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5. Bewitchery
 It was a strange new life she was in, indeed! Walls and roof were like a trap at first, although it was a grand thing to be warm and dry with all the storm demons howling over the earth. It was strange to have certain tasks at certain times, too, and not easy for a gypsy lass to whom time was nothing. It was strange to eat hot meals three times a day, and at a table, with the heat coming from the huge kitchen fireplace. But it was not so strange to have the servants lowering at her suspiciously. For the clanspeople of the glen, unlike their chief and his family, never trusted this water witch for a moment. An evil sprite she was, and no mistake about it. They watched every move she made.
Still, suspicion was less after her first Sunday there, after she had gathered with the others to hear Glenfern read the service. It was well known that no witch would
 dare enter a church or hear the Holy Word, lest the roof fall in or some other dire thing happen. Kelpie herself was uneasy about this at first. True, she was not a witch, but she wanted to be, and she had read the crystal with Mina, and she wasn’t altogether certain what might happen. Still, it wasn’t a proper church, with a priest, but only Glenfern reading the Anglican service—and in any case, she dared not refuse. So she went, heart beating faster than usual, and was greatly relieved when nothing dreadful happened.
True to her promise, Kelpie was diligent and learned quickly. Her reward was free time to wander in the encircling hills or to be with the other young people—and this was strangest of all, for they played and chattered and joked in a way quite novel to Kelpie, with laughter among them, and an ease and affection that held no wariness. Under the bewitchment of it, Kelpie found herself dropping her own guard more and more often. She liked being with them! There was more joy in it than in shouting and dancing alone on a hilltop; a different excitement from that she felt when cutting purses. As the days passed, she often had to remind herself of the advice she had given Ian. To be too relaxed could be dangerous—especially with that sharp-minded Alex about.
Still, she couldn’t help enjoying those hours, and presently something clicked in her mind, and she understood the baffling thing they called teasing.
Kelpie, Eithne, Ian, and Alex were sitting nearly waist-deep in the tangle of heather and bog-myrtle that rimmed Loch nan Eilean on a sunny afternoon.
“Are you sure you’re not wanting a proper name besides ‘Kelpie’?” Eithne asked, her soft voice worried and laughing at once. “It seems so insulting, just, that your parents....”
Parents? Suddenly Kelpie remembered what Bogle had said. Suppose she had truly been stolen? Suppose she were really the daughter of a chief? Och, the glory of it! Wealth and importance, lovely gowns and jewels, silver buckles on real leather shoes, and a silver belt around her waist, and oh, the safety of never having to run from angry crowds....
“Dhé!” she announced eagerly. “Mina and Bogle will not be my parents, at all.” She paused dramatically and prepared to launch the rest of her news. How startled and respectful they would be! Why hadn’t she thought of it sooner?
“Och, now!” Alex turned twin sparks of laughter upon her. “And haven’t I been waiting, just, for you to be telling us? Kelpie has suddenly remembered,” he explained to the others solemnly, “that she was stolen by the gypsies when a wee bairn and is truly the daughter of a great chief, or perhaps of royal blood.”
“How did you know?” began Kelpie and then stopped. The others were chuckling as at a great joke. Alex had put
 the blight of ridicule on her story—though it was at least half true. And now no one would ever be believing it at all!
“Beast!” she spat. “It is true!”
“As ever was!” agreed Alex jauntily and ducked her angry fist. Then he caught her wrist, put it firmly in her lap, and sat grinning at her. “You’re a wonderful wee liar, aren’t you just?” he observed admiringly.
“Ou, aye,” admitted Kelpie a trifle smugly before she realized that he had tricked her again. “But this time,” she pointed out with indignation, “I am not lying.”
“And would you not be saying the same thing if you were lying?” he persisted.
This time Kelpie saw the trap, but she was already in it. “Of course,” she admitted with forthright logic. “For what would be the good of lying if you did not say it was the truth? But”—she bristled, slanted brows scrambling themselves darkly above her short nose—“this time it is true!”
Alex laughed.
Kelpie tried for at least the twentieth time to put the Evil Eye on him. The result was a poisonous look, if not a blighting one. “Wicked, evil-minded beast!” she told him earnestly.
Ian looked at Alex judiciously. “Och, no; not wicked,” he said. “He’s a bit evil-minded, ’tis true, and surely daft.”
Kelpie blinked.
“Aye, daft enough,” agreed Eithne happily. “Were you
 knowing, Kelpie, that he’s altogether foolish about an English lass, his cousin Cecily in Oxford? And yet all he can be saying of her is that she is like her own wee kitten, and that he will marry with her some day.”
Alex grinned brazenly. “Well, and with who else?” he demanded. “You would not be having me, m’eudail.”
“Dhé, no!” agreed Eithne promptly. “I’d as lief marry the twins!”
“Mayhap Kelpie would have him,” suggested Ian lazily, and then he and Eithne shouted with laughter at the looks of sheer horror on both faces.
“Mercy!” begged Alex, getting to his knees and clasping his hands pleadingly. “Anything but that! Curse me all you wish, water witch, but please do not marry me!”
Kelpie looked at him. It was then that something clicked. “Very well so,” she agreed with enthusiasm. “And what sort of curse would you be wanting?”
She went back to the house a little later, looking thoughtful and with a pleasant feeling in the heart of her—not merely because, for once, she had got the better of Alex, but also because of the thing that happened between people when they teased. It was a warm and happy thing that turned insults to joking and the hatred of Alex to something kinder. For surely a body did not tease where he hated! And surely he had been half teasing her from the first.
Kelpie’s blue eyes glinted happily as she hurried into the big stone-floored kitchen, so that Marsali the cook almost smiled at her and Fiona for once forgot to cross herself.
“And about time it is, too!” Marsali grunted, remembering her doubts about Kelpie. “The mistress has been looking for you while you were playing like a fine lady. Here, now, be helping to pluck this fowl, and let Master Donald go tell her that you’re here.”
Kelpie glanced at the half of the twins who was arming himself for an afternoon of fishing, with a huge packet of scones and butter. “That’s Ronald,” she said absently as she picked up the small brown pheasant.
Three pairs of eyes focused on her in sudden sharp attention, for it took far more than a brief glance to tell one twin from the other. In fact, only their mother and Wee Mairi could invariably do it.
“I’m Donald,” asserted the twin, his eyes sparkling at her.
“You’re Ronald.” Kelpie contradicted him serenely, hardly glancing up from her plucking job.
Marsali at once took sides. “Och, now, will you be calling the wee master a liar?” she demanded indignantly, her fists planted against her hips.
“Ou, aye,” said Kelpie. “He will be teasing you,” she added, pleased to recognize it.
Fiona looked shocked. Marsali peered suspiciously from
 Kelpie to the twin, who giggled. “Och, well, then,” said Marsali, her ruddy face now ruddier with indignation, though she was not quite sure at whom to direct it. “Fine it is that Master Ronald has the wee mole on the back of his neck.” And she strode over to the grinning lad and lifted up the shoulder-length dark hair to look at the neck beneath. Kelpie went on plucking, perfectly sure of herself and feeling rather smug.
“Master Ronald it is!” Marsali clucked, and Fiona crossed herself and edged away from Kelpie. “How could you be knowing, save with the Black Power?”
“Aye,” demanded Ronald. “How were you knowing, Kelpie? Was it witchcraft?”
Kelpie grinned and shrugged. She couldn’t really tell how she knew. It wasn’t the look of them, but rather the feel. Donald had a more aggressive and challengin............
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