Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Chapter Thirty-Five

An evil wind sings outside, the raging song of a midsummer storm.

In the tallest tower of the Castle of the Door, a squat, lavender-haired crone swings her stumpy legs over the edge of the window and delights in the thunder.

“Ooh, look at them dance!” she cackles, and points a gnarled finger at the undead below. Tormented by the sounds and sensation of wind and rain, the lost souls writhe and bat at the air.

The Witch’s enjoyment is not shared by the Queen. Her Dark Highness stands in a shadow-filled corner of the tower, gazing into the Magic Mirror.

“How long it took me to find you,” she whispers, and she runs a lingering hand over its now-chipped frame.

“And what secrets did you share in my absence? What do they know, I wonder.”

“Mirror, Mirror,” she chants and the Witch’s laughter stops. Indeed, even the storm seems to weaken as the spell is cast. “Tell me more... of what you told the Wolf before.”

Her reflection clouds over. The unworldly mask vanishes into position, as if it were always there. Not invisible, perhaps, just unseeable by mortal eyes.

If the demon in the mirror recognizes its former mistress, it gives no sign. It ponders her question for a moment, then speaks in its ageless voice:

“Two shall come within the night. In this place, they set things right.”

The briefest of pauses, until, compelled by the Queen’s word command of “more,” the demon speaks again: “And one shall die ere morning’s light.”

Its empty face disappears once more, perhaps sleeping, perhaps waiting.

The Queen says nothing. She stares into the Mirror, beyond her reflection, as if to see the realms beyond.

"Your Majesty?” asks the Witch in a timid voice. “Weren't you supposed to ask it about..."

"No," says the Queen. “Not yet. This is more important.”

One question, one answer, truthfully told. That is the gift of the Mirror. And yet, so much is never told. Such a maddening gift. And, unless given a suitable sacrifice, the demon could not be summoned for another day.

There is much left unclear.

“If it’s the Wolf you’re worried about,” says the Witch, “why don’t we go wake him up? Set a fire under bones and he’ll tell you some tales, I’m sure.”

“You’ll do no such thing!” A flash of lightning, livid and white, illuminates the Queen as she grasps the old woman’s rounded shoulder.

“If we help or hurt the Wolf, then we might be the ones mentioned in the prophecy! And one of us will die. The Mirror is trying to trick us, you see.”

“But if we leave the beast alone,” the Queen lets go and strides to the broken window, gazing blindly out at the empty horizon. “Two more must come and help. Two others… but who are they?”

Desperate, the Queen leans farther out into the storm as if to see better. She pays no mind as the crone, unwilling to risk the Queen’s wrath, scampers away in search of some vermin to eat.

Will the two be friend or foe, thinks the Queen? And if they are enemies, could they overtake her magicks and the powers of the Witch?

“The damned Huntsman!” Her reflection looks accusingly back at her from the Mirror. So much time, so many answers, had had been lost because of his treachery! No doubt hearing of the exorbitant "refugee tax" imposed by the Sheriff of Nottingham, he had fled with the most treasured item in her castle, the Magic Mirror.

She would kill him, but, assuming the thief had survived, he most certainly would have gone through the Door and into the Lands Beyond.

There is grim joy in the knowledge that the Sheriff, at least, had paid for his greed. And, she smiles, the fat fool had suffered most horribly.

And with those thoughts to tide her over, the Queen watches for the two travelers, ignoring the bitter rain whipping at her face, as the storm sings down upon the tormented dead.