The Witch in the Mirror – Part 43

Ailis ran until her feet were sore. She was deep into the forest now, further than she’d ever been before. Every now and then she had to stop, leaning against a tree and panting until she had gotten her breath back. The forest stretched on and on around the edge of the lake, further than she could ever have imagined.

Surely she had lost the soldiers by now. They had nearly caught her this time. She was merely floating, just like she did every day when she could sneak away from her chores. She stood on the rock at the edge of the lake and just let herself hover in the air. She never went too far or too high. She didn’t want anyone seeing her or discovering she had magic. It was peaceful in the air. She felt more like herself—where she could imagine she was secretly a princess rather than just a blacksmith’s daughter.

But this time she had gotten careless and had drifted lazily toward the treetops. That is when she first saw the men in black cloaks. She had heard all about these men that wore black cloaks. The villagers were all terrified of them. And the worst of the lot was that sergeant with the scar on his left cheek. Three jagged lines—almost like someone had scratched him viciously, or in desperation, Ailis thought. She had made the mistake of looking up as he rode through the village once. He had stared at her with those dead eyes as though he wanted to devour her.

When Ailis saw the horsemen through the trees she quickly returned to the ground and started to run. She knew she could have flown away from them but she couldn’t be seen in the air.

Ailis heard a noise and began to run again. Her plan was to circle back around to the village and return by the coastal path. As Ailis neared the village she stopped running. She ran her hands over her skirt and blouse to straighten it and adjusted the scarf around her hair. She stopped by a wild apple tree and filled her basket. It would be a ready excuse if anybody stopped her. She tried to calm the fear in her stomach.

The sun rose high in the sky when she caught the scent of wood smoke from the village. Ailis heaved a sigh of relief. Just over the next rise and she would be back in the village safe and sound.

Ailis left the forest and walked across the field of heath that ran down to the beach. In the distance she could see the village’s fishing boats bobbing on the open sea. They wouldn’t return until evening with their catch.

She could hear hammering from the blacksmith’s forge and she smiled. It wasn’t so bad being the blacksmith’s daughter. It could have been worse. Bryn was a highly respected artisan in the village and that afforded Ailis more freedom from menial chores than some of the other girls her age.

Ailis took an apple from her basket and was just about to take a bite when she saw the four horsemen blocking her path.

‘You there. Girl. Stop.’

Ailis shuddered when she saw it was the man with the scar. She was frozen to the spot.

‘What business do you have out here? We have been hunting a young girl seen in the forest. What do you have to say for yourself?’

‘I—I was just fetching apples. To make my Da a pie.’ She tried to control the nervousness in her voice.

‘A likely story. Who is your da?’

‘The—the blacksmith—Bryn—the blacksmith.’

The sergeant looked at her more closely, searching her face. His black gloved hand involuntarily stroked the scars on his cheek.

‘How old are you, girl?’

Ailis felt tears well into her eyes but forced them back down. The pendant between her breasts was turning hot.

‘Just take her here, Hom. Nobody need ever know.’ The second horsemen leered at her. Ailis fought back the urge to wet herself.

‘This little one is not worth your effort.’

A woman appeared behind the horsemen. Hom turned in his saddle to see who dared address the black cloaks. It was just another peasant woman. Hom drew his sword. The sun glinted wickedly on the blade. He smiled viciously to feel its familiar weight in his hand.

‘Why don’t you go about your business, old woman, before I slay you right here.’

‘You don’t want to kill anyone today.’ She moved her hand from under her cloak. ‘Return to your camp.’

Hom looked at her uncertainly for a moment before sheathing his sword.

‘Come, men. Let us return to camp. We will take the wench another day.’

He glared at the woman and turned his horse. The four men rode away in a cloud of dust.

Ailis collapsed to her knees with shock.

The woman cupped her hand around Ailis’ chin and raised the girl to her feet.

‘Run home, child. You need to take more care with your gift. It’s not your time yet, but soon.’

Ailis looked questioningly into the woman’s eyes. They were dark but flecked with blue, like snowflakes.

‘Go.’

Ailis found her feet moving quickly toward the village. She looked back over her shoulder.

The woman was gone.

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The Witch in the Mirror – Part 37

The day of the fireworks started out fine and sunny after a week of rain. Late in the afternoon people began to gather on the lawns in front of the school. The ruins of Pemblebury Castle provided a medieval backdrop to the night’s entertainment. A stage was setup in front of the school steps and the band members were slowly arriving and unpacking their instruments.

Emily and Bea spent the afternoon wandering around the shopping centre before going back to Emily’s apartment to get ready. Neither bothered to dress up so it didn’t take long to have showers and then get back into their usual clothes.

The two girls walked the couple of blocks to the school and Bea could already hear the band warming up as they came through the school gate. It was a mixture of orchestral instruments and modern electric guitars and drums. The air was filled with the sound of excited chatter punctuated by instruments being tuned. The notes from a piano solo drifted on the breeze to where Bea stood with Emily looking for a spot to put a blanket. She wondered if Josh would be there with his cello. The sound was kind of cool and Bea found herself relaxing as Emily found a spot on the grass toward the back of the square.

Emily spread the blanket on the ground and then sat with her arms cradled around her knees. She turned and smiled as Bea sat next to her. ‘I’m really glad we came, Bea.’

‘Yeah, me too.’ Bea smiled back.

Emily rested her head on her knees and she hummed in time with the music. The band had launched into a rendition of ‘Running in the Shadows’ and the sounds of electric guitar and drums filled the air. Emily watched Bea’s curly red hair spilling over her shoulders and wondered about the reason Bea had asked her to come.

Emily touched the locket around her neck. She could feel it tingling and it gave her confidence. A small smile danced across her lips. She felt the chill in the air against her arms but the warmth radiating from the locket kept her from the cold.

She looked over the crowd. Anar and Heather were sitting amongst a group of boys. They were drinking from plastic bottles but Emily guessed what was really in there. Anar was wearing a short black dress. Her shoulders and arms were bare. ‘She must be freezing,’ Emily thought to herself.

Bea turned and saw Emily’s darkened face. She laughed, ‘What are you thinking?’

‘Nothing.’ Emily looked away. She couldn’t look at Bea anymore without feeling butterflies in her stomach. She wished she hadn’t come tonight after all.

Heather and Anar walked toward them, whispering together. Anar laughed as she stopped in front of Bea and Emily.

‘Shouldn’t you witches be home boiling your faces in a cauldron?’

‘Yours is the only face that will boil.’ Emily’s face glowered. Bea touched her arm.

‘They’re not worth it, Em.’

‘Come on, Heather. Let’s leave these lovebirds to themselves.’

Bea’s face went red and she quickly pulled her hand away from Emily’s arm. Emily blinked back her tears. This was becoming the worst night of her life. She hugged her knees tighter and rested her head on her forearm. It still tingled from where Bea’s hand had touched her.

‘Don’t worry about them. They’re just evil.’

Overhead the sky began to fill with darkening clouds. Bea was worried about her friend’s mood swings. She seemed to be getting gloomier than ever lately.

Bea closed her eyes and let the music wash over her. She lost track of time. Then she felt Bea’s fingertips accidently brush gently against hers. It was like an electric shock ran up her arm. Emily quickly opened her eyes but Bea was still in the same position, rocking in time to the music. She looked down at her hand on the blanket. Maybe she had just imagined it.

Emily glanced at her friend’s face again, trying to guess what she was thinking. Floodlights from the stage cast a shadow across half her face. She followed the direction of Bea’s eyes to the stage where Josh was sitting with a cello between his legs. The music slowed and the electric guitars were replaced by a slow and sensuous rhythm on the cello. Emily ground her teeth together. She felt depressed again. If only she could make that love spell work.

Josh was bent forward and long curls tumbled across his face, just the way he looked in the music room. The tune reached out to Bea and she felt each note punctuating her breathing. Suddenly she realised she was standing and swaying in time with the music. Emily watched her from the blanket for a moment and then stood and joined her.

Bea looked at Emily and smiled dreamily but she didn’t smile back. Her eyes looked sad, but Bea didn’t really give her another thought because she was so absorbed by the music coming from Josh’s cello. Suddenly she felt herself floating again. There was mist and she could see the mountaintop from her dream. The dark-haired woman was holding her hand out to Bea. ‘It’s time. We need you.’ And then she was falling, falling, falling.

‘Bea, are you okay?’ Emily’s voice sounded concerned. She was near tears.

‘I guess—I just fell. I think I need to get a drink of water.’

‘You stay here, Bea. I’ll go and get it for you.’

Before she could protest Emily had disappeared into the crowd. Nobody else seemed to have noticed her falling. She sat on the blanket and tried to control her breathing. Then she heard a cough.

‘Are you okay?’

Bea looked up to see Josh standing above her.

‘Oh, yeah. Sure. I’m fine.’

‘I saw you fall from the stage. You were just dancing and then suddenly you were on the ground. I thought you might have hurt yourself.’

‘I’m fine. I guess I just tripped.’

Josh knelt down on the grass beside the blanket. ‘Your ankle looks swollen. Do you mind if I have a look at it?’

Suddenly Josh’s fingers were gently lifting her foot. ‘Does this hurt?’

‘Ouch, yes.’

‘I don’t think it’s broken. You must have twisted it as you fell.’

Bea could still feel his fingers around her foot and she looked up into his eyes. She felt a sharp shock run through her body.

‘I got you a drink, Bea.’ Bea looked up to see Emily standing there with a bottle of water. She wasn’t smiling anymore.

‘Oh, thanks, Em. You remember Josh—from class?’

‘Yeah, sure. Hi, Josh.’

‘Why don’t you join us?’

‘Oh, thanks, but I have to get back. I’m on again soon.’

Emily sat back down on the blanket as Bea watched Josh disappear into the crowd. Emily handed her the bottle of water.

‘What was that all about?’

‘Oh, nothing, I guess. He said he saw me fall.’

‘So why were his hands all over you?’

‘I hurt my ankle. He was checking it out.’

‘Yeah, that’s what it looked like.’ Her voice was harsh.

‘What’s the matter, Em?’

‘Nothing. The fireworks should be starting soon.’

Emily brought her knees up to her chin and wrapped her arms around them. She wished they had never come tonight.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 36

‘I know what you need, Bea.’
‘What’s that?’
‘A real solution to your problem.’
Bea blinked. She looked at Emily sitting across from her.
‘Which of my problems are you talking about?’
She took a sip from a can of soft drink. It still tasted strange to her. She didn’t know why.
Emily sat at the table with a notepad in front of her.
‘We need to get some things.’
She began to make a list:

Candles – red and black
Flowers
Incense – other magic stuff

Emily wasn’t really sure what she was doing but she was trying to make it up to Bea for dredging into her past. She had an idea but Emily thought if she could sneak in a memory spell as well then everything would be perfect.
Bea sighed. She didn’t believe in any of this magic stuff, but she wanted to humour her friend. Bea thought about Josh. She knew Emily didn’t like him but she couldn’t help being drawn to him. Josh had invited her to hear him play at the Fireworks Spectacular. He said he had been playing for several years but this was his biggest event yet. Bea wondered if what she felt for Josh was something more than just friendship.

Bea talked Emily into going with her to the Fireworks Spectacular. The school band was playing and it was meant to be a huge party. At first Emily didn’t want to go. She said she would feel out of place.
‘It’s not my scene either, Em, but I really want to go. Won’t you please come with me?’
She kept pleading so much that in the end Emily decided it wouldn’t hurt if she went just this once. Gwen was worried but agreed that Bea could stay overnight with Emily and catch the early bus home in the morning.
Bea answered fervently, ‘That makes me so happy.’ She laid her hand on Emily’s and looked cheerfully into her face.
Emily blushed but couldn’t bring herself to pull her hand away.
‘We should get back to the assignment.’
‘Yes, of course.’ Bea couldn’t stop smiling as she pulled the chemistry book out of her bag.
The evening passed quickly until Emily began to get restless again. ‘Would you like something to eat?’
‘No, I’m fine. Thanks.’
‘Okay, well I’m just going to make a cup of tea.’
‘I guess I should be going.’
‘Oh no, please—don’t go.’

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 27

A few days later Beatrice sat in a cafe after school with Emily. They were meant to be putting the finishing touches on their chemistry assignment but neither girl was focused on her schoolwork as they waited for their coffees to be served. Beatrice could feel Emily looking at her thoughtfully. She pretended to be thinking about the assignment but her thoughts were on that haunting tune.

‘How about—’

‘Who is—’ They both began at the same time and stopped and laughed.

‘You go,’ Beatrice said.

Emily took a deep breath.

‘No, you go first.’

‘I was thinking about Anar and why she doesn’t like you.’

Emily’s face dropped.

‘I think she knows you’re afraid of her.’

‘I’m not afraid of her. She’s just mean.’

Emily didn’t want to argue about it.

Beatrice let it drop and went back to reading the textbook.

The two girls sat in silence for a few minutes as the waitress placed their cups on the table.

‘Will that be all,’ she drawled.

‘No thanks, we’re good,’ Beatrice replied. She dipped a spoon in the sugar bowl and began stirring her coffee.

‘So do you really not remember anything from before?’ Emily suddenly blurted out.

‘Nothing.’ Beatrice’s voice was flat.

Emily saw the look on Beatrice’s face. She knew Beatrice didn’t like talking about it and wanted to change the subject. She was never comfortable talking about herself.

‘I’m sorry, Beatrice. It’s just—well, I looked up a newspaper article about the accident. I thought it might prompt your memory. Maybe you need help.’

‘Gramma says I’m fine, it’s just the trauma. But then I have these—’ She was about to say dreams but she didn’t know if she was ready to share that with Emily. Beatrice was even wondering if she should have told Emily about her memory loss.

‘It’s just that, you know, the article doesn’t say anything about you.’ Emily pushed a newspaper clipping across the table.

 

The notorious stretch of road across the Pennines has taken another two lives. A vehicle driving east toward the Pennine Pass left an icy stretch of road at approximately 2:00 to 3:00 am Sunday night. The overturned vehicle was discovered but both the driver and passenger were pronounced dead by the time paramedics arrived. Police have withheld the names of the victims until relatives can be advised.

 

Beatrice finished reading and put the newspaper clipping down.

‘So? Maybe it was the wrong accident.’

‘But look at the date, Beatrice. It’s the same one you said your accident was.’

‘Maybe it’s just coincidence.’ She shrugged. Beatrice didn’t want to think about it. ‘Are you saying Gramma lied to me?’

‘Have you talked to her?’

‘Of course I have. She says I’m not ready.’ Beatrice twisted the coffee cup in her hand. Emily placed her hand on Beatrice’s forearm.

‘I think you should get professional help. It’s not normal to lose your memory. I’ve been researching about that too.’

Emily reached across the table and squeezed Beatrice’s hand.

‘I’m sorry, Bea. I didn’t mean to make you cry.’

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 26

Josh felt the magic as soon as his fingers stroked the maple neck of the cello. His mother had promised him a new instrument for passing his theory exams. Up until then he had to be satisfied with practicing on one of the old cellos that belonged to the school. Josh had been obsessed with the cello for years. While the other boys were out chasing footballs around the playground he had immersed himself in learning everything he could about this wonderful instrument.

Now he had his own cello and he took care of it like it was a new born baby. He ran his fingers over the instrument again and felt a thrill run up his arm. He held the bow in the other hand, waiting so he could savour this moment like he always did. He could feel the tension build in his body with the cello pressed against his legs and his fingers stroking its neck.

Josh closed his eyes and drew the bow across the strings again. Just three notes that sang with yearning and desire. He stopped and scribbled on the blank music page and then played a few more notes. He had a week to hand in a draft of this piece to his music teacher, but he wanted to make sure it was perfect. Josh always wanted it to be perfect.

The strings vibrated under his bow. When he closed his eyes Josh could hear the entire piece. Just relax and play. Getting lost in the moment was something Josh was good at. All of the tension washed out of his body and music filled the room as he worked himself to a peak.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 25

Princess Alyce slammed the book shut. She had been reading it all night but all she found was frustration. All she had been able to do was cast an enchantment on the castle that protected it—and her—from the king. For now anyway.

What she had learned about breaking the king’s enchantment of Alexandria was another thing completely. She just didn’t have the power. Not on her own. If she had both her sisters they would be strong enough. But Meaghan was out of reach and Katharine had simply disappeared.

Alyce was furious with her older sister. At the first sign of trouble she just flew away without leaving word or staying to help her younger sisters.

She opened the book again. Hushed whispers rose from the pages. So many voices trying to tell her what to do, but she didn’t know which ones to listen to.

A breeze blew through the door and the pages of the book began flipping over. Alyce sat back and watched until they stopped. She leant forward and began reading.

If she needed more power she would get more power. Whatever it takes.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 24

Beatrice was walking along the corridor on the bottom floor of the main school building when she heard it. Music filled the air. She felt herself drawn to it. The door was closed but she could see into the music room through the window.

There was a guy sitting with a cello between his legs. It was the same guy she had seen from the bus the other day. As he drew a bow across the strings a haunting melody poured from the instrument. Beatrice was hypnotised. She couldn’t move.

Beatrice didn’t notice Miss Elizabeth—the music teacher and unofficial school counsellor—sitting in the corner of the music room. She was tapping her foot in time with the music but she turned her head to see Beatrice peering through the window. Miss Elizabeth looked thoughtfully at Beatrice. She already knew most of the students from music class but she hadn’t met this girl with fiery red hair before. Just maybe… Miss Elizabeth let her thoughts drift as the bow flew faster across the strings of the cello.

Music swirled around Beatrice’s head and filled her heart until she felt like she was being lifted from the ground. She was flying through the darkness. Far below her in the mist was a mountain peak and she descended to find a dark-haired woman waiting for her.

‘Bea,’ she called, ‘Bea.’ The voice became more insistent and Beatrice felt a tugging at her sleeve.

‘Bea, come on, we’ll be late for history.’

Beatrice’s eyes suddenly focused to find Emily standing in front of her.

‘Bea, are you okay?’

‘Oh—yeah, sure. We should get to class.’ She turned and looked back at the music room. It was silent as they walked away.

Beatrice was still shaking as she took her seat in the classroom next to Emily.

Mr Garcia was at the front of the room. He began moving among the desks handing out notes. ‘This is a permission letter that you need to get your parents to sign. Next week we have our excursion to Lawton Wold which we will be using for our major project.’

He moved back to the front of the room.

‘History—what does it mean to you?’ He paused and looked around the blank faces in the room. ‘What is the difference between history and memory?’ Someone coughed nervously. ‘While these are rhetorical questions, we can shape our enquiry into history by defining the difference between history and memory. Would anyone like to have a go?’ He looked expectantly at the class. ‘Emily, how about you?’

‘Ummm—oh gosh, well—I guess history is what happened. Ummm—memory is what you think happened.’ She felt the answer was pretty lame. Emily looked at Beatrice for support, but she was surprised at the look on Beatrice’s face―it was like someone had suddenly walked over her grave.

‘Not a bad attempt, but I think you got it around the wrong way. Memory is about what happened and history is our attempt to understand the meaning of what happened. The modern conception of the self has memory at its core. You are what you remember. Identities retain the traces of the past in subtle but important ways. So now—Beatrice, are you okay?’ Mr Garcia had suddenly noticed her pale face.

‘I—I think I just need to go to the bathroom.’

Beatrice stood up uncertainly and hurried from the room.

‘Sir, perhaps I should go with her. Make sure she is okay.’

Mr Garcia nodded and Emily hurried after Beatrice. She found her locked in a cubicle and Emily could hear Beatrice sobbing. ‘Bea, are you okay?’

‘Yes,’ she sniffed.

‘What happened?’

Beatrice opened the cubicle door and walked to the sink. ‘I don’t remember anything.’ Her voice was a whisper.

‘What do you mean?’

Beatrice told her about the car accident and her memory loss. ‘So now I live with my grandmother. She says my memories will come back in time. Sometimes I get little flashes but they don’t make any sense.’

Emily didn’t know what to say. She put her arms around Beatrice’s shoulders and hugged her. Beatrice’s hair was soft against her face.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 23

Ailis twisted the petals in her fingers. She was lying on her stomach in the woods studying the wildflowers. She picked a handful and wove them into her curly red hair.

She looked up as a flock of ravens flew high overhead. They would be heading back to the mountains for the summer to roost. Their black shapes circled once before disappearing toward the east.

Her stomach grumbled with hunger but Ailis was too busy to bother doing anything about it. She had until the sun was high until she had to take her father’s lunch to the blacksmith forge. It had only just risen above the treetops so she had plenty of time. Besides, it was warm and peaceful in the woods.

Through the trees Ailis could hear the water of the lake lapping against the shore. She stood and walked through the trees until she could see glimpses of blue. She felt a thrill of excitement. She had never come this far into the wood before. But today was special. It was her birthday—and she was no longer a child, having bled for the first time last full moon.

Ailis’s red hair glinted in the sunlight as she stepped from the trees and moved to the edge of the lake. The lake stretched so far she couldn’t see the other side. Somewhere over there was the Westerly Mountains and on the other side—so her father told her once when she was young—was a magnificent castle where the king sat on his throne of gold.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to sit on that gold throne and rule the kingdom? Ailis smiled to herself. One day she would travel to that far away castle. Maybe she would even meet a prince and he would fall in love with her—even though she was only a blacksmith’s daughter. She grimaced and looked down at the patched skirt she wore. Her hands were small and still soft but she could feel callouses starting to her form on her palms. She rubbed her hands against her skirt, as though that would rub the callouses away. When she found her prince she hoped he would see the heart that lay beneath the patched skirt and calloused hands. He would shower her with beautiful things and she would never have to wear old clothes and live in a tiny cottage ever again.

Ailis closed her eyes and tried to imagine what a castle even looked like. The sun was warm on her face and she spread her arms wide. She began to picture herself flying—across the lake, over the snow-capped mountains, toward the distant castle. She felt light—light as a feather. Like she was floating …

Ailis opened her eyes and gasped before falling back to the ground with a thump. She had been floating. Flying! Really flying. Did she have magic? She felt a thrill of fear. Magic was forbidden throughout the kingdom. It had been forbidden years ago. Ever since before she was born.

She dimly remembered the stories her mother had told her. She had trouble remembering what she looked like now. It had been so long ago. She could remember her grey hair. She knew her face was kind even though Ailis could no longer picture her anymore. She had just disappeared one night. Ailis’ father had said she was with the king’s army, working as a healer for the soldiers. She will come home one day, he had said. But Ailis didn’t believe it anymore. If she was still alive she would surely have come back to them by now. Bryn the blacksmith never talked about Saba anymore, but Ailis had never forgotten that she had told her she was special. She had touched the pendant and said it kept her safe and she should never take it off.

Ailis felt the pendant under her dress. It was warm where it lay between her small breasts. She looked around to make sure she was still alone. A mischievous grin crossed her face.

She could fly!

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 22

Beatrice and Emily were at a bench in the science lab. They were both studying the test tube in front of them. Their first assignment was to observe the chemical reaction when they added a number of substances together.

‘So what do we do next?’ Beatrice asked.

‘Using the tongs, place the strip of magnesium in the bottom of the bottle,’ Emily read from the instruction sheet.

Beatrice carefully picked up the long magnesium strip with the tongs and placed it in the bottle.

‘Now add a pinch of salt and seal the bottle.’

As Beatrice reached into the container for the salt she sliced her finger on the sharp metal edge. She dropped the salt into the jar. They both stared at the spots of blood mixed with the salt.

‘Great Goddess, grant us your protection.’

Beatrice looked up and Emily was staring at her with wide eyes.

‘What did you just say?’ Emily whispered.

‘I don’t know, the words just sort of popped out.’

They stared at each other until suddenly there was a blinding flash of light and a puff of smoke rose from the jar.

When the smoke cleared they looked into the jar and the magnesium had become a small pile of ash in the shape of a crescent moon.

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