Time: Evening after The Earthquake
The exact moment when Odette’s eyes shut her mind and soul were suddenly elsewhere. She felt no real direction, nor had a sense of time. It all felt somewhat familiar, similar to when she tethered her soul to Bach’s. She opened her eyes, ultimately not feeling like herself.
Darkness surrounded her, blue hair floating about her as if she were in water. She flexed her fingers, then her toes. Unable to see anything at that moment, she tried to speak but her voice was muted. Odette then tried to breathe and while it felt like inhaling thick fog, it calmed her.
Amidst the clamouring darkness and a sea of nothing, a gust of wind pushed Odette forward, seemingly into the nebulous void. Slowly the curtain was lifted with delicate hands, the same ones that nudged the dazed and weary Odette. Blinding light erupted from beyond the fog, giving way to a picturesque scene.
Odette stood on small, grassy knoll overlooking the foggy hills of the British Isles. Here in the countryside, mounds of earth dotted the landscape and seemed to flow like frozen waves of green, bare trees with stout constitutions rooting themselves at every minor peak. The crisp, salty air of the sea met with the refreshing odours of green pastures to form a most inviting scent.
Not far from her post, a small cottage, modestly accommodated with tall stalks of flowers and vines along with an assortment of other strange flora was just visible, a smokestack rising from a worn roof.
When Odette’s feet touched ground, immediately she felt the soft grass. The salty air smelt real as ever, the breeze raised the hair on the nape of her neck. She pursed her lips. Taking in the new surroundings, she spoke to herself, “Impressive.”
Upon reflex she tried to summon magic into the palm of her hand but nothing stirred. Wherever her mind was, it was barred access to the Arcane Stream. That troubled her a little, but she held faith that Bach would pull her out of this world. She walked forward toward the cottage, her shoulders straight and eyes wandering trying to guess where exactly this was supposed to be.
The pillar of smoke began to swirl in an ethereal wind, becoming thicker and darker with each passing moment. It moved as if alive, snaking its way through the air and turning towards Odette, carrying a presence within.
What have we here? a voice rang out over the valley, low but familiar. It had hints of an accent that couldn’t quite be placed.
Ah, it continued, the meddlesome wench who tried to steal my Sight. How interesting . . .
The voice trailed off, black smog slowly manifesting into a woman’s form. Raven hair flowed in the wind, thick and glossy though slightly unkempt, attached to a fair-skinned maiden with pale, rounded features, small freckles neatly dotting her skin. The woman was adorned in rich, scarlet garments and a floor-length black cloak. Her face was familiar and her figure doubly so. This was the witch whom Odette had seen in the oracle’s scrying pool, the one who bore the White Witch’s likeness. Here stood the witch, Gwyneth Owens, in all her splendor.
“You must be Gwyneth. My name is the Ambassador of the Fair Folk. You are quick to assume I stole, I was actually gifted your mysterious item by Hekate herself. I was hoping to meet you.” Odette replied smoothly, she dipped her head out of respect aptly ignoring being called a wench. If Gwenyth wasn’t putting forth a good first impression, Odette had no problem doing so. If she was lucky, it might inspire a little guilt for calling her a thief.
She locked her hands behind her back looking up at the witch, feeling her heart pace quicken a little. It was one thing to see Gwyneth's visage through the oracle’s pool but the resemblance to the White Witch was uncanny, from what she could remember of the young woman the last time they met. To her benefit Gwyneth’s outfit wasn’t nearly as tacky. She carried an air about her that was only earned after living a full life, admittedly she was quite beautiful.
She felt more at ease dealing with Gwyneth than she did Hekate. If the witch responded well enough to her presence here it could very well mean subverting the prophecy diplomatically. Preferably, at the very least. Gwyneth being an immortalized witch, she was still comparatively human with an ego to match, one Odette could easily stroke.
Gwyneth raised her brow and wore a faint grin, a quiet laugh passing her lips.
The Witch Mother has involved herself? Even more interesting . . . Gwyneth’s voice echoed throughout the land. Whatever illusion this was, she was clearly its source.
Moving closer, Gwyneth began to examine Odette, taking note of her strange attire, stunned by her title. This woman’s talent was obvious, and Gwyneth was quite interested in learning more.
Gwyneth bowed her head to Odette in a similar fashion.
My sincerest apologies for approaching you in such a manner. It is unbecoming of a lady to speak to her guests in such a way, and what a fine guest you are. Madame, you are of a fine sort, a rare creature indeed. Few have seen my treasures and fewer still have known their creator. That you know who I am speaks highly of you. Tell me, if you would, how come you to be here? You speak of a meeting with the Witch Mother yet you do not hold her spark. Be you a witch? If so, a strange witch you are.
Gwyneth felt something staining Odette’s soul, a mark not unlike those carried by her brothers and sisters in the Craft, a familiar mark that Gwyneth couldn’t place.
Odette used her warm, pink lipped smile, brightening her expression considerably, “Apology accepted. My meeting with Hekate is a bit of a tale that I am more than happy to share out here in these lovely fields or inside, assumingly, your quaint cottage. I am not a witch, I am a sorceress.” How cut off from the modern world was Gwyneth? What was she aware of and, most importantly, how could Odette use her ignorance to her advantage? As it were, her mention of Hekate got Gwyneth’s attention in a good way.
The way she spoke was an old way, and Gwyneth’s voice reverberating around her was disorientating.
Ah, I see, Gwyneth smiled warmly, You are bound to a faery helper, are you not? That is the mark I sense on your soul. I am happy to know that there are those who continue the ways of the Faery Doctors of my time, and you their ambassador? Tell me, how fares the Summer Court in their war with Hell? Do Oberon and Mab still reign supreme?
Gwyneth hardly left room for Odette to reply. She was excited to know the mysteries of the modern world, her awareness of mortal goings on severely stunted by her spirit’s imprisonment within her artifacts. Though she knew nothing of Odette or her motives, Gwyneth would allow them both time for idle chat before discovering Odette’s reason for meeting with her.
Awkward, she hasn’t had any new information for centuries... Odette thought, “Yes I am, I built a permanent portal as a coalition of myself and the many faery courts I have allied with. I was officially given the title then but had been wearing it unofficially quite some time before.”
Of course though, the witch would be starved for information from a new voice.
“Unfortunately, the Summer Court lost that war. King Oberon retreated back to his realms, while the King struggled with the weight of the loss Mab was stricken with relentless grief. The druids were destroyed by Roman Fire.” She bowed her head largely out of respect for those who came before. She felt nothing for their loss, her focus was forward. “May their spirits find peace.” She projected some empathy for the past.
She carried on, “This wedge between Mab and Oberon was the perfect opportunity for Titania to take advantage, a beautiful creature of great strength and foresight in the Summer Courts. Titania shared in their grief, she helped strengthen Oberon when Mab drew away. Mab went missing long before Titania was crowned Queen.” Odette said idly adjusting the cuffs on her sleeves while her eyes were on Gwyneth, reciting the history from memory. “Now a few centuries later, Queen Titania had fallen from providence her power waned considerably only to be renewed as of…” She thought counting the days. “A little over a week or so ago. She and I came to tentative alliance.”
Watching her, thoughtfully she added, “A lot of time has passed, humanity reached an unprecedented industrial age and leap in technology. Humans cannot regularly see the Fair Folk, nor do they as a whole believe in magic or the supernatural.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, do you have a sense of how much time has passed?”
Gwyneth frowned, slowly turning her head down and away. How could she describe this suspended state she’d put herself in? The sky grew dull in response to Gwyneth’s silent grief. She looked up at Odette thoughtfully.
Time passes not in this place. All that you see, she made a motion with her arm that gestured to the landscape around them, is but an illusion, a precious memory of simpler days. I do not experience any stretch of time here. When one of my possessions is moved or moves itself, I awaken briefly to note where I am being taken. When they come too near to one another, I send them apart. Memories of the days before my death are more numerous than those after. . .
Again Gwyneth fell into a quiet state, but a slow smile began to brighten the grey skies.
Your news saddens me, yet I am glad to hear it. However many seasons ago, I regarded the Faery Monarchs my allies and dear friends. It haunts me to know that so much has changed, that those whom I once trusted have been buried beneath mounds of mortal ignorance, but no longer must I toil to know their story. I have you to thank, Lady Ambassador. You have done me a great service in recounting this tale.
The scene around them seemed to liven up as Gwyneth spoke. The sun became more pronounced, the naked trees dotting the landscape bore thick foliage, some flowering, and the air smelled not of the sea, but of freshly baked bread and pastry from the cottage just beyond the hill.
Odette nodded, the change in their surroundings caught her eye when the sun shone brighter, the distinct smells of a bakery floating across the sea breeze. The illusion clearly being tied to Gwyneth directly. She imagined such a powerful illusion would have shifted in such a case. When she turned back to the witch, she replied. “You are most welcome, it is my pleasure. I am glad you mentioned your items, I would love to learn more about you and these possessions. I have also met briefly with your reincarnation.”
Gwyneth’s eyes lit up, her back straightening and full attention pointed at Odette. So far, she had only felt the smallest pull from her modern counterpart, but she knew that as her possessions were returned to her mortal form, that connection would grow stronger.
Have you? Tell me, what am I like in your time, by what name am I known?
Odette said, “I only know your reincarnation by her alias, the White Witch. She is explicitly tied to Puck, Mister Robin Goodfellow. Beyond that, not as much as I’d like to know.”
“The resemblance, may I say, is uncanny.”
White Witch? Pah, as naive in your time as I was in mine. I’m sure I think that I’m helping them, those mortal swine, but in good time I’ll learn that they can’t be trusted . . .
Gwyneth trailed off once again, caught in her mind, memories of her past failures manifesting as dark clouds looming over the horizon.
And I should have guessed one of the Pwca would rear their heads. No doubt she’s run into the Witch Father, He and I were well acquainted in my time, but to be under the employ of that meddlesome imp Puck . . . then again, perhaps his insights have been of use to me . . . Gwyneth drolled on before realizing that she was getting severely off track.
Turning her attention back to Odette, she added, Her visage and mine are not pale imitations, they are a reflection. Such was the nature of the spell that brought me into your time.
Odette nodded, understanding that point since her meeting with the oracle. Noting only to herself that Gwyneth had a particularly negative view on mortals. Similarly to some Fey. “I see. Puck has been running a rather successful business in modern times as it were. A particularly large portal network and tavern for mystical and supernatural patrons gather to have a drink. He doles out his prophecies to a few still. As far as I am aware.”
I likely owe him thanks for revealing certain truths to my modern incarnation . . . about whom you know a fair amount. How is it that you have come to know both versions of myself, and what business have you with me and my possessions?
Gwyneth’s tone wasn’t accusatory, but she was certainly suspicious. She postured herself to reflect her curiosity, all senses fully focused on Odette and her answers.
Odette inclined her head her hands clasping behind her back once again, knowing her answer to this would be of winning her trust to sit and talk inside that cottage. Odette knew Gwyneth was familiar with the Fae, while she was largely ignorant of modern happenings she was shrewd and powerful enough to come to know the likes of King Oberon and former Queen Mab, which spoke volumes of her experience already. Disregarding how long it has been since she has walked the Earth personally.
“It was a rather interesting meeting, she caught me red handed during a kidnapping. Neither of us knowing the other’s intentions. We fought briefly while I managed to escape, the ensuing Witch Fire that came about when I had knocked her unconscious had marked me. The fight, piqued my interest.” She spoke honestly as possible, it was true that today was the result of that initial fight. “I used the residual witch fire in my skin to find out more through a Fey oracle, thus coming to learn about your possessions. Particularly where I could find your Sight.” Odette said, leveling her gaze at Gwyneth. The context was verily more complicated, so if not only for Odette’s benefit to gloss over it saved time in explaining. “I had hoped to understand the White Witch more through these possessions, possibly having a hand in reuniting a clearly powerful witch such as yourself, Gwyneth, with the present. The world…”
She paused, looking out to the distance. The beautifully rendered illusion of the English coast. “Has lost a significant sparkle the past few centuries. I am very interested in bringing our worlds back together. So, that is how I find myself here speaking with you today. I would very much be willing to help you and White Witch reunite.” Deciding then, the way this conversation has gone Odette felt confident in possibly allying herself with Gwyneth.
Gwyneth’s entire being was washed over by a wave of fresh exhilaration, the idea of being able to join her two halves and complete her life’s work with such ease was indeed tempting. But something stirred in her core, a sinking feeling that not all was as it seemed. She would contain her excitement for now.
A noble quest indeed, Lady Ambassador. If you speak plainly and truthfully, I would very much like to take up your offer, but I have a question. What have you to gain from such a quest? As one who works so closely with the Fair Folk, you know there is always an exchange. One does not pay a price for nothing, and I cannot believe that one with such high standing as yourself among them would perform acts of charity.
Odette smiled knowingly, “You are absolutely correct in that. Number one, I want to be safely returned to my body. Number two, more importantly is that in exchange I want an alliance or truce. As it stands because I did fight with White Witch, you can imagine things are not quite friendly between us. The conditions of the truce would be a matter of staying out of each other’s business, if an alliance were to bloom, well that would be for the better, and I would be more than happy to discuss such conditions.”
The Ambassador smiled at the 600 year old witch, “As you know, Fey love to negotiate. There stands to be a lot to gain from an alliance.”
The wind had begun to pick up, Gwyneth’s hair and cloak floating carelessly about her. She raised a hand to move the hair from her face, eyes glistening with joyful tears that threatened to fall if not contained. This was an opportunity she wasn’t likely to receive again.
I . . . I would be forever grateful, indebted even, if you would do me this honor. But I warn you, and let these words carry more weight than the finest Faerie arms: I cannot, I will not be betrayed again. Never again. My trust is in exceedingly short supply. I have been without it for a portion of my life and the many years after. There is no place in the world for one who would shatter my faith or betray my trust, and neither this prison which holds my spirit now nor the very jaws of Hell could contain my wrath if a vow to me were again broken. Understand this now, Lady Ambassador, for whatever flames have scorched your earth before are but singular sparks, dying embers of a celestial fire that has burned for centuries and centuries to come. Have I spoken plainly enough?
Her expression hardly changed as Odette’s head bowed low, “I would expect nothing less. Allow my actions to speak louder than my words. I do not build bridges to burn them. One does not earn the title of Ambassador by betrayal.” When she stood up straight, she fixed some hair behind her ears. “With that understanding would you like to discuss an alliance or truce?”
Gwyneth wore a larger smile than she thought herself capable of producing. It was all coming together, every piece falling into place. She could trace the threads of fate to this exact moment, knowing that all that was destined to happen, all that she had worked for, was finally here.
Gwyneth nodded, Shall we speak inside? I’m sure you would like to rest your legs and know more of the story than what you could read on your own.
The sorceress nodded, the negotiations hadn’t begun but Odette felt that once she crossed the threshold she would have easily diverted this prophetical nonsense. Puck’s words and sight had been disputed. The walk across the field to the homely cottage was short, the environment changed again reflecting how Gwyneth felt. Odette wondered what it would take to create such a space, to shed one’s spirit onto personal items to preserve their mind past death. The process had her curiosity.
The cottage was simple red brick with dark wooden trimming and supports, moss and vine creeping along the side creating intricate, natural designs. Scattered about the outside were dozens of small raised beds where an assortment of flowers and herbs were in full bloom. Beyond the sturdy, oak door lay a modest room clearly sectioned by the change in decoration from one space to the next. Immediately the living area came into frame, a large, open fireplace near antique chairs and a large bench. Next came Gwyneth’s living quarters, a single bed with fine quilts stacked atop it and one massive feather pillow at its head. Around the bed were several open books scattered all across the floor. Near this was a stone wash basin and the bucket used to fill it. And finally a small area dedicated to crafts that housed a loom, several lengths of fabric, and a small working altar for Gwyneth’s spells with some alchemical apparatus and other mystical instruments thereabout.
Gwyneth lead Odette to a small, round table near the fireplace with two chairs neatly tucked underneath.
Excuse the mess, I wasn’t expecting company . . . ever. she apologized with a sweet smile, snapping her fingers and watching with satisfaction as the whole house began to tidy itself. A broom flew about sweeping up dust, books realigned themselves on empty shelves, dishes flew into a basin smaller than the tub and began to rinse and dry themselves before hanging and stacking themselves in their proper place, and a fire roared in the pit, beckoning a cauldron to sit atop its growing flame and bubble with expectant delight.
Odette stood still patiently waiting for the cleaning spell to complete curiously studying the surroundings, the books in particular. Lifting her foot to avoid a stray dish passing a bit low. It was rare to see her own home in such a state as Gwyneth’s but Odette conceded this would be the one forgivable case.
“Lovely little home. Very cozy. For an illusion everything seems to have a weight to it here, this little pocket dimension is quite impressive in foundation.” She smiled pleasantly and added to herself, Far too rustic by any real means.
“If you like we can begin discussing the means of our agreement or alliance. I am your guest here, I will happily follow my hostess’ lead.” She commented waiting for Gwyneth to take a seat.
Gwyneth nodded, seating herself at the table and motioning for Odette to do the same.
This little cottage is by no means the most luxurious of homes I’ve had, but it does well enough, thank you. As for terms, I believe you and I would most benefit from an alliance or friendship upon my full awakening. I shall be hard pressed to find anyone competent and willing to aid me in my future endeavors, but you work with the Fey. You are cunning, I imagine, strong willed, patient. And, as evident of this meeting, quite powerful. I would be willing to agree to aiding you in your future endeavours, the matters of which I would expect to be fully disclosed, or enough so that there is not so much risk, in exchange for the same, and of course, your help in returning my memories to the White Witch. But this is a negotiation, what have you to add or ask?
Odette took a seat, crossing her legs and holding her hands in her lap. She nodded along to what the witch said, she expected as much. No one with experience with the Fey did not enter agreements without specifics.
“Thank you, I appreciate the compliments. Transparency of course builds a level of trust so that condition will, of course, be no problem. I would love to know more of these memories and their retrieval before I agree, I am sure I am capable of helping.”
Gwyneth nodded, sitting up slightly and letting out a low sigh as if casting off a large weight.
It is difficult to say what my current incarnation knows, but the spell that binds my spirit here is designed to bring us closer. That I know little of the modern world means she has yet to recover enough of our shared past to strengthen our connection. The memories I wish to regain are but the tales of my past, all of my trials and tests, my feats of greatness, my failures, of course my magic, and my mission. I’m sure you’ve wondered why I trapped my soul in various hosts and scattered them the world over. This was all part of a larger plan, a grand spell that would allow me to live without fear of betrayal or harm, a spell of true invincibility.
Gwyneth adjusted herself once more before continuing.
Odette leaned forward to listen, invincibility capturing her attention unlike before. She leaned forward into her hands resting her chin in her palm.
You see, I was orphaned as a girl, left on the outskirts of a small village in Wales as a babe, parents likely taken by a plague. The townsfolk knew well the tricks of Faery midwives and didn’t dare collect me from my place lest they invite a changeling among them, but a poor widow took pity on my soul and invited me into her home. I do not recall her name, but I remember that she always smelled faintly of honey and ale. The widow had seven children and not a single space for another, yet she found room for me. . .
Gwyneth paused for a moment, peering out the window of the cottage, lost in thought. Everything around them seemed to change, distortion rippling through the air, a new scene unfolding with each scattering wave.
The pair now sat at the end of a long table in a house much smaller than Gwyneth’s cottage. The inside was messy and chaotic, the flooring was worn and large patches of exposed ground were left uncovered, the walls etched with scratches from wild children. At the other end sat a miserly woman in rags spooning porridge into seven bowls, suckling the baby Gwyneth.
It was here I stayed for my first four years, the widow’s charge. We had little, but it was the only home I had known at the time, and unfortunately, it wouldn’t be long before I was driven from this place.
Odette watched the scene, listening rather intently to Gwyneth’s story. She felt it was far too late to interrupt and a few centuries of solitude it is easy to flow into speaking again with another person. She let her speak her piece.
Once again, everything began to shift. More slowly this time, the walls of the home became clean, the floor was slowly patched, drying racks were filled with herbs and game, and the whole house smelled of fresh grain and produce.
It was around this time I began to notice that I was different from the other children. I heard whispers on the wind, saw shadows dancing in the night sky, felt a warmth and security in the forest and trees where others felt only fear. A faery-born child, or one with fae ancestors. It was a common sight back then. Many witches could trace their line back to a faery nobleman who took a mortal wife. Our fire burns brighter than other witches, it is fanned with study and practice, but sparked at the moment of our birth. The villagers knew this, knew that I was a witch child, for with each new day the widow was granted another blessing.
Her home was always tidy, her children behaved, her roof never leaked, her wheat was never rancid, her butter never spoiled, her bread was never stale. She might have thought an angel had taken kindly to her plights if she didn’t know better. No, these were the doings of a witch, and the village knew it. Though it pained her, the widow was forced to remove me from her home lest she and her children be shunned, or worse. I never knew what became of her after my leaving. Wherever she is now, I hope she and her husband at peace.
Changelings lived very peculiar lives in and around humans, while witches especially struggled to practice safely among humans. How Gwyneth was able to slip away before others caught onto her strange presence was a stroke of good luck. Persecution was rampant in oral histories along with written. “Witch and faery bloodlines mix quite generously throughout history, I find and you will find as well when you step fully into the present. There is a lot to read and learn about. But please, do go on.”
Well, after I was run from the village, I took refuge in the surrounding woods. It was there I truly learned of myself, of the power coursing through my veins. The trees spoke to me in dreams, the spirits therein guiding my path, instilling me with skills and knowledge that I might survive the harsh wilds. I learned to build shelter, to gather and forage, to steal from the village and remain unseen, and the most useful skill of all, witchcraft. The spirits taught me the secret virtue of things, how I might use what I had to bring about miracles and wonders.
For five years I lived this way, wandering from place to place, making what I could, taking what I could not. The spirits taught me how to haggle and barter, told me that my power could bring me fortune if I would but sell my services to the desperate or needy, and so I did. Love philtres, minor blights, medicinal pouches, these were my wares and what I gained wasn’t always gold or silver. Sometimes I was given bread, others a bed for the night and a quick wash. Those who asked for my services pitied me for I was a young girl on her own, but feared me as well and never wished to house me longer than a night.
The world around them shifted more suddenly, the bustle of village life quickly fading into the serenity of the forest. Odette and Gwyneth sat at a table in a large clearing in the forest, sunlight barely piercing the thick canvas of leaves overhead. A disheveled, dilapidated hut lay at its center, a smokestack rising high above the canopy.
A young Gwyneth stood outside the hut, the crooked door bursting open to reveal a portly old woman in rags hunched over on a wooden cane, silver locks falling wildly about her head.
On one of my expeditions, I met a woman whom I knew as Nanny Owens. It was she who named me Gwyneth, and much later in life I took her surname out of respect for her. She was the first witch I had ever encountered, a hermit woman living on the precipice of the civilization and the wild. Her heart wept for me. She recognized me as a witch the moment I stepped foot in her forest. She took me in and became my mentor in many things, teaching me how to cook and care for myself, how to speak to folks, women’s crafts like sewing and embroidery, and furthered my knowledge of the Craft, enlisting my aid in her many spells and charms for the townsfolk who came to her in secret.
Gwyneth looked forlorn, everything around them turning dull. The trees began to wither, the already dilapidated building falling down upon itself, Nanny Owens and young Gwyneth fading from view.
I was 15 when they came for her . . . witch hunters, a whole order of them stomping around our forest in search of the devil’s whores who were corrupting their lands. Nanny Owens had unleashed a pox on a farmer’s cows two weeks earlier at the request of a rival. Sent the whole town into a fit. Nanny knew she’d be killed, so her only thought was to protect me. That’s why she called Him.
A black mist descended upon them, swirling around the grove, forming into a singular mass that erupted into a pillar of flames. The glowing embers slowly formed a man, bare chested, head like that of a black goat, legs and feet the same, flames spiraling upward into a candle that floated betwixt the goat’s horns.
The Witch Father, Bucca, Gwyneth introduced him with hints of awe in her voice. He came for me at Nanny’s request, took me away from her hut to the north, a large coven in London made of noble witches. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen.
Odette turned to look out upon the image of Bucca, she had seen the odd painting of him once before but to see such a realistic memory was another point. Very vivid and his mere presence alone inspired an air of mystery and unmistakable magic. Having met Hekate Odette wondered what it would be like to meet Bucca in his occult glory. This for now, was enough. The sorceress looked to Gwyneth whose eyes were on Bucca, casually gazing noting her slight reverence for him. The scenery changes were helpful in telling her story but disorientating without her ties to the world outside of Gwyneth’s item, she felt like she was losing her footing in this little world of hers.
The world around them began to shift dramatically, the dense forest overtaken by high walls lined in royal colors, English finery scattered about a large bedchamber with delicate sheets and fabrics draping down over a queen-sized mattress. A small table near a balcony window is where the pair now found themselves, comfortably seated under the warm rays of the noon sun. A young Gwyneth strode past accompanied by a trio of women and a tall, blonde man, all adorned with rich garments that clearly showed their status.
Gwyneth pointed at herself and those in her company, all gathered around an oversized vanity, flipping through a great, dusty tome.
The London witches were something else. Few of them began their journey with witchcraft. Many, in fact, began as the offspring or apprentices of great magicians and learned wizards, clinging to their master’s every word. But it was not the place of a wizard to use his power for his own gain in that time. A wizard helped his king and country, a witch helped herself and hers. I passed on the knowledge Nanny Owens had gifted me, and the Londoners gave me a place to sleep, a heightened position in society, and a bit of the astrological and alchemical knowledge they had kept from their former teachers.
I had become a seamstress’s apprentice while in London, working on fine dresses for the noblewomen mostly. But the folks of London still had need for a witch, and the witches there taught me that one needn’t just survive in this life, they should thrive and enjoy all the finer things that they could. I had been weary of groups before then, especially groups of mortals; they had always done me harm in the past, but I was coming into my own in London, blossoming and blooming. I began to trust the common man once again, I even took a few friends outside the coven who housed me. This, unfortunately, would be my undoing . . .
Gwyneth stopped, expression neutral, eyes glazed and distant. She was forcing herself to relieve every painful moment, but it was for the best.
Odette pursed her lips waiting a few moments, letting the silence between them grow comfortably. To see the past through the eyes of Gwyneth, to see history of days long past. It would be humbling for some but Odette wanted to know what happened next, how did Gwyneth survive the centuries? Was it worth it to split one’s soul?
Eager to hear more, Gwyneth’s expression was easy to read. She feigned some empathy, “If you need a moment…?”
Gwyneth seemed to stir from a deep sleep, taking a moment to see if she had heard Odette. Realizing that she had, she continued.
Apologies. What came next is what set me on my current path. As I said, I befriended a mortal, a maidservant who worked in close proximity to King Henry VIII. She and I traded tips and secrets from our respective professions, and once we had been friends for a time of two years, I let her know of my magic. As you can imagine, she was equal parts delighted and devastated. To be a witch in that time was a dangerous thing, she feared for my life more than she feared what I might inflict upon her. But she also knew of the many ways I could bless her, of the wonders she had heard in legends and tales.
I was 18, I believe, when she betrayed my trust. A new edition of the Malleus Maleficarum had been released recently, prompting for the continued onslaught of witch-hunting by pretentious nobles and self righteous clergy. A new wave of witch hunters seeking sanction from the church to carry out their holy crusade came marching down the streets, taking prisoner of anyone whom they could call a witch, planting evidence of bewitchment in places where fear of witches hadn’t reached its peak. My maid friend’s mother had been accused of poisoning a well, her sister accused of changing shape in the night and stirring dark storms. None of this was true, of course. I knew the witches of London and many from the surrounding area; they were not so careless with their arts. But fear of persecution took my friend prisoner. She became a slave to these fears, hoping desperately that she could make amends and spare the lives of her family if she could produce a true witch for the hunter’s stake.
The room spun once. When it ceased, they sat in a large dining room, decor matching that of the bedroom they had just seen. The young Gwyneth and her coven sat at the other end, merrily drinking and feasting as the moon rose overhead. A banging sound echoed through the hall, giving way to a door cracking open and two brawny fellows in long coats and wide-brimmed hats stomping into the dining room, there to arrest Gwyneth and all in attendance.
Naturally, I fought back. Gwyneth quickly added, allowing the scene to unfold.
As the witch hunters neared, Gwyneth and the others held out their arms, the two hunters thrown from the room and crashing into a wall with great force. Gwyneth chased after them, arriving at their motionless forms, she raised her arm and up they came, suspended in midair. With only a glare the whole room was ablaze, fire traveling up the wall where the hunters were now held, licking their trouser legs and coats, swallowing them whole. The other witches fled past her, leaving the house behind, knowing they could never return. Gwyneth followed them.
I didn’t leave London immediately after that. I went up to the servant’s quarters of the castle and sought my maid friend so that I might inform her of my leaving. It was then she told me what she had done. In a fit of rage, I cast her from the window overlooking the courtyard where she fell to her death. I cannot say I regret that decision.
Odette shielded her eyes against the blaze of light in the fiery memory. “A lot has changed in the past centuries but many practitioners of all schools of magic keep their skills a secret. Myself included, there are very few who know of both my names. It is easier.” She gestured to the scene with a wave of a hand, “For your friend I would have done the same for such a betrayal. Possibly worse given some time and thought.”
Gwyneth looked at Odette, a soft smile barely visible. Though it was grim, Odette’s words were comforting. As she adjusted herself in her seat, the world seemed to fall back into place. The pair returned to Gwyneth’s cottage, seated at the same little table where they began.
The tale becomes quite repetitive after this, I’m afraid. From London I flew to East Anglia where I spent the better part of a year before the church began to march on the local settlements and burn their resident witches. Then on to Scotland where a farmer nearly struck me down in the night, then to France for a time, hoping to gain back what I had lost in London, but the witch hunts there were fiercer than England. Finally, I returned to Wales, ensorcelling a carpenter to build me this little cottage by the sea, placing his bones in the walls as a powerful deterrent for mundane threats.
I came to hate mortals, my every encounter with them showing me that they couldn’t be trusted. Wherever I went, they would eventually betray me and there was no way to conceal my identity for long. If ever I tried to settle down or get close to someone, they would either betray me too, or would be taken by another envious mortal. I wouldn’t allow myself to be taken advantage of any longer, wouldn’t allow those mortal swine to decide that my life was worthless. That’s when I began searching for the answer, a way to become truly invulnerable, impervious to any of their foul tricks.
Gwyneth turned in her chair to face a chest next to the small altar on the far side of the room. She made a motion that unlocked the chest and another that brought its contents forward. They seemed a random assortment of items, strange reagents in amber bottles, burnt scrolls and stray parchment with hastily scribbled notes, the odd alchemical diagram, but nothing particularly noteworthy.
It may not look it, but this was the answer. I had spent my last days scouring the globe for a spell that would do the trick. I read volume after volume of magical theory from Egyptian sorcerers, delved deep into the knowledge of the Arabic alchemists and astrologers, traveled through histories the world over for the answers, returning all that I had learned to my corner of the world. At last, I combined what I had gathered with Welsh folk belief to craft my invulnerability spell, something that would give me the power to stand against my every oppressor, something to ensure that no mortal would ever forfeit my life for their own gain, something that would allow me to live in peace and free of betrayal.
As you can see, I was unsuccessful in the performing of said spell. Do not doubt that it exists, however. The spell was sound, ready to be tested, but I was interrupted by a coalition of testy villagers and church officials who wanted nothing more than for me to burn. I hadn’t the time to fight them off, nor the time to perform the spell as planned. I couldn’t flee and take all my research with me at the same time. I had to make a decision, and I’m sure you can guess what that was.
It was plainly difficult for Odette to hide the shine in her eye, her excitement at knowing such a thing existed. She clutched her hands in her lap, “How? How did you manage such a feat as splitting your soul with angry villagers stomping at your front door?”
Gwyneth chuckled, moving in closer, placing her arms on the table.
That, my Lady, was part of the original spell and the only section I had prepared. The intent was to bind the whole of my spirit to one item that I would make invulnerable. That way my spirit would be forever bound to this world, thus making my body a vessel for my mind only, and a vessel is an easy thing to repair or replace. I modified that portion of the spell and instead bound pieces of my soul, and in turn my memories, to multiple items, tools that I had used quite heavily in life. I knew that, when I was executed, the other half of my spirit would be unable to fully move on. I issued a command to the halves of my soul that they were to take themselves as far away from this place as they could and never remain stagnant for too long. I then sent a silent prayer to Bucca before confronting the townsfolk, asking that He guide my way so that I might become whole again and finish my work. I suspect He had something to do with the White Witch’s awakening, and his trickster brother, Puck, was even more involved than He.
Odette sat back in her chair with an audible squeak of wood. Her eyes grew wide at that particular revelation. “I- I did not know that Puck was related to Bucca. I always believed he was particularly gifted Fey…” She stood from her chair a little too fast. “Thank you for sharing your story, Madame. Quite a lot of information to process. I see now why you must reassemble your items. With all these mentions of soul and memory, once reunited what will happen to White Witch? Will your spirit and memory supercede your current incarnation?”
“My dealings here today will be exclusively with you.”
Whomever the White Witch is, she and I are still one and the same. Whatever memories and experiences she has amassed in her brief time on Earth, they are only a fraction of the pain, power, and pleasure of her past. When the halves of my soul are reunited, I will remember my cause. I will not forget those whom I had known as the White Witch, but I believe that I shall no longer wish to be near them lest they betray my trust as those in my past. This meeting too shall be remembered when the halves are joined, and however the White Witch may feel about you, Lady Ambassador, will come second to what I have promised you, this I guarantee.
Odette leaned against the back of the chair, chewing at the inside of cheek in thought. “I can accept that. Whatever your cause may be I do not feel any real affinity to my fellow mortal. With the understanding of your background I will be able to help reunite you with your scattered pieces. An alliance with a powerful witch such as yourself is an attractive option for me.” She placed her hand over her heart, “What I truly wish for with this agreement is simply not to step on eachother’s toes. You have aspirations once your soul is reassembled and I have my own. We can add a condition of consultation if our actions were to affect the other’s. Leave an open channel of communication for you and I.” Straightening she thought back on the story Gwyneth shared, trying to cover her bases. “In the spirit of transparency I will answer any questions you have for me before we shake hands on this alliance.”
Gwyneth smiled warmly, the whole of the cottage seeming to brighten as she did. Was this trust she felt seeping into her mind, corrupting her actions with its naivety. Perhaps this was one instance where trust was needed, perhaps this was the first among many transactions she was to make where betrayal wasn’t an option . . . but it never hurt to be cautious.
Gwyneth nodded, I agree that measures must be taken to assure both your safety and my own that we might never cross the other in the days to come. To that end, Gwyneth paused, holding up her hand but not turning away. A scroll flew from an overhead shelf into her grasping hand. She laid it out on the table, words forming on the blank sheet.
Inscribed herein are the terms we have exchanged during this procession, including the aforementioned call for open consultation before a particularly audacious undertaking. You mentioned that my other half works closely with Puck, yes? In my time, he had long been crafting magical contracts for mortal and witch alike. I cannot sign a legal document as I am now, nor will you likely be successful in convincing my current incarnation to do so, but Puck might be able to sign in my place if I am contracted with him in the waking world.
Gwyneth nudged the scroll toward Odette.
I can offer you this document as a vivid memory to be taken to Puck and recalled for transcription into a proper form that you and he may review and sign. Perhaps it is too much a formality, but given my past dealings and your experience with the Fey, I feel it may be necessary to ensure our mutual safety. Would you do this for me upon the conclusion of our meeting?
Odette looked upon the document drawn up, her eyes running across the inked words. “As you know a handshake is as binding to me as a written contract,” She sighed, “I suppose Puck would be the only viable option to represent you in the waking world. I will bring this contract to him and we will go over it together.” She said holding out her hand. “Upon this handshake I promise to take this contract to Puck and only then will our alliance be complete upon his signing in your stead.”
Gwyneth smiled and stood, reaching out her arm to take Odette’s but stopping just before to add, There is, however, the matter of how you will help retrieve my memories and the items that hold them. As it stands, my other half can find them only when the connection between us grows, when the veil that separates past from present is thinned. By some force of luck, or perhaps fate if you believe in it, you have come upon one of nine separate vessels for my spirit, and the White Witch, to my knowledge, has found only one. I may be able to instill you with some sense of where the others are hidden, but how shall you return them to me given your current standing with the White Witch?
“Quite simply, I will present White Witch with the Sight and give her the choice of accepting my help. She may have access to Puck’s network of portals, the ones I build can go anywhere. If you were to give me knowledge of where to find the items I can act as her…” Her smile was full of genuine humour, “Her guide. If she is on the hunt for the items as it were, she would be a fool to refuse my help and intimate knowledge regardless of our previous disagreements.”
With regard to this, Gwyneth added a final note, I have a request. However you proceed, do not make it easy for me. Much as I long to return to the world in full, I cannot dismiss the good of trials and tricks. I would ask that, at your own discretion, you test the White Witch’s mettle with whatever Faery skills you possess that she may grow stronger and that our eventual reunion is even more fruitful.
Odette steepled her hands in front of her face, a grin of unmistakable excitement and joy. Cheerily she said, “You have yourself a deal, Madame. Trial, opposition, challenges rooted in chaos. It will be my pleasure.”
Gwyneth bore a wicked grin, her arm fully outstretched. She took firm grasp of Odette’s hand.
Then it is decided. A bargain has been struck. This has been a pleasure, Lady Ambassador. Now, as promised,
Gwyneth pulled Odette in close, her blue eyes piercing Odette’s, their faces mere centimeters apart.
May you see a light in the dark, may all my treasures be dually felt and found, and may you carry these words with you for all time that they may never be gone from you mind. So be it. Gwyneth blew a soft, sweet breath over Odette’s eyes, her blessings taking hold. As her final word echoed over the illusory fields, all seemed to fade from view, returning to that primordial darkness from whence it came.
The darkness enveloped her once again but felt as if her mind was a slingshot back into consciousness. Odette shot up in her hotel bed with a gasp, holding the now opened box cradling Gwyneth’s Sight neatly inside. Her eyes were wide staring down at its contents. Large copper, wooden, and silver coins engraved with various occult symbols, wordlessly her fingers brushed over them.
When she spoke it was to both Bach and Mandate, her breathing was in short hurried breaths.
“I have a plan.”