Cover image for The witches' kitchen
The witches' kitchen
Holland, Cecelia, 1943-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Forge, [2004]

Physical Description:
384 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
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FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
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Corban Loosestrife's life changed one clear morning years ago, when he returned from hunting to his family steading in Ireland and found it destroyed by Vikings and his father, mother, and brothers, slain. But his twin sister Mav was not among the dead, and so he knew that she had been taken as a slave. Corban set out to find her and redeem her, if he could, and in doing so became a man. Corban found his sister through blood and battle, now the property of the sorcerous Lady of Hedeby and pregnant with Eric Bloodaxe's child, gotten in rape. Corban took his revenge; he killed Eric, then the King of Jorvik, and in doing so he became bound in the net of alliances and blood debt that marked the battles for kingship among the Vikings.Upon the death of Eric Bloodaxe, Corban Loosestrife and his wife Benna fled into the west with Corban's sister Mav and her son. There they made a home for themselves in Vinland, hunting, fishing, raising crops to support themselves and their growing family. There they were happy, until one day when a ship appeared on the horizon, bringing Benna's sister and her husband, bringing a summons to Corban to return to Jorvik and intrigues of those who would be King.With Corban goes his son Conn and his sister-son Raef, young men now, ready to prove themselves in war. Waiting for them in Denmark is Gunnhild Kings-mother, a woman of great power, who was Eric's wife. Her son Harald Ericsson is now King of Norway, and he has become a Christian. In Jorvik, there is no King, just an Archbishop who owes fealty to Harald. And in Hedeby there awaits the unquiet spirit of the Lady, to whom Corban swore an oath.It is a clash of clan against clan, and army against army, in the coming war of succession, while the new power of the Christ strives with the ancient worship of Thor. Corban must tread a careful path between those who hate him, and those would be his ally, while concealing Raef's true parentage. And meanwhile, in Vinland, the native tribes are eyeing Corban's fortified island, and wondering if the strangers can finally be driven away.

Author Notes

Born in Henderson, Nevada, Cecelia Holland was educated at Pennsylvania State University and Connecticut College, where she received her B.A. degree. She has served as a visiting professor of English at Connecticut College since 1979.

Holland's historical novels have received broad critical acclaim. According to one critic, she "proves that there can be more to historical thrillers than swordplay and seduction." (Time) Among her novels is City of God (1979), which is set in Rome during the period of the Borgia family. Told from the point of view of Nicolas, a secretary to the Florentine ambassador to Rome, this novel brings to life the period of the Renaissance, including the political intrigue that characterized Rome at the time. Other works include Until the Sun Falls (1969), a story of the ancient Mongols and their empire, The Firedrake (1966), her first published novel, Great Maria (1974), The Bear Flag (1990), and Pacific Street (1991).

Holland is very adept at capturing the period she writes about, including the clothing, furnishings, and customs of the time. One critic has noted that Holland "is never guilty of the fatuity which plagues most historical fiction: she never nudges the reader into agreeing that folks way back then were really just like you and me, only they bathed less often."

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Holland revisits the enthralling saga of Corban Loosestrife in this equally engaging sequel to The Soul Thief (2002). Fifteen years after killing Viking marauder Eric Bloodaxe, king oforvik, Corban, his beloved wife, Benna, and his mystically gifted sister, Mav, have forged a\b new life for themselves and their children on a rugged, windswept island off the coast of Vinland. Receiving an unexpected visit from an old ally in trouble, Corban decides to break his self-imposed exile to face the reckoning he knows he cannot avoid. Returning toorvik with his son and nephew in tow, he is thrust back into another vicious war of succession. Bereft on the island without her soul mate, Benna dies but wills her restless spirit back into a heartbroken Corban's arms. Holland interweaves elements of romance, magic, and suspense into a\b superlative historical epic featuring a stoic hero often at\b odds with the all-powerful Viking warriors. --Margaret Flanagan Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

A potent blend of fantasy, history and romance, this sequel to Holland's The Soul Thief follows Viking renegade Corban Loosestrife and his wife, Benna, to a fertile, beautiful land across the sea. There they live a near-idyllic existence with their young son and two daughters and Corban's fey sister Mav. Mav's son, Raef, seems to share her strange gifts, though he fights to conquer them, distressed by the way they distance him from others. This blissful life is interrupted by strife from across the sea and a struggle nearby as the peaceful Indian tribe the family lives near is disturbed by another, aggressive, tribe newly moved into the area. Seeing that he must return to settle scores from his past, Corban sails back to Denmark with Raef and his son, Conn, and becomes embroiled once again in the politics of the feudal age. The boys come into their own as well, with Conn throwing his lot in with Sweyn, the man soon to be king, and not just of Denmark. But Corban learns his beloved Benna is dead and believes his island home is lost to him forever. Though it will be best enjoyed by readers familiar with the first book, this is a rousing, vivid tale rich with Nordic lore. Agent, Ralph Vicinanza. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In Holland's The Soul Thief, Corban Loosestrife made a desperate escape from Jorvik (now modern-day York, England) with love Benna, twin sister Mav, and nephew Raef. After settling on the barren coast of Vinland, he went on to raise a family. This sequel picks up 15 years later, when Corban feels compelled to make amends for the murder of Eric Bloodaxe, which drove him from Jorvik. With son Conn and nephew Raef, Corban sets off to find Gunnhild, Eric's widow, leaving Benna and Mav behind. What ensues is continual sea and battle adventures among political and religious strife. Viking lords mix political ambition with religion, while the ruling Christian king of Denmark, Bluetooth, systematically eliminates his pagan foes. Corban finds himself thrust into the turmoil, separated from Conn and Raef, and frustrated in his attempts to appease Gunnhild. Holland once again delivers lots of action and adventure, crisply and realistically described. She also incorporates elements of magic, wizardry, and the supernatural, which may appeal to fans of fantasy. Recommended for larger public libraries and where the previous book is popular.-Jean Langlais, St. Charles P.L., IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Witches' Kitchen Cecelia Holland CHAPTER ONE By midmorning they had hauled so many cod out of the sea that the boat could carry no more. The boys coiled up their lines, and Corban stowed the gaff alongside the mast. He went back to the rudder, glad for the chance to sit down. The boys scrambled around the boat, packing the fish away, getting their oars, and their voices rose in a sudden chatter. "Wait until Mam sees all these fish!" Conn crammed the last of the gutted cod into a basket and wedged the basket under the swell of the gunwale. He had been slicing up the catch, and his forearms were slick with blood; the boat's hull, the wooden frame, the thwarts, even the mast glittered with scales and blood. Conn pulled his oar out from under the bench. Raef said, "I'm already sick of fish, and we haven't even eaten any." His hair was the color of duck down in the sun. He wore no shirt, and his shoulders were red as a blister. Conn snorted at him. "You always find something to gripe at! Get your oar." "Don't tell me what to do." Sitting in the stern, by the tiller, Corban turned his head to look out over the sea. Their bickering put his teeth on edge. The boat felt too small to hold the three of them; he felt himself leaning back, twisting away. Reaching down behind him into the cleft of the stern, he brought out his shirt, shook it, and pulled it on over his head. His sunburnt shoulders flinched from the light touch of the deerskin. He stretched his gaze toward the eastern horizon and the open ocean. The day was blooming, warm and calm, the sky fair and blue, the water glossy, lifting in long gentle swells like a giant breathing. A swarm of seagulls dove and flapped around the water just behind them, fighting for the fish guts they had cast out. Corban waited for a swell to take them up higher, so that he could get his bearings; from the peak of the wave he could just see the dark line of land along the northern horizon. "We'll have to row the whole way back," Raef said, hunched down on the midboat thwart. "There isn't a stir of the wind. I don't think it's such a good thing--" He jerked his face around, staring out to sea, frowning. "Let's get a start on it, then," Corban said. Conn sat down on the forward thwart and lowered his oar into the rowlock. A black wing of his hair fell into his eyes, and he tossed it back with a jerk of his head. "You just pull hard, that's all, Raef." His voice rang with threat. Corban at the tiller headed them toward the low dark seam of the land. Once they got to work, they would stop arguing. They had done well at the fishing; he was proud of them, his son, his nephew, strong and willing when he needed them, and then they had worked together, almost silent, tireless and sure. Burdened with fish, the boat felt reluctant under his hand; he wiggled the tiller bar a little, trying to feel how the water was going. "We could come out tomorrow. How did you know they'd be running like this, Pap?" Conn said. "When I was down off the southern point yesterday I saw the whales following them," Corban said. "Get your backs to it, the wind should blow soon." In this season there were often thunderstorms in the afternoon; he wanted to be well inshore by then. He squinted up at the sky, where more seagulls were gathering, their raw cries grating in his ears. A brown wintering gull floated down past them, almost to Corban's eye level. More than one creature preys on the cod, he thought. A long rising sea lifted the boat and slid on away toward the distant shore; under his feet the wooden boat frame flexed as the wave went by. "She's heavy," Conn said, straining at his oar. "It must be all the fish." Raef said abruptly, "Let's get out of here." A tingle of alarm went down Corban's spine. He felt the boat wallow down another long slow sea; it began to climb the next wave, and suddenly his feet were wet. His gut clenched. "No. She's full of water." He hooked the keeper over the tiller bar and grabbed the bailing bucket. "She's coming apart again." He looked around the boat to see where the water was coming in. The boat's skin, sewn together of many hides, was always coming to pieces, and he had fixed it so many times he knew where every hole was. "It's that patch in the bow again." Raef sat where he was, his hands hanging and his eyes wild. "I knew it. We're sinking." Conn said, "Can we fix it?" Corban thrust the bailing bucket into his hands. "Bail like hell, boy." He scrambled back into the prow of the boat, pulled away a great basket of fish, water sloshing around his ankles, and reached past more baskets toward the box where he kept his spare sail. "Raef! Help me!" His nephew came up the boat to him, his face fretful. Between them they spread the sail out, then, each taking one end, they pleated it into a length, and flopped the folded middle over the blunt prow of the boat. Leaning down around the prow, Corban worked the lower edge of the sail around and under the boat, spreading it over the leaky hide hull; he pulled the bottom corner up snug over the gunwale halfway down the boat and lashed it, and went up to the bow again to help Raef on the other side. Back by the stern Conn bobbed up and down, bailing, the bucket in his hands swinging in an arc that ended in a long brown jet of water flying out over the sea. Corban fastened down the bottom edge of the sail; he leaned down over the side of the boat, gathering the top edge of the sail tight around the breast of the prow, and Raef said, half strangled, "Uncle, watch out." Corban lifted his head. Out there across the sleek water a narrow black fin was slicing down through the slope of the wave toward him. He jerked himself up and back, onto his feet and well into the boat. All his skin tingled. The fin veered off suddenly and circled around the prow. Corban went quickly up into the bow and yanked the edge of the patch as tight as he could. Fastening the edge down, he went to the mast and took the gaff out of its socket. Conn scooped up bilgewater and flung it over the side, and Corban said, "Stop for now. Get the oars out and row." The boys jumped to the thwarts and swung their oars out. Corban stood by the mast, the gaff in his hand; the boat seemed drier, the sail maybe holding everything together, for now at least. The boys pulled two long hard strokes on the oars; the shark fin slid away through the water, leaving. Raef's breath hissed between his teeth. "They can smell the fish." Conn said, "Shut up. Just row." Corban sat down on the stern thwart, the gaff across his knees. Raef was right. The water they had bailed out of the boat had been thick with cod blood; they had baited the sharks to them. The long dark strip of the land ahead looked no closer. He scanned the glassy water around him, looking for signs of wind, and saw another fin gliding slowly toward them. A moment later something bumped the outside of the boat. "Pap!" "I see--" Corban stood up, the gaff in his hands, watched the long gray body slipping along just under the water, and struck down hard. The gaff glanced off the shark, which whirled and fled. The boat rocked, bumped again. Two more fins prowled along through the water, circling the boat, and the bigger of them abruptly turned in toward them. Conn said, "Papa, I'll help." He stood up, his oar in his hand. "Keep rowing, for God's sake. We can't stop," Corban said, He cocked the arm holding the gaff, watching the big shark swim slowly up beside the boat. Then suddenly the shark lunged; its pointed nose broke the surface of the water and its jaws gaped, and its teeth like saws ripped at the side of the boat. Corban swung the gaff around and smashed the iron head against the shark's nose. The sea churned. The shark flipped around and disappeared into the darkness, green water rolling over its white flank. "Row, damn it," Corban shouted. "Row!" He gaped at the big hole in the flank of the boat. The stiff resin-soaked hide of the hull was notched with toothmarks; a foot of the top rail of the frame was gone, only the false gunwale holding the boat together. "Pap--" "I'll fight the sharks--you row!" The boys bent to their oars again. The boat waddled along. They were taking on water again. Corban grabbed the bucket and bailed, holding the gaff with his left hand, his eyes on the flat calm sea around them, where now he could count five sharks prowling, thin and black, not the big gray that had attacked them. "Uncle!" Raef shouted. Something struck the boat hard from below and rocked it toward the broken gunwale. Water poured in through the hole. Corban lost his balance, teetered on the verge of falling, the gaff clutched in his hand. He dropped the bailing bucket and threw his weight against the high side of the tipping boat; he heard Conn shouting, behind him. The boat rocked back upright again, lifting the hole up out of the sea. Corban could see the frame bowing; he thought it would break entirely and throw them all into the water with the sharks. The frame held. The boys flailed their oars back and forth, catching air, catching water, pushing them on. Corban scrambled bent-legged toward the hole in the boat, looking for some way to mend it, and then up through the jagged hole a huge maw rose, a pointed nose, a slick pink throat behind a great circle of teeth, coming at him. He shrank down; he could not get away. The maw reached for him. A carrion stench swept over him. He thought of his wife. He thought of the boys, cast into the sea. He swung up the gaff in his hand, and as the shark's jaws gaped to take him he jammed the gaff inside its enormous mouth, the iron point straight up. The shark bit down. The wooden handle shuddered in Corban's hand, and he saw the closing jaws stop for an instant, propped apart on the gaff, his arm enveloped in a wet heat, burning his skin. He yanked his hand free, saw his arm slide out between the rows of teeth, his whole arm slick as the shark's gullet. Something yanked him backward--Conn, hauling him by the neck of his shirt into the middle of the boat. The shark still hung in the gap in the side of the boat, thrashing, its jaws stuck half closed. The boat frame bent under its weight. Green water shipped in past it. Just in front of the great notched fin, the shark's back bulged up suddenly. Abruptly the iron head of the gaff burst out through its back. Blood splattered down its jaw and out the long slits of its gills. In a spasm it lurched back into the water and vanished, and the boat heaved upright again. "Row." Corban lunged for Raef's oar. "Are we sinking?" "Get us out of here." "Are you hurt?" Corban looked at his left arm; the sodden deerskin sleeve of his shirt was shredded from the shoulder to the wrist. Silently he bent to the work of the oar. All his muscles were jumping. He saw again and again the wide pink maw, slick, devouring. He imagined himself disappearing whole down that clenching throat. Raef got the bucket and bailed. In their wake, suddenly, the circling fins were clustering together, and the water began to churn; at the center of it the big shark suddenly appeared again, or a piece of it, blood-striped. Corban dragged the oar through the water, his arm throbbing. He could feel how loose the boat was. With every stroke of the oar he saw how the broken frame opened and stretched and the hide buckled and water trickled in. He could fix that. Tie the frame together and put his shirt over the hole. But he could not do that now, with his heart hammering, his blood racing; all he wanted to do now was get away from the sharks, and he bent his back to the work. * * * "It was as big as the boat, wasn't it, Pap." "I didn't notice," Corban said. They had hauled the boat out on the beach at the southern tip of his island, at the mouth of the great bay, and he was painting resin on the new patches. His whole body ached, exhausted, but he was nearly done: He had mended the frame with rope and green pine; he had caulked the holes in the prow with moss. His hands and arms were sticky with black pitch up to his elbows. "It was the biggest fish I've ever seen, except a whale," Conn said. Raef said, "I didn't think it was that big." "Oh, yes, you were so brave, Raef!" Conn shoved him. "You get those fires built," Corban said, "and stop arguing." He didn't like thinking about the shark. He was wondering if it had been, really, just a shark. He had a lot of old enemies, who he hoped had forgotten about him. He made himself think about easy things. While he had been fixing the boat, the boys had been slicing and hanging the cod, tail up, on long lines of rope in the sun. Now they were making fires to help the fish dry out faster. In a few days they would have enough dried fish to last them well after the cold set in. Nobody liked it, but everybody ate it when there was nothing else. There was still a lot of work, but Corban intended to do little of it himself. He would take the mended boat up around the island to his home on the north cove and fetch his wife and other children back here to help. He finished with the boat and sat scrubbing his hands and arms ineffectually with sand. He thought longingly of his wife, off at the other end of the island. Raef stamped up with a load of twigs and branches and dumped it onto the fireline. He glanced around, looking for Conn, and faced Corban, holding himself very straight. "I wasn't scared, there, today." Corban laughed at him. He felt a sudden rush of love for his sister's awkward, gloomy son. "I was. Are you a fool, boy?" Raef flushed, bright red against his white hair. "Then I was, too, sort of. But I, I, I--" Corban slapped his arm. "You did well enough. We're alive, we have the fish. Go get more wood. It's getting dark. Benna will be wondering where we are." Conn was struggling down the beach toward them under a great load, Conn, who had to do everything best. Raef lingered. "You're not sailing up there tonight." "No." He wasn't mad enough to try to sail the narrow water in the dark in a leaky boat. The tide was wrong anyway. "Let's make a cookfire. We can eat some of this fish." They roasted a piece of the cod. Corban sat with his back against a log, his belly full, feeling much better. The early summer twilight was deepening to night blue. The stars were coming out, and as if mirroring them the dark rippled waters of the bay shone here and there with ghostly sunken lights. The world was full of things he did not understand. Yet the shark seemed just a shark now. The boat was fixed; tomorrow he would see Benna, and the girls. It annoyed him to have lost the gaff; he had few iron tools. Conn said, "When the new boat is done, we'll catch twice as many fish as we did today, every time we go out." Corban grunted, amused. Raef said, "I hate fish. Uncle-- when the new boat is done, is that all we're going to do with her? Fish?" Corban slapped at a stinging fly lighting on his arm. "Hard to hunt squirrels with a boat, Raef." Conn exploded with laughter. Raef turned redder than the firelight. But he persisted; this was a favorite point of his. "We can't sail anywhere else?" He leaned forward, his eyes glinting. "Couldn't we sail over the sea?" Corban was tired of the whole issue. "The boat is nowhere near done." "We're on the last course," Conn said. This was something on which for once he and Raef agreed; they leaned toward him, one dark, one fair, their eyes hot with dreams. "She's beautiful already, she'll be true and fast and strong--why couldn't we take her over the sea?" "We have to fit on the gunwale, and deck her, and set in the thwarts. She's nowhere near finished." Raef said, "Why don't you want to go back where we came from?" "Here there are sharks," Corban said. "There there are kings and priests. I'd sooner the sharks." The two boys looked at each other. Corban said, "We have to carve oars and the steerboard, step the mast, and make a sail. That's going to be hard." Conn said slowly, "Ulf said he would bring us a sail, didn't he?" "Ulf has not come for two years now." Corban got up, stretching his arms. "Help me with these fires." They had piled sticks up in a heap at the end of the fireline, and he gathered an armful and went along the string of fires, ducking down beneath the strings of split cod to stuff wood into the flames. He had been thinking much lately of Ulf, the Danish captain who had brought them here, when they left their old country behind. In the beginning Ulf had returned every spring around this time, bringing them food and stores and news, reminding Corban always of the old places, Jorvik and Hedeby, and of the people there, and what Corban had done there. Then their lives here had seemed temporary, a wandering, not a settling. But Ulf had not come the last year, or the one before, and now this third year was late in the spring, almost summer, almost past the time when his ship usually appeared in the great bay around Corban's island. It was a hard, dangerous trip, and maybe Ulf had lost interest. Or he was dead, and with him was gone also the knowledge for getting here, and the last link between this place and that old world was cut. If so, Corban was glad. He could turn now wholly to his life here, and not have his mind drawn constantly back toward Jorvik and Hedeby. He went back to his camp and lay down, cradled his head on his arm, and thought sweetly a moment about his wife, lying in their bed, the house they had made. But when he slept, he dreamt over and over of the great shark rising out of the sea to devour him. * * * In the morning Benna with the little girls went up into the woods, to the pond, and drew water. Coming back out of the trees, onto the high peak of land above her house, she stretched her gaze out over the bay around her, but there was still no sign of Corban. She stood a moment looking down past the cove, toward the long strait between the island and the bay's eastern shore, straining her eyes, searching for him. They had gone fishing; he had said they might not come back for a few days. For an instant she let into her mind the thought of being without them, of being alone here, forever, and quickly shut that off. They would be back, if not today, tomorrow. She stared down the strait a moment longer, as if she could bring them to her with her eyes. Aelfu came after her, carrying the baby. Benna hauled the two buckets of water down to the house, walking in between the house and her little patch of garden, past the new boat on its stout wooden crutches. The long lapped boards of the hull were nearly all attached, and the boat lay like a great fish in its cradle, smelling of wood. Under the swelling keelson was a basket of treenails, like owl pellets; that was how they stuck the boards on. The boat drew her. She had dreamed that it sang to her. Aelfu called out, breathless, and Benna stopped and took the baby from her. Leaving one bucket of water behind, she continued on down to the house. Aelfu ran on down ahead of her, skipping. The day was warm and calm. She had already picked berries enough to keep the girls happy, and she had grubbed out all the bad plants in her garden; she had nothing to do but sit in the sun and draw, and let Aelfu and Miru make mud cakes and dig in the sandy dirt. She drew on anything that would take a picture, on shaved hide when she could get it, on split wood and shells and bark. Settling down now beside her house, she picked up a flat rock she had found, and took her brush. She thought of Corban, sailing over the sea, and drew a sturgeon, leaping up out of the water as she had seen one sometimes do, the long body bent like the arc of the rainbow. With short strokes of the brush she put on its stripes of horny armor, making it a warrior fish, and its long mustaches. On one side of the sturgeon, near its spread tail, she put the shore of the island, three rows of lines, meaning the water, the surf, the land. On the other side, below the long gaping jaw of the fish, its manic eye, she laid down more lines, for the far shore. She stared at it a moment, enjoying the strong arch of its body. Without thinking she took the brush and with a few quick marks gave the sturgeon Corban's face, above the mustaches. This startled her, somehow, and she was gazing at it, wondering, when the girls began to fight. Aelfu had made a little figure of packed mud and set it down on the sand; Mini promptly grabbed it up and in her baby fingers broke it. Benna got quickly between the girl and the baby, turned Aelfu's eyes to the drawing of the sturgeon, and said, "Where should I put this? You decide." "She broke my woman," Aelfu said. Benna hauled Mini up into her arms; the baby was heavy and squirmed, wanting down. Benna said, "You can make another. Don't let her get near it." She remembered when she had made pictures, as a child, and her sisters had ruined them: She had beaten them, screaming, pulled out their hair in handfuls. Leaning down, she got Aelfu by the chin and tipped her frowning face up. "It will be better the next time." "You always say that," Aelfu cried. "It never is." She stamped her foot. Evilly she glared at Benna's fish. "We should throw yours into the water. That's where fish belong." Her eyes glinted. She watched her mother narrowly, to see how Benna took this. "Very well," Benna said mildly. "I think you're right. Let's go--you carry the stone, and I will carry Miru." Aelfu's eyes widened. After a moment, she bent down and studied the stone, and then, lifting it, tramped away toward the shore. Benna followed her, jouncing the baby on her hip. From her dooryard the land sloped down through grassy hummocks to the shore of the cove, a jumble of tide-washed rocks, covered with seaweed and barnacles, wisps and rags of blown sand in among them. The tide was out. As they came down onto the sand, swarms of tiny crabs darted away toward their holes. Holding the rock with both hands, Aelfu marched straight across the beach to the edge of the water; she turned once and looked back to see if Benna would stop her, and then, standing to her ankles in the little waves, she hurled the rock outward. It splashed into the bay only a few feet away. Aelfu said loftily, "You can get it out if you want." She brushed her hands together. Benna said, "Let it stay there." The picture was already gone. The soft black stuff she drew with came right off in water. Aelfu was frowning; Benna thought she had given her something to think over, and anyhow she was no longer angry with Miru. The baby got carefully up onto her feet and padded off across the sand, and Aelfu followed, reaching for her arm, saying, "Hold my hand, now, Miru, or you'll step on a crab." Benna straightened. From here she could look straight across the narrowest part of the strait, to where the river came down into the bay. The last winter's flood had brought down a lot of old wood, two big trees now stranded in the shallows along the far beach there, their roots reaching out everywhere like a mass of wooden arms. Here, at its northern tip, the island came almost within a stone's throw of the mainland, and on the thin yellow beach above the river's mouth, above the beached driftwood, she could see people, two men, it seemed, standing there, staring back at her. She knew who they were; they came from a village nearby, where she had even been, once or twice, with Corban. Then those people, men and women, had stared at her, murmured, laughed, until her skin went hot and she could not lift her gaze from the ground. They lived here, she thought, over and over. They lived here, and she and Corban were strangers and did not belong. They never really bothered her and Corban--any of their family--and Corban got on with them well enough, but she was glad to have the water between them and her home. Then suddenly Aelfu cried out, "Look, Mama!" Benna straightened, turning around to aim her eyes where the girl pointed; the breeze fluttered her hair into her face, and she drew it back with one hand. Her heart skipped, and she shouted out joyously, "Corban!" Down the brisk blue water, the little boat was bobbing into sight, the sail cupped over the fist of the wind. Even from here she could see him, by the tiller, black-haired, his shirt flapping. Her heart swelled. She took in a deep breath, as if she had not breathed until now. "Papa," Aelfu cried, leaping up and down. "Papa!" "Corban," Benna said again. She bent and gathered Miru up. She cast another look over her shoulder at the two people watching her from the shore, but now with Corban coming she had more important things to do, and she took Aelfu by the hand and went to meet her husband. Copyright © 2004 by Cecelia Holland ISBN 0-312-84886-2 Excerpted from The Witches' Kitchen by Cecelia Holland All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.