The Wand & The Sea
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 homework, 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?”
“And the fairies would steal the powers that only I had so they could come out of the shadows and reveal their true selves?”
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?”
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.