It was an ultimatum that he wasn't sure what to do with. Shrinking back slightly, Ichabod frowned.
"Forgive me for my forwardness," Elizabeth addressed the Hessian, "but you fought in one of the worst wars our country has ever had. How is it that you gained such a reputation in war but you cannot stand up to your own wife."
Clearly offended, Jaegar's hand rested on the hilt of his sword.
"Elizabeth!" Ichabod hissed warningly. Jonathan Masbeth edged closer to her. All of them expected the Hessian's moody glower to evolve into violence (or at least a good chewing out). Instead, he smiled coldly.
"You know nothing of magic, little one. Mary is a witch. It is not a matter of my being able to control her. As Herr Crane knows, she is very vindictive. I cannot watch her every second of the day. Last time, it was me slicing off heads. This time, it may be something much worse. You have been warned. I take no responsibility for your fate if you try her patience."
With that, he was gone. Ichabod sat down and tried to ignore the coldness seeping into his limbs.
"Elizabeth," he sighed, "you are going to be the death of us."
"Oh, for pity's sake, what do we live in, the dark ages? I was curious," she scolded him, "half the reason Jonathan loves me so much is because I ask questions. Right, darling?"
Masbeth blushed a deep scarlet.
"We'd best get out of this night air, sir. We don't want a chill on top of everything else."
Ichabod was more than happy to honor that request. Matthias gave them a short farewell and left.
"Lady Van Tassel for a mother-in-law…" Ichabod sighed, "I pity him ever so much."
Back at the house, Lady Van Tassel was simmering. It was hard to tell what boiled more; the herbs in the cauldron or her mind. She already hated Ichabod and Katrina for taking everything from her. To add insult to injury, the little spineless whelp was back. Well...she could remedy this easily enough.
The dark, sludgy substance in the cauldron already had the magic infused in it. She bottled it up and hastily cleaned up the kitchen. She didn't dare brew something in the house with Jaegar and Matthias around—they would ask too many questions.
Once the mixture was bottled, she cast another spell. A raven floated through the window, answering her call. It received the food that she offered it and carried the bottle off in its talons. She merged her mind with it to make sure it did what she wanted.
The task complete, she sat down to rest. Magic this powerful was very tiring. Neither of the men suspected anything out of the ordinary, though Jaegar seemed a little bit cool towards her. No matter, she mused. She was used to his moodiness at times.
The raven floated on the breeze. It soared in through the shutters that had not yet been closed for the evening, as the occupants weren't present. The raven placed the bottle in Ichabod's travel bag and took off again.
A few moments later, Masbeth, Elizabeth, and Ichabod entered the room. Elizabeth closed the shutters against the chill while Masbeth stoked the fire. Ichabod reached into his bag and retrieved the glass bottle.
"What's that?" Elizabeth asked.
"It's something Katrina made for me," Ichabod commented, "it's supposed to help me regain my strength after…you know."
He was still ashamed of his fainting spells. Katrina had made him some sort of potion that would help prevent recurring attacks. Unknown to him, the bottle he had grabbed was the impostor placed there by the raven. He uncorked it and took a sip. Just as promised, it warmed his insides and made him feel better.
After the three of them had eaten dinner downstairs and got ready for bed, Ichabod lay awake on his side for a long time. Too long, in fact. Maybe the potion was stronger than it should have been…
As he started to drift off at some wee hour in the morning, images of Lady Van Tassel danced through his mind. Images of her mating with one of the very men she had murdered. In the dream, it was him. He knew he was going to die, but he didn't care. Lust and magic glowed in her bright eyes as she made him feel things he'd never felt before.
Ichabod sat up, heart thundering. Face reddened, he glanced around. Masbeth was asleep, as was Elizabeth. Thank God…he hadn't woken anyone up.
He ran a hand over his forehead. Beads of sweat had collected there and the room seemed uncomfortably warm. He shuddered and sagged back against the pillows.
Just a dream…nothing more. I've been under a lot of stress, that's all.
Unfortunately, he dreamed it over and over again.
Lady Van Tassel smiled. She slipped from her bed. Jaegar was fast asleep, oblivious to anything. Donning her robe, she went downstairs.
She unlatched the door. She could see him coming up the road.
Elizabeth woke to the feeling that something wasn't right. Upon seeing Ichabod's empty bed, she cringed. Maybe he had just gone to the latrine…
When he didn't return almost twenty minutes later, she shook Masbeth awake.
"What?" he groaned, voice heavy from sleep.
"It's Mr. Crane," she said, alarmed, "he's gone."
Masbeth sat up.
"For how long?"
"I do not know. I've been waiting for at least twenty minutes. Something's wrong, Jonathan…I don't know what. For some reason, I feel as though Lady Van Tassel has something to do with it."
Masbeth didn't question her. He got dressed, shivering in the chill of the early morning. The clock downstairs chimed four. Elizabeth got dressed as well. Respectfully, they turned their backs to each other while they changed.
Ichabod was all too willing to come to Mary when she held her arms out to him. She felt his pulse quicken when she ran her fingertips over his cheek and down his throat.
"I'm dreaming," he moaned, "you aren't real. You can't be…Katrina-"
"If it's only a dream, then you have nothing to worry about."
He didn't argue after that.
She pressed her lips to his mouth. It was odd to feel heated flesh after she'd gotten accustomed to Jaegar's body that was icy from death. Her own heart began to gallop at a faster pace. He responded timidly almost as a virgin would. The magic tugged at his mind, pulled him away from the uncertainty and the questioning.
Any second now…
She heard the heaviness of Jaegar's footsteps. He had come looking for her. When he saw Mary and Ichabod joined together in the floor, he froze. Mary had begun to whimper and plead seconds before, but the magic had clouded Ichabod's mind so much that he'd been unable to stop himself.
All Hell broke loose.
Furious, Jaegar tore Ichabod loose from Mary, who had worked up a convincing batch of crocodile tears. She pulled her robe over her exposed breasts and slunk off to the corner. Jaegar slammed Ichabod into the wall. One hand went to the dark-haired young man's throat and Ichabod gasped for air as the giant fingers crushed his windpipe.
Matthias's voice cut through the sudden chaos. Ignoring his father's murderous expression, he sniffed the air.
"Magic," he said quietly, "I smell magic. Herr Crane has been enchanted."
Jaegar growled. He leaned in until Ichabod's shallow, ragged breath reached his nose. The strong smell of herbs was still present on his breath. He released him and Ichabod fell to the floor, gasping and coughing. Mary's concentration had wavered enough that his lucidity had returned. All three of them looked at Mary.
"You can't possibly think that-" she started to say.
"Quiet," Jaegar said, his voice dangerously icy and calm. He turned back to Matthias, who was glaring furiously at Mary.
"How do you know?" Jaegar asked him.
"I would know that smell anywhere," Matthias answered, "or were you not aware that my mother…your wife…was also a witch?"
Jaegar stared. He hadn't known. She had never told him.
"She was a white witch, but I know malicious magic as well. It's potent, bitter stuff. Let him go, Stepmother."
Mary raised her chin defiantly, but the look from Jaegar made her reconsider. Ichabod felt the magical bindings leave his mind. As his awareness increased, so did his shame and embarrassment.
"You. Out," Jaegar snapped. Ichabod didn't need a second invitation. He tore outside, quickly readjusting his skewed clothing.
Jaegar stood over Mary. He seemed to tower over her now that he was enraged.
"Well?" he asked.
She couldn't look at him. It was easy enough to figure out what her intentions had been. She'd wanted Ichabod killed. He yanked her up out of her chair.
He dragged her upstairs. Unknown to her, he had a few tricks up his sleeve as well.