‘This is a mistake,’ Winter said, as we pulled into the car park of a sprawling pub.
‘Maybe. But it’s taken hours to get here. We can’t just turn around and leave.’
‘It’s probably a trap.’
I shrugged. ‘Set by Ipsissimus Grenville? A guy who’s been dead for two hundred years? Why would he bother?’
‘We don’t know anything about him or his agenda.’
‘You said he’s credited with making the Order a decent organisation.’
Winter snorted. ‘Is the Order decent?’
I rolled my eyes. This role reversal, where Winter denigrated them and I was the voice of reason, felt remarkably uncomfortable. ‘Rafe,’ I chided gently.
His mouth tightened. ‘Regardless of what the Order is or isn’t, we have no precedent for this situation. Ipsissimus Grenville might have been corrupted by death. Maybe he once was a good guy, but two hundred years of being a ghost could have turned him into something else. We can’t trust him.’
‘I can’t just pretend this isn’t happening. Let’s see whether Ghost Child and Grenny are right about these dead witches and take things from there. One thing at a time.’
‘You’re still not entirely yourself, Ivy.’
‘I’m okay.’ I glanced round. ‘Look. There’s a sign over there with a map on it. With any luck, it’ll include Wistman’s Wood. It can’t be far.’
Winter strode over towards it while I ambled behind. He pursed his lips and scanned the map. ‘It’s about three miles from here but the ground will be boggy and steep in places.’ He threw me a sidelong glance. ‘And there may be some sheep.’
He nodded. ‘So it’s a six-mile round trip.’
‘Can’t we drive?’
‘Even a Sherman tank would struggle across this terrain. We can walk it. There’s a path.’
‘But there are hills. And – bogs.’
‘Yes.’ He paused. ‘Can you make it?’
I pressed my hand to my forehead. ‘Actually, I’m starting to feel a bit weak again. My legs are rubbery. Maybe you should go and check it out and I’ll go into the pub and see what the locals know.’
The corners of Winter’s mouth twitched. He tried to suppress the broad grin that was slowly spreading across his face but it was clearly beyond him. ‘Thank goodness. It’s about time,’ he said. ‘Now I know you’re really feeling better.’ He sucked in a deep lungful air. ‘Perhaps being outdoors will do you good.’
Wait a second. If he could change his mind that quickly about this venture, then I could change mine. Especially when it involved six miles of trudging across moors. ‘But I’m still not entirely myself yet.’
‘Actually, I think you are.’
‘You were right the first time. Ipsissimus Grenville might have been corrupted by all those years as a dead guy. We might be walking into a trap.’ I shook my head. ‘This is a mistake.’
‘Too late, sweetheart.’ He put his arm round my shoulders. ‘I’m glad you’re back to being Ivy again. I’ve missed your complaining and your laziness.’
‘I don’t complain!’
Winter laughed. ‘Of course you don’t.’ He held me at arm’s length and looked me up and down. ‘The pain has gone. I can’t see any trace of it.’
Actually, it tended to reappear when I was least expecting it but I wasn’t going to tell Winter that. ‘Arse,’ I said. ‘I suppose three miles isn’t that far.’ I’d barely finished the sentence when the first fat droplet of rain splashed onto my nose. I shivered and turned hopeful eyes to Winter.
‘If we want to get there and back before it gets dark,’ he said, ‘we should go now.’
I grimaced. Another drop of rain fell, this time sliding down the back of my neck. Lovely. ‘Let’s get going.’
It wasn’t too bad to begin with. Despite the rain, which was increasing in ferocity by the second and decreasing the temperature, the path was firm underfoot and clearly marked. There were a couple of stiles to clamber over but I managed. Winter even held himself back from racing across the landscape like a mountain goat and kept pace with me. I tested him by slowing down almost to the point where I was just shuffling along.
He stopped and threw me a look. ‘Ivy…’
I smirked. ‘I wanted to see how far I could push you.’
He rolled his eyes although he was obviously more amused than annoyed. I had to milk this for all it was worth; Winter’s patience wouldn’t last forever. I pointed ahead at the next wooden stile.
‘That’s a kissing gate,’ I said, pasting on an innocent expression. ‘I wonder why it’s called that. Maybe we should…’ My voice faltered as a shadow crossed my path. I looked up to see a grizzled old man leaning on a walking stick and staring at me.
Winter stiffened. ‘There’s another one, isn’t there?’
I nodded, my mouth suddenly dry. ‘Wistman’s Wood?’ I asked. ‘It’s that way, right?’
The ghost took his time answering. Eventually, he rubbed his cheek and bobbed his head with slow, ponderous movements. ‘It is, aye. They’re waiting for you. They’ll be glad you came.’ He turned and trudged up the hill away from us. I watched him as he vanished into the rolling fog that seemed to have appeared from nowhere and was rapidly descending towards us.
‘He’s gone,’ I murmured to Winter, my sense of humour all but vanished along with the old man. ‘Let’s get a move on.’
‘What did he say?’
I pursed my lips. ‘That they’re waiting for us.’
‘The dead witches, I imagine,’ I said quietly.
Winter and I exchanged looks. He opened his mouth to speak but I shook my head. I knew what he was going to say. ‘No. We should keep going and see what’s really going on.’
He didn’t argue but he reached across to take my hand and squeeze it. ‘Okay.’
As if our combined determination deserved immediate retribution by some vengeful god, the rain increased until it was pelting us. Nervous about what might happen if I attempted a spell, I quickly described a rune I’d developed years ago to Winter. He listened carefully then did as I suggested, using magic to form a shield over our heads. His rune was a bit shaky, which was to be expected for a first-timer, but the end result was enough to keep us dry.
I grinned. ‘It’s a magical brolly.’
‘It’s also a clever spell.’
Buoyed up by his praise, I gave a little hop, skip and jump. That was clearly a mistake, as it made me slip on a muddy section of the path. I slid forward, arms flailing and legs out of control, only managing to stop when I reached what was less like a large puddle and more like a deep lake. I narrowly avoided landing face first – but that didn’t mean that I was home and dry.
‘Aaaaargh!’ Up to my thighs in freezing cold muddy water I turned, expecting to see Winter racing towards me to help me out. Instead he was trying very, very hard not to laugh. I folded my arms and glared at him. ‘Ha. Ha. Ha.’
He pressed his lips together tightly and walked over, extending a hand to help me out. I ignored it. He’d had his chance. Sniffing loudly, I tried to heave myself out of the gigantic puddle but the mud around the edges was too squelchy and there was nowhere to gain purchase. I scrabbled with my fingers, finding only brown sticky gloop that smelled more like dung than earth. Then I remember what Winter had said about the sheep. Bloody creatures. Since my so-called adventure up in Scotland, I hated those things.
I jumped up, attempting to use momentum to get out. That didn’t work either; when I crashed back down, there was a muddy tidal wave and I succeeded in drenching my top half as well.
Winter leaned forward. ‘Now would you like me to help you?’
I muttered something under my breath and, avoiding his eye, stuck my hand upwards and waved it around. He grinned and grabbed it, pulling me out. Unfortunately, not all of me wanted to come: my left shoe stayed behind. By the time I got out and faced Winter, I was covered from head to toe in wet mud, with one shoe and one very sodden sock.
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