Chapter Fifteen – Nightfall

After dinner, Salah helped his mother clear the table, and then he was free to go fishing until dark. “I’ll be back soon, Mama!” Salah banged through the kitchen half door and went to the tool shed attached to their side of their small adobe house. He took down his fishing pole and made sure the new hook that Matthew had given him was tied securely to the length of silk thread, in turn fastened to a length of bamboo a little taller than him. A narrow cobbled road that led back to the main street connected the homes on the riverfront to the rest of Westering. Salah followed the road to where it crossed the flagstone path leading down the gently sloping riverbank from the green. The half dozen people Salah met on his way to the pier were walking in the opposite direction. Salah looked to his left; through the scattered willows that grew along the bank, he could see the wizard’s tower, twice as tall as any of the houses in town. The last rays of sunlight painted the upper floors of the tower with gold. Salah paused for a moment on the path and watched as several crows harassed a large owl, which landed in a window on the top floor and ignored the hecklers. All the tall rectangular windows were open to let in the breeze, but Salah knew that the casements would close by themselves if a summer thunderstorm came through, and then open again when it was past. This magic worked even when Harry wasn’t home. There were also lights that moved past the windows at night, as though Harry were inside, walking up and down the stairs. Nestor assured his son that unfortunately, Harry had not returned, and this was probably some magic to guard his home while he was away.

Salah continued on to the wooden pier, then picked his barefoot way carefully over a few rough boards to avoid any splinters. This small pier was his favorite because — unlike the larger ones that were set aside for the traders and fishermen that plied the river — anyone could use this pier. It was also only a few hundred feet from his house, so Salah could always hear when his mother called. At the end of the structure, which projected some thirty feet out into the river, Salah saw Matthew pulling on the rope that tied his small boat to the leeward side. The old man had been out checking his fish traps after dinner, now he was watching the river and smoking his short clay pipe. The short, tanned man turned as the boy approached. “Thank you for the fish, Matthew,“ Salah said.

Matthew puffed on his pipe. “Oh, I caught more than I could eat with those new lures,” he took off his wide-brimmed hat and tousled his thick, white hair. “Just thought you and your mother might like the rest. Getting late for fishing, though,” Matthew observed, looking out over the water.

“I know,” Salah said. “I won’t be long.” He thought of what Daniel said earlier about his magical fish and felt embarrassed. “I just wanted to try that new hook you gave me.” Matthew had bought some new tackle at the market on the green, and had given Salah a shiny, sturdy new hook. The stocky man didn’t press the boy for details, but blew a ring of cherry-scented smoke into the air. “Well, they were biting good earlier, so you might catch something yet,” Matthew winked. “Be careful!” he said, and then shuffled off down the pier with his two fishing poles, his sandals clopping over the boards.

Salah turned and looked out over the river to the eastern bank, one hundred yards away, where the patchwork of small houses, cow and goat pens, vegetable gardens and orchards had fallen into shadow. The surface of the river was smooth and dragonflies darted over the dark water. Salah unfastened his hook, unwound the silk line from the rod, and took out his marid bait. Salah had been trying the foods he liked (that would also stay on a hook, at least for a while): marzipan, bread crust with honey, hard cheese. Tonight, he had a piece of chicken his mother had cooked with garlic and saffron. Maybe the marid was waiting for something savory? Salah pulled off a strip of meat, carefully placed it on the hook and then moved to the end of the pier, where he unwound the line by turning the bamboo pole until the bait went under the water. Salah relaxed his shoulders and let the current carry the line downstream to his right, then he wound up the line, moved it back to his left and started again.

A few minutes passed quietly. Salah waved at some young men passing by in a flat-bottomed boat loaded with rocks on the far side of the river, and he watched the swifts dive and swirl over the water, catching insects. When the river carried the baited hook to the far right again, Salah looked down and was surprised to see something moving under the water about twenty feet from the end of the pier. Salah held his fishing rod still and bent forward at the waist, trying to get a better look. It was a shadowy thing, and hard to tell how big it was — the light was fading and the water at the middle of the river was deep and dark — but the shape was moving slowly with the current toward the pier.

Salah’s heart beat faster, and he moved his line over to the shadowy form. It didn’t move like a marid; at least, not how Salah imagined the creature, like a large, swift fish with flashing silver scales. This thing moved more like a river turtle, creeping along in the mud, but it was too large for a turtle. Now Salah could see glimpses of white at one end of the dark thing, which had stopped moving. Perhaps it was just the rippling of the water, but the edges of the shape seemed to change and flow. Salah drew in his breath sharply and took a step back. The water had become muddy, and now the shape was almost lost from view, but something about it was unsettling, and Salah quickly wound up his line. He wondered if it was some large dead thing being moved by the current — a dog, or a goat, or maybe even a drowned man. With the bait still dangling from the hook, Salah backed away from the edge of the pier, looking where the dark shape had been, but now he couldn’t be sure there was anything there at all. Salah heard his mother calling him. He looked up toward his house and the warm glow from the open windows, and then he ran thumping over the pier and up the path. Salah didn’t stop running until he reached the kitchen, where his mother and baby sister were waiting to hug him.

~ ~ ~

Edward and Amelia were in the great room of the White Hart when they heard the single bell from the town hall that meant it was quarter-past eight. Edward wanted to ask where the bell was located, and who was ringing it, but Torvald and his sister were having a conversation that Edward was avoiding. Edward and Amelia hadn’t talked since they left Cozen’s after their meeting with Giles. As soon as Amelia got back to the White Hart, she started in on Giles again, and Torvald was happy to join her. Edward sat on a stool near the end of bar, kept quiet and ate the rest of his shepherd’s pie. There was laughter behind him; Edward turned and looked out over the great room, where a dozen werelights hung in clusters of three and four at several tables. The lights cast shadows across the rafters of the high ceiling above, and illuminated the faces of young and old men, bearded and clean shaven, who had come for a pint and some conversation after their day’s work was done.

The fact that anyone in Midhbar could summon their own magical ball of light filled Edward with a wonder approaching joy. Even Amelia was impressed, and both Lockhearts spent a good five minutes turning their werelights on and off, walking around and laughing as the little spheres followed them dutifully around the kitchen at the Hart. All of this had amused Torvald greatly; to him, it must have been like watching children playing with a flashlight. The rules were simple: one light per person, which could be made brighter or softer or a different color all within a set range, and could only extinguished by the person who summoned it. Werelights gave off no heat, and if you fell asleep under one, it wouldn’t burn your skin. Edward assumed this meant werelight — unlike the sunsphere — had no UV component, which was why it didn’t hurt vampires. If you wanted more light than your werelight could provide, you still had to use a candle or a lamp, but Edward wondered aloud at how much wood, beeswax, and whale oil these lights had saved, and how much safer they were than an open flame, to which Torvald replied, “That’s why the Lords made them.”

Edward asked Torvald what he thought the Lords were. They weren’t gods, or men, or wizards — Torvald seemed to think of them as something like angels, though that wasn’t a concept that existed in Scandinavian mythology. Edward didn’t call Torvald’s beliefs “mythology,” of course; Odin and Thor were real to Torvald, but even he seemed to think that maybe the old gods hadn’t migrated from Earth along with their human followers centuries ago. Erik was in a minority who believed that those who came to Midhbar had escaped Ragnarök — the old gods were gone, and this was the promised new world. Amelia and Torvald kept talking about Giles until it became very obvious Edward wasn’t taking part. Amelia, sitting to his left, turned to her brother. “Well, you’re awfully quiet.”

Edward shrugged. “I know neither of you like Giles –”

“Because he’s a creep!” Amelia interrupted, shuddering as though she were talking about spiders, or slugs, or the one thing she hated even more — mole crickets. “It’s like he has no idea how to act around people. Is it just him and Solomon? Does he even have a mother?” Amelia’s tone softened a bit as she wondered what it would be like growing up without one of her parents, which was much easier to imagine since her father disappeared.

“Yes,” Torvald said in an exaggerated whisper, “but Solomon keeps her locked up in the cellar.” Amelia looked shocked at first, then Torvald’s straight face broke and she giggled. “I hear she’s part weasel,” Torvald went on, making a pinched rodent face as he sniffed the air. “That would explain a lot!” Amelia laughed.

Edward was determined to get back to his point. “Riiight. I know neither of you like him, but some of what he says is true,” Edward insisted. “We probably will need a wizard to help us get back home, and they seem to be in short supply around here.”

Amelia didn’t look at her brother, but across the bar at Torvald, who was leaning on one elbow while he ate a piece of buttered bread. “So, if we can’t find Harry, then what about the Earth Wizard, the one who lives at Hollow Mountain?”

“Lapis,” Edward and Torvald said in unison. “I don’t think he’s going to help you, Amelia,” Torvald said, putting the rest of the bread back into a cloth drawstring bag.

Amelia frowned and tapped a fingernail on her stoneware cup. “You mean he can’t, or he won’t?”

“I mean he doesn’t see anyone. No one goes in or out of Hollow Mountain, and hasn’t in a long time. I’ve lived in Westering for almost ten years, and I never heard of Lapis being seen, much less helping anyone.”

“So, what’s his problem?” Torvald shook his head and had a swallow of the cider that Collie had opened earlier. “That’s just the Wizards Major,” he said. “They don’t interfere.”

Amelia huffed. “So they have all this power, and they don’t do anything with it?”

“I didn’t say that. Their job is to keep Midhbar in balance. They don’t get involved with ordinary people and their problems.”

“Never?” Edward asked. “Well, only if things get really out of hand, like in the Wizard Wars.” Torvald’s face lit up. “Collie used to tell me stories about it all the time.” Edward slid his chair a little closer. “It was a power struggle between different factions of Wizards Minor and the great houses of Berila who were their patrons. Basically, there were the Loyalists, who sided with the King, and the Populists, who wanted to abolish the monarchy. The Wizards Major had always stayed out of politics, but when the war spread all over Berila, and started to spill over into the other kingdoms, the Three stepped in to end it.”

Edward couldn’t help noticing his sister was suddenly interested in history for the first time. “What did they do?”

Torvald moved down the counter until he was between Edward and Amelia, and then leaned toward them across the bar on his long arms. “Well, first, the Sea Wizard intervened in a huge naval battle near the Western Isles, and sank about half the ships on both sides.”

Amelia asked before Edward could — “How?”

“Collie said that first came up a fog so thick you couldn’t see from one side of the deck to the other, and then something started smashing into the ships and sinking them. It was hard to see anything at all, and there was thunderstorm going at the same time, but sometimes when the lightning lit up the fog, you could see a huge shape moving under the ships, and breaking their hulls like toys.” Torvald waited a moment, then leaned closer. “Some of the sailors said it was Leviathan, the great sea-serpent.” This got Edward thinking again about this world’s strange contradictions — there were no ticks or mosquitoes, and no evidence of sickness or disease, but there were vampires, sea monsters, and Laughing Jack (whatever it was). The locals also seemed to be stuck with medieval hardware. Granted, magic might make up for a lot of technological shortcomings, but in the past five hundred years, Midhbar hadn’t even produced a steam engine, much less a smart phone.

Torvald paused to fill the mugs of three men who came to the bar. Judging from the smell, they worked with livestock. Edward had to smother a laugh when he saw Amelia nonchalantly holding her hand over her nose while she pretended to look at something on the opposite side of the room until the men went back to their table. Torvald then went on excitedly. “Then Ayron, the Sky Wizard, whipped up storms over all the great houses that were fighting the War, and kept it up until they were flooded out. It rained on Castle Dunharrow for three days and nights, and they say fish were swimming through the gates. Keep Tarraway was on high ground, and couldn’t be flooded, so Lapis opened up a chasm that destroyed the road into the keep and cut them off from the village.” Torvald shook his head, “After that, the Loyalists and the Populists made peace. The royal family got to stay in Berila, but there’s still no king.” Torvald sighed. “Anyway, that was almost two hundred years ago, and that was the last time Lapis did anything I ever heard about.” Torvald leaned back and took a long drink of cider.

Edward added this information to his Midhbar timeline and his catalogue of wizard powers. “So Lapis is more than two centuries old?”

Torvald put down his cup. “Well, he’s been the Earth Wizard for more than two hundred years, and he was a Wizard Major for almost a hundred years before that.”

Edward whistled. “Is that typical?” He wondered if the wizards were really human at all, to live so long.

“For a Wizard Major it is, but Lapis has been Earth Wizard for longer than usual.” Torvald brushed his long blonde hair out of his eyes. “Lapis should have trained an apprentice and handed over the reins years ago.”

Edward raised his dark eyebrows. “So why didn’t he?”

Torvald frowned, “Well, Lapis did find his replacement, and trained him, but then sent him away with no explanation.”

“Herodotus,” Edward said quietly. Torvald was clearly surprised. “Yes. How did you know?” Amelia looked at Edward, too, almost disapprovingly, as if he should have kept quiet.

“Giles told us,” Amelia said with a scowl. “So, do you think Harry went to Hollow Mountain, then? That’s what weasel-boy said.”

Torvald frowned, nodded. “That’s what my father and Collie think.”

Amelia asked, “And no one has heard from Harry since then, a week ago?” Torvald nodded. “A week tomorrow. That’s not very long; Harry is sometimes gone weeks at a time, but this time he didn’t tell anyone where he was going.”

Amelia was pulling at one of her curls. “Why not?” Torvald hesitated, and Edward answered for him. “He didn’t want anyone to go after him, in case he didn’t come back.” Torvald looked away, but nodded. “Probably so.”

Amelia looked at Edward and then Torvald. “But why? I mean, Lapis was Harry’s mentor, right? What would he do to him?”

“Torvald just said nobody has heard from Lapis in years, Em,” Edward said curtly. “He hasn’t been holed up all this time because he loves his fellow man.”

“There’s no way to know,” Torvald interjected, sensing the tension between the siblings. “I heard my father and Collie saying that Harry got a letter the day before he left, and they think it was from the Earth Wizard. So, if Lapis did summon Harry,” Torvald shrugged, “Maybe he wanted to explain himself, make amends. Who knows?”

“Or, Harry could have walked into a trap,” Edward said, looking into his cup.

“Yes,” Torvald said, his voice almost a whisper.

Amelia rubbed her forehead. “Well, it’s good to know that things here are just as messed up as they are back home.”

“Why wouldn’t they be, Em?” Edward said, glaring at his sister. “People are the same everywhere, whether they have magic powers or not.”

“Well, thanks for the update,” Amelia said defensively. Edward seemed about to reply; then he got down from his chair and started for the open door.

“Where are you going?” Amelia tried, unsuccessfully, not to sound like their mother.

“Outside. To the market, I guess,” Edward replied.

“But you don’t have any –”

“I know I don’t have any money, Amelia,” Edward said without turning around. “I can still look.”

“But they’re probably getting ready to close,” Amelia turned to Torvald, “Right?”

“Most will close at dark,” Torvald said, trying to stay neutral.

“Then I’ll just walk,” Edward said. “Don’t worry — I’ll be back soon. It’s not like I have to take a bath before bedtime…” Edward trailed off as he went out.

“He’ll be fine, Amelia,” Torvald said reassuringly. “I think he just needs some time alone, to think. Maybe you do, too?”

Amelia closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. “If I think about things any more, I think I’m going to scream,” she said, trying to smile.

“Well, my father says I never think about anything,” Torvald said with a grin, “so maybe I can help you.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

As usual, Solomon seemed aloof and distracted when he came downstairs after talking to Ash. When Giles told him he was meeting Edward at Harry’s tower just after nightfall, his father’s mood improved. “That’s good news, Giles,” he nodded, smiling. “Excellent work, son,” he said and clapped his hand on Giles’s shoulder. Giles walked with his father through the entrance to their store, where Solomon stood under the bright red awning and looked northeast toward the river. The top two floors of the wizard’s tower were just visible above the buildings across the street.

“You’re sure you can get inside?” Solomon asked. Giles bit his thumb, a nervous habit, and nodded. “Yes,” he said. The long silk flags hanging from the awning whispered in the warm evening breeze.

“Good,” Solomon said, and looked at his son again. There were only a few shops open this late, and the last of the customers were out on the street now. Across the street, Inga, the seamstress, was locking her doors and talking to Moira, the baker. Solomon stood close to Giles and lowered his voice, “Remember, once you’re inside, get upstairs as quickly as you can. We need to know what Herodotus has been working on, and if it’s anything we can use.” Giles understood that the we in this conversation was his father and Ash. Giles was instrumental to the plan, and yet not privy to all the details. Maybe his father wasn’t either, and was too proud to admit that Ash was withholding information from him, too. “Do wehave any idea what that might be?” Solomon raised an eyebrow at Giles to let his son know his sarcasm hadn’t gone unnoticed. “We have theories, but we need to be certain. And then there’s the matter of Edward.”

“Yes. It would helpful to have some idea of what to expect,” Giles was still hoping his father might share why it was so vital the younger Lockheart get inside the wizard’s tower. Solomon crossed his arms, “I’ve told you all I know, son.”

You’ll know it when you see it,” Giles repeated, sounding disappointed. “And then I show him our secret handshake and welcome him to the club?”

Solomon looked stern. “You’re an impertinent child, Giles.” His son scowled, and Solomon shook his head. “Do you talk to everyone this way?” Giles sighed. “I suppose so,” Giles spread his arms out toward the street. “Which explains why I have so many friends here.” Solomon looked pained; his son looked down and muttered an apology, “I’m sorry, father.” Solomon summoned his patience. It must be hard for Giles to see this boy, Edward, a total stranger who knew nothing of Midhbar, suddenly become so important to their plans. “Whatever happens tonight, Edward will play a part in what’s to come.” Solomon smiled at his son, trying to encourage him. “And so will you, Giles.” Solomon put a hand on each of his son’s narrow shoulders, “We need your help to succeed, and I know we can count on you.” Solomon stooped a little so that he could look his son in the eyes. “You’re smart, and you know how to think on your feet. I’m proud of you, Giles.”

“Thank you. I won’t disappoint you, father,” Giles said, Any more than I have already. Solomon never spoke of it, but Giles knew his father desperately wanted him to have the Gift — why else would Solomon have married Eleanor, if not for the chance that their children might benefit from her bloodline? “I know you won’t,” Solomon put one hand on top of Giles’ head, the way he did when his son was small. Solomon looked back at the wizard’s tower and the fading light on the western side. “You’d best get ready to go, son. It will be dark soon.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

Just in case Amelia was watching, Edward walked across the green and into the group of tents. The only vendors that still had their wares displayed were in the process of putting them away. Most of them paused as Edward approached, hopeful of one last sale, but when Edward smiled and waved without stopping, they went on with their packing, werelights bobbing over their busy hands. It seemed like all the tents he and Amelia had seen earlier in the day were still there. Then it occurred to Edward that these vendors had probably traveled hours to get to Westering, and they wouldn’t be traveling after dark, not in the Wilderlands. Overall, werelights made moving around at night much safer, but they weren’t able to repel vampires; they just made finding humans easy.

Now Edward heard voices and music from the tents around him. He smelled food cooking, and up ahead a group of men with pipes and women in bright dresses were laughing and talking. Edward looked back to be sure he couldn’t be seen from the White Hart, and then turned left at the next gap to cut across the green. As Edward walked between the tents, a tall man in a crimson vest came out of a tent right in front of him and the two nearly collided. Edward and the spice merchant looked equally startled, then apologetic; the man gave a small bow, then turned and went the way Edward had just come. As the merchant walked, he noticed he had no werelight. Assuming he had absentmindedly dismissed it, the merchant summoned another and kept walking toward the center aisle among the tents. He was eager to join his fellow vendors to see how well they had done that day. Even if the merchant had looked back, he might not have realized it was his own werelight following the boy he had just bumped into, the stranger from another land with no money, strange clothes, and invisible spectacles.

Edward wasn’t using a werelight. He didn’t want it drawing attention to a lone figure crossing the green in the deepening gloom. And yet, as Edward moved away from the light of the tents, his sandals whispering through the dewy grass, he noticed the glow following him. Edward paused and looked up at the little white-gold sphere, puzzled. It was odd, but Edward told the light to go out, and it did, so he kept walking toward the north edge of the green, where the turf ended and the stonework started again. On the other side of a cobbled alley running parallel to the edge of the green was a row of two and three-story townhouses, lights in their open windows, and voices drifting out onto the warm June air. Edward stepped onto the main street. This near to the closely-grouped houses, Edward could no longer see Harry’s tower, but he knew it wasn’t far away.

When it came to the subject of the wizard and his tower, Edward didn’t care what Amelia and Torvald thought about Giles Cozen. All Edward cared about was getting inside the tower. He knew it was actually trespassing, no matter how he rationalized it, and that made him uncomfortable, but this was a singular event. Edward had spent many hours in the realm of the Shadow King, and now he had a chance to explore a real wizard’s tower. If Giles could get them inside, he could sprout horns for all Edward cared.

Edward called for a light and had reached the sidewalk when he heard someone call his name. Edward turned; behind him, werelight illuminating a crooked smile and a wave, was Giles Cozen. Edward stopped and waited for the older boy to catch up. “Have any trouble getting away from your sister?” Giles said, raising one eyebrow. Edward shook his head. He didn’t really want to talk about it; he was ready to get over to the tower, but Giles seemed to be expecting an answer, so Edward offered, “I just told her I was going for a walk.” Giles nodded, then looked toward the tower and kept walking up the street. Edward noticed that most of the shops had two floors, and while all the windows on the street level were dark, there were many lights on the second floor, where the owners lived above their businesses.

“I’m glad you’re thinking clearly about your situation, Edward,” Giles said as they walked. “I can’t imagine what you and Amelia have been through, but it’s understandable that she’s feeling overwhelmed.”

“It’s been a weird day,” Edward said, with studied understatement. “I don’t blame Amelia for being freaked — ah, upset after everything that’s happened,” Edward said with a shrug. “I just wish she wouldn’t be so…” Edward shook his head.

“Condescending?” Giles offered, remembering Amelia’s haughty manner few hours ago in the store.

“Yes,” Edward agreed. “And stop acting like she’s our mother!”

Giles steered Edward to the right and a shortcut between two rows of buildings. “I actually know how you feel,” Giles said. “I have an older sister who treats me the same way.”

Edward looked at Giles with surprise. “You have an older sister?”

“Oh, yes,” Giles said, rolling his eyes, “the Insufferable Isabelle.” Giles noticed Edward’s look of confusion. “She’s in Almaren, with her — our mother. Neither of them would be caught dead out here in the hinterlands,” he smirked. “She’s my step-sister, actually, which she points out to everyone, every time we’re introduced.” Giles’ smirk faded. “As if her pedigree still makes her better, never mind her mother –” Giles caught himself and stopped. “Sorry, boring family history. The point is, I know how it feels to have an older sister lording it over you.”

“Oh, Amelia’s OK,” Edward said. “Its been hard on all of us since our father went missing. She thinks she has to take care of me all time.”

Giles watched Edward’s face as they neared the end of the alley, “Sorry to hear about your father,” he said.

Edward nodded and looked down at the sidewalk for a moment. “Thanks,” he said quietly. “We all really miss him, and after three months, we still don’t have any idea what happened to him.”

“I heard some rumors,” Giles said carefully, “but people tell all sorts of silly tales about strangers.”

“Well, that one is true,” Edward said simply. He was quiet for a few more steps, and then he looked very serious. “When we woke up in the forest, and we thought about our mother being there alone, and finding our empty beds,” Edward paused, as if he reconsidered sharing his thoughts, then he continued, “We wondered if somehow Dad’s disappearance and ours might be related.”

Giles nodded. “Do you mean,” he hesitated, “Do you think your father might be here? In Midhbar?”

Edward held up his hands, “There’s no evidence, of course,” he said, seeming embarrassed, “It’s just a feeling, I guess.”

“Well, maybe you should trust your intuition,” Giles said, then chuckled. “Though it’s never helped me much.” Edward laughed. “Not exactly my strong suit either,” he said.

“But if you and your sister, and your father all vanished into thin air,” Giles looked at Edward, “at least, as far as your mother can tell, seems unlikely it’s a coincidence.” Giles paused as a group of boys passed by in a noisy herd, running and shouting, their werelights clustered over them like a school of bright fish. Giles went on, “This is all the more reason you need a wizard to help you, Edward. Not just to get home, eventually, but to…” he trailed off, and Edward looked at the older boy to see what was wrong. He followed Giles’ stare and looked up, where three werelights now rotated slowly around his head.

“That’s not,” Giles stammered, “That’s impossible!”

Edward knew this was breaking one of the rules — only one werelight person — but he had no explanation. “I didn’t do it,” he replied, “I mean, you can’t call more than one, right? I didn’t even try.” Both boys stared at the three lights. “Where did they come from?”

Giles looked back down the street where the group of boys had run past. “I thought I saw lights moving out of the corner of my eye, and I assumed some of the boys were coming back,” he said, still staring over Edward’s head. “These werelights must have come from them.”

“But how?” Edward said, and suddenly he felt like laughing as he watched the three werelights orbiting his head.

“I have no idea,” Giles said, thinking of the reason he was taking Edward to Harry’s tower in the first place. “I’ve never seen anything like this.” Giles looked at Edward, who was grinning as the werelights circled above him. You’ll know it when you see it, Giles had been told. He wondered what else he’d see when they were inside Harry’s tower.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Matthew got within sight of his tiny house on the riverbank when he realized he’d left his new fly lures — bought Saturday morning at the market on the green — back in his boat. The old fisherman who made the lures had worked the the river south of Westering for many years, and he guaranteed Matthew the fish would bite the blue and green feathered flies. Matthew had success with them earlier in the afternoon, when he caught more fish than he could eat, and so he took three, cleaned and dressed, to Nestor’s wife, Eleni. Matthew hadn’t been looking for anything in return, but he didn’t say no to three small, round loaves of fresh saffron bread. They were delicious and the perfect size to take along whole for a morning of fishing. Eleni passed Matthew the bread the same way she accepted the fish, from the other side of the half door that led into her kitchen. Eleni didn’t let strangers, or any men, into her home while Nestor was away, and Matthew thought that was good and proper. He was much older than Eleni, but her pleasant ways, and her baking skills, made Matthew wish he had found a wife like her after his own lovely Tilda had passed on, now nine years and three months ago.

As Matthew headed down the flagstone path to the pier, he saw Salah hot-footing it back up to his house. Salah was a good boy. A bit of a day-dreamer, but Matthew had been, too, at his age. Speaking around the stem of his pipe, Matthew summoned a werelight. The reflection of the glowing orb followed him in the water as he walked down to the end of the pier where his little boat was tied up. As Matthew stepped onto the small rope ladder hanging above his boat, he told himself once more that he was getting too old for all this clambering, and would have to get used to pulling his boat up onto the sandy bank and putting out from shore.

Matthew stepped carefully into his boat, and waited for the rocking to stop before he let go of the rope ladder and sat down on the weathered cross board that served as his seat. Matthew leaned down, reached under the board for the oilcloth pouch he where he had stored the lures, found it by touch and lifted it up. As Matthew sat up again, he looked out over the river and to the shore on the other side. It was a beautiful evening. The tall rushes swayed gently in the the light breeze, and Matthew was startled by the harsh cry of a heron as it flew down stream behind him, long legs trailing the water.

Matthew tucked the pouch into his belt and was about to reach for the rope when he saw a swirl of bubbles in the water not far from the edge of the pier. Matthew stopped and squinted; there wasn’t much light, but the bottom near the shore was sandy, and with that contrast, Matthew could just make out a mass of dark shapes coming toward the pier from the middle of the river. Matthew bent down slowly, his werelight reflected in the water. When his boat capsized suddenly, the bow hit Matthew on the back of the head and stunned him. By the time he started trying to struggle back to the surface, it was too late. Matthew saw his boat, a black oval on the surface of the water above him. As cold, pale hands dragged the old fisherman down, his werelight followed. Matthew reached up once more, his hands seemed to touch the light, and then darkness closed around him.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Collie spent a fruitless hour searching for Rava. In eagle-form, he flew like an arrow from the western Wall and soared in slow, widening circles until his gyres took him more than half-way to Watson Farm. Collie was sorely tempted to fly to the Great Barn, to find out how Erik and the men were faring, but he’d sworn to keep Torvald in his sight, and he had already broken that vow. Best to get back to the Hart now that dusk was falling and hope no one had noticed how long he’d been gone. Collie hadn’t meant to stay away so long, but the eagle was fixed on finding Rava, and paid no heed to the distant tolling of the bells in Westering until the sky began to darken. Collie’s obligations came back to him, and the eagle leaned left, heading for the eastern Wall. As Collie descended, the treetops of Watson’s Wood below him blurred with speed, the eagle streaked over the Wall and the little village of East Bank. Collie changed shape to an owl in the space of a wingbeat and slowed, gliding toward the river on broad, silent wings. He could see the lights in the small houses along the riverbank. When his keen eyes picked out Matthew’s capsized boat, and then the shapes moving on the west bank, Collie’s owl-form let out a screech. What he was seeing made no sense, but there was also no doubt — there were vampires, dozens of them, emerging silently from the river and moving up the gently sloping bank like ragged shadows. Some were spreading out among the riverfront houses, while others continued toward the green.

Collie had been making a direct line over the green to the White Hart, so Nestor’s house was directly before him when Collie heard the screams from inside the small clay dwelling. Collie hesitated for an instant. He had to make sure Torvald was safe, and alert the Watch, but Eleni was there with her two children, while her husband was away risking his life with Erik.

Collie braked, turning his broad wings perpendicular to the ground. He veered left, almost overshot the kitchen, then settled on the lower door, which stood ajar where the vampires had entered. His talons gripped the wood as he looked inside, then he saw movement in the room beyond, heard another scream and the baby crying. Collie shifted back to his normal form as he hopped from the door, hit the floor running, and entered the next room with a shout to draw attention to himself. It worked — five vampires, clothes dripping and pale skin slick with river water, turned to look at him with fangs bared. Eleni was standing with her back to the fireplace, cut off from the exits and the rest of the house. She was holding the baby against her chest with her left arm, with her right she shielded Salah, who saw Collie and called his name.

Collie looked at the boy, and then Eleni, who seemed somewhere between anger and panic. She had a scratch on the side of her face; it was bleeding freely, but not enough to be dangerous. Collie said, “It’s going to be all right!” as the vampires rapidly converged on him across the small room. Collie took a deep breath; a muscle in his mind flexed, and power flowed through him. When the mist cleared, a huge troll shook his shaggy head and lunged forward to grab the closest two vampires by their heads, one in each huge, hairy fist, and smash them together. Two other vampires leaped for his throat, their claws seeking his eyes. The troll roared, showing his yellow tusks, and shook one bloodsucker off; the vampire landed hard on the dinner table, scattering a basket of apples and smashing a stoneware mug. Collie grabbed the other vampire with both hands as it sank its fangs into his shoulder and hurled the attacker bodily at the fifth vampire, taking them both down like skittles and leaving them sprawled on the wooden floor. As the vampire that landed on the table now tried to scramble away, Collie grabbed it by the leg and swung it hard against the wall with a crash, and the creature went limp. Troll-Collie stomped toward the two vampires he’d knocked on the floor, one of them staggered to its feet and headed for the front door. Through the haze of anger and adrenaline that filled the troll’s brain, Collie thought about Torvald, and let the creature go. Troll-Collie turned to the humans; Eleni looked as terrified as she had been of the vampires, but Salah was jumping up and down on the hearth, cheering and yelling, “Do it again!” Collie tried to suppress a smile as he shifted back to normal. He stayed where he was, but he pointed to his own face and said, “Are you all right?” Eleni touched her cheek, looked at the blood with surprise, and then nodded, “Yes.” She closed her eyes for a moment, took a long, shuddering breath, and then said, with tears in her eyes, “Thank you, Sayyd Collum.”

Collie nodded, and smiled as Salah came and hugged him tightly around his waist. Collie put one hand on the boy’s head, then looked at Eleni and her baby. “We have to get you three out of here.”

Moments later, a black horse galloped away from Nestor’s house with his family on its back.  Salah clung tightly to the horse’s neck; his mother sat close behind him, one arm holding the crying baby against her and the other wound tightly around Salah’s waist. Eleni kept telling Salah to keep his head down, and at first her son buried his face in the horse’s mane. When they topped the gradual incline of the riverbank and reached the edge of the green, the horse slowed suddenly, and Salah looked up to a scene of chaos as vendors fled and fought with packs of vampires roaming freely among their tents. Collie snorted and turned right, trying to skirt the worst of the danger. As Collie galloped past the rows of tents on the left, Salah saw men and boys with swords, daggers and even hammers surround a knot of women and children in a protective ring as undead creatures circled and snarled. Salah saw a vampire on top of a screaming woman, and a man with a torch trying to force the creature away. Collie had almost cleared the tents when they surprised a vampire stalking a young man — Collie veered left to intercept the creature, which looked up in shock before Collie ran the intruder down in a flurry of stamping hooves and then continued across the green. More and more werelights were appearing, the town bells started ringing, and people were coming out of houses on the north side to see what was happening. Collie and his passengers reached the White Hart without meeting any other people, or vampires. No sooner were Salah and his family down, trembling, from the black horse than Collie was back in his familiar shape, breathing hard as he herded the humans toward the door of the inn and called for Torvald.

 

~ ~ ~

 

As excited as he was to reach Harry’s tower, Edward had to pause for a moment to look more closely at the glowing trees that lined the approach to the wizard’s home. The double row of medium-sized evergreens looked like Christmas trees, lit with dozens of small werelights, and each of the trees gave almost as much light as a streetlamp. They didn’t need their werelights here, and Giles didn’t want anything drawing attention to them as they approached the tower door, so he extinguished his, and had Edward do the same to his three. Giles nodded at the nearest tree. “There are more of these throughout the town,” Giles said, enjoying Edward’s fascination. “Harry has been planting them for the past year and a half since he got to Westering.” Giles was about to explain that these trees only grew in Almaren until Harry arrived, but he was interrupted by the sound of yelling from the street behind them. “Sounds like something’s going on back over toward the green,” Edward said. Giles frowned and urged Edward more quickly up the flagstone path. “Let’s keep going,” he said; he’d been hoping that no one would see them, and so far, they’d been lucky.

In a moment, they had reached the three wide stone steps that led up to Harry’s door. The arch over the entrance had a single letter G carved into it, and the door itself was plain, but very sturdy, wide sections of unpainted oak, crossed by three iron bands. Edward smiled and put out his hand to touch the smooth wood. “So you have a password that Herodotus gave you to get in anytime?”

Giles nodded, “I use it when I’m here for tutoring, in case Harry is upstairs, as usual, and he hasn’t unlocked the door,” Giles explained. “Though I’m sure Harry could open the door without walking all the way downstairs — the problem is hearing anyone down here from up there,” he pointed to the top floors. As he looked up, Giles noticed that all the windows in the tower were still open to the cool night breeze coming off the river. Harry’s tower sat on top of a small knoll; the nearest homes were those along main street, thirty yards away on the other side of a thick hedge. There was nothing between the tower and the river to the east, except Harry’s fruit trees and a large grassy field for grazing his goats.

“And this password works even when Herodotus isn’t home?” Edward asked, checking the door for runes or symbols of any kind.

“I’m pretty sure,” Giles said. He was basing this on the fact that several months before, Harry had told Giles he was welcome to deliver a parcel of paper, quills and ink from Cozen’s and leave it on the small table just inside the doorway, even if he was out. Giles had announced himself, pushed the heavy door open, and walked inside. He called hello a few times, heard no reply, then left the parcel on the table and left. When Giles tried the door again, out of curiosity, it wouldn’t budge.

When they heard the screams from somewhere behind them, Giles and Edward both turned to look back down the path toward main street. The boys glanced at each other; they heard another scream, and shouts after that, and the sound of glass breaking. “What’s going on?” Edward said. Giles shook his head, and took a step down, looking down the path between the glowing trees. “I don’t know,” he said quietly, but his heart was beating faster, and he had a feeling that something bad was happening, and it was spreading through the town like ripples around a stone. “Giles,” Edward said. “Let’s go inside.”

“Yes,” Giles said, coming back up the step to stand beside Edward. Suddenly, being inside Harry’s tower seemed like a very good idea indeed. Giles looked at Edward, tried to summon up a confident smile, then cleared his throat and addressed the door. “It’s Giles Cozen,” he said. “That’s all?” Edward sounded disappointed that it was so simple. “You were expecting some mysterious phrase in Latin?” Giles said with a smirk. Edward shrugged, and Giles pushed against the door. It didn’t move. He tried again, more forcefully this time, “It’s Giles Cozen!” He pushed the door with one hand, then shoved it hard with both, but it was shut tight. “I don’t think it’s working,” Edward said, then Giles heard something and he turned to see several men in dark clothes coming down the path. No, not men. They loped along more like animals, their bare, pale feet and hands in stark contrast to their dark clothing. Their ragged black and grey cloaks, still dripping water, hung heavily on them. “Vampires,” he said to Edward in a whisper. Both of the boys pressed themselves against the wall on either side of the doorway, trying to disappear into the shadows.

“What do we do?” Edward whispered back, his eyes wide. The vampires were spreading out to the left and right now, encircling the tower — the boys were trapped. “We have to get inside,” Giles said, and one of the two vampires who had been looking up to the top of the tower now pointed at the door. Both vampires started moving quickly toward the boys. Giles shouted, “It’s Giles Cozen!” as he pounded on the smooth oak panels. Nothing. Giles looked back, the two vampires were only twenty yards away now. From a sheath on his belt, Giles pulled the short single-edged knife he used for cutting rope at the store. The small blade was the only weapon Giles had, and he had nothing to give to Edward. “Do you have a knife?” Edward shook his head.

“Get behind me!” Giles said to the younger boy as the vampires advanced, their long nails clicking. Giles couldn’t swallow, and his hand shook as he held the small blade in front of him. The vampires got within twenty feet and then stopped, nasty hissing laughter came from their parted fangs. The creatures were close enough that Giles could see their glittering onyx eyes, and their ragged yellow claws, still caked with river mud. The hissing continued; one of the creatures was mocking Giles’ stance with the knife. The other vampire had a long scar across his face that rippled as he laughed. “I’m sorry, Edward,” Giles said, his voice breaking. This was a stupid, horrible way to die, and Giles just hoped that neither of them became hosts for these twisted spirits. “It’s not your fault,” Edward said, then he turned his back to Giles and the vampires and put both of his hands on the door.

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