“What are you going to do with all the magic from the well, anyway?” Tag asked, watching Samira rub mint on a stone from the riverbed. This was part of preparing a Keeper, and so far Tag hadn't found it as interesting as Samira had suggested. She missed the spells she had been starting to learn.
“You ask the hardest questions, do you know that?” Samira discarded the mint for a handful of sand. “You recall my telling your mother that I sometimes sell herbs at the fair on the other side of the forest?”
“Mother told me.”
“People like those herbs, and my simple medicines, much better if they've been strengthened with magic. I use it up in little dribs, and I trade for what I need to live comfortably here in the forest. Some of the rest of the magic, I use for practice.”
“Like when you raised the water that day I saw you,” said Tag.
“Practicing for what?”
“Mmm... I'll tell you some day. But there's something I'm working on, and I can't yet use magic well enough to do it.”
Tag scowled a bit. “You can't tell me at all?”
The witch set down the Keeper and looked at her. “Ah, Tag, not yet. I know you don't like this part as much as using the magic once we have it. And to tell the truth, I don't know for sure what I'm going to do with it all. I only know that it's not good for wells to be left untouched, and that magic is a very useful thing to have.”
“I guess so.”
“But you find this part boring. I can't blame you. How about going to find some more things to use as Keepers? Durable things, not leaves or wood. Stones are generally a good bet, at least as big as this one.”
Tag jumped up. “I'll do that! I'll try the stream first.”
“Wonderful. I'll stay here to do the crafting.”
The stream had plenty of pebbles, but not many that were as large as Samira had said. Tag was crouched by the water, searching the streambed, when a rustle caught her attention. She looked up to see an owl extracting itself from a tangle of leaves in a tree. It got loose and glided to another tree, then another. Tag sucked in her breath. She hadn't ever seen an owl in the daytime before. Without thinking, she grabbed the stones she had found and began to follow the owl, soft and silent like she had learned from long practice.
For a while she only caught glimpses of its gray-brown feathers through the branches. Then it swooped out of a tree and straight into the undergrowth.
Maybe it had caught something. Tag moved closer to try to see.
But the next second, the owl rose in a flurry of feathers and landed on a branch, where it clung. It turned and fixed her in its yellow gaze. She stared back. Then, with a screech, it dove at her.
She yelped and scrambled back, taken off balance. As the owl stretched out its talons, she hurled the rocks she held.
The owl was so close that two of them hit it, despite her wild aim. It screeched again and broke away. Tag hurriedly shifted the remaining two stones to her right hand, but the owl was gliding away. It soared through the branches and was gone.
It was only then, as Tag stood there panting, that she realized she was back at the well of magic. She should have recognized it, but she had come from a different direction and had been watching the owl. But there was the mint patch... and there, right where the owl had dived into the bushes, was the spot where the well had caught Kirchai.
Even as she retreated, throwing frequent glances behind her, Tag worried it over in her mind. She wondered if the well attracted animals somehow, or maybe just owls, or if it made them angry, or what.
In the end, she shrugged and hurried toward the great oak. These days, she knew just what to do when she found something in the forest she didn't understand. She would ask Samira.
To be continued...