So the Story goes...
Humming quietly to herself, Glynis stirs the mixture in the large black pot. She feels proud that she now knows this recipe by heart and no longer has to refer to the large book of spells which sits on a nearby stool.
Small bubbles begin to form on the surface of the mixture—soon it will boil. Now … remember … ”the mixture must boil for 5 minutes, no more and no less”.
She wasn’t sure why the directions were so precise … apparently understanding would grow in time. She pondered whether it was the element of discipline involved which added a particular flavour to the spell. After all, the intention of the heart was important and the difference between a great spell and just a mediocre one. She hoped to be a master one day and revered for the purity and efficacy of her mixtures.
“Quiet now,” she chided herself. “Pride won’t help this spell any.”
Five minutes. She has her own way of marking time though at first it had not been so easy. The moment the mixture was boiling she began to sing. She sang the whole song through twice and then pulled the pot from the fire to leave it to cool. Next it would go in the jars that stood waiting on the bench like a line of willing soldiers and then it must sit till spring.
Daylight is beginning to fade and she remembers she still has no sage.
The orchard is particularly beautiful this time of day she thinks. Late afternoon. Once, there was a path of stones leading down to the garden where sage and other herbs grow in abundance, but now the path is long overgrown.
A Silver Jute alights on a branch ahead of her.
“Hello!” Glynis says, happy to see the bird.
The Jute opens its beak and with a thrusting motion propels a berry which flies through the air and lands at the girl’s feet.
“Thank you”, she says and a feeling of warm gratitude fills her heart as she picks up the berry and puts it in her basket.
The Jute nods his head in acknowledgment and with a loud cry spreads his wings and flies off over the trees of the orchard.
The Snoot was looking with a malicious eye at the line of tasty looking spell jars.
Its liquid fur aglow, he had just appeared from the Rand Holm, hanging by a thread of welcoming vine lazily slithering over Glynis’ window.
The Snoot was attracted by magic like a glukenitch to damp darkness, and it would once ingested, often turn his fur all sorts of dazzling colours —a well known mating ritual for the little creature.
Sadly, people misunderstood the Snoot most, and he was anima non grata in magical lands, people blaming it for all sorts of mishaps and unusual events. He didn’t know that Glynis was good-natured and well disposed towards all sorts of lifeforms, so he was waiting in hiding, using the birds as a cover.
When Eleri’s little dog started coughing and wheezing again her first reaction was to snap at him. Irritating though it inevitably was, once again she realized she’d been holding her breath somehow, or probably more accurately, holding her energy. Or holding everyone elses, like a brick layers hod carrier, weighed down with blocks from other peoples walls.
“It’s too hot in here, come outside,” she said to the scruffy mongrel. The cozy warmth of the wood stoves had become stifling. She slipped through the door into the cool night.
Breathe, she said to herself, momentarily forgetting the gasping dog. Her hunched shoulders descended jerkily as she inhaled the sodden air, wondering about ozone or ions, what was it people said about the air after the rain? Whatever it was, it was good for something, good for the heart and soul of mortal humans.
Feeling better with every breath, Eleri noticed the olive branches rustling wetly overhead. The olive tree had been planted too close to the fig tree ~ wasn’t that always the way, forgetting how large things grow when one plants a seed or a sapling. As the old fig tree had broadened it’s sheltering canopy, the olive sapling had reached out an an angle to find the sun, and sprinted upwards in a most un olive like manner. This reminded her of the straight little sapling story, which had always irritated her. What was commendable about a row of straight little soldier saplings anyway? All neat and tidy and oh so boring, none of them stepping out of line with a twist here or a gnarl there. No character! But the olive tree, in it’s race towards the light, leaned over the gable end of the dwelling as if spreading it’s arms protectively over the roof. A regimental straight sapling would have simply withered in among the fig leaves, whereas this one had the feel of a grandfatherly embrace of benevolent support.
What was it she’d heard about trees and oxygen? They exhaled the stuff that we wanted and inhaled the stuff we didn’t want, that was about as technical as she could muster, and it was enough. She breathed in tandem with the trembling rain sparkled leaves. In. And out. In, and out. Deeper breaths. Damn, it was good! That was good air to be breathing, what with the rain and the trees doing their thing. And there for the taking, no strings attached.
When the oven timer interrupted her sojourn in the night air, Eleri noticed that the little dog had stopped coughing. On her way back inside, she noticed the new mermaids patiently awaiting a coat or two of sea green paint and wondered if she would ever find a dragon to replicate. She was sure they’d be popular, if only she could find one.
Eleri hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Yorath for several weeks, not since the last supermoon.. Her stocks of elerium were depleted, but she knew he would return in time. What was time anyway? The timing was always perfect, that was really all one could say about time.
When the timing was right, she knew that the right people would be drawn to her crafts. It was not a matter of advertising her magical wares in the usual way, no, it was a matter of allowing the magnetic pull. She was a magician after all, not a salesman, and her creations were not for everyone.
Her suppliers of materials were not the usual ones, although she did use ordinary common or garden ingredients as well from the local builders merchant. Yorath had appeared as if by magic ~ it was true, these things did happen ~ just at the right time. Her method had been perfected, but the recipe was missing one vital ingredient although at the time she had not known for sure what that ingredient might be. Then her old friend Yorath appeared, returning from his travels in the greenly mist drenched mountains of the far east.
“I thought those temples had claimed you forever, dear one,” she said. “How good it is to see you! And how fetching that red silk is,” she added, eyeing his jacket. “I must give further consideration to the colour red. That really is a most appealing shade of cherry.”
And that was how it started.
As a statue, life was never easy. When day breaked you were condemned to stand in the same position, preferably the same as the one you have been made, cramped in a body as hard as the rock you came from. The sunlight had that regretable effect of stopping your movements. But as night came light was losing its strength and nothing could stop you anymore. At least that’s what Gorrash believed.
He could almost move his fingers now. He tried with all his might to lift his hand and scratch his nose where a bird had left something to dry, but there was still too much light. If he tried harder, he could break. So he waited patiently.
Gorrash had had plenty of time to think and rething of his theory of light since his placement in the garden. The only thing is that he never had anyone to share it with. There was no other statue in the garden, and the animals were not very communicative at night time. Only a couple of shrews and night mothes (the later soon eaten by the erratic crying bats)
But nonetheless Gorrash was always happy when darkness liberated him and he was free to go. He could feel his toes moving now, and his ankles ready to let go. He loved when he could feel his round belly slowly drop toward the ground. He chuckled, only to check the flexibility of his throat. He had a rather cavernous voice. Very suiting for a garden dwarf.
When the night was fully there, Gorrash shook his body and jumped ahead to the pond where he washed his nose from the bird dropping. He looked at the reflection in the water and smiled, the Moon was also there, fully round. Its light felt like a soft breeze compared to that of the Sun.
The dwarf began to walk around in the garden, looking for the rodents. Chasing them would help him get rid off the last stiffness in his stone heart. He stopped when he saw something near the window of the house.
The day had been inordinately hectic.
He had been working on the Town’s Clock till dawn, and was still none the wiser about why it had stopped to work, and moved the whole town into disarray. A problem with a few redundant cogs, and some pipes apparently.
He wouldn’t know for sure such things, he wasn’t a master technician, just an Overseer. Chief Overseer, another word for Master Fuse, he used to say jokingly.
It wasn’t an usual job for Fays, who were usually using their gifts of faying for other purposes, but mending complex systems was quite possibly in the cards for him.
On his way down from the Clock Tower, late during the night, he had noticed the energy has started to flow again, not very regularly, in spurts of freshwater moving through rusted pipes, but it would have to do for now.
The Town Clock wasn’t completely repaired, and still prone to subtle and unexpected changes —it was still 2 and half minute behind, and some of the mannequins and automata behind the revolving doors were still askew or refusing to show up in time. But at least the large enchanted Silver Jute, emblem of the City, managed to sing its boockoockoos every hour. So, his job was done for today.
He put on his coat, noticing the wind chilling his bones under the large white moon. He was walking in long regular strides in the empty streets, vaguely lost in thoughts about how clockwork was just about showing the energy the way, and leaving it to do the rest, and how failures and breaking down would appear at the structural weakest places as opportunity to mend and strengthen them.
Before he knew, his feet had guided him back to the alley of golden ginkgos, and he was drawn from his thoughts by the wind chiming in the golden leaves.
The idea emerged at once in his head, fully formed, incomprehensible at first, and yet completely logical.
He had to assemble a team of talents, a crew of sorts. He wasn’t sure about the purpose, not how to find them, but some of them were being drawn to the light and made clearer.
Beside himself the Faying Fay, there was a Sage Sorceress, and a Teafing Tinkeress, and also a Gifted Gnome. There were others that the trees wouldn’t reveal.
It seemed there was a lot more they wouldn’t say about. He guessed he would have to be patient about how it would reveal itself. It was night after all, Glade Chi Trolls would be lurking in the shadows menacing to erase his revelations, so he would have to find shelter soon and recover his strengths for tomorrow’s new round of Clock repair.
Glynis likes to light candles before dark. She has a trail of candles leading from the kitchen to her small bedroom down the hallway. She made the candles herself by extracting the wax from the bayberries which grow with wild abandon on the bushes in front of the house. The candles burn cleanly and have a beautiful scent which helps her drift to sleep at night.
Glynis is in the portion of the house which was once the servants’ quarters. Part of the main house was destroyed in a fire many years ago and seemingly abandoned for good. There are acres of garden, once beautifully manicured, now overgrown and vibrant with life.
She is not sure how long she will stay here and lately has felt a restless pull to move on. Where? She is not sure. So for now, she practices her magic arts and knows she has much to learn.
Glynis is about to retire for the evening when something catches her attention. A flicker of light at the window. When she looks again there is nothing there. But something else is amiss; she can sense it.
“Oh, what is this? Eleven jars of potion? Darnit! I’m sure I made a clean dozen!”
Eleri tried harder to focus on what Yorath was saying but she couldn’t keep her eyes off his red silk jacket. Eventually he realized the problem, and slipped the jacket off his shoulders, folded it neatly, and placed it in his travelling bag. Noticing Eleri’s widening eyes following the jackets movements, he zipped the bag closed and the tantalizing colour disappeared from sight.
“As I was saying,” Yorath continued. He now had Eleri’s full attention. “Don’t ask me where I procure it from, because I can’t divulge my sorcerers, er, sources. But I can promise a steady, if not unlimited, supply.”
“More tea, dear?” Eleri refilled his cup. “I’m very interested in the antigravity properties because you see, this stuff is so darned heavy. The heaviness has it’s benefits, in fact the weight of stone is one of the attractions. But during the creation process it could be extremely useful, not to mention the transportation aspect.”
Yorath smiled, nodding agreement. “Indeed, not to mention the expanded possibilities and abilities of the finished products.”
“The thing is,” asked Eleri, “Can it be programmed? There are times when heavy is entirely appropriate, and times when the anti gravity component would be welcome and beneficial.”
“The Overseer has been working on it, but he got in a bit of a muddle with it. You see, it’s a delicate combination of technology and magic. The combination has to be just right. Not too much technology without enough magic, but neither too much magic and not enough technology.”
“Oh dear,” sighed Eleri. “I’m afraid my technological know-how is nil. Well, almost nil,” she added. She knew how to mix colours, for example. Was that considered technical? She didn’t know, but felt despondent now about her ability to use the new ingredient.
“All that’s needed is a little more tinkering with the programming, and with a bit of luck,” Yorath snickered a bit at the word luck and continued, “I should be able to find just the right spell to go with it, to activate the technology.”
“Even though Elerium represents the hopes of a generation, the dream of a united world, and the struggle for human survival?” Yorath asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“Well, if you put it like that, how can I refuse? How soon can you acquire the right spell to go with it?”
“Leave it with me,” he replied.
It caressed the bottle it had stolen from the house, purring like a cat. Gorrash had never seen such a being before. Nor had his maker, as far as he could tell from the residual memories of the sculpting process. The creature looked somewhat transluscent and its movements felt unnatural. It reminded him of how water flowed from the surface of his stone skin during a rainy day.
Gorrash didn’t understand how it got the flask. Its paw had just flown through the glass and brought back its glowing prize without breaking the window. He had blinked several times before being sure the window had been closed.
That is interesting, Gorrash thought. He had never dared enter the house, fearing to be trapped inside.
The creature suddenly backed away and hid into a bush. There was movement inside the house. Gorrash returned quickly to his usual spot before she could see him. The human of the house was closing the window for the night. He didn’t understand that either. As far as he could tell, night was the best time of all, especially in winter when nights were longer. A couple of bats flew above him and as they became silent he knew there were a couple less mothes in this world.
Gorrash was still curious about the creature. He went to the bush near the window; you would be surprised how silent a stone dwarf could be. He moved the leaves apart and saw the flask on the ground. It was unopened but empty. The dwarf picked the bottle up from the ground. It was kind of wet. But no sign of the creature. He looked around the garden, with the moonlight it should be easy to spot. But the night was quiet and empty.
As he walked under the old oak tree, a satisfied purr from above attracted his attention. Gorrash looked up and there it was glowing and pulsing with flowing patterns of colors perched onto a branch like a christmas decoration.
Gorrash scratched his stone beard with its tiny hand. It was high for a dwarf. He had never climbed onto a tree, and he doubted he could do it one day. Mostly he feared the fall.
“Hey”, he called. The creature continued to purr and glow as if it heard nothing.
“Hey”, he called again. The creature continued to ignore him.
Gorrash looked at his feet and found a few pebbles. I hope it does not hold grudges, he thought before throwing the first stone at the creature.
It flew right through the creature’s body. Gorrash shivered thinking it might be some kind of ghost. He hesitated a moment, considering his options. But he had been alone for too long, even a ghost would be good company. He threw the other pebble which flew right through the creature again but this time he had calculated so that it would also bump into the bark of the tree.
It was enough to get its attention. The patterns of colors were pulsing more quickly, but were still harmonious.
“Hey! I’m down there”, Gorrash said. This time the creature looked down. The dwarf waved his hand. He was not sure but the rainbow creature looked a tad drunk. He wondered what was in that empty flask.
“You care to get down a moment ?” he asked.
“Mruiiii”, answered the creature with what looked like curiosity.
With the return of the City Pasha announced yesterday night, Rukshan Soliman was finding himself in a pickle.
He had arrived early at the Palace one block left from the City Clock Tower, knowing full well he had some chance to find the Pasha in better mood before he starts to catch up with all the problems from his entourage.
The meeting wasn’t as unpleasant as he had expected. He had listened patiently to all that he already knew, and went back in silence to the Tower to oversee the last of the repairs.
The clock was still behind 1 minute and fifty seven seconds, but most of the mannequins were operating as normal.
The boockoockoo of the enchanted Silver Jute resounded gravely. He was going to be late for his 10:30 New City Mandala project meeting.
Glynis rose at dawn to gather herbs for her potions—it is the best time to collect the flowered herbs, just as the dew evaporates and before the heat of the day. And usually she loves the freshness of the early morning but her night had been long and restless, full of strange dreams which had left her with an uneasy feeling.
The grass is cold on her bare feet and so she treads lightly and with haste. She stops though to pat the statue of a dwarf on his small concrete head. “Hello, Mr Cutie-Pie,” she says, as she does every day when she passes by. The dwarf is the only statue in the garden and she often wonders how he came to be there; he seems a lonely little chap.
When she first came upon the house, although house is not really a grand enough word for the beautiful mansion it must once have been, she spent hours exploring its many rooms. It seemed the occupants had left in a great hurry without ever returning for their things. This seemed strange to Glynis, for only one wing was badly damaged by fire. The rest was largely intact although over the years had fallen into disrepair and now was home to all manner of small critters.
The first thing Fox noticed when he woke up was that strong burning smell again. It had begun sooner, usually it was stronger in winter. The smell had been here for years, Fox knew it because he had a very strong sense of smell, but other people usually dismissed it as it mingled with the profusion of citadine smells.
He lived just outside the city walls, in a small hut. He preferred being among trees and living animals. And as he had been told, the smell came from outside the city, nothing to worry about.
This year it was different. The smell felt different. In his fantasies, Fox imagined it was the foul odor of an old dragon’s mouth that had eaten too much garlic. But in reality he didn’t know what it was, and that was the most frightening to him, not to know.
He envied those who couldn’t smell it. Others who could would dismiss it as, once again, the effects of the coal mining industry outside the city. Fox had an uncle working at the mines, and the smell he brought back from underground was strong indeed, but very different.
This day, Fox felt a new resolution dawn in his heart. He had to find the right people to talk to. Maybe they could do something about it. At least find its source. He took his pouch and filled it with crackers and cheese, his favourite kind of meal. Then, as he left his small hut, he had the feeling that he might not see it again. Anyway, it was just a hut.
Fox didn’t know who he could talk to, and he didn’t know where to go. But he was confident he would find them and all would be solved.
Rukshan had hardly any time to think about the trees of his area of enchantment in the past days. Actually, he’d rushed to the Clock every morning at dawn, and was busy until dusk, after which he slept like a log, to start the cycle again.
As he looked into the mirror in the morning, observing the hints of fatigue under his green eyes dulling the glow of his dark olive skin, he realized that there was only so much that his morning yoga could do to help rejuvenate.
He sighed and tied his sleek dark hair into a top knot.
The trees and the profound wisdom of their calm silence was still here, at his fingertips, in such contrast to the daily activities, that he wondered if the workings of the heart completely eluded him. After all, he couldn’t say he loathed his overseeing and mending job, not could he say that he didn’t pour his heart in it. But still, something about it felt artificial in some ways.
When he arrived at the Clock Tower in the morning, the air was still fresh, and the stairs wouldn’t yet smell of the usual cat piss. The clock’s time was still a smidgen behind. Usually, he would just to the best he could, and just let things patch themselves up, but it seemed as though this time, the change of structure was more profound, requiring from him to go… for lack of better way to put it,… the heart of the matter.
From the top of the tower, he would usually hardly go lower than the first level where the 12 mannequins were stored and revolved around the central axis to appear at each hour, until noon and midnight were they would all play an elaborate dance.
Below that level laid the belly of the beast. An intricate assemblage of copper wires, brass mirrors, lanterns and scalipanders, accessible by simple steps coiled around the central axis, hiding below a round wooden hatch.
Glynis could barely breathe when she thought about leaving the home she had created for herself here in the enchanted garden. Yes, for sure she was lonely and the months … or perhaps it was years … had done little to ease that pain; the birds and other creatures she interacted with on a daily basis were companionship but it was not the same as having friends of her own kind.
But she had made a life for herself and it was bearable. At times, for example when she was engrossed in learning a new spell, she felt something akin to happiness.
And she always held the hope that one day she would stumble upon the spell.
And the alternative … to leave here … she felt ill. But she could not deny the restless pull she was feeling even though she did not as yet understand it.
Glynis took a deep breath and pulled away the cover she had placed over the mirror in her room; it was actually an old drape she had found in the main house and made from the most beautiful blue velvet covered with little embossed hearts.
It was a long time since she had looked at herself in a mirror.
She took a deep breath and willed herself to see.
Her hair was luscious. It reached to her waist now and was a deep auburn red colour. The rosemary and other herbs she used when washing her hair meant it was shiny and thick. She was tall and slender and the red gown with little pearl buttons down the bodice—she had discovered a whole wardrobe of wonderful dresses in the house—fitted her beautifully.
Glynis resolutely forced her eyes to focus on her face though they seemed intent on disobeying her. She shook her head in an effort to clear the blurriness and realised she was crying.
That’s what the Sorceror had called her. And certainly, it was an apt description. For Glynis’ face was covered in ugly green scales and a small horn protruded about an inch out on either side of her forehead.
She’d broken his heart, he had said. And for that she must pay the price.
Yorath awoke with the first light before sunrise. The flowering vine encircling the tree house was vibrating with bees. Sparrows chattered and jostled in the highest branches of the gnarly old tree and small creatures rustled in the fallen leaves below. He leaned out of the window and surveyed Eleri’s homestead spread beaneath the trees. Sprawling vine tangled walls and gables, whitewash shaded in darkest grey and lit with palest rose pink. Patches of tiled floors peeped through the interior meadows. He used the word interior loosely as there had been no roof on the buildings for as long as he could remember but Eleri still used the rooms in a more or less usual fashion, although she housed her occasional guests in the tree house.
Eleri slept in a thatched outhouse some distance away from the main house, and closer to the river. Or so she said ~ Yorath had never actually seen it. He had watched Eleri disappear into a dense thicket at the end of the evenings, and seen her emerge from it in the early mornings. Once or twice he’d wandered through the woods in search of it, but he had never found it. There was no sign of a path leading into the undergrowth. Maybe she turned into a tree at night, Yorath had wondered. After all, anything was possible here.
As he gazed into the woods Eleri appeared. Did she simply shimmer into a physical form before his eyes? It was hard to say, but she was carrying a large basket full of mushrooms. Then he remembered that it was wild mushroom season here and he marveled at the perfect timing of his visit. He knew just the person who would welcome a gift of a certain kind of rare mushroom, the special ingredient of THE magical spell.
“It’s simple,” said the clerk, “The dragon under the mountain has a bad tooth—hence the smell. We’ve already been alerted to that. Rest assured we’re making everything in our power to intervene rapidly.”
Fox couldn’t stop looking at the mole above the man’s left eyebrow. He was making great efforts not to snatch it from the man’s forehead. It was quite big, at least one centimeter, and seemed to have a life of its own, wriggling randomly with every word spoken.
“So you are sending someone ?” asked Fox. He was quite uncertain if what was in their power included dental surgery on a mountain dragon. Or anything pertaining to dragons in general for that matter.
“Mr Fox,” the clerk said with an insisting voice, “Rest assured we’re making everything in our power to intervene rapidly,” he repeated imperturbable. The man added a smile that would render Mona Lisa quite plain in her frame.
“Mr Fox,” said the clerk again but with a woman’s voice this time.
“What,” he said, trying to free his hand. The ground suddenly opened under his feet. The fall was short but was enough to awake him from his dream. He was in the waiting room of the City’s Desperate Request Service office. A young woman was shaking his arm gently.
“Oh,” said Fox, “I’m sorry, I must have been dreaming.” He wiped the corner of his mouth with his sleeve, he had been drooling again. He felt a bit embarrassed she witnessed that. But the young girl seemed not to care at all.
He followed her down the corridor lit by glowworms. The girl was of average height but still taller than him, her hair neat and well groomed. Fox could feel the perfume she wore, it made him dizzy. To many fragrances and information were coming from her. The corridor was narrow, and he tried to add some distance but each time he slowed down she would wait for him. He tried not to breath too much until they reached a red door.
The girl knocked and opened the door. She turned to Fox and said : “Mr Mole will listen to your request.” The she left, her perfume lingering around the place she occupied a moment before.
Fox entered cautiously in the room. He cringed internally. The place smelled of onion and garlic. Not really an improvement. And Mr Mole, the clerk, had a big one on his right eyebrow.
The fire in the wood stove had gone out when Eleri awoke but she didn’t rekindle it. The dream of the girl with the dragon face filled her thoughts, and the mundane actions of the morning were not a primary interest yet. The face was perfect to replicate into stone, with an interesting texture that would lend itself perfectly to her paint effects, but no extreme protuberances to cause potential problems during the process. The inch long horns would not present too much of a problem, provided they didn’t grow too much. (and what was that in centimeters anyway, she wondered, and why was she dreaming in imperial measures? Perhaps it was a clue to the location of the owner of the dragon face.) But how was she to find that face? And if she found it, would she be able to take a mold of it? There must be a way, she pondered, to take a rubber mold of a dream character somehow.
Rousing herself, she decided to ask Yorath about it. He was always full of surprises, and knew so much more than one ever imagined about multitudes of diverse topics. Eleri started to become excited at the thought of what this could mean to the development of her project. With the addition of the anti gravity animating ingredient, she could bring dream characters to life in a way never seen before in the physical world.
And Yorath had returned as promised, and just at the right time. Despite doubting her abilities to use the elerium when he first introduced her to it, she had developed a simple enough technique to incorporate it into the statues.
It was good to see him again, although she was disappointed to see he was not wearing that red silk jacket this time. But he had the goods, and that was the important thing. And he might have an idea about the dream casting. She would treat him to a breakfast of fresh picked mushrooms and then ask him.
Rukshan didn’t know when the book first appeared. His room wasn’t large, and he always took great effort to keep it organised and uncluttered. Well, it was hardly effort at all, more like a well ingrained habit.
Thinking about it, the book could have been put there by a visitor, that was the most evident explanation. But undoubtedly the nosy concierge wouldn’t have missed such opportunity to mention it when he’d come back from the Clock, even at the late hours of the day he’d come back lately.
Considering, his latest exploration of the basement of the Clock below the hatch had not been extremely enlightening nor completely in vain, if only for realising the fact that he was in dire need of more expert help. The Clock was old as the Town, and after generations of crafters jealously guarding of their secrets, the knowledge of its magic had been watered down to the bare necessities. And without proper care and maintenance, last incident could well reoccur at any time.
For now, he had to stop worry, it wouldn’t do his body any good, only manage to let his real age catch up with his now youthful appearance. He knew just the right way for him to get back to his centered balance.
Sipping his favourite brew of hot tulsi leaves tea, he sat cross-legged, carefully in the brown floor chair with the golden thread embroideries, and observed the large black book placed at an angle on the end table.
The tea was already giving off its soothing effects, and glinting, he could see the book almost vibrate.
The thought came back to him. The book was a memory, a memory that he’d brought back from a dream of last night. How peculiar, he thought. He’d heard about such magical powers that the Fays possessed, travelling between pocket dimensions, but it was almost part of the lore of old, nobody had witnessed such things —in human memory, at least.
Now he was curious to open the book. He probably would have to hurry before it starts to fade and vanish. He was glad for the tea, it was the perfect brew to avoid any excitement that would hasten the fading process.
As the crow flies, Glenville is about 100 miles from the Forest of Enchantment.
“What a pretty town!” tourists to the area would exclaim, delighted by the tree lined streets and quaint houses with thatched roofs and brightly painted exteriors. They didn’t see the dark underside which rippled just below the surface of this exuberant facade. If they stayed for more than a few days, sure enough, they would begin to sense it. “Time to move on, perhaps,” they would say uneasily, although unsure exactly why and often putting it down to their own restless natures.
Glynis Cotfield was born in one of these houses. Number 4 Leafy Lane. Number 4 had a thatched roof and was painted a vibrant shade of yellow. There were purple trims around each window and a flower box either side of the front door containing orange flowers which each spring escaped their confines to sprawl triumphantly down the side of the house.
Her father, Kevin Cotfield, was a bespectacled clerk who worked in an office at the local council. He was responsible for building permits and making sure people adhered to very strict requirements to ‘protect the special and unique character of Glenville’.
And her mother, Annelie … well, her mother was a witch. Annelie Cotfield came from a long line of witches and she had 3 siblings, all of whom practised the magical arts in some form or other.
Uncle Brettwick could make fire leap from any part of his body. Once, he told Glynis she could put her hand in the fire and it wouldn’t hurt her. Tentatively she did. To her amazement the fire was cold; it felt like the air on a frosty winter’s day. She knew he could also make the fire burning hot, if he wanted. Some people were a little scared of her Uncle Brettwick and there were occasions—such as when Lucy Dickwit told everyone at school they should spit at Glynis because she came from an ‘evil witch family’—when she used this to her advantage.
“Yes, and I will tell my Uncle to come and burn down your stinking house if you don’t shut your stinking stupid mouth!” she said menacingly, sticking her face close to Lucy’s face. “And give me your bracelet,” she added as an after thought. It had worked. She got her peace and she got the bracelet.
Aunt Janelle could move objects with her mind. She set up a stall in the local market and visitors to the town would give her money to watch their trinkets move. “Lay it on the table”, she would command them imperiously. “See, I place my hands very far from your coin. I do not touch it. See?” Glynis would giggle because Aunt Janelle put on a funny accent and wore lots of garish makeup and would glare ferociously at the tourists.
But Aunt Bethell was Glynis’s favourite—she made magic with stories. “I am the Mistress of Illusions,” she would tell people proudly. When Glynis was little, Aunt Bethell would create whole stories for her entertainment. When Glynis tried to touch the story characters, her hand would go right through them. And Aunt Bethell didn’t even have to be in the same room as Glynis to send her a special magical story. Glynis adored Aunt Bethell.
Her mother, Annelie, called herself a healer but others called her a witch. She concocted powerful healing potions using recipes from her ’Big Book of Spells’, a book which had belonged to Annelie’s mother and her mother before her. On the first page of the book, in spindly gold writing it said: ‘May we never forget our LOVE of Nature and the Wisdom of Ages’. When Glynis asked what the ‘Wisdom of Ages’ meant, her mother said it was a special knowing that came from the heart and from our connection with All That Is. She said Glynis had the Wisdom of Ages too and then she would ask Glynis to gather herbs from the garden for her potions. Glynis didn’t think she had any particular wisdom and wondered if it was a ploy on her mother’s part to get free labour. She obeyed grudgingly but drew the line at learning any spells. And on this matter her father sided with her. “Don’t fill her mind with all that hocus pocus stuff,” he would say grumpily.
Despite this, the house was never empty; people came from all over to buy her mother’s potions and often to have their fortunes told as well. Mostly while her father was at work.
Glynis’s best friend when she was growing up was Tomas. Tomas lived at number 6 Leafy Lane. They both knew instinctively they shared a special bond because Tomas’s father also practised magic. He was a sorcerer. Glynis was a bit scared of Tomas’s Dad who had a funny crooked walk and never spoke directly to her. “Tell your friend you must come home now, Tomas,” he would call over the fence.
Being the son of a sorcerer, Tomas would also be a sorcerer. “It is my birthright,” he told her seriously one day. Glynis was impressed and wondered if Tomas had the Wisdom of Ages but it seemed a bit rude to ask in case he didn’t.
When Tomas was 13, his father took him away to begin his sorcery apprenticeship. Sometimes he would be gone for days at a time. Tomas never talked about where he went or what he did there. But he started to change: always a quiet boy, he became increasingly dark and brooding.
Glynis felt uneasy around this new Tomas and his growing possessiveness towards her. When Paul Ackleworthy asked her to the School Ball, Tomas was so jealous he broke Paul’s leg. Of course, nobody other than Glynis guessed it was Tomas who caused Paul’s bike to suddenly wobble so that he fell in the way of a passing car.
“You could have fucking killed him!” she had shouted at Tomas.
Tomas just shrugged. This was when she started to be afraid of him.
One day he told her he was going for his final initiation into the ‘Sorcerer Fraternity’.
“I have to go away for quite some time; I am not sure how long, but I want you to wait for me, Glynis.”
“Wait for you?”
He looked at her intensely. “It is destined for us to be together and you must promise you will be here for me when I get back.”
Glynis searched for her childhood friend in his eyes but she could no longer find him there.
“Look, Tomas, I don’t know,” she stuttered, wary of him, unwilling to tell the truth. “Maybe we shouldn’t make any arrangements like this … after all you might be away for a long time. You might meet someone else even …. some hot Sorceress,” she added, trying not to sound hopeful.
Suddenly, Glynis found herself flying. A gust of wind from nowhere lifted her from her feet, spun her round and then held her suspended, as though trying to decide what to do next, before letting her go. She landed heavily at Tomas’s feet.
“Ow!” she said angrily.
“Okay! I promise!” she said.
That evening there was a gathering of Uncle Brettwick and the Aunts. There was much heated discussion which would cease abruptly when Glynis or her father entered the room. “Alright, dearie?” one of the Aunts would say, smiling way too brightly. And over the following days and weeks there was a flurry of magical activity at 4 Leafy Lane, all accompanied by fervent and hushed whisperings.
Glynis knew they were trying to help her, and was grateful, but after the initial fear, she became defiant. “Who the hell did he think he was, anyway?” She left Glenville to study architecture at the prestigious College of Mugglebury. It was there she met Conway, who worked in the cafe where she stopped for coffee each morning on her way to class. They fell in love and moved in together, deciding that as soon as Glynis had graduated they would marry. It had been 4 years since she had last seen Tomas and he was now no more than a faint anxious fluttering in her chest.
It was a Friday when she got the news that Conway had driven in the path of an oncoming truck and was killed instantly. She knew it was Friday because she was in the supermarket buying supplies for a party that weekend to celebrate her exams being over when she got the call. And it was the same day Tomas turned up at her house.
And it was then she knew.
“You murderer!” she had screamed through her tears. “Kill me too, if you want to. I will never love you.”
“You’ve broken my heart,” he said. “And for that you must pay the price. If I can’t have you then I will make sure no-one else wants you either.”
“You don’t have a heart to break,” she whispered.
Dragon face,” Tomas hissed as he left.
Glynis returned to Glenville just long enough to tell her family she was leaving again. “No, she didn’t know where,” she said, her heart feeling like stone. Her mother and her Aunts cried and begged her to reconsider. Her Uncle smouldered in silent fury and let off little puffs of smoke from his ears which he could not contain. Her father was simply bewildered and wanted to know what was all the fuss about and for crying out loud why was she wearing a burka?
The day she left her mother gave her the ‘Book of Spells”. Glynis knew how precious this book was to her mother but could only think how heavy it would be to lug around with her on her journey.
“Remember, Glynis,” her mother said as she hugged Glynis tightly to her, “the sorcerers have powerful magic but it is a mere drop in the ocean in comparison to the magic of All That Is. You have that great power within you and no sorcerer can take take that from you. You have the power to transform this into something beautiful.”
As Eleri prepared the mushrooms for breakfast her mind wandered back to the previous mushroom season, when Rhiannon had been visiting from the old country. The rain had been relentless, hammering down without respite, until the trees of the enchanted woods were bowed with saturation and the forest floor was as swampy as the Marshes of Doom. The river had risen to within a few short meters of her thatched dwelling, necessitating an emergency spell to lift the building onto temporary stilts above the sodden ground.
There had been an initial difficulty in achieving the correct height of the stilts. The first attempt had been much too high, and Eleri and Rhiannon had clung to each other laughing, as the cottage swayed alarmingly in the wind above the tree tops.
A swinging shutter slammed shut on Eleri’s pinky, occasioning a piercing howl of pain amid the shrieks of mirth, but it did serve to ground the women sufficiently to recall the ‘shortening emergency stilts’ spell. It was, however, administered without due care to details, and the building crashed to the ground rather too quickly.
Rubbing their bruised body parts but still seeing the funny side, they eventually managed to lift the abode a logical distance from the mud.
As much as he would have liked to keep reading, Rukshan had to let go of the book. The pale sun of winter was already high, and although the Pasha didn’t really seem to worry about it, he had to go prepare for the visit of the Elders.
Already pages started to vanish into thin air, one after the other, making the understanding of the patches left much harder to fathom. Notwithstanding, he’d found interesting tales, but nothing proving to be of immediate use to his current quandaries, nothing at least that he could intuit. Even the name of the author, a certain Bethell, wouldn’t register much.
All in all, if his dimensional powers started to manifest (at last, after 153 years, one would start to lose hope), the result was a bit underwhelming.
The Pasha, during his last visit, had hinted at some company of local Magi that would make his Overseeing less stressful. He’d felt so exhausted he had barely noticed. It wasn’t the Pasha’s habit to make subtle suggestions. What really possessed him would have been worth investigating.
Anyway, before he left home in the morning, suddenly remembering the suggestion and its unusual disclosure, Rukshan had flippantly looked though the name cards crammed in the many boxes gathered in the duration of his long past duties.
Without much look at it, he’d found and taken the bit of parchment with the sesame, and worked the incantation to speak to the Magi’s assistant.
The meeting had gone well. The Magi knew their business. They would come back to audit the Clock in a few days.
It was only later that he looked at the new card they gave him. The heraldry was rather plain, but then it struck him —he hadn’t registered at first, because they used a rather old dark magic word from a speech almost forgotten. “Gargolem – spell the words, we’ll make it move”.
The North wind was cold on his cheeks. It was almost sunset, which didn’t help with the temperature. Fox was sweeping a street covered in autumn leaves. He couldn’t help but think it was useless. The wind was scattering away the leaves as soon as he had made a small heap. He already missed the quietness of his hut.
Mr Mole must have misunderstood, he thought, he appointed me caretaker of the city streets.
Fox took a whiff of city air. The cold bit his nose,but it was not enough to numb his sense of smell. The dragon breath was still there, even though the North wind had dispersed it a bit.
I’m not sure it will be enough.
He shivered, he never liked staying outside too long in his human form. Fox looked around. When he was sure nobody was in sight. As the sun disappeared behind the city walls, he allowed his true nature to the surface, just enough to enjoy the warmth of his red fur on his body. It was such a good feeling he almost didn’t stop in time. He touched his face, a moustache had grown on his upper lip, and his ears were a tad pointy. He passed his tongue onto his teeth; the length of his canines reminded him of chicken hunt in the nearby farms.
Don’t let yourself get carried away by the memories, he reminded himself. He took a deep breath. The smells of the city were stronger now, and it was as if someone had lit a light.
With his improved hearing, he caught up a strange noise coming from a nearby garden. It was like a faint pulse that was growing louder as the light diminished. A crack as soft as the whisper of stone. And the most unexpected words.
“Bloody bird shit ! Why do they always pick my nose ?”
Fox came closer to the small garden stonewall, as stealthily as he could, to see a gnome washing his face in a small basin. He suddenly caught sight of some wavering in the air, coming from a bush. The waves gradually took the shape of a strange animal, still rather translucent. Its fur behaving as if it was immersed into water, all wavy and floating.
“Ah! You’re here Rainbow,” said the gnome.
“Mrui,” answered the creature.
“Let’s get some potion for you, then.”
Fox looked the two of them walk silently toward the house. He could see the rays of light getting through the spaces of the wooden shutters. The gnome climbed on his friend’s back and took a bit of that translucent quality. He said something but it sounded like gargling. Fox almost expected to see his hair beginning to float in an invisible current. But it didn’t. And then they disappeared through the wall.
Fox dropped his broom, which bounced on the stonewall before falling on the floor. He waited, half expecting to hear a voice ask about all the noise. But the place remained quiet except for the wind. He jumped over the wall and waited behind a bush, his eyes on the wall where they had entered the house.
What if they don’t come out? he thought. But he remained there, his gaze fixed. He let his fur grow more. He wanted to be comfortable in the cold night.
So, her nocturnal thief had struck again!
Glynis had left a freshly brewed batch of ‘Dream Recall’ potion on the window ledge to soak up the energy of the full moon overnight. And now one jar was missing.
She didn’t mind; in fact it gave her a warm feeling of satisfaction whenever anyone wanted her potions. And she was not afraid because she sensed no harmful intent. But she was curious as to the identity of her visitor.
Perhaps she should set a trap to unmask the thief?
Later, maybe. Today, she was taking her potions to one of the outdoor markets in the city where people peddled all manner of handmade and home grown products. She was long overdue for a visit. She would put on her burka, tattered now but still functional, and trek through the forgotten paths of the enchanted forest, hidden to most, pulling her little cart of wares behind her.
And when she comes close to the outskirts of the city, she will hunch her back and begin to walk slowly as though she is someone of very advanced years. She will set up her stall and a crowd will quickly gather, pushing and jostling to be first, for her potions are in high demand.
It has not always been that way. At first, people were wary of her, the crooked old crone in her tattered robe. Only her bright blue eyes visible, eyes which dart quickly to the ground if one looks too hard. But it took just a few, lured closer to her table by curiosity or desperation—or perhaps it was pity for she must look a sorry sight. After that, it didn’t take long for word to spread.
“Of course I do! Put orange skin on your forehead and say carambar, that will do the trick,” he replied with a smile. If it works, he thought to himself, I can put it in my new spell book.
“How handy that it’s orange season, I was just about to squeeze some for breakfast.” Eleri did as he suggested and placed the orange on her forehead. Immediately she had a vision of a fairy tale castle, silvery with many turrets. She was at a crossroads and a little bridge was in front of her leading to the castle. An old crone swathed in black skirts and shawl approached from the right, carrying a basket. The dream character pulled aside a red gingham cloth covering her basket and handed Eleri a large black book. Holding the book, she had an almost trippy sensation that the book was writhing or pulsing as if it’s stories would burst through the plain cover. And sure enough, as she held the book in her dream hands, while holding the cool orange to the middle of her forehead, she started to get flashes of recall.
Preparing the pages for the arrival of the Elders had taken him the best of the last two days. The younglings were rather immature and in need of training in the complex rituals and protocols. Most had come from good families, so they did possess the principles well enough. However, they often carried about them an indistinct arrogance that would be sure to irritate the Elders. Rukshan himself wasn’t good at being humble, but over the years had learned to dull his colours, and focus on his own centre.
He had hardly any time to think about the dreams, the book or the trees, although at times he could feel almost carried away, as though a swift and clear wind had swiped his head light, suddenly relieved from any burdening thought, almost ready to fly or disappear. Those moment rarely lasted, and quite frankly were a little unsettling.
And there was still his repressed memories about what he had discovered hidden under the Clock’s hatch. He wanted to believe there was nothing to worry about that, that the silent ghosts were part of the original design, but his intuition was fiercely against it.
In fact, his guts were telling him the same things as when he’d found out the pocket from his coat he’d just mended was originally wrongly attached inside the lining, (creating the rip at that exact spot, as if to catch his attention). Although he would usually have happily ignored it, this time he couldn’t let go, and felt almost forced to redo it, first unpick the seams he’d just sewn, then to finally detach the pocket from the inner lining and redo the mending —another indication that the living force that breathed through all wouldn’t let him eschew troubles this time.