Wizard at Large by Terry Brooks


  “Well…”

  “Why did he change you into a dog? What kind of dog are you, Abernathy?”

  Abernathy licked his nose. He was thirsty. “Do you suppose you could open the door to this display case and let me out?” he asked.

  Elizabeth hurried forward, curls bouncing. “Oh, sure.”She stopped. “It's locked, Abernathy. These cases are always locked. Michel keeps them that way to protect his things. He's very mistrustful.”She paused. “Oh, oh. What's happened to the bottle that was in there? There was a white bottle painted with dancing clowns and now it's gone! What's happened to it? Are you sitting on it, Abernathy? Michel will be furious! Is it under you somewhere, maybe?”

  Abernathy rolled his eyes. I have no idea, Elizabeth. I cannot see anything under me because I cannot move out of the way to look. I will probably never see anything under me again if I do not get out of here!”

  “I told you, the door's locked,”Elizabeth repeated solemnly. “But maybe I can get a key. My father is steward of Graum Wythe. He has keys to everything. He's gone right now, but let me check his room. I'll be right back!” She started away. “Don't worry, Abernathy. Just wait here!”

  Then she was gone, out the door like a cat. Abernathy sat quietly in the silence and thought. What bottle was she talking about, who is Michel, where is Graum Wythe? He had known a Michel once. And a Graum Wythe. But that was years ago, and that Michel and that Graum Wythe were best forgotten

  He felt a sudden chill steal up his spine as the almost forgotten memories took shape once more. No, it couldn't be, he told himself. It was just a coincidence. Probably he heard wrong. Probably Elizabeth said something else and he misunderstood.

  The minutes slipped away, and finally she was back. She appeared noiselessly through the door, crossed to the display case, inserted a long iron key into the lock, and twisted. The glass and iron-mesh door opened, and Abernathy was free. Gingerly, he extricated himself.

  “Thank you, Elizabeth,”he said.

  “You're welcome, Abernathy,”she replied. She straightened the upended vases, searched about in vain for the missing bottle, and finally gave up. She closed the display case door and locked it once more. “The bottle isn't there,”she announced solemnly.

  Abernathy straightened himself and brushed off his clothing. “I give you my word, I know nothing of its whereabouts,”he advised her.

  “Oh, I believe you,”she assured him. “But Michel might not. He isn't very understanding about such things.

  He doesn't even allow people in this room normally unless he invites them in—and then he stays right there with them. I can get in alone only because my father is steward. I like to come here to look at all the neat things. Do you know that there's a picture on the far wall with people in it that really move? And a music box that will play whatever you ask it to? I don't know what was in the bottle, but it was something special. Michel never let anyone near it.”

  A picture with people that moved and a music box that played requests? Magic, Abernathy thought instantly. “Elizabeth,”he interrupted, “where am I?”

  Elizabeth looked at him curiously. “In Graum Wythe, of course. Didn't I tell you that before?”

  “Yes, but… where is Graum Wythe?”

  The blue eyes blinked. “In Woodinvilie.”

  “And where is Woodinvilie?”

  “North of Seattle. In Washington State. In the United States of America.”Elizabeth watched the confusion on Abernathy's face grow. “Doesn't any of this mean anything to you, Abernathy? Don't you know any of these places?”

  Abernathy shook his head. “These are not places in my world, I am afraid. I do not know where…” Then suddenly he stopped. There was alarm in his voice. “Elizabeth,”he said slowly, “have you ever heard of a place called Chicago?”

  Elizabeth smiled. “Sure. Chicago is in Illinois. But that's a long way from here. Are you from Chicago, Abernathy?”

  Abernathy was beside himself. “No, but the High Lord is—or was! This is a nightmare! I'm not in Landover anymore! I have been sent to the High Lord's world! That fool wizard!” He stopped in horror. “Oh, good heavens—and I have the medallion! The High Lord's medallion!”

  He fumbled desperately at the chain and medal that hung about his neck while Elizabeth cried, “Abernathy, it's all right, it's okay, don't be frightened, please! I'll take care of you, really I will, I'll look out for you.”And all the while she petted him soothingly.

  “Elizabeth, you do not understand! The medallion is the High Lord's talisman! It cannot protect him while I have it in this world! He needs it to be with him in Landover! This is no longer his worl… !”Again, he stopped. There was new horror in his eyes. “Oh, for… His world! This is his world, his old world! Elizabeth! You say this place is called Graum Wythe—and that its master is called Michel. What is his full name, Elizabeth? Quickly, tell me!”

  “Abernathy, calm down!” Elizabeth kept trying to pet him. “His name is Michel Ard Rhi.”

  Abernathy looked as if he were about to have a heart attack. “Michel Ard Rhi!” He breathed the name as if to speak it too loudly would bring on the pending heart attack for sure. He took a deep, calming breath. “Elizabeth, you must hide me!”

  “But what's wrong, Abernathy?”

  “It is quite simple, Elizabeth. Michel Ard Rhi is my worst enemy.”

  “But why? What happened to make you enemies?” Elizabeth was full of questions, her blue eyes dancing. “Is he a friend of the wizard who changed you into a dog, Abernathy? Is he a bad…”

  “Elizabeth!” Abernathy tried to keep the desperation from his voice. “I will tell you everything, I promise— after you hide me! I cannot be found here—not with the medallion, not with…”

  “Okay, okay,”the little girl assured him quickly. “I said I would take care of you, and I will. I always keep my promises.”She thought. “You can hide in my room. You won't be found there for a while. No one comes there much except for my dad, and he won't be back for a few days.”She paused. “But we have to find a way to get you there first. That might not be easy, you know, because there's always someone wandering about the halls. Let me see…”

  She studied him critically for a moment, Abernathy wishing he could make himself invisible or something, and then she clapped her hands excitedly.

  “I know!” She grinned. “We'll play dress-up!”

  It was the low point of Abernathy's life, but he did it because Elizabeth assured him it was necessary. He trusted Elizabeth instinctively, the way you will a child, and did not question that she truly intended to help him. He was frantic to get out of the open and into hiding. The worst thing in any world that could happen to him was to be found again by Michel Ard Rhi.

  So he let Elizabeth tie a makeshift collar and leash about his neck, he dropped down on all fours still wearing his silks with their silver clasps, and he walked out of that room like a real dog. It was uncomfortable, disgraceful, and humiliating. He felt like a complete fool, but he did it anyway. He even agreed to sniff at things as he walked and wag his stubby tail.

  “Whatever you do, don't talk,”Elizabeth cautioned as they stepped through the door into a hallway beyond. The hallway was as shadowed and closed away as the room filled with art, and Abernathy could feel the cold of the stone on his feet and hands. “If anyone sees us, I'll just tell them you're my dog and we're playing dress-up. I don't think they will question it much when they see those clothes you're wearing.”

  Charming, thought Abernathy, irritated. And exactly what is wrong with my clothes? But he didn't say anything.

  They passed down a long series of corridors, all rather poorly lit by a combinatimi of tiny windows and lamps, all constructed of stone and timber. Abernathy had seen enough of Graum Wythe by now to know that it was a castle much like Sterling Silver. That suggested that perhaps Michel Ard Rhi was living out his boyhood fantasies, and that in turn made the scribe curious to know more. But he didn't want to think about Michel just now; he was al
most afraid that thinking of him might somehow make the man appear, so he forced the matter from his mind.

  Elizabeth had brought him quite some distance through Graum Wythe's halls without encountering anyone when they rounded a corner and found themselves face to face with a pair of men in black uniforms. Elizabeth stopped. Abernathy immediately edged back behind her legs, finding them entirely too skinny to hide behind. He sniffed the floor dutifully and tried to look like a real dog.

  “Afternoon, Elizabeth,”the men greeted.

  “Good afternoon,”Elizabeth replied.

  “That your dog?” one asked. She nodded. “All dressed up, eh? Bet he doesn't like it much.”

  “Bet he hates it,”the other agreed.

  “What's he got on his nose, glasses? Where'd you find those, Elizabeth?”

  “Pretty fancy stuff for a dog,”the other observed. He started to reach down, and Abernathy growled, almost before he realized what he was doing. The man pulled his hand back quickly. “Not very friendly, is he?”

  “He's just frightened,”Elizabeth offered. “He doesn't know you yet.”

  “Yeah, guess I can understand that.”The man started on his way again. “Let's go, Bert.”

  The other hesitated. “Does your father know about this dog, Elizabeth?” he asked. “I thought he told you no pets.”

  “Oh. Well, he changed his mind,”Elizabeth said. Abernathy slipped out from behind her, pulling on the leash. “I have to go now. ‘Bye.”

  “‘Bye, Elizabeth,”the man said. He started away, then turned back. “Hey, what kind of dog is that anyway?” “I don't know,”Elizabeth called. “Just a mutt.”It was all Abernathy could do to keep from biting her.

  “I am not a mutt,”he told her when it was safe to talk again. “I happen to be a soft-coated Wheaten Terrier. My bloodlines are probably better than your own.”

  Elizabeth blushed. “Sorry, Abernathy,”she said softly, eyes downcast.

  “Oh, well, that's all right,”he soothed, trying to make up for his gruffness. “I simply wanted you to know that I possess pedigree despite my condition.”

  They sat in her room on the edge of her bed, safe for the moment. Her room was bright and sunny in contrast to what they had seen of the rest of the castle, the walls paneled and papered, the floor carpeted, and the furniture soft and feminine with stuffed animals and dolls scattered about. Books lined a case on one wall beside a small writing desk, and pictures of teddy bears and puffins were hung casually about. A poster of something or someone called Bon Jovi was taped to the back of the closed door.

  “Tell me about you and Michel,”Elizabeth asked, eyes lifting once more.

  Abernathy sat back stiffly. “Michel Ard Rhi is part of the reason that I am a dog,”he said. He thought for a moment. “Elizabeth, I honestly don't know if I should tell you this or not.”

  “Why, Abernathy?”

  “Well… because much of it is going to be very hard for you to believe.”

  Elizabeth nodded. “Like what you told me about the wizard changing you from a man into a dog? Like you being from another world?” She shook her head and looked very solemn. “I can believe things like that, Abernathy. I can believe there are things most people don't know anything about. Like magic. Like make-believe places that really aren't make-believe. My dad tells me all the time that there are all kinds of things people don't believe just because they don't understand them.”She paused. “I don't tell anyone this—except for my best friend Nita—but I think that there are other people living out there somewhere on other worlds. I do.”

  Abernathy regarded her with new respect. “You happen to be right,”he said finally. “This is not my world, Elizabeth. It is not Michel Aid Rhi's world either. We are both from a world called Landover, a kingdom really, not very big, but very far away. It is a crossroads for many worlds besides yours, all leading into the mists where the fairy people live. The mists are the source of all magic. The fairies live entirely in the magic; other worlds and peoples do not—at least, not for the most part.”

  He stopped, trying to think how to proceed. Elizabeth was staring at him with amazement, though not disbelief. He reached up and shoved his glasses further back on his nose.

  “What happened to me happened more than twenty years ago. Michel's father was King of Landover then. He was in the final year of his life. I was his Court Scribe. Michel was about your age—but other than that, he was nothing like you, of course.”

  “Was he bad?” Elizabeth wanted to know.

  “He was.”

  “He's not very nice now, either.”

  “Well, then, he has not changed much from when he was your age.”Abernathy sighed. The memories came flooding back, painful images that lingered and refused to go. “I played with Michel while he was growing up. His father asked me to and so I did. He was not a very pleasant child, especially after Meeks took him under his wing. Meeks was the old Court Wizard, a very bad man. He made friends with Michel and taught him bits of magic. Michel liked that. He was always pretending he could do anything he wanted to do. When I played with him, he always pretended he had a castle called Graum Wythe, a fortress stronghold that could stand against a hundred hostile armies and a dozen wizards. He liked the idea of having so much power at his command.”

  Abernathy shook his head. “He played at this and he played at that, and I went along with it. It was not my place to question what was happening to the boy—or what I thought was happening. The old King did not seem to see it as clearly as I did…” He shrugged. “Michel was quite a little monster, I'm afraid.”

  “Was he mean to you?” Elizabeth asked.

  “He was, but he was much meaner to others. I had some protection because I was Court Scribe. Others were not so fortunate. And Michel was really cruel toward animals. He seemed to take great delight in tormenting them. Particularly cats. He really hated cats for some reason. He was always finding strays and throwing them off the castle walls…”

  “That's horrible!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

  Abernathy nodded. “I told him so. Then one day I caught him doing something so unspeakable that even now I cannot bear to talk about it. In any case, that was the end of my patience. I picked up that boy, turned him over my knee, and beat him with a switch until he howled! I did not think about what I was doing, I just did it. When I was finished, he ran screaming from the room, furious at me for what I had done to him.”

  “Well, he deserved it,”Elizabeth announced, certain of it even without knowing what it was he had done.

  “Nevertheless, it was a terrible mistake on my part,”Abernathy continued. “I should have left well enough alone and simply advised the King on his return. The King was gone, you see, and Michel had been left to the care of Meeks. He went immediately to Meeks, therefore, and demanded that I be punished. He wanted my hand cut off. Meeks, I learned later, laughed and agreed. Meeks never cared much for me, you see. He felt I influenced the old King against him. So Michel summoned his guards and they came looking for me. There was no one to protect me. Meeks was acting regent in the King's absence. I would most certainly have had my hand removed had they found me.

  “But they didn't.”Elizabeth was anxious to help the story along.

  “No. Questor Thews found me first. Questor was Meeks's half brother, a wizard as well, albeit a lesser talent. He was visiting for the week, hoping the old King would find him a position somewhere or other. We were friends, Questor and I. He did not care much for his half-brother or Michel either, and when he heard what was happening he came to warn me. There was no time for me to escape from the castle and no place to hide within it. Michel knew them all. So I allowed Questor Thews to change me into a dog so I would not be harmed. I wasn't, fortunately, but afterward Questor was unable to change me back again.”

  “So it wasn't a bad wizard who changed you after all,”Elizabeth said.

  Abemathy shook his head. “No, Elizabeth—just a poor excuse for one.”

  Elizabeth nodde
d solemnly, her freckled face lined with thought. “And you've been a dog all these years? Sorry. A… a soft-coated Wheat Terrier?”

  “Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier. Yes. Except for my fingers and my voice and my thinking, which are still the same as they were when I was a man.”

  Elizabeth smiled a sort of sad child's smile. “I wish I could help you, Abernathy. Help change you back, I mean.”

  Abernathy sighed. “Someone tried that already. That's how I ended up here, scrunched up in that display case. Questor Thews again, I'm afraid. He is not any more adept at his art now than he was thirty years ago. He thought he had finally found a way to change me back. Unfortunately, the magic failed him once again, and here I am, trapped in the castle home of my worst enemy.”

  They were silent for a moment, staring at each other. Afternoon sunshine spilled through the curtained windows and warmed the room. The speckled blue and violet wild-flowers in the vase on the dresser smelled of meadows and hills. From somewhere distant, there came the faint sound of laughter and a scraping of boxes or crates. Abernathy was reminded of home.

  Elizabeth was speaking. “My father once told me that Michel could be very mean to animals,”she was saying. “He said that was why I couldn't have a pet—because something might happen to it. No one at Graum Wythe has a pet. You never see any animals here.”

  “I don't wonder,”Abernathy replied wearily.

  She looked at him. “Michel mustn't be allowed to find you.”

  “No, he certainly mustn't.”

  “But the watch will say something about my having a dog, I'll bet.”She frowned at the thought. “The watch tells him everything. They keep this place guarded just like a prison. Even my father can't go everywhere—and he is chief steward of Graum Wythe. Michel relies on him completely. He runs everything—well, almost everything. He doesn't run the watch. They report directly to Michel.”

  Abernathy nodded, saying nothing, thinking suddenly of the medallion concealed beneath his tunic, imagining what would happen if he were caught wearing it.

  Elizabeth sighed. “I don't like Michel very much— even though he's really never done anything to me. He just isn't very friendly. He always looks so… creepy.”

 
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