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 42

Bea was in a good mood when she woke next morning. It was early but being a Saturday there was no need to dress and rush off to school. Outside she could hear the birds were waking. Bea yawned and rolled over to look at the ceiling. Everything in her room was familiar and comfortable. The dressing table and mirror, the clothes rack that held her dresses and her school bag was in the corner where she had tossed it last night.

She lay still with her eyes open and went through the events of the pat week. Her ankle still hurt a little but she had been able to walk on it. Josh had been so sweet coming over to see if she was okay. But what was up with Emily?

Bea sighed and slid to the edge of the bed. She walked over to the window. The sky was a pretty shade of pink this early in the morning. Over the garden Bea could see sunlight just hitting the spire of St Brigid’s Church peaking over the treetops. From a distance she could hear waves crashing on the beach. The tide must be in ― that’s when the waves sounded loudest. A ribbon of mist hung in the air above the beach. The morning’s stillness reminded her of something, but as usual it hung tantalisingly out of reach.

She picked up her dress and tiptoed across to the bathroom. She didn’t want to wake her grandmother so early. Bea dressed by the light coming softly through the window. She walked barefoot down the stairs to the front door. Bea paused for a moment to listen, but the cottage was silent. She closed the door softly behind her and filled her lungs with fresh morning air. It made her feel alive. The grass was damp and cold on her bare feet. She smiled and thought how her grandmother would scold if she knew. ‘You’ll catch your death of cold, child,’ Gramma would say. Bea walked across the garden to the gate that led down to the beach. She enjoyed being on her own. The day was starting to brighten. Bea paused at the top of the stairs and watched the waves. It was so peaceful.

She followed the path that led down from the back of the cottage. Small pebbles crunched under her feet as Bea reached the beach. The walk along the shoreline was her favourite and she headed toward the rocks at the northern end of the beach. Fishing boats were pulled up on the shore, turned upside down and strewn with drying fishing nets.

Bea knew she had been here before—some time ages ago. She just didn’t know when. The sound of the waves crashing against the pebbles reminded her of something she couldn’t quite remember. It was just another dim memory from somewhere in her past. As she made her way around the upturned fishing boats she turned and looked back toward the cottage at the top of the slope. A curl of smoke was rising from the chimney and Bea thought about her grandmother inside. She hoped she hadn’t disturbed her.

Bea moved further along the beach, reaching the tumble of rocks along the edge. She lifted her skirt and tenderly climbed amongst the rocks, carefully placing her feet away from the slippery moss.

It was then she heard the voices ― two male voices coming from a cave at the bottom of the cliff. One of the voices sounded cultured, aristocratic, while the other was a gruff seaman’s voice.

‘Don’t worry, m’lord. We can slip in under darkness and nobody will know anythin’ ‘bout it. You can trust us, m’lord.’

‘Very good, Wells. The French ship will anchor offshore next Sunday night. There will be a package to be collected from me at the manor. Do you think you can manage that?’

Bea crouched down behind a rock. She wasn’t used to coming across people on the beach. She thought of it as her beach. Her heart was racing. She was sure she recognised one of the voices, but she didn’t know anybody in Nangle, did she?

‘This package is very valuable but also delicate. You must take good care of it. The French captain will know what to do once you have her ― it, the package ― on board. Tell the captain I will follow next se’nnight and payment will be made in full once I know the package has been delivered. Do you have all that, Wells? You know what will happen if you fail me.’

‘Yes sir. Sunday night it is, to be sure. You can count on me, sir. I won’t fail you. That’s a promise.’

‘Go carefully with your promises, my friend. Just deliver the message and be ready for the package.’

The voices fell silent for a moment. Bea strained her ears to hear. Cautiously she peaked around the rocks to find the small cave was empty. There was no-one there.

Book review – Ink by Alice Broadway

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Ink was such an interesting book that I was captured immediately. In the world of Ink a person’s every action is tattooed on their skin. I had to close my eyes to imagine what this must look like – actually, Ink would make a fabulous graphic novel. While I have never even thought about getting a tattoo this premise of the novel made it sound like such a beautiful concept. I couldn’t stop thinking about what tattoo would represent my story.

But then there was the sadness. The book started out with Leora mourning the loss of her dad, and this thread ran through the entire novel. At the end of their life a person’s skin was flayed (didn’t want to think about that for too long!) and turned into a book of their life, tattoo’s and all. The trouble begins when your story needs to be assessed by the government (never a good thing!) and there seemed to be something wrong with Leora’s dad’s story.

As if dealing with her loss wasn’t bad enough, Leora had to learn some things about her dad that might mean he wasn’t the perfect guy she thought he was. And what did that mean for Leora herself?

There were dystopian undertones to this novel, although I felt it wasn’t so strong that I would call it a dystopian novel. All the right ingredients were there – an overbearing government, too much public scrutiny of individual actions and lack of privacy, severe consequences for stepping out of line, and, of course, outsiders that had been banished from society and treated as a threat to the proper order of things. These people were the ‘blanks’. They didn’t have tattoos. Their skins were unblemished and for this they were hated by the society of Ink. To be a blank was the worst thing in the world so what if you found yourself sympathising with the blanks?

There were also religious undertones. Throughout the novel Leora questioned her beliefs. Everything she had ever been told might well be a lie. What if her dad had committed some crime? What if she didn’t want her story written on her skin? What if she wasn’t who she thought she was?

I was surprised by the ending (which is a good thing) but at the end of the novel I wasn’t quite sure what message Alice was trying to convey. I think it is okay to question your beliefs, to search for your true self and what is most important to give your life meaning. Perhaps it’s that the people who are different from you are not so different and not as bad as they seem.

I hope there is more to come from Alice Broadway. She is such a beautiful atmospheric writer. I know I wanted more of Leora’s world. Perhaps an Ink 2 where Leora discovers more about her true self by moving out of the confines of her society.

Fantastic book. You should definitely read it!

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 39

A week later Bea bumped into Josh in the corridor at school. He was carrying his cello case as usual and it filled the corridor. She stood to the side so he could pass but he placed it on the ground and stopped in front of her.

‘Hi, Bea.’ His voice sounded a little shaky.

‘Hi, Josh.’

‘How is your ankle?’

‘It’s fine now, thanks. It was just a little sprain, I guess.’

‘That’s good. Ummm… Bea, I was wondering… ummm… would you like to go to a movie Saturday, ummmm, Saturday night?’

Bea felt her face blush red.

‘Oh, gosh. Sure, that would be lovely. What do you want to see?’

‘Oh. Ummmm… I’m not sure what’s on. Maybe we could just check it out on the night.’

‘Sure, that would be nice.’

Josh looked surprised.

‘Do you really mean you will come?’

Bea smiled. ‘Of course. I said I would’

Josh’s face brightened. ‘So —should I pick you up?’

‘Why don’t Emily and I just meet you at the theatre?’

‘Oh—Emily, of course.’ He looked quickly at Emily. ‘Yeah, okay.’

Josh picked up his cello case and flicked his hair behind an ear. ‘Well, I’ll see you later.’

Bea watched him walk away and as she turned Emily was standing there looking at her.

‘Hi, Em.’

‘What was that all about?’

‘Josh asked me to the movies. Why don’t you come too?’

‘Bea, you can’t double-date on your first date, and I don’t even have a date. Besides—Josh is gay—everyone knows that.’

‘What do you mean—gay—as in happy?’

‘Oh my god, Bea. What planet are you from? He likes guys—that’s what everyone says. You can’t date a guy that wants to be with other guys.’

Emily began walking away. She was getting teary and that just made her angry with herself. Did Bea know how she felt about her and Josh? She had watched Bea’s attitude change over the past week. Emily didn’t want to admit that it bothered her.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 35

Beatrice decided she wanted to get to know Josh. The way his music moved her—she needed to learn more about this boy. She had found out his name from Emily. Bea had casually asked Emily to tell her about some of the kids in the class.

Emily said she didn’t know much. She usually kept away from them, she said, because they were mostly the children of rich parents—spoilt children whose parents could afford this expensive school. She didn’t have time for any of them.

‘What about that scruffy guy over there?’ Bea had said, casually pointing at Josh. ‘He doesn’t look rich.’

Emily had admitted they weren’t all spoilt. Bea suspected it was a way for Emily to justify her attitude to herself.

‘His name is Josh. His mother is the school librarian. That’s how he can afford to come here and why he’s always hanging about the school late in the afternoon—waiting for his mum I guess.’

The librarian! Bea made a plan.

That afternoon as soon as the final bell went Bea packed her bag and rushed to the library. Sure enough, there was Josh sitting on a bench just outside the library. The cello case was on the ground beside him.

Bea stopped for a moment to catch her breath then walked casually up to him.

‘Hi, is the library shut already?’ She knew it was.

Josh was startled.

He just nodded.

‘Oh, damn. I’ll just have to take these books back tomorrow.’ She had several books tucked under her arm.

Josh was looking uncomfortably at her.

‘Is that your cello? I heard you playing in the music room the other day.’

Josh’s face relaxed a little. ‘Yeah, it’s new. I only got it a few weeks ago.’

‘I think the cello is the most amazing instrument. It produces such beautiful music. It makes me want to sing.’

Josh was amazed. No girl had ever spoken this much to him before.

‘Do you sing?’

‘Not really,’ said Bea, ‘At least—I don’t think so.’

Josh frowned.

‘Do you ever perform in public? I love hearing the cello played.’

‘I’m in the school orchestra. Actually—’ Josh hesitated. He could feel his heart racing. ‘I’m playing at the Fireworks Spectacular on the weekend. Are you going?’

‘I haven’t decided yet. Emily wants me to go.’

‘Oh—yeah—Emily.’

Josh lowered his eyes.

Bea looked at him curiously.

‘Well, I guess I should be going. I have to catch my bus. Maybe I’ll see you at the fireworks on Saturday.’

Josh nodded and Bea smiled as she turned and walked away. Her red hair bounced against her shoulders as she moved and Josh felt a warm glow spread throughout his chest.

He reached into his bag and pulled out a notepad and began scribbling down some music—this piece was going to soar like magic spinning across the sun. He needed to get home and begin practicing it so he could play it for Bea on Saturday night.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 34

Emily was smiling as she sat on the edge of the bathtub. Candles illuminated the bathroom. Flower petals floated on the steamy surface of the water. She had been left alone in the house while her mother was out with Dave. That was her chance to study the book she had found in her locker. She assumed it had been a present from Bea.

The book had a single crescent moon printed on its cover. No title or anything to indicate what it was. She couldn’t believe her eyes when she realised it was a notebook. The pages were covered in handwritten scrawl and drawings, just like the one she had found in the cottage.

But unlike the other book this one was full of spells. Emily took off her coat and threw it on the sofa. She curled up with her feet underneath her bottom and began to flick through the book. A small packet fell out and when she opened it Emily found a silver chain with a pendant in the shape of a crescent. It was the same as the pendant she’d gotten from the antique shop. She stood at the mirror and placed the chain around her neck.

When Emily went to bed that night her head was full of happiness spells, love spells, wish spells—but best of all was the page titled memory spell.

 

Herbs for sleeping and dreaming – hops (dream pillow), passion flower, camomile, lavender, peppermint, poppy seeds, willow

 

Emily let her gaze return to the steaming bathtub. She could still picture the tattoo on the back of her neck.

Emily whispered.

‘Goddess, send me your gifts.’

She looked around the room and her eyes came to rest on the chair. Even in the dim candlelight she could see the book propped against the back of the chair.

Through the thin walls of the apartment she could hear children playing.

Emily thought about her mother. The long hours she worked to keep food on the table and Emily in school. When she could, Emily would create a money spell and her mother would never have to work again.

Emily stood and slipped off her robe. She turned to see if she could see the back of her neck in the mirror. She couldn’t see it, but it was still tingling. Instead she studied her body. She could see the outline of her ribs, the soft layer across her stomach. She sucked it in then ran her fingers across the tattoo that was tingling at the back of her neck.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 33

The town of Pemblebury had settled down to silence after the bustle of market day. Only the taverns still rattled with the noise of drunken traders being pushed out the door after last drinks. Decent citizens were safely home tucked up in bed because the nights were no longer safe.

The king’s guards roamed the streets, occasionally looking up at the stone castle perched on the hill overlooking the town. None of them were game to go near it even if they could. Some soldiers had tried in the early days of the king’s reign and their burnt bodies were later found in the woods. The king himself had decreed that the castle be left to rot—nobody was to go in, nobody was to come out.

The grassy parkland surrounding the castle had grown lank and weedy. To the west the woods were still wild and untamed. To the north was the crystal clear water of Pemblebury sound. The town of Pemblebury surrounded the eastern and southern edges of the castle.

The captain of the guard stood at the edge of the town square and watched a couple of drunks staggering home. A curl of red hair crept out from under his hat. The darkness hid the cruel smile on his lips. He would have some fun with those two later, just like he usually did. Nobody would ever miss peasants like that and if a body or two turned up in Pemblebury Sound in the morning nobody ever asked any questions.

But right now he was scouring the streets for signs of magic. There were still pockets of witches hiding amongst the villagers. The captain of the guard prided himself on the ability to smell witchcraft. It left behind a tang that was disgusting to him. He barely remembered the night his mother died giving birth to his younger sister but he could still remember the tang of magic left behind as the healer tried to save her life. She failed, though, and ever since Aran had hated witches until he could feel it boiling inside him. It was that hatred that had made him flee to the north, away from the rule of the witch queen and her blasted magic goodness.

Aran spat on the ground. He was only ten years old when he had reached Glaston Rock and fallen in with thieves and murderers. Then he was taken one night by the prince’s recruiters and trained to be a killer. His hand stroked the sword attached to his side. He loved nothing more than killing witches—killing drunks just kept him in practice and satisfied his thirst for blood.

A burst of light hit the street as the tavern door opened again. A few more drunks stumbled onto the cobblestones. Sailors this time. Aran could tell by the way they walked, as though they were bracing their drunken legs against a rising deck.

Aran never missed anything that happened on the streets usually, but he didn’t notice the figure in the dark cloak pausing at the end of the alleyway. Even when he turned his head and looked toward where the figure was standing in the shadows he saw nothing.

The cloaked figure waited until Aran turned his head again and then it melted back into the darkness. Leaving the town square, the figure paused again by a row of workers cottages. The face was obscured by the cloak but its head turned as though it were sniffing the air. Then it moved quickly toward one of the cottages in the middle.

Aeilin and her husband were fast asleep. Neither of them heard the latch on their cottage door unfasten and the door creak slowly open. Only the sound of the husband’s snoring carried through the tiny room.

The cloaked figure waited a moment and then moved toward the sleeping child. Alyce pulled back the hood to reveal her long silver hair plaited into a knot on top of her head. She hesitated. Guilt ran through her body. Could she do this? Then she remembered her sister and silently knelt by the child’s bedside.

With her healing talents it was just as easy to steal a child’s magic as it was to cast her own magic. Alyce pressed her hands together until they were warm and then lowered them to hover above the child’s heart.

Instantly Alyce could feel the tingle of the little girl’s magic running through her fingers and up her arms. It felt so good.

She kept her hands steady until she could feel the magic start to wane. Suddenly she realised the girl’s eyes were staring at her in horror—but what disturbed Alyce the most was the vacant look in the girl’s eyes. They were empty.

Alyce’s heart was racing as she quickly ran from the cottage and melted back into the night. She didn’t stop until she had safely reached the secret entrance to the castle. She paused and looked up at the full moon. It was shrouded in dark cloud.

She started saying a prayer to the goddess but an image of the young child’s eyes popped into her mind. She stopped praying. Then she remembered how good it felt as the magic ran up her arms.

She needed so much more.

Alyce swept through the secret door of the castle.

The moon disappeared completely behind the clouds.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 32

Bea watched Josh climb the stairs and walk into the music room. He was skinny and his clothes were worn out. Black curls dangled over his collar and he was carrying a beat up cello case. He stopped at the door for a moment and turned. Bea quickly looked away when he caught her looking but she could sense that he was studying her. Then she heard the door close and when she looked up again he was gone. A few minutes later that haunting cello melody began to ripple through Bea’s body. She found her hips swaying in time and her feet started moving. She just couldn’t help it.

Bea saw him again later that day in the library. She was sitting again at the desk in the back corner when she noticed him moving along the bookshelves. His lips were moving silently, as though he were counting the numbers on the shelves. When he reached the end of the row he suddenly jumped when he saw Bea sitting there. She smiled. Hi.

Hello. Their eyes met for a second and then he quickly looked away.

‘Do you need help finding a book?’

He quickly looked up and once again their eyes met. This time he kept Bea’s gaze for a few seconds. He looked at her long enough for Bea to see that his eyes were hazel, a dark hazel with hidden depths that looked hopeful. Then he looked down again and his long hair fell across his face.

‘Yeah, I’m trying to find the music section. The librarian said it was down here but all I can see are chemistry books.’

‘It’s on the other side of the shelf.’ Bea pointed.

‘Oh, okay. Thanks.’ And then he was gone.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 31

Anar was deep in thought as she found herself staring at her own reflection in the window of Margrit’s Old Wares and Antiques. She had been forming a plan of how she could get back at Emily and Bea. This shop was perfect because it wouldn’t have the security cameras and scanners of more modern stores.

A bell tinkled as Anar pushed the door open. The inside of the shop was dry and dusty and she couldn’t help coughing.

‘Good morrow, lassie. May I help you?’

‘Oh—hi. No thanks. I just wanted to browse.’ This is the perfect place, Anar thought to herself.

‘Take your time, dear. There is plenty of time to find something—or it will find you.’

The old lady behind the counter chuckled hoarsely. She peered at Anar from behind a tiny pair of glasses. Her long grey hair was tied in a single plait that hung down her back.

Anar felt a superstitious shiver. The old woman looked like a witch, particularly with those dried herbs hanging above her head.

‘There are books out the back as well. Some are quite old but you’ll find them interesting,’ the old lady called out to Anar.

‘Okay, thanks.’

Anar walked through the door and into a little room at the back of the shop. It smelt like old mushrooms and Anar held her scarf over her nose. She was amazed to see so many books stacked haphazardly from floor to ceiling. Those that were on shelves were just a jumble and she didn’t know where to begin.

She was about to leave the book room when an old green book caught her eye. The cover was faded with age but in the centre was a silver crescent moon that sparkled brightly. Anar reached up for the book but it was too high. She found a footstool and moved it closer. Dust rose off the top step and made her sneeze. Anar grabbed the book and looked over her shoulder to make sure the old lady couldn’t see her. She quickly shoved the book into her shoulder bag and arranged her scarf so it was covering the book.

Anar walked back into the shop and strode up to the counter.

‘Could I please have two of those scented candles? They’re a present for my gran.’

‘Oh, what a lovely granddaughter you are. My grandchildren have never bought me presents with their pocket money. Would you like them gift wrapped, dear?’

Anar nodded. She was thinking about the next phase of her plan.

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