An ivy stem flapped against the parlour window.
“Wind’s strong tonight,” said Maggie, placing another block on the fire.
Granny nodded but did not look up from the stitches she was counting. A complex woollen lace creation tumbled over her lap from sturdy needles.
“Mull some cider, will you, Maggie? He’ll be here soon.”
The younger woman got up to place the poker into the flames, then fetched a bottle of cider from the pantry, returning with three tankards which she placed beside the hearth.
As she set them down, they both heard the knocker sound.
“Strange he should use the front door, “ Maggie murmured as she went to welcome the visitor.
Granny rolled up her knitting. “Formal business warrants formal entry. Don’t you know anything, girl?”
Opposite her rocking chair, in the ancient, brick-backed fireplace, flames flickered in the draught caused by the open front door. Granny heard a medley of voices;
Maggie’s soft soprano compared with Anvil’s rumbling bass and another greeting from the kitchen where Granny’s husband was keeping himself busy. Then she heard the clump of heavy boots along the thinly carpeted hallway and sudden shadow as he entered the parlour.
Granny stood to greet him.
“Good evening, Granny.”
“Good evening, Anvil.”
The tall man fixed his gaze on the bright, birdlike eyes of the woman in front of him.
“I went to the woods today and the holly berries are ripe.”
“Many berries this year?”
“The most I’ve seen this twelveyear.”
“So there’ll be snow.”
“I reckon so.”
He shook his head. “The wind still smells of rain rather than frost. Three weeks maybe.”
Granny nodded, resuming her seat and gesturing he should take the comfortable chair in front of the fire. When both were seated, Maggie hastened to pour cider and spices into the tankards. She felt them watch her as she grabbed a padded cloth to wrap around the poker before pulling it out of the fire, shaking it free from ash before she plunged it into each drink in turn.
The cider hissed and sizzled in response to the intense heat. Carefully, Maggie returned the ironwork to the stand before she picked up two tankards, presenting the first to Granny and the second to Anvil. Grasping the third, she slid back into her cushioned seat on the inglenook settle, breathing in the heady spiced fumes before she dared to try her first sip.
“You’ll check on the chapel tomorrow.” Granny’s words were more statement than question. Anvil swallowed a mouthful of hot cider before nodding. “Take the pony to carry spare thatching. We don’t want wheel tracks on Bowsen Path if we can help it. Wouldn’t do for strangers to visit there until it’s all over.”
“One of the shutters is loose on the far window,” Maggie said, “and we’ll need more wood for the brazier and full lamps. I don’t really want to take blankets up there beforehand if they’ll only get cold and damp.”
Anvil grasped his flagon in both hands, his thick fingers locked together as if drawing comfort from the warmth.
“There weren’t enough length in Upper Barn ground straw this year after the drought. Not for thatching. Rob Taylor and his nipper went off for a long weekend to the Broads at Michaelmass. He said there were enough reed beds to thatch the whole village, so he traded some rabbit skins to bring back reeds for the chapel. He said we might not need them this year, but it were best to be on the safe side, just in case.”
Granny unrolled her knitting and picked up the pattern where she’d left off before Anvil’s arrival. The tension in the room began to dissipate as her needles clicked in time with the fire’s quiet crackles.
“Rob’s turning out to be a real forward thinker since he was chosen.”
Anvil smiled. “It does that to a man, being chosen. Good to have the chapel sound, just in case. Do you need anything else done, Maggie?”
The younger woman thought for a moment. “I don’t think so. We cleaned out the well just a week ago. I had to wait until the Rowan’s leaves were all dropped. She was late this year. Lots of berries though, just like the holly.”
“You made any rowan jelly? I’ll drop you and Tom a pheasant next time I’m passing. We took a good dozen last Saturday when we walked Badger Drift.”
Maggie held out a small jar to him and he stuffed it into his jacket pocket. “That’s from the first batch. It’s from the Guardian Rowan, so it’s really bitter. I’ll be making some more with berries from the copse together with our windfalls this week. You’re welcome to some of that too. Granny said you liked the bitter jelly.”
“I do when bitter’s called for.” His face creased into his usual smile. “There’s times for sweetness too.”
Anvil drained his tankard and stood up. “I’d best be going before the rain sets in. You’ll be there Tuesday night, Granny?”
“You still meeting upstairs at The Plough?”
“No, Old George moved us to the back room last week. Seems the Bridge Club needs more space these days. Four more couples from Edgecombe Close have joined including Samantha Brierley.”
Granny chuckled. “I think her husband will be looking for a new bridge partner soon. She’s agreed to come to the Knitting and Worship Circle next Thursday.”
“I thought she might. Her Granda was a Ravenswick, just like the vicar’s wife. Can’t see her sticking to the four suits when there’s studying and knittin’ to be done. Let me know when you want me to make her a set of needles.”
Maggie accompanied him to the front door. Granny heard her sliding the heavy bolts home after shutting it behind him. When she returned to the parlour, she was already dressed in her coat.
“I’ll be off too, Granny. “ She bent to kiss the older woman’s soft cheek, surprised when Granny grasped her arm firmly.
“No scrying now, Maggie Tulliver. You may be the Keeper of the Well, but it don’t give you the right to see who might come your way.”
“Granny, I wouldn’t!” Maggie’s face was shocked.
“I know you wouldn’t mean to, but I’ve seen your black saucer filled with well water sitting on the windowsill. You might just be tempted. Throw it away when you get home, there’s a good girl.”
“But what if Tom….”
“What ifs butter no parsnips. What will be will be as you know very well.”
Maggie wrapped her scarf around her head and left the cottage through the back door. Granny carried on with her knitting.
“You’re too hard on that girl, Amy.” Zeb came in from the kitchen where he’d been mending a long case clock for the vicar.
“She’s got to learn, otherwise there’ll only be heartache.
Zeb settled himself down in the armchair recently vacated by Anvil and picked up the paper. “I seem to remember another young woman scrying for Holly’s chosen one not so many years ago.”
Granny sniffed, “That weren’t scrying, that were just a bit of preparation. Just in case.”
“Granny Blackwell didn’t see it like that.”
Granny cast off six stitches with great concentration. “Me and Granny Blackwell didn’t agree on many things before she died. Doesn’t make it wrong.”
Zeb hid himself behind the open paper so she wouldn’t see him smile.