By  L.M. James

Raymond clapped his hands together gently.  That did nothing to calm down the barely contained chaos of the practice room.  He cleared his throat with an equal lack of results.  He cast a glance at his wife, but she was busy with Gareth and Tucker.  At three years of age, the youngest twins were still too undisciplined to join in with the rest of the family, but Raymond refused to allow any of his children to interrupt the performance of music.

Even if they were only toddlers!

Sadly, he mused, at the moment, the three-year-olds are behaving better than the rest of the family.  He cleared his throat again, a bit more loudly.  Eight-year-old Jasper looked up briefly from his guitar, glancing at his older brothers and sisters; he turned his attention back to the instrument.

Raymond whistled five notes, each pitched higher than the one before it.  At the dying of the fifth note, he sang out the word “QUIET!” Selma, the tiny spider monkey on his shoulder drew back and stared at him reproachfully. With an obscene gesture of biting her thumb, the familiar launched herself into the air, rising upward until she reached the hanging light fixture. All sound in the room instantly ceased as the witchery of a Bard went against its own basic nature, forced to suppress sound. The father smiled at the five children before him. We were insane to have seven, he thought, though a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he saw Jasper, the only one of his children to inherit his Bardic Talent, tapping out a rhythm as he tried a working of his own to lift the silence.

Another quick working, one finger gently tapping against another, restored sound to the room. The children, acutely aware of any change in sound – a trait almost mandatory in a family of musicians – looked about and then at their father.

“Thank you,” Raymond Howison said dryly. He pinned each of the five with a gaze that did not allow them to look away. This, he had said many times, had no touch of witchery to it, but was merely the power of a father. “Melissa,” he said, “you volunteered us to play at your Pact Day Pageant.” He stifled the embryonic protests of the older boys with, “And the rest of us agreed to do it.” Silence fell as if brought by witchery. “So, since we have made the commitment to do this concert…we…are…going…to…do…it.” His eyes narrowed. “Is there anyone who has a problem with that?”

“No,” came the reply from four of the children. Only Jasper remained silent, exactly as the father has known he would. Even in a family of musicians, there would be times when someone would not want to perform. So far, that day had yet to come for Jasper; Raymond doubted that it ever would.

Raymond turned to look directly at his eldest daughter – older than her identical twin by a full six minutes – and let all traces of levity and lightness disappear from his voice. “Melissa,” he said firmly, not letting the girl turn her gaze away from him, “we agreed to do this so you wouldn’t be embarrassed, but you should have asked first, and you should have told us about it as soon as it happened instead of not letting us know about it until two weeks before the day.”

The other girl snickered, realized her faux pas immediately and tried to avoid her father’s notice. “You are not clear of blame in this, Melinda,” Raymond said. “You were right there in the room with your sister when she volunteered us for this, and you didn’t say anything to stop her, and you didn’t tell us anything about it. You are just as much in the wrong as she is.” Melinda ducked her head, a fiery blush rising in her cheeks.

Raymond allowed the lightest trace of a smile to come to his face. “But we do appreciate the fact that you want people to hear your family perform,” he said, “so we’re going to make you proud of us and give your pageant the best concert we can.”

Melissa looked up, her long dark blonde hair falling across her shoulders as she did so. “Are you going to do a working in it?” she asked, her eyes almost glowing with eagerness.

“I doubt it,” the father said. “This isn’t really the time for workings. This is a concert.”

“Actually, honey,” said Rebecca, turning away from the younger twins, “this might be the perfect time to do a working of some sort. This is for Pact Day, after all, the day Orthos and witches finally decided to get along with one another. I think doing a working as part of the concert to celebrate it might help the kids realize just how much a part of everyone’s life witchery is.”

“I’m not sure there’s time to craft one.” Raymond looked toward the Christmas tree, amused and impressed that the lights the girls had worked onto the needles still shone. That, he thought, is some seriously good witchery. I can’t wait to see what they’re going to be like when their familiars find them.

“Then revise one you’ve already done. I know for a fact that you did a working about Pact Day when you were in high school; there’s no reason you can’t update that one.”

Raymond smiled wryly and inclined his head toward his wife. “Boys,” he said, “this is why you should never marry a woman smarter than you.” The hoped-for laughter followed his comment. “Now,” he said, “let’s get back to practice.” He nodded at the sheet music before each of the children. “While the five of you play through that,” he glanced at his wife, “I will find my notes on my own Pact Day working and see what we can do for this one. After all, we want to do the fifth grade proud.”

With a unison born of natural talent and long practice, the five children picked up their instruments and began playing. The strains of the classic “Pact of Peace” sounded through the house. Raymond smiled as he left the room. “Jasper,” he said over his shoulder to the eight-year-old Bard, “go ahead and sing while I find what I need. I’ll take over the next one.”

The high, but perfectly pitched, voice of the young boy rang out the first notes of the song. Alone on the stairway, Raymond made no attempt to hide his smile of pride and pleasure. As rare as the Bardic Talent was, even in witch families, the chances of his having sired another Bard had always been slim. And, no, he firmly reminded himself, we did not have another pregnancy after Jasper just so there might be another Bard in the family. He chuckled silently. The girls are stronger witches, anyway, and they’re only ten. Jasper’s voice rang through the house, perfectly clear on the highest note of the song. But that boy is going to be something. He’s already as good as I am.

He pushed open the door to the attic and stepped inside, flipping the switch to turn on the light. The large banker’s box containing his working notes stood where it had been for over a decade, though its smaller companion had joined it only a year earlier. He rifled through the larger box, quickly finding the folder he needed. He sat down on the floor and began to look through his writings. He nodded his head. Yes, he thought, this will be easy enough to modify to include the children. And once he got it into the hands of the fifth grade teacher, it shouldn’t be hard for the students to learn it.

Pleased with the plans rapidly forming in his mind, Raymond left the attic and returned to the family practice room.

#   #   #

Jasper peeked between the curtains to look at the crowd forming in the school auditorium. He turned to look at his parents. “There’s a LOT of people out there!” he said urgently, indicating the room beyond the curtains with an exaggerated wave of his hand.

Raymond chuckled and clasped his son’s arm to pull him away from the curtain. “Don’t worry about the audience, Jasper,” he said. “All you need to worry about is how well you perform.”

Jasper drew himself up to his full height…as much as an eight-year-old could do so…and looked his father directly in the eyes as he said, “A Bard always performs well.” He turned with more solemnity than would fit on his small frame and strode toward his guitar standing by the wall.

Raymond Howison spun to face the wall so his son would not see the tears of laughter rolling down his face. He composed himself and went to join his children. Under his direction, the three boys and twin girls took their places on the stage and readied their instruments. Raymond picked up his own instrument, a guitar similar to the one Jasper held, and placed the strap over his head and onto his shoulder. He looked to the wings of the stage and nodded to the man sitting at a large control panel. Lifting one hand in acknowledgement, the man pressed two buttons on the panel before him.

The curtains opened. The Howison children struck up their instruments immediately, their music a strong but gentle presence in the auditorium. Raymond opened himself to the power the children raised with the music. Focusing through Jasper, the five of them poured the strength of their witchery to their father.

Children in various costumes from many nations during the late seventeenth century walked onto the stage from either side. The children took their rehearsed places on stage, none of them looking directly toward the audience, though many of them could not keep their eyes from drifting to the crowd, no doubt searching for their respective parents.

Raymond began to lightly strum his guitar, singing softly in Chinese. A long, curving structure appeared, the image stretching far beyond what could be within the confines of the elementary school auditorium. Images of majestic mountains covered in trees of brilliant green showed behind the now fully-formed illusion of the Great Wall of China. As the music continued, the entire auditorium filled with the illusion, until the audience shared the feeling of sitting along the raised ramparts and crenellations of the wall.

A fifth grade student, a young blonde man dressed in white suit, tie, shirt, shoes, and beret stepped forward. “A wall exists among our people,” he said, almost yelling as he attempted to project his voice beyond the confines of the stage. “Witches and Orthos have long fought one another, each hating the other for the differences between us. For too long we have turned brother against brother and child against parent. The talent of witchery is in all our blood, for we are all human. Today, we have gathered here to forge the Pact of Accord.”

Another student, a thin black-haired girl in a long silk dress stepped forward. “I am Huy Zhao, a Master of Earth witchery.” She stretched forth her hands and a slab of stone rose from the body of the great wall. “Upon this earthen tablet shall the Pact be inscribed.”

Another student, this one a boy with dark skin and dressed in a pair of leather sandals, pants and flowing tunic of blue linen, and a tight-fitting round cap of the same material. “I am Ewelike Okafor, Master of Fire Witchery.” He pointed one index finger upward and then to the stone tablet held by “Huy Zhao”. Fire streamed from his finger and struck the stone. The finger moved, and words appeared, burned into the stone itself.

Raymond changed the fingering on his guitar, altering the illusion working to represent the various workings done on the original Pact Day. He glanced over at his family, proud of their united playing, providing reliable music for the pageant but not drowning out the actors. He scowled mildly at Jasper; the boy took the hint to stop watching his father’s working and return his full attention to the music. The girls looked about the area, their attention to the music no more than rote. While technically perfect through the specific magic of muscle memory, the twin sisters clearly had their minds focused on other matters.

The man frowned briefly turning away from his children, as he felt a sudden surge in the strength of the witchery. Light flared behind him, illuminating the stage far beyond what it should be. With instincts born from decades working Bardic witchery, he strengthened the scenic illusion instantly, hiding the light behind deeper and more opaque images. With a mental promise to find out who had altered the lighting and reprimand that person thoroughly, he turned his attention back to the pageant, though he kept part of his mind aware of the increased strength and power of his children’s witchery.

“I am Constance Whittaker,” said a young girl costumed in a long black dress with a white apron and white bonnet. “I am an Ortho, but I have married a witch of the Iroquois.” She reached one hand toward a boy dressed in leather pants and jacket decorated with colored wooden beads.

The boy walked forward to take his place on the wall. “I am Orenda. I am a witch of the Shaman Talent. As my wife and I have joined witch and Ortho in marriage, so this pact shall join witch and Ortho in peace.”

Huy Zhao handed Orenda the stone tablet, lines of text now carved into it. “By this Pact of Accord,” the young girl playing Huy read in a voice that projected remarkably well for her age, “we agree for all peoples, witch and Ortho, of all nations, that all laws and customs which drive witch and Ortho apart are hereby dispersed and done away. No longer shall the possession or lack of witchery determine one’s place in our societies nor shall witchery be seen as a force of evil. Likewise, no witch may use his workings on another without the other’s knowledge and consent save in circumstances where lives and safety are endangered.”

She looked up from the tablet and handed it to the boy portraying Orenda. “We declare by this Pact that Ortho shall not persecute witch for a gift of birth that was declared by the Divine, in whatever name it may be known,” he read. He handed to tablet then to his “wife” who read in turn, “We likewise declare that witch shall not assume superiority over Ortho for the lack of a gift of birth. For a witch to work an Ortho in an attempt to gain power or influence over that Ortho shall be tried as the use of any other weapon against an unarmed opponent.”

Huy took the tablet again, though this time, Orenda laid one hand on it as well. The two of them together returned it to its place in the wall, the stone seamlessly joining with the rock mortar of the great landmark. Orenda sounded out a beat over the site with a wooden rattle he drew from his belt. Letters of bright blue light in multiple languages appeared on the stones of the wall. Each of the actors faced the section written in his or her character’s language as they all read in unison, repeating once more the words of the Pact.

“Each time the moon in full on the anniversary of this day,” Orenda said, “these words shall appear on this wall again. In this way, let no one ever forget that for this one moment, for this one cause, all mankind was united. If this small peace can be created here today, perhaps in some tomorrow, our grandchildren shall create a greater one to cover all the world.”

The actors bowed as the audience stood to applaud and the curtains slowly drew closed. Raymond allow the illusion to fade.

The music ended, and Raymond spun to see who had turned on the light that still shone too brightly. Words of reprimand and anger died on Raymond’s lips as he saw the source of the light. A hummingbird sat perched on Melinda’s shoulder, the light of noon-day sun pouring from it, lighting the area.

Raymond turned to look at his other daughter, wondering how she would react to her twin getting her familiar. His eyes widened as he saw Melissa holding a stroking a large orange tabby cat. “Adult familiars,” he whispered. “This is going to be interesting.”

Two more members of the family. He smiled and looked at his own familiar. Already he wondered how these two new additions could be added to musical performances.

Pact Day = January 5, 1697

Sid says:  This is the first time we get to see Jasper’s family as a unit, performing the music that is in all their souls. The relationships that are spelled out here are going to be crazy fun to explore in later books and short stories. Plus, we finally get to see what Pact Day means to witches and orthos alike. All in all, this is a fantastic addition to the Perfect Coven world.

Mickie says:  Lots of information packed into one short story. Pact Day is arguably the most important holiday of our created world, as it celebrates an end to decades of war between Witches and Orthos. It’s nice to see, even in a microcosm, how it came about.  Also, a nice look into the family of one of our anchor characters, which gives us a peek at influences on the man he is now. Fun story, James!



Charlie leaned back in her seat, listening to Professor Rifkin’s lecture about 19th century warfare between the American Army and The People.  She had chosen this history class because she was curious about the American version of their shared history, and wanted to compare notes with what she had learned in high school, which she’d spent in the Lakota Confederacy.

The Battle of Wakpala took place in the late 1800s between the Santee tribe and the American Cavalry bent on infiltrating and establishing a foothold in Confederacy lands.

Charlie frowned as Dr.  Rifkin described the events leading to the conflict, stating America’s pressing need for more land, and the numerous tense and occasionally violent encounters between American settlers and the native population, as the settlers tried to stake a claim in what they considered unoccupied land.  It was definitely a one sided history, as it was implied that all the violence was on the part of the People, and that the People were unjust in refusing to let these people settle in their land.

The American government decided to send a Troop from the 7th Cavalry to defend settlers living along the agreed border.  The cavalry soldiers, led by Captain Gary Thompson, pushed past the designated border, and a group of settlers followed, intending to stake a homestead.  Dr. Rifkin went on to describe a chance meeting between a band of Lakota warriors and the aforementioned Troop at Wahnkala Creek at Wakpala, which rapidly disintegrated into an all-out battle.

“The entire encounter was a series of bad luck for the American troop,” Professor Rifkin proclaimed. “First, there was the initial encounter:  in miles of empty land, 100 American soldiers ran into a band of 35 Lakota warriors.  Then, the Americans lost nearly 50% of their number in the first exchange of fire.  Even then, they rallied behind Captain Thompson, and began to advance across the Creek, pushing the warriors back from the banks.  However, the soldiers lost their cohesion when a stray arrow hit Captain Thompson in the eye, knocking him from the saddle and killing him.”

She paused in the front of the room, where the image of said Captain Thomas was shown on the whiteboard, along with a few smaller pictures of the battle scene.

She continued, “The Lakota were galvanized and pushed back to the banks of the Creek, at which point the Americans broke ranks as they retreated to the border.  The Lakota followed, finding the settlers and taking them hostage.  This action forced the American government to the negotiating table to attempt to gain their release, and resulted in the Treaty of Wakpala, which banned settlers with American citizenship from gaining permission to homestead in the Lakota Confederacy until well into the 20th century.”

Professor Rifkin stopped in front of the room, and Charlie met her eyes as she scanned the students.

“Charlie, you look a bit perplexed.  Any thing you’d like to bring up?”

Charlie blushed at being singled out.  She was not the only student at GLU with native heritage, but she was the only one in this class.

She addressed the professor. “I’m just surprised.  I was expecting more detail.”

One of her classmates scoffed, “What details?  We came, we got our butts kicked. What more do you need to know?”

Charlie turned to look at the class.  “Okay, how about the fact that the ‘warrior band’ was comprised of 6 adults and 30 youths ranging in age from 13 to 17?  And that this ‘unoccupied land’ was basically a summer camp?  That the American government intentionally sent troops into a camp of children with the intent of committing an atrocity?  That the American government intentionally sent civilians behind said troops, knowing what would happen to them after the Cavalry murdered 30 children, in order to create an excuse to take further action?”

Silence filled the room.  No one liked what they had just heard.  It had too much truth to it.

Charlie turned back to the professor and continued. “I’m also surprised that the Lakota victory is dismissed as pure luck. The Lakota version of this event is definitely much richer.  It seems to me that American history is very dismissive of The People’s ability to defend the border, even though any attempt to push the line has been stopped very decisively.”

Professor Rifkin leaned against the desk, gazing at Charlie.  “You know the People’s side of this event,” she stated. Charlie nodded. “Have you ever been to the reenactment there?  I’ve heard about it, but it’s difficult to get permission to observe it”

Charlie smiled. “I went to camp at Wakpala for 4 years, and I worked as a counselor for two years.  I’ve been part of the reenactment.”

Staring intently at Charlie, the professor asked, “Would you share the tale with us?”

“Is this a formal request?”

Still staring intently, Professor Rifkin replied, “Yes.”

Charlie reached into her book bag, and took out a small rattle.  She rose from her chair and moved to the desk at the front of the room. She looked to the back of the room where a few of the familiars were gathered.  On his perch, Aldric stood at attention, and opened his massive wings as she took her position.  Professor Rifkin watched wide eyed, and moved to take Charlie’s seat, leaving her the floor.

“Hear now the story of Little Crow, a youth of the Santee.”  Charlie shook the rattle, and followed its rhythm into the story.

“Little Crow was born into a family of witches and showed the potential for great talent.  Much was made of him as a child, and as he grew, he became bold and confident and a trifle arrogant, knowing he was the best of his tribe and would be a leader of his people.

Little Crow, at the age of 14, was chosen to participate in the Great Games between the tribes.  He and other promising youths of the Santee were trained and taught by the most skilled and knowledgeable warriors and witches and soon came their turn to travel to Wakpala, the camp near the Eastern border of the People’s Nation. This is where the Great Games were held, and all of the selected teams were given the opportunity to train on the actual terrain.

The band of youth warriors numbered thirty between the ages of 14 and 17, and their six teachers consisted of Warriors both witch and ortho.  During their two weeks at the camp, Little Crow excelled, winning the red feathers to decorate his hair, the only exception being in archery, where Wi-Sapa was always the champion.  Little Crow, unaccustomed to losing anything, devised a working intended to give him the victory, but was found out by the Elders and his arrows were confiscated, and he was ashamed.”

Thus, on the 18th day of Canpásapa Wi, did the band of young warriors in training advance to the woods to test the skills they had learned, their teachers leading them to the creek where they would be tested.”

Charlie began to move, a slow dance accompanying the story. Aldric flew to the desk, holding his wings high as he landed.

“As the trainees approached the waters, the trees moved without wind, and the animals fell silent.  The adult warriors moved the front, shielding the children, as soldiers of their sometimes enemy approached the creek from the opposite bank.

Teetonka of the adult warriors advanced to the water’s edge and called out to the invaders in their tongue. “What do you here, in the lands of the Lakota? You have strayed far from your camp and should return there immediately.”

On the other side of the table, Charlie knelt, as if aiming a gun.

“In response, the soldiers in blue, numbering nearly one hundred, opened fire, shooting down the Lakota warriors gathered at the creek’s bank.”

Aldric clapped his wings, producing a low rumble, startling the listeners. Charlie rose and continued to circle the desk.

“The Lakota youth were shocked as they watched their teachers fall to the unprovoked attack.  And at this moment, Little Crow stepped forward, putting his feet on the path of destiny and greatness.

He ran to the fallen warriors and quickly noted that while there were severe injuries, none were dead.  He pulled a bundle from Teetonka’s belt, and as his bonded landed on his shoulder, he activated the embedded spell, setting off the defense for the camp.  However, such was the depth of his fear and the strength of his will, that his spell set off the defenses for not only the nearby camp, but for the entire eastern border, which was only a few miles away, putting the military forces of the People on alert and closing the border and the enemy’s line of retreat.

While the enemy was reloading their weapons, he shouted to his companions, still hidden in the trees. “All of you!  Arm yourselves!  Warriors with fire talent, direct your fire to the weapons of the enemy.”

He heard the enemy chief give the order to fire once more, and then the screams as the weapons misfired.  At that time, the archers moved out of the trees and fired their arrows.  The newly blooded warriors set new arrows to their bows, and fired again, striking the enemy again.”

Charlie drew and fired an invisible bow, then continued her slow dance around the desk.

“Little Crow focused on defense, as he had no arrows to fire.  He crafted a shield of earth and air around the injured warriors to protect from stray bullets and arrows.  From Teetonka’s belt he pulled more precast spells, these for healing, and began to apply them to the most grievous wounds.  Most of the adults had several bullet wounds, but Little Crow only needed to keep the warriors alive until help arrived from the main camp.

During the lull between firing, he looked above the barrier, and saw that nearly half of the enemy were down, but the remaining soldiers were crossing the creek as their leader exhorted them.

Little Crow looked back to his band, and saw them frozen in place, despair showing in their faces as the enemy approached.  As he stepped beyond the barrier, he heard the words of the enemy and understood them as he was trained in their language.

“Advance, soldiers.  They are just a bunch of kids, and they’ve got no fight left in them.  You are members of the US Cavalry and the best trained soldiers in the world.  Soldiers, prepare arms.”

Little Crow felt himself taken by despair as he heard the man’s words. Then his bonded, a great black crow called Shota, landed on his shoulder and bit his ear, drawing blood.  Thus did Little Crow’s mind clear and he realized that the worlds of the enemy were themselves a weapon, stealing hope and strength from the Santee youth, and feeding it to the soldiers who were about to set foot on their side of the creek.

He stepped back behind the barrier and at that moment, he saw his bundle of arrows, which had fallen loose when the adults were struck down.  He grabbed them, pulling out an arrow and setting it to his bow.

He stepped out of the protection of the barrier and the enemy’s words struck as a blow, but Little Crow’s will did not falter, and he did not fall prey to the despair. Instead, he pulled the bow, looking to the enemy leader and meeting his eyes.

The enemy spoke directly to him. “Now Red Feathers, let’s have none of that.  It’s a lost cause and will only end in your death.  Lay down your weapon and surrender, as you have already lost.”

Little Crow stiffened as the enemy warrior’s words attacked his mind, but continued to draw the arrow back.  He shouted at the enemy warrior, “Invader! THOKA!  Red Feathers will be your death!”

Finally he shouted, ‘Wahkan, guide my arrow!’, and let the arrow fly.”

As she spoke Little Crow’s words, Charlie positioned her arms as if drawing a bow, a pointer she picked up from the desk in her right hand as the arrow.  She released her “arrow”, throwing the stick towards the students at their desks.

“The arrow flew true, and pierced the enemy warrior’s eye, killing him.”

Her classmates nearly rioted as they watched the stick reverse course, and shoot towards the picture of Captain Thomas at the front of the room.  The pointer hit the picture in the eye and stuck there, not falling.

Professor Rifkin stood and walked over to the picture, looking all around at the pointer in Captain Thomas’ eye.  The class was in an uproar and it took a minute for her to get them to settle down.

Charlie smiled at the professor, and put a hand on Aldric’s head as he finally let his wings down.

“There’s more to the story, but it’s not really relevant.  Once Capt. Thomas was dead, his forces fell apart and made a run for the border, which they couldn’t get through.  The warriors from the camp followed them, found them and the prospective settlers and took them hostage.”

Professor Rifkin returned the smile. “Is Little Crow – that’s Kanghi Red Feather, isn’t it?”

“Little Crow did become known as Kanghi Red Feather.  He took the name “Red Feather” when he became a diplomat to remind the American Government who they were dealing with.”

One of her classmates called out, “Charlie Redfeather.  Are you related?”

Charlie grinned, “You bet.  He was my grandfather, with a few greats in front of it.  The spell he put on his arrows, even though he did it with the intent to cheat, is the pride of my family.  That is the first spell that all of us who share his talent learn on our own.  We always get caught trying to use it but it’s a kind of rite of passage now.”

Sid says: This is a glimpse into the alternate history of the Perfect Coven world. It’s rich and deep and diverse, and this glorious tidbit gives me so many more ideas…. I’m already trying to talk James and Mickie into doing a Perfect Coven historical series next. (Every time this happens, new PC books appear in Morpheus’s library….)

James says:  I think Mickie has just upped the bar for our short story excerpts!  This is an amazing story, and shows how much work we have been putting into building a coherent history for Perfect Coven Earth.  We are trying to keep the majority of the world’s history in line with that of our own world, but adjusting events for what the presence of openly acknowledged and known witches would do to them.  There will be more matters like this to come, not just from Mickie.