Edward Willett

Read the first two chapters of Door into Faerie

81rEdc1D1+LThe final chapter in the Shards of Excalibur series, following Song of the Sword, Twist of the Blade, Lake in the Clouds, and Cave Beneath the Sea.

Get it from Amazon, at Chapters Indigo, or directly from the publisher, Coteau Books.

Door into Faerie

By Edward Willett

Chapter 1: Spring Thaw

The drop of water quivering at the tip of the icicle sparkled in the sun like a polished diamond.

Wally Knight, heir to King Arthur, Companion to the Lady of the Lake of Arthurian legend, the doughty youth who had fought and defeated men twice his size, the intrepid lad who had journeyed all over the world on a dangerous quest to reunite the scattered shards of the great sword Excalibur, watched it with bated breath.

It fell, splashing to the gray-painted wood of the old farmhouse porch.

“Nine seconds!” Ariane announced. “I win! Again!”

“Well, you are the fricking Lady of the Lake, with magical power over fresh water,” Wally grumbled.

“I assure you, Sir Knight, I need no magic to outsmart the likes of you.” But Ariane smiled as she said it, and Wally grinned back.

They were sitting on the porch swing of the Barringer Farm Historic Bed and Breakfast in Cypress Hills, watching the snow melt and betting each other how many seconds would pass between one drop and the next falling from the slowly shrinking icicle above the steps.

Watching the snow melt was more exciting than it sounded like, because melting snow meant the slough would soon thaw, and that would give them a body of water big enough for both of them to be submerged in. Not to go swimming—Ugh, Wally thought, knowing what he knew of algae growth in stagnant ponds in summer in Saskatchewan—but because they needed that much water to materialize in after Ariane had used her magical power to transport them around the world via fresh water and/or clouds.

The snow melted faster than the ice thawed, especially in a pond small enough to have frozen solid, so there could be no using the slough yet, but the snowdrifts shrank daily and water dripped constantly from the icicles along the edge of the porch roof; it wouldn’t be long.

And that meant soon they could travel anywhere they wanted.

Even though watching the snow melt was more exciting than it sounded like, it still wasn’t all that exciting, and Wally had actually had an ulterior motive in asking Ariane to sit out on the porch with him, and not the usual ulterior motive a boy might have for asking a girl to sit next to him on a porch swing. The fact was, he’d an idea. A really great idea.

But to make it happen, he had to get Ariane to agree it was a great idea, and sometimes, Ariane wasn’t convinced his great ideas were nearly as great as he thought they were. And sometimes, he thought, to be perfectly honest, she’s right.

But not this time.

Time to take the plunge. “Man, I can’t wait to get out of here,” he said, trying to sound casual, as yet another glittering drop fell from the icicle. That much, at least, he knew Ariane agreed with. The two of them had been cooped up in the farmhouse all winter, afraid to even venture into Maple Creek or Elkwater. The sorcerer Merlin—known to the general world as Rex Major, billionaire computer magnate—knew they had been using Medicine Hat as a staging area for trips around the country. That meant he must suspect they were in the area, and that meant they dared not show their faces, for fear of word somehow getting back to him. It wouldn’t have to be from some gossiping busybody, either; all it would take would be for someone to snap a photo of them with a phone connected to the Internet. Merlin’s magic was a spider lurking on the Web, alert to any tiny vibration caused by Ariane’s or Wally’s presence.

Actually, being cooped up with Ariane, whom Wally could now officially (and rather unbelievably) call his girlfriend, might have been fun if not for the fact they were also cooped up with: Ariane’s mother, Emily Forsythe; Emily’s sister, Ariane’s Aunt Phyllis; and Phyllis’s long-time friend, Emma McPhail, whose ideas of boy-girl propriety seemed to date back to Victorian England. But they were cooped up with that formidable female trio, and Wally had been feeing increasingly antsy. Spring feverish, even.

And—also rather unbelievably—he missed his family, dysfunctional and disjointed though it had become in recent months. He missed his dad, who was who-knew-where on business, no doubt accompanied by his recently acquired and much younger girlfriend. He missed his mom, also who-knew-where, most likely shooting a movie or a documentary. He even, God help him, missed his sister Felicia, though at least he knew where she was: living it up in Rex Major’s Toronto penthouse condominium. Since she was also an heir of Arthur, and since Wally had rather thoroughly rejected Major’s overtures to him—escaping that same condo, knocking one of Major’s guards on the head, hacking Major’s email, and stealing several thousand dollars from one of Major’s bank accounts—Major had her tucked away for future use.

Like Ariane, Major/Merlin had two of the shards of Excalibur. Whoever was first to find the final piece, the hilt, would be able to claim the whole sword. And if that were Merlin, Flish would—although Wally had a really, really hard time picturing it—wield Excalibur at the head of his armies. Probably while wearing a designer dress and carrying a really expensive handbag in her free hand, he thought.

Wally never would have believed almost five months could pass without some new development in the quest he and Ariane had been given last fall by the Lady of the Lake, but every day he asked her, “Any sense of where the hilt is?”

And every day she said…

Well, actually, no, he hadn’t asked her today. So now he did.

She sighed. “No, nothing. I keep hoping, with spring arriving, that maybe water will start running and come in contact with it, wherever it is, but…”

“It could be in the southern hemisphere again, anyway,” Wally pointed out. “Antarctica, even.”

“Yes, I know.” She shook her head. “At least we know Merlin doesn’t have it yet, either. My shards are still safe.” She touched her side. She’d taken to wearing both of the shards against her skin, instead of just one, so they were always ready if she needed them—even though she couldn’t use the power of both of them together unless Wally was also touching them. Apparently, the sword liked him. Or liked the fact he was an heir of Arthur, anyway.

Which was kind of cool, except, since Felicia was also an heir of Arthur, she could make the same connection for Merlin. And Merlin had his own powers, the extent of which they had only an inkling. Which had made it even more dangerous for them to venture into public anywhere close to their winter hideout.

But as the winter wound to its close, Wally had begun to think about the freedom they would gain with the melting of the ice. And that, combined with missing his family, and his general stir-craziness, had given him the great—well, seemingly great—idea he was about to bring up.

Another drop of water fell from the icicle.

“By Mother’s Day, the pond will have melted,” he said tentatively.

“By long before that, I hope,” Ariane said.

“But by then for sure.”

Ariane shrugged. “Probably.”

“So…” Wally reached out and caught the next drop, cold against his palm. “Have you thought about what you might do for Mother’s Day?”

“Um…no. Why?”

Wally could hear the confusion in her voice, but rather than look at her, he gazed out over the still-snowy fields into the blue distance. “I’m…thinking about my mom.”

A pause. “You miss her?”

Wally nodded, but still didn’t look around because he seemed to have something in his eye. He blinked to clear his suddenly blurry vision. “Weird, huh? She’s been away more than she’s been around the last few years, and she wasn’t all that…involved, even when she was around. But I’ve watched you and your mom and…well, I keep thinking if you two can work things out, after everything she put you through, maybe…I should try to work things out with my mom, too.’”

“You could call her…” Ariane began, then stopped. “No, I guess that wouldn’t be safe, would it?”

Wally sighed. “Not with Rex Major probably keeping tabs on all her calls. What if he traced it back here?”

“I could take you somewhere else and then you could call her—somewhere back east, or even in another country,” Ariane offered.

“Yeah, I thought of that,” Wally said. He turned to look at her at last; he’d blinked away whatever was making his eyes water. “But I really want to see her in person, and I couldn’t arrange anything with her over the phone anyway. Even if Major wasn’t actually listening in, he’s probably Commanded her and Dad to tell him everything they hear from me. He’d set a trap, or use her as a hostage. You know how he loves hostages.”

Ariane chewed on her lip. “So…any ideas?”

“One. If we can get somewhere where it’s safe to use a computer, a library like we used when we were looking for your mom, I could check out her production company website. Sometimes she lists her current project and where she’s going to be filming. Then we could go there and I could surprise her.”

“On Mother’s Day.”

Wally shrugged. “If it worked out that way.”

Ariane leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He grinned, and touched the spot. “What was that for?”

“For being an incurable romantic,” she said. “All right, let’s do it. As soon as the pond is ice-free.”

Wow, he thought. I guess it really is a great idea!

The pond took two more weeks to melt, during which time they discussed with the grown-ups where they might safely go. Emma suggested Weyburn. “Fine public library there,” she said. “And there are any number of hotel pools to choose from, plus a public pool.”

“Weyburn it is,” said Ariane.

On a fine sunny day a few days later they stood in their swimsuits in the upstairs bathroom of the bed and breakfast, Ariane carrying a waterproof backpack with their clothes inside it. “Ready?”

“Ready,” Wally said, though he wasn’t really—the whole dissolving-into-water-and-materializing-somewhere-else thing still freaked him out, and it was even worse this time, since it had been months since their near-disastrous excursion to Cacibajagua Island in the Caribbean. But he held on tight to Ariane’s hand all the same, and a minute later they were in a hotel swimming pool in Weyburn, at the bottom of a waterslide. They surfaced and climbed out as if they’d just been swimming. There was no one else in the pool, but even if there had been, it wouldn’t have mattered much: people were way more willing to believe the two teenagers who had suddenly appeared in the pool had been there all along and they’d somehow just overlooked them than that they’d materialized out of nowhere.

Go figure.

Ariane ordered the water off their bodies, they went into their respective bathrooms to change, and then they headed off on foot toward the Weyburn Public Library—a bit of a hike, but the weather was nice and at least they were somewhere other than Barringer Farm.

“What’s that?” Ariane said as they crossed a bridge over the Souris River. She pointed to the south, where a round white tower with a steep, conical roof and small windows down it sides rose on a hill.

“It’s a hill,” Wally said helpfully. “I know we don’t have very many of them in Saskatchewan, but—”

She swatted his arm playfully. “I mean, what’s that tower thing? It looks like a lighthouse. Or something Rapunzel might have lived in.”

“It’s an old water tower,” Wally said. “There used to be quite a few in Saskatchewan that looked like that. I don’t know how many are left—I know there’s one like it in Humboldt.” He grinned at her. “Looks like one thing, but it’s really something very different. Just like you—after all, you look like an ordinary teenage girl—”

“Ordinary?” Ariane said, dangerously.

“Um…I mean, you look like an incredibly beautiful and talented teenage girl,” Wally amended, “and yet in reality you’re the heir to the Lady of the Lake.”

“Yeah,” Ariane said. “Fat lot of good it’s done me for the last few months while everything’s been frozen.” She shook her head. “What if we never figure out where the hilt of Excalibur is? It’s already been months. Maybe it’s lost forever. And if it is…what will that mean? Will we have to hide from Merlin for the rest of our lives?”

“We can’t,” Wally said. “Sooner or later he’ll find us.”

“So what will we do?”

Wally said nothing. They were in the middle of the bridge; he stopped and stared down at the little river, still swollen from the spring melt. “I don’t know,” he said at last. “Run away, I guess. Hide out wherever we can, for as long as we can.”

“What kind of future is that?” Ariane said.

Wally said nothing, because the answer was obvious: a very grim one.

And it wasn’t just he and Ariane who would have to hide. Rex Major had already taken Aunt Phyllis hostage, and Ariane’s mom, once; he’d do it again in an instant. Wally figured the only reason he hadn’t tried to use Wally’s parents as hostages was because he needed Felicia’s cooperation, and as much as his sister had become…whatever she had become…in the last while, he still believed she would rebel if Merlin threatened her parents.

Of course, he would have hoped she’d have rebelled when Rex Major threatened him, but she’d left him possibly dying or dead on the side of a hill on Cacibajagua Island after Merlin had called lightning down on him—well, not on him, obviously, but darned close to him—in order to claim the fourth shard for himself.

He turned away from the river and gave Ariane his best grin, hoping she couldn’t see how forced it was. He was as tall as—no, make that a little taller than—she was, now, his somewhat delayed adolescent growth spurt having set in in earnest about the time all these adventures had started in November. Sometimes he wondered if the sword’s magic had spurred it along. “We’ll do what we have to,” he said. “Whatever it takes. Like we have, time and time again.”

Ariane sighed. “In other words, you don’t have a clue.”

His grin widened, and now it was genuine. “Exactly.”

***

Chapter Two: Mother’s Day

The Weyburn Public Library proved to be an interesting building, with a central part flanked by two wings, all three sections’ curving roofs held up by pale blue pillars, topped by a crisscrossing network of support beams made of golden wood. Inside it was airy and full of light—and, of course, books. But much as Wally liked books—and he really liked books—recently the only things he’d had time for at public libraries were the free computer terminals. Here they stood just inside the door, not far from the main desk. The white-haired lady on duty gave them both a friendly smile as they came in. Wally smiled back, but he made sure he sat down at a terminal that had its back to the desk, so she couldn’t see what he was looking up.

He also took a quick look around for security cameras. They knew Rex Major could sometimes access images from them—it was an image from just such a camera, mounted in a convenience store in Carlyle, Saskatchewan, that had revealed to both Major and Wally that Ariane’s mother was still alive.

He called up his mother’s production company. “Knight Errant Pictures?” Ariane said, reading over his shoulder.

“Yeah,” he said. “I think she’d change it if she could, since that’s her married name, but she’s kind of stuck with it.”

“Oh,” Ariane said. Then, “What’s her maiden name?”

“MacPhaiden,” Wally said. “She comes from a long line of Scots.”

He’d been clicking around on the site as he spoke: Current Projects; Shooting Schedule. He blinked. “Well, that’s a coincidence.”

“What?” Ariane leaned closer to the screen.

“She’s in Scotland. Shooting at a place called Castle MacPhaiden.”

“An old family residence?”

“Maybe. I don’t know much about our family history.”

“What’s the project?”

“Probably some low-budget fantasy flick. Scottish sword and sorcery.” He grinned. “Polearms and porridge. Halbards and haggis.”

“Wally…” Ariane growled.

“Sorry,” Wally said contritely. He clicked on the project link, and blinked again. “Huh. Wrong again. It’s something called ‘Family Legends,’ and she calls it, ‘a personal journey of discovery.’”

“Sounds like she’s researching that family history you say you don’t know much about,” Ariane said. “I wonder if she’ll turn up anything about King Arthur?”

“That’d be on the male side,” Wally said automatically.

Ariane raised an eyebrow at him. “Would it?”

“Of course it—” Wally stopped. Sexist much? he thought. Sure, in Arthur’s day boys came first when land and titles were inherited—what was the word for that, prima…primo…primogeniture, that was it, although come to think of it, the word itself just meant the firstborn inherited, it didn’t specify the firstborn being male. But that had nothing to do with genetic inheritance, and—he’d bet—even less to do with magical inheritance, which clearly followed its own rules. After all, after so many generations, there should be hundreds or thousands—or maybe even hundreds of thousands—of “heirs of Arthur” or “heirs of the Lady of the Lake” floating around, and instead, there appeared to be only him and his sister on the Arthurian side, and Ariane—and before her, her mother—on the Ladyian (Lakeian?) side. And the fact they’d both ended up in Regina, Saskatchewan, at the same school, and at the same lake at the same time on the same morning…that was far more than coincidence. The magic had been choosing its path since the days of the original Arthur. Presumably it had always been in someone, someone who could have wielded Excalibur had it been reforged, or someone who could have accepted the power of the Lady of the Lake had it been offered.

So why wasn’t it? Wally thought, and was a little startled it was the first time he’d thought it. Why didn’t the Lady…um, “activate” one of her heirs before now? Merlin was imprisoned for centuries. Why not reforge Excalibur before he could even go looking for it?

It might have been the first time he’d asked that particular question, but it certainly wasn’t the first time he’d questioned whether the Lady of the Lake had told them the whole truth. Maybe someday I’ll get to ask her, he thought.

Right. And I’m sure she’ll tell me the whole truth and nothing but the truth when I do.

“You’re right,” he said humbly to Ariane. “Whatever Flish and I have inherited from King Arthur could have come down through the male or female side. The fact it ended up in someone named Knight may have just been coincidence.”

“Or Excalibur’s idea of a joke,” Ariane said darkly.

Wally knew what she meant. Excalibur was clearly more than a hunk of metal: it had communicated with both Wally and Ariane—mostly variations of “kill your enemies,” so it wasn’t exactly a wisecracking Disney sidekick sort of sword—but still,who could say just how sentient it was?

Maybe we’ll find out if we ever get it put back together, Wally thought, and it wasn’t a comfortable thought. He knew Ariane’s mantra of “I control the sword, it doesn’t control me,” and he approved—but those were just words. Maybe just teenage bravado.

Just who would be in control once the sword was forged anew?

He shook his head. Hypotheticals were just that—hypothetical. “Whatever, this Castle MacPhaiden is where Mom’s going to be on…” he checked the calendar, and grinned. “On Mother’s Day. How perfect is that? I’ll surprise her.”

“I’m sure you will,” Ariane said dryly. “So where is it, exactly?”

A quick Google turned up more information about the castle, which was far off the beaten paths in the Highlands of Scotland, and privately owned. It saw few tourists, although it had been used in a number of movies and TV series over the years. Wally skimmed the history. “Built in the thirteenth century…came into the MacPhaiden family in the fifteenth century when a wedding feast ended in the slaughter of the previous owners…said to be haunted by the murdered mother of the groom, who walks the battlements in a long white robe, wailing her anger and grief.”

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Ariane said.

“You didn’t believe in magic until a few months ago,” Wally pointed out.

Ariane laughed. “You’ve got a point. Maybe we should take some garlic, just in case.”

“Um…that’s vampires. For ghosts you use…” Wally thought about it, and realized the only lore he had at his disposal had come from watching Supernatural. “Um…salt or cold iron?”

“Why does it have to be cold iron?” Ariane asked curiously. “Wouldn’t hot iron work just as well?”

Wally laughed. “I don’t know. That’s just the way it’s always described.”

“Well, we’ve got the cold iron,” Ariane said. “Two shards of Excalibur. You can pack a saltshaker, too, if you want.” She straightened. “So you really want to do this?”

Wally went back to the Knight Errant Pictures website, and called up the publicity shot of his mother. It was a few years old, old enough he remembered when she’d brought it home to show the family. He’d been eleven and Felicia had been just-turned fifteen and his best friend. It had been a wonderful year…

…and it had been shortly after that his family had started to fall apart.

Now the four of them were scattered all over the world.

He couldn’t do anything about patching things up with Felicia. He’d at least spoken to his father. But his mom…it had been months since he’d even heard her voice.

“Yes,” he said. “I really want to do this.”

Ariane nodded. “Well then,” she said. “Let’s all celebrate Mother’s Day in Scotland.”

Wally blinked at her. “All of us?”

She grinned. “Why not? It’s spring, we’ve got no lead on Excalibur, we’re going stir-crazy. I can take everyone to Scotland…it might take a couple of trips, but I can do it. We’ll have some fun, and you can talk to your mother.’ She kissed him on the cheek. “It’s my present to you both.”

“Thanks,” he said, as the computer screen turned strangely blurry. They should replace it, he thought.

They didn’t have to go back to the hotel to travel back to Barringer Farm, and there wasn’t even any need to change into their swimsuits: they’d arrive in the slough, to be sure, but Ariane could order the water off of them the moment they climbed out, and hot showers and clean clothes awaited in the house—which was important, since although she could remove the water, whatever was in the water stayed on their clothes, and there were a lot of cows that spent a lot of time down by that slough.

They went in search of a bathroom, their path taking them past a reading area with comfortable chairs and a few magazines scattered on low tables. Wally glanced down at one of the tables as they passed, and stopped dead.

Ariane took another step, then turned back inquiringly. “What?”

Wally pointed. “Look.”

Ariane looked down at what had brought him up short. “Oh,” she said.

Rex Major smiled toothily at them from the front page of a business magazine. ENTREPRENEURS FOR EDUCATION read the banner over his head, so he was clearly at some kind of gala charity fundraiser. And in the background, dressed in a low-cut slinky dress that sparkled in the lights, was Wally’s sister, Felicia, slightly out of focus but still recognizable, and looking ten years older than her actual age of eighteen. ”Seems to be enjoying herself,” Wally muttered.

“Come on,” Ariane said.

A moment later, after making sure no one was looking their way, they ducked together into one of the main-floor washrooms, Ariane turned on the tap, and they were on their way back to Barringer Farm.

Unfortunately, Ariane’s grand plans for a mass outing to the Scottish Highlands didn’t work out. Emma and Aunt Phyllis both flat-out refused to come, making it clear they had no desire to experience Ariane-travel again, having survived it once. It was a sentiment Wally could appreciate, but it wasn’t as if he had a choice. “It’s only planes, trains and automobiles for me from now on, dear,” Aunt Phyllis had said. “Besides, Emma and I have to get the place spic-and-span for the Barringers. They’ll be back June first, you know.”

So in the end, only he and Ariane and Ariane’s mom convened in the upstairs bathroom at ten o’clock at night, water running in the sink. The odd departure hour had been necessitated by Wally’s guess—though admittedly it was only a guess—that his mom and her film crew would show up at Castle MacPhaiden very early in the morning in Scotland. Since they were well past the equinox, sunrise was around five a.m. that far north…and there was a seven-hour time difference.

Which meant, of course, that Wally would probably be yawning his head off during any meeting with his mother, but there wasn’t much to be done about that. People who complain about jet lag have never experienced Ariane-lag, he thought.

Ariane held out one of her two shards of Excalibur to Wally. The other, he knew, rested against her side beneath a tensor bandage, where this one would join it later, when it wasn’t needed any longer. She’d taken to keeping both of them with her at all times. Supposedly Major couldn’t just take them from her and make use of their power—she had to give them to him willingly, at least until and unless he got the final piece, the hilt—but that didn’t mean he couldn’t get hold of them and hide them somewhere they’d never be able to retrieve them, if he somehow found one Ariane had left in what she thought was a safe place but wasn’t.

Wally took the proffered end of the shard in both hands. The piece of Excalibur didn’t sing to him, as Ariane said it did to her, but he could feel its magic, like a vibration or a faint electrical charge, thrumming in the steel and in his fingers. The spark of magic he’d inherited from Arthur somehow activated the sword’s own power; it seemed pleased that he was touching it.

“Hold on to me, Mom,” Ariane said, and Emily wrapped her arms around her daughter. Ariane plunged her free hand into the running water, and the bathroom dissolved around them.

Almost at once, it seemed, they erupted into the cold water of a small lake—loch, Wally corrected himself. Castle MacPhaiden, recognizable from the photos of it on his mom’s website, loomed off to the south, little more than a grey blob in the morning mist under a drizzling rain.

“Sorry about the weather,” Ariane said.

“What?” Wally said in mock outrage. “Can’t you control that, too?”

Ariane laughed. “Not yet.”

Wally grinned. “Welcome to Scotland. This is the same kind of weather we had the whole week I spent in Edinburgh with my family a few years ago.” He peered through the mist and rain at Castle MacPhaiden. It wasn’t a very large castle, really just a large house—maybe “keep” was the right word—built behind a battlemented wall at the top of a cliff. The road running up to it passed by the loch, maybe a hundred metres away. They trudged over to the road across boggy ground, then stood on its crumbling pavement, stamping their feet to knock the mud off their shoes.

“Mom and I will go down to the village,” Ariane pointed the opposite way from the castle. “We’ll wait by the church for you at noon, if we don’t see you before then.”

Wally nodded. “Be careful,” he said. “If anyone takes a photo of you, Rex Major could—”

“Take hours to get here,” Ariane said. “Don’t worry, Wally. And good luck with your mom.”

“Yes, good luck, Wally,” Emily Forsythe chimed in. She smiled at him, and he was struck by how much her smile looked like Ariane’s. “I’m sure she misses you more than you realize. She’s going to be thrilled to see you. Wish her ‘Happy Mother’s Day!’ for me. I wish I could meet her.”

“Someday,” Wally said.

But not today, he thought, as he turned and started the cold walk toward the forbidding grey castle. Not while she’s still under Merlin’s Command to tell her everything she knows about Ariane and me. He would have to be exquisitely careful in his choice of words to her, since he had to think she would give a word-by-word account to the sorcerer. He trusted himself to be that careful, but he didn’t trust Ariane’s mom: the fewer people who had to guard their words, the better.

Less than an hour later, he stood on the battlements of castle’s wall, damp and dripping, stamping his feet to keep warm, watching the road, feeling like an ancient sentry awaiting the arrival of an invading army…and here they came at last, advancing on the castle under his mother’s command.

Not that it was a very large army: a car and a van. And not that he could be entirely certain his mother was in either of them—it could just be a vanguard of the camera crew. But he didn’t think so. His mom had always been a very hands-on filmmaker. She’d want to be at the location right from the beginning.

If he could see them, they could potentially see him, he realized belatedly, and so he ducked down behind the wall, sat on the cold, wet ground, and waited, his heart pounding in his chest.

Funny. He’d fought Merlin’s thugs, been held at gunpoint by Merlin himself, flown halfway around the world on his own, swum to an island in the middle of a New Zealand lake, and been almost struck by lightning on a Caribbean island—and yet this impending meeting with his mother scared him more than any of those.

The road curved around to the north of the castle, where a long drive led up the hill to the main entrance, out of his sight. It passed through a portcullis and emptied into a cobblestoned courtyard, with the keep on the west side and several smaller outbuildings, probably originally stables and storerooms and now, it looked like, garages, although there were six garage doors, and who needed that many garages?

Maybe the owner collects cars, he thought. He knew the castle still belonged to a MacPhaiden. A relative?

Maybe his mom could tell him.

He heard the rumble of tires on the cobblestones, heard the sound of doors opening and closing. The castle seemed unoccupied: he’d approached it cautiously, but seeing the shuttered windows and the lack of smoke from the chimneys, he’d decided it was safe enough to take up his sentry position on the wall. Now he ran over to the keep and, keeping close to the wall—the tall, thin windows were still well above his head even when he stood upright—crept to the corner, and then crawled forward on all fours until he had a view of the courtyard through a screen of heather.

He saw his mother at once. Wearing jeans and a warm-looking woolen sweater, her long brown hair drawn back in a practical ponytail, she stood with her hands on her hips, talking to a man he recognized as a cinematographer she’d worked with before. “We’ll set up in the Great Hall,” he heard her say, and to his astonishment, the mere sound of her voice made his throat constrict.

Getting sentimental in your old age, Wally. Is this what being fifteen is going to be like?

The camera-guy nodded, and went back to the van to help the rest of the crew—just one other man and a woman, both of whom, like the cinematographer, looked vaguely familiar—start unloading equipment and cables. Behind the van, a third vehicle, a big black Jaguar with tinted windows, rolled into the courtyard.

Meanwhile, his mom had turned around, and now she walked straight toward him.

Wally scuttled back and around the corner of the keep and stood up again, heart pounding harder than ever. He’d been wondering what would be the best way to reveal himself, and had imagined any number of scenarios—but not one that had him rising from the heather like one of the angry ghosts that supposedly haunted the castle. His mom might have a heart attack!

He stared across the open space between the keep and the wall, wondering if he could arrange to be casually standing on it when she came around the corner, as though he just happened to be sightseeing in the very place she had chosen to shoot a film.

And that was when the idea that had seemed so great back on the porch in Saskatchewan turned bad.

Very bad.

Wally’s head jerked around as he heard a new voice echoing around the castle courtyard.

“Mom! Mom!”

Flish!