Witches' Brew by Terry Brooks


  “You think the answer to all this lies in Graum Wythe, don’t you?” Elizabeth declared, making the jump in logic first.

  “I do,” Questor Thews replied. “Graum Wythe is a vast repository for artifacts of magic, some quite powerful. One of those artifacts could provide a way back into Landover. Or provide us with a means to foil the witch. The fact remains that without magic of some sort, we are trapped here and helpless to aid the High Lord or Mistaya. We do not have a way to pass through the fairy mists. No one knows where we are. No one will come for us. I think we are meant to find our own way home. I think we must if Ben Holiday and Mistaya are to be saved.”

  The three stared at each other, weighing the import of the wizard’s words.

  “Maybe,” Abernathy agreed finally.

  “There is no ‘maybe’ about it. Graum Wythe holds the answer to our dilemma,” Questor Thews continued solemnly. “But the key to Graum Wythe is you, Elizabeth. We were sent to you because your father is administrator of the castle and all its treasures. You have lived in the castle and are familiar with its holdings. You have access to places where others are not permitted. What we require is somewhere in that castle. I’m certain of it. We simply have to search it out.”

  “We can start tomorrow morning when the castle opens,” Elizabeth promised. “That’s the easy part. The hard part will be finding what it is you need when you don’t know what it is you’re looking for.”

  “True,” Questor Thews admitted with a slight shrug.

  “But what does all this have to do with my being changed from a dog back into a man?” Abernathy asked once more.

  He was still waiting for an answer to his question when there was the sound of a key turning in the front door lock and of the door opening. Three heads turned as one.

  “Elizabeth, are you home?” a woman’s voice called. “Mrs. Ambaum!” Elizabeth announced, making a face.

  For the moment at least, Abernathy’s question was left unanswered.

  Mrs. Ambaum proved to be less formidable than anticipated. She was a large, straight-backed woman with graying hair, a bluff face, and a suspicious mind, but she was not a villainous sort. Elizabeth offered her explanation of how Abernathy and Questor had come to visit and had been invited to stay, and Mrs. Ambaum, after a few perfunctory questions and a general disclaimer of responsibility, accepted their presence without further argument, retiring to her room at the back of the house for some herbal tea and television. Questor and Abernathy went to bed much relieved.

  They were up early the next morning and came down to breakfast to find Mrs. Ambaum already gone to her sister’s for the day. They ate hurriedly, anxious to get under way with their search of Graum Wythe, then cleared off their dishes and, with Elizabeth leading the way, headed out the door.

  It was a beautiful, cloudless, sun-filled day. Birds sang from the trees, and the air was fragrant with the smell of flowers and spruce. The company of three smiled agreeably as they departed the house, came down the walkway to the edge of the yard, turned left, and began following the road toward the castle.

  Elizabeth linked arms with Abernathy, grinning conspiratorially. Abernathy felt stiff and uncomfortable. “You look very nice in Dad’s clothes,” she told him. “Very distinguished. You should dress like this all the time.”

  “He should smile more, too,” Questor Thews added before he could think better of it.

  “This is so incredible, Abernathy, you being here again,” the girl continued, hugging his arm affectionately. “Look at you, just look! Who would believe what’s happened? Isn’t it wonderful? Aren’t you happy?”

  “Very,” Abernathy acknowledged, putting on his best face, though in truth he was still wondering what the price would be for his remarkable but still unexplained transformation. There was always a price for those things. He thought back to the mind’s eye crystals of Horris Kew. Always a price.

  Elizabeth was wearing a powder-blue sweatshirt that said something about Seattle grunge, a pair of jeans, and worn sneakers. Her hair was tousled artfully, and she was wearing violet eye shadow and dark magenta lipstick. Abernathy thought she had grown up awfully fast, but he kept it to himself.

  “Do you have family?” she asked him suddenly. “A wife and children?”

  He shook his head, a tad downcast.

  “Father and mother?”

  “Not for many years.” He could barely remember them.

  “Brothers and sisters?”

  “No, I’m afraid not.”

  “Hmmm. That’s rather sad, don’t you think? Maybe I should adopt you!” She grinned brightly. “Just kidding. But you really could be part of my family, since it’s rather small and could use another member or two. What do you say? An unofficial adoption, okay?”

  “Thank you, Elizabeth,” he replied, and was really quite touched.

  They strolled up the road, the older man with the electric white hair and beard, the younger man with the rimless glasses and the pensive face, and the curly-haired girl who seemed in charge of them both, closing on Graum Wythe like Dorothy and her companions at the Emerald City of Oz. Except, of course, that Graum Wythe, though castlelike and imposing, was in no other way anything at all like the Emerald City. It was not green or bright but stone-gray and dreary. No yellow brick road led to its entry, just blacktop. No fields of poppies surrounded its walls, although its working vineyards still showed touches of green. It was medieval and fortresslike with no pennants flying from its parapets, only the flags of the United States and the state of Washington to announce its entrance.

  Not that either Abernathy or Questor Thews knew anything about Oz or the Emerald City. Had they given the matter any consideration, they probably would have contrasted the drabness of Graum Wythe to the brightness of Sterling Silver, for instance. They were thinking, in fact, of very different things entirely. Abernathy was trying to conceive of what his life would be like now that he was no longer a man in dog form but a man for real. He was trying to picture himself in his new role in various situations. Questor Thews, on the other hand, was recalling his friend’s question of the previous night concerning what his change from dog back to man had to do with their coming to the High Lord’s world and hoping that his suspicions, unvoiced as yet, would be proved wrong.

  The little company came to the low stone wall that encircled the castle and passed through the open iron gates to the drawbridge. Graum Wythe loomed before them, a massive cluster of towers and parapets. The drawbridge was down and the portcullis up, so they moved into the shadow of the castle wall, through the gate entry, and out to the castle’s parking lot. Graum Wythe seemed empty of life. A single car was parked in the rear of its visitors’ lot. The souvenir stand, ensconced in what used to be a guardhouse, was closed and shuttered. Graum Wythe seemed deserted.

  “It’s all right,” Elizabeth assured her companions. “The museum hasn’t opened to the public yet, but we can get in.”

  She took them across the parking lot and up the steps to the iron-bound front doors. She rapped the heavy knocker on its plate and waited. A moment later the door opened, and a man she greeted as Harvey smiled in recognition and let them inside. They entered the same foyer where several years earlier Ben, Willow, and Miles Bennett—Ben’s old law partner, pressed into service for the occasion—all three dressed for Halloween night, had engineered Abernathy’s escape from Michel Ard Rhi’s dungeons. Abernathy looked around with foreboding, but the menace of Michel and his guards was long absent and the foyer itself had been redecorated with bright tapestries, pamphlet stands, and an admission desk where Harvey held forth. After giving the same explanation about Questor and Abernathy that she had given Mrs. Ambaum, and exchanging a few pleasantries with Harvey, Elizabeth led the wizard and the scribe into the bowels of the castle.

  They spent the rest of the day searching. Their search was confined at first to the corridors and rooms left open for the public and to the artifacts and collectibles on display. Most of the items Questor The
ws recognized for what they were. Almost all possessed no inherent magic. But a few did, and once or twice the wizard felt obliged to comment on an item that really had no business being exposed to the public, so dangerous was its potential for misuse.

  Nowhere, however, did he find the elusive and still unidentified item he was looking for.

  Midday passed without result. They ate lunch in the little sandwich shop situated in what used to be the castle kitchen. Visitors were arriving by the carload now, and there were buses filled with touring groups. Business was picking up. To avoid the crowds, Elizabeth took them into the back rooms and storage areas of the castle, those kept closed to the public, looking at the things either deemed unworthy or unready for display. Crates were stacked everywhere, but they managed to get most down for a look inside. Cabinets were filled with odd rocks and minerals, carvings and sculptures, paintings and crafts of all sorts, and none of them were of any recognizable use.

  An hour after the castle closed Harvey advised them that they would have to leave and come back tomorrow. Reluctantly they trudged homeward with nothing to show for their efforts. Questor Thews was particularly frustrated.

  “It’s there, I know it,” he muttered, shaking his ragged white head. “I cannot be wrong about this. It’s there, but I’m not seeing it, that’s all. We’ll just have to come back and try again tomorrow. Drat!”

  Abernathy and Elizabeth exchanged a quick glance. Neither of them was bothered by the prospect of the hunt going on another day. If Questor had been paying attention, he would have noticed that Elizabeth was holding Abernathy’s hand. If he had been paying attention, he would have noticed that Abernathy no longer seemed to mind.

  What You See

  The first of Rydall of Marnhull’s champions appeared exactly as promised three days after Ben Holiday had accepted the King’s challenge.

  By the time the sun rose, it was waiting outside the gates of Sterling Silver, a strong, solitary figure standing at the far end of the causeway, looking over at the castle. It was a man of great size and obvious strength. In a land where warriors often reached seven feet, this man was easily eight. A giant of massive girth, broad shoulders, and tree trunk legs, he wore animal skins tied with leather thongs about his muscular body. Boots linked to greaves ran to midthigh, and iron-studded wrist guards laced into leather gloves. A black beard and coarse, thick hair obscured most of his face, but his eyes could be seen to glint brightly in the rise of the morning sun.

  He bore but a single weapon, a battle-scarred wooden club bound with strips of hammered iron.

  Ben Holiday stood with Willow and Bunion on the ramparts of the castle and stared down at Rydall’s champion. His coming was no surprise, of course. Ever since Mistaya had disappeared along with Questor Thews and Abernathy, Ben had been convinced that Rydall was for real. The fact that no one had ever heard of him or of Marnhull, or could begin to discover where he came from or where he had gone to, or, more important, what he had done with Ben’s daughter and friends did nothing to lessen the certainty of his threat. Using the Landsview, Ben had scoured Landover from end to end for all three days given to him after Rydall’s departure and had found exactly nothing. There was no trace of Rydall, no sign of his passing, and no clue as to where he had gone to earth. Bunion had searched as well, using his kobold speed and extraordinary tracking powers. He, too, had failed. In the end the only conclusion left, however improbable, was that somehow Marnhull’s King indeed had managed to penetrate the fairy mists from a land without. Having done so, he had snatched away Mistaya and her guards, Abernathy and Questor included, and had gone back the way he had come, leaving Ben Holiday to face the challenge he had issued, to stand alone against the seven he would send to destroy him.

  Ben shook his head resignedly. He had been awake since shortly after midnight, anticipating the arrival of this first destroyer. He was not tired, not even weary, only sad. He would be forced to fight this creature, whoever and whatever it was, and probably would destroy it. He would do so as his alter ego, the Paladin, but it wouldn’t change the fact that he would still be the one doing the fighting and perhaps the killing. It wouldn’t change the necessity of his transformation into the iron-clad warrior who protected the Kings of Landover, a transformation he feared and despised, because each time it happened a little more of him slipped away into the abyss of dark madness that shrouded the life of the Paladin. Warrior and knight-errant, protector and champion, the Paladin was before all things a destroyer to which no sane man could ever wish to be joined. But Ben Holiday was. And would forever be from now until the end.

  But I made that choice when I gave up my old life for this new one, he chided himself. The decision was mine.

  “Perhaps we can simply ignore him,” Willow said quietly. Ben looked over at her, but she kept her eyes focused on the giant. “If we keep him locked outside the gates, what can he do? He might grow weary of his vigil. Time favors you, Ben. Let him be.”

  Ben thought it over. He could do that. He could leave the giant where he was and see what happened. It wasn’t a bad idea, though it would inconvenience those who might wish to enter or leave the castle. But it did nothing to enhance his image as King. It left him a prisoner in his own palace.

  “He has made no demands?” Ben asked Bunion, still weighing the possibilities.

  The kobold chittered softly. No, the giant had not spoken.

  “Well.” Ben tightened his mouth. “We’ll let him wait a bit. A little breakfast first, now that we know he’s here. Then we’ll see.”

  He started to turn away, and abruptly the giant’s arm lifted and pointed directly at him. There was no mistaking the gesture. Do not turn away, it said. Do not turn your back on me.

  Ben wheeled about and came back to the wall. The giant’s arm lowered, and he resumed waiting, one hand resting on his belted waist, the other on the butt of his massive club. The strange eyes glinted. The huge figure looked to be carved of stone.

  “It appears he does not approve of your idea, Willow,” Ben murmured, feeling her hand close over his. He could tell what she was thinking: Be careful. Do not rise to his goading. Do not be drawn into this fight until you are ready.

  She did not say to him, “Do not go.” She knew he must. She knew he could not avoid this confrontation or any of those which must follow if they were to see Mistaya alive again. She hated the situation as much as he did, but they had understood from the moment of Rydall’s coming with the news of their missing daughter that they were trapped in this deadly game and that somehow they must find a way to win.

  “What is his strength?” she asked suddenly, indicating the giant with an irritated wave of her hand. “He is large and strong, but he is no match for the Paladin. Why has he been sent?”

  Ben had been wondering that, too. The Paladin was better armed and protected. How could the giant hope to defeat him?

  At his side Bunion chittered softly. He wanted to go down and test the giant’s strength, to see what his edge might be, to probe for his weakness. Ben shook his head. He would risk no one but himself in this struggle with Rydall. Not when the lives of Mistaya, Abernathy, and Questor were at risk already.

  “He forbids us to leave the wall,” he said finally. “What will happen if we disobey? Perhaps we should see. Bunion, stay put and keep watch for us.”

  Keeping tight hold of Willow’s hand, he turned from the wall and walked over to the open stairs that wound downward about the watch house to the courtyard below. He was barely to the first step when he heard Bunion hiss in warning.

  The giant was beginning to shimmer like a mirage in the midday summer heat. The air all about it was as damp as liquid, rainbow colors sliding across its surface like autumn leaves across glass.

  Ben hesitated, waiting. Then Bunion started and looked quickly over.

  The giant had disappeared!

  Ben stared at the kobold, undecided about what to do, then started toward him once more, needing to see for himself. At the same mom
ent he heard Willow gasp. He wheeled back, following her gaze to the courtyard below. Soldiers and retainers had scattered as light filled the yard’s center in a blaze of shimmering color.

  The giant reappeared, come out of the ether, come now into the walls of the castle itself. It rose up out of nothingness, huge and dark. The massive club was shouldered, and there was a new menace about it. A squad of soldiers approached it warily, placing themselves between the giant and their King. In a moment the battle would be joined.

  But Ben already knew he could not let that happen.

  “Stand where you are!” he called down.

  The soldiers looked up at him expectantly. The giant’s gaze lifted as well.

  Ben felt Willow release his hand, but he could not bring himself to look at her. He reached into his tunic and withdrew the medallion of Landover’s Kings, the talisman that warded them from danger. Holding it forth so that it caught the morning sun, he reluctantly summoned the Paladin.

  Brilliant white light flared instantly at the foot of the gatehouse stairs, and from out of its brightness the Paladin appeared. He was afoot and armed with his unsheathed broadsword and an iron-tipped mace strapped to his waist. He was armored in silver, shining with the intensity of the sun at midday.

  Ben instantly felt a connection between them, locks snapping into place, a picture forming in his mind, a strange combination of fire and ice mixing into something else altogether. Tendrils of feeling and thought began to link them, to join them as one. He was carried out of his body and into the Paladin’s armor on a wave of light. He was clasped to the other as if by dozens of hands, wrapped about and encased in the iron, and made one with his protector’s weapons. He was submerged in memories of battles fought and won over a thousand lifetimes. He was joined with times and places long past and all but forgotten. He was made over into his other self, and that other self rose up in fury and blood lust to confront Rydall’s giant.

 
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