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Chapter Three

My grandmother lives on Heath Hill, among an old stand of mixed wood. Her nearest neighbor, as chance would have it, is that very same Joe Nemeier who stands as the CEO of the local drug trade. He’d gone and built himself a modest little Bar Harbor cottage on the high land—think Wingwood or The Willows and you won’t be far afield—overlooking the Wood and, beyond it, the sea.

I came up the Hill from Heath Street, and paused outside the shadow of the trees to look up at the monstrosity sitting there—an architectural monstrosity, that was, and solely in my own opinion. A few weeks ago, the place had been truly monstrous, overlain with sticky gobs of…well, magic, if the word will make the concept go down easier. Those few weeks ago, Joe Nemeier had available to him, for what price I can’t begin to speculate, the services and protection of an extremely powerful Ozali—magician—now deceased.

There were those of us who were glad about that, not excluding myself and my immediate family—grandmother, grandfather, and mother, too. I didn’t expect Joe Nemeier entered into our feelings, but you can’t please everybody.

There being nothing of interest to see up at the house, I turned my back on it and walked to the ocean edge of the Hill.

Roses softened the stony edge, tumbling over the thin grass in a froth of white and pink and dark green. Sea rose canes bear thorns, just like their hybrid sisters, so I stopped some paces back from the edge, looking down the Hill, at roses climbing rock, flowering against the sand; then raised my sights, looking out to the black, bladed surface of Googin Rock, the local hazard to navigation. Tide was going out; still, the retreating waves struck the Rock with energy, throwing thick drops of seawater up into the lagging breeze.

It was a strange and fierce place, Googin Rock, though less strange than it had been, weeks ago. Magic again. And, yeah, I was in it to my elbows.


I turned toward the trees. Nine steps brought me into the shadow; nine more, and I was in the Wood itself.

Welcome, Kate…

The words formed inside my ears, shaped by the breeze. The living voice of the Wood, the unanimous greeting of the trees. Some might find it…creepy; even alarming. I found it soothing. If the trees didn’t approve of me, at least they welcomed me, and they don’t welcome all, or even most, visitors.

“Good morning,” I said, strolling down the path that opened for me between the low growth and the mature trunks. You never take the same path through the Wood twice. Some might find that disturbing, too. For myself, I didn’t question whether the Wood would lead me to the Center, or just ’round in circles until I fell, exhausted, to be strangled by vines while I slept. Yeah, I know the old stories; and I know that they’re true—sometimes, and for some folk. But, me, I’m not an enemy to trees; I’ve got close family ties.

Eventually, the press of trunk and branch thinned; the small growth fell away to grass, and the grass to moss. I was in the glade at the Center; the heart and very soul of the Wood. The place where the Lady lives.

A tupelo tree grew at the Center—what we call black gum, or pepperidge, up here in Maine. Gran took her name there—Ebony Pepperidge, which gets shortened to Bonny more often than not.

Her particular black gum tree, here at the Wood’s heart, is nine feet around, and a good hundred feet tall, with great, twisted black branches against which thin, egg-shaped leaves glow like green glass.

Sitting with his back cozily against that broad trunk was a yellow-haired man in a black muscle shirt and black leather jeans. The hair was long enough to brush white, elegantly muscled shoulders. His face, when he looked up at me, was ageless—which isn’t anything near like young. He had fire-red mustaches and well-opened blue eyes. If you looked close, you could see tiny blue flames dancing in their depths.

A red plastic cooler sat next to him on the moss. The leather coat and hat that completed his daily wear hung on a nearby branch. A large, soot black bird perched on the same branch, head tucked under a wing.

“Good morning, Katie,” he said with a smile. The smile was sweet, but not as innocent as it had been just a few weeks ago. Then, this man had been Mr. Ignat’, my grandmother’s long-time beau—a man on the far side of middle age, more than a little foolish, sweet-natured and affectionate. He’d been one of the two anchors in my life, after I’d been brought out of what was left of my home to live with my grandmother on the land my family had long ties to, and I had loved him unreservedly.

The feelings I had for the person he was now—the person he was again—that being specifically Fire Ozali Belignatious, formerly of the Land of the Flowers, and oh-just-by-the-way, my maternal grandfather—my feelings there were a lot more complicated.

Still, there wasn’t any reason not to be polite to family, so I smiled and nodded.

“’Morning, Mr. Ignat’. Gran still resting?”

“She and Nessa went for a stroll under leaf. They intended to return in time for your visit.” He smiled. “After all, they can’t be far.”

“You’re a funny man,” I told him, dropping to the moss and crossing my legs, Indian-style.

In the general way of things, a trenvay, or, hell, let’s get specific—a dryad—is tied to her tree. An old and tree-strong dryad, such as the Lady of the Wood, might, if and when the whim took her, walk from one end of town to the other, tend a business, and live like mundane folk in a big old house overlooking the dunes. Going beyond the boundaries of the land in which her tree had roots—that couldn’t happen. A dryad out of touch with her tree died. And the tree died, too.

Yet Gran, a dryad, had crossed the wall between the worlds, penetrating deep into the Land of the Flowers to rescue her daughter, my mother, Nessa, and lived to tell the tale—slowly, over many days, and with frequent periods of rest within her tree.

My mother, half a dryad and half something very much else, had no tree to heal her. She was, however, able to receive some benefit from all trees. So the trees of the Wood were bringing Nessa back to health, slowly, while she came to terms with the damage that had been wreaked upon her soul—and the fact that it was her own again.

I wondered, not for the first time, if there wasn’t some kind of supernatural psychoanalyst we could call upon, but Gran only said that trees work slow, but certain, and Mother smiled, and told me not to worry so much.

“Will you have time for a lesson today?” I asked Mr. Ignat’, by way of not being worried.

I’d lately—yes, within the last couple weeks—come into the possession of quite a lot of…

No, I can’t call it magic a third time; I was raised to know better.

The formal name for the material we here in the so-called Real World prettify as “magic,” is jikinap. It’s a metaphysical substance that can be sold, stolen, earned, given away or accepted as a gift. It can also be forfeit in a variety of interesting ways, usually involving a duel between Ozali and the winner absorbing the loser’s power.

The most likely outcome for a person who has accidentally contracted quite a lot of jikinap, and who hasn’t had exhaustive training in its husbandry and use…is that the proto-Ozali dies, rapidly, and often enough, terribly.

Back in the day, Mr. Ignat’ had been a regular on the top ten list of Ozali to Watch in the Land of the Flowers—a world rich in jikinap. He’d kindly—as I often reminded myself—undertaken to teach me what I needed to know in order to survive my own power. We’d been meeting two and three times a week for lessons, and while I couldn’t say that I was feeling confident, at least I didn’t stand on the edge of spontaneous combustion, and I could sit in peace with another Ozali without feeling compelled to absorb his jikinap.

Like I was sitting now, with Mr. Ignat’ not two feet away, his small store of power a steady, alluring glow in the center of his chest; right where his heart would be…

“Pirate Kate? Will you dishonor your vow and your teacher?”

I blinked, feeling the taste of butterscotch along the edge of my tongue, exercised my will and sternly sent my rising power down to its proper place at the base of my spine.

“I honor my vow and my teacher, sir!” I assured him, playing the game we’d shared when we’d both been much simpler.

“I believe you,” he said—and suddenly turned his head to the right.

I followed his gaze, saw branches shift and lift across the clearing as my mother and my grandmother stepped out of the Wood to join us.

* * *

“What’s the news from town?” Gran asked, after Mr. Ignat’ had dealt us each a sandwich and a bottle of water from the red cooler.

“I see in the paper that the Coasties and the MDEA nabbed some of your neighbor’s hired help last night. Caught ’em at Pippin’s Notch.” I had a swallow of water. “You’ll maybe want to keep an eye out. Joe Nemeier’s a mean sonofabitch, and there’s no telling what he’ll do, if the law starts getting too close to home.”

Gran was unwrapping her sandwich. “The Wood will protect us.”

Now that the Lady was back where she belonged, even fire wasn’t…much…of a threat. Joe Nemeier had fired the Wood when Gran was on her walkabout; happily Mr. Ignat’ and his companion had been on hand to deal with it—and to guide me in crafting a shield.

I took a bite of my sandwich.

“The big news,” I said, when I’d had another swallow of water, “is that there’s an art gallery going in at the top of Archer Avenue, two doors down from the church. Joan Anderson—that’s the owner—tells me she’ll be open year-round and in plenty of time for this Season. Maine-made art only.”

I raised my sandwich, then lowered it to add the rest.

“Ms. Anderson’s going to be throwing an opening day reception. Says she’ll send me an invitation.”

“Very proper,” Gran said. “I suppose she’s from Away, this Anderson?”

“Not a bit of it. Grew up here, she said, got married, moved to Mass. Now the kids are on their own, and she’s divorced. She says she’s came back home to fulfill a dream.”

“Of course,” my mother said, green eyes bright in an emaciated face. “Dreams grow best at home.” She turned to Gran. I noticed that, while she had dutifully unwrapped her sandwich, she hadn’t made any attempt to actually eat it.

“You remember the Andersons, Mother. Julia threw pots, and John sculpted. They lived on Wintergreen Street—the house with the pottery fence.”

I was reasonably certain that I’d remember a pottery fence, but that didn’t ring any bells with me.

It did with Gran, though. Her face softened.

“Now, I do remember that fence! Pretty thing, set in with tiles and colored glass.”

“What happened to it?” I asked, around a bite of my own sandwich.

“A car ran into it,” Gran said. “Smashed it to bits. If it had been a stone wall, the driver would have been killed.”

“That’s recent, then?” I asked.

“Before you came on the Beach,” Gran said, and looked to my mother, who moved her shoulders like she was undecided.

“Nineteen forty-six, I think it must have been,” she said.

“Before my time,” I agreed, and looked meaningfully at the sandwich held loosely between her hands.

She followed my glance, and lifted her head to smile at me.

“You worry too much, Katie,” she said, but she did take a bite.

“Any other news, Kate?” asked my grandmother. “Have you found a replacement for the batwing horse?”

“Yes and no,” I answered. “Painted Pony Pete offered me a signed Looff brought out of Dreamland.”

“Kate Archer! You never—”

“No, I never. Do I look like a tourist to you?”

Mr. Ignat’ chuckled at that, and Gran shook her head.

“My apologies, Kate. Of course you know better than a signed Looff.”

“…though I might’ve fallen for it, if he hadn’t mentioned Dreamland. That was a PTC machine, wasn’t it?”

Gran didn’t bother to dignify that.

“So you turned down Painted Pete’s offer. Which any person with a grain of sense would do. Did you find something else?”

“I did,” I said, as casually as I could. “Got a rooster at Artie’s.”

I’d known she wouldn’t like it, but I’d miscalculated the intensity on the Richter scale.

You made a deal with the Enterprise?”

It was said quiet enough, but I felt the tension in the Wood around us. Inside my head, I heard something that sounded an awful lot like a nervous whine. I sympathized. Gran in a temper is nothing to trifle with. On the other hand…

“I heard from you that the care and keeping of that carousel is my worry, now,” I said, tartly. “Did I hear wrong?”

“You did not. However, had I ever supposed that a granddaughter of mine would sink so low as to deal with Artie—to willingly take something from that damned Enterprise into our care—”

“Was there a memo?” I interrupted. “If there was, I missed it. I’m pretty sure this is the very first time I’ve heard that Artie isn’t trustworthy.”

“Oh, he’s trustworthy,” Gran said bitterly. “He never misses a trick.”

“But, Mother,” Nessa said. “Katie’s the Guardian. Artie wouldn’t play any tricks on her.”

I felt a little wibble along my nerve endings.

Because, Artie had played one trick on me—and he’d gone for two. I’d called him on the delivery business, but the plain fact was that he had manipulated me into owning that rooster.

Now—and, of course, too late—I wondered why.

I sighed.

Gran gave me a hard stare, and shook her head, anger abruptly gone, leaving behind a strange sadness.

“Done’s done,” she said, sounding tired. “For future reference, Kate, Artie is—” She glanced aside.

“Would you allow mad as moonbeams to be accurate, Bel?”

Mr. Ignat’ sipped from his water bottle and carefully replaced the cap before answering.

“I allow it,” he said slowly. “But I don’t think there’s active harm in the boy.”

Boy. Artie was likely hundreds of years old.

Of course, Ozali Belignatious could easily be a thousand years old. The folk of the Land of the Flowers are long-lived, if they don’t happen to die in a duel, which most do; and jikinap, if you manage to survive the owning of it, can extend a life-span wonderfully.

That is irrelevant,” Gran said.

Mr. Ignat’ smiled at her, slow and sweet. She didn’t smile back.

“There are things in that Enterprise that oughtn’t be anywhere,” she said, holding my eyes with hers. “Dangerous things. Blasphemous things. No one knows where most of it comes from—”

It come in,” I murmured, “like it all does.”

Gran blinked, then nodded sharply.

“Exactly. It come in.” She shook her head. “It’s not an easy service. Be that given, it is Artie’s service, and he honors it as much as we honor ours. In that, yes, he’s trustworthy. But in everything else—anything else…Be careful, Katie.”

“I will,” I promised, the nerve-wibble more pronounced. I might be—well, I was—the Guardian of Archers Beach, and that did give me a certain edge over the trenvay who existed in service to their small, fey places.

Being Guardian, however, didn’t make me omniscient.

Or invincible.

“Have you seen Borgan, Katie?” my mother asked, by way of turning the subject.

“No,” I said, more sharply than I had intended, and suddenly felt the need to move on with the rest of my day.

I rose, bringing my water bottle and the empty sandwich wrap with me.

“I’ve got to meet a delivery,” I said, which was true, but not imminent. “Is there anything I can bring up from the house? From town?”

It was the same offer I made at the end of every visit. The answer was the same, too.

“We have everything we need here, Kate,” Gran said, and Mother added, “Thank you.”

I nodded, turned, and paused, as Mr. Ignat’ also rose.

“I’ll walk with you, if you’ve no objection, Pirate Kate?”

“Glad of company,” I told him, which was…qualified truth.

He nodded, pulled his coat off the branch and shucked into it, settling his hat with effortless cool. His movements roused the bird, which ruffled its feathers, and gave them a quick preen.

Mr. Ignat’ picked up the red cooler, stepped over to where my mother sat nibbling at her sandwich, and dropped a light kiss on her hair. He turned to Gran and took her hand to bow over. She smiled in pleasure, meeting his eyes, and for a long moment, they were silent and motionless, existing only for each other.

I took a careful breath, my chest tight.

Gran slipped her hand away from his, her smile fading.

Mr. Ignat’ straightened and turned toward me. I waited until he had gained my side before I started walking. Behind us, I heard the sound of a branch moving sharply, and looked up to see the soot-colored bird in the air.

We reached the treeline, and a path opened before us.

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