The clock struck midnight. Rachel and Gaius raced southward, flying on
her bristleless broom along the shore of Roanoke Island toward the
Storm winds blew violently up from the south. Trees swayed back and
forth like frenzied temple dancers. The remaining autumn leaves were
ripped from their branches and sent swirling up in great spirals. There
was no rain yet, but powerful gusts buffeted the broom, knocking the
riders this way and that.
Twice, they were tossed into a loop, flipping end over end. Each time,
Rachel rapidly maneuvered the levers to bring them upright again. She
had flown through blustery winds, but nothing like this. The air was
swirling, gusts coming from unexpected directions. If she hit the
airflow incorrectly, it struck the blades of the tail fan sideways,
collapsing them or altering their arrangement. This set the entire
device spinning, something Rachel had never experienced before. These
conditions would have been much easier to negotiate had she been on her
stomach, with her feet directly controlling the tail fan. With Gaius
behind her, that was impossible.
These was the most difficult flying conditions Rachel had ever
encountered. She loved it. She ploughed into the gusting winds,
shrieking with sheer exhilaration.
It was not until she began to have trouble breathing that she realized
that her boyfriend was clinging to her with all his strength. Glancing
over her shoulder, she saw that his face was as pale as the shifts of
the white ladies they had left behind at the mansion. His expression was
stoic, but his body, pressed against hers, was trembling.
Rachel reached over and jiggled the levers. The air around the
steeplechaser became calm and quiet. She righted the device and flew
slowly and evenly.
“What just happened?” Gaius croaked hoarsely.
“I turned on the becalming enchantments.”
“What? Magical air stabilizers?”
“Enchantments to make the air still around us. All high-quality
bristlelesses have them.”
“Why did they take so long to come on?”
Rachel bit her lip. “I…only just turned them on.”
“You forgot you had them?”
“Not at all.”
“You seemed a bit discomforted by the flying conditions.”
“You turned them on…for me?”
“Yes,” she finally admitted.
“But you were screaming in fear.”
“What?” Rachel’s voice rose, sounding very English. “Certainly
not! That was joy.”
“Oh.” Gaius cleared his throat. “That’s embarrassing. I’d hate
for my girlfriend to come to the conclusion that I’m a big coward.”
“Not to worry,” Rachel replied primly. “I understand that someone
who does not fly might have a hard time distinguishing between what’s
dangerous and what’s…oh, my!”
Ahead, a storm front rushed upriver on a collision course with the two
students. Lightning arced beneath the enormous thunderheads,
illuminating torrents of driving rain. In the glow of the electric
brightness, Rachel thought she could make out grimacing, howling faces
in the dark gray clouds.
“Um,” Gaius swallowed, “I gather that’s dangerous.”
Rachel was too busy gauging speeds and calculating distances to answer
right away. Finally, she said abstractedly, “I think I can make it to
Leaning forward, she coaxed the broom to greater speed. To her dismay,
its response was sluggish, not at all what she was expecting. Terror
gripped her chest, choking her. Was something wrong with her beloved
Vroomie? It had never…
“Gaius,” she called, “the becalming enchantments are producing
drag. I have to turn them off.”
“Do what you must,” he replied gamely. “I promise not to embarrass
With a brisk nod, Rachel released the becalming enchantments. The
violent gale winds struck them, flipping them end over end. Driving rain
hit them in bursts. Rachel could feel it washing make-up from her face.
She gripped the handlebars with extreme determination, fighting to
steady the device.
“Hold on!” she shouted.
Gaius’s arms held her firmly around her waist, but not so tightly as
to interfere with her breathing. He had his wand in his hand, the back
sticking up his sleeve, so as to be certain that he did not lose it. In
the brief glimpse she had of him as they flipped head over heels, he was
keeping watch intently, his face determined, if a bit green.
Rachel righted Vroomie and zoomed forward, driving against the winds.
She urged the steeplechaser to greater and greater speeds, but it was
like pushing through rushing water. Half of the time she went backward
more than forward. She felt like one of those logs Old Thom had
mentioned, the ones that tried to make it from Albany to New York by
floating down the River That Runs Both Ways.
“I don’t think we can make it before the storm reaches us!” she
yelled over the winds.
“We’ll have to land!” Gaius shouted back. “What about the walled
orchard? Where we saw Romanov and his friends?”
Rachel gauged the distance, adjusting for the winds. “I think we can
She pressed forward. The wind resistance grew stronger. She pushed the
broom, bringing it to even higher speeds. Never before had she reached
the steeplechaser’s top speed, but perhaps she was nearing it now
because the bristleless began to tremble. Rachel pressed hard.
The steeplechaser stalled.
Down plummeted Rachel, Gaius, and all. Rachel screamed.
“Should I panic now?” her boyfriend called calmly in her ear, his
wand in his hand.
“Yes. Definitely panic,” she shouted back, but his calmness
stiffened her resolve. She had deliberately stalled her broom out many
times and then engaged it again. Unless she had actually damaged it
somehow, this time should be no different. She urged the broom forward.
Refusing to squander her time on fear, Rachel stayed focused. From the
library of her mind, she withdrew all at once every reference to
“broom” and “stall” she had previously encountered, searching
for something that might help. Immediately, a possible cause leapt out:
jammed tail fan. She glanced back but could not see around her
“Gaius,” she shouted, “kick the tail blades for me.”
“What?” he yelled back over the roaring winds.
“The tail blades.”
“Tail fan! Move the blades toward each other.” She tried to
pantomime what she meant with one hand.
“Like this.” He pointed his wand behind him.
The steeplechaser caught and shot upward. They cheered. Then their
voices died in their throats.
The Horseman bore down on them. He galloped in the midst of the
thunderhead, gale-force winds whipping the night around him. He rode on
a black charger, a headless man in a Hessian uniform and a billowing
mantle. Under his arm, he carried a Jack-O’-Lantern. Light flickered
from the sharply triangular eyes and leering, angry mouth. It was not a
cheery candle flame, however, but the blue-violet glow that had
illuminated the ballroom of the dead. In its light, the storm clouds
seemed to be filled with phantoms and specters, all circling the
Horseman like hurricane winds around the eye of the storm.
The spooks were not the only things accompanying the headless rider. A
pack of blind, eyeless hounds, as pale as corpses except for their blood
red ears, loped through the night air. Their baying cries echoed up and
down the Hudson Valley.
The Wild Hunt approached.
“Go down!” Gaius screamed.
Rachel tried to dive, but the winds buffeted them backwards, spinning
them first left and then right. Without direct control over the fan
blades, she had to gauge how far their spin would take them and
compensate with the levers, which often led to overcompensation and sent
them spinning in the opposite direction.
The Horseman and his Hunt grew ever closer. The hoof beats of his horse
smote the air like thunderclaps. The headless body raised its false head
on high. The eyes of his Jack-O’-Lantern flamed with malice.
They were not going to make it.
“I love you, Gaius,” Rachel shouted out as her last words, but the
wind tore the syllables from her lips before they reached his ears.
The winds grew still.
The spinning steeplechaser slowed, coming to a stop in mid-air with
Vroomie facing the other way, northward up the river. Enormous feathered
wings of black stretched out before them. To either side of the wings,
the winds raged and whirled. Between the thirty foot wingspan, however,
all was calm and motionless. At the center of the two arching wings, a
eight-foot-tall man stood in mid-air. He was shirtless with black pants
and bare feet. His face was as calm and solemn, as an ageless mountain
range. His eyes were red as blood. In his hand, he held a hoop of gold.
Behind them, the Horseman thundered closer. The eyes in the
Jack-O’-Lantern glared with wrath. The winged figure gazed back, his
wings curved ever so slightly around the little oasis of calm.
Then the hounds parted, and the Hunt thundered to either side, leaving
the tiny island of tranquility untouched. The Horseman veered to the
left. He passed so close to them that Rachel swore she could feel the
breath of his enormous coal black steed. The Wild Hunt raced onward,
upriver toward Bannerman’s mansion, with the Horseman cantering behind
Rachel watched them go. Then she looked back at the winged figure. His
eyes were gray now. Steady and serene, they rested upon her face. He
Rachel nodded back, smiling very slightly.
Then, his eyes returned to scarlet. He cupped his great wings with their
huge black pinions. As if pulled by a string, he suddenly moved upward
and away, dwindling and transforming as he sped backwards, until he was
but a black speck of a bird that flew untroubled by the raging storm.
The driving rain and sleet struck Rachel and Gaius, soaking their hair
and garments. Rachel ducked her head, to protect her eyes, and pressed
forward. Two tendrils of icy-cold wetness slipped around her collar and
ran down the back of her neck, causing her whole body to twitch.
Shivering in the October cold, she dived.
“What, in the name of everything that is sacred, was that?”
Gaius’s voice sounded uncharacteristically high.
Rachel called back, “That was the Raven.”
“You mean that was the thing I promised to protect you against? Good
grief!” There was a pause, then, grimly, “I’ll do my best.”
Warmed by his devotion, Rachel seized control of the broom once more and
dived down, until they reached the safety of the walled orchard.
Dismounting on shaky legs, they huddled together on the leeward side of
the wall. Gaius wrapped his arms around her and stood over her, doing
his best to protect her from the brunt of the icy storm.
“I must say,” Gaius said, when they had stopped trembling quite so
violently, “I’m not sure I am going to have to. Protect you, that
is. I had the distinct impression that this Raven likes you. He did just
save our lives.”
“I like him, too,” whispered Rachel, whose heart was too full to yet
speak of it.
“Wait. What happened to evil Doom of Worlds and all that?”
“Remember the thing I can only tell one person?”
“Yes! I’ve been thinking about that! Just haven’t had a chance to
ask you about it.”
“It’s too long to tell now.” Her teeth were chattering violently.
“Tomorrow, then.” He pulled her more tightly against him, trying
futilely to protect her from the elements. She leaned on him and took
comfort in the warmth of his strong arms.
“Definitely!” she replied firmly.
They huddled together in the cold and wet until the winds died down.
Then, they hopped aboard the steeplechaser and quickly flew back to
Rachel forced her near-frozen jaws to move. “I’ll drop you off at
“You certainly will not!”
“I beg your pardon?”
“No girlfriend of mine is going to have to go home alone on
All-Hallows-Eve. Even an amazing, super-brave girlfriend. You fly to
Dare. I’ll walk from there.”
Despite the bitter cold and wetness of the night, a warm, buoyant
feeling rose inside Rachel. She flew to her dorm and landed. Climbing
from the steeplechaser again, Gaius gave her another hug. Then, he took
a step back.
“Thank you, Miss Griffin,” he stated, “for a most entertaining
Leaning forward, he gave her the sweetest of goodnight kisses.
Excerpted from "Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland" by L. Jagi Lamplighter. Copyright © 2016 by L. Jagi Lamplighter. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.