The Lost Castle

Time has erased the memory of magic,

silenced the music of all that was mythic.

History has forgotten the sorcery of old

but still there are prophecies left to be told.

A castle was built out of sorrow and loss,

made for protection from evils and chaos,

her spells will protect you here at all costs,

but the good witch is gone and the castle is lost.

Now every transgressor swollen with greed

searches for true magic's seed,

but out of the darkness, in goodness's draught,

will come the one who seeks honesty out.

She alone will win the castle,

she whose courage and kindness is ample.

Chapter One

(I apologize in advance that none of the paragraphs are indented - I don't know how to do that since they are indented in Word but not on )

The day started out chilly and misty. Arianwen woke before her family and slid on her brown leather slippers, quickly pulling a quilted coat on over her goose bumps. She quietly crept around her sleeping sisters and descended the ladder of the loft. The entire house was freezing—she could see her own breath—so she started a fire in the kitchen hearth. Taking up most of the kitchen, the hearth was made of ancient russet bricks forming a crescent shape where a pile of wood in the center was used for cooking. An arch above, made of the same bricks, had pots and pans and sausage hanging above it. It looked so inviting, smoke rising up the old chimney. After placing a pot of boiling water over the new flames she stepped out the front door, taking in a deep breath of the cold wind. The slow breeze was getting faster at a rapid pace, batting against the shutters and mossy shingles.

Something felt different this morning. As Arianwen rubbed her arms she walked down the pebble and dirt path to the back of the cottage and gathered more firewood, knowing her family might need it on such a cold spring day. The forest was alive around her. Thin yellow strands of sunlight shimmered down onto her face, though she couldn't feel the heat, and swallows floated on the cool blue breeze. She scurried back into the house with the wood and set it down next to the fire, humming and fixing her braid. Noticing that the water still hadn't come to a boil, she sprinkled some salt into it and went back outside down the same path behind the cottage, going a bit further toward a tiny stable. The horses inside of it neighed with excitement when they saw her.

"Good morning Faye, Oberon." Both the gray speckled (Oberon) and the painted brown (Faye) horses neighed in return. "Did you sleep well?" The grey speckle horse shook its head up and down, and Arianwen smiled. "That's good. Here's your breakfast. I have to go see if the water's boiling, so I'll be back later." The horses neighed as if they understood.

Arianwen made her way back inside. She threw something in the pot and stirred it, then heard footsteps climbing down the loft's ladder. Turning to see, it was her sister just waking. "How's the weather?" she asked Arianwen. Her sister looked around at the dusty floor and cluttered table. She started to clear it.

"Chilly—might be a big storm on the way like Father said. I can feel it." She stirred the water again and grabbed a loaf of bread, setting it on the table. Her sister went to one of the kitchen windows, opened it, and grabbed a piece of fruit off the tree, biting into it, then shut the window.

"Aria," her sister began, only ever calling her by her pet name, "should we go fishing for dinner tonight? If there really is a storm coming, it will be easier to find fish by the bridge."

"Yes, that would be nice." Arianwen took the pot of water off and replaced it with a frying pan just as more footsteps were heard coming from under the loft. This time it was her parents. "Good morning Mother, Father. Eira and I are going to go to the bridge soon to fish." She cracked some eggs and started to fry them.

"I told you there'd be a storm," said her father as he picked up plates from the cupboard and sat with his wife at the kitchen table. Eira sat down with them and sliced the loaf of bread.

"Will someone wake Kiki?" asked their mother. Eira shouted up the loft at her sleeping sister and their mother sighed, groaning aloud that shouting was not what she meant.

When the eggs were done, Arianwen slid them one by one onto everyone's plates. She set the pan down and grabbed glasses, wiping them with her sleeve to make sure they were clean. Her father spoke again, saying, "Last night I heard there have been some strange events happening in the city."

"But dear," said their mother, "I thought you were leaving for the city today?"

"Yes, I have to bring two horses to the King. We'll get a hefty sum for this sale."

Eira swallowed her food and asked, "Aren't you afraid to go right now? I mean, I heard the rumors last night, too."

"What rumors?" Arianwen asked, finally sitting down.

Eira explained, "There are rumors of black witchcraft in the city."

"Black witchcraft?" asked their mother, dropping her bread onto the plate.

"Mother," said Arianwen, passing out the cooked eggs, "we've been over this before. Not all magic is bad."

"Humph. I bet," her mother replied, hungrily gobbling down her portion.

"Anyway," their father continued, setting down his mug, "some are saying the few magicians still alive believe they can find the Lost Castle."

"The Lost Castle?" Kiki, the youngest sister, asked curiously as she climbed down from the loft.

"Don't get her interested in magic," their mother whispered threateningly. "Sorcerers, magicians… nothing but trouble," she added. Kiki then took her seat at the table.

Arianwen ignored her mother. "So what does it matter if there are still magicians looking for the castle? The King is looking for it, too. They'll probably be forced to work for him."

Eira said, wiping her mouth first, "He's desperate to find it. The man is so greedy."

"Don't say bad things about our King," said her mother.

"It's a little ironic that the man hates magic, yet he wants to find a magical castle," said Arianwen.

"I'm sure he has his reasons," said their mother.

"Actually, that's what the rumors are about," said their father. "Seems the source of the black magic is coming from inside the King's castle. As I heard it, one of those magicians – and he only uses white magic – sensed black sorcery inside the castle when he was called for by the King."

"I love gossip," Eira smiled.

"Well, I think if it's happening inside the King's castle it must have something to do with the King," said Arianwen. "It's very suspicious, considering the King knows everyone who lives in the castle and had banned black magic a long time ago."

"Don't say bad things about our King," their mother said again.

They all ignored her and continued eating. Arianwen was still curious. "What kind of strange events, anyway?"

"No one really knows," said her father, "but all these rumors started after the King was told by a servant that someone was trying to break into the castle. The servant said this person was fully cloaked so she couldn't see who it was, and the thief took a box out of one of the King's personal rooms. When his advisors questioned him about the matter, he said whoever tries it again will be punished to the full extent of the law."

Arianwen finished eating and stood. A light rain started to patter on the copper shingles. "Kiki, sweetheart, it's your turn to clean up."

"Right," she agreed without complaint.

Eira followed Arianwen outside to the stable, and soon after, their father brought the fishing equipment outside. "Now, you two be careful, and come back before dark. I know this is going to be a big storm, so before it gets nasty I want you to come home."

"We will, father." Eira kissed him on the cheek, then Arianwen did the same, as they always did upon leaving the house.

"Your mother will be worried sick if you're not home before dark."

"We know, father. You be safe, too, on your way to the city," Eira replied.

"I'll be home tomorrow night," he said.

He helped his girls onto Oberon and Faye, and they started off. He called out to them, each waving, "Be safe!" Before they left his sight he called out to them again and stood in place for a while after.

Arianwen pulled her hood up. The rain started to get heavier so they traveled faster. The trail out of the forest and down the mountain hill was beautiful. It seemed like the earth was glowing as the rain hit the wet dirt and emerald leaves, each raindrop bouncing back up. The girls saw red deer searching the ground for good patches of green to eat, and squirrels gathering acorns on their way down the hill. When the ground turned flat and they were out of the forest, the rain stopped pouring. There was a lake at the bottom of the mountain hill, narrow and curving between valleys until it was out of sight. The girls headed for the covered bridge that connected their hill to the next and unpacked. Their fishing rods were long, slim wooden sticks with five-yard long strings tied to the wood, with hooks on the end that sunk into the water.

"Aria," asked her sister, "do you think you'll ever get married?"

Arianwen was surprised by the question. She has expected to talk about Eira's love-life, as was the usual, not her own romantic aspirations.

"The boys next door look nice," her sister continued.

Arianwen smiled. "You still have a crush on their middle son, don't you?"

Eira suddenly looked hopeless. "He's so handsome."

"You're all young yet, so don't get your hopes up. I'm sure he'll notice you when he gets home from the fair."

"No he won't." She slumped down against the bridge.

"When we get home I'll give you my nicest dress, and we'll have mother fix your hair up so you look like a sophisticated woman. If you act like your sweet self, there's no way he won't fall in love with you. Besides, the two of you already get along so well."

Eira smiled. "You're wonderful, Aria. Thank you." She stood and picked up the second fishing pole, flipping the string into the water. Arianwen caught her first fish. She brought it up out of the water and dropped it into the collection pail. Then she grabbed a sharp knife, took the fish back out of the pail, laid it flat on the bridge, and cut its head off with one swift chop. "But what about you?" Eira asked as Arianwen returned the now-headless fish to the pail. "Don't you want to marry someone?"

Arianwen raised her eyebrows. "Well, yes… But, no."

"No?" Eira looked shocked.

"I have a man in mind," she said, turning excitedly to look at her sister. "He's tall, strong, and has long blonde hair. He has the deepest eyes, the color of iolite, and a devilish smile. Most importantly, he loves me with all his heart because we've gone through so much together. And he thinks I'm the most beautiful woman in the entire world."

Eira gasped in delight.

"Eira, you silly girl," Arianwen said as she brought up her second fish. "He doesn't exist!"

"Oh," she said with disappointment, then with an accusing tone, "Arianwen! I don't like when you trick me."

"If you're that easy to trick I'd better keep a close eye on you with the boys. But in this case you should have known better, since you know every boy I know, which means there's no one special."

Arianwen chopped the head off of her second fish like she had done with the first, then joined it with the other headless fish in the pail. There was a pause before Arianwen told her sister, "It's strange, though. I feel like I shouldn't joke about that made-up man. I've been dreaming of him my whole life. I feel like he's out there, somewhere, waiting for me. I want him to find me and take me on an adventure."

Eira smirked. "See, you want to fall in love." Arianwen didn't say anything, but she blushed.

Suddenly thunder cracked in the clouds and the rain beat down much heavier than before. Eira dragged in her first fish and skillfully chopped its head off like Arianwen had done, and then there were three fish in the pail. "Maybe we should go," Arianwen suggested. They started to pack up their supplies. All the while Eira complained that they'd been there such a short time.

Then, just after they'd attached their things to the saddles on their horses, there was a woman's scream not too far off. Without questioning it, Arianwen jumped up on Oberon and started to ride in the direction of the scream. Eira quickly followed suit. The horses took them up a staircase on the hill, made of roots, stones, broken wood and moss. It was hard to climb so they worked at a slower pace. Half way up they saw a tiny cottage on stilts. A black-cloaked figure was running away from it, carrying something very vibrantly colored.

"Oberon won't be able to chase that thief on these rocks," said Arianwen. "Eira, stay here," she ordered, running after the cloaked figure on foot, fishing knife in hand.

"What? What I am supposed to do?" Eira stared up at the cottage as she tied Oberon and Faye's reigns to one of the stilts and timidly climbed up. Very cautiously, she peeked in the doorway at the top of the ladder, finding an old woman trying to get back on her feet.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, rushing to help the woman on her feet.

"Oh, thank you, dear, you're sweet. Where did you come from?"

"What happened here?" Eira asked worriedly.

"Something very precious was just stolen. Something that should not be kept in the wrong hands."

"That thief stole something from you? What was it?"

"The Fire Box, dear. Oh, I'm afraid it's too late."

"The Fire Box?" repeated Eira. She didn't remember what it meant, though it sounded familiar. The old woman didn't answer, though, and sat herself into a monstrously large green chair near the fire. "My sister is chasing the thief right now," explained Eira. "Hopefully she'll be able to get it back for you."

"Oh the poor girl—she shouldn't have gone!"


"That demon could kill her! I'll have to cast a protection spell…" The old woman tried standing, but it was very difficult, so she slumped right back into the chair.

Eira was speechless. Protection spell?

"Perhaps I should introduce myself—" said the old woman, breathing heavily. "My name is Hattie."

"Hattie…you wouldn't be a… a witch, would you?"

Hattie giggled. "What else would I be? Besides an old woman, of course."

Eira silently sat next to her, wide-eyed.

"Let me catch my breath, dear." She huffed and sighed. "Right then, hand me that pouch right there." She pointed to a small velvet bag on the table, purple and shiny. Once she had it in her hands she dipped her index finger in and it came out sparkling with a purple glittering dust. She used her other hand to toss more firewood under the great big cauldron just a few feet in front of her, sparks zipping out over the already hot flames in the hearth.

"Toss that in the cauldron, too, will you?" Hattie mentioned a jar of weird objects sitting on a shelf among other jars. Eira cautiously picked it up and started to dump the jar into the water before the old woman stopped her. "Not the actual jar, dear, just the contents."

Eira did as she was told. Then the old woman closed her eyes and started mumbling gibberish. For a moment it seemed as if the witch herself was glowing purple; Eira had to wipe her eyes. When she next looked, the witch was placing her sparkling purple index finger on the cauldron's side, though it must have been insanely hot to touch, spelling out letters in the dust, and as she wrote, the letters glowed in purple. Eira didn't recognize the language and wondered if it was a secret, magical tongue.

"What is your sister's name?" asked the witch. After Eira spoke, the witch started her spell. "Ancient magical spirits, Great Witch, Mother Luna," the old woman chanted, "please protect Arianwen, the young girl chasing the demon thief. She wishes to protect the Fire Box. Guard her against evil and bring her safely back to us. Please, spirits, send her a guardian." A burst happened inside the cauldron and a cloud of black smoke poofed out of it. Hattie and Eira coughed to clear their lungs, waving their hands through the smoky air.

"Let's hope that works," the witch said, clapping her hands together to get rid of the glitter dust. Eira was still dazed. Hattie said, "Come, now, it's not that hard to believe."

"Sorry." Eira said, and took a look around. The place was very cluttered and dusty. Books seemed to sprout out of every crevice and the candle-lit antique chandelier was so low that it would knock you on the head if you passed under it. A soothing musk incense burned along with the fire. The cottage seemed ancient and somehow darker than outside, where the mist surrounded the cottage so thickly that she couldn't see out the window. Every animal in the forest seemed to be right next to Eira in the crowded space. The floors were rickety and caked with mud, but overall it was warm and homely. Eira felt very welcomed here, like she belonged.

"My name is Eira," she finally introduced herself.

"Thank you for saving me, dear."

Out on the hill, Arianwen still chased after the creature. The way it jumped from the ground to branches and back to the ground again in less than a second made Arianwen realize the thief was not human. She was more frightened than she'd even been before, but a strong, unexplainable desire for justice, and an overwhelming curiosity, made her continue.

After the creature discovered that Arianwen was following close behind, it suddenly swirled around in one great big motion and lunged forward at her. She shrieked and fell backwards. Remembering that she brought her fishing knife, she grabbed it out of her dress pocket. When she saw what the creature looked like she hurled it at the thing as hard as she could. It stopped and looked down at its punctured stomach, ripped the thing out like it was nothing, and continued creeping toward her. It showed her its long, steel-like claws, intending to jab them into her.

"You there!" a voice shouted from behind Arianwen. The creature turned its attention to a tall, deep red-cloaked man. The man's arms lifted up into the air slowly, then shot down in a swift motion, and as it happened, the rain above the creature turned a blinding mess of colors. The creature screeched eerily in pain when the colored rain tore into him like needles and acid. Soon, there was nothing left of it.

Arianwen spun around to face her savior, not knowing if he was really going to help her, if he could be trusted. When he stepped closer to her, slowly lifting his hood to reveal his face, she realized he was young—they were possibly the same age. His lips were slightly parted as his deep indigo-violet eyes studied Arianwen's face. His long blonde hair, wrapped in a tight ponytail, was beginning to dampen, and his bangs clung around his forehead and jaw. He knelt down and held out his hand. "It's safe now."

She carefully took his hand and they stood. "Thank you," she said, a bit shocked. "I was perfectly able to fend for myself, just so you know."

His tone of voice abruptly changed from gentle to mocking. "No way. What were you doing following that Creature of Twilight? You could have been killed. A hunting knife wouldn't have stopped a demon like that unless there was a spell on it." She was about to ask what he meant when he said, walking toward the Fire Box, "Those are very dangerous creatures, especially for someone without powers." He picked up the Fire Box. "But I suppose it had something to do with this?"

"Please, give it to me," Arianwen pleaded.

He realized what he was holding and seemed confused to actually see it. "The Fire Box! Did someone send you to steal this?"

"It was stolen from… I'm returning it."

"Stolen from who? I thought it was safely locked away in the castle?"

She didn't answer. "Why is this box so important? Who are you?"

He gasped, putting two and two together. "You're the Daughter of Luna!"

"Daughter of Who?"

He laughed. "Oh, the prophecy, it's true! This is the best day of my life!" He walked in a circle, chuckling about the irony of things. "And you don't even know who you are or what you're holding!"

"Well if you would tell me…" she said, knotting her eyebrows. A gust of wet wind hit her and she pulled her cloak tighter, glancing around.

"Long ago," he began to explain, "the Great Witch foretold that the Daughter of Luna would come to possess the Fire Box. Surely you've heard the story?" He waited for Arianwen to say she had, but she didn't speak. He continued, "This young woman, not of magic ancestry and possessing no powers of sorcery, in one night would come to possess a greater power than any other magic-user. The young woman would come to solve the Great Witch's riddle and find the Lost Castle."

Arianwen stared at him in disbelief. She'd heard the story many times, although she didn't think this man needed to know that, since she thought the story was fictional. Every time her father told her this story as a little girl she was sure it wasn't real.

"I'm not kidding!" said the young man. "You're the Daughter of Luna!"

She turned to leave, passing him off as a crazy person. He followed her, protesting that he spoke the truth. She stopped to hear him out. "I must be dreaming."

"No. No you're not. But I know this must be hard to believe. I guess I could be wrong." She raised an eyebrow. "But, a beautiful young woman, alone at night with the Fire Box, which hasn't been seen in decades…well, I doubt I'm wrong. Say, where are you headed? I'll escort you." She turned to look at him. He said, "You know, just to make sure no one tries to attack you. Since you're so defenseless right now."

She cracked a sarcasm-filled smile and said, "I'm going back the way I came," starting off toward the cottage without being specific.

After a moment he caught up with her. "How did you come to be in this situation?" he asked. "And by that I mean, how did you come to possess the Fire Box?"

Without really knowing why she was entertaining this young man's curiosity, she replied, "I was fishing nearby and heard an old woman screaming. I went to investigate, saw someone running away from her cottage, and decided to chase after him. When that thing realized I was following it, it turned on me." Arianwen started walking a bit slower.

"An old woman lives in these hills? On this side of the valley?" he asked. "That's strange."

"Why is it strange?" Arianwen wondered.

"Hmm. Well, I find it strange because the Great Witch lived not too far from here, long ago, and now everyone is too scared to build a home on this side of the valley."

At that moment, rain hammering down on the hill, Hattie began to tell Eira the same prophecy the handsome young man had told Arianwen. Hattie said, "You should know, if your sister touches the Fire Box—the thing stolen from me, that will change her destiny."

This confused Eira. "What do you mean?"

Hattie explained, "I'm sure you've heard the prophecy sorcerers tell of the Great Witch. She was the most powerful witch in the world, rivaled by only one—Syl, the Shadow Witch. Syl wanted to steal the Great Witch's powers and use them to take over all kingdoms. So the Great Witch used her magic to build a castle hidden in a place the Shadow Witch would never find. She lived there peacefully until her young daughter ran away. The Shadow Witch found the young girl, so the Great Witch was drawn out of hiding. She fought Syl for her daughter. In the end, both were mortally wounded. In the Great Witch's last moments of life she designed a way for the daughter to return to their castle—the Fire Box, and a talking book named Ghors, the spirit of the man she once loved."

"Such a sad story," said Eira.

"It could be anyone," Hattie mumbled.

"What do you mean?" asked Eira.

Hattie explained, "Any girl who touches the Fire Box would become the Daughter of Luna. Your sister could fail to retrieve the box and it could fall into someone else's hands. She was not born destined to fulfill the prophecy."

Suddenly Eira felt defensive. Sisters have secrets just between the two of them, and while Arianwen kept Eira's secret of loving the handsome neighbor boy, one secret that Eira kept for Arianwen was how desperately her sister craved adventure, how often she thought of finding the Lost Castle so that she could be free. Arianwen herself didn't even realize how badly she wanted to be something great. So Eira said to Hattie, "No. Aria was destined to fulfill the prophecy. She's been the right person since the day she was born. There is no one else as loyal, courageous and strong as Aria. Even the way she chased after that demon earlier, without even thinking about it, proves that she was meant to make this prophecy come true."

Hattie thought out every word Eira spoke, and finally agreed. "It is Fate playing this chain of events tonight, young girl. It started when I stole the Fire Box, and every incident that has happened since is the prophecy unfolding."

"You stole the Fire Box? But—" Eira bit her tongue.

"But what?" asked Hattie.

Eira was reluctant to answer, "But how? You're too old to…"

Hattie cackled merrily. "Too old!" she cried, then smiled at Eira. "You're never too old to use magic." Eira smiled back, letting out a giggle. Hattie said, "No matter if your sister steps through that door as herself or as the Daughter of Luna, she'll be cold, wet, and hungry, so I'll make us all some tea."

They waited then, wondering what would happen once Arianwen returned, both now very sure of the prophecy's truth.

The young man walking with Arianwen finished telling her the same story and let out a sigh, expecting a response. After a long moment of silence, Arianwen finally asked, "What was the Great Witch's real name?"

"No one knows. It was her secret."

Arianwen paused, looking down at the box. "I have the Fire Box—I mean, I have something truly magical in my hands, don't I?"

"That's what I've been trying to tell you."

She knew he wasn't lying. She could feel some kind of power, a soft heat radiating from the box. "That means the story you just told me…it has to be true?"

He nodded.

"But, it can't be me. I can't be the Daughter of Luna."

"Why not?" he asked, in all seriousness, never having had any doubts.

She was still skeptical, shaking her head, trying to form coherent thoughts. "Well…because! I could never find the Lost Castle."

"Ah, so you've at least heard of it, then."

"Hasn't everyone?" She paused to remember her childhood, when her father tucked her in at night and told her the story. The only other story she ever asked him to tell was the story of how he met her mother, which meant she had heard only those two stories her entire childhood, and loved them both, and knew every detail as her father told it. "It's a fairy tale, a myth. It's not real."

"But it is." He smiled, cutting in front of her. "Of course, I shouldn't expect a normal girl like you to automatically know it's real. Only sorcerers, the royal family, and historians know the story is true. But I know there's only one way to find out if I'm right, now that you've touched the Fire Box."

"How?" she asked, unexpectedly curious.

He smirked. "Put the palm of your hand toward the sky, then clear your mind."

Arianwen looked at him suspiciously, but did what he told her to do. Once her palm was up she closed her eyes and waited for his next direction.

"Now," he said, "try to force all your concentration into the palm of your hand. Try to force all your energy into that one spot."

Arianwen kept her eyes closed, tensed all the muscles in her body, then only the muscles in her arm, and then only in her hand, until she felt like the rest of her body was weightless. All the myriad sounds of the forest, every raindrop, became quieter. She opened her eyes to see what was happening. She could suddenly hear her heartbeat and feel the blood pumping through her veins. A sense of calm flowed through her, and yet a sense of power. The young man told her to gently blow air into her palm the same way she would if she was holding powder, and when she exhaled her breath outward, a million microscopic, brilliantly colored pieces of sparkling dust swept from her palm into the air, and all she could do was laugh.

"I was right!" he shouted. "You can use magic now! That means you are the Daughter of Luna, the prophecy has begun, and one day you'll find the Lost Castle! Little by little your powers will get stronger. You'll learn to control them and before you know it, you'll be the strongest witch in the world!"

"I have powers now?" she asked herself in disbelief.

Without thinking, Arianwen began running back to the cottage. It was no more than fifty yards away, and she burst into the cottage without knocking on the door.

Eira shot up out of her seat, spilling tea on some books. Hattie stood as well, with a look of clarity spreading over her face—she recognized Arianwen from dreams she'd been having for weeks. They never made sense until this very moment. The three of them stood silently, accumulating their similar thoughts.

Eira began to ask questions, turning her eyes back and forth from Arianwen to the young man who had just come in behind her. "Aria, who is that? What took you so long? What happened to the box? Why do you look like someone just left their inheritance to you?"

"I'm not quite sure how to explain it," said Arianwen in a whisper, wondering what she must look like.

"Well you can start by telling me why you brought the thief back here," Eira demanded.

The young man said, "I'm not—"

"He's not!" said Arianwen.

"Oh my," said Hattie.

"Nevermind," said Eira, "just tell me, are you the Daughter of Luna?"

A moment later, Arianwen's face began to reveal the truth. Her new discovery was about to burst out of her, and she shouted, "Yes!"

Arianwen took the Fire Box out of her acquaintance's hands and brought it to Hattie. "I believe this is yours, madam."

"Silly girl," replied Hattie. "You are the heiress to the Great Witch's prophecy. The box is yours."

Arianwen looked strangely clueless. She turned to the young man behind her for guidance.

"Who is he?" Eira asked, pointing at the man behind her sister.

"He's the guardian I asked the spirits to send your sister for protection," Hattie said pompously, lighting a tobacco pipe.

"No, no guardian," he said, watching amusedly at the old woman. "Just an ordinary man." Hattie giggled, then asked Arianwen to let her see the Fire Box. She looked at it meticulously.

"A man who saved me," Arianwen admitted. He smiled at her. In order to avoid his smile she looked down and studied her own hands like they would soon turn into something else.

"What is your name, young man?" asked Hattie.

Eira brushed up against Arianwen and whispered into her ear, "He's handsome!"

Arianwen blushed and stared at him like she'd realized it for the first time.

"Aries," he announced.

"Nice to meet you, young man. I'm Hattie."

"You possess old magic, Hattie," he observed.

"Somehow," Hattie replied, "you do, too. How is that?" She smirked curiously.

"As much as I like you already, I can't tell you my secret so easily," he said arrogantly.

Eira walked over to Aries and said, "I'm Arianwen's sister, Eira."

Aries said, "It's nice to meet you, beautiful sister of Arianwen," making Eira blush.

"Thank you, Aries," said Arianwen. He nodded, as if killing that demon and saving her, then enlightening her as to her new situation, had been nothing at all.

Arianwen turned to look at Hattie holding the Fire Box. Hattie looked knowingly at her. "You have a long journey ahead of you, dear."

"I'm supposed to solve the riddle on the box?" asked Arianwen, and all of them gazed upon the unknown language elegantly scrolled in gold on the front of the box. Hattie nodded in agreement. Arianwen asked, "And when I do solve the riddle, I'll find something inside?"

"Yes, dear," Hattie replied. "The key to Ghors."

"What is Ghors?" asked Eira.

"Part of the prophecy, Eira. Perhaps I forgot to mention that the key inside the box brings Ghors, the Great Witch's sorcery book, to life. And when he is reborn, he will teach Arianwen the Great Witch's spells and lead her to the Lost Castle."

Arianwen was still studying her hands. Aries noticed. "You should get some rest," he suggested. "Go home to your family. When you're ready to start your journey, I'll tell you where to begin."

She looked up at him, then at Hattie, who nodded. Hattie said, "Yes, dear, go home. Aries and I will be right here waiting for you. I suppose I'll let this handsome, mysterious young man spend the night with me." She cackled.

"Aria," said her sister, "the storm has almost passed. It's much quieter. Now would be a good time to leave."

Arianwen remembered the horses were still out in this weather. She knew her mother would be worried. "Yes, you're right."

"Take care, girls. Be sure to come back soon," Hattie blew out a puff of smoke with her words.

Arianwen started out the door. "Don't forget the fire box," Hattie reminded her, holding it out. Arianwen was hesitant to take it, but nonetheless knew it was hers now.

The girls got on top their horses as Aries assisted. As Eira waved goodbye, Arianwen kept her eyes on Aries. Her heart was pounding so she placed a hand over it.

The ride back home was horrible. Oberon and Faye got their hooves stuck in the mud many times, slid backwards, and seemed to shiver in the wind. Arianwen took her cloak off and placed it over Oberon's shoulders. It seemed like Elizabeth didn't want to, but she did the same for Faye. Once they were in sight of their cottage, Arianwen was sure she'd seen another demon creeping around the window, but it was gone after she blinked. Someone was awake inside with a candle.

"Mother, is that you?" Arianwen asked, insisting to enter first.

"Aria? Eira?" her mother answered, scurrying over to them to embrace. "I was so worried about you girls! Was it the storm that kept you so long?"

"Actually," Eira started to say, but Arianwen interrupted her.

"Yes," she said. "It was too bad to come out from under the bridge." Eira quickly understood why her sister wouldn't explain everything to their mother, so she stayed quiet.

"I thought as much, but I couldn't help thinking the worst. It's been horrible weather; Kiki couldn't sleep. I was making some warm milk just now," she said, holding out mugs, "Would you like some?" The girls nodded and sat down at the table. "And could've sworn I saw someone out back, but there was nothing."

Arianwen knotted her eyebrows in worry. She was probably right when she saw that second demon. With all the rumors her father was talking about this morning, it was apparent that many people, many sorcerers, knew that the Fire Box and the Lost Castle were still out there waiting to be found. Any sorcerer who was tracking down the box could most likely be able to find out who kept it. That was probably how Hattie had the box stolen from her. Arianwen could be being watched this very moment.

"Mamma," called Kiki, climbing down from the loft.

"Mother, I have something to tell you," Arianwen started to say. Her mother looked curious at first, then looked like she should prepare for the worst. Which, in this case, she should. "It wasn't the weather that kept us so long." Her mother tightened her grip around the mug. "We were getting ready to leave when we heard an old woman scream. Someone had stolen something from her. I was able to chase him down and return it." Arianwen took in a deep breath. "In the process, I learned about a magical prophecy—perhaps you've heard it, about the Great Witch and the Daughter of Luna?"

"Magic?" she nearly shrieked. "Do not get involved with magic!" she warned.

"But you've heard of the prophecy?" asked Eira. "Mother—Aria is the Daughter of Luna!"

"I've heard nothing about whatever lies you've been told." She stood fiercely and stampeded into her bedroom without saying another word.

Eira looked first at Arianwen, then at Kiki. "Kiki, sweetheart, go to bed. We'll be up in a minute."

"Alright," she replied, heading back. She stopped short and turned toward Arianwen. "Aria?"

"Yes, Kiki?" Arianwen took her hands.

"Are you a witch?" Kiki asked excitedly.

Arianwen didn't know how to answer, looked at Eira, who didn't know either, so she merely sat speechless in front of her little sister. When she didn't hear a reply, Kiki asked instead, "Are you going to find the Lost Castle and live in it? If you do, you have to take us with you."

"If I ever find it," she hesitated to say, "I promise to take you there."

Kiki smiled wide and hugged Arianwen, whispering, "Thank you, Aria. I'm glad you came home safe." Arianwen patted her sister's short, moppy brown hair. Kiki let go and climbed back up to the loft.

"Tomorrow, Eira, what do you think we should do?"

"Go back, I suppose," her sister replied honestly.

"How would you like to go to the fair instead?"

"Aria, are you afraid to go back?"

"Father will be home tomorrow night and I'll have to discuss it with him. Family comes first. Except for Mother, I'm not really sure how to handle her."

"We can be home before nightfall if we go to Hattie's."

"I can't leave home yet, Eira."


"I didn't want to say anything until I was sure, but I think I saw something strange by our house. I want to make sure we're safe."

"Something strange?" asked Eira.

"Nevermind that." Arianwen shook her head.

"Why must you speak to Father? What if he reacts like mother did?"

"He won't. Father used to tell us stories before bed. Do you remember?" Eira did remember. "Do you remember when he told us about the Great Witch and her adventures?"


"Father believes, just as much as I do now, that magic is real. I could sense how happy it made him when he told us those stories, and this morning I could tell how excited he was to tell us rumors about sorcery. When I tell him what happened, he may not believe me at first. But I'll show him the Fire Box and prove to him that I can use magic. And when I get his blessing, if he tells me to go back, I will. But only then, because I need him to say it." Arianwen rested her head on her hands and sighed.

Eira did the same. "I understand."

"It's late, Eira, why don't we go to sleep?"

Eira rose. "Aria, the story says you have greater power than any other sorcerer."

"That can't be true. I only just got it." Arianwen rose, too, and they ascended the ladder.

"Will you practice, then, to make yourself stronger?" Eira asked, snuggling into her covers.

Arianwen rested on her mattress. "I'll have to."

Kiki was still awake. She asked, "Aria, will you show me your magic in the morning?"

"I'll try, sweetheart."

"Good night," Kiki said.

"Good night," the others replied.

Arianwen stayed awake for quite some time, going over the day's events in her mind. She tried to figure out what to do next, but all she could think about was the man who had saved her. She recalled her conversation with Eira on the bridge. It was ironic how much this man looked like the one she had been dreaming of for years. And, wow, was he handsome! She pictured his ponytail of straight blonde strands and purple-blue eyes, his roguish smile. She remembered a song that said a man's lips were always red when his love kissed him, cold and pale when she went away.