Sunday, September 27, 2009

Chapter Forty-Eight

And so the Queen finds herself alone in the Castle of the Door, staring down at the body of the mad witch. The crone’s head still bleeds and she groans feebly. It’s a small comfort that - for the moment, at least - she still lives.

Gone are the bodies for the sacrifice - Dwarf, maiden, even Wolf. Not what the Queen would have hoped for, and losing the witch’s powers will certainly be regrettable, but the old woman deserves as much for her failure. And someone has to die.

She forces some apple into the witch’s mouth before dragging the body into the courtyard. It wouldn’t do to have the fool wake up in the middle of the ritual and ruin things even further.

Beyond the portcullis, the undead moan and flail their arms helplessly, but the Queen has long since learned to ignore their pitiful cries. Later on, she’ll have to figure out a way past them, but for now, there is the ritual to attend to.

The mad witch lays still and blissful, lost in the sleep of death. The bindings of spider’s silk are unnecessary, but custom requires it. The bowl of water reflects the image of the pure, blazing sun. The Mirror sees the reflection. The undead quiver and groan, and the Queen raises the knife of bone high.

Words of magic, words from Hell are spoken, and the many spirits that had left their corruptible, mortal state at the Castle of the Door gather and swirl about, unseen.

The Magic Mirror opens one lazy eye, curious and cautious by the gift of blood. And not just any blood, but the blood of a witch, aged to a vintage most delicious and potent.

The Queen continues to chant. The gift is welcomed. The dagger falls. The wind sighs as the blood pools upon the cold stone grounds, as all are pleased by the sacrifice. The undead moan and beg at the scent of blood, and fight against the portcullis.

With a subtle nod, the Mirror soaks in the power and the life of the mad witch, who quickly dies amidst her dark, shadowy dreams.

It is a most suitable sacrifice, far better than an ordinary girl and a common Dwarf, but the rules were stated long ago, when magic was first formed: Though the gift be great, it is only one life, and the Queen may ask for a single boon in return.

There is no need for well-worded rhymes. For the moment, at least, the Queen can treat the Demon in the Mirror as an equal. It regards her silently, its mask bloated a deeper hue with the blood of the mad witch. It will give nothing away without being asked first. Those are the rules.

“This plague,” says the Queen, and she gestures with her free hand toward the creatures at the portcullis. “From where did it begin?”

It is a question she has long considered, the single request that would reveal the most to this mystery. If only she had another life to give, she could learn more, but this will have to do.

And if the Mirror thinks anything about the Queen’s choice of words, it does not share any opinion. There is perhaps a reason why it appears as a mask.

“At the Forbidden Mountain,” it speaks at last, “home to an uninvited enchantress, dark and beautiful. She is the mother from whom the dead first found life.”

The trade of blood for knowledge is fair by all accounts. The wind hushes its approval, the spirits fade, the blood cools in the morning air, and the Queen bows graciously at her reflection in the Mirror.