Every Witch Way

Part Four in the Impractical Magic Series

by Lori Bush (lwbush@gw.total-web.net)

Disclaimer: Not only are the characters not mine, but certain parts of the underlying theory of this whole series are heavily borrowed. Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer belong to Renaissance Pictures and Universal/USA Studios. The atmosphere of the series, along with a few specific concepts, lean heavily on the Discworld books; if you have read them, you will recognize a lot of Terry Pratchett's spirit in these stories. As always, I beg of you not to sue.

Rating: This one is PG. There are some adult concepts in many of the others, though.

Violence: Not in this one.

Sex: Still none. Things could change in later stories, somewhat g

Archive: GJRS, JFFG, TedTalk, TRIS, Raye, Golden Quill. SUJE, if they want to. Anyone else with permission, probably.

This is story number four in the series, the first being "The Gift That Keeps On Giving", and the second "Ooops, I Did It Again.", and the third, which this one dovetails with tightly, "Spelling Lessons". You can find them, except for "Spelling Lessons," at my website, http://tedjoxertimandmore.homestead.com/ in the "Serial Stories" section, where this will soon be archived as well. If you want to understand this story, you have to read them first. If you want all three, I think they're all up at http://www.jffg.org .

This particular story, as I said before, dovetails with the previous one, and they could almost be one story. My theories of magic and the difference between wizards and witches can't be placed at Terry Pratchett's feet - they are all from my own frighteningly vivid imagination.

Thanks again to Rebecca Littlehales, who has been an enormous encouragement, and I am proud to call "friend". Thanks also to my pre-readers, a marvelous cheering section any author would appreciate.

I really would love to hear from the rest of you. I'm hoping the appalling silence that followed the release of the last one was due to it needing this to make it complete, and not because it sucked eggs.

Xena and Gabrielle stood outside the Wizard's Academy, still a bit shaken by their abrupt dismissal. The Warrior Princess noticed Mother Wigglewort's figure waddling away, and shook herself into action, pausing to look back at her best friend. "Gabrielle?"

The bard waved her off. "I'll be along. Go on." Too much had happened, too quickly. She watched her dark-haired friend stride after the pear-shaped witch. She needed a few minutes to regroup. When she noticed the girl in black staring at her, she wondered how long that had been going on. "Hi."

The stranger was barely more than a teenager. "Hi. Was that wizard you guys took in there your brother?"

It took the bard a moment to realize the girl was speaking of Joxer. "No, just a - friend."

"What kind of friend?" Gabrielle glared at the girl, who continued, unaware, waving a black lace gloved hand as she spoke. "'Cause even if he's your intended, and you're not a witch, he's fair game. Wizards can only marry witches, y'know." The younger woman stuck her nose in the air disdainfully. "It's the only way to keep the blood from dying out. Only witches and wizards together can produce new wizards, as a rule." She sniffed. "Although I've heard there are exceptions."

Gabrielle's brain was having difficulty processing the ideas of "Joxer" and "fair game" in the same train of thought. She'd spent the last couple of years traveling with the big dope, and while she didn't know what it was he did when he wandered off, she had never noticed women lining up to be with him. Of course, Meg had really liked him, but Gabrielle gathered that Meg pretty much liked anyone that was passably male. The word "marry" in the mix was even more unsettling. Then the girl made a statement that imploded the bard's brain. "Besides, not many of 'em are as cute as your 'friend'."

Just then Xena returned, rescuing the blonde from certain mental meltdown. "Gabrielle, Mother Wigglewort wants to meet you. C'mon." The bard nodded slowly, her head barely able to contain the thoughts within.

As she walked mechanically away, the girl called after her, "My name is Hellena. Maybe you could introduce me some time."

The bard hadn't quite yet recovered when Xena ushered her into the tiny thatched cottage only a stone's throw from the Academy gate, and stopped her before the witch. The old woman looked critically at both of the women standing before her. "So you're the other two."

"The other two what?" Gabrielle knew that thanks to Joxer she could understand this language, but very little of what people had said to her lately in it had made much sense.

"I didn't tell old Port, mostly because he wouldn't have listened anyway, but there were three intertwined lives in my tea reading. The wizard was the clearest, but you two were decidedly there." The witch motioned the women to a couple of overstuffed chairs beside the fireplace. She took her place on a high stool facing them. "That's why I sent your friend back for you. I needed to meet with you, because it was hard to tell which one of you was which. Are you very close?"

Gabrielle's eyes shone. This was something she felt confident and secure about. "As close as two people can get, almost." Xena smiled in agreement.

"That explains why I couldn't tell. Do either of you mind if I do a reading on you?"

Gabrielle sighed. Another one of those statements where the words all fit together like they ought to make sense, but they really didn't. She looked at Xena before making a response. The Warrior Princess was looking intently at the old woman, and nodded firmly once after a few minutes. When the witch looked at Gabrielle, she shrugged and nodded at the same time.

She expected her to take her palm, or pull out cards, or something. What she never expected was the warm movement through her mind, like a gentle spring breeze. Somewhere in her heart, she felt the need to be alarmed, but the presence was so soothing, she couldn't work up to it. She hadn't realized her eyes were closed until the sensation ended, and she opened them.

She looked over at Xena. The Warrior Princess was studying the witch, then moved her ice blue gaze to Gabrielle, then back again. The witch smiled pleasantly. "Gabrielle," she asked, "would you take this note over to the Boulder's Drop Inn? The owner owes me for the safe birth of his last two calves and his youngest son. You can stay there while you're here." The bard rose. She didn't see the witch frown and shake her head when Xena made move to follow her.

Collecting her staff, she turned before leaving. "Is it hard to become a witch?" Gabrielle found herself asking the older woman. "I mean, I've heard there are a lot of healing skills involved, and that's always been an area of interest for me."

The woman positively glowed. "I'd be glad to teach you all about it. We'll talk later, you run on now." Obediently, the young woman left.

"Her mind's a little loose right now, after the reading. She's not one to usually say exactly what she feels, is she? And even she doesn't really know what she feels that made her ask me that."

Xena scowled. "Why did you read her, and not me?"

"She told me all I need to know, dearie."

"Which was?"

"She needs to be trained as a witch. Otherwise, she can never marry a wizard."

Xena's expression was blank, "Marry a wizard? Why should, she. Oh. My." It wasn't so incredible, really. She'd seen Joxer changing into more of a man; she'd known of his feelings for the blonde bard; she could see how Gabrielle could be attracted to him, now. But to actually imagine them, well, married - it was a step her imagination never considered taking before. They were both her friends, and she couldn't imagine that ever changing, but. "Do you think she'd even be interested in that?"

A rumbling sound that Xena identified as laughter came from the old woman. "Only if she can overcome the barriers she's built inside herself, and sees that she already is. It was a good sign that she asked me about witches' training - it means she's already heard. I was gong to recruit her if she didn't."

Xena's natural defenses were kicking back in. She'd subdued them earlier in order to satisfy her curiosity. "All this from a chat with your cuppa? Aren' t you just some over-ambitious matchmaker or something?"

The witch answered patiently. "The tea leaves only told me that a wizard the likes of which this country has rarely seen would be arriving, and that he would be with two who held and shared his destiny. And one held his heart. You are his strength, I can see that, but she is his soul. Without her, he could be taken, turned. Maybe even broken. You would not know your friend, and maybe you would not know this world, if that should happen. This is more than just frivolous matchmaking, although I've done my share of that. This matters." The old woman seemed overcome, and rose, crossing to the fire and tending to it with her back to Xena.

Xena muttered to herself, but loud enough to be heard, "As long as no one forces her. It's gotta be up to Gabrielle."

Even more softly, Mirabelle Wigglewort murmured, "Yes, it does."

Joxer sat across from Milt on his pallet, dressed in the long brown robe he' d been given. His new roommate was outlining just the most important of the 847 Rules that governed wizards and the use of magic.

".go anywhere without your robe. If anyone is caught in the hall without their robe, unless a professor or the Master is escorting them, they are thrown out - no questions asked."

"What about the help?" Joxer wondered. "Do they wear robes? I thought this was a wizard thing."

Milt rolled his eyes. Joxer had questioned every Rule so far. "They have uniforms," the younger man explained, patiently. "So we can tell who belongs here. Bertha will come in and empty the chamber pot in the morning, you'll see the uniform then." Joxer's roommate continued. "You can't leave the place without Master's permission, which is harder to get then the last three words to the alchemy spell that turns iron into gold. You can't even send messages unless he says so."

Joxer's face was turning an interesting shade of purple. His voice was almost dangerously low. "He didn't tell me that. He let me believe I could see Xena and Gabby whenever I wanted."

Milt shrugged. "Didja ever really ask him?" Joxer's anger deflated slightly, and he shook his head. The boy looked sage. "Well, there ya go."

"I'll just sneak out." Joxer announced stubbornly.

Milt lifted a brow. "Nobody's ever done it, so far. Well, except for Merlin, but we aren't supposed to talk about him. The professors get all pale and have to go sit down when we do." The boy shrugged eloquently. "Those spells on the doors work from the inside out, too. They're as much to keep us here as to keep anybody out."

The rat in the box woke up and stretched. Climbing out of its bed it strolled over to Milt, who scratched it on the back as it settled at his feet. Joxer looked vaguely ill. "You have a rat as a pet?"

"He's my familiar. His name is Carlyle." Noticing the older man's face, the boy wizard got defensive. "Hey, it was the best I could do. Cats and birds are expensive!" Looking around the room, he went on with a superior tone, "And it doesn't look like you have one at all."

The staff was still lying on the floor on the other side of the pallet. Joxer turned his head and looked at it, feeling its response to be, "Yeah? Well?"

He snorted. "Lazy." He turned away and faced Milt, but only moments later felt a gentle jab at his arm. He grinned at the waiting staff as he took it in hand. "I let you get away with so much." The stick settled into his grip in comfortable agreement.

Miller's eyes were huge. "WOW. Most familiars have minds to tame, no matter how small. Never saw one that the wizard gave a mind to."

Joxer looked at the staff and then at his roommate. "Oh, it has a mind of its own." He felt the stick vibrate as if a snicker had run through it. "And it makes sure that I don't forget it."

"Wow," Milt repeated.

Xena and Mother W, as she had insisted the Warrior Princess call her, moved at a leisurely pace towards the inn. "So the girls that gather here," Xena waved her arm at the now empty square outside the Witches' Door, "are basically a sort of magical Lonely Hearts Club?"

"They're here for many reasons. Some are betrothed already to young men in the Academy. Some have become witches due to family reasons, and now desire to marry. They realize that this is their best opportunity. Then there are those like Hellena, who see themselves as the Next Great Witch, and therefore have the desire to marry a Great Wizard to consolidate their power. Fortunately there are few of that type. And the Academy produces even fewer Great Wizards. So the world is safe from their megalomania, pretty much. My job is to watch over them and make sure they stay out of trouble."

"I understand the reason for the rule, but how serious is it? I mean, what if a wizard were to marry a girl who isn't a witch? What would happen?"

The old woman looked troubled. "Of all the Rules, that one is the most serious. If that one is broken."

"They do WHAT?" Joxer squeaked.

"Kill them both. The blood of the gods that runs through wizard's veins is too thin already. They want to make sure the dilution is stopped, and the only way is to make the consequences that serious."

"So if a wizard falls in love with a girl who isn't a witch, he's out of luck?"

"Yeah, and I don't know if you saw some of those girls outside, but it'll help you see why a lot of wizards chose not to marry. I don't think I will." Milt looked infinitely sad at that prospect. He brightened slightly. "Although, unlike being a wizard, there really isn't a blood requirement to become a witch. Training is enough. I'm not sure why, but maybe the training changes something in the girl's blood. Who can say? It's all a little fuzzy. This is Magic, after all."

"So if the girl loved the guy enough, she could become a witch and they could marry." Joxer's optimism at this thought faded fast. This was Gabby he was thinking about, he needed to remember. She barely liked him. It's not as if she would undergo training she didn't want or need to be ready to do something she wouldn't ever do. Any hopes he had ever had of someday impressing her enough to convince her to marry him were dashed forever. He would gladly die for her, but he would never put her life in danger. He was willing to break every Rule but this one. The rest were just stupid - this one would mean Gabby's life.

The witch and the warrior woman paused outside the inn. "She'll never be a real witch, you know."

Xena looked at the old woman in surprise. "Then why did you offer to train her? You even said you'd have gone to her if she hadn't asked you first."

"I know you understand the concept of Destiny. It's her destiny to be with him. Your destiny figures in there somewhere, too. But, she can't be with a wizard unless she's a witch, so I have to train her."

"But you just said she'd never be a witch."

"I said she'd never be a real witch. Most aren't, you know. First off, there's the hereditary thing. Besides that, it takes a great deal of imagination to be a real witch. You have to be able to see things."

"But Gabrielle is a bard," Xena protested. "She sees things far better than most. And she has imagination."

"No, she sees things that are there. Real witches see all the things that aren't there, right under their noses. I think you know what I mean. You' ve seen them." Xena looked concerned. "Not everyone knows when gods are nearby like you do. I can sense you had a Teacher, didn't you?"

Xena thought of Lao Ma, and the things she had shown her. "You mean that's witchcraft?"

"That's what we call it here. In other places, it has other names. It's all about taking nature and stretching it to do what you need it to. The wizards pull magic from the air and shape new realities out of it. We take the realities that are there, and manipulate them to fit our needs. I've had a few surprise me, but usually I can tell. You've got it, she doesn't."

"But she can still be witch enough to."

"Yes, to marry the boy, if either of them ever manage to figure out how to get to that point. Besides, she'll learn all kinds of useful skills."

Xena kept her amusement at the thought of Gabrielle announcing, "I have many skills," to herself as they entered the tavern at the inn.

Joxer and Milt strode down the hall to the library, their pointy-toed boots making brushing noises on the stone floor. It felt like going barefoot, these soft-soled shoes, and it was the only thing about the whole wizard outfit Joxer actually liked. He absolutely refused to wear the stupid pointy hat. If it had been about the height of his old helmet, it would have been fine. But you could store a weeks worth of food inside this one with room to spare. Every time Joxer passed through a doorway the damn thing got knocked off. After the last time, he just left it off.

The staff clicked against the stone as he went, and the rat was right beside Milt. The librarian looked up and nodded as they entered, and went back to his reading. Milt eyed the shelves full of scrolls in the back alcove before selecting one and handing it to Joxer. "Here's the collection of all 847 Rules and the brief explanations for them. I'm sure you'll have questions, but I really need to go to this levitation demonstration, or Professor Hargon will lower my grade. I'll be back to pick you up after it's over, if you want."

Joxer nodded, his eyes already skimming the scroll. "I'll be fine," he said distantly, not noticing that Miller had already left. He sank into a chair and laid the scroll out on the table.

By the time Milt returned, Joxer had found ways to sidestep 623 of the Rules, decided that 200 were outdated and unimportant, needed to do further research on 23 others, but he could find no way around the only Rule he really cared about. As he rolled up the document to put it back on the shelf, he mumbled to himself, "I need to talk to Xena." Without further ado, he found himself in an unfamiliar tavern.

Milt had turned his back for a moment. When he looked over where Joxer had been, he saw nothing there but scrolls and shelves. Panic rose in his throat. What would the Master say? He gave Miller the responsibility for taking care of his new roommate, and he'd managed to lose him. The boy looked under the table anxiously.

Xena looked up from her drink to see her lanky friend standing before her in the funniest outfit she had seen him in yet. He looked at her in surprise, then made a face. "Damn, I hate when I do that." Casting his gaze around the tavern, he saw Gabrielle and a large old woman in black talking to the innkeeper, and was grateful that the bard had her back to him. "Look, I need to talk to you, but now isn't a good time or place. I'll send you a note when I can get away."

Xena looked at him steadily. "If this is any indication, you can get away whenever you want to."

"Yeah," he said absently, "but, no. Look, I'll get in touch. I better go back. See ya." He waved his hand and was gone as quickly as he had appeared.

Xena looked at the now empty spot where he had just been. "This really does take some getting used to."

Joxer rematerialized in the spot from which he had left. Milt crawled out from under the table and his eyes bugged. "Where were you?"

Joxer looked innocent. "Right here, why?" The staff gave what felt like a snort, and Joxer kicked it discreetly.

Milt scratched his head. "Hmm. Been a long day, I guess. You want anything to eat before we turn in?"

"So we can stay here as long as we want to, free of charge, and Mother Wigglewort will train me in the healing arts, and we can be around this way if Joxer needs us, and . Xena, are you even listening to me?"

Xena was roused from her thoughts of witchcraft and wizardry and weddings by the sound of Gabrielle's voice pausing, with the inflection that indicated she had asked a question. Xena looked up. "Huh? Sure." She hoped she hadn't agreed to go see some stupid poetry reading again.

"Then it's settled. We'll stay."

Xena looked at her as if she had lost her mind. "There was ever any question?"

The bard's satisfied smile faded away. "Oh. Okay." She pouted a bit. "I thought I had done so much to work it all out. It seems it was all decided without me."

Xena turned her full attention on her friend. "Oh, Gabrielle, I'm sorry. You did a lot of important things to make this possible. I just never thought you'd leave a friend like Joxer behind, that's all I meant." She put her arm around the bard's shoulders. "You're too good a friend to abandon someone you care about."

"Well, I do c... I mean, I wouldn't... he..." The younger woman leaned into the embrace. "Thanks, Xena. You always understand me so well."

Xena wrapped her other arm about her best friend and watched as she closed her eyes. Not for a minute, Gabrielle. But I do try.