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.