Spellbinder (Chapter 12)
"She was a witch?" Roz sounded intrigued.
"Well-they didn't call it that then. They called her a Hearth-Woman. And she didn't look like a Halloween witch. She was beautiful: tall, with long yellow hair-"
"Huh? Oh." Thea grinned. "Thanks, but, no. Helle-wise was really beautiful-and she was smart and strong, too. And when Hecate died, Hellewise became co-leader of the tribe. The other leader was her sister, Maya."
Rosamund's whole head was above the mattress now. She was listening with fierce, if skeptical, interest.
"Now, Maya." Thea chewed her lip. "Well, Maya was beautiful, too: tall, but with long black hair."
"Like that girl who came to the vet's after you."
Thea was briefly startled. She'd forgotten Rosamund had seen Blaise. "Well-uh, maybe a little. Anyway, Maya was smart and strong, too-but she didn't like having to share the leadership with Hellewise. She wanted to rule alone, and she wanted something else. To live forever."
"Sounds like a good idea to me," Rosamund growled.
"Well-yeah, there's nothing wrong with being immortal, I agree. Except, see, that it all depends on how much you're willing to pay to be it. Okay? Following me?"
"Well…" Thea floundered. Any Night Person would know immediately what she was talking about, even if by some outrageous chance they hadn't already heard the story. But of course humans were different. "Well, you see, it was a matter of what she had to do. No ordinary spell would make her immortal. She tried all sorts of things, and Hellewise even helped her. And finally they figured out what kind of spell would do it-but then Hellewise refused."
"Because it was too awful. No, don't ask me," Thea added as Rosamund's interest level immediately shot up. "I'm not going to tell you. It's not a subject for kids.'
"What, what? If you don't tell me, I'm just going to imagine even worse things."
Thea sighed. "It had to do with babies, okay? And blood. But that's not the point of this story-" "They killed babies?"
"Not Hellewise. Maya did. And Hellewise tried to stop her, but-" "I bet she drank the blood." Thea stopped and looked hard at Rosamund. Human kids were ignorant, but not dumb. "Okay, yes, she drank the blood. Satisfied?" Roz grinned, nodded, and sat back, listening avidly. "Okay, so then Maya became immortal. But the thing was, she didn't know until afterward the price she'd have to pay. She would live forever-but only if she drank the blood of a mortal creature every day. Otherwise, she'd die."
"Like a vampire," Rosamund said with relish. Thea was shocked for an instant, then she laughed at herself. Of course humans knew about vampires- the same way they knew about witches. Silly legends filled with misinformation.
But that meant Thea could tell her own story without fear of being believed.
"Just like a vampire, actually,' she said impressively, holding Rosamund's eyes. "Maya was the first vampire of all. And all her children were cursed to be vampires, too."
Roz snorted. "Vampires can't have children." She looked doubtful. "Can they?"
"The ones descended from Maya can," Thea said. She wasn't going to say the word "lamia" to a human. "It's only the kind who get made into vampires by being bitten that can't. Maya had a vampire son called Red Fern and she bit people. That's the story, you see-Maya wanted to make everybody like her. So she started biting people in the tribe. And eventually Hellewise decided she had to stop it."
"Well, that was the problem. Hellewise's tribe wanted to fight with Maya and the other vampires. But Hellewise knew if they did that, they'd probably all get killed. Both sides. So Hellewise challenged Maya alone to a duel. Single combat."
Rosamund pushed the mattress over with a thump. "I'd fight a duel with Mr. Hendries-he's the boys' trekleader." She jumped on the mattress and attacked a pillow with hands and feet-and teeth. "I'd win, too. He's out of shape."
"Well, Hellewise didn't want to fight, but she had to. She was scared, because as a vampire Maya was a lot stronger now."
For a moment, Thea thought about it, visualizing the old story the way she had as a child. Seeing Hellewise in her white leather shift, standing in the dark forest and waiting for Maya to come. And knowing that even if she won the fight, she'd probably die-and being brave enough to keep standing there. Being willing to give up everything for the people she loved, and for peace.
I don't think I could ever be that brave. I mean,
I'd certainly hope I would be, but I have a terrible feeling that I wouldn't.
And then a strange thing happened. At that instant, she seemed to hear a voice, not her usual mind-voice, but one that was urgent and almost accusatory. Asking a question as if Thea hadn't just decided on the answer. Would you give up everything? Thea shifted. She didn't usually hear voices. I suppose that's what Hellewise must have been thinking, she told herself uneasily.
"So what happened? Hey! Thea! What happened?" Rosamund was war-dancing on the mattress.
"Oh. Well, it was a terrible fight, but Hellewise won. She drove Maya away. And the tribe was left in peace, and they all lived happily ever after… um, except Hellewise. She died of her wounds."
Rosamund stopped dancing and stared in disbelief. "And you're telling me this to make me feel better? I never heard such a lousy story." Her chin began to tremble.
Thea forgot she was dealing with a human child. She held out her arms the way she had to Bud the puppy, the way she would have to any creature in pain-and Rosamund threw herself into them.
"No, no," Thea said, anxiously cuddling. "You see, the point is that Hellewise's people lived on, and they were free. And that may seem like a little thing, because they were just a little tribe, but that little tribe got bigger and bigger, and they stayed free. And all the witches in the world are descended from them, and they all remember Hellewise and honor her. It's a story every mother tells her daughters."
Rosamund breathed irregularly for a moment. "What about her sons?"
"Well, her sons, too. When I say 'daughters' I mean 'sons and daughters.' It's just shorter."
One green eye looked up from a mop of shaggy hair. "like 'he' and 'him' are supposed to mean 'she' and 'her,' too?"
"Yeah." Thea thought. "I guess maybe neither is the best system." She shrugged. "The important thing is that one woman's courage kept us-them- all free."
"Look." Rosamund straightened up, staring through the hair. "Are you just jerking my chain or is that a true story? Because frankly you seem like a witch to me."
"That's what I was going to say," an amused voice behind Thea said.
Thea's head snapped around. The door was open a few inches and a woman was standing there. She was tall and lanky, with little glasses and long silky brown hair. Her expression reminded Thea of a look Eric got sometimes, a look of very sweet puzzlement, as if he'd suddenly been struck by one of life's overwhelming mysteries.
But that didn't matter. What mattered was that she was a stranger. An Outsider.
Thea had been blurting out the secrets of the Night World, the history of the witches, and a human adult had been listening.
Suddenly her hands and feet went numb. The golden haze disappeared, leaving her in a cold, gray reality. "I'm sorry," the human was saying, but to Thea the voice seemed to come from a distance. "I didn't mean to startle you. I was just kidding. I really was enjoying the story-sort of a modern legend for kids, right?"
Thea's eyes focused on another human behind the adult. Eric. He'd been listening, too.
"Mom's such a kidder," he said nervously. His green eyes were apologetic-and intense. As if he were trying to make a connection with Thea.
But Thea didn't want to be connected. Couldn't be, to these people. She was surrounded by humans, trapped in one of their houses. She felt like the rattlesnake in a circle of big creatures with sticks. Sheer, raw panic overtook her. "You should be a writer, you know?" the human woman was saying. "All that creativity…" She took a step inside the room.
Thea stood up, dumping Rosamund on the floor. They were coming at her-by now, the very walls seemed to be closing in. They were alien, cruel, sadistic, terrorizing, evil, not-her-kind. They were Cotton Mather and the Inquisition and they knew about her. They were going to point at her in the street and cry "Witch!" Thea ran.
She slipped between Eric and his mother like a
frightened cat, not touching either of them. She ran
down the hall, through the living room, out the door.
Outside, the sky was clouded over and it was getting dark. Thea only stopped long enough to get her bearings, then headed west, walking as fast as she could. Her heart was pounding and telling her to go faster.
Get away, get away. Go to earth. Find home.
She turned corners and zigzagged, like a fox being chased by the hounds.
She was ten minutes from the house when she heard an engine pacing her. She looked. It was Eric's jeep. Eric was driving and his mother and Rosamund were passengers.
"Thea, stop. Please wait." Eric stopped the jeep and jumped out.
He was on the sidewalk in front of her. Thea froze.
"Listen to me," he said in a low voice, turning away from the jeep. "I'm sorry they came, too-I couldn't stop them. Mom feels awful. She's crying, Roz is crying… please, won't you come back?"
He looked close to crying himself. Thea just felt numb.
"It's okay. I'm fine," she said at random. "I didn't mean to upset anybody." Please let me go away.
"Look, we shouldn't have eavesdropped. I know that. It was just… you're so good with Rosamund. I never saw anybody she liked so much. And… and… I know you're sensitive about your grandma. That's why you're upset, isn't it? That story is something she told you, isn't it?"
Dimly, somewhere in the pit of Thea's mind, a light shone. At least he thought it was a story.
"We have family stories too," Eric was saying, an edge of desperation in his voice. "My grandpa used to
tell us he was a Martian-I swear to God this is true. And then he went to my kindergarten Back to School and I'd told all the kids he was a Martian, and they made these beep-beep noises at him and laughed, and I felt so bad. He was really embarrassed…."
He was babbling. Thea's numbness had receded enough that she felt sorry for him. But then a shape loomed up and she tensed again. It was his mother, silky hair flying.
"Look, Thea," Eric's mother said. Her expression was wretched and earnest. "Everybody knows your grandma, knows how old she is, how she's a little… quirky. But if she's scaring you-if she's telling you any kind of weird stuff-" "Mom!" Eric shouted through his teeth. She waved a hand at him. Her little glasses were steamed up. "You don't need to deal with that, okay? No kid needs to deal with that. If you want a place to stay; if you need anything-if we need to call social services-"
"Mom, please, I'm begging you. Shut up." Social services, Thea was thinking. Dear Isis, there'll be some sort of investigation. The Harmans in court. Gran accused of being senile-or being part of some cult. And then the Night World coming in to enforce the law….
Her terror peaked and left her deadly calm. "It's okay," she said, turning her gaze toward Eric. Not looking at him, but going through the motions exactly. "Your mom's just trying to be helpful. But really"-she turned the same face toward his mother-"everything's okay. Gran isn't strange or anything. She does tell stories-but she doesn't scare anybody."
Is that good enough? Close enough to whatever you believe? Will it make you leave me alone?
Apparently so. "I just don't want to be responsible for you and Eric-well…" Eric's mom exhaled nervously, almost a laugh.
"Breaking up?" Thea made a sound that was also almost a laugh. "Don't worry. I'd never want that." She turned a smile on Eric, looking down because she couldn't meet his eyes. "I'm sorry if I got- touchy. I was just-embarrassed, I guess. Like you said about your grandpa."
"Will you come back with us? Or let us take you home?" Eric's voice was soft. He wanted her to go back to his house.
"Just home, if you don't mind. I've got homework." She lifted her eyes, making herself smile again.
Eric nodded. He didn't look happy, but he wasn't as upset as he had been.
In the backseat of the jeep, Rosamund pushed up against Thea and squeezed her hand.
"Don't be mad," she hissed, fierce as ever. "Are you mad? I'm sorry. Want me to kill somebody for you?"
"I'm not mad," Thea whispered, looking over the top of Rosamund's shaggy head. "Don't worry about it."
She had reverted to the strategy of any trapped animal. Wait and watch for your chance. Don't fight until you see a real opportunity to get away.
"See you tomorrow," Eric said as she got out of the jeep. His voice was almost a plea.
"See you tomorrow," Thea said. It wasn't time to get away yet. She waved until the jeep was gone.
Then it was time. She dashed inside, up the stairs, and straight to Blaise.
"Wait a minute," Blaise said. "Go back. So you're saying they didn't believe any of it."
"Right. At worst Eric's mom thinks Gran's bonkers. But it was a close call. For a while there I thought she might want to get Gran declared unfit or something."
The two of them were sitting on the floor by Blaise's bed where Thea had collapsed. Blaise was eating candy corn with one hand and scribbling on a yellow legal pad with the other, all the while listening attentively.
Because that was the thing about Blaise. She might be vain and self-centered, quarrelsome, hot-tempered, lazy, unkind to humans, and generally hard to live with, but she came through for family. She was a witch.
I'm sorry I said you might be a little like Maya, Thea thought.
"It's my fault," she said out loud.
"Yes, it is," Blaise said, scribbling.
"I should have just found some way to keep him at a distance in the beginning."
But of course, it was because of Blaise that she hadn't. She'd thought Eric was safer with her than he would have been with Blaise. She'd thought that somehow… somehow…
Things would work out. That was it. There had always been some secret underlying hope that there could be a future with Eric. Some little hiding place where she'd kept the hope that things could be all right.
But now she had to face reality.
There was no future.
The only thing she could give Eric was death. And that was all he could give her. She'd realized that, all in one terrible explosion of insight when she'd seen Eric's mother in the room.
There was no way for them to be together without being discovered. Even if they ran away, someday, somewhere, the Night People would find them. They'd be brought before the joint Night World Council, the vampire and witch elders. And then the law would be fulfilled….
Thea had never seen an execution, but she'd heard of them. And if the Harmans tried to stop the Council from killing her, it would start a war. Witches against vampires. Maybe even witches against witches. It could mean the end of everything.
"So it doesn't look like we have to kill the mother," Blaise said, frowning at her scribbles. "On the other hand, if we kill the kids, the mother's bound to be unhappy, and might make a connection. So to be safe-"
"We can't kill any of them," Thea said. Her voice was muted but final.
"I don't mean ourselves. I'm going to call one of our friendly vampire cousins. Ash-he's supposed to be out on the West Coast somewhere, isn't he? Or
Quinn, he likes that kind of thing. One quick bite, let the blood run out-"
"Blaise, I am not going to let vampires kill Eric. Or anybody," she added as Blaise opened her mouth. "It's not necessary. Nobody needs to die."
"So you have a better idea?"
Thea looked at a statue of Isis, the Queen of Egyptian Goddesses, on the desk. "I… don't know. I thought of the Cup of Lethe. Make them forget everything about me. But it might look suspicious-this entire family with a gap in their memory. And kids at school would wonder why Eric doesn't remember my name anymore."
Thea stared at the moon held between Isis's golden horns. Her brain, which had been working so coldly and logically, helping her to survive, was stalling now. There had to be a way to save Eric and his family-or what was the point of living herself?
Then she saw it.
"What I really think would be best," she said slowly, because it hurt like a physical pain, "would be for Eric to stop caring about me. To fall in love with someone else."
Blaise sat back. She stirred the candy corn with long, elegant nails. She ate a piece.
"I admire you," she said. "Very sensible."
"Not yon," Thea said through clenched teeth. "You understand that, right? A human. If he falls in love with another girl he'll forget about me without any Lethe. Nobody will disappear or have amnesia; nobody will get suspicious."
"Okay. Although I would've liked to try him. He's got a strong will-I think he'd have held out for a while. Been a challenge."
Thea ignored this. "I still have some of his blood. The question is, do you have something you've been holding back, some love spell that will completely blow him out of the water?"
Blaise ate another piece of candy corn. "Of course I do." She narrowed her gray eyes. "Also, of course, it's a forbidden spell."
"I figured. Blaise, I'm now the princess of forbidden spells. One more doesn't matter. But I'll do the actual working, I don't want you to get in trouble."
"You won't like it. It involves the bezoar stone from the stomach of an ibex-which I just happened to pick up while we were living with Aunt Gerdeth."
Ibex were an endangered species. But this one was already dead. "I'll do the working," Thea said stubbornly.
"You really care about him, don't you?"
"Yes," Thea whispered. "I still think we're soul-mates. But…"
Would you give up everything?
"I don't want to be the reason he dies. Or the reason a war starts between the Harmans and the rest of the Night World. And if I have to give him up, I'd rather do it myself, make sure he's safe with somebody else who loves him."
"Have you got somebody picked out?"
"Her name is Pilar." Thea looked at her cousin suddenly. "Blaise? When Luke asked you what you
wanted, and you said nothing you could have… what did you mean?"
Blaise tilted her head back and examined the ceiling. Then she looked down. "Does anybody ever want anything they can have? Really?"
"I… don't know."
Blaise clasped her knees and rested her chin on them. "If we can have things, we don't really want them anymore. So there's always something out there that we're wanting and not able to get… and maybe that's good."
It didn't sound good to Thea. It sounded like one of those terrible lessons in Life 101 that were supposed to make you more mature.
"Let's do the spell," she said.