This is a love letter.
And a confession.
The last thing the Deacon said to me before he died was, “Destroy those roses.”
I stood before them at dawn, the rising sun behind me turning the red petals into fire, and I lifted my knife.
For five weeks I’d tried to kill them. I’d attacked with a trowel, and a heavy shovel, digging at their roots. They’d thrashed with furious life, cutting my skin and flinging drops of my blood against the ground.
Then I’d set them on fire with a flick of my wrist. But the twisting vines refused to burn. My blue and orange flames danced along their leaves and thorns while the wind rushed all around, tossing fire toward the forest. I’d had to extinguish it before the entire hill caught alight.
Next I’d lain down beside them under a full moon and listened to their whispers. All night long the stars wheeled overhead and I felt the earth cracking and shifting underneath me as it turned.
Mab, the roses whispered. Free us.
I rolled over and pressed my cheek into the dirt. I grasped one of the rose vines until the thorns pricked through my skin. Pain and magic spilled from my palm and into their roots, and Arthur’s voice echoed in my memory: All the blood is yours now, Mab, all the beauty of the world. Take it.
Shoving off the ground, I backed up toward the edge of the garden until my heels hit the wooden vegetable box where baby tomatoes grew.
The next day I asked Donna if she knew anything about the roses, and she only explained about pruning and mold and fertilizer. I called Faith, who lived in town, and she said one of the reasons she moved her family off the blood land was because Hannah woke crying and blamed her nightmares on the roses. And Granny Lyn, whose garden it had been until she died last autumn, had never allowed any of us to tend it without her.
There had been a secret planted under my bedroom window all my life.
I knew I should have spent my time creating a spell to burn the curse away, to turn the roses into ash and spread the pieces on the wind and on the river.
It’s what Arthur told me to do.
But that isn’t what I chose.
Here, at dawn, with my knife poised over the seven-point-star tattoo protecting my wrist, I stood facing the garden, and beside me lay a man-sized doll created of mud and bone, so that I might ask the roses a question.
A scratching on the window gable behind me drew my attention to the large crow perched there. “Morning,” I whispered. “Is Donna still asleep?”
He ruffled his feathers in an affirmative shrug.
“Where are your brothers?”
He chucked his head back and barked. Eleven more crows leapt out of the forest at the edge of our yard. Their wings flapped in unison as they swooped low overhead, washing me with damp spring air. I could feel hair curling against the back of my neck as they raised the humidity.
The flock landed around me in a semicircle, not too near the roses, their heads cocked at the same angle. One hopped forward and tapped his beak against the jar I’d set on the grass.
Inside was the heart and liver of a deer that would help give life to my doll.
Nine days ago I’d built a trap marked by runes across a well-traveled deer path, and finally, yesterday, there’d been a young buck caught in the circle. He was unable to free himself from the lines of magic weaving through the trees, and his delicate hooves stomped the ground. I stood against a walnut tree, shoulder pressed hard enough into the bark that it tore at my skin through my shirt. The buck’s antlers were just beginning to press up through his head, tiny nubs of velvety bone. He stared at me with his black eyes, snorted, and reared back as if to challenge me.
“Thank you for what you’re giving me,” I told him.
I’d pricked my finger and clapped my hands together. The spell sucked the breath from his lungs.
That had been the cleanest part. I used Arthur’s old hunting knife to slit the buck’s belly and drag out the bloody insides. They spilled onto the grass as slippery as fish. His blood caught in the creases of my palms, and I rubbed them down on his still-warm neck.
I took the heart and the liver, tucking them gently into an old glass gallon jar. I twisted closed the lid and painted a star rune on top with the deer’s blood. Then I closed his eyes and ran my finger along his short black lashes.
“May you find grace,” I whispered.
And I left him for the vultures and coyotes.
Excerpted from The Blood Keeper by Tessa Gratton Copyright © 2012 by Tessa Gratton. Excerpted by permission of Bluefire, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.