The White Wand
I’m awakened by a sharp rapping at my window. I jerk up from my bed, look toward the window and am startled by the sight of an enormous white bird sitting on a branch outside, staring intently at me.
One of the birds I saw flying in from the mountains.
Its wings are so white against the blue light of predawn, they seem otherworldly.
I creep out of bed to see how close I can get to the bird before spooking it, but don’t get far. As soon as I lose contact with the bed, the bird silently spreads its massive wings and flies out of sight. I rush to the window, fascinated.
There, I can still see it, staring fixedly at me, as if beckoning me to follow.
It’s across the field, near the long fence that separates our property from the Gaffneys’ estate.
I haphazardly dress and run outside, instantly consumed by the strange blue light that covers everything, transforming the familiar landscape into something ethereal.
The bird is still staring at me.
I walk toward it, the odd-colored scene making me feel like I’m in a dream.
I get quite close to the creature when it flies away again, past the garden, where the fence to my left disappears briefly into some dense bushes and trees.
I follow, feeling a thrill course through me, like I’m a child playing hide-and-seek. I round the corner to a small clearing, then jump with fright and almost bolt in the opposite direction when I see what’s there.
The white bird, along with two others, sits on a long tree branch. Directly below stands a spectral figure in a black cloak, its face hidden in the shadow of an overhanging hood.
“Elloren.” The voice is familiar, halting me before I start to run.
Realization of who this is crashes through me.
“Sage?” I’m amazed and confused at the same time, my heart racing from the jolt of fear.
She stands, just beyond the fence. Sage Gaffney, our neighbor’s eldest daughter.
Warily, I make my way toward her still figure, aware of the watchful birds above. As I get closer, I begin to make out her face in the blue light, her gaunt, terrified expression startling me. She was always a pleasant, healthy-looking girl, a University scholar and daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Gardneria. Her zealously religious family fasted her at thirteen to Tobias Vassilis, the son of a well-thought-of Gardnerian family. Sage had everything any Gardnerian girl could ever dream of.
But then she disappeared soon after starting University. Her family searched for her for over a year to no avail.
And yet here she is, as if risen from the dead.
“Wh-where have you been?” I stammer. “Your parents have been looking everywhere for you…”
“Keep your voice down, Elloren,” she commands, her eyes fearful and darting around restlessly. She seems poised and prepared for escape, a large travel sack hanging from her back. Something is moving beneath her cloak, something she’s carrying.
“What’s under your cloak?” I ask, bewildered.
“My son,” she says with a defiant lift of her chin.
“You and Tobias have a son?”
“No,” she corrects me, harshly, “he is not Tobias’s.” She says Tobias’s name with such pure loathing, I wince. And she keeps the child hidden.
“Do you need help, Sage?” I keep my voice low, not wanting to spook her any more than she already is.
“I need to give you something,” she whispers, then reaches with a shaking hand for something hidden under her cloak. She pulls out a long, white wand that rises up from an exquisitely carved handle, its tip so white it reminds me of the birds’ wings. But my eyes are quickly drawn away from the wand to her hand.
It’s covered with deep, bloody lash marks that continue up her wrist and disappear beneath the sleeve of her cloak.
I gasp in horror. “Holy Ancient One, what happened?”
Her eyes are briefly filled with despair before they harden again, a bitter smile forming on her mouth. “I did not honor my wandfasting,” she whispers acidly.
I’ve heard tales of the harsh consequences of fast-breaking, but to see it…
“Elloren,” she pleads, the look of terror returning. She pushes the wand out at me as if trying to will me to take it. “Please. There’s not a lot of time! I’m supposed to give it to you. It wants to go to you.”
“What do you mean, it wants to go to me?” I ask, confused. “Sage, where did you get this?”
“Just take it!” she insists. “It’s incredibly powerful. And you can’t let them get it!”
I force out a disbelieving breath. “Sage, we’re Gardnerians.”
“Please,” she begs. “Please take it.”
“Oh, Sage,” I say, shaking my head. “There’s no reason for me to have a wand. I’ve no magic…”
“It doesn’t matter! They want you to have it!” She gestures with the wand toward the tree above.
“They’re not just birds! They’re Watchers. They appear during times of great darkness.”
None of this makes any sense. “Sage, come inside with me.” I try to sound as soothing as I can. “We’ll talk to my uncle…”
“No!” she snarls, recoiling. “I told you, it only wants you!” Her expression turns desperate. “It’s the White Wand, Elloren.”
Pity flashes through me. “Oh, Sage, that’s a children’s story.”
It’s a religious myth, told to every Gardnerian child. Good versus Evil—the White Wand pitted against the Dark Wand. The White Wand, a pure force for good, coming to the aid of the oppressed and used in ancient, primordial battles against demonic forces. Against the power of the Dark Wand.
“It’s not just a story,” Sage counters, teeth gritted, her eyes gone wild. “You have to believe me. This is the White Wand.” She lifts the wand again and thrusts it toward me.
She’s mad, completely mad. But she’s so agitated, and I want to calm her fears. Relenting, I reach out and take the wand.
The pale wood of the handle is smooth and cool to the touch, strangely devoid of any sense of its source tree. I slide it under my cloak and into a pocket.
Sage looks instantly relieved, like a heavy burden has been lifted.
Movement in the distance catches my eye, just inside where the wilds begin. Two dark figures on horseback are there and gone again so quickly, I wonder if it’s a trick of the light. There are so many strange, dark shadows this time in the morning. I glance up and look for the white birds, and I have to blink twice to make sure I’m not seeing things.
They’re gone. With no sound made in leaving. I spin around on my heels, searching for them. They’re nowhere in sight.
“They’re gone, Elloren,” Sage says, her eyes once again apprehensively scanning around as if sensing some impending doom. She grasps my arm hard, her nails biting into my skin.
“Keep it secret, Elloren! Promise me!”
“Okay,” I agree, wanting to reassure her. “I promise.”
Sage lets out a deep sigh and releases me. “Thank you.” She looks in the direction of my cottage. “I have to go.”
“Wait,” I beg of her. “Don’t go. Whatever’s going on… I want to help you.”
She regards me mournfully as if I’m dauntingly naive. “They want my baby, Elloren,” she says, her voice cracking, a tear spilling down her cheek.
Her baby? “Who wants your baby?”
Sage wipes her eyes with the back of her shaking, disfigured hand and casts a sidelong glance at my cottage. “They do!” She looks over her shoulder and gives her own home a pained look. “I wish… I wish I could explain to my family what’s really going on. To make them see. But they believe.” Her frown deepens, and she sets her gaze hard on me. “The Council’s coming for him, Elloren. They think he’s Evil. That’s why your aunt’s here.”
“No, Sage,” I insist. “She’s here to talk to me about wandfasting.”
She shakes her head vehemently. “No. They’re coming for my baby. And I have to leave before they get here.” She looks away for a moment as if desperately trying to compose herself. She hides her hand back under her cloak and cradles the small bundle inside. I wonder why she won’t let me see him.
I reach out to touch her arm. “You’re imagining all this, Sage. There’s no way anyone would want to hurt your baby.”
She glares at me with angry frustration, then shakes her head as if resigned to madness. “Goodbye, Elloren,” she says as if she pities me. “Good luck.”
“Wait…” I implore as she begins to walk along the fence line in the direction of the great wilderness. I follow her brisk pace, the fence separating us, leaning over it to reach her as she veers away, her back receding into the distance—a dark, ghostly figure making her way through the last of the morning mist.
The trees swallow her up into their darkness just as the sun rises, transforming the eerie blue dreamworld of early morning into the clear, sunlit world of day.
My fingers fumble under my cloak for the wand, half expecting it to be gone, expecting to find that I was sleepwalking and imagined all of this. But then I feel it—smooth and straight and very much real.
I rush back to the house, the sunlight steadily gaining strength.
Shaken, I’m desperate to find Uncle Edwin. Surely he’ll know what to do.
As I round the trees, I’m surprised to see Aunt Vyvian standing in the doorway watching me, her expression unreadable.
A small wave of apprehension washes over me at the sight of her, and I immediately slow my pace, struggling to turn my expression blank, as if returning from an uneventful morning stroll. But my mind is a tumult.
Those marks on Sage’s hands—they were so horrible. Maybe Sage is right. Maybe the Council is planning to take her baby away…
Aunt Vyvian tilts her head and eyes me thoughtfully as I approach. “Are you done packing?” she asks. “We’re ready to go.”
I stand awkwardly in front of her, not able to move forward as she’s blocking the doorway. “Yes, I’m done.” I’m acutely aware of the wand, my hand involuntarily drawn to it.
My aunt’s eyes flicker in the direction of the Gaffneys’ farm. “Did you visit with Sage Gaffney?” Her face is open, welcoming me to confide in her.
Shock flashes through me. How does she know that Sage is here?
I glance back toward the wilds, my heart thumping against my chest.
Sage was right. Aunt Vyvian isn’t just here for me. Clearly she’s here for Sage, too. But surely she would never harm a baby?
Aunt Vyvian sighs. “It’s all right, Elloren. I know she’s here, and I realize it must be terribly upsetting to see her. She’s…very troubled. We’re trying to help her, but…” She shakes her head sadly. “How is she?” Her tone is one of maternal concern. Some of my tension lightens.
“She’s terribly frightened.” The words rush out. “The baby. She thinks someone wants to harm him. That someone from the Council is coming to take him away from her.”
My aunt doesn’t seem surprised by this. She fixes me with the type of look adults use when they are about to reveal to a child some unfortunate, troubling fact of life. “The Council is coming to take custody of her baby.”
I blink in shocked surprise.
Aunt Vyvian lays a comforting hand on my shoulder. “The child is deformed, Elloren. It needs a physician’s care, and much more.”
“What’s wrong with it?” I breathe, almost not wanting to know.
Aunt Vyvian searches my eyes, hesitant to tell me what I know will be something monstrous. “Elloren,” she explains gravely, “Sage has given birth to an Icaral.”
I recoil at the word. No! It can’t be. It’s too horrible to imagine. One of the Evil Winged Ones—like giving birth to a grotesque demon. No wonder Sage didn’t let me see her child.
The dull thud of horses’ hooves sounds in the distance, and I spot another Mage Council carriage rounding the hills and making its way down into the valley toward the Gaffneys’ estate. It’s followed by eight Gardnerian soldiers on horseback.
“Can the child be helped?” My voice comes out in a shocked whisper as I watch the carriage and the soldiers nearing the cottage.
“The Council will try, Elloren.” My aunt reassures me. “Its wings will be removed and a Mage Priest will do everything he can to try and save the child’s twisted soul.” She pauses and looks at me inquisitively. “What else did Sage say to you?”
It’s a simple enough question, but something pulls me up short, some amorphous fear. And Sage has enough problems already.
Clearly she’s stolen this wand. It can’t possibly be the wand of myth that she imagines it to be, but it’s obviously an expensive wand. Probably belonging to Tobias.
I’ll wait until all this dies down and find a way to return it to him. And I don’t mention that Sage has run off into the woods—I’m sure the Council will find her soon enough on their own anyway.
“She didn’t say much else,” I lie. “Only what I’ve told you.”
My aunt nods in approval and lets out a small sigh. “Well, then, enough of this. We’ve a big journey ahead of us.”
I attempt a small, resigned smile in return and bury Sage’s secret deep within, as well as my guilt in keeping it.