I take a step back to stare through the window again. It faces out onto the courtyard that, by this point, is more of a hodgepodge of a garden that doesn’t make any sense anymore. It’s still not raining.
My herbs blow wildly in the strong wind that whistles gently through the cracks and gaps of this castle wall. It could rain soon.
I doubt it.
The Dyad Moon is nearly at its peak in the sky and I glance at the clock sitting against the wall. I suppose it’s too late now to water my plants and faff about with the well. Then again, it hasn’t rained for a long while and they could die. That would be more of a nuisance to deal with when it comes to winter and my stocks are low - although that’s unlikely because I haven’t had to do complex magik in years. It’s been a while since trouble came knocking.
I should sleep instead. Getting the days and the nights muddled never helps anyone, particularly a witch. The irony is that a witch’s schedule requires getting up at arbitrary times in the morning and night for rituals and spells that are dependant on the sun and moon, Sol and Mani. It must simply be done for reasons that elude me. At least if I miss a few here or there, it’s not the end of the world unlike the Norns who must water Yggdrasil, the world tree, every morning. But I have no spells or rituals for tonight; I should sleep.
I can’t sleep, I’m too restless. My hands itch to do something and my mind doesn’t feel at ease today. I could use a spell to put me to sleep yet that’s a waste of magik.
Defeated, I sigh. It’ll only play on my mind during the night and worse could happen. I could have flowers growing out of my face if I use a spell to get to sleep. Magik… it requires all of your attention.
I head through the empty castle, ignoring the family history that decorates the corridors. The women in my family made the most exquisite tapestries that detailed their generation, a tradition that’s been passed on from my mother and I passed onto the next. It helps the castle keep the heat in, the walls are a little damp even in the driest of seasons such as this one. Candles, with a small amount of magik, light up as I get closer but blow out behind me so I can save on candle wax. Careful to not slip on the smoothed out stone, I follow the narrow stairway down to the ground floor and cut across to the old servants' door to the outside.
The air is unbearably hot and clings to me and my clothes, strange considering it’s windy. I stick my tongue out, tasting the magnetic air. For whatever reason, a witch has decided to stop the rain and it feels as though the sky will burst if the magik isn't lessened soon. Magik can control the elements for a time but eventually nature will bounce back to balance it out again. Not even the Gods can put it off for long. Although I'm not too certain if Fate can win against it. My nose is pinched by the strong aroma of the sharp herbs, holding an annoying sneeze at the end of it. This is a good sign, I believe. I should know gardening after all this time, but I don't. That's what the books are for.
As I walk over to the old groundskeeper's house, I kick the gravel and brush my fingers against the flowers. They’re dry. I lean down and grab the watering can that sits in front of it. It’s cold to the touch; the rust is rough and flakes fall off into my hand. I shake it, water sloshing around inside. It sounds about half full, or half empty depending on how you look at it. I don’t know how I see the glass. That’s not the point, the point is I don't think I have enough water for my garden without having to fetch more. I look around my garden and chew on my lip. Yes, definitely not enough. I’ll have to mess about with the well or I could use magik to drag it out for me. Either way, it’ll tire me out.
Unless I talk to them. Sylvia says talking to them is the best kind of magik.
“Treat them like they’re your friends,” she would say if she was here.
That’s a little hard. I don’t have any friends to talk to so how do I speak to them like so? At least I believe I no longer have friends. The last I saw a friend must have been months ago, if we don’t count the spirits that come every now and then. For the most part, I’m forgotten by the kind like me. They have the full world to experience (and eight others but I’ve been told that there’s more) and I’m stuck in a tiny pocket of England. That’s arguably a good thing because it’s less trouble for me. Alfie Ryder was always running from trouble, a handful of times they brought trouble with them. Trouble finally caught up with them the last I heard. My stomach falls. Let’s not think about that.
I focus on the rosemary, trying to think of what to say. What do you say to a friend? What do you say to plants? “I… I… I love flowers,” I come out with. “You are beautiful.” I cringe at myself, my shoulders tensing up as it runs down my spine. You don’t say that to friends. Not even to lovers, I think but I wasn’t very good at that.
I sprinkle the water around, the pit in my stomach doesn’t disappear but I ignore it like always. Even in my younger days, when I was braver, I couldn’t handle the dark. Sylvia used to force me out at ridiculous times of the night to start spells that are dependant on the moon and time of day. It used to send me sideways, my days were often wrong and out of sync with my family. Now look at me, I’m doing it without her insistence. How far I’ve come.
“Oh. I hoped they’d die before you notice,” says a giggly, female voice from nowhere.
My head snaps around, but there are only flowers around me. It’s not a voice I recognise, I know my friends’ voices well, hardly any are female and I know the spirits that like to talk to me. The rest avoid me, apparently I give off an odd smell. It can’t be a stranger, no one other than my friends and the spirits know this place exist and they simply know because I told them about it. It could be the plants but why would they want them all to die?
I chuckle. “Suicidal plants,” I mumble. “It hasn’t rained, I’m saving you.”
“I know, I stopped the rain.” The voice is coming from the rose bush.
I furrow my brow at it, the plants really are talking back to me. They shouldn’t be able to talk, unless I’m unknowingly pouring magik into them, life into them. I can’t do that any more. Do I talk back to them? Seeing as it’s rude to ignore those who talk to you, I should. Perhaps I can help with their… qualms. What Qualms would a plant have? Being plucked? Or their friend being plucked and not them? “Why?”
“Wanted to see if you would save them with magik.” Them? “Freya said you stopped doing real magik.”
A woman steps out of the shadows and into the moonlight. My heart thuds against my chest and my spit is caught in my throat. Not because she is beautiful, there is nothing exceeding remarkable about her appearance or at least from what I can see in this dim light. Her clothes seems simple enough, made out of flax or linen - nothing colourful. She’s almost grey, like a ghost. Is she dead? A strong enough spirit to come through the veil? It would make sense. People can’t find my castle, not unless I allow them to.
“Who are- Who are you?” I stammer out. “How did you find me?”
She hides her face and giggles like a child or someone with a secret, collapsing in herself before skipping over to me. She moves like a comic. With her hands behind her back, she circles me and grins as she peers at my hands and arms. I’m caught between breaths. Who is she? Why is she here? “I’d have thought that the famous fate changer would have some sort of magikal traces. But no runes, not even markings from other magiks.”
I pull my cloak around me despite being hot, dropping my arms (and subsequently, the watering can that falls over and splashes us both with water.) “They were there, just not anymore.” Liar, they’re still there just… hidden but they might as well be gone now. “Who are you? You didn’t say.”
She chuckles lightly at me and stares at me with wide eyes. She isn’t going to say. “What if you could have them again?”
My jaw clenches. There is no way in Helheim that I will have those on me again. Dangerous things, they have never brought me luck or joy, only more trouble and more pain. “Please don’t,” I whisper.
The woman rolls her eyes and with her whole body, dropping her shoulders and falling back onto the bench as if she was a comic for a King. Her smiles twists into something more sinister and her eyes tell me I shouldn’t trust her. I should go back inside. “Fine. But where did they go?”
“Why should I tell you?”
“Talking to me beats talking to the flowers.”
I sigh again. She has a point, not that I like it much, and I haven’t had a conversation with a human for a long time. Not that I think she’s human but it’s a more settling thought than the other options. I pick up my watering can again and head over to the well to fill it back up the mundane way. It’s a waste of magik to use it on a well; they’re both equally as tiring to do and I might - I should make this woman get the better idea of me. This idea of me.
“Well?” She asks, not moving from the bench.
I don’t answer. Someone once said that the art to make someone listen to take a bloody long time to tell them. I can’t remember who said it, they must have taken an even longer to tell me that. It might have been… I’m getting ahead of myself.
I grab the hook tied to the end of the rope and connect my watering can to it. Using the wheel beside the well, I slowly lower the metal can into the water so I don’t lose it to the well. Again. For the 5th time this year. Once it’s in and I can feel the weight of it pulling back on the wheel, I use all of my strength to drag it up back to the top. The next bit is particularly tricky, where I have to grab the watering can and not let go of the wheel - it’s how I lose the can as I don’t have a second pair of hands to help me with this two-man job. I stretch out and grab it before I let go of the wheel. The weight of the water is still being held by the rope and it drops, causing me to smack my arm and chest against the stone. I groan in pain, pull it up and over the wall with both hands. I take the moment to catch my breath before I lug it over to the woman.
I don’t look at her and instead stare at the dying plants. This is what I was told because it helps with the intrigue. I pour water over the basil and wait a second more. “It all started with a decapitated head in the middle of the woods.”