Lambs of Stray
Distracted by the call, Eliot missed the last word given by the divine spirit. Holy water in the silver bowl ran dry and the divine spirit vanished as soon as it finished revealing the answer. She grunted lightly in disappointment.
The Witch hovered to the circular window below the roof and revolved the stained glass pane along a horizontal pivot. The approaching bishop did not know there were traps around the house and she must warn him. From the opened window, she shouted out to the man:
“Don’t come closer! There are traps!”
Hearing the shout, the bishop on horseback gripped his reins. His horse took a sharp turn to avoid the traps but it was far too late. One of the lightning shock traps was set off and it hurled bolts of electricity at the animal.
Not seeing too clearly what was happening, Eliot directed some light towards the guest. She twirled two small pins at the top and bottom of the window frame. The inner metal-frame mechanism flipped and reordered the colored stained glasses into two distinct sides: one of transparence and of one of color. And with a silvery foil shutter locked into place, the rotating window was transformed into a mirror using which she controlled the beam of light’s direction.
She saw the bishop on the ground near a dead tree trunk. Next to him laid the horse on its side, twitching.
“Father Felacia, are you alright?” she asked.
“Thanks God I’m alive”, Felacia got up on his feet.
He was roughened up but okay though his horse was not so lucky; it would not be going anywhere anytime soon.
“It’s just being, you know…shocked. It’ll be fine in an hour or two, I guess?” the Witch awkwardly remarked.
“Get rid of the traps, Eliot. I need a word with you”, he demanded.
He sounded rather angry.
“Don’t worry, father. Worst case scenario, I’ll have Stardust drop you off”, she chuckled and got off the window.
The Witch did not wait for the broom to descend. She alit in mid-air and hung on to the broom by her hands. She brought her center of gravity lower, then, she let go, and her feet softly landed on the floor. At floor level, the Witch motioned her index finger and commanded the broom to nudge the mirror window until the beam of light was redirected from the upper section of the house to a fixed mirror at the other end and then to the ritual site below.
She could see everything clearly then:
There were ashes of her notes, remnants of ritual ingredients, and old scriptures untouched by the divine spirit. She inspected the scene and recovered the last letter from the divination—the letter B. It was a clue. If she could figure out a place in the Cathedral that ended with the letter B, it would save her the problem doing another divination.
She couldn’t but she knew who could.
Other than that, she could see some stone fragments broken off the shattered sentry rune on the front door. Whatever had caused the rune to crack open had sucked its magic dry. It could be dangerous, it could be not. Then again, she had an important guest and seeing there was nothing else she could learn about the shattered rune; Eliot tidied up the ritual leftovers in a hurry and stepped outside to greet the bishop.
The man wore a grey cassock, a pectoral cross hung by his neck and he had a leather belt to which strapped a small brown pouch and a linen backpack on his back. He was thrice her age and yet somehow his hair was not completely grey. He did not keep a beard; he is the kind who prefers tidiness.
“That’s one beautiful window you have there, Eliot”, father Felacia remarked.
She heard his voice, he could see her thanked to the radiance of the beam but she could not see him well now that it was dark on his side again.
“You like it, father?” she cheerfully asked. Meeting this man certainly lifted her mood up.
“Yes, they can certainly use one of those in the first Church’s mess hall”
“I’ll just walk you in…” she said as she strolled through the trap-filled garden to the bishop’s side. Her voice had lost the brief peppiness just then.
“Ah, my apology, I forget that you don’t like talking about the Church”, the bishop apologized.
“Hmph, you always make it hard not to let it slide”, she pouted, “Right this way, follow my steps, unless you want to twitch”, she warned.
“But I can barely see anything out here”
It was true. While she could navigate by sensing the magic patterns, this man couldn’t.
“Hang on, help me turn the horse over, there are flints and some torches in the bag underneath”, the bishop urged.
That meant physical work. The Witch did not fancy the idea of performing unpaid physical work for something so trivial. She suggested an alternative:
“Well, father. I don’t think we should disturb the horse any further. You can hold my shoulder and pray to your God that you won’t grope anywhere unnecessary, both your feet and your hand”
He chuckled at the added remark, “Alright then. You’re quite self-conscious, aren’t you?”
“I mean it”, she affirmed in a serious tone, “I will push you into a flame rise trap if you try to feel me up”, she threatened.
As Eliot led the bishop to her house, through the trap-rigged garden, she asked him about the visit. She heard he had gone to Azeth for a few days. If it was true, it would be too soon for him to come back at this time.
“So, father Felacia, which angel brings you here today?”
“—please, beloved father, I need another bottle of holy water”, she cut in the bishop’s line in a quiet and swift flattery as if it was a prayer. She gave him little room to react as her nose was inches from his.
The bishop looked down at his belt; he opened the leather pouch strapped to his waist and grabbed a crystal-clear flask. It had the exact design as the one she had just used up, minus the submerged metallic cross.
“Here you go”
He gave the Witch what she wanted and resumed his explanation:
“As I was saying, I went to Azeth the other day and met the Archbish—”
He was interrupted again, this time by the sound of broken glass. The Witch grabbed a small hammer from her hat, and with it she smashed the old flask into pieces. The cross inside fell out and tumbled towards the door.
As she was crawling ahead to pick it up, the cross—which was lying in front of the door—suddenly popped into the air and melded into oblivion. She gasped and backed off and bumped into the bishop, losing her balance.
The bishop caught her back.
“Thanks. That was close”, she thanked and then cast her quizzing glance at the door. “Did you see…?” she wondered out loud.
The bishop raised an eyebrow.
“See what? That you smashed the bottle I’ve just given you? Or that you have a hammer in your hat?”
“No, your bottle is still here, that was my old bottle”, the Witch showed him the new, intact water flask, “I mean the cross talisman used for warding off the Forest’s blight. It was right here, now it’s gone”, she explained.
The Witch raised one hand at the ground in front of the door and slowly waved across the surface. As she traced the ambient magic for the source of disturbance, she realized there was no magic at all in the area and the lack thereof confused her. She retracted her hand and visually examined the proximity further. After a short moment, she scratched her neck, and walked in and out a few times.
The bishop darted a puzzled gaze at her doing, “Prestidigitation, perhaps?” he asked.
She shook her head. She gave up; it was so unusual.
“Then what is it?”
“An anti-magic field”, she guessed and walked inside, “Come on in”, she invited.
Around eight years ago, blight began to emerge in the Western region of Ironheart. The blight corrupted the land, poisoned the water and rotted the air. According to the Witch’s explanation, what most people were not aware of was the fact that even magic in the region was blighted. It is dangerous to use magic tainted by the blight, not even the Necromancer of Merlock would dare channel such miasmas through his body.
To be able to use magic in the Dark Forest called for special arrangements; which, for her best interests she said, to be kept hidden. However, she did mention anti-magic field as a way to delay the corruption albeit one would end up losing a great deal of ambient magic to it.
It was the first time the bishop had heard of such concepts.
“I have no idea how it—she referred to the anti-magic field—got there but as long as it stops the blight from coming in till I sort things out, it’s doing me a favor”
Eliot grabbed a jar of salt from a shelf and took a new warding cross out of it. When she squeezed the small cross into the holy water, its crisp white surface turned silvery metallic and hardened. The Witch put the jar back on the shelf and threw the holy water bottle into one of the many drawers of the small chest sat next to the shelf to the left of the ritual circle.
“So, what were you talking about before? Something about going to Azeth?”
She slid a hidden trap door on the wooden flooring at the center of the house and sat down next to it. Underneath the trap door was a fire pit made of stone about half a meter in diameter. She rubbed her hands together and clapped and with that the fire pit was lit.
“Aye”, the bishop sat down on the opposite site of the fire, “I met the Archbishop. He said he knew everything—”
“Uh huh…and?” the Witch crossed her arm, listening attentively.
“—and he said that you would bring death upon Ironheart”
The Witch burst into laughter.
“He obviously doesn’t know we are cahoots then”, she mused.
“He doesn’t but I have to warn you against visiting Ironheart tomorrow”, the bishop advised.
The Witch hissed and smacked her tongue.
“Tsk, I honestly wouldn’t give a damn. I mean, they blamed me for the blight. Isn’t that already the same as saying I bring death upon Ironheart?”
He kept silent for a few seconds, and then he sighed:
“That’s true, if you put it that way”
“Father, I have buckwheat cookies and red tea, would you like some?”
She shoved a plate of cookies and put some tea leaves into a witch’s classic black iron cauldron filled with white misty water to the brim. The water turned red and it started to bubble when she put the cauldron on top of the fire.
That certainly did not seem drinkable.
“I’ll take the cookies, thank you”
“Have some more”, she insisted, then she turned the topic back to his request: “Very well, if you say so, I won’t visit Ironheart tomorrow. Is there anything else you want to request?”
“What about you?” the bishop pointed at Eliot.
“No-No way, father”, she flapped her hands in refusal and said, “You can’t request me. I like your company but-but…”
She shied away at the thought, moving further from him.
“Besides, the age gap wouldn’t work”, she mumbled in low tone.
“Relax, you are like my daughter and I dare say you should go out more and learn to hide your embarrassment better”
The bishop chuckled, it all seemed amusing to him.
“I’m asking if you need any supplies from the city, I’ll have them delivered to the usual place and you can pick them up at midnight”, he clarified.
The Witch cracked an awkward smile, “Oh, that’s what you mean…” she said.
“You sound disappointed, Eliot”, he jokingly commented.
“N-Never mind. I’ll be counting on you then”
From the point on, they discussed the compensation for the request. As docile as a lamb she had become, the Witch demanded only the most mundane of essentials. She demanded two baskets of breads, forty eggs in eight small baskets, one popular culinary-selected seasoning collection from Brown’s Boulder with added grained salt and clean water, as much as a single-horse trolley can carry.
In addition, she also specified the manner in which the supplies should be packaged in order to protect them from the Forest’s blight. And that was all: she demanded nothing exotic in particular.
Father Felacia agreed to pay for half of the goods along with transport fee; the only condition attached was that the Witch would have to stay out of Ironheart till the morning after tomorrow. He originally insisted on paying it in full but the Witch refused saying it would not be reasonable for such a simple task.
She had no plan in Ironheart to begin with; fulfilling the request was utmost trivial to her.
“Brown’s Boulder, huh? I didn’t know you’d been there before, I thought I’d met everyone in that tavern”
“I haven’t but I know someone who has. He usually brings me all sorts of oddities. Ah yes, the window is also his work”, the Witch nudged her chin, gesturing to the intricate circular window, “and this—she tapped on the trap door of the fire pit—too. Looks wooden but it’s actually masterwork iron”, she said.
The bishop crawled next to her and placed one hand on the trap door. The Witch leaned back leisurely, eagerly observing the bishop. Just as she said; it was absorbing more heat from the fire than the nearby wooden surface was and the sound it gave off when tapped on was that of solid metal.
“Clever”, he complimented
“I know right?” she nodded excitedly.
“I’d love to meet this fellow. Do you know his name?”
“I don’t but he didn’t ask for mine either. Besides, I wouldn’t sell off the identity of my clients”
Of course she would not. He remembered they had this talk before, in the very first request. The Black Witch of the Forest presented herself neutral to all parties and she believed it would be in her benefit to avoid putting any clients into harm’s way; even if it meant not fulfilling the wish of another client.
“However, I can forward the message, at no cost this time”, she added.
“Please do then”, the bishop agreed to the offer.
“Do you want to give him your information?” The Witch asked.
“Is he trustworthy?”
The Witch hesitated for a moment then answered:
“He is, in a sense, yes”
“You don’t sound very affirmative”, the bishop shrugged.
“Very sure”, he quickly rephrased.
“I am not…” she admitted.
Eliot wasn’t sure herself since the Inventor was always secretive even though they had been exchanging favors for a long time. His credible and direct mannerism encourages mutual trust. When it came down to his life beyond professional partnership, however, she actually knew nothing about his person.
And when she thought about it, she was not sure if the trust had been mutual or one-sided.
“He’s tight-lipped. He describes himself as a flexible person so I think he won’t have any issue dealing with approaches from a stranger, although, you’re welcome to push him a bit, he can be a nuisance at times”, she elaborated.
Pausing for a moment, she concluded, “But I guess I like him that way”
“It’s a love-hate relationship huh?” the bishop commented, “I think I have an idea who he is now. He sure has it rough”, he chuckled.
Having figured it out, the bishop thanked for the offer and backed down. He said he would catch the man in question at Brown’s Boulder himself the next time they meet and he required no further assistance.
After that, the conversation died down. And then, finally, after there was a brief silence at the fire pit before the bishop stood up and thanked Eliot for her time. She was a bit sad that their conversation did not last longer. The Witch walked the guest to the other side of the trap field. When they did, they found out that the horse was no longer there.
“Err…did you remember to tie the horse to a trunk or something, father?”
“From the look of it, I must have forgotten”
He didn’t sound all that bothered even though he would have to walk all the way home.
Since it had come to this, the Witch wished to keep her words and escort the bishop out of the forest. She was worried because it was getting late and all sorts of creeps came out at night in the Dark Forest.
“Thanks for your concerns, Eliot, but no”, he politely refused, “I can’t imagine myself riding a broomstick or hugging a girl of your age from behind. There’s still a bit of daylight left, if I rush to the main road, I can still hitch a ride to Ironheart before sunset”, the bishop assured confidently.
“If you say so, father”, the Witch reluctantly nodded.
“I’m borrowing one of your candles”, he slowly said, grabbing a candle from a small divination table by a barrel of chopped logs.
From under the frills of her cloak’s collar, the Witch took out a paper talisman and handed it to the bishop. “Take this with you too”, she insisted.
The bishop lit the candle on the fire pit and took a look at the paper. It was a palm-size, rectangular amulet woven from small reddish jungle vines with sophisticated patterns drawn in white colored ink. As soon as he touched the paper, the magic symbols changed into the color of gold and the amulet slowly disintegrated.
“OK, that was sneaky of you. You got me, Eliot. I guess this means I shouldn’t even touch a magic item, huh? What is it for this time?”
“You wouldn’t need a charm for your protection, father. The Lord is looking upon you. But, I still want you to have it for my nerves”
The Witch smiled.
“Now that’s a creative way to put it. You are very sweet, Eliot. Maybe the Archbishop should learn a thing or two from you after all”
He made the girl flustered. In the last light of day, the bishop of Ironheart spotted a red tint across the Witch of the Dark Forest’s cheek. She turned her face away as soon as she noticed his stare. He laughed to himself, wondering when he would again get to see such lovely emotions from the cruel-heart sorceress the Citadel made her into.
“Good bye, Eliot”, he bade the Witch farewell.
And so, it was the last time they had ever spoken to each other;
The bishop of Ironheart never made it home…
A fantasy novel from NaNoWriMo camp July 2014 – July 2015
The fate of a Medieval kingdom ruled by the Holy Church of the Saints, the future of the Illuminati order, and the destiny of Eliot–the Black Witch–all will be at stake.
Eliot has her own way when it comes to clearing her name of the crime she did not commit and reclaiming her peaceful life. Meanwhile, the Holy Church prefer seeing her burned in the purgatory flame for their people’s sake; and her best allies, the Illuminati, have yet to consider her an ally. Two decades of conflict will soon end as all sides seek the ancient powers to defeat their oppositions. One seeks an angel, one wages a war, the other finds knowledge and, by the way, the Devil loves a good deal finger crossed.
Only those who make the right decisions will be granted a future. And a White Destiny it shall be.