Toadmila took one more sip of her magic tea. Something about Jane's story bothered her. She could feel something cold and dark rattling in a corner of her mind,something between a presentiment and a memory, but the tea drowned it out.
“So, if I help you,” Toadmila said slowly, “what do I get in return?”
Her mind was racing over the things she could do for the girl, and the things she'd need for that, tallying expenses and rounding up the price to make it worth her time.
“You get my immortal soul,” Jane said, making obvious efforts to look brave.
Toadmila rolled her eyes and prepared to take one more sip of tea if the girl was to add “that's what witches do”. Fortunately, Jane just stood there, trembling, staring at her with large, round eyes.
“That's not what witches do,” Toadmila said, setting aside her cup of tea. “That's what you pay for a deal with the devil. Witches are not devils.”
Jane did not seem convinced. She opened her mouth to say something, but she thought better of it.
“Souls, from what I know, aren't good to eat,” Toadmila said, matter-of-factly. “They are not acceptable coin at any shop, and cannot be exchanged for food, clothes, or basic necessities. I have no use for your soul.”
Jane blinked, but did not look relieved.
“I'll take money,” Toadmila said quickly, before the girl could offer her first-born as payment.
Jane's eye were brimming with tears.
“I don't have any money,” the girl said, wringing her hands.
“What about bread?” Toadmila asked, trying to tell herself that she didn't need a familiar, or a crystal ball, or the latest volume of Potions Monthly or of Spells Gazette. “I could work for bread.”
Jane's face turned pale.
“We don't have any bread either,” she said. “Bread is expensive.”
“But you grow wheat,” Toadmila said.
“Yes, but it's the miller who turns the wheat into flour, and it's the baker who turns the flour into bread. We only eat soup.”
“And game,” Toadmila thought. She'd noticed the villagers poaching in the forest. But, of course, no villager would admit to that, not when the forest and any animals in it belonged to the king, and poaching was punishable by death.
“I'll need some things to make the... spell,” Toadmila said. “And I'll need payment. So perhaps the miller could use some help with housework or yard work, and pay in flour, and perhaps the baker could use the flour to make bread. You can always try.”
“Do you have any lye?” Toadmila asked.
“Of course!” Jane answered, her face brightening in an instant. “We use that for cleaning.”
“I could find some,” the girl said, a little less cheerful.”
“I don't need much. Just half a cup of it.”
“I think I can get that much,” Jane said.
“And do you know where I could find some roses?” Toadmila asked.
“There's a rosebush in the cemetery, but it's all dead now. There won't be any flowers till spring.”
“Summer,” Toadmila corrected her. “They bloom in summer, unless the weather is unnaturally warm. I don't suppose there are any dead petals lying around in the cemetery?”
“I don't think so,” Jane said. “Aunty Rachel picks them all up. She makes jam out of them. It's really good.”
“Well, I'll need a branch of that bush, dead as it is,” Toadmila said. “And the lye and the oil that I've told you about.”
Jane kept looking at her expectantly, so she tried to think of some other ingredient, something that could sound magical.
“And three drops of water from the well, collected at dawn,” she added, trying to make this last bit sound important. “Bring me all that, and bread, and I'll make a spell that will make this John of yours fall in love with you.”