Free Tithe by Holly Black

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Authors: Holly Black
onto the roof. “Why does she want to see me?” Kaye had always thought of the Thistlewitch as a crotchety aunt, someone who didn’t like to play and who you could get in trouble with.
    “There’s something she needs to tell you.”
    “Can’t you tell me?” Kaye said. She swung her legs off the edge of the roof while Spike scuttled down over the bark and Lutie glided down on iridescent wings.
    “Come on,” Spike said.
    Kaye pushed herself off the edge and dropped. The dry branches of a rhododendron bush scratched her legs as she landed, spry as a cat, on her two feet.
    They ran toward the street, Lutie-loo dancing half in the air around Kaye whispering, “I missed you, I missed you.”
    “This way,” Spike said, needlessly. Kaye remembered the way.
    “I missed you too,” Kaye said to Lutie, reaching out her hand to brush the light body. Lutie felt slick as water, smooth as smoke.
    The Glass Swamp, so called because of the abundance of broken bottles choking the little stream, ran beneath the road a half a mile down the street. They climbed down the steep bank, Kaye’s boots slipping in the mud. Beer bottles sat on rocks, some already smashed into big pieces. The thin rivulets of water shimmered with multicolor hues like a church window.
    “What’s happening? What’s the matter?” she called as quietly as she could and still have Spike hear her. Something was definitely wrong—he was hurrying along like he couldn’t look her in the face. But then, maybe she was too old to be fun anymore.
    He didn’t answer.
    Lutie darted up to her, hair whipping the air like a banner of cream. “We have to hurry.Don’t worry. It’s good news—good news.”
    “Hush,” Spike said.
    The heavy growth close to the stream forced her to pick her way near the water’s edge. Kaye stepped carefully along the bank, darkness making it hard to see whether the next step would plunge her boot into cold water. They walked in silence while Kaye tried to make out her path by the dim light of Lutie’s glow.
    A flash of white caught her eye—cracked eggshells bobbed in the narrow stream. Kaye stopped to watch the armada of shells, some small and spotted, others gleaming supermarket white. In the center of one, a spider scuttled from side to side, an unwilling captain. In another, a black pin anchored the center as the shell spun dizzily.
    Kaye heard a chuckle.
    “Much can be divined from an eggshell,” the Thistlewitch said. Large black eyes peered out from the braided weeds and briars that covered her head like hair. She was sitting on the opposite side of the riverbank, her squat body covered in layers of drab cloth.
    “They have even caught us,” the Thistlewitch went on, “with the brewing of eggshells. Pride makes braggarts of even the wisest of the folk, so it is said.”
    Kaye had always been a little afraid of her, but this time she felt nothing but relief. TheThistlewitch had kind eyes, and her scratchy voice was sweetly familiar. She was as unlike Roiben and his demon-horse as anything could be.
    “Hullo,” Kaye said, not sure how to address her. When she was a child, most of the times she had spoken to the faerie had involved a splinter or a skinned knee or an apology for dragging one of her friends Ironside for a prank. “Spike said you had something to tell me.”
    The Thistlewitch regarded her for a long moment, as if taking her measure.
    “So much focus on the egg—it is life, it is food, it is answer to a hundred riddles—but look at its shell. The secrets are writ on its walls. Secrets lie in the entrails of things, in the dregs.” The Thistlewitch poked a pin into either side of a tiny blue egg and put it to her lips. Her cheeks puffed out with air, and a trickle of clear, thick snotlike liquid drizzled into a copper bowl in her lap.
    Kaye looked at the eggshells, still bobbing down the stream. She didn’t understand. What secrets did they hold, except a spider and a pin?
    The Thistlewitch tapped the

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