faerytale

A Gathering of Sorcerers

September, 2017

The tale-finder had traced the story as far as a small tavern in a remote village. Quaffing his ale, he greeted the other guests and, after a customary exchange of pleasantries, asked if anyone present had heard the story Hob told of a midnight gathering of sorcerers. There was some chuckling, and then a giant of a man sitting in the corner replied that he knew the tale, or knew of it.

It isn’t much of a story,” he began. “This farmhand Hob, in some stead over the river, was about to head home for the evening when the Mistress of the farm stopped by and asked him if he would wait on some guests who were due to arrive later that night. She said he could enjoy a full supper after they had eaten, and all he had to do was pour water and ale for them, then serve them food when they called for it. For the rest, he was to stay out of the way and not pry, but remain within earshot. He would get extra wages for it. She said that usually she tended them when they came, but she had to go see to a sick sister over the ridge.

Hob agreed, and along about ten or eleven in the evening they arrived heavily cloaked on horseback. He took their steeds to the barn while they settled themselves comfortably in the straw-strewn main room of the farmhouse. There were about a dozen present, plus one who sat a little apart. He was taller and thinner than the others, and evidently in charge of the meeting.

Hob brought them well-water and ale, and then retired to an adjoining room, shutting the door between. Being an inquisitive sort of fellow, though, and telling himself he had to listen for their meal-call, he left the door ajar by a little crack and sat close by.

The room was quiet for a time, then the leader spoke softly. Hob could just see him through the crack.

“ ‘Gentlemen, are you all comfortable?’ There were several grunts of assent. ‘Have you all found your places? Have you removed your heads?’

When he heard that, Hob felt a chill. He wanted very much to widen the door-crack to see if their heads were off, but did not dare.

The leader said ‘Very well, now my head is off.’ A great fear fell on Hob as he saw the leader sitting in his place with his head in his hands. His neck was not bloodied, and his voice seemed to be coming from the hole in his shoulders. He couldn’t see the other sorcerers but assumed they looked the same.

At one point, everyone stood up and began pacing in a circle round the room. Their heads, apparently, were set aside somewhere safe where they would not be kicked or tripped over accidentally. As the pacing continued, the headless sorcerers seemed to rise slightly until they were circling together two or three inches off the ground. Peering through the crack, Hob saw them pass by one at a time, each without a head on his shoulders! At the same time, an enormous buzzing noise started filling the room, and energy throbbed so strongly that it pushed Hob’s door fully closed, without, however making a sound. Hob was deathly afraid the headless sorcerers would discover him spying on them, and take off his head, but they took no notice and, from the sound, apparently continued circling a while longer. Finally they stopped, and it would seem that each resumed his seat, since it grew quiet once again. The throbbing had ceased.

Hob was afraid they would call for food with their heads off, but presently the leader said ‘Gentlemen, you may now replace your heads and lose your places.’ They then called for him to bring in the food. As soon as he had done so, he withdrew and, not waiting to gather the dishes later, much less eat the leavings of such uncanny creatures, quietly left the farmhouse and tore off across the fields as though the night-hag were after him!”

All the guests roared with laughter, a little nervously, and complimented the giant on his narration. The tale-finder thanked him and bought everyone a round, but secretly he felt disappointed, since he had had the tale in this form before. He thought perhaps he hadn’t gotten any closer to its place of origin.

After a while, he asked the giant where he had heard the story. The narrator answered, somewhat shortly, that it was in general circulation.

Is this Hob still about?” he asked the room. Someone remarked that he had died in his grandfather’s time, but it was known that he never returned to that farm, not even to collect his wages. He decided the Mistress must be a hægtessa 1 to play hostess to such beings, and he shortly left the district. But before he left, he told his story to a bard, a loremaster in the hills this side of the river, who passed it on to his successor, and in this way it got around.

The tale-finder asked where he might find this bard or his current successor, and after some grumbling, especially from the giant, someone gave him directions. He explained then diplomatically that his work involved hunting down the oldest form of such tales. He doubted he would ever hear the story told better than it was told tonight, he added. With that, the giant grinned and everyone relaxed. They drank another round of ale, and then the tale-finder rose and bidding them all good evening, went to his bed in the loft above the tavern.

In the morning he rose early, paid the innkeeper, saddled his horse and rode into the hills. He had no trouble finding the cot of the bard, and by lunchtime was seated across a rude table from him. This was not indeed the man Hob had told, but his second successor. The tale-finder repeated the story as the giant had told it and waited for the bard to make comments.

He said nothing for a while, but smiled and snorted a bit. “Yes,” he said at last, “that is the popular version, but it is not what Hob told old White Hawk. He said that after the leader of the group had told everyone to take his head off, and had said that now his head was off, Hob was surprised to see his head was still there, securely on his shoulders. But you should have surmised this,” he added, raising an eyebrow, “else why would he have bothered to tell the others his head was off? Or why would he have asked them if they had removed their own heads, since with his on he could obviously have seen if they were headless?”

He took a bite of bread, shrugged, and added “But of course, really headless sorcerers make a better tale.”

And the circling?” asked the tale-finder, “the rising into the air?”

The bard smiled wryly. “That is a subtler matter. It is possible they became lighter, and perhaps they even floated a bit in their pacing. I don’t think Hob exaggerated that very much.”

And what of the strange buzzing that filled the room?”

That you would have to experience for yourself,” he said. “But I don’t think it was heard with the ears. It was, perhaps, more like a pressure.” He nodded and rose. Lunch and the interview were over.

The tale-finder thanked him for his information and hospitality. He felt more confused than ever, though. As he turned to say good-bye at the door, the bard thought of something else. He brought a bucket of well-water and held it up to the tale-finder’s chest. “It is customary in these parts,” he said, “for us to share a drink of water before parting. But before I dip the ladle, look into the bucket. Tell me what you see.”

The tale-finder looked and saw his weather-worn face looking up at him. “My face, my head,” he said. The bard pulled the bucket away. “And now,” he said, smiling, “where is your head?” The tale-finder felt his forehead and cheeks and said, “Well, here it is, only I can’t see it.”

Exactly,” the bard answered. But do you usually notice that you can’t see it? If you don’t, you reside in your thoughts. You have lost your place in the room. Do you understand?”

The tale-finder’s mouth fell open. “So that’s it?”

That’s it.” They shared a farewell drink of water, and the tale-finder went on his way.

1 A hedge-rider, i.e., a witch.

Short Story: Kiara, The Final Episode

December, 2016

kiara

 

Kiara, The Final Episode

 

Kiara allowed herself to be placed roughly into the chair. The field around her made her feel disoriented at first, but she curled her mind into a small hard sphere inside her head. She had foiled the goblin’s machine before and she felt quite confident that she could again. When she sensed Moira approaching in the form of a spider, Kiara quickly protected her from the machine. They communicated briefly, then Kiara sent her back up to the relative safety of the web above them,. She allowed a small amount of her energy to be drained, until she could find a way to protect the matron and Annabelle. Goblin warriors were pouring through the portal. Somehow, the goblins had breached the shield and were transporting a new type of warrior breed through it. She watched and waited.

Droc was working feverishly at the controls of his machine. Using the magic of the princess, he had opened a wormhole through the faery web that was around his planet. His troops were pouring through now. They no longer had to wait for bodies to be constructed. He sent them off to arm themselves and clear the manor of any humans left. His keen hearing could detect the noise of doors and furniture being smashed, then the sound of squabbling as they found the pantry, presumably. It was well stocked, he had made sure that it would be. This was their base to conquer worlds and send materials and food back home. He wished,- not for the first time, that engineering the warrior goblins had not made them so stupid. Still, he had his vanguard with him. His most loyal soldiers. They would lead the armies while their bodies stayed safely back in the mountain.

Lights started to dim on the console and Droc swore. He was checking gauges and turning dials to no avail, too preoccupied to see a small orb fly across the room. Then the chair died and the lights flickered off. When they came back on, the faeries body was slumped forward in the chair.

He went to check the body, and as he touched it, Kiara’s shell seemed to shrivel and then crumpled into dust. He was cursing as he returned to the console. The two goblins who were holding Matron and Annabelle, both died at the same moment. They fell forward just as a circle of orbs appeared around Kiara and her two charges.

Mandrell appeared first. He was almost as tall as Kiara, with jet black armour and helmet. Reaper was already in his hand and his eyes were blazing. He looked at Kiara and then to the door leading to the armoury. She drew her sword and prepared for any returning goblins, gesturing to Annabelle and Matron to stay behind her. Then Azira manifested. She was as tall as Kiara, with flaming red hair and green leather armour. She had a crossbow and was already firing into the goblins with a steady stream of bolts, as they appeared from the portal . Each bolt seemed to be replaced as soon as the last one was fired . Gortek was as round as he was high with a huge axe. He swirled into the goblins, creating a circle of decapitated bodies. His armour was bronze coloured and studded with large spikes like a porcupine. Azul was a giant, even by warrior standards. Eight foot tall and wearing only light leather armour, he carried a small circular shield and a mace. Any goblins who got past the other three were quickly crushed by the giants blows.

Drawn by the noise of battle, goblins started to return from the armoury, to be cut down by Kiara’s flashing sword as they came through the door. Another half-dozen or so faeries appeared and circled around the door in front of Kiara. Mandral sent them to secure the armoury and to clear the house and grounds of goblins. Kiara followed behind them, protecting Matron as she ran to check on James. He was weak from loss of blood but his wound was already healing rapidly from Kiara’s touch. Matron knelt beside him and cradled his head in her lap.

Mandral and the Gortek were carving a path though the goblins as the Azul and Azira ensured that none escaped from the room. Azira fired a stream of bolts that pinned Droc to the console, sending sparks flying and frying the goblin as the energy blasted into him, shorting out the equipment. The portal died and no more goblins came flooding through. Mandral and Gortek hacked and slashed their way through the oncoming troops and a stream of bolts killed any goblins beyond their reach. By the time the last of the remaining goblin troops had been slain, there was only a charred husk remaining of the king of the goblins. The large room was by now filled with corpses and the stench of charred flesh was sickening.

Gortek stood guard by the portal. Azul and Azirah went to help clear the house and to prepare for an elder to come and consecrate a new guardian tree. Moira dropped from her web and, resuming her habitual appearance, she went to her great uncle.

When two of the other faeries, Graela and Driff came back to report the house cleared. Kiara asked Graela to guard the room and went with Driff to see Mandral. Kiara was sickened by the sight and smell of the bodies. She opened out her arms and the bodies and blood vanished as the room changed into a large brightly lit marquee with chairs and cushions. She left the console and the portal in place. While waiting for Driff to give his report, she sat down on the chair which had been used to steal some of her power. She had been brought to this manor as a confused child, but now she was every inch a princess of the Fae.

Moira brought Mandral to her. He bowed, “Thank you Milady for helping us in our hour of need”. Kiara smiled, “Thank you Milord for your timely arrival. I believe we may have much to discuss”.

Several more chairs appeared beside them and she invited them to sit down. “Thank you Moira for bringing me back to my old self. Without your warning about the goblin, things may not have gone well.” Turning to Mandral, she asked if if he realised that the goblin king and his generals were still very much alive. He nodded, “They have to be dealt with, Milady, and their machines must be destroyed”. He looked grave. They both knew the cost of a sustained war with the goblins.”It is very much in my hands”, he said.”I must raise an army and invade their kingdom. Their are many outland Fae who will join me, but to insure a large enough army I need a princess by my side.” He looked at Kiara, “Milady, we have not had a warrior princess for over 10,000 years. I know that I ask a great deal, but there is much at stake. The goblins plan to spread their empire once more. When they are strong enough they will attack our home world. Win or lose, the light of the Fae will be dimmed for many aeons to come, unless some of us sacrifice our light for the many.”

They sat in silence for some time. There were tears in Kiara’s eyes as she thought of the hundreds of years of happiness that she was leaving behind,- perhaps forever. She wanted to be with Jeremiah, playing silly games and laughing at his jokes as they wandered in the woodland. She had been a carefree child for 500 years. Faeries seldom love as humans love, but that love had blossomed between them during a summer of delight. She had hoped for an eternity of joy with Jeremiah by her side. She had changed much already. Would he even know her when she returned?

“ Milady!”, Mandral spoke with urgency in his voice.”We must follow them through the portal and destroy their machinery. If we do not, then none of the worlds will be safe”.

When Kiara looked at him, her voice was cold, but, the blazing coals were burning in her eyes again. “Very well!, call your army!”. As she spoke, the console came to life and the portal began to glow.

*****

Short Story: Kiara, Episode 14

November, 2016

Kiara, Episode 14

kiara

 

The moment that Kiara touched the daisy, Moira became aware of her. She watched as she changed the daisy symbol she had given to her and hung it on her ear. The long corridor seemed dark and much too quiet. Moira could sense the servants huddled in the kitchen. She felt their uncertainty and drifted into the kitchen. Although they were unaware of her, they seemed to brighten a little under the influence of her presence. Cook was sitting at the big old wooden table in the centre of the room. The servants were all sitting around the table. Jed, the gardener, sat at her right, facing the big sink and worktop where the sunlight was beginning to seep in His son Michael sat opposite with the light shining through his fair hair, forming a halo effect around his head. Moira paused to admire the lad. He was broad shouldered and handsome, with a round friendly face. Annabelle sat further down the table beside Maria, holding her hand for comfort. They both looked pale and nervous. Two shotguns lay on the table between the gardener and his son. She stopped and listened to them for a moment. Michael broke the silence. “I should go and see if mistress needs any help”, he said. Jed shook his head. “ No!, we are to stay here and protect the youngsters”. He spoke kindly, but with an edge in his voice. Matron said that we are to leave her behind if necessary and take ourselves and Annabelle as far away as possible!”. Like his son, it made him feel like a coward, but his instructions had been very clear. He was not sure what was going on, but he knew it was bad. The purse of gold, handed to him by Matron, had convinced him of that. He would stay here until forced to leave, then he would return to help once the children were safe.

Moira returned to Kiara and noted the many racks of armour in the anteroom. She realised that she must report it to Mandral as soon as possible, but the noise and the roars from one of the rooms ahead, pushed everything from her mind. Kiara rushed through the door and she followed her.
As she passed the body of the servant, James, Kiara leaned over him and touched the wound and the blood stopped flowing. He was very weak and Moira was not too sure if he would survive. She hovered over him, sending healing as Kiara stepped into the next room. She followed as far as the doorway and watched as Kiara challenged a giant goblin. She felt no need to intervene as she felt that Kiara was more likely to find her a hindrance than a help.. The huge size of the goblin in the room still surprised her, despite seeing the armour in the anteroom. Kiara, however seemed totally unconcerned, so Moira continued to watch the scene without interfering. She almost gave herself away as Kiara’s fight with the goblin made her giggle. The magic of the royal faeries was legendary, but Moira had never expected such an easy victory. As Droc hung his head in defeat, she broke off her contact and sought out her great uncle. She needed to let him know that the goblins seemed to have amassed an army of giant warriors. Although the princess had foiled the goblin’s plans without any real effort, this was still worrying.. She left the scene behind as she focused on her home world.

******
In the kitchen, the calm that had settled on the occupants was short lived, after Moira had left. The initial breaking of the door had startled them, but both Jed and his son grabbed the shotguns as the roar of the goblin echoed through the house. Alice’s scream rang down the long corridor next making them feel sick with fright. Annabelle pulled away from Maria and ran from the kitchen shouting for her mother.
Michael ran after her, calling to his father to take the rest to safety. He grabbed a belt of cartridges from a hook near the door and slung it across his neck. Annabelle was already down the corridor and passing into the goblins lair as he left the kitchen. He hurried after her, but by the time he reached the anteroom, there was no sign of her. It went deathly quiet. He paused and listened. He could hear muffled voices somewhere ahead. A huge creature was growling as it approached him from the doorway ahead of him. He loosed both barrels into the creature and it collapsed in the doorway. A second goblin was trying to get past, and Michael quickly reloaded. As it climbed over its comrade he fired again stopping it in his tracks. More creatures were fighting to get through the doorway and he backed away as he loaded again. They tore the furniture in the room apart and started throwing it at him, forcing him to retreat further.
He retreated to the armoury and propped the door with anything he could find. First, he jammed some spears against it. He then put the shotgun down and pushed over one of the big racks to brace the wooden door. As he picked up the gun again, the goblins were pounding at the door. He heard what might the huge table from the room beyond being used as a battering ram. He realised that they would be through the door very soon. He took a sword from the rack and left the armoury. Closing the damaged outer door, he used the sword to jam it shut by sliding it through the iron handle. He checked the kitchen, which was empty, and left the manor to search for the others. When he got to the gate, Jed was waiting for him in the car with the others. They all sat there, reluctant to leave without the others. They decided to wait until the very last moment in case anyone should escape. Michael went back down the access road to keep watch. He hid behind a bush at a bend in the road, and watched the house carefully for any sign of activity.
As Kiara stepped forward to attack, the goblins started to growl, building themselves into a frenzy.
At that moment, Annabelle ran into the room and was grabbed by a goblin who was nearest the door. As kiara darted a glance at the girl, Droc grabbed Alice from the chair and placed his sword across her throat. “Put your sword down or they both die!”, he screamed above the growling.
The room grew silent as Kiara paused. There was no way to reach them both in time. The hellish fires in her eyes began to die down. She seemed to shrink as she dropped the sword from her hand.
“Put her in the chair!” commanded Droc, and in seconds she was trapped by the energy field.
The machine began to glow as it greedily sucked the magical energy from the faerie princess.
She seemed to be shrinking as she returned to the familiar shape of the little girl who had first come to the manor. Droc finally relaxed. He threw Alice to another goblin. “Guard these two with your lives!, I have plans for them!. He ordered the rest of them to get themselves armed and ready, and they headed to the armoury. He was distracted by the sound of a shogun in the entrance room, and he never noticed the small spider slipping through the energy field and landing on Kiara’s head.
It dropped down behind her left ear, where she had placed the earring earlier.

******

Short Story: Kiara, Episode 13

October, 2016

KIARA EPISODE 13

kiara

Cook carefully removed the bandage to change the poultice as Kiara slept. The child was no longer feverish and was in a deep peaceful sleep. When she cleaned the area and saw no sign of either a wound or a scar, she began praying and making the sign of the cross over and over again. Just at that moment the door gave way to the goblins lair and she jumped with fright as the noise rang through the house. Kiara awoke and smiled at her. Somehow, the smile brought tears of relief. Then the girl was standing beside her and gave her hug. “Thank you! You must be exhausted ! Why don’t you go to the kitchen and make yourself a nice cup of tea!”. Before she knew it, cook was heading to the kitchen.

“You’re taller!”, said Annabelle accusingly. Kiara laughed. It was like the sound of a hundred tiny bells tinkling. She grew taller still and a pair of beautiful wings appeared . They sparkled and shone with rainbow colours that made Annabelle’s eyes go funny, and then they vanished and Kiara stood before her again, looking just like her old self. Annabelle rushed across the room and hugged her.

“Hold on Hold on! I must dress” said Kiara laughing. She stepped back for a moment and she created a beautiful silver frock with bows and ribbons and two big pockets. As she put the daisy into one pocket, she realised that the dress was a little long, so she grew into it. “That’s better!”, she said.

“Put your hand out!” Annabelle put her hand out and Kiara placed a bright red pebble into it. “Now, say Elsewhere!”. She did what she asked and found herself on the far side of the room.

“Listen carefully, you must go with cook and stay in the kitchen. If anything should happen, or you get scared, grab her hand and hold the pebble and say elsewhere! Okay?”

Annabelle nodded , and giving Kiara a last big hug, she ran after the cook.

Kiara had, of course, almost returned to her old self and in typical faerie fashion she only had a vague memory of what had happened. She remembered the boy and promised herself to visit him, once she had dealt with the silly goblin. Then the memory flooded back of the fire and the destruction of the goblins in the woods. Her shine dimmed a little, but she pushed it out of her mind. After all, she thought, they were not real bodies. It was just like breaking toys that belonged to naughty children. She brightened up for a moment, then realised that unless she smashed the machines, she might have to kill a lot more of the goblin troops on their own world, where they would be very real. It was a promise that she had avoided making just yet, but she knew that she could not abandon her own kind when they needed her. On impulse, she took the daisy from her pocket and turned it into a small earring which she placed in her ear, for safekeeping.

James opened the next door and the stench that hit them was overpowering. It as a large room filled with large heavy tables and benches. There was a large pipe with an open cover in the corner of the room where the smell seemed strongest. It had to be some sort of waste pipe, judging from the bones scattered around it. James held his breath and went to check it. They quickly moved on and shut the door behind them. They heard a humming sound from the next room and realised that they must be near the goblins machinery. They stood still, listening for any sounds before opening the door. James carefully closed the shotgun and handed it to Alice. Indicating that he wanted her to stay and watch the door. He opened it quietly and stepped through. He looked around in amazement at the lights and dials set into what looked like large wooden cupboards spaced all around the walls and joined by some sort of tubing. Seeing the next door open, he cautiously approached it and looked through.

There was a chair similar to the one in the doctors office, with tubes leading from it to a cabinet and from there, to huge covered cubicle. He checked the room carefully before calling Alice to come in. “ I think I found it!, he shouted. Alice followed him in quickly, not wanting to be outside on her own. They stood and inspected the room, wondering what exactly they could do to put the equipment out of action.

James was very unsure of what would happen if he sliced through the tubes. He knew nothing about electricity except that it could be dangerous and that metal conducted it. He looked at the cabinet that lit up the wall behind the chair. Alice seemed to read his mind. “Let’s go back and get the sledgehammer”, she said. She handed him the shotgun and he led the way.

As they stepped back through the door, the goblin pounced. The knife flashed between them and by the time James had turned, the broadsword was sweeping through the air. He blocked it with the barrel of the shotgun. It was almost torn from his hands by the impact, but he somehow managed to swing it back up and fired both barrels at the goblin. The noise was deafening and Droc stumbled backwards, giving James a chance to remove his sword from its scabbard. He shouted to Alice to run, but she stood near the door, frozen in fear. “Run!”, he screamed above the roar of the goblin.

Droc was a terrifying sight with his armour blackened and peppered with shot and one side of his cheek torn and bleeding. He raised the huge sword and James knew he moments left to live. James swung low with his sword and slashed across the goblin’s leg as he rolled out of reach of the sword. Droc ignored the wound and swung downwards as James got to his feet. He blocked the swing, but it sent him reeling backwards across the room. The goblin stepped forward, trapping Alice at the doorway.

He began to swing the sword down on James but as James raised his sword, Droc kicked out and sent him sprawling against the wall. Alice tried to take out her gun from her pocket, but the goblin was too fast and pinned her hands together. He swung her around and onto his hip as if she was a child and walked over to James. He kicked him over onto his back and casually thrust his sword into his belly. Alice screamed. “scream all you like, hag! You will scream much more before this day is through. He carried her back into the portal room and threw her onto the chair before sheathing his sword. He flicked a switch and she was trapped in the chair by invisible cords. Numb with shock, she hardly felt the tingling of the energy that held her in place.

“I think I will let you watch your little brat die before I show you what this little toy can do to ungrateful hags, he said. He turned a dial and searing pain flowed through her whole body. She felt blood in her mouth were she had bitten her tongue. He turned the dial back down. “Ah!, I see I have your full attention”. He smiled, showing two huge canines. “I think you had better let her go!,- said a voice from the doorway, making him turn around. There stood Kiara, still in the form of a child, and leaning on a sword that reached up to her chin. To hear a goblin laughing is a terrible thing. His bellow echoed across the whole manor.

Kiara began to laugh too and before he realised it, Droc was laughing until there were tears in his eyes. He was still laughing when the flat of her sword crashed down on his helmet. He screamed out in rage and frustration as he fought to remove the battered metal pressing into his skull. The leather strap tore away and he flung the crushed helmet at her and charged forward swinging his sword. All thoughts of needing her alive had vanished from his mind in his fury. She vaulted the huge arc of his swing, but he carried on in a huge circle of flying steel like a scythe. By the time he had swung around in a full circle, she had turned and blocked. The swords met in a flash of sparks and a piercing screech as metal slid against metal. As he powered through her block, and her sword slid away, she again vaulted over the swing and struck him in the face with the handle of her sword as she leapt to the other side of the room.

He spat blood and shook his head to clear it. Kiara was leaning on her sword in front of the cabinet, and laughing as if it was a great game. His rage knew no bounds. He ran across the room and sliced down in an effort to cut the arrogant faerie in two and silence her maddening laughter.

At the last moment she sidestepped and his sword bit into the cabinet, sending a pulse of energy back though the sword that knocked him off his feet. She turned to face him, when Alice started to scream. As she looked at Alice a goblin came out of the portal and pinned her arms from behind.

Droc smiled as he ran her sword right through her. He looked totally bewildered as he stared at the goblin warrior skewered on his sword. Kiara had vanished and was at the portal. She struck another goblin with the flat of her sword as he came through,- sending him sprawling across the room. With a wave of her hand a huge sticky web grew across the opening to the portal.

Kiara turned to look at Droc as he drew his sword from the dead warrior. “Enough!”, she said. “Release the matron and I will allow you to return to your world”. As she stared at him, Droc felt all the fight and the fury drain away. How could one little girl thwart all his plans? He was thinking furiously as she spoke. In the portal chamber more troops were arriving and soon they would be crushed by their own numbers. He put his sword down. “Okay faerie, You win”, he said, and walked slowly over to the control panel. He turned the dial up to full and Alice started to scream as the chair tried to draw energy from her body. Kiara rushed over and as she drew near, the energy field from the chair arced towards her, and began drawing on her power. He knocked her to the ground with his fist and ran back to pick up his sword. The web disappeared and goblins started to flood into the room. Kiara jumped up and switched of the machine. It as all or nothing now, she decided, and manifested her warrior form. Before the eyes of the goblins, she grew to seven foot tall and long black braids of raven hair, tipped with razor sharp blades hung down the silver of her gleaming armour.

The sword she had used earlier, now looked like a child’s toy in her hands. She threw it at the goblin and drew a long curved katana that glowed with a dull red, almost the colour of drying blood. Her eyes glowed like large black pits filled with glowing embers. Instinctively, the goblins backed away.

Short Story: Kiara, Episode 11

August, 2016

Kiara4

 

Kiara: Episode 11

Moira returned to her tree with an uneasy mind., but the effects of being around her grand uncle Mandral quickly dissipated. Of those who fought alongside the Dwarf mercenaries, he had been chosen to stay on the home world to command the mercenaries. He could look to the council of elders for advice, but everything would be left for him to decide.

Faeries do not have leadership in the sense that most races do. They once had kings, before their magical power became so great that any form of leadership became impossible. The line of kings were still much respected though, as their magical powers were greater than any of the faeries, with the exception of a few of the elders. The faeries have used and misused magic for so many aeons that they are not always even recognisable as being of the same race. Some are tiny and some are tall and slim. Some are beautiful by human standards and some look like trees and orbs and butterflies. They chiefly recognise each other by their essence as they are shape-shifters par excellence. Those on the home world tend to drift along in a hedonistic way, doing whatever gives them pleasure. They avoid seriousness, or anything that might change their essence and make their idyllic life on the home world impossible to maintain.

They do not have a moral code as such, – they simply realise that the use of dark magic or taking a life, will change their essence and bring darkness and pain in place of pleasure and bliss.

Those who fought in the goblin wars knew that they were sacrificing much to protect their race. Having lost their purity, they spread across the worlds and created new clans. Although they still tried to live their lifestyle of pleasure and abandon, – their essence was now much darker. They tended to avoid contact with all except their own clan, and had warlike tendencies which were never manifested in their ancestors. The faeries are a forgetful race, but there were many who had served with Mandral and would return to defend their home world when needed.

Moira manifested a soft couch and began her search for Kiara. It was always harder to search among the out-world clans. She knew that Kiara had to be descended from one of the royal lines who fought in some past conflict that was lost in time. She remembered what had happened to the goblins in the forest, and realised that the ugly little toad had possibly bitten off much more than even his sharp teeth could chew. A warrior princess in full battle fury could single-handedly decimate an entire battalion of goblins. Unfortunately, she doubted that Kiara really knew who she was. If she could her her and bring her back to her uncle, she was sure that they could foil whatever plans the horrible little goblin had to bring chaos to their home world.

Moira closed her eyes and allowed her mind to expand and drift. She found the guardian of the forest, but she was back in her nest and awaiting a new Guardian tree to be prepared for her.

She found the forest, but could not bring herself to materialise there. The energy of the place made her feel sick and dizzy. She would have to get help to cleanse it later, or wait until the elementals had transmuted the negative energy back into life force.

Finally, she drifted into dream and searched for Kiara there. Faeries find dreams easier to navigate than most beings do, because of their naturally whimsical nature. Still, it took quite a while to penetrate Kiara’s fevered nightmares. With the forest out of bounds, she led Kiara’s etheric body to the safety of her bedroom and, taking the daisy from Kiara’s dressing gown pocket, she pressed it into her hand. While Kiara’s mind was beginning to clear and focus, Moira healed her wound.

When she had the full attention of the princess, Moira told her to keep the daisy safe as it would guide her to the home world when needed. She explained about the work the doctor had done to create bodies beyond the protective shield that kept them imprisoned on their planet of origin. She also told her of the raids on the home-world of the Fae and their suspicions about his plans to invade it. Moira spoke slowly and carefully, watching the princess to try to gauge her reaction.

“Milady”, she said, “We have great need of your help in the homeland of the Fae. I know we ask much of you, but we need you to destroy the goblin’s machines and then come to us to help us deal with his armies”. She paused for a moment to allow Kiara to take everything in. Kiara did not answer for a while. She knew what was being asked of her. Her own clan had lived by the old ways for countless thousands of years and their light had again grown bright. However, she felt little remorse for destroying the goblins, even before she knew they were only constructs. Perhaps it was her fate to do this. Maybe that was why she had somehow been trapped in this child’s body and not through her own stupidity after all.

“Very well!”, she said at last. “I will see if my powers have returned and if I can destroy these machines”. “Go and rest Milady”, said Moira, and when you awaken and have tested your powers, call me to you and I will help all I can”. Moira faded away and Kiara drifted into a deep sleep as her fever broke and the wound rapidly healed.

Short Story: Kiara, Episode 10

June, 2016

Kiara

 

 

 

Kiara Episode: 10

Perhaps because their two hearts were now linked by love, as Kiara slipped into fever, so did Jeremiah. Although miles apart, even in their fevered dreams they sought each other out. For days they both wandered lost, through the nightmare world of fever that some call the land of the dead.

Jeremiah was to remember later, that he had seen her. There was an image in his head of her reaching out to him. He could see her pale hands almost touching him before she was swept away like leaves in the wind. He heard her call out that she would find him. He awoke to see his mother sitting by his bed. “Sarah, Sarah! Go fetch the doctor quickly!”, she said.

The doctor looked serious but spoke kindly. After a whispered conversation with his mother, the doctor came back and gave him a sad smile, then rubbed his head and left without a word.

At first his mother told him nothing, only that he must stay in bed and rest. It was only when he was stronger that she told him that he had caught a disease called polio She said he was very lucky as only one leg had been affected and he would still be able to walk. She explained that he would have to go to a special clinic and have a metal splint fitted to his leg. When he asked if it would cure it, she hugged him and said that he must be brave. She told him that while he was in a fever, his father had gone to war, and that he was the man of the house now and must be strong. She explained that she needed him back on his feet and helping her to run the bakery until the war was over and his father came home. He realised that he would never be a soldier after all, but he did not cry. Even with one leg he could still be the best baker in town.

******

Much had happened while Kiara slept. After cleaning her wound and applying the poultice, Matron left her to Maria’s care. She sent for the cook and told her to help Maria in every way she could. “Martha! I understand that you have many duties in the kitchen, but I wish you to make a fresh poultice every two hours and help Maria to change the bandages”, she said to the cook when she arrived. Martha almost gave matron her most withering look, then seeing how tired and strained she looked, simply said “Yes Ma’am”. When Matron returned an hour later with the bag of coins, Martha was glad that she had held her tongue. Matron then went to every servant and gave each of them a bag of coins. She asked that they would stay with her for as long as she needed them, but that they were free to leave at the end of the month, – if that was what they wished. She told them very little except that the home might close suddenly and she wished to pay them in advance so that they were well compensated for all their hard work. On finding several years’ wages in their hands, they all agreed to stay for as long as she needed them. She decided that perhaps the same approach might be best with James as she wished to treat him no less generously than the servants. He had become the one person in whom she totally relied, and she did not wish to lose him. Still he deserved no less an option than the others, although she would feel very much safer with him by her side.

That first evening after the fire, a very subdued and well-scrubbed James came to her quarters at seven o’ clock. As he knocked at the door he wondered if he still stank of death and ashes.

Matron seemed nervous and vulnerable as she led him to the sofa and bid him to sit down.

There were two brandies on the coffee table and a large bag. She handed him a brandy and sat beside him. He felt uncomfortable to have her so close. He was afraid that he would forget who he was and reach out to touch her face, that beautiful, ageless face that was now lined with worry and stress. He looked pointedly at the coffee table. Mistaking his intentions, she said, “That bag is yours, James. Pick it up!”. “I do not want it madam”, he said, still staring at the table. “There is a lot of gold in that bag, James. You are now a very rich man. “I do not want it Madam”, he repeated. He felt crushed. She was paying him off after all his years of service. Did she not trust him to stay silent? “I paid off all the servants when you were in the woods. They will stay until I decide what to do. It was only fair to make the same offer to you. To be honest, I am praying that you will stay as I have need of a strong friend at this moment”. She touched his hand and he turned to her with tears in his eyes. His look told her everything. She squeezed his hand, – almost breathless in her relief. “Well you best start calling me Alice then, for we are about to embark on a very dangerous adventure.

Over dinner she explained the dangerous situation they were in. She told him about Kiara, and the doctors real identity. also she explained her doubts of the goblin staying dead, and his incredible speed and strength. They considered the possibility that the strange machines they had seen in his part of the house might be the key to making sure that he did not return. Alice was determined to stay and fight it out if they could. She had spent forty years in the manor and to her it was her home. James showed her the pistol he had always carried in a shoulder holster and swore to protect her.

That night, she took Annabelle into her room with her. James gave the gardener a shotgun and left him to protect the infirmary, while he spent the night dozing on a chair outside her room with a shotgun, loaded and broken, open on his knee.

*****

Droc awoke from his healing much sooner than any other goblin could have, – especially after the treacherous attack by that ungrateful hag. She had killed him instantly, totally destroying his bio-energy body in a single crushing blow to his head. Fortunately, the Cradle had immediately begun to repair the trauma to his own body caused by the reverberations through the morphic resonance field. It was the discovery of the Morphic Resonance Field that had allowed him to fight his way up to become Arch Deacon. It was a sharp blade across the throat of his predecessor in middle of the rest period that made him king. The Cradle tuned itself to him through the morphic resonance field and allowed him to return automatically from the body which it had constructed on the other side of the Etheric Barrier.

He tore himself impatiently, from the web of energy which held him down, leaving his face only partially healed. Strips of flesh hung down from where the left side of his face was not yet reconstructed. Even by goblin standards he was never handsome, but with his jagged teeth bared and his face twisted in anger and the torn flesh on his cheeks, – he was a terrifying sight. “Cursed women! Damned faeries! They will pay for this!”

From the next cell in the warren, the clerics rushed in, “Sire! Sire! You are not yet healed!”. He eyed them evilly, – looking for a victim. They all looked down at the rough stone floor in terror. “I built this machine! he screamed. “I drained the faery magic to power it!- his voice was almost a screech. “I am your king and your Archdeacon and I opened a doorway from this barren planet in which we were imprisoned! “And I will break that hag into small pieces with my bare hands.”

He calmed a little, “I ended 1000 years of futility and frustration, and before this stinking hell hole in which we are trapped has passed one more year, – we will feast on faery flesh. We will tear down their ancient trees and kill their guardians and when we have destroyed the web around this planet, – the universes will be ours to take”.

He calmed himself. He turned to his Deacon, – “Tarag!, how soon before the cradle is ready again?,- I must return!. I have found a princess of the faeries. With her energy transferred to my machines on earth, we can move battalions through the web, and crush the faeries before they can even assemble”.

Tarag looked at him in panic. “How long?”, Droc asked again. There was an edge in his voice. “Seven sunsets, sire”,- he was shaking as he spoke. Before he could blink, Droc had grabbed him by the throat and had broken him like a twig.

Droc looked around at the quaking clerics. His eyes settled on Hrirc. Hrirc looked much less scared than the rest of the treacherous back-stabbers. “Hrirc, come here!”. Hrirc calmly walked over to his King. “You are my new Deacon,- How long will it take you to prepare a new body?”. “Four sunsets sire, – to ensure that your new body is far superior to the one prepared by the traitor Tarag!” Droc looked at him, pondering. “A clever one, – this one”, he thought, “After our victory I will kill him myself”. Out loud, he said, “Very well, Deacon Hrirc, you have four sunsets”. Droc strode out of the room and up to his own quarters at the very top of the mountain. It looked like a giant termite colony carved out of solid rock. He went to the opening that was carved into the wall of his cell and gazed out over the rocky valley below. It was devoid of all life and a black sluggish river ran down from the hill. It was covered in oil slicks which glittered like pools of gold, and glowed in rainbow colours from the evening sun.

For anyone, apart from a troll or goblin, it would be a depressing sight. But in his mind’s eye, Droc could see it filled with thousands of faery slaves, all chained and broken. He sighed with impatient expectation, “Four days and he would return to collect his princess and his revenge. He remembered the chattering child called Annabelle. The hag seemed fond of her. Her would kill her first, then the hag. Then he would suck the magic from the princess with his latest toy, and bring her empty husk back to be his puppet queen. His pleasant musings had given him an appetite. He walked over to a blow tube coming from the wall and removed the cover from the end of it. “Bring me a changeling!”, he bellowed down the pipe. He smiled to himself in anticipation, showing a row of razor sharp teeth.

Short Story: Kiara, Episode 9

April, 2016

Kiara4

 

Kiara, Episode 9

Annabelle appeared as Matron was having breakfast. Matron rang down for another serving for her adopted daughter, despite her protests about not being hungry. Matron had never been a soft person, but the noisy child with a head full of butterflies had somehow found a caring place in her heart, that even she had never known existed. The child’s arrival, – and the callous instructions to dispose of her, had begun the rift between the matron and the goblin which had led to the events of last night. Matron smiled as the child chattered away gaily. She was obviously totally unaware of the events of last night and her presence created an illusion of normality that matron desperately needed just at that moment.

After breakfast, she sat on the sofa and bid Annabelle to join her. She put her arm around the child and hugged her to her, unsure of how much to tell her about the dangers of their new situation.

The child spoke first. “What’s wrong mama?” Matron looked at her worried face and spoke softly and slowly, “Kiara will not be able to play with you for a few days”. She caught the child as she tried to launch herself off the sofa. “Stay! There is more that I must tell you”. The child settled back in the seat. “There have been intruders in the woods and you must stay in the house until I say otherwise”. “Okay mama!, – may I go and see Kiara?”. “Not just yet. You may see her later when she is awake” I want you to go and pack a case with travel clothes and put a warm coat and your winter boots where you can grab them easily. Tell no one!” Matron went to a drawer and measured out a handful of gold coins into a small pouch, – followed by some silver ones. She wrote a name and address on a piece of paper, blotted it and folded it into the pouch. “Put this in the bottom of your case, I pray that you will never need it. Put only what you really need into the case, you may have to carry it yourself, do you understand?” Annabelle nodded, although she did not really understand. For the first time in her life, the child was quiet as she hugged matron and went off to do as she was asked.

Matron packed a small case and placed the handgun and a bag of gold coins into it. She put it in the bottom of the wardrobe before going to check on Kiara.

The child was hot and feverish when matron returned to the infirmary. She put on a fresh white coat and washed her hands thoroughly before checking the girls wound. The skin around the puncture was red and inflamed, and she could see swelling already beginning to form. “Maria!. Go to cook and tell her to make me a sugar and soap poultice. Bring it back as soon as it is ready”. She cleaned the wound with surgical alcohol.. The child was delirious and totally unaware of her actions as she muttered away in a strange tongue. Matron place a fresh bandage over the wound and cooled her forehead with a damp cloth as she waited for Maria to return with the poultice.

Moira had felt nothing more than a sudden shock as the goblin arrows had peppered her human body and somehow thrown her into the guardian tree. It was a few moments before she realised what had happened. She was caught in the web of the guardian’s energy and watched in horror as Kiara fell to the ground when the arrow had pierced her. She felt the sudden blast of power as goblins began to burst into flames, but that was all she knew of the goblin attack. She felt herself somehow stretched as the guardian drew her up through the tree and transported her back to her own world.

Such was her delight to be back in the primeval forests of her home-world that she forgot all about Kiara and the goblins for a while, as she slowly drew all her energies back together and healed.

Eventually, she remembered and decided it would be best to contact the elders and she focused on the image of Mandral, her own family head. He accepted her touch and in a moment, she was standing before him beneath the giant ancestor tree. Although well in excess of a thousand years old, his long braided hair was still jet black. Tall and muscular, he was again wearing the fabled sword that they called the Reaper. She had only ever seen it mounted in the Hall of Tears before this day, and she realised that things must be serious. Although he had been less affected than many who had fought in the last goblin war, He exuded an uncomfortable nervous energy, as dark as his penetrating black eyes. Many who had fought in the war had become insane and taken their own lives after the realms were again safe. Others had travelled to many worlds and settled on uninhabited planets or in underground cities, far away from prying eyes. It was said that when the ancient lust for blood overtook the Fae, they became fearless, implacable, whirlwinds of death. Moving with lightning speed and incredible strength they killed all around them without pause or pity until there were none left to slay. Some even took their own lives when there where no others left to take.

He listened patiently to her report and thanked her. He explained that the elders were having problems of their own as goblin raiding parties were breaking through the barriers and into their realm with disturbing frequency. Already there were battalions of Dwarf mercenaries being assembled to cover the possibility of a major breakthrough. Neither was Mandral comforted by the apparent death of the goblin prince at the hands of his human helper. The destruction of his bio-energy body on earth would cause him only minor trauma and possibly delay his plans slightly. They needed to know more about the magic that he had harnessed which was allowing him to enter their world. He instructed Moira to try to contact Kiera and find out what was happening. Whatever strange machines he had constructed on earth needed to be destroyed as soon as possible.

War was looming over them. Whether by invasion, – or by retaliation by the Fae for the raids, mattered little. Mandral had little stomach for yet another war, but there were worse things to worry about. Already some of the elders were speaking of using the Dark Magic to totally destroy the goblins. It was true that the Fae had the ability to totally destroy the goblins without needing to resort to crude combat. But, in doing so, they would change the gentle, loving nature of their people for many generations to come, if not forever. In destroying the goblins, they would become the very thing that they were fighting against, and also destroy everything that made their world a place of joy and contentment.

Red Riding Hood

December, 2008

Once upon a time, I was hunting sheep.  It was a dark and stormy night!  Okay, actually it was a very nice sunny summer day.  It is just that bad things aren’t supposed to happen on very nice sunny summer days.  That is the way it should be anyway.  On the particular pleasant day of which I’m speaking I was having myself a sheep lunch.  It was so yummy!  Even after all it cost me I still remember that succulent meat with fondness.  Well fed and well cared for animals taste much better than those who are not.

For the past week or so before I had the heavenly lunch that turned my life up-side-down, I’d only been able to find underfed rabbits to fill my belly.  One of the main laws of hunting is that the prey must be as well fed as the predator if the meal is to be healthy and satisfying.  By the time I came upon the small flock of sheep I was more than ready for some decent food. They were grazing on a little hill with no one watching them.  The kill promised to be so easy.  There were no sheep dogs to bark and alert anyone that there was danger.  There were no young men with hooked sticks to attempt to drive me away from my feast.  Of course when I approached, the flock scattered like the frightened sheep they were.  My heart raced with excitement, for these sheep were also deliciously fat.  My eagerly open mouth dripped with hunger driven drewel as I leapt upon the nearest one.  My jaws eagerly snapped at the struggling creature’s throat to still its thrashing so that my dining could commence.

The poor thing died fast enough, kindly allowing me to have my meal in peace.  Did I say yet how good it was?  Oh it was so good…So very bloody yummy!  I ate and ate, stuffing myself until I could hardly move.  When I at last turned away from my kill, there was nothing left of it but a pile of hide and bones.  Running my tongue over my blood reddened chops, I gave a belch of the purest satisfaction.  So heavy and fully sated was I with my kill that I’d have taken a nap then and there if I didn’t fear remaining too long in the territory of men. Not until I rose to depart did I see the old witch.  She was almost on top of me!  I didn’t understand how I’d missed seeing her before.  Perhaps I’d been too engrossed in my kill, but I should’ve at least smelled her scent on the wind or heard her footsteps nearing my feeding ground.

Before I could even think of fleeing, she’d knelt down and placed her hand right on my head!  I opened my mouth to snarl, but no sound came out.  I tried turning to take a chunk out of her thin shriveled arm, but I was unable to move!  It was then that I realized that she was a witch.  She must have used her magic to mask her scent and the sound of her approach.  So she was not only a witch.  She was a very strong witch.  I tried once more to sink my teeth into her arm, but nothing had changed.  I still could not move.  It was almost as if I was frozen in place.  I could open and shut my mouth, but not turn my head.  I could move my eyes, but not very far for it was hard to look away from her ugly ancient face.  Like all old witches, she had a long pointed wart covered nose along with an equally long and sagging chin to match.  Her matted hair scraggled about her shoulders, and seemed to twitch in the wind with a life of its own.  To my mind, she was the ugliest witch there was.

As I was held immobile, she stared coldly into my yellow eyes with her nearsighted green ones.

“I have laid a spell on you so that you are able to understand my words, wolf.”

Her voice was raspy and put me in mind of a frog.

“I wish for you to fully comprehend the curse I’m about to place upon you, after all.”

It had worked!  I could understand her!  That was scary!   If I’d not been bound by her magic, I’d have jumped into the air from the startlement of the experience. I’d never understood the words of humans before.  The few times that I’d come close enough to hear them at all, I’d only gleaned meaning from the tones in which they spoke.  Now I was understanding the old witch as clearly as I’d understand a fellow wolf.  I didn’t like it.  It just felt wrong.  There was no time to think on that for long, though, for she spoke on.

“You have dared to fill your greedy belly on the flock of a witch, foolish wolf!  For that your hunger will only be fully satisfied when you feast upon human flesh.  If you do not, no other meat shall satisfy you.  And to make matters worse, if you do not kill a human at least once a month, you shall starve to death in a matter of hours.  Your body will not recognize anything you put into it as being food unless you have dined on human flesh monthly.”

My eyes widened in horror.  That was dangerous!  A wolf would only do such a thing in times of dire starvation if at all.  Men had tricky ways of killing wolves that another beast would not.

The old hag had not missed my change of expression.  It made her cackle with delight.

“I enjoy killing humans, you see.  Each human death that I cause adds to my power.  As you have offended me, I find it only fitting for you to be an instrument of my will in this matter.  It is the least you owe me, do you not think?”

Was she insane?  It had only been one lousy sheep!  I tried to whine my displeasure, but to my horror words came from my mouth instead.

“I don’t want to!”

Somehow the words still came out in the tone of a plaintive whine which did gratify me somewhat.

She laughed.  The sound was harsh yet high at the same time.  It grated on my sensitive ears causing them to twitch.

“That is just too bad, for you’ve no choice!”

As she spoke those words, she gave me a hard smack on the head.  Oh how I wanted to tear her arm off then and there!  As I still could not move, that wasn’t happening, though.  While she spoke on, I could only listen.

“Don’t you want to hear the rest of the curse,” she asked sweetly.

Her voice was so awful that the new sugary tone only made it sound even more scary.  I had no idea what to answer to that question, so luckily, she left me no time to do so.

“You shall only be able to hunt humans who are alone.  There can be no other human near by.  That will likely keep you safe from being killed so long as you’re not stupid enough to attempt to take down a hunter.  You do know what a hunter is do you not?”

She tilted her head to the side to peer demandingly down into my face.

I didn’t answer which only won me another hard smack to the head.  It was then that I decided that answering her right away was the best course of action.  It wasn’t as if I’d ever be able to kill her after all.

“Yes,” I growled out angrily.

“Hunters carry things with them that they use to kill animals.”

“That is right,” she crooned.

Her sweet tone was really making me sick.  I would not throw up the sheep I’d so recently dined upon, however.  I’d paid for that sheep after all.   My belly was going to keep it.

“Is that all,” I demanded.

“I do think so,” she said thoughtfully.

“Unless you want some more, that is.”

Her mad shriek of laughter made me shiver from head to toe.  I most certainly did not want anymore cursing.

“No,” I told her quickly.

“I think I’ve got all I can stand, thanks.”

Then as another thought struck me, I dared to speak again.

“Why have you given me the power to speak the tongue of humans?”

“You are able to speak because I’ve linked you to myself magically,” she told me smugly.

“I normally would not consider making a lowly wolf my pet, but as you’ve gone and offended me, the honor is yours.”

After another rough smack on my head, she stood abruptly.
”You are free to go now.  After each kill, you shall be magically compelled to return here so that I may accept the power you’ve gained for me.”

accept?  I was astonished at her choice of words.  It wasn’t like I was giving her a gift because I wanted her to have it!  If she’d been a normal witch rather than the most evil one in the entire world, I may have been able to make amends for eating her sheep.  From what little I knew in listening to the forest gossip of other animals, most witches had cats.  Cats tended to bring their human masters gifts of dead rats or mice.  If I’d eaten one of the sheep of an ordinary witch, I could’ve perhaps apologized by bringing her a whole bunch of dead rodents.  That would never work with my witch, though.  She’d likely never had a cat in her life.  If she had, she’d probably killed it.

As these thoughts were flitting through my mind, the evil hag was walking away.  I found then that I could move once more.  Springing to my feet, I dashed away faster than I’d ever run before.  I didn’t stop until I was quite far away.  My sides were heaving with the effort of my exertions, and my full belly hurt.  Flopping down on a bed of thick moss under a tall oak, I set to work at once feeling quite sorry for myself.  What had I ever done to deserve this, I wondered dismally.  So I’d eaten a sheep.  So what.  A wolf had to eat, didn’t he?  Somehow and in spite of my worry and fear, I managed to fall asleep.  My belly was stuffed, after all.  Not to mention I’d just run a long way quite fast.

When I woke, the sun had set and evening had fallen over the forest.  For a moment, I just lay there on the moss wondering why I felt so very depressed and dejected.  Then it all came back to me.  Looking up through the canopy of branches overhead, my eyes sought the moon.  It had not risen yet, but I let out a mournful howl anyway.  That one felt so good that I did it again and again.  I cried out my pain to the sky until my throat was raw.  That witch had me trapped quite soundly, and I knew it.

When I finally dragged myself from the bed of moss, it was to wander about the forest in search of other animals.  Anyone who knew a bit about witches or magic would do.  I was not generally the social type except with other wolves, but that night I even spoke to field mice!  None of them knew much of witches or magic, though.  Nor did the badgers, snakes, or owls.  The lack of knowledge from the owls surprised me the most, for weren’t they supposed to be wise?

I even tried to question a rabbit, but it ran away before I was able to form a proper greeting.  Sure I usually ate rabbits, but this time I’d only wanted to talk.  Rather than lose the rest of the dignity I had left, I let it escape.  I found a fruit bat to chat with instead.  I need not have bothered, for the silly thing knew nothing.

I was about to give up when a voice from behind me, along with a crackling of the underbrush caused me to start.

“Is it witches you’re wanting to know of?”

The fox was standing just behind me, his sharp face pointing up at the moon who had only then made up her mind to rise.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Do you know of them?”

The fox nodded wisely.  We stood there in silence for several minutes after that.  I was waiting for him to go on, and wondering why he’d not done so.

“Well,” he asked impatiently when he at last spoke.

“Well what,” I demanded.

I was tired and grumpy.  If this fox had some information for me, all I wanted was for him to be out with it.  That didn’t seem like too much to ask after the day I’d had.

“Well what did you want to know about witches and magic,” he asked peevishly.

His tone made me give a silent snarl of annoyance.

“I want to know what a witch can do to an animal with her magic.”

“Ah!”

He licked his whiskers slowly.

“So you’ve gone and gotten the attention of one of the witches what lives round these parts!  My, my.  What a mess.”

“Just answer my question,” I growled.

He stared at me in shock as if I’d offended him.  I let out a heavy sigh of pure exasperation.

“Please?”

The red fox waved his bushy tale in the air and gave me a sly grin.

“Good.  That was all I wanted.  A fox does have a right to a bit of politeness, after all.  Just because you are a big bad wolf doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be nice when seeking information.  So what has the witch done to you?”

I told him my story of woe.  He listened intently without interrupting.  When I’d finished, he stared off thoughtfully into space for a bit before speaking.

“Sounds like you’re in a bit of a bind, my friend.  All I know of witches only affirms that.  I shall still share it with you nonetheless as you did request it of me.  Witches can even do more than what you’ve just spoken of.  They can go so far as to turn a person into an animal, or an animal into a person.  They can turn an animal or person to stone as well, or even into some silly human object that they can use for mundane chores.  So what I’m saying is that you’re lucky to have gotten away with your natural form.”

“And that is only so I can kill people for her,” I howled in dismay.

“It would seem so,” the fox agreed regretfully.

I thanked him then, and slunk away among the trees.  There was nothing else to say on the matter, after all.  I was done for.

I spent the next month trying to work up the nerve to look for a human to kill for the wicked witch.  I just couldn’t make myself do it no matter how hard I tried.  From time to time a traveler would pass by my den, and I’d consider attempting my first human kill.  I’d poke my head out, and sniff the air.  The smell of human would hit my nose, but rather than wetting my apatite, it would cause me to begin shaking with fear.  The humans were always on horses, so would be difficult to catch anyway, I told myself.  That was why I’d not bothered.  It had nothing to do with the fact that they may have something sharp with which to kill me.

On the last day of the month, I noticed that I was beginning to feel weak.  I’d killed no human, after all.  The witch had promised that ordinary meat would no longer sustain me if I did not do so.  I did not want to die!  This was the most unfair thing that could ever happen to any wolf!  It was then that my upset and cowed terror turned to rage.  I had not done anything to deserve this.  If the witch wanted someone to die, someone would die!  Someone would die who lived all alone in the forest.  Her curse had stated quite clearly that my victim had to be alone.  As my desperate plan began to form, I felt my mouth spreading into a slow wolfish grin.  I would not be bound by her curse if she no longer lived.

Before that last day, it had never occurred to me that I could kill the very one who caused my torment.  The witch had made me so afraid that I’d never once even considered that I could perhaps best her.  The thought was extremely liberating!  I would trap her with the words of her own curse!  I felt as if I were walking on air as I headed through the forest.  The witch’s cottage lay on the edge of it above the hill where her dratted sheep grazed.  Those sheep were the root of all my troubles, so I ignored them as I passed by.

When I reached the little wooden door of the witch’s cottage, I raked it with my claws to let her know that I’d arrived.  Though I was happy I’d formed at least some sort of plan to attempt to save myself from her clutches I was still afraid.  She did have magic, after all.  What if she could use it to read my mind.  If so, she’d know just what I was up to.  I had to try, though.  There was nothing else for it.  No wolf was meant to be a slave to a human.  Not even a witch.

Against all my instincts of rage and terror, I forced myself to remain calm when she opened the door.

“Well,” she demanded.

“What do you have for me?”

She reached down and gave my ear a sharp tug.

“Get in here, then.”

I knew that I had to act before I lost my nerve or before she placed another paralyzing spell upon me.  With a snarl of rage I sprang.  The momentum toppled her back onto the wooden floor just inside the cottage.  She was surprised!  She’d not expected me to be smart enough to fight back.  Somehow that knowledge only served to feed my anger.  I tore out her throat in a matter of  seconds.  Before I could stop myself, I’d eaten the old hag right up.  The curse she’d placed on me had ensured that I’d be craving human flesh, after all.  I didn’t really like the taste of it, dry and tough as it was.  That being said, I did  not plan to dine on it ever again.

As soon as I was done, I backed away from the spot where she’d lain.  It was over!  I’d won!  If I’d had my way I’d have run away then and there.  Yes I could’ve feasted on sheep, or taken a rest on the soft wool rug that lay neatly in front of the hearth, but I just wanted out of there.  My whole body was shaking like a leaf from the stress of it all, though, and I couldn’t go more than a few steps without stumbling to a stop.  I’d almost made it to the door when the smell of an approaching female human brought me up short.  My nose told me quite clearly that she was headed directly in the direction of the witch’s cottage.  Growling with frustration, I backed inside, pushing the door shut with my muzzle.  Who ever the female was, she’d surely leave when the old witch did not seem to be at home.  Then I’d be free to go on my way.  The smell of human became stronger as the sound of small feet grew near.  When the loud bang came on the door, I nearly jumped out of my skin.

“Grandmother!  It is me.  I’ve come to visit you!  I’ve got a basket of goodies that I know shall make you feel better!”

I did not move.  After a few moments, she banged on the door again, harder this time.

“Grandmother!  I know you’re feeling sickly, but that is why I’ve come to take care of you.  Please let me in.”

What if she just pushed open the door?  She’d find me and there would be all sorts of trouble.  An idea came to me, I’m sure out of pure desperation.  As I’d been given the power of human words, I may as well use them for my benefit, I thought.

Trying my best to sound like thee old witch I said, “Go away!”

“Grandmother!  It is Red Riding Hood!  Let me in or I’ll open the door myself.  I’m worried about you!”

It was panic that caused me to dawn the old cloth garment that I’d torn from the witch’s body before eating her up. Then I scrambled up onto the large bed that stood in the corner of the room.  If the girl was going to come in, perhaps she’d just leave her goodies and get out if I pretended to be the old witch.  What were goodies, anyway, I wondered as I hid myself as best I could under the long heavy bits of cloth that covered the soft bed.  Under them, my wolf’s body was not as visible.  Before I could bade the Red Riding Hood to come in, she opened the door firmly and came inside.

She was a girl, just out of childhood from what I could tell.

“Oh Grandmother,” she cried.

“You look awful!”

“I am just sick, child,” I said.

“You can leave the goodies and go home so that you do not become sick as well.”

I really wanted her to get out.  It was hard to make my voice sound as frog like as the old witch’s had.  If the girl did not believe me, I may have to kill her.  I’d had enough killing and upset for one day so really did not want to do that if I didn’t have to.

Her next words changed my mind on that, however.

“Oh Grandmother!  Did you take too many lives at once again?  How many times have I told you about that?  We witches have to take it slow at your age.”

So she was a witch as well!  I should’ve known!  I made myself sigh.

“You are right, of course!  Come closer, Child.  My old eyes can hardly see you.”

I’d kill her just like I’d killed her grandmother, I vowed.  Only I’d not eat the girl.  There was no reason to put food into my belly that tasted as bad as the meat of humans did.  She came closer, but not close enough for me to spring.  I would not risk an attack unless I was sure that I could pull it off in one jump.  If she had time to use her magic, I was done for, and I knew it.

“Grandmother!  What big eyes you have.”

I smiled.  How I did hate evil witches!  It would be good to rid the world of yet another one.

“The better to see you with, my dear.”

She came yet another step closer.

“And Grandmother!  What big ears you have!”

My smile grew wider.

“Oh the better to hear your sweet voice, my dear child!”

She came two steps closer.  Those two steps brought her right up to the bed and just within my reach.

In that moment, my nose distracted me.  It told me that someone else was coming.  Why did they all have to come at once?  I just wanted to get out of  there, but people kept showing up!

“Grandmother!  What big teeth you have!  What ever did you do to yourself this time?”

The young witch’s eyes were now wide with fear.  I was glad of it.  She should be afraid.  After all, she’d surely made enough of her own kind very afraid before taking their lives.

“All the better to eat you with  my dear child,” I howled.  By that time it was no longer important to me to pretend to sound like the  froggish old witch.  I leapt at the girl who called herself Red Riding Hood just as the door to the small cottage burst open.  I tore open her throat as a shadow fell over the bed.  It seemed there would be no time for me to get away, I thought tiredly.  As soon as I was sure that the girl witch was dead, I turned to face a man whose heavy sharp killing instrument was coming right for me!  I did not have time to move.  The blow came, and the pain was the last thing I knew.

When I woke, the sharp pointed face of the red fox who had told  me what he knew of witches was the first thing I saw.  The first thing I felt was a painful tugging at the skin of my belly.

“Why did you go and eat her,” the fox demanded.

Before my groggy mind could form an answer, he was speaking once more.

“My friend had to knock you out so he could split your belly open and get her out of you.  If not, you’d never have gotten rid of the curse.”

The knowledge that my belly had just been split open cleared my head quite quickly.

“What,” I yelped.

“Why?”

The fox shook his head and sighed.

“What ever got into you to make you eat the witch?”

As usual, he did not give me time to answer before going on.  I wished he’d stop asking questions if he did not wish to know the answers.

“That brilliant idea just ensured that the curse would never be broken.  You’d taken her magic into yourself, you see.  To be rid of a curse or dark spell, you must be fully rid of the magic that caused it.  When the witch dies, that problem is usually solved for anyone who was so cursed.  That is, of course, as long as the silly fool doesn’t decide to eat her.  Your doing so just kept her magic within you.  Therefore the spell could not be broken.”

I took a moment to process all that before speaking.

“So I’m free now?”

The fox nodded gravely.

“Thanks to my wizard friend there.”

He nodded in the direction of my belly.

“Don’t look now,” he advised dryly.

“He’s still stitching you up.”

“How,” I asked dumbly.

“With something called a needle.”

I gave an exasperated sigh.

“No!  How did you know I’d need help?”

“I have dreams in which I’m shown things that shall be,” the fox said mysteriously.

“And the man wizard,” I asked.

The fox shook his head.

“He doesn’t have dreams.  He needs me to tell him what is going to happen.”

The smug tone in which he spoke made me sigh and roll my eyes.  My belly hurt a bit, and I didn’t have the strength to try to fully understand what he was saying.  Dreams that told of what was to come sounded much too strange for me to get my tired mind around just then.

“You know…”

The fox’s thoughtful stare filled me with apprehension.

“What,” I growled.

I didn’t at all like the thoughtful way he was looking at me.  I’d had about enough for one day.

He snickered.

“It is only that you look quite silly in that old witch’s night-dress!”