Nita didn't know why she was hesitant to ring the bell. It wasn't as though she hadn't done this before. But Kit had been with her when they first met Tom and Carl.
When the spell they were working had gone wrong, she'd ended up here in a small town in Maine and he'd been flung to Southern California. It would be a simple matter to get back where they'd started but that wouldn't solve why the spell had gone wrong in the first place. Once they'd got back in contact, they'd agreed to contact the local Advisories to try to figure out if there was a reason they'd landed where they did. And the fact that Nita had been just around the corner from the nearest Advisories had confirmed her decision. So, here she was, on an unfamiliar porch, staring at the doorbell and trying to get up the courage to ring it.
She shook herself. They'd defeated the Lone Power. She could defeat a sudden bout of shyness.
A girl of about four or five answered the door. At first, Nita thought that the brown and white rabbit she was carrying was stuffed but then it squirmed in the girl's arms.
"Is your mom home?" Nita asked.
The girl nodded and ran off into another room, but not before the rabbit had slipped from her grasp. It stared at Nita, wriggling its nose disapprovingly. This would have bothered Nita more if she hadn't taken it as a sign that she was in the right house.
Nita let the door close behind her, but didn't attempt to get past the rabbit. It didn't seem polite. She was about to drop to her knees and let the rabbit sniff her hand (was that what one did with rabbits?) when a tall woman with chestnut hair walked into the room.
"She smells of earth and green growing things. I like her, Meg," the rabbit said in the Speech, wriggling her nose for emphasis. "I'm Sasha."
The rabbit was one of the two wizards listed in her Book. Why hadn't Nita thought to try the Speech? "I am on Errantry and I greet you. I'm Nita." she added as an afterthought. "You must be Meg O'Keefe?" she said to the woman, trying to figure out if she'd offended Sasha. "I'm Nita Callahan." It had never occurred to Nita that rabbits could be wizards, but Sasha's name had been right below Meg's in her Manual's listing of the nearest Seniors.
"You're one of the new wizards Tom and Carl have been raving about." Meg shook her hand. "Welcome to the club. What are you doing so far from New York? No, wait, before you start, let's go back out into the backyard. I want to keep an eye on Poly."
Nita followed the woman and the rabbit through the comfortably cluttered house, noting the overstuffed bookshelves. She wouldn't mind having a house like this herself one day.
Meg grabbed a glass from the kitchen and led her to a picnic table with a clear view of a sandbox where Poly was playing. Sasha was already sitting on the table cleaning her ears.
"Kit and I - Kit's my partner - were assigned to fix a temporal glitch. But the glitch, well, glitched and he ended up in LA and I ended up here in Maine. After I spoke to him, my manual's pages opened to your location, so I guessed you'd have some valuable advice or tools or something..." Nita looked at Meg uncertainly. It was odd dealing with a Senior who wasn't Tom or Carl.
"And Dariene's off halfway across the galaxy while Kit and I are stuck here trying to sort out this temporal anomaly," Nita added. "She's the science geek among us. That's what brought me here." She opened her manual and showed Meg the page. "There's a lot of math. Maybe there's a mistake somewhere. I copied down exactly what I saw."
Sasha twitched her nose. The rabbit version of the speech was more about movement than sound. "Math's Meg's specialty," she said. "I'm going back to the planting which Poly so rudely interrupted. Call if you need me." This last sentence came from the side where Sasha was already digging a furrow in the garden.. A small cloud of seeds hovered behind her and at regular intervals planted themselves in the ground behind her. "And at some point I want to talk to you about green spells, Nita."
Gaining the approval of a small brown and white dutch rabbit who was also a wizard didn't even break the top hundred strangest things that Nita had experienced since she'd taken the wizard oath, but it was, surprisingly, one of the most satisfying. "You'll have to teach me that one." She absentmindedly wandered over to kneel down beside the garden and study the spell keeping the seeds in the air but rabbit wizardry didn't seem to work in the same way that human wizardry did. Given time she was sure she could work it out on her own, but she was sure the structure would be easier to understand with Sasha's help and she said so.
Sasha's ears twitched agreement but she didn't stop working so Nita stood, brushed off her jeans and went back to the picnic table, though she doubted she could help Meg.
Meg patted the seat beside her and Nita sat down beside the Senior Wizard. "That garden feeds her too. She likes digging much more than I do. I used to miss having my brothers doing the gardening - they always did when I was a child - but this arrangement works well for both of us. Lemonade?"
Nita nodded. "Sorry, but it's so fascinating. I've never met another wizard with my specialty before. Human or rabbit."
"As you meet more wizards, you'll be more likely to run into ones with similar specialties, though you'll probably never meet one with exactly the same one," Meg said as she studied the equations carefully. After a moment a pen appeared in her hand and she started to make corrections directly on the page. "You're missing a parentheses here and here and if you do that, you need to balance this bit like so. It's as though someone spilled water on the speech and all the figures blurred in odd ways. I've seen this before." She set back to work correcting the math.
Nita sipped her lemonade and watched as Sasha finished up the garden. It wasn't as though she could help and she wasn't sure Meg would appreciate interruptions. It was a nice day to just relax and watch.
"It's good to have you here," Meg said after a few minutes silence. "It's been several years since there have been young wizards in the area. Good for getting on with one's research but a little too quiet, if you know what I mean."
Nita thought about all the scrapes she and Kit and Dairine had gotten themselves into since they'd taken the oath. "Carl and Tom grumble about us sometimes, but it's happy grumbling," she replied. Then taking Meg's comment as an invitation to conversation, she added. "This wasn't what I was expecting, after their house. It's almost normal." She bit her lip. That sounded rude.
But Meg didn't take offense. "I was a late bloomer," Meg said. "Very late, by wizard standards. My little brother broke out early - he was only five or six, and dragged me in. Later I found out that I had been prevented from getting my manual by the same force that had abducted my father. Or maybe I did it to myself. I initially rejected the Oath. I used to think when I was growing up that being too smart and too strange was the worst thing in the world and all I wanted was to be normal, so when I found my manual, I hid it in the attic and refused to take the oath. It wasn't until Charles Wallace found it and did take the oath that I even remembered the incident and then not til I'd been dragged out on his Ordeal with him - the Ordeal that should have been mine." She stared down at the equation as though she were unwilling to meet Nita's eyes. "It's rare for potential wizards to get a second chance. I was never very powerful, but I was incredibly skilled at mathematics and the Speech, and while I had plenty of offers in the mundane world, Calvin's work meant we'd have to move periodically so I didn't want to get tied down. And I wanted to be there for our kids. So here I am, trying to give my children as normal a life as possible all the while delving in to the relationship between mathematics and the Speech. I couldn't have done that at a university or think tank. Calvin's my husband," she added absently, her eyes never straying from the spell.
"Is Calvin a wizard too?" Nita asked.
"No, but he knows about me and he knows about wizardry. He's been very supportive." Meg said.
"And Sasha, where does she fit in?"
"She was given to Poly one Easter by one of Calvin's rather clueless siblings. Unexpected pets at Easter are not the best idea, and bunnies aren't always cute, cuddly creatures. The first clue we had that Sasha was being affected by the magic in the house was a week later when we actually saw her disappear when the kids were chasing her and reappear safely on the upstairs landing. She doesn't talk much about rabbit wizardry, except in practical matters - rabbits seem to have strong ties to the Earth and to growing things.
"That's my talent too," Nita offered. "Maybe she sees me as a kindred spirit."
Meg nodded. "I only found out she was a wizard when her name appeared beside mine in the manual and she doesn't speak of her Oath or her Ordeal. 'Rabbits don't,' is all she ever told me. It's nice having another Senior around, even if she mostly deals with the animal wizards and I deal with the humans. Poly's too young to show any talent and Charles Wallace is one of those Seniors who retained a good portion of their power, but he's always been the more powerful one."
"It's just so annoying, isn't it?" Nita found herself saying. "My sister's younger and gets everything." Meg seemed to invite such confidences. "I know I shouldn't be jealous, but it still bugs me sometimes."
"It's not easy being the eldest, is it?" Meg replied. "Sandy and Dennys were so much better adjusted and Charles Wallace was just Charles Wallace. Nothing ever fazes him. He's always off on some top secret hush hush mission. I don't want to be doing that but sometimes I miss that excitement. I think I've untangled this. "
Nita stared at the neat rows of speech which showed no sign of correction. Meg's changes had been seamlessly absorbed into the spell. "I'll take your word for it. This math is beyond me."
"You'll learn," Meg replied. "You're still new at this."
"So I need to anchor my side of the spell a half a mile North of here?" Nita asked, trusting she'd read the coordinates right. She stood awkwardly. "Do you want me to leave my glass in the kitchen?"
"Yes. Go round the house that way," she pointed to the left, "turn left and follow the street until it dead ends in the woods. It's about fifty feet into the woods, so you shouldn't be visible from the road." Meg instructed. "Leave the glass here. I'll take it in when I start dinner. And don't fret about your sister. There will come a time when you'll be glad of her power and skill."
"Already happened." Nita grinned and Meg grinned back. At least she now knew there was at least one wizard out there with a more powerful younger sibling who understood how she felt.
Sasha suddenly appeared on the picnic table again. "Leaving so soon?" She licked at Nita's hand. "We should talk soon. I'm in the book."
"So am I," Nita said, not sure how one responded to being licked.
"She groomed you. Now you groom her back," Meg said helpfully.
"Between the ears," Sasha added.
Nita did as she was instructed, scratching Sasha obligingly between the ears, and then shook Meg's hand again, before heading out on the route that Meg had indicated. Assuming Kit had solved his half of the equation, they might even finish and be home in time for lunch.