R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author Suspense Urban Fantasy Dystopian SCI FI Fantasy
Witches Brew S he   glared   at   the   ochre-hued   page   of   the   family   tome,   the recipe   it   was   opened   to,   and   shook   her   head.   A   long   river   of hair   fell   from   her   shoulder   across   her   breasts   and   the   glowing amulet   perched   there.   She   flicked   her   hair   back   absently   and mumbled an old plea handed down over the centuries. “Patter    of    bats,    fingernail    moon,    emerald    fern    ground fine, light the fire, do not stray, so this witch can see the way.” The   heavy-plank   door   groaned   as   it   swung   inward.   Her sister   walked   into   the   ancient   barn   following   a   conjured   fire lighting   her   way.   Dewines   pinched   the   center   of   the   flames and the spell faded. “Gwiddon.   Do   not   tell   me   you’re   still   fretting.   Spells   are spells, recipes, recipes. Some things simply can’t be improved upon.” Gwiddon   gazed   at   her   sister   and   all   that   came   to   mind   was   how   jealous   she   was that   Dewines   inherited   the   orange-red   hair   of   the   witches   who   preceded   them.   If   she didn’t   love   her   sister   so   much   it   would   be   easy   to   hate   her.   Silken   complexion,   eyes beryl-green,   narrow   chin,   and   cheekbones   that   could   dull   an   axe,   sweet   smile   and arched back that made her look as though she floated when she walked. Dewines   sighed.   “If   you   worry   any   more   about   your   trial   on   the   morrow   you’ll   not sleep.   It   will   give   you   little   pleasure   to   compete   for   the   family’s   honor   with   eyes   held hostage by bags of exhaustion.”    “Easy   for   you   to   say.   Your   trial   is   long   past.”   Gwiddon   grinned.   “All   you   had   to   do to earn your initiation was turn a besotted man into a pilgrim with pride.” “It    wasn’t    that    easy.    I    was    provided    a    most    horrid    man.    And    he    followed    me endlessly for months. I obviously blended too strong a spell. “Besides,   the   gaggle   you   compete   with   haven’t   half   your   skill.   You   distress   over nothing.   You   have   the   recipe   that   has   put   other   llwyths   to   shame   for   generations.   Have you collected all the fresh herbs you need, or not?” Gwiddon nodded. “Then   why   do   you   overtax   your   amulet   so?   Let   it   rest.   The   sprite   spirits   may   take offense at the burden.” A stitch tightened in Gwiddon’s chest. “Oh my, what have I done? Given you one more thing to worry your mind.” The   girl   closed   her   eyes   and   the   orange   glow   of   the   amulet   faded   to   a   rich   burnt- red   before   extinguishing.   Gwiddon   opened   her   eyes   and   checked   the   mystic   force   of   her charm, which had once belonged to her crone-aunt. “You will do well, child,” Dewines said. “Child,   is   it?”   Gwiddon   laughed.   “Were   we   not   walking   barefoot   through   the   sandy creek   last   fall   together,   the   farm   boys   calling   down   from   the   trees   to   us   both,   asking   for kisses. You did not go through your initiation that  long ago, sister.” Dewines   laughed   with   her.   “Fair   you   are.   And   you   will   be   considered   a   full   witch   in your   own   right   on   the   morrow.   The   family   will   retain   its   pride.   We   will   stand   tall   beside you and frighten away the demons as we dance into the night.” But   Gwiddon   still   fretted.   “Ancient   does   not   mean   unbeatable.   I   hear   my   rivals have been—” “Simply shows how desperate they are,” Dewines said. “Desperation   can   be   a   dangerous   thing.”   Gwiddon   allowed   her   sister   to   wrap   her within a comforting embrace. “My   sweet,   dear   Gwiddon.   Those   fledging-wiccans   will   simply   be   exhausted   from their futile plight. New rarely means better.” Gwiddon   stepped   back   from   the   proven   witch.   Dewines   pulled   Gwiddon’s   coal- black   hair   forward   and   fretted   with   a   couple   tangles   until   it   lay   behaved   over   her shoulders. “The   torchlight   reflects   the   most   beautiful   reds   and   golds   in   your   hair,”   Dewines said.   “I   envy   it.   Hasn’t   the   bawdiness   of   my   own.   Come,   get   some   sleep.   It   wouldn’t   be proper for a future full-wiccan to rise with red eyes.” They walked to the door arm-in-arm. Dewines raised a hand and waved it casually. “Fire of Tan, fade and recede, light of Brite precede and fill the night.” The   torch   Gwiddon   had   been   reading   by   slowly   extinguished   behind   them   as   a   new flame flickered to life, hovering before them, leading them to the house. Their   mother   slumbered   in   the   family’s   ancient   rocking   chair,   which   would   be handed   down   to   one   of   the   sisters,   one   day.   It   wasn’t   a   given   it   would   be   the   eldest,   for if   Gwiddon   accomplished   her   task   the   next   day   and   found   the   half-human,   half-wiccan who   lived   unknown   to   them   all   these   years   in   the   village,   she   might   have   a   step   up   on her sister. A   volume   of   spells   sat   in   Cydwedd’s   lap,   closed.   The   woman’s   hands   lay   across   it, fingers   gently   woven.   She   stirred   and   opened   her   eyes   when   Dewines   kissed   her   on   the forehead. “You should go to bed, Mother.” “Ah, so have you convinced Gwiddon to stop second-guessing herself?” “I wouldn’t meddle,” Dewines mewed. “What   kind   of   witch   are   you?”   Cydwedd   cackled.   “Keeping   your   nose   in   your   own business is a poor example to lead, for a proper witch.” “I    remember,”    Dewines    said,    “what    it    was    like    when    visiting    llwyth    tried    to influence   my   actions   on   my   own   judgment   day.   You   were   wise   to   discourage   their   visit this sennight. We should be glad they accepted your excuse.” “You   are   too   aloof   to   be   a   witch,”   Cynwedd   teased.   “Perhaps   the   crow   delivered   the wrong babe at your birth.” “Delivered   the   right   babe   it   did,”   Gwiddon   chimed.   “I’ve   been   given   a   proper   sister to compete against for the right to challenge Gastwedd for council succession one day.” Her   mother   narrowed   her   eyes.   “Pass   your   initiation   before   thinking   of   the   council. Your mind should not be divided the eve before your test.” “She    is    only    saying    out    loud,”    Dwines    said,    “what    we    are    all    thinking.    The leadership   of   the   council   must   be   brought   back   into   the   llwyth.   The   wrong   clan   has claimed the reins and we have all paid the price in the growing persecution.” “You   are   both   too   young   to   be   anticipating   such   responsibility.   Off   to   bed   with   you both. Gwiddon has a long journey that will start too early.” Gwiddon   lifted   the   heavy   volume   off   her   mother’s   lap   and   returned   it   to   its   nook next   to   the   hearth.   The   two   kissed   their   mother   and   went   to   their   pallets   with   no   more discussion as they changed into their night robes. Gwiddon   lay   quietly   ensnared   in   her   thoughts   unable   to   sleep   for   hours.   The   heavy staff that pounded on the door before sunrise wracked her mind like a physical pain. She   and   her   sister   rushed   to   dress.   Dewines   was   the   first   to   the   door,   raising   the heavy   timber   and   allowing   the   two   warlocks   in.   Gwiddon   stirred   the   hearth   and   fed   it kindling to heat water for tea, and take the early morning chill out of the great room. “A   fine   day   it   will   be,”   the   younger   sorcerer   declared   heartily.   “We   have   ensured   no rain spoils this day of examination.” Gwiddon   peered   at   the   man.   She   had   seen   him   following   about   in   her   father’s footsteps   like   a   pet   in   the   past,   but   couldn’t   remember   ever   being   introduced   to   him. He   and   the   sour   looking   Mordred   would   act   as   her   monitors   for   the   day,   to   ensure   she used   no   improper   conjuring   to   identify   the   half-wiccan   rumored   to   live   among   the humans. Cydwedd   joined   her   two   daughters   and   the   three   moved   about   the   table   putting together   a   simple   meal   for   the   five   to   break   fast.   The   kettle   whistling,   Gwiddon   set   tea steeping.   The   impatient   younger   warlock   poured   himself   a   spot   quickly.   He   didn’t drink though, only warmed his hands around the mug. Gwiddon   studied   the   man.   Hardly   looked   old   enough   to   have   passed   his   own initiation.   He   spoke   of   ensuring   there   was   no   rain   as   though   it   was   his   grand   gesture. Who   actually   cited   the   spell   if   at   all?   His   cape   was   thin   and   his   boots   truly   insufficient for the road. He wasn’t one to properly represent their kind. Gwiddon   blushed   at   her   mean   thoughts.   She   was   no   older   than   him,   powers   no more   substantial.   She   was   only   lucky   to   be   the   daughter   of   a   successful   witch   and warlock, who could provide what the lad lacked. The   three   of   them   struck   off   for   the   far   village   with   no   hint   of   sun   yet   aiding   their trek. A thick fog hung about them and weaved between the trees. It   hadn’t   cleared   three   hours   later   as   they   came   to   the   ridge   that   overlooked   the valley   and   the   bustling   human   community   that   resided   below.   A   breeze   traversed   the hills clearing the muggy air that lingered. “Have you been there before?” her younger escort asked. “On   occasion,”   Gwiddon   answered,   to   imply   multiple   times.   But   she   had   only   one opportunity   to   visit   before,   with   her   father   when   he   had   llwyth   duties,   but   that   allowed them to stay over the night. Was very exciting. “Come,”   Mordred   grunted,   stamping   his   staff.   “We   have   no   time   to   dawdle.   The other initiates may already be there.” It   was   always   an   eerie   sensation   first   walking   into   the   fray   of   humans.   They   were loud    and    moved    with    unnecessary    haste.    Impatient,    intimidating    beings.    Gwiddon would   never   understand   their   ways.   The   rock-paved   lane,   filled   with   carts   and   horses, echoed loudly in ears used to the quiet forest. Mordred   and   the   younger   warlock   escorted   her   to   the   bakery   the   council   ran,   to bring   in   the   human   coin   that   helped   them   blend   in   when   they   traveled.   There   were   a couple   patrons   in   the   shop   purchasing   items   when   they   entered.   The   three   waited patiently for them to leave. “Your    initiate,”    Mordred    said    simply    to    the    witch    behind    the    counter.    He immediately   rose   his   staff,   mumbled   a   charm,   and   the   two   warlocks   faded   until   they were    invisible.    They    would    sit    about    unseen,    watching    that    Gwiddon    did    not inappropriately interact with the humans that day. The   witch   smiled   broadly.   “Welcome.   Do   you   need   anything?   Anything   I   can   help you with?” Gwiddon   met   the   woman’s   warm   smile.   “A   pot   and   utensils,   and   I’m   set,”   she answered nervously. Thirty   minutes   later,   sweat   threatened   to   drip   from   Gwiddon’s   nose   as   she   stirred the   small   cauldron.   She   recited   the   incantations,   dropping   each   pinch   of   herb   into   the simmer. By   mid-day   she   fretted   over   how   long   the   other   initiates   had   in   the   village,   free   to spread their sorcery, with her’s simmering lazily, yet unwilling to do her bidding. The   heat   of   the   wood-stoked   stove   and   oven   had   her   bareheaded   and   down   to   her shift.   Anxiety   piqued   that   there   wasn’t   enough   breeze   to   carry   the   fragrance   of   her charm   through   the   village,   but   as   she   poured   the   viscous   brew   with   its   fruit   into   the lined   trencher   for   the   oven,   even   humans   walking   down   the   cobblestone   raised   their nose into the air. She smiled. Ten   minutes   and   her   snare   was   toasted.   Out   of   the   oven   and   on   the   front   sill   to cool,   the   herbs   wafted   from   the   bakery.   Gwiddon   sensed   the   two   guardian   warlocks beside her, besotted by the spell. “Off my shoulder or I’ll be clobbering ya both,” she hissed. Gwiddon   returned   to   the   rear   of   the   bakery   to   ensure   the   door   swung   wide,   to maximize   the   draft   through   the   shop.   She   strode   back   to   the   front   and   stood   in   the doorway, peering up and down the street. Young   men   going   about   their   chores   slowed   and   smiled   at   her.   How   sinful   she must   look,   hair   fallen   lose,   no   vest   to   cloak   her   breasts,   but   if   there   was   a   day   to   blend in with the humans, that was it. A   particularly   cheeky   lad   found   an   excuse   to   walk   by   a   second   time   and   ogled   her with   a   crooked   grin.   “Could   such   a   beautiful   thing   have   baked   up   whatever   smells   so enticing?” he asked. If   half-wiccan,   he   would   have   demonstrated   a   sense   of   drunkenness   not   mischief. Gwiddon   said   nothing   to   him   so   as   not   to   encourage   him   to   dally,   but   she   couldn’t   stop the smile that creased her lips. She   wasn’t   as   accustomed   with   flirtation   as   her   sister   probably   was.   It   wasn’t   a completely   unknown   feeling,   to   have   a   man   look   at   her   with   a   lusty   eye,   but   rare enough from living deep in the forest to make it feel—intoxicating. She almost giggled at the thought. Humans   straggled   by   as   the   sun   crossed   its   apex   and   leaned   west.   Gwiddon’s anxiety   rose.   Perhaps   the   object   of   her   spell   didn’t   reside   within   the   village   after   all,   or worked too far afield. Or one of the other initiates had already snared him. She   was   convinced   another   year   would   pass   before   she   had   another   chance   to prove   her   skill   and   be   accepted   fully   in   the   fold   before   she   spied   the   tall,   blond-headed woodcutter   trudging   up   the   middle   of   the   lane,   oblivious   of   the   carts   that   had   to   come to a stop to avoid him. He staggered directly to the sill and inhaled deeply of the sweet aroma of her bait. “Come in and sit, and I will cut you a slice,” Gwiddon told him. The   handsome   young   man,   perhaps   three   years   her   senior,   bulging   with   muscles and    manliness,    struck    her    conscience    like    a    blow    to    the    gut.    His    life    had    just irrevocably changed, and he knew it not. She   removed   the   pie   from   the   sill   and   ladled   a   serving   onto   a   platter.   He   jammed   a spoon   into   it   without   sitting   down.   She   had   to   will   her   two   guardians   away   with   an angry   wave,   but   the   woodcutter   appeared   not   to   notice.   His   eyes   remained   focused   on the   platter.   Seated,   he   dug   into   her   incantation   fully   and   within   three   bites   was   lost   to the human world. Mordred   and   the   younger   warlock   turned   visible,   the   spell   worn   away   as   they   lost their   concentration.   They   greedily   watched   the   half-wiccan   gobbling   down   what   they too craved. The   beautiful,   lost-man   only   glanced   at   them,   too   drunken   to   care   from   whence they   came.   Gwiddon   ladled   a   second   helping   onto   his   platter,   and   stood   back,   studying the poor man. If only he knew. The   witch   who   ran   the   bakery   appeared   at   Gwiddon’s   shoulder   and   draped   her with an understanding arm. “It   is   necessary,”   she   said   softly.   “We   can’t   very   well   have   untrained   adepts   walking about the human world uncensored.” Before    Gwiddon    could    answer,    another    towheaded    lad    stumbled    across    the threshold, eyes unfocused, mouth agape. “Oh my,” the four wiccans muttered in concert. Mordred    groaned.    “We    have    a    warlock    slinking    about    with    an    itch    and    no discretion. This is not good.” Gwiddon ladled a serving for the new arrival, his door to a very different, new life. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
Witches Brew S he   glared   at   the   ochre-hued   page   of   the family   tome,   the   recipe   it   was   opened   to, and   shook   her   head.   A   long   river   of   hair fell   from   her   shoulder   across   her   breasts and    the    glowing    amulet    perched    there. She    flicked    her    hair    back    absently    and mumbled   an   old   plea   handed   down   over the centuries. “Patter     of     bats,     fingernail     moon, emerald   fern   ground   fine,   light   the   fire, do    not    stray,    so    this    witch    can    see    the way.” The    heavy-plank    door    groaned    as    it swung   inward.   Her   sister   walked   into   the ancient    barn    following    a    conjured    fire lighting    her    way.    Dewines    pinched    the center of the flames and the spell faded. “Gwiddon.   Do   not   tell   me   you’re   still fretting.   Spells   are   spells,   recipes,   recipes. Some    things    simply    can’t    be    improved upon.” Gwiddon    gazed    at    her    sister    and    all that   came   to   mind   was   how   jealous   she was   that   Dewines   inherited   the   orange- red    hair    of    the    witches    who    preceded them.   If   she   didn’t   love   her   sister   so   much it    would    be    easy    to    hate    her.    Silken complexion,     eyes     beryl-green,     narrow chin,   and   cheekbones   that   could   dull   an axe,    sweet    smile    and    arched    back    that made    her    look    as    though    she    floated when she walked. Dewines    sighed.    “If    you    worry    any more    about    your    trial    on    the    morrow you’ll    not    sleep.    It    will    give    you    little pleasure     to     compete     for     the     family’s honor   with   eyes   held   hostage   by   bags   of exhaustion.”    “Easy   for   you   to   say.   Your   trial   is   long past.”   Gwiddon   grinned.   “All   you   had   to do    to    earn    your    initiation    was    turn    a besotted man into a pilgrim with pride.” “It   wasn’t   that   easy.   I   was   provided   a most    horrid    man.    And    he    followed    me endlessly   for   months.   I   obviously   blended too strong a spell. “Besides,   the   gaggle   you   compete   with haven’t   half   your   skill.   You   distress   over nothing.   You   have   the   recipe   that   has   put other    llwyths    to    shame    for    generations. Have   you   collected   all   the   fresh   herbs   you need, or not?” Gwiddon nodded. “Then     why     do     you     overtax     your amulet   so?   Let   it   rest.   The   sprite   spirits may take offense at the burden.” A stitch tightened in Gwiddon’s chest. “Oh   my,   what   have   I   done?   Given   you one more thing to worry your mind.” The     girl     closed     her     eyes     and     the orange   glow   of   the   amulet   faded   to   a   rich burnt-red   before   extinguishing.   Gwiddon opened   her   eyes   and   checked   the   mystic force     of     her     charm,     which     had     once belonged to her crone-aunt. “You    will    do    well,    child,”    Dewines said. “Child,     is     it?”     Gwiddon     laughed. “Were   we   not   walking   barefoot   through the    sandy    creek    last    fall    together,    the farm   boys   calling   down   from   the   trees   to us   both,   asking   for   kisses.   You   did   not   go through    your    initiation    that     long    ago, sister.” Dewines   laughed   with   her.   “Fair   you are.    And    you    will    be    considered    a    full witch   in   your   own   right   on   the   morrow. The   family   will   retain   its   pride.   We   will stand   tall   beside   you   and   frighten   away the demons as we dance into the night.” But    Gwiddon    still    fretted.    “Ancient does    not    mean    unbeatable.    I    hear    my rivals have been—” “Simply    shows    how    desperate    they are,” Dewines said. “Desperation     can     be     a     dangerous thing.”    Gwiddon    allowed    her    sister    to wrap her within a comforting embrace. “My     sweet,     dear     Gwiddon.     Those fledging-wiccans   will   simply   be   exhausted from   their   futile   plight.   New   rarely   means better.” Gwiddon     stepped     back     from     the proven   witch.   Dewines   pulled   Gwiddon’s coal-black   hair   forward   and   fretted   with   a couple   tangles   until   it   lay   behaved   over her shoulders. “The     torchlight     reflects     the     most beautiful    reds    and    golds    in    your    hair,” Dewines     said.     “I     envy     it.     Hasn’t     the bawdiness    of    my    own.    Come,    get    some sleep.   It   wouldn’t   be   proper   for   a   future full-wiccan to rise with red eyes.” They   walked   to   the   door   arm-in-arm. Dewines    raised    a    hand    and    waved    it casually. “Fire   of   Tan,   fade   and   recede,   light   of Brite precede and fill the night.” The   torch   Gwiddon   had   been   reading by   slowly   extinguished   behind   them   as   a new     flame     flickered     to     life,     hovering before them, leading them to the house. Their      mother      slumbered      in      the family’s     ancient     rocking     chair,     which would    be    handed    down    to    one    of    the sisters,   one   day.   It   wasn’t   a   given   it   would be       the       eldest,       for       if       Gwiddon accomplished   her   task   the   next   day   and found    the    half-human,    half-wiccan    who lived   unknown   to   them   all   these   years   in the   village,   she   might   have   a   step   up   on her sister. A   volume   of   spells   sat   in   Cydwedd’s lap,   closed.   The   woman’s   hands   lay   across it,   fingers   gently   woven.   She   stirred   and opened   her   eyes   when   Dewines   kissed   her on the forehead. “You should go to bed, Mother.” “Ah,   so   have   you   convinced   Gwiddon to stop second-guessing herself?” “I wouldn’t meddle,” Dewines mewed. “What      kind      of      witch      are      you?” Cydwedd   cackled.   “Keeping   your   nose   in your   own   business   is   a   poor   example   to lead, for a proper witch.” “I   remember,”   Dewines   said,   “what   it was    like    when    visiting    llwyth    tried    to influence      my      actions      on      my      own judgment      day.      You      were      wise      to discourage    their    visit    this    sennight.    We should     be     glad     they     accepted     your excuse.” “You    are    too    aloof    to    be    a    witch,” Cynwedd     teased.     “Perhaps     the     crow delivered the wrong babe at your birth.” “Delivered     the     right     babe     it     did,” Gwiddon     chimed.     “I’ve     been     given     a proper   sister   to   compete   against   for   the right    to    challenge    Gastwedd    for    council succession one day.” Her   mother   narrowed   her   eyes.   “Pass your    initiation    before    thinking    of    the council.   Your   mind   should   not   be   divided the eve before your test.” “She   is   only   saying   out   loud,”   Dwines said,     “what     we     are     all     thinking.     The leadership   of   the   council   must   be   brought back   into   the   llwyth.   The   wrong   clan   has claimed   the   reins   and   we   have   all   paid   the price in the growing persecution.” “You     are     both     too     young     to     be anticipating    such    responsibility.    Off    to bed   with   you   both.   Gwiddon   has   a   long journey that will start too early.” Gwiddon   lifted   the   heavy   volume   off her    mother’s    lap    and    returned    it    to    its nook   next   to   the   hearth.   The   two   kissed their    mother    and    went    to    their    pallets with   no   more   discussion   as   they   changed into their night robes. Gwiddon   lay   quietly   ensnared   in   her thoughts   unable   to   sleep   for   hours.   The heavy    staff    that    pounded    on    the    door before   sunrise   wracked   her   mind   like   a physical pain. She    and    her    sister    rushed    to    dress. Dewines   was   the   first   to   the   door,   raising the    heavy    timber    and    allowing    the    two warlocks   in.   Gwiddon   stirred   the   hearth and   fed   it   kindling   to   heat   water   for   tea, and   take   the   early   morning   chill   out   of the great room. “A    fine    day    it    will    be,”    the    younger sorcerer     declared     heartily.     “We     have ensured     no     rain     spoils     this     day     of examination.” Gwiddon   peered   at   the   man.   She   had seen   him   following   about   in   her   father’s footsteps     like     a     pet     in     the     past,     but couldn’t   remember   ever   being   introduced to   him.   He   and   the   sour   looking   Mordred would   act   as   her   monitors   for   the   day,   to ensure   she   used   no   improper   conjuring   to identify   the   half-wiccan   rumored   to   live among the humans. Cydwedd    joined    her    two    daughters and    the    three    moved    about    the    table putting    together    a    simple    meal    for    the five    to    break    fast.    The    kettle    whistling, Gwiddon   set   tea   steeping.   The   impatient younger    warlock    poured    himself    a    spot quickly.    He    didn’t    drink    though,    only warmed his hands around the mug. Gwiddon    studied    the    man.    Hardly looked   old   enough   to   have   passed   his   own initiation.   He   spoke   of   ensuring   there   was no     rain     as     though     it     was     his     grand gesture.   Who   actually   cited   the   spell   if   at all?   His   cape   was   thin   and   his   boots   truly insufficient   for   the   road.   He   wasn’t   one   to properly represent their kind. Gwiddon      blushed      at      her      mean thoughts.    She    was    no    older    than    him, powers   no   more   substantial.   She   was   only lucky   to   be   the   daughter   of   a   successful witch    and    warlock,    who    could    provide what the lad lacked. The   three   of   them   struck   off   for   the far   village   with   no   hint   of   sun   yet   aiding their   trek.   A   thick   fog   hung   about   them and weaved between the trees. It   hadn’t   cleared   three   hours   later   as they    came    to    the    ridge    that    overlooked the     valley     and     the     bustling     human community   that   resided   below.   A   breeze traversed   the   hills   clearing   the   muggy   air that lingered. “Have    you    been    there    before?”    her younger escort asked. “On   occasion,”   Gwiddon   answered,   to imply   multiple   times.   But   she   had   only one   opportunity   to   visit   before,   with   her father   when   he   had   llwyth   duties,   but   that allowed   them   to   stay   over   the   night.   Was very exciting. “Come,”    Mordred    grunted,    stamping his    staff.    “We    have    no    time    to    dawdle. The other initiates may already be there.” It   was   always   an   eerie   sensation   first walking    into    the    fray    of    humans.    They were   loud   and   moved   with   unnecessary haste.     Impatient,     intimidating     beings. Gwiddon    would    never    understand    their ways.    The    rock-paved    lane,    filled    with carts    and    horses,    echoed    loudly    in    ears used to the quiet forest. Mordred    and    the    younger    warlock escorted    her    to    the    bakery    the    council ran,    to    bring    in    the    human    coin    that helped   them   blend   in   when   they   traveled. There   were   a   couple   patrons   in   the   shop purchasing   items   when   they   entered.   The three waited patiently for them to leave. “Your   initiate,”   Mordred   said   simply to    the    witch    behind    the    counter.    He immediately    rose    his    staff,    mumbled    a charm,   and   the   two   warlocks   faded   until they   were   invisible.   They   would   sit   about unseen,   watching   that   Gwiddon   did   not inappropriately   interact   with   the   humans that day. The   witch   smiled   broadly.   “Welcome. Do    you    need    anything?    Anything    I    can help you with?” Gwiddon     met     the     woman’s     warm smile.   “A   pot   and   utensils,   and   I’m   set,” she answered nervously. Thirty   minutes   later,   sweat   threatened to     drip     from     Gwiddon’s     nose     as     she stirred   the   small   cauldron.   She   recited   the incantations,   dropping   each   pinch   of   herb into the simmer. By   mid-day   she   fretted   over   how   long the   other   initiates   had   in   the   village,   free to      spread      their      sorcery,      with      her’s simmering   lazily,   yet   unwilling   to   do   her bidding. The    heat    of    the    wood-stoked    stove and   oven   had   her   bareheaded   and   down to    her    shift.    Anxiety    piqued    that    there wasn’t      enough      breeze      to      carry      the fragrance     of     her     charm     through     the village,    but    as    she    poured    the    viscous brew   with   its   fruit   into   the   lined   trencher for   the   oven,   even   humans   walking   down the   cobblestone   raised   their   nose   into   the air. She smiled. Ten     minutes     and     her     snare     was toasted.   Out   of   the   oven   and   on   the   front sill    to    cool,    the    herbs    wafted    from    the bakery.       Gwiddon       sensed       the       two guardian   warlocks   beside   her,   besotted   by the spell. “Off   my   shoulder   or   I’ll   be   clobbering ya both,” she hissed. Gwiddon   returned   to   the   rear   of   the bakery   to   ensure   the   door   swung   wide,   to maximize   the   draft   through   the   shop.   She strode   back   to   the   front   and   stood   in   the doorway, peering up and down the street. Young   men   going   about   their   chores slowed   and   smiled   at   her.   How   sinful   she must    look,    hair    fallen    lose,    no    vest    to cloak   her   breasts,   but   if   there   was   a   day   to blend in with the humans, that was it. A    particularly    cheeky    lad    found    an excuse    to    walk    by    a    second    time    and ogled    her    with    a    crooked    grin.    “Could such    a    beautiful    thing    have    baked    up whatever smells so enticing?” he asked. If       half-wiccan,       he       would       have demonstrated   a   sense   of   drunkenness   not mischief.   Gwiddon   said   nothing   to   him   so as   not   to   encourage   him   to   dally,   but   she couldn’t   stop   the   smile   that   creased   her lips. She      wasn’t      as      accustomed      with flirtation    as    her    sister    probably    was.    It wasn’t   a   completely   unknown   feeling,   to have   a   man   look   at   her   with   a   lusty   eye, but   rare   enough   from   living   deep   in   the forest to make it feel—intoxicating. She almost giggled at the thought. Humans     straggled     by     as     the     sun crossed      its      apex      and      leaned      west. Gwiddon’s     anxiety     rose.     Perhaps     the object   of   her   spell   didn’t   reside   within   the village   after   all,   or   worked   too   far   afield. Or   one   of   the   other   initiates   had   already snared him. She     was     convinced     another     year would     pass     before     she     had     another chance   to   prove   her   skill   and   be   accepted fully   in   the   fold   before   she   spied   the   tall, blond-headed   woodcutter   trudging   up   the middle   of   the   lane,   oblivious   of   the   carts that had to come to a stop to avoid him. He   staggered   directly   to   the   sill   and inhaled   deeply   of   the   sweet   aroma   of   her bait. “Come   in   and   sit,   and   I   will   cut   you   a slice,” Gwiddon told him. The    handsome    young    man,    perhaps three     years     her     senior,     bulging     with muscles      and      manliness,      struck      her conscience   like   a   blow   to   the   gut.   His   life had    just    irrevocably    changed,    and    he knew it not. She   removed   the   pie   from   the   sill   and ladled     a     serving     onto     a     platter.     He jammed    a    spoon    into    it    without    sitting down.   She   had   to   will   her   two   guardians away     with     an     angry     wave,     but     the woodcutter    appeared    not    to    notice.    His eyes    remained    focused    on    the    platter. Seated,   he   dug   into   her   incantation   fully and    within    three    bites    was    lost    to    the human world. Mordred    and    the    younger    warlock turned    visible,    the    spell    worn    away    as they      lost      their      concentration.      They greedily        watched        the        half-wiccan gobbling down what they too craved. The   beautiful,   lost-man   only   glanced at     them,     too     drunken     to     care     from whence    they    came.    Gwiddon    ladled    a second   helping   onto   his   platter,   and   stood back, studying the poor man. If only he knew. The      witch      who      ran      the      bakery appeared     at     Gwiddon’s     shoulder     and draped her with an understanding arm. “It   is   necessary,”   she   said   softly.   “We can’t    very    well    have    untrained    adepts walking       about       the       human       world uncensored.” Before       Gwiddon       could       answer, another   towheaded   lad   stumbled   across the     threshold,     eyes     unfocused,     mouth agape. “Oh   my,”   the   four   wiccans   muttered in concert. Mordred   groaned.   “We   have   a   warlock slinking     about     with     an     itch     and     no discretion. This is not good.” Gwiddon   ladled   a   serving   for   the   new arrival,   his   door   to   a   very   different,   new life. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017