*subject to MUCH revision, addition, and possibly lengthening, into chapters, or whatever depending on what you guys say. I'm listening! [Oh, and I did some on my own. *grin*]
copyright © 2000 Ninamazing :)
The Big House, as we all called it, stood on a slight rise above the edge of the village proper, like a king on his throne before the lowly subjects. Nobody lived in it anymore, of course, probably because it had been ruined from all the rocks and things we chucked at it. I never got too close, though, after I learned about it, and neither did anyone else. This was a fact that never surprised me until, for the first time, I was sent to get a housekeeping spell from Grenden Durwidge, the town wizardress.
She lived in a squat little hut a ways outside of town - most magic people lived away from everyone else to discourage leaky spells and frequent visits. It took me nearly an hour to walk there, but I told my aching legs that it was good exercise, and knocked on the lavender-colored door softly. She was supposed to be hard of hearing, but my father had told me it probably wasn't hard for a wizardess like her to put together some sort of charm for that. Besides, I wasn't too eager to get in, anyway. I'd half a mind to "forget" what I'd come for and escape, but Mother wouldn't hold for it. I sighed.
The door was flung open by a tall, ebony-haired, sapphire-eyed young woman wearing dark, forest-green robes that swirled around her as if the wind was billowing it all over. I blinked - she wasn't anything like I'd expected, and the townfolk kept saying she was old ... ancient, in fact!
At the sight of me, however, her skin began to wrinkle, her size began to dwindle, her nose lengthened, her hair flared silver and shortened, and her robes shrank and gathered around a homely yet croaky old woman with tattered hair and powerful eyes which didn't seem to fit the rest of her. I stood, enthralled, in front of the (real?) Grenden Durwidge. She smiled proudly. I suppose showing off had never lost its luster for her.
"Call me Gren - not Gran, mind! - everyone else does. Who are you?" She struck me with those eyes, and it felt like a blow.
I fidgeted. "Lena Sandia Tallmont," I answered, making sure to sound loud and undaunted by her. I still wanted to flee, but the desire lessened when I looked away from her eyes.
"You!" she mouthed, and I raised an eyebrow - I couldn't help it. "I hadn't thought it would be so soon," Gren muttered. What?, I thought, but she was continuing sharply. "What do you want with me?" My mission was remembered.
"My mother sent me for a housekeeping charm, a simple one, the cheapest you have," I told her, pulling out a small stack of silver coins.
She chuckled. "Dear child, I'm not that harsh. Put away those top three, and I'll accept two coins for my best housekeeping spell. No," she put a hand up as I opened my mouth to protest, "I rather wanted to get rid of them." She grabbed a glass bottle from a shelf near the top wall of the room. "They leak the most," she added.
Stunned and mystified into silence, I handed her the all-glass jar Mother had insisted that I brought, and watched the process open-mouthed. I'd never seen a spell before, but I'd heard stories.
She unscrewed the glass top on my sparkling clean jar, and pressed her dusty bottle against the clear glass bottom. The sealed top of her bottle began to fade, and murky liquid somehow seeped through my jar, slowly filling. All at once - I don't know how she did it - she pulled her filthy container away and clamped my jar top on tightly, looking for all the world like the most skilled expert in history.
Seeing my amazement, Gren grinned again. "Have to teach 'em who's boss," she remarked. "Let some of the spell get into the new jar thinking there's a way out, and then slap it shut before they can get away. Usually it can't get out unless it's all there, and glass is the only thing that magic can't get through without your help. But keep it in storage for awhile, and it ends up like this -" she held up her old bottle, covered in dirt and grime (from the spell, I guessed) - "which is why most bring their own container.
"Enough of that," she announced briskly, setting her bottle down on an empty shelf marked 'CLEANING' and washing her hands. "Just unscrew the lid when you get home. If the spell is inside for less than two hours, it shouldn't have time to make the kind of mess that needs magical cleaning. Right, that's everything." I thanked her and turned to go, but she gripped my shoulder with a damp hand.
"Wait, Lena," she ordered, a little sharply. I looked up, but concentrated on her nose and wouldn't meet her eyes. She put a callused hand underneath my chin and lifted my head up, forcing me to raise my eyes to hers. I stared back, trying not to take them in. Her eyes were so strange and overpowering, like a thick, evil-smelling perfume.
"There's a curse on the Big House," she croaked eerily. "And a curse on the village." I wanted to ask her what it was, how it got there, why she was telling me, but my mouth wasn't working, apparently. "You have to break it. You're the only girl of thirteen in the village. It has to be you. It is time."
"Me?" I sqeaked. Me?
"You," she confirmed. "It has to be now, and it has to be you. Let me tell you why.
"I was a foolish girl when I angered the mage that put the curse on the king," she began steadily. "But I went beyond the bonds of my power as a wizardress and the mage, wanting to hurt me in the worst way possible, locked my best friend and the daughter of the crown I swore loyalty to - the princess - in a castle close to me. I was fourteen. The mage made it so that only a girl of thirteen could open the locks - and on second thoughts, in case I managed to procure a Ring of Youth - and only exactly fifty-two years after the fact. And that, my dear, is tonight. When the full moon shows its face."
I nodded, feeling dazed, and left her odd house after voicing a hoarse goodbye. I had far too much to think about.
That night, I had to work hard to keep my mind on my chores, and I kept glancing nervously out the windows to see if the full moon had shown itself yet. I was reading in our armchair by the fire when I looked out and saw that the sun had just set. Jumping up in surprise, I slipped out of the house, thanking the gods that Mother, like my father and all my brothers and sisters, was asleep.
I walked briskly up to the Big House, shivering, and staring down at the endless path beneath my feet. Each step took all of my strength, but somehow, I made it all the same. In less than fifteen minutes, there I was, right in front of the huge dark purple door. I raised my hand to the gryffin-shaped knocker - but my hand fell suddenly. What was I supposed to do? Gren hadn't told me how to break the curse. And what if I was supposed to figure it out by myself? And what if the time was already past?
Feverishly, I lifted my eyes to the sky and saw that the full moon was just coming out.
"Yes, it's time," reassured a silky voice behind me. I spun around, nearly screaming in shock and fear, and discovered that I was now face-to-face with a tall man in deep crimson, flowing robes (I was momentarily delighted and proud of myself for being so tall that I could face him exactly), with glittering, malicious black eyes. The mage.
He smiled. "I'm glad you made it here," he informed me smugly. "For a moment, I was afraid you wouldn't come, and that would spoil all my fun." I felt a deep cold rising inside me, starting at my feet, running through to my head, making my thoughts murky. Murky ... I thought of Gren's spell and snapped back to the present. The mage was talking.
"... and I'm glad I got so angry at Grenden to do it, now. It will surely be an act when the King and Queen discover her here ... for of course, I shall let them ... but the minute they see her alive - she will die. That's my curse. And the best part is, I did it so well that the entire Royal Family is convinced that it's Gren who did this to them ... of course, Gren was the famous Queen's Advisor. Not that you'd know, really.
"Well, thirteen-year-old," and he seemed to be trying to insult me now, "this horrible tragedy will happen unless you manage to defeat me tonight." He sounded almost bored.
I gasped, and praised the gods again for letting me find out where the princess was before the King and Queen. She wasn't going to die if I could help it!
But how was I going to get past the mage? He was standing right in front of the door -
"And I really had hoped that Grenden would send you to undo her mistake, Lena ... all the more fun for me ... do you know that you and the princess are the only thirteen-year-olds in the world with even a chance of defeating me?" he questioned, then added, "Aging is so inconvenient, and it ruins the drama. I've decided to keep the princess and her family at the ages they were when I laid the curse on them, as it makes for a much more intriguing story." Perfect, luminous teeth flashed in an evil smile as what he had asked me sank in.
I was? She was? We were? But this was no time to be amazed - I had to think - had to use every advantage offered me -
It was either me or the princess that could defeat him, and the princess was imprisoned. So it did have to be me. I was betting that the princess had been trained, but she was caught by surprise. I had time - not much, though - but I didn't even know I had power until today ... just now ...
With another gasp I realized that this wasn't true. The mage had turned his back to me, and purple flares rose up into the sky from his hands. He screamed evil words that I'd heard in whispering corners of the Big House, the day I learned not to go too close ... the hard way. My escape then had been to run, and after I fainted in the square minutes later, I vaguely remembered ... words ... that had healed me ... eased the spell's hold on me ... my memory was slowly regaining the picture ...
It came back in a flash; my mother telling me that it was dangerous to say the words too fast, too loud, but that I would be all right.
I screamed the words, faster, louder, than I'd ever done before, and kept screaming them, again and again, to save the princess ...
The mage seemed to burst away towards the sky, and the purple flares shot down and split the Big House in half, and the rocks were tearing down the small hill where they had been standing solid for so long, and I was afraid that the townsfolk would wake up, or I would get crushed, or even though I had the power to say the words that loudly, that fast, to break the spell, I'd die anyway ... I shut my eyes tightly, almost instinctively.
But all of a sudden the noise seemed to finish, the dust seemed to settle, and at last I opened my eyes to find myself looking at the innermost room of the Big House, untouched by my magic (even though the rest of it was shattered) and a girl who was a little shorter, smaller, and thinner than any I'd ever seen. Her light brown hair spilled out of her head and flowed down, covering the floor. Big green eyes stared gratefully into mine as she turned her head.
Definitely the princess, I thought, gulping. The mage was gone, and it didn't take a genius to guess where he'd gone.
"Hi," I greeted her brightly.