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The witches arrived when Daniel was six years old. They were travelers, like the gypsies, but none had ever visited Belmond before and the townsfolk had hoped to keep it that way.
A huge black horse pulled their cart through the cobblestone streets and the pedestrians gave them a wide berth.
Daniel had watched with wide eyed interest. He knew they weren't human but aside from their unkempt appearance, and tattooed limbs, he couldn't see how. They weren't delicate and androgynous like the fey, or knobbly and huge like a troll.
"It's the eyes." Tristan, Daniel's best friend, had whispered. "My mom says they don't have a soul."
Two of the witches were women, with sharp faces and necklaces full of bones and amulets. And two were children around Daniel's age.
The girl's hair was a matted black plait across her shoulder and her eyes were lined in kohl. And the boy had a thin little face with a wild mess of black hair.
"Don't look." Daniel's mom, Mabel Perry, turned him away and they hurried on home, without half of the things they'd meant to purchase.
"Why don't the guards chase them away?" Daniel asked, when his mom had slowed her pace.
She squeezed his hand tight. "Because of their black magic." She made the sign against evil - two fingers pressing to her brow and chest - then gestured for him to do the same. "They'll curse anyone who crosses them."
"Couldn't the guards just cover their faces?" Daniel wondered.
"They'd know." Mabel shot him a stern look. "All they need is something you touched. Don't ever talk to them, Daniel. I don't care what they tempt you with. You hear?" Her voice was harsh with fear, but all Daniel heard was anger, and his eyes filled with tears.
"I-I wouldn't mommy..." he began to sniffle and then cry. He was a good boy; everyone said so. He didn't deserve to be yelled at.
His mom stopped abruptly and her eyes went wide and vulnerable in a way that made him forgive her instantly.
"Oh, sweetie." She knelt and hugged him close, pressing a kiss to his cheek. "I know you wouldn't. Let's go inside and have some pie. Would you like that?"
Daniel wasn't sad anymore, but he sniffled dramatically. "Is it chicken and gravy?"
Mabel quirked an ironic brow at his baby-voice. But she didn't correct him, like she usually did. "You bet it is!"
He grinned and they entered a door, beneath a gilded sign, that read "Perry's Bakery" in cursive writing.
Daniel's father made the best pastries, and pies, in town and not a day went by that he wasn't proud of it.
The next day the witches had set up a stall at the market. Trading potions, creams and stones that twinkled temptingly in the morning sun. By the afternoon, when everyone was packing their wares, their cart was lit on fire.
"It was the Brandy boys." Tristan shared at lunch the next day, his mother was a seamstress and she always knew the latest gossip. The Brandy brothers were orphans, working at the inn, and well known for their mischief.
"They're both sick in bed now." Tristan continued, hazel eyes wide. "Their tongues are all grey and the doctor doesn't know what's wrong. My mom doesn't think they'll recover!"
Daniel had shuddered and he promised himself again never to approach the witches.
One of the boys did eventually recover, but his eyesight was never the same, and his brother passed away.
As the years went by the witches became a common sight at the market. Any abuse was met with harsh repercussions and people eventually learned to steer clear of them.
Daniel never saw anyone purchase their wares and he wondered how they survived. Perhaps people knew to be discreet; anyone caught associating with witches would be outcast.
One morning Daniel's father, Nolan Perry, had prepared three pies for the mayor and Daniel set off to deliver them. He'd added a small bag of apple muffins - just in case the mayor's son, Christopher Joy, was home.
Christopher had light brown hair and soft looking lips that were quick to smile. They were classmates and Daniel liked him a lot. A whole lot more than he probably ought to.
Men weren't supposed to feel for each other that way. The very sentiment was punishable by death. But Daniel figured that if he never acted on it, and married a nice girl someday, maybe it was okay to look. And to dream.
The air was frigid with cold and he'd made sure to bundle up in a warm woolly scarf and a soft hat.
The mayor lived in a grand yellow house, three streets down, and Daniel rang the doorbell ten minutes early.
There was no answer and he frowned. The maid usually answered the door and he still had three more deliveries to make. He tried again, then walked around the back.
Christopher often showed him through the garden and Daniel was comfortable opening the gate and stepping up the stone path.
A man was closing the patio door behind him and hurrying down the steps. His hat was pressed low on his head, and he was walking fast, while donning leather gloves. Daniel smiled with recognition; it was the mayor's senior advisor.
The man startled and dropped his glove. He blinked at Daniel owlishly, as though he'd seen a ghost.
"Sir?" Daniel frowned. "Are you well?"
"Daniel." The man's face softened in a smile and he stooped to pick up his glove. "How nice to see you. Do you usually deliver through the garden?"
"No, sir." Daniel smiled sheepishly. "No one answered the bell and I thought Christopher might be home." He tried not to sound too hopeful.
"He isn't." Daniel's heart sank with disappointment and the man held out his hand. "Allow me. Mr. Joy is having a meeting."
Daniel didn't want to disturb any important business and he hurriedly handed over the box. He briefly considered mentioning the muffins, but decided it might look strange for a boy to leave another boy sweets.
"My thanks!" He tipped his hat and mr. Wilbury nodded, before disappearing back inside.
Daniel didn't think anymore of it and set off for his next delivery.
Later that day the mayor was discovered dead in his office. The doctor declared it poison and Daniel's father was arrested as the main suspect.
The guards had just dragged him away and Daniel's mother was left bewildered in the doorway. Their neighbors had all gathered to watch on the road, and in the windows, but no one objected or approached them.
"We'll go speak to the sheriff at once! This is a terrible misunderstanding." She donned her coat, hands trembling, and they hurried down to the town-hall.
"The only person to come and go was your son, madam. We have no other suspects." The sheriff told them with regret in his eyes. He was one of their regulars and he'd often shared a pint with Daniel's father at the pub.
"That's not true!" Daniel protested. He recounted his meeting with mr. Wilbury and the sheriff's expression sobered further.
"That's a hefty accusation and he is a powerful man, Daniel. I'm not sure your word is enough."
The trial took place two days later and Daniel's word wasn't enough. The mayor's maid had been given leave to visit her mother that day and Mr. Wilbury insisted that he'd been in a meeting with his secretary, at the time that the murder took place. His secretary confirmed this and Daniel's father was sentenced to hang within the week.
Mabel broke down into tears and Daniel put his arms around her. His body felt cold with shock and he was shaking.
How could this have happened? How could their lives have shattered so fast. And for what? Why?
His father watched them with agonized eyes, until he was dragged away.
"And what of the boy, your honor?" Mr. Wilbury exclaimed and indicated Daniel. Mabel gasped through her tears and clutched Daniel tighter. "He made the delivery. Who's to say he wasn't an associate to murder?"
The judge stared down at Daniel silently. He was another of their regulars and Daniel had always added a free pastry to his order, on rainy days.
"He's only a boy. He didn't prepare the pie and I see no reason to punish him for his father's crime. Case dismissed." He slammed his gavel on the block.
Mabel shuddered in horrified relief and pressed her face into Daniel's shoulder.
Christopher and his mother sat on the opposite bench; looking just as stricken, and empty, as Daniel felt. Christopher's head turned and their eyes met. The boy's face hardened and he spat on the floor.
It was like a stab through his heart, and Daniel hurriedly looked away, while a fresh well of tears ran down his face.
On the way out Daniel noticed Mr. Wilbury's brown leather glove on the floor. He didn't give himself time to think. He just snatched it up and stuffed it in his pocket.
When they reached their home the windows had been shattered and the words "Murderer" were painted in garish red letters across their door.
Daniel's mom looked so broken, and so defeated, his heart broke all over again. He ushered her to bed and made her a cup of tea, with a sleep powder she used for migraines, and set about cleaning the shop.
He brushed up the broken glass and hammered wooden boards over the windows. He then got a bucket of soapy water and scrubbed at the letters, until most of it was gone. It was evening by the time he was done - his hands were sore and his back ached - but he still had work to do.
He mixed a batch of their bestselling cinnamon swirls, and four different pies, and packed them into a basket. He then got the majority of the money his father had stashed away, for emergencies, and put on his coat and hat.
The stars were twinkling when he locked the door and hurried down the street. He didn't know where he was going, exactly, but he knew the witches lived near the poorer district. And he was determined to find them. No one was going to save his father and, the way Daniel saw it, he had no other choice.
The streets became filthier as he reached the destitute end. The alleys smelled of stale urine, and garbage, and Daniel breathed carefully through his mouth.
A few pubs were still open and a handful of drunks were weaving through the streets. A red haired woman, with a plunging neckline, was leaning against a windowsill, smoking a pipe.
"P-pardon me." He stammered and she looked up. Her red lipstick was smeared and her inviting smile dropped as soon as she saw him.
"Don't do children." She said sharply and Daniel flinched. Partly because she was a prostitute and partly because he was sixteen years old - but people still mistook him for a child.
"I-I was hoping you could direct me to...the..." He had no idea what to say. How did people go about this?
"The what?" Her voice was harsh and he flinched again, looking around uneasily. "You looking for trouble? Witchcraft?"
At his wide eyes her lips stretched in a humorless smile. "Ain't nothing worth it, boy. Save your soul and go home." She slammed the window shut.
Daniel shivered and blinked back tears. But what was he supposed to do? He loved his father and he knew what happened to criminals and those associated with them. No one would be purchasing from their shop.
Their friends and neighbors would look the other way and soon he and his mother would be begging on the streets. And he didn't think his mom would survive that. He couldn't imagine he would either.
He continued down the streets with sinking hope. His hands and feet were ice cold, even through his woolly gloves and socks. And soon he might have to sell those too.
A body slammed into him outside an alley. Daniel staggered, and caught a brief glimpse of a grimy face, with pale blonde hair, before the boy took off down the street.
Daniel clutched his basket and straightened.
He swung around and his heart briefly stopped. It was the boy; the witch. He was wearing a worn red shirt, with a bone necklace, and loose black trousers, cinched with a cord around the waist. He had to be cold, Daniel thought faintly.
The boy stepped closer, eyeing him intently. His dark eyes were lined in kohl and Daniel instinctively retreated, before he caught himself. He had to do this.
"Y-yes. B-but," Daniel forced himself to meet those black eyes, "I found you."
A/N: Story fact! The name 'Daniel' means "God is my judge".