The First Midnight Spell

By: Claudia Gray



A spell for stealing beauty:

Flowers in the spring.

Sunlight on the waters.

A man overcome by a woman’s loveliness.

Those ingredients seemed as though they could be right. Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Cooper readjusted her place on the meadow grasses as she took up Aunt Ruth’s kit. Inside was the precious jade charm her great-grandmother had managed to find; this jade allowed for the casting of spells few other witches outside the Orient could ever match. Elizabeth was counting on that now.

“Are you doing it?” Pru said from where she lolled on her back, playing with the end of her braid. The wind caught at her long black skirt, revealing her ankles and calves, but she paid it no mind here; they were half a mile out from the village of Fortune’s Sound, far from any men who might see. “Because I don’t notice anything different.”

“Hush,” Elizabeth said, closing her eyes and beginning the spell.

Buttercups glinting like nuggets of gold within the first pale-green grasses of April.

“Look, my girl. Look.” Mama whispering as they stood on the deck of the ship that had been their prison for weeks, Elizabeth hardly able to remember England, where she had been born, and sick from days upon days of storms, but now able to see placid waters ahead and finally, finally, sunshine coming down through the clouds to paint brilliant light on the waves.

Nat Porter looking up from his work to see Pru walking by, a tendril of dark hair escaped from her cap, and his face alight with a smile.

Elizabeth felt a shiver pass through her, a shiver that might have been the magic—or jealousy. Quickly she opened her eyes and demanded: “Did it work?”

Pru rolled over on her belly to study Elizabeth for a moment, then shrugged. “You don’t look so different to me.”

Her new spell had failed. Elizabeth slumped back against the nearby tree trunk in disgust. Aunt Ruth and all the other witches said the creation of a new spell was difficult work—so difficult most witches never even tried it, and few who tried it succeeded. But didn’t they always compliment Elizabeth’s abilities, marvel at her potential? If anyone could do it, she could.

“I don’t see what you’re so worried about,” Pru said. “You’re very pretty.”

Elizabeth assumed this to be true. Nobody in their small community had brought a mirror with them from England, nor had anybody traded for one, so Elizabeth’s only glimpses of herself since childhood had been her reflection in water. That reflection was pleasing enough, and ever since she’d reached marriageable age, she’d noticed boys and men both paying attention to her.

But not Nathaniel Porter.

“Besides, who were you going to steal beauty from? Me?” Pru laughed. “You’re lowering your bucket into a dry well.”

“You’re lovely,” Elizabeth said, because she liked Pru and because—well—she had intended to steal from Pru. It would only have been for a little while, more borrowing than stealing, which was why she thought it wouldn’t be so very bad. Really, though, Elizabeth wanted to discover just what there was to steal.

By any sensible standard, Prudence Godwin was not beautiful. She was short as a child, and slightly plump, though not stout. Her eyes were brown, and her skin no less freckled than Elizabeth’s own. Her features were neither ugly nor particularly arresting. And yet Nat Porter—like most of the other boys they lived with—looked admiringly at Pru whenever she walked by.

Perhaps it had something to do with Pru’s smile. Every day, virtually every moment, Pru was smiling or laughing, finding humor in everything from the splay-legged wobble of a new calf to the awkward tilt of a child’s cap. Elizabeth privately thought it was foolish of Pru to find this hard and savage New World a never-ending source of delight. But if Pru’s smile was so winning, if it changed her simple face into something beautiful, then obviously there was something there worth the taking.

Pru rose to her feet, brushing off her apron. “Come on. They’ll be looking for us soon.”

“You just want to walk through the street while Nat Porter’s leaving his shop,” Elizabeth said.

“You’re the one who’s taken with Nat,” Pru said. “Like nearly every other girl in town. I don’t understand the lot of you, and I don’t care, either, because it leaves Jonathan Hale for me.”

Pru often spoke of Jonathan Hale, which made no sense to Elizabeth. Jonathan wasn’t unappealing, she supposed. He was a bit short, though that would hardly be a flaw in the eyes of tiny Pru, and certainly he laughed as much as she did.