"Wheeeeee!" The small bat did a double backip,
then a twist, and landed neatly on the branch below.
"Did you see me, Uncle Marlon? Did you SEE me?"
"Shh!" The older bat apped a warning wing.
"Button up, kiddo. We’ve got company." He stared into
the night. "Hmph. It’s those dames from Wadingburn."
The small bat’s eyes widened. "The witches? Oh,
Uncle Marlon! Can we stay ’n’ watch? Will they do
"They’re no big deal, kiddo." The older bat settled
back on his branch. "Deep Magic’s not allowed in the
Five Kingdoms. This lot are Shallow, through and
through. Couldn’t magic a bird off a branch. But keep
mum, all the same. You don’t want to end up in a pot.
Your ma’ll kill me if I bring you back half-boiled."
The small bat shivered, half in fear, half with plea
sure. "Okeydokey, Uncle M." And he froze into still
ness as he watched the line of women, varying in shape
and size but all dressed in black, making their way into
the clearing at the top of Wadingburn Hill. Limping
at the end of the line was the small, skinny fgure of
a girl, her head bent tenderly over the bundle in her
arms. As the witches hurried here and there, collecting
frewood and setting up the old and dented black caul
dron, she slipped away and settled herself at the foot
of the tree where the two bats hung motionless. Softly
she began to croon to the bundled-up object she was
holding, rocking it gently to and fro.
"Loobly Higgins!" said a terrible voice. "What on
EARTH do you think you’re doing?"
Loobly jumped. "N-n-n-nothing, Auntie," she
The Grand High Witch of Wadingburn took a
step closer. "Did my eyes deceive me, or were you
KISSING that rat?"
Loobly shook her head so hard that her long,
stringy hair broke loose from its ribbon and fell over
her thin little face. "Wasn’t kissing it," she whispered.
"Not kissing. Just telling sorry. Sorry it be picklifed."
The Grand High Witch sighed in exasperation.
"It’ll be no use now. No use at all. How many times do
I have to tell you to leave my ingredients alone?"
"Sorry, Auntie Levangeline. Loobly hear you.
Loobly very sorry." Loobly pushed the hair out of her
eyes and looked up hopefully. "If no use, can Loobly
"Certainly NOT!" The witch was on the point of
snatching the rat away when she was distracted by
the sound of cackling laughter. Instantly forgetting
Loobly, she turned to see her fie fellow witches gather
ing around the cauldron that was now bubbling gently
in the center of the clearing. At once the Grand High
Witch drew herself to her full height and strode for
ward to greet them.
"Dear Mrs. Cringe! I’m so glad you’re with us tonight!
And Mrs. Vibble and Mrs. Prag as well. Fabulous! And
darling Ms. Scurrilous is here too! And Mrs. . . ."
The Grand High Witch faltered for a moment. What
was the name of the hunched old witch on the far side
of the fire? Even with the flames now burning brightly
under the cauldron, it was too dark to see her face. It
certainly wasn’t Mrs. Gabbage, and Ms. Pettigroan had
sent a bat earlier that evening with polite apologies.
Mrs. Cringe shufed up, looking distinctly guilty,
and the Grand High Witch’s heart sank. Even worse,
her little toe had begun to throb, which was a far more
reliable warning of impending trouble. She had always
been wary of Mrs. Cringe, not least because she was
known to have relations outside the Five Kingdoms
who were suspected of indulging in Deep Magic of the
"Ahem," Mrs. Cringe addressed the Grand High
Witch, whose toe was becaming increasingly pain
ful. "That there’s my grandmother, Truda Hangnail.
She’s come visiting from the other side of the More
Enchanted Forest. Asked if I could invite her in for
a week or two. Things got troublesome for her over
there, she said. Too many two-headed cows and
sheep with fve legs appearing all over the place." She
stepped closer and dropped her voice to a whisper.
"Best to be polite. She’s in a bit of a temper. Fell in
a ditch on the other side of the border gate." She
nudged the Grand High Witch. "Shouldn’t even be
here in the Five Kingdoms. Deep, she is. Very Deep.
But we won’t tell, will we?"
Evangeline Droop, Grand High Witch of
Wadingburn, froze. It was a serious offense to invite a
Deep Witch to cross the border of the Five Kingdoms.
They had been banished many years before, together
with werewolves and sorcerers. On the other hand, she
had absolutely no idea how to confront a Deep Witch,
let alone how to tell her to go home.
Evangeline’s little toe was now excruciating. All
the same, she extended an unwilling hand and said
as gracefully as she was able, "Delighted to meet you,
The visitor stared at her with beady little eyes, and
the strangely sinuous animal draped around her neck
lifted its head and stared too. "Deep or Shallow?" the
Mrs. Cringe took her elderly relation by the arm. "I
told you, Grandma. There aren’t any Deep Witches in
the Five Kingdoms."
Truda Hangnail gave a laugh like knives scrap
ing steel. "There’s no fun in that," she sneered. "You
can’t turn princes into toads with Shallow Magic. How
d’you put red-hot nails in a milkmaid’s shoes? And
how d’you scare folk into giving you plump young
chickens and apple pies and bowls of eggs and dishes
"Actually, Mrs. Hangnail," the Grand High Witch
said haughtily, "we are respected members of our
Mrs. Prag looked smug. "We’ve all been invited to
Queen Bluebell’s eightieth-birthday party to hear the