Alexandra lay on her back, looking up at the sky, until faint rays of light began to brighten the east.
There wasn’t much in the way of grass by the side of the creek, only gravelly mud disturbed by hard, knotty roots. Burton had conjured a blanket, with a casual ease that impressed her more than she wanted to admit.
He lay next to her, as naked as she was. She was thankful for his Vermin Repelling Charm, as mosquitoes were thick in the air. She thought he was dozing, and she was thinking she should probably wake him up since they both needed to be back at the house before they were caught in flagrante seriously delicto. But Burton spoke first. “You, uh, you was charmed ‘gainst a bairn, wasn’t you?”
“A bay-ern?” At first she wondered why she needed to be charmed against a barn — it took her a moment to realize what he meant.
“Really? It’s a good thing for you I’m a witch! And that I’m friends with Sonja.”
“Sonja? What’s Miss Rackham—”
“Don’t you think you should ask things like that before you, uh...” Her voice trailed off. She couldn’t think of an appropriate euphemism that wouldn’t sound either juvenile or crude, but she balked at actually spelling out what they’d done.
Sex. We totally Did It. Idiot.
She wasn’t quite sure how she felt about that. She knew it was supposed to be a big deal that she was no longer a virgin, and she wondered when the “big deal” was going to hit her.
“You’re right,” Burton said, actually chastened. “I do not know what came o’er me. I hain’t ne’er been so incautious before. But I assumed you knew what you was about.”
Alexandra laughed sarcastically, and sat up.
“Merlin’s drawers!” Burton said. “I din’t do that?” The denial came out as a tentative question. Alexandra wasn’t sure what he meant, until she looked down at herself and remembered that her body was still covered with bruises and scratches.
She laughed again. “No, I got these being dragged over rocks and hit with spades and fighting monsters.”
“Dragged o’er rocks an’ hit with spades?” Burton sat up slowly and reached a hand out to touch her. He sucked in a breath through his teeth. “If I’d knowed you was hurt…”
“You’d have totally stopped, on account of me being so fragile and delicate?” Alexandra snorted, and pushed his hand away as he traced an older scar with his finger, the one just below her navel, left by the Nemesis Spirit. “It’s a little late to pretend to be all gentlemanly.”
Burton stared at her. “You are not just brazen, but pig-headed an’ ornery an’ without the least scrap o’ sensitivity or romance.”
Alexandra laughed loudly. “Romance? Wow, that must be one of those Ozarker words that means something totally different from how everyone else uses it.”
Burton’s face twitched. “Do my sisters know how you deride Ozarkers behind their backs?”
That took Alexandra aback. “I don’t!”
“Then why’re you bein’ so contemptible?” he demanded. “I s’ppose you’re gonna tell me you din’t like it?”
Alexandra had become accustomed to thinking of Burton as a fool, a teasing, unserious jokester, not unlike Torvald Krogstad — the boy she’d dated last year and who had come very close to being the first boy she slept with. She hadn’t always recognized when Torvald’s feelings were genuine either.
But Burton was such a jerk!
Then why did you do it with him, idiot?
She pushed that question aside and leaned forward.
“I liked it,” she said. She kissed him, trying not to grimace as his beard scratched her chin. She was not really a fan of beards, she decided. They looked nicer than they felt.
“Seriously,” she said, “you’re not gonna want a… relationship or something, are you? ‘Cause, I mean…” Boy, this was getting awkward.
All she could see for a moment was his eyes, studying her in the gloom. Then he chuckled.
“No offense, Miss Quick,” he said, “but you’d be a hard gal to fall for.”
She sat back. “Oh, yeah? Well, I know I’m not sensitive and romantic like Julia.”
“Nope,” Burton agreed. “An’ you’re plain-faced, scarce-hipped, and you got hardly any—”
“Okay! I get the picture. So why me? You gave up on competing with Noah for Julia?”
“Well, you did prove considerably more available.”
She shoved him in the chest, hard, and stood up. “Oh my God, you are a jerk!” she said, while Burton lay on his back and roared laughter.
Charlie cawed overhead, and said, “Big fat jerk!”
Alexandra threw her nightgown back over her head, thrust her arms through it, and pulled it down over her body. “Don’t walk back with me,” she told him. “If I get caught, I can say I just wanted to take an early morning swim. Jerk.”
“Yes’m.” Burton started to pull his pants on.
“You aren’t going to say anything, are you?” Alexandra asked.
Burton paused, and spoke in a more serious tone. “I may not be much of a gentleman, Miss Quick —”
“Alex,” she said. “My friends call me Alex.”
“Alex,” Burton said. “I hain’t gonna ruin yore reputation.”
Alexandra snorted. “I don’t care about my ‘reputation.’ I mean, do you even know who I am? But Constance and Forbearance would kill me.”
Burton stared at her, then barked laughter again. “Kill you? Li’l girl, what d’you reckon they’d do to me?”
“You? You’re their older brother. They have to obey you.”
Burton guffawed. “Miss Quick — I mean, Alex — you really don’t know nothin’ ‘bout Ozarkers.”
Alexandra had not taken into account how early Ozarkers got up. Mrs. Pritchard and Prudence were already in the kitchen when she returned to the house, and Constance and Forbearance were filling the large metal tub out back with hot water. Mr. Pritchard and Noah were outside, working some sort of charms on the fences around the animal pens, and as Alexandra snuck around to the back porch, she heard Mr. Pritchard grumbling in a low voice — the words didn’t carry, except for Burton’s name.
Busted, Alexandra thought. We are so busted.
But Constance and Forbearance greeted her with only a little surprise, casting glances askance at her muddy slippers.
“I really was feeling kind of grimy, after three days of, uh, questing,” Alexandra said. “So I went for a swim. In the creek.”
“Alexandra, these woods is not allus safe,” said Constance, holding her wand in one hand and tapping it against the finger of her other, in a manner that Alexandra’s guilty conscience construed as vaguely threatening.
“They hain’t like the woods ‘round Charmbridge,” said Forbearance, holding a bucket in both hands and gazing at her very seriously, her blue eyes accusing and penetrating. And just what were you doing out in the woods with our brother? those eyes seemed to ask, though Burton was nowhere to be seen.
“You mean the woods inhabited by wild Boggarts and hodags?” Alexandra asked. “Those woods? Or are you saying the swimming hole where we went with Julia and your younger sister isn’t safe, like the pond back home that had kappas and redcaps? Or do you mean something more dangerous than, say, underwater panthers and bugbears?”
Constance and Forbearance stared at her, their eyebrows going up together in that twin thing they still did.
“Alex, dear, you is a bit tetchy this morning, hain’t you?” said Forbearance.
“I reckon you got reason,” said Constance. “Oh, Alex, dear, we’uns so wanted to help you.”
“You’ve helped me a lot,” Alexandra said. “Just being my friends… and putting up with me, means more than you’ll ever know.” Inwardly, she sagged with relief.
“We’uns’ll get this water heated right up and you have a nice hot bath,” Forbearance said.
“And then,” said Constance, “maybe you’ll ‘splain to us what all that was you said last night, ‘bout the World Away.”
“Good morning,” said a bright, cheery voice. Julia stepped out onto the porch, and immediately fixed her gaze on Alexandra.
“Good morning, Julia,” Alexandra said. “I hope I didn’t wake you when I got up early. I felt like going swimming. I mean, I needed a swim. I couldn’t sleep. You know, after killing an underwater panther and finding out about the World Away and…” Something in Julia’s gaze kept her from being able to shut her mouth. Julia continued down the steps and laid a hand on Alexandra’s shoulder, then pulled a leaf out of her hair.
Constance and Forbearance had both gone back to work getting the bath ready. Julia said, “That was quite a long swim. I could barely sleep myself, so you can imagine how worried I was when I woke and you were gone.”
Her eyes were guileless, and impossible to look away from. Alexandra stammered something.
“We shall talk later, dear sister,” Julia said. “Good morning, Charlie.”
Charlie, sitting on the fence around the bath enclosure, said, “Yes’m.”
Getting dressed was difficult without a change of clothes, which Alexandra realized with chagrin were all in the backpack she’d thrown at the feet of the Grannies last night. What had she been thinking?
She was beginning to think that she had, perhaps, not been entirely in her right mind. She needed her backpack back, and Granny Pritchard still had her yew wand.
She was forced to borrow something to wear. Constance and Forbearance were about the same height as her, if not so skinny, so she found herself putting on a dress once again.
The Pritchards’ home was now very cramped. Alexandra didn’t know exactly what happened to wizard-spaces when they were “Unworked,” but all through the house the rooms were smaller. Everyone was now squeezing past each other in this shrunken version of their previous dwelling. The dining room appeared almost unchanged, but when they all sat down at the table, the walls were closer and the space tighter.
Alexandra made it through breakfast without looking at Burton. He and Noah came in from the yard arguing about how to erect a “way-bridge,” whatever that was, and sat right down to be served food by their sisters. Mr. Pritchard had come in earlier and presided over the table in his usual silence.
Alexandra imagined everyone’s eyes on her, then realized everyone’s eyes were on her.
Mr. Pritchard cleared his throat. “I have words for you ‘bout last night, Miss Quick,” he said.
Alexandra almost choked on a biscuit.
“That was a right bodacious spectacle you presented,” he continued.
“What?” Alexandra exclaimed.
“Apparatin’ into the midst of the Jubilee, interruptin’ the dance and, I gather, you had a bit to do with that tremor that shook the hills.”
“Oh. Right.” The Jubilee. Idiot. Alexandra reached for her glass of juice and took a big swallow. “I’m sorry for interrupting the dance.”
Mr. Pritchard’s expression barely shifted, but she had the feeling she’d missed the point.
“What,” he asked slowly, “did you mean by all that foolishness ‘bout the World Away?”
Alexandra took another slow sip of juice. When she set the glass down, she looked steadily back at him and said, “I believe I can open it for you.”
She expected him to snort, or laugh, or ask who she thought she was to make such a bodacious claim. Instead, his next words caught her off-guard again. “If I din’t mistake you, what you said was we’uns could all jump off a cliff.”
She sat up straighter in her chair. “I didn’t mean your family, sir.”
“So you meant ev’ry Ozarker ‘cept our family?”
Alexandra thought before replying, which took her some time — she wasn’t used to it. “Mr. Pritchard, I really don’t know exactly what the Grannies want from me, but they sent me on a Quest that almost got me killed.”
“You could have said no,” Julia interjected.
Alexandra nodded, without looking at her sister. “I think they wanted to prove something. I passed their little test, so maybe they figure I can do whatever Troublesome is supposed to do. If I hadn’t passed their test, I’d be dead.”
“Did I not warn you ‘bout those old women?” Mr. Pritchard said.
“Oh, Pa,” said Prudence, not without fondness, as if her father’s dismissal of Granny wisdom was a longstanding source of exasperation for his children. Then a wail from the crib where her son was sleeping brought her out of her chair. “‘Scuse me.”
“You didst go of yore own free will, if’n I recall,” Mr. Pritchard said, after his eldest daughter left the room.
“Yes, sir,” Alexandra said.
“And,” Mr. Pritchard said, “now you claim that you — a furriner, meanin’ no disrespect — can open the World Away.”
“But you hain’t gonna.”
Alexandra laid her hands on the table. “Do you want me to?” she asked quietly. “I said last night, I’d do it for my friends. If you want to go…” She looked at Constance and Forbearance and Innocence, and felt a moment of loss as acutely as if they were already gone.
Constance and Forbearance’s mouths had fallen open in wordless astonishment. Innocence’s eyes seemed to fill half her face, and her mouth also gaped open.
“Girls, do not provide perches for crows,” Mrs. Pritchard said. All three of the girls shut their mouths.
Mr. Pritchard said, “That decision hain’t ourn to make, an’ I hain’t gonna make it for you. An’ I’ll thank you not to put it on me or my family.”
“Miss Quick,” said Mrs. Pritchard, laying a hand on her husband’s, “surely you don’t wish the rest o’ the Five Hollers layin’ on my daughters’ shoulders the burden o’ convincin’ you to do that which they’d have you do?”
Alexandra looked at her friends again. She hadn’t considered that. She’d told the Grannies, and the rest of the Five Hollers, that she could do what the Exodans had apparently been waiting to do for… centuries? They couldn’t pressure her or her family. But Constance and Forbearance and Innocence lived here.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t intend — I didn’t think —”
“Well, there’s a surprise,” said Burton.
Alexandra clenched her teeth. He was mocking her lack of foresight?
“I believe,” said Julia, “that you were not quite yourself last night, dear sister.”
Alexandra looked at her suspiciously, but if Julia meant anything by that, it didn’t show in her face.
“You was a bit wild,” Burton said.
Alexandra wished he was sitting close enough to kick his shins, but Constance and Forbearance were nodding too. “You was almost like someone else,” Constance said.
“You was like a fire that was holdin’ too much heat,” Innocence said.
Alexandra wasn’t quite sure that simile made sense, but she said quietly, “I was full of magic.”
“And now the Exodans might conceive you have the power to open the World Away,” said Noah. He had been quiet throughout the conversation, and now folded his hands together and regarded Alexandra with calm interest. “Though I don’t feature how one girl, even with the Grannies’ help, can do what all of us can’t.”
“If I can, it’s because I’m the right girl in the right place at the right time,” Alexandra said. “I don’t think I’m special, and it’s certainly not because I’m extra-powerful. And I didn’t ask for this.”
“No,” said Noah, “I don’t reckon you did.”
“But,” said Julia, “you never turn away from any path put before you.”
“I would strongly caution you not to speak further of the World Away,” said Mr. Pritchard. “And when Noah an’ Burton take you to Down Below Holler so’s you can hop a Portkey back to Central Territory, I’d suggest you do so directly.”
Alexandra had no time to reflect on this, because a knock at the Pritchards’ front door made everyone sit up straighter in their seats. Noah rose to answer it. Alexandra wondered why everyone was so tense. Were Exodans already rushing to the Pritchards’ homestead, demanding that Troublesome come out and fulfill her destiny? She was quite ready to tell them to —
“Granny Pritchard!” said Noah with surprise.
Granny Pritchard stepped through the doorway and entered the house, nodding courteously to everyone seated around the table.
“Good mornin’, my dears,” she said. “Oh Lamentation, please don’t get up. All you’all, stay put, I’ve already eaten thankee. I din’t come for a visit, much as it’d pleasure me.”
“Why did you come, Granny?” asked Mr. Pritchard, in a mild voice that didn’t entirely conceal its edge.
“Why, I came to see my great-grandchillun after all that dancin’ they was up to last night,” Granny Pritchard said, with a wink at Constance and Forbearance and Innocence. Then her gaze settled on Alexandra. “And to speak to Miss Quick.”
“Go on an’ speak, then,” said Mr. Pritchard.
“Don’t be such a cancre, Dust,” said the old woman to her grandson. “Miss Quick, would you care to take a walk with me?”
“Is this to meet with the rest of the Grannies again?” Alexandra asked.
One eyebrow on Granny Pritchard’s face went up. “Nope. Just me. But we’uns might be gone a while.”
“How long a while?” asked Julia. “You aren’t planning to send her on another Quest, are you? She’s supposed to go home this evening!” Julia’s hand sought Alexandra’s.
“Heavens an’ Powers, Miss King,” said Granny Pritchard. “I promise to return yore sister safe an’ sound afore supper-time with nary a scratch on her, other’n those she’s already accumulated.” There was something arch in the way she said that. Alexandra self-consciously ran her hands over her dress. Burton drew a hand across his face in a long, slow gesture, as if wiping away some coffee from his mouth.
“If you don’t mind,” Alexandra said to her hosts. She smiled at Julia, and the Pritchard girls. “I’ll tell you everything when we get back.”
They walked into the woods, while the heat of the day gathered and spread. Though it was early morning, the air was already humid and alive with insects. Alexandra slapped at one that settled on her cheek. Constance and Forbearance had told her that Ozarker bonnets were usually Charmed to repel bugs — she was beginning to wish she wore one now. Under her borrowed dress, she wore her Seven-League Boots, but she otherwise had little protection.
On her shoulder, Charlie snapped a bug out of the air.
“You cheated,” said Granny Pritchard. “You was s'pposed to finish yore Quest without a wand.”
“So I cheated,” Alexandra said. “I still finished it, right? And without a wand I wouldn’t have survived.”
“You would have,” Granny Pritchard said. “I have confidence in you, girl. But bein’ Troublesome, naturally you done it yore own way.”
Alexandra snorted. “You knew I had another wand.”
For the first time, Granny Pritchard grinned.
“So you’re not mad at me?” Alexandra said.
“I can’t blame Troublesome for doin’ as Troublesome does. I am more put out at my great-grandson, who ought’t’ve known better.” There was a sharp and wicked gleam in the old woman’s eye. “Do not flatter yoreself that it was yore wit ‘n charm that seduced Burton. Every Ozarker buck dreams of beddin’ Troublesome, though I ‘spect they usually imagine her somewhat comelier.”
Alexandra stopped in her tracks, her face turning red. Charlie left her shoulder, as usual when her temper flared.
“Aren’t you a little old to be a voyeur?” she demanded.
“Tsk, girl. I was home abed last night like any decent woman. Had no idea what you’d been up to ’til I saw you at the breakfast table this mornin’, you an’ Burton an’ yore shameful secret sittin’ ‘tween you’uns like another guest.”
“I’m not ashamed!” Alexandra snapped.
Granny Pritchard laughed. “’Course not, you shameless girl. But Burton oughter be.”
“Why, because he slept with a foreigner? I’m pretty sure I’m not his first.” Anger colored Alexandra’s voice. “No Ozarker girl would ever be so indecent or unrespectable, after all.”
Granny Pritchard clucked her tongue. She resumed walking through the woods, so Alexandra hurried after her, stomping her boots.
“Why do you even care?” Alexandra asked. “You’re not my mother.”
“Praise be for that!”
“So did you bring me out here just to scold me? If that’s the case, thanks, message received, I’ll go back now.” Alexandra halted, and Granny Pritchard sighed and turned around.
“You just hold on there, Missy.” Granny Pritchard folded her arms and fixed stony eyes on her. “There’s another set o’ tales ‘bout what happens after Troublesome’s no longer a maid. You might’ve preferred to avoid ‘em.”
“I might’ve preferred to stay a virgin because you’ve got some more Ozarker stories about what happens to your folk character? You know, everything I’ve heard suggests nothing good’s ever supposed to happen to Troublesome anyway. Well guess what? I’m not a fable or a fairy tale. I’m me, and I choose what I will or won’t do.”
Granny Pritchard sighed again. “So you say. I will not tell you otherwise.” She drew herself up and looked down her nose at Alexandra. “I believe,” she said, “that I promised you a wand.”
Alexandra paused. “Really? You’re still going to craft one for me?”
“I promised, din’t I? Stop squinchin’ at me like that, girl.” Granny Pritchard began walking once more. They were now well off any trail or path, but the shrubs and bushes parted for her, and remained parted in her wake for Alexandra to follow, so long as she stayed close behind the old woman.
“Doesn’t it take a while to carve and enchant a wand?” Alexandra asked. “Have you already started?” Now she was burning with curiosity, her indignation at the Granny’s interrogation into her sex life rapidly fading. “Did you make it from pecan? I liked my pecan wand — no other wood feels quite the same. I don’t know if I found anything that will work like chimaera hair, though…”
“I hain’t never crafted a wand with chimaera hair,” Granny Pritchard said. “I do not work with foreign beasts.”
The foliage became thicker as they walked, with the trees also growing denser, until Alexandra thought that even woodland creatures would have trouble negotiating their way through the barrier-like thickets without Granny Pritchard’s magic. Sunlight still made its way through the leaves overhead, but the forest floor was covered with vines and thorn bushes and long, twisting, knotted roots curled around large rocks. Granny Pritchard walked through it with no more trouble than if it were a cleared trail, but whenever Alexandra lagged behind, she felt the underbrush clinging to her legs and her feet stumbled over roots and stones. Charlie had been flying from tree to tree alongside them, but now landed on her shoulder again.
Abruptly, a small cabin appeared before them, in a clearing that seemed surrounded by a natural maze. Alexandra gazed at it, and couldn’t help being reminded of sinister stories about witches with cabins in the woods.
As if reading her thoughts, Granny Pritchard said, “It keeps away unwanted visitors. Connie ‘n Bear have been here many a time.” She walked up to the door; it opened for her, and remained open after she walked inside. Alexandra followed her in. Charlie cawed as they crossed the threshold.
The interior of the cabin was a large, cozy living room, carpeted and furnished, with a big plush recliner, a sofa, bookcases full of very old books, and a fireplace, now cold and dark. Doorways led into other rooms. It was an entire house, stuffed into what should have been a one-room cabin.
“A wizard-space,” Alexandra said. “But… didn’t you have to Unwork it for the Jubilee?”
“I did,” Granny Pritchard said. “An’ restored it this mornin’. I’ve seen more Jubilees than you might think. I’ve done this a few times. It gets easier each time.”
Alexandra thought about how the entire Pritchard family was going to have to spend days restoring their own house.
Granny Pritchard went to a table. Alexandra’s backpack was laid out on it, with some of its contents: the bugbear hair, the Thren feathers, the long golden whiskers of the underwater panther, and her phoenix feather. Her Twister stood in a corner behind the table.
“These will make some interestin’ an’ unique wands,” Granny Pritchard said. “I thankee for bringin’ ‘em to me.”
“I’m glad my Quest paid off for you,” Alexandra said sarcastically. “What about my wand?”
Ignoring the edge in Alexandra’s voice, Granny Pritchard picked up the glowing phoenix feather. Its edges shimmered, as if ever on the verge of bursting into flame. “You did not mention encounterin’ a phoenix.”
“That wasn’t from my Quest. It was a gift from Anna.” Alexandra had been carrying around the phoenix feather for months. It was beautiful, and highly magical, but she had never known what to do with it.
“Ah,” Granny Pritchard said. “Well then.” She regarded the phoenix feather with an almost covetous expression.
“I thought you don’t work with foreign beasts.”
“I’d’ve made an exception for a phoenix feather.”
“Can you use it for my wand?” Alexandra would love to tell Anna that she’d had a wand made from her gift. But Granny Pritchard shook her head.
“Feathers is wrong for you, girl. No, it’s hair you need, which is why the yew wand, unkenned and unmastered though it be, is still fearsome in yore hands, while that department store wand is plumb terrible.”
Alexandra nodded, but she didn’t take the phoenix feather back.
The phoenix feather isn’t for you.
She wondered if Sonja really had seen something.
“You’re teaching Constance and Forbearance wandcrafting,” she said.
Granny Pritchard frowned slightly. “Aye. I won’t discuss that.”
Alexandra said, “I want them to have that.” She nodded to the phoenix feather. “Don’t tell them until they’re ready. But when it’s time for them to make their first wands, not just for practice or whatever you do… tell them I wanted them to make a pair of fine wands. A pair of great wands. Tell them it was a gift from Troublesome, and tell them to let your folks know not everything that came from me was terrible and caused calamity.”
The words spilled out of her unbidden, from some unseen well of bitterness and sadness.
Granny Pritchard stared at her. “You speak ’s if you expect not to be around to tell ‘em yoreself.”
“Did you think of any way to break my geas, while you were doing all that pondering?”
Granny Pritchard let out a slow breath. “No, child,” she said softly.
Alexandra shrugged. “Well, anyway, you all might have gone to a World Away by then. That feather is for your great-granddaughters. From me… and from Anna.”
Granny Pritchard ran her fingers reverently along one glowing edge of the feather, as if feeling the heat contained within it, then nodded slowly. “Be it so.” She set the feather down, and picked up the yew wand she had taken from Alexandra. “Whilst you was on yore Quest, I did some augerin’ on this wand.” She rolled it between her fingers. “It’s quite a unique work. I’m more’n curious who crafted it.”
Alexandra shrugged. “I have no idea.”
“I wasn’t sure what was in the core, ‘til you brought back yore trophies.” Granny Pritchard picked up one of the long, gleaming cat whiskers. “I hain’t ne’er seen hair nor whiskers from an underwater panther before. They’re reckoned near impossible to kill.”
“I believe it,” Alexandra said.
Granny Pritchard pursed her lips. “Well, at least one other soul managed it.” She set down the whisker and held up the yew wand.
“Have you yet known me to be unserious, girl?”
“Wow,” Alexandra said. “I’d really like to know how that wand was made.”
“As would I. This wand is unique an’ powerful, yes indeedy. Might not be any wand like it. I reckon even without bein’ properly kenned, you could be right fearsome with it. But as I told you, much as you applicate it to bend to yore will, it will never cooperate fully.” The wandcrafter twirled the wand lightly in her fingers with the deftness of an artist handling a brush.
“It sure hasn’t been very cooperative so far.”
“’Course not,” Granny Pritchard said. “Because it’s contested.”
“Contested…” Alexandra watched the pale wood in the Granny’s hands. “You mean the previous owner is still alive?”
“Aye.” Granny Pritchard studied her with a sharp gaze. “You said this wand was given to you, an’ you did not take it. But so long’s its original owner lives an’ hain’t yielded to you, it’ll ne’er be wholly yourn.”
“So, I still need a new wand,” Alexandra said.
Granny Pritchard nodded and turned back to the table. There were a lot of other materials on it: piles of wood, stones, tools, and things in jars and trays. With her back to Alexandra, the old woman said, “You hain’t wrong ‘bout pecan, but I chose somethin’ a little different.” Still with her back turned, she held up a long, dark stick of wood. To Alexandra, it looked very similar in shape and length to her old wand of carya illinoinensis. “This is black hickory. Pecan’s a kind o’ hickory. Black hickory is related, but it’s a mite heavier, and a bit troublesome to work with. Strong, hard, quick to burn, but flexible to a point. Makes a solid, reliable wand.”
Alexandra nodded. Solid and reliable sounded pretty good after all her trouble with the basswood and yew wands.
Granny Pritchard turned back to her. “You killed an underwater panther. Only that could truly make you the master of a wand made with the hair of the beast.” She handed the yew wand back to Alexandra. “Unless you master whoever owns this one.”
Alexandra took the yew wand. “You’re going to use the whiskers of the underwater panther for my wand’s core?”
Granny Pritchard nodded. “They say a wand chooses it wielder. In this case, I’m craftin’ the wand for the wielder, and I am wiser than whatever fool at Grundy’s gave you that goat feather dowser. But you must still make the wand yours, an’ I expect it will challenge you just as the yew does. You will have to earn its respect, an’ if you ever loosen up, just a smidgen, it’ll know you don’t mean business.”
“I have to show my wand who’s boss?”
“That sayin’ sounds ‘bout right.” Granny Pritchard narrowed her eyes. “And I do not recommend you keep the others.”
“Why not?” Alexandra asked.
“Are you fixin’ to carry three wands about? There is few things that hain’t been tried before, and you would not be the first witch to conceive that idee.”
“Wands do not cooperate. You try to cast a spell with more’n one at a time, they will dispute. The results is highly unpredictable, and rarely to yore benefit.”
“Good to know,” Alexandra said. But she wondered if it was possible to show even a contested wand who was boss.