The seasonal wights did not come in airs of pestilence, as their cousins, the blights. They came on the equinoctial turns, when the smells of the seasons lured them from their woody haunts. Men at harvest time wrought such aromas as disturbed the curious; threshing wheat, freshly mown grass, baking pies, and spices, carried by the blustery air, crinkled elfin mouths and eagle-sharp noses; and brought autumn and spring mischief.

A wife might find her child replaced by a squash-headed scarecrow, turn in fright to scream the thief’s crime, and meet her bouncing baby as he dangled from a spider’s web, tangled and bawling but no worse for wear. And a man was heard in Fordham’s Glen to have returned home early from his woodcutting with a gold-headed axe, only to find a rusted scythe in his bindle come the dawn.

By and large the seasonal wights were not the violent sort of forest folk, and they did love Ada Antietam’s pumpkin cider and tarts as well as any man in the country. And Ada was of a particular temperament, such that too much hocus pocus round the equinox would sour cider, fritter, tarts and all – a prospect pleasing to no creature on the living side of life.

It is not possible to acclimate to invisible guests, no matter their manner (and badgers misplaced in sugar bowls are still nuisances, sweet teeth notwithstanding). It was a rustic magic, the magic of the wights, a glamour that mirrored the country life, with her tribulations and her long, slow to provide but bountiful to reap rewards. Rustic magic was prideful and antiquated, but it had always worked.

Magic in those days was not for entertainment; it was a reminder of the necessities that conditioned country folk to endure strangers, to practice the patience that was preached. Magic was a way of life, as were the blights, as were the deaths of children not rocked in spiders’ webs, as was a good crop, as was a bad crop, as was the gentleness of a new fawn on a freshly harvested field. The wights came with the seasons, with a thumping and a bumping, and they were seen as a good omen. It meant the land smelled good enough to bother.

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