Lizzie and Bobby did not have to walk far before they could see the turrets and spires of a castle in the distance, the tops of the spires rounded and pointed like those found in Russia, and painted pine green.The castle turrets were painted in red and white stripes that curved around the exterior of the turrets like a candy cane.
“Do you think that we are seeing a castle made of candy?” asked Bobby, his stomach rumbling and his mouth salivating in anticipation.
“What a very stupid thing to say,” responded Lizzie,though in truth she was not sure that the boy was being so stupid. They had seen many amazing things on their journey.
“Australia just seems the kind of place where candy houses might be,” said Bobby in his own defense, “We should check it out.”
“I’m not so keen on investigating the castle as you are Bobby,” said the girl, “the Tigzly warned me about entering these woods, and I’m sure that whoever owns that castle is who the Tigzly was worried about.”
“You make a fine point, Lizzie. Anything that could scare that monster-tiger-bear thing is probably best avoided. But I am very hungry, and that candy castle looks delicious.”
“Who said- it is not-“ stuttered Lizzie in frustration, “no one said that the castle is made of candy-“ But the foolish boy had already wandered off the path of golden bricks and was heading down a path of smooth round stones that seemed to lead to the castle. She had convinced him to carry the sack that held the Skutter’s head and he idly swung it into the bushes beside the path as he walked.
Lizzie sighed. Given all the dangers she had faced already, exploring the castle seemed not so much foolish as inevitable, so she begrudgingly set off after Bobby.
This part of the woods was very beautiful. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the trees and plants were bright green. There were flowers and berries along the path that Lizzie and Bobby enjoyed tremendously. It was while picking one such berry that Lizzie noticed a tiny figure that looked like a woman with wings, watching her from the safety of a flowering tulip.
Lizzie was startled, and moved in for a closer look, but the tiny fairy, which only stood about two inches tall, zipped away with a buzz of her wings, shot into the air and vanished into the woods. Lizzie looked at Bobby, whose lips and chin were smeared with red berry juice.
“Bobby!” said Lizzie, “I just saw a fairy!”
The stupid boy stared blankly at Lizzie for a moment, then, as he digested the information Lizzie had imparted to him, the stupid boy said, “See? That castle could be made of candy!”
“I guess we should go find out then,” said Lizzie, now leading the way on the path of circular stones.
Bobby hurried to follow, but suddenly his eyes widened and he stopped to stare all around him in fear and wonder. “Lizzie?”
Lizzie noticed the fear in Bobby’s voice, and turned. Following his stare she looked at the bushes and trees and berries and flowers that lined the path, and saw hundreds, maybe even thousands of the tiny winged fairies, perched here and there so lightly and delicately that the leaves did not bend under their weight. “Oh,” said the girl, suddenly recalling that no tall fairies were said to be kindly and not all fairy stories had happy endings.
Lizzie held out her hands, palms up, hoping to demonstrate that she meant no harm. The thousands of fairies, whose number seemedto be increasing all the time, responded almost as one by drawing tiny, needle-like swords from their delicate scabbards. “I mean no harm!” said the girl.
“Faith!” cried a very human voice, “Is that English you’re speaking, girl?”
Lizzie turned to see a very beautiful woman with long red hair and white robes appear on the path from the direction of the castle.The army of fairies made way for the woman, surrounding her and protecting her as she walked towards Lizzie. From the silver crown the woman wore on he rhead and the fact that she appeared to live in a castle, Lizzie assumed the woman to be royalty. Summoning all her manners (which, having been an orphan street urchin on the streets of Whitechapel, were meager at best) Lizzie said, “How do you do, ma’am, my name is Elizabeth Clover.”
The woman laughed at that, and Lizzie was embarrassed, but not for long. “Elizabeth, is it? How nice to hear English again. You’re along way from home, aren’t you?”
“Yes ma’am,” said Lizzie.
“Enough with the calling me Ma’am. I might be old enough to be your grandmother, but you can still call me by the name my mother gave me, Joan.”
“Joan,” said Lizzie with a tentative smile, “You may call me Lizzie.”
Joan smiled broadly at this, and then turned to th efairies that still seemed ready to pounce on Lizzie at the merest pretense. “Get out of here, all of you. She’s just a little girl, probably lost and hungry. Shoo!”
Joan waved her arms at the fairies and they flitted away in batches, swirling this way and that in little spinning clouds. Soon, only the most stubborn and curious of the fairies were left, and they had mostly sheathed their tiny weapons.
“They are beautiful, magical creatures, these fairies,”said Joan, “but not very smart. They mean no harm, they’re just protecting me, the way I protected them, in the past. They’re dangerous though, in groups.”
“I could see that,” said Lizzie, “I met a Tigzly that was afraid to enter these woods, and now I know why.”
This news stopped Joan in her tracks. “You met a Tigzly, and you are alive? Perhaps I should call my army back. You are more dangerous than you appear.” Joan laughed at her own little joke, and continued, “But come with me to the castle. You must be hungry, and I would be glad to feed you for the price of the story of how you came to be here.”
Lizzie looked about for Bobby, but the cowardly little boy had once more run off into the woods at the first sign of trouble. He was probably even now stripping whole bushes clean of their delicious berries. She hoped he wouldn’t lose the Skutter’s head before she got a chance to ask it more questions. Lizzie shook her head and followed Joan towards the castle.
“I arrived in this land about seventeen years ago,”said Joan as she and Lizzie walked side by side on the path of circular stones,“I came here to escape from my home in Cornwall, where I was on trial for witchcraft,and to protect my little friends.”
“So you are a witch?” asked Lizzie, with a little nervousness.
Joan smiled. “I suppose I am, but not the way you might be thinking. I’m a wise woman, and I consort with the fairy folk, not devils. Back in Cornwall I was known as the Fighting Fairy Woman, because Iwould brawl with anyone, woman or man, soldier or priest, who would threaten the sanctity of the wee ones.”
The castle, it turned out, was not made of candy. It was made of white granite and whiter marble, and stretched spectacularly into the sky. The castle was also surrounded by thousands of buzzing, flying fairies, whose wings reflected in the sunlight, giving the castle the sparkling, shimmering appearance that Lizzie and Bobby had noticed from afar. White flags fluttered from the turrets.
“Welcome to Castle Wytte,” said Joan, “hundreds of years ago this castle sat on the steppes of Russia, and was once owned by the widow, Duchess Natasha, wife of the great warrior Dobrynya.”
Lizzie nodded politely, and Joan laughed again. “But you don’t know who they are, do you Lizzie?”
Lizzie shook her head, “Sorry, but I do not.”
“It matters not. I get few visitors- in fact, you are my first, and so I am perhaps over eager to show off my home.”
Joan lead Lizzie through the castle and out to the back where there was a great lawn, meticulously maintained, with ornate shrubberies carved into the shapes of Greek Gods. “A hobby of mine,” said Joan, indicating the shrubberies.
Lizzie sat across from Joan at a small wicker table on comfortable wicker chairs. “Pardon my curiosity, but how does one move a castle from Russia to wherever we are now?
“My fairies moved it, one small piece at a time,” said the White Witch, as lemonade, crackers, soft cheeses and jams were whisked to the table by small groups of fairies. “Years ago I did them a great service; I found this place for them to be free of man’s world, and now they serve me as their queen. But enough about me. You must tell me your story.”
Lizzie recounted her recent adventures, starting from the point where she was whisked into the sky via dragon kite and landed in an apple tree. She spoke of the kindness of Minba and Tottin, and then mentioned the appearance of the red door. Joan frowned at this, but held her tongue as Lizzie recounted her fight with the creatures behind the door, and Tottin’s clever rescue. She then spoke of her encounter with the Tigzly.
“Disgusting creatures,” said Joan, this being the only time she interrupted Lizzie’s story, and Lizzie had to agree.
Lizzie continued with the events from earlier in the day, including her spying on Lang Li inside her own castle and her narrow escape from the Skutters, right up to the discovery of Joan’s castle.
“That is quite a story,” said Joan, “I should like to meet this friend of yours, Bobby. He seems to lead a charmed life to have escaped these dangers with you.”
“He is a coward, a glutton and very stupid,” saidLizzie, “but he is also my oldest and dearest friend.”
Joan smiled at this, but then changed the subject abruptly. “I cannot believe that Lang Li would be so brazen as to place one of her red doors on my lands. Does she want to provoke a war?”
“These doors,” asked Lizzie, “what are they, exactly?”
“Magical portals Lang Li uses to send her Skutters onmissions all over this great land. Once a day Lang Li’s magic can create a door anywhere in the world, and the door connects that place with her castle.’ Joanlaughed again, “She must have been very surprised when you emptied the entire pond into her living room. I’ll bet she’s furious. Still, nothing you’ve told me explains why Lang Li is after you in the first place.”
“I am also puzzled by that,” admitted Lizzie, “since arriving here, my life has been very difficult. Minba and Tottin suggested I find someone called Rani, who is supposed to be a great and kindly queen, and may be able to help me.”
“That is good advice,” said Joan. “Rani rules the largest army in all this land, perhaps all the world. If anyone could stand up to Lang Li, it is she.”
“Could you help me Joan? You are a very powerful witch, and I can tell that you have a kind heart.”
“I would help you if I could, Lizzie, but I made a solemn oath to the fairies under my care that I would not endanger them or involve them in the affairs of the world. As long as Lang Li is only after you, I can not involve those in my charge, and all my powers derive from them.”
“I understand,” said Lizzie, “I would impose on you then for only the night, and be on my way in the morning.”
“Granting so lovely a girl as yourself such a favor would be no imposition at all,” said Joan with a smile.
That night Lizzie bathed in warm, soapy water and slept for the first time in her life on a comfortable bed with warm blankets and soft pillows. When she awoke, she found that her clothing had been cleaned and mended while she slept, her knife polished and sharpened, and her pistol missing. She gathered up her belongings and found Joan in the back yard among the carved shrubberies, Lizzie’s pistol in her hand.
“You are awake,” said Joan, a smile on her face, “I hope you slept carefully.”
“I did,” said Lizzie, curious as to why Joan was holding her gun.
Joan opened the palm of her left hand and showed Lizzie a single bullet. “I was thinking,” said Joan, “about your encounter with the Tigzly.”
Joan opened the gun and inserted the bullet, then closed the gun once more. “One bullet was only enough to stop the creature because you were able to bluff it.”
Joan aimed the gun towards her back yard. The sun was just up, the shadows were long and the grass was heavy with dew. All was very quiet, then Joan fired the pistol with a loud BANG! that sent birds flying and echoed off the exterior of the castle.
“But the bullet I loaded into the pistol just now, is special.”
Joan aimed the pistol and fired again. BANG! and again. BANG!
Lizzie was astonished. Each time, after the pistol was fired, Lizzie thought she heard a small “click” from inside the gun. Joan opened the pistol and let the bullet fall into the palm of her hand. “Ouch! Hot!” said Joan, dropping the bullet onto the grass.
“It is a magic bullet, Lizzie,“ continued the White Witch as Lizzie picked up the cooling, but still warm, projectile, “You can fire it as often as you like, and it will always return.”
To Be Continued …