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And Onto the Grass

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"She was wanton!"

"You always used to say I was wanton, when we was younger," said Nanny.

Granny hesitated, caught momentarily off balance. Then she waved a hand irritably.

"You was, of course," she said dismissively. "But you never used magic for it, did you?"

"I didn't have to," said Nanny happily. "An off-the-shoulder dress did the trick most of the time."

"Right off the shoulder and onto the grass, as I recall," said Granny.

-- Witches Abroad

Year of the Pygmy Octopus

"It was a nice picnic," Gytha said. "Brown bread with butter, and one of his mum's soft cheeses, and wild strawberries."

"Was it," Esme said. The setting sun threw a rectangle of golden light over the lower half of the bed and the rumpled quilt and the two girls' legs. Esme would have had nothing but disdain for someone who went lolling about in rectangles of sunlight on purpose, but if the sun happened to fall where she happened to be lying, she supposed the two of them could find some accommodation.

"Mind, there's not much eating in a wild strawberry. Takes a dozen or two just to make a satisfactory mouthful. And his mum's chutney is none of the best. But it was very nice, all the same."

"I had cabbage," Esme announced.

"That beard of his is lovely," Gytha said. She stretched her feet out toward the footboard. Her toenails were painted pink. "Nice and soft. Not scratchy at all."

"I know you likes a beard," Esme said.

"Long as there isn't too much chutney in it," Gytha said. Her toes had failed to reach the footboard (and would have done so even if the bed had been a baby's cot, Gytha not being gifted in the height department), but now made their leisurely way back up by way of Esme's calf. "And how was your day with Mistress Wigmouth, then?"

"Fair to middlin'," Esme said. "The old biddy still won't tell me nothing as amounts to anything, but I got eyes in my head."

"Mm," Gytha said. A move that was surprisingly serpentine (in a frame that bore a close resemblance to a fetching arrangement of ripe peaches1) moved her from adjacency to contiguity. "I learned a few things, too."

Esme arched an eyebrow. "Did you now."

"He did the most astonishing thing with his tongue. Let me show you --"

The square of sunlight was long gone and the window full of stars before the conversation resumed.

"So you'll be walking out with young Roderick Bodkin now?" Esme's voice was perfectly casual, and her hand never faltered as she uncoiled her friend's curls and watched them spring back. That was what gave her away.

"He rather smelt of cheese. And someone who's used to chutney that crunches -- there's no telling what someone like that'll do." Gytha traced a careful triangle around the three freckles below Esme's collarbone. "And he wants to take me to the woodcutters' dance and the Soul Cake's Eve Fair. In fact," she went on, connecting that freckle constellation to another one rather lower down, "I believe he thinks I'm his girl."

"Well now." Esme trapped the wandering hand and gave it a squeeze. "Just so you're not havin' any confusion about whose girl you are."

Gytha grinned. "You might want to refresh my memory one more time."


1 Esme's frame was the one more often compared to serpents and other things which were long, narrow, and capable of inflicting injury, such as a willow tree, a withy, or, on one memorable occasion, a riding crop.