Last week we announced that The Witches of the Glass Castle by Gabriella Lepore is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of our student reviews and of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category:
Here’s the set-up:
Sixteen-year-old Mia’s life is turned upside down when she uncovers her family secret—that she and her brother Dino are witches.
Seeking refuge in an ancient castle, the siblings begin down a path that will change their lives forever. Suddenly thrust into a world where handsome warriors command the power of nature and peoples thoughts and actions can be manipulated at will, Mia and Dino struggle to navigate their own allegiances and do what they know to be right, even when everything around them seems beyond their control.
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And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
ADDO VIS VIRES
Mia gasped for unpolluted air, but the opaque purple smoke poured into her mouth and spilled down her throat, filling her lungs and suffocating her. As she scrambled up the rickety step ladder, flames licked at her legs like the venomous tongue of a serpent.
‘Dino!’ she cried, choking on the thick fumes. She clung to the wooden step ladder, her slate-grey eyes scanning her surroundings. But she could see nothing beyond the flames and smoke that engulfed the stone-walled basement.
Mia covered her mouth and nose with the sleeve of her knit cardigan. Her eyes smarted in the toxic air, but she forced them open.
‘Dino!’ she called out again, her voice hoarse.
And then her brother ruptured the flames, diving for the step ladder and pushing her up to the hatch door.
In a scuffle they burst into the hallway, coughing and sputtering. The hatch door slammed shut, enclosing the blazing basement. Mia staggered to her feet, but her legs buckled and gave way. As she fell forward her palms hit the wood floor with a smack.
Dino lay several feet away, clutching his head with both hands and writhing in pain.
Mia crawled to him, reaching out to him.
‘Get away from me!’ he spat. His coffee-brown eyes were fierce.
Mia shrank back, afraid of him for the first time in her life. Although he was only a year older than her, his barbed voice suddenly seemed to propel him to decades her senior. Even his face no longer seemed like the face of a seventeen-year-old boy, but more like that of a grown man.
Dino let out a tortured cry.
Dazed and frightened, Mia called out for help. She and Dino lived with their mother and their aunt, but neither of the two women had been home when the power had cut out. Mia and Dino had gone down into the basement to investigate and that was when the explosion had happened.
But to Mia’s surprise, she heard the sound of footsteps descending the staircase. For a second she wondered if she was imagining it, but then a familiar form appeared in the hallway.
‘Aunt Madeline!’ Mia cried in relief. ‘There’s a fire in the basement. Dino’s hurt!’
Madeline crouched over her nephew as he seethed in pain. He gripped his head, his chocolate-brown hair darkened from sweat.
Mia pushed her own hair back from her face, freeing strands that had been stuck to her tear-stained cheeks. The brunette shade was identical to her brother’s.
‘He’ll be OK,’ Madeline confirmed, calmly. She placed her hand on Dino’s brow, her fingers cluttered with colourful rings. After giving him a cursory glance, she rose to her feet.
‘Cassie!’ she called for her sister, though with no real urgency.
Mia, still huddled on the hallway floor, watched as her mother appeared on the scene. Standing beside each other, Cassandra and Madeline were like mirror images. Both were beautiful, with wild red hair and bright-blue eyes. Only from their dress sense was it apparent that Cassandra was a little more conservative than her free-spirited sister. At that moment, both women wore the same blasé expression on their faces.
Dino let out another tormented howl. ‘Get away from me! All of you!’
‘What’s happening to him?’ Mia cried. She reached out to him again, but he swiped her hand away.
‘He’s going to be fine,’ Cassandra said in her usual motherly tone. ‘Maddie, darling, perhaps you should take Dino upstairs while I talk to Mia,’ she suggested – although it was more of an order than a request.
Madeline nodded her head and hauled Dino to his feet, guiding him through the hallway. He stooped and stumbled into the wall with a thump.
‘Oops!’ Madeline chuckled light-heartedly. She aligned him back on course to the staircase.
With her aunt and brother gone, Mia returned her focus to her mother. ‘There’s a fire in the basement,’ she blurted out. The words seemed to jumble in her mouth as she spoke.
Mia paused. ‘No. It’s a…’ she stuttered, trying to explain herself, ‘…it’s a huge fire. There was an explosion. I lit a candle and it…it just blew up. The entire basement is on fire.’ She waited for the severity of the situation to sink in for her mother. But it didn’t happen.
‘Yes,’ Cassandra said smoothly. ‘I understand. Did you read it aloud? The writing on the wall, I mean.’
Mia’s head whirled. There had been writing etched into the stone wall: ADDO VIS VIRES. And she had read it aloud.
‘Did you, Mia?’ Cassandra pushed.
‘Yes,’ she admitted, confused as to whether or not she should be feeling accountable for something disastrous. After all, what repercussions could there possibly be for reading out some nonsense words?
‘Oh, good,’ Cassandra breathed. She helped her daughter upright and carefully steered her into the living room. ‘I had a feeling it might happen today.’
With her legs still trembling, Mia collapsed on to the beige couch.
‘Oh, no!’ Cassandra sucked in her breath. At last her reaction seemed appropriate. ‘Mia,’ she went on, ‘there’s a hole in your cardigan!’ She picked at the torn fibres on Mia’s shoulder.
Mia stared at her, aghast.
Mistaking her expression, Cassandra added, ‘Never mind. I’ll sew it for you. It’ll be as good as new.’ She tugged at the loose threads on the cherry-red cardigan.
Mia gawped at her now. She couldn’t understand why her mother was so concerned about the cardigan when there were clearly much greater issues at hand. For one thing, their house was on fire!
With a reluctant sigh, Cassandra took a seat on the couch. She stroked her daughter’s hair. ‘You are fine. Dino is fine. Everything is happening just as it should.’
‘But the basement?’ Mia whispered. Her usual peach complexion was now ashen.
‘Let me explain this to you as best I can. You were destined to go to the basement today. Actually,’ she corrected herself, ‘today, tomorrow, yesterday – I suppose it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that the writing was on the wall. And it was, wasn’t it? You saw the words?’
Mia nodded shakily.
‘You read the phrase out loud?’
‘What does it mean?’ Mia asked. She didn’t dare speak the words aloud again; all of a sudden they felt like a lot more than just words.
Cassandra took off her own cardigan and draped it over Mia’s shoulders. ‘Loosely translated, it means, “To give power. It’s Latin, I believe.’
‘What sort of power?’ Mia murmured. Her heart was pounding so wildly that she felt as though it might burst out of her chest at any moment.
‘The power which was already yours. Your birthright. Myself, Aunt Maddie, Dino, you, we’re all entitled to it. And now is your time to take it.’
All of a sudden Mia felt short of breath. ‘Take what?’
‘Power, my love,’ Cassandra said each word meticulously. ‘You’re sixteen now. You’re old enough to use it. I suppose you could think of today as a sort of rite of passage.’
Mia dropped her hands to her lap. She noticed that they were trembling. She was scared. Scared by the explosion, scared for her brother, and even scared of her own mother.
‘Mia,’ Cassandra said, smiling gently, ‘you’re a witch.’
The Glass Castle
The narrow streets of Silver Brook were eerily deserted. In fact, they were surprisingly quiet for such a bright summer’s day. Only one car chugged along the winding road – a rusty blue station wagon. It wasn’t an urbanised town, so the roads were never congested like they often were in the larger cities. Silver Brook was, for the most part, surrounded by mountains and forest, but the warm summer months tended to bring out the tourists. Not today, however; today was different.
With an impromptu swerve, the clapped-out station wagon veered off the main road and pulled on to a parched dirt track. Pebbles and clumps of dried mud crunched under the weight of the bulky tires. The car rattled along at a leisurely pace, closing in on an archway of trees, all of which seemed to bend towards each other, creating a tunnel.
Cassandra drove into the tunnel, and at once the glare of the afternoon sunlight vanished. ‘This brings back memories,’ she remarked to her sister, who sat in the front passenger seat picking at her chipped, orange nail polish.
‘Tell me about it,’ Madeline agreed. ‘It wasn’t all that long ago our mother was driving us here for the first time.’
‘Not that long ago?’ Cassandra echoed. ‘Try twenty years!’
‘For some of us, maybe!’ Madeline spluttered in outrage. ‘Stop insinuating I’m as old as you are.’
‘You’re only two years younger than me!’ Cassandra laughed.
Madeline frowned at her.
‘OK,’ Cassandra relented. ‘It’s been eighteen years for you.’
‘Eighteen years ago…’ Madeline processed the thought, gazing wistfully out at the tunnel of branches. ‘Am I really that old?’
‘Yes, dear,” Cassandra replied with a smile, ‘I’m afraid so. At least you can take solace in the fact I’m even older.’
Madeline considered it. ‘True.’
From the backseat, Mia listened to her mother and aunt’s conversation. Right now everything seemed like a mystery to her. She wasn’t even sure where she was going. All she knew was that she and Dino were being sent away for a while. Of course, her mother and Madeline hadn’t exactly used the words ‘sent away’, but that had been the gist of it.
Mia blinked against the bursts of sunlight that sporadically broke through the trees. She squinted, trying to glimpse beyond the tunnel, but the bright light between the gaps blinded her. She looked away quickly, almost as though she’d been burnt by it.
Sitting beside her, Dino showed no reaction. He stared straight ahead, his eyes locked to the back of his mother’s head, fixated on her mane of fiery red curls. Where Mia displayed curiosity, Dino’s stance was that of a condemned man. It was as though he already knew what was beyond the tunnel – or at least what it represented. And it symbolised the end. To him, the tunnel was a portal of rebirth into a life that he did not want. And consequently, the end of the life he had.
Mia wanted to speak to him, but she didn’t dare. His dark-brown eyes were cold and warded her off.
She sighed. Dino was no stranger to a sullen mood, but ever since the basement his bad temper had become a permanent fixture. It was like he was a different person. Unlike Mia, Dino was experiencing side effects from what happened that day. From what she could gather, he was still tortured by the pain in his head. It had lessened, but it had by no means gone. Of course, nobody knew the full extent of his suffering because he had barely spoken in days.
All of a sudden Madeline let out a piercing shriek, cutting through the tension in the back seat. ‘This is it!’
‘This is it!’ Cassandra repeated, matching her sister’s enthusiasm.
Mia sat up a little higher in her seat as the tunnel of trees opened out into a rolling meadow, dotted with buttercups and lush green grass. The sun beamed vibrantly, somehow more dazzling than it had been in town.
‘Cassie!’ Madeline gushed. ‘It’s exactly as I remember it.’
‘Exactly,’ Cassandra agreed. ‘It’s good to see that some things never change.’ She kept her concentration on the dusty road, but she glowed with a new energy.
Madeline twisted in her seat, leaning into the back of the car. ‘Do you see it? Do you see the castle?’ she asked her niece and nephew.
Mia peered out the car window. At the far end of the meadow was a magnificent stone castle. ‘Yes, I can see it,’ she said, looking back to her aunt.
Madeline and Cassandra both let out a whoop of delight.
‘What about you, Dino?’ Cassandra asked, her eyes still on the road.
Dino gave a heavy sigh. He glanced half-heartedly out the window. ‘Yeah,’ he muttered.
The two women cheered again.
‘I’ve been waiting a long time for this day,’ Cassandra rejoiced.
‘Me, too!’ Madeline sang. ‘You’re all grown up.’ She smiled fondly, but more at Mia than Dino. ‘And now our coven is finally complete!’
‘Maddie,’ Cassandra scolded her, ‘this isn’t about you. It’s about them.’
Madeline pouted. ‘It’s about us. All of us. And so what if I’m excited about finally getting our four?’ She elaborated for Mia and Dino’s benefit. ‘We need four to make a strong coven of witches. That’s where the big power is. But it’s only ever been the two of us, your mother and I. Well, since Anton and Phillip, anyway.’
‘My uncles?’ Mia furrowed her brow. She had never met her uncles, but she recognised their names from the rare occasions that her mother or aunt spoke of them.
‘Yes. We were a coven,’ Cassandra confirmed. ‘But that was a long time ago.’
‘What happened to them?’ Mia asked.
‘Those two useless fools!’ Madeline scoffed. Her red hair bobbed wildly as she turned her attention back and forth between Mia and Cassandra. ‘They are poor excuses for witches. Pitiful men…’
Cassandra cut her off abruptly, ‘Can we please not talk about them today? This is supposed to be a happy day.’
‘A happy day?’ Dino snapped. It was strange to hear his voice after such an extended silence. ‘How is this is happy day? Our lives are over and you’re sending us away to live with some old nutcase.’
Cassandra and Madeline swapped a quick glance.
‘We’re not sending you away,’ Cassandra assured him. ‘You’ve been blessed with a gift, and Wendolyn will help you to develop it. You’ll only be here during the summer. You’ll be back home in time for school.’
Dino grimaced. ‘Bonus.’
‘And she’s not a nutcase,’ Madeline said, glaring at him, less tolerant than his mother. ‘She’s opening up her home to you. You need to learn to show some respect.’
‘Maddie,’ Cassandra stepped in, ‘have a little patience. He’s going through a tough time.’
Madeline rolled her eyes.
‘And, Dino,’ Cassandra added, ‘we’re only a short drive away if you want to come home. But with your…new abilities,’ she chose her words carefully, ‘I think it’s important for you to be here. Wendolyn will guide you, and soon the pain will subside.’
‘Why aren’t I in any pain?’ Mia wondered out loud.
Dino narrowed his eyes resentfully.
‘Because your power is not the same as your brother’s,’ Cassandra explained.
‘Oh.’ She chewed on her thumbnail. ‘So, what is my power?’
Cassandra and Madeline laughed. They ignored her question and continued chatting among themselves.
Mia looked at Dino, and for the first time during the car journey, he looked back at her. She drew in her breath. He was her brother, but she almost didn’t recognise him – not as she had previously known him, anyway. His eyes were like bottomless pits and his stare was intrusive, as though he were stealing all of her thoughts before she had even had them.
Can you hear me? she asked silently, testing him.
He didn’t respond. He continued to stare at her, silently picking her apart.
Mia turned away from him, but his focus didn’t shift. Stop looking at me! she wailed inside her head. She lifted her hand and covered his eyes, breaking the stare. Dino pushed her hand away and returned his attention to the back of his mother’s head.
As they drove along the vague track snaking through the meadow, their view of the castle became clearer. It was exquisite. The building looked as though it had been standing for centuries – and it had. Yet for all the solidity of its old stone walls it seemed somehow insubstantial, as if masked by a veil of secrecy.
‘Wendolyn lives here?’ Mia murmured in awe.
‘Yep!’ Madeline nodded. ‘That’s why she takes in young witches. She’s got so much space, and you’re cut off from civilisation out here. I think you need that when you’re trying to control new power.’
‘Is she royalty or something?’ Mia asked.
‘No!’ Madeline laughed tunefully. ‘She’s an elder witch. They tend to set up camp in old buildings.’
‘Plus,’ Cassandra joined in, ‘this is a glass castle. It’s quite common for practising witches to enchant their homes. It creates an illusion around their land – it makes the place invisible to regular civilians. As translucent as glass.’
‘Early powers can be rather temperamental,’ Madeline mused. ‘So it’s good to have a place where you can grow, away from the prying eyes of the powerless.’
They reached the end of the road and rolled to a stop in the castle’s courtyard. Cassandra turned off the engine and unbuckled her seatbelt. With a deep breath, she swivelled around in her seat to face her children.
‘I’m very proud of you,’ she said, her blue eyes glassy with tears.
Madeline clumsily nudged her sister aside. ‘You’re going to have the best time!’
All of a sudden, Mia was choked by a sense of dread. Her mother and aunt’s words of encouragement had actually had the opposite effect on her. She didn’t want to get out of the car. She had never been away from home before – not for more than a few days, anyway. And with all of the changes thrust upon her, the last place she wanted to be was in a glass castle, hidden and cut off from the rest of the world. Alone.
‘Will you visit?’ she asked meekly.
‘Probably not,’ Cassandra replied. ‘Now is the time for you to stand on your own. My presence would only hinder you. I can’t help you with this, and neither can Aunt Maddie.’
The colour drained from Mia’s face. She gripped the back of her aunt’s chair.
‘Don’t worry,’ Madeline said brightly. ‘Dino will be here with you. He’ll take care of you. Won’t you, Dino?’
He stared straight ahead, obstinately disregarding their comments.
Madeline shrugged, unconcerned. ‘Don’t worry, babe,’ she said to Mia, ‘you’ll be fine.’ She stretched into the back seat and playfully pinched her niece’s cheeks.
‘OK. It’s time,’ Cassandra announced. She opened the car door and stepped out gracefully. Madeline followed her lead.
Only Mia and Dino remained in the car, one afraid and the other stubborn.
Outside in the courtyard, Madeline skipped up to the castle, her long, rainbow skirt billowing and her eyes childlike. Cassandra busied herself with unloading the bags from the car.
Mia looked at Dino. ‘Come on,’ she said quietly. ‘We should get out.’
‘Why?’ he challenged.
‘Because it’s already started.’
The response was enough for both of them. Without another word they accepted their fate and left the security of the car. The simple act was the first step on a path that would undoubtedly change their lives forever. Neither was prepared, but destiny had picked them and it was out of their hands.
Madeline banged her fist against the arched mahogany door. Her wrist jangled with its freight of chunky, multicoloured bracelets. ‘Wennie!’ she yelled.
‘Don’t shout like that,’ Cassandra scolded her. ‘It’s rude.’
‘Wennie!’ Madeline screamed again, more stridently than ever.
The second call seemed to work, because at last the castle door heaved open and an older lady stepped out into the courtyard. She wore a full-length purple dress over her rounded frame, and her long, white hair was twisted into a braid that tumbled over her left shoulder.
‘Girls!’ the lady greeted her guests with a cheery smile. ‘Good heavens, you look well!’
Madeline virtually jumped into the older lady’s arms. ‘I know! I look fantastic, don’t I? Would you believe I’m thirty-four? I don’t look a day over twenty-four,’ she boasted shamelessly.
Dino snorted. ‘You wish,’ he muttered under his breath.
Madeline shot him a frosty glower.
Cassandra cleared her throat loudly. ‘Wendolyn, it’s so wonderful to see you. It’s been far too long.’
The lady took Cassandra’s hand and rubbed it affectionately.
Cassandra beckoned to Mia and Dino. ‘This is Wendolyn,’ she introduced. ‘She has generously invited you into her home for the summer. Wendolyn, these are my two children, Dino and Mia Bicks.’
‘Notice,’ Madeline interrupted, ‘Bicks. They have our family name, not their father’s.’
Mia smiled nervously while Dino stared steadily at the older woman.
‘Dino,’ Madeline chuckled flippantly, ‘stop staring at everyone! It’s weird.’ She frowned. ‘Not to mention creepy.’
Dino looked down to the ground. His cheeks coloured slightly.
‘Oh, leave the boy be!’ Wendolyn jumped to Dino’s defence. ‘He’s just not used to his power yet. You know how difficult it is at first.’
Mia watched the scene unfold. She couldn’t help but wonder what exactly her brother’s power was. Or what her own power was, for that matter.
‘You’ll soon find out,’ Wendolyn said in a knowing voice. She winked at Mia.
Mia froze. She can hear my thoughts.
‘Only when I want to,’ Wendolyn replied in good-humour. The aged skin on her face framed remarkably youthful eyes that swirled with a mixture of blue and hazel.
Madeline clapped her hands in glee, delighted by the whole exchange. ‘Wendolyn is a Reader,’ she explained. ‘She has the ability to read thoughts. You can’t get anything past her! Believe me!’
Cassandra grinned. ‘And Lord knows you tried.’
The three women smiled as though they were sharing a private joke.
‘Now it’s time for the new generation to take their turn,’ Wendolyn said warmly.
Mia suddenly felt as if Wendolyn were commanding her, summoning her and her brother towards her.
Mia took an involuntary step forward, but Dino didn’t budge.
‘Come here, boy,’ Wendolyn called to him. Her words, although blunt, sounded safe and compassionate.
But Dino didn’t move.
Madeline rolled her eyes. ‘Cassie, tell him,’ she said in a tight voice.
‘I have no control over him,’ Cassandra answered. The statement was probably truer than any parent would wish to admit.
‘He’s your son!’ Madeline pointed out, her voice hushed discreetly.
Wendolyn held up her hand to silence them, and like naughty schoolchildren they shrank back.
‘You’re going to be very powerful, Dino,’ Wendolyn said in a voice that seemed to reverberate around the peaceful meadow. ‘You’re blocking me. You know that, don’t you?’
Dino didn’t reply, but he wore a sudden air of complacency.
‘I can’t read your thoughts,’ Wendolyn went on. ‘You’re blocking me.’
‘What?’ Madeline gawped. ‘How has he done that? He’s only had his powers for a few days!’ There was a distinct note a jealously in her tone.
Dino threw her a lazy smirk.
‘Come along, boy,’ said Wendolyn. ‘It’s time to go inside. You understand me, don’t you?’
This time Dino reluctantly submitted. His look of arrogance was replaced with a grimace.
In a daze, Mia lifted her rucksack from the courtyard floor and slung it over her shoulder. She watched as Dino did the same. When she caught his eye, he glared at her as though all of this was her fault.
Deep down, Mia knew that Dino blamed her. After all, she had been the one to light the candle and read out the words on the basement wall. This was all her fault.
Above them a jackdaw crowed raucously. Mia looked up and saw its ebony wings shimmering blue as it soared overhead. As if by magic, a feather fell from the bird, tumbling through the sky like a piece of black silk. It slowly floated to the ground, landing at Mia’s feet. She picked it up and studied it, admiring its sleekness.
‘A jackdaw feather,’ Cassandra noted. ‘They say that’s lucky.’
Mia clung to the feather, taking a strange sense of comfort from it as she waved goodbye to her mother and aunt.
Wendolyn led the way down a long, dimly lit corridor. The carpet below was a dull red and the hardwood walls were patterned with intricate carvings, telling a story that Mia knew she could not yet read. At the far end of the corridor Wendolyn pushed open a heavy door.
‘Come in,’ she authorised her two guests. ‘Take a seat.’
Mia and Dino followed her into the room. It was a small library, the walls lined with hundreds of dusty leather-bound books. There was no window in the room, so Wendolyn set to work lighting a myriad of long black candles which projected from the walls in ornate brass candlesticks.
Mia took a seat in a green velvet armchair. In the quiet of the room she heard the wooden structure creak as it took her weight. Dino sat down in a similar chair beside her, and Wendolyn strategically took a seat opposite them. Between them was a low-set apothecary table on which was already arranged a tea tray with a white china teapot and matching teacups.
‘Welcome to my home,’ said Wendolyn, humbly. ‘It’s a pleasure to finally meet you as young adults. I remember you only as babies in your mother’s arms.’
Dino’s expression remained stony. ‘That was a lifetime ago, then.’
‘It was,’ Wendolyn replied, unaffected by his acid tone.
‘Thank you for having us,’ Mia added, trying to balance out her brother’s insolence.
She felt Dino’s eyes on her again. To avoid his stare, she looked around the room, absorbing every detail of the extraordinary decor. Her gaze landed on a striking oil painting set inside an elaborate gold frame. It was a double portrait of a finely dressed man and woman, gazing out from their painted world.
‘Who are they?’ Mia asked.
Wendolyn glanced at the portrait. ‘The man is William Wix. He was once lord of this castle. The woman at his side is his wife – me!’
‘It’s beautiful,’ Mia complimented.
‘Yes,’ Wendolyn agreed. ‘It’s one of my favourites. William, my husband, was the founder of the Glass Castle. He envisioned a place where young witches could be nurtured, rather than discriminated against and spurned.’
The idea made Mia uncomfortable. ‘So, he wanted a safe place for witches to…hide?’
‘Not hide,’ Wendolyn corrected. ‘More like a place for adolescents to develop their powers freely and without prejudice. Without guidance it’s not uncommon for new witches to turn to the dark arts. You see, powers are simply an expression of emotion. When your emotions are wild, so are your powers. William understood that.’
‘Is he here?’ Mia asked. Dino touched her arm, urging her to stop. He had obviously picked up on something that she had not.
‘No,’ Wendolyn replied quietly. ‘William passed away some time ago.’
Mia cringed. ‘I’m sorry.’
Wendolyn smiled, but there was sadness in her eyes. ‘It was a long time ago,’ she said. ‘Almost eighty years ago, in fact.’
‘Eighty years?’ Mia frowned. Surely she had misheard. ‘Eighty?’ she repeated.
Wendolyn nodded her head. ‘Almost.’
Mia chewed over the notion. If Wendolyn’s husband had passed away that long ago, she wondered, how old did that make Wendolyn? In the painting they were easily in their thirties, so that meant that Wendolyn must be…
She scrunched up her nose; maths had never been her strong point.
Wendolyn carried on. ‘This castle is William’s legacy, and I intend to maintain it for many years to come.’
‘Do you take in lots of people?’ Mia asked. She guessed that it would be naive of her to assume that she and Dino were the only ones.
‘Some years more than others. At the moment we have around fifteen Arcana and four Hunters. Would you care for some tea?’ Wendolyn didn’t wait for a response. She lifted the white teapot and poured the contents into the three waiting cups.
Mia sat up a little straighter in her chair. ‘What’s an Arcana?’ She paused. ‘And a Hunter?’
Wendolyn raised the teacups individually and circled each one three times in a clockwise direction. ‘An Arcana is what you are. In other words, a pacifist witch who lives as a civilian.’ She handed Mia a teacup. ‘Your powers are connected to nature and are used placidly. A Hunter, however, is a witch bred as a warrior. They too source their power from nature, but it is of, let’s say, a darker strain. They need these extra powers to aid them in combat.’
‘Yes. Usually other Hunters or malevolent witches.’
Mia bit her lip. ‘Are Hunters…human?’
‘Of course! All witches are born human. The only difference is Hunters are raised purely as weapons.’
Mia flinched. ‘Will they attack us?’
Wendolyn’s kind eyes were unreadable. ‘You would be wise to be wary of them,’ she admitted. ‘But they shouldn’t be of any concern to you. In truth, you’ll rarely see them. The Hunters reside in a different wing from the Arcana, so your paths will seldom cross. Occasionally I will need to call you all together, but even then they keep their distance.’
A wave of fear coursed through Mia. She shuddered. Feeling tense, she took a sip of her tea. It didn’t taste like the sort of tea she was used to.
‘What is this?’ she asked, wrinkling her nose.
‘Tea,’ Wendolyn told her.
‘From a teabag?’ Mia stared down at the pale orange liquid stewing in her cup. Quizzically, she fished out one of the small tea leaves that floated on the surface. The little brown dot clung to her finger while she examined it.
‘It’s witches’ brew,’ Wendolyn explained. ‘Tea extracted from plants. Let’s see, it’s made up of fennel, rowan berries, mugwort, elderflower…’ she listed a long catalogue of plants, counting them off on her fingers. ‘It’s known to enhance psychic powers and bestow protection on those performing magical works.’
‘No, thanks,’ Dino said, slamming the delicate teacup down on the apothecary table.
Wendolyn smiled at him strangely.
Mia took another sip. On her second try it wasn’t so bad. Different, but not awful. She picked a tiny rogue leaf from her tongue and surreptitiously wiped it off on Dino’s T-shirt.
He glared at her.
‘Try some,’ she said, offering her cup to him. ‘It’s not so bad.’
‘No. I’m not looking for psychic powers.’
‘Well, I am,’ Mia retorted.
Wendolyn laughed in a jolly fashion. ‘Oh, you don’t need tea to give you power, my dear. I can see power exuding from you even as we speak.’
Mia tightened her grip around the teacup. ‘Really?’
Wendolyn studied her for a long moment. ‘You are a daughter of nature.’
‘And that means…?’ Mia prompted.
Wendolyn pursed her lips. ‘It’ll come to you when you’re ready,’ she said cryptically.
I’m ready now, Mia thought irritably. ‘Am I psychic?’ she asked out loud.
‘No. Be patient. You’ll use your powers when the time is right. And as for you,’ she turned her focus to Dino, ‘you will learn to shut them off. After all, that’s why you’re both here – to learn.’
Mia took her final sip of tea, hoping to gain something from it. She doubted that she had any powers at all. She certainly didn’t feel any different.
‘Are you finished?’ Wendolyn asked, gesturing towards the teacup.
‘Yes. Thank you.’ Mia handed her the empty cup. To her surprise, Wendolyn looked intently down into it, examining the gathering of leaves at the bottom.
‘Hmm…’ Wendolyn muttered to herself.
‘What does it say?’ Mia asked anxiously.
Dino shook his head with a dry laugh. ‘It doesn’t say anything. It’s just a pile of leaves!’
‘What does it say?’ Mia repeated, ignoring her brother’s obnoxious outburst.
Wendolyn placed the cup down on to the table. ‘I’ll tell you when you’re more able to deal with it.’
Mia’s voice went up an octave. ‘What does that mean?’
‘Nothing to worry about,’ Wendolyn assured her. ‘But if I told you now, I don’t think that you’d understand.’
Mia looked fearfully at Dino, hoping for some form of comfort.
‘OK,’ he said evenly. ‘Read my fortune.’ It was a challenge more than a request. He lifted his untouched tea and knocked it back it in one swig, then thrust the empty cup into Wendolyn’s hand.
Without batting an eyelid, she peered down into the depths of the cup.
Mia held her breath while they waited. The room was silent other than the quiet crackle of a burning candle and the slight rasp of Dino’s breathing.
‘You’ve got an interesting path ahead of you, Dino,’ Wendolyn said at last. ‘And you’re going to have to make some difficult choices.’
‘What kind of choices?’ Dino demanded.
‘It’s not my right to say.’
‘But it’s your right to keep me here?’
Wendolyn stood up slowly. ‘You’re free to leave whenever you please.’ She eyed the door meaningfully.
Dino let out a sharp breath – the sound of a man defeated.
‘Well, then,’ Wendolyn said brightly, her breezy voice deflecting the tension. ‘Shall I show you to your bedchamber?’
‘Bedchamber?’ said Dino. ‘Don’t you mean bedchambers?’
‘No. There is only one.’
Dino slapped his hand to his head. ‘Please don’t tell me we’re sharing.’
‘Yes, you’ll be sharing,’ Wendolyn confirmed.
That didn’t sound so terrible to Mia. With everything that was going on at the moment, the last thing she wanted was to feel even more isolated and alone. At least now she’d have the company of a familiar face. However grouchy that face was.
‘Please,’ Dino said, his surly tone dissolving into desperation. ‘Please, I’m begging you. I can’t share a room with her.’
Mia’s jaw dropped. ‘Hey! I’m not that bad!’
Dino spoke only to Wendolyn. ‘I’m begging you,’ he said, his hands clasped together. ‘You don’t understand.’
She began to blow out the candles. ‘I do understand,’ she said. ‘I’m afraid there is nothing I can do.’
‘What do you mean?’ Dino exclaimed. ‘This is your place! Surely there’s somewhere else you can put me?’
Wendolyn opened the library door and ushered them back out into the long, narrow corridor. ‘I’m afraid not,’ she said.
Fuming, Dino ran his hands through his hair.
Mia watched the display with a mixture of anger and sorrow. Why was the idea of sharing a room so horrific to him? OK, so it wasn’t ideal, but they’d shared rooms in the past. As she trailed her hands along the indented carvings on the wall, she realised that his blame and resentment towards her had evolved into pure hatred.
They walked on through the dark corridor until they reached a wide staircase furnished with the same dull-red carpet and a grand, mahogany banister. As Mia took the first step, a small brown sparrow fluttered past her. She gasped.
‘Everything OK?’ Wendolyn enquired, pausing her ascent on the staircase.
Mia looked around her for the bird, but it had vanished from sight. ‘There was a sparrow,’ she explained, mystified.
‘Ah,’ Wendolyn smiled. ‘That’ll be the tea showing you a little glimpse into the future. Keep an eye out for sparrows; they must have some significance.’ She continued walking.
At the top of the staircase, Wendolyn brought them to a tall oak door. ‘This will be your bedchamber,’ she told them. ‘You’re free to explore the grounds, but be cautious. Do not venture too near to the forest – it’s Hunter territory.’
Dino looked at Mia, his dark eyes almost venomous. At that moment she noticed just how dark they were, especially in comparison to the pale grey of her own eyes. Looking at him now, she supposed they probably didn’t look much like brother and sister at all. Well, aside from their chocolate brown hair, and perhaps their smiles – although Mia hadn’t seen Dino smile in a while, so it was difficult to judge. She turned away from him. She didn’t want to look at him anymore. The emptiness in his eyes was alien. She could barely recognise him. In fact, something in the pit of her stomach told her that he was no longer her brother.