Read The Wand & the Sea Online

Authors: Claire M. Caterer

The Wand & the Sea

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For my mother,

Sally Scovel Caterer,

born under the sign of the fishes

I must go down to the seas again,

to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,

And the wheel's kick and the wind's song

and the white sail's shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea's face

and a grey dawn breaking.

—John Masefield

Chapter 1
A Story Untold

Holly Shepard was unlike most twelve-year-olds in that she didn't at all mind sharing a cramped cottage bedroom with her pudgy, snoring, laptop-loving younger brother. It didn't bother her that she was four thousand miles from the place her parents called home, which was a little house in a little suburb in a big square of cracked land baking in the American Midwest. July was different here, in England.

Not that everyone in Holly's family appreciated this damp, chilly village. Her brother, Ben, preferred a place with more electrical outlets. Her mother would get wrapped up in work; her father tried to remember to drive on the left. When they had arrived yesterday, after fourteen hours, three airports, and one rental car, her mother was already regretting they hadn't rented a bigger cottage in a larger town, perhaps one that had a cricket team for Ben to join. (As if he would ever join a team of any kind.) Her father recalled that the grocery didn't carry the coffee he liked, and asked if her mother would pick up some in Oxford, near her office.

But Holly was bothered by none of this. Instead she woke up content and well rested in the limestone cottage in Hawkesbury, with its creaking plaster and dark oak planks that smelled of lemon. Holly hadn't left home. She had
come
home. And in any case, she didn't plan on staying long.

Holly tiptoed around the bedroom, careful not to smack her head on the eave, and grabbed her clothes to change in the bathroom. She skirted Ben's bed without waking him.

The world outside was sodden. The deep gray sky darkened the stone cottage, its white plaster walls glowing in the weak morning light. Holly slipped out the back door, ducked under the garden arbor ringed with hollyhocks, and sat down on the flagstone steps that led into a wide green valley. Through the mist she could just make out the shadow of Darton Castle on the far hill. It was a pile of medieval ruins now, like dozens scattered around the English countryside, but Holly remembered its cruel king and bloodthirsty knights. She pulled her poncho close around her. She had no desire to visit the castle. But the dense forest, which spilled through the west side of the valley, beckoned her. She double-checked her watch—which was also a compass—and then made sure the thin leather scabbard was buckled around her waist. The key—
her
key—was nestled inside.

It took Holly a long time to pick her way down the soggy hillside, and even so, her feet slipped and she slid on her backside the last few yards. She stood up and picked a muddy clump of leaves from one of her long braids.

Not the best beginning, but she was taking a long shot in any case.

The valley was alive with robins. Excited by the worm-yielding earth, they chittered along with warblers and bluebirds. A pair of rabbits noticed Holly and sped into the woods. But when she followed them, all the chirpings and chatterings ceased.

The woods of Hawkesbury were particular—silent, but full, like a dark theater crowded with a rapt audience. The air closed in as dank and close as a rain forest. Holly sighed. Walking through this deep green place was like being wrapped in a favorite blanket.

The iron key in its scabbard bumped along her leg as she hiked the path. She stopped, listening for the humming, the life of the forest reaching out to her. But she heard nothing.

It didn't matter. She
would
find a way to make the key work.

It had been a long year waiting to come back to Hawkesbury. Starting middle school had meant the end of recess and easy math. Her locker jammed on a regular basis. Her English teacher handed out tardies if you were thirty seconds late, even if it was because the school's one and only library book on Celtic mythology was stuck behind the section on anime superheroes. Her math teacher assigned homework every night and didn't give them time in class to work on it. (“That's why it's called
home
work, Holly,” Ms. Knox said when Holly protested, and Holly's mother said, “That seems like a reasonable answer.”) And though she tried to blend in to the cinder-block walls, Holly couldn't help asking questions and interrupting teachers and even getting the occasional lunchtime detention for “wasting the class's time.”

Worst of all, the other girls had suddenly noticed her. Tracy Watson nicknamed her Pippi because of Holly's long brown braids. She cracked up every time Brittany King braided her own hair and then crossed her eyes, running her index finger up the bridge of her nose as if adjusting imaginary glasses. Holly knew what they were doing, but every time she glanced over at them through her own smudgy glasses, they shrugged at her with exaggerated innocent looks.

Holly had made friends with exactly one girl. Charlotte Devon, the shortest kid in the sixth grade, had frothy white-blond hair and arms so thin, she looked like she'd shatter if you touched her. Like Holly, Charlotte spent her free time in the library and even checked out books on fairy tales and King Arthur.

Holly almost told her about last summer.

They were sitting in the cafeteria and Charlotte was thumbing through
Fairy Tales of the Middle East
when Holly blurted out, “Do you think any of that stuff ever really happens?”

“What stuff?” Charlotte asked.

Holly steeled herself. “Magic stuff. Like in the books.”

“Oh, sure it does. Look! I never saw a genie like this one.”

“So you think it happens to real people? Did anything like that ever happen to you?”

“Is this like a joke?” said Charlotte. “I don't get it.”

“No, I mean really. Maybe you saw something strange you couldn't explain?”

“Like a fairy in the woods who wanted to take me away to the fairy realm?”

“Yes! Like that.”

“And then she'd give me something to eat so I'd be trapped in the fairy realm forever and be their prisoner?”

“Right!”

“And the fairies would steal the powers that only I had so they could come out of the shadows and reveal their true selves?”

“Exactly!”

Charlotte's face broke into a beatific smile. “No. We don't have any woods around here, Holly. So how would I get to the fairy realm? Hey, have you read this story about the snake master of Agadir?”

Holly sighed.

She didn't say anything to Charlotte about how she
had
met a fairy in the woods. And how the fairy had offered her something to eat. How the fairy had wanted to steal the powers that only Holly had.

She said nothing about a kingdom where a tyrant king had outlawed magic, where centaurs and magicians were the closest of friends, where a prince had held Ben captive and forced him to be a knight's squire. Where Holly herself was an Adept—a being of great magical power.

She didn't say a word about Anglielle.

Chapter 2
The Red Bird

A few minutes after Holly had entered the muddy overgrown path, the birds and squirrels took up their chatter. The dense canopy of oaks and beeches closed around her. She grasped a mossy sapling and pulled herself up along a slippery rise. In front of her a stream meandered through the wood, an offshoot of the river snaking through the valley.

But it didn't look like the stream she knew.

The narrow brook she had so easily crossed before had swollen, producing whitecaps as it churned through the forest. Holly dropped a twig into the water and watched it disappear in the current.

The brook wasn't safe to cross.

A harsh squawk broke over her head. A large bright-red bird sat on a low tree branch downstream. It glared at her and flapped its wings, showing their indigo undersides. Not a cardinal, or a hawk.

It looked like—though how could it be?—a parrot.

The red bird leaped onto an ancient tree that had fallen across the water. Holly stepped through the dripping undergrowth to reach it. The parrot launched into the air, screeching as if to say,
You're welcome.

Holly considered crossing the tree bridge on foot, but it looked slippery. Instead she sat astride it and edged out to the center.
All this trouble,
she thought,
and I won't even be able to get through the portal.

So what was she doing here?

She was the last Adept of Anglielle.

She never had figured out how someone who came from a world of jet airplanes and concrete and cell phones could wield the power of an ancient place of spells and sorcerers. But somehow she had magic within her. The closer she came to the portal, the stronger she felt that tugging, that homesickness. Hawkesbury felt more real to her than America. This forest felt more real than the lemon-scented cottage. When she reached Anglielle, something inside her would click like the tumblers of a lock aligning. She would find a way in.

Admittedly, the last year hadn't exactly been
magical
. The wand she had forged in Anglielle had reverted to the form of an iron key in this world, just like the one Mr. Gallaway had given her. But it still had power. She had seen it.

She had packed the key away last summer, pained at the thought that she might never see her friends in Anglielle again. Her own world was horribly ordinary, and her shoulder felt cold without the warm Salamander, Áedán, to protect her. She wasn't herself without him and Jade, the black cat. Feeling lonely one January day, she had stuffed the key into her pocket before going to school.

It was that most awful of months: only halfway through the school year, the weather cold and bleak, the new semester difficult. A phlegmy cough spread through the school and gave Holly a fever. Spring, let alone summer, was ages away.

Tracy Watson and Brittany King had chosen this day to sit near Holly's lunch table and talk in very loud voices about which Pippi Longstocking book they liked best, and when Holly didn't respond, they brushed by her seat and knocked over her milk with effusive apologies. That afternoon on the bus, Holly's friend Charlotte dropped her notebook and the girls scooped it up. They laughed at Charlotte's sketches of fairies and elves, even though they were better than what anyone else in school could draw. Charlotte bolted out of the bus with tears in her eyes. She'd be walking almost three miles home in the cold.

Holly tried to follow her, but the bus lurched forward, and the driver barked at her to take her seat. The girls squealed as Charlotte trudged along, her head bent against the wind, and then Brittany dangled the notebook out the window. “Be careful!” Tracy screamed. “Don't drop it! It's a
work of art
.”

Holly gritted her teeth. The front of the bus erupted into chaos; the boys shouted, “Drop it! Drop it!” and everyone laughed. In her pocket, Holly's key vibrated, and a warm wave, like a lick of flame, washed over her chest and face. Her breath came in short, angry puffs. “Give it to me,” she muttered, and gripped the key.

A familiar shock of energy zoomed up from her heart down into the key and back again, charging her hand like a battery. She glared at the notebook, the key buzzing in her fist like a trapped wasp. Brittany screeched as the notebook broke away from her hand.

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