A Wizard Abroad, New Millennium Edition (4 page)

She was starting feeling more that way herself every moment.
Let’s get this show on the road,
she thought, and glanced down at the seeming book in her hand. It was just a small beat-up volume in a buckram library binding, with the apparent title, SO YOU WANT TO BE A WIZARD?, the supposed author’s name, Hearn, and the Dewey Decimal number all written on the spine in white ink.

Nita shook her head and smiled at the book, a little conspiratorially, for it was a lot more than that. Was it only two years, no, two and a half now, that she had found it in the local library? Or it had found her; she still wasn’t too sure, remembering the way something had seemed to grab her hand as she ran it along the shelf where the book had been sitting. Whether it was alive was a subject on which the manual itself threw no light. Certainly it changed, adding new spells and other information as needed, updating news of what other wizards in the world were doing: missions attempted, spells developed. Using the manual, Nita had found Kit in the middle of a wizardry of his own, and helped him with it, the two of them passing through their wizardly Ordeal together and starting their partnership. They’d gotten into deep trouble together, several times: but together, they’d always gotten out again.

Nita sighed and started paging through the manual, very much missing the “together” part of the arrangement. She’d been resisting doing the Ireland research that Kit had mentioned until this point, hoping against hope that there would be a stay of execution.
But that, as I told him, wasn’t going to happen.
So now she sat there, and looked down at the manual. It had fallen open (
surprise, surprise
, Nita thought) at the Wizard’s Oath.

In Life’s name, and for Life’s sake, I assert that I will employ the Art which is Its gift in Life’s service alone, rejecting all other usages. I will guard growth and ease pain. I will fight to preserve what grows and lives well in its own way; nor will I change any creature unless its growth and life, or that of the system of which it is part, are threatened, or threaten another. To these ends, in the practice of my Art, I will ever put aside fear for courage, and death for life, when it is right to do so—looking always toward the Heart of Time, where all our sundered times are one, and all our myriad worlds lie whole, in the One from Whom they proceeded…

She paged on deeper into the manual and started reading. All around Nita, seats filled (not in her row, to her delight) and bags were shoved up into overhead compartments. Up in the front, doors closed and people made announcements, and a safety film displayed on the seatback screens: and Nita kept on reading. Presently the whole plane wobbled as the little tug in front of it pushed it away from the gate. Nita peered out the window, watching the terminal swivel away behind her, hearing the engines rev up and the plane go over to interior power. The air conditioning seemed to get stronger, and Nita felt around beside her for the sweater her Mom had insisted she bring.

Stay warm, Kit s
aid in her head.

I will. And let me know about the trees.

Later. Gonna be a long session, I think. But they’re ready to get serious now.

Finally.

Someone may have repeated part of a conversation to them,
Kit said.
The uprooting part. Still, this’ll take a while.

Nita snickered and once more pretended to be doing so because of something she was reading.
So call me later.

Yeah. What time?

This thing won’t be down until early tomorrow morning Irish time.

If I’m reading it right through you,
Kit said,
it doesn’t particularly want to come down at all.

Nita laughed again.
Yeah. So maybe around ten Dublin time?

You got it. Have a good flight!

For what it’s worth, 
Nita said.

The plane began to trundle purposefully out toward the runway. The wait for a takeoff slot wasn’t long: air traffic control gave them clearance right away, and Nita, eavesdropping along the plane’s nerves, heard the pilot acknowledging it. A minute later the plane screamed delight, flung itself down the active runway at ever-increasing speed, and and leaped into the air over Jamaica Bay, climbing hard. Nita had to smile a little in spite of everything, wondering how much the pilots really thought they had to do with the process of flight. The plane had its own ideas.

New York slid away behind them in the sunset light, replaced by a swift twilight falling over the open sea.

***

Seven hours later, they landed in Dublin.

Nita had thought she would be completely unable to sleep, but when they turned out most of the lights in the plane after the meal service, she leaned her head against the window to see if she could relax enough to watch the movie a little.

Later she had faint memories of things going on in the cabin, around her, but the next thing she really registered was the sun was coming in the window; and there was land below. Nita looked down into the early morning—a little after six AM local time—and saw the ragged black coastline and the curling water, white where it smashed into the rocks, the Atlantic throwing itself in fury against this first eastern barrier to its will. And then green—everywhere green, divided by little lines of hedge; a hundred shades of green, emerald, viridian, khaki, the pale green that has no right to be anywhere outside of spring—hedgerows winding between, white dots of sheep, tiny cars crawling along little toy roads: but always the green. The plane turned and she saw the beginning sprawl of houses, and Shannon underneath them—a little city, barely the size of her own.

The 737 passed over Shannon and kept streaking across central Ireland, already talking to the air traffic control systems in Dublin and feeling in advance how the morning tarmac would rumble under its wheels. The flight attendants came around with tea and croissants and scones, and Nita had hers and gazed out the window at the landscape under the morning light, all dappled with more of the many-shaded fields and streaked with bright rivers winding amongst the hills, these blazing like fire when the sun caught them. Her ears had started started popping an hour or so ago as the plane began its descent. Now Nita was swallowing almost every minute or so to clear them as she found herself and the plane sinking gently toward a great green range of mountains, and three mountains notable even among the others.

Nita’s mother had told her about these three, and had shown her pictures. One of them wasn’t a mountain, but a promontory: Bray Head, sticking out into the sea like a fist laid on a table with the knuckles sticking up. Then, a mile further inland, and westward, Little Sugarloaf, a hill half again as high as Bray Head. And then westward another mile, and higher than both the others, Great Sugarloaf, Slieve O Cualann as the Irish had it: 
the
 mountain of Wicklow, its name said. It was certainly one of the most noticeable—a grey stony cone, pointed, its slopes green with heather—no tree grew there. She didn’t have much more time to spend looking at the mountains, though: the flight attendants were coming around to collect the breakfast refuse, and by the time Nita was getting herself tidied up and belted in again, the plane had passed over the eastern coastline and was heading out to sea before swinging around and back inland for its final approach for Dublin Airport.

As Nita looked seaward, wondering if it was possible to see England or Wales from here, the Sun caught her full in the eyes. Nita shivered, a feeling that had nothing to do with the warmth of the sudden light. That was warm enough, but the feeling was cold. Something about to happen, something about the lances of light, the fire—

Nita shook her head: the feeling was gone. 
I may have slept, but not real well, 
she thought.
I’m probably pretty susceptible to weird ideas at this point. 
But when wizards have weird ideas, they do well to pay attention to them. She forced herself to relive the feeling: to think again of the cold, and the fire, the sun like a spear—

Nothing came of it. She shrugged, and watched the water beneath them as the plane started its wide swing back toward the land.

It took them about fifteen minutes to come about and head back inland, over beaches and then more fields and finally a landscape that started looking very industrial, full of huge oil tanks and factories: and then came the airport’s huge parking lots, and finally the runway, where the 737 put its wheels down with a roar of reverse thrust and a sigh as another journey ended (for the plane) too soon. After that came another ten minutes of taxiing to one of several long glassy terminal buildings with the word DUBLIN perched on its roof. A few moments later the jetway was being trundled up, and some people in high-vis vests got on. One of them was another of the airline’s flight attendants with a clipboard, a lady with blonde hair done up in a tight bun, and she came down to Nita’s seat. “Nita Callahan—? Good morning, pet, how was your flight? Come on, we’ll get you out through passport control and get you sorted, your party’s waiting for you…”

The two of them headed down the jetway and into a long corridor with a lot of gates off each side, sealed away behind glass: outbound passengers were wandering about on the far side. Nita was grateful for the long walk, which stretched all the muscles that had had time to get stiff on the plane: and also (to some extent) for the cheerful conversation of this unaccompanied-minor lady, who did all the talking her New York-based colleague might have, and as much again for herself, in a lovely soft accent that Nita wouldn’t have really thought of as Irish until now. Nita practically knew Deirdre’s life history by the time they got down to passport control, a series of tall desks with the blue-and-white shield of the national police force over them, and red LED’d signs that said EU PASSPORTS ONLY and ALL PASSPORTS.

In company with Deirdre, Nita went up to the first empty ALL PASSPORTS desk and laid her passport on it. She smiled a little wearily at the big kindly-looking man behind it, who had a large nose and little cheerful eyes. He looked down at Nita as he glanced at her passport photo and the paperwork Deirdre handed him, then stuck Nita’s passport into an electronic reader in his cubicle. “So here’s a wee dote of a thing to be traveling all alone. Not much more of that ahead of you now! How are you this morning?”

“Okay, I guess,”  Nita said.  “I didn’t sleep that well on the plane.”

“Sure I never do myself,” the man said, pulling the passport out of the reader. “Keep hearing things all the time. Coming to see relatives for a while, are you? Isn’t that grand. So, a nice clean passport then. Where do you want the stamp, love? First page? Or save that for something more interesting?”

Nita thought of the first time she had cleared “passport” formalities at the Crossings, and illogically warmed to the man, who reminded her strongly of the being who’d first welcomed her there (though that one had had a lot more eyes… to say nothing of the tentacles and the feathers). “Let that be the first one, please,” she said.

The immigration officer stamped the passport with relish, and handed the passport back. “You’re very welcome in Ireland, pet. 
Khayd mil’fallcha.”

At least that was what it sounded like, though Nita those words spelled out about twenty times between here and the jetway, on ads and posters and airport art:
céad mile fáilte,
“a hundred thousand welcomes.” “Thank you,” she said, and along with Deirdre walked out toward baggage claim.

It was a complicated route, up escalators and down again, and Nita found herself being glad of having someone to walk her through it just this once. But finally they got into the huge room full of long carousel piers, found the one for Nita’s flight, picked up her bag, and rolled it out through the right customs channel, past a bored uniformed guy at a desk and through more frosted glass doors—

“Nita!”

And there, waiting out beyond the railing that kept people meeting incoming passengers from gathering right around the doors, was her aunt Annie: a tall silver-haired lady, big about the shoulders and a little broad in the beam, with a friendly face with pale grey-blue eyes, her hair tied back in a short ponytail behind. Nita grinned. After spending your life with people you know, and then having to spend a whole day with people you didn’t know, the sight of her was a pleasure. Nita’s aunt hurried over to her and gave her a big hug, then showed Deirdre her driver’s license, signed the clipboard Deirdre held out for her. “Thanks so much for taking care of her!” she said as Deirdre said goodbye to Nita and headed off. “Now how was your flight, lovey? Did you do okay?”

“I did fine, Aunt Annie. But I’m real tired...  I wouldn’t mind going home.”

“That’s the plan, sweetheart. You come right out here, the car’s in the parking structure right outside.” She pushed the cart out through the arrivals area and onto a crosswalk that led into a big white-painted parking structure.

The morning was holding fresh and fine. Little white clouds were flying past in a blue sky; Nita put her arms around herself and hugged herself in surprise at the cold. “Mom told me it might be chilly, and I didn’t believe her. It’s July!”

They paused outside for a moment at a machine by the doors, where Aunt Annie paid for her parking. “This is one of the cooler days we’ve been having lately,” she said, leading Nita through the doors and around to the elevators. “Don’t worry, though; the weatherpeople say it’s going to get warm again tomorrow. Up in the 70’s…”

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