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Easter01's Short Stories

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Easter01
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PostEaster01 on Sat Mar 18, 2017 3:08 pm


Wigeon and the Witch
by Joanne and Richard Easter(c) 2015



Part 2

The Coven and the Wizard

Sensua's smile was now reflected in the expressions that spread upon the faces of her companions. A tall woman with green eyes and strawberry blonde fiery red hair, who moments before had been a ferret, spoke up. "A marvelous idea, Sensua. Always happy to see mundanes suffering." She spread her hands, "May we ask why you have singled out this particular realm for our attentions? What is so special about this place?"

Sensua fixed a piercing glance upon the woman. "No, Fira. You may not ask. My reasons are my own. I lead this coven. I make decisions, and you do what I tell you."

She glanced at Tianna, her former mentor and now her most loyal supporter, who nodded invisibly. Tianna had been the first to arrive, in the form of a rat, and pay her respects. A brunette with hazel eyes who was slightly plump in a rather attractive way, Tianna was the only one of the group who knew exactly what motivated Sensua to seek revenge here.

Fira looked over at red-haired Letha, the former fox, who merely shrugged. "I meant no disrespect, mistress," Fira said. "The more that we know of your intentions, the better we may serve you."

Sensua stepped down from the altar stone, followed closely by the young wizard, Wigeon. "I will explain my intentions, for this you must know in order to carry out my instructions. My reasons are personal, and not for discussion.

"Very soon, we will devastate the town of Three Springs and the barony of Greatoak. We are going to pose as a trade mission from a distant realm, and subvert the will of young Baron Nicholas to our own. We will curse this land and turn the people against him, and they will tear themselves apart."

The two twins, Jazmin and Janessa, frowned. "You command us..." said one. "We follow," said the other. "But what have we to gain from this expenditure of power?"

Letha spoke now for the first time. "Why, my dears...when have we ever needed a reason to do something wicked? I like this!"

The twins exchanged glances, and muttered, but said no more.

Wigeon moved his gaze across the group, from one witch to the next, and finally rested his eyes upon Sensua, who stood before him. This was as black-hearted a group of women as he had ever known. It was not mere wickedness in store for the people of Greatoak, but pure evil. For more than a century, he had been trapped inside the red stone of the rowan wood staff, banished there by a jealous rival wizard. Four years ago, Sensua had ambushed the old wizard in order to possess his powerful staff, and when she destroyed him and took possession, she discovered its unique contents and released Wigeon back into the world. There was a price to pay, however, and Wigeon was now bound to serve Sensua until she released him. The silver chain about his neck was magically linked to that worn by his mistress and gave her control over him. Only by her will could his chain be removed and his freedom restored.

At first he was grateful for his release from the confinement of the gemstone, but gratitude soon turned to resentment as he was forced to aid her in gaining power and exerting her will over others. Wigeon did not have an evil nature, but was a studious man who had wanted only to learn more about his vocation, the art and craft of wizardry. Since he had been bound to Sensua, he had often been forced to use his talents in ways that often caused him great sorrow. Far from being freed by Sensua, he had merely exchanged one captivity for another, enslaved to a woman whose heart was consumed with darkness. During the last four years, he had learned much about his mistress, certainly far more than she might have wished. At the time of his release, Sensua had no other followers but Tianna, and from overheard conversations since then he had gained much insight as to how Sensua had become the person she now was.

In all that she did, Sensua was motivated by an overwhelming desire for revenge against a man whom she believed had done her a great wrong many years before. Spurned in love, she could think of nothing else but how to make his suffering equal to hers. Wigeon no longer hated Sensua; although he still resented the misuse of his powers forced upon him, having learned her secret he now viewed her with more sympathy. Her heart, perhaps, was not black, but it had long ago turned to stone. He bowed his head, and then turned his sad brown eyes back upon the group.

Sensua now appeared to notice Wigeon for the first time. "Wizard," she said. "We have need of your particular talent now."

Wigeon raised his staff, and the gemstone glowed, bathing the women in a crimson light. In moments, the magic had transformed their apparel, which now consisted of traveling clothes more appropriate for a delegation who had long been upon the road. This was the power of the staff he wielded; the ability to transform, within certain limits, one thing into another. It could not create life from dead matter, for example, but he could change one type of life into another, and convert non-living materials into virtually anything.

Sensua nodded. Her own clothing had remained much the same, with only the addition of a large black hat and gloves. "These will do. Wizard, we need transportation."

Wigeon stepped to the edge of the clearing and, with his boot, turned over a log to reveal a swarm of beetles beneath the rotting wood. He pointed his staff at the scurrying insects; the red jewel glowed, and in mere moments there were a dozen horses pawing at the ground. He foraged through the fallen leaves and came up with a handful of acorns, twigs, and pebbles. He employed the staff once again, and the collection of debris was transformed into saddles, bridles, and an assortment of packs and saddlebags. He concentrated his energy now upon the rotting log, which became an elegant carriage, enameled in black with gold trim. "What sort of trade goods would you have us carry, mistress?" he asked.

Sensua thought for a moment. "Silver, of course; some sort of ornamental bric-a-brac. That will be necessary. As to the rest...I don't really care what it is. Spices, perhaps. Something for those ignorant farmers and their trumped-up lord to drool over. For all that matter it could be sawdust by the time I am through with Lord Nicholas. He will do anything I say, bark at the moon if that is what I want." Wigeon scooped a handful of dirt into each of the saddle packs and touched his staff to each, which now bulged with unseen goods.

"One more thing, wizard." Sensua came over to stand in front of him, and locked her eyes upon his. "Before we set out, I want to know exactly what is happening in the barony. Send out your little spy for me. Find out what Nicholas is doing...what his precious little wife is doing. I want to know everything." She turned away and walked to the stone. "I will be resting while you do this. Wake me immediately when you have something to report." She pulled a square of black silk from her bodice and cast it onto the stone, where it began to expand rapidly until it covered a space the size of a large bed. She lay down upon the silken sheet and closed her eyes.

Wigeon bowed and stepped back. He reached up to his face and gently tapped his right eye. The eyeball pulled loose and hung floating in midair before him, and when he passed his hand before it, the orb shimmered into invisibility as the cloaking spell took hold but remained perfectly clear to his wizard's vision. He leaned forward and whispered to it, and it bobbed and then sped off through the trees toward the castle. The wizard stood very still, completely focused, watching now with his distant vision as his invisible spy approached the town, threading its way through the narrow streets to the castle.

Tianna walked over to the satchel that Wigeon had delivered upon his arrival in owl form. She rummaged through its contents and pulled out a small tin and a teapot and carried it over to one side of the clearing, where Fira was preparing a small fire. There yet remained several hours to dawn, and it would be a long wait.


The Herb-Girl

Sensua dreamed. Part of her consciousness remained alert to any threat, for she could never completely relax her guard. She dominated her followers, but she could never completely trust any of them. Not even Tianna, despite their long and close association, for there were no true friends among witches. She could only be sure of Wigeon. He could never betray her, as long as the chains they wore remained intact.

The dream was always the same, a replay of days long past when she had been so young, so trusting...so naive. It was a dream, and it was a memory.

Voices. Old women gossiping before the shops of Three Springs. Children laughing as they played in the streets, dodging horses and passing wagons. A breeze gently wafting the oh-so-appealing aromas of roasting sausages and baking bread. Merchants arguing loudly but good-naturedly with potential customers over the price of goods, the voices escalating until finally the bargain was sealed with a gob of spit into each palm and hands slapped loudly together. The weight of the basket in her hand, filled with pungent herbs and colorful flowers. She strolled through the streets of the market, vying for the attention of customers, calling out the benefits of her medicines, spices and remedies, collecting copper pennies carefully hoarded in her sash.

Mornings, she spent at the market. In the afternoon, when (if she was fortunate) her basket had been emptied, she would return home and search for useful plants along the edge of the Great Forest, sometimes venturing into the darkness among the massive trunks for a short distance to locate mushrooms and other growing things that shunned the bright sunlight, but never too far inside. Herb-lore she had learned from her mother, now three years beneath the soil. Her mother had taught her which plants were best used fresh and which should be hung to dry, whether to use roots, leaves, flowers, or berries, which plants were beneficial in small doses and poisonous if too much were used, how to make potions and poultices, decoctions and infusions.

She had no wealth, would never live in one of the sturdy, brightly painted houses on Merchants Row, but she had enough to eat and a roof over her head at the edge of the Great Forest. It was a good life, all in all, and she would probably spend the rest of her days selling herbs to the town people. She was only seventeen, and everything changed one day, there in the market.




Wigeon and the Witch
continues with Part 3
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Last edited by Easter01 on Tue Mar 21, 2017 3:19 am; edited 1 time in total




Easter01's The Father Michael's Saga can be found: Here

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PostSamantha61 on Sun Mar 19, 2017 2:02 am

watermelon watermelon :goldstars: watermelon watermelon

Thank you Joanne.. :hypnos:


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Postszanne7000 on Sun Mar 19, 2017 4:20 am

I'm enjoying the re-read, Joanne :D



Thank you, Crissi, for my beautiful signature <3
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Easter01
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PostEaster01 on Tue Mar 21, 2017 3:18 am


Wigeon and the Witch
by Joanne and Richard Easter(c) 2015



Part 3


Nicholas' Castle

"Lord Baron! Lord Baron!" Willem, eight years old and the son of the castle steward, rushed onto the upper terrace where Nicholas and Teresa were having their breakfast and dropped to one knee. He was serving as page, and in more sophisticated courts he would have been dressed in the elegant livery of his station, but this was a country barony and less formal in its protocol, so the lad was dressed in ordinary clothing.

Nicholas paused in his eating with a sausage impaled on his knife, halfway to his mouth. He set it down on his plate. "Well, Willem, out with it. What is it that has you all a-lather?"

"My lord! Strangers at the gates!" Willem was gasping, obviously having run all the way up the stairs to the fourth level.

"And..." Nicholas prompted.

"They have a fancy black carriage, and dressed all like royalty. They're...they're ladies, sir. And they're beautiful!"

Teresa covered her mouth with her hand, trying to conceal a laugh. "Tell Jonathan to let them in. We will receive them in the great hall in an hour. Please see that their horses are fed and watered."

The youngster scampered away, leaving the baron and his wife amused and considering what might bring such a unusual party to their remote estate. Their meal forgotten, Nicholas led Teresa over to the edge of the terrace and peered down through one of the crenels of the parapet wall to the courtyard inside the outer gates. The gates were normally left open during the day, and just inside they could see the elegant black carriage with matching black horses that had left Willem in such an excited state. They could make out nothing of any occupants of the carriage, but on either side were two more black horses, each with a female figure in the saddle, wearing travel clothes in black and gray. The only male in the party was perched in the driver's seat.

Nicholas turned to Teresa. "This ought to be interesting, don't you think?"

A short while later they were seated at the head of the great hall, Nicholas in a heavy and ornately carved wooden chair before the empty fireplace and Teresa in a smaller chair to his right, when Jonathan the steward opened the doors at the far end and ushered the strangers into the room. He stepped to one side of the door and loudly announced, "My lord Baron, the Countess Vivian of Mallensburg, and party!"

Through the doors came the striking figure of a woman dressed all in black, her head crowned by a wide-brimmed hat with peacock feathers tucked into one side, tilted at a slight angle. Sensua, as the Countess, had cast a glamour over herself so that, while her hair remained jet-black, her gray eyes gazed out of a face that was certainly fair-featured but bore no resemblance to the former herb-girl and present-day coven leader. Her stride was measured but purposeful as she marched down the length of the hall to the baron and baroness.

She was closely followed by a bearded man wearing a short-sleeved black leather jerkin with buckles up the front, worn over a shirt of gray linen. Slung at an angle across his back was a longsword; only the pommel was visible from the front but, being topped by a red jewel, was quite unusual. He was obviously the guard for the party of women and looked quite capable; Nicholas carefully took his measure, although he expected no trouble, not with four of his own armsmen in the hall and armed with crossbows.  

An attractive, if slightly overweight woman with brown hair walked beside the Countess' guard, and they were followed by four additional women, two by two; three were blondes, one a redhead, and all were quite lovely. As they came to a halt, the members of the party spread out in a line before the baron and his wife, with Sensua at the center, Tianna to her right and Wigeon on her left, and flanked on either side by the remaining women. Nicholas and Teresa were amazed by this spectacle, a sight such as had never before been seen in the barony.

Sensua dropped her chin slightly in a nod of respect, sufficient towards one of lower rank such as the baron. "My lord baron," she said. "I am the Countess Vivian of the Duchy of Mallensburg. The reputation of your land for fine woods is known far and wide, and we have traveled a great distance to be here. Her Grace, the Duchess, has authorized me to open trade relations with your barony for our mutual profit. Please allow me to introduce the members of my party." As she made the introductions, she used their real names, since only Tianna had ever visited Greatoak before, and then only briefly a decade past. On cue, each stepped forward and bowed deeply to the baron and his wife, and then stepped back into their place in line.

Nicholas stood up from his chair and bowed to the Countess, and then stepped forward and took her hands between his. "Welcome to Greatoak, Countess. We are delighted to have you visit us, and we look forward to discussing opportunities for trade that may be of mutual benefit. But first, I would like to ask, where might the Duchy of Mallensburg be located? The Empire is large, and, I admit, we are rather provincial here, but I have never heard of this land. You did not come from up or down river, or I should have been notified, so you must have come by way of the forest road...?"

Sensua smiled graciously. "Of course, baron. I understand your confusion. Indeed, the Empire is large, and encompasses many lands. Mallensburg is far to the east, a coastal province of no great size, so I am not surprised that it has escaped your attention. To be truthful, when I first set out upon this trade mission a year ago, I had not heard of Greatoak, either. We have visited many lands on our journey, and lately we were informed of the quality of your woods and reputation for fairness in trade. Hence, our appearance here today. I believe Mallensburg has much of value to offer." Mallensburg was entirely fictional, but she douted that this little provincial lord would know differently.

Sensua casually waved her hand toward the steward, who clapped his hands twice. Upon this signal, a procession of a half-dozen castle servants marched into the room, each bearing two of the saddlebags, led by a servant carrying a small table. They came to the front and set the packs down in a row upon the floor before the baron, as directed by Jonathan, with the table set up off to one side.

Wigeon came forward and unfastened the straps on several of the packs, and folded back the flaps to display the contents. At a motion from Sensua, he began to pull items out of the packs and arranged them on the table. On one side of the table was now a display of decorative silver. There were loops of silver chains, rings, bracelets, and earrings set with various gemstones, candlesticks, cups and bowls, delicately featured figurines, clasps and buttons. On the other side were a number of tins and packets, several of which Wigeon opened to show their contents, strongly scented powders of various textures and colors.

Sensua walked to the table and gestured at the tins of powder, pointing out different items as she spoke. "My lord and lady baron, the ships of Mallensburg range widely across the seas, and we have many exotic spices to trade. Pepper, nutmeg, saffron, cinnamon, cloves, are just a few of the spices that we have obtained from distant ports. We also have a variety of unusual beverages. The peoples of eastern lands far across the sea favor a hot drink known as 'tea,' made from ground leaves, which comes in many delicious varieties. In the desert lands, there is another hot drink, known as 'kaf,' which was unknown until just recently." She now turned her attention to the collection of silver, "Our artisans are quite skilled in working with precious metals, as you can see."

Nicholas and Teresa had crowded up to the table to see the display, carefully sniffing at some of the containers of herbs and spices, and fingering the silver items. Nicholas picked up a silver brooch and laid it against Teresa's bodice; she looked up into his eyes and smiled in appreciation. He turned to Sensua and said, "You have a great many fine and valuable things here. We have never seen the like of many of these spices, and truly, your silver workers are quite talented."

At a gesture, Wigeon now handed Sensua a small, decoratively carved wooden box. She opened the lid and held it forward to show the contents to the baron and his wife. Inside were two silver rings, in the shape of entwined vines, each set with a large oval dark emerald surrounded by silver leaves. Teresa exclaimed in delight. Sensua gave a small bow, and said, "In my land it is the custom to offer a gift to one's host. Please allow me to present you with these rings to represent the beginning of what I am sure will be a mutually satisfactory relationship."

The young couple glanced at each other in pleased surprise, and then Nicholas took the smaller of the two rings from the box and slipped it on to the first finger of his wife's left hand. It slipped on easily, as if molded to her finger. "Why, it fits perfectly," she exclaimed in wonder, and held her hand out to admire it. Nicholas took the second, larger ring, and put it on his own hand. It also fit as if made to order.

"I am sure you all must be weary from your travels," Nicholas said, "and would like nothing better than a bath and a good meal. Your horses are being seen to as we speak. Jonathan, my steward, will show you to rooms upstairs and will bring you a light repast. This evening, I would like you to join us for a feast in your honor. Tomorrow, my people can take yours to view our timber and woodworking operations, and we can begin negotiations."

Sensua nodded again. "This sounds most excellent to me." She glanced left and right. "Tomorrow, Lady Fira and Lady Letha can visit your woodshops to view the sorts of wooden products you make here, and the Ladies Jazmin and Janessa will visit the sawpits and storehouses."

Fira and Letha only nodded, but the twins rolled their eyes before assuming too-sweet expressions. "Of course," said one. "We'd be absolutely fas-cinated," said the other.




Wigeon and the Witch
continues with Part 4
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Last edited by Easter01 on Fri Mar 24, 2017 2:57 pm; edited 1 time in total




Easter01's The Father Michael's Saga can be found: Here

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Postszanne7000 on Tue Mar 21, 2017 5:24 am

"They're...they're ladies, sir. And they're beautiful!" I love that line, lol <3



Thank you, Crissi, for my beautiful signature <3
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PostEaster01 on Fri Mar 24, 2017 2:56 pm


Wigeon and the Witch
by Joanne and Richard Easter(c) 2015



Part 4


The Runaway Horse

The banquet had been a great success. Tianna had gone into the kitchen and showed the cooks how to use some of the unfamiliar herbs and spices in a variety of dishes, and the results had been quite gratifying. The dinner had been held in a private dining chamber adjacent to the baron's personal quarters, attended only by the baron's inner circle and the members of Sensua's party. Succulent aromas filled the air, and the castle residents exclaimed with delight as they savored every bite of the spiced meats and vegetables, and sipped appreciatively upon cups of steaming hot tea, sweetened with honey and apple slices.

It had been a long day, and Sensua was exhausted but quite satisfied with the day's events. She was alone in her room, with Wigeon occupying the adjacent quarters. The first stage of her plan for revenge had been accomplished when Nicholas and his tramp of a wife had placed the silver rings upon their fingers. These rings were endowed with a magic very similar to that which she used to control Wigeon, but with an important difference. Wigeon's chain allowed her to control his actions, so that he could only operate within the limits she set, but had no effect upon his mind. The rings, however, could be used to fog the minds of the wearers to where they were completely susceptible to her suggestions. In time, Nicholas and Teresa would become her slaves in mind as well as body; she would control not only their actions but even their very thoughts and speech.

It was time to begin turning the people of Greatoak against their masters. Before she was through, Nicholas and Teresa would despise each other, and the people of this blighted land would hate them both equally. And well-deserved it would be.

The memory was bitter still, a decade later. The silly girl that she once was had been totally vulnerable to Nicholas' deceits. She was no longer a simple herb-girl, and no longer vulnerable.

The young Nicholas was quite clear in her memory. He often came to the market, visiting with the vendors and spending coin from time to time on items he did not really need, going into the taverns to drink ale with the common people, stopping to admire a handsome steed, and all the while exchanging greetings with passers-by. These actions were both a reflection of his youthful and impulsive nature and yet also astutely political for the goodwill it generated. She had noticed him quite often as she walked through the market, selling her herbs, but he had never noticed her. Until that day.

Every detail was engraved indelibly in her memory. It was just past midday, and she had been making her rounds through the market district, strolling along the streets with her basket in hand, the hem of her skirt soiled from dragging in the mud of the lane. Sensua had spent the morning visiting the homes of her regular customers, who had standing orders for various herbs, both medicinal and culinary. Now she walked down the middle of the street, inspecting the remaining contents in the bottom of her basket, trying to decide whether the few bedraggled items left were worth trying to sell or whether she might as well just head for home. It was mid-summer, and the day was hot, and there were but few people out in the street at this hour.

Up the street at the Lazy Dragon tavern, Simon the Carter was red-faced and sweating as he unloaded heavy casks of ale from the back of his wagon. His team of sturdy draft horses dozed in the sun while he labored. A rabble of laughing and shouting children came dashing by, in pursuit of a small dog as it dodged back and forth among the few pedestrians, generating good-natured curses from some and encouragement from others. The dog was obviously enjoying this game, grinning largely, tongue lolling, as it ran. As it passed by the wagon, it abruptly ducked through the legs of the horses, and the stream of children abruptly divided, a few of the bolder following the dog but the majority swerving around the front, just beneath their noses. The sudden movement and commotion spooked the team, who bolted forward, dragging the wagon behind them. Barrels of ale began spilling out behind them as they ran, smashing open in the street, leaving a horrified Simon shouting after them.

Sensua was so lost in contemplation that she did not notice the uproar until the horses were upon her. She spun about and saw the immense beasts about to trample her into the mud of the street and was so astonished that she was unable to move and could only close her eyes. Just as the frightened team was about to run her down, she felt strong hands grasp her arm and jerk her back out of the way. Sensua found herself held in a tight embrace, and a man's voice was asking her, "Are you all right?"

In her room in Nicholas' castle, the memory faded as she slipped into a deep and dreamless sleep.


Nicholas Subverted

The next day, Sensua began her manipulations. While her sister witches were being led about the precincts of the town and its outskirts to inspect the various wood products, Nicholas invited her to attend a meeting of his council. Teresa was not present at this meeting, but Nicholas took the chair at the head of the long table in his council room, with Sensua and Tianna seated at the far end. As befitting his role as bodyguard, Wigeon, sword strapped to his back, leaned against the wall immediately behind Sensua's chair. Nicholas introduced the new arrivals to the council members, noting the many potential benefits this could provide in terms of trade between realms. The council beamed approvingly at Sensua and Tianna, and the eldest among them, Josep, the baron's principal advisor, said, "Countess, I think I speak for all here in welcoming you gladly to our land." He continued to speak, rather ponderously for a while; Sensua maintained a smile on her face but was relieved when the old fool finally shut up and sat down.

At this point, Sensua and her entourage took their leave of the meeting, for it was now time for the council to turn to the private business of the barony. The council members all politely stood as she made her exit. As she passed through the large double doors, Sensua's smile was now quite genuine, for at last the moment had come when she would be able to begin sowing discord. Although she would no longer be in the room, she could still listen in through the ring on Nicholas' finger and be privy to all that was discussed. In this way, she would gather insight as to the nature of the politics and balance of power on the council, to learn what alliances existed and which members were most malleable and who was likely to provide significant opposition to her plans. Eavesdropping alone was not her most formidable tool, of course; Nicholas had no clue that any decisions he now made would be solely her decisions. After asking directions, Sensua went to the castle garden and found a secluded location amidst the blooming shrubs in which she could appear to be enjoying an afternoon of leisure.

In the council chamber, Nicholas listened attentively as Samuel, the Master of the Treasury, made a routine if rather lengthy report on the current finances of the barony. Expenditures had been rather heavy during the spring as a result of repairs and rebuilding necessitated by the unusually heavy rains and considerable flood damage, but the barony remained solvent. In the garden, toying with the silver chain about her neck, Sensua also listened; her eyes narrowed as she focused her will.

Nicholas, who had been patiently absorbing the report while leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head, now sat back upright and frowned. "Samuel, I am displeased by this," he said. "We should not have to govern on so slim a margin. There are many improvements that are sorely needed, from road maintenance to repairs to the castle walls, that have been put off time and again simply because there were insufficient funds in the Treasury."

He stood up and began to walk back and forth behind his chair. "The only real sources of revenue we have are the profits from my own lands, and from taxes. Since there is no practical way to increase the production of the lands, new revenues can only be generated by increasing taxes. The tax rate has been constant since my grandfather's time, and there has been considerable tolerance for those who skimped on paying their fair share. This can continue no more!" He took a deep breath. "Samuel, it is my command that the tax rate be raised immediately by twenty-five percent. I want notices to be posted throughout town and in the outlying hamlets. You are authorized to hire two more tax collectors to see that this is done." He sat down in his chair and looked out upon the consternation his pronouncement had caused.

There was an immediate babble of protest from the astonished council members. From the clamor, he singled out William, the head of Merchant's Guild, who was nearly apoplectic. "William, you have something to say?"

"My lord! This is outrageous!" William was a rather portly man, who tended to wheeze as he spoke, a condition that was now exacerbated by emotion. "If the people have less coin to spend, this will severely erode the profits of the merchants in this community. The entire economy will be affected!" Nicholas merely stared at him without responding. He next pointed to the Master of the Treasury, who had been vigorously vying for attention. "Lord Samuel?"

Samuel, although obviously agitated, was calmer in speech. "My Lord Baron, do you really feel that this is necessary? After all, you have just brought an envoy before us with promises of a major expansion in trade. Would not this suffice to generate the additional tax revenue you desire?"

Nicholas looked down the table. "This is as yet only a possibility. There are no guarantees that such an expansion will take place. Our realm needs an assured flow of revenue, not promises and wishful thinking."

The hubbub resumed. Benjamin, the head of the Woodworker's Guild, was actually pounding the table, and when given leave to speak, virtually shouted at his master. "Lord! This will destitute the people! They cannot possibly afford such a massive tax increase, let alone find a way to come up with back taxes in addition!"

Nicholas' glance was cold. "Any who cannot pay their taxes will forfeit their homes or other property to the value of their debt." At the renewed outcry, his eyes flashed, and he leaped again to his feet. "Enough!" he shouted. "I have given my command, and it will be carried out. This meeting is at an end!" And with this, he turned and strode from the room.

In the garden, Sensua dropped the end of the chain and smiled smugly.




Wigeon and the Witch
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PostSamantha61 on Fri Mar 24, 2017 7:30 pm

Beautiful work..Joanne..and a nail bitter for sure lol..can't wait to read the next part over lol.. :Spring2


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Postszanne7000 on Fri Mar 24, 2017 11:53 pm

:choci:

Replace the chocolate bunny with pizza, lol...

(I'm still stuck on the pizza crust, hehehehehe)



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PostEaster01 on Mon Mar 27, 2017 6:43 pm


Wigeon and the Witch
by Joanne and Richard Easter(c) 2015



Part 5


A Tempest at the Dinner Table

Later that evening, the coven assembled in Sensua's rooms. Although they had spent the day traipsing about on their various inspections, she had no interest whatsoever in what they had seen. This had all been merely a subterfuge, after all, to maintain the fiction that they were a trade delegation. Letha and Fira were well aware of this, and so made no effort to report but simply sat quietly in their chairs. The twins, however, were considerably ruffled and complained incessantly from the moment they walked into the room. Their outfits were covered in sawdust, and they had leaves and twigs in their hair. "Too hot," said one. "Noisy," said the other. "Those people..." said the first. To which her sister replied, "...dirty, and smelly." Wigeon, standing on the opposite side of the room, rolled his eyes, but discretely.

Sensua was seated, listening to the twins with growing irritation. At last she stood up, and made a chopping motion with her hand. Jazmin and Janessa immediately subsided, and all now waited in an apparently respectful silence to hear their leader speak.

"I am quite satisfied with this morning's events," she said. "As soon as the people learn of the huge increase in their taxes, I am sure that they will no longer be quite so content, nor so admiring of their dear Baron." She smirked. "I have quite an entertainment planned for your amusement this evening. If you will clean up and change, we will go down to dinner shortly." She nodded in the direction of the twins. "Especially you two!"

Dinner was again served to a select group in the baron's private chamber. During the day, with advice again from Tianna, the cooks had been cautiously experimenting with the unfamiliar spices, and the featured entree was roasted goose. The meat was steaming hot and succulent when brought up from the kitchen and both salt, from the cellar at the head of the table, and the new spice, pepper, were available in liberal quantities. The astonishing flavor of the pepper provoked many amazed looks and was the subject of considerable discussion at the table. The freshly baked breads, filling the room with their wonderful aroma, had been laced with caraway seed from Sensua's collection and the guests slathered the slices with butter carved from a large mound in the center of the table. Down the length of the table, which provided room for about twenty diners, ceramic pitchers of wine and ale helped to lubricate the meal. Young girls hastened around the table, bringing in the courses of the meal and refilling cups as they were drained.

Although the meal was eaten with considerable pleasure, a few of the diners were notably subdued, particularly Lord Samuel, who had little to say through the course of the evening but tended to stare glumly over the top of his wine goblet. The ladies of Countess Vivian's trade delegation were politely questioned as to their impressions of the barony following their inspection tours, and the conversation ranged widely and amiably. Toward the end of the meal, as plates were emptied and then collected by the serving staff, Nicholas stood up and rapped the hilt of his knife on the table to draw the diner's attention.

"My lords and ladies," he said. "I would like to propose a toast to our esteemed guests from Mallensburg." He looked down at his goblet and frowned, and beckoned to one of the serving girls, an attractive lass in her teens with long red hair, who was carrying a pitcher of wine. She scurried over and filled the cup to the brim and then backed away as Nicholas nodded his thanks. He then raised his cup. "To the Lady Vivian!" he proclaimed, and sipped from the cup. His toast was echoed by the diners at the table, who followed suit. A middle-aged man, quite fit in appearance, who served as the Captain of the castle guard, next raised his cup: "To the Duchy of Mallensburg!" and again the members of the dining party imbibed with enthusiasm. As the object of this praise, Sensua had remained seated, playing with the silver chain on her throat.

Teresa had also risen from her seat at the commencement of the toasting, but she had held onto her wine cup without drinking, and instead had stared venomously at her husband. As he lowered his cup from having toasted Mallensburg, she dashed the contents of her own into his face. As the diners stared aghast at the spectacle of their liege with wine dripping down his shirt, Teresa said coldly, "How dare you! I saw the way you were looking at that little slut! Just how long have you been sleeping with her?"

Nicholas could only stare at her, mouth agape, as Teresa threw her goblet to the floor and stormed from the room. The innocent serving girl, Rosemarie, burst into tears and ran weeping through the door at the opposite end.

Behind her handkerchief, Sensua concealed a broad smile.


The Curse of Misfortune

By the end of the week, Sensua's malicious manipulations had stirred up considerable turmoil in the castle and throughout the barony. Nicholas and Teresa had not spoken to each other since the dinner, although he had come the door of their chambers several times and implored to be let in. She had refused to unbar the door, and had begun taking her meals inside, while Nicholas was forced to sleep elsewhere. The imposition of a new and unbearable tax increase was now well-known throughout the land, and the people were in an uproar over the news. The newly-appointed tax collectors were just beginning to make rounds, and had already turned a number of people out of their houses, nailing up notices upon the doors that the structures had been seized for payment of taxes and now were the property of the barony. It had been necessary to send men-at-arms to accompany the tax collectors, as many of the peasants tried to resist being evicted from homes in which their families had lived for generations. The same had occurred for a number of workshops within the town boundary. The people were worried, and angry.

Sensua had been quite busy during this week in causing trouble. On the day following the dinner disaster, Nicholas having quite suddenly decided that the open-air market in the Commons was unsightly, too noisy, and too conducive to pickpockets, swindlers, and other trouble-makers, had ordered it closed and the tables and booths cleared from the grassy swath around the pond. Nicholas offered no alternative location, and so the displaced vendors, who were poor and propertiless, had no place else to go and were thus deprived of their livelihoods. At the baron's court, which was held on Fridays, Nicholas rendered a series of what appeared to be rather arbitrary judgments that displeased everyone involved and brought ruin to some. The pot that was the barony of Greatoak was rapidly coming to a boil.

On Saturday night, as the hour approached midnight, the coven was again gathered in Sensua's rooms. She stood in the middle of the sitting room with her followers about her. "It is time to increase the level of misery in this wretched land," she announced. "The moon has reached fullness, and our strength is at its peak. It is time for the Maledicta Malum".

Sensua led her people out into the hallway, each carrying a lighted candle. Wigeon brought up the rear of the party, sword in hand and carrying a pack strapped to his back. She had no fear that any might question their wandering about so late at night, for a spell had been cast to put the castle residents into a deep slumber for hours. At the end of the hall, they came to the arched doorway that provided access to the tower of this wing. In silence, they started up a long series of stone steps that wound around the wall of the tower, their flickering lights casting eerie shadows. The climb seemed endless, but at last they came out of another archway onto the platform of the tower. The full moon was high in the night sky and brightly illuminated the platform, the remainder of the castle, and the countryside spread out below them.

"Wizard," Sensua murmured, and Wigeon took the pack off his back and began laying out the items that would be needed for the casting of the spell. He handed a piece of chalk to Tianna, who began to draw a large pentagram in the center of the platform; when she was finished with the five-pointed star, she drew a circle around it to complete the mystic symbol. Wigeon placed a small iron brazier in the exact center of the pentagram, filled it with charcoal, and set a small kettle of about a gallon capacity on top. Fira and Letha now stepped forward and filled the kettle with water from flasks they had carried up the stairway. This accomplished, they stood on opposite sides facing the brazier, with their hands extended outward, and after a few moments the coals began to glow. Soon the liquid came to a boil. They then stepped backward and awaited instructions from Sensua.

"Tianna," she said softly. The plump witch stooped over the pile of tins and packets laid out by Wigeon, and selected a handful. She walked over to the kettle and began to open the containers and empty their contents into the boiling water. In the bright moonlight, the contents of the kettle began to take on a dark tinge that in the light would have been bluish.

All was now in readiness, and Sensua now simply said, "Sisters..." and the group formed a circle around the kettle, Wigeon standing guard at the archway door.

Sensua spoke in a low voice, not from fear of being overheard, but out of respect for the power about to be unleashed. "Tonight, we release the Maledicta Malum, the Curse of Misfortune, upon this worthless land. After tonight, all their acts will be cursed. After tonight, there is nothing they do that will not turn out badly. Let us begin."

At this cue, the six witches gathered around the kettle raised their hands skyward and began to chant, softly and slowly at first, and gradually gaining in strength and volume. The kettle began to boil more furiously, and as the chanting reached a crescendo, a swirling mist poured out over the sides, dividing to pass them by untouched, and rose up to flow over the battlements of the tower and down the sides. The women slumped where they stood, exhausted by their efforts, and then walked to the wall to view the scene below. The mist was a dark carpet in the moonlight as it crept down the hill from the castle, hugging the ground, and spread away through the community and to the distant fields and hamlets.

Sensua turned to her followers and smiled wickedly. "It is done."

The accidents began as the sun rose in the morning and people stirred and set about their daily routines. In the castle, the cooks burned the breakfast meal and the servants dropped the plates. The men of the castle guard cut themselves while trimming their beards and sharpening their swords. The lines on which clean laundry had been hung to dry broke inexplicably and dropped garments in the mud. A runner carrying messages slipped on the stairway and broke an arm. The vault holding the castle's water supply sprang a leak and drained completely away. In the town, signs fell from shops, carts broke down and blocked the lanes, swine escaped from their pens and ran loose through the streets, hens refused to lay, window shutters would not open, chimneys would not draw, and the population was beset by a thousand small accidents that left cuts and bruises. In the fields and countryside, tools broke when used, wells went dry, oxen refused to pull plows, fish stopped biting, arrows refused to hit their targets. At the edge of the forest, cut trees fell in unexpected directions, logs in the sawpits broke free from their props and crushed limbs, saws broke or bound so tightly they could not be moved. Calamity after calamity occurred, day after day, and the people became exhausted and more than a little frightened.

As more and more people were evicted from their homes, many sought shelter in the forest, erecting rough structures from branches and vines and subsisting on such roots and berries as they might collect and small animals they could trap or stun with flung rocks or sticks. The more desperate began to venture out at night to raid henhouses and granaries; some were bold enough to break into homes to steal bread from the table at knifepoint. Some gathered into outlaw bands to raid outlying hamlets, stealing food and any other supplies needed for survival. The townspeople felt themselves to be under siege, and huddled in their homes to the detriment of the merchants. Only the taverns continued to thrive as more and more people began to seek refuge in drink. Each Friday the baron's court was crowded with angry people, until finally Nicholas announced a temporary suspension of these courts, yet the people continued to show up at the castle gates, hungry and angry because no efforts were being made to help them. Meetings of the council became more and more acrimonious as conditions worsened, the council members unable to understand why the baron continued to act in such a bizarre manner.

At last, the spell began to loosen its grip on the land, and the plague of misfortunes gradually dwindled. Yet this brought little relief, for the people of Greatoak had been set against each other; misery, mistrust and lawlessness now ruled the land.




Wigeon and the Witch
continues with Part 6
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PostSamantha61 on Tue Mar 28, 2017 7:14 am

watermelon watermelon topscore watermelon watermelon


Thank you so much Crissi, it's beautiful
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Postszanne7000 on Wed Mar 29, 2017 4:07 am

Sigh - I have to switch to watermelon, too, LOL

:D

lol

watermelon watermelon watermelon



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Postanidup on Wed Mar 29, 2017 1:28 pm

Easter, is this a sequence to the one we had last year?
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PostEaster01 on Wed Mar 29, 2017 3:37 pm

Anita,

Wigeon and the Witch is the same story from last year. I removed all my stories so I could divide them into two separate categories: Father Michael's Saga and Short Stories

I just finished writing part three of the Father Michael's Saga and will start posting it in a few days.

Easter01
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Postanidup on Thu Mar 30, 2017 8:33 pm

Yeah!! Looking forward to the next sequence!
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PostSamantha61 on Wed Apr 12, 2017 3:17 am

Hey Joanne..do you have anymore short stories..I love, love the novels..but am missing the short ones as well giggle :Spring2


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Postmia3000 on Tue Jun 20, 2017 1:39 pm

amazing!! thanks for sharing :girlie5:
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PostEaster01 on Fri Jun 30, 2017 3:58 pm


Wigeon and the Witch
by Joanne and Richard Easter(c) 2015



Part 6


A New Basket

Sensua sat alone in the parlor of her rooms and sipped contentedly from a cup of black tea. Everything was going exactly as she had planned. She and her sister witches had been in residence at the castle for nearly a month, and in the turmoil no one had even thought to ask them to leave. In fact, they had become indispensable islands of calm among the storms that now beset the barony. Sensua had become the confidant of Teresa, who still refused to leave her rooms and had become increasing alienated from her husband Nicholas. Sensua visited her on a daily basis, and used the power of her silver chain, funneled into the ring upon Teresa's finger, to constantly feed her paranoia. She also continued to force Nicholas into making disastrous decisions that continued to undermine his authority and respect. Just yesterday, in response to the increasing banditry and concern over the castle's defenses, Nicholas had become convinced that Wigeon should be appointed to the post of Captain of the Guard. The former captain was demoted, and the men of his command were resentful of the foreign intrusion. Wigeon, meanwhile, at Sensua's orders, kept them busily occupied in running about without accomplishing anything useful that might provide relief amidst the travails of the realm.

The land was tearing itself apart. It was just perfect.

The Curse of Misfortune had peaked and come to an end. It was time to stir things up again. Tomorrow night, the moon would be full again.

She took another sip of tea. Yes, things were going well, but she could not be satisfied until Nicholas was destroyed. Only then would her revenge be complete.

Her thoughts turned back to that fateful day in the market.

She had found herself trapped in a warm embrace by the man who had saved her from being trampled. "Are you all right?" he said. She put her hands out and pushed herself away so that she could look at him. Down the lane, someone had caught the runaway horses and brought them to a halt, and Simon the Carter passed them at a run on his way to reclaim them. She stood back a few feet and inspected her rescuer. He was a tall young man with light blonde hair and a sparkle in his eye. He grinned lopsidedly at her, and with sudden horror, she recognized him as the baron's son.

"My, milord!" she stammered, completely mortified. "I am so, so, sorry!" Suddenly she felt flushed, and dreadfully awkward, and embarrassed for her muddy dress and the sweat on her forehead. She tried to speak, but her tongue was paralyzed in her throat and she could not make the words come out. She wanted to become invisible, to turn on her heel and flee down the street...but the warmth of his arms had felt so good.

He watched this rapid succession of emotion with amusement and then said, mildly, "You look rather like a mouse that has spotted the shadow of a hawk overhead. By the way, my name is Nicholas," he said, and extended his hand.

Not knowing what else to do, she gingerly took his hand, but shyly covered her mouth with her hand. Nicholas continued to hold on to her and she was afraid to jerk away, so she just stood there, still speechless, certain that everyone in the street was watching her with frowning disapproval.

"Well, it was a near thing," he said, as he looked her up and down, "but you appear to be intact. I'm afraid the same cannot be said for your poor basket." He nodded his head toward one side.

Startled, she glanced down and saw the ruins of her basket, where it had been trampled into the mud by the hooves of the runaways.

"We'll have to do something about that," Nicholas said, and now released her hand and turned to a group of young boys who were standing nearby, gawking at them. "You, lad!" he called. He reached into the leather pouch at his side and flipped a silver penny to the tallest, who reached up and caught it expertly in one hand as it spun by. "Run down to the shop of Mathilda the basket weaver, and bring me back a nice large basket, one with a cover." He pointed to the ruins of the basket in the street. "Like that one...only in better shape. Be quick about it now, and there will be another silver penny for you!"

The boy grinned and touched his forehead. "Yes, milord, right away!" he said, and dashed off down the street.

Appalled, she tried to protest. "Milord, you can't..."

He touched her lips with his finger to shush her. "Of course I can. I am the baron's son, and I have to look after the welfare of my people, don't I? By the way, we still haven't been properly introduced. You know my name, but I do not know yours...?"

Sensua was blushing furiously, but finally found her speech. "Sensua, milord. My name is Sensua." She attempted an awkward curtsey, such as she had seen those of the highborn do upon occasion.

"Sen-sua," he repeated slowly, savoring the word. "That has a nice sound to it. Well, Sensua, I am delighted to meet you."

Simon the Carter came back up the street, leading his team by the reins after having regained possession and turned the wagon about. He paused when he came up to the young couple, and touched his forehead in respect. "I am so sorry, milord...and to you, young miss. These street boys is always gettin' into trouble. I shoulda had 'em hitched, but Betsy and Beula are never skittish-like, never had no trouble afore. You be sure I have em' tied up secure from now on!" he exclaimed, and, after being reassured by Nicholas, was on his way.

At that moment the boy returned with a new basket in hand, which he presented to Nicholas. "Well done, lad," he said, after examining the basket, and tossed another coin. The boy bit down on it and grinned again, and ran off.

Nicholas handed the basket to Sensua, and forestalled her protest with a raised hand. "No more of that, Sensua, please. Just say 'thank you." She bit off what she had been about to say and nodded, then raised her head and looked directly at him, gray eyes meeting eyes of brilliant blue. "Thank you, milord."

He grinned at her and she found his smile contagious; almost unwillingly, she smiled back.

"You are quite pretty when you smile, did you know?" he said, and she found herself blushing yet again.

"I'm glad you are unharmed," he said, and backing away, he dryly cautioned, "Do try to stay away from runaway horses, in the future." He chuckled and walked away, leaving Sensua standing in a whirlwind of emotion.


The Curse of the Vermin

A month had passed, and the light of the full moon again spilled down upon the battlements of the Greatoak castle. The iron kettle once again simmered in the center of a pentagram newly drawn upon the stones of the platform, and the six witches were arranged in a circle around its perimeter.

Sensua smiled wickedly. "We have scourged this land with misfortune and terror. The people cower in their homes, and spit at the sound of their baron's name. How could any possibly believe that their miserable lives could become yet worse?" She turned her gaze upon each of her sister witches in turn. In the corner, in the shadow of the archway, Wigeon shuddered inwardly.

"We have the power and the will to inflict still greater agony. Tonight we unleash a great plague upon the land, the Maledicta Pestis, the Curse of the Vermin. Every foul creeping thing upon and within the earth, every flying pest that bites and stings, shall beset them without mercy. The sounds of their agonies will be the sweetest music to our ears!" She showed her teeth, lips curling back in a snarl. "Let us begin."

With upraised arms, they began to chant. A pillar of dark mist vomited forth from the kettle, collapsed and began to crawl toward the parapets. Tendrils of mist eddied and swirled, probing toward the witch's feet, only to withdraw, repelled by the protection spell that guarded them all against the curse. Wigeon clutched his staff, creating a pool of crimson that turned the seeking mist harmless in the circle of light around him. The mist surged forward to climb the parapet wall, and down, down the tower it crept. Again they stood watching, as the vile substance reached the ground and began to spread out through the land.

Sensua lingered at the wall, smiling cruelly; her followers awaited her pleasure. At last she turned. "Now, let us retire," she said. "In the morning we shall see what we have wrought."

Nearly invisible in the night, despite the brightness of the moon, the mist spread gradually though the barony, halting only when it encountered the Great Forest, where, sensing an ancient power greater than its own, it dared not penetrate further. Wherever the mist passed, the ground began to heave, and dark masses of noisome creatures erupted forth, swarms of biting flies and mosquitoes, hordes of scurrying mice, spiders and scorpions, torrents of fleas and cockroaches, tangles of wriggling snakes. Black clouds of flying insects filled the air, and a dark blanket of foulness surged over the ground, all moving toward the fields and homes of the people of Greatoak.

Long before the sun rose over the tormented land, the screaming began.




Wigeon and the Witch
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PostSamantha61 on Sat Jul 01, 2017 11:30 pm

I promise Joanne..as soon as I get this PB messed fixed I will be on here finishing up your stories I am so far behind and I am sorry for that baghead

I'm still your biggest fan valentine1f


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PostEaster01 on Sat Jul 01, 2017 11:46 pm

Sam,

Not to worry.  All stories and books are good now...  and later. I have so many books I want to read over and over and over. And then, one of my favorite authors releases a new one. I'm reading one by Jim Butcher right now. omg! He is one of my absolute favorite writers.

I hope you enjoy our stories when you have a few extra minutes. I'm working on a new story now.  It has ... dragons.

Joanne

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PostSamantha61 on Sun Jul 02, 2017 12:02 am

How exiting about the Dragons..can't wait.. runcircle

I have a ton of books I love to read over and over..to the point of the pages falling out and the covers have to be duck taped giggle


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Postszanne7000 on Sun Jul 02, 2017 11:18 am

Sensua and her cronies are NOT NICE!!!

Dragons?

Did you say Dragons?

OOOoooo!!! I can't wait <3 <3 <3



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PostEaster01 on Tue Jul 04, 2017 4:49 pm


Wigeon and the Witch
by Joanne and Richard Easter(c) 2015



Part 7


Betrayed

Exhausted by the casting of the spell, Sensua crawled into bed and pulled the thick coverlet up to her chin. Sleep would not come to her; her thoughts raced. She should be immensely pleased with this night's work, but somehow, achieving her revenge was not quite as satisfying as she had imagined. There yet remained one final curse to enact at the next full moon, the most hideous of all, the Maledicta Desolatus. The Curse of Desolation would turn the barony into a wasteland in which nothing could grow, nothing could survive. No seed could sprout, no egg could hatch, no blade of grass nor leaf of tree could grow, no flowers or fruits or grain could mature. The land would wither and die, to become as sterile as the vast deserts across the eastern waters.

What, then? Was it enough? Would it still the rage in her wounded heart? Would it bring her peace, at last? Finally, she fell into a restless sleep, still tormented by memories that unfolded in her dreams.

Sensua lay in her bed in her small, one-room, thatch-roofed cottage at the edge of the Great Forest. She could hear the massive trees sighing and groaning in the night wind, the buzz of crickets came in through the open window. The coarse woolen cover was pulled up high, and her hands lay clasped together atop it, fingers laced. She was too excited to sleep, her thoughts all in a jumble. On the crude wooden table at the opposite end of the room, the only other furnishing in the cottage, rested her new basket. She had tied a sprig of wildflowers to the handle. It was so lovely. It smelled so new, the aroma of the white oak splints from which it had been woven permeated the air, competing with the perfume of the flowers on the basket and with the pungent smells from the clusters of herbs hung from the ceiling to dry. Normally, she would have spent some time gathering new herbs and flowers for the next day, but she had been too distracted to bother with this, on this remarkable day.

His eyes were so blue...

She had been rescued from certain death by the baron's son. He had spoken to her! He had stood there at the edge of the lane and conversed with her just as if she had been some fine lady and not a peasant girl with no family, living in a rude hut by the forest. She was just a simple herb-girl. What did she know of how to speak properly to nobles? She had been too embarrassed to speak to him, he even had to prompt her just to say thank you for the basket. She was such a little fool.

He had bought her a new basket. Why did he do that? That basket must have cost more than she earned in a month, but he had just thrown away that silver coin as though it meant nothing to him to spend such a great sum on a peasant girl.

Why would he do that for her?

His eyes were so very blue...

Maybe she would see him again, tomorrow?

At sunrise the next morning, having put off restocking her basket, she rushed around collecting enough plants to bring to the market. She stuffed a number of dried herbs inside, from those dangling from the ceiling, and as she walked into town she plucked fresh flowers from the hedgerows, binding them together into nosegays tied by long blades of grass. At the market, she went directly to the street where she had encountered Nicholas, and remained there all through the afternoon without catching a glimpse of him. Having stayed at market far longer than was her habit, the sun was lowering in the sky when she reluctantly set off for home, her steps weighed down by disappointment. She did not see him the next day, nor the next, but on the fourth day, she turned from selling a packet of dried rosemary to see him standing on the other side of the street, smiling at her with that same lopsided grin and those lovely blue eyes.

She stood there frozen as he crossed the street to her. "Hello, Sensua!" he said cheerfully. "I see you've got your basket. What have you got in there today?"

She was still just as tongue-tied as ever. He remembers my name! She made a curtsey to him, a little less clumsy this time. Say something to him, you silly girl, she thought, panicking. "Lord Nicholas," she said. See, you can speak to him after all. Say something else, don't just stand there. Oh, my goodness, answer his question! She opened the lid to her basket to show him its contents, herbs in bundles and packets and small floral bouquets. "I have...many fine herbs for cooking...and herbal medicines to treat many ailments. I also have pretty flowers...for your lady?"

He chuckled. "I do not have any particular lady, but I do like flowers. What are those purple things there, on top of the rest?" He poked rather gingerly at the small bundle.

She pretended that he was just another customer, and found this made it a little easier to talk to him. "Those are violets from the fields outside town," she said, and then quickly added, "milord."

He plucked the violets out of her basket and held them to his nose. "Ahh...they have a sweet odor, rather delicate."

"Yes...milord." There, that was better, she sounded more natural now. "They are also edible, both the flowers and the greens."

He looked at her in surprise. "Really? I guess you know all sorts of things about these plants you sell. How much for these?"

"A ha'penny, milord." Nicholas fished in his leather pouch and handed her a copper penny. "Sorry, that's the smallest I have today."

Sensua fumbled at the small cloth bag strapped to her waist, but he put a hand on her wrist. "No need for that. I expect I will obtain at least a penny's worth of enjoyment out of this."

"Thank you, milord." She stood there for a moment, as Nicholas again inhaled the fragrance of the bouquet, and then turned to go, believing she must have long outstayed her welcome. She stopped when he said, "Wait, Sensua."

She turned back around, and found him just before her. He carefully untied the grass stem from around the violets and separated the bundle into two parts. The smaller bunch, consisting of a half-dozen blooms, he tucked behind her ear and then stood back to admire his work. "There. Pretty flowers look even better on a pretty girl." He tossed her a brief wave and then walked away, leaving her standing thunderstruck in the street.

She watched for him every day after that. He did not always appear, but she discovered that she was looking forward to seeing him more and more. Sometimes he was accompanied by young men of his own age from the castle, or sometimes by one of the armsmen, but usually he came alone. He always waved, and if he was by himself, he would come over to speak to her. She found herself becoming more comfortable in conversation with him. The conversations were always brief, but every time, he would carry off another bouquet of violets.

Nicholas constantly occupied her thoughts now.

Is this what love feels like?

She had been orphaned when only fourteen, when her mother died, and ever since had been taking care of herself. Living alone in the hut at the edge of the forest, she never had an opportunity to meet young men of her own age in circumstances that might develop further. When she came to town, she saw no men she cared to know better, they were rough-spoken laborers, tavern sots, too old or unappealing in appearance. The young men of the better houses never even took notice of her. Even though she was a regular fixture in the market, day after day, she never made any friends, because people thought she was odd. So Sensua had become accustomed to being alone, and had never thought that it could ever be any different.

But Nicholas had noticed her. He did not think she was odd. Nicholas had risked his own life to save her from the horses. Nicholas spoke to her every time he could, and he put flowers in her hair. Could it be, that despite the difference in their stations, that he...loved her, too?

She lay in bed every night as darkness fell, before sleep closed her eyes, and imagined what it might be like to be with someone who loved her. What it might be like to be the wife of a nobleman, to wear fine clothes and live in a fancy house, to have fine foods to eat and always in plenty. When she slept, she dreamed of him, of those lovely eyes, that enchanting smile, and imagined what it would be like to be held again in those strong arms, whenever she wanted.

And so the summer passed. When she came to market, there was a spring in her step, and she hummed as she walked.

And then everything changed.

It was but a week until the October harvest festival, and the marketplace was full of produce and crowded with people. Sensua was there with her basket stuffed full of fall flowers: gentians, red and yellow poppies, goldenrod, saxifrage, sweet william, and saffron. People were in a festive mood, and she did a brisk business, her basket nearly emptied by midday, but still watched attentively for the appearance of her young man.

At last, Sensua caught sight of Nicholas, his mop of shaggy blonde hair sticking up above the crowd, and her spirit soared. She lost sight of him for a moment, there were so many people jostling and shoving amiably through the street, and then she saw him again. He was attended by half-a-dozen armsmen, two of whom led the way and helped to clear a path through the crowd, and four who followed closely behind the party. Her mouth opened in surprise as she saw a fair-haired girl of about her own age clinging to Nicholas' arm, dressed in the fine clothes of a noblewoman, looking a bit flustered at all the commotion. Immediately behind the couple were two ladies-in-waiting, obviously attendants for the girl.

Nicholas caught sight of her and pointed her out to his female companion. He took hold of her hand and led her through the crowd to Sensua. "Sensua!" he said. "I would like you to meet Teresa, my betrothed. We are to be married next week on festival day. I told her about you, and we would like you to decorate the castle with your flowers for our wedding." He grinned broadly. "There would be quite a nice bit of coin in it for you."

Rage exploded in Sensua's head. She stepped forward and screamed, "You hussy!" and followed this with a full-arm swing that clouted Teresa on the jaw and dropped her on her rear into the mud. While Nicholas gaped in astonishment, the guards ran forward and seized Sensua by the arms, holding her tightly. Nicholas stooped and pulled Teresa to her feet, who was sputtering incoherently in anger. "My love, I am so sorry for this! I don't know what is wrong with her." He handed her off to the two female attendants and told two of the armsmen to escort them back to the castle. Then he turned a stormy gaze upon Sensua.

"There is no possible excuse for this behavior. You leave me no choice in the matter." He turned to the remaining armsmen. "You, and you. Take her to the Captain of the Guards. I will deal with her later." He turned on his heel and strode away without a further glance, tailed by the remaining two guards.

As the two armsmen dragged her away, one stepped on her basket, perhaps not by intention, but when she looked back, it was crushed into splinters, trampled into the mud.

Nicholas never spoke to Sensua again. She was charged and sent to the castle dungeon for a month, and when she was released, Nicholas was a married man.

Sensua was awakened by the dawning light at her windows, and found herself clutching the locket at the end of her silver chain. She sat up in bed, and held it in her hand, staring at it. She fumbled with the tiny catch and swung the locket open. Inside was a pressed flower, long faded and colorless; a violet. A single tear ran down her cheek.

There was a light knock on the door. Startled, she called out, and the knocker identified himself as Wigeon. She pulled on a dressing-gown and went to unlatch the door. "Come in, wizard," she said, irritated. "Why have you disturbed my rest?" Noticing the subdued look on his face, she quickly said, "What is it? What has happened?"

Wigeon cleared his throat. "My lady, Tianna is dead."




Wigeon and the Witch
continues with Part 8
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Easter01's The Father Michael's Saga can be found: Here

Easter01's Short Stories can be found: Here

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szanne7000
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Postszanne7000 on Wed Jul 05, 2017 3:20 am

Interesting background...

...now what are you and Richard setting up, my dear Joanne?

<3 <3 <3



Thank you, Crissi, for my beautiful signature <3
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poppy100
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Postpoppy100 on Wed Jul 05, 2017 6:35 pm

   A kiss of bunny for your Easter01  bighugs


thanks for your lovely siggie Crissi  hugsmilie 
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Easter01
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PostEaster01 on Sat Jul 08, 2017 3:40 pm


Wigeon and the Witch
by Joanne and Richard Easter(c) 2015



Part 8


Sudden Death

Tianna walked briskly down the darkened corridor, her way dimly lit by wall sconces spaced at intervals along the wall. The Maledicta Pestis had just been released, and it was her responsibility to check upon the security of the wards that the coven had placed in strategic locations around the castle to keep the plague of vermin sealed outside the walls. This was simply to avoid the inconvenience of having to deal with swarms of pests in their residence space, rather than out of any consideration for the other occupants of the castle.

She had no particular sympathy for the people of this land, but she feared that Sensua was far too obsessed with her retribution and was likely to place the coven at risk. The wholesale destruction of an entire barony was an act far too enormous to escape the notice of the Empire. The first travelers to reach this land would report upon the desolation they encountered, and the Emperor would send his magic-sniffers to investigate. The whole region would stink of dark magic. There was too great a chance that it could be traced to the coven, and of course the penalty for wholesale murder by witchcraft would be a terrible death. Tianna shuddered.

Sensua was powerful, and collectively the coven was a formidable force indeed, but there would be no shaking the magic-sniffers once they had the trail. There was no question of resistance, if they were found, for the Emperor had gathered the most powerful wizards and sorcerers in the world into the College of Wizards in the Thalassian capital city. From their ranks would be assigned the enforcers to accompany the sniffers.

She thought back to that day, so long ago, when she had first met Sensua in the forest, a simple herb-girl with great potential, but as yet undeveloped, with no understanding of magic. Tianna had taken her as an apprentice and taught her all that she knew, and very quickly the student had far surpassed the teacher. Sensua was driven by hatred, and the need for revenge, and there was no motive better suited for mastery of the dark arts.

Tianna came to the end of the corridor and the verge of a stairway leading downward. The way was gloomy, so she conjured up a small glowing ball to light her footsteps. As she concentrated on forming the light, suddenly she was slammed in the small of the back and teetered on the threshold. A second blast of solidified air struck her again, and with a desperate cry she tumbled down the stone steps. She lay sprawled at the bottom, sightless eyes staring upwards.

From the shadows at the top of the stairs came a soft voice. "The rat is dead...," and from the opposite side, came the reply, "...poor little rat." Together they laughed, and the sound of their mirth became distant, receding back down the hallway.


Wigeon

Wigeon was seated across from Sensua at a small table in her sitting room. "Tell me what you know," she demanded, fists clenched in her lap.

His voice was solemn. "One of the serving girls found her this morning, lying at the bottom of a stairwell with her neck broken. There were no marks on her body other than those one might expect from a tumble down the stairs."

"Did you scan for any residue of magic use?"

"I did, as best as I could, but if magic was used I could not separate it from the overwhelming amount of magic that has been deployed recently. Besides, there are no magic-users in this land but us."

Sensua brought her hands up and slammed them down on the table top. "She was my friend!" she shouted, and then she sighed and closed her eyes momentarily. "Tianna has been with me from the beginning, and only she knows why I do what I must do. She was the most powerful of my followers, and without her, I am not sure that the desolation curse can be released. You are powerful, wizard, but your magic is of the wrong sort for this." She turned and looked out the window. "Perhaps it has all been for nothing."

Softly he said, "Perhaps that would be best, after all. Has there not been enough misery inflicted already?"

She turned back to face him. "Enough misery? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Tell me what is happening in the land."

"Oh, your curse has been most effective," he said. "You wanted to bring more pain and suffering, and it is certain that the people have been sorely afflicted." Now it was Wigeon's turn to close his eyes, as he remembered what he had seen through his floating invisible eye during his brief reconnaissance at dawn. "The granaries were invaded by hordes of rats and mice, who consumed it all, down to the last grain of wheat. The pantries and cupboards in the dwellings are empty of food, and now contain only the droppings of rodents and roaches. The fields are devastated, the standing grain consumed. There is little food left in all the land. If the castle does not open its granaries and storehouses, the population will soon begin starving." He continued, grimly. "The swarms of biting insects fell upon the people, so that now every inch of exposed skin, even down to the babies in their cradles, are covered with welts and sores. There is a great wail of misery rising from the land. Is this, then, what you wanted?" His voice rose in anger with his last words.

"Mind your tongue, wizard." The words were sharp, but her tone was surprisingly mild. "Yes. This is exactly what I wanted. For years I wanted this, planned for this. Now leave me."

After he left, Sensua walked to the window and looked out, but her sight was turned inward and she did not see the town below, the masses of people gathered at the gates demanding that their lord do something to relieve their suffering. Instead, she saw the figure of a young girl, clad in filthy rags, blinking in the sunlight as the guards turned her out of the castle gate after serving her time buried deep in the castle dungeon. She recalled little of her journey out of the town, stumbling through the streets, people recoiling at the sight of her, but at last she had passed beyond the last house, beyond the fields, and stood at the very edge of the Great Forest. She did not pause to collect any of her belongings; nothing she owned was of any value. Like her basket, her life had been broken, trampled in the mud. All she wanted to do was to leave this place. She set her steps down the road into the Forest.

The trees closed in over her head. The way stretched on, a tunnel through the greenery. There were sounds among the trees on either side, rustling, scurrying sounds that seemed to follow her, but nothing she could see. She seemed to feel unseen eyes watching her. There was no sunset to herald the arrival of night, for no sunlight could penetrate the thickly interlaced branches; the light simply grew dimmer and the darkness thicker until there was no light at all. In the darkness, she wandered off of the road and could not find her way back; at last, hopelessly lost, she curled up into a ball against the bole of a massive tree and fell asleep.

She was awakened by a soft touch on her shoulder, and a light shining in her face. She gasped and jerked, but a soft and soothing voice said, "Be still. You are in no danger from me." Sensua looked up and saw a woman's face, a plump, kindly face illuminated by the light of a candle-lantern held up by one hand. "But the forest is a dangerous place," the woman continued. "Come with me, if you want to survive the night."

"Who are you?" Sensua asked, as she struggled to her feet.

The woman took her by the hand. "My name is Tianna."

After meeting with Sensua, Wigeon walked slowly down the corridor, lost in thought. In all the time he had served Sensua, for all the terrible acts he had committed to aid her in gaining power, these last days had by far been the worst. Never had he seen such terrible suffering on such a grand scale. It made him wonder if Sensua's heart was not truly black through and through, if she had finally crossed a line where redemption was impossible. And he could not help but wonder about his own soul, as well. Unwilling he had been, but still it had often been his own hand that performed black deeds. But for all the suffering in Three Springs and the barony of Greatoak, as yet no one had died. The worst, however, was yet to come. The casting of the Maledicta Desolatus would destroy the very land itself. Those who did not flee down the river or into the Great Forest would die of starvation in a very short time.

He had his own curse. He loved the witch.

Although they were linked by the chains they both wore, and had been inseparable for the last four years, in all this time Sensua had never given any indication that she had any feelings for him. Was he but a tool for her to exploit? A slave to her slightest whim? He did not truly know whether she regarded him with any more affection than she had for the iron kettle in his pack.

For one hundred and six years he had been trapped inside the red stone of the staff. He had been a young wizard, one whose power resided in healing arts and in communication with plants and animals, when he had the misfortune to attract the attention of Mog, a powerful warlock. Mog was ancient and evil, and tolerated no rivals of any kind. As a warlock, he was skilled in sorcerous combat, and his great experience in extinguishing rival magic-users had made him cunning. It had required no great effort on Mog's part to set a trap, that when unwittingly sprung, had pulled Wigeon in disembodied form into the gemstone of the great warlock's staff. There, for more than a century, he had existed in discorporeal form in a place without time or substance, sharing the void with other spirits, other wizards vanquished by Mog and from whom the staff drew its power. And so he drifted, unaware of the passing years.

Until one day, there was a new presence within the void.

Follow me, it said, if you want to be free.




Wigeon and the Witch
continues with Part 9
Scroll down




Easter01's The Father Michael's Saga can be found: Here

Easter01's Short Stories can be found: Here

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