Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Once upon a time...

Once upon a time...

GRISELDA, First Witch of the Seventh Coven, glided down on her broomstick towards the forest and through the trees, many with their leaves still clinging to the boughs.

She preferred the bare branches, so like her fingers that were perfect for combing her hair.

Her feet touched the dry fallen leaves, which crackled and became dust.

She pushed her arms out and spread her long, thin fingers with her palms up and the trees moved back to form a clearing.

The hour had come to find 12 apprentices for the old hags who were losing their powers; a sure sign death was not far away.

Griselda stood still, seeing the beauty of the clinging moss on the oak trees’ bark and the leaves accepting the end of their seasonal life.

She raised her arms to the sky as the last rays of the sun set through a skein of orange and mauve.

Focusing her mind, she searched for 12 human girl-waifs. Her probing senses found those who slept in doorways, on park benches and under railway arches; the ones that would not be missed tonight or any other. She numbed their roving senses and linked them only to her commands.

Griselda opened her eyes. The sky was dark like a cushion of velvet sprinkled with a million stars. She reached for her broomstick and held it high.

Her inner mind rose above the forest, fanning out in search of the constellation Pegasus.

She called: “Send me 12 of your horse-sons for my new generation of witches.”

She lowered her broom and changed it into a fallen tree trunk and rested on it.

“Come to me, my lovely girls, here in this glade. I am eager to welcome you into my heart as my daughters for we will make magic together and then the weak may fade away and you will take their places to protect my re-born coven.”

Griselda waited.

Time passed.

They came, the young girls, thin of body, bedraggled of hair and their abandoned souls ready to be possessed.

Their footsteps made the leaf-dust rise and fall as they formed a circle around the witch.

Without any spoken command, they stood silent with only their eyes directed on Griselda.

Out of the sky 12 winged horses descended into the glade. All were white except for one. He was black as the darkest coal.

“Choose your mistress, oh mighty horse-sons of Pegasus, for you will be her protector in this new age of time.”

The horses circled the girl-waifs, tossing their heads, sniffing the air, and one by one chose their apprentice.

Griselda looked at the girl with the black horse standing quietly behind her. Why had this waif attracted the black?

She focused her mind and looked beyond the flesh and found a streak of power similar to her own.

This girl was different to the others, she had strength and determination and a heart so pure she could never be turned by the evil of the devil that lived in the pit of hell.

This fair-haired one would be her apprentice, her successor, when her days were done.

To celebrate this special night, Griselda had painted her face white and wore a long, silver dress with a line of buttons glowing like full moons.

Her hat, turned over at the point, was the sign of her coven and under the brim her eyes were brilliant like emeralds.

Through the trees, she saw a lake reflecting the star-lit sky and called out: “Follow me, my children. Let us look into the magic of the water and see our true images.”

Without a word, the girls moved as one.

At the water’s edge Griselda touched her cheek and her face turned blood red for Halloween. She loved the dark hours of her annual forage into the strange world of the humans.

She glanced at the horses, sensing their caution and drawing their mistresses’ nervousness into their minds and deeper into the subconscious.

Only her chosen apprentice leant forward to look into the water and a smile creased her cheeks. Oh yes, this girl-waif was indeed special.

Speaking with a soft, cajoling lilt, Griselda called: “Come, my little ones, let us find who else is awake on this Halloween night.”

Sitting on her broom, she tapped the handle and rose high.

“Kneel, my winged horses, for your mistress for she is now the only mount you will obey.

“Ride, my children, and name your guardian for he has chosen you this night to lay down his life to protect you.”

The waifs mounted their winged horses as one. The black stallion walked forward to take the lead and, opening his wings, rose up into the night sky.

From the undergrowth came a fox, followed by an otter and a barn owl flying silently above as the coven’s rear protection.

As Griselda flew over the tree tops she sniffed the autumn dampness and curved to the north. In the distance lighted lamps swayed from the branches of trees around a clearing where white-boned skeletons were dancing to a rock-and-roll echoing tune.

This was what she wanted for dancing was one of her favourite pastimes.

As she glided down, the music became a crescendo of ear-
piercing joy and, with a graceful departing from her broomstick, she was swinging her hips and clicking her fingers. Her hooked nose smelt new skeletons and she smiled: lots of new playmates for next year. With the grace of a butterfly, each horse folded its wings and touched the golden leaves with magical hooves.

The girls released their hold from the silken manes and slid off, running to join the rattling-boned dancers who were performing the most bizarre antics beyond the capabilities of the humans, whose flesh restricted their efforts regardless of how much they twisted and waved their arms to the stars.

Griselda, still dancing, weaved her way out of the circle. She was hungry and a little magic was required — after all, for the mortals Halloween was a celebration.

With a click of her fingers, a table with hot burgers, sausages and buns appeared.

She waved her hand, wafting the savoury aroma of food into the dancers. Little encouragement was needed — food was a necessity even for witches.

She chose a burger and bun and went to sit on the quiet edge of the forest as her apprentices came running to greedily consume her bewitched feast.

Griselda rested, satisfied with her night’s work. Behind her, she heard the rustle of leaves and the fox and otter came and sat beside her.

The vixen raised her head and looked at the table and, as though her thoughts were heard, the pang of hunger was gone.

The music stopped and the bones fell to the ground.

“Time to move on,” called Griselda, sitting back on her broom handle. Barn owl lifted from a tree and his talons stretched to reach for a rat running towards a discarded bun.

“Tut, tut, Barney, that is very naughty. This is my night.”

He flapped his wings angrily and settled down beside the otter. The owl turned its head and his round eyes stared at Griselda.

Using a coaxing tone, she said: “Come, supper is later.”

Griselda called to her apprentices: “Find your horse, my lovelies, it is time to go home.”

The horses flew in two arcs behind the witch, the black one with his golden-haired rider in the forward centre.

The waif rode balanced upright, fearless, the mane held loosely by her fingers, her tattered sweater and ripped jeans an insult to the beauty of the horse.

In the forest below, gliding silent as the skeletons had been noisy, were wraiths, black and almost invisible against the dark trees yet turbulent as sea waves.

Griselda felt a moment of fear. Her apprentices had no powers. She was their only protector; would she be able to ward off so many evil spirits?

She could urge the horses to go faster, yet apart from the golden haired waif, the others were nervous.

Focusing her mind on each horse, she gave them extra strength. Speed was essential.

Clouds were rising from the east and the breeze that had been so pleasant was becoming stronger. Griselda sensed not only evil but a danger far more deadly.

Through a slit of cloud, a moment of light was thrown down to earth by the moon and the familiar jagged peaks of her mountain rose high and comforting out of the forest.

She steered a slow approach towards a grass clearing at the base and led her followers to land.

“Welcome to Teymus, this is your new home,” she said.

Instantly, a ring of fire surrounded them and from the forest the Red Demons of the below lands came and waited behind the flames.

Why had they come now? Griselda had not seen them for years.

Their calling was of the dark arts and evil worshipping. Nothing about them had changed: their red faces, yellow eyes sunk deep below thick black brows.

Red and black uniforms, knee high boots and in a sheath around their waists the curved devil sword.

Griselda waited for one of them to speak.

Through the fire stepped a warrior, his uniform enhanced by an emblem of a three-pronged spear.

“My name is Ebon. I have come for the girl-waif with the golden hair.”

The warrior’s voice was loud and demanding. He drew his weapon and held it high.

“I will not leave without her.”

“What has she got that the Devil requires?” asked Grisleda.

“She has a pure heart, witch-woman, something that is of no use to you. Your payment will be the lives of these other earthlings.”

“I will not...”

The fire immediately started to burn inwards.

“Death by flame is a very agonising end, even for a witch. My master will burn the golden girl rather than let you have her.”

The fire continued inwards.

Griselda’s mind reached out to the horses except the black.

“This is your First Witch’s command. Take your mistresses over the mountain to Teymas.”

Griselda sensed the girls’ fear and stepped forward, raised her broomstick and drew the circle of devil warriors’ attention to her.

Then they were screaming, their minds full of imaginary hungry worms. It was only the leader that resisted.

“Foolish hag,” he shouted. “Do you think your spells will work on me?”

Griselda shouted out loud and clear. “My apprentices, go with your steeds. Now!”

The horses spread their wings and, with the added strength given to them earlier, they rose from the circle of fire and flew up into the black night and away.

The warrior lunged towards Griselda. She fell to the ground as his sword sliced the air, his fury beyond control, beyond the order to take the golden girl for his master.

“Now, my black stallion,” she shouted, “take your mistress to safety.”

In one fluent motion, the black horse spread its wings and lifted up and flapped his wings.

In that moment Griselda became adorned in white, her pure heart shrivelling the sword in the warrior’s hand.

“Go warrior,” she said. “Tonight is not your victory. Yet I know we will meet again.”

“No one can deny my master his wishes. You have shown me your true power, White Witch,” he replied. “But I will not fail next time.”

Ebon turned and walked away through the fire untouched.

Out of the forest the otter ran into the circle and changed into water, spreading his magic to dowse the flames.

“Come Otty, all is now well. It is time to go home to Teymas.”

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