Jaguars! the voice in Heather's head cried. I actually saw one yesterday! It was much scarier, much sleeker, than the carved ones on the old temples. Have you ever seen a real jaguar?
"No, I haven't," Heather said aloud.
Merlin turned from the ancient apparatus he was fiddling with. "You haven't what?"
Heather shook her head and felt the intruding voice slip away. "Nothing. I guess I was thinking out loud."
Standing up and brushing off his wool trousers, Merlin walked toward her. "You looked like you were a million miles away."
She nodded, pushing down the urge to tell him all about the voices, crazy as that would sound. "Yes, sort of."
Gently he kissed her on the cheek. "As long as you never go that far away without me."
She smiled teasingly up at him. "As if I'd ever want to." She knew she'd talk to him about the voices soon, but she hadn't thought it all through yet. For once, she didn't want to just saddle him with more problems. She wanted to offer some answers as well.
Changing the subject, she said, "So, have you figured out how that thing worked yet?"
Laughing, Merlin returned to the rusted metal device. "When this was a city park, I think people just turned this knob and clean drinking water shot out."
He gave the knob a sharp wrench. The pipe shrieked with the wail of a dying banshee. Then, with a single spurt of rusty water, it shuddered into silence. "Well, it was worth a try," Merlin sighed, letting go of the handle. "Imagine what this world would have been like before the Devastation--water pumped into every home and even to public drinking fountains in their parks. Civilization did do some great things before it blew itself apart."
Heather unhooked the leather water bottle from her belt and handed it to him. He took a swig, dribbling water down his chin through the sparse dark strands of a beginning beard.
"Think your beard will grow faster if you water it?" Heather laughed.
The boy shook his head. "It's like each whisker is thinking carefully about whether it really wants to do the beard thing. This reluctant beard drove me crazy the first time I was a teenager, and now it's doing it again."
Retrieving the bottle, Heather took a sip of her own as they continued walking. Now that York was filling up with guests for the royal wedding, they both liked to escape the crowded old city whenever they could. From behind the usual high pall of dust stirred by ancient bombs, the June sun shed a faint warmth. Snow lingered in shadowed spots, and a few soft twitterings floated in the air.
"Things are improving," Merlin said. "At least more birds are coming back into the world, though they seem about as reluctant as my beard. I wonder if. . ."
A child's scream rose from behind a tumbled, vine- entangled wall. "Eek, a horrible mutie dog! Yuck, dog spit! Get him off me!"
"Rus," Heather and Merlin said together. Quickly they both clambered over the wall. On the other side were two girls. The younger was pinned down by a shaggy black and white dog, its two tails wagging, its two heads nodding as both tongues licked the girl's face. The other girl was timidly trying to tug the dog off.
"Rus," Heather commanded, "leave her alone! Maybe she doesn't want to be friends."
With a double whine, the dog jumped away and bounded over to Heather. Thumping paws on her shoulders, its two tongues licking her face.
"Down, Rus," Heather gasped. Then she spoke to the two girls, who were staring at them with wide eyes. "See, he really is friendly. Too friendly sometimes. You must smell like a person who loves animals."
"She does," the older girl said, helping the other up and dusting her off. "That's why we're out here where we shouldn't be, looking for Shadow. She's a feral cat Mia made a pet of, but now she's run off."
"I'm afraid fell dogs or muties might have eaten her," Mia said, looking at Rus warily.
Heather shook her head. "Is Shadow a fat gray cat with black swirly stripes?"
Mia's face lit up. "You've seen her?"
"Sort of," Heather said vaguely. "I think she's nearby. Let's look."
Merlin watched as Heather began walking west, over the hillside, her thin blond braids swinging back and forth. The two younger girls followed like baby chicks. Holding Rus firmly by one of his two collars, Merlin followed as well.
After a few minutes, Heather suddenly stood still and closed her eyes. Then, opening them, she veered right and knelt beside a ridge of tumbled bricks. Hesitantly she peered over the top.
"Shadow's down there," she said, sitting back up, "in
a little nest she's made for herself. If you look--very
quietly--you'll see what she's been busy with the last few days."
Little Mia quickly knelt and peered over. "Kittens. Shadow has kittens!" Sitting up, she looked at her sister. "Nedra, let's take them all home."
Heather shook her head. "They're still too young to move. Let Shadow decide when it's time."
Nedra frowned. "But suppose she decides to go back to the wild. Shadow was a feral kitten herself once."
Heather nodded. "I'll talk to her about it. Tell her you two need her and her family." Lying full length on the ground, Heather inched her head over the bricks. She stayed that way for long silent minutes. Then she stood up, brushing dirt from her wool trousers and tunic.
"There. She says she still likes you, and she'll bring her kittens home when they're old enough."
"You talk to cats!" Mia breathed excitedly.
Merlin spoke up from his seat on a nearby pile of bricks. "Heather is very good with animals. Trust her."
"Heather?" Nedra questioned. Suddenly she smiled broadly. "Oh, I know! You're the sorceress King Arthur brought with him when he came to York." Then she clapped a hand to her face and looked at the boy. "And you must be her boyfriend, Arthur's old wizard, Merlin."From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Yesterday's Magic by Pamela F. Service. Copyright © 2008 by Pamela F. Service. Excerpted by permission of Random House Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.