“We need to talk,” Sol said as I threw open the camper door. He held his hat in his hands, crumpling the brim. I was surprised Erich didn’t complain about that.
“Sure,” I said with a tight smile, “but I was just telling Richie I don’t have any pink lemonade.”
The magician leaned inside to look at the boy. “Hey, kid.”
Richie waved. “Hi Sol. I bet she doesn’t have cookies either.”
“Nope,” I replied testily.
“Tess usually does,” Sol said.
Richie jumped out of his seat. “Can I go see Tess? Can I? Can I?”
I shot Sol a look, none too pleased that he was offering the kid the opportunity to get hyped up on sugar. “Tess was going to help Ernie with his water, so she’s probably not there,” I told the boy.
“I fixed his water earlier,” Sol said. “She should be back at the office.”
I understood that he wanted to talk, and not in the presence of the child, but I couldn’t let Richie go wandering off by himself considering what had happened to his mother.
Not that I knew exactly what that was. Maybe that’s what Sol wanted to talk about.
“We’ll go over to the office and see,” I told the boy.
He raced out of the camper, almost slamming into Sol on his way out.
I emerged more slowly and locked the door. “Have you seen the cat? She’s hurt.”
“Who’d she attack now?” Sol asked.
Before I could answer him, Richie yelled, “There’s Tess. Can I go ask her?”
Considering the older woman was less than fifty yards down the road, I told him, “Yes, but ask nicely.”
Richie zipped off.
Sol tilted his head toward the spear. “Where’d you get that?”
“I took it off one of my Nightway’s underlings after she tried to kill me with it.”
Sol rolled his eyes. “I’m sure she didn’t try to kill you.”
Before I could protest Conroy piped up, “They need you alive in order to remove your magic.”
I frowned and focused my attention on the boy who was trying to wheedle some cookies out of the campground owner. They headed toward us.
“If that’s true,” I muttered under my breath and jerked my chin in Sol’s direction. “Why did they try to throw him in the fire?”
“He’s already caponem,” Conroy explained, “His magic’s been drained. Except…”
“She’s got cookies!” Richie yelled enthusiastically.
“I’ll put him to work in the office for a bit,” Tess said with a wink at me. “I’ll make him earn his treats.”
“Alright,” I agreed, eager to talk to Sol alone. “But if you need a break, just let me know.”
Tess nodded, then gestured at the spear. “You might want to put your broom away. The wind’s picking up.”
“Your broom,” again she pointed at the weapon, “you don’t want it to blow away.”
“Good idea,” Sol said, grabbing it. “We’ll put it inside.”
Tess took Richie’s hand and they meandered in the direction of the office.
As soon as they were out of earshot, I asked Sol, “What is that?” I pointed to what he held in his hands.
“This? It’s a spear.” He hefted it thoughtfully. “A well-designed one with good weight and balance.”
“But Tess called it a broom.”
Sol let out a put-upon sigh. “You really know nothing.”
I glared at him and snatched away the spear/broom.
“Tess saw a broom,” he explained. “Magic disguises many weapons as brooms…spears, swords, daggers, weeping sticks, wands.”
I’d followed everything he’d described except the weeping sticks and wands, but I wasn’t about to indicate I didn’t understand something. He was already treating me like I was an idiot.
“Why do you think witches are pictured with brooms so often?” Sol continued.
I shrugged. I’d never given it a moment’s thought.
“He’s caponem,” Conroy burst out, “except he can persject into a rabbit, his hod has power and he used the Benevolent Boost.”
Sol frowned and looked around nervously. “Can we have this discussion somewhere a little more private?”
I carried the spear inside the camper and placed it in the shower, so it was out of the way.
Meanwhile Sol uncovered Glory and put her on the stovetop and his hat, Erich, on the table.
“You’re lucky you made it back here,” the magician said, taking a seat near his hod. “If they’d caught you…”
I flopped onto the edge of the bed not trusting the hat who’d jolted me twice now.
“No changing the subject,” Conroy declared. “Explain yourself shuval!”
“That’s the protector thingy, right?” I asked, struggling to keep up with the magical lingo. I really needed a glossary or something.
“Yes, the valiant protectors of the primacy,” Glory replied. “Of which you are one.”
I shook my head. “Nope. Not going there. I’m not part of your magical royalty cult.”
“They’re not a cult. They’re the keepers of worlds,” Conroy corrected.
“He,” I pointed at Sol, “said they were either defeated or in hiding. And have you seen the state of the world? What kind of keepers could they possibly be?”
“Hush, child,” Conroy admonished.
“What did you just call me?” I ripped the necklace off and glared at the owl.
His stone eyes looked impassively back. “The shuhval must explain himself. How can one be caponem yet continue to wield the power of a hod and the Benevolent Boost?”
“Why do these things use alliteration?” I asked. “Benevolent Boost. Blaze of Banishment?”
“Because it makes it easier for children to learn their names,” Glory explained. “And if you can learn a name, you can learn its power.”
“Which is why it’s important to know your name,” Sol added.
I frowned and looked away. I didn’t know my name. Did that mean I didn’t know my power?
“She is not the only one who is not being forthcoming,” Glory said. “You have not explained yourself. The redia is right. How does a caponem possess power?”
Sol drummed his fingers on the tabletop, seeming to be having an internal debate whether to answer the question. “Pockets,” he said finally.
“Pockets?” Conroy and Glory asked simultaneously, making it clear that his answer made no sense to them either.
Sol frowned. “I left parts of myself in my hod,” he nodded at Erich. “In my persject.”
“That’s the rabbit he turns into,” Conroy whispered so that only I could hear.
“In this body.” Sol waved his hand to indicate himself.
“Why?” Conroy asked.
The man shook his head. “That’s why I still have some…abilities.”
“That’s why his shimmer is mulberry,” Conroy said excitedly.
“Lavender,” I corrected automatically.
“He isa step away from magic!” the owl hooted victoriously. “I told you so.”
I put the necklace back on, slipping the chain over my head.
“It’s why I’m hiding out here in Raven’s Nest. I don’t want to give up the little I still have.” Sol lifted his gaze to meet mine. “But that doesn’t explain what you’re doing.”
“I told you, I’m cursed with Mildred. If I can help her right her wrongs, in this case, return Garrett to human form, I can be rid of her. Otherwise I’m stuck with her for eternity.” I shuddered at the thought. “I didn’t know I’d have to dodge magic-stealing Cullers that want to spear me through the heart to do it.”
“The Cullers wouldn’t kill you,” Sol said again.
“Is that why they were trying to roast you?” I countered hotly.
“The Blaze of Banishment is a portal, sort of like my rabbit hole,” Sol explained. “It wouldn’t have killed me.”
“Whoever was waiting on the other side probably would have,” Conroy opined.
Sol nodded his agreement.
“Is that who attacked Karen?” I asked. “Was it one of the Cullers?”
“No,” Sol replied firmly. “There was no evidence that magic had been used against her.”
“So what happened to her?” I asked.
He shrugged and transferred his attention to the pot. “I think you haven’t told us everything, Glory.”
“Well it isn’t like she’s had much of a chance,” Erich growled, defending his fellow hod.
I tensed. The hat had, in the act of defending himself, knocked me around twice. I didn’t like the idea of him losing his temper in such an enclosed space.
“I don’t know much,” Glory revealed in her petulant teenager voice. “Keith kept me in shadow most of the time.”
“Why?” Sol asked.
“Because he’d stolen me.”
I knew from the expressions that chased over Sol’s face, first shock, then what looked like fear, that a stolen hod was not a good thing.
He jumped up. “Put her back. You’ve got to put her back.”
“In the field?”
“Yes. Now. Wherever you found her. Stealing a hod is—”
“She didn’t steal me,” Glory said. “She rescued me.”
“It doesn’t matter. If your true owner were to find you with her…” Sol paled.
I had the distinct impression that whatever could happen was probably worse than the Cullers.
A chill washed over me wondering what I’d gotten into. “But she told me to take her,” I managed to wheeze out.
“Who?” Sol asked.
At that moment the devil herself, or at least my former mother-in-law showed up outside the camper and yowled, “They’re coming! Let me in!”