Witches' Brew by Terry Brooks

  Questor sighed, “That is a matter of some speculation at present.”

  “It doesn’t matter; you can stay with me. I still live out in Woodinville, but not at Graum Wythe anymore. We have a house, my dad and me, down the road a short distance. Dad still looks after the estate and manages the castle. But he’s away until late next week, so we have the place to ourselves. Except for Mrs. Ambaum. She’s the housekeeper. My keeper, too.” She giggled. “I’ll tell you later. Abernathy, I just can’t believe this. Look at you!”

  Abernathy turned red. “Well,” he managed.

  “Maybe we should go now,” Questor advised. “To your house, Elizabeth. We really need to sit down and talk.”

  “Sure,” Elizabeth quickly agreed. “Let me tell my friends I’m leaving. I rode down here on the bus, so we’ll have to take the bus home. I’ve got enough money for the three of us, I think. Hope so, because I bet you don’t have any. Boy, this sure is strange, isn’t it, meeting again like this?”

  Questor Thews nodded, looking around absently at the crowds and the festival. Music rolled across the open spaces between buildings. Flags and balloons floated in the warm breeze. Cooking smells filled the air. Laughter and singing rose from every quarter. Bumbershoot, festival of the arts. Seattle, Washington, United States. The High Lord’s old world. Now Elizabeth. It was strange, all right. It was also the most colossal coincidence he had ever encountered—or it was something far more complicated. He didn’t say so, but he favored the latter interpretation.

  He thought they might do well to figure it all out before anything else happened.

  Graum Wythe Redux

  After Elizabeth had made excuses to her friends, she guided Abernathy and Questor Thews through the Bumbershoot crowds past a building called the Center House, a collection of mechanical rides filled with screaming children, and a series of food stands to a platform that serviced a monorail—which was something new to Questor, who hadn’t spent as much time in the High Lord’s old world as Abernathy. After a brief wait they boarded the monorail and rode downtown. Abernathy took great delight in his familiarity with things, his spirits further buoyed by the incredible fact of his transformation. As they sat in the monorail and passed down the track toward the tall buildings of the city, he kept looking at his reflection in the glass window next to him, not yet quite able to believe that it was true, worried deep inside that he might change back again at any moment.

  But it was true, and there was no indication that he was going to revert. He was himself once more, a whole man, the exact same man, in fact, he had been when Questor had first changed him into a dog, rather average-looking, medium height and weight, hair dark and lank where it framed his bookish face. His rimless glasses sat comfortably upon his nose, fitting him perfectly, as if it made no difference whether he was a man or a dog. His eyes were wide-set and brown in color. His mouth was full, and his chin firm. An average face, certainly, but still and all a good one.

  And it was his. Looking at it in the window glass, he felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. The last time he had passed into Ben Holiday’s world, he had been forced to pretend he really was a dog to avoid a good many unpleasantnesses. Magic was not accepted here. Talking dogs were unheard of. Abernathy had been an oddity of monumental importance, and there had been more than one attempt to exploit the fact. So he had crept about like a thief in the night, playing at being something he wasn’t, embarrassed and frightened. Now he could walk about like everyone else because he looked like everyone else. He fit comfortably in place. Well, more so than he would have if he had still been a dog. This was, after all, not his own country. But when he finally got back to Landover …

  It made him smile to think about it.

  “How does it feel?” Elizabeth asked him suddenly. She had been watching him. “Being a man again?”

  Abernathy had the decency to blush. “I can’t seem to stop looking at myself. I apologize. But it does feel wonderful. I can’t tell you how wonderful. It has been a very long time, Elizabeth, since I was …” He trailed off. “I … I’m very happy.”

  She grinned in response. “Do you know something? You are quite handsome.”

  His mouth gaped. He could feel his cheeks burn.

  “No, really,” she insisted. “You are.”

  He expected at that point to hear a snide comment from Questor Thews, but the wizard was not paying attention to the conversation, his gaze turned away as he stared off into space, lost in thought. Abernathy muttered something unintelligible to Elizabeth and looked out the window at the passing buildings. Enough of admiring himself. He should be thinking, too. He should be trying to figure out what was going on. What was it that had brought them to this place and time, changed him back into a man, and linked him up once again with Elizabeth? Like Questor, he thought it an awfully large coincidence. He had the sense that there was machinery at work that he didn’t understand and probably should. But for the moment he was so caught up in his transformation that he could not bring himself to think of anything else.

  He looked at himself in the window one more time and almost started to cry. He was entitled to enjoy this feeling for a few moments more, wasn’t he? After all, he had waited so long!

  At the end of the monorail line they departed their car and entered a tall building set among other tall buildings, the whole of it very imposing, almost overwhelming, and from there they followed stairs, some of them actually moving, to an underground station, where they boarded a bus. Questor didn’t know about buses, either, so Abernathy took a moment to explain how they worked and got it wrong. Elizabeth giggled and set them both straight. By now they were far enough removed from Bumbershoot that people were beginning to take notice of their somewhat odd clothing—Questor in his gray, patched robe with its brightly colored sashes and Abernathy in his crimson-lined, silver-trimmed riding cloak—but no one was rude enough to say anything. The bus took them underground for a ways, stopping twice, and then exited from a tunnel back into the sunshine of the late afternoon. They were on a roadway packed with other vehicles spread out in lanes that stretched away into the distance. No one was moving very fast. They sat at the back of the bus and stared out the windows, and for a time no one said much of anything.

  “Are Ben Holiday and Willow well?” Elizabeth asked finally, speaking to Abernathy.

  He said they were. He told her then about Mistaya. One thing led to another. When Questor didn’t give him a pointed look or offer a word of caution, he went on to tell her about Nightshade and the attack on the caravan that had been taking the little girl to stay with her grandfather. He kept his voice low so that no one sitting close could hear. Not that there was much chance of that happening, what with all the noise the bus made. He told her how they had thought themselves finished once Nightshade had summoned her formidable magic but then had inexplicably found themselves in the High Lord’s old world, in Seattle, at Bumbershoot. She was aware of the rest.

  “It’s all very strange,” she said when he was done. “I wonder why you ended up back here.”

  “Indeed,” Questor Thews said without looking over.

  “I would like to live in your world,” she offered suddenly. “There’s always so much happening.”

  Abernathy looked at her in surprise, then looked quickly away.

  They rode the bus to a stop in Woodinville, then got off and walked rather a long way out into the country. Houses and traffic faded away, the day cooled, and the sun dropped toward the mountains that framed the horizon. The land was forested and rolling about them, filled with pungent smells and birdsong. The road they followed ran straight and unhindered into the distance, empty of life.

  “I should tell you about Mrs. Ambaum,” Elizabeth said after a while. She had her face scrunched up, the way she always did when she was addressing a doubtful subject. “She’s the housekeeper. She lives with us. Dad’s away a lot, and she looks after me while he’s gone. She’s pretty nice, but she thinks all
kids—that’s me and anyone else under twenty-five or so—can’t stay out of trouble. It’s not that she thinks we go looking for it; it’s that she thinks we can’t avoid it. So she spends a lot of time trying to keep me tucked safely away in the house. She had a fit when I told her I was going by bus to Bumbershoot, but Dad had told her it was all right, so there wasn’t much she could do. Anyway, we had better come up with a story that will satisfy her about where you came from or there will be trouble for sure.”

  “The truth wouldn’t work, I suppose?” Questor asked.

  Elizabeth grinned. “The truth would blow her mind.”

  “We could stay somewhere else if we are going to be too much trouble,” Abernathy offered.

  “Yes, we could stay in a barn or out in a field, perhaps,” Questor declared, giving him a reproachful glance. “Really, Abernathy.”

  “No, no, you have to stay with me,” Elizabeth insisted quickly. “We have plenty of space. But we need a story for Mrs. Ambaum. How about this? Abernathy, you can be my uncle, visiting from Chicago. And Questor Thews is your friend, a professor of … geology. You’re fossil hunting. No, you’re participating in a forum on extinct species at the university, and you dropped by to see Dad, not knowing he was out of town, so I asked you to stay with us. There, that should work.”

  “We shall rely on you,” Questor Thews announced. He smiled bravely. “With luck, our visit should only be a short one.”

  “I wouldn’t bet on it,” Elizabeth said, and neither of her companions presumed to disagree.

  They arrived shortly afterward at a two-story home set back from the road in a grove of spruce and dogwood, the foundation bordered by flower beds, the walkway lined with petunias, and the yard dotted with rhododendrons. The building was wood-sided and painted white with deep blue trim. Window boxes filled with flowers decorated its front, and a covered porch with a swing and rockers ran its length. Dormers jutted out from the sloping roof, the windows brightly curtained, and massive stone chimneys bracketed the walls at either end. Sunlight streaked the house and yard through gaps in the trees, and an orange and white cat stalked into view and disappeared into a wall of bushes. Elizabeth took them up the walk to the door and rang the bell. There was no answer. Mrs. Ambaum had gone out, it appeared. Elizabeth fished in her pocket for a key, unlocked the door, and took them inside.

  “We’ll have to come up with an explanation for your not having any luggage, too,” she declared once she had made certain that Mrs. Ambaum was indeed out. “This might be harder than I thought.”

  She showed them the second-story bedroom where they would be staying, then brought them some of her father’s clothing, most of which fit after a fashion and was certainly less attention-getting than their own. When they were dressed, she guided them downstairs to the kitchen, sat them at the breakfast table, and set about making sandwiches. In short order they were eating. Both Abernathy and Questor found that they were hungrier than they had thought and quickly consumed everything they were given.

  When they were finished, the daylight fading rapidly now to dusk, they began to talk about what had happened. They remained at the table, drawn up close in their chairs, arms and elbows resting on the polished wooden surface, hands locked before them or cupping their chins, a thoughtful if somewhat perplexed threesome.

  “Well, we can be certain of this much, I think,” Questor Thews declared, opening the discussion. “Nightshade intended to see us destroyed, not transported to this world. We are here, therefore, in spite of her efforts and not because of them.”

  “Well, yes, of course,” Abernathy agreed impatiently. “That much we have already established, wizard. Tell us something new. What about me, for instance?”

  “You were changed at the same time. Transformed back into a man, then sent here, with me.” Questor rubbed his whiskers, his brow furrowing deeply. “It is all tied together somehow, don’t you think?”

  “I don’t know what to think,” Abernathy admitted. “What do you mean, tied together?”

  Questor steepled his fingers before his face. “We must assume, as I said earlier, that magic intervened to prevent the witch from destroying us. Whose magic, then? It could have come from the once-fairy, perhaps from the River Master himself, sent in an effort to save his granddaughter. It could have come from the Earth Mother; she has always been close to Willow and would have reason to want to protect her friend’s child.”

  Abernathy frowned. “Neither sounds exactly right. If the River Master or the Earth Mother had been watching out for Mistaya, how could Nightshade have gotten so close in the first place? Anyway, I saw nothing that would indicate Mistaya was about to be saved once we were dispatched.”

  “True, it doesn’t fit, does it?” Questor agreed.

  Elizabeth, who had been listening intently but saying nothing, now said, “Could it have been Mistaya herself who saved you? Does she have magic she can use?”

  They both looked at her at once, considering the possibility. “An excellent idea, Elizabeth,” Questor said after a moment. “But Mistaya is untrained in the use of whatever magic she possesses, and the magic that was used to deflect or alter Nightshade’s was both sophisticated and well practiced.”

  “Besides,” Abernathy interjected, “Mistaya was still sleeping. I saw her when I looked to see if she had been harmed. She was sleeping as if nothing had happened. I think the witch might have cast a spell on her to prevent her from waking.”

  “Entirely possible,” Questor agreed. He leaned back and pursed his lips. “Well, then. Some other magic intervened and saved our lives. It sent us to the High Lord’s old world, transformed Abernathy, and gave us the ability to speak and understand the language. But—and this is significant—it sent us here, to the very place we last appeared, where Abernathy was inadvertently exchanged for the Darkling, to the site of Graum Wythe, to what was once the home of Michel Ard Rhi. And,” he said, nodding meaningfully at Elizabeth, “to within a few feet of you.”

  Abernathy stared. “Wait one minute, Questor Thews. What is it you are saying here?”

  “What we all have said at one point or another since meeting up at the Bumbershoot festival: that ending up back here, close to Graum Wythe and practically in the arms of Elizabeth, is rather too large a coincidence to be swallowed in one bite. I would be willing to bet that there is a reason for everything that has happened to us. Whoever or whatever saved our lives did not do so haphazardly. It did so with foresight and purpose. We were saved for a reason. We were sent here, to the High Lord’s old world, but here to the site of Graum Wythe specifically, quite deliberately.”

  He paused, considering. “Elizabeth, didn’t you say that Graum Wythe is still here?”

  “Come look,” she offered, getting up from the table.

  She took them from the kitchen through a curtained door and out into the backyard, a well-tended lawn that spread away through a scattering of spruce to a split-rail fence. She took them midway to the fence, to where the trees opened up, then stopped and pointed right. There, silhouetted against the skyline by the fading light of the sun, stood Graum Wythe. The castle sat alone on a rise, ringed by its walls and warded by its towers. It sat solitary and immutable, black and brooding as the night swept toward it.

  Elizabeth lowered her arm. Specks of sunlight flashed in her curly hair. “Still there, right where you left it. Remember, Abernathy?”

  Abernathy shivered. “I could do without the reminder. It is as forbidding as ever, I must say.” A sudden thought chilled him further. “Michel Ard Rhi hasn’t come back by any chance, has he?”

  “Oh, no, of course not.” Elizabeth laughed disarmingly. “He moved down to Oregon, several hundred miles away. He gave Graum Wythe to the state as a museum. A trust fund administers the estate. My father is the chief trustee. He oversees everything. No, don’t worry. Michel is long gone.”

  “My magic made certain of that,” Questor Thews added pointedly.

  “I certainly hope so,” Aberna
thy muttered, thinking as he said it that Questor Thews’s magic had never been very reliable.

  They went back inside and resumed their places at the table. Darkness had fallen, and the last of the daylight had faded. Elizabeth poured them tall glasses of cold milk and produced a plate of cookies. Questor helped himself eagerly, but Abernathy found that he had lost his appetite.

  “So none of this is coincidence; all of it is part of some mysterious plan,” the scribe summed up doubtfully. “What plan?”

  Questor regarded him as he might an inattentive child, eyebrows lifting. “Well, I don’t know the answer to that, of course. If I did, we wouldn’t need to have this discussion, now, would we?”

  Abernathy ignored him. “An intervening magic saved us from Nightshade and sent us to the High Lord’s old world, to Earth, but in particular to Graum Wythe and Elizabeth.” He looked at Elizabeth. Then he looked at Questor. “I still don’t understand.”

  “I’m not sure I do, either,” Questor Thews admitted. “But assume for a moment that whoever or whatever helped us did so to help Mistaya as well. As far as we know, no one is aware of what happened to the child except for us. We know Nightshade took her. We know that the witch intends to use the child to gain revenge against the High Lord and that Rydall of Marnhull is part of her scheme. If we can get word to Ben Holiday, then he might be able to do something to disrupt the witch’s plans. Perhaps that is what we are meant to do. We are alive and here for a specific reason, Abernathy. What better reason than to discover a way to stop Nightshade before she carries out her scheme?”

  “Saved to fight another day, is that it?” Abernathy asked, scratching his head with his fingers instead of his hind leg and not thinking twice about it. “Maybe we were sent here simply to get us out of the way. Maybe our rescuer then saved Mistaya as well.”

  But Questor Thews shook his head emphatically. “No. No, I’m quite certain it didn’t happen that way. In the first place, if our rescuer was there all along, keeping watch for just this, as must have been the case given the quick response, why not save Mistaya early on? Why wait until the last moment? If our rescuer was looking simply to get us out of the way, as you put it, why send us all the way here? Why not send us back to Sterling Silver or some such? No, Abernathy, we are here for a reason, and it has something to do with saving Mistaya from the witch.”

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