Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck;
And yet methinks I have astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well,
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
If from thyself to store thou wouldst convert;
Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
Thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date.
-- W. Shakespeare (Sonnet XIV)
HEMPSTEAD VILLAGE was the largest village in Hempstead County on Long Island, but to say that was to say very little. Apart from being not too far from Brooklyn, which was itself only a short trip on a crowded steam ferry away from Manhattan and New York City, it generally had very little in the way of fashionable excitement. Juanita Callahan liked it that way. Unfortunately for her, 1821 would be an exciting year for Hempstead.
“Nita,” said her father as the family sat for breakfast one morning in July, “Do you think you and Dairine would like to attend the party that Mrs. Ke-Nelaid is holding next week?”
“A party?” asked Nita in great surprise. Firstly, she had no idea who the Ke-Nelaids were, and was therefore rather surprised to be invited to any such party. Furthermore, since the death of Mrs. Callahan several years earlier they had scarcely attended a party. Mr. Callahan had spent rather a lot on making Mrs. Callahan more comfortable in her last days, and there was therefore little money for dresses and the thousand other little fripperies that absorb girls as they prepare for social events. Without Mrs. Callahan's feminine influence, Mr. Callahan remained blissfully ignorant of the grave importance of marrying his daughters off as quickly as possible, and of the vital role that the social circuit played in this task. Fortunately, Nita thought, the two Misses Callahan were not inclined to mourn such events. Nita herself preferred solitude or the company of one or two intimate friends, while Dairine scorned the tact and fine manners required. Yet --
“I would like to go, Daddy,” said Dairine, putting down her butterknife.
“Why on earth?” said Nita, entirely taken aback.
Dairine frowned at her plate. "We must be practical." Putting down her butterknife, she looked directly at Nita. "We are not wealthy. Well, I think neither of us mind that, but eventually Daddy may die—we all know it's no use pretending that isn't true—and while we may inherit the house, you know we cannot both live here as spinsters. For one, there are already enough rumours that you are a witch—” Nita uttered a sound of protest but Dairine ploughed on regardless “—yes, there are, you know there are, and you know that kind of thing makes you quite ineligible. But more importantly, truly, I do not want to live here for the rest of my life. In Hempstead Village, Hempstead County, hours away from even shallow New York City and half a world away from real culture, knowledge, science and philosophy."
"Surely you don't think one party will offer so many opportunities—why, I've never heard of the Ke-Nelaids!'
"They have only just moved to Hempstead," said Dairine. "They are said to be fabulously wealthy and they have a highly eligible and good-looking son. But more importantly, they are from Europe and educated. Of course I don't expect to marry the son—but even to converse with them—you can't imagine how starved I am for cultured conversation. You two try, of course, but family isn't the same and I just don't get along with the village girls, you know that." Having apparently come to a full stop, Dairine bent her furiously blushing head and attended once more to breaking her fast.
Nita opened her mouth, shut it again, and applied herself to her own meal with a frown, glancing at her father. The gentleman in question had not attempted to interrupt the younger Miss Callahan in full flow, having learnt from experience that to do so would be pointless. Instead he had finished his toast with marmalade and now, with both his daughters' mouths full of tea and toast and so on, seized his moment.
"Well, Dairine, of course you will go if you want to. But, Nita, I had hoped that you would attend with your sister, as a chaperone, perhaps.”
“You just want me to keep her out of trouble,” accused Nita with increasing good humour. “Well, I suppose I can bring myself to be hosted by the newest Hempstead family.”
“You'll enjoy it,” said Dairine. “I'm sure Christopher will be there, won't he?”
Nita shrugged. “I really do not follow Mr. Rodriguez' movements with any attention.”
“Oh, well! I don't know why you do call him Mr. Rodriguez like that,” said Dairine with a glint in her eye. “We played together when we were small and even you called him Kit back then.”
Nita rolled her eyes. “It's not at all seemly for young men and women to address each other so familiarly—why, anyone might think we were engaged!”
* * * * *
The Callahan family and the Rodriguez family had indeed been friendly for some time. The Rodriguez home was less than an hour's walk distant, much less when riding, and the Rodriguez children were generally the same age as the Callahan girls. The children numbered three: Helena, now Mrs. Saint-John; Carmela, presently something of a social butterfly known to have turned down two marriage proposals; and Christopher, known as Kit, a moderately eligible bachelor whose unpredictable comings and goings were generally deemed charming only because he himself was. Nita and Christopher had been the closest pair for some time, and gossip had had them engaged as young as fifteen. But as they grew older, they also grew apart, and were seen to be friendly but formal with each other in public.
In private, well... the gossips could hardly be trusted to understand.
* * * * *
Later that morning, Kit Rodriguez was waiting in a small grove, surrounded by rowans, on the outskirts of Brooklyn. He was an ordinarily good-looking man with dark, rumpled hair; he had a glint in his eye that bespoke a sense of humour, and he leaned against a tree for all the world as if he regularly hung about in charming copses alone. He looked perfectly ordinary, and yet he was quite unsurprised when Miss Nita Callahan appeared in the middle of the glade with a pop and a rushing of air.
“Kit!” said she, turning with a smile towards him. “I wondered if I was early. We had an extraordinary conversation at breakfast this morning and I confess I rather wanted to escape.”
He grinned, easily. “You are early, but so am I. I woke early this morning—or rather, I was woken early. Carmela did something tremendously noisy at the very crack of dawn—and so I thought I'd walk, and it took less time than I thought.”
Nita sighed. “Sisters are such a trial, are they not?”
“More than. Dairine?”
“Oh, well! I suppose you know that a new family has moved to town.”
“The Ke-Nelaids. Apparently,” said Kit evenly, “the son is quite the eligible bachelor, or so I was informed by Carmela.” He offered Nita his arm as they left the clearing and began walking towards town.
“And I by Dairine,” Nita said, taking it. “Well, they're having a party, and Dairine has decided to attend. And therefore she will need a dress; and I will need a dress; and I'll have to improve my ability to converse about the weather, for they are Continental and I can't imagine what else we might talk about, unless it is the war, and I'd rather not, wouldn't you?”
“You're going as well?”
“I think I must. Father was quite pleased at the idea of us getting out. Dairine has been so solitary since Mother passed.”
“I see,” said Kit with a little frown.
“Yes, well.” By this time the two had come within sight of a house, large and well-hedged in, and towards this house the pair began to walk. After a moment, Nita said “- Will you be attending?”
“Of course, the party.”
Kit released her arm as they arrived at the door, and scrubbed a hand through his hair. “I suppose so,” he said, without looking at her. “I know Carmela was invited.”
“That may make it bearable,” said Nita, looking down at her skirt and scrunching it in her hands.
They rang the doorbell, and waited, hearing a distant barking become less distant, and then quite close and intermingled with rapid footsteps. The door swung open, and they were confronted by an older man, perhaps in his forties, and several dogs who could not restrain themselves to propriety and at once began licking their hands and faces. The man smiled, and swung the door wider. "Get down, Annie! Miss Callahan, Mr. Rodriguez, thank you for coming, do come in."
"Good morning, Mr. Swale," chorused Nita and Kit as they petted the dogs that surrounded them, attempting to keep their faces away from canine tongues. Eventually the clamour subsided, and they entered the house, coming into a spacious hallway.
"Mr. Romeo is in the drawing-room," said Mr. Swale. "Can I offer you a drink? Tea, or lemonade?"
"Lemonade would be lovely," replied Nita, and Kit nodded his agreement.
"Why don't you go and join Mr. Romeo, then," said Mr. Swale, and the two headed down the corridor and into the familiar drawing-room.
According to gossip, Mr. Carl Romeo, like Mr. Swale, was a confirmed bachelor, and the two shared a house in order to have company in their wifeless old age. In fact, the two were both wizards – as were Nita and Kit. Mr. Swale and Mr. Romeo were Senior wizards, and as such had been supervising Nita and Kit since their first forays into wizardry, as they entered their teenage years. Like Swale and Romeo, Nita and Kit were wizardly partners, an arrangement that had felt natural to Nita. But as they grew older, people outside their families had begun to remark on the great deal of time they spent in each others' company. These remarks were generally followed by a suggestion, either kind or cruel, that such intimacies were regrettable in young people who were not engaged to be married, and since Miss Callahan and Mr. Rodriguez were not... The speaker would usually trail off at this point and look at Nita as if inviting her to tell a secret.
But Nita and Kit were not engaged, and she could not say to the gossips that she would very much like to be. Instead, Nita reluctantly suggested to Kit that they begin concealing their friendship, explaining her anger with the gossips without explaining the true source of that anger. He had acquiesced willingly in order to protect her and they had begun to spend much less time in public together. The rumours died down—although sometimes, when Dairine would come home with another piece of gossip about eligible young bachelor Mr. Rodriguez and his latest conquests, a small part of Nita would wish that they hadn't. As she wandered down the hallway, she thought how lucky Swale and Romeo were; two men living alone was unusual, but at least they were generally safe from the gossips.
As they entered the room, Mr. Romeo was leaning against the mantle, frowning at a book in his hand. He looked up and smiled when he saw them, and came directly over.
"Good morning, you two," he said with a smile. "Come and have a seat."
Nita did so willingly after their brisk walk, and having sat down, she reached into a small satchel and produced a book much like the one Mr. Romeo had been poring over—except much smaller, she thought with relief. Mr. Romeo's was something of a tome, and would have been quite unpleasant to carry. She glanced over, and saw Kit reaching out apparently into thin air and producing his own Wizard's Manual.
“Really, Mr. Rodriguez!” she said with a teasing grin. “Just because you can avoid carrying it, doesn't mean you should be so lazy.”
Kit grinned back. “I yielded to temptation this morning.”
Nita opened her mouth to reply, but Mr. Swale entered the room just then and she closed it again. He handed each of them a glass of lemonade before going to sit with Mr. Romeo.
“Thank you both for coming,” he said. “We've asked you here because we'd like you to have a look at something for us.”
“Of course,” said Nita immediately, and
“Anything,” said Kit at the same time.
“Good! Well, Carl and I have been informed by a higher Power or two that we might want to attend to the weather. Nothing specific, no warnings or premonitions from most precognitive talents—unless you have had any, Miss Callahan?”
One of Nita's occasional talents was precognition: she would sometimes dream the future, or rather cryptic dreams about the future, which unfortunately were rarely as specific as she might wish them to be. Nita frowned thoughtfully, and flipped her manual to the page of notes she had taken about her dreams recently: but there was nothing there. She shook her head. “Clear skies only—well, metaphorically, I mean! I don't recall anything I thought might be about the weather. Er... one about a very large insect?”
Tom grinned. “Doesn't sound right—but your dreams are unusually opaque.”
“Do not remind me!” she replied, ruefully.
“At any rate,” Carl continued smoothly, “We have nothing clear—but it would not be clever just to ignore it. So... we'd like the two of you to look into it. You have some experience with weather wizardry...”
Nita shuddered. One might say that, if one was given to understatement. Nearly six years previously, she and Kit had been new wizards, fresh to the Art, when a tremendous storm had struck Long Island. She still remembered the sheer terror of struggling to stay in the storm's eye, struggling to control the violent winds and rain that blew about them, and struggling to protect their home and the island. They had successfully diverted a great deal of the storm's energy, encouraging it to spend itself at Jones Inlet, away from most cultivated areas; but people had still died and some land had still been ruined.
“If we can do anything to prevent anything,” she said immediately, “we'll do it.”
“I hoped you'd say that,” said Swale. “It may be nothing, but then again, it may not be. If it seems like it may be something, bring Dairine in—is she available?”
Nita frowned. “She may not be—she is interested in something... not related to wizardry, currently.”
Tom frowned for his moment, then shrugged in understanding. “The new arrivals? Ah, well, they have been the talk of island, almost, but I did not realise Dairine was so interested in eligible young men!”
Nita groaned. “Well, they're Continental . You know how Dairine feels about things that are new and exciting. I have to go to a ball with her this weekend.”
Tom laughed. “Never mind. If Dairine isn't available and you think you need support, we'll put you in touch with someone—I believe there is some new talent coming free shortly. Until then—well, enjoy the dancing!”
Nita sighed, but Kit smiled. “We will,” he said.
* * * * *
Dresses had been bought; hair had been curled in rags overnight, then brushed until it was shiny; faces had been powdered, stays had been tied, and a carriage and horses had been hired and waited outside the door. The two Misses Callahan climbed aboard, kissing their father affectionately, and drove off to the most highly-anticipated social event of the season.
“Miss Juanita Callahan, and Miss Dairine Callahan,” said Nita, handing their invitation to the doorman as they entered and looked around. The room was large, and beautifully decorated in the Continental style, but it was scarcely large enough to contain, nor beautiful enough to outshine, the crowd of eligible young ladies, their mothers, and their gowns. Nita scanned the crowd, partly looking for Mr. Rodriguez and partly looking for people who might be their hosts—she had unwillingly become caught up in Dairine's fascination with the Ke-Nelaid family and was by now rather curious to meet them. She saw neither, or none she recognised; unfortunately, she did see a familiar face.
Nita turned to Dairine and gripped her arm. “Do not look now, but Joanne Virella is here.” Dairine's head gave a jerk and Nita sighed a little, said “I said don't look—and really, Dairine, do not provoke her, it's best not to draw any attention.”
Dairine's face had taken on something of a glower, but she nodded willingly enough at this. “You're right,” she agreed. “Perhaps we should go and stand by the punch table looking as if we are thirsty, and some young man will fetch us a drink.” Looping her arm through Nita's, Dairine began to draw her sister towards the punch, while conversing in a deliberately casual tone. “But I don't know what you do mean by suggesting that I provoke her, dear,” she said with a socialite's titter. “Why, I find Miss Virella just as pleasant company as the rest of society does.”
Nita's eyebrows went up. “Well, dear , I think it's the sincerity with which you pay her compliments.”
“Oh? You mean when I might say, oh, I find her as enchanting as Mrs. Brewer's delightful new puppy?” Nita began to smile in earnest, Mrs. Brewer's new bitch Tinkerbell being a beautiful purebred dog with a wholly unattractive personality. “Or perhaps,” continued Dairine, warming to her theme, “that spending time conversing with her reminds me greatly of my favourite book—”
“—and how much you long to get back to it?” Nita laughed, and Dairine gave her a mischievous grin.
“There now, who said I couldn't get by in Society?” The sisters had by this time reached the punch bowl, and Nita leaned over to ladle out a glass each for herself and Dairine. Consequently, she had her back to Dairine when she heard an unfortunately familiar voice.
“Why, Miss Callahan! I didn't know you had been invited!”
Nita closed her eyes for a moment. Oh dear. This cannot end well.
“Good evening, Miss Virella,” said Dairine. “I didn't know you had been invited either. When I saw you I merely assumed that they were letting everybody in.”
Nita bolted upright and turned around in time to see a brittle smile settle over Joanne's face.
“How strange—when I saw you, I assumed that the doormen had let you in because you blend in so well with the wallpaper!” Miss Virella feigned surprise as Nita straightened. “Why, I had no idea that your sister was there, you see? Or perhaps it is not the dress; that is to say, perhaps there is some truth to those silly rumours!” Joanne laughed heartily at her own joke, and Nita forced a laugh herself.
“We are all surprised to see each other, I fear,” she began, attempting to keep her composure. But she was interrupted by another familiar voice—
“Oh, Miss Callahan, I don't know how Miss Virella could have surprised you. Her dress is such an unusual colour, I was remarking on it from the other side of the room!”
“Miss Rodriguez,” began Miss Virella a little uncertainly, as if not quite sure whether she had been insulted or complimented. “How do you do?”
“Oh, my dear,” replied Carmela Rodriguez, Kit's elder sister and, thought Nita with some relief, Mistress of the art of repartee. “I will be doing so much better if you can tell me how your dress-maker managed to achieve such a close resemblance to a fire engine!”
Miss Virella turned a brick red that, Nita could not help noticing, only increased the resemblance, turned on her heel, and strode into the crowd with no further pleasantries. Carmela watched her go, and then turned to Nita and Dairine. “I know it was bad of me,” she said with a smile, “but I could not help myself. That dress, and then her voice— ”
Both Misses Callahan burst out laughing, and Carmela joined them. She was a few years older than Nita and her brother, with unusual good looks and a small allowance, along with an effervescent personality that ought to have seen her married in her first season—indeed, she had received more than one proposal, but had turned each down because, she had told Nita in confidence, she could not imagine marriage to any of them being at all amusing; and since it took a great deal to entertain Carmela, Nita privately felt this was sensible.
“Perhaps you shouldn't have done it, but I am very grateful that you did. Neither of us can abide that woman, yet she seems to seek us out; and I'm terribly worried that one day Dairine will lose her temper, and then...” Nita trailed off, feeling it circumspect not to mention Dairine's not-at-all-rumoured but nevertheless near-perfect ability to turn Joanne Virella into a frog. No point fuelling rumours, however ridiculous, if someone overheard. Besides, Carmela had understood: she was nodding in understanding.
“Lucky I came in when I did. That woman is quite the viper—who knows why: her family is so wealthy she may be the most eligible young lady in the room, and though her dress is not quite the thing, it is certainly fashionable and she wears it very well. I suppose some people just will not be happy. However,” Carmela said, looping an arm through one each of Nita's and Dairine's, “Would you like to come and drink punch with some people who will be? I have a friend that I know you would love to meet!”
Nita smiled. “That sounds lovely—Dairine?”
“Oh, yes,” the young woman in question agreed in a distracted sort of way. “Do you think they have a library?”
“They do,” replied Carmela, “I have visited it myself.”
“I did not know you knew the family,” said Nita.
“Oh, I do not—but I attended a party at the Jones' last week, and I met a guest of theirs; he showed me around the house—but don't go and look at books now! Come and meet him.”
Dairine sighed, a bit reluctantly, and Nita too thought wistfully of hiding away with a book, but they both nodded and allowed Carmela to tow them towards a few couches standing against the way. There were sitting several young men and women, of whom Nita recognised only Mr. Rodriguez, leaning against the side of the couch and listening to a very pretty young woman. She said something, they both laughed, and Nita flushed and looked away.
“Now, Nita, Dairine,” said Carmela, “Let me introduce everyone. Of course you know my brother, Christopher Rodriguez. And this is Miss Amy Miller, Mr. Darryl McAllister, Mr. Raoul Eschemeling, Miss Katherine Saint-John—of course you know her brother, Mr. Saint-John, who is married to my sister—Miss Majella Brady, Mr. Shash Jackson, Miss Janie Chen, and this is Mr. Sker'ret, who is a friend of our illustrious hosts. Everyone, may I present Miss Juanita Callahan and Miss Dairine Callahan?”
A general chorus of good evenings and the usual pleasantries resulted, and Nita found herself seated next to Mr. Sker'ret.
“How did you meet Carmela, Mr. Sker'ret?”
“I met her last week, at a party. I am new to this area, visiting with my good friend Mr. Roshaun Ke-Nelaid, who seems to have no trouble obtaining invitations to all the best social occasions.” His eyes twinkled, and after a moment Nita laughed. “At any rate, I found Miss Rodriguez to be quite the most charming young woman there—although of course I had not met you!”
Nita laughed again. “Carmela is a great deal more charming than I am, and she is a good friend to my family.”
“And how did you become acquainted with her?”
“We have been friends since childhood. My family lives close to her family, so I have known them all for some time.”
“I see! I have not met Mrs. Helena Saint-John, nor Mr. and Mrs. Juan Rodriguez, but I have met Mr. Christopher Rodriguez and he too seemed a pleasant young man.”
“He is,” said Nita, and smiled. After a moment, Mr. Sker'ret smiled back. “Now then,” she said, “You must tell me. What in the world would bring a family like the Ke-Nelaids to the other side of the world, to settle in little Hempstead County?”
Mr. Sker'ret grinned. “Well, that is a long story.”
“Is it scandalous, as well? Because they could not do a greater service to our community than bring a scandalous story.”
“Not very scandalous. But I daresay I could invent an amusing scandal, if it were necessary!”
After an unpleasant beginning, Nita surprised herself by having a lovely evening. Mr. Sker'ret was charming and funny, and she felt an instant kinship with him. She scarcely conversed with anyone else that night, and hardly noticed it. The other Miss Callahan, on the other hand, did not have such a pleasant time: she met Mr. Roshaun Ke-Nelaid, and found quite quickly that they did not get on: he being very cool to her, and making such sighs and amused faces each time she expressed an opinion as to indicate clearly that he found her provincial and not especially clever. Dairine, for her part, felt obliged to defend the reputation of her home, and did so, but felt herself growing increasingly inarticulate. As a general rule, Dairine had a biting wit that was always available to her: but Mr. Ke-Nelaid had put her off immediately, and she felt quite unable to express herself.
Fortunately for her, Miss Rodriguez and Mr. Rodriguez joined her after some time, and she sighed in relief.
“Miss Carmela Rodriguez, Mr. Christopher Rodriguez, do you know Mr. Roshaun Ke-Nelaid?” she said politely.
Mr. Rodriguez nodded civilly at Mr. Ke-Nelaid. “How do you do?”
Mr. Ke-Nelaid raised an eyebrow. “Very well, thank you,” he said, managing to convey his general boredom with such pleasantries and his distaste at his present circumstances extremely concisely. Dairine sighed internally, but Carmela merely laughed, and said, “Mr. Ke-Nelaid and I met recently; now then, I had been wanting to speak to you about a little function I will be hosting later, and I wonder if I could steal you away from Miss Callahan?”
With a sigh of relief, Dairine slipped away with Mr. Rodriguez as Carmela drew Mr. Ke-Nelaid away. She glanced up at Kit. “I am not sure that I like our newest neighbours,” she said.
Kit grinned. “He does seem a heartily dislikable young man!”
Dairine shrugged, a little disappointed. “Perhaps we could improve the party a little by starting a fire. Only a little one, of course...”
Kit laughed, but sounded a little distracted. Dairine looked up to where he was looking, out to the dance floor, and saw Nita dancing with Mr. Sker'ret. At least one of us is having a good time, she supposed.
Kit suddenly turned to her. “Would you like to dance?” he asked.
“If I can't set it on fire, I had better do something!” replied Dairine, and took his hand.
* * * * *
For the rest of that summer, Nita felt herself almost to be caught in a whirlwind. Part of her time was spent in rounds of parties, picnics, and balls she attended with Carmela, Dairine, Sker'ret, usually Mr. Christopher Rodriguez, often Mr. Roshaun Ke-Nelaid, and sometimes, inevitably, Miss Virella. On all these occasions Kit was polite, formal, and distant, as their arrangement suggested, usually choosing to spend his time with one of the ladies that generally flocked wherever Roshaun and Sker'ret were, or watching Dairine and Roshaun. That pair were quite a sight. Their immediate antagonism had not faded, but the two seemed strangely reluctant to stay away from each other, and their energetic debates had become an awkward (and occasionally entertaining) feature of their outings. Nita, on the other hand, spent most of her time in conversation with Sker'ret. She continued to find him interesting, widely-read, and possessed of a dry sense of humour. She enjoyed the summer and its endless socialising a great deal more than she might have expected to.
The rest of her time was spent working with Kit, exploring the currents of sea and sky that affected the weather, trying to guess at whether the hints Swale and Romeo had described were meaningful. At these times Kit was as friendly and professional as he always had been, but Nita nevertheless felt an increasing distance between them that worried her.
On one occasion, they had waded knee-deep into the ocean around Jones Inlet when Nita was surprised by a wave that knocked her backwards into the water. She came up laughing, and Kit was there to pull her up; but he was not laughing with her, and turned away once she was standing. Frustrated, she splashed him with water from behind, and he yelped, startled. Spinning around, he grinned at her and splashed back, and for a moment things felt normal again. They performed the analysis wizardries they had designed in the same good humour; but as they waded up onto the beach, she noticed that once more he was no longer looking directly at her. Quietly, Nita worried that she was losing his friendship, and wondered how their wizardry would suffer. She could not imagine being a wizard without Kit, who had been with her since their shared Ordeal.
And so the summer drew to a close.
In late August, their small party was out picnicking and enjoying the last of the summer sun. Dairine and Roshaun were bickering surprisingly amiably, and Kit was walking with Carmela. Nita was sitting with Sker'ret, talking idly about plays they had seen. They drifted to Shakespearean comedies, and Nita was unsurprised by Kit sitting down to join the discussion—the wizard in question being particularly fond of Shakespeare.
“Ah, Rodriguez,” said Sker'ret. “We were just discussing the Shakespearean comedies.”
“I overheard,” admitted Kit. “Shakespeare is a great favourite of mine. I have heard that theatres on the Continent have performed The Tempest from the original text.”
“Yes, I believe that is so,” agreed Sker'ret. “You enjoy The Tempest? I have never thought it one of his funniest works.”
“It has more in common with the late romances than with, say, The Taming of the Shrew,” agreed Nita.
“Oh, I agree. But the poetry is tremendous, and I find the subject matter—an island shrouded in mystery and in magic – of great interest to me and to all Long Islanders!” joked Kit.
Sker'ret and Nita laughed. “I have heard gossip about wizardry on the Island, but I have never witnessed anything especially mysterious myself,” said Sker'ret.
“You're only visiting,” replied Nita. “Give it time!” All three laughed, and continued talking. But a few minutes later, Nita was surprised to feel a few drops of rain fall on her face. Disbelievingly, she glanced up, and saw clouds rapidly boiling up over the sky.
“Look!” she said, pointing up. “It's going to rain—we had better get under shelter.” She scooped her dress up with one hand and turned back towards the house, which was some distance away, walking fast. Both young men followed her, and Sker'ret soon outpaced the two wizards, going up to offer his jacket to Carmela, who had not brought with her so much as a parasol or a hat. As it began to rain more heavily Kit took off his own jacket and offered it to Nita, who looked up at him in surprise.
"Hold it above your head," he suggested. And then she was surprised to hear him speaking in her mind. I laid a wizardry in it last winter to keep the rain off —it'll keep you dry.
What will keep you dry, then? I don't need it, replied Nita. She might just as easily have kept the rain off herself, after all, although she was reluctant to do so while surrounded by non-wizards.
Come on, Neets , he said, and she was so surprised to hear the nickname that she took it from him and said, aloud,
"You are too kind, Mr. Rodriguez."
"Not at all, Miss Callahan," he replied; and something in his voice made Nita look up at him.He looked away, and said suddenly, "Does anything strike you as odd about the rain?"
"Well, it's come up very fast, but—" Nita took in a breath and let it out, stretching her wizardly senses out to the damp air around her. She frowned. "Actually, yes, it does seem..." Cautiously, she switched back into speaking mind-to-mind. Is it just me, or does something about this feel... deliberate? Or not deliberate, but unnatural?
It's not just you , replied Kit uneasily. It doesn't feel directed, but somehow wrong.
Do you think we can sneak away and try to analyse it?
I think we'd better - but I can't imagine how.
I'll pretend to lose something—jewellery, perhaps, said Nita. Hopefully the rain will keep the others away. Out loud, she shouted, "I've lost an earring! Mr. Rodriguez and I will stay out to look for it, but you had all better go inside and get warm!" Dairine , she added, Get them inside, if you can. Get Carmela to help you. We have something to take care of.
She saw her sister look over at her. All right. Anything I can help with?
We should be fine. Thanks, Dari. Nita bent over as if to look for something, and Kit joined her. She snuck a glance towards the others and saw Dairine and Carmela talking easily, Dairine gesturing at the rain, Carmela pouting a little as if she was the kind of girl who couldn't stand to get a little wet. Which, come to think of it... Eventually, the small party turned towards the house. Nita sighed in relief and stood up, pulling her manual out of the same kind of otherspace pocket Kit favoured. “No reason to hang around and get wet, I suppose.”
“No,” agreed Kit, pulling his out as well. “Besides, the rain might stop.” Starting in the same spot, they moved in a half-circle in opposite directions while sketching out the spell diagram they had written and reused a half-dozen times already that month. When they reached each other on the opposite side of the spell circle, each wrote their own name, and Nita tied the spell off with the wizard's knot. After hastily checking the spell for errors, they began to read.
* * * * *
The next day, Nita and Kit banged on Mr. Swale and Mr. Romeo's door early in the morning. They heard the familiar noise of the dogs starting to bark, but no footsteps for several minutes. Then, all at once, a door slammed, a man shouted something abrupt at the dogs, and there was silence except for a tired-sounding shuffle. The door swung open, and Carl Romeo stood there looking as though he had just gotten dressed in yesterday's clothes. “Good morning, Miss Callahan, Mr. Rodriguez,” he said with a sigh. “What can I do for you?”
Nita and Kit exchanged a wince. “Ah, sorry to wake you,” began Nita.
“But it is an urgent matter,” finished Kit.
Carl sighed, and led the way into the house, scrubbing his hands through his hair. They came out into the kitchen, where Tom, in a similar state of dress, was bent over lighting the stove. He straightened and set a filled kettle to boil, then turned around, and the four wizards sat down at the kitchen table.
“All right,” said Mr. Swale, “What is the matter?”
“We know why you got the warning,” said Kit, “And it isn't good.”
“Of course not,” said Mr. Romeo, apparently to nobody in particular. “No-one's yet had any premonitions or advanced warning of any kind, so naturally something is wrong.”
“We know why that is, too,” said Nita. “Why no-one's had any advanced warning, why no-one's expecting this.”
“There's going to be a hurricane,” said Kit, “a big one.”
Mr. Swale and Mr. Romeo both straightened in their seats. “Like the last one?” asked Swale.
“Yes,” said Nita. “Probably, we think so, but we aren't sure. It's going to come up from Guadeloupe; we're sure of that. But other than that we have no specifics.”
"There was a rainstorm yesterday afternoon," said Kit. "We noticed it, because we've been working intensely with the weather this summer. Something about it wasn't right. It didn't feel malevolent, or deliberate—unlike last time—but we were sure there was something unusual about it. It didn't fit with the weather patterns we'd been observing. We ran our analysis wizardry, and we had some atypical results. We didn't understand them, so we spent all of last night studying the manual trying to explain it."
"Unfortunately, we think we did," said Nita.
“Why haven't we had any warning? Weather is unpredictable, but usually an event of any great magnitude will be foretold at least once, usually more often. We missed the portents last time, but they were there—no-one put them together. But we've been keeping our ears to the ground about this, everyone's been on alert. How can everyone have missed it?"
"Well," said Nita, "Sometimes deliberately attempting precognition for a specific event can have the opposite effect. But in this case, that's not why."
"Two days ago, a wizard prevented an eruption of La Soufriere, the volcano on Basse-Terre in Guadeloupe," said Kit.
Swale and Romeo both nodded, looking a bit sad. "Martinique Alleyne," said Mr. Romeo.
"She saved the lives of everyone who lived on Basse-Terre by taking the heat energy that had built up in the magma chamber, and absorbing it into herself. But once she had it, she had to get rid of it somehow, and she did it by spreading it out in the ocean. Being a conduit for that kind of energy killed her, but she was careful about it—spread it well around, so no seas boiled and killed any stray sharks or dolphins or, I don't know, krill. It was a clever solution, it saved lives, and it was quick—she had no time for a more thorough solution.
"Unfortunately, it is presently hurricane season in Guadeloupe. Spreading out that energy raised temperatures across the surface. More water evaporated than usual. At the right time of year that might have meant a little more rain. At this time of year? It means a hurricane, and it means one soon." Kit got up and went to fill a glass of water; he looked pale.
Nita took over as he drank. "We're not sure when. But I am sure that you're going to start receiving premonitions about it. Last week there were no warnings because there was no hurricane, certainly no hurricane that would make it as far as New York, and the conditions were not right to create one. We think precognition works by generating possible worlds from the conditions present, and then selecting the one that is most likely—that's why some premonitions can be diverted when wizards act on them. So last week, no conditions, no hurricane. But there were plenty of predictions that a volcano in Guadeloupe would erupt. Now the conditions are right."
Swale and Romeo exchanged grim looks. Swale tapped his knuckle on the table and his wizard's manual appeared—a much larger and less portable affair than Nita or Kit's, looking more like a bible made to sit on a lectern than the latest Austen novel. He paged through it to the back.
"So we'll have to start warning people," said Mr. Romeo. "Do you know where and when it's going to hit?"
"Not remotely," said Nita, “We don't know how long it will take to form. But it will certainly make it as far as Long Island, which means it will likely hit Manhattan as well, and the coast. And it's not far away: days or weeks. Two weeks at the latest, I would guess."
"We don't have much time, then," said Romeo. "We'll alert all the wizards in the vicinity and along the coast to be on the lookout and to try to get the people around them to move inshore. The trouble is, it's hard to explain to farmers why you want them to leave their property for two weeks."
"What else can we do?" asked Nita.
"Right now?" said Mr. Romeo. "Nothing. Go home. Get some rest—you've both been up all night. But tomorrow, start thinking about ways to defuse this, if we can."
Nita and Kit both nodded and stood. "We could use that extra help you mentioned," suggested Kit.
"I already sent a message to them," said Swale, looking up from his manual. "They'll come around to your house, Miss Callahan, tomorrow afternoon, if that is suitable."
"Fine," agreed Nita. "We'll bring Dairine in on it too, of course: we will probably need her firepower."
"Good," said Mr. Swale, standing to walk them to the door. "Go well on the errand, wizards."
"You, too," they chorused, as they left.
Outside, Nita stopped and looked at Kit. “Do you think we can do it?” she asked. “Make a difference?”
Kit gave her a crooked grin, reached out and took her hand. “I know we can, Miss Callahan,” he said, with a confidence Nita could tell he did not feel. Somehow, though, it did not matter: she believed him anyway.
* * * * *
The following afternoon saw Nita, Kit, and Dairine in the Callahan drawing-room, poring over a large sheet of paper—or, at least, it looked like paper, until you saw the glowing characters of the Speech slide around as directed, erase themselves or duplicate, depending on the direction of the discourse around them.
“There's no way,” said Dairine, conclusively, “the numbers simply will not work. Even if every wizard on Long Island worked together to the point of exhaustion or death, it's just not possible to shield the entire island from the kinds of forces a hurricane can exert. And it might not be a good idea, either. Who knows what happens to a hurricane that rebounds off a wizardly shield? We can't just shove this problem off onto somebody else and hope they take care of it.”
Nita sighed. “You're right. But I don't know what else to do—we can't control it or get it to exhaust its energies for the same reason we can't shield the island: The forces are too great.”
The three sighed together, and in the silence heard somebody knocking at the front door.
“I'll get it,” said Nita. “Hopefully it will be the new talent that Tom and Carl said they'd send to us.” Getting up, she went out to the door and opened it – to see Roshaun and Sker'ret on the other side. Her jaw dropped. No matter how much she had enjoyed Sker'ret's company, or how much time she and Dairine had spent with Roshaun, Sker'ret, and the rest of them, they were hardly so intimate that she would expect them to turn up on her doorstep without so much as a note.
With difficulty, Nita closed her mouth. “Mr. Ke-Nelaid, Mr. Sker'ret, what an unexpected pleasure! Do come in.” Swinging the door wide and beckoning them in, she sent a panicked thought to Dairine: Not new wizards. Sker'ret and Roshaun. Hide our notes! Aloud, she enquired: “May I take your coats?”
They both demurred, and she said “Well, Dairine and I are visiting with Mr. Rodriguez in our drawing-room. Please, do join us.” She led the way down the corridor as slowly as she could manage, hoping to give Dairine and Kit time to clear away any evidence.
As they entered, Dairine whirled around, having clearly (at least to Nita) just finished stuffing the note sheet behind a sofa. “Mr. Ke-Nelaid!” she said. “How unexpected! Of course, visits generally are when one does not send a note in advance.”
“Naturally,” agreed Roshaun. “However, a good host is always prepared for the unexpected. For example, my mother--”
Sker'ret gave a “tuh” of impatience. “We aren't unexpected,” he said, “or at least, I hope not. We're on errantry.”
Nita's jaw dropped—again—and she clicked it shut in annoyance, noticing Dairine and Kit doing the same thing.
“You're on errantry?” said Dairine. “You're a wizard?” she added, staring directly at Roshaun with a peculiar expression on her face.
“You could not possibly be as surprised as I am that you are a wizard,” replied Roshaun testily.
Nita tended to agree with Dairine—but somehow, she was much less surprised about Sker'ret, feeling instead that she finally understood the connection she had felt to him. She smiled at him, and he smiled back. “Dai stiho, hrasht,” he said.
“Yes, dai stiho, Sker'ret, Ke-Nelaid,” said Kit with some urgency, “but there's sort of an emergency that we're all here for. I'm glad you're both here: we are quite stuck.”
"We're not stuck,” said Dairine. “We just haven't found a solution yet.”
“For all practical purposes, the two stages are the same,” said Nita, sharing an eyeroll with Kit and Sker'ret. She went over to where Dairine had stood when the two men had entered the room, and fished out the sheet of notes. “Here are our data and analyses, and these here are our energy calculations for the storm. We have tried to estimate an arrival time, but can only estimate that it will be this week.”
Sker'ret and Roshaun each examined the notes.
“Have you comments?” asked Nita after a few minutes had elapsed.
“Yes,” replied Roshaun. “This shield idea is clearly impractical for any storm with this kind of energy output, particularly considering the area that would need to be protected.”
“We know,” said Dairine, glumly. “But we cannot produce an alternative.”
“If I may?” enquired Sker'ret. “It seems to me that this may be an appropriate solution,” and he sketched as he spoke. “We cannot simply shield the island from the storm, and if we could it would merely devastate somewhere else. Better to let it spend as much energy as it can. If, instead, we reinforce the structures and areas that the storm will pass over, perhaps it can blow itself out over Long Island without doing as much damage as it might otherwise have done – and keeping people safe inside.”
The other four wizards frowned at the notes sheet. Tentatively, beginning to hope, Nita said, “It seems tenable. There is a great deal of work that would need to be done—it seems to me that the reinforcements would work best if they are responsive to storm dynamics, for example—but it may be feasible, if we pass the complete version to other Long Island wizards, and naturally wizards elsewhere.”
“I agree,” said Kit.
“I concur,” said Roshaun. “I have some experience with storm dynamics, although in a different context: I can apply that to your observed data.”
Dairine jerked her head in a nod. “I think so too. However, there is one problem: the work will not be scalable above a certain size – perhaps a few square miles, less if the terrain is variegated or there are many houses.”
Sker'ret bowed his head. “You have identified the significant problem,” he agreed. “This will take a great deal of work, and the amount of time we have left is unknown.”
Kit gave a fierce grin. “But it's a solution. Maybe not the most elegant one. But six years ago we had nothing like this – and I doubt we could do again what we did then. I say we go for this: I'm not afraid of hard work if it can save the island the damage we experienced last time.”
“Are we resolved, then?” said Roshaun, a little impatiently.
Nita looked around, meeting each wizard's eyes. “Yes,” she said. “We are.”
* * * * *
While the rest of the island enjoyed the last few days of a brilliant summer, the two Misses Callahan, Mr. Rodriguez, Mr. Sker'ret and Mr. Ke-Nelaid began to work as hard as any of them had worked before in their lives. Each minute ticked by sickeningly: half of Nita waited expectantly for the hurricane to arrive, while the other half was feverishly working with little regard to the passage of time. Later, she would look back with some incredulity at the pace at which they had worked. It took them a day to design the wizardry they would use to “reinforce” populated areas of the island, and another half-day to go over it with a fine-toothed comb: and this, Nita felt, was more or less a break-neck pace.
They worked surprisingly well together. Formality fell by the wayside. Dairine and Roshaun's antagonism had become so refined over the course of the summer that it functioned as a Socratic dialogue, each voice criticising the other until there was nothing remaining to be criticised. Nita felt, with some relief, that she and Kit had somehow fallen back into step; and Sker'ret demonstrated an astounding sense of the mechanics of spell creation, balancing equation after equation. The finished product was designed to be worked by two wizards together – surprising, perhaps, since Nita and Kit were the only wizards in the group who routinely worked with others; but they were persuasive in their reasoning.
When, on the first day of September, they at last had something they felt was workable, Nita sent a message to Mr. Swale and Mr. Romeo requesting a reply with all due urgency, and then sank down into a chair. Dairine fetched bread, cheese, and potted meat, and they made a small meal; but Nita picked at a slice of bread, and kept tapping her manual in hopes of feeling the telltale fizz of an unread message.
Eat something, Nita, and Nita looked up from her book to find Kit watching her from the other side of the room, his dark eyes unreadable.
I can't – I simply cannot , she replied, tiredly. Kit crossed the room, made a sandwhich, and put it in front of her.
Come on, Neets, he said, and she sighed, and took a bite.
You sound like my father, you know. She reached down and brushed her manual automatically – and froze, feeling the fizz. She dropped the sandwich and yanked the book out, flipping to the back.
The message was short and to the point. She swallowed, and looked up at the others. “We have a go,” she said. “They've given us areas to cover – I guess they're in contact with other local wizards, too, because the areas – well, I was going to say they're small, but given what we have to do, they're not. I'm working with Kit, of course, but if the rest of you are amenable, Roshaun will work with Dairine and Sker'ret will work with a friend of ours, Darryl McAllister.”
“When do we start?” asked Kit.
Nita swallowed again. “Now. Because the hurricane just made landfall in North Carolina.”
* * * * *
The next two days were a whirlwind of exhausting activity, thought Nita with deliberate irony. The areas were, indeed, not large... but they were large enough. She and Kit worked from dawn until after dusk each day, stopping only to sleep briefly and eat. Their area stretched down from Hempstead and along the coast, and they worked it methodically. They would arrive at a location and immediately begin to draw the spellcircle that they had designed: this was mostly formulaic, with the notable exception of the description of the terrain they were attempting to protect. It was this that took them the most time, perhaps a full hour to thoroughly describe their surroundings, identifying houses to support, fields to make resilient, copses where the winds could blow without damaging the trees or their inhabitants too greatly. Then they would each read, in the aharmonic structure Dairine had devised which, she said, would help neutralise the effects of the winds. The world around would grow silent, as if something was listening intently to their words; power would flood into them; and then rush out of them and into the landscape, leaving Nita and Kit tiredly preparing the transportation spell to take them to their next location. With each transit, they felt the wind pick up a little when they arrived. The sky became overcast, and it began to rain occasionally. The work became more than unpleasant; they could barely hear each other speak. But Nita reached out in her mind to Kit, and he to her: and they continued.
For all their hard work, they barely made it. Nita and Kit popped out of a transit... and looked around themselves in surprise, for they had arrived on a beach: Jones Inlet, the last area they were to reinforce. Nita looked out to sea, and swallowed nervously. It does not look pleasant out there.
No, thought Kit back to her. It does not.
We can handle it, said Nita with determination, and began to draw the circle.
As they spoke together, feeling the listening pressure of the world around them, Nita felt rain begin to slap against her face, carried on a hot, strong breeze. Sand whipped up around them, dragging her skirts around her ankles and making her stumble, but she kept reading, out loud and in her head, shaping each syllable of the Speech with Kit. She glanced out at the sea, and felt ill, but refused to allow fear and doubt to affect the spell, crowding it out with sheer obduracy, feeling Kit beside her in the circle doing the same with his inimitible courage. They shouted out the last line of the spell, and staggered as energy rushed out and through them into the seabed, the dunes, and the land behind them. Kit sat down, looking surprised to have done so, and Nita began to laugh, helplessly, until she collapsed next to him. He slipped an arm behind her and drew her against him, and she stopped laughing with a little gasp and lent into him.
Nita, he said after a moment—
—but she gasped again and gripped his arm, gesturing out to sea. Kit—what is that?
They clambered up, and he looked out. Oh, no. Oh, damn. Not too far from the shore they saw a ship—and it was plainly foundering. Even from that distance, Nita could hear shouts and screams from it—or perhaps it was her wizardry, still connected to the land around her. Whatever the reason, she looked out and felt sick. What can we do?
I don't know. But we have to do something—it can't take the stresses.
No. I—wait, Kit! If we change—it's just a different area— Frustrated, she simply thrust her idea into his mind, and he began to nod, slowly and then more enthusiastically.
Yes. Yes. They began again to draw the circle, and then began to stretch out their wizardly minds, reaching out across the sea to the little ship that rocked there. A description... three sails... seventeen people aboard, and Nita swallowed, feeling each of those seventeen lives as if they were her own.
Wooden... they continued to mentally mutter to each other as they wrote, hastily. The area was smaller—they reduced it to several hundred feet surrounding the ship, for safety's sake— though really a few feet ought to be enough , opined Kit. Instead of embedding it into the land, they hooked it carefully onto the ship, screwing up their faces against the sand blasting past them.
“Nita!” shouted Kit, as they scribbled away, over the screaming wind.
"Yes?” she cried back, glancing up, but he appeared not to hear her, looking nervous and unsteady. She returned her full attention to her work.
“Will you marry me?”
She actually paused for a moment in her work. “Will I what? ” she shouted.
“You know! Marry me?”
She looked up at him in shock, dark hair flapping into his face, brow furrowed as he scribbled symbols again and again into the circle. “Do you think now's the time?”
“Could there be any better?” he screamed back.
Nita opened her mouth, closed it again, and stared at him for a full second. “All right, then!” she said eventually.
He said nothing in reply: but she felt him redouble his efforts, energy blazing out into the circle, and as he did so she realised that she, too, had begun to work faster, as if some energy reserve she had been saving for just this moment had come into play—although she had thought herself entirely exhausted.
Eventually they were done, and looked down at the circle, and then out to sea once more. The ship was still visible, but barely, and Nita and Kit turned to each other and began to read without discussion. Once more, the particular pressure associated with this spell, almost familiar by now; and as they read, Nita began to sense the things they were describing, feeling herself a part of the wild seas, seeing in front of her the seventeen men aboard the ship frantically working, praying, and crying out, being simultaneously them and the wind that threatened to crack the ship apart. Then she sensed, too, her wizardry begin to take effect. She felt herself reach out to the wind, and beg it to go gently on the ship, to blow around it carefully. She felt herself, and Kit, speak out to the Sea and persuade it to look kindly on the small tree-hewn thing floating upon it. And as they did so, she saw the storm around the ship begin to calm itself, just a little, but just enough. She looked up at Kit across from her, saw him grin at her fiercely, and then they both shouted, for the final time, the last line of the spell.
This time they both collapsed.
After a few minutes, Nita sat up, and inched over to sit next to Kit, huddling against his arm. She began to brush the sand from her skirts, but rapidly realised that to do so was pointless, and instead wrapped her arms around her knees.
They sat there, together, exhausted, protected by the wizardries they had spent two days performing, and watched the ship come in.