A guide for young wytche.., p.2
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       A Guide for Young Wytches, p.2

           Jon Jacks
 
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  As for Lisa’s insistence that Richard was too ill to travel; well, although his condition at present would certainly back her up on that, it may well be that he had deteriorated to this sad state only recently.

  Perhaps, too, Lisa wasn’t aware of everything Richard did – it could well be that she, too, had gone on a holiday or for a break; and Richard could have seen it as an opportunity to also leave the castle for a while.

  ‘It might be longer than that,’ Richard added, staring out through the tall windows gracing the farthest wall, taking in the swirling snow fluttering against the glass. ‘If the snow continues to fall.’

  The snow was managing to lie thickly even against the smooth panes of glass, freezing in place there as soon as it struck. Beyond, the courtyard was now invisible, veiled by the swiftly whirling flakes.

  Lisa pouted miserably, as if finally resigned to her fate of allowing me to stay at least one night with them.

  ‘I’ll have a room made up,’ she sighed morosely, turning to leave.

  Before leaving, however, she glanced back over her shoulder, her expression once more that of a stern dominatrix.

  ‘As soon as the snow eases, though – I’m calling the taxi back to whisk her away as swiftly as she arrived here!’

   

   

  *

   

   

  Richard grinned happily at me as Lisa closed the door behind her.

  ‘Well, you’ve only been here a few minutes, Danny; and you’ve already upset the neat order of the place.’

  ‘I don’t want to cause any trouble…’ I apologised nervously.

  Why had I come here without making any official checks? Without ensuring that I’d actually be welcomed by everyone else who lived in such a great castle?

  I had to be sure that I really had been invited to stay here.

  ‘Richard, did you sneak away on holiday without telling Lisa?’

  Richard shook his head.

  ‘Lisa’s right when she’s says I’ve been too ill to leave the castle for a long time now.’

  ‘But I saw you, I talked to you! At the Imperia Hotel in Corfu!’

  ‘Maybe it was a boy pretending to be me?’

  He said it in a tone that subtly asked if I’d considered this.

  ‘A boy who just happens to look exactly like you?’

  He shrugged, as if he thought this was a trivial matter.

  ‘Haven’t you seen that movie? What was it – The Talented Mr Ripley? It can pay people handsomely to impersonate boys more fortunate than themselves; such as, for instance, impressing beautiful girls?’

  He smiled kindly, his way, I was sure, of removing any barbs from his comment that implied I was either foolish or impressed by wealth rather than character. It was a smile that said his emphasis was on the ‘beautiful’.

  ‘I should leave,’ I said, hanging my head.

  I was ashamed that I had been fooled, that I had been taken in by a boy simply because he was handsome, innocently believing that he was supposedly fabulously wealthy.

  ‘Even if I wanted you to leave, I’d have to be especially cruel to throw you out into weather like this!’

  With a nod of his head, he indicated the snowstorm that was now rushing angrily towards the looming windows.

  ‘But if you didn’t invite me, why did you imply to Lisa that you had?’

  ‘One of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen turns up on my doorstep, and I’m supposed to turn her away? I’m ill, Danny – not an idiot! When I saw you; well, I wanted to hear you were planning on staying here for ever!’

  Now I’m hanging my head to hide my blushes.

  ‘Well, obviously I’m an idiot,’ I mumbled from beneath my shielding curtain of long hair. ‘What would have happened if I’d turned up here on a false invite and you hadn’t been so kind and thoughtful?’

  ‘Hmn, now there you do have a point,’ he agreed. ‘A boy invites you to stay and you don’t make any checks? You don’t get anything in writing, confirming your visit – or, indeed, that it’s safe for you to visit? And what of your parents, Danny: didn’t they point out it was foolish just taking the word of a boy you met on holiday?’

  I opened my mouth, prepared to explain.

  Yet no words came out.

  Because I had absolutely no idea why my parents hadn’t stopped me coming here.

   

   

  *

   

   

  Chapter 4

  After asking the permission of a Willow (Tree of Enchantment, or Moon Tree, and sacred to the White Lady), select a pliable shoot and tie a loose knot in it while expressing your wish or desire.

  Untie the knot when the wish is fulfilled, leaving a gift and thanking the tree for its help.

  A Guide for Young Wytches

   

   

  As Richard had advised, we had eaten and taken tea as we’d talked.

  Naturally, I’d asked about the missing angel.

  He didn’t sound surprised that I’d guessed it should be an angel gracing the tree’s top – I suppose there’s a very good chance that it would be an angel, of course – and neither did he sound in anyway as perturbed as I’d expected when I’d mentioned its absence.

  It had simply gone missing this year, he’d explained calmly. And they were keeping the space clear in the hope that it would turn up somewhere.

  I’d also asked how Lisa had known to address me in English, if no one had been expecting me. Lisa was very observant, he’d replied; the way I dress, the colours of the airline tags on my suitcase, were all pointers to parts of my character to anyone as perceptive as her.

  As I’d bit into a juicy fig, he’d told me something I would have preferred not to know: the sweetness of its centre is all down to a female wasp long ago attracted into and trapped within the nascent fruit.

  When Richard started displaying obvious signs of fatigue, I said I’d call in on him later, once I’d settled into the room being prepared for me by Lisa and the maids. I closed the door quietly behind me, glancing once more towards the tree’s naked top.

  The nearest ornament to the top was a large glass ball of a glistening light blue, shinning like an encapsulated orb of morning sky. As I strode along the graceful curve of the landing, I caught the changing reflections within that sparkling blue. It all gave the appearance that the ball was trembling, shaking on its branch as if far too delicately positioned to be secure.

  The more I stared it, the more the ball shook.

  It jerked, quite violently.

  Either the thread holding it to the branch snapped, or it slipped free of the stem it had been hanging on.

  Either way, the ball abruptly dropped from the branch.

  It fell upon the branch lying just below, only to roll off that and drop towards an even lower one.

  And so it began its fall towards the ground, gaining in speed with every branch it fell from.

   

   

  *

   

   

  I broke into a run, dashing headlong, incredibly carelessly, down the stairs.

  I hoped I could get to the base of the tree before the ball smashed to the ground. But its fall was rapidly gaining in pace, the sparkle of blue descending through the branches of darkest green, the ornaments of every colour imaginable.

  I arrived at the base of the tree, but was momentarily confused, wondering which way the packed branches would send the ball falling.

  I rushed more towards the back of the tree, the side closest to the wall, quickly determining that this was the most likely place for the ball to fall.

  The ball shuddered as it struck another branch. It bounced slightly, fell over the side I wasn’t expecting it to.

  I reached out desperately, the ball at last falling from the last branch with nothing more to soften its drop.

  My fingers stretched out, touched the edge of the falling ball – and my hand
felt the almost weightless orb of blown glass plump satisfactorily into my palm.

  I grinned triumphantly. I’d never, ever, made such an accomplished catch. The ball glistened in my hand as if it were a trophy.

  Behind me, there was a creak of wood. A cold gust against the back of my shins caused me to shiver.

  Turning, I discovered a small, surprisingly plain door that had previously been hidden behind the tree’s massed branches.

  It was slightly open. Perhaps my running around here had caused the floorboards to flex, the door to move slightly.

  I was about to close the door when I noticed a flash of silver coming from its otherwise dark interior. A moving flash, too, and one that seemed to hover briefly through the air.

  In fact, if I hadn’t known it was impossible, I would have sworn I’d just seen a miniature angel, soaring through the room.

   

   

  *

   

   

  Chapter 5

  ‘The Moon owns the Willow’ – and so a wand of Willow helps with intuition, dreams, and visions, as well as healing emotional problems or releasing tension.

  Place it under your pillow then, before you go to sleep, focus on ensuring your dreams are more vivid and meaningful.

  A Guide for Young Wytches

   

   

  Still clutching the looped string – it hadn’t snapped after all – of the glistening wassail ball, I pushed the door open a little more.

  I stepped inside, expecting the small room to be too dark for me to see anything clearly.

  The light constantly reflecting from the ball was strangely bright enough, however, for me to use it as if it were a candle. It lit my way as I cautiously strode farther into the room.

  The ball’s flickering rays were themselves reflected back, transformed from sky blue to more silvery hues – the silver (or rather the blinding whites, contrasted with ebony details) of the angel, lying on top of what appeared to be a small yet incredibly ancient box.

  Naturally, it wasn’t a real angel. An expensive mix of detailed ceramics and fine lace, it was just over a foot high. It was the type of ornamental angel anyone would be more than happy to see gracing the top of their Christmas tree.

  Surely, though, this couldn’t be the castle’s ‘missing’ angel?

  It was hardly missing, after all, lying plainly in view in a storeroom leading off the main hall.

  Perhaps this was a spare decoration, left aside in the hope that the more traditionally used angel would still turn up somewhere.

  I glanced about the room. What had made me think I’d seen this angel flying?

  Lifting my sparkling ball a little higher, to cast its light around the room, I saw other reflective surfaces; objects haphazardly leant against the walls, or stacked on old shelves.

  Obviously, the light from outside had caught these surfaces, briefly granting them a new, sparkling life. After my panicked run – the blood surging through my head, my eyes – I’d been a little dizzy, enough to cause me to see these flashes as a soaring angel.

  Bringing the reflected light of the ball back towards the angel, I turned to take a more detailed look at it.

  But the angel was no longer there.

  It had vanished.

   

   

  *

   

   

  Chapter 6

  A wand of Rowan (Wychwood, or Sorb Apple) grants an increased awareness of all our senses and abilities, as well as of outside influences affecting us that we may previously have been unaware of.

  A Guide for Young Wytches

   

   

  I quickly looked either side of the box, checking that the angel hadn’t fallen there.

  Nothing.

  Just how dizzy had my rush down the stairs made me?

  Had I really just imagined that I’d seen the angel lying here?

  I realised, too, that it wasn’t even a box that the now supposedly vanished angel had been lying on. It was a book.

  A Guide for Young Wytches.

  The cover was soft to the touch, it was so old and worn.

  I flipped back the cover, opening the book on a page with a handwritten scrawl.

  ‘This book belongs to Mary Ibbots, December 1936.’

  1936? A long time ago, surely. Yet I would say the book appeared even older than that, much older.

  I flicked over a clutch of pages, taking a quick look at the contents. It seemed to be a book of simple spells; tips on making wands, the rules of a strange, unrecognisable alphabet.

  A children’s book, possibly. In English too, strangely.

  Wondering if it would be all right for me to take it, I glanced about the room once more, to see if it really was full of unwanted, discarded objects.

  I jumped up in fright, instinctively clutching at the book, protectively bringing it up in front of my face – and then, seeing what had scared me so much, I burst into laughter at my own stupidity.

  For a moment, I thought I’d seen a witch watching me, a witch like you see in children’s books, with the tall, black, crooked hat. But it was only my reflection in a large yet remarkably filthy mirror, my ‘hat’ being the grime smeared across the top of the glass.

  I was about to put the book back down, realising the right thing to do was ask if I could borrow it, when I had the strange sense that I was arriving at the castle once more.

  I’m in the back of the car; a different car, though.

  An older style of car.

  Yet in all other ways, the scene looks and feels exactly as it did when I arrived here only an hour or so ago.

  The swirling snow. The looming, white castle.

  My curiosity. My excitement, my nervousness. This sense that I’m embarking on this great adventure.

  But no, no!

  There is something different.

  I feel fear.

  More fear than I ever felt in my entire life!

   

   

  *

   

   

  Chapter 7

  To purify an atmosphere, burn Oak leaves.

  A Guide for Young Wytches

   

   

  The room Lisa had prepared for me was outrageously gorgeous.

  Like Richard’s room – and despite the fact we seemed to be in different sections of the castle’s keep – the end of my room had towering windows. They also looked out over part of the snow swept courtyard, albeit from much higher up.

  The higher outer walls of the castle still dominated the view, however. They stretched so high they thwarted any attempt I made to view their tops by crouching close to the windows.

  My attempts did reward me, though, when I looked down as opposed to up. This presented me with a view of an elaborately organised garden. The type with geometrically formed borders, hedges, and even bushes and trees.

  With its thick sheen of snow, it appeared as something more akin to a highly complicated board game rather than a construct of nature.

  A magpie sullenly hopped from one hedge top to another. The black and white of his feathers caused parts of his body to apparently disappear, as he either flew from one place to another, or turned around on a branch or thickly meshed bush.

  The still falling snow distorted or dissolved his elements of darkness, transforming him into little more than geometric patterns in his own right.

  I’d hidden the book I’d brought with me in a drawer beneath a few items of my unpacked clothes. The ball I’d hung back on the tree, on the highest branch I could reach without disturbing any other of the ornaments.

  I’d regretted leaving it there as I’d walked away from it, feeling I was unjustly abandoning a friend who had helped me out, a source of light in an otherwise dark and foreboding place.

  Even so, I would have liked to explore the castle a little more. It would be nice, for a start, to see if I could find any of the
maids or servants I haven’t as yet seen anywhere about the place.

  I’m not sure, however, that Lisa would be happy to see me just wandering around.

  Perhaps once I’ve seen Richard again, and got his permission to look around the place, she might be a little more willing to allow me a bit more of a free rein.

  With nothing better to do, I decided to take another look at the children’s book I’d found, wondering if it would have that same, odd effect it had had on me when I’d first picked it up.

  Pulling open the drawer, flipping back the covering of clothes, I reached into the drawer for the book

  A Guide for Aspiring Wytches.

  Odd; I could have sworn it had said young witches.

  Before I could figure out how I could have made such a mistake, I heard the sound of footsteps drawing closer towards my door. I slipped the book back beneath the clothes, pushed the drawer closed.

  With nothing more than a polite rap on the panelling, and without waiting for a reply or invitation to enter, Lisa opened the door and stepped into the room.

  ‘I need to know exactly who you are, girl!’ she stormed. ‘And why you’re really here!’

   

   

  *

   

   

  Lisa had checked the history and records of Richard’s internet use.

  He’d had no contact with any girls. And, of course, there was no invite from him for me to stay here.

  Rather than being defensive, I could have gone onto the attack: accused her of being too domineering, allowing Richard no privacy, all that kind of thing.

  Fortunately, I had enough sense to realise that ploy wouldn’t work with Lisa.

  And she did have a point, didn’t she? What was I doing here?

  ‘I’m sorry,’ I said, realising honesty was the best policy as far as talking to Lisa was concerned. ‘I met a boy on holiday who said he was Richard. I know I was foolish to take his word for it, but when he invited me out here–’

  ‘Foolish?’ Lisa’s eyes were wide with disdain. ‘I think it’s far more than foolish to accept a boy’s word – a boy whom you’ve only just met, and know little about – that he’s wealthy enough to own a castle!’

  I shrugged, hung my head ashamedly.

  She was right again, wasn’t she?

  ‘I know, I know, I’ve been amazingly silly!’ I admitted miserably. ‘I’ll leave as soon–’

  ‘Yes, you will, my girl! Fortunately for you, however, and unfortunately for us, the storm’s getting worse; but as soon as it begins to clear – and as soon as the roads are cleared – then yes, I want you out of here!’

  I glanced over my shoulder, briefly taking in the now almost solid white of the whirling snow battering at my windows.

 
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