Amaranth jumped up. "We should go there!"
Herford was less enthusiastic. "Do you think we can make it in time? How far away is it?"
"It's about a half a day's ride from here, so probably about a day with Sugar Bell. And it's only a little out of the way if we're going to try to catch George."
The rabbit nodded. "I guess we could do it." He sighed. "It looks like I'm going to be a rabbit for longer than I had hoped."
Amaranth patted him on the head. "It's ok. We're going to see the fastest horses in the kingdom. I might get to ride one of them!" He looked off dreamily into the middle distance. Herford only scowled and tried to bite the child's retreating hand.
It didn't take long for Matilda and Amaranth to pack their supplies into the donkey cart and hitch Sugar Bell back into her position. It took much longer for Herford to decide what books and magical supplies he needed to pack and which weren't as necessary. They were only able to leave when Matilda picked him up, placed him in the cart, and told Amaranth to start down the road. Even then, for the first few miles things kept appearing and disappearing in the cart as Herford decided that he either definitely did or definitely did not need them. Eventually, they moved out of range of his conjuring spell and Herford was able to relax.
Amaranth spent a considerable portion of his time talking about the fastest horses in the kingdom and wondering what the Weisgarbers were like and if they would let him borrow one of their horses. Matilda deflated his daydreams somewhat by telling him that if they did borrow a horse, then they would hitch it to the cart but what was more likely was that they would send a messenger to George letting him know that he should meet them at the Weisgarber's home.
Otherwise, the journey was an uneventful one. The donkey trudged stolidly down the road, taking the rests given to her, and generally not slowing or speeding up or complaining. As evening was approaching, Matilda began giving Amaranth more specific instructions on where Sugar Bell should head. The Queen Mother was pleased to be in a place she remembered so fondly. It was in this country that she and Kevin had adventured as newlyweds, just before they became king and queen. There was the inescapable gorge she and Kevin had been chased into by orcs, only to find that a rope was dangling down from the top of the sheer precipice at the back of it. And there was the rickity bridge they had crossed that had fallen down immediately after they reached the other side, saving them from the blood thirsty assassins who had been tailing them. The bridge had been rebuilt, but looked just as rickity as ever.
The sun set and darkness settled over the land before the travellers spotted the house they were looking for. It was a snug stone structure with a slate roof and the warm glow of firelight coming from the windows. There was a flower garden in the front and a kitchen garden, chickens, and stables behind the house. Matilda got out of the cart and knocked on the door. After a few moments, a large, muscular man opened the door with a growl that quickly softened when he saw that form of the stooped old woman in travelling clothes. He grinned and called out behind him, "Cindy! It's Amy! Amy is here!"
A woman in a flour spattered apron emerged from the depths of the house. She hugged the Queen Mother. "We've been so worried about you! I'm glad you're here." She turned to her husband. "Oh, Jack, look. The poor thing looks exhausted." She pointed at the donkey cart but it was unclear whether or not she had been talking about the donkey or the boy driving the donkey.
"Right. Right. I'll take them up to the stable." With that, Mr. Weisgarber walked over to the cart and grabbed the reins from Amaranth, who was delighted to follow him to the stable and question him about the fastest horses in the kingdom.
Herford and Reginald had hopped out of the cart before it was taken and now joined Mrs. Weisgarber and Matilda at the front door. The former was saying "...and we hear so many rumors from all over the kingdom. It's hard sometimes to know what's really going on, but we have been concerned for you. No one seemed to know where you were and some people have been saying you'd fallen into the river and died or something."
"Oh no, I'm still around. I suppose i can be thankful for that at least."
"Well, we're thankful for it. But I can't keep you out here all night. Let's go inside and I'll bring you some dinner. I'm sure you've had a long day." Mrs. Weisgarber hadn't noticed the strange pair that had approached from the cart, until they attempted to follow Matilda into the house. She jumped slightly when they appeared out of the gloom. "Um. Amy? Are you travelling with pets? I didn't know you had a rabbit and...a partridge?"
It may have been imprudent for Herford to speak before Matilda had time to explain the situation more fully, but he was annoyed. "He's not a partridge. He's a pheasant."
Cindy's eyes widened and she took a step backwards. "A talking pheasant? Where did it come from? I've never seen one before." At that point, a forehead and two eyes peeked out from around a corner. The person who they belonged to seemed content to not reveal any more of himself and silently listened to the rest of the conversation from this uncomfortable position.
Matilda decided to try to explain the position of the unfortunate wizard. "Oh, no. This is the wizard Herford. He's been a little bit out of sorts lately."
Mrs. Weisgarber curtsied to Reginald. "Ah. I see. Well, you are welcome here Sir Pheasant."
"He's actually the rabbit. The pheasant is his familiar."
Amaranth jumped up. "We should go there!"