Witta, a royal descendant to the throne of Calduon, is on a mission to rescue a young man who is imprisoned in the heart of the Queens dungeons. Though her head is on her mission, her heart is elsewhere. Her story begins with an herb witch, who she hopes will set her on a path leading to her family.
The breathless moon shines its cold light down through the gaps in the branches, leaving ghostly patterns on the forest floor. I move stealthily through the boughs toward the dim lights of the town ahead. I left my horse quite a ways back, so not to draw attention to myself. It is crucial that I enter and exit this place in utter secrecy. Watching from the shadows, I wait until I discern the night guards, in their dark apparel, patrolling along the perimeter of the town. When it’s time, I move for the stone wall ducking down behind its shadow just as a guard pass.
I hold my breath and listen, intently, as he slowly continues on along the wall, unaware of my presence. Once he is out of ear shot, I gather my crimson skirts, scale the wall and make for the cover of the thatched houses ahead. Rushing towards a large house, I press myself against its stone, utterly still, waiting, watching. This is not the home I am looking for, but it's close. Without a minute to waste, I move forward, I need to be far from this place by dawn, lest I meet my end here. The bounty hunters may still be on my trail.
The streets are deserted aside from a mumbling drunk staggering carelessly through the street and a few wenches posing in doorways looking for a night’s wages. I pull my hood down over my face and keep to the darkness.
The town of Lidleton has fallen to decay since last I was here. It was once a thriving place filled with commerce and trade. It was a place of laughter and good people. Now the cobblestone street is broken, mostly mud and the alleyways are littered with trash, urine and feces. The people here are more or less slaves, indebted to an evil governor that was set in by the queen, who is just another of her puppets.
I see the familiar red door across the way and I pinch my fingers hoping that the witch still abides here. I tug down on my hood again and cross the street. I tap on the door as loudly as I dare and turn by back to it, watching the street for guards or the governor’s henchmen.
Thunder rumbles in the distance and the wind flutters the ends of my skirts. A storm is coming, the need to hurry grows each moment. I turn to knock again when the door cracks open.
“Who be it?” Comes the careworn voice of the witch. “Who’s at my door at this hour?”
“Someone in need of your particular fancy.” I say, staying to the shadows.
“That's too bad, I quit doing herbs and spells long ago-“
I stop the door with my boot.
“Would you consider it if you were helping a daughter of the olden sires?” I wait for her response, which is delayed. The door comes open a bit farther.
“I could lose my head or be burned. It would be considered treason.”
“Yes, but we- I would be forever indebted to you. Should. . .”
“Should the prophecy be fulfilled.” The witch finishes my thought. I nod and clench my fists. Every fiber of my being wants to push my way inside and force her to help me, but I must put aside my impulses.
“Come in. Quickly.” She opens the door and I slide past her.
I stand next to the hearth rubbing my cold hands. Her home is small but warm and even though there are no longer herbs and roots hanging from rafters, or strange smelling substances boiling on a cauldron above the fire, I still can faintly smell their presence. This lets me know that she still practices.
“Here, have some tea.” I gratefully accept and sip the balmy, tangy liquid. My body instantly warms. “I have added something to it for reviving your strength. I am sure you have traveled far to see me.”
“Yes,” I nod and take another sip. “I have come quite a ways, but not only for you witch, I am on a mission.”
“I thought as much.” She says settling down in a chair nearby. “So who are you exactly, and what is it that you need from me, love?”
“I am surprised that you do not know me.” I reply. “I came here, to your cottage, as a small child with my parents and sibling.”
“You are her, then,” She says with a wry smile and a twinkle in her deep eyes. “You are daughter of Cain, son of Thrune the rightful rulers of Calduon.”
“. . . I am.”
The witch rises from her seat and bows, “ ‘tis an honor princess Othera.” I motion for her not to do this.
“I no longer go by that name. It is too dangerous. Those of our abbey call me Witta.”
“Is this abbey in Calduon?”
“Nay, 'tis far from here.”
“What of your family?” She asks after a moment.
“When my family had to flee, they left me and my brother at the abbey, to keep us safe until they could return for us.” I turn back to the fire, watching the flames lick the stones, hungrily.
“But they never returned.”
“What of your brother?”
“He was taken in the night. Two weeks after our parents left us. No one knows who took him, or where, or why.” I drink the last of my tea and set the cup down on the oaken mantle. “But I have made the best of it, I have a life there. I have purpose now. Our abbey is a safe place for others like myself, those that are rescued from the grasp of the queen.”
“Let me guess, you are in the business of rescuing, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am. One of several who are, at least.”
“So, you are on errand to rescue someone and you need something from me to aid you on your quest.”
“Not exactly.” Puzzlement and wonder emanate from her as she looks back at me with an unwavering eyes. “I want you to help me find my family. But more specifically, I want you to help me find my brother.”
“What makes you think that I could aid on such a great task? I am a mere herb witch.”
“I may have been small, but I know what my parents asked of you that night.” I say. “I know that you prolonged the night. I remember that you aided our escape with clouds of darkness and dense fog that terrified all of Calduon. It is still talked about today. More so than that, I know that if anyone can help me, it is you, witch.”