nothing. He became aware, in that long silence, of distant sounds of the Estate at work, of chopping and barking and the neighing of horses.

Master Thomas pointed the stick at Susan. “Apologize,” he said softly.

“I’m sorry,” said Yorik.

“Good,” said Master Thomas. He looked all around. He looked up. Then he pointed with the stick. “Now fetch me that apple there. I’m hungry.”

Yorik and Susan looked up. “What apple?” Yorik said finally.

“The apple in the apple tree,” said Master Thomas patiently. “Fetch it. It’s up there at the top.”

Yorik waited. Master Thomas watched him. “It’s an elm tree,” said Yorik.

“It’s an apple tree,” said Master Thomas. “Now start climbing.”

Yorik began climbing the elm, cursing himself for his stupidity in talking back to Family. His father had taught him better.

At last he reached the highest point to which he could safely climb. He looked down to see what his next order would be. Master Thomas had used his time to gather an arsenal of rocks. He began throwing them at Yorik. Yorik tried to get as much of the elm between him and Master Thomas as he could, but there wasn’t much tree up there, and Master Thomas was walking around the trunk, taking his time. One rock struck Yorik on the leg, another on the hand.

Susan began to cry.

“Susan, no,” said Yorik. “It’s all right. It—”

He noticed the rock Master Thomas was holding. Even from high up, he could see it was a big one.

Then Susan had Master Thomas by the arm, struggling and fighting, and Master Thomas gave her a terrific shove that sent her sprawling.

Yorik hurtled down through the branches, everything gone red. He was shouting things, terrible things, and he looked at Master Thomas and saw that the boy had thrown that big rock, and it got bigger and bigger as it came, a large dark blur, and then something happened to the side of his head and he was falling. He was headfirst now, and he could see branches coming up at him. Something happened to his shoulder as it struck one branch, then something to a knee. It hurt awfully. He thought about trying to catch on to one of the branches, but though it seemed that the fall was taking a very long time, it was also happening quickly, and he couldn’t quite grab one. He was hitting branches and falling, and then everything simply went black, black as Master Thomas’s scarf and handkerchief. His last sight, as life faded out, was that of the big black bulk of Ravenby Manor, and then everything closed onto him.

• • •

Yorik Mortwell lay on the hard, cold ground, dead.

A long time passed.

There were voices.

“What’s it?” growled a dark, gravelly one.

“It’s a dead boy, silly!” said another one, haughty and refined.

Yorik opened his eyes to see who was speaking.

Chapter Two

Yorik saw crisp winter sky above, and bare elm branches, and he could see where Dark Moon Lilith, forever invisible, blotted out a circle of stars. It was night.

Two startling faces leaned over, blocking his view.

The first face got Yorik’s attention immediately. It appeared to belong to a sort of girl—a sort of girl who was about three feet tall, and whose head was squat and round like a common toadstool cap. The rest of her was thin as a stick. Her hair was short, dark, and matted with dirt, and she had bulbous eyes that were entirely brown. They were light brown in the iris, and muddy brown in the pupil.

Then she opened her mouth, and Yorik, had he been alive, would have run away in terror. The girl-creature had three or four rows of teeth all jumbled together, but worst of all, her mouth seemed to be filled with mud.

“ ’s lookin’ at me,” the mouth said, and some clumps of mud fell out and onto Yorik. The voice was thick and mumbled, and the dark brown eyes glittered.

“Of course it is!” The other face sniffed. “What wouldn’t, with looks like yours?”

Yorik, with great effort, pulled his attention to that one.

This face definitely belonged to a girl—a more normal-looking girl, except that she was extraordinarily pretty, with silver curls. Yorik could see that the hair wasn’t silver-colored, but actual silver. He had seen silver once, many years ago, when Mistress Doris, haughty as her younger brother, Thomas, had shown Yorik a silver cup she had stolen from the Manor’s collection. But Doris was long dead of the plague.

The girl with silver curls seemed to be playing dress-up, as she wore a crown in her hair that was made of laurel branches all woven together. Her mouth was pinched into delighted disapproval, as though Yorik were both appalling and necessary.

The faces stared at him. He tried to get up. His arms and legs would not cooperate. He knew they must all be broken. He had clear memories of breaking them one by one as he plunged out of the elm. His shoulder too, and his neck. Nothing worked.

He tried to speak. That, at least, was functional, although his jaw also seemed jammed to one side somehow. “S-Susan,” he said thickly.

“Huh!” exclaimed the muddy girl. “Can talk!”

“Of course it can talk, Erde!” Though the pretty girl’s tone was rude as ever, it was clear she was getting happier by the second. Her whole face gleamed as she peered at Yorik’s broken body. In fact, it did actually gleam, Yorik noticed. It had a shining halo around it—no, not just her face. Her whole body, or as much of it as he could see, shone with silver light. Her dress of gossamer green flashed and sparked.

Yorik tried to turn his head, but his neck was stuck in the wrong position.

“ ’s no good,” grunted Erde, putting her face close to Yorik and sniffing. He wished he could recoil in terror. “ ’s broken.”

“No, it’s perfect!” said the haughty girl, delighted. She sounded like the sort of maniacal little noble girl who might visit the Estate, whose laughter would float from the open windows of the Manor but whose face Yorik would never see. “It’s a tragically dead boy! Just exactly what we need!”

“Why tragic?” moaned Erde. Erde was a girl’s name, but this did not sound like a girl at all. It sounded rumbling and old, like boulders grinding together.

The gleaming girl sighed. “It died before its time! You can tell from looking at it.”


Light footsteps circled around Yorik. “These usually live seventy or eighty years.”

“Not long,” grumbled Erde.

“No, it isn’t. And this one looks about six.”

Twelve! thought Yorik, offended. But he didn’t dare contradict this noble-sounding girl.

“What’s a susan?” asked Erde.

“Probably a sister,” replied the silver girl.

“What’s a sister?”

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