A sweeping historical romance about a witch who foresees her own murder – and the one boy who can help change her future.
Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island's whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she's to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.
Avery finds an unexpected ally in a tattooed harpoon boy named Tane – a sailor with magic of his own, who moves Avery in ways she never expected. Becoming a witch might stop her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers her magic requires a sacrifice she never prepared for.
A Hachette Audio production.
Release date: September 23, 2014
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Print pages: 416
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Salt & Storm
That was back, too, when the people on my island treasured my grandmother and her role in their fortunes. Every man, woman, and child on Prince Island knew the way to her cottage, had to know the way because their lives depended on it.
Even back in the good times, the pastor with the dried-apple face would spend his sermons lecturing the congregation against my grandmother’s promises. A deal with her was a deal with the devil, he’d tell them, raising his fist and cracking it down on the podium. And the people on my island would nod with pinched lips, but they’d visit her all the same.
A man—although they were usually so young they could still be called boys—might ask for a fidelity charm. He’d be anxious, excited, more nervous about leaving his girl than about the years-long voyage he would soon endure. My grandmother would tell him: “Bring me a dozen strands of your sweetheart’s hair and cut off a lock of your own.” Once he returned with the items, her long fingers would weave and bind the hairs with sea grass, building a loose bracelet. “Put it on her wrist,” she would say, “and your girl will remain true.”
Often the boy would hold this flimsy thing in his hand, feeling its impossible lightness, and frown. “You’re mad. This’ll break in a moment and then what will my Sue get up to?”
“Never one of my charms,” she’d say. “Never known one of them to break.”
So he would stick it into his pocket, still frowning, and leave. Later he’d slide it over his darling’s hand.
“Something to remember me by,” he’d say, but the women of Prince Island had seen enough hair and sea grass to know the truth. Still, the bracelet never broke or faded or fell apart and the girl stayed faithful. My grandmother, of course, had no control over the boy.
Older men, the captains and ship owners, kept my grandmother in luxuries like pure white sugar wrapped in crisp paper, fruits so brightly colored they hurt my eyes, bolts of cloth as smooth and soft as skin.
“Caleb gifts,” they called them, because once, many years ago when my grandmother was a young woman, a captain named Caleb Sweeny slighted her, refused to bring her any gift at all, even though he stayed on the island for months as our men restored his ship. Only days after the ship launched, word came back the whole thing had been smashed to bits, run into rocks and beaten into nothing but timbers and torn cloth.
The men of the island grumbled that their months of hard work had gone to waste and worried that their reputations as shipbuilders would suffer. But even today everyone on the East Coast knows there’s nothing stronger than a nail hammered on Prince Island, and so, in the end, the builders kept their fine reputations while my grandmother gained a new one: storm-raiser, not to be crossed.
It wasn’t only men who made the walk to my grandmother’s cottage. Women visited, too, women who wanted to protect their men at sea or, every now and then, to curse them. Sometimes it would get tricky: A woman would arrive spitting mad, promising my grandmother anything if only the Kingfisher would fail on the sea and one of those colossal whales would take a mighty bite out of a certain Clarence Aldrich and drag his filthy body to the depths. And this would put my grandmother in a spot, because she had just sold Clarence Aldrich a talisman made from a bit of wren feather, a powerful magic against drowning. Now maybe my grandmother would try to calm the woman and convince her to spend her money on a love charm to find a man not quite so worthy of a bite from a whale. But more often she’d take the money and make the spell and tell herself that Clarence Aldrich would still be saved from drowning, even if the whale might get him first.
These were the simple tricks and common charms and minor spells, paid in trade or food, that kept my grandmother’s life running smoothly. They cost almost nothing to make and barely any time to pull together. Trifles, she called them, the little charms that were, to her, as easy as breathing.
Tying the winds was a different thing altogether. Only the richest ship owners could afford it, and they’d send their captains to the cottage on the rocks with money and instructions. The money my grandmother took willingly, the instructions less so. The winds are tricky, shifty, and it was hard enough, she’d tell them, binding and tethering them without some fool going on about specifics. And these captains were proud men, more bird or fish with their knowledge of the winds and waves, so to say nothing against her insults must have been a hard thing. Still, I don’t know of any man who visited her cottage with the money and intent to buy that charm whose tongue or pride betrayed him, no matter how much his blood might have boiled. That’s small magic, as my grandmother would say, the small magic that keeps the world spinning.
When a man came to the cottage looking to own the winds, she would send him away until she was done. Once, a captain—an outsider, otherwise he wouldn’t even have bothered to ask—wanted to stay, to witness her magic.
“I work better alone,” she said, and the captain’s gaze slid to me, her six-year-old granddaughter, watching narrow-eyed from the corner. But if he thought anything, he didn’t say it aloud.
I didn’t want him there, either. My grandmother’s cottage was a world that belonged only to us, to her and me and maybe my mother, too, if she ever wanted it back. The Roe women made the magic that kept Prince Island running and had for generations, and that captain should be grateful instead of plain nosy. I scowled at him until he left.
My grandmother crossed to the back of her small cottage and reached inside a heavy black trunk tucked at the end of the bed. The trunk, as far as I knew, was as old as the witches themselves, a big, bulky thing that the first Roe brought with her when she came to Prince Island. It had been passed down since then, from mother to daughter, and it was where the Roe women kept their materials. The trunk should have gone to my mother years ago, but instead my grandmother kept it in the cottage, and although I had slept with this thing at my feet for my entire life, I’d never looked inside. I’d never been invited.
I could hear my grandmother’s long fingers gently pushing aside things that rustled and clinked until she pulled out a white cord as thick as my pinkie and as long as my arm.
“Here, Avery,” she said, sitting down in her chair, and I ran to her and climbed into her lap. She wrapped her arms around me, the fabric of her sleeves warm with the smell of woodsmoke and herbs. She held the white cord loosely between her hands and I laughed and reached for it like it was a toy.
“Not the cord, dear,” she said, lifting it from me. I felt her lips press against my hair, her breath warm against my scalp. “Lay your hands on mine.”
My chubby fingers twitched in my lap, and I lifted them up, where they hovered over my grandmother’s hands. Her skin was almost sheer, the network of pale blue veins standing out like tree branches. I walked my fingertips up the backs of her hands from her wrists to her knuckles, pushing hard so that I left a trail of pale dots on her skin.
“Focus now.” Her words tickled my cheek, and I slid my hands around hers.
The cord snapped tight between her fingers, every fiber fine and shimmering as though it were made out of spider silk. For all I knew, it was.
Faintly, my grandmother’s lips moved, lifting my hair, but I only heard the rush of hot air, and I held my breath, my eyes wide.
Outside, the wind arched around the cottage, a low, deep moan that shook the windows. Something clattered against the door, so loud and sudden that I jerked, but my grandmother gently pressed her cheek against my head.
“Focus,” she said again, her voice more air than noise. “Keep your eyes on the rope.”
The rope… It vibrated, shivered, and even though my grandmother’s sun-browned, lined hands remained steady I could feel the fine shudders through her bones. The wind picked up, a howl of such high pitch that it sounded almost like pain, but I didn’t dare pull my eyes away from the white cord, moving like the strummed string of a guitar.
“Granma?” I whispered, my heartbeat rising in little pricks. My palms began to sweat, my fingertips to shake and tremble, and I could feel something, something pulling at me, a force reaching through my fingers, through my skin, my bones, traveling deep inside of me, yanking, grabbing, clawing like a cat tearing apart a ball of string.
Tears rose to my eyes and I wanted to shrink away, but I couldn’t. My bones had turned to stone, while my grandmother said nothing, while outside the wind blew even more fiercely, rattling the glass of the windows, struggling to get in, to get at us, at me.
The air escaped from my lungs, and when I tried to breathe in again, I found that there was no breath, no wind, no air, as though an invisible hand reached down to pinch my nose and mouth shut and I was drowning, suffocating.
“Granma!” I wheezed, jerking, the rope buzzing between her fingers, the wind slamming fists against windows, howling at the door like an animal, maddened and maddening.
Every window burst open and I squeezed my eyes tight as the wind clawed at me, scratching my cheeks and twisting my hair across my face. My grandmother’s hands came together quickly, expertly, and my hands moved puppet-like on top of hers, working and tying the string, pulling tight. I screamed, a wail as high and pure-toned as the wind itself, and it was as though something precious to me was suddenly wrenched away, torn into the wind and gone forever.
“Shh… Quiet, love, it’s over now.”
My grandmother’s hands pressed heavily on my shoulders, and I realized my own hands were free. I hiccoughed and held my breath, my eyes still shut, and in the silence I could hear that the wind had died down, the air now cool and still.
I opened my eyes, blinking wide. My hands pressed against my chest, the muscles of my body sore as though I’d just carried something heavy for a long time. But it was only the memory of pain; whatever feeling had pierced me was gone.
“I didn’t like that,” I said, looking back at my grandmother. “It hurt.”
For a moment, it seemed as though she hadn’t heard me. She breathed hard, her skin ashen, her eyelids fluttering, and I frowned. She often looked like this, after big spells.
“Granma?” I reached a hand to her face and she shuddered, snapping her chin up. She laughed, a papery sound, and pressed the palms of her hands against my chest. Under the weight of her touch I could feel my own bones, thin but strong.
“That’s all right, dear,” she said, whispering slowly into my ear, her voice quavering. “It should hurt. That’s just how it should be.”
The cord still hung limp from one of her hands, and I reached for it. This time my grandmother gave no protest, letting me run it through my fingers and feel the three tight knots now twisted down its length.
“What did you do?” I asked, and I traced my fingers across each knot. If I pressed hard, I felt something deep within: a rumble, a barely-there thrum.
“What we did,” my grandmother said, taking the string lightly from me. “Each knot means the winds. Untie the first for a light breeze. The second will bring a fair trade wind. The third—that’s the strongest. The third untied means a hurricane, greater and more terrible than anything you can imagine.”
“Why would someone want to call a hurricane?” I asked, tilting my head at her. She lifted her eyebrows.
“I don’t ask, dear,” she said. “Remember that. It’s not our place to ask. Folks have their reasons.”
“Will I be able to do that on my own now?” I asked, and my grandmother shook her head.
“Not for a long while yet,” she said. “Someday, when you’re older, I’ll explain how the magic will come. But until then, you can help me.” She smoothed my dark hair with her hand, and I felt a warm glow in my stomach to be a big girl, old enough finally for my grandmother to include me in her work.
She eased me gently to my feet and stood up before walking slowly across the cottage to the black chest. She limped, moving as though her bones had grown stiff in the few minutes it took to work the spell, and when she reached the chest she put a hand on the wall to steady herself and breathed hard.
I watched her carefully, just in case she fell or collapsed. Sometimes it happened after big spells like these; sometimes she would rise to her feet only to fall again, crying and clutching her body, and I’d know to get a pillow to put under her head and push away the table and chairs to give her some space and shove my fingers into my ears to drown out her keening (only I didn’t tell her about that last bit). But she looked well now, and I thought it was probably because I had helped her, this time.
She lifted the lid of the chest and was about to drop the rope inside when she turned to me and paused.
“Come look,” she said, smiling, and my stomach swooped.
I walked slowly, my breath held tight within my lungs. My grandmother reached out an arm to me, scooping me close against her legs, wrapping me tightly as my eyes widened.
String, feathers, stones, simple objects, but to me they were jewels, shimmering with the memory of my grandmother’s magic. Beneath those little worked charms I could see neat stacks of papers, notes written in strange hands, diagrams and drawings I didn’t understand but that called to me, called to me as surely as if they already were mine.
I stared into the chest at my feet, the box that kept the history of the Roe women and their short, wild lives. It seemed too small. How could they shape my island, my world, so much and yet leave so little behind? But they also didn’t live long, the Roe women, lasting until their forties, just until their daughters were grown and capable of taking over for them—although my grandmother would soon prove to be the exception.
“That box holds generations of Roe history,” my grandmother whispered. “Everything we’ve learned or created. It’s been passed down from mother to daughter since the first Roe. My grandmother gave it to my mother, my mother gave it to me, and someday I will give it to you.” I looked up at her in surprise, and she leaned forward to press her lips against my hair. “You’re a part of them. A part of us.”
Us. She meant the Roe women, yes, but also the witches, the witch of Prince Island, for there was always only one working at a time. (My mother, for example, had all the abilities but it was my grandmother who was the witch.)
“It will be up to you, Avery,” my grandmother said, pulling me from my thoughts. “Do you understand?”
Yes. I knew just what she meant. It would be me, me and not my mother, who would take over for her and become the very next Roe witch.
I nodded, and my grandmother swept me up in her woodsmoke arms and held me close, and I thought about my mother, who had abandoned magic and me only a year after my birth, who had given up her place as the Roe witch and forced my grandmother to work long past her prime, making her weak and tired and worrying the islanders.
I was supposed to set it right, to become the witch and bring Prince Island back to the glory days, but before I could, before even my grandmother taught me how to unlock the magic that would have made me more than just her apprentice, my mother came back for me. Days after my twelfth birthday, she dragged me kicking and crying from the cottage on the rocks to New Bishop, the big town at the northern end of the island, and in no uncertain terms absolutely forbade me to become the witch.
Ever since then I knew it would only be a matter of time before I returned to the cottage, before I escaped. And when the days rolled into weeks, months, years, I didn’t worry, I didn’t panic. I did not care when my mother announced her engagement and then marriage to one of the island’s wealthiest men and moved us to his home. (What was one prison in exchange for another?) And when she began dressing me in silks and satins, parading me around like a prize pony at church picnics and social teas, lacing her conversation with words that felt like mines—gentleness, obedience, virtue, social grace—I hardly even paid attention. Let her do what she wanted. Let her fantasize about the kind of woman she wanted to make me become. I did not care.
Because I was supposed to be the Roe witch, it was my destiny and duty, and how could anyone, even my mother, stop that?
I hope the people of my island know that, at least.
I hope when they tell this story, the story of how they lost their witches and their luck and their fortunes, they don’t judge me too harshly. I hope, also, that they remember none of it would have happened had my mother not turned her back on magic. Or had my mother left me alone in my grandmother’s cottage. Or had my mother, drunk on the cult of domesticity and stuffed to the brim with 1860s morality, not been so determined to see me a proper lady. Or had she realized that when it came to magic, I would not make her mistakes.
So if the people of my island blame anyone, better her than me.
I WAS SIXTEEN, STILL MY MOTHER’S PRISONER, the night I became the whale.
I am swimming and it is just sunrise, the sky so gray as to be almost invisible. I rise to the surface to breathe and that’s when I see the dark shadow of a boat, gliding gently toward me in the water. Men ride in the boat, their faces grim and greedy and silent, and as I turn to watch them I feel a bite in my side, a piercing pain.
The word harpoon forms in my frantic mind when I see another man lift a long, heavy metal spear to his shoulder to strike again, but I dive, dropping down through layers of water. The ocean turns cold, dark, pressing around me, but the deeper I go the more the iron inside of me twists and pulls and I know that I’m tethered to the boat, that even now the men pull the rope tighter and drag me back to the surface.
It does no good to swim, I know, but maddened with fear and pain, I press into the waves and the heavy boat tows behind me, casting up crests of waves in its wake. I swim and swim until the energy leaches from my burning muscles, energy that would have done better to be saved to fight, and now I can only pant into the water.
I lurch toward the boat, intending to attack, but they reach me first, a lance deep into my side. The rope connecting us tightens, pulls me ever closer, and the rising sun flashes against their bright knives. They aim not for my brain or heart but my lungs, and when the first knife hits, I gasp, breathing in blood and water and cold, cold air. Another knife hits and another, ribboning the pink tissue inside my body, and it’s like trying to suck oxygen through a wet sack. My panic makes me lurch for air again and again, but when I breathe now, blood and water spray into the air, a column of red that clouds around me, and I can taste them mix, salty water and salty blood, and just as my eyes roll back into my head, I see the bright curve of a hook, a hook the size of a man’s head, and I urge every last bit of strength I have into my scream.
It was then that I woke up, panting for air, my arms and neck glazed in sweat. I lay in the darkness, confused and blinking as the details of my bedroom solidified. Still heaving for breath, I sat up in bed, pressing my fingertips against my closed eyes until bright points of light shattered across my vision. My heart refused to slow, and I jumped from the bed and threw open the window, gulping in cold air.
I leaned my cheek against the edge of the window, the breeze cooling the damp hair stuck to my forehead. The world outside was drawn in grays and silvers, silent but for the soft nighttime sounds of birds, the rush of the black ocean only a two-minute walk from my bedroom. My chest ached, and I lifted a hand to press my fingertips against the cage of bones around my heart and imagined again the sailors’ knives, the harpoons.…
A nightmare. It was just a nightmare. A normal sixteen-year-old girl would laugh, shaking her head at her own foolish imagination before tucking herself back into bed. But I was not a normal girl, and this was not just a nightmare.
Every Roe woman receives a special ability, aside from water magic—a gift that appears in childhood and separates her from all the Roes before her. My grandmother could read high emotions, soothing and appeasing even the strongest passions. My mother—in a twist of irony that proved magic, at least, had a healthy sense of humor—had power over love, affection, and in her youth she would sell charms that promised love for the day, the year, the lifetime.
I could interpret dreams. I could see what they meant for the future, for the dreamer, and I knew what this dream meant for me.
For the first time in my life I thought I might not become the witch. I might not ever have the chance. Because I could read dreams and I knew what it meant to dream I was a whale, to dream of men trapping me, hunting me, piercing me with harpoons and leaving me to drown in my own blood.
I will be killed. I will be murdered.
I’ve never been wrong before.
PANIC REARED UP THROUGH ME, HOT AND blazing and blurry, and that was it. I had to escape to my grandmother’s cottage, and I had to go now.
I spun and threw open the door of my looming black wardrobe before shoving aside the woolen winter clothing folded in the back. There was a false bottom to this wardrobe, and if I hooked my fingernail just right into the far left corner, I could lift it up, exposing a space about the size of a man’s shoe. My fingers shook as I reached in, feeling in the darkness smooth stones, a handkerchief knotted around sand, a single delicate and empty bird egg: my version of my grandmother’s black chest but without the magic.
I felt around in the hole until I found a short length of twisted, rusty wire, the kind usually wrapped around a fence post. Sailors say a bit of fence wire could protect a man against a curse, and so I carefully wrapped it around my wrist, staining my fingers with powdery orange-pink rust.
This will work, I told myself, although I knew I had not made a spell and remained just a girl with some wire puckering the skin of her wrist. Still, I rose to my feet, my mind already racing through my escape: down to the kitchens, out the back garden, loop around town, then down to the beach and straight south to the cottage and safety.
I didn’t need a map, not when I knew almost from birth every inch of my island, floating forty miles east of Massachusetts’s shore. Prince Island from above looked like a comma with a stretched-out tail, a pause before the open ocean, and I pictured myself standing at the northeastern tip of that comma, where my mother’s house lay, and pointing my toes south, along the curving shoreline path all the way down, down, down to the very tip of the comma’s tail, to the crumbling rocks where my grandmother’s cottage sat. It would be a long walk, more than seven miles into the wind, but as soon as I left the town behind, it would be a nice walk, too, with nothing to my right but bowing fields of sea grass and nothing to my left but ocean. And then the sandy shoreline path would go brown and bare, sand turning to gravel turning to rock, and the land to my right would grow skinny and broken, and by the time the sun would rise, I would see the cottage before me, rosy with the dawn. The sky would be clear, colorless, mist blending together the air and the ocean, the waves whispering against the rocks. My grandmother would be inside, asleep, tired, maybe, from a long night of customers, and I told myself, I will walk through the door, wake her, and say, “I am home.”
My breathing slowed as I held the moment in my mind, and then I turned and reached for the cloak hanging on the wardrobe door.
This will be the night I escape. The thought repeated in my mind like a refrain, over and over, and I believed it so hard that I whispered it aloud: “This will be the night I escape!”
I took a step, one step with the cloak still bunched in my fist, and my knees gave underneath me.
“No!” I whispered, catching myself just in time. I clutched the wire around my wrist and urged it to heat with magic, to protect me. Another step and this time I fell to the ground, the sharp points of my elbows and knees striking the carpet so that I gasped with pain. Bright stars peppered my vision, exploding into color and then into blackness, raining down over me, smothering me with sleep, but even as I could feel my arms and legs go tingly numb, hot anger sprang through my veins.
Stupid! Why did I possibly think I could escape that night? For four years, any moment I attempted to run back to the cottage, the invisible rope around my waist gave a tug, tethering me back to my mother’s world. Cursed, I was cursed, and my mother said she’d given up magic for good, said it was a terrible thing, but she wasn’t above using it to keep me at her side, and she’s a hypocrite, a liar, a fraud and phony, and I hate her I hate her I hate her!
I stretched out on the carpet, eyes glazed over, my heart whirring with frustration and fear, and as my mother’s curse slowly, firmly, pushed my eyelids closed, my body went still. But on the inside I was screaming.
I woke stiff and light-headed, my bones and joints aching. The wire still dug into my right wrist, and my hand tingled. It had been months since I last woke up on the floor like this, caught in an attempted escape, and my cheeks burned as I pushed myself to my feet and slowly, gently stretched.
I massaged my aching muscles and unwound the wire, blinking and fuzzy-headed, when it all rushed back to me: the dream, the knives, my shredded lungs full of blood instead of air, and what it all meant for my future. My knees trembled and I had to clutch the wardrobe for balance.
I am going to be murdered.
It wasn’t any easier to face in the daytime.
Wincing, I leaned against the wardrobe, unused to the swooping, dizzying feeling of glimpsing my own future. I’d seen death in dreams before, of course: I discovered I could tell futures six years ago, about the same time more and more of our whale men signed up to fight in the War Between the States. My grandmother, ever the entrepreneur, set up a side business in future-telling that kept us both afloat during the war years (my grandmother had charms against whales, not bullets).
They made me famous, those dreams, and soon would-be soldiers began to visit the cottage not for the witch but for her little black-haired granddaughter. “Doesn’t come up to your elbow,” men would say, “but can tell you if you’re gonna live or die.”
I always suspected it was the dreams that attracted my mother’s attention, because when she came to the cottage and pulled me away, she hissed at . . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...