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.’

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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 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 21

Gwen sat at the kitchen table watching Beatrice eat her dinner. Beatrice looked up from her plate and saw the worried look on her grandmother’s face.

‘What’s up, Gramma. You don’t look very happy.’

‘Oh child, you have such an imagination. This is just the way my face looks.’ She smiled but Beatrice could see there was no heart in it.

‘What is it, Gramma?’

‘I’m just glad you’re home safe and sound. When the bus was late I worried about you.’

‘It was only because the road was wet and there was a lot of traffic.’

‘I just want you to be careful, sweetie.’

Bea took another mouthful of stew. She looked thoughtful as she chewed slowly.

‘Gramma, is there something you’re not telling me?’

‘Like what?’

‘Oh, I don’t know. It’s just—well, you know—it’s just that you seem to worry about me all the time—and I’m fine—really I am.’

‘I just want you to be happy, Bea. You said yourself that you didn’t feel like you were fitting in at school.’

‘Well, I have made a friend now. Her name is Emily and we sit together in English and chemistry—so you can stop worrying about me.’

Gwen looked up. Was that the reason for the lipstick? There was also something shining in Beatrice’s eye that she didn’t quite understand. There was a glow of happiness when she mentioned Emily, but there was something else as well—there was a shadow and Gwen knew there was something Beatrice wasn’t telling her.

‘—and I’ve started writing little stories. They’re silly really but it gives me something to do. I thought the stories might help me to remember. You know, it’s almost hypnotic.’

‘Stories can’t replace your memories,’ Gwen said quickly. ‘Tell me about Emily. I’m so glad you’ve found a friend.’

Beatrice’s face lit up again and the shadow disappeared.

‘She’s great—a bit shy, but I can see she has a real strength underneath. There is a real energy about her. She says she’s interested in witchcraft.’

Gwen gripped the table hard. ‘What do you mean—witchcraft?’

‘Oh, it’s just a thing—books and things, you know.’ Beatrice looked up again. ‘What is it, Gramma?’ Gwen’s face had gone white. She began stroking the beads around her neck.

‘You don’t want to mess around with witchcraft.’

‘It’s only stories,’ Beatrice laughed, but her laughter echoed hollowly in her own ears as she thought about the chemistry experiment.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 19

Princess Alyce stood at the window and watched the rain dripping slowly down the glass. It had been raining non-stop all day and she could feel the chill of the wet glass. Long dark hair tumbled down her back with only a simple blue ribbon around her head to keep it in place. Her gown was made of the finest silk and the vibrant blue matched both the ribbon and her eyes. Her hands rested gently on the windowsill but she felt far from peaceful.

Inside, her heart was an emotional turmoil, all bubbling to the surface until she wasn’t even sure which one was dominant.

The letter from the would-be king lay crumpled at her feet. She had read it twice—the first time with surprise and the second with growing anger.

She clenched her hand and the rain outside turned to ice. The so-called king demanded that she relinquish the castle and publicly acknowledge him as rightful ruler of the kingdom. But she would be damned if she did that. A loud crash of thunder echoed through the castle.

Then she thought of her older sister and rain began to fall softly again. Whatever he had done to Alexandria was so powerful that she hadn’t been able to break it. Poor Alex—she was so soft and gentle and susceptible to weaknesses in others. It was why she became queen rather than Katharine herself. Alexandria was Katharine’s equal at all the tests bar one, and that was always going to be Alex’s strength. Compassion. It was the thing that set her apart from Katharine and ensured she would continue the long line of queens that had ruled the Southern Isles.

But this prince had somehow snuck through their defenses and now he had ensnared Alexandria.

Time. Alyce needed more time to build the power to break the spell and return the Isles to its rightful leader. This was her chance to prove herself once and for all.

But time was the one thing Princess Alyce did not have. She had already heard about the army that Prince Ranulph had been secretly building and now there was nothing stopping it from marching right across the Southern Isles and causing destruction.

Another crash of thunder rang out.

Princess Alyce turned and strode downstairs towards the library. Somewhere in her book of shadows was the answer she sought. Her mother had always said she was gifted but didn’t study hard enough. Now she would prove her wrong and she—Princess Alyce—would be the one to save the day.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 18

Beatrice finished reading her story to the class. The room was quiet for a moment. Emily couldn’t take her eyes from Beatrice’s face.

‘Very nice, Beatrice—I liked the way you left it on a positive note,’ said Mr Garcia. ‘Okay, so who is next?’

At the end of the lesson Beatrice was the last to leave the room. As she made her way down the corridor she saw Emily leaning against a locker. She drew near and Emily lifted her head.

‘Hi,’ she said. ‘It’s Beatrice, right?’ Emily voice was soft.

Bea nodded. Her throat had gone dry.

Emily took a deep breath. ‘I’ve seen you in class. Do you mind if we talk?’

Beatrice shook her head. ‘I was just on my way to chemistry.’

Emily hesitated. ‘That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I’m sorry to bother you, but I—well—I was wondering if we could—ummm—if you wanted to—to be my lab partner. You know, for the assignment.’

Emily pushed a strand of dark hair behind her ear. Her fingernails were painted a shiny deep purple to match the streak in her hair. Around her neck she wore a long chain with a bunch of charms gathered at the bottom. They jingled when she moved.

Beatrice had overheard some girls in the corridor talking about Emily. They said she was a loser, but they suddenly stopped talking as Beatrice walked past. She could feel their eyes drilling into her back. ‘She’s one of them too,’ she had heard them whisper.

But to Beatrice, Emily just looked like a lonely girl hoping that Beatrice would be her friend.

‘So how about it? Lab partners?’ Emily’s smile was a little unsure. It was the first time Beatrice had ever seen her smile.

‘Sure,’ she replied. ‘That would be great.’

Emily’s smile relaxed and Beatrice suddenly realised how pretty she was.

‘Cool, well—I guess I should leave you in peace then.’ She half turned to go but Beatrice reached out and touched her arm.

‘You don’t have to go. We could, you know, walk together and talk—about the assignment.’ Beatrice was suddenly the one feeling nervous.

Emily and Beatrice walked silently down the corridor. Neither knew what to say now they had actually spoken to each other. Emily was wracking her brain for something clever to say but all she could think of were inane things. She so badly wanted to impress Beatrice. The corridor was a hive of activity and other students streamed in both directions past the two girls.

Beatrice stole a glance at the dark haired girl beside her. She felt a strange energy coming from Emily. Beatrice was deep in thought, trying to remember when she had last felt energy like this.

‘So—how are you enjoying school?’

‘Sorry—what?’ Emily had spoken so softly it was hard to hear her over the noisy corridor.’

‘How are you liking your new school?’ Emily raised her voice a little.

‘Oh—it’s okay, I guess.’ Beatrice smiled quickly at Emily. ‘How about you?—I mean, not your new school—but—ummm, you know, just school.’

‘I hate school. I mean, not studying and stuff—I just don’t like being at school.’ Emily thought about how often she had gone home from school and cried into her pillow. ‘I like English,’ she quickly added. She didn’t want Beatrice to get a bad impression of her.

‘Yes, I like English too. Mr Garcia seems nice—and he’s enthusiastic.’

‘He’s the coolest teacher in the school.’ Emily suddenly blushed. ‘I mean—well, you know.’

Beatrice looked at her new friend again. There was suddenly a change in her expression. Beatrice looked up to see three girls blocking their way. Anar was in the middle with her arms folded across her chest.

‘You can’t go this way.’ She flicked her straight black hair behind her ear. A cluster of bangles jangled on her forearm.

‘Why not?’ Beatrice replied.

‘It’s blocked.’ Anar stared at Beatrice.

‘But our classroom is just through there.’ Beatrice pointed past Anar’s shoulder.

‘You have to go another way.’

‘Come on, Beatrice. Let’s go around.’

‘You should listen to your creepy friend. Go on, run away.’

‘No, we’re going past.’ Beatrice grabbed Emily’s hand and pushed past Anar.

‘You are soooo dead,’ Anar called after them. Her eyes were dark with anger.

Beatrice kept a firm grip of Emily’s hand until they were around the corner.

‘What was that all about?’

‘She’s always been like that. I usually try to avoid her. Anar can make life really unpleasant for you if she wants.’

Beatrice stopped and turned to face Emily. She was still holding her hand.

‘You can’t let her push you around,’ she said softly.

Emily was silent. Her shoulders were tense.

‘I am alone,’ she said in a whisper after a few moments.

‘No you’re not,’ Beatrice replied. ‘There are two of us now.’

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 17

The city square was filled by an excited crowd trying to catch a glimpse of the royal procession. Tension rang through the air because the square was lined with the new Black Cloaks of the royal guard. The royal family had never needed such a contingent before, but ever since the newly crowned Queen Alexandria had agreed to marry Prince Ranulph from the Northern Isle there had been rumours of increased threats to the royal family. For weeks the taverns had been abuzz with the talk that the Queen was going to abdicate her throne so that the Prince could take her place as king.

Nobody could understand what was happening. Only a week ago there had been a royal decree outlawing magic and worship of the goddess. She was to be replaced by a more formal male god-figure. Already there had been several witch burnings that had caused panic among the common folk.

For a thousand years the Southern Isles had been ruled as a matriarchy, descending. Queen Alexandria was the latest in the unbroken line. By her side should be her sisters, Princess Katharine and Princess Alyce.

But the princesses were nowhere to be seen on this unusual coronation day. Some said Princess Alyce had remained at Pemblebury and nobody knew where Princess Katharine had gone.

A loud trumpet blast announced that the royal carriage was entering the square and the crowd strained forward to get a better look.

The royal coach was painted in shining black with ornate swirls of gold. It was pulled by six black horses with plaited tails and manes. The coachman sat erect at the front with the reins held loosely in his hands. A guard sat on either side of him, both wearing black cloaks with gold embossed around the trimming. On the door of the coach was a gold figure of a wolf—not the usual three-moons symbol of the royal family.

Seated inside the open coach were the soon-to-be king and queen. He sat tall beside the much smaller feminine figure—dressed in a suit of black armour with one hand resting lazily in his lap. The other hand was signalling to the guard to go faster. He wanted to get this damned coronation business over and done with. The sooner it gets sorted the sooner he can get on with shaping this country the way he wanted it. The first task was to deal with those who dealt in witchcraft. He was determined to stamp this scourge from existence once and for all.

Despite the forbidding countenance of the king, most eyes in the crowd were turned toward the queen. She was the most beautiful woman any of them had ever seen. Her slender arms were encased in white silken gloves and her small hands were folded quietly in her lap. Queen Alexandria appeared to be no more than twenty years old but she looked to be every bit regal dressed in her gown of deep purple silk that was flecked with golden thread. The gold sparkled in the morning sunshine. On her head she wore the Tiara of the Southern Isles. It was the same worn by every queen since Ethel the Red first took the throne. The small, golden tiara sat neatly in Queen Alexandria’s hair. It too sparkled in the morning sunshine. Her hair was arranged in an elaborate plait circled on top of her head with a single long plait that reached down to her waist. Her silver hair contrasted beautifully with the golden tiara. At her throat she wore a single black broach in the shape of a wolf rather than her usual adornment of the pendant of three moons.

But it wasn’t so much the queen’s clothing that attracted the attention of the crowd. It was the vacant look on her face. Most within the city were familiar with the queen. She often ventured on foot through the poorer parts of the city, handing out gold coins or taking a moment to sooth a crying child. Her beautiful face was often seen smiling down on the lowliest citizen of the city as she prayed for intercession of the goddess.

There was no sign of that person in the queen sitting stiff and erect in the carriage. Her eyes—instead of their usual bright blue flecked with white crystals—were as grey as the winter sky.

A murmur of disquiet ran through the crowd. It had been weeks since anyone had seen the queen—not since the announcement that the royal wedding would take place after the next full moon. Perhaps this also explained the non-attendance of Princess Alyce and the disappearance of Princess Katharine.

Arian was one of those urchins that had once been smiled upon by the queen. He had gone to the square early that morning, when it was still dark, to secure himself a good vantage spot to watch the royal procession. But he was sure that wasn’t his queen flying by so haughtily. He felt a shiver run down his spine. Something had happened and he knew it didn’t bode well.

From where he sat high in the bay tree at the edge of the fountain he counted the Black Cloaks that circled the square. He ran out of toes and fingers several times over. He watched in trepidation as they began moving forward. Some in the crowd jostled back and were instantly seized and thrown to the ground. A man appeared in the middle of the soldiers, his black cloak flung carelessly over one shoulder. Straggly red hair poked out from under his black hat. The captain of the guard drew his sword and suddenly the air was filled with the sound of a hundred swords being drawn. Someone in the crowd screamed and Arian slipped quietly from the tree and ran for his life. The sounds of screaming and shouting filled his ears as he ran but he didn’t stop until he was far from the city.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 16

Beatrice was lost in concentration as she looked up to think about what to write next. She wasn’t happy with the story she had been working on for homework.

Suddenly Beatrice noticed a shadow moving behind one of the bookcases. Her eyes focused on somebody standing on the other side of the bookshelf. Beatrice was sure the girl with dark hair had been watching her.

Emily had been looking for more books that mentioned witchcraft when she noticed the new girl writing in a notebook. She watched her secretly, peering through a gap in the books. Beatrice stopped writing and looked directly at where Emily was standing. Emily froze and could feel her heart thumping to think she was being watched. But Beatrice seemed to be deep in thought and soon went back to her writing. Emily let out her breath in a slow hiss and began to relax again. The red-haired girl was kind of cute with the way she moved her lips as she was writing, almost like she was casting a spell of her own.

Beatrice looked up again and the girl stopped moving. She could see the top of her black hair with the purple streak through a gap in the books. It was that girl from her English class—Emma or Emily or something. She didn’t seem like the other girls who were only interested in clothing, parties, makeup and boys—in that order. Beatrice didn’t know what Emma or Emily was interested in because they had never spoken. She kept to herself like Beatrice did. She had smiled at her once but the girl just stared back at her blankly.

Beatrice looked back down at her notebook and started writing again. Emily watched her for a moment longer. She was sure she hadn’t been seen. Maybe that cloaking spell really worked.

The bell rang for the end of lunch. Emily quickly packed her bag and hurried back to the English classroom. Mr Garcia followed her into the room and the noisy chatter quickly died down.

Maths was boring and chemistry made no sense, but Emily enjoyed English. Mr Garcia stood at the front of the room and explained irony to the class.

‘Now, class, this semester we are going to study Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.’ He leaned against a box full of books on his desk and everyone groaned. More irony, thought Emily, because it wouldn’t matter which book they were to study they would all hate it. ‘Has anybody read Jane Eyre before?’ Mr Garcia looked hopefully around the room.

Suddenly Emily put her hand up. There was a murmur as everyone turned around to stare at her.

‘Yes, Emily?’

‘I… I have read it.’ Her voice was soft.

‘Excellent, would you like to give the class a quick summary of it?’

‘Oh… ummm,’ her voice quivered. ‘It’s about a girl and she has no family and she’s sent away to boarding school where they treat her badly and eventually she becomes a governess and moves to this grand house where she falls in love with Mr Rochester but the guy is already married and then she runs away.’

Beatrice studied Emily’s face closely while she was speaking. She found herself drawn to this strange girl. She was so full of surprises. Beatrice decided she needed to find an excuse to talk to Emily.

‘Thank you, Emily. That is a good summary of the plot. What we will be exploring as we work our way through the novel is how Charlotte Bronte uses the plot as a frame to discuss the issues of concern to her.’ Mr Garcia spoke as he walked around the room handing out books. ‘As well as irony, we will be talking a lot on the theme of the truth in words. This is something that concerns Jane Eyre quite a bit. When she was young she believed if a thing was spoken then it was the truth. As she grows up she begins to see that not everybody speaks the truth. And yet the novel was written as though she was telling us the truth.’

Emily listened intently. She felt this was what she was trying to do. Write down her truth.

‘All right, ladies and gentlemen. It is time for you to present your creative writing homework pieces. Do I have any volunteers?’

Mr Garcia looked around the room but everybody was looking down at their desks. Looking anywhere else was preferable to catching Mr Garcia’s eye. Slowly Beatrice raised her hand. Mr Garcia smiled. ‘Of course, Beatrice, the floor is yours.’

He moved over to the window and leant against the windowsill. Beatrice walked to the front of the room and cleared her throat.

‘My short story,’ Beatrice began, ‘is called The Wind Witch.’ Emily sat up and began paying attention. Beatrice cleared her throat again.

A wind witch can control the wind. It seemed obvious, really. Gwenllian didn’t always know she was a wind witch. She had begun to think she wasn’t going to develop any special powers. Not all witches get a special power. Many witches perform some of the more mundane tasks for the coven—making potions, gathering herbs or making protective spells. But a witch with special powers could really be somebody. She was important. Gwenllian’s mother was a moon witch. That made her the most important witch at so many celebrations in the circle of a witch’s life. A moon witch was intune with the cycles of life. Gwenllian had hoped she would be a moon witch. She was meant to be. She should be following in her mother’s footsteps. But Gwenllian was nobody. She didn’t think there was anything special about her at all. She couldn’t even make light. That was one of the most basic witch skills. Her eyes burned whenever she remembered how the other girls had laughed when she couldn’t get the candle to light. All she ended up doing was blowing out all the candles. Their laughter still rang in her ears. And now, worst of all, she was in disgrace. A week before her 16th birthday and she had failed all of the coven’s tests. She knew she had completely let her mother down, not to mention all of the aunts. They had always said Gwenllian would be the next moon witch. But here she was, unable to even perform the most simple spells. Nobody would ever trust her again. Maybe she should just run away and join the travelling circus.

‘There’s no miracles, Gwenllian,’ her mother had said. ‘You have to work at your craft.’

But Gwenllian had worked hard. She kicked the ground. It’s just that nothing ever seemed to work.

‘Gwenllian—Gwenllian, are you out there, love?’

It was Aunt Margreet, the water witch. She had always been nice to Gwenllian.

‘There you are. They’re waiting for you. It’s time for the wind trial.’

‘I can’t do it, Aunt Margreet. I can’t face them again. I should just run away and become a jester.’

‘Oh, Gwenllian. It’s not as bad as it seems. You just need to be patient with yourself and you’ll discover your special magic.’

‘But I don’t have a special talent. I have let everyone down. I’ll just become a common herb collector.’

‘You haven’t let anyone down, honey. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with being a herb collector. It’s very important to keep the coven stocked with the right herbs. Besides, think of all those lovely days you would have wandering the forest.’

Gwenllian looked up at her aunt’s face.

‘Now you’re mocking me.’

‘Only a little bit. Come on, Gwenllian, everyone is waiting for you.’

Aunt Margreet stood and held out her hand.

Gwenllian reluctantly took it and let her aunt lead her back to the circle.

‘Just close your eyes and feel,’ Aunt Margreet whispered as she pushed Gwenllian gently into the centre of the circle.

The entire coven was silent as they watched Gwenllian. They all knew how important it was to find your special talent. The night was still except for the wind hushing through the pine trees. The other young witches had all successfully passed their trials. Now it was only Gwenllian.

‘Get on with it.’

‘Hush, Erica. Give the girl a chance.’

Gwenllian looked uncertainly around the circle of faces. Her eyes met Aunt Margreet’s smiling back at her.

‘Just relax,’ she mouthed.

Gwenllian closed her eyes and tried to steady her breathing. She felt the breeze touch her cheek. She remembered Aunt Margreet’s words and tried to concentrate on the breeze. She felt it tickle her hair, brushing her long tresses against her shoulders. The wind whirled Gwenllian’s skirt and she began to feel the magic tingling in her fingers. This is where it usually all went wrong. Gwenllian tried to focus on her breathing—each breath, slowly in and out. Gradually she realised the breeze was brushing her cheek in time with her breathing, pulsating. She felt the wind now. She imagined herself riding the gusts high into the air, far above the trees. She felt light, as light as a leaf. Gwenllian turned and circled around the clearing.

‘By the Goddess, she’s doing it!’

‘She’s a wind witch.’

‘I’m Gwenllian the Wind Witch,’ she said to herself. She began to feel the trees, swaying in the wind—her wind. It was exhilarating. After all the humiliation she was finally triumphant. She brought herself back to the circle and gently let herself float to the ground. The frill of her skirt lifted as she hovered three feet above the ground.

‘I am Gwenllian the Wind Witch,’ she said boldly. ‘I am ready to take the oath.’ She was no longer a child. She was a witch.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 14

‘Where’s my supper, woman?’

Bryn the blacksmith burst through the door of the cottage. A cold wind followed him into the dimly lit cottage.

‘Shut that door—and keep your voice down or you’ll wake the child.’ Saba spoke calmly without turning away from the pot of broth she was stirring over the open fireplace. The room smelled heavy from herbs. ‘And remove those boots before you traipse mud all over the floor. I spent all morning sweeping it. I hope you washed before coming in this time.’

‘Yes—I did, Saba.’ The blacksmith spoke in a hoarse whisper. He gently closed the door and hooked the latch before bending to undo the laces of his boots.

‘Was there any word today?’ Saba still hadn’t turned around.

‘No, Saba. The sergeant of the guard came to check on progress of the weapons. I told him they would all be finished by tomorrow. Then perhaps they will leave the village in peace.’

Saba turned and looked at him. May the goddess protect all of us.

‘I pray they go soon. After what happened to the children at Pemblebury I am terrified for our own bairn.’

Saba looked across the room at the sleeping child. Her face was creased with lines of worry. The child was more joy than burden but with the king’s black cloaks ransacking villages in their search for the missing princess there had not been a day in the past five years that she had not feared for the child’s safety.

‘We should never have taken her in.’ Bryn’s harsh words weren’t reflected by the softer look that had crept over his face as he stood by the cot of the sleeping child.

Ailis was curled into a ball. The outline of her small body could be seen under the coarse woollen blanket. She opened her eyes and smiled when she saw Bryn looking down at her face.

‘You’re home, Da. I wanted to walk you home but Ma said it was too cold to go out.’

She sat up and stretched.

‘I was going to sneak out,’ she lowered her voice to a whisper and grinned mischievously.

‘I would have branded your hide if you had,’ Bryn whispered back.

‘There’s no point you whispering,’ Saba said loudly. ‘I can hear every word you’re both saying and I will brand both your hides if I thought you were keeping secrets from me. Now sit up at the table and eat your broth.’

Saba placed two wooden bowls on the table.

‘Only two bowls, Saba? Where is yours?’

‘I will eat later after I finish up.’

She looked away from his searching face. It wasn’t the first time he had noticed how thin she was getting.

His thoughts were interrupted by a loud knock at the door.

‘Bryn the blacksmith,’ a deep voice called out.

Saba had her hand up to her mouth in fright.

‘It’s only the sergeant,’ Bryn said. ‘Coming,’ he called out as he moved to the door. ‘What is it?’

‘We need your wife. She is a healer, I believe. One of our men has been wounded. Come quickly.

Saba had already wrapped the worn grey shawl around her shoulders.

She bent and kissed Ailis on the top of her head. ‘Stay safe, child. Look after her, Bryn.’

She quickly looked away so they couldn’t see the fear in her eyes. The door slammed shut and Bryn stood staring at it for a few moments. He was now alone with the child. He turned and watched her dipping a piece of bread into the broth.

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