“Upon mine death for the blood ye have shed,
every daughter born to ye shall die before it draws breath, to which ye will know pain and worse, I cast unto ye mine blood curse.” ~ Vadoma
Appalachian Mountains, Virginia 1723
Pril Peddler lifted the green shawl from her trunk and wrapped it around her bare arms. The change in seasons brought a damp chill to the morning air, and the heavy woolen wrap kept her warm. She peeked at the small face huddled under the blankets at the back of the wagon. The charm above the child swayed on the string Pril had hung it from. A dull ache hummed in her chest when she thought of the horrific loss her clan had been dealt.
The evil was near, and she’d need to work another spell to keep them safe. Late for counsel with her brother, Galius, she kissed the soft cheek of her daughter before heading to the door.
Hand up, she shaded her eyes from the bright sun as she stepped from the back of the vardo. She pulled the heavy burlap curtain down to close the opening and walked toward Galius.
“Your steps are light this morning, Sister. One would think you did not want to be heard,” Galius said as he stirred the coffee beans inside the metal pot.
Tension twisted her gut. He was right; she did not want this counsel. She did not know what to say. She let the flicker of merriment in her brother’s eyes wash over her relaxing the muscles in her shoulders.
“My step is the same.” She poked him with her finger trying to ease her own nerves and his as well.
His lips lifted as if to smile, and she held her breath. It’d been weeks since he smiled. Pril’s heart ached, and her lips trembled.
He held up the bubbling pot. “Would you like a cup?”
She inhaled the aroma of strong coffee beans and nodded taking a seat on a wooden stump by the fire.
He handed her a cup and sat down across from her.
The wood crackled, and sparks jumped from the heat onto the ground in front of her. She tipped her chin concentrating on what to say next. Ever since the murder of her niece, she’d not been able to hold a conversation with either of her brothers without offering apologies. This morning was no different. She could not look Galius in the eyes and see the anguish and sorrow within them.
The Monroes had come again.
They’d never be safe.
She blinked away the tears hovering against her thick lashes. Tsura was asleep in her wagon, while another was lost to them forever. The door of her brother’s wagon creaked open and Milosh’s wife, Magda, stepped out. Black circles settled around her sunken eyes, and Pril felt the stab in her chest once more. Long brown hair fell untied down the woman’s back. The black clothes she’d put on weeks ago hung on her body unchanged and wrinkled from sleep. Milosh came from behind their wagon, a jar of honey in his hand. Pril stood when Galius’ large hand grabbed her wrist.
“They are not wanting to see you today, Sister.”
She heard the regret in his voice, swallowed past the guilt in her own throat and nodded. Milosh hadn’t spoken a single word to her since the death of his child. He blamed her, and it was clear so did Magda.
“I…I’m so sorry, Galius.”
He didn’t reply right away, and without seeing it, she knew he had wiped the tears from his eyes. “Alexandra’s death is not your fault.”
The words were spoken because they needed to be. Gypsies stayed together no matter what. They were family. There was no truth to his words, and Pril knew it.
“Are you going after them?” she asked.
“I hold no power, no spells flow from my lips. I am strong, yes, but they are stronger.” He stared at her, his eyes pleading. “We need the pendant.”
Guilt thickened her tongue; the gritty residue clung to her lips and tasted bitter.
The talisman had been in their family for generations, blessed by each new Chuvani. Vadoma had promised her the pendant before she died, but Pril never saw it, and there had been no time to search for the jewel when they fled.
“Without the pendant we cannot break the curse. We cannot protect our people.”
She knew this. They all knew this, but no one had a clue as to where the talisman was. She’d tried to call an image forward, to make a finding spell, but nothing worked.
“We have lost one of our own. Our clan is frightened. They have lost faith. We cannot fight the Monroes. We have neither the numbers nor the skill.” He took a long drink of his coffee. “And neither do you.”
She glanced at him.
“I know you, Sister. You’re planning to take Tsura.”
Pril sighed. She did not know what else to do. The Monroes were coming for her child. Alexandra had died because of that. Milosh and Magda hated her.
“Running is not going to change anything.”
“It will save lives. It will…help Milosh and Magda to heal.”
“No, it will not. Running will get you and Tsura killed and that is all.”
“How can you look at me when you know what I’ve brought to our family, when you know that this is all because of me?”
Galius blew out a long breath that moved his thick beard from his lips. She watched through tear filled eyes as his bottom lip quivered.
“Vadoma put this burden on you. For that, we do not judge.”
Their sister had died a vile death. She’d betrayed their clan and had hung while being burned. Pril ached for her sister’s guidance and counsel. She yearned to know that what she was doing was right.
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