Innocence greeted them on the porch of the Pritchard homestead, emerging so quickly that she must have been watching for their return. There was not as much bounce in her step as Alexandra was accustomed to seeing at Charmbridge. Woebegone and resentful, Innocence had been forced to stay home and look after her young nieces and nephews while the older kids went off to Down Below Holler.
“I had to mind five chillun all day!” she cried. “Five!”
“Don’t carry on like you was mindin’ ‘em all on your own,” Forbearance said. “Prudence ’n Faithful ’n Ma ’n Grace was here. All you had to do was help out a little.”
“A little! A little!” Innocence tugged a strand of hair loose from her bonnet, causing her sisters to frown disapprovingly. Innocence’s yellow hair was now a brilliant green. “Lookit’ what Cody done to me! An’ he tried to blow up Misery like a balloon!” She held her toad familiar cradled protectively in one arm. Misery let out a mournful croak. “An’ when I was minded to paddle the li’l calamity, Faithful told me I dasn’t lay a finger on him! Made out like I was bein’ unreasonable!”
“Well,” said Burton, coming up behind them after having put away the mules, “the boy must be right brimmin’ with magic then, hain’t he? That’s some fearful work for a li’l tad. Jonah an’ Faithful oughter be proud.”
Innocence glared at her brother. He grinned back at her. “Now tuck yore locks, Innocence, ‘fore you get ‘em shorn.”
“Innocence,” said Constance, “how ‘bout we go down to the crick for a dip. We’uns could all use freshenin’, I reckon.”
“An’ you’uns stay away, you heathen kobolds,” Forbearance said to Burton and Noah.
“Unless you’uns’d like Actaeon’s Curse put upon ye,” Constance said, very seriously. The boys stopped grinning.
The creek was a short hike through the woods. The bubbling course of water running through the trees was almost invisible until they were upon it. Coming down the hill, wending between rocks and branches, it was no more than ankle-deep in most places, but the Pritchards led them to a spot where it cascaded over a three-foot bluff, spilling into a wide, relatively placid swimming hole.
At the water’s edge, Alexandra was nonplussed as the Pritchards stripped off their dresses and bonnets and slid into the water as bare as the day they were born. The sight of their long, blonde hair floating loosely around them was more shocking to her than their pale, naked bodies.
She glanced at Julia. The two of them shrugged, and after some hesitation, they followed suit.
The water was cold but refreshing, and Alexandra felt much better after the unexpected skinny dip, though the yew wand nearly blistered her when she tried to cast a Drying Charm afterwards. Julia tsked, as she used her wand to try to undo some of the damage Alexandra had done to her hair that morning.
As they shuffled through the woods back to the house, Charlie cawed an alarm. They all realized that someone was watching them from beneath the trees. Constance and Forbearance gasped together. Julia and Alexandra followed the direction of their gazes, and Julia drew back in alarm, while Alexandra grabbed both of her wands and raised them together clenched in her fist.
“Afternoon, my dears,” said an old woman’s voice. “It’s a fine day for a swim, hain’t it?”
“Granny Pritchard!” exclaimed Constance, Forbearance, and Innocence.
The old woman wore a dress much like the girls’, but it was blue and brown, and whatever pattern it once held had faded into a long-forgotten memory. Her bonnet shaded her face almost completely, but her eyes were bright as she stepped forward and accepted the embraces of the three sisters. Then she fixed those gem-like eyes on Alexandra, who had dropped her fist to her side but still held her wands clenched in it.
“So,” said Granny Pritchard, “this is that troublesome gal we’uns heard tell of.”
“I reckon,” Alexandra said.
Granny Pritchard laughed with a surprisingly light, merry voice. “Nettlesome too, hain’t she, my dears?”
“Yes’m,” said Constance. She and Forbearance both gave Alexandra very serious looks that seemed to be warning her against any more smart retorts.
“I’m Alexandra Quick,” Alexandra said. “Pleased to meet you.”
Charlie abruptly landed on her shoulder, and standing straight and tall, said in a clear voice: “Troublesome.”
“Ah,” said Granny Pritchard. She walked forward. She was old — how old, Alexandra couldn’t say — but there was no limp or hobble in her step, and her back was as straight and proud as Charlie’s. She looked both Alexandra and the raven in the eye.
Alexandra felt uncomfortable beneath her scrutiny. She was sure she was being examined with something beyond vision. She had to concentrate to avoid fidgeting. Beside her, Julia shifted restlessly.
“Thank you,” the old woman whispered at last.
“Thank you?” Alexandra repeated in surprise.
“For saving my great-granddaughter,” Granny Pritchard said. For a moment, the hard clear edge in her voice softened. Now Alexandra did fidget. Then Granny Pritchard said, “And who is your fine feathered friend?”
Charlie preened and said, “Charlie.”
“And this is my sister, Julia,” Alexandra said.
Julia made a small curtsy. “I’m very pleased to meet you, ma’am.”
“Such fine manners,” the old woman said. “I do hope you don’t steal one of our beaus from out’n the holler. There’s somethin’ ‘bout foreign witches that draws Ozarker boys, though I could not tell you what. No offense to present company.”
“No offense taken, I’m sure,” Julia said with a blush. “But I assure you, I’m here for the Jubilee, not for beaus.”
“Then enjoy it, my dear.” Granny Pritchard turned back to Alexandra. “We’uns’d like a word with you, Miss Quick.”
“We’uns who?” Alexandra asked.
“Why, us Grannies.”
Behind her, Constance, Forbearance, and Innocence’s eyes all widened. Alexandra looked around, almost expecting to see the other Grannies appear out of the woods.
“Not now,” Granny Pritchard said. “You young folks go have yourselves a fine time at the Jubilee. But if’n it pleases you, I’ll find you later.”
“Are we going to go somewhere?” Alexandra asked.
“Not far,” Granny Pritchard said.
“What if I don’t want to go?”
Constance tensed. Forbearance put a hand to her mouth. Beside her, Julia took Alexandra’s arm.
Granny Pritchard only raised her eyebrows with a perplexed half-smile. “We’uns hain’t gonna carry you off like hill dwarves, girl. I reckon t’others will be disappointed. But the choice is yourn.”
“I’ll think about it,” Alexandra said.
The old woman didn’t seem to like that answer, but she shrugged. She turned back to her great-granddaughters. “You’uns be good, an’ don’t let me hear that you’re bein’ an unbiddable little turnipseed, Innocence Catharine. You help your Maw, just like Constance and Forbearance did when you was in nappies.”
Innocence, red-faced, hung her head. “Yes, ma’am.”
Granny Pritchard patted Innocence on the cheek and kissed her forehead. Then she raised her walking stick and took three steps toward the heavy underbrush alongside the path the girls had been following back to the Pritchards’ home. With a wave of her stick, the vegetation parted before her, and she vanished between the trees.
The next day, everyone left Furthest immediately after breakfast. The Pritchards wore their finest dresses and bonnets. Alexandra refused to don hers again, even if her hair was still a little frizzled, but she agreed to at least wear proper robes without Muggle attire beneath them.
Today they were flying to Clearwater Holler, which was much closer than Down Below Holler and the foreigners' village. It was, the Pritchards said, a more conservative place. Like all the other Hollers, they were open to outsiders for the Jubilee, but few foreigners would be making the trip.
“All the most important families will address their kith an’ kin,” Noah told them. “S’what we’uns think of as the proper start o’ the Jubilee.”
David, Anna, and Sonja would be there, along with the other Charmbridge students. So would the Rashes — Clearwater Holler was their home.
As they flew through the air, and a heavy breeze whipped Alexandra’s loose hair around her face, Burton drew up alongside her. Alexandra wasn’t sure how he did that — no spurring, kicking, or verbal encouragement from her seemed to change her mule’s speed.
“Fly! Fly!” said Charlie, gliding along next to them.
“You gots fine raven hair, Miss Quick,” Burton said. “Hereabouts it’s considered right immodest to show yore hair like that, but I likes to see it.”
“Is that so?” Alexandra felt like Burton was teasing her, maybe because his older brother was dominating Julia’s attention. She looked sidelong at her sister. Julia was laughing at some comment of Noah’s. Alexandra frowned at Noah’s familiarity with Julia as he touched her knee to steady her while she lifted both hands to retie her bonnet, which was catching the breeze.
“They’uns make a right purty couple, don’t they?” said Burton.
“Julia’s just being nice. She’s nice to everyone,” Alexandra said, annoyed.
“Why Miss Quick, I get the feelin’ you feature Ozarkers beneath you.”
Burton’s voice was loud enough for his sisters to hear. They turned startled eyes in her direction. Alexandra exclaimed, “No! That’s ridiculous!”
Burton laughed. Alexandra scowled at him.
“Alexandra, don’t you mind this peezaltree backwoods gnarl we’uns is unfortunate enough to be kin to,” Constance said.
The mules descended toward the ground, which was a panoply of people and color snaking around a wet, wooded landscape surrounded by rivers and lakes.
Burton just kept grinning at Alexandra.
“Jerk,” said Charlie.
“You tell him, Charlie,” Alexandra said.
Burton clicked his tongue. “What a terrible vain, vexin’ thing.”
“Don’t insult my familiar,” Alexandra said.
“Wasn’t talkin’ ‘bout yore familiar.” Burton laughed loudly as they settled onto the ground and kicked his mule forward to amble out ahead of Noah and Julia. He swiftly leaped off and took Julia’s mule as she prepared to dismount, prompting a brief contest of gallantry between the two Pritchard boys.
“Jerk,” Alexandra muttered.
Clearwater Holler did not have a foreigners’ village, only a collection of booths, sheds, tents, and stages erected amongst the trees, with charming wooden bridges arching in defiance of wind and gravity over the streams and rivers that sliced through the woods every hundred yards or so. There were platforms magically suspended up in the trees; some had musicians on them, playing pipes and banjos, while others seemed to be merely observation decks for gatherings of Ozarker children who watched the foreigners passing below them with wide eyes. Alexandra saw one boy, too young for a wand, sighting on someone with a slingshot. Before she could see whether he would actually let loose a stone, someone called her and her friends’ names.
Sonja, David, and Anna came squeezing through the crowd. Sonja wore regular robes today and had abandoned her bonnet, letting her red curls tumble loose around her shoulders. Anna wore flashy Chinese robes. Rather than a bonnet, she had pinned her hair into elegant ribboned spirals. David wore his best dark robes and the hat he’d purchased the day before. They didn’t quite match, but David strutted along looking more pleased with himself than usual.
“Check this out,” he said when he reached Alexandra and the Pritchards. He lifted his hat, turned it over, reached his hand into it, and pulled out his wand.
“Great,” Alexandra said, sliding off her mule. “You learned a magic trick. I had a book that taught me how to do that when I was nine.”
David frowned. “This isn’t a Muggle magic trick. I actually enchanted my hat. Look.” He dropped his wand into the hat, and it disappeared.
“Oh,” Alexandra said. “Well, that’s pretty cool.”
“That hain’t cool, it’s great!” Innocence exclaimed.
“That’s a right pretty piece of work, David,” said Constance.
“You don’t start learning to make wizard-spaces until you get to Advanced Enchantments at Charmbridge,” Anna said.
“Told you this hat was awesome.” David basked in the approbation. He shook the hat, then frowned and turned it upside down. When nothing happened, he reached a hand into it, then his arm, all the way past the elbow.
“Beware new enchantments,” Sonja intoned. “You tamper with forces —”
“Shut up, Sonja!” David’s expression became increasingly frantic.
While Noah and Burton tied up the mules, David spent the next several minutes trying to get his hat to disgorge his wand without success. When he seemed on the verge of despair, Alexandra pointed her yew wand and said, “Accio wand.”
David’s long beechwood wand shot out of his hat and struck Alexandra on the collarbone; the stinging impact knocked her back a step. David hastily snatched his wand off the ground, while Alexandra rubbed the spot that would become a bruise shortly.
“Alexandra!” said Julia with concern.
“Are you all right?” Anna asked. “That wand of yours doesn’t seem to be working right.”
Alexandra glared at the wand clenched in her fist. “It’s just taking a while to adjust to me.”
Constance and Forbearance looked at each other.
“Alex,” said Constance, “if’n a wand hain’t kinned to you…”
“It won’t just ‘adjust,’” said Forbearance.
“You have to edzact yourself to it,” said Constance.
“An’ that’s hard ’n difficult work.”
“Also,” Constance said, and the twins both paused.
“What?” Alexandra said.
“Well, it takes patience,” said Forbearance.
“A heap o’ patience,” said Constance.
“What it needs is to learn who’s boss.” Alexandra put the wand away, feeling its resistance beneath her fingertips.
“I do believe you are proving Constance and Forbearance’s point, dear sister,” said Julia.
“Well, howdy, Miss Chu, Miss Rackham, Mr. Washington,” said Noah as he and Burton returned. “The Five Families is about to elocute, if’n y’all want to move along to the speakin’ grounds.”
“Five Families? Sounds like mobsters,” David said.
“I don’t know what a mobster is,” Noah said, “but the Five Families is the Sawyers, the Donaldsons, the Stuarts, the Bevins, an’ the Pritchards.”
“So you guys are actually one of the families in charge of the Ozarks?” Alexandra said.
“I had no idea,” Anna said.
Burton chuckled, while Constance and Forbearance shook their heads forcefully.
“Hain’t no one in charge o’ the Ozarks,” said Constance. “We’uns hain’t got no leaders, not wrote official like in the Confederation. But the oldest families, the ones who was first to cross from the Old World, they’uns is esteemed more’n most.”
“Hence the words of our family heads got some weight,” said Noah. “But don’t misapperhend that we’uns is Elect or such like, Miss Quick.”
Alexandra exchanged a look with Anna. Not many people talked about the Elect even in the Confederation. She wondered how much knowledge Ozarkers had about the Deathly Regiment.
The “speaking grounds” were no more than a bare knoll surrounded by a large amount of dry ground with few trees, set apart from the creek-side tents and sheds and the bedecked trees where the festivities were going on. Ozarkers and a small number of foreigners were still flowing out of the trees to form a large circle around the knoll, atop which a group of men milled about, smoking wizard tobacco and drinking from thin glass flutes that looked quite out of place here. As the crowd grew, most of the men, dressed in wool trousers and jackets, drifted toward the near edges, where their wives stood in dresses and bonnets, leaving five men in top hats at the center, including Mr. Pritchard.
“Well I’ll be spitted proper,” said an Ozarker man standing nearby in a tall felt hat, speaking to his companion, a younger fellow likewise dressed in a jacket and hat and puffing on a corncob pipe. “Balthazar Donaldson done showed.”
“Thought everyone from Scotch Ridge was gonna shun the Jubilee whilst furriners is about,” said the man with the pipe. His eyes and his companion’s both slid in the direction of Alexandra and her friends. Anna and David both frowned. Julia fixed her attention on the men in the center of the gathering, but Alexandra met the man’s gaze until he looked away.
None of the Pritchards had mentioned their father’s role in the gathering today, nor hinted that their family held any particular status. Constance, Forbearance, and Innocence all pushed forward as far as they dared, their faces lit with adoration. Noah and Burton also seemed to swell with pride as the Ozarkers noted and recognized them. Burton, Alexandra thought, was the more swell-headed of the two. He stood with his thumbs hooked under his suspenders and his chest puffed out, and when he caught Alexandra scrutinizing him, he cocked an eyebrow and nodded toward the knoll.
“Yeah, I got it, that’s your father,” she said.
“I hain’t drawin’ yore notice to my paw,” he said. “Look further.”
Alexandra did. Past Mr. Pritchard and the other Ozarker patriarchs, past their wives, there was a small break in the crowd encircling them. There, seated in the only chairs in evidence around the speaking grounds, was a gathering of very old women, all dark and drab in contrast to the calico patterns and bright stripes and flowers worn by the other Ozarker women at the Jubilee. Most of the elderly witches wore bonnets matching their plain, dark dresses, but a couple wore robes and hats like Colonial witches. One of the latter was Granny Pritchard.
So, Alexandra thought, these were the Grannies. She counted twelve of them. None seemed to be looking in her direction, but she still felt a prickling at the back of her neck that made her stand up straighter, as one being measured and not wanting to be underestimated might do.
“Greetin’s to all my kinfolk from Down Below Holler!” called one of the five men at the center of the crowd. He did not use magic to amplify his voice, but most of the crowd quieted, except for a contingent of Ozarkers apparently from Down Below Holler who hooted and cheered.
“And o’ course all you’uns from t’other Hollers, an’ our foreign guests as well!” The speaker was plump and jovial, quite a contrast from the other four, who, including Mr. Pritchard, all wore dour expressions and seemed to be in anything but a festive mood.
“I’m Leland Sawyer, but most o’ you’uns already knows that,” continued the cheerful speaker. “For the furriners amongst us, I hope you’uns enjoy yore visit, an’ that you’uns will favor us with yore attendance at the big dance Friday night, one of the few times you’uns will ever find our folk dancin’ with youall.”
While some of the younger people cheered at this, a sort of disgruntled hush fell over most of the Ozarkers. It didn’t appear that a mixed dance was a universally welcome event. The Grannies sat almost immobile, faces like stone. Two of them were knitting. Granny Pritchard folded her arms across her chest in a posture that reminded Alexandra of Constance.
Leland Sawyer’s welcome speech went on for several minutes. It was devoid of interest to Alexandra — he didn’t talk much at all about the Jubilee itself or its purpose.
“No wonder ol’ Leland’s gettin’ himself a reputation for bein’ a Confederation lickspittle,” someone nearby muttered.
“Sounds like a durned barker,” said someone else. “Just open the Ozarks right up to every witch ’n warlock, why don’t we?”
Julia looked around as tension grew in the air. Aside from the Pritchards, all the other Ozarkers near them were giving the foreigners a wide berth.
“Reminds me of back home,” Anna whispered in Alexandra’s ear. “A lot of Chinese wizards still think my great-great-grandfather betrayed our community.”
Then a pang of realization crossed her face, and she looked down.
Alexandra knew what Anna was thinking: He did. The Chu progenitor had led the Chinese wizarding community into the Confederation, and bound them to the Deathly Regiment. She took Anna’s hand and squeezed it. Anna’s father was trying to undo what his ancestor had done, though Alexandra’s father believed that Mr. Chu’s cause was hopeless.
“Dancin’ and sellin’ our best works an’ showin’ Ozarker hospitality is fine and good,” said one of the other men at the center of the great gathering, who stepped forward without introducing himself when Leland Sawyer wound down. “But let all our visitors know, as we’uns need also be mindful, that the Jubilee celebrates forgiveness o’ debts an’ obligations.”
“Jeremiah’ll sermonize us for-ever,” grumbled a man behind Alexandra.
“Them Bevins is allus long-winded,” agreed his companion, a man older than any of the men at the center. “His daddy would go on for hours.”
Alexandra wanted to shush the Ozarkers who continued to talk and mutter. The speakers were now talking about something Alexandra was interested in, and she squeezed Anna’s hand harder to vent her frustration at the continued chatter around her.
Anna didn’t resist or pull away, just said, “Ow,” softly.
Alexandra released her grip. “Sorry.”
“Every seven years,” Jeremiah Bevins went on, “we’uns sacrifice our works, our magic, all the charms an’ blessin’s an’ transfigurations we have accumulated to make our lives easier. In doing this, we’uns give up comforts that outsiders enjoy. We impoverish ourselves, despite the fact that our magic is as powerful as any in the Confederation… indeed, some might argue,” and here his voice became low and conspiratorial, and the audience stilled and leaned in in response, “much. More. Powerful.”
Even the grumblers behind Alexandra fell into respectful silence. It was the handful of foreigners in the crowd who muttered. One man laughed, before the glares of dozens of Ozarkers caused him to shrink back beneath his cloak.
“And why?” demanded Jeremiah Bevins.
Yes, why? wondered Alexandra. But “sermonizing” seemed right — she recognized the cadence of the man’s speech, much like the times she had been forced to listen to the minister lecture the children at Larkin Mills Baptist Church’s Vacation Bible School, and suspected that like the Baptist preacher, he would answer his own rhetorical question with a long, windy speech that would explain nothing.
Instead, the oldest of the five family patriarchs, a white-haired, hatless man standing next to Mr. Pritchard, stepped forward.
“Yes, why?” he demanded in a booming voice. Next to him, Jeremiah Bevins was no less surprised than Alexandra at hearing her silent question echoed aloud.
“Jeremiah Bevins, you speak finely of the sacrifices we’uns make, though perhaps you oughter speak o’ the sacrifices we’uns don’t make.”
Silence fell over the crowd, while Alexandra nearly pushed Innocence aside as she leaned forward, listening intently.
“For how many generations,” said the white-haired man, “have we’uns dwelt here in our mountain steadfasts, shy o’ the Confederation ‘cept when they’uns impose revenuers an’ Inquisitors ‘pon us? An’ wasn’t we’uns originally resolved to have no truck with them from the world o’ sorcerers beholden to the Compact? Yet now every seven years we’uns welcome — welcome! — furriners into our midst!”
Uneasiness stirred the crowd. Confusion and disquiet registered on the faces of Ozarkers and visitors alike.
“Aye, that’s the Jubilee tradition. We’uns must forgive all debts an’ let all wrongs be forgot. But I see Ozarker witches an’ wizards sellin’ dolls and dresses and bonnets to all the furriners come to gawk and jeer at our simple, primitive ways, an’ do you doubt there is charms an’ enchantments bein’ exchanged for Confederation gold — goblin gold — which will leave the Ozarks and not be Unworked?”
The nervousness of the crowd increased. Nervousness and guilt, Alexandra thought, seeing the shifting gazes and uncomfortable stances of people who were not at all happy about what they were hearing, especially the parts they knew to be true.
“Dangnabbit, Balthazar’s got a thorn up his hindside,” said the Ozarker in the felt hat.
“I don’t reckon he’s done yet,” said his younger companion.
Indeed, Balthazar Donaldson spread his hands in the manner of a classical orator. “I say,” he declared, “that it is time for a real Jubilee, a true Jubilee, the forgivin’ of all debts for all time, and the end of our seven and seven and seven years, over and over again, seven years o’ labor for one day o’ waste. We’uns have done it for generations — we’uns ought do it no longer!”
He stretched a finger out over the crowd. “We’uns have done it not for our ownselves,” he said. “You’all were no doubt told stories in the cradle ‘bout the first Ozarkers an’ how we’uns made a world apart to protect our kith ’n kin. But it’s a lie! It’s the kind o’ lie that has a seed o’ truth an’ so is the worst kind of lie as it hides what ought to be known — we’uns do it for them. The Muggles.”
Audible gasps rose from the crowd now. Leland Sawyer and Jeremiah Bevins stepped close to Mr. Donaldson and spoke to him in low voices, but he shrugged them off. A few feet away, Mr. Pritchard said nothing, but if a face that barely moved at all could be said to grow more taciturn, his did.
“Constance,” whispered Alexandra to the nearest of the Pritchards, “what is he talking about?”
“I don’t rightly know,” Constance said. “But I’m purty shore he oughtn’t be talkin’ ‘bout it.”
“We’uns live in a world apart,” said Balthazar Donaldson, raising his voice to drown out the whispers and the mutters and to dismiss the words of the men next to him, “when we’uns should live in a world away! Away from all this! A world where we’uns are beholden only to our own, a world free o’ foreign oaths and Compacts, free of elves an’ goblins an’ hags and other Dark creatures, and without the Confederation ever sittin’ on our borders pretendin’ to let us live in peace. Without Dark Wizards recruitin’ our young people, and the daughters of Dark Wizards infiltratin’ our very Hollers!”
Alexandra stiffened. So did Julia. Constance and Forbearance’s eyes went wide. Then, almost immediately, they moved closer. So did Noah and Burton, as if to form a protective shield around the two daughters of Abraham Thorn.
“I think he’s speaking rhetorically,” Anna whispered, her eyes darting left and right.
“Maybe,” Alexandra said.
Noah, standing tall next to Julia, surveyed the crowd around them. No one else seemed to be giving them unusual attention.
“The eldest amongst us know whereof I speak!” shouted Balthazar Donaldson, now quite warmed up to his topic and evidently not to be stopped short of use of force, which no one seemed inclined to do. He turned around and dropped his accusing finger lower, leveling it at the crowd of old women seated behind him. “The Grannies, they know! I suspect they’uns knows far, far more’n they share, keepin’ secrets in the spiteful way of old women. I have heard whispered Names, and chaw ‘bout gathered pieces of a Great Work.”
“Is he drunk?” asked David, a little too loudly. Several Ozarkers in the crowd glared at him. Innocence put a hand over her mouth, to hide shock or laughter, Alexandra couldn’t tell which. But she was paying more attention to the Grannies. If Balthazar Donaldson expected them to recoil, object, or deny his accusations, he was disappointed. They continued listening with polite attention as if he’d commented on the weather. The two women who were knitting didn’t drop a stitch.
“We’uns will allus remain here in our world apart, so long as we’uns lack the gumption to do what we’uns assayed to do centuries ago,” Donaldson said, turning back to the crowd. “And that is why we of Scotch Ridge decline to participate in this Jubilee. We’uns will not participate in the Blessing, or as I call it, the Scapegoating. Let them as would sacrifice for the sake o’ furriners an’ those not of our blood go on sacrificin’… or join us in rejecting this seven-year sham and folderol and force them who has perpetuated it longer’n ever it was needed to stop it. It is time, my brothers and sisters! The World Away awaits us, and it hain’t lack o’ magic or lack o’ learnin’ that keeps us from it, only lack o’ will!”
With that, Balthazar Donaldson turned and strode away from the four men beside him, through the crowd gathered around, into the midst of a group of male Ozarkers, uniformly dour men in dark pants and shirts. All of them Disapparated away, leaving the rest of the Jubilee gathering in turmoil and confusion.
“What the heck was he talking about?” David demanded.
Julia put an arm around Alexandra. Noah and Burton gathered with her friends in a protective circle despite the fact that there had so far been no sign of an actual threat, no indication that Donaldson’s allusions had been taken literally or that any of the bystanders nearby had placed faces to the nameless “Dark Wizards’ daughters.”
Alexandra wasn’t very worried about this, but she studied the faces of the spectators, including Mr. Pritchard, still at the center of the gathering, trying to see a hint of hidden knowledge, an indication that someone knew more than they were saying. That was when her eyes fell upon the Grannies. Now that attention was no longer focused on them, they were talking to one another. One nodded, another shook her head, and they were all rising to their feet, some helped by younger relatives, but each and every one of them, at some point, looked in Alexandra’s direction.