Morwenna moved fast and silent along the dark footpath that ran along the riverbank. The moonlight showed nothing more than shifting shadows as she went, her Forest Witch cloak merging with both the snow and the river beyond. She was now walking along a well-trodden path and was pleased she had chosen to FootFollow—the Princess could be anywhere. As Morwenna came to a bend she was surprised to find that her feet took her away from the path and through a gap in the hedge. She pushed through the snowy leaves and stepped silently onto the old jetty. The witch smiled. How very convenient, she thought. Earlier that evening, she had tied up her coracle to the mooring post at the end of that very jetty.
Jenna was sitting, leaning against the mooring post, watching the breaking reflections of the moon in the mirror-black river and wondering why she felt so upset about Marissa asking Beetle to walk home with her. Jenna remembered that when Marissa had said that she was renting a room above Bott’s Cloaks, she had been pleased for her—until later when she had realized that Bott’s Cloaks was opposite the Manuscriptorium. And then, unaccountably, she had felt distinctly not pleased. She had even caught herself thinking how nice it would be to have the freedom to rent a room opposite the Manuscriptorium, rather than having to live so far away, in the Palace. This had thrown her into confusion. She loved the Palace—how could she possibly compare it with a tiny room above smelly old Bott’s preloved cloaks? Why would she want to live there?
While Jenna was pondering the merits of the Palace versus Bott’s Cloaks, the jetty gave a sudden lurch. She turned around and a flash of fear went through her. She saw the large bulk of Morwenna Mould creeping forward, carefully placing her feet into the snow in a rather peculiar way. Jenna knew at once she had to get away— there was no doubt in her mind that being crept up on by a witch when it is way past midnight and you are alone, perched over an icy river, was not good.
Very slowly, so as not to disturb Morwenna—who seemed to be in some kind of trance—Jenna got to her feet. If she had been anywhere else, she would have run for it, but unfortunately the only escape involved actually going toward Morwenna, who pretty much took up the width of the landing stage. Jenna hesitated. She was sure that Morwenna hadn’t seen her—the Witch Mother was staring intently at the old planks as though she had lost something. But she was moving ever closer in an oddly deliberate way that frightened Jenna. Jenna decided that her best chance was to take Morwenna by surprise. She would wrap her Witch cloak around her like a shield and run straight at her. With any luck she could push past Morwenna before the Witch Mother had time to do anything.
Jenna took a deep breath and ran. As she got to within arm’s length, Morwenna looked up. “Princess!” she gasped.
Jenna stopped. She eyed up the available space on either side of the witch—there were maybe six inches of landing stage, certainly no more. And below was the icy river.
Morwenna took a step forward and Jenna took a step back. “Morwenna,” she said, playing for time. “How . . . nice to see you.”
Morwenna did not reply. She was trying to remember the Rules of FootFollowing. Could she grab her prey now or did she have to Follow all the footsteps? Would she have to go to the end of the jetty first and then come back? She wished she could remember.
“Yes,” said Morwenna, distracted, “very nice.” And then, “Bother,” as her feet began to take her past Jenna. She was going to have to Follow every single step. What a stupid spell, she thought. “Excuse me a moment, Princess Jenna. Um, don’t go away.”
Politely, Jenna stepped aside to let Morwenna by and smelled the earthy scent of leaf mold and decomposing fungus as the witch squeezed past her. Jenna was confused. She had been convinced that Morwenna was stalking her and yet clearly that was not the case. Lulled into a false sense of security, Jenna headed for the path back to the Palace.
Behind her Morwenna had put on a surprising turn of speed. The witch raced to the end of the landing stage, wheeled around and headed right back. The next thing Jenna knew was the smell of leaf mold behind her as Morwenna placed her dainty witch foot into Jenna’s last footstep. As Jenna wheeled around in surprise, the heavy hands of the Witch Mother descended on her shoulders and her talonlike grip dug into the top of her arms.
“Got you!” Morwenna crowed triumphantly. “At last.”
WHAT IS TO BE
“Get off me!” yelled Jenna, twisting and turning, trying to get free.
“You can’t get away; I have put a Grasp on you,” hissed Morwenna.
Jenna could not believe it—she had been so stupid. She should have run away while she could. Morwenna propelled her back along the jetty and Jenna was convinced that the witch intended to drown her. They reached the mooring post and Morwenna—keeping her Grasp on Jenna—leaned down and pulled a small coracle out from underneath.
“Get in!” she puffed.
There was no way Jenna intended to get into something that looked like a large teacup floating on the river—especially with a witch. “No!” she said and gave Morwenna a shove backward. But the witch’s Grasp held firm and Jenna found herself teetering on the very edge of the rickety planks. She grabbed hold of the mooring post with both hands. If Morwenna wanted to take her, she would have to take the post too.
Suddenly a movement on the riverbank, dark against the snow, caught Jenna’s eye. Two figures were moving fast toward the landing stage. With a sinking feeling Jenna guessed it was witch reinforcements—witches always traveled in threes. An old rhyme came into her head:
One Witch to Find you,
Two Witches to pay,
Three to remind you
You won’t get away.
And she’d bet anything that one of them was Marissa. But suddenly a very un-Marissa voice boomed out. “Stop right there!”
Never had Jenna been so happy to hear that voice. “Milo!” she yelled. “Help, help!”
The rickety planks shook as Milo pounded toward them. Morwenna gave Jenna a massive shove, but Jenna was ready. Using the momentum—and the fact that Morwenna could not let go—Jenna swung around the mooring post in a full circle, taking the witch with her. She had heard that witches and water did not mix well. Her only hope was that the shock of the water would make Morwenna break her Grasp. As Morwenna began to topple, Jenna prepared herself for the fall into the icy water.
Milo’s heavy hand suddenly landed on Morwenna’s shoulder, pulling her back from the edge. “Eerf ym dlihc!” he yelled.
Morwenna gave a cry of fury and Jenna felt the witch’s Grasp fall from her arm. She jumped back and both she and Milo gave Morwenna a hefty push. The witch landed neatly in her coracle, feet sticking out, arms flailing like a beetle stranded on its back. The coracle began to do what coracles do best: go round in circles. Around and around it went, spinning off into the middle of the river. Milo and Jenna watched the witch twirl through the moon’s reflection; then the current took the coracle and pulled it rapidly along, bouncing through the choppy waters in the middle of the river, taking the Witch Mother back to the Forest.
“What was it you said that made her let go?” asked Jenna.
Milo had made a decision that morning after Jenna had blown him her kiss. At last, Jenna was allowing him to be her father, and he would start acting like one. Probably for the first time ever, he answered a question directly. “I said, ‘Free my child.’ In Reverse.”
Jenna had not expected that. “Oh . . .”
It was not easy, but Milo made himself continue. “When . . . yes, when Cerys, your mother, was first expecting you she got very worried about CradleSnatching. It is something that the Wendron Witches used to do, snatch baby girls from their cradles to bring them up as witches—and they particularly liked to take Princesses. A Princess is a great prize for a Coven, so they say.”
Jenna nodded. She knew all about that.
“By the time Cerys was Queen, the Wendrons had stopped taking Castle babies, but your mama was afraid that they might still be tempted by a baby Princess. So she told me a powerful Reverse.” Milo smiled at the memory. “Well, actually, she sat me down and made me learn it over and over again.”
Once again Jenna was overwhelmed with the what-might-have-been feeling. “And you remembered. After all this time.”