Thursday, February 12, 2009

NEW Chapter 5

The peace of the rolling green hills and wide meandering paths of Alexandria was disturbed by a long, loud wail. It increased in volume and pitch, echoing through the wide fields and across the flowery farms scaring chickens and geese. Around a turn in the hilly road, a band of soldiers on chestnut horses came trotting wearily. Some were holding their hands over their helmeted ears, others stuffing grass and cloth in their helmets, all trying desperately to stop the noise.

The source of the wailing and crying was a small girl, sitting in the seat of the soldier directly behind the Captain. Her curly blonde hair was missing a bow, and her eyes and nose were red and swollen from all the crying as tears streamed down her cheeks.

“Whaaaaaaaa! You killed Silver! You killed my puppy!” the little girl cried as more and more tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Vhill you be quiet!!!” yelled the Captain, turning his horse around.

The large, barrel chested man, with the same tan skin and deep brown hair as the rest of his soldiers was probably twice their size, muscles and veins bulging from beneath his silver armor. At his side he carried a large, ornate sword, with vines and flowers in the silver handle.

The soldier who was carrying the girl on his horse, a dull and unintelligent fellow named Burt, began speaking to the small girl, whose lips were quivering, readying another explosion of sorrow. “Now dere, vhat the Captain meant is, see dere, your doggy’s tail is tvitching. Ve didn’t go and hurt her. She is only sleeping.”

This seemed to appease the little girl, who wiped a sleeve across her face and gave a loud sniff before smiling and reaching over to pet the dog. When she was sure her dog was alright she seemed to recover remarkably fast from her lamentful state. But just as the Captain turned and began riding away, the peace was broken again.

“Captain, why did you take me? Where are we? Why are there so many flowers? Do you like flowers? I love flowers! My granny showed me how to make flower crowns. She always called me her little daisy. She tried calling me other flower names but I didn’t like them. Oh! We should stop and then I can make flower crowns for everyone! Oh please! Please! Please! Pleeeeeeaaaaaassssse!!!!”

The Captain gave a low growl as he tried to take a calming breath. It was going to be a very long ride back to the castle.


Nicholas stood on the top of the last small hillock before the castle. The faded red cart was stopped at its base while Aconite was gathering flowers. Ivan had curled up on the seat of the cart, sleep taking him even before his eyes were closed all the way. That meant Nicholas was left to make the plan.

He knew what Ivan wanted to do. Use Aconite to get into the castle. They would sneak in, pretending to be her helpers. But whenever Nicholas thought about doing it, he got a sick feeling in his stomach. It wasn’t fear. It was more like his conscience was telling him no, that he would have to lie to get inside, and that it was a very bad idea.

Nicholas stood on the hill looking towards the castle as he continued wrestling with the sickening feeling of dread that was engulfing his mind. He didn’t notice the old woman walking up behind him. She placed a bony hand on Nicholas’ shoulder, and he felt a cold chill go down his spine.

“Now then lad. No need to fret so much ‘bout what’s ta come. All things will work them selves out in the end, mark me words.”

“I don’t think I will be able to go with you two. Something feels… wrong. It’s hard to explain. Why don’t we just go up to the castle guard and explain the situation?”

“Well, I already explained that. The wicked Queen would have yer head on a platter afore ye had even said anything. She’s gone wild in the mind. Some things are better not to leave up to fate, lad.”

“I think I’ll take my chances with fate. Who knows, maybe the Queen’s madness can play in my favor. It’s a risky chance, but I’m gonna take it.”

“Foolish boy. You would cripple your own friends so? They need your help, not the extra sorrow of your death or more work in saving you! Don’t be so selfish!” the old woman said severely.

“I’m sorry, but I have to do what I think is right. Sahrina and Ivan will just have to understand.” Nicholas said, before turning and walking down towards the cart.

Aconite stood listening as Nicholas awoke Ivan and told the other boy his plan. There was arguing, with Ivan continually raising his voice. The words ‘illogical’ and ‘stupid’ echoed back up towards the hill. Eventually, Nicholas simply gave up trying to explain himself, wished Ivan luck, and walked towards the castle. Aconite followed him with her milky gaze. She was blind, but she was not. She knew what he has sensed. What she could not understand was how he had sensed it. Strange powers were at work in the land of Alexandria.


Sahrina walked though the darkness, feeling the hair-like roots matting against her face. The passage had not been used in many years. After walking for several hours she had come to a solid wooden door. The door led up more stairs and then into a small chamber. As she stepped from the tunnel’s darkness into another cold, dark room she tripped over something. A rusty pair of manacles. She was in a dungeon.

Sahrina walked slowly, softly, as she made her way across the straw strewn chamber. A foul, musky odor hung in the air, the smell of a room that hadn’t been used in centuries. She pushed the creaking rusted doors open and walked into the main guard room. It was large, with torches all around, but what made it stand out was a large pit in the center, covered in a grate, with the hiss of serpents coming from within.

“Hmmm. Dark secrets lurk in the locked places of Alexandria. Is this their kinds’ greatest gift?” she hissed under her breath.

From ahead of her, a shuffling gate could be heard as a guard was walking towards the main door to inspect the cells of the dungeon. She crept along the side of the wall and flattened herself against the rough stone, timing her breathing perfectly, to match the shadows of the flickering torch light. Then the door opened and a soldier walked in.

In the few seconds he had time to register what was going on, he saw a strange shadow on the wall flicker and then seem to leap forward. The shadow hit the ground before him with its hands, and brought its legs over in a flip, driving both booted feet hard into his head.

“Don’t over do it Sahrina!” she scolded herself, recalling her old master’s words, “Too much force will have consequences not only on your opponent but on yourself!”

As she began walking towards the guard she felt the throbbing pain begin to increase again with every footfall, proving she had overdone it. She quickly pulled the guard’s armor off and strapped it on herself. Then she tied him up and limped out of the chamber and up the stairs beyond the door.


The faded red cart pulled by the invisible nothing rolled to a stop before the large, red gates. Aconite sat alone on the cart surrounded by her many pigeons and doves. Her faded red shawl was wrapped around her bony figure, her white burlap robe fluttering its frayed edges in the wind that also caught her long wiry white hair. Two white, sightless eyes looked up towards the gate.

“Well now, were ye reckonin’ on openin’ the gate for me, me sonny?” she called up in her grandmotherly voice.

“Goodvhife Aconite, at lahst you haf returned. The kastle trees haf a strange sort of mold on de leafs and Brovoch de Fencing Master has broken his collar bone. It hahs been set but it vhil be much better vhen you tek a look at it.”

“Well then, ye’d better let me be getting’ in there. Just a wee moment. I well be needin’ one o’ my helpers. Now, let’s see. Ivan, come here.” she spoke to the doves as one fluttered over next to her in the seat.

The next moment there was a large puff of white smoke and when it cleared there was a small man next to her. He was dressed in bright red boots, puffy white pants, with a large white parka falling from around his neck all the way to his waist. On his head was a conical red hat with a wide brim that reached a hand’s length out from his head. And on his face was a white chalky bird mask with a long white beak.

The gates opened and the two rode in. The castle walls were so thick that the gateway was actually a tunnel leading in towards the castle grounds. The inside of the castle was completely unlike the rest of the land. It was a large central keep, surrounded by many fruit trees planted close together, an orchard literally fit for a king. No where else has Ivan seen trees in Alexandria, not since the Forest they had come out of.

Aconite directed the cart through towering trees on a path running through the small forest. They arrived at a large ornate door, carved with many stern looking women’s faces. The door opened and several people came out, all bustling and laughing as they talked excitedly with Aconite. She made a motion as she stepped towards them and Ivan nodded and took the reigns, steering the nothing pulling the cart towards the stables. That was, if he could find the stables.


The western swamps of Alexandria bubbled and hissed as fumes and vapors struggled to escape from the sucking mud. A small wooden boat, black and gleaming like moonlight slid slowly over the misty top of the swamp, not touching the mud or sucking quicksand. On the boat were two figures, one dressed in a stained, filthy brown suit with a deck of black cards in his hands. The other was a young girl of fourteen with hair like fire and eyes that were a deep green. She wore a simple burlap sack, tied around her waist with a rope.

“So, I think we’re almost at the end of the fog bank.” the fat man said, licking his dry lips. “We’ll have to go the rest of the way on foot.”

“Fine.” the girl said coolly.

“Listen you! You are my slave until I hand you over to my superior in Alexandria! Until then you’ll respect me! I am your master! I own you! I-eigh! Neigh!” As Stultius had been yelling his ears had slowly been changing into horse ears and his arms and legs began sprouting fir.

In panic, he jumped up, waving both hands over his head, which caused the boat they were in to flicker twice and disappear. They fell into the festering mud with two sickening plops. As man and slave girl wiggled out of the mud onto the patch of dry land, one of the black cards came flying back to the man and buried it somewhere in his deck.

As he coughed and hacked he slowly changed back into a man again, “You! You did this! Cough! Cough! I’ll teach you a thing or two!” He said wiping mud from his greasy face and raising a willow switch he had made earlier, the frightened girl backed against a pile of logs with no escape.


Ivan walked slowly and deliberately through the sunny hallways and chambers. Most of the castle’s west facing windows were splashing mid afternoon sunshine into the solid stone castle, filling it with light and warmth. Ivan scratched his face beneath the chalky mask as he continued searching, looking for any trace of Bella or the dungeons.


Sahrina climbed the stairs up from the inner castle keep, where the rooms had no windows and were lit with yellow glowing torches. She moved from chamber to chamber, searching for a sign of Bella, Nicholas, or Ivan. Even though it had only been a few days since they had met, she knew there was something about the two boys that drew her. She couldn’t just leave them here. They would need rescuing as much as Bella did in this strange land.

Her thoughts were interrupted as another soldier passed her, then turned and called, “Hey, you’re going the wrong way! Mess hall is this way!”

She turned slowly, forced a smile and said, “Thanks, I just need to go find my sword. I think I left it on the wall.”

“It can wait. Come on, if you don’t come soon there won’t be any left!” he smiled as he beckoned to her, “By the way. I don’t think we’ve met before. But with so many new recruits it’s been hard keeping track of people.”

Sahrina smiled and said, “My name is Holly. I’m from… north.”

“Hahaha. Well that explains the peculiar name. I’m Grieger from the west marshes.”

Before she could object, Sahrina found herself being dragged along by Grieger to the mess hall. There, in the cloud of smoke and steam from the kitchen, throngs of soldiers were bustling and laughing as they moved about the long rectangular table. Sahrina found herself between Grieger and a large man with no hair and a scar running the length of face. She decided to simply eat and see if she could catch any conversation about the three she was looking for.

The late lunch or early dinner, was a modest affair, with goose and chicken eggs served with both aforementioned birds roasted, along with flower seed porridge and cooked flower stalks. It seemed to Sahrina that a lot of the ales and cordials being passed around also seemed to be based on some flower or another. While pleasant tasting, the food was different and left a perfume like scent on her breath that she did not enjoy at all.


The sun was setting in the orange and violet sky when the small group of soldiers finally arrived at the castle. Most were decked in various flower crowns, with wreathes of flowers swinging around the horses’ necks and garlands of rose and lilies running between them, giving the appearance for all the world of one large daisy chain trotting towards the castle gates.

The Captain had tried in vain to keep the girl moving but every new field they had come to had excited the small girl even more and every time they had to stop while she gathered flowers. The small pest was now asleep in a sling around his shoulders, surrounded by lilies and daisies and all manners of flower.

Making sure that none of his men saw him, he gently moved the makeshift blanket to cover her shoulder completely. He smiled. She has been a troublesome little thing, but in many ways she reminded him of his own daughter. He hid his smile once more and gave a scowl to his men as motioned for them to discard their floral crowns before they entered the castle.


As the castle doors swung shut behind the group of soldiers, Nicholas lay down on the hill and pulled his heavy black cloak around him tighter. He knew that it would keep the worst cold out. He had waited all day long, asking soldiers as they were coming in from the fields about Bella.

Most had reported that the Captain had been sent out on a special mission that morning. They had also all confirmed that he would not be back till late afternoon or evening. So Nicholas had waited. He had waited and he has seen the group of flower soldiers arrive. And he had seen the Captain and how he treated Bella.

At least Nicholas now knew she wasn’t in any immediate danger. He would go speak to the Captain tomorrow and hopefully figure something out. Or he would speak to the Queen. At the moment, Nicholas felt that sleep was the best action to take. As a warm peaceful breeze brushed across the perfumed land and caressed his face, his eyes closed.


The mess hall was so crowded that Sahrina decided to leave as soon as possible, the noise making it impossible to hear anything anyway. She just barely made it out before more soldiers arrived, looking extremely tired. But what made them peculiar was that some were wearing strange flower wreathes on their helmets. Obviously they had too much rose ale, and she preferred not to waist her time. She needed information to find Bella and she wasn’t going to find it there.

Sahrina left the mess hall and found her way to the wall. Climbing the stairway up to the wall, she could see the last rays of the sun gently caressing the sky. A warm breeze was picking up, swirling perfumed air all around her. She had never felt any particular way about flowers, but the constant floral aroma from the fields, the kitchen and now her own breathe was overwhelming.

Walking along the wall she gazed over the land. The castle must have been close to the center because she could see equal distances in all directions. To her north, the lands continued, the small hillocks growing smaller and smaller until they became an open plane, with the singular road that wound to the glittering sea.

On her left, where the western sun was sinking, she saw the fields give way to hillocks, and hillocks give way to a strange milky white mist. It almost seemed that just by looking at it she could smell the fetid aroma of the swamps and marshes that must lay there. That’s where Grieger had said he was from.

On her right, she could see the fields again give way to hillocks and then to large hills and far behind them the eastern mountains stood large and tall. It occurred to her that she had never seen mountains that tall. They rose so steeply that they almost looked like pillars holding the sky up.

And then she returned her gaze to the south, where she and her friends had come from that day. She saw the many fields and farms encircled by the red road, and beyond it… beyond it she saw the forest. Like a living wall of green, so thick, so immense and impenetrable that whatever lay beyond it now seemed only a dream, far away.

A movement on a nearby hillock caught her attention. A black shape, like a curled up animal of some sort had stirred. She gave it no second thought and continued scanning the land before returning to the soldiers’ quarters. Since she was using the disguise of a soldier she might as well take the full benefits, such as a warm bed. Sahrina fell quickly asleep to the sound of many snoring soldiers and the scent of flowers still filling her mind.


The Captain has laid the sleeping bundle in the small satin bed, located in the royal cell. The solid gold and ivory walls were interspaced with precious gems and pearls that glimmered in the candle light. Then, when he had securely tucked her in, he slid out of the room and locked the door. His grimace returned as he faced the two guards before the door.

“Make sure that she stays in there and no one else goes in!” then as he turned to go he added, “Oh, and also, she may need a glass of vater, or a fresh candle in the middle of the night. Make sure to get it for her or I vhill hav your heads!”

Then he strutted away, making sure to pull his stomach in and his chest out. He marched up the stairs and further up towards the main castle keep. He crossed the castle courtyard lined with all its trees and entered the large, central keep.

Here there was no rough stone, only cool marble and soft velvet rugs lined with gold. No more harsh torches, only golden candelabras and lamps that illuminated rich paintings, soft silks, and marble statues of whitest hue. He walked past the main throne room, with its raised dais and single gold throne and proceeded up the wide stairway. There he walked along the polish ebony floor to the royal apartments.

He knocked once and stepped into the antechamber. The Queen’s nurse, dressed in rich brown robes studded with small pearls and with a dark brown, almost black, shawl around her shoulders was seated in the receiving chair. Standing next to her was another older woman, this one dressed in long white burlap robes, wearing a red shawl and with long white hair that seemed to blow in the breeze, even though there was no wind.

“Excuse me. I am here to see de Queen.”

“Kaptain. You hav missed her highness. As I vhas just explaining to my other guest, da Qveen is already asleep. Vhat do you hav to report?”

“Vhe apprehended de girl. She is in the royal cell right now.”

The nurse pursed her lips and nodded before turning to her guest, “Vhell, Goodvife Aconite, it seems you vere right. I shall speak to de Queen. Maybe she can be convinced to release de child.”

“I tink dat vould be a good idea.” the Captain said, but was cut off before he could continue.

“Very gud, Kaptain. You may return to your post. Tomorrow de Qveen vould like you and your men to check on de svamps. You vhill need plenty of rest.”

The Captain bowed stiffly and walked out, followed by the lady in white. The two walked silently down the hallway and back towards the main throne room. As they passed a painting of the royal family, the Captain turned to the old woman.

“So you are seeking Bella. Vhy?” asked the Captain.

“She is my granddaughter. She’s been missing and I have been looking for her for so long.” Aconite said smiling hopefully. “Could I possibly see her, just to make sure she’s safe?”

“You can trust me. She is safe.” The Captain spoke abruptly, “But if I can speak freely, de Qveen’s orders today seem very strange. Never before hav ve been sent to capture a little girl. I hav alvays followed de Queen’s orders vithout question… but this… if de Qveen will not release her… I shall help her get to you…”

“Many thanks Captain.” Aconite said bowing, “I couldn’t thank ye enough.”

“It vould be my pleasure.” The Captain smiled. “Oh, and is der any message you vould vant me to give to her?”

“Oh, aye, many thanks. Just tell my wee Buttercup that I’m coming for her and we’ll be home soon.” Aconite said appreciativly.

“I vhill do that.” The Captain said smiling as he stepped out the door. “A Gud Evening tvo you.”

“An’ te ye.” Aconite bowed as the Captain stepped out and closed the door.


Ivan was completely lost, cold, tired, and hungry. He had walked through the old castle and could not find a single trace of the girls. It didn’t help that somewhere early along his journey he had entered a room with a strange wardrobe in it. The door of the room had locked from the outside and he was stuck. Then he had sat down and thought about where he was in the castle. His calculations meant that there was another room behind the wall with the wardrobe.

Pulling the ancient looking wardrobe down he had broken the back paneling and used it to wedge several stones loose and make a tunnel into the next room. As he was about to squees through the tunnel he stepped on a switch and the entire wall he had been working on for almost an hour swung open. From there it had been a series of secret chambers and passages and even with his north finding ability he had gotten completely lost.

So he found himself before the large mahogany doors. They were carved with a many figures and symbols and signs that he couldn’t unravel. When he looked at the center panels he thought he saw the owl and the raven depicted on each actually moving from the corner of his eye. Ivan’s candle he had found hours earlier was almost gone, so he pushed the door open, hoping there would be some form of light inside.

The room that greeted him was completely dark. He stumbled around until he found a fire place. There were ancient logs covered in cobwebs and dust sitting in the fireplace waiting to be used. He lowered his candle and even before the flame touched the wood, the large oak logs burst into flame, causing Ivan to fall backward in shock.

The light from the large stone fireplace lit the entire room. Ivan gasped as he saw rows and rows of books reaching so high into the darkness above that they appeared to go on forever. He found another candle and lit it from the fire, and began searching through the library, all thoughts of hunger and weariness forgotten.

As Ivan browsed through the world of books, tomes, and atlases, he began reassuring himself that he was helping Sahrina and Nicholas. He was looking for a map of the castle so he could find them. And while he was doing that, why shouldn’t he do some research on this strange place they were in? After all, in the end, that might prove the most help of all. Besides, he said to himself, the two of them had probably already found Bella.


Many eyes slept that night, some in peace, some in worry, and some in weariness. In the swamps of Alexandria, one pair slept in pain, another in fear. Fear of what the night sleep might bring. But in the night there were two eyes which did not sleep.

“The moon is black. The time has come. Come my daughters. Come to me.” the whisper crept over the world.

Several dreams were interrupted as the whisper fell in their ears. But they did not wake up. Instead, in their dreams, they all saw the world change before them and fall away. All that remained was a single floating slab of dead rock, surrounded by torrents of smoky haze. To this meeting place they all were called and came.

First there arrived an oily smoke smudge that moved across the air and then took the shape of the mistress of nightmares in her black gossamer gowns. Next, out of the swirling darkness a bright and shining light arrived, a figure faintly within. After her, an armored figure, carrying a large iron mace and with a heavy chainmail cape dragging in the dust arrived. Then came one in a robe, off-black, that hung down in many folds, making her seem like a large walking pile of mud. And finally, the one in the silky red cape arrived. They were all there.

“Oleander.” came the voice that called them.

“Yes…” spoke the heavy voice behind the iron helmet.

“Yes, mother.” the first voice insisted.

“Yes… mother.” Oleander said seething behind her helmeted face.

“What happened little one?” asked the soft voice.

“I… I lost the key.” spoke Oleander hanging her head in shame.

“Ha! Not only lost the key, but drove her back into the forest. We could have picked her up easily if you hadn’t been so clumsy!” hissed the figure in black.

“I had other problems to take care off. At the time I did not know she was in the forest.” Oleander said, fingers clenching around the large mace.

“So your years of swearing off magic has taken its toll on your senses, old one.” purred the one in crimson.

“Shut your mouth! A Vestal dare not speak in high counsel matters! This is between me and the other Matrons!” boomed Oleander’s voice.

“Many apologies, O highly esteemed one.” said the crimson robed Vestal with a mock bow.

“Girls. Enough.” said the soft voice, “What is being done about the key?”

“I am moving my forces to the east.” answered the lady in black, “If the Order or the Volvasa try to interfere they will find themselves grossly outnumbered.”

“Do not worry about the Order of the Apothecary. For many years now I have been slowly wrapping my hands around them, corrupting the pure, breaking the strong. They will soon crumble into nothing but willing servants of out mother.” spoke the bright light with a smile.

“Where is the girl now?”

“She is before me, mother. I need only reach out and grasp her, and the key is mine.” spoke the one in the folded robe. “However, I have sensed guards about her. Not only human but others as well. Even as I speak now, I must guard my lips and my appearance for their presence is about me… and it is no ordinary light I sense but that… that of the old light.”

There was no sharp retort or quick answer from those gathered this time. Instead, there was a single dread that entered all those present. Finally the first voice spoke, softly and soothing as she directed her children.

“It seems our enemy has finally decided to make themselves known. Long has the light shone without revealing its source. But there are other things. Deeper things. Things that once made war with the old light and prevailed against it. Even now, one of these sleeps beneath the waters of the deep. The time is almost come to awaken him from his long slumber.”

The dread from before was replaced with excitement and expectancy as they all felt themselves tremor with anticipation. The day had finally come. Long had they lurked in the shadows but no more. The time had come for then to rise. None would be able to stand before the Circle of Witches.

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