Matthew and his mother hurried home. His mother was anxious to get home and hide the crown before the workers got back from the fields. She reminded him again, “And don’t tell anyone where we went or about the crown. Not anyone, you understand?”
“What about Father?”
“I will talk to your Father.”
He knew she wouldn’t. It made him uncomfortable, but he didn’t argue. He though instead about his new crown. He ached to unwrap it from the moldy canvas it was wrapped in and polish it, polish it, polish it until it gleamed like the sun. He knew it could. Oh, what a beautiful thing it was! He glanced again to his mother. She like it, he knew she did. He had seen the way she admired the beautiful gems, the shining gold. She hadn’t said anything, but he knew that this was what she had wanted him to take. He had seen the way she had admired the jewelry in the shops, the stuff they couldn’t really afford. Maybe he would have a gem removed and make a beautiful necklace for her, or give it to his father to give to her. He knew she wanted it. She deserved it. Or he could give her the whole crown and make her a queen! She felt his stare again and smiled down at him, and he knew she was pleased. He smiled back, clutching the crown tightly against his chest. He was going to be a great man, and while everyone was admiring him, he would turn them to his mother and say, “Behold, the true hero!”
There weren’t too many people outside at that hour, most of them being inside to prepare supper for the soon-returning workers. Matthew and his mother went into the house without seeing more than five people, and she closed the door with a sigh of relief. She smiled down at him. “Well, my little man.”
“Well, my old woman.”
She laughed and gently slapped him for impudence. She sent him up to the loft to rest until supper, and she went to the kitchen to check the soup. He paused a moment to admire her, still lovely in her strangely immaculate gown. How had she managed to remain so clean through all that? He glanced down at his own clothes and was surprised to see that he too was without spot. He shifted. It was made the rest of the afternoon seem like it never happened. He looked down at the bundle in his hands, reverently peeling away the molding cloth and revealing the splendor within. He smiled to himself. Oh yes, it was real.
He spent the evening polishing the crown, and it sparkled just as he knew it would. His mother glanced up at him every now and again, but there was little mystery in the crown. No interesting inscriptions to wonder over, no hidden meanings: just a magnificent crown. He was obliged to hide it in his trunk when the rest of his family came home, but life seemed otherwise normal. His father wanted to give him another day to rest and heal, but he insisted that he was better, pointing hopefully to the successful rabbit hunt. With his mother’s support, his father eventually relented and Matthew went out with his father and siblings the next morning.
There was a fuss kicked up that morning by one of his mother’s enemies, a woman named Rebecca Jones, but she disappeared later that same evening. From what the constable told the village, she and her son went into the woods to track where he and his mother had gone, but they never came back. The constable had Amelia take him out to where they had gone, so that they could search for the pair, but they never found anything and Matthew suspected that his mother just led them out into the woods to a blackberry patch or something. There were a few nervous cries of foul play, but nobody found any evidence of anything and so blamed it on the local outlaws. He didn’t like to think about what actually did happen to them if they had managed to find the witch’s home with ill intentions. The whole thing quietly went away over the next few weeks.
Time wore on and nothing came of the crown. He certainly loved to look at it, even wear it on occasion, but it offered him no magic that he could see, no dramatic change, and the novelty of it wore off after the first month. Life moved on and he sometimes had to wonder if the visit to the old woman ever actually happened. Once in a while, he would dig the crown back out of the patch of dirt behind the garden, just to convince himself that it was real. He never spoke of it with anyone, not even his mother after those first couple of days.
That summer was dry, as had been predicted, and it snowed little in the winter, too. Slowly, the streams and rivers of Clearwater dried away to barren beds and a drought crept over the land.