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Runemarksby Joanne Harris
Seven o'clock on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the End of the World, and goblins had been at the cellar again. Mrs. Scattergood-the landlady at the Seven Sleepers Inn-swore it was rats, but Maddy Smith knew better. Only goblins could have burrowed into the brick-lined floor, and besides, as far as she knew, rats didn't drink ale.
But she also knew that in the village of Malbry-as in the whole of the Strond Valley-certain things were never discussed, and that included anything curious, uncanny, or unnatural in any way. To be imaginative was considered almost as bad as giving oneself airs, and even dreams were hated and feared, for it was through dreams (or so the Good Book said) that the Seer-folk had crossed over from Chaos, and it was in Dream that the power of the Faerie remained, awaiting its chance to re-enter the world.
And so the folk of Malbry made every effort never to dream. They slept on boards instead of mattresses, avoided heavy evening meals, and as for telling bedtime tales-well. The children of Malbry were far more likely to hear about the martyrdom of St. Sepulchre or the latest Cleansings from World's End than tales of magic or of World Below. Which is not to say that magic didn't happen. In fact, over the past fourteen years the village of Malbry had witnessed more magic in one way or another than anyplace in the Middle Worlds.
That was Maddy's fault, of course. Maddy Smith was a dreamer, a teller of tales, and worse, and as such, she was used to being blamed for anything irregular that happened in the village. If a bottle of beer fell off a shelf, if the cat got into the creamery, if Adam Scattergood threw a stone at a stray dog and hit a window instead-ten to one Maddy would get the blame.
And if she protested, folk would say that she'd always had a troublesome nature, that their ill luck had begun the day she was born, and that no good would ever come of a child with a ruinmark-that rusty sign on the Smith girl's hand- which some oldsters called the Witch's Ruin and which no amount of scrubbing would remove.
It was either that or blame the goblins-otherwise known as Good Folk or Faerie-who this summer had upped their antics from raiding cellars and stealing sheep (or occasionally painting them blue) to playing the dirtiest kind of practical jokes, like leaving horse dung on the church steps, or putting soda in the communion wine to make it fizz, or turning the vinegar to piss in all the jars of pickled onions in Joe Grocer's store.
And since hardly anyone dared to mention them, or even acknowledge that they existed at all, Maddy was left to deal with the vermin from under the Hill alone and in her own way.
No one asked her how she did it. No one watched the Smith girl at work. And no one ever called her witch-except for Adam Scattergood, her employer's son, a fine boy in some ways but prone to foul language when the mood took him.
Besides, they said, why speak the word? That ruinmark surely spoke for itself.
Now Maddy considered the rust-colored mark. It looked like a letter or sigil of some kind, and sometimes it shone faintly in the dark or burned as if something hot had pressed there. It was burning now, she saw. It often did when the Good Folk were near, as if something inside her were restless and itched to be set free.
That summer, it had itched more often than ever, as the goblins swarmed in unheard-of numbers, and banishing them was one way of putting that itch to rest. Her other skills remained unused and, for the most part, untried, and though sometimes that was hard to bear-like having to pretend you're not hungry when your favorite meal is on the table-Maddy understood why it had to be so.
Cantrips and runecharms were bad enough. But glamours, true glamours, were perilous business, and if rumor of these were to reach World's End, where the servants of the Order worked day and night in study of the Word . . .
For Maddy's deepest secret-known only to her closest friend, the man folk knew as One-Eye-was that she enjoyed working magic, however shameful that might be. More than that, she thought she might be good at it too and, like anyone with a talent, longed to make use of it and to show it off to other people.
But that was impossible. At best it counted as giving herself airs.
And at worst? Folk had been Cleansed for less.
Maddy turned her attention to the cellar floor and the wide-mouthed burrow that disfigured it. It was a goblin burrow, all right, bigger and rather messier than a foxhole and still bearing the marks of clawed, thick-soled feet where the spilled earth had been kicked over. Rubble and bricks had been piled in a corner, roughly concealed beneath a stack of empty kegs. Maddy thought, with some amusement, that it must have been a lively-and somewhat drunken-party.
Filling in the burrow would be easy, she thought. The tricky thing, as always, was to ensure it stayed that way. or, the Protector, had been enough to secure the church doors, but goblins had been known to be very persistent where ale was concerned, and she knew that in this case, a single charm would not keep them out for long.
All right, then. Something more.
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