Witches' Brew by Terry Brooks


  He rose and walked back toward his family, but Mistaya was already crouched over Questor Thews, surrounded by the others, her small face intent with concentration.

  “He can’t die,” she was saying as Ben came up and dropped to his knee beside her. “This is my fault. All my fault. I have to make it right. I have to.”

  Ben looked at Willow, and she lifted her stricken eyes to meet his. Questor Thews was not breathing. His heart had stopped. There was nothing anyone could do for him.

  “Mistaya, he came out of love for you,” Abernathy said softly, reaching out to touch her shoulder. “We all did.”

  But Mistaya was barely listening. She reached down impulsively and seized Questor’s limp hand. “I learned something from Nightshade that might help,” she murmured fiercely. “She taught me how to heal. Even the dead, sometimes. Maybe I can heal Questor. I can try, anyway. I have to try.”

  She rocked back on her heels and closed her eyes. Ben, Willow, Abernathy, and Bunion exchanged hesitant, wary glances. Mistaya was calling on the magic Nightshade had revealed, and nothing good had ever come of that. Don’t use it, Ben wanted to say, but knew he mustn’t. The sun beat down on them, and the air was thick and humid with its heat. All about, the grasslands were still, as if nothing lived there or what little did waited as they did to see what would transpire. Mistaya shuddered, and a bright shimmer ran from her body down her arm and into Questor Thews. The wizard lay motionless and unresponsive. Twice more the shimmer of light passed from Mistaya’s body into Questor’s. The little girl’s eyes fluttered wildly, and her head drooped forward, her hair spilling down around her face. Again Ben thought to intervene, and again he kept himself from doing so. She had a right to do what she could, he told himself. She had a right to try.

  Suddenly Questor Thews jerked. The movement startled Mistaya so that she gave a small cry and dropped his hand. For a moment no one moved. Then Abernathy hurriedly bent down over his old friend, listened for a moment, and looked up in astonishment.

  “I can hear his heart beating!” he exclaimed. “I can hear him breathe! He’s alive!”

  “Mistaya!” Ben whispered, and hugged his daughter to him.

  “I knew I could do it, Father,” she said. She was shaking, and he could feel tremendous heat radiating from her body. “I knew I could. I do have magic.”

  “You do indeed,” Ben agreed, alarmed, and called immediately for cold water and cloths.

  The others hugged Mistaya as well, save for Bunion, who merely gave her a toothy grin. The cloths were applied, she was given water to drink, and her temperature fell again. She seemed to recover. But the battle to save Questor was not yet over. His heartbeat was weak, his breathing was shallow, and he remained unconscious. The poison was still in his body, and while Mistaya had managed to negate some of its effects, she had not been able to slow them entirely. Ben sent several of his King’s Guards in search of a wagon and had the others build a stretcher in the meantime. They secured Questor in place, tied the stretcher to Jurisdiction, and started slowly home.

  Mistaya insisted on riding on the stretcher next to Questor. When a wagon was found, she rode next to him there as well. She held his hand the entire way. She refused to let go.

  Specimen

  For six days after their return to Sterling Silver Mistaya sat by Questor Thews as he slept. She held his hand almost continually. She left only when necessary and then only for moments at a time. She took her meals on a bedside tray and slept on a pallet on the floor. Now and again Haltwhistle would appear, materializing out of nowhere to let her know he was close before disappearing once more. More than once Ben Holiday slipped into the bedchamber at midnight to cover his daughter with a blanket and smooth her rumpled hair. He thought each time to carry her to her own bed, but she had made it plain that she intended to see the matter through to its end. Questor would recover or die, but in either case she would be there when it happened.

  Bit by bit Ben pieced together the story of how Nightshade had tried to destroy him. They elicited from Mistaya the Earth Mother’s role in providing Haltwhistle to help disrupt Nightshade’s plans and were then able to deduce by themselves how the mud puppy was meant to insure that even when separately deceived they might find a way back to each other and the truth. Abernathy filled in his part, trying to gloss over what the transformation from dog to man and back again had done to him, trying to downplay his role in saving Ben’s life. But Ben would not allow it, knowing what it had cost his faithful scribe to give up his human form once again, painfully aware that Abernathy might never be able to return to who he was. They spoke quietly of Questor Thews and his determination to save Mistaya. They worried together what it might mean for the little girl if Questor died.

  Willow spent long hours talking candidly with Mistaya of Nightshade and her experience in the Deep Fell, smoothing away some of the hurt and guilt that her daughter felt. It was not Mistaya’s fault, she pointed out, that the witch had used her to get at her father. It was not her fault that she had not realized what was being done. She had not intended her father harm or meant to give help of any kind to the witch. In fact, she had used her magic in what she believed to be an effort to save her father’s life. Given her position, her mother would have done the same. All of them had been deceived by the witch, and not for the first time. Nightshade’s was a pervasive, devious evil that would have destroyed anyone with less character and courage. Mistaya needed to know that. She needed to accept the idea that she had done the best she could.

  Her father, speaking to her alone at one point, said, “You must forgive yourself for any blame in this, Mistaya. You made a mistake, and that’s part of growing up. Growing up is painful for every child but more so for you. Do you remember what you said the Earth Mother told you?”

  Mistaya nodded. She was holding tightly to Questor’s hand, one finger on his pulse where it beat softly in his wrist.

  “Growing up for you will be harder than for most. Because of who you are and where you come from. Because of your parents. Because of your magic. I wish it could be otherwise. I wish I could make it so. But I cannot. We have to accept who we are in this life and make the best of it. Some things we cannot change. All we can do is try to help each other when we see that help is needed.”

  “I know,” she said softly. “But it doesn’t make me feel any better.”

  “No, I don’t suppose it does.” He reached over and pulled her gently against him. “You know, Mistaya, I can’t afford to think of you as a child anymore. At least not a child of two. You’ve grown way beyond that, and I guess I’m the only one who didn’t see it.”

  She shook her head and kept her face lowered. “Maybe I’m not so grown up as everyone thinks. I was so sure of myself, but none of this would have happened if I’d been a little more careful.”

  He gave her a small hug. “If you remember that the next time you decide to use your magic, you’ll be grown up enough for me.”

  Ben sent word to the River Master that his granddaughter was safe and would come to visit soon. He went back to the work of governing Landover, although a part of him was always in the bedchamber with Mistaya, sitting next to Questor Thews. He ate and slept out of necessity and found concentrating difficult. Willow talked with him when they were alone, sharing her own thoughts, her own doubts, and they gave each other what comfort they could.

  Several times more Mistaya used her magic to try to strengthen Questor Thews. She told her parents what she intended so that they could be there to lend their support. The magic shimmered down her arm and into the old man’s body without apparent effect. Mistaya said she could feel it grappling with the witch’s poison, could feel the struggle taking place inside. But there was no change in the wizard’s condition. His heartbeat remained slow, his breathing was ragged, and he did not wake. They tried to feed him soup and water, and some small portion of what touched his lips was consumed. But he was skin and bones, all waxy and drawn, a skeleton flattened down against the
sheets, barely alive.

  Mistaya tried strengthening him with other forms of magic, giving whispers of encouragement, lending deep measures of her love. She refused to give up. She willed him to come awake for her, to open his eyes and speak. She prayed for him to live.

  Her parents and Abernathy gradually lost hope. She could see it in their eyes. They wanted to believe, but they understood too well the odds against survival. The depth of their concern did not lessen, but the look in their eyes flattened out into acceptance. They were preparing themselves for what they saw as the inevitable. Abernathy could no longer speak to her in Questor’s presence. Each of them was withdrawing, cutting ties, severing feelings, hardening. She began to despair. She began to worry that the old man would lie there like that forever, trapped between waking and sleep.

  Then, on the seventh day of her vigil, as she sat with him in the bedchamber in the early morning light, watching the sunrise color the sky through the windows, she felt his hand tighten unexpectedly around her own.

  “Mistaya?” he whispered weakly, and his eyes blinked open.

  She hardly dared to breathe. “I’m here,” she replied, the tears starting. “I won’t leave.”

  She called loudly for her mother and father and, with the old man’s frail hand clasped firmly in her own, waited anxiously for them to come.

  Vince had completed his shift at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and was on his way to his car when he impulsively changed direction and went back into the aviary for a last look at the crow. The damn thing fascinated him. It was right where he had left it earlier, sitting by itself on a branch near the top of the enclosure. The other birds left it alone, wanting nothing to do with it. You couldn’t blame them. It was a mean-looking thing. Vince didn’t like it, either. But he couldn’t stop wondering about it.

  A crow with red eyes. Not another one like it that anyone had ever heard of. Not another anywhere.

  It had popped up out of nowhere. Literally. Same day as that incident at the King County animal shelter when those two nuts posing as Drozkin and some guy from U Dub had stolen that monkey or whatever it was. No one knew what had happened to them. They’d just disappeared into thin air, if you could believe the lies being spread around. Then, not two hours later, this bird appeared, right there in the same cage the monkey disappeared from. What were the odds of that happening? No one could explain it, of course. It was like one of those UFO stories, one of those sightings where weird things happened to the people involved but no one could prove it had really happened. Vince believed in UFOs. Vince thought there were a lot of things happening in the world that you couldn’t explain, but that didn’t make them any less real. It was like that with this bird.

  Anyway, there’s the bird, this crow with the red eyes, lying there in the cage, stunned. The animal shelter people were no fools. They knew a specimen when they saw it, even if they didn’t know exactly what sort of specimen it was. So they hobbled it and brought it over for study. An exotic bird, so it belonged in the zoo. Now it was Woodland Park’s job to figure out what it was. No one knew how long that might take. Months, he guessed. Maybe years.

  Vince leaned against the wire, trying to get the bird to look at him. It didn’t. It never looked at anyone. But you always felt it was watching you nevertheless. Out of the corner of its eye or something. Vince wished he knew its story. He bet it was a good one. He bet it was better than any UFO story. There was a lot more to this bird than met the eye. You could tell that much by the way it conducted itself. Aloof, disdainful, filled with some inner rage at life. It wanted out of there. It wanted to go back to where it had come from. You could see it in those red eyes if you looked long enough.

  But Vince didn’t like to look into the crow’s eyes for too long. When he did, he could almost swear they were human.

  To Lisa.

  For always being there.

  &

  To Jill.

  Because you must never give up

  on yourself.

  DEPART LANDOVER

  AND RETURN TO SHANNARA!

  Turn the page for an excerpt from

  Terry Brooks’ exciting novel,

  FIRST KING OF SHANNARA …

  Available in bookstores everywhere.

  Published by The Random House Publishing Group.

  By Terry Brooks

  Published by The Random House Publishing Group:

  The Magic Kingdom of Landover:

  MAGIC KINGDOM FOR SALE—SOLD!

  THE BLACK UNICORN

  WIZARD AT LARGE

  THE TANGLE BOX

  WITCHES’ BREW

  Shannara:

  FIRST KING OF SHANNARA

  THE SWORD OF SHANNARA

  THE ELFSTONES OF SHANNARA

  THE WISHSONG OF SHANNARA

  The Heritage of Shannara:

  THE SCIONS OF SHANNARA

  THE DRUID OF SHANNARA

  THE ELF QUEEN OF SHANNARA

  THE TALISMANS OF SHANNARA

  The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara:

  ISLE WITCH

  ANTRAX

  MORGAWR

  High Druid of Shannara:

  JARKA RUUS

  TANEQUIL

  THE WORLD OF SHANNARA

  Word and Void:

  RUNNING WITH THE DEMON

  A KNIGHT OF THE WORD

  ANGEL FIRE EAST

  SOMETIMES THE MAGIC WORKS:

  LESSONS FROM A WRITING LIFE

  STAR WARS®: EPISODE I THE PHANTOM MENACE

  HOOK

  About the Author

  A writer since high school, Terry Brooks published his first novel, The Sword of Shannara, in 1977. It was a New York Times bestseller for more than five months. He has published eighteen consecutive bestsellers since, including The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara novels: Ilse Witch and Morgawr, as well as the novel based upon the screenplay and story by George Lucas: Star Wars® Episode I The Phantom Menace™. His novels Running with the Demon and A Knight of the Word were selected by the Rocky Mountain News as two of the best science fiction/fantasy novels of the twentieth century.

  The author was a practicing attorney for many years but now writes full time. He lives with his wife, Judine, in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.

  Visit us online at www.shannara.com and at www.terrybrooks.net.

  The Druid Guard counterattacked once more, cutting into the monsters, bearing them back down the stairway, leaving half their number sprawled lifeless on the blood-slicked steps. In desperation Caerid dispatched another man to summon help from wherever he could find it. He grabbed the man by his tunic as he was about to leave and pulled him close. “Find the Druids and tell them to flee while there is still time!” he whispered so that no other might hear. “Tell them Paranor is lost! Go quick, tell them! Then flee yourself!”

  The messenger’s face drained of blood, and he sprinted away wordlessly.

  Another assault massed in the shadows below, a congealing of dark forms and guttural cries. Then, from somewhere higher up within the Keep, where the Druids slept, a piercing scream rose.

  Caerid felt his heart sink. It’s finished, he thought, not frightened or sad, but simply disgusted.

  Seconds later, the creatures of the Warlock Lord surged up the stairway once more. Caerid Lock and his failing command braced to meet them, weapons raised, determined to hold.

  But this time there were too many.

  Kahle Rese was asleep in the Druid library when the sounds of the attack woke him. He had been working late, cataloguing reports on weather patterns and their effects on farm crops he had compiled during the past five years. Eventually he had fallen asleep at his desk. He came awake with a start, jolted by the cries of wounded men, the clash of weapons, and the thudding of booted feet. He lifted his graying head and looked about uncertainly, then rose, took a moment to clear his mind, and walked to the door.

  He peered out guardedly. The cries were louder now, more terrible in their urgency and pain. Men rushed past his door
, members of the Druid Guard. The Keep was under attack, he realized. Bremen’s warning had fallen on deaf ears, and now the price of their refusal to heed was to be exacted. He was surprised at how certain he was of what was happening and how it would end. Already he knew he was not going to live out the night.

  Still he hesitated, unwilling even at this point to accept what he knew. The hall was empty now, the sounds of battle centered somewhere below. He thought to go out for a better look at things, but even as he was contemplating the idea, a shadowy presence emerged from the back stairway. He pulled his head inside quickly and peered out through his barely cracked door.

  Black, misshapen creatures lurched into view, things that were unrecognizable, monsters from his worst nightmare. He caught his breath and held it. Room by room, they were working their way down the corridor to where he waited.

  He closed the library door softly and locked it. For a moment he just stood there, unable to move. A rush of images recalled themselves, memories of his early days as a Druid in training, of his subsequent tenure as a Druid Scribe, of his ceaseless efforts to collect and preserve the writings of the old world and of fairy. So much had happened, but in so short a time. He shook his head in wonder. How had it all gone by so quickly?

  There were screams close at hand now, freshly raised, come from just beyond his door, in the hall where the monsters prowled. Time was running out.

  He moved away quickly to his desk and took out the leather pouch that Bremen had given him. Perhaps he should have gone with his old friend. Perhaps he should have saved himself while he had the chance. But who would have protected the Druid Histories if he had done so? Who else could Bremen have relied upon? Besides, this was where he belonged. He knew so little of the world beyond anymore; it had been too long since he had gone out into it. He was of no use to anyone beyond these walls. Here, at least, he might still serve a purpose.

 
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