The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.
THE JOURNEYT á 'n-a l á! Nil 'n-a l á!
The tall, black-haired witch strode up the sidewalk of Amity International Omniport following bright, blinking signs to the Carpetdrome. She guided her bags with occasional offhand flicks of her wand to keep them from colliding with knots of other travelers, hurrying the other way, outbound, towards Transhandle loading gates or the lockers they rented for their personal sweeps. A Sonorus-enhanced voice blared out departure and arrival times every few minutes. One briefly penetrated her thoughts: "Mohawk flight sixty-six to The Shetlands… with stops in St. Johns, Newfoundland… and Reykjavik… departing in seventeen minutes at port three…."
That's me, she thought grimly, patting her pocket to assure herself that her tickets were still inside it: one to the small aerodrome at Sandwich, the only place the British allowed carpets to touch down these days, then a long broom ride to London over Scotland via one of those new, amply-cushioned, twelve-seater sweeps. She hadn't wanted the luxury flight, but her father had insisted. Not because of the dangers of Mundane warcraft, either, although he wanted her to think that was the reason. No, it was to uphold, to flaunt even, the prestige of the family name. But why? Nobody from the blasted Institute was going to be meeting her at the end of her trip. She would take the London subway from the broomport, if she had anything to say about it. Not that she ever had any say in anything.
She jingled the coins in her pocket. She would use the subway—the Tube, Londoners called it—no matter what Papa thought about it. She was no child, and besides, she had gone over everything with Tansy. Her sister knew, none better, how the Mundane world worked.
She passed a Rent-a-Ride shop. A sign in the window proclaimed USED SWEEP SALE. Under it, a pair of large, red-faced young men huddled, trying to fasten a baggage sling to a broomstick with an unusually thick shaft. It looked like it had been carved out of the middle third of a Virginia pine, and could easily seat four of their bulk. They were arguing in a friendly fashion, and their accents were foreign, Irish or Scotch, she thought.
"Arr… you've got it wrong, lad," trilled the larger of the two. "The granny knot goes on this side, and the sailor's hitch over there—"
"What do we need a sailor's hitch for? We're no sailin'."
Tis a Moogle figure o' speech, is all…. There we go. Now, lay in the hooch…."
She stopped to adjust the strap on her knapsack and observed the two as they took bottle after bottle from under a threadbare Invisibility Cloak, and laid them gently, one might even say reverently, in the sling.
Their work completed, they covered the bottles with the cloak, picked up their own bulging knapsacks, and straddled the broom. Without even checking for clearance, they kicked off and rose on an uncertain line towards the sky, but about two stories up, their sling came undone at one end, and bottles started tumbling to the ground. Two exploded on the cement before she managed to whip out her wand. Now the rest dangled precariously in the wind, having obeyed her muttered "Levitate".
The men swooped back to earth, shouting accusations at each other and pointing at at the remaining bottles, which the smaller man tried in vain to reach, waving his arms and leaping at them.
She strode over to them, trying not to laugh. "You'd like your precious cargo back, I presume."
The taller of the two whipped around at her approach. The other had gone down on his knees, wand in hand, in an attempt to repair one of the bottles, but he couldn't seem to get the cant right. "Re-PAR-do—RIP-a-ro—rib-BEAR-toe—RE-aw-hell!" He threw the wand down and started trying to scoop up the liquid from one dark puddle with his hands. Frustrated, he put his lips to the ground, and the girl was horrified to hear him making loud sucking noises.
"You'd better stop your friend," she cried, "he'll likely get glass in his stomach—"
"Arr—Jerry has iron-clad innards, lass. Was that you with the fancy wand work?"
"On behalf of my benighted brother, I thank you. In fact, a substantial part of County Mayo will be toasting your good health this time tomorrow, if I have anything to say about it. But, if you wouldn't be minding, I wonder if you could lay our poor babies back down gently, you know, so's we can repack them and get on back to our beloved Eire."
"Eire? You're traveling all the way to Ireland on a broomstick?"
"Aye, it's much the cheapest way. And we can re-sell the mighty bole when we get home. Now, if you'd help us out here?" He gestured to the bottles, strung out on a slant above them like pennants on a sting, jiggling and glistening in the sunlight. He dropped his voice and murmured in her ear, "If any of your American brass takes note of our cargo, they might take it into their heads to owl the authorities at the other end and… you know…."
"You don't want to be caught smuggling, is that it?" She waved her wand and settled the bottles to the ground, standing them upright and herded into a tight clump. "What have you got there?" She surveyed the contraband. "Krueger Pilsner, Falstaff, and our own National Boh. All excellent choices, I hear."
He smiled, showing all his teeth. "I see you know your lager."
"I have a sister who's something of a connoisseur." She turned to her bags, Levitated them, and started on towards the Carpetdrome.
"Cannot we repay you, Miss?" he called after her.
"I don't see how," she threw over her shoulder. "I don't drink." Then a thought came to her. It would annoy her father mightily, which, though she wouldn't admit it, was just what she was itching to do at this moment. Her send-off at the family fireplace had been less than happy.
"You'll go straight to your flight."
"Speak to no one more than you can help."
"These public conveyances are run no better than the Mundane aerodromes. The riff-raff… your mother would worry…."
"You know why we're doing this."
"There's no need to be sarcastic."
And so on.
She turned. The Irishmen were already re-loading their sling. The smaller of them, Jerry, seemed bent on cradling each bottle—even to kissing a cask of Olde Snifter Whiskey—before consigning them to the uncertain care of the netting.
"Just a minute," she called, and walked over to them. "Would you mind another passenger?"
Jerry spoke up. "We'd hev no room, Miss—for yer bags, I mean." He gestured to the sling which was already almost full.
"I could do some Lightening and Shrinking charms," she offered. Both men looked aghast. "Temporary, of course. And if it comes to that, I know an excellent Binding spell as well. How can you be sure those knots of yours will hold this time?"
The men argued about it some precious seconds, while she stood first on one foot, then on the other. The Sonorus-voice chanted "Last call for Flight sixty-six to London… Five minutes to float-off…."
"Well, all right…." Jerry muttered finally.
"That’s great. Just wait here a moment, will you? I want to see if I can return my ticket."
They nodded and she raced away, leaving her bags behind. She'd have to take a chance that her new "friends" were merely barflies, and not thieves to boot.
It took no time at all to convince the ticket agent to give her a refund when she gave her name. That was the one thing she was grateful for. The phrase "Brake family" could be counted on to cut all kinds of red tape, on this side of the ocean at least. She returned quickly, magical coins jingling along with the Mundane money already in her pocket.
The men were sitting patiently on the curb. Jerry was chewing on what smelled like a reefer. They shook hands and got acquainted formally. Jerry and his brother, Turlough O'Shanahan, Turley for short, were from County Mayo on the west side of Ireland, "as far from the fookin' king as we cahn get," Jerry asserted in his thick brogue.
"Pleased to meet you. I'm Inocybe Brake."
"What's that you say?"
"I-NOH-sib-bie. It's the name of a plant—a family of mushrooms."
Jerry broke in with a laugh. "Yer joshin'! What the divvil would yer parents be doing naming you after some bloody toadstool?"
She stood on her dignity. "It's a family tradition. All the Brakes are named after plants. I have several sisters: Tansy, Rue, Laurel…."
"Well, those are normal enough…."
"All right now, Jerry," soothed Turley. "Mind if we call you 'Inno', Miss?"
"If you must." It couldn't be any worse than "Sibbie," her sisters' nickname for her.
"Naw, Turl. Let's call her Ino," said Jerry, tossing away the butt of his reefer. "Seems more fittin' somehow." He nudged his brother, and they both started to laugh.
She stared at them.
Turley explained. "'I-Know'. Get it? You seem to know quite a bit about a lot of things, young miss."
She smiled at their joke for the first time in about a month. She would answer to 'I-Know' for the time being.
She set about Shrinking and Lightening all their belongings. Then she Bound the netting the entire length of the broom shaft and added a Wind-Shield Spell to the periphery for everyone's comfort. The men loaded it, and they took off without further incident.
She was not altogether fond of broom riding, but she got over her jitters quickly on this behemoth, an import from Scotland, her hosts informed her, the design of some rich laird with a wee bit too much time on his hands. It was very steady and not overly fast either in speed or acceleration, due to its weight, of course. What little she had read of the Mundane concepts of velocity and momentum came back to her now. Wizarding contraptions obeyed their physics—to a point.
She divined from her hosts' conversation that they were on their way back to County Mayo from celebrating Saint Patrick's Day. Well, yes, they admitted, they were more than a few months overdue, but their Stateside relatives really knew how to throw a party.
For most of the trip—sixty hours, alas, with but a single stop at an encampment in Greenland--they serenaded her with their favorite songs--some in English, but most in Gaelic. It was not unlike Leprechaun, which she was acquainted with, so she was able to get their drift. They were love songs and paeons to drink mostly, like: Charm of My Heart, Let's Accio Another Round, and My Darling Told Me Drink No More, (Or She'd Fly the Booze Right Out the Door). One chorus in particular stuck in her head:
T á 'n-a l á agus 'n-mhaidin!
Nil 'n-a l á,dheara, a ghrá,
Ach solus árd at á sa' ghealaigh!
She was pretty sure she had the translation right:
Here it is day--no it's not day
it is the day, it is morning
it is not day indeed, my dear,
but the full light of the moon!
It sounded like a woman urging her man to get up and go to work, and him wanting to keep her in bed, perhaps for a bit more cuddling. In a fit of homesickness, she tried to imagine each of her sisters in such a scene with their husbands. Practical Brodie would have none of it and roust her Philo out of bed. Laurel would think Leo feverish and call for a Healer. Trill would just stand openmouthed, too dense to get the tease. Modest Rue would get it--and blush. Then there was Tansy, but she wasn't married—yet.
When she wasn't singing along or missing her family, Sibbie was reading, studying, thinking—trying to prepare herself for the big change coming in her life. Her companions marveled at the way she balanced herself and her book on the fag-end of the broomstick, sitting backwards without holding on, just leaning against Turley, the sturdier of the two, to his masculine delight. He wondered aloud over his shoulder if she'd ever played something called "Kiddish."
"You mean--Quidditch?" she asked.
"Aye—our national sport."
"We don't play it much in America, only Quod."
"You mean Quodpot? The one where the ball is charmed to explode?"
"That's right. It's very exciting actually."
And tactically challenging, she remembered. In her first year at Arden, her class's team had gone oh and six. at the end of the season, they'd consoled themselves in the school smoker with the fact that they were, after all, only freshmen, but Sibbie, who overheard them from another table, had told them just what she thought was wrong with that theory, that experience was far less important than an understanding of the basic premise of the game. She had been immediately dared to do better by the almost inhumanly fit and pretty captain, Jodie Wellington. Sibbie had accepted the challenge. She read up on the game, including its rather short history and bullied her mother into taking her to a dozen professional matches over the summer before her second year. Then she called the team together and taught them a few things about strategy, statistics, and certain subtle changes in the behavior of a ball about to explode. The team made her their coach,then and there, and under her stringent tutelage, developed cohesion and balance and went undefeated in their remaining years at Arden. Along the way, Sibbie nursed her passion for Jodie, but their friendship never developed beyond the occasional sisterly hug and buss on the cheek. It seemed the tall captain had eyes only for Tom, a muscle-bound Beater she eloped with, their senior year.
Sibbie didn't tell her traveling companions any of this, of course, but admitted that she was using Sticking and Gyro Charms to keep herself steady on their broomstick. She wasn't surprised that neither of them had sensed her magic. They'd been sampling their cargo rather liberally throughout the trip and were both pretty well soused most of the time.
On their layover on the southern shore of Greenland, sharing a tent at the Church of the Flaming Auroras' Annual Retreat, they talked about the Muggle war now winding down in Europe. She asked whether they weren't concerned for the fate of Ireland, with the aerodromes of the Third Reich not all that far away.
Turley replied "Greatrakes alive, Miss! They tried bombing Lunnon a couple years ago, but nothin’ much come of it. That Heckler or Hickler--whatever his name is--he's nowt int'rested in our little islands no more. Too busy tryin' to save his own liver 'n' lights, isn't he?
Taking the Underground proved quite an adventure, starting with her confusing the ticket lady, by mixing up Mundane coins with magical ones, then accidentally shocking the turnstile operator when her wand slipped out of her bag and shot sparks along the railing.
She clutched a map of the Tube that had been thrust into her hand by a sympathetic fellow passenger, who took her for an Eastern immigrant, and nodded and smiled, speaking kindly in a sort of Cockney pidgin, "'Ere, Missus—looky-look--map—'elp you—find way." Luckily the map was very easy to follow, despite the fact that there seemed to be an endless number of lines and stops. Still, she ended up leaving her cozy, chintz-curtained and upholstered car a stop too early and had to walk the better part of a mile to the river.
Now, crossing a street crowded with Mundane shoppers, she sighed and pulled at her knapsack to ease her aching shoulders. Only a block or two to go, she thought, eying her belongings, now bumping along in front of her, bound to a handcart she'd conjured. She dully ignored the comments of passersby. Women, especially, seemed intrigued by this unusual-looking girl. I suppose they've had little enough to pique their interest since the Blitz ended in '41, she thought wearily.
Her skirt appeared to be black, but, as it swirled about her feet, it revealed gores of green and red and violet, light and fluttery like silk. But who could afford or would dare wear silk these days when the Allies were still at war with Japan? She smiled grimly. Only the Brakes, but the English Mundanes could not know that.
The skirt had been a gift from Tansy, who opined that it went well with Sibbie's black hair and eyes, and her tall, slender figure, so unlike her father's side of the family, who were all blue-eyed blonds. "Gypsy blood, no doubt," she teased, "though it would give Papa conniption to hear me say that."
She knew she must look like a gypsy and probably a Slav with her long, dark braid, and straight, black eyebrows, she inherited from her mother. She imagined the thoughts of the Mundanes who eyed her with surreptitious glances. There were a lot of immigrants about since the war moved East, mostly exiles running from the Jerries, as the Spanish had done from their Fascist regime in the Thirties, slipping through the battle-lines by guile or the garotte or—whispered the superstitious—black magic.
Every fence and light pole she passed was plastered with signs that warned "Beware Fellow-Travellers," and "Loose Lips Sink Ships" and, more pointedly, "Report Suspicious Activity to your Local Police." The unpleasant possibility of her being a Mata Hari may have discouraged the few young fellows who might have thought about approaching the strange girl to offer help with her unwieldy burdens, but they needn't have bothered. For if any of them had looked closer—which they never did, of course— they would have seen that her hands were not on the cart and that its wheels were not touching the ground, due to a nifty Skimming Charm she'd picked up in her reading on the trip over.
She maneuvered her trolley across a bridge over the Thames River and quickly found the worn pathways of Battersea Park.