At first Silas had thought that the young witch was simply frozen with fear. She stood in the middle of the circle, eyes wide with terror, her hair tangled from running through the Forest to escape the wolverine pack and her heavy black cloak clutched tightly to her.
It took Silas a few moments to realize that, in her panic, the young witch had Frozen herself rather than the wolverines, leaving them the easiest supper the pack had had since the last Young Army Do-or-Die night exercise. As Silas watched, the wolverines began to close in for the kill. Slowly and deliberately, enjoying the prospect of a good feed, they circled the young witch, drawing in ever closer. Silas waited until he had all the wolverines in his sight, then quickly he Froze the entire pack. Unsure how to UnDo a witch spell, Silas lifted up the witch, who was luckily one of the smaller and lighter Wendron Witches, and carried her to safety. Then he waited with her all through the night while the Freeze wore off.
Morwenna Mould had never forgotten what Silas had done for her. From then on, whenever he ventured into the Forest, Silas knew he had the Wendron Witches on his side. And he also knew that Morwenna Mould would be there to help him if he needed it. All he had to do was to wait beside her tree at midnight. And that is what, after all those years, he was doing.
“Well, I do believe it is my dear brave Wizard. Silas Heap, what brings you here tonight of all nights, on our MidWinter Eve?” A quiet voice, spoken with a soft Forest burr like the rustling of the leaves on the trees, came out of the dark.
“Morwenna, is that you?” asked Silas, a little flustered, jumping to his feet and looking around him.
“It surely is,” said Morwenna, appearing out of the night and surrounded by a flurry of snowflakes. Her black fur cloak was dusted with snow, as was her long dark hair, which was held in place by the traditional green leather Wendron Witch headband. Her bright blue eyes flashed in the dark the way that all witches’ eyes do; they had been watching Silas standing under the elm tree for some time before Morwenna had decided it was safe to appear.
“Hello, Morwenna,” said Silas, suddenly shy. “You haven’t changed a bit.” Actually Morwenna had changed quite a lot. There was a good deal more of her since the last time Silas had seen her. He would certainly no longer be able to pick her up and carry her out of a slavering circle of wolverines.
“Neither have you, Silas Heap. I see you’ve still got your crazy straw hair and those lovely deep-green eyes. What can I do for you? I have waited a long time to repay your favor. A Wendron Witch never forgets.”
Silas felt very nervous. He wasn’t sure why, but it was something to do with Morwenna looming up close to him. He hoped he’d done the right thing by meeting her.
“I, er…You remember my eldest son, Simon?”
“Well, Silas, I remember you had a baby boy called Simon. You told me all about him while I was DeFrosting. He was having trouble with his teeth I remember. And you were not getting much sleep. How are his teeth now?”
“Teeth? Oh, fine, as far as I know. He’s eighteen years old now, Morwenna. And two nights ago he disappeared in the Forest.”
“Ah. That’s not good. There are Things abroad in the Forest now. Things have come out of the Castle. Things we have not seen before. It is not good for a boy to be out among them. Nor a Wizard, Silas Heap.” Morwenna placed her hand on Silas’s arm. He jumped.
Morwenna lowered her voice to a husky whisper. “We witches are sensitive, Silas.”
Silas managed nothing more than a small squeak in reply. Morwenna really was quite overpowering. He had forgotten how Forceful a real grown-up Wendron Witch actually was.
“We know that a terrible Darkenesse has come into the hub of the Castle. Into the Wizard Tower no less. It may have Taken your boy.”
“I had hoped you might have seen him,” said Silas dismally.
“No,” said Morwenna. “But I will look out for him. If I find him, I will return him to you safe, have no fear.”
“Thank you, Morwenna,” said Silas gratefully.
“It is nothing, Silas, compared with what you did for me. I am very grateful to be here to help you. If I can.”
“If—if you have any news, you can find us at Galen’s tree house. I am staying there with Sarah and the boys.”
“You have more boys?”
“Er, yes. Five more. We had seven altogether, but…”
“Seven. A gift. A seventh son of the seventh son. Magykal indeed.”
“Ah. I am sorry, Silas. A great loss. To us all. We could do with him now.”
“I will leave you for now, Silas. I will take the tree house and all who are in her under our protection, for what it may be worth with the encroaching Darkenesse. And tomorrow, all in the tree house are invited to join us for our MidWinter Feast.”
Silas was touched.
“Thank you, Morwenna. That is very kind.”
“Until the next time, Silas. I bid you good speed and a joyful Feast Day tomorrow.” With that the Wendron Witch disappeared back into the Forest, leaving Silas standing alone under the tall elm tree.
“Good-bye, Morwenna,” he whispered into the darkness and hurried off through the snow, back to the tree house where Sarah and Galen were waiting to hear what had happened.
By the next morning Silas had decided that Morwenna was right. Simon must have been Taken into the Castle. Something told him that Simon was there.
Sarah was not convinced.
“I don’t see why you are taking so much notice of that witch, Silas. It’s not as though she knows anything for sure. Suppose Simon’s in the Forest and you end up being Taken. What then?”
But Silas would not be swayed. He Changed his robes to the short gray hooded tunic of a worker, said good-bye to Sarah and the boys and climbed down from the tree house. The smell of cooking from the Wendron Witches’ MidWinter Feast almost persuaded Silas to stay, but he resolutely set off in search of Simon.
“Silas!” Sally called after him as he reached the Forest floor. “Catch!”
Sally threw down the KeepSafe Marcia had given her.
Silas caught it. “Thank you, Sally.”
Sarah watched as Silas pulled his hood down over his eyes and set off through the Forest toward the Castle, his parting words thrown over his shoulder, “Don’t worry. I’ll be back soon. With Simon.”
But she did.
And he wasn’t.
MIDWINTER FEAST DAY
No, thank you, Galen. I’m not going to those witches’ MidWinter Feast. We Wizards don’t celebrate it,” Sarah told Galen after Silas had left that morning.
“Well, I shall go,” said Galen, “and I think we all should go. You don’t turn down a Wendron Witch invitation lightly, Sarah. It’s an honor to be asked. In fact, I can’t imagine how Silas managed to get us all an invitation.”
“Humph” was Sarah’s only response.
But as the afternoon wore on and the delicious smell of roast wolverine drifted through the Forest and up to the tree house, the boys became very restless. Galen only ate vegetables, roots and nuts, which was, as Erik had pointed out in a loud voice after their first meal with Galen, exactly what they fed the rabbits at home.
The snow was falling heavily through the trees as Galen opened the tree house trapdoor. Using a clever pulley system she had devised herself, she pulled down the long wooden ladder so that it was resting on the blanket of snow that now covered the ground. The tree house itself was built on a series of platforms running across three ancient oak trees and had been part of the oaks ever since they had reached their full height, many hundreds of years ago. A higgledy-piggledy collection of huts had been put up on the platform over the years. They were covered with ivy and blended in with the trees so well that they were invisible from the floor of the Forest.
Sam, Edd and Erik, and Jo-Jo were sharing the guest hut at the very top of the middle tree and had their own rope down to the Forest. While the boys fought over who was going down the rope first, Galen, Sarah and Sally made a more sedate exit down the main ladder.
Galen had dressed up for the MidWinter Feast. She had been asked to one many years ago, after she had healed a witch’s child, and she knew it was quite an occasion. Galen was a small woman, somewhat weather-beaten after years of outdoor living in the Forest. She had cropped tousled red hair, laughing brown eyes and generally wore a simple short green tunic, leggings and a cloak. But today she wore her MidWinter Feast dress.