The Witch Bridle

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Chapter 54

They coursed around boulders and dells. There were foot tracks under dark overarching trees with moss covered trunks and roots. In Oona’s view, they had not made good time this Easter Sunday. And though they progressed relentlessly northward, Oona worried that they could run out of time and fail in their mission, or die trying.

“Look Oona: Blue Hill,” Louis called out in the colorless light of late afternoon.

“How do you know that?” she asked. Louis’ remarks jolted Oona from her daze. With the lush forest all around them, she was unsure herself. “Was it another field trip?”

“Yes, he smiled proudly. “We went on a field trip there too, but where are the towers, Oona?”

“You mean you will take a field trip here in 320 years or so,” she corrected him. “The towers: they are not yet built, boy.” Oona conceded all her respect for the young boy’s knowledge and his joie de vivre. Public money, apparently used wisely, seemed to have met the children’s need to be connected to their land and to their heritage.

They traveled along the western edges of Blue Hill, where they inhaled the freshness from the cold, wet mountain air. Near dusk and though worn and sodden, they climbed granite structures where they could, and also scaled a few farmers’ walls on their exhaustive march toward Milton, gateway to Boston. They were careful not to slip on the small boulders which studded the faster moving, shallow streams. And if they were not so miserably wet and tired, Oona and the boy would surely have enjoyed the freshness of the clean and lively emerald green water of the streams and brooks.

Oona worried about Louis and how much more of this the boy could endure. The seventy pound child had not really complained much about the physical activity, and as part of Oona’s careful planning, large waterways and major impediments were avoided wherever possible. But the navigation through the day’s wetlands – marshes and swamps – could surely bring catastrophe upon them both. And a long march with terrible conditions, with little comfort, were a serious threat to their mission. Soon they’d be walking in near-total darkness and would continue on until they reached their goal.

As the pair slogged on toward Milton they wound themselves around endless trees and other obstructions: wet, dry, and everything in between. They went uphill and downhill, unevenly on banks and over brooks, and through thick rocky underbrush. Once dusk arrived, around 6PM, sightings began to turn barely detectible. Then everything grew dark with the diminished brilliance of the moon, and the sky turned black with white stars.

“The stars are so bright,” said Louis. He never recalled seeing the stars so bright in the night.

Temperatures dropped and the cold trend continued. Neither traveler wore gloves. Their bare hands grew numb, along with their feet and frozen pale faces. This second night of foot travel grew more difficult with time. The night conditions degraded and the moon shrank with the worsened weather. There were thorns in the dead of night that invisibly tore into their skin and garments without warning. Oona had not seen a milestone for a while and remained committed to move on to the fringes of Milton. It nearly broke her spirit but she would not enter the town on the Easter Sabbath. They would keep moving until they had nothing left in them. And there they would spend the night.

“Our days will be difficult and long.” she said to the boy. “We have traveled in this world for two days now and it will soon be time to rest.” They kept their broken pace, and only a few minutes later Louis fell violently ill.

“What is it Louis?” she cried.

He said nothing and violently heaved his stomach contents onto the cold, dark ground.

“Are you okay? God knows what it took to make you sick,” Oona lamented aloud. “The farmer’s clothes, lice, bedbugs perhaps? Who knew,” she said with complete uncertainty. “Who knows what you caught? Exhaustion, allergies maybe something you ate? Please Louis, be okay.”

Louis still gagged with dry heaves.

In the dark Oona hastily assembled a make shift camp in a nook. That the boy could actually die on the journey, struck fear deep into Oona’s heart. “Our second night under the stars, and with a waning moon.” With tremendous effort, she kept her rising panic at bay.

“I’m really cold Oona,” Louis finally said.

“I shall be ready in a minute. And you shall feel fine soon, boy. It will be just like home,” she smiled. The witch hastily fixed blankets on the cold damp soil, under occasionally rare patches of moonlight on an otherwise black landscape. With no tent for shelter and little else to shield themselves from the elements, Oona nearly gave up on the notion to collect dry wood for a fire. Still she gathered handfuls of fallen red oak leaves, suitable for tinder, though wet and damp. Then she withdrew the matches stowed in the pouch of her cloak and found them all soft and wet, unusable. By this time Louis laid down on a blanket and shivered moderately. Oona drew all her remaining strength and concentration to ignite the leaves by pyrokinesis and set the kindling wood ablaze. Frantically she collected brush and sticks and logs of all shapes and sizes, to feed the emergent fire. “Without shelter, natural caves or crude lean-twos, this fire under the night sky will have to do.”

Gradually the pair grew drier by their Easter Sunday camp fire, in an area of relative obscurity, not likely to be noticed by man, under the watchful, gleaming eyes of the raccoons which surrounded them.

“How are you, boy?” Oona asked, still very concerned though with her mind adrift. She cradled the boy in her arms. This could hold up our travels and cause our mission to fail. She gently swayed with the boy’s head rested on her lap. I am resourceful and brilliant and I shall – we shall – find the way to annihilate her! If it kills us!

“It is too early to eat berries, boy,” she whispered to the young one. “Have you been eating berries, my dear boy Louis? Or mushrooms? Be careful, my love; select only the known varieties,” she said tiredly. “Do not eat those things which you do not recognize.” Oona yawned.

“Okay,” Louis evenly responded.

Once the boy had stabilized, Oona turned her attention to her medicines and charms. With the five pointed leaf she chanted for health, power, and wisdom. “I shall burn, possess, and carry these traits,” she said as she tossed three of the leaves into the fire. “What pestilence is this? Intestinal worms, even plague!” she softly recited. And with ointments and herbs, Oona managed to settle the boy’s fever and help him sleep.

“Sleep now, Louis. Soon enough it will be time to move on.” After a slight pause, Oona added, “Tomorrow to fresh Woods, and Pastures new.”

“What?” Louis tiredly asked her.

“It is a famous verse from John Milton,” she answered with a small wink.

“Does he live around here?” the boy asked softly.

“No dear boy. John Milton died before this time. He served Oliver Cromwell. Do you know Cromwell? His was a time of great upheaval.”

Louis looked puzzled. “So is Milton just Milton?”

“Well, yes. This Town of Milton, where we soon shall be, was named for Milton Abbey, in Dorset, England.”

“So?” he asked lucidly.

Oona girlishly shrugged and said, “The only thing I know is that Dorset is where your Goodberry ancestors stemmed.”

“Oh,” Louis said, and his eyes drew closed. Oona’s casual comment reminded the boy that his ancestors formed a part of Lucia’s story.

Oona cast a simple Spell of Safety on the boy, though she regretted she delivered the charm a little late. By now she was totally depleted.

“Tell me a story,” Louis mildly requested.

“And so you shall have one,” she tiredly assured him. Oona opened her eyes wide and took a deep breath. She had to think of something and she finally did.

“The independent town of Milton lies on the Neponset River and was once part of Dorchester which is a part of Boston. Milton was settled by the Puritans, the strictest of the Protestant sects.”

“Sex?” he asked.

“Ah, no. Say ‘S-E-C-T-S,’ ‘sects.’ It is a religious society and Puritans were a sect in Boston and Salem back in the time we are in now.”

“Oh,” he sighed.

“Puritan society successfully resisted the efforts of Quakers and Baptists to settle in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.”

“Cool,” he whispered. He dosed in and out of a soft sleep.

Bore him to sleep.

“Milton today, I do mean now, in 1692, is mostly farms and open land. You will see in the morning. Yes, it is agriculture boy.”

She heard his long breaths. “Go to sleep, boy.”

“I’m just gonna rest my eyes,” he whispered.

His words surprised her. Oona poked him gently and said, “Sweet dreams, my little one.”

And he rolled over and fell into a peaceful sleep.

As Oona followed the boy into slumber she reminded herself they had apparently survived Easter Sunday in Puritan times. This Easter Sabbath had been a long day, from sun up to sundown, and that no amount of money, public or private, could ever recreate what she had seen before her very own eyes. And for the boy, there was no level of modern day child enrichment that could ever span the depth and breathe of it all.

Oona awoke with cold hands and feet, though they were no longer numb. She inched closer to Louis and saw his malaise had receded overnight. And so has the risk of failure! With that realization, and once she had fully awakened, Oona felt replenished. Then shortly thereafter she saw Milton Town off in the near distance.

Enthusiastically, and with enough replenishment from the last night’s sleep, Oona cast a Freeze Spell upon one then another unsuspecting rabbit, and skinned them with her knife and prepared each one for the smoldering fire. While she waited for Louis to wake, Oona collected more wood and procured several obscure items for their journey, to add to those she had already picked up. And once the boy rose for morning, he awoke to the delicious fragrance of roasted meat and the sight of scattered items which seemed to make no sense.

“What is this stuff?” he asked her. Her rested on his side, with one hand which propped up his head.

“We have goose and duck down here, and a red-tailed hawk feather,” she pointed.

“Wow. Why?” he asked.

“Little things that serve no practical purpose are sometimes of extraordinary value,” she said.

On the fringes of increased foot traffic to Milton Town that Easter Monday morning, was the pristine nature of the wilderness south of Boston. There were mostly woods. The spring in the air was muted by the coldness. Snow was in places and several birds’ nests piled high with white stood, though likely abandoned. Fortunately the morning was without the wet and bitter times they had experienced yesterday. Luscious ground cover of all shades of green, cropped close to the ground like myrtle and ivy, and mixed with wildflowers and early mayflowers of pinkish-white etched with farmers’ fields of all colors and hues, from emerald to brown. There were fruit trees in orchards and in the distance in the direction of Milton, she smelled the pleasant smells of home.

Oona beheld the colorful fields that lined the fringes of the Milton River which led to Milton. And that Easter Monday morning, March the twenty-eighth, Oona and Louis reached Milton. They approached the town as ox drawn carts and single horse wagons ambled past them on the roadway. They were greeted last by an old grist mill, an odd looking one even for the time. Two weathercocks sat upon its storied roof, and its surroundings were littered with granite millstones – one at least five feet across – and rotary quern stones of all sizes and conditions.

“Grist-to-the-Mill,” my dear boy,” Oona said.

“Huh,” he asked with some interest.

“Grinding. This place uses the river water to turn stones which grind grain into flour.”

“Okay,” Louis said while he walked behind Oona over the small foot bridge that led them into town. Louis felt much, much better. He was tired but had had an outstanding time and didn’t even remember that much about being sick. “It had been an amazing couple of days,” he thought. It’s insane to see people of this past time. How would anybody ever believe me?

Louis moved beside Oona when a stray dog, friendly enough, crossed their path. The animal reminded Louis of his own dog Stinkly, and he wondered how the family was back in the future. Then he heard Oona say:

“Boy: we need to wash up, get provisions and have a sit down meal at an inn.” She looked closely at her charge. “Are you alright, Louis? Are you holding up?”

“I’m good Oona. Let’s keep going.”

Louis followed in Oona’s path and noticed a number of people in their “Pilgrim Attire.” On their way to the Green, they passed by the meeting house, and Oona replenished her water skin in the town square.

Though they outwardly appeared at ease with the nearby people of the time, Oona knew it was very risky behavior. Anything could give them away. Privately Oona was very pleased with the workmanship of her friend Heida and the authenticity of the garments she produced.

Inside the inn there were rough-hewn floors and humble people, intense and all-pervasive. They were evidently accustomed to travelers as they took notice of Oona whose white dress collar accentuated her deep, rich skin. At what was a desk of sorts, a hideously ugly man with a gummy smile and with eyes clouded over with cataracts gladly befriended Oona and, as if under a spell, he provided ample food, comfort, and additional currency of the times. He even offered them dry clothing, in addition to what they already possessed. They were directed to a room, to be paid for by the hour, where the pair caught their collective breaths after one very long Easter Sunday.

“First, let us take inventory of what we have, what we need, and what we do not need. One thing I do know is we shall be dry and refreshed by the time we leave this place. We can also use dry meat and dry fruit to carry.”

Nearby was a public bathhouse with wooden tubs of fresh warm water and adjacent benches. A small fireplace with ample wood maintained warmth. Oona and Louis took their baths and even washed some laundry.

“It’s been awesome, Oona,” Louis said from his bath. “It’s insane to see people of this past time. No one will ever believe me,” he said with a small smile and a gleam in his eyes.

They returned to their room where they spruced themselves up, and laid their things out on a crude table. Near the hearth they dried and rolled up their gear as best as they could. They warmed up and washed up in relative comfort and in preparation for the morning’s hike into Boston. Most importantly and thanks to the farmer, they had shoes and what little money he had given them. And even with what the inn keeper had given her, they had scarce money and they had few options but to keep walking.

“Louis, you must be careful and not say a word!” Oona warned. “If we are suspected of anything, we may find ourselves dead. We may barter and trade, coerce, and even steal what we need for Boston. And we are very close, Louis. We know where we are, and we are very close. Be careful and do not say a word!”

“Whatever,” he smiled.

In the inn was a dark tavern where the pair ate their meals of eggs, beans, and bread near a peculiar looking person who Oona discreetly noticed was inured to oculomancy. The diviner gazed into Oona’s infinitely deep black eyes and tried to read their reflections. Oona broke off the connection hurriedly and the man, with no known malice, reached out for her hand. Still she kept her distance and returned to her meal. “We must always be careful and vigilant with whom we can deal with, so as not to draw any suspicion,” she whispered to the boy.

The couple finished up at the inn and traveled downstream along the eastern bank of the Milton River. To their west were the sometimes-unfriendly Unquatiquisset of the Neponset Tribe of Massachusett Indians, who speared and netted fish from the teeming waterway and who ardently defended their land. Oona and Louis reached the river’s mouth around midday and could see, underneath the bright blue sky, the Dorchester high ground.

Both Oona and Louis were ecstatic with the experience of the relatively short walk from Milton.

Oona reckoned with the midday sunshine it was about noontime.

“The meridian,” she said.

The pair stumbled upon an old man with a skiff who for a single bead of black wampum took them the short way up to Dorchester Town. British coin were rare, as they found out, and always quickly exhausted by the colonists on traders’ wares. They bore witness to the tired, worn sailor of past times. Soon they noticed the great trees that covered the land in the distance, though they were not as high as what they had seen, and they quickly receded as they sailed along the tranquil coast toward Boston.

From the “wilderness” of Dorchester they cajoled the driver of a simple one-horse farm wagon to take them through the town and past Dorchester Heights.

“Look, Louis, the Mather School.” Pointed Oona, and though her voice was soft, she could hardly contain her enthusiasm. Louis, locked for the moment in silence, did not seem impressed at all by her disclosure.

“This is the first public elementary school in America, Louis,” she whispered. The driver, a kindly old bearded man clad in drab color clothes, could not hear her and barely took notice of his passengers.

They ambled into the country toward Gallows Bay, named for the gallows which stood at the edge of town, and which led the way to the city and the sea. The relative “vacation” and bed-of-straw luxury of the wagon was wholly welcome. The driver took them as far as Boston Neck, the only road in and out of Boston, and here they readied for their final “sprint” to Boston.

A great place as it lived in the past.

By the time Oona and Louis disembarked, they felt largely assimilated and acclimated to their new world. Amidst the glorious spring day, neither could think of their own time back in the future. On foot they walked the relatively smooth two miles or so up the Boston Neck, unnoticed except for an occasional glance at Oona’s exceptional and natural beauty.

“Easter Monday, my boy, and we are on schedule! Or nearly so. We are almost in Boston, namesake to Boston, England in Lincolnshire, of course, founded by European settlers, among them Robert Goodberry, your forebear, and from where some very prominent colonists originated.” Oona was brilliantly animated now, and hardly took a breath. Louis swept his head from side and they walked along the Neck to the broad and busy roadway of Orange Street, the main road through the isthmus which connected Boston to the mainland.

“Yes, Louis, Boston, still ruled at this time by a powerful theocracy armed with the Puritanic code of law.”

The child walked on and did not acknowledge Oona’s prompts.

The street now had grassy edges and a small green appeared on their right, where spectators had assembled around a crude scaffold and whipping post. Women wore simple white bonnets and dresses, all with embroidered stomachers, and milled about as by-standers to a display of public discipline for some infraction. The crowd was noticeably mixed with those who were born and bred in Old England alongside their descendants born in the New World. There were some six generations separated by now from the earliest European settlers. And the newer generations were thought to be generally of a softer stock.

“Then there is the Boston of a deep harbor,” Oona said casually, as if she knew her comments would not divert the boy’s attention from the prisoner. Privately Oona seethed at the sight of the cruel display. “And an advantageous geography which helped it become the busiest port in the Massachusetts Colony. What you will see today, Louis, far surpasses the colonial ports of both Salem and Plymouth. And Boston shall remain the largest and wealthiest and most influential city in the United Colonies for the next hundred years! Yes, my boy, Boston is good enough to make me love history!”

The Town Hall Church was nearby, surrounded with schrubbery and greenery which neither had ever beheld, and was guarded by a small number of Town Beadles, with their black coats, starched bands, and steeple crowned hats. There was no show of sympathy from anyone, only faces of stone. There the magistrates stood, with their gowns of rich velvet, alongside ministers and clergy men, all guided by the unseen hand of Cotton Mather, the infamous Puritan minister who history remembers supported the witch trials.

The pair proceeded northeast on foot and eventually came upon a larger gathering of people. They were of all ages and manner of dress. An imposing meeting house glared at them from across the grassy wayside. As the pair moved closer they saw that a ceremony of some sort was in progress. There were bearded deacons and a man in a Geneva-gown with white preaching tabs. From what Oona could hear, it sounded as if a First-naming or some other right of the English baptism was in progress. The English born and bred freely mingled with their provincial descendants, complete with recitations of long-winded, boring English names, bestowed upon some completely innocent newborn child. Still, it was a beautiful spring day for an outside ceremony.

As respectfully as they could, Oona and Louis steered their way past the group and continued to walk down the main thoroughfare. They eventually came to a tall handsome clock tower – the first either had seen in this time – and which advised them it was 1:45PM. A decorative weathervane adorned its peak. Along the way, there were a few hooded women who tended their garden fences at this hour of day, under the latticed window panes of their small homes.

Their final miles into Old Boston were arduous in spite of the mild and magnificent day. The packed dirt under their battered shoes and thin soled feet was monotonous at best and unsteady in the softer spots in the road. In its entirety, the thoroughfare betrayed the steady march of the white man in North America. The history before them unfolded as a living masterpiece of the past. And by late afternoon, they traversed through town and approached the Harbor, within sight of Charlestown.

Out in the Harbor they saw tall ships of many nations. French were not among them; the Spanish Main was most prominent. Trade included military commerce and depended on who was at war with whom. There were longboats and fleets, and surely Slavers among them: the Slave Ships which carried their cargo of human misery.

Not only was Harbor Town the picturesque vision of the living past. The Town-House, located on the site of what was to become the famous “Old State House” where in 1776 the Declaration of Independence was read. “This place, this open-walled public place, served as both a town hall and the seat of colonial government in 1692,” Oona articulated to Louis as she pointed to its marketplace filled with townspeople. “Destroyed by fire twenty years hence,” she said. “Look at this! Plenty of cool shade under the overhang with stout posts that hold the upper stories.” The wood framed building, with two turrets and rails around the rectangular roof, also house meeting places and Boston’s first public library.”

Inside the structure, there were large rooms for courts and general meetings, and the steep staircase brought them to the reading rooms with all their books. They were left largely to themselves to explore the great and lesser works of the age tucked into the half story chambers. Period ornaments adorned the short windows of the lighted gables.

The outdoor marketplace had all the latest “triple ruff” fashions from England. There were draperies and rolls of fabric, costumes and dyes, wines and dry goods. A farmers’ market was across the way on King Street, with “Screwed Straw” – woven hay – that separated stalls and wagons, and carts full of fresh vegetables, live chickens and fish. The rich, filthy streets and alleys carried raw sewage out into the harbor, and the street smells of the precinct, of which God alone knew the mixture, were proportionate to the width of the alleys they navigated. Down winding shadowy lanes they walked, in the old-fashioned town, with uneven pavement and paving stones which had to be watched carefully. There were two storied houses with rough-hewn clapboards or broad planks, and diamond shaped windows, swung open wide to attract cleaner fragrances.

The travelers worked the meandering streets past brick houses and stately three story homes. Once they passed stables and rear grounds, they found reasonable accommodations near the docks and within easy distance to Charlestown. The innkeeper, whose avarice was evident, was drunk and weathered by time and a hard life. A superficial representative of a half-culture, misogynist society, the man’s cupidity went unfulfilled and they rented a room for the night, with Oona’s charms and much of what remained of their currency. Once they settled in, they found places in the adjoined tavern, where another foul mouthed misogynist, evidently drunk, hurled insults at anyone who entered into the place. The place was a bit of a character bar. They passed unquestioned by the small numbers of people inside, where everyone seemed thoroughly engaged in their own world. Oona and the boy were reasonably well seated on a bench at a crooked and greasy oak table near the back corner of the premises.

“Why don’t people damn the devil instead of God?” Louis confided in Oona.

How profound, Oona thought, and she had no answer; nothing.

“It doesn’t make sense,” said Louis.

“We will say, ‘May the devil be damned,’ now won’t we Louis?”

“People don’t really say that,” he countered.

“They most certainly do, boy,” Oona insisted.

“They just damn God.”

Just then a young maid with an opened bodice came by with an eye to take an order. And she noticed Oona.

The next moment it seemed Louis and Oona were fully feasted and left the tavern to walk outside for a while. It was close to dusk when they returned to the marketplace square, surrounded now by lamps and lanterns.

“Yes, even in the Boston of 1692, there are fairs and festivals and things that makes people happy.” Oona walked strongly and sarcastically. “This particular festival, only one day after the ‘immoral Popish celebration of Easter,’ and in spite of Cotton Mather, poses little danger from Church militants,” she added emphatically.

“With today’s weather the good day no doubt adds to the cheery mood.” There were crafts men all over the marketplace where the two wandered among artisans and jewelers, pottery makers and others. There were constables in the square now, paid by the warrants they served in the marketplaces. Oona observed they walked most freely among the shoppers and the philistines. All around the square there were jutting stories and gabled-peaks, and door steps with open thresholds. There stood a meeting house with a broad balcony and which dwarfed the adjacent houses, stables and other structures.

“It’s like Disney World,” Louis whispered, “Like being in a storybook. This is so, so right.”

“Or inside a history book,” Oona answered with a smile. Boastfully she added, “Fortunately I am now well versed in early American History.”

Louis nodded, seemingly unimpressed.

“What is your business?” a constable suddenly asked, as if he had come out of nowhere.

“As you can surmise, kind sir, we are not of this province and you must forgive our ignorance. We are just on our way back to the inn down there.” And she pointed the way nearer the waterfront, and then looked directly at the tall bearded man. He was likely English born and bred.

“Then be on your way,” he said with no expression, and the pair’s encounter with the peace officer on patrol that night, ended as it had begun: suddenly.

Back at the tavern adjacent to their inn, Louis regarded one man as somewhat of a Simpson’s cartoon character. Oona nodded in agreement and cautioned the boy on the use of his muted voice. Though seemingly unnoticed by everyone else, Oona observed a man in the darkest corner of the place, with a tray of shallow water from which waves and ripples were studied and interpreted. She recalled that information gleaned by a water-reader could guide important decisions in one’s life; decisions of love or marriage, finances or travel, or business. It could be almost anything.

“How provincial,” she calmly stated with a small smile.

Then with a bit of cunning Oona used charms of her own to glean information on Salem and what lay between there and this Boston tavern. With the water-reader, Oona the weary traveler with the dumb boy who traversed the wilderness, explained how they had traveled through wilderness and finally made camp at this point, still many miles from their destination. From the reader there emerged a safe passage forward for Oona and her charge.

More relaxed in their evening setting, Oona used her charms to convince a wary audience of their mission and stirred their collective manhood in the process. Oona charmed her way with the men now, without magic, for anything of value to assist with the mission, currency preferred.

Finally the two retired to their room, fatigued and very much at ease. They talked for a while and caught their collective breaths for the next leg of their mission. Then there was noise on the windows as rain pelted them.

“How fortunate we are under a roof this night,” Oona thought. They were warm and sheltered from the elements. Their small fireplace roared, its fierce and welcome flames lapped up the chimney. And most importantly, they had made real progress toward Salem.

And what an ordeal it has been so far.

Oona reclined beside the sleeping boy on a bug ridden bed of straw. Wary of Lice. Too small for the effects of magic! The alternative, the floor, was an even less attractive option. Oona thought of the Evil One’s death on Thursday, in less than three days.

“I planned for a seven days’ journey,” she whispered. “The most typical execution day was Friday. How could my assumptions have been so flawed?” Oona struggled anew with her unplanned imperfections.

The first step to stifle the power of the Black Witch was to plan accordingly, to make allowances for discrepancies and holes in the scant written records of the period. “Now we have fewer days, and two days’ hard travel that lay ahead,” Oona mumbled. Then she paused her mind and decided to sleep.

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