Monday, May 27, 2013

Gather Ye Bitters and Banes

Author's note: based on a critique I received, I've done several edits as of 6/4/2013.

Part I




That's what they called her as the three Witch Queens stood over the boiling cauldron and dropped something most precious of theirs into the concoction. They followed with the possessions given from each of the witches of their covens, repeating the hatred that imbued the collection of such things.

When it was done the Witch Queens stepped back into the dark recesses of the room. The Wizard Kings stepped forward and placed their own gifts into the cauldron, softly whispering their chosen epithets.




The Wizards brought forth the prizes from each of their members, adding more vitriol to the mix. When they stepped back into the shadows, the three Witch Queens and the three Wizard Kings spread out their hands. Sparks of red and blue and black co-mingled in the spaces between their fingers. They raised their hands as one, and as one threw a shower of dark purple fire into the cauldron while shouting one word.


The cauldron boiled with such ferocity that bubbles of all shapes and sizes began to spew out into the room. Bears and lions, snakes and dragons, all rising up into the air and tumbling together yet remaining separate as more shapes appeared.

The six witches and wizards held steady, some watching in awe, some with glee as the bubbles grew in size and began to growl and bare their claws and fangs. The cauldron seethed with ants and spiders, wasps and bats. A parade of snarling, howling and hissing shapes filled the room until there was no space left but for where the six stood. And still the bubbles seeped from the hot liquid until there was nothing left inside the cauldron.

The fire roared high and there was a loud pop as all the bubbles burst at the same time. The explosion was deafening and deadly. The three Witch Queens and the three Wizard Kings went limp and fell to the floor, their bodies melting in the miasma and finally co-mingling into the darkness that was born.

Their lives, having been freely and not frivolously given, were cast into one singularly nightmarish incarnation. And it must be just so, with no inkling of doubt amongst them lest their sacrifices fail to weave a spell so strong as to halt the one they all feared more than anything any one of them might conjure.

At least they had believed it would. And belief is everything in the battle against oblivion.


"You must understand," said the old witch. She filled the remaining small cloth bags with various colors of dust and placed a single strand of her white hair into each bag. She gave them to the apprentice who tied them with a matching ribbon that indicated the magic therein. Aether. Water. Fire. Earth. Air.

"To take in, to hold and to control magic is to keep it from overwhelming and consuming the world. But this is the greatest paradox of all."

The witch gently picked up the last group of small bags in her frail arms and placed them inside a plain wicker chest, atop what appeared to be hundreds more. She closed the lid and put a small twig through the latch, tapping lightly and whispering the incantation that would lock and keep the chest from opening by no hand other than those without magic.

"When I chose to take up the craft, I did so to safeguard humankind," she said. She motioned to the apprentice to pick up one side of the chest, and then continued with her lesson.

"But it can become a prison, slowly tainting you. Turning you. Making you greedy for more. And as much as you desire to protect all others from harm, eventually humanity suffers for your selfishness."

"You did not succumb to this paradox," the young apprentice said. She grunted with the weight of the chest as they loaded it onto the wagon. The old witch shook her head and used her staff to push herself up, and then heaved her aching bones into the seat.

"No. Not I."

The witch positioned her staff upright next to the wagon's brake while the apprentice put the bit into the lead horse's mouth. The younger woman handed the reins to her mistress and then climbed up to sit next to her. The old woman snapped lightly on the reins and let out a silent whistle, and the lead horse began to pull forward.

Just a short distance from their dismal hut, the steepest mountain of all the land loomed high and foreboding. It took many a whistle and slap of the reins to keep the nine horses moving up the precarious climb. The old witch didn't speak through most of the journey, motioning to her apprentice to keep a wary eye even as she peered now and again into a small crystal at the end of her staff. They reached the wind-ravaged peak and the old witch sang softly as she turned the horses into the mouth of a dark cave.

Inside it was blacker than a moonless night and no stars to guide them. The witch loosened her grip and let the horses find their own footing through the mountain, following the moist air that promised them a cool drink. In the dark, listening to the echoes of the horses hooves, the apprentice held tight to the arm of the old witch who softly sang as much to calm the apprentice as she did to calm her horses. And herself.

The old witch felt it long before her crystal began to glow. It was a sensation like no other, making her bowels tremble and shooting pains through her female parts. As if she were giving birth to something wholly abnormal. She threw a rag over the crystal and sang on, not letting any of the horror she felt within her body creep into her song.

They continued on through the darkness, the singing of the witch accompanied by the clop-clop of the horses and the creak-creak of the wagon. They heard the sound of gurgling water and then followed the edge of a stream until they reached another, and another. Finally coming to a spot where so many streams networked together that the apprentice feared there was no way around them and they were certain to fall into one.

But the witch nudged the horses up something that groaned beneath their weight, and then reined them to a stop. She removed the rag and raised her staff, waving her hand over the crystal. Her lips moved but no sound came from them. The crystal flashed a brilliant purple and then died to a warm yellow-white, allowing the apprentice to see they had stopped in the middle of a bridge over two large pools of water that swirled underneath. She could see the faint outlines of all the streams emptying into the pools, which filled to the top and then drained. There was an ebb and flow to it, a pulsing rhythm as the water rushed in and back out again.

The witch tapped the young woman's shoulder and the two climbed into the back of the wagon.

"Open it," said the witch to the apprentice. The young woman pulled the twig from the latch and raised the lid. They picked up the chest and tipped it over, dumping its holdings into the pools and watching as the small bags with their colored ribbons danced and laughed together until they parted and were swept out into the streams. The witch and the apprentice kept watching until all the bags had washed away, then the witch closed the lid and they climbed back into the seat.

"Where to now?" the apprentice asked. The old witch looked at her, a softness in the milky blue eyes that made the young woman think all would be well no matter the horrible stories she'd been told. She knew in that look the witch was her benefactor and her protector.

"Home," the witch said. Then, as if she were not so old and so feeble as to have needed the younger woman's help all these years, the witch swung her staff and pushed the apprentice off the wagon and into the water below. And just as quickly, she lowered her staff and instantly froze the pool.

The apprentice's young face still held a look of surprise as she lay there, frozen beneath the ice.

The old witch removed the crystal from her staff and dropped it, and waited for it to disappear into the ice. She began her soft singing and gently reined the horses off the bridge, the clop-clopping of their hooves fading into the distance.

<word count: 1453>


Anonymous said...

Oh don't leave me hanging like this. You don't have to make this a series but you do have to do a little more!


Parabolic Muse said...

Hi. I am too dense to understand this one. But I smiled. Thought it was pretty funny, just the same!