Imprisonment

Here’s another little tale of Arith the dragon. No Ellie the witch yet; this is kind of a prequel to Don’t Cheek Witches and Through the Rainbow. There will be more to come, because of course we need to know how the two get together. 😉 This part of the story came about when writing to a prompt from my writers’ group. The prompt became the last line of the piece.
(This story originally featured in my local newspaper, the Falkirk Herald.)

**********

Arith’s chains rattled as he was marched through the town. The guards had left him enough slack to walk, but only just. The rest of his body was bound too, so tightly that the metal round his torso made no noise. He didn’t care. He deserved it. Deserved the mutters and curses of the crowd. Head down, he walked until a yank on his chains stopped him. The voices were louder now, angrier, and there were more of them. He had reached the castle courtyard.
‘Arith the Red!’ At that voice, he had to look up. He had expected the Mayor, maybe even one of the Princes. Now he understood how serious the situation was. On the platform before him stood the King himself.
‘Arith the Red,’ the King continued, ‘You have committed the most serious of crimes for your kind, the destruction by fire of the village of Lymeth, and the death of six villagers, and two unidentified others. Do you have anything to say?’
Arith tried to speak, but only a hiss escaped his dry mouth. Huge tears rolled down his cheeks.
‘What’s that?’ The King barked.
‘I’m sorry’, whispered Arith. ‘It was an accident…’ Then realising how ridiculous that sounded, he stopped.
‘An accident.’ The King spoke softly, terribly. ‘How can you call what you did an accident?’
‘I was angry…’ But Arith tailed off. It was no use. Whatever had happened before the village burned, it did not change the awful thing he had done. There was no point in trying to explain further. He hung his head again.
The crowd were murmuring again now, and a few brave souls jeered.
The King sighed. Somehow, he knew there was more to the story, but the prisoner hadn’t explained, and without witnesses, the explanation would be no help, anyway. For the creature’s own safety from the mob, (or indeed, the mob’s safety from Arith), he had to act.
‘Arith the Red, you are hereby imprisoned in the castle dungeons until I see fit. Your dungeon will be of ice, like the chains that bind you, lest you decide to disobey the law again and use your flame to escape. Take him away!’
Arith the Red Dragon of Rethmore stumbled forward as the guards pulled his chains once more. The crowd receded, some now cheering; others still booing and shouting insults. Through the inner gates, then down a winding stair that seemed to go on forever and was scarcely wide enough. As he stepped into the ice cave, his guard released the chains, coiling them and stepping back. Arith tried to stretch his wings, but could only open one at a time in his narrow prison.
The door shut, and he heard the key turn.

Hmmf, Didn’t Get A Dragon For Christmas

Pic courtesy of stuffpoint.com

Pic courtesy of stuffpoint.com

I did get lots of lovely presents for Christmas this year, but sadly still no dragon, unicorn, or even winged horse. Oh well. I’ll just have to continue writing about the ones in my head. 😉

This story featured on the BBBGals blog a few months ago, so now it gets to appear on mine. The tale follows on from my flash fiction Don’t Cheek Witches (Even If You’re A Dragon). Arith and Ellie have already acquired a few fans, who will be pleased to know that I’ve written another story about them (well, about Arith), and I have yet another partly done. So they’ll be back in the future sometime, too.

I had the song ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ as a prompt to write this story. It’s a beautiful song and Judy Garland’s voice is amazing, but funnily enough The Wizard Of Oz was never a favourite of mine – too cutesy. (I prefer the darker tone of Wicked.) It got me thinking: what if going over the rainbow wasn’t so nice? I wanted to portray the rainbow as something sinister. I’ve channelled a bit of Oz, Harry Potter, and Terry Pratchett in this fantasy piece. Its tone is quite light, but I’ve hinted that what’s on the other side of the rainbow isn’t…

Through The Rainbow

‘So,’ Arith grumbled as his tail swished out the last embers of the fire, ‘Can we go up the castle, or not?’

Ellie hid a smile behind her sleeve. ‘Yes. I promised, didn’t I? A witch doesn’t break her promises.’

Arith snorted, promptly starting another small blaze. ‘Oops!’ he said, and stamped on that to put it out.

‘I’m not sure a majestic dragon should be saying “Oops”‘, remarked Ellie. ‘Have you been playing with my little sister again?’

‘No,’ muttered Arith. He flexed his claws, to show what a majestic dragon he really was.

‘Come on, idiot,’ Ellie said affectionately. ‘We’re done with spell casting for today. Let’s go and make some mischief.’

The young witch climbed onto Arith’s back, her bare toes gripping the rough armour plating, fingers clasped round the spines on his neck. With another snort, this time of joy, the dragon took off. Their camp at the water’s edge shrunk to the size of a match head as Arith caught an updraft. Ellie looked down, her eyes squinting against the red-gold sparkle of the dragon’s scales.

The river became a silver snake winding below them, leading the way to the castle. The rainy morning had given way to a bright afternoon, and Ellie unclipped her ponytail, letting her fair hair dry in the breeze.

‘Did you cast your invisibility spell?’ Arith shouted above the whoosh of his wing beats.

‘Of course,’ Ellie replied primly. Dragons were invisible to those who didn’t have magic, but witches lived in the everyday world as well. They could be seen unless they spelled it otherwise. It wouldn’t do to be spotted whizzing through the air on the back of – nothing. In fact, it wouldn’t do to be spotted whizzing through the air full stop.

The dragons who guarded the castle – unseen by the general public, of course – were a stuck-up lot, proud of their duty and forever letting everyone know how important they were. Arith (and secretly, Ellie as well) liked to take them down a peg; challenging them to duels, reminding them that they weren’t free to roam where they wished, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

Today, however, as they approached, all was not as it should be. At first, it appeared to be an ordinary rainbow, arching above the turrets and keep. Then, Ellie noticed that it was dropping in height, enveloping the highest towers – which shimmered, then vanished.

‘What the heck…’ began Arith, as he too saw this strange occurrence, just as Ellie shouted ‘Faster, Arith! The castle’ll be gone in a minute!’

Arith often described his witch as bossy, but this time he heard the genuine urgency in her tone, and beat his wings as fast as he could. ‘What do you mean, gone?’ he yelled.

‘That’s a doorway to another world!’ Ellie was muttering incantations between her explanations. ‘A parasite world, come to steal from ours. We have to stop it!’

‘Oh great.’ muttered Arith. ‘What about the castle warlocks? Can’t they do anything?’

‘If they haven’t already, they’re probably trapped.’ Ellie was now rolling a ball of magical energy between her palms. ‘Besides, you were the one who called them a bunch of doddering old fools.’

Arith grinned, but then frowned. Much as the castle spellcasters and their snobbish dragons annoyed him, he didn’t like the thought of anything bad happening to them.

‘Get as close as you can, but don’t touch it!’ Ellie jumped to a crouch on Arith’s back.

The dragon realised she was about to throw her spell. ‘Don’t you fall off, either,’ he warned, banking smoothly.

The rainbow had now engulfed most of the castle. It had dropped so low, Arith realised, that he could get higher than it. He glided up until he was safely above the last arc of colour, then looked down.

There was no sign of the castle. A black-edged hole in the swirling colours revealed a confused impression of fields of wild flowers and – cabbages? There was a forest, and a strange red and yellow road.

Ellie yelled ‘Keep still!’ and hurled her spell.

The ball exploded with a bewildering roar of noise. Ellie dropped flat on Arith’s back, and he didn’t need to be told twice. He rolled away from the disintegrating colours and shot off as fast as possible. Looking back, he was just in time to see the rainbow twinkle out of existence and the castle take its place, seeming none the worse for wear for its ordeal.

‘Did we do it?’ he asked, as Ellie struggled to a sitting position. He circled so they were facing the right direction.

‘Yes, thank the Goddess.’ Ellie patted his neck. ‘Great flying, gorgeous.’

Arith snorted a small flame, but Ellie knew he was pleased.

‘I suppose we better go and see if everyone’s all right,’ he said, ‘Now that we’ve saved the day.’

They landed on the roof of the Great Hall, out of the way of the tourists milling below. The general public seemed unaware that anything momentous had happened, although a few were muttering about how dark it had got for a while.

‘I wonder what they’d have done if they stepped out of the castle into a different world?’ Arith mused. ‘It looked – weird…’

Ellie shuddered. ‘Don’t even ask. I know the non-magicals are annoying, but no-one deserves to live there.’

Arith resolved to ask Ellie more about parasite worlds. It sounded like she knew the one he had seen. His little witch was a mystery to him much of the time.

An elderly warlock was hurrying toward them, followed by others, streaming like ants from the door to the roof. Robes flapped around the skinnier ones, while the fatter gentlemen puffed and panted at the rear, not accustomed to so many stairs.

‘Ellie!’ The old man exclaimed. ‘Was that you? By the time we realised what was happening, we were stuck in the dungeons!’ No longer needed to house prisoners, the dungeons were the warlocks’ usual abode.

Arith growled. ‘Where were the dragons? They’re supposed to guard the castle. Where are they now?’

‘Look!’ Ellie pointed to the nearest tower. A stone dragon sat atop it, snarling, a front paw raised with claws unsheathed.

Everyone gasped.

‘Over there!’ another warlock exclaimed. ‘And there!’ All four of the castle dragons sat atop a tower, ready to defend their abode, and each one had been turned to stone.

‘We can undo it!’ The warlocks huddled together, discussing the best way to change the dragons back. Ellie looked on, amused.

Arith head-butted her. To her surprise, he looked as though he was about to cry.

‘Is that what would have happened to me if I touched the rainbow?’ he asked.

‘Maybe. Or maybe it was some magic sent ahead to neutralise the castle’s first line of defence.’ Ellie scowled. ‘I hate parasite worlds.’

‘They’ll be able to change them back, right?’

‘Oh yes. They may be a bunch of crazy old men, but they can unpetrify someone like that.’ Ellie snapped her fingers. ‘Why, Arith,’ she teased, ‘Don’t tell me you’d miss those stuck up, snobbish…’

‘All right, all right!’ Arith glared at her, after sneakily wiping a paw over his eyes. ‘I’d have no-one to – annoy, that’s all.’

‘Come on,’ said Ellie. ‘I think we’d better come back another day.’ Sparks were beginning to fly from the warlocks’ fingertips. A few of them landed dangerously close to Arith’s tail.

‘When they set the castle on fire, we’ll come back and rescue them again,’ Arith agreed. ‘I always thought it would be one of those idiot reptiles who would do that.’ He crouched a little to make it easier for Ellie to climb onto his back once more.

‘Ellie!’ The warlock who had been first on the scene was hurrying towards them. His face, indeed his whole bald head, was rather pink. Arith paused.

‘Um…I just realised we didn’t say thank you. For dealing with the parasite world. So, thank you.’ The old man gave a beaming smile which Arith recognised at once.

Ellie beamed back.

‘You’re welcome, Grandpa.’

Don’t Cheek Witches (Even If You’re A Dragon)

Recently I guested on the Beer and Bacon Babes blog with Through The Rainbow, a tale of a witch, a dragon and some magical mayhem. I explained that the two main characters were in my head already, and that was all because of the story that follows.

I have an awesome friend (who may or may not be a dragon) on Twitter, where he goes by the name Of The Wilds. He writes amazing dragon fiction himself. The ladies in his stories are NOT wilting violets enslaved by their dragons – quite the opposite. He was feeling a bit fed up one day and wondered if anyone would tell him a tale of a maiden kicking a dragon in the unmentionables, to cheer him up. How could I not oblige?

Have you ever tried writing a story on Twitter? it’s a great exercise, getting it to break at 140 character intervals. Anyway, here it is, edited slightly but very much the same as I tweeted it. Introducing Ellie and Arith… 🙂

**********

‘Arith!’

Ellie’s voice echoed round the cave entrance. But he didn’t appear.

‘Damn,’ she muttered. ‘Where is that dragon?’

A beating of wings and a roar sounded from above. With a flourish, Arith landed on the soft riverbank. His regal walk up to the cave was rather spoiled by the squelching of his talons in the mud.

‘What do you want, witch?’

Ellie glared at him. ‘Have you been talking to the castle firedrakes again?’

Arith swished his tail, red scales shimmering in the weak sunlight.

‘I am a noble creature. I should not be indentured to a mere spell caster.’

The young sorceress crossed her arms. ‘Firstly, you wouldn’t be indentured if you hadn’t done what you did. Secondly, that bunch of reptiles up at the castle has ideas above their station.’

The dragon flared his nostrils. ‘Do you mean the humans, or the firedrakes?’

‘Both. And thirdly…’

‘Yes?’ Arith was affecting a bored tone, one hind leg in the air, idly scratching an itchy shoulder.

He didn’t notice Ellie stepping closer. Until a fiery pain shot through his loins, causing him to howl and fall over in the sludge.

‘Thirdly, don’t ever call me a mere spell caster! I am Elenore, the River Witch!’

‘Oww!’ A few startled cormorants flew off their nearby perch on the rocks. ‘You kicked me in the balls!’

‘I’ll shrivel them off if you speak to me like that again!’

Arith curled up, licking his tender testicles and grumbling to himself.

Ellie suppressed a giggle. Arith was indeed a beautiful, noble creature, but right now he was just like any male after a kick in the stones. She knew it galled him to be in servitude to a witch, especially one as young as her. It wasn’t forever, though. She would demand his respect, but she also valued his friendship.

‘Oh, stop complaining.’ She gestured to the cauldron, already set up in the cave mouth. ‘Do me a favour and light this thing. Once the morning’s work is done, we’ll fly up to the castle and have some fun.’

Arith’s ears perked up at this. ‘Do you have some mischief planned?’

‘How about we go and annoy the firedrakes, and I damp down their fire when they try to flame us?’

A grinning dragon is a sight to behold. With a toss of his head, Arith flamed the branches under the cauldron.

‘At your service, Mistress Elenore.’

Through The Rainbow

Pic courtesy of stuffpoint.com

Pic courtesy of stuffpoint.com

I’ve been invited to guest again on the wonderful BBBGals blog. You’d think they’d have learned their lesson the last time. 😉 My story was inspired by a musical prompt this time. No, not rock music. What?!

It’s a bit of fantasy fun, with a witch, a dragon, and some magical shenanigans.

Follow this link to look Through The Rainbow

RIP Sir Terry Pratchett

A great writer left us for the next chapter today. His writing makes me laugh – and cry, often at the same time. He will always be one of my biggest influences. A man who loved cats, and witches, and theatre, and music, and werewolves, and dragons, and who wrote powerful women. I will miss having new works to read, but what an amazing legacy he has left the world.
Goodbye, Sir Terry. I’m sure you and Death are having a curry, surrounded by cats, in a dodgy Discworld cafe. Give Binky a sugar lump from me.

Winter Warmers

This post was originally written for a blog hop last year, but I thought I’d revisit it for Julie Valerie’s Hump Day Blog Hop. Bloggers – join Julie on the last Wednesday of every month, share a link and read others. Readers – get lots of varied content in one place. Result!

This is a very sad snowman. I shall post a proper one shortly.

This is a very sad snowman. I shall post a proper one shortly.

So for this blog hop, I had to name the following things:

Favourite song with winter in the title or lyrics:

In the Bleak Midwinter sung by any lovely cathedral choir, at a midnight service on Christmas Eve/Day. I’m not a religious person, but I love this.

Favourite book about winter:

I’m going to name three. They’re about Christmas as well, and I always re-read them at this time of year:

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper – second in a series of five amazing books, filled with adventure and Celtic mythology. Will wakes on his eleventh birthday on Midwinter Day, to discover he is the last of the Old Ones of the Light, tasked with protecting the world from the rising Dark. He must seek out six ancient ‘signs’ to help turn back the Dark. This is the book that started my love of legends and magic.

Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher – a good old-fashioned love saga, perfect for curling up with next to a roaring fire. A group of ill-assorted people of all ages are brought together in an old house for Christmas. Will it be a disaster – or the best Christmas ever? And it’s set in the Scottish Highlands.

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett – the Discworld’s version of Christmas is even better than ours. Featuring Death, and his granddaughter Susan, two of my favourite Pratchett characters. What happens when Death has to stand in for the Hogfather? Can Susan save the Discworld from the machinations of the evil Mr Teatime? If you don’t read Pratchett (why not??) this will sound like gobbledygook, but it’s brilliant.

You can see how battered my copy of Winter Solstice is...

You can see how battered my copy of Winter Solstice is…

Favourite ‘hot’ winter film:

‘Hot’ as in featuring a sexy man? Hmm…

The Holiday as it stars Jude Law. Understated British sexiness. Or Chalet Girl – Bill Nighy can be my sugar daddy any day. 😉

Favourite winter memory:

I’m going to be soppy and say the first Christmas hubby and I spent together. We put so much thought into our presents (even though we had very little money), we got a real tree, and we had a Christmas dinner that could have fed six people (the cat got a lot of it). It was magical, and we’ve tried to make it that way ever since. Aaww!

Favourite winter holiday destination:

You know, I like the crisp coldness of winter in Scotland. Okay, sometimes that’s rainy slushiness instead, but I think winter should be cold and summer should be hot. Don’t mix them up. So if I went somewhere, it would have to be cold and snowy. Vermont? Austria? Anyone want to pay for a holiday for me??

Snowman on Calton Hill, Edinburgh. Pic courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Snowman on Calton Hill, Edinburgh. Pic courtesy of bbc.co.uk

What books will be in your suitcase this winter?

All of the ones listed above. Also: The Christmas Spirit by Susan Buchanan, A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett, and many others! 🙂

Like to party? Hop along the Hump Day Blog Hop on Julie Valerie’s Book Blog. Click here to return to the Hump Day Blog Hop.

Something Wicked…

This story originally featured on Mari Wells’s blog, for Witch Month. In case you missed it, here’s the latest instalment featuring my Lochie Witches…

 

Something Wicked This Way Comes

The Halloween decorations made the houses almost as festive as Christmas, Fenella thought as she walked home. It wasn’t even the day itself, yet porches were already decked out with strings of lights in the form of spiders or ghosts, giant plastic pumpkins lounged in gardens, and windows were draped with fake cobwebs. Fenella liked it. Who cared if Halloween had become fun and ‘Americanised’? It made a welcome change from her own Samhain, which was getting more intense every year.

The cloaked and hooded figure lounging in her doorway added to the spooky nature of the street. Except that Fenella hadn’t placed it there.

‘Well met by moonlight, Sister,’ the figure intoned, and then rather spoiled it by giggling.

Fenella burst out laughing. ‘Well met indeed.’ She pulled her visitor into a hug, and the hood fell back to reveal the mane of auburn hair and freckled features she knew and missed. ‘Hi, Kate.’

 

‘So what brings you here?’ Fenella sank into an armchair and took a swig of her tea. ‘And why can’t you just phone, like a normal person? Or does that Goddessforsaken town you live in not have phones?’

Kate jiggled her mug from hand to hand, perched on the edge of the comfy Ikea sofa. The room could not be more different from her own living space. Fenella favoured bright, modern fabrics and light wood. Kate’s ancient cottage was welcoming, but in a muted, faded sort of way.

‘We have the internet too, you know,’ Kate said primly. ‘Also, flushing toilets.’ She grimaced at her scalding hot coffee, but drank it anyway. ‘Oh – and vampires, of course.’

‘Yes, they do rather lower the tone of the place.’ They spoke lightly, but Fenella knew her friend was worried. ‘I take it they’re being more of a problem than usual?’

Kate had left the coven many years ago, and taken on the unofficial and unenviable job of keeping an eye on the town over the river. As well as the human population, there was a thriving colony of vampires. Thanks to Kate’s vigilance, they mostly behaved themselves. The ones that got out of line were dealt with, either by Kate herself, or one of the warrior families allied with her.

‘One of them is.’ Kate pulled a face at Fenella. ‘I’m sorry to ask you so close to Samhain – I know you’re all busy – but would the Coven let me see the books? I need a spell stronger than any I’ve got. It’s a long shot, but there might be something in there that would help.’

‘It’s not the Coven, as such, we’ll need to see.’

Kate raised an eyebrow. ‘No?’

‘No. It’s young Evie.’

‘What!’ Kate nearly spilled her coffee. ‘What the hells – she’s about twelve, isn’t she?’

‘She’s sixteen.’ Fenella was already dialling a number on her mobile.

Kate finished her drink and took her mug into the kitchen. She gazed around the modern, tidy little space, thinking of her temperamental Aga and chipped Belfast sink. But then, Fenella didn’t do much magic here. Kate needed a large, practical kitchen. When she returned to the living room, Fenella was already pulling her coat back on.

‘We’re going? Right now?’

‘Yup. Come on, if we hurry, we’ll be in and out before her mum gets in. You know she doesn’t approve of the Coven…’

Kate snorted, grabbing her cloak. ‘Which is a bit ridiculous, since she comes from a family of witches.’

‘Yes, but she never had the talent, remember? It skipped a generation and came out in Evie – in a big way.’

The two women hurried along the street. Fenella paid no attention to the Halloween decorations this time. Instead, she worried about the wisdom of introducing Evie to Kate. They were the two most powerful witches she knew, and both inclined to be solitary, in spite of Evie’s belonging to the Coven. A lot of witches found Kate a bit weird. She mentally shook herself. Kate was a law unto herself, but that was all. Maybe she would even be a good example to Evie, who in Fenella’s opinion was a bit too cocky for a sixteen year old.

They arrived at a house which as far as Kate could tell, was a carbon copy of Fenella’s, except bigger. Fenella had scarcely knocked when the door flew open, revealing a teenager in skinny jeans and a band t-shirt, fair hair piled in a messy bun on top of her head.

‘Auntie Fen!’ Evie hugged Fenella, then looked past her. ‘And you must be Kate. I’ve heard all about you.’

‘Ha.’ Kate gave a little bow. ‘I hope I live up to expectations.’

They entered the smart hallway, a polished wooden floor leading to a flight of stairs carpeted in cream. Kate couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t a practical colour at all.

Evie seemed to read her mind. ‘Mum has the house looking as unwitchy as possible.’ She scowled. ‘Because she can’t do it, it doesn’t exist. Isn’t it awful? At least Auntie Fen’s is colourful, even though it’s modern. This is the blandest house in existence.’

‘That’s enough.’ Fenella poked her niece in the arm. ‘I take it we’re heading up to your room?’

‘Come on!’ Evie bounded up the stairs two at a time.

Fenella and Kate exchanged glances. ‘She is good,’ Fenella murmured.

‘I have no doubt of it.’ Kate had sensed the power in the girl. She was already a force to be reckoned with. Kate had been too, at that age.

They mounted the stairs and followed Evie into her bedroom. In many ways it was a typical teenage cave; clothes strewn about, posters of bands on the wall. The scent of roses filled the small space. Under the window a desk held a pile of assorted books and magazines, and an iPod dock. A miniature cauldron stood next to the desk, simmering away with a mixture the colour of pea soup. Also on the wall was a fire extinguisher. Evie was practical as well as talented.

‘You said vampires, Auntie Fen,’ Evie was sitting at the desk, leafing through an ancient tome, pages crackling. ‘That’s all in this volume, but I didn’t know exactly what sort of spell you wanted..?’

Fenella realised she didn’t know either. She sat on Evie’s bed, moving a plush toy owl out of the way. ‘You said ‘problem’, Kate? What sort of problem?’

Kate sat cross-legged on the floor, as though she were Evie’s age. ‘No, you said ‘problem’. It’s a bit more than that – and it’s two problems. Number one: I need a stronger Sensing Spell. A vampire passed my boundaries – and I didn’t know it.’

Fenella whistled. She knew how strong Kate’s magic was. ‘That must have been a powerful vamp.’

‘She is.’ Kate’s voice indicated she didn’t want to go into that. ‘The other problem…this vamp sucked a friend of mine dry. I healed him with a Blood Spell – with my blood. I don’t know what that makes him, but that can wait. For now, I need to strengthen my ability to see what comes into the town.’

‘Wow.’ Evie was staring at Kate in admiration. ‘There’s a few Sensing and Boundary Spells in here. Do you want to take the book? I don’t need it for – er – anything, just now.’

Kate looked at Fenella. ‘Would that be okay? I don’t want to upset the Coven.’

Fenella shook her head. ‘Evie’s had the books since she turned sixteen. Let’s face it; none of the rest of us are any good with them. If she’s happy for you to take it, that’s fine.’

‘Thank you, Evie.’ Kate nodded at the young witch. Glancing at the cauldron, she asked, ‘What are you working on, anyway? Smells like there’s a Love Potion in there somewhere.’

Evie wriggled. ‘Ah, well, it’s something my apothecary suggested. To improve the – uh – Samhain spell.’

‘Good Goddess, you guys aren’t still trying to conjure him?’ Kate said incredulously. ‘Whatever for? I know you want to relive the Lochie Witches’ glorious past, but honestly..!’

Fenella was wriggling too. ‘Well, we got the Great Black Dog last year,’ she retorted. ‘So we thought we’d try for – you know.’

‘I do know.’ Kate saw the woman in Evie, vying with the girl. The woman and the witch – a dangerous combination. ‘I know what you want him for, young miss. And I’ll tell you this – as your first, he’s a dangerous choice. If he’ll do it.’

‘How dare you!’ Evie sprang to her feet, knocking over her chair. ‘I know what I’m doing – I’m not some kid!’

‘Of course you’re not.’ Fenella glared at Kate, willing her to shut up. ‘It’s just that Kate’s got some…experience…’

‘With him? How can she?’ Evie asked. ‘No-one’s conjured him for centuries!’

‘Your coven hasn’t conjured him, you mean.’ Kate rose from her position on the floor. ‘That doesn’t mean that no-one else has.’

‘Oohh!’ Evie all but stamped her foot. ‘I don’t believe you!’

The argument was interrupted by a sharp ‘Pop!’ from behind them. The three women froze, and turned to the cauldron.

Evie’s concoction, which had been simmering moments ago, was seething and bubbling now like hot lava – if lava was a sickly shade of green. As they watched, the larger bubbles grew into tendrils, reaching up from the cauldron like rotting fingers. The rose petal scent was gone, replaced by a decayed, cloying smell.

‘It’s never done this before,’ Evie said uncertainly. Her anger at Kate was forgotten. She looked at the older witch.

‘Too much power in here…’ Kate mused, approaching the cauldron. ‘Is he part of this spell already?’

‘Yes,’ Evie whispered.

‘Evie!’ Fenella was horrified. ‘You know he’s not to be invoked until Samhain itself!’

‘I just wanted to try something.’ Evie’s voice held a tinge of fear. The fingers were elongating now, reaching out to the three of them, trailing down the sides of the cauldron towards the floor. Evie squeaked and jumped back. The potion was changing from green to black. An air of menace came with the change, as though some conscious entity was behind it.

‘Oh no!’ Evie moaned as the tendrils reached the carpet, causing it to sizzle and burn. ‘Mum’s going to kill me!’

Fenella would have laughed, if the situation hadn’t been so serious. What had Evie done?

Kate, however, appeared unperturbed. She reached out – and poked one of the blackened fingers. To Fenella and Evie’s surprise, it retreated.

‘Get back in that pot, you.’ Kate said conversationally. ‘Stop trying to scare people.’

The fingers stretched and warped and shivered, then shortened until they were sliding back into the cauldron.

‘I know you feed off emotion,’ Kate was lecturing the dark green gunge, which had settled a bit, although it was still bubbling. ‘But feeding off a witch’s anger is dangerous, even for you. Especially three witches – the magic number. Bugger off – and if you’re about at Samhain, watch your step.’

The pea soup mixture blew a raspberry at her, then went back to simmering. Evie and Fenella stared, open-mouthed. Evie recovered first.

‘Who were you talking to?’ she squeaked. ‘Not…not..?’

Kate patted the cauldron. ‘Sorry I lost my temper. That was stupid of me. You’ll be fine, Evie. Just be careful. And remember, he’s a man, once he’s in that skin. Just a man.’

‘That’s like,’ Evie replied slowly, ‘How he’s just a dog, when he’s a dog?’

‘People give him the power.’ Kate gathered up the spellbook from the desk. ‘Because they know what he is. But on Earth, not Below, he’s just whatever form he takes. Oh, he has words, and we all know how powerful words are. But that’s all. No magic, no superpowers, nothing.’

‘What’s he like?’ whispered Evie. ‘Really?’

‘What he was like for me won’t be the same as for you. Or for your Auntie Fen. Or Nana Anne. Or any of the others. Understand?’ She and Evie locked eyes for a moment.

Fenella had had enough. ‘Evie,’ she said firmly, ‘I don’t know if what we’re planning to do at Samhain is a good idea, after all.’

Kate patted her fellow witch’s shoulder. ‘I do. It is. I wish you every success, ladies.’ She tucked the spellbook under her arm. ‘I better get back. I have someone really evil to deal with.’ She met Evie’s eyes again. ‘Evil is all here on Earth. Remember that. Thanks again for the book – I’ll get it back as soon as I can.’

Evie and Fenella looked at each other as Kate turned for the door.

‘Kate!’ Evie called. ‘Thank you – for rescuing my bedroom carpet.’

Kate grinned. ‘Have fun with him – Sisters.’ She used the Coven’s term of address for each other.

‘Tell him Katarina says hi.’

 

Thanks to William Shakespeare for the title – even if he did take terrible liberties with the story of Macbeth…

Pic courtesy of eastsidepatch.com

Pic courtesy of eastsidepatch.com