Witches' Brew by Terry Brooks

  Then the light disappeared in a sudden rush of wind and brilliant colors, and the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of life rushed back into focus with brilliant clarity. The lake country was gone. He was pretty sure that Landover itself was gone, as well. He was sitting on a grassy flat that spread all around a great stone basin. A fountain at the center of the basin spouted a plume of water that arched high into the air in a feathery spray. Light caught the water and created small, shimmering rainbows. People were seated all across the lawn and at the edge of the fountain. Children played in the fountain, having ventured down into the shallow stone bowl, darting in and out of the spray, laughing and teasing one another. It was summer, and the day was sunny and hot.

  Abernathy sat up straight and looked about. There were people everywhere. It was some sort of festival, and everyone was celebrating. Across the way were a pair of jugglers. A clown walked by on stilts. At a nearby table a small boy was having his face painted. Walkways bordered the lawn, the one nearest him packed end to end with makeshift booths selling the works of artisans and craftsmen: glass prisms, wood carvings, metal sculptures, and clothing of all sorts. Other walkways were jammed with carts and stands selling food and drink. Garish signs proclaimed the types of edibles and libations offered. Abernathy did not recognize the names.

  But he could read the signs. If he was not in Landover, he should not have been able to do that.

  His first thought was, Where am I, then?

  His second was, Why aren’t I dead?

  A man with long, tangled black hair and a full beard streaked with purple dye stood next to a woman with her hair braided in tight beaded rows tipped with tiny bells. Both wore gold earrings and neck chains and sported matching face-painted roses framed in red hearts. They were staring at Abernathy in disbelief.

  “Hey, man, that was awesome!” the man declared reverently. “How did you do that?”

  “Was it some sort of magic?” the woman asked.

  Abernathy had no idea what they were talking about. But he could understand them, and that was as mystifying as being able to read the signs. He looked around in confusion. Music rose from all about, mingling with shouts and laughter. The walkways ran past large stone buildings and pavilions jammed with people. The buildings did not look familiar—and yet they did. The music was of all sorts, none of it immediately recognizable. It was loud and decidedly discordant. One group of musicians occupied a stage that had been erected across the pavilion on the far side of the fountain. The music they played was raucous and amplified so that it sounded as if it were coming out of the air itself. Flags and pennants and streamers flew at every turn. People were dancing and singing. There was something going on everywhere you looked.

  “Hey, that’s not your whole act, is it?” the man with the purple-streaked beard was asking.

  “C’mon, do something more!” his companion pressed.

  Abernathy smiled and shrugged, wishing the man and woman would go away. What was going on here, anyway? He wasn’t dead, obviously. So what had happened to him? He ran his hands over his body experimentally, checking for damage. Nothing seemed out of place. Two arms, two legs, a body, fingers, and toes—he could feel them inside his boots. All present and accounted for. He ran his fingers through his hair, smoothing it back. He rubbed his chin and found that he could use a shave. He adjusted his glasses on his nose. He seemed to be all right.

  He turned the other way then and found himself face to face with Questor Thews. The wizard was staring at him. He was staring at him as if he had never seen him before in his life.

  “Questor Thews, are you all right?” he asked anxiously. “Whatever in the world is going on?”

  Questor’s mouth opened, but no words came out.

  Abernathy was immediately irritated. “Wizard, what is the matter with you? Has the witch’s magic rendered you speechless? Stop looking at me like that!”

  The other’s gaunt arm lifted as if to ward off a ghost. “Abernathy?” he asked in obvious disbelief.

  “Yes, of course. Who else?” Abernathy snapped. Then he realized that something was seriously wrong with the other man. It was in his eyes, the sound of his voice, the way he seemed unable to accept the obvious, not even recognizing his oldest friend, for goodness’ sake. Shock, perhaps. “Questor Thews, would you like to lie down for a moment?” he asked gently. “Would you like me to bring you some water or a glass of ale?”

  The wizard stared a moment longer, then quickly shook his head. “No, it’s not … it’s … I’m all right, really, but you …” He stopped, clearly perplexed. “Abernathy,” he said quietly. “What has happened to you?”

  Now it was Abernathy’s turn to stare. Happened to him? He looked down at himself once more. Same body, arms, legs, familiar clothing, everything in place. He looked back at the other, shaking his head in confusion. “What are you talking about?” He had to speak loudly to be heard over the music.

  The gaunt, white-bearded face underwent a truly incredible series of contortions. “You’ve … you’ve changed back! Look at yourself! You’re not a dog anymore!”

  Not a dog … Abernathy started to laugh, then stopped, remembering. That was right—he was a dog! He was a soft-coated Wheaten Terrier, made so by Questor Thews when the old King’s spiteful son, Michel Ard Rhi, had sought to do him serious harm, then left that way because Questor could not change him back again.

  Yes, a dog.

  Except, he realized suddenly, shockingly, he wasn’t a dog anymore. He was a man again!

  “Oh, goodness!” he breathed softly, unable to believe it. “It can’t be! My heart and soul … !”

  He reached down hurriedly and examined himself all over. Yes, those were arms and legs and fingers and toes. His body was back! His human body! He patted wildly at himself, reaching inside his clothing. No fur, but skin, like any normal man! He was beginning to cry now, tears running down his cheeks. He scrambled for something to look into, finally grasping one of the silver buttons that fastened his ornate tunic. He peered down into its tiny, carved surface, and his breath caught in his throat.

  It was his human face he found staring back at him, the face he had not seen in more than thirty years.

  “It’s me!” he whispered, swallowing. “Look, Questor Thews, it’s really me! After all this time!”

  He was crying so hard and at the same time laughing that he thought he might simply collapse. But Questor Thews reached forward and braced him with hands on both shoulders. “My old friend,” he declared in delight, and he was crying, too. “You’re back!”

  Then, in a spontaneous and quite out of character display of affection, they were hugging and clapping each other on the back, rendered unable for the moment to speak a word.

  The audience that had gathered while all this was going on watched uncertainly. It was sizable by now, drawn initially by the odd costumes and the obvious interest of the man and woman who had first approached, then held there by what everyone presumed was a drama of some sort being played out as open-air theater. Really, they were thinking, it was quite good, if somewhat inappropriate for the occasion.

  There was a scattering of polite applause.

  Abernathy continued to cling to Questor Thews, as if letting go would change him back again. He could feel the air and the sun’s warmth, and he could smell the food and hear the music as if he had never been able to do any of those things before in his life. If he could be born again, he thought, it would feel like this!

  “What’s happened to us?” he managed finally, drawing away from the other’s grasp. “How did I change? How did it happen?”

  Questor released him reluctantly, then shook his head, wispy hair sticking out all over the place, the result of his enthusiastic embrace. “I don’t know,” he declared wonderingly. “I don’t understand any of it. I thought we were dead!”

  The crowd applauded some more. Abernathy became aware of them now, three and four deep all around the wizard and himself. He was startled in
spite of himself—and deeply embarrassed. “Questor Thews, do something!” he demanded heatedly, gesturing at the knot of people ringing them.

  The wizard glanced about in surprise but somehow managed to maintain his equanimity. “Hello, there!” he greeted. “Can anyone tell us where we are?”

  There was laughter from the crowd.

  “Bumbershoot,” came a tall, lanky boy’s quick answer.

  “Bumbershoot?” repeated Questor Thews doubtfully.

  “Sure. You know, Bumbershoot, festival of the arts.” The boy grinned. He was enjoying whatever game it was they were playing.

  “No, no, he means the city,” a burly fellow said. He was enjoying the game, too. “You’re in Seattle, Washington, fellows.”

  “United States of America,” another voice added.

  Other names and places were shouted out, spectators now having decided that this was an audience participation performance. Everyone was quite enthusiastic, and the crowd grew larger still.

  “Questor!” Abernathy said sharply. “Do you realize where we are? We’re in the High Lord’s old world! We’ve been transported through the fairy mists once again!”

  The wizard’s jaw dropped. “But how could that have happened? Nightshade meant to destroy us! What are we doing here?”

  “Ask Scotty to beam you up!” someone shouted.

  “Are they Trekkies?” someone else asked hopefully.

  The crowd howled with laughter and engaged in some rhythmic clapping to urge the two on. The music from the pavilion had ceased momentarily, and it seemed as if everyone at the festival had suddenly converged on them, anxious for a new show. Belatedly, Abernathy realized that their unexpected appearance had been the trigger for all this attention, materializing as they had out of nowhere as if … well, as if by magic—which was exactly how they had gotten there, of course, but that was beside the point. This was Earth, the High Lord’s old world, and magic was not practiced here. Not tolerated, really. Not even believed in for the most part. The crowd thought the two were part of the festival, like the jugglers and the stilt walkers and what have you. Whatever magic they possessed was illusion. It was meant to entertain.

  “We have to extricate ourselves from this situation right now!” Abernathy insisted in an anxious covert whisper. “These people think we are offering them some sort of performance!”

  He scrambled quickly to his feet, looking down at himself as he did so, at his human self, wondering in amazement that he was there, restored once more, miraculously, impossibly. His voice caught in his throat. “We have to talk this out … this whole business! But alone, Questor Thews!”

  The wizard nodded in emphatic agreement, rising with him. They were both dressed in Landover clothing, looking very out of place unless you accepted their appointed roles as entertainers. The wizard quickly decided that it was better to go along with perceptions than to try to argue or explain them away. He was as confused as Abernathy about what had happened and just as anxious to sit down in a quiet spot and attempt to reason it all out.

  “Ahem! Ladies and gentlemen! Could I have your attention, please.” He addressed the crowd in his most authoritative voice, lifting his arms in an encompassing gesture to gain their undivided attention. They quieted at once. “My colleague and I require a few moments of preparation before we can proceed with the next act. So if you will just go about your business—enjoy the rest of the festival—we will see you back here in, oh, perhaps an hour. Or not,” he added under his breath. “Thank you, thank you very much.”

  He lowered his arms and turned away. The crowd did not move. No one was prepared to leave just yet, not prepared in some cases to believe that they were even supposed to. This might all be part of the act. Two strangers from another world come mysteriously into this one—it was intriguing. What might happen next? No one wanted to miss out. There was some shuffling of feet but not much lateral movement.

  “This isn’t working!” Abernathy complained, irritated, confused, and overwhelmed by the entire business. “Confound it, wizard, get us out of here!”

  Questor Thews sighed, not at all sure how to do that, then scrunched up his face with determination, took Abernathy by the arm, and marched him directly through the crowd. “Please excuse us, thank you, yes, that’s very kind of you, excuse us, please.” The crowd parted, polite if somewhat disappointed. Questor Thews and Abernathy escaped untouched and moved swiftly away across the festival green toward a clump of buildings and food stands.

  “Where are we going?” Abernathy asked, not daring to look over his shoulder to see if anyone was following.

  “Wherever we can, I suppose,” Questor answered with a shrug. “Since we have no idea where anything is.”

  They moved down onto a walkway, past the face painter, past a fellow spinning tops, past several carts selling food and drink, and onto a square of grass fronting a cavernous glass and metal structure out of which rolled a particularly vile-sounding form of music.

  “What is that noise?” Questor demanded, shaking his head in dismay.

  “Rock and roll,” Abernathy answered absently. “I heard a good deal of it the last time I was here.” Memories were triggered in his mind, but he brushed them aside. He turned, grabbed Questor by the shoulders, and brought him about so that they were face to face. “Wizard, what is going on? Look at me! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry! I’m a man again, for goodness’ sake! How did that happen? Surely Nightshade didn’t intend it! She was trying to kill us! Why aren’t we dead? Why are we here?”

  Questor’s mouth tightened, and he blinked rapidly. “Well, either something went wrong with her magic or another magic intervened and changed the intended result. I favor the latter.” Questor reached up and touched the other’s face. His hand was shaking. “Goodness gracious, here’s something new! Abernathy, are you aware of the fact that you haven’t aged a day from the moment I transformed you from a man into a dog all those years ago?”

  “That isn’t possible!” Abernathy exclaimed in disbelief. “Not a day? No, I must have aged! Why wouldn’t I have aged? It must be the magic, mustn’t it? The one that you think intervened? It changed me back again not only to a man but to the man I once was. Questor, why? Why would it do that?”

  They stared at each other in confused silence, the sound of the music in the hall washing over them, the laughter and gaiety of the festival rising up all around, outworlders in a foreign land, exiles by means they could not fathom. Oh, but I am a man again! Abernathy thought in joy and with a smidgen of terror. Whatever else, I am changed back to who I was and want always to be!

  Questor Thews shook his head. “I don’t mind telling you that this is all very strange,” he declared solemnly.

  “Excuse me?”

  They turned on hearing a girl’s voice and found her standing a few feet away, staring at them. She was somewhere in her middle teens, Abernathy guessed, rather small, with curly blond hair and a scattering of freckles across her nose. She was wearing short tan pants, a rather tight sky-blue blouse with some writing on it, and sandals. She looked perplexed.

  “I was in the crowd a moment ago,” she said, studying them intently, particularly Abernathy. “I followed you afterward because your voice … I know this sounds silly, but because … you remind me of someone …”

  She stopped, and her brow furrowed. She looked suddenly at Questor Thews. “I do remember you. I’m sure of it now. Your name is Questor Thews.”

  Questor and Abernathy exchanged a quick glance. “She overheard us talking,” Abernathy said at once.

  “No, I didn’t.” She shook her head emphatically and came forward a step. “Abernathy, that’s you, isn’t it? You’re not a dog anymore! That’s why I was confused. But your voice is the same. And your eyes. Don’t you remember me? I’m Elizabeth Marshall.” She smiled helpfully. “I’m Elizabeth.”

  He remembered then. Elizabeth, twelve years old when he had last seen her, a child wandering the halls of Graum Wythe, the castle fo
rtress of Michel Ard Rhi, once a Prince of Landover and son of the old King in the days before Ben Holiday. Abernathy had been dispatched to Earth through another of Questor’s inept spells, consigned to the trophy room of his worst enemy, and fated for a swift end when Elizabeth had found him and saved his life. Together they had struggled to conceal Abernathy’s presence from Michel and help the scribe find a way back into Landover. Elizabeth had stuck with him every step of the way. Even when she was discovered and her own safety was threatened, she had refused to betray her friend.

  “I never thought I’d see you again,” she said softly, as if still not certain it was really him.

  “Nor I,” he breathed in disbelief.

  She came forward quickly then and hugged him. “I can’t believe this,” she said into his shoulder, holding him tightly against her. “This is just too weird.”

  “Well, yes,” he agreed, speechless, and hugged her back.

  She broke the embrace. There were tears in her eyes. “Look at me, crying like some little kid.” She brushed the tears away. “When I saw you, the two of you, surrounded by all those people, I didn’t see how it could be true. I mean …” She broke off, shaking her head. “Abernathy, what are you doing here?”

  He shrugged, embarrassed. “I’m really not sure. We were just trying to figure that out. We don’t quite know how we got here. It is rather a long story.” He stared at her. “You’ve grown up.”

  She laughed. “Well, not all the way, but some from the last time you saw me. I’ll be sixteen in a few months. So hello. And hello to you, too, Questor Thews.”

  “Very nice to see you again,” Questor replied. He cleared his throat. “Ah, I wonder, Elizabeth, if we could impose on you—”

  “You don’t have anywhere to stay, do you?” she declared before he could finish. “Of course you don’t. Did you just arrive? Well, you have to have somewhere to stay while you’re here. How long will that be?”

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