They were her last words to me. As I left the room, I heard her last words to Mandy. "I'm not very sick. Don't send for Sir Peter."
Sir Peter was Father.
The next morning, she was awake, but dreaming. With wide-open eyes, she chattered to invisible courtiers and plucked nervously at her silver necklace. To Mandy and me, there in the room with her, she said nothing.
Nathan, the manservant, got the physician, who hurried me away from Mother's side.
Our hallway was empty. I followed it to the spiral staircase and walked down, remembering the times Mother and I had slid down the banister.
We didn't do it when people were around. "We have to be dignified," she would whisper then, stepping down the stairs in an especially stately way. And I would follow, mimicking her and fighting my natural clumsiness, pleased to be part of her game.
But when we were alone, we preferred to slide and yell all the way down. And run back up for another ride, and a third, and a fourth.
When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I pulled our heavy front door open and slipped out into bright sunshine.
It was a long walk to the old castle, but I wanted to make a wish, and I wanted to make it in the place where it would have the best chance of being granted.
The castle had been abandoned when King Jerrold was a boy, although it was reopened on special occasions, for private balls, weddings, and the like. Even so, Bertha said it was haunted, and Nathan said it was infested with mice. Its gardens were overgrown, but Bertha swore the candle trees had power.
I went straight to the candle grove. The candles were small trees that had been pruned and tied to wires to make them grow in the shape of candelabra.
For wishes you need trading material. I closed my eyes and thought.
"If Mother gets well quick, I'll be good, not just obedient. I'll try harder not to be clumsy and I won't tease Mandy so much."
I didn't bargain for Mother's life, because I didn't believe she was in danger of dying.
Copyright Gail Carson Levine 1997. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher - Harper Collins.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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