“There’s an ugly old man downstairs to talk to you,” Wendy said the next afternoon, in her most sarcastic tone. Laura figured that Wendy would never forgive her for going to the party without her. She didn’t care. Wendy was a pain. But then Wendy’s voice softened to something akin to wonder. “Padma’s with him. You did hear that she’s the newest member of the Council, didn’t you?”
Laura nodded. The witch who had been Head Councilor for the past fifty years had died a few days before Christmas. She hadn’t been too surprised when they’d chosen wise Padma to keep their numbers at thirteen.
Laura raced down the stairs to the living room. If Padma was here, something important had happened.
Padma and Yannis sat on the couch across from Heather and George. Padma stood and came around to embrace her. As usual, her hug calmed Laura’s fears and made her feel that everything was right with the world. Padma had more love to give than anyone Laura had ever met.
“Where’s my little boy?” Padma asked.
“He and my son are at a friend’s house, but I’m sure they’ll be back soon,” George said.
After some chit-chat about Laura and David’s progress, during which time Yannis scowled and fidgeted, Laura couldn’t stand the tension any longer. “Why are you here?” she asked. “I’m sure it isn’t just to check up on us.”
“We have news about your uncle,” Padma said.
“Is he here? In this time?” Laura asked.
“No,” Padma said.
Yannis explained that he’d gone looking for her uncle Thomas. “I went to the year you sent him hurdling through space. I traveled to London, thinking it would be dangerous to go directly to your valley. I shouldn’t have worried, but I didn’t know that he’d used up all of his magic. The London witches heard my story, and of course wanted to help. What Thomas did, killing another witch to cast a spell, is against all witch laws.”
“We prepared an expedition to hunt for him. Winter had come and gone before we were ready. As you know, traveling in the early eighteenth century isn’t easy like it is today. Strangers aren’t always welcome. We couldn’t plan to stop at hotels, or even buy food. We bought horses, food, blankets, weapons, and even a couple of carriages.
“Before we finished our preparations, two witches from the countryside asked to speak to the Council on an urgent matter. The Council refused. They don’t usually meet with minor witches. However, something tipped me off that they might know about Thomas, so I arranged for them to come to the rooms I was renting. They had a strange tale, of a dark witch who had suddenly appeared in their Lord and Lady’s dining room. The Lord thought he was a thief or an assassin and had him arrested.
“‘Where is he now?’ I asked them, knowing this must be Thomas.
“‘In jail. Up north of York,’ they said. ‘He doesn’t have any magic left, but his power will return eventually.’
“‘Let’s go,” I said, and took them to the Council. This time the Council agreed to hear their story. We forgot about traveling over land. If he didn’t have the power to trace us, we might as well use the web and save time.
“We found your uncle in chains. He probably hadn’t eaten much in the four months he’d been imprisoned. He was thin and exhausted. We did a few spells to outfit ourselves like the King’s men before we approached the Lord of the manor. He released Thomas to us. Your uncle was too weak to resist. As soon as we left your valley, we spirited him back to London for trial.”
Heather interrupted. “So he’s been incapacitated.”
Yannis looked grim. “He escaped. With help. He could never have done it on his own.”
“But before that,” Padma said, “he was convicted and sentenced. The punishment for murdering one of your own kind is harsh: to be turned into a rock and buried for the rest of time.”
“Unfortunately, a dark witch put on an invisibility cloak and watched the whole procedure. He dug up your uncle and undid the spell. I felt his magic travel through the web, so we knew what he’d done, but he hid Thomas until Thomas could recover and travel home. You uncle arrived back at the manor a few minutes after he’d left, five years older and a lot wiser.”
Laura narrowed her eyes at Yannis. “Is Uncle coming here soon?” she asked.
Padma spoke. “He doesn’t know where you are in time and space. Not yet. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t cause trouble. We’re doing what we can to block him and his allies.”
Laura felt her heart stop for a second. A million possibilities occurred to her in the space of a second. Her uncle could shake the time-space web in ways that could cause nuclear war to break out, or send a contingent of reptiles to kill David on his way home from school, or-
Padma broke into her thoughts: “Don’t go there, Laura. You have to stay calm.”
Padma explained that, because her uncle had been forward in time to 1919, he could come that far on his own, but no farther. But he also couldn’t cause any major shifts in time and space before that year because he might spell his own destruction. Plus, all Council members from then to the present know that he is to be imprisoned if he appears.
“Why can’t you catch him now?” Wendy, who had appeared silently by her mother’s side, asked.
“Too difficult. He’s the Lord of his manor. Witch burnings are rampant. He has only to point his finger at someone and the priest has them killed. We have to wait until he leaves home.”
The real problem wasn’t that he might cause a cataclysm, but that his powerful allies might be able to get the word out to find her and her brother. The Council thought it would take a few years, but Laura and her family should keep an eye out for suspicious characters. Matthew, with his keen senses, would be her guard.
“But Matthew is homesick,” Laura protested. “He needs to return to his family and the valley.”
“Neither of you can go. It’s too risky. Your uncle knows about the cave. He’s watching it. If you time-travel to the past, he’ll sense your arrival before you even step off the web. He’d kill Matthew and imprison you.”
“Damn,” Laura said, crossing her arms.
“Matthew’s stronger than you think. Did he ask you to take him home?”
“Well, then. He’ll be fine,” Padma said, cheerfully.
Laura doubted her words. But she had bigger worries now. Who were these allies of her uncle’s that they might be able to find her and David?