If you haven't read the trilogy, there MAY be spoilers here for you.
THE BOOK OF LIFE by Deborah Harkness
Chapter 7 excerpt
I stood in Sarah’s stillroom and stared through the dust on the surface of the window’s wavy glass. The whole house needed a good airing. The stiff brass latch on the sash resisted my attempts at first, but the swollen frame finally gave up the fight and the window rocketed upward, quivering with indignation at the rough treatment.
“Deal with it,” I said crossly, turning away and surveying the room before me. It was a familiarly strange place, this room where my aunts had spent so much of their time and I so little. Sarah left her usual disorderly ways at the threshold. In here all was neat and tidy, surfaces clear, mason jars lined up on the shelves, and wooden drawers labeled with their contents.
CONEFLOWER, FEVERFEW, MILK THISTLE, SKULLCAP, BONESET, YARROW, MOOWORT.
Though the ingredients for Sarah’s craft were not arranged alphabetically, I was sure some witchy principle governed their placement, since she was always able to reach instantly for the herb or seed she needed.
Sarah had taken the Bishop grimoire with her to Sept-Tours, but now it was back where it belonged: resting on what remained of an old pulpit that Em had bought in one of Bouckville’s antique shops. She and Sarah had sawed off its supporting pillar, and now the lectern sat on the old kitchen table that had come here with the first Bishops at the end of the eighteenth century. One of the table’s legs was markedly shorter than the other— nobody knew why—but the unevenness of the floorboards meant that its surface was surprisingly level and solid. As a child I’d thought it was magic. As an adult I knew it was dumb luck.
Various old appliances and a battered electrical-outlet strip were strewn around Sarah’s work surface. There was an avocado green slow cooker, a venerable coffeemaker, two coffee grinders, and a blender. These were the tools of the modern witch, though Sarah kept a big black cauldron by the fireplace for old times’ sake. My aunts used the slow cooker for making oils and potions, the coffee grinders and blender for preparing incense and pulverizing herbs, and the coffee machine for brewing infusions. In the corner stood a shining white specimen fridge with a red cross on the door, unplugged and unused.
“Maybe Matthew can find something more high-tech for Sarah,” I mused aloud. A Bunsen burner. A few alembics, perhaps. Suddenly I longed for Mary Sidney’s well-equipped sixteenth-century laboratory. I looked up, half hoping to see the splendid murals of alchemical processes that decorated her walls at Baynard’s Castle.
Instead dried herbs and flowers hung from twine strung up between the exposed rafters. I could identify some of them: the swollen pods of nigella, bursting with tiny seeds; prickly topped milk thistle; long-stemmed mullein crowned with the bright yellow flowers that earned them the name of witches’ candles; stalks of fennel. Sarah knew every one of them by sight, touch, taste, and smell. With them she cast spells and manufactured charms. The dried plants were gray with dust, but I knew better than to disturb them. Sarah would never forgive me if she came into her stillroom and discovered nothing but stems.
The stillroom had once been the farmhouse’s kitchen. One wall was occupied by a huge fireplace complete with a wide hearth and a pair of ovens. Above it was a storage loft accessible by a rickety old ladder. I’d spent many a rainy afternoon there, curled up with a book listening to the rain patter against the roof. Corra was up there now, one eye open in lazy interest.
I sighed and set the dust motes dancing. It was going to take water— and lots of elbow grease—to make this room welcoming again. And if my mother had known something that might help us find the Book of Life, this is where I would find it.
A soft chime sounded. Then another.
Goody Alsop had taught me how to discern the threads that bound the world and pull on them to weave spells that were not in any grimoire. The threads were around me all the time, and when they brushed together, they made a sort of music. I reached out and snagged a few strands on my fingers. Blue and amber—the colors that connected the past to the present and the future. I’d seen them before, but only in corners where unsuspecting creatures wouldn’t be caught in time’s warp and weft.
Not surprisingly, time was not behaving as it should in the Bishop house. I twisted the blue and amber threads into a knot and tried to push them back where they belonged, but they sprang back, weighting the air with memories and regret. A weaver’s knot wouldn’t fix what was wrong here.
My body was damp with perspiration, even though all I’d done was displace the dust and dirt from one location to another. I’d forgotten how hot Madison could be at this time of year. Picking up a bucket full of dingy water, I pushed against the stillroom door. It didn’t budge.
“Move, Tabitha,” I said, nudging the door another inch in hopes of dislodging the cat.
Tabitha yowled. She refused to join me in the stillroom. It was Sarah and Em’s domain, and she considered me an invader.
“I’ll set Corra on you,” I threatened.
Tabitha shifted. One paw stretched forward past the crack, then the other as she slipped away. Sarah’s cat had no wish to battle my familiar, but her dignity forbade a hurried retreat.
From The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness, published on May 26, 2015 by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright by Deborah Harkness, 2015.
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