It wasn’t exactly an accident, but it certainly wasn’t on purpose. Sammy dared me to climb the wall, and it was that or kiss his cousin Eric, who has bad breath and no prospects. And we all thought the tower was deserted.
The wall wasn’t that difficult to climb. It’s tall, but the mortar’s old and there are lots of toe-holds between the stones, and there’s a big old apple tree growing up against it on on side. The whole wood’s an old orchard, mostly apples. We used to spend afternoons there in the summer, sitting in the shade or swimming in the river, and I’d climb the trees and pick sour-sweet apples to take home for pie.
I’m good at climbing things. Tom calls me Cat, because I’m always up a tree or something. Tom and Dean are Sammy’s friends, but also mine; they have a farm down the road. Sammy’s the miller’s son. He used to be a lot of fun, but the last year or so he’s been looking at me in this odd way that makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable. Eric does it too, and I don’t like it. I think I wouldn’t mind so much if Tom’s older brother looked at me like that, but he doesn’t.
The garden inside the tower’s wall was amazing. All these statues of fantastical creatures, and flowers everywhere. There were orange trees covered in fruit, and raspberries all along the inside of the wall, and a fishpond with lilies on it. And the wizard, wearing a big floppy hat over his dark hair, carrying a basket full of herbs towards the tower.
He saw me at almost the same moment I saw him. It was as if the horror I felt at seeing him drew his attention to me. He frowned, and I froze, mortified.
“What are you doing up there?”
“Um. Nothing. Sir. I’m sorry, I’ll just go, um,” I was babbling, and I knew it.
“Wait,” he said, and his voice echoed inside my head like a churchbell. I felt like time slowed down, or maybe time ran normally and I slowed down. I waited, a long pause while the wizard came closer.
He stopped beside the wall and looked up at me. “Come down here, girl.”
His voice sounded like echoes again, reverberating. It made me a little dizzy.
“Could you not do that thing with your voice, please?” I asked, as I started climbing down the inside of the wall. “I’m coming down, and I’m very sorry for intruding. But you’re making me dizzy with that thing you’re doing.”
He looked interested, and said, “You can hear it?”
“Of course I can hear it, I’m not stupid!”
The moment I said that, though, I wondered if I was in fact stupid. Scolding a wizard isn’t smart, and he seemed to be genuinely interested that I could hear his echoey voice trick. Which probably meant I should have kept that to myself.
“Of course not,” said the wizard agreeably. “How old are you, girl?”
“I’m fourteen,” I said, “and my name’s Caitlyn, not ‘girl’.”
“Caitlyn, hmm? You’d be John Ashley’s second daughter then?”
I stared at him. “How could you possibly know that?”
He grinned at me, eyes flashing with laughter. “I buy tomatoes and eggs from your father every other week at the market. He always keeps one or two of the best lambs for me in spring, too. Did you think I was some sort of recluse?”
“I didn’t think anyone lived here at all,” I said quietly.
“I’m glad you were mistaken, Caitlyn Ashley. Do come inside and have some tea while I decide what to do with you.”
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