“And he swore that the water was freezing, and he even made this big show of shivering all over, and then–”
Toadmila raised her eyes from the roots she was chopping and threw Jane such an icy look that the girl froze mid-sentence.
“Why are you here?” Toadmila asked.
“I came to thank you,” Jane said bewildered, as if the answer should have been obvious. “So, anyway, we're getting married in June. John would have wanted to have the wedding faster, and I would have wanted to have the wedding faster, but Father said we should wait. Because we don't have enough room for everybody in our house, so we'll have to have the party in the fields, and we'd better wait for warm weather. So it's going to be in June, just to make sure it doesn't snow. It did snow in May a few years ago, and it nearly always snows in April, just one or two days, but you can never know when. And, anyway, I can't invite you to the wedding because...”
“Because I'm a witch,” Toadmila pointed out. “And a wedding should be all about the bride. You can't have the guests playing tag with a witch all over the fields on your big day.”
“Well, I was more afraid that they'd catch you and burn you at the stake on my big day,” Jane said. “But, anyway, I can't invite you to the wedding, but I'm going to do something even better. I'm going to name my first child after you.”
“Please don't!” Toadmila said quickly, nearly cutting her finger along with the bloodthorn roots she was chopping. “Especially if it's a boy.”
“Is it going to be boy?” Jane asked, her eyes sparkling.
“There's as much of a chance of it being a boy as there's of it being a girl,” Toadmila answered. “And you shouldn't name a girl after me either, not if you care about her.”
Jane looked puzzled.
“Oh, I forgot!” she said. “What is your name? I can't just call you 'witch' forever.”
“It's Toadmila Wartly,” the witch said, not raising her eyes from her chopping board.
“Oh.” Jane's voice sounded a little sharper than usual. “What do your friends call you?”
Toadmila shrugged. The other children at the orphanage used to call her Toad, but she wasn't going to tell Jane about that name. She was hoping she'd left it behind for good. And the others at the Academy just called her Wartly, like the teachers did.
“I don't have any friends,” Toadmila said, throwing the chopped roots into the simmering cauldron.
“Did they... did something happen to them?” Jane asked.
“I've never had any friends,” Toadmila clarified, seeing that the girl had turned pale all of a sudden.
“Oh.” Jane's blood returned to her cheeks in an instant. She seemed hesitant for a bit. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked. But it's never too late to start. I suppose I could be the first one.”
“Just as long as you don't name a child after me,” she said, starting to chop another root.