Toadmila threw a glance at the shelf where jars filled with potions were already waiting.
“What is your mother suffering from?” she asked.
The three men stared at her in disbelief.
“You mean you don't know?” one of them asked.
“We thought you'd already seen everything in your crystal ball.”
Toadmila's jaws tightened. This was how a witch's day was supposed to go. A scrying session in the morning to see how the day would unfold, which customers would be coming and what they'd want and what they'd need, which potions to prepare, which spells to look up in ancient tomes and brush up on, so that when the customers arrived, everything would be ready for them. But a crystal ball was not among the items deemed indispensable to a witch's job, so the Office didn't give any. Every witch got a wand and a broom and a uniform, pointy hat included. Everything else, books supplies and a crystal ball and a familiar and whatever else they might need, they'd have to buy for themselves, out of their own earnings. Or, as Toadmila reminded herself, out of money they got from their parents. She had no doubt that someone from a good family, someone like Augustus Lefroy, would have had the best crystal ball and volumes upon volumes of the latest spells and potions recipes from day one. And, no doubt, an extravagantly exotic familiar. But Toadmila had no parents to rely on, and in a place like Grimwood Forest, she had no way of making money.
“There are things that can't be seen in a crystal ball,” Toadmila said, “evil that can only be sensed when one is close to it.”
“Well, the priest cleansed our home, so there's no evil there,” one of the men said, throwing her a doubtful look.
“Your mother was touched by some evil before she fell ill,” Toadmila said coldly, trying to look certain of what she was saying, “or else the illness would have been gone once the house was cleansed. That evil left a mark, but it's a mark that cannot be seen.”
The men looked at each other.
“We haven't felt anything,” they said.
“Then I must go to her in person,” Toadmila said. She listed in her mind the various ailments an old woman might be suffering from, trying to select the potions with the widest range of applications, aware that she could not carry every single potion with her.
“In person?” the man in the middle said. “You mean you want to come to the village?”
“To our house?” the man on the right said.
Toadmila turned her eyes to the man on the left, expecting him to say something as well, but he just took a step back and made the sign of the cross with his forefinger on his chest.
“I don't think that's a good idea,” the man in the middle said.
“Maybe we should go,” the man on the left added.
“We shouldn't have come here,” the man on the right said, turning to the door.
“Do you want your mother healed or not?” Toadmila snapped. “I can help her, but I must see her.”
The men stopped halfway on they way to the door.
“We want her to be well,” one of them said.
“But we thought it would only cost us our souls.” another one added.
“But if people see you...”
“... at our house...”
“... if people know we've talked to a witch..”
“... if people know we brought a witch to our village...”
“... then that's more than just our souls.”
“They'll have us burned....”
“And they'll have Mother burned...”
“And they'll burn you too, so don't think you can just bring this on us and get away with it!”
Toadmila waved her wand, and the door snapped shut in front of them.
“First,” she said, “I don't want your souls, you can keep them. Second, you'd better find a way to get me into the village without anyone noticing, because I'm going to your house to heal your mother, with or without your help.”