The Curse of Dark Root: Part One
Bad Moon Rising
In a small glen, surrounded by aspens that launched themselves into the night sky like arrows, three woman gathered around a large black pot that bubbled and hissed above a pile of slow-burning wood.
The trio were as different in appearance and manner as they could be, the only shared similarity being the gleam in their eyes marking them as women of magick.
Larinda was the tallest, statuesque and angular, with wine red lips and black curls that jounced around her shoulders like a basket full of snakes.
Dora was short and squat, with the body of a bridge troll and a face that had seen too many sunsets. Her coarse gray hair was bound beneath her conical hat and her steel eyes took in everything, leaving no detail unturned.
Jillian was deceitfully soft in both face and demeanor––a slender beauty with eyes as green as summer grass, even in her middle years.
Each woman held a silver ladle, a gift from Sasha when they had become full members of The Council. Though The Council had fallen apart years ago, the heirloom was a reminder of the powers they wielded, the bonds they once shared, and the fragility of even the best-laid plans.
They hovered their ladles above the bubbling cauldron, sniffing at the intoxicating scents in the air: iron, moonlight, chocolate, and desire––the unmistakable smells of unrefined magick. It was thick in this realm, capable of causing madness if not properly shielded.
At last, a night owl hooted from deep within the woods, announcing the witching hour had begun––that length of time between midnight and 3 AM when magic was the most potent, and the veils separating worlds were thin.
Larinda was the first to speak.
“Ladies,” she began, as her lithe fingers massaged her silver spoon. “You summoned me here, against my will. What do you want?” Her crimson cape flapped around her in the breezeless night. She rested her spoon on the cauldron’s edge and waited for their answer.
Dora squared her broad shoulders and adjusted the chin strap of her pointed hat. She leaned forward, her face damp from the steam rising from the pot. “Ya know why we summoned ya here, and it wasn’t fer tea!”
Larinda let go of her ladle and it continued to balance, unaware of the laws of gravity. Clutching her chest, she laughed. “You give me too much credit, Dora. I am not the one who bedeviled Maggie. It is too large, even for me.”
Jillian glanced at Dora, silently urging her not to accuse Larinda outright. Maggie suffered under a powerful spell. If Larinda had put the curse on Maggie, she’d pay for it. But that would come later. “Can you help us to remove it?” she asked.
Larinda licked her lips, leaving a mark of spittle that gleamed like blood in the pale moonlight. “I have no interest in keeping Maggie around. She is a headache and a bore.”
“But she’ll die!” An avalanche of purple sparks erupted from Jillian’s body and the ground tremored beneath her.
“One less Maddock witch to worry about.” Larinda snapped her fingers and her cape transformed into a stunning red dress that clung to every swell of her thin frame. She inspected her attire and smiled before returning her attention.
“Vanity is what got us all in this mess in the first place,” Dora said. “Have ya learned nothin’?”
“It seems like you two are the ones in the mess, while I…”
Without thinking, Jillian lunged for Larinda and was promptly forced back into place. As a precaution, they had taken an oath of protection from one another before their meeting, an agreement Jillian was coming to regret.
“Tsk, tsk.” Larinda clicked her tongue. “You go rogue and you think rules no longer apply to you? You New Age witches––believing you are above the laws. But we’re all bound. All of us. Magick takes no notice of free will.”
Jillian steadied herself then drew in a long breath. “Maggie is family. Surely, that means something to you.”
“When I left Dark Root, I left family and never looked back. I don't understand why you didn't follow my lead, Jillian… after Sasha's treatment of you.”
“Ya didn’t leave Dark Root!” Dora clanged her ladle against the cauldron. “Ya were banished. An' if ya don’t help us now, ya’ll have two witches ta contend with. Even the great Larinda can’t handle that. Not without Armand.” She narrowed her eyes. “Where is he, anyway?”
Larinda’s complexion and red dress both drained of color. “My relationship with Armand is not your concern.”
“That’s because there isn’t one. He used ya like he uses everybody. Ya've been a fool, witch!”
“Silence!” The stones near Larinda’s feet rose up into the air before crashing heavily back to earth.
“Dora's right,” Jillian said. “We are no longer divided. You will help us, or deal with us both.”
Larinda raised a sparse eyebrow. “You’ve been out of the game too long, Jillian. Go back to your tarot cards and your ghost whispering and let the real witches talk.”
Under the moon’s full light, Jillian’s shadow grew, stretching itself from her feet to the far corner of the glen until it nearly disappeared into the woods. The shadow evolved, morphing into the shape of an upright wolf, with pointed fangs and sharpened claws.
Jillian aimed a finger at Larinda, and the shadow-claw followed. “Don’t underestimate me. I gave up the craft but that doesn’t mean I'm any less of a witch. I was born with my abilities, just as you were.”
Larinda inspected the shadow, following it from tooth to tail. She snapped her finger and the shadow wavered but did not dissolve. “And if I choose to disappear instead?”
“I will contact Armand. We may not be able to traverse your realm but he can. And if he finds out that you allowed Maggie and her son to die when you could have helped...” Jillian shrugged. It was a gamble, evoking Armand’s name. For all she knew he was either dead or himself responsible for Maggie's sickness. But it was their only card, albeit a weak one, and she held her face expressionless.
After several moments Larinda’s smile faded and the ladle, which had balanced so perfectly on the cauldron's rim, tittered uncertainly. She lifted her pointed chin. “You wouldn’t contact Armand. You fear him.”
Now it was Jillian who smiled. “He and I were very close, if you remember.”
Larinda turned from one witch to the other. “You wouldn’t…”
Dora raised herself to her full height of nearly five feet. “We will if ya don’t help! We may even tell him yer part in Sasha’s fate!”
The cauldron bubbled and hissed, as if to lend voice to Larinda’s turmoil. At last she offered one curt nod and her face and gown regained their hue. “I will assist, on certain conditions.”
“Ya have no room ta bargain!” Dora snarled, closing one eye and glaring through the other.
“Let’s hear what she has to say.” Jillian spoke calmly. Time was short and Maggie’s illness was worsening. If they needed to play Larinda’s games they would, for now.
The statuesque dark witch gazed up into the starless night. “I do not know who put the curse on the girl, but I sense its power. I can’t break it but I can help to weaken it for a time.” She turned to the others, her eyes brightening. “Once the baby is born, Maggie will transition from Maiden to Mother and gain the strength to fight the curse on her own.”
Jillian nodded warily. “And what are your conditions?”
Larinda put a finger to her chin. “In return for my assistance, Maggie shall learn the secret history that has been kept from her.”
“Ya may as well have asked us ta create gold out o’ trees!” Dora said.
“…and,” Larinda continued, “If she doesn’t know by the time she gives birth, the child will come to live with me for his first six years.”
“I knew it! Ya want ta train the baby up ta do dark magick, just like his grandfather!” Dora looked to Jillian. “She can’t be trusted.”
Larinda crossed her arms. “I do want to train Armand’s grandson up to be a proper magician. Yes. Someone needs to.”
“Yer love fer that warlock blinds ya!”
“And your fear of the unknown blinds you.”
Jillian raised her right hand and her silver spoon caught a glint of moonlight, flashing in the dark like a thread of lightning. “Larinda, you know we can’t tell Maggie about the past. Sasha bound us all. And as you pointed out, we're all governed by the rules of magick.”
“You’re a clever woman, Jillian. You’ll think of something.”
“Maggie would rather die than to have her baby taken.”
“Then I suggest you get started.”
Dora and Jillian looked at one another. They had done all they could to break the curse on their own but they needed a third witch of equal caliber to invoke The Power of Three. Larinda was their only option.
“What do you say?” Larinda asked as she bent over to get another whiff of the strong aroma wafting off the pot.
Jillian’s heart pounded, though outwardly she held her composure. “If these are your terms, then we agree. But you are bound by your word also. No tricks or games.”
“Delicious!” Larinda smiled as she rubbed her hands together. “How I wish I could be there when Maggie finds out! You must tell me all the details.”
The night owl hooted three times, signaling the end of the witching hour.
Jillian nodded. “We are in agreement then. We will invoke the Power of Three to combat the curse until the child is born. In return for Larinda’s assistance, Maggie will learn what has been kept from her…”
“Or the baby comes to me!”
The trio plunged their spoons into the pot and stirred three times, counter-clockwise. One by one they tasted the bitter brew they had created together.
“The pact is sealed,” Larinda announced as her form slowly dissolved, leaving only her shadow behind.
“The pact is sealed,” Dora echoed, her shoulders falling as she too disappeared from the glen.
“The pact is sealed,” Jillian said, staring into the pot one last time as her wolf shadow evaporated. ”Maggie, forgive me.”