I've watched people post their work, and never dared post mine. So I'm being brave today, and posting before I change my mind. I have so many doubts about this opening, so I hope it works okay. Thank you in advance for any help I receive. “Good morning, Ma Tirrien,” Mama said. “How are you today?” I was busy stacking shelves, and didn’t take much notice, to be honest. Ma Tirrien came into our apothecary regularly, and always replied the same way. And I expected nothing different this morning. “Oh, not good! Not good,” she announced. “Blasted knee’s hurtin’ again. Real bad. So I need some more of that melrush ointment. And do you have that paste, for painting on door? That black stuff, smells ‘orrible.” My ears pricked up. Pitchblood? Why would she be wanting that? We had a jar somewhere, at the back of a shelf. Or maybe two . . . We hadn’t sold any of that for quite a while. “Do you mean pitchblood?” Mama said, quite casually I thought. “Aye, that’s it. That’s it. If that witch should come near 'ouse, I want to be . . .” She paused, her sentence hanging in the air. “It works don’t it?” “Of course it does, Ma – if you follow the instructions properly. I wouldn’t sell it otherwise. But tell me, what’s this you said . . . about a witch?” Mama never missed a trick. Anything about a witch was good for business. Occasionally we’d hear of things, usually many miles away, but frightened people spent money, so it was always good to pursue such lines of thought. “You’ve not heard then, Mrs Tervlei?” Ma Tirrien said. “Bad it is. Very bad. She’s terrorising Oakgreen Village. Two dead, so far. And she’s got a young un with her, an’ all, so I’ve ‘eard.” Oakgreen Village. Three miles away. I turned, rustling my skirts across the floor, just in time to see Mama’s startled expression. She looked genuinely shocked. Frightened. “Oh, mercy upon us all,” she gasped, lifting her hands to her mouth. “Does Barrent know? Has he been informed yet?” “Aye, he knows. Dressed in his official clothes, this morning. Real smart he looks too.” She lifted her basket to the counter. She leaned a bit nearer to Mama. “And rumour ‘as it, Mrs Tervlei, there’s ten men searching area, right now. Not local men, neither. Military men – come down from Speeling. Checking on all the villages, so I’ve heard. Not Spirit fact, mind. Just what I’ve heard. Got it from Daizie, and she heard it from . . .” She tapped her finger against her lip, then pulled her brown shawl straight, about her shoulders. “From butcher’s lass. And she heard from–” “Ten!” Mama interrupted, for Ma Tirrien could talk forever. “We need a Ranger, Ma. Last time a Ranger came here, must be . . . what, twelve years ago?” Mildred Tirrien nodded her head enthusiastically. “Quite right. Quite right. A local Constable can do their job well enough – keep order, and that, but when a witch . . . Aye . . . it needs a Ranger all right. But, if enough men . . . I’m sure they’ll sort it, one way or another.” They’ll have to, I thought. Because pitchblood – which I prepared myself – was just spittleweed from Marlow Lake, mixed with a few other things. It would probably keep Ma Tirrien’s husband away from the door – pitchblood smelled rancid – but witches? I hadn’t a clue really, if it would do that or not. Most likely not. But I would not be saying anything. And Mama could sell the dust, straight off the floor, if she tried hard enough. “Let’s hope so,” Mama said. “Now. What else can I get you this morning?” She waved her hand towards me. “We have some gorgeous candles just come in – beeswax. Anna’s just stacking them now. Very special, and selling half price, at the moment.” “Can’t afford them, Mrs Tervlei, even at that price.” “Well, now. Let me see what I can do. Seeing as you’re buying pitchblood as well, how about . . .” The conversation changed to quite mundane things and I turned back to my shelf stacking. My mind tumbled over everything that had been said. If gossip turned out to be fact . . . And Mama seemed to believe her . . . Spirits! I must go find Jason. Just in case. Warn him of what might come. His mother had been a witch, hung on the gallows, several years ago now. Jason was handsome and gorgeous and lived up at Applewood Farm. But Mama didn’t like him at all. In fact, no one did. The Dazres had witch blood running through their family line, and that was enough to blacken the name of Dazre for the whole of eternity.