The journey to the coast was its own challenge. There were plenty of passersby on the roads, so Emily had to maintain the horses the entire time, just in case. To balance it out, Oliver burrowed deep into his cloak, since it was easier for him to hide than the horses.
"Are you okay, Papa?" Rosie asked by the third day.
"I'll be fine once we get there," he answered, smiling even though it pulled his skin tight. Rosie was used to his smile even at the worst, and she was never bothered by it. Oliver held on to a warm waterskin as they rode, and sometimes joined Rosie in the back when he wasn't sure he could stay upright. Rosie didn't seem to mind.
Emily did, but she didn't bother to say anything. They'd get where they were going, and it would be fine once she had the rest of her energy back.
A few others asked after them on the road, but plenty left them to their own time, and Emily didn't mind. She had the wagon well-warded so most people wouldn't have said what it was, but they were awfully inclined to leave them alone.
When they first smelled the sea air, Emily perked up for the first time in days. Rosie wrinkled her nose at the strangeness of it, but that didn't last long. Half a day later, they crested a hill and the horizon ran ahead of them - the road zigged and zagged down nearly to the ocean. The sky was greydark and ominous, and the ocean a light ice grey, as if it was waiting to be the shroud of a drowning victim. The trees were mostly stripped bare by the late summer ocean winds, reaching up like they were ready to draw the clouds down onto their distaves and spin them into yarn to weave the winter snows.
Rosie stood and climbed up beside her mother on the bench of the wagon.
"Isn't it wonderful, Rosie?" Emily asked.
"Oh it goes forever!" Rosie answered, not taking her eyes off the view.
"Nearly so," her mother nodded. Noting that the road ahead of them split to north and south, Emily reached into a leather satchel tucked behind the wagon seat and pulled out a bag of stones. She held her hand out to the north as if she was pinching something out of the air, and then reached into the bag. Then she did the same to the south. She tasted the air as she let it go.
"We're not staying here," Emily said as she started the wagon down toward the streets of that first seaside town. "But there's a reason we need to stop here." She idly drew the symbols in the air.
"Do you know what it is?"
"Not yet, but I expect some inspiration tonight."
"Then where?" Rosie asked. "Are we there yet, Mama?"
"We're going south," she said decisively, "but not this town. Soon though."
"Mama, I'm tired of being in the wagon."
"Come sit with me, Rosie," Oliver called up, and the small girl scrambled back into the bed of the wagon. She curled up into his lap. "I don't like travelling so long either, but I also don't like moving around so much. Do you?"
"Right. So we have to trust your mama is going to find us the just right place to live, okay?"
"Okay, Papa." She laid her head on his shoulder. "I want it to be over."
"Me too, baby," Oliver told her. "It'll be fun to be someplace really different, though."
"Can I play in the ocean?"
"And can I live in a sandcastle?"
"That would be itchy."
They stopped at the general store and spoke to the butcher before going in search of lodgings. The moon was full dark that night, and they took two rooms in the inn without worrying too much about what the innkeeper thought; they wouldn't be staying regardless, and it was easier than trying to get Rosie to sleep while her mother was doing magic.
Once Oliver had tucked Rosie in, he looked for his wife. "Need anything?"
"I'm set, thank you."
He nodded and settled himself in the chair at Rosie's bedside.
Emily took herself back into the other room and shut the door, latching it behind her. She'd already brought her leather satchel in earlier and now she double-checked the placement of all her tools and trinkets on the small table in the room. There were two candles, newly bought that afternoon and freshly carved with magical symbols, a small lump of incense in a tin (she hoped to be settled enough to make more soon), chalk, counting beads, a heavy iron key, two eggs and a fresh loaf of bread.
She lit the candles and then the incense, then lightly chalked more symbols on the floor. She recited as she went, magic trailing in red and purple sparks behind her. When she finished, she seated herself upright and called out quietly but confidently:
Hekate, who sees much and knows more, Teacher of all who would study what is hidden Godmother of the sciences and of magic I received your sign today and I have lit your incense Now I sit with you in the dark to hear what you would ask of me.
Emily pulled the counting beads from the desk and resumed her chant, calling out to Hekate with each repetition as her fingers slid over the beads. They clacked gently against each other, the sound reminding her of Tybalt and Mercutio. Around the chain she went, once, twice, three times, before suddenly she fell silent.
There were long minutes before she opened her eyes again, and she whispered "thank you" as she stood. Emily put out the candles, lifted the plate with the eggs and bread on it, and unlatched the door.
Oliver seemed to jump up at the sound and stepped to the opposite doorway. "Should I take that out for you?"
"Please," Emily smiled. "Any crossroad is fine tonight."
He hesitated as he took the plate. "Did you get the answers?"
"Nearly so. I expect a dream tonight."
"What is it?"
Emily pressed her fingers against his dry lips. "When I see clearly, I will show you, love. Right now it's too fragile, I don't want to lose it."
Oliver nodded. "I'll see you in the morning, dear."
She bid him goodnight and watched him descend the stairs, silent as the grave, then returned to lay down in the empty bed. She had miles to go while she slept, after all.
In the morning, the church bells were ringing for a long time, long enough that Emily went downstairs to ask about it while Oliver was still getting Rosie ready to go.
"Another funeral," said the inkeeper. "Real shame, too. The boy was the only one who survived the fire in the house, and folks'd just started thinking maybe he'd make it. Guess I shouldn't say he survived it. But they're putting him in the ground today. No more'n ten, a real shame."
"If you want to go, we can see ourselves out," Emily said kindly, tamping down her hope.
"Well thank you, but I'm not a fan of funerals, to be honest. Reverend Frothingham gives a lovely sermon and all, but I just can't abide it."
Emily thanked him and went back upstairs, nearly running once she was out of sight.
"Oliver, oh Oliver, it's perfect," she said as she rushed back into the room. Rosie's boots were laced up and she was ready to go. Oliver was just slipping his cloak over his thin face.
"What is it, Em?" he asked her.
"A boy just older than Rosie, only recently dead! It's perfect. It's exactly what we were hoping for. Come on, there's lots to do today."
The church - and the churchyard - were on the southern end of the street, so late in the morning they saw ourselves out of town and found a place to tuck away the wagon off the side of the road. Emily set to work on her preparations, getting things ready for burial, preparing oils and herbs for the body, and then there was the lightning rod.
Oliver spent the afternoon keeping Rosie distracted and reminding Emily to eat. She'd been burning a lot of energy already, and he was worried about her. He knew better than to interrupt her, however. It was mostly a matter of hovering, offering water or sausage or cheese or bread, reminding her to sit down when she finished one task and before she could start another.
Yes, there was a deadline, but it was still important to take care of each other.
Since they were well out of sight and didn't expect any traffic, Emily had let the horses' glamour down so that they were once again nothing but clean bones. This didn't stop Rosie from playing with the ponies, hanging from Tybalt's ribs when she could reach. The horses were used to her, and there wasn't much danger, but Oliver shooed her away from them out of habit, encouraging her to instead come with him into the woods to pick flowers and see what plants they could identify.
When dark fell and Rosie was already drowsy, Oliver tucked her into her quilt inside the wagon bed. Emily handed her the shining purple reins and kissed her head.
"I need you to be brave for Mama tonight, okay Rosie?"
"I'm brave, Mama!"
"Good girl. Papa and I have to run an errand while you're asleep. If there's any trouble, pull on the reins and the ponies will bring you to me, okay?"
Rosie nodded fiercely.
"If everything goes well, we'll be bringing you a surprise in the morning," Oliver added.
"And you'll be safe with Tybalt and Mercutio, okay?"
"Okay, Mama. Okay, Papa."
They each gave her a hug, and she snuggled down into her quilt.
Oliver hefted the shovels and the lightning rod, while Emily secured the jars in her satchel. They started to walk away, then both hesitated at the edge of the road.
"Mama! Mama!" Rosie called after them. There was a purple spark and the horses clacked forward to where Emily stood.
"What is it, love?" she asked.
"I need a kiss!"
"I already gave you a kiss," Emily smiled.
"Another kiss," Rosie clarified.
Emily leaned in and kissed the girl again, gave her another hug for good measure, and tucked her in firmly with Polly. "I love you, Rosie. Go to sleep."
Emily retreated again, while Oliver waited until Rosie's breathing settled into sleep before he followed his wife. With luck they'd be back long before she woke up.
The half mile back to town went fast enough, and Emily and Oliver walked near to each other. Oliver lead the way, as his eyes were much better in the dark than hers, though there wasn't much to worry about. The trail was wide and flat, with only shallow wheel ruts worn in it.
"Are you excited?" Emily asked as they made good time.
"Excited and worried," Oliver admitted. "I don't remember much about Rosie's birth but I remember feeling the same beforehand. There's so many unknowns, and we're doing something we haven't done before."
Emily laughed. "I think I'd be worried if you weren't worried."
"I'm always worried."
"Exactly. You worry enough for both of us. But if this works the way I intend it to, he'll be much stronger than you are, and I'll know my work is going in the right direction for your sake."
"I'm fine, Emily," Oliver said, and then shook his head. "I'm not fine, that's true. But you don't need to exhaust yourself for me all the time. I've been worse off."
"I know," she said, resting her free hand on his shoulder. "But this is also my work, and that's as important as my family. Even if my work is my family."
"Ahh, there's the woman I married," Oliver smiled in the dark. They'd reached the town now, and the imposing, solid-dark shadows of the trees had given way to the farther, isolated shadows of the buildings. The church yard was nearly glowing to Oliver's eyes, even though the sliver of new moon was nowhere to be seen.
"This way," he said, and Emily followed him. She had a hooded lantern that I'd forgotten to mention before, which she kept as closed as she could while still finding her way to the freshest grave in the yard. It wasn't marked and the graves next to it weren't much more settled.
Emily whispered a prayer to Hekate, and then she cracked the lantern open and began to work while Oliver began to dig.
"You always were the brains in the relationship," Oliver murmured as he dug.
"I don't think so," Emily answered.
"Well you're certainly not the brawn," he mused. "But I suppose you're the good-looking one, so that doesn't count either, does it? Nope, nothing for it. You're the superior spouse."
"Hush, I'm focusing," she said, but there was no malice in it. Oliver quieted, and a moment later the shovel hit solid wood.
"Found him," he noted, quickly working to clear off the top of the small coffin. Oliver then reached up for the crowbar and began to pull the lid off.
"Shouldn't we bring him out of town?" Oliver whispered as he looked at the small body. "I could carry him easily, and it would be much quieter out there, wouldn't it?"
But Emily's jaw was set. "It has to be here. The science would bear it, if I had somewhere to take him, but I don't, so I need to rely on the magic. The magic says do it where he lays."
Oliver nodded and resumed his work. After several minutes of careful work, trying to avoid any noise, he motioned for Emily to hand him the lightning rod.
She handed it to him and jumped down after him, intending to place it herself. It was designed to rest against one of the temples and carry the magic more effectively than the haphazard way it had gone the last time she had done this, with less preparation and more desperation.
She dressed the body with oils, trying not to think of Rosie's small wrists, or her knees scabbed with adventures, or any of the many ways parenting could go wrong. As it had for this boy and his parents. But she was here, and she would do what she could to fix it. She always fixed things. That was how she kept her family together, and how she'd go on keeping it together, no matter what happened.
Emily shooed her husband out of the grave. He climbed up and stood next to the lantern, turning away. He told himself it was so ensure no one was coming, and that was at least partially true. It also made him a bit squeamish, the thought of watching her do to someone else what she'd once done to him. A bit too much like learning to dissect a corpse to learn how the organs inside work. That was the sort of healing work he'd done because it was necessary, not because it felt right.
Oliver heard Emily's chanting grow louder, and overhead there seemed to be a lot of movement from the clouds in the sky. There was a sudden, loud crack of thunder overhead, and the lightning so close behind him that Oliver thought he smelled the singe on the edge of his cloak. There was enough energy that he felt himself loosening and warming up just from the proximity to it.
He watched the town and saw a light or two come up, but nothing that felt urgent.
A high voice screamed behind him, and he turned then, for a second certain that something had gone badly wrong and Emily was hurt. But no, it wasn't her voice screaming, and he realized it even before his eyes focused. It was the boy, who was now heaving great breaths of air, somewhere between sobbing and drowning and not succeeding at either.
Emily held the boy tightly and stroked his hair as he choked and coughed and seemed to throw something up on her. (Go back and note that Emily was wearing an apron earlier because really that'd be a good idea regardless, don't you think?) She whispered to him that it was okay, that he was okay now, that she would take care of him, that it was okay, over and over until he began to calm.
That was when Oliver realized he'd not been keeping enough of a lookout.
"What in God's name-" was all the tall man got out before Oliver panicked and hit him with the shovel. The interloper went down like a sack of potatoes.
"Emily? Time to go," Oliver knelt down and gestured for Emily to hand him the boy. She picked him up and handed him off awkwardly, then paused to grab her jars and the lightning rod, tossing them up out of the grave.
"Put the lid back on, Em, I've got an idea." She maneuvered it roughly back into place, then stood on it carefully. It held. Oliver held the boy against him in one arm, and reached down with the other to pull Emily up.
"I've got him," Oliver said. "Pack your things and we'll switch so I can fill it in."
"Fill it in? Are you sure? That will take a lot of time."
"Absolutely sure. The reverend here saw me. I'd just as soon not leave any obvious signs of what happened."
Emily nodded, then packed the jars away as quickly as she could, stacking the crowbar and the lightning rod next to the bag and reaching for the boy. Oliver handed him off and then began to shove the dirt back into the grave as quickly as he could.
There was a groan from the reverend as he rolled over, and in the distance it sounded like there might be other people coming to investigate on horseback. It was time to go. Oliver hefted the boy in both arms, then shifted him to rest against his left shoulder. He could feel the boy breathing softly against his neck and fought back the urge to stop and admire his wife's talents.
"Have you got the shovel?" he asked Emily.
"I've got everything," she asserted. "Let's go."
"Stop!" called Reverend Frothingham as he pushed himself up off the ground. "Graverobbers!" The man's voice was getting louder and more hysterical, the hoofbeats closer. There were lights appearing now too, and the sound of doors being opened.
The couple ran as fast as they could, encumbered as they were, and the reverend stumbled after them. Oliver wasn't at all sure they'd be able to make it to the edge of town, let alone back to the wagon, before more people got here.
First Emily, then Oliver, realized there was a faint purple glow coming with the hoofbeats, however, and just when they thought company was about to join them, the skeletal bodies of Mercutio and Tybalt appeared in the night.
"Rosie?!" Oliver called, worried, as he carried the boy to the wagon. Emily rushed ahead of him, tossing the tools under the seat and swinging up immediately. She grabbed the reins from Rosie's tight fists and pulled, only to drop the lantern. The cover bent, throwing light up onto the skeletal horses as they reared at her command.
The reverend pulled back in fear at the sight of the dead horses nearly running him down. Oliver didn't dare stop, however, so he all but threw himself into the bed of the wagon, landing with the boy on top of him to cushion the fall.
"Rosie, what happened?" Emily asked. The girl was still in the bed of the wagon, but right behind the seat and holding tightly to her mother's stained skirt as Emily encouraged the horses to get out of town as fast as they could.
"There was thunder! It woke me up and it was so so so loud and I was scared." There was a long silence as Emily tried to catch her breath, and after a moment Rosie continued. "Am I in trouble?"
"Oh no, baby girl, you're not in trouble. You did the exact right thing."
"Oh. I did?" Rosie wiped at the snot and tears on her face. "Are you okay?"
"I'm wonderful," Emily answered truthfully.
Rosie thought for a minute. "Did you bring me my surprise?"
Oliver laughed, and the boy on his chest pushed himself up, confused.
"We did," Emily told her daughter. "Say hello to your new big brother."