The Lass Who Lost a Shoe – Caroline Lee

Double, double, toil and trouble! Fire burn and cauldron bubble…” Broca rolled her eyes. “Why in the blazes do ye have to go through that routine each time, Grisel? Just make the blasted tea!” The plump Godmother shot her a scowl. “Ye cannae just make a good pot of tea—ye must coax it, nurture it.” “Chant at it,” muttered young Willa under her breath, as she set out scones. “Aye, chanting’s sometimes involved!” snapped Grisel. “Ye’ve never minded my tea before, so ye just shut yer mouth and enjoy the show, eh?” Broca exchanged a telling glance with Evangeline, and they both stifled a sigh. When Grisel made tea, there was a show involved, since the plump Godmother obviously bought into their reputation as witchy sorts. But she made rather the best cup of tea in the Highlands, so Evangeline was willing to forgive her theatrics. To an extent. “I would prefer my tea without any eye of newt, if possible,” she drawled. Grisel winked at her. “Nix the newt. Got it, yer ladyship.” Evangeline wasn’t really a lady, but she didn’t mind when the others called her that. It solidified her position as leader of this little coven—or rather, chapter.

“Coven” implied they truly were witches, though they weren’t, much to Grisel’s immense irritation. T h e Guide to Godmothering, the book on which their chapter of the Guild of Godmothers was based, was very clear on the subject: You’re going to find it’s in your best interest to disassociate yourselves from the rumors of witch-like behavior. The days of dunking and burning at the stake are behind us, thank the Lord, but things can still get very uncomfortable for a lady who seems to know things others don’t, especially if said lady has a wart or two and likes black cats perhaps more than she ought. So take my word for it and keep a low profile. One day, Evangeline would very much like to meet with whomever had written the Guide. She suspected that particular Godmother had rather a lot of stories to tell. “Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting, lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing. For a charm of powerful trouble, like a hell-broth boil and bubble!” Grisel managed to make Shakespeare’s poetry into a song, but Evangeline would be plucked bald before she’d ever admit she liked the other godmother’s voice, so she scowled. “For the love of God, Grisel! A hell-broth? It is tea.” Willa caught her eye as Grisel continued to hum and poke at the fire beneath the stove.

“At least she can carry a tune,” she whispered shyly, her freckles standing out as she flushed. Evangeline merely hummed archly, but she did offer the younger woman a kind smile. Willa was their latest initiate, a painfully shy younger sister of the local vicar, who could never manage to say two words above a whisper without stammering. Evangeline believed she was happy with her position as a Godmother, but it was difficult to determine for certain at times. “Och, f’r nontwell armble!” Grisel stopped humming as they all turned to the eldest of their group. It was impossible to determine how old Seonag truly was, because her skin had weathered into the kind of durable leather Evangeline suspected carriage-makers used for benches in coaches. Her voice was gravelly, and she was rarely seen without the stump of that horrid pipe clamped between her teeth, whether it was puffing foul-smelling smoke or not. This would impede understanding of her words, if anyone could understand whatever in the world it was she actually said in the first place. Willa, bless her, patted Seonag’s arm and— as if she alone knew exactly what the old woman had spoken—whispered encouragingly, “That’s a verra interesting viewpoint, Grandmother.” “For the love of geese, woman! Why can ye no’ learn to speak the Queen’s English?” snapped Broca.

Seonag just bobbed her head. “ ’Twin by righ agan soonuff.” “’Tis no’ even Gaelic,” snarled their worst-natured Godmother, “much less English.” Broca was never satisfied with anything. “Grandmother’s speaking her own dear little language,” bubbled Grisel happily. “Let her be, dearie.” Seonag rarely reacted to anything said around her, but now she popped her cold pipe between her teeth, leaned far to one side, and picked up a carpetbag. It made a satisfying plunk when it hit the table. “Bidness.” Well, at least her meaning was obvious this time.

Clearing her throat, Evangeline straightened. “Yes, well, sisters, Seonag is correct.” She inclined her head regally to the older woman, whom she thought might be grinning, but couldn’t be certain under all those wrinkles. “We do have business. The time has come—” “For the Oliphant girls?” Grisel interrupted with a happy squeal. “They’re all Oliphant girls,” grumbled Broca. It was difficult to deny most of the recipients of their Godmothering had thus far been Oliphants, or at least members of the Oliphants surrounding clans, but these girls… “The Oliphant Inn has been a landmark for generations,” Evangeline began, “but it has recently fallen into the wrong hands.” “The widow of the owner—” “Who remarried the best engraver in the clan and has since been widowed again.” Glaring at Broca for daring to interrupt her, Evangeline struggled to find the thread of the story again. “We know she has two daughters of her own, the daughters of the inn’s original owner, but months ago, we decided it is the stepdaughter we should start with.

” “The drudge,” whispered Willa. “Exactly.” Smiling encouragingly, Evangeline inclined her head in acknowledgement. “Sisters, tonight is the night.” “Is the cowboy ready?” Only Broca could make something as exotic and exciting as an American cowboy sound like a slug. Evangeline raised a brow in Grisel’s direction, as the American had been her responsibility. “Sister?” “Och, aye. He’s as ready as he’ll ever be. The Princes have been wining and dining him for weeks, making him as high-falutin’ as they are,” she said, though without malice of course. “Tonight’s ball will be his official welcome to the clan and to the engraving business.

” Months ago, their sister chapter in Wyoming had written with notification that a young man would be traveling to the Highlands under orders from Andrew Prince, the owner of Prince Armory and manager of the Oliphant engraving industry, which engraved his custom firearms. Tired of overseeing such an empire, he had appointed young Maxwell DeVille in his stead, and the gentleman had arrived in Oliphant territory several weeks ago. After tonight’s ball, he would officially begin his tenure as manager of Oliphant Engraving and would be a permanent resident of the Highlands. And, if things went right, he’d soon have an extra reason to stay. “Broca, is everything arranged for our client?” “Aye,” the woman confirmed with a scowl, “but I dinnae see why ye must call her a client, all high-and-mighty like that, just because ye went to London for school.” “I call her a client, because that is what she—” Evangeline stopped her sudden spill of irritated words, then forced herself to straighten in her chair and take a deep breath. “Sisters, we determined Ember Oliphant would meet Maxwell DeVille tonight at the ball. They will fall in love. Is everything prepared?” Rolling her eyes, Broca propped her elbows on the table. “Ember’s borrowing a dress from that fancy stepsister of hers, Vanessa.

The girl’s no’ all that bad, although the dress is hideous. Stepmother doesnae ken she’s going, of course, or the wicked ol’ bat would prevent it, but her sisters are planning to sneak her into the castle.” “Good, good. Of course, we all know Baroness Oliphant—her cruel stepmother—will do her best to foil the plan.” Evangeline pictured a mental checklist, knowing how these stories tended to go. “She’ll either destroy the dress, or lock Ember in her room, correct?” “Or both!” Grisel declared cheerfully. “Although I suspect, in this case, she’ll no’ destroy the gown, since ‘tis her daughter’s.” “Hmm, good point.” Evangeline crossed that option off her list. “But we’re all agreed Baroness Oliphant will manage to discover and overturn the girls’ plans to attend the ball?” “Och, aye,” growled Broca.

“Narrative causality.” Grisel and Willa nodded. “Narrative causality,” they intoned. They’ve been reading The Book. Excellent! “Have we prepared the mask?” “Whez! Ye canna h’ a bi’ o’ fripping do allnat, can ye?” Evangeline opened her mouth, but then she considered Seonag’s incomprehensible words and closed it again. Willa patted the old woman’s arm. “’Tis a masquerade, Grandmother,” she whispered. “The masks are a verra important part of the night.” “Indeed.” Evangeline did her best to regain control of the conversation.

“And the one we’ve picked out for Ember will be certain to grab the American’s attention, no matter how many other beautiful women are there. I assume the gown is prepared as well?” “Och, aye, and a fancier bit of fluff I’ve never seen.” Evangeline grinned at the rare praise from Broca. “Indeed. I’m quite proud of it.” The other Godmother scowled. “Twas nae a compliment.” Grisel stepped forward before the bickering began. “They ken me at the inn, so I’ll be the one who will slip in and drop off the gown and mask tonight. Perhaps a key to the room as well, just in case.

” “Good thinking.” Evangeline nodded. “And the shoes?” Willa smiled softly. “If it’s one thing this story already has, ‘tis shoes. Ember has taken care of that detail all on her own.” All five Godmothers nodded. “Narrative causality,” they said in unison, except Seonag, who mumbled, “Fraggums.” “Well then,” Evangeline stated, with a deep breath, “I believe everything is in place for another Happily Ever After, sisters.” Seonag leaned forward and tapped the carpetbag. “Nae harm in abi’ o’ a wink, eh?” “Oh!” Willa leapt forward.

“The ball! Good thinking, Grandmother!” The old woman seemed satisfied to have gotten her point—whatever it was—across, and she leaned back in her chair with a satisfied nod when Willa opened the bag to reveal what looked to be a glass sphere, covered in a lace doily. It was, of course, a crystal ball. Evangeline hated using the thing; it gave her a headache. But Broca was remarkably skilled at getting a picture from it, and some evenings, they used it to spy on the goings on at Queen Victoria’s court, just so they could ooh and ahh over the gowns. Of course, it was used for other, more important, purposes, but Evangeline enjoyed being able to peek at the courtly fashion the most. “Very well.” She sighed, doing her best to appear reluctant and not at all as if she were looking forward to experiencing the ball from the comfort of her sitting room herself. “It will be a convenient way to keep up with the full story, I suppose.” Broca reached out her arms. “Pass the thing here and I’ll get it primed, eh?” “And Grisel,” Evangeline commanded haughtily, “pour the tea.

Without incantations if you please.” Sometimes, just sometimes, things went as planned. Tonight would be one of those times, she was certain. Narrative causality and all that.

.

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