Friday, December 31, 2021

One Word - 60 Seconds

 Today's word was Granted:


He wondered if it was really worth it. Everyone dreams about having a wish granted, but when it does, is it really what you thought it would be? Edwin shook his head as he gazed at what lay in front of him. He should have known better.
“Why was I so stupid,” he mumbled to himself.
 He rubbed his chin and looked around him before staring once more at the decomposing body on the ground. That imp or whatever it was, never said wishing her back from the grave, meant this.....

Friday, December 3, 2021

A Christmas Ghost Story - If you call I will come.





 If you call I will come  

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please take your seats in the library for the traditional telling of the Christmas Eve Ghost story.”

The steward led the way through the corridor. The six guest, drinks in hand, followed on behind. There was Dorrie and Lesley, both early twenties, one fair the other dark—a frizz of excitement hung in the air between them as they clutched their drinks and scurried behind. Following them were Geoff and Jan, a couple in their mid forties. Then came Roger, a young man with a shock of red hair and a good deal of skepticism about ghosts. He sipped on his whiskey as he ambled along. Next to him was Miss Dapple, an elderly lady, sliver hair piled high on her head and a glass of sherry held tightly between her fingers.
“I do love a good ghost story don’t you?” said Miss Dapple.
“Roger smiled and said, “Hmm.”
The Manor dated back to the 1800’s; it had seen many parties in its early years. Now it housed just half dozen guests for the Christmas weekend experience. The guests piled into the library where a roaring fire burned in the grate and the lights were set very low. In a leather winged chair by the fireside, sat an old man dressed in a velvet smoking jacket and cap. His gnarled hands held a pipe to his lips, on which he puffed away rhythmically.

The guest, seated in comfortable chairs, sipped their drinks while they waited for him to speak. He lowered his pipe, and just for a moment looked at them, then he began.
“This is true story that dates back to 1860′s when this house was alive with people and music on Christmas Eve. It’s about two young people, Anton and Louise. Imagine the ballroom full of happy laughter…”


“Louise come dance with me.”
Anton held out a hand. She smiled as she allowed him to lead her around the floor to the strains of a waltz. He loved her; tonight he would ask her to marry him. Her father had approved and he knew she would say yes. He looked into her blue eyes and his heart filled with desire.

The music stopped and Louise flicked open her fan and fluttered is back and forth.
“Would you like some punch?” he asked.
“Thank you. I’ll wait out on the balcony, in the cool air.” She picked up her skirts and walked towards the open doors.

Anton returned carrying two glasses. The balcony was crowded, everyone was feeling the heat of the ballroom. He pushed his way past to where Louise stood facing out over the stone edge.
“Louise here’s your drink,” he said stretching an arm out towards her. But just as she turned to take it, a great oaf of a man crashed into the back of Anton, forcing him forwards against Louise; the impact sending her flying over the edge to tumble to the ground. Her crumpled body lay on the cold earth….


“Oh my goodness,” said Miss Dapple. “How sad.”
“I thought this was a ghost story.” Roger took a  swig of his whisky.
“It is,” replied the narrator. “Anton was so grief—ravaged that he took his own life later that night in the corridor outside this library, by slitting his throat with a knife. Every Christmas Eve strange noises have been heard around The Manor. Some say it’s Anton looking for Louise. His voice whispering through the air, asking her to call him.”
“Will we hear it?” asked Jan.

At that moment the lights flickered and the temperature dropped. Dorrie and Lesley gasped and clutched each others arms.
“It’s a trick,” said Roger taking another swig of his whisky.
“Is it?” replied the narrator. “They say Anton will keep searching this house until he finds her.”

A rapping on the window made them all jump.
“It’s getting colder,” whispered Dorrie. She shivered and rubbed her arms.
“Something touched me!” Lesley jumped up and looked around.
“Don’t be daft,” said Roger.  “There’s no such thing as ghosts. Can I get another whisky?” He held up his empty glass.
“Help yourself. The drinks are over there.” The narrator nodded in the direction of the back wall.

Roger walked towards the drinks table. Just as he reached it, the glasses started to shake, chink chink. The other’s turned around, mouths agape.
“Okay how are you doing that?” said Roger.
“I’m not,” said the narrator.
Roger grabbed the whisky bottle, poured himself a shot and came back and sat down. “Don’t be fooled by all of this.” He looked at the other guests. “It’s just an illusion.”

“Anton walks the corridors on this night searching for his lost love and they say if he finally finds her, he will be at peace.” The narrator took a long slow puff of his pipe, then leaned out across to his audience. “Be warned though, do not utter his name. Under no circumstance call to him or he will come and it is said if you are not his love, his anger is terrifying. Now drink up and Merry Christmas to one and all.” The narrator slipped back into his chair and continued smoking his pipe.

The group stood, wished him the same back and left the library. Miss Dapple, Geoff and Jan, headed off in one direction towards their rooms and Dorrie, Lesley and Roger in another.

The corridors were dimly lit and the grandfather clock that stood in the entrance could be heard striking midnight.
“What a load of rubbish that was,” said Roger.
“I think it was fun,” said Dorrie.
“Something strange happened,” said Lesley, “I felt something touch me.”
“That was your imagination,” replied Roger. “All this nonsense about not calling his name. What a load of…”
“You do it then,” said Lesley jumping in before he finished his sentence. She nudged Dorrie and the two girls giggled.
“I’m not afraid to. It’s a load of old poppy cock.”
“Go on then.” Dorrie laughed.
“All right, I will. Then you’ll see how stupid it is—Anton, Anton, Anton.”
The three stood still and waited, but nothing happened.
“There see, I told you.” Roger grinned at both the girls.

They started to walk on and as they turned the corner an icy blast hit them and a murmuring drifted through the air.
Who’s calling me? Is that you Louise, I’m coming, coming….
“Did you hear that?” whispered Lesley as she moved closer to Dorrie. Her breath as she spoke, came as a smoky cloud drifting in the atmosphere.
“It has to be a trick.” Roger’s face had now drained of its colour.

Their breath became thicker;  the air around them began to feel freezing. The three stood and stared as something hazy started to form further down the corridor. The apparition moved towards them, picking up more form the closer it got, until before them stood a young man dressed in evening tails. His eyes searched them as he reached out and ran a cold hand down the side of Lesley’s hair.
“You’re not her.” His eyes hardened and with a flick of his wrist he sent her tumbling to the ground.
Dorrie stood shaking, too frightened to move.
“Is that you Louise?”  He glanced over her, a finger stroked her straw coloured hair. Then he noticed Roger. “It’s you, you who pushed me, I remember that red hair.”
“Nnnoo, you’re mistaken,” stuttered Roger.
Anton’s face changed; wild eyes, gaping mouth, teeth capable of ripping out your soul. Roger screamed and crouched to the ground.
“Don’t,” yelled Dorrie reaching out a hand.
Anton turned to face her. Louise it is you?

Dorrie stared into his eyes and she could feel and see his pain. His breath moved the strands of her hair like a gentle breeze. “I’m not her,” she breathed; her breath a billowing cloud.
Anton looked more deeply into her face, then turned and floated off down the corridor, his voice lingering in the air—Louise where are you?, I’m coming my love….

Roger stood up, there was a wet streak running down his leg. Dorrie helped Lesley to her feet, then looking at Roger said,
“Still don’t believe in ghosts then?”

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

WIZARD Chapter 9 - Fireballs & Magic





© Helen A. Howell

Chapter 9
Fireballs & Magic

“You!” Octava scrambled to her feet and moved away from Lostan, putting a small distance between them. Her eyes narrowed as she watched him.
“Not leaving are you?” His lips pressed into a sneer.
Octava took another few steps backwards. She knew she was no match for him, not without the talisman, but she also knew he couldn’t kill her, not while she had her half of the sceptre. She straightened up her old bent body and slipped her hand into the pocket that contained the fire powder.
“Lostan, you can’t kill me, remember? Not while I have my half of the sceptre. Why waste energy on a fruitless battle now?” She placed another hand in the pocket that housed the arrow and raised her second pair of arms as she shrugged her shoulders. “Let me go. Our time will come, very soon. I promise.”
“I take it that you didn’t get what you came for?” He looked towards the village and then back at her. “What was it you gave the boy? If you had it you would not be so ready to retreat. I know you Hag.” He took a step towards her. She took another step back. “I may not be able to kill you right now, but I can hurt you.” He held his hands up and flexed his fingers.
Octava blinked, but she dared not take her eyes off the Wizard. He knows I gave the boy the talisman? No, he just suspects I gave the boy something. He doesn’t know what. “What makes you think I’ve come from there?” She jerked her head in the general direction of the hamlet.
“Where else could you have come from? Don’t play games with me.”
“Even if I did, why would I have given him anything?” She tried to hide the fear she felt.
“Do you take me for a fool Hag? I don’t know how you knew I had the half sceptre, but somehow you did. I also know the boy is a novice. He would have needed help to force me out. You needed me to leave, otherwise the sceptre would remain out of your reach. It still does. I keep it on me.” Damn - I shouldn’t have told her that. Annoyed at having let that bit of information slip out, he pulled himself up taller and glared at Octava. “You will have to kill me to get it. I don’t think you can do that without whatever it was you gave the boy. Am I right Witch?”
He keeps it on him. Ha! At least I know where his half is. That’s more than he knows about me. “I will get your half Wizard, I promise you.”
Octava backed away further from Lostan. Her eyes stayed glued to those slender fingers of his that he held in the air as she tried to anticipate his next move. Her fingers grasped a handful of the powder in her pocket. Her knees trembled. She knew he could be dangerous and she knew she had to get away. She continued to move backwards. The woods were not too far off and she wondered if she could run fast enough before he did her any great damage.
Lostan looked at her and sneered. “Going somewhere are you?” He moved forwards, closing the gap between them. “I’ll enjoy hurting you.” He wiggled his fingers at her, knowing her magic, unlike his, needed the aid of potions to manifest. “Consider it payback for Lily.” He spat the barbed words at her. The fear registered on her face and Lostan laughed to see it. Octava’s heart banged. Without thinking she tossed a handful of the powder at him, swung around and raced off towards the trees.
Lostan stepped back as the powder fell at his feet to explode in a fireball. He clicked his fingers.“Gionorma hawkus—transformus.” He clicked his fingers again. The flames grew higher and formed into a huge bird. “Attack.” He pointed towards the retreating figure of Octava.
The bird screeched as it took to the air, fiery wings beating hard. It set the Witch in its sights and careered towards her. The first Octava knew of it was when she felt the downdraft from its wings, a hot blast that fell upon her like a blanket. She looked up just as the bird reached out and grasped her by the shoulders in its talons.
“Ahhhh, let go of me.” Octava lashed out at it with her four arms, the flames burning her hands. “Oowwww.”
The tip of her hat was on fire and her robe was starting to smoulder. She beat the hat with one set of hands while making a frantic attempt to put out the sparks that threatened to burn her clothing off her back, with her other set. The bird swung her around and with her feet just touching the ground it hurtled her towards Lostan. Octava puffed and huffed as her legs moved faster than she thought was possible. As they grew closer to the Wizard, the bird began to lose height. Its flaming body started to die and disappeared in a final puff of smoke. Octava found herself face down on the ground. Her hat toppled from her head and sizzled in the cold grass. She clambered to her feet. Her face and hands were blackened and her hair singed around the edges.
 Lostan stood a short distance away from her. “Are you ready to play some more Witch? I’ve only just got started.” As he stared at her he noticed the black streak in her grey hair. I wonder what she’s been up to, to have caused that? Surely she doesn’t know dark magic. But what else could cause a change like that? He moved towards her.
Octava reached down, grasped her hat, and returned it to her head. She knew the powder she had was useless against him. She thought about escaping again but she needed something to distract him in order to get away. She slipped her hand into the pocket that contained the metal arrow she had created to defeat the dark magic. Her fingers felt its coolness against her skin as she entwined them around it. I wonder?
“What’s this new colour scheme to your hair Witch?” Lostan stretched out a hand and lifted the ebony strands with a finger. His dark eyes glowered at her.
“What’s it to you?” Octava squeezed the arrow tighter with one hand and brushed his finger away with the other. With another set of hands she pushed Lostan hard in the chest. “Get away from me.”
“Shove me, would you?”
Lostan thrust his hands into her shoulders. The impact made Octava’s head wobble on her scraggy neck. With all of her arms she shoved him back as hard as she could sending him sprawling across the ground. She turned and ran.
Lostan sat up and clicked his fingers. “Freezum Sward.”
The grass beneath Octava’s feet crackled and crunched as it turned instantly from a lush green to an icy sheet. Her feet slipped from under her and she fell with a thud on her back to slide along the sheet of glass and spin off onto the soft turf. Her head felt dizzy and she could see stars before her eyes. She blinked a few times before regaining her senses, just in time to feel his grip upon one set of her arms, pulling her to her feet.
 Lostan shook her as he spoke. “Tell me Hag, have you been dabbling in dark magic? Is that why you’ve got that midnight streak in your hair? Don’t lie to me. I recognise the signs.” He continued to shake her, until she felt like her bones were rattling.
“Bbbbog Oooooff Wiiiiizard. Iiii’ll tellllll yooou nnnothing.”
“I’m the master of dark magic. You don’t know what you’re playing with.” He stopped shaking her and wrapped his long fingers around her throat.
Octava’s eyes bulged as she felt him crush her skin beneath his grip. She slid a hand back into her pocket and grasped the arrow. “You’re the master of dark magic all right,” she croaked. “See how you like this.” In one swift move she extracted the arrow and drove it deep into his arm.
A burning sensation ran up it and spread to his shoulder. It felt as though it was on fire. “What have you done?” His arm started to turn grey and became heavy as his finger tips tingled and one by one started to fade. The tingling moved steadily through his hand.
Octava tittered. “Master of dark magic, eh. Save yourself then.” Lostan’s first instinct was to grab the arrow with his free hand and try to dislodge it. His other hand had now totally disappeared and the process was creeping up his arm. Octava watched as he struggled to free the arrow. Can I get his half of the sceptre? She knew where it was and if she was quick she might just do it. She lunged forward, all of her hands extended towards his cloak.
Lostan, still pulling at the small metal arrow embedded up to its hilt in his arm, let go and punched her squarely on the nose. Octava reeled backwards and toppled over. His heart raced as he observed his forearm vanish before his eyes.
“This is not possible,” he muttered as he continued to tug at the dart. He stopped and took a deep breath to calm himself. “I’m a Fool. I cannot pull this out. I must use magic to fight magic.” He heard Octava laugh and glanced towards where she had landed. “You’ll see who’ll be laughing last Witch.” He grasped his arm and held it in a firm grip as he started the incantation to restore his flesh. He spoke it over and over again and watched as the spell began to work and inch by inch his arm, hand and fingers returned.
From where she was, Octava could see the Wizard and his magic at work. “Fireballs and Cauldrons, I have to run before the magic frees him.” She scrambled to her feet, held up her robe to free her legs and dashed off as fast as she could.
Lostan looked at his flesh, now fully recovered. The metal arrow fell from his arm to dissolve into the grass. He looked across the land just in time to see Octava disappear into the trees.
“I’ll destroy that Witch if it’s the last thing I do.”
He was still a short distance from the village and as he walked towards it, he turned his attention back to Octava and the arrow. That was a powerful spell. Did she know about the rats? Did she create it to try to get rid of them? She’d have done anything to get to the boy. But if it was made to combat dark magic, why did the arrow have an effect on me? He halted in his tracks as the reality dawned on him. “Dark magic and I are becoming one.” A smile spread across his lips.
When Lostan arrived at the village gates, there wasn’t a rat in sight. He observed the people going about their normal business looking none the worse for his attack on them.
Strange. Who got rid of the dark magic? It couldn’t have been the Witch. She still had that arrow unused. Could the great Wizard himself be back? “Hey you.” Lostan yelled through the gates at the baker pushing his barrow loaded with bread, towards the square. “Is Narcam back?”
The baker stopped and squinted at him. “You again. Whaddya want?”
Lostan took a deep breath and tried not to lose his temper. “Tell me if Narcam has returned.”
“Yes, Narcam.”
“No. Now clear off. We don’t need the likes of you around here.”
Lostan felt a rush of anger spread through him and for a moment forgot he could not enter. He rushed towards the old man, hands outstretched, fingers wanting to grasp him round the neck. The moment he passed through the gate, his skin started to tingle. “Blast.” He skidded to a halt, looked at his hands then the baker and screwed up his eyes. “You’ll be sorry. All of you will be sorry.” He swung around and dashed outside the confines of the village.
“We’re not scared of you anymore. The boy wizard took care of your rats. We have him to protect us.” The old man spat his words at Lostan as he picked up his barrow and began to wheel it away.
That boy never defeated the dark magic. I’d bet my life on it. Who’s helping him? The Witch? No. He started to pace up and down outside the gates. The more he thought about who rid them of the rats, the more agitated he became. There’s no one within miles of here capable of combatting dark magic. Never mind. What I have in store for them next will take a very powerful Wizard to combat. They’ll send the boy out, unless they want to drown.
Lostan moved as close as he dared to the entrance and tossed a handful of sulphur powder down at his feet. There was a flash and a bang and a whole lot of smoke. The villagers in the square all turned together to look at him. He coughed and waved the smoke away with a hand. “Now hear me. You defied me last time, but don’t think anyone but me can save you this time from a never-ending storm.”
“Never-ending storm? What’s ‘e talking about now?” said Betsy to the candlemaker, who just shrugged his shoulders. “Bah, what rubbish is this, Wizard?” Betsy took hold of a large red tomato and rolled up her sleeves and flung it in Lostan’s direction.
Lostan held up a hand. “Reverse.” The tomato pulled up within inches of his face, spun around like a top and flew off towards Betsy to land with a splatter on her nose. Betsy swayed with the impact, as tomato flesh and juice ran down her cheeks and onto her ample bosom. The crowd gasped and simultaneously took two steps back.
“Enough of this nonsense,” bellowed Lostan. “You have been warned. This is your last chance. Send Micos to the forest within the next two days and I will come back and stop this, or prepare to drown in a quagmire of mud that the never-ending storm will bring.” The crowd gasped again and took a further two steps back. No one was brave enough to utter a word.
Lostan slipped the silver vial from his pocket and pulled out the stopper. He held his arms up to the heavens and started to speak the spell.
“Mother Nature obey my command,
Bring rain, hail, wind and storm.
With lightning flashes, crashes and strikes,
Let the never-ending tempest be born.”
Into the air he threw the single tear drop. It sailed upwards towards the soft white clouds. Lostan watched as it glittered in the daylight until it disappeared. All eyes were on the blue sky. A soft breeze was the first to be felt. It rustled the leaves on the nearby trees as it gathered in strength to blow through the gates, a gust so strong it toppled the stalls. It swirled around the square, faster and faster, pushing the people this way and that, lifting their produce and clothing to fling it through the air. A dark cloud descended, black and threatening. A thunder crack rang out as the first heavy drops of rain started to fall. Big globular splashes hit the ground, one after the other. The sky lit up as a lightning bolt flashed across it. The rain poured down. Thunder rumbled through the atmosphere as more and more lightning bolts flared, striking the ground at intervals and making the people scurry for cover like insects dodging Zeus’s thunderbolts.
Lostan stood at the gates, his robes flapping around him with the backdraft from the storm that was raging within the village walls. He watched the sky ablaze with lightning, jagged forks that cracked and snapped their way to the ground. From above his head thunder boomed, its force so great it shook the ground and him. Lostan steadied himself and once more cast his eyes upwards.
This shouldn’t be happening. The storm should remain within the village.
Out of the black came a bolt of lightning which struck a short distance from him. So bright was the flash that he saw spots before his eyes. There was a loud crack just before he felt the rock hit. A shard broke off and slithered into his eye. He blinked but his vision returned to only one. The eye from which the tear had fallen, saw nothing but complete darkness.
He put a hand over the blinded one. “The price of dark magic is always dear,” he muttered. “But it’s a small price to pay to get what I want.” Lostan glanced towards the wild storm that was now taking place within the village walls. They’ll soon realise they have no alternative but to send the boy to me. He turned and made his way back to the forest. As the crackle and crash of thunder and lightning resounded behind him, he touched his damaged eye once more.
“I guess it’s an eyepatch for me now. Ha. I’ll look a bit like a pirate. I’ve always wanted to be one of those.”

Thursday, November 11, 2021

WIZARD - Chapter 8 - The Art of Illusion


 Chapter 8
The Art of Illusion

Octava hurried through the woods. The small sack which she clutched in one pair of hands, contained the ingredients needed for the spell to combat the dark magic. She had never been squeamish about chopping off a bat’s wing or poking out a snake’s eye, let alone pulling off a frog’s leg. “They’ve got another one,” she muttered as she scrambled through the twigs and leaves that were scattered on the ground.
It was quiet. Only the wind rustling the leaves on the trees could be heard. As she walked in the direction of her cave, her mind wandered back to a time when she was not so alone. She had come from a long line of hags who had lived in the area for many hundreds of years.
I’m all that’s left now. The line will die out with me.
Octava stopped and sniffed. Her eyes began to feel damp. She blinked in an effort to rid herself of the tears that threatened to fall at the memory. But she could not rid herself of all those other memories. Perhaps it was the silence of the night and the place that brought it back. The woods were where the coven had had their monthly meeting. Many voices, much laughter all around a great pot that bubbled upon the flames of a huge fire. There were spells and dancing. Oh yes, Witches loved to dance themselves into a trance. She remembered how she had stood away from them, watching and wishing. Wishing to be more accepted. She was not like the others. She was the only one to have four arms and an unusual taste in food. Granted she was not pretty, but then not many Witches were.
“I don’t know what all the fuss about my appearance was. Frightened, that’s what they were. Scared the blood line was not pure.” Octava sighed and looked up into the pale moonlight. Which of them could say that they could chop up ingredients for their dinner while reading a book at the same time eh?
She stared at the moon a moment longer before lowering her eyes to look directly in front of her. She saw nothing but the images that were playing in her mind’s eye. She heard nothing except for Narandella’s voice telling her to leave.
“Go now Octava and never come back to us again.”
“But why? What have I done?”
“Your four arms, your bent back, the rumours that you have acquired, let us say, an unusual taste in flesh, have brought disrepute on our coven.” Narandella looked around the gathering as all heads nodded in agreement.
“But I’m the progeny of Cattama, and her mother before her and hers before her. My line goes back for centuries.”
“People are frightened and no longer come for help. How are we to live if the people do not seek our help and pay us for our favours? You must leave. You are no longer welcome. Be gone.” Narandella pointed a finger at Octava as the rest of the coven looked on.
She saw herself walking away, an outcast from the group. Her exile made her bitter and resentful. But it also made her determined to be more powerful than her sister Witches. She studied her craft with a diligence that was born out of rejection and loathing. Her prowess in the skill of mixing magic spells became so remarkable that word spread through the witching community and soon they began to fear her.
Octava reached out in front of her, as though to touch an image only she could see.
 They came when they were scared enough, to ask my forgiveness for their treatment. “I forgave them all right. Killed every last one of them. May they rot in hell.”
She spat on the ground as if to seal her curse and laughed at the memory of their faces as they laid dying in the dirt and how she had stripped them of their possessions. The lock of hair she found on a ribbon around the young Witch Lily’s neck. She knew who the hair belonged to, she made it her business to know what was going on.
The hoot of a distant owl snapped her out of her reverie and she hurried on home.
“Bat’s wing, snake’s eye and frog’s leg. Dust it must be to work.”
 Octava pounded the mixture in the metal pot, until it was a fine powder. She picked up a bottle and held it towards the flames that danced within a silver dish set to the side. She pulled the cork free from the bottle and sniffed.
 “Boy’s blood. So red, so beautiful.”
 In one set of hands she held the bowl with the powder and the bottle with the blood. In another hand she held a metal rod. With her free hand she pulled a hair from her head. To combat dark magic you had to put yourself into the spell, she knew that, but she had no fear of the consequences. She poured the powder and blood together into the fire in the silver dish and added the hair, whilst stirring it with the metal rod. The incantation to create the spell to combat dark magic rolled easily from her mouth, a slim wisp of a spell that curled into the air and reached towards the silver dish.
Octava watched as the flames ignited the powder, hair and blood. Her eyes widened as the ingredients and fire become one. The fire spiralled upwards from the dish, whirling faster and faster, a kaleidoscope of colour.
Within the vortex she saw the bat’s wing flap.
“And there, and there.”
She pointed at the whirlpool as the snake’s eye blinked and the frog’s leg jumped. The hair twisted itself around all three to bind them and the blood poured over them to cement them in place. She took a step back as the flames leapt towards the roof, fiery tongues licking outwards in all directions. The blaze lit up the cavern, so bright that she had to shield her eyes. Then with a hiss and splutter the flames extinguished and within the dish came the clang and the clatter of metal upon metal.
“It’s done.” She moved in closer. A miniature arrow lay in the dish. “Perfect. I just have to throw it and it will work its magic.” She rubbed her hands together and cackled as she reached in to retrieve it. “Oh.” Her reflection from within the silver bowl stared out at her. Down one side of her dull grey hair was a streak as black as night itself. “Hmm. That’s different. Not much of a price to pay was it? I think it complements my good looks.” Octava laughed as she slipped the arrow into her robe pocket. “Now to make the illusionary draft.”
It was already the early hours of the morning when she had almost finished the draft. “I’m one ingredient short.” She rubbed her chin with one hand while scratching her head with another and searching her shelf of bottles with her extra pair of hands.
She pushed aside one bottle after the other. I’m sure I had spiders legs somewhere. She went back to the spell list and read the instructions once more. It says not to deviate from the ingredients. But surely beetles legs can’t be much different from spiders? What harm could it do?
She collected the jar of beetles legs and tossed half a dozen into the brew. They sank into the bubbling mixture and just as she was about to stir it, they ran up the side of the pan as if trying to escape.
 “Drat these beetles legs. Spiders would never do that.” Octava tutted as she pushed them back down with her wooden spoon, but as soon as she knocked the last one into the liquid, the first ones started to climb out again. By the time she was finished, she was exhausted and it was almost daybreak.
She poured the illusionary brew into a vial and then made herself a refreshing cup of nettle tea. The village will be awake now. Ha, they probably haven’t slept a wink with all those rats running amok. “Won’t they be pleased to see me.”
 She slipped the vial into her other pocket and grabbed her cloak and swung it over her shoulders. On the table stood the basket of berries she had prepared, glistening like tiny jewels. The poison had long ago seeped into each plump and juicy fruit. Her lips curled into a smile as she took hold of the basket and headed out and towards the village.
When she arrived outside the village, the gates were wide open. The people were going about their normal day’s activities, and there wasn’t a rat in sight. What’s happened here? Who got rid of the dark magic?
She peered at the village square where the market stalls were being set up. Well, I won’t be needing this after all. She patted the metal arrow that lay in her pocket. It will keep. With Lostan nearby, I may have need of it yet.
From her other pocket she pulled the vial of liquid. It fizzed within the glass container. It shouldn’t do that. Octava frowned as she held it up and studied it. Could it be the beetles legs that’s causing it? I have to get in to see the boy and get what’s mine. I mixed it well. It should work. She uncorked the vial and held it to her mouth. “Throw it in, tip it back, down it goes without a scratch.”
The liquid slid down her throat and hit her stomach in an explosion of bubbles. Her tummy stretched out in one direction, then in the other, as though a large finger was pushing the skin out of shape. A rumbling noise, at first soft, grew louder and louder as it climbed up her gullet and erupted from her mouth in a thunderous burp while at the same time a gush of steamy vapour poured from her ears. Octava stood still and caught her breath. She hoped no one had seen. She looked towards the gates, but the inhabitants of the village seemed not to have noticed her.
 Her whole body quivered as it started to changed shape. To all, she would now appear as a beautiful tall woman with a head of vibrant red hair topped in a White Witch’s hat, decorated with stars and the moon. Garbed in a robe of pure white silk she held the basket of fruit in her hand. Her lips pressed themselves into a smile as she took her first steps towards the gates. Her body quivered again and for a second she fluctuated between the illusion and her real self before returning to the illusion.
 Damn. it must be those beetles legs. I must concentrate if I am to hold this illusion. The spell only lasts a short while. I must be quick.
Octava hurried through the gates and into the main square. The stall holders stopped what they were doing as all eyes were cast upon the White Witch that stood before them.
“Who be you?” asked the baker.
“I’m Isabel Icicle, The White Witch of the Snow Mountains.” Octava concentrated as she felt her body flutter.
“Snow Mountains? Where would they be then?” He looked up from setting his loaves out on his table.
“Oh, they’re somewhere over there.”Octava pointed a slender finger in the general direction. “South of that great hill.”
“I thought White Witches were just a legend. Don’t know anyone who’s seen one before,” said an old woman as she sorted through vegetables that she was going to sell. “You’re not having us on are ye?” She sniffed and wiped her nose across a grubby sleeve. “We don’t like tricksters.”
“I assure you my dear lady, I’m who I say I am. It’s true White Witches are rarely seen. They only do nature magic, not much call for that these days. Can you direct me to the Wizard’s house. I assume you have a resident Wizard?”
The old woman put down a cabbage and came to stand in front of Octava. “Why do you want the Wizard?”
“I bring a gift of berries.” She held up the basket. “A gift from nature and to introduce myself.” Octava smiled her sweetest smile.
The old woman wrinkled up her eyes and stared intently into Octava’s face. “What’s wrong with your nose?”
“My nose?”
“Yes, it keeps changing shape.”
“I assure you it doesn’t. You haven’t been eating toadstools instead of mushrooms, have you?”
“Old Betsy’s been known to hallucinate from time to time,” said the candlemaker. “Too much pipe baccy, eh Betsy?”
The gathered group of sellers let up a roar of laughter at the joke.
“You silly old fool,” said Betsy turning away from Octava to glare at the old man. “You’ll find the Wizard’s house over there. It’s the big one with the steps up to the door,” she called over her shoulder before returning to her vegetables.
Octava climbed the steps to Narcam’s house, knocked on the door and waited.
“Someone’s knocking at the door.” Micos leaned out of the workroom. “Nettle, the door.” But when Nettle didn’t appear, Micos sighed and walked towards it himself. “I’ll just answer it then shall I?”
“You do that.” Nettle’s voice echoed from the kitchen.
“I knew she heard,” Micos muttered as he opened the door. His mouth dropped open as his eyes took in the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
“Hullo.” Octava smiled. “You need to close your mouth before something nasty flies in it.”
Micos snapped his lips shut. “Sorry. Can I help you?”
“I’m Isabel Icicle, The White Witch of the Snow Mountains and I’ve come to pay my respect to the Wizard.” Octava kept her gaze on the boy. I’ve found you, you little wretch. The urge to reach out and clasp him around the neck was so great, that it felt like her extra pair of arms was going to break free from the illusion and strangle him. She took a quick breath and filled her mind with the image of Isabel. She felt the slightest flutter within her body and then everything became stable again.
“The master’s away at the moment, but I,” Micos placed a hand on his chest, “am considered the Wizard in his absence.”
“I’m very pleased to meet you and I bring you this gift.” Octava held out the basket of berries. Micos’s eyes lit up at the sight of the bright fruit that glistened in the morning light.
“How rude of me. Do come in.”
 Octava walked through the doorway.
“This way.” He led her down the corridor until he reached the kitchen. “Nettle we have a visitor.”
He stepped aside as Octava entered the room, then he closed the door behind them. Nettle looked up from the food she was preparing and stared at the woman who stood by Micos. She wiped her hands on her apron and walked over to the two of them.
“This is Isabel Icicle. She’s the White Witch of the Snow Mountains and she brings us a gift.” Micos pointed to the basket of fruit.
“A gift?” Nettle looked at Micos, then the fruit, then at Octava. “That’s very kind.”
“Yes, I come to pay my respects to the great Wizard that overpowered the Dark One.”
“The Dark One?” asked Nettle.
“Word has reached far and wide that a Wizard from this village forced the one known as Lostan to leave. I came to see this Wizard for myself and congratulate him.”
“That was me.” Micos beamed with pride.
“Then indeed I have come to the right place.” Octava placed the basket down on the table.
“Nettle we should offer our visitor some refreshment. Please sit.” Micos indicated the bench.
Nettle glared at Micos. There’s something not right here. White Witches are legends and there are no Snow Mountains in these parts. She looked at Octava. “What may I get you? Herbal tea? Water?”
“No, don’t trouble yourself. I’m perfectly all right. Just a chat and then I’ll be on my way. Come sit, eat some of the berries I brought. Trust me they are delicious. But first tell me young Wizard how did you get the Dark One to leave?”
Micos sat down opposite Octava, and Nettle came to stand by his side.
“Well, I just said the spell I had concocted that made Lostan start to age rapidly and to stop it he had to leave.”
“Ah, I see. But was the spell alone all you needed?”
“Why are you so interested in what he did?” Nettle stood with her arms folded across her chest, her gaze firmly fixed on Octava. Just for a moment she thought she saw something, a change in her features, but it was gone as quickly as it came.
“Why my dear, Wizard’s magic is fascinating to a Witch. Us girls are just not in the same league are we with our potions and powders. Why don’t you have a handful of these luscious berries while I talk with the young master here.” Octava pushed the basket of fruit towards Nettle.
Nettle said nothing, but kept her eyes on the woman dressed in white. Something’s weird about her. I can feel it. She gave Micos a look that said, keep your mouth shut. But he glanced back at her and decided to ignore her. After all, if someone was interested in hearing his tale then he was going to tell it.
“Actually I did use something else,” said Micos, embellishing the story he was happy to tell. “A sort of charm, to boost the spell. A talisman only a Wizard could create.”
“Can I see it?” Octava’s eyes sparkled.
Before Nettle could stop him, Micos had withdrawn the talisman from his pocket and held it out in the palm of his hand.
“Here boy have some berries.” Octava pushed the basket closer to him.
Nettle watched Octava. The light seemed to be shifting all around her. She noted how her slender hand as it reached towards Micos’s hand, seemed to change shape. She caught a glimpse of gnarled fingers and yellowed nails. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Micos grab a handful of the juicy berries and bring them up to his mouth.
“No Micos!”
Nettle slapped Micos’s hand as hard as she could. The berries toppled from his grasp to scatter over the table and floor. The click of her fingers rang in his ears.
Octava’s illusion dissolved and in the place of the White Witch stood her bent body clad in black. Micos fell backwards as Octava kicked away the bench and lunged towards him with her four arms, one set reaching for him, the other for the talisman.
 “Give that to me boy.”
Micos, still holding the talisman, backed away pulling Nettle with him.
“You can’t escape. Give me what’s mine and I promise I won’t hurt you or the girl.” Octava’s face wrinkled as she narrowed her eyes.
“How do I know I can trust you?” Micos kept a tight grip on the talisman.
“You can’t,” whispered Nettle.
Octava moved to the edge of the table. Nettle’s eyes darted first to the door which was closed, then to the Hag, who was working her way around the far side of the table. Nettle looked once more at the door. Octava looked at her.
Nettle’s heart banged so hard she could barely hear herself think. Can I do this? I’ve never tried it before. It’s our only chance. With lightning speed she swung around to face the door. With her back towards the Hag, she raised her hand, screwed up her eyes and put all her focus into the words. “Portus apeario.”
The door creaked. Octava stopped dead in her tracks and stared. Nettle held her breath. The door creaked again and opened half way.
“Run Micos!” Nettle tugged on his arm and both made a dash for the opening.
“Oh no you don’t. I want what’s mine.” Octava grabbed some powder from her pocket, clambered up onto the table and threw it in their path. It hit the ground and exploded in a fireball. Micos pushed Nettle to one side as they skidded around the flames. Nettle grabbed the door and pulled it wider as the two of them ran through and down the hallway.
“Come back.” Octava scrambled down from the table and ran after them. The front door was open and she charged out and down the steps. Where are they? She scanned the surrounding area, but neither the boy nor the girl were to be seen.
* * *
“Those fools. I waited all night for them to bring the boy. So the rats weren’t enough eh?” Lostan ran his hand through his hair, only to find several strands remained wrapped around his fingers. He looked at the dark hairs and remembered the spell’s warning, before allowing them to fall to the floor. “Pfft.” Let’s see how the villagers survive not just the rats but a never-ending storm.
Lostan retrieved the Dark Magica from its hiding place. He knew he needed dark magic to manipulate a natural force like weather, and to do so was a risk. Mother Nature hated being tampered with. He turned the pages until he found the incantation he was looking for. The warning in bright red ink jumped out at him.
To make the weather wild.
A single tear is all it takes,
 When lightning strikes, beware my friend,
You don’t get the shakes.
Do not stutter or falter.
Speak each word right from the start.
Or lightning that runs through the sky
Will jolt though your heart.

I must have whatever it is she gave the boy. Lostan placed the book back in its hiding place and fetched a silver vial from the ornate box that stood on the small table.
 “I need a single tear.”
He frowned. He was not given to shedding tears. It was a weakness he didn’t possess, except for perhaps one brief moment in his life. He pictured Lily’s face once more and the pain was as sharp now as it was back then. She had been sweet and kind. Had she lived, his life might have been different. I’ll never know now, will I?  As he pictured her face, her smile, down his rough cheek rolled not one, but two tears. He held the vial up and captured the first, whilst the second fell silently to the ground.
“Damn Octava.” He gathered up his cloak and threw it across his broad shoulders. He placed the vial inside one pocket and opening the door to his tree house, stepped outside. “I’ll put an end to this one way or the other.” Filled with anger at the villagers and hatred for not just the Hag but also the boy, he marched towards the village.
* * *
“Is she there?” said Micos in a low voice.
“Shush or she’ll hear us.” Nettle peered around from the corner of Narcam’s house. “She’s going over there.”
Micos came closer to Nettle and looked over her shoulder to where she was pointing. Octava was so preoccupied with looking for them, that she had not noticed she had wandered into the square. It was when somebody shouted at her, that she realised where she was and remembered they could see the real her.
“It’s the Hag from the cave. Look!” called out the candlemaker.
“Where?” said another man.
“There. Look,” cried the old woman from behind her vegetable stall.
“How’d she get in the village?” said the basketmaker.
“WITCH. It’s the Witch,” shrieked the old woman.
Octava froze. Her eyes darted across the group of stall holders who were now glowering at her. “Stay back, or I’ll turn you into frogs.” She reached into her pocket and retrieved more powder. “Stay back, I say.”
“She’s bluffing,”said the old woman.
“But she’s a Witch,” said a boy as he cowered behind the apple cart.
“Can she do that?” Micos leaned on Nettle and squinted to get a better look.
“Not with that powder. It’s what she threw at us. If she had anything better than that flame powder, she’d have used it on us.”
“Should we go and help them?”
Nettle pressed her lips together and shook her head. “Best not get involved further. You’re in enough trouble already when Narcam gets back.”
Nettle and Micos continued to watch the Witch and the villagers.
“Turn us into frogs. I’d like to see ye do that.” The old woman puffed out her chest and rolled up her sleeves.
“Careful Betsy, she’s a nasty piece from what I’ve heard tell about her.” The baker came to stand by her side.
Octava was beginning to panic. All she’d brought with her was the poison berries and the combustible powder. “It wasn’t supposed to go like this,” she mumbled.
She hurled the powder in the general direction of the crowd and turned to run. It exploded in a flash of bright yellow flames which set alight the beard of the basketmaker. He screamed and jumped around, his hands flapping in a frantic attempt to put out the flames that were threatening to consume the hair on his face. He ran to the water trough and threw himself in. A sizzle and a hiss drifted into the air along with a cloud of steam.
“Get her,” said Betsy as she picked up a tomato and tossed it at the retreating Witch.
 The others joined in, and a various assortment of vegetables and fruit flew through the air, some hitting Octava while others whizzed past her ears. She reached into her pocket and lobbed one more handful of powder over her shoulder. She heard it explode as she scurried as fast as her legs would take her towards the gates. Her breath now coming in short bursts, she rushed through the opening.
“Ha, I got away.” She glanced over her shoulder. While still running full pelt, she hit something hard and toppled over into a backwards summersault. Over and over she rolled, her arms flailing helplessly until she landed upright on her bottom.
She felt more than a little dizzy and placed her head in her hands. “Fireballs and cauldrons! What was that?”
“Well, well, who do we have here?”
The deep voice made Octava gasp. She removed her hands from her face and looked up. The jet black eyes of Lostan stared back at her.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Wind - Short Story

Art work by Helen A. Howell


Beware of the Wind, he's sly and quick.

He sneaks up behind you to play his trick.

He puffs up his cheeks till they're fat and round.

Then he blows really hard, and you're off the ground!

As you sail through the air,

with a gasp of surprise and a look of dispair.

The Wind quietly smiles - for he does not care.



Wednesday, October 20, 2021

WIZARD - Chapter 7 Oh Rats!

 You can find Chapter 6 HERE

Chapter 7
Oh Rats!
Through the gates swarmed the rats, a dark carpet that spread itself across the ground. They ran forwards, their mouths biting at anything they came into contact with. The small group of villagers screamed and grabbed what was to hand from their stalls in order to beat off the advancing mass. As fast as they bashed one rat, two more appeared.
Lostan laughed as he stood and watched his spell at work. “Send me the boy and this will all be over,” he bellowed, his voice cutting through the villagers’ cries. “Send him to the dark forest. But don’t wait too long will you, or those rats may get the better of you.” He turned, his cloak sweeping out behind him, and walked away.
 An old woman in the group hitched up her skirts and ran as fast as her legs would carry her, kicking out at the creatures underfoot to make her way to the homes that were scattered around the village walls.
“Rats! There be rats,” she yelled as she banged her fists against the wooden doors. “Bring spades, bring axes, bring anything to squash… eeeek.” She didn’t manage to finish the sentence as claws scrabbled up her striped stockings and clung to the folds of her skirt. Their eyes hungry, their whiskers twitched as their snapping mouths tore at the fabric of her clothes. “H-e-e-elp.”
Doors all around her flew open as people hurried out carrying anything they could swing at the horde of rodents that had invaded their home. Two men rushed to the old woman’s side, stamping soft bodies and fleshy tails beneath their feet while knocking from her skirt the rats that were steadily climbing upwards.
* * *
 Octava had been checking up on Lostan, seeing if he had left his tree. Eyes firmly fixed on the inky pool that swirled within her scrying bowl, she watched the villagers fighting what she knew was a fruitless battle against his dark spell.
Lostan knows I gave the boy something to help him rid the village of his presence. Why else would he want him? “Dark magic takes some special beating. Fireballs and cauldrons!”
She stopped peering into her scrying bowl and started to pace up and down.
 “Let me think, let me think.” Should I help those villagers be rid of the rats, before they’re stupid enough to hand over the boy to him and he gets his hands on the talisman? I need to get my hands on the boy myself. I haven’t had to combat dark magic for many a year, but there is a spell that’s strong enough to disperse any dark magic. I’m sure I’ve written it down somewhere.
She moved towards the tin chest, pulled open its lid and began to rifle through its contents. One item after another she tossed out onto the floor. When she came to the half sceptre, she stroked it.
“Soon my pretty, I’ll have your other half and you’ll be complete.”
She patted it and moved it to one side as she continued to search through the various objects she had stored within the chest. One very old parchment lay at the bottom rolled up into a tight scroll. She picked it up and unravelled it.
“Ah yes, this is it.” She read the spell, tracing each word with a yellowed nail on the end of her withered finger. I’ll need a bat wing, a snake’s eye and a frog’s leg. All must be mixed with the blood of a boy. What luck I had one for supper a few days ago and drained his blood before cooking. “I knew it would come in handy. Never waste the blood of a boy, I always say.” Octava waved a finger in the air. “A boy’s blood is unique. It helps bind a spell as nothing else does. A girl’s is incomplete.” But if I’m to go there, it cannot be as myself. No, no. They would never let me in. Octava’s eyes became thin slits as she scratched her hairy chin. I must make a draft of illusionary liquid, then they will see a beautiful White Witch has come to save them. “It’s all so easy. The perfect plan.”
Octava shoved everything except the parchment back into the tin chest. She placed the scroll on top of the lid.
I’ll get in and get that boy. The talisman will be mine again. “But what about the girl?” I’ll kill them both. Stab ‘em with a poison dart. No, take ‘em poisoned berries. Who can resist a bowl of berries, glistening like jewels with the promise of a sweetness on the lips and tongue? “Bat wing eh.” I guess I’d better go hunting, and hurry, if I’m to do this.

* * *
Nettle was busy in the kitchen preparing the evening’s supper, when she heard a loud thumping on the front door.
“Whoever is that at this time?”
She stopped stirring the stew that bubbled in the pot over the fire and hurried to answer it. The banging sounded more urgent the closer she got.
“All right, all right I’m coming.”
Micos stuck his head out of the workroom. “Who’s banging on the door?”
“I don’t know. But whoever it is, is impatient for it to be answered,” she called over her shoulder as she hastened towards the noise.
“I’m coming with you, just in case.” Micos dashed out and ran up behind her. Nettle secretly smiled to herself as she pulled the heavy wooden door open.
“RATS!” The old man stood on the steps. He was red in the face and short of breath.
“Rats?” said Nettle and Micos together.
“Yes, look. A plague of ‘em,” said the man pointing the lighted torch he held towards the ground. “I’ve been sent to get the Wizard’s help. We can’t kill ‘em fast enough. They’re everywhere.”
 Nettle and Micos peered out not believing what they were seeing. The evening’s torches had been lit, and in their flickering light, they both saw that the ground was alive, a moving hoard of black bodies. The people were jumping around, crashing, smashing and bashing the furry creatures with anything they could. But for each rat that flew into the air, or was squashed against the ground, more came to take their place. Micos gaped in astonishment at the scene playing out before him.
“But how can this be?” asked Nettle.
The old man sounded flustered. “It was that Wizard the boy got rid of. He did it. Said he wanted the boy and to hand him over if we wanted this to stop. But we told ‘im to clear off.”
“The Wizard’s not here.” Nettle stared at the old man, then glared at Micos. “What can we do? Narcam’s away from the village.”
“The boy Wizard behind you, he can help. He’s a match for that Lostan. He got rid of him before. Hurry now, before those rats take over completely. I’ll tell the others you’re coming.” With that the old man turned and fled down the steps to hop and jump his way over the rodents, back to his fellow villagers.
“ME! They want me?” Micos turned a very pale shade of grey and just for a second felt a bit dizzy. He put his hand out against the wall to steady himself.
“See, I told you no good would come of what you did to Lostan. Why couldn’t you have waited for Narcam to return?” Nettle shook him by the shoulders.
“Don’t do that. I’m feeling strange as it is.” Micos pulled her hands off him and took a deep breath. “It’s not my fault. I thought his threats were empty ones. How was I to know?”
“Whose fault is it then? Look at what’s happened.” Nettle cuffed him on the side of his head.
“Ouch.” Micos stood up straight. “I’ll fix it, you watch. I’ll use my transformative powder. I’ve got loads of it I made, remember? They want a Wizard, they’ll get a Wizard.” Micos dashed off towards the workroom.
“Don’t be stupid. That’s no ordinary magic you know. It’s dark magic,” she yelled at his back. Nettle’s mind raced as she tried to think what to do. Transformative powder won’t work. I’ve read about dark magic. Narcam will kill Micos if he finds out. Oh Micos, what have you done? The book, my magic book. That’s where I saw it. It has something in it about combating dark magic.
 Nettle raced off to her bedroom, threw the door open, dropped to her knees and then onto her stomach. She reached beneath her bed, her fingers searched under the floorboard for the old book of spells. She grasped it and pulled it towards her. She sat back on her heels and began searching through its pages.
* * *
Micos grabbed the large jar of transformative powder down from the shelf and pulled the stopper out with a pop. I wonder how much I should use? He stared for a long moment at the multicoloured contents, before pushing the stopper back in. “All of it. I’ll need all of it if I am to get rid of this plague of Rattus.” But what should I transform them into? Micos bit his lower lip as he considered his options. Moths? Birds? Bats? “BATS!” That would be spectacular and really impress the people. After all I have a reputation to live up to don’t I. He laughed as he dashed out of the workroom and into the hallway.
“Nettle. Nettle I’ve got the powder and I’m going to transform those rats into bats and we can watch them all fly away.” Micos called over his shoulder as he pulled open the front door. “Nettle where are you? You won’t want to miss this. Come on.”
Nettle scrambled to her feet and stepped out of her room. “It won’t work you nincompoop. It’s dark magic.”
“Pfft. What would you know about dark magic? You’re just saying that to make me think you’re clever that’s all. Just ‘cause I can’t do that clicky thing with the fingers doesn’t mean I can’t do magic. You just watch me.”
“Micos, I’m not trying to make you feel….” But before Nettle could finish her sentence Micos had stepped outside and slammed the door shut. “Stupid boy,” she muttered and returned to searching her book.
Micos leapt across the ground, kicking rats out of his path as he went until he arrived in the centre of the square.
“Clear a space,” he yelled to the crowd. But his voice was lost in the hubbub of shouting people, who were busy swinging anything they could hold, down onto the swarm of rats that ran about their feet. “THE WIZARD IS HERE - CLEAR A SPACE.”
 Micos surprised himself at how loud he could shout. Everybody stopped what they were doing and for a split second there was silence before the shuffling of their feet could be heard and they spread out to form a circle around him. The rats squeaked and squealed as the villagers continued to poke, push and shove them away.
“Well, Wizard, get on with it then,” said an old man.
Micos gestured towards the people. “Never fear my good fellows. I will transform these black devils into bats and you will see the sky darken with them as they fly away forever.” He pulled the stopper from the jar and with all his strength he threw the powder into the atmosphere. The spell tumbled easily from his lips:
“Into the air powder swirl,
to descend like snow on Rattus below.
 Transformus Battus.”  
The powder formed into a whirlpool and it birled upwards, a multicoloured glittering tunnel which spread itself out across the sky. The crowd ooo’d and ahh’d at the spectacle above their heads and for a moment forgot about the rats below. The powder shimmered and shook before it blew apart with loud CRACK to fall downwards, a rainbow shower of coloured snowflakes drifting towards the rodents.
The rats stopped moving and a thousand pink snouts pointed up and sniffed. Whiskers twitched and eyes blinked as they watched the tiny colourful dots waft down and land upon their silky black coats. The powder shone like neon lights amongst the dark fur. A thousand back legs came up and scratched those furry backs. The powder dispersed and fell to the ground, where it dissolved beneath their pink feet. Their fleshy tails whipped into the air and the rats pulled back their lips to reveal their sharp teeth before moving again, snapping and biting as they pushed forwards.
“Eeek,” cried a woman as she and the others started to swing their sticks and shovels down on the nearest to them.
“Call yerself a Wizard,” said the old man.
“I don’t understand.” Micos stared at the rats, shaking his head.
“Make yerself useful, or get out of the way,” said another man as he shoved past Micos.
* * *
Nettle found what she was looking for and read the words over and over again. It seemed clear that it was important the words were spoken correctly. “Rhythm is all,” she whispered. She frowned as she read the warning again. ‘To combat dark magic will take something from you as you must put yourself into the spell.’ She read on. It said she could use a drop of her own blood, or a strand of her hair, a tooth, a nail. It didn’t matter what. As long as it was from your own person the spell would be strong enough to disperse the dark magic.
I must hurry, time is short and Micos is out there. A strand of hair will be the easiest.
Nettle stood up. Her heart thumped. She tugged a single strand of her straw-coloured hair out of her head and made her way to the front door. She opened it and slipped out onto the step, closing the door behind her. It was dark where she stood and she was grateful for that. It was important that no one spotted her. The crowd were busy watching Micos cast his spell, the powder now falling from the sky to rest on the backs of the rats. Nettle stared, knowing that what he was doing was useless. She wished he was less impetuous. In her heart she knew he’d make a good Wizard if only he would settle down. She continued to watch Micos’s spell diminish to nothing. His spell out of the way she knew it was time for her to speak her own. She wondered what the speaking of it would take from her, but what choice did she have?
Keep the rhythm correct, keep the rhythm, she repeated over in her head. Her voice was a little shaky as she began to speak the words.
“Dark magic you may be,
Now I offer a part of me.
Your curse no longer to remain,
My hair, my token—your Magic to wane.”
Nettle held out her hand with the stand of hair. “Flamma.” She clicked her fingers while speaking the command. The hair rose above her palm and ignited, its light so bright it lit up her doorway for a split second. She held her breath and hoped no one had seen her. She waited, her eyes searching the carpet of rats, watching for change.
“There,” she whispered. “And there.” Her eyes sparkled as she observed the magic at work.
 A haze drifted in and around the rats’ bodies, capturing them so that they could not move. Their squeaks became more distant as they themselves appeared to be melting into the mud. Their bodies disintegrated. All that remained was the earth beneath the villagers’ feet. The crowd gasped, then let up a big cheer.
“Hooray for the Wizard,” yelled someone.
“Hooray,” echoed the rest of the people.
The old man near to Micos patted him on the back. “I’m sorry I doubted ya young fella. I guess your spell took a while to work.”
Micos beamed. “That’s all right. I said I’d get rid of them. Not quite bats, but still gone forever eh.”
Nettle watched and smiled before slipping back inside.
Micos walked across the square, shaking hands and nodding to the people. He rushed up the stairs and through the front door of Narcam’s house.
“Nettle. I did it. I did it. You were wrong. Nettle where are you?”
“I’m in the kitchen. Supper’s ready.”
Micos ran into the room. “You should have seen.”
“I did,” she said keeping her back to him while she stirred the stew.
“You did?”
She nodded. “I watched from the window in Narcam’s study.” Glad he couldn’t see her face in case he spotted the lie, she continued to stir the pot.
“They didn’t turn into bats, but into dust. I could have sworn I said the spell right. Is that ready yet? I’m starving.”
“Just about.” Nettle dished up two bowls of steaming stew and carried them over to the table. She placed one in front of Micos and sat down with her own.
He picked up his spoon and was just about to shovel in a mouthful of stew when he stopped, his spoon held in midair, and said, “What’s happened to your hair?”
“My hair?”
“Yes, you haven’t seen?”
Nettle stood up and dashed to her room. From the chest that stood by the wall she pulled out a small looking glass. She stared at her own reflection. Down one side of her beautiful straw hair was a streak of white. So white it gleamed in the dullness of the room.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

WIZARD - Chapter 6 Lostan Plans

 You can find Chapter 5 HERE

                    Chapter 7 HERE

Chapter 6
Lostan Plans

I need to find out what the Hag gave that boy to chase me out. It was more than a spell, I’d bet my life on it.
Lostan reached towards the fire and warmed his hands. He glanced at his skin. It had taken a day or two for the spell to wear off. His skin that had turned thin, wrinkled and dull, now looked thicker, taut and fresh.
Whatever it was, it must have been powerful and I’d bet she’d want it back. Has the boy given it back? He tossed this idea around for a few moments. “Of course not!” The boy’s in a hurry to prove himself. He won’t relinquish such a treasure, not if he thinks he can use it. “I recognise you boy,” he muttered.
The boy reminded him of his own impatience as a student. A time before the dark magic came into his life. He shuddered, as if to shake away those things he didn’t want to remember.
“Look how great I’ve become with dark magic. ”
He spoke the words aloud, perhaps to convince himself that he made the right choice. He let them hang in his mind for a moment longer, before replacing them with other thoughts.
When I get the other half of the sceptre, I will be so powerful, not even Narcam could stop me. I’ll show them how dark magic can rule. What do those old fools know?
Lostan was one of the younger Wizards in the land and for the last fifteen of the thirty-five years he had lived, he had craved the power of the sceptre. He had been twenty when Narcam had broken up the war between Wizards and Witches. Lostan had watched Narcam hand over the halves to each side: to Mystof for the Wizards and Narandella for the Witches. But he knew then as a young man, that it would take a few years for him to match the older Wizard’s power and get his hands on their half of the sceptre.
The flames flickered and wrapped themselves around the crackling logs. Lostan got up and fetched himself a drink. The tree house was warm and comfortable and being here gave him time to sort out his thoughts. He returned to his chair, mug in hand and sipped the golden mead. The amber liquid ran down his throat. Its warmth swirled around his stomach. He cast his mind back to the war between Wizards and Witches. He knew Wizards were not supposed to like Witches, but Lily had been different. She was not like the other old hags. She had been young, vibrant and gentle. She had managed to weave her magic around his then youthful heart, and for a short time in his life, he had known what love felt like. He had given her a lock of his hair. She had platted it and wore it attached to a ribbon around her neck. Then he remembered what Octava had done. The desire to kill her became all the more greater.
“If I am to gain the other half of this,” he said withdrawing the half sceptre from his cloak, “then I will also need to get whatever it was Octava gave the boy.” But how? I can’t go back into the village. Ah, but I can cast a spell over it, something that would disrupt their lives. Something that would make them give up the boy. “It would have to be strong, powerful.”
Lostan put down his mug and the sceptre on the hearth and walked over to the far wall. Set in the wood was a swirl in the grain. It spiralled out into a large circle. He raised a hand and ran it across the area.
The wood creaked and cracked, groaned and moaned, as the circle pushed itself outwards and hovered in the air. Lostan reached into the hole and pulled out the heavy tome from its hiding place. His eyes took in its black leather binding and the gold lettering that shimmered on its cover.
He blew the dust from it and allowed his finger to trace the letters. His old master Taros may have thrown him out, but he hadn’t left empty-handed. It had been a long time since he had held the book in his hands. He pressed his lips together in the beginning of a smile as he felt a ripple of the dark energy vibrate from within its pages. He carried it back to his chair, sat down and opened it at the index.
He knew there was danger in casting a spell like this. Dark magic always came with a price. It would not be a simple spell like the one he used to gain the half sceptre from Mystof. He glanced down at the silver and gold metal that glinted in the firelight. He had been in possession of it for the last month. He laughed as he remembered how effortless it had been to get it.
Mystof, a kindly old Wizard, who had followed the path of simple magic, using herbs and flowers, had been awarded guardianship of the sceptre. The sceptre was thought to be safe with him, especially as he showed no desire for power. Lostan remembered how he had called on him and how pleased Mystof was to have him visit.
“Ah, Lostan, how nice to see you. Come in my dear fellow. I don’t get many visitors these days.” He had gone in and sat down while Mystof brewed them some tea. Handing Lostan a cup he said, “Now tell me how are your studies going?”
“Very well. I am progressing. Here let me demonstrate something simple for you.”
 Mystof clapped his hands together. “Ah, I should like to see you perform your magic.”
Lostan smiled at the old man’s gullibility. “How about I change the colour of your hat?”
Mystof reached up to remove it. Lostan placed a hand on his. “Leave it on your head.”
“Very well, but you must promise not to turn my old grey hair red.” Mystof chuckled at his own joke.
Fool, thought Lostan. “I promise.”
He held his hands to each side of Mystof’s hat, and whispered the spell of manipulation. For a moment the old Wizard wobbled, then he blinked three times and stared outwards, eyes fixed wide open.
“Give me the sceptre.” Lostan’s voice was low but commanding in its tone.
Mystof stood up. His eyes had a glassy appearance. It was as though his conscious mind had vanished and he was an empty shell. He walked over to a wooden chest by the door, lifted the lid and reached in. From within he pulled out an object wrapped in sacking, closed the lid and returned to Lostan. He held it out to him. Lostan took it and slipped it within the confines of his cloak. Then he cast the spell of forgetting. Mystof shook once more as Lostan pushed him back into his chair. Again he blinked three times before opening his eyes and smiling.
“Well let’s see what you managed then.” He reached up and removed his hat. “Oh its still grey. Looks like you need to practice some more my boy.”
“Indeed it does sir. I must be on my way now.”
“I’m afraid so. As you say I must go and practice my spells.” Lostan moved towards the front door, opened it and stepped outside.
Mystof called to Lostan’s retreating form. “Do come back soon. It was nice to have some company for a change.”
Lostan let the memory fade, secure in the knowledge that Mystof would remember nothing and no one in the Wizarding world would know he had their half of the sceptre. Turning his mind back to the old book that sat on his lap he ran a finger down the list of spells.
“Yes, this will do nicely for starters. Page 342.”
He flipped over the sheets of paper until he arrived at the page and began to read the spell.
“Hmm, yes, I could manage that. Keep the words at the right rhythm. Easy.”
He continued to run his finger down the page until he hit the paragraph marked ‘Warning.’ He read the words that were printed in bright red ink:
Side effects of casting this spell:
 Premature balding.
Hair may fall out all at once, or bit by bit.
If you notice any of the above desist from using spell
and consult your nearest Witch/Wizard doctor.
“Bah! What’s a bit of hair loss to get what I want.”
Lostan read through the spell once more, making sure he had the rhythm right in his head. He dared not speak the words aloud, for to do so would disturb the spell, especially as he had not the essential ingredient in his hand.
Dark magic must be spoken correctly or else it could come back to bite me.
Lostan closed the book with a snap and stood up. He gazed once more at the gold lettering before returning it to its hiding place. The circle of wood still hung in the air. Lostan raised his hand.
“Portus Termino.”
The magic words slid from his lips to surround the floating door. It birled towards the hole in the wall. At first it moved slowly but as the spell took hold its speed increased until it was only a blur. The wood creaked and cracked, then fell silent as it once again became a swirl in the grain of the wood.
It’s not twilight yet. If I hurry the gates to the village will still be open. “I will offer them a choice: Give me the boy or suffer the consequences.”
He wanted to cast the spell at the gates of the village, terrifying those who lived within, but more than that, he wanted it to appear spectacular—how else could he maintain the persona of a Dark Wizard?
“Frighten the people and they obey.”
Lostan stopped by the hearth and opened a small box that sat to the side. He took a handful of the sulphur powder from within and placed it in his pocket. He picked up the sceptre. “Can’t leave this behind.” He placed it back within the confines of his cloak. The Hag can’t be trusted. She knows where my tree is. I shall so enjoy killing her.
Lostan stepped outside, wrapped his cloak tight around him and made his way towards Micos’s village. By the time he arrived, the sun was near to setting, but the gates were still open. He could see the village folk going about their business, packing up their wares from the stalls in the square, and he knew that soon the gates would close.
He marched up to the opening but dared not step in. This close to the village, he could feel a tingle on his skin. The effects of the spell the boy had cast to rapidly age him could still be felt.
 “Damn that boy and damn the Hag!”
He looked at the settlement where he had established what he thought was the perfect position to protect his half of the sceptre, and gritted his teeth.
 Octava is a devious old Witch. I will have what she gave the boy and then I will destroy her. “Hear me all you within these walls.”
His voice, dark and menacing, thundered into the air. The people stopped their tasks and turned to look.
“It’s ‘im. ‘E’s back!” said an old man pointing a finger in Lostan’s direction.
“What’s ‘e want?” muttered another as the small crowd drew together.
“Ask ‘im,” said an old woman.
“You ask ‘im, not me. ‘E’s the devil all right.”
“Call yerselves men?” said the woman stepping forward. “Whadda ya want?” She yelled at Lostan. “Yer not welcome here.”
Lostan narrowed his eyes. Stupid peasants. “I want the boy Micos. Give him to me now, or suffer the consequences.”
“‘E got rid of you once. ‘E can do it again. Clear off. No one’s scared of you anymore.” She folded her arms across her ample bosom.
“Clear off,” echoed the crowd behind her.
“And ‘ere’s a parting gift,” yelled one old man as he threw a plump tomato and watched it whiz through the air to land with a splat against Lostan’s dark robe.
The others followed suit. Apples, eggs and tomatoes flew through the air in Lostan’s general direction. Lostan held up a hand as the assault food sped towards him.
 There was a BANG and a FLASH. The small crowd gasped and together took several steps back as the missiles turned to rose petals and floated to the ground.
“Yee can’t come in here,” shouted one of the men. “He can’t can he?” he said turning to the person next to him.
“How do I know. Do you think we’ve upset ‘im?”
Fools, all of them fools. “I warned you! Sending the boy out to me will be the only way to save yourselves.” He reached into his pocket and taking a handful of the powder he threw it to the ground.
A great puff of smoke exploded around him. The crowd gasped louder as they huddled together. Lostan reached up to his head and from beneath his wizard’s hat, he tugged out three long black hairs and lay them down at his feet. Taking a deep breath he started the incantation for the dark spell. Over and over he repeated the words to the perfect beat of the rhythm he set. The hairs twitched and shimmered as the spell engulfed them. First one rat appeared, then another and another.
 Rat after rat, silky black, red eyes gleaming in the twilight raced towards the village gates.

Monday, September 20, 2021

WIZARD - Chapter 5 Fire, Sword & Shield



                                         6 HERE

 Chapter 5
Fire, Sword & Shield

Nettle held her ground as the creature circled around her, its eyes spiteful and its lips curled back. She clasped her shield in one hand, the sword in the other, watching for its next move. It lunged forwards to aim another fiery flow at her. She dropped down behind the shield, the force of the blast nearly pushing her over. The draconky positioned itself closer, tipped its head back again and continued to breathe fire up into the air. Nettle saw her chance. She leapt up and thrust her sword into its body under its wing. The sharp blade crunched through its scaly skin and pierced deep into its side. The draconky screamed, “heeeeeeee haw,” and kicked its back legs out. She withdrew her sword and backed up. Blood dripped from the wound and down the blade of her weapon.
 Her leg stung. She took her eyes off her foe and looked down. There was a gash on her calf.
I must have done that when I dropped to the ground.
“Nettle look out!” Micos yelled from his position behind a boulder.
She raised her eyes just in time to see the draconky charge. Steam poured from its nostrils, teeth sharp, glinting in the light as it narrowed its ruby eyes and sucked in another breath ready to spurt an onslaught of yellow flames. Nettle held the shield up and dashed towards it. She swung her sword against its leg and raced past to its other side. The draconky spun around and blew out an inferno of flames. She jumped behind a large rock, bringing the shield down over her. The grass all around sizzled and crackled with the heat.
The draconky backed away and bent to lick the slash she had cut into its leg. Nettle dashed forwards again. With her shield protecting her body and her sword aimed at the creature, she charged, stabbing it in a wing. “Heeeee haw” it cried and backed further away from her.
It may have the body of a dragon but it has the brains of a donkey, she thought.
It continued to move away, its eyes searching for an escape route. It twirled around and dashed towards the trees and Octava.
“Aargh!” squealed Octava.
 She jumped out from behind her tree and started to run as fast as her old legs would allow. The draconky, catching up fast, puffed out the odd flame making Octava leap in the air as she weaved her way through the forest. Nettle lowered her shield and sword and watched the disappearing figures of Octava and the draconky.
Micos came out from his hiding spot to stand next to her. “I didn’t know you could do magic. Where did you learn that? That was advanced stuff, even I can’t do that yet.”
Nettle glared at him. “Please don’t thank me for saving you from that creature you created. Don’t mention it, it was nothing.”
“Thanks. I could have dealt with it you know, if you hadn’t pushed me aside.”
“I’m sure you could.” She softened her voice, not wanting him to feel less than her in any way.
 “Tell me where you learnt to do magic like that? I can’t transform objects without the powder.” There was an essence of jealousy in his voice. “Who taught you this stuff? Does the master know?”
“No, he doesn’t. You’re not going to tell on me are you?”
“That depends on who taught you.” Micos knew he had the advantage here and he was playing it to the full.
“No one did.”
“Oh come on. It didn’t just come to you,” he paused for effect, “like magic did it?”
“I taught myself. I studied every evening. Study. I don’t expect you know that word do you?”
“Pfft, study. There’s so many other things to do. Besides I have a natural gift for magic, you know.”
Micos kicked his heels into the dust. Nettle knew she had made him feel inadequate. She reached out and touched his arm.
“Yes Micos you do.” She smiled at him. He raised his eyes and beamed back at her. The equilibrium once again restored. “So you’ll keep my secret?”
“I will if you teach me how to do that clicky finger thing.”
“Deal. But we have something more pressing to worry about: Octava. Why didn’t you give her back the talisman?
“It must be powerful if she wants it so bad, so I thought why not keep it. Anyway I was told she never came out of that cave of hers. How was I to know that was a lie?”
“She’s not going to give up. We have to figure out a way of returning it without her doing something nasty to us.”
“I know. I shouldn’t have kept it. But how can we return it now? She’ll try to kill us you know.”
“I know. We can talk about it on the way home. We should get going.”
“You were very brave fighting that draconky.”
“Can I keep that sword and shield?”
“Sure.” Nettle handed them over to Micos.
 All the way home he pretended to be a gallant knight saving her from one danger to the next. Nettle laughed at his antics. By the time they reached the village gates, the sun was low in the sky.
* * *
Octava puffed as she ran through the trees, trying to put as much distance as she could between her and the draconky Hitching up her skirt she willed her legs to go even faster. Her boots galumphed across the ground as she picked up speed and increased the gap between them. Her eyes darted around in an attempt to see her best way out. A large tree stood in the centre of her path. She careered towards it and swung to the right. Just in front of her stood a huge green bush big enough for her to hide behind. She made a dash for it, jumped to the back of it and stayed very still. From her pocket she pulled the small leather pouch that contained the black powder she had used to transform the stick into a snake. She grasped it tight in her shaking hand. Her heart pounded in her chest. Her eyes searched this way and that as she waited for the creature to come.  
“Hee haw, hee haw,” called the draconky, thumping its way towards the tree. It skidded to a halt in front of it. It looked first to the left, then the right, then stooped to lick the gash on its leg. Ensconced behind the bush, Octava racked her brain for a spell to diminish the beast. But in her panic, she seemed to have forgotten them all. She dared not breathe as she watched it lick its wound. The draconky lifted its head, stared at the tree, blinked and burped, setting the tree on fire. “Hee haw,” it cried and took a step back before it darted away to the left.
Octava stayed behind the bush until she was sure the draconky wasn’t coming back. She parted the branches and peered out. She cocked her head to one side and listened. Nothing. She could not hear the creature at all. She climbed out from behind the bush, pushed the pouch back into her pocket and brushed the leaves and twigs from her robe.
“My poor old back. My knees.” She rubbed her back with one set of hands and her knees with the other. “I’ll make that boy pay for this.Wait till I get my hands on him.” She flexed the fingers on both sets of hands. He’ll be sorry. Oh yes, he will.
Octava started to walk out of the copse and back towards her cave. As she walked she thought about the girl and what she had been able to accomplish with just a click of her fingers.
Who was the clever Witch with him? Although her magic was more like that of a Wizard’s rather than a Witch’s. “Girls have never been allowed to learn Wizard’s magic. It’s not heard of.” We’ve always done magic with lotions and potions.
Octava stopped in her tracks, her mind working overtime on this new problem. “Where would she learn magic like that? Who would teach her?” She frowned as she thought about this complication. She took a few steps forward and stopped again.“The talisman with a lock of Lostan’s hair worked into the stone. I must have it. With it I can make my spells work against his body. Without it I’m lost,” she whispered.
She began to move forwards again, all the time her mind racing. Will this girl be a nuisance? A thorn in my side waiting to be plucked out? She may be clever, but I am old and my magic is powerful, when I have the right ingredients, that is.
A smile spread across her cracked lips. “Ha, I’m also devious. She’s no match for me.”

Monday, September 6, 2021

WIZARD -Chapter 4

You Can Find Chapter 3 HERE

                       Chapter 5 HERE



Chapter 4
Snakes & Dragons

Nettle yawned, stretched and pushed the bed covers aside. She swung her legs around and sat up. The birds were just beginning their morning serenade. She tiptoed over to the small window and peeked outside. The blackness that hung in the sky yesterday had now gone. She was relieved to see the familiar cobalt blue dressed in soft white clouds.
 I wonder when Narcam will return? It’s unusual for him not to have sent a message.
 She pulled her day dress over her slip, pushed her feet into her sandals, opened the door of her small room and stepped out closing it behind her. She made her way down the small passageway and into the kitchen to prepare breakfast.
I’d best get the fire lit.
She fetched the jar from the shelf that contained the fire dust, a magical powder that Narcam had formulated to make lighting the fire easy for her. All she had to do was sprinkle it on and the sticks would burst into flames. Nettle lifted the lid off the jar and peered in.
“Oh no, it’s all gone.”
Alone in the kitchen with no one to see, Nettle smiled to herself. This was an opportunity to use the magic she had secretly been studying. She knelt down and leaned towards the small pile of sticks that lay in the hearth. She had read in the old book she kept hidden under a loose floorboard, under her bed, that it was all in the way you clicked your fingers while speaking the words. When she had tried this spell before, she had only managed to get a spark or two, but that was just on a twig. Now she had a whole stack of twigs to try it out on. She held her hand out in front of her, thumb poised ready on her first two fingers.
“Ignit….” She was stopped in mid-spell by a rustling noise coming from within the chimney. “What on earth is that?” She leaned in further to looked up the dark shaft. As she did an object hit her on the forehead and glided into the room. “Ouch!”
A white paper bird, beautifully crafted, flew around the room. Nettle watched amazed as it spread its wings and floated down to settle on the wooden table. Its tail spread out like a fan behind it and its crested head turned to look up at her.
What’s this?
 She recognised magic when she saw it and stretched out a finger to touch it. ‘Poof!’ It burst into a shower of sparkling dust, then reformed as a piece of notepaper which drifted back down onto the table. She picked up the note and began to read it:
 ‘Nettle my dear, I have been delayed for a few days more. I trust that you will keep the house in order while I am away. Tell the boy to practise making his transformative powder. I will want to see the results on my return. I have called my staff to me. I thought it less a temptation to Micos. The boy is impulsive and tends to act without thinking. I should have done this before, but I have had more pressing issues to think about. Tell him to study his magic books while I am away and to help you around the house when needed.  Narcam.’
Nettle put the note down on the table and turned her attention back to the fire. Clicking her fingers she spoke the spell with confidence and the kindling burst into flames. She nodded her head in approval, then set about making creamed oats for herself and Micos.
“Morning.” Micos sat down on the bench at the table.
“Glad to see you’re up.” Nettle placed a bowl of oats in front of him.
“It’s not that late.”
Micos picked up his spoon and shovelled the warm oatmeal into his mouth. He watched Nettle as she dished out a bowl for herself. Her long straw coloured hair lay across her back. A beam of sunlight cascading through the window caught it and it shone like pale gold. He liked her hair, but he loved her periwinkle blue eyes, so bright, full of life. Nettle turned around and caught him staring at her.
“What are you looking at?”
“Nothing.” He smiled inwardly and carried on eating. She came and sat opposite him. “When’s Narcam coming back?” he said, as he scraped the last of his oatmeal from the bowl.
“He’s been delayed.” She put down her spoon and looked at him.
“Oh good. Then the day is mine to do as I please.”
“The day is yours?” Nettle held his gaze.
“Well, the master’s not here. So while he’s away I am free.”
“Not so fast. He sent a note that you were to work on your transformative powder and study your magic books. He’s going to examine you on it when he returns. Here. Read for yourself.” She took hold of the note that lay at the end of the table and pushed it towards him. Micos picked it up and read it.
“He’s taken his staff.”
“Are you surprised? He knows you only too well.”
Nettle stood up and taking hold of the two bowls, carried them across to the basin. She poured water into it from a jug, to wash them.
“How does he expect me to learn anything? I was just getting the hang of using that.”
“Go and work on your magic powder, will you?” She tried to sound firm. But there was something so appealing about Micos’s rakish behaviour, that a laugh escaped her lips.
“Okay.” He smiled as he swung his legs over the bench, got up and walked towards the door. “One large batch of transformative powder coming up.”
Nettle watched him go. She had liked him from the moment she met him. But they worked in the same house. For the same master.
It would never do to fall in love with him. Would it?
She tried to put the thought out of her mind, but a nagging voice in her head kept whispering to her—but you are, Nettle, aren’t you?
* * *
At midday Nettle went to fetch Micos for lunch. She opened the door to the workroom and studied the boy who was leaning over a bottle. He poured different coloured liquids into it, stirring the mixture to blend the contents. There was a fizz, a sizzle, then a great puff of smoke shot from the bottle into the air. First it turned blue, then red, then orange and finally green before it dispersed into the atmosphere.
“Very impressive.” She clapped her hands while laughing.
“It was, wasn’t it! I think I’ve perfected it. Watch while I test it.”
He beckoned her to the table. Nettle walked over and stood with her hands behind her back. Her eyes remained firmly fixed on the small piece of metal Micos had laid on the table’s surface. Taking a good pinch of the powder that was now the contents of the bottle, he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. With a flourish of his hand he sprinkled the powder over the metal.
The metal crackled and the powder swirled around in a rainbow of colour. Then glittering stars that twinkled and winked, burst into the air and faded before their eyes. In place of the metal lay the most beautiful red rose. Micos picked it up and handed it to Nettle.
“For you.”
Nettle felt herself blush as she reached out and took the bloom. “Thank you. You got it right. Narcam will be pleased. Come, the midday meal is ready.”
“I’ll be right there. I just have to clear up.”
Nettle turned and walked back to the kitchen. Micos clearing up, that’s a first. Should I be worried? She shook her head and hurried on.
In the workroom, Micos poured some of the powder into a small vial and placed a stopper in the top.
You never know when this could come in handy.
 He slipped the vial into his trouser pocket. Walking over to one of the cupboards on the far side of the room, he opened the door and reached in. His fingers searched among the jars until they fell upon the cold stone of the charm he had hidden behind them.
“Got it!”
 He grasped the talisman and withdrew his hand. It was made of out of no stone that he recognised. Micos peered at it as it lay in the palm of his hand. Into its surface was carved a symbol. He picked it up and turned it this way and that, but still he could not make head or tail of what it was supposed to be.
It must be very powerful if the Hag wants it back.
He flipped it into the air and caught it. “I think I’ll keep it. They say she doesn’t leave that cave, so what can she do about it?” He pushed it into his other trouser pocket, strolled out of the workroom and headed towards the kitchen.
Nettle was seated at the table when he arrived. “Come, sit down and eat.” She had already placed a cup of cider and a dish containing bread and cheese out for him.
Micos sat down and greedily tucked into the food. “Perfecting spells makes me very hungry,” he said between mouthfuls.
“Slow down or you’ll choke. What’s the hurry anyway?” She nibbled her bread and cheese while keeping her eyes fixed on him.
“The sun is shining.” Micos gestured towards the window. “The day is still young. Let’s go out this afternoon.”
“But the master said….”
 “Pfft, I’ve done as he requested and I’ve made the powder. Come on. It’s a too nice a day to waste being cooped up in here.” He tipped his head at an angle and smiled. “Say yes. Please say yes.”
 Nettle sighed, “Oh all right. I suppose it won’t hurt just this once.”
Micos finished up his meal and gulping down the remains of his cider, helped carry the dishes to the bowl. Nettle washed them and he wiped them with a piece of clean linen. She took a last glance around the room to make sure all was well, then the two of them ran out into the sunshine.
“Where shall we go?” she asked as they ambled towards the gates of the village.
“Let’s head towards that small copse that lies to the west. There’s a stream at the far end of it. We could sit and dangle our feet in the water.”
 They fell into step with each other as they wandered out of the village and across the grass in the general direction of the copse. The sun’s warmth touched the bare flesh of their arms and legs. They strolled carefree, enjoying the rare moment of freedom that this afternoon offered them. Nettle stopped every now and again to pick wild flowers that waved their colourful heads above the blades of grass.
By the time they reached the copse and got halfway through it, it was mid-afternoon. The sunlight filtered through the trees to illuminate a clearing. Nettle ran into it. Twirling around and around she lifted her face towards the light and held her arms aloft. Micos stood and watched her flaxen hair tumbling over her shoulders.
“Now there’s a pretty sight.”
Nettle came to an abrupt halt. Both she and Micos focused in the direction of the voice.
Octava stepped out from behind a tree and moved towards them. “Boy, where’s the talisman you were to bring me this morning? Or had you forgotten?”
“What’s she talking about?” asked Nettle, grasping Micos’s arm.
“They said she never comes out of her cave.” Micos kept his eyes on Octava, who was rapidly closing the gap between them.
“Who did?”
“Everyone,” whispered Micos.
“Give it to her. Have you got it on you?”
“Yes, but she doesn’t know that.” Micos took a few steps backwards pulling Nettle with him. “I don’t have it right now Hag. I’ll bring it to you tomorrow.”
“Don’t lie to me boy. I’ve seen.” Octava pointed a bony finger at him. “It’s in your trouser pocket. Now give it to me.”
“If we bolt for it, we can outrun her,” he said under his breath.
Micos caught Nettle in mid-sentence. He gripped her hand and swung them both around in the opposite direction to Octava. But the Hag was quick despite her age. She grabbed a stick and threw it through the air, followed by a handful of black powder. Her voice reverberated across the space between them.
“Gionorma Serpenta.”
The stick landed in front of them and immediately transformed into a giant cobra. The snake raised itself up to stand as tall as Micos, spread its hood and hissed. Its forked tongue waved menacingly in his face. Without thinking Micos pushed Nettle behind him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the vial of transforming powder, dislodged the cork and tossed the contents over the snake.
The powder engulfed the cobra, whirling around it in a rainbow frenzy of colour. Faster and faster it swirled until the creature was no longer visible. A crack rang through the atmosphere. The powder dispersed and in the cobra’s place stood a dragon, with the ears and tail of a donkey. Octava cackled with laughter as she kept her distance and watched.
“What’s that?” Nettled tugged on Micos’s shirt. He glanced at her and they slowly backed away from the creature.
“It was meant to be a donkey. I got flustered.”
“Flustered? You can’t get flustered when casting spells.” Nettle pushed Micos hard. “You’ve created a dragon with donkey features..
“What are we gonna do? The Hag is on one side, and this….” Micos nodded at the draconky who was staring at them with blood red eyes…. “is blocking our way.”
The draconky kept them in its sights for a moment longer, then tipped its head back and let out a screeching hee haw accompanied by a stream of fiery flames. It lowered its head and moved towards them. Steam clouds flowed from its nostrils with every snort it made.
 Without thinking, Nettle picked up a large stone and clicked her fingers.
The stone transmuted with a bang into a large metal shield. Nettle clasped it in one hand, stooped to take hold of a sturdy stick with the other, and tossed it into the air. With another click of her fingers she spoke the word, “Spatha!”
The stick twirled above her head in a flurry of sparks. She reached out and pulled down a sword, its metal gleaming and its edges razor sharp.
“Out of my way,” she yelled at Micos, who stood as though he was in a daze.
Nettle pushed him aside as the beast snarled, inhaled and blew out a fiery breath in her direction. She swung her shield in front of her body. The flames hit the silver metal and deflected back to the draconky. With a wild look in its eyes, it spread its wings and began to circle her.
“Courage girl,” Nettle whispered to herself.