Saturday, August 21, 2021




                      Chapter 4 HERE


 Chapter 3


Watching in her scrying bowl, Octava tittered as the woodcutters ran away. She pushed the bowl aside, straightened up and smoothed the cloth of her robe with one pair of hands while rubbing the other set of hands together.
“Hee hee, that ruffled his feathers. But it also gave me a chance to see Lostan in action."
She began to pace the floor of her cave.
I need to think carefully about this. It will take some doing to beat him and get his half of the sceptre. He’s powerful all right, but I have years of magic behind me.
 She stopped in her tracks and stared out at nothing, as though in a trance. The memory of the sceptre’s creation came drifting back.
It was a time when Witches and Wizards were always at each other’s throats. It was a war of spells being cast and thrown—some more harmful than others. Wizards had always been more powerful than Witches. But Witches were a cunning breed. Each side received their quota of injuries. When this battle had gone on for far too long, the Great Wizard Narcam called both sides together.
Remembering the event, Octava felt as if she was there once more, listening to Narcam speak. She trembled, unable to move.
“This war must cease,” he boomed, banging down his staff so hard that the ground shook.
The Witches cowered and the Wizards gasped, for when Narcam, the oldest Wizard in the land—several hundred years old it was whispered—spoke, no one dared to utter a word.
“I have created this.” His voice thundered around them.
Narcam held high the sceptre, the light glinting off the silver and gold dragon’s head and tail.
“As one piece it holds the power to make its owner beyond the wit of others to defeat.” He took hold of both ends and pulled it apart to form two halves. “I give one half to the Wizards, and one to the Witches, as a token of peace and to acknowledge that both are as equals.” He handed one part to each side.
Octava stared into the space before her. Her vision was so real, her fear of Narcam so great, her insides turned summersaults as she relived that moment in time. Narcam’s voice continued to boom in her ears.
“While this remains in two halves, either side will find that any actions they take against the other will be futile. Do not be tempted to obtain each other’s half, for to do so could result in your own destruction.” Narcam touched the crystal pendant which glowed like a fiery flame, that hung from a cord around his neck and cast an eye over the crowd gathered around him. “Let that be an end to this war!”
Octava blinked and waved a hand in front of her face as though to dispel the memory. Little beads of sweat glistened on her wrinkled brow. She took a deep breath and started to walk over to the tin chest that rested against the wall at the back of the cave, when she heard a noise behind her.
* * *
Lostan replaced the sceptre within his cloak and stood.
So the Hag knows about this tree does she? Witches and scrying bowls, such a primitive tool of magic. But then Witches are a lowly breed. She forgets I know where her cave is and that she is the last of her kind around here. Want to play games does she?
He knew the Hag would have watched what had happened with the woodcutters, but enough time had passed for him to be sure she wouldn’t be spying right now. He opened the door to the tree and stepped outside. There on the ground lay the two black feathers. He also knew that while she had half the sceptre he couldn’t kill her, but he could certainly give her a scare. He picked the feathers up and laid them in the palm of his hand.
My turn now. She’s a greedy creature for flesh of all kinds. It’s true she likes young humans best, but she won’t turn her nose up at a free dinner. Let’s see how she likes this.
He waved his other hand over the feathers while he muttered the incantation. A steam of dark words slithered from his lips, misty tendrils that wrapped themselves tight around the two plumes. The black quills shuddered, twitched and shook, before shooting skywards towards their destination. Lostan roared with laughter.
* * *
“Buk, buk bawk. Buk, buk.”
Octava turned around. Her eyes widened as they settled upon the two black chickens that were wandering around her cave, pecking and scratching at the dirt floor. She licked her lips and for the moment, forgot all about the tin chest.
“Where did you come from?” She took a few tentative steps towards them. Her fingers on her hands flexed, ready to grab the prize she saw before her. “It’s been a while since I’ve had chicken.” She drooled at the thought of their roasted flesh.
“Cluck, cluck, buk buk.”
“Come to me my little darlings,” she crooned as she moved closer. The chickens pecked at the floor, not taking any notice of her. She lunged with outstretched arms and seized a chicken in each set of hands.
“Brrrr-awk! Buk buk.”
She held them out in front of her and admired their plump bodies. As she looked, they began to grow fatter and fatter. Her hands held on tight as their bodies began to puff up like balloons. Her mouth fell open as the birds expanded and just when she thought she could hold them no longer, BANG! The explosion threw her across the room.
“Ye gods!” She looked back at the scattered black feathers and laughed.
 “Lostan. Ha! Is that the best he can do?”
She got up, fetched her broom and began to sweep the feathers into a pile. She was just about to push the heap out of the cave when she noticed it quiver. She remained glued to the spot and continued to stare. The feathers formed themselves into a tight ball which grew bigger with each passing second.
Octava backed away, her eyes fixed upon the ball’s rapidly changing shape. From beneath it sprung two legs, from above it, a head, a beak and two beady eyes. It stretched out two large wings and fluttered them. The feathers had become a seven-foot-high black chicken.
“Arrgh.” Octava held the broom out in front of her, swiping it from side to side.
The chicken raced towards her, its beak snapping as it lunged at her. Octava ducked and ran between its legs. It swung around and scratched the ground. Octava prodded it with the bristle end of her broom. It caught the broom in its beak and began to shake it up and down.
“Heeeelp,” yelled Octava.
 She was thrown first up to the ceiling then back down to the floor. She grasped the handle with both sets of hands clinging on for her life. The bird shook the broom from side to side. Octava was flung about like a rag, until she was tossed out of the cave.
From inside the cavern she could hear the chicken crushing the broom. She scrambled up the outside of the cave and looked around for something she could use to defend herself. To one side was a small pile of stones. She gathered them together, moved to the edge and waited.
She didn’t have to wait long before the bird emerged. It spotted her on the rocky roof that was much higher than itself. It backed up. It focused on Octava.
“Come on you black devil. I’m ready for you.”
She rolled up her sleeves and clutched a heavy stone in each hand. The chicken scratched the earth and rocked back and forth before charging. It snapped its beak and had a wild look in its eyes. Octava threw the first rock which bounced off its back. The bird was gaining speed as its great wings beat the air and dust gathered around it.
Octava watched. She had three rocks left. Her heart beat so fast she thought it would burst from her chest.
“Steady now,” she whispered as her hands shook.
The bird lifted its ink-coloured body off the ground. Its claws dangled beneath it. It was totally focused on its target as it sped towards her.
Not yet, not yet. Octava’s hands twitched.
She knew she must wait, but she had no control over her hands. She hurled the three rocks together. They flew through the air and towards the flying chicken. The bird dodged the first two. The third clipped it on the side. For a moment it lost height, but regained it within seconds and carried on. Like a heavy cloud it descended on her. Octava screamed as it hovered above her for a second, then, BANG! It exploded, covering her in a flurry of feathers and knocking her over.
She coughed and spluttered as feathers stuck to her mouth and nose. She stood up and slid down the side of the cave.
“Damn that Wizard! I should have remembered he can’t kill me while I have the other half of the sceptre. He’s just trying to prove he’s more powerful than I am. We’ll see about that.”
She brushed down her robe and went back inside the cave. “Now what was I doing? Ah yes, the tin chest.”
Octava walked over to it. Rusty with age, it whined as she lifted the heavy lid. Dropping down onto her knees she reached in and searched among its contents.
 “I know it’s in here.”
She tossed various items to the side until she found what she was looking for.
 “Ah there you are.”
She lifted the object that was wrapped in a dirty piece of rag and laid it down on her lap. She removed its wrapping and gazed upon her half of the sceptre.
“You belong to me.” She stroked it with a shrivelled hand. I am the last Witch in these parts. So what if I killed the others and took their possessions. It’s mine by rights. Lostan, he stole his half from Mystof. He did me a favour, she thought. I could never have got it from Mystof. Octava sat back on her heels and sighed. Too many wizarding eyes watching over him. A Witch would soon be noticed. But no one is watching Lostan, that is, except me. A smile spread across her cracked lips. And with the aid of a thread of Lostan’s hair melded into the talisman I created, that stupid boy turned up at the right time to cast the spell for me. “Soon you will be joined with your other half.” She caressed the dragon’s head. What of Narcam’s warning? said the voice in her head. “He’s bluffing. What could he do when I will have the power of the sceptre in my hands?” Octava smiled to herself as she pressed her half to her.
She rewrapped the sceptre and returned it to the chest. Closing the lid, she stood up. Her bones ached with the passing of time and her mind slipped back to the other Witches.
They rejected me because I was different. But I showed them, didn’t I? “Killed the lot of them,” she spat the words out. That silly little Witch Lily had that lock of hair hung around her neck. I knew as soon as I touched it, it was Lostan’s and that it would come in handy. I’d been watching him for a long time. “Why use magic for the good of others, when you can use it for the good of yourself?”
The words she uttered seemed to break the spell of the past and her thoughts turned to more immediate things.
I must plan my next move. But before I do, I need the boy, what was his name? Micos, that’s it, to bring back the talisman. Octava ran the fingers of one hand through her long greasy hair. I must have it if I am to defeat the Dark Wizard and claim the sceptre as my own.
She wandered over to one of the furnaces and picking up a metal poker, she opened the door.
“Doing nicely I see.”
Octava poked the small figure that was roasting to a crispy brown. She gave a gleeful chuckle and rubbed her other set of hands together before she closed the door again.
“Micos should bring it tomorrow as instructed. Not only will I have the talisman, I’ll have dinner delivered to my door as well.” She cackled with laughter.

Friday, August 13, 2021



                      Chapter 3HERE


Chapter 2

Deep within the forest he had first encountered as a young man, Lostan searched for a special tree: the oldest and largest that existed there. The darkness lay like a heavy blanket making it almost impossible to see.
He let the spell roll easily from his lips and with a click of his fingers, a ball of light hovered above his hand.
“Extendi demensio,” he muttered.
 The ball grew in size to create a circle of light around him. Now he could see in all directions. With the light ball resting in his palm he continued to search.
I know it’s here. I feel it.
 He held the light high as he pushed forward.
“There, I see it.”
He rushed towards the tree that stood taller than those which surrounded it. Its trunk, gnarled and knotted with age, supported a vast canopy of branches and leaves. Lostan held the light closer to it while running his fingers across its bark. Just beneath the covering of moss that had made its home in the crevices of the wood, he felt the marks he had placed there, several years before.
 “ Reveallatus.”
He watched as the moss and dirt crumbled away from the sturdy trunk to show a door carved deep into its wood.
“Portus apeario,” he commanded.
The door whined and creaked itself open. Lostan stepped inside.
He placed the light down on a small table and looked around him. It was just as he had left it. It had been his only home since Taros, his master, to whom he had been apprenticed at the age of fifteen, had thrown him out after ten years of service. It was so long ago, but Lostan had a bitter heart.
“Old fool,” he muttered. “I was the best student he ever had.”
 Indeed, he had shown remarkable aptitude, but soon became bored with the routine spells that cured the woes of the villagers. As his skill grew so did his impatience for something more challenging, more powerful, something that would make him stand above all others. That was when he decided to borrow the book from Taros’s bookshelf.
“Dark Magica.”
He said the title out loud, forming in his mind a vision of the old dusty volume. He remembered how in the quiet of his room he had secretly studied the dark art from this ancient tome, that his mentor, Taros, had said was never to be touched. So it was that Lostan was able to perfect his skill and as he did the darkness in his soul claimed a life of its own.
I kept the book well hidden beneath my bed, he thought. If only the old fool hadn’t found it.
 But find it he had. Lostan narrowed his eyes and clenched his jaw as he heard once more the voice of Taros saying, ‘What is the meaning of this, boy?’ Lostan could see him holding the book and glaring at him, as though he were actually there. Trapped in a moment of time, he watched the image play out in his mind. ‘You show me disrespect.’ Taros thumped his staff on the floor. ‘I find you have not just taken the book but are studying the dark arts. You’ve disregarded my teachings of the last ten years. You’re no apprentice of mine. Leave and never show you face here again.’ He remembered how he’d held Taros’s stare, and was tempted to mutter the words that would curse his mentor. But Taros could see what he was thinking. His eyes glittered as his voice thundered into Lostan’s ears. ‘Try me boy if you dare.’ Lostan hesitated for a second, then thought better of it and gathered up his belongings and left.
 Lostan remained still for a moment longer.
“Stupid old man. Bah! He’s long dead now, I am well rid of him.”
 The thought of being forced out again, this time from the village, felt like a bone stuck in his throat and he would not be happy until he had removed it.
I am powerful, I know that, but I could be more if I just had the other half of this. He patted the shape that sat beneath his cloak. The tree will do for now, while I work out what that boy had that caused my spell to turn on me.
From the outside the tree looked like any other only larger and older, but inside it was spacious and comfortable. A table and chair sat in the middle. To one side was a moderate but comfortable bed. A fireplace sat in the far corner, dressed and ready to go. A metal stewpot hung by a chain from a bar across it. Lostan clicked his fingers.
The logs crackled and flamed; colours of orange, yellow and red weaved together in a welcoming dance. He pulled up the chair and sat before the fire’s warmth. Stretching his hands towards the glow, he held them there for a few seconds before withdrawing and rubbing them together. Then he reached into his cloak and pulled out his half of the sceptre. The metal, silver and gold, was cool to the touch. It was covered with fine engravings of magical symbols. But the inscription was incomplete and was only a riddle without the other half. He stared at it as he ran his long fingers over the elegant carving of the dragons tail, which formed the end of the sceptre.
The Hag has the head. She’s after the tail. He stroked a hand across the shiny metal that was illuminated by the firelight. How did she find out that I had it protected from her within the village? What did she give the boy to break the spell? “She’s a devious old Witch.” I can’t use that protection spell again, not here, not now that it has been turned against me. Lostan leaned back in the chair while he continued to think. I’d need another village to be able to set perimeters for a new spell, but there isn’t one close enough to Octava. I’ll just have to keep the sceptre on me, until I can get her half. He replaced the sceptre and stared into the flames, lost once more in his thoughts.
* * *
Octava dipped a wrinkled finger into the liquid of her scrying bowl. She swirled the contents around and around.
 “Inky darkness, reveal to me, the Wizard Lostan and where he be.”
 She stirred the concoction faster. The spell cast, she lowered her head towards the bowl, her hooked nose only inches from its jet black contents, and watched as the fluid clouded over and then cleared.
“Ah, he’s gone to the dark forest. The tree!” Ha, he thinks he’s safe. The fool, I’ve always known about his secret tree.
The liquid clouded over. Octava continued to stare into it as she waited for it to clear once more. Her eyes widened when she saw him pull out the half sceptre and turn it over in his hands.
 “He has it. I knew it! Soon it will be mine.” She looked up and smiled. How fortunate that boy came seeking my help. I could never have got to Lostan, not with that protection spell he cast around that village.
She stood and folded her first pair of arms in front of her, while one of her hands from her second pair scratched her chin.
In the tree is he? We’ll see for how long. “Time to have some fun.”
She pushed her scrying bowl out of the way and pulled a much bigger, heavy bowl towards her. From her pocket she withdrew a dirty bag tied with string. She pulled it free with one set of hands and tipped the powder into the bowl. With a click of her fingers she set it alight. She cackled as she started to mumble the spell of compelling. The words tumbled from her mouth like a waterfall until the last word, Woodcutters, sprung from her lips into the air and hung just above the bowl. It sizzled, it crackled, it sparkled, before the flames leapt high and dragged it into their fiery embrace. She took hold of two black feathers and sprinkled some more of the powder over them while she murmured the dark magic. The feathers rose from her hands and floated out of the cave’s entrance. Octava tossed her head back. Her ebony eyes shone and glittered in the firelight as she thought about what she had done.
* * *
 Lostan sat still as he watched the flames lick the logs that were piled in the hearth. The tree home was for now his only refuge. A noise brought him back from his reverie. No it was more than a noise, it was a vibration as well. He looked up and listened. First a thump, then a shudder, then another thump. He stood. A frown creased his brow.
Is my tree shaking?
Thump, thump, thumpety thump.
There it is again.
He took a step forward, when the tree shuddered once more.
“What on earth is going on?”
He moved towards the door and pulled it open. His eyes narrowed as he stepped outside.
“What’s the meaning of this?!”
The two burly woodcutters glanced up but they continued to swing their axes at the trunk of the tree. They seemed to be picking up speed as they chipped away at the bark. Above them the caw of crows rang into the air.
“I warn you, stop now if you value your lives.” Lostan’s voice thundered into the night.
But the woodcutters kept chopping as though their lives depended on it. Lostan reached out to grab one by the shoulder when the beat of wings descended and two large crows, beaks aimed for his head, came zooming in. He swung around and ducked as one caught him a glancing blow on the side of his face. Blood trickled down his cheek, but his eyes followed the birds as they came around for another attack.
He could hear the men behind him, their onslaught of his tree in full swing. But he would have to deal with the birds first. He watched as they approached. Their wings thrashed against the midnight sky as they prepared to swoop again. They came in together, their quarry fixed in their sight. Lostan held his position, his eyes never leaving them. Timing would be everything, if he was to succeed. The birds loomed out of the darkness, their beaks parted as they screeched at their prey.
Lostan flexed his fingers, tiny sparks crackled from the tips.
Just one more second, that’s all.
He stood unmoving and whispered the spell of slow time. It drifted into the atmosphere, a grey smokey snake of a spell, waiting to sink its fangs into the bodies of the crows. The birds coming closer and closer, now moved at a snail’s pace. He could hear the beat of their hearts, as the blood rushed around their bodies and they prepared to strike. They seem to hover in front of him. He knew he had only seconds before the spell lost its power. He flicked his fingers, and a flash lit up the night.
The birds tumbled from the sky and hit the ground with a thud. The spell flickered around them. Lostan watched as they transformed into two black feathers that lay silent on the ground.
“This is witchcraft. The Hag!” said Lostan through gritted teeth.
 He turned his attention back to the woodcutters who still swung their axes in a furious attempt to cut down the tree.
“Stop now!”
The men stopped and turned towards him, their axes held high. The first one charged at him. Lostan mumbled some words and clicked his fingers. The woodcutter’s axe flew from his hands and with a chopping motion started to chase him. The woodcutter ran through the woods as the axe swiped at him. His shrieks echoed into the night. The second man stood still as if frozen, the axe trembling in his hand. Lostan laughed as he once more muttered the spell of changing and clicked his fingers. The axe transformed into a serpent that hissed and curled around the second woodcutter’s arm. The man screamed and began to jump about in an attempt to shake the creature off, then he too fled into the darkness of the forest.
Lostan examined his tree. They had managed to cut into the bark a fair way, but not enough to topple the tree.
But then she knew they wouldn’t succeed. She’s playing games. I’ll show her how to play games.
He stepped back inside the tree and sat down in the chair. He fetched the sceptre out once more.
The Hag is clever and powerful, but maybe not as clever as me.
He turned it over in his hands, the metal glinting in the fire light.
 Now all that remains is for me to get her half, and kill her of course. Maybe Micos too.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021


 By request I have been asked to show Wizard again.  I will show 1 Chapter a week and I hope you enjoy either reading it for the first time or re reading. 

Chapter 1
The Spell

Lostan stood in the middle of the village square, where a crowd had gathered around. The boy, Micos, stood opposite him. Lostan narrowed his eyes and clenched his teeth as he looked at him. Hatred reached out its bony fingers and took a tight hold on his mind.
Stupid boy. Playing at being a Wizard. He may have forced me out for now, but I promise, he will pay for what he’s done and so will the whole village.
He pulled his dark cloak tighter around his broad shoulders.The creak of the village gates caught his attention. He turned to watch the group of men, two on each gate, heave them open, before turning back to face the boy.
 “You fool.” He spat the words at him. “I’ll be back and you will fear me. All of you will FEAR ME!” thundered Lostan with a sweeping gesture of his arms towards the people.
The crowd gasped and took a step back. He looked at his hands as he walked forward. His skin was ageing fast.
I must leave straightaway if I am to stop this.
 The air crackled above them and a darkness filled the sky. Lostan turned and glanced once more at the mud walls surrounding the village before moving towards the gates.
“You will regret this. All of you will regret this.”
With a sweep of his black cloak, he turned and stepped through the gates and headed towards the forest. Now an outcast, he retreated to the shelter of the tall trees.
 Where did that boy get the means to do what he did? He’s too green to have known about this himself, and he has no real magic of his own as yet.
He pushed forwards into the woods. The further he went, the darker it became. Here the trees were older, some ancient. Their branches spread across the sky like a green blanket and blocked the sun’s rays from reaching the forest floor. The aroma of the damp earth beneath his feet reached his nostrils. He took a deep breath, allowing its fragrance to fill him and invade his thoughts, cleansing them, until it all become clear to him.
 The Hag! It could only have been her. She wanted me out of there. She, the boy and that village will pay before the week’s out.
* * *

“Good riddance,” shouted someone in the crowd.
“Hooray for Micos,” called out another. The crowd cheered.
“Thank you my friends,” said Micos. “It was nothing for a great Wizard like myself to handle. He’ll not be back. His threats are just idle.”
Feeling pleased with himself, Micos strutted around the village square, bowing, smiling and waving to the people. After all, they don’t know I’m not a Wizard yet, and what’s a little cheating to achieve one’s fame.
“He’s caused more trouble than he’s worth,” muttered an old man, looking towards the coal coloured sky.
“What do you mean?” replied another. “He got rid of Lostan didn’t he?”
The old man sniffed and wiped his nose across his sleeve. “But fer how long do ye reckon? He’s no Wizard. I can tell. More like an apprentice.”
“Well, he’s a young’un. I’ll grant you that. But he must’ve known some powerful magic to ‘ave beaten him. I don’t care where he sprung from. He got the job done, didn’t he?”
“I grant you we’re better off without the likes of Lostan.”
 “That Lostan is a Dark Wizard,” said the other man. “Him being ‘ere tempted some to avail themselves of his skills. We don’t need that sort of thing ‘ere.”
“Ah, but why’d he come ‘ere in the first place? Ask yerself that.” The old man waved a finger at him. “Wizard’s like ‘im usually settle in the bigger towns. That’s where the call for dark magic is most sought after. He must ‘av been ‘ere fer a reason. You’ll see, we’ll all regret it.”
The old man coughed and walked away leaving the hum of voices behind him.
Micos was still bowing and waving to the crowd when he felt a tap on his sleeve.
 “Micos aren’t you overdoing it a bit?” whispered Nettle.
Micos looked down at her and pulled a face.
“You’re not a Wizard yet.” Nettle glared at him. “When Narcam finds out what you have done, he’s going to be so angry. Come in now.”
“Pfft,” said Micos, waving a hand in the air as he walked away from her to mingle with more people who continued to pat him on the back and muttered words of congratulations.
“Micos.” Nettle ran over to him. “Excuse me, I must speak with him.” She smiled at the group surrounding him, tucked her arm in his and tugged him away.
“Aww Nettle, do you have to spoil my moment of glory? They think I’m a big Wizard now.”
All eyes seemed to be watching them as they stood together in the centre, whispering to each other. Nettle felt her cheeks grow hot and she felt angry enough to give Micos a hard slap. Her eyes darted around the crowd and she knew she had to make him come away.
She shoved him hard in the shoulder. “Narcam will flay you for this. He will, you know.”
“Narcam’s been gone a month. He doesn’t know about Lostan. He only arrived after he left. Lostan and his dark magic needed to be stopped. Who else was going to do it?”
“Come away with me now,” urged Nettle. “What’s happened to the sky?” She cast her eyes upwards to the swirling mass of dark clouds spreading like spilled ink across the heavens.
Micos looked up and shrugged. “It just went sort of black after Lostan said something about coming back and how we should all be afraid.”
“What have you done?”
Nettle took his hand and pulled him towards Narcam’s house. Micos offered no resistance. He knew he could, if he wanted to. He was stronger than her, but he liked her holding his hand.
“I got rid of him. That’s what I did. The people think me a great Wizard now”
“More like a fool.”
She hurried on, propelling them both back to the safety of their master’s house. Nettle closed the door to the work room and looked at the glass containers on the bench, then at Micos. He stood a whole head taller than her. His eyes, a soft brown, stared back at her, while black curls framed his face and danced above his broad shoulders. It was hard to be angry with him, but she put on a stern face.
 “Narcam left instructions that you should clean out those jars before he returned.”
“I’m meant for better things than cleaning.”
Micos picked up Narcam’s staff from where it stood in the corner and proceeded to wave it about.
“See I’ve learnt a thing or two about magic. Shall I make something appear? How about a kitten? You’d like a kitten wouldn’t you?”
“Stop it! Before you do some damage. You don’t know how to use it.” Nettle made a grab for the staff.
“Out of my way, girl.”
Micos pushed Nettle to one side. This was his chance to impress her and he so wanted to do that. He held the staff out in front of him and drew a slow circle in the air, all the time muttering the spell.
“Manifestos cattus.”
He increased the speed with which he turned it, making the circles bigger and bigger.
 “Manifestos cattus, manifestos cattus.”
Faster and faster he swirled it as the words tumbled from his mouth. His wide eyes glistened with excitement as he focused on his conjuring. A sizzle cut through the air and sparks flew from the end of the staff like miniature bolts of lightning. There was a huge flash. For a moment both Micos and Nettle were blinded by the light. Both blinked as they heard a deep snarl resonate from the corner. Just a few feet away from them stood a large tiger. Its eyes glinted as it lifted its nose and sniffed. It crouched, snarled again and then sprang.
 Micos, surprised, fell backwards and so didn’t see Nettle raise her hand.
“Exterminus,” she whispered as she clicked her fingers.
The tiger disappeared in mid-jump.
“Yipes!” yelled Micos as he fell over some boxes behind him. The staff flew from his hand and hit the table with a thud. Larger sparks flew from the end, bounced off the walls and landed on the jars Micos was supposed to clean. The jars split into hundreds of pieces as they crashed to the floor.
“Now look what you’ve done.” Nettle stared at the mass of broken glass. “Some Wizard you are.”
“What happened to the kitty?” Micos stood up and looked around the room.
“Some kitty! It disappeared into thin air.”
Micos kicked the boxes out of his way and came to stand beside Nettle.
“Disappeared? How?”
“It just did.” Nettle felt her cheeks begin to colour again. “Like I said, some Wizard you are. Which reminds me. Tell me, how did you get Lostan to leave?”
“Magic,” Micos laughed.
“It’s me you’re talking to, remember? You can tell me after we’ve cleared this mess up. Get a move on.”
Nettle fetched a broom and swept the glass into a pile. Micos, with a cloth wrapped around his hands, scooped the glass up and into a metal container by his side.
“I’ll just get rid of this,” he said sidling towards the door.
“Not so fast.” Nettle leaned on her broom. “Tell me what you did to Lostan first, or I’ll tell the master what happened today.”
Micos turned to face her. “You wouldn’t.”
“Try me.” Nettle gave him a hard stare.
“Okay, but you won’t like it.”
“Spit it out then.”
 He tried to sound casual.“You know the old Hag that lives in the caves down by the stream?”
Nettle gasped. “Octava?”
“The very same.”
“How are you still alive? She eats boys like you for breakfast.”
“Rubbish. That’s just an old wives tale.”
Nettle gave a shudder. “But Octava, she’s dangerously powerful. Least that’s what I’ve heard tell of her.”
“She’s powerful all right and a bit scary.”
Nettle crossed her arms and stared hard at him. “You just walked in and said, oh hullo I’m Micos and I need your help, and walked out again with whatever it was she gave you? I don’t believe it.” I wonder if he’s making this all up just to impress me?
“Believe what you like. Because that’s exactly what I did. Mind you it didn’t come free. I had to give her a night’s labour working in her cave maintaining her fires.”
“You went out at night? How did you get out of the gates? Did no one see you?”
“I’m hungry,” said Micos, trying to change the subject. “Anything to eat?”
“Food. You want food?”
“If you want the rest of the story. Feed me.”
 Micos was counting on the walk to the kitchen to distract her and save him from telling her how he sneaked out at night. Nettle looked at him and sighed.
“Okay, follow me. But as soon as I get you some food, you must tell me the rest.”
“Of course I will.”
Micos grinned at her. She noticed how when he smiled, a dimple appeared in each of his cheeks and she felt her own cheeks grow hot for the third time that day. She turned and walked out of the workroom and back towards the kitchen, not daring to glance over her shoulder at him in case he should see in her eyes what she was thinking.
Don’t be stupid girl. You work with him, nothing more. Anyway he’s probably not interested in you.
Nettle’s heart beat just a little faster as she marched off down the corridor. Micos, still holding the container of glass, followed her. He studied her slender frame and the way her pale yellow hair fell down her back, swaying with every step she took. He really liked her, even if she was a bit on the bossy side. In the kitchen Micos placed the container on the floor and sat down on the bench at the table while Nettle fetched him a scone and a cup of cider.
“Fires?” she said, as she placed the food and drink down and sat opposite him.
Micos took a bite out of the scone. “Fires?”
“What did the Hag want fires for?”
“Ah,” said Micos, relieved she had forgotten about how he got out of the village. “She said it was for cooking. Two big furnaces she had, roaring with flames, and funny smells coming from each. She kept pinching the flesh on my arms while I was working.”
“You fool.” Nettle shook her head at him. “Just as well you’re thin or you may have ended up in one of them. Old wives tales indeed. You still haven’t told me how you got rid of Lostan. What did Octava give you?”
“A talisman. She told me to stand in the centre of the square and turn to face first North, then South, East and West, holding this talisman at the moment the clock struck four in the morning.”
“Why four in the morning?”
“How do I know why? Shut up and let me finish the telling, will you?”
“Maybe it’s got something to do with the four directions.” Nettle was trying to recall something she had read while secretly studying an old book of spells she had acquired. “I wonder why if you cast the spell at that time it took so long to work? It’s now the middle of the day. Perhaps you have to give it time for the spell to grow in some way, you know so that it can transmogrify.” She had come across this word in the old book of spells which lay hidden under her bed.
“Where did you hear that word? What would you know about magical things? You’re just a girl.”
“The Hag is a girl,” she snapped at him.
“She’s a powerful Witch. Not your normal girl is she?”
“She’s still a girl.”
“Shut up Nettle. Do you want to know or not?”
Nettle held his stare but said nothing.
 “Where was I? Oh yes, when facing each direction she said to recite the spell exactly as she had written it and it would lift some sort of hex Lostan had placed around the village to protect himself.”
“He’s a powerful Wizard. Why would he need to protect himself?”
“Will you stop interrupting. I’m about to tell you the best bit.”
“Go on then.”
“Not only does it lift his hex, but his spell would turn on him and age him rapidly. To stop it he had to leave the village—and it worked. Did you noticed how his skin began to change?”
“Yes, it worked all right, but at what cost?” Nettle frowned. “You don’t think this will be the end of it do you? Didn’t you ask yourself why Octava helped you? There’s more to this than meets the eye.”
“You worry too much.”
“You worry too little.” Nettle slipped her legs over the bench and stood up. “Come on now, get rid of that glass.”
Micos stood, picked up the container and walked towards the door and out into the hallway. Nettle watched him go.
Why would Octava help him? What was she up to? Why would she want Lostan out of the village?
Those thoughts tumbled around in her mind. She cleared away the dishes into a bowl before heading back to the workroom. Taking the broom she began to sweep the floor. The rhythm of the movement seemed to calm her down but deep inside something gnawed away at her and an ominous feeling settled over her like a heavy cloud.