Witches' Brew by Terry Brooks


  Poggwydd was beside himself. “He has so! I happen to know him quite well! I even know his family. I know the Queen! And the little girl, the one who’s missing! Why, I might even find her while I’m looking for that chest of gold!”

  She stared at him. Missing? She kept her lips tightly together. “You don’t know her. You’re making this all up.”

  “I am not! I’ll tell you something, since you seem so intent on being rude. The High Lord’s little girl is a whole lot nicer than you!”

  “She is not!”

  “Hah! Fly doodles! How would you know?”

  “Because I’m her!”

  It was out before she could help herself. She said it in a rush of indignation and pride, but she supposed that she would have said it anyway because this was a game, and he wouldn’t know whether to believe it. Besides, she wanted to see the look on his face when she said it.

  The look was worth it. He gaped in undisguised amazement, sputtered something unintelligible, and then finished with a monstrous snort. “Pfah! What nonsense! What a heap of horse hunks! Now who’s telling tall tales?”

  “And I’m not missing, either!” she added firmly. “I’m right here with you!”

  “You’re not the High Lord’s daughter!” he exclaimed vehemently. “You can’t be!”

  “How would you know?” she mimicked. Then she put her hands to her face and feigned shock. “Oh, excuse me, I forgot! You’re the King’s personal treasure hunter and know the whole family!”

  Poggwydd scowled. He hunched forward, his round body rocking on its stubby, gnarled legs as if in danger of tipping over completely.

  “Look here,” he said carefully. “Enough foolishness. It’s one thing to play at being someone where the playing is harmless but another altogether to make light of misfortune. I know you are just a little girl, but you’re a smart little girl and old enough to appreciate the difference.”

  “What are you talking about!” she snapped, furious at being lectured like this.

  “The High Lord’s daughter!” he snapped back. “That’s what I’m talking about! Don’t tell me you don’t know.” He stopped short. “Well, now, maybe you don’t—little girl all alone out here in the woods, bumping up against a fellow like me. Who are you, anyway? You never did say. Are you one of those fairies, come out from the mists for a visit? Are you a sprite or some such from the lake country? We don’t see many up this way. Not us G’home Gnomes, anyway.”

  He paused, collecting his thoughts. “Well, here’s what’s happened, if you don’t already know. The High Lord’s daughter is missing, and everyone is looking for her. She’s been missing for days, weeks perhaps, but gone for sure, and there were search parties hunting for her from one end of Landover to the other.”

  He bent close, lowering his voice as if he might be heard. “Word is, King Rydall has her. He’s from someplace called Marnhull. He has her. Won’t give her back, either. He’s making the King’s champion do battle with some monsters. I don’t know that for a fact, but that’s what I’ve heard. In any case, she’s missing, and you shouldn’t make fun of her.”

  Mistaya was dumbfounded. “But I am her!” she insisted, hands on hips. “I really am!”

  There was movement in the trees to one side. She caught just a glimpse of it and whirled about, poised to flee, her heart in her throat, her stomach turned to ice. The movement turned to color, a rush of wicked greenish light that filled the shadowed spaces between the trunks and limbs. The color tightened and took shape, coalescing into human form, lean and dark and certain.

  Nightshade had returned.

  The witch stepped out of the shadows, silent as a ghost. Her bloodred eyes fixed on Mistaya. “You were told not to leave the Deep Fell,” she said softly.

  Mistaya froze. For a moment her thoughts were so scattered that she couldn’t think. Then she managed a small nod in response. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I wanted to see the sun again.”

  “Come stand over here,” the witch ordered. “By me.”

  “It was just for the day,” Mistaya tried to explain, frightened now of what might happen to her, terrified by the look on the other’s face. “I was all alone, and I didn’t think—”

  “Come here, Mistaya!” Nightshade snapped, cutting her short.

  Mistaya crossed the clearing slowly, head lowered. She managed a quick glance back at Poggwydd. He was standing in front of his fire, eyes wide and staring. Mistaya felt sorry for him. This was her fault.

  “I am waiting, Mistaya,” Nightshade warned.

  Mistaya’s gaze swung back again toward the witch. She realized suddenly that Haltwhistle was missing. He had been right beside her while she had been talking with Poggwydd. Where had he gone?

  She reached Nightshade and stopped, dreading what might happen next. Nightshade forced a smile, but there was no warmth in it. “I am very disappointed in you,” she whispered.

  Mistaya nodded, ashamed without being quite sure why. “I won’t do it again,” she promised. She remembered Poggwydd. “It wasn’t his fault,” she said quickly, looking back over her shoulder at the unfortunate G’home Gnome. “It was mine. He didn’t even want to talk to me.” She hesitated. “You won’t hurt him, will you?”

  Nightshade reached out and placed her hands on the girl’s shoulders. Gently but firmly she moved her aside. “Of course not. He is nothing but a silly Gnome. I’ll just speed him on his way.”

  “Excuse me?” Poggwydd ventured, his voice small and thin. “I don’t need to be here anymore, do I? Any longer, I mean? I … I can just pick up my things, and I can—”

  Nightshade’s hands came up, and green fire blazed sharply to life at her fingertips. Poggwydd squeaked and cringed back in terror. Nightshade let the fire build, then gathered it in her palms and caressed it lovingly as she watched the Gnome. Mistaya tried to speak and found she couldn’t. She turned to Nightshade, pleading with her eyes, suddenly certain that the witch meant to harm Poggwydd, after all.

  Then she saw Haltwhistle. The mud puppy was crouched at the edge of the trees just out of Nightshade’s field of vision. His hackles were standing on end, and his head drooped forward as if he were concentrating. Something white and frosty-looking was rising off his back.

  What was he doing?

  Abruptly Nightshade sent the green fire hurtling into Poggwydd. But Haltwhistle’s moon/frost reached him first. Mistaya screamed at the sound of the impact. The fire and the frost exploded together, and Poggwydd disappeared. All that remained was the Gnome’s discarded pack and the smell of ashes and smoke.

  “What was that?” Nightshade exclaimed instantly, eyes raking the clearing from end to end. She wheeled on Mistaya. “Did you see it? Did you?”

  Mistaya blinked. Her breath came in little gasps. The moon/frost. She had seen it, of course. But she would never admit it to the witch. Not after what had happened to Poggwydd. At least Haltwhistle had escaped. There wasn’t a trace of him to be seen.

  She faced Nightshade down, her voice shaking. “What did you do to Poggwydd? I asked you not to hurt him!”

  The witch was nonplussed by the girl’s vehemence. “Calm yourself,” she soothed. Her eyes were still skittering about uneasily. “Nothing has happened to him. I sent him home, back to his people, away from where he doesn’t belong.”

  Mistaya would not be placated. “I don’t believe you! I don’t believe anything you say anymore! I want to go home right now!”

  Nightshade gave her a cool and dispassionate look. “Very well, Mistaya,” she said quietly. “But first listen to what I have to say. You can do that for me, can’t you?”

  Mistaya nodded, tight-lipped.

  “Your friend wasn’t harmed,” the witch emphasized. “But he couldn’t be allowed to remain here. What he told you was true, so far as he knew. Everyone thinks that Rydall has you. Your father arranged for them to think that. He started the rumor when Rydall first tried to kidnap you. He even organized a search for you to make the claim seem tru
e. He did this to confuse Rydall and whoever might be trying to find you on his behalf. This way it seemed that no one knew where you were.”

  She gave Mistaya a sympathetic smile. “But now the little Gnome knows the truth. Suppose he tells someone what you said? Suppose he tells them where he saw you? What if word of this gets back to Rydall’s spies? The risk is too great. So I returned him to where he came from, and I used my magic to erase his memory of this incident. I did it to protect you both.”

  “He won’t remember anything?” Mistaya asked carefully.

  “Nothing. So no harm is done, is it?” Nightshade bent close. “As for going home, you may do so immediately if you wish.” She paused. “Or you may stay with me for three more days and then leave. If you choose to stay, I will make you a promise. I won’t ask you to make any more monsters. We’ve done enough of that, I know. You have been more than patient, and I have been rather demanding of you. So we shall try something else. What do you think about that?”

  Mistaya stared at her, surprised by this unexpected turn of events. The witch’s eyes were silver again, soft and compelling. Mistaya remembered how things had been when they had first met, how eager Nightshade had been to teach, how anxious she had been to learn. She remembered how excited she had been the first time she had used her magic. She felt a little of the anger and mistrust drop away. She would like to continue the lessons, she supposed. She would like to stay. She didn’t have to go home right this instant, not if Poggwydd was really safe and she didn’t have to make any more monsters.

  “Are my parents all right?” she asked suddenly.

  Nightshade looked shocked. “Of course they are. Where do you think I was this morning? I changed form and went to Sterling Silver to make certain. Everything is fine. Your father and mother are well. Questor Thews protects them from Rydall, so we have time to finish your training in the use of magic. Then you will be ready to help protect them as well.”

  Mistaya stared at the witch without speaking. Nightshade seemed to be telling the truth. And Poggwydd hadn’t said anything about her parents being in any danger or having come to any harm. Of course, it was hard to know whether anything the Gnome said was true, she supposed.

  She was suddenly very confused. She sighed and looked away from the witch. The clearing was silent and empty save for them. Overhead, the sun brightened the skies and streamed down through the trees. She could almost believe that Poggwydd had never been there at all.

  “Well,” she said finally, “I guess I could stay for three more days.”

  “That would be very wise of you,” Nightshade encouraged, and Mistaya failed to catch the hard edge that shaped the words or the way the witch’s back lost a touch of its stiffness. “But you must not go out of the Deep Fell again.”

  Mistaya nodded. “I won’t.” She looked back at the witch tentatively. “What will we study now?”

  Nightshade pursed her lips. “Medicine,” she answered. “Healing through the use of magic.”

  She put her arm about Mistaya and began to walk her from the clearing back toward the hollow. “Mistaya,” she said softly, “would you like to learn how to use your magic to bring something dead back to life?”

  She smiled at the girl, and her eyes were lidded with pleasure.

  Concealments

  After three days of searching Graum Wythe and finding nothing, Questor Thews became convinced that somehow they were overlooking the obvious.

  “We’re wearing blinders!” he announced abruptly. He sat down on a packing crate with his chin in his hands and a frown on his face, bushy white eyebrows fiercely knit. “It’s here, whatever it is, but we’re simply not seeing it!”

  Elizabeth and Abernathy looked over at him in voiceless contemplation. They were secluded in one of Graum Wythe’s many storage rooms, deep in the bowels of the castle, a small windowless room where the sun never penetrated and the air was close and stale. They had searched the room once and were engaged at present in searching it a second time. By now, unfortunately, they had searched everywhere at least once and were growing discouraged.

  “It shouldn’t be taking this long,” the wizard declared forcefully. “If we are meant to find it, if that is why we were brought here, then we should have stumbled on it by now.”

  “It would help if we knew what we were looking for,” Abernathy observed glumly, lowering himself onto a second crate with a weary sigh. He was sick of poking through old boxes and dusty corners. He wanted to be outside, where the sun was shining and the air was fresh. He wanted to enjoy being who he was now that he had finally been restored to himself. All those dog years had fallen away as quickly as leaves from a tree on winter’s first storm, as if none of it had ever really happened, all of it a dream from which he had finally awoken.

  Elizabeth pursed her lips, causing her button nose to wrinkle. “I don’t suppose you could be mistaken about what you are doing here?” she asked Questor Thews tentatively. “Is it possible that your coming was simply a fluke?” She seated herself next to Abernathy. “Or that you were dispatched here for some other reason?”

  “It is possible,” the wizard acknowledged charitably, “but unlikely. The consequences of magic are seldom haphazard. They almost always have a reason for turning out as they do. Nightshade would not have made the mistake of letting us live when she expected us to die. No, the conclusion is inescapable. Another magic intervened and saved us. We were sent here for a purpose, and I can think of no other purpose than to rescue Mistaya.”

  “Is it possible you are wrong about the magic being at Graum Wythe?” Elizabeth pressed. “Could it be somewhere else?”

  Questor Thews scrunched up his face. “No. It has to be here. It has to be a magic that originally came from Landover. Nothing else makes sense!”

  They stared at each other wordlessly for a moment, then looked about the room. “Could there be a second medallion?” Abernathy asked suddenly. “Another like the High Lord’s?”

  Questor raised a spiny eyebrow thoughtfully. It was a possibility he hadn’t considered. But no; Michel Ard Rhi would have found such a talisman quickly enough and would not have gone to such great lengths to force Abernathy to give up the High Lord’s when the scribe had been his prisoner at Graum Wythe those several years back.

  The wizard shook his head. “No, it is something else, something that Michel would not have recognized. Something, at least, he could not find a way to use.” He rubbed at his bearded chin thoughtfully. “This is exceedingly frustrating, I must say.”

  “Maybe we should have some lunch,” Elizabeth suggested, nudging Abernathy playfully. “We might think better on full stomachs.”

  “We might think better after a short nap,” Abernathy observed, nudging her back.

  Questor Thews watched them wordlessly. He didn’t like what he was seeing. Abernathy was growing complacent in his new life. He was altogether too satisfied with himself, as if getting back to Landover didn’t mean anything to him now that he was a man again. He was forgetting his responsibilities. The High Lord and his family still depended on them, and Questor was afraid Abernathy was losing sight of that. He knew he shouldn’t judge, but what was happening was obvious. Abernathy was rediscovering himself, and in the process of doing so he was making over his life to fit his new circumstances. It was a dangerous indulgence.

  He cleared his throat sharply, causing both of them to jump. “Before we eat or nap, perhaps we could talk this business through one more time.” He offered a smile to soften the force of his words. “Just for a few more moments, if you would. I admit to being rather desperate just about now.”

  Elizabeth smiled back reassuringly. “Don’t worry, Questor. You’ll find it sooner or later, whatever it is.” She ran her fingers through her curly hair. “Even if you don’t, this isn’t a bad place to be trapped in, is it?”

  She sounded altogether too hopeful. Questor did not dare say what he was thinking. “We have to get back to Landover,” he insisted quietly. “We have
to find the magic that will allow it.”

  Elizabeth sighed. “I know.” She didn’t sound convinced. “This magic, whatever it is, has to be something you’ll recognize when you see it, doesn’t it? If it’s really here?”

  “We’ve seen everything at least once already,” Abernathy countered, pushing back his glasses on his nose.

  “Maybe we’re not looking at it the right way,” Questor Thews mulled aloud.

  Elizabeth swung her feet away from the crate and studied her sneakers. They were silent again, considering.

  “Wait a minute,” Abernathy said suddenly. “Maybe what we’re looking for isn’t a thing at all. Maybe that’s why we’re not seeing it. It was a spell that brought us here, magic conjured out of words. What if a spell is needed to take us back again?”

  Questor’s eyes widened, and he jumped up instantly from the packing crate. “Abernathy, you are an absolute genius! Of course that’s what it is! A spell! We’re not looking for a talisman at all! We’re looking for a book of spells!”

  Abernathy and Elizabeth rose as well, looking decidedly less certain of the matter. “But wouldn’t Michel have recognized a book of that sort?” Abernathy asked doubtfully. “Wouldn’t he have used it to get back into Landover there at the end, when he wanted to regain the throne? Or wouldn’t your brother have searched it out when Holiday defied him? I know it was my idea, but on thinking it through, it doesn’t make much sense. If there is a spell that allows passage back into Landover, why didn’t one of them use it?”

  “Perhaps because they couldn’t,” the wizard offered, stalking first to one side of the cluttered room, then back again to the other, head lowered, hands swinging animatedly. “Because the spell wouldn’t work for them, maybe. I don’t know. But I think you have stumbled on something nevertheless. A spell brought us over. It would make sense that a spell would take us back. A reversal of the magic that brought us here. A reworking of the words …”

 
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