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Chapter 1
The Way of Things

 
 
 
     Devan was an odd fellow, that was true enough. “Uncanny” was the word some people used. Most said he wanted to be alone, and that’s the way people liked it. Megan, of course, never gave much thought to hear-say, so when she came upon him while she was strolling through the forest near her family’s farm, she had to stop for a second look.
     He stood in a clearing with his back to her, staring into the treetops and murmuring softly. Golden rays flitted through the branches, and patches of gleaming leaves danced and swayed with the late summer breeze. His woolen tunic sagged over one lanky shoulder, soiled and muddy. He wore no belt. His breeches were far too short, like he’d recently outgrown them the way boys do when turning into men. For shoes he wore only a pair of sandals.
     He was staring into the tree above him, murmuring quietly to himself and pointing with a short stick. Above him a flock of crows played in the branches, calling to each other in their shrill voices.
     Megan followed his gaze, frowning with curiosity. “Whatever are you doing?”
     Devan jolted as if he’d heard a thunderclap and wheeled to face her. His eyes darted about, but seeing only a girl he swallowed and sighed from relief. “I didn’t hear you. What do you want?”
     She stared a moment, not knowing quite what to say. “You’re the son of Ethne. The wise woman.” Wild reddish brown hair sprouted from his head, and light freckles spotted his face. Megan did not see Devan often. He and his mother traveled from village to village, but never to the farm where she lived.
     Megan’s family no longer followed the old traditions.
     Devan nodded once, still wary. “You’re Beoden’s daughter.” He let his gaze roam freely over her light blue dress and her long brown hair, stopping as their eyes met.
     Megan frowned. “You’re a right mess,” she said. “What have you been doing?”
     “You’re one to talk. There’s dirt all over your face.”
     “There is not.”
     “You’ve been crying.” Devan stared more intently, though his eyes were not unkind. “You’re not lost, are you?”
     “Hardly.” Megan pulled out a cloth and dabbed at her cheeks. In truth she had been crying. She often came to these woods to think and be alone, but that was none of his affair. “I was on my way back, and I heard you.”
     Devan made no response, but merely stared.
     “You were chanting something,” Megan pressed.
     “What of it?”
     “What were you saying?”
     “Just a rhyme. It’s nonsense, really.” He gave a smile—ever so quickly, Megan thought.
     She stared at the trees where he had been looking. A large crow cocked its head, then spread its wings and flew away. “You’re throwing things at the birds.”
     “I wasn’t.” Devan looked down at the stick in his hand, then tossed it into the bushes. “You wouldn’t understand such things.”
     Megan smirked. “Go on! You think that just because I’m a girl, I—”
     “I said nothing of the sort.” He stared at her then, in a way Megan wasn’t sure she liked. She was ready to turn and leave when he spoke again.

One for joy
Two for pain,
Three for sun
Four for rain,
Five to grant a secret wish,
Six for first love’s tender kiss

     Devan shrugged. “Anyway, that’s how it goes.”
     Megan wrinkled her brow.
     “Have you never heard that before?”
     “No.”
     Devan turned and gazed into the branches. “They say if you see a flock of crows you can tell the future by counting their number.”
     “That’s foolish.”
     “Is it?” He gave her a glance, then stared into the branches above them.

Seven for sickness
Eight for dying,
Nine for laughter,
Ten for crying

     “It goes on like that for quite a bit.”
     “And how many did you count?” Megan asked.
     Devan gave her an arch look and grinned. “I shan’t say.”
     Megan smirked and rolled her eyes. “Such clever nonsense! The things you learn, being the son of a witch.”
     “Indeed.”
     “Father tells me not to believe in any of it.”
     Devan folded his arms. “And do you believe everything your father tells you?”
     “Why shouldn’t I?”
     “He can’t know everything.” Devan gave her a sideways look.
     Megan scowled. She wasn’t sure she liked his tone; yet her curiosity continued to prevail and she did not leave. “Perhaps. Can you show me real power?”
     “If I chose.”
     “Well you’ll have to do better than counting crows.”
     Devan thought for a moment, then glanced toward a flowering currant bush and pointed. “Do you see that butterfly?”
     Megan followed his look, then nodded.
     Devan raised his finger and became still. After a moment of silence his lips parted and he spoke, barely a whisper. “Luatha, hemm!”
     The creature fluttered on command, bobbing as it circled to gain height against the breeze, then flew straight as an arrow’s shaft until it lighted on the tip of his finger.
     Megan raised a brow and gave him a narrow look. Not quite sure what to say, she could only stare. A breeze sighed in the trees.
     Devan grinned to himself and chuckled; yet as he caught her look his smile quickly melted. He shook his hand and looked down. “It’s nothing.” He stepped back. “More of a trick, really.”
     Megan’s eyes followed the butterfly as it flitted away. She stared after it for a moment, then turned to him with a mystified smile. “Do it again.”
 

 

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