The smell of sage hung in the air, so thick it was almost tangible, resting heavily on my taste-buds and filling my nose, to the point that it was like drowning in air. I wrinkled my nose involuntarily, trying to resist the urge to sneeze; I was an avid sage burner myself, we all were, but even I thought Eva overdid it. I felt her energy spill into the room even before I heard the tinkling of her beaded curtain being pulled aside. I turned to face the doorway, and felt my face spread into a grin despite myself. Eva could make the gloomiest of people smile just by standing near them. But it wasn’t her power over emotions that made me happy to see her, it was just her. She was my most trusted friend, and the most brilliant woman I’d ever met.
She wore a floaty dress that hung in layers just below her knees, a thick woven leather belt sat just above her hips. Her soft blonde curls were tied up into a ponytail, with a few strays hanging carelessly, framing a delicate oval face. A pair of thin wire glasses sat so far down on the end of her little button nose, that I’d often wondered if she really needed them to see. She was beautiful in an understated sort of way, but it was her eyes that were the most captivating: they were a soft grey, so light they should have made her seem cold and stern, but her natural warmth made them welcoming and kind. She set those spectacular silver eyes on me, and they sparkled with affection.
“Jas,” She said as she crossed the room, and drew me into a hug. “It’s so good to see you.”
“You too, Evie.” I sighed against her hair. Even hugging her I felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders; She was truly gifted.
She pulled back from the hug, hands on my shoulders, her face pinched in a slight frown.
“I can feel the stress rolling off of you in waves, Jasper. What’s wrong?”
I sighed, looking down at the floor. I’d come here for advice, but I wasn’t really sure where to begin. But then, I should have known I wouldn’t have to explain that to her aloud, she could sense it.
“I see; you want advice about something?” Her voice made it a question, but she already knew the answer. I looked up at her, and something in my face must have confirmed it, because she nodded. “Come on, let’s go sit down.”
She led me to the the table at the edge of the room, where she did most of her readings. A silk cloth was spread across the table, deep purple in colour and decorated in what seemed to be an indistinct silver pattern, but which I knew to be made up of lots of tiny pentagrams. White candles of all different shapes and sizes sat upon the cloth. A multitude of gemstones sat on the left side of the desk, along with a white feather, a thin wooden box, a small silver knife and a single white rose.
It was no ordinary rose; it had been plucked on a particularly special night, when the new moon had coincided with the summer solstice. It was a time of new beginnings, the perfect time to make a purity charm, Eva had said when she showed me it. The rose sat alone in a clear glass vase, but it had no need of water. It was one of Eva’s strongest charms, and she was especially proud of it.
“If a person is feeling strong enough emotions when they’re near it, the flower will change colour.” She’d explained. “If it turns black, then death is close by. If it wilts and dies, then it is because true evil is upon us and the magic which keeps the flower alive cannot survive it.” I was both mesmerised and slightly terrified by that flower; I half expected it to burst into flames every time I went near it.
Eva guided me into one of the high backed chairs at the table, then went around the other side and took a seat herself. She leant on her elbows, resting her chin on her clasped hands, and gave me an expectant look that clearly said explain.
“I’m so lost Evie,” I began, shaking my head as if it would help me clear my thoughts. “I’m so scared. I have no idea what I’m going to do.”
Her face showed nothing, but I could see the concern in her eyes. She waited a few beats, I think for me to say more, but when I didn’t she she reached across the table, and placed her hands facing up across from me. She was asking permission to read me. I stretched across and placed my hands in hers. She gasped softly, a sharp intake of breath, and her eyes fluttered closed. I watched the emotions, my emotions, play across her face; anger, sorrow, confusion, regret, but mostly fear. She dropped my hands suddenly, sitting back heavily in her chair.
“Goodness, Jasper. You’re an emotional mess!” She sounded drained, as she always did just after reading someone’s emotions.
“Tell me about it.”
“But I couldn’t get a handle on what the problem is, you’re feeling too much at once.”
I laughed, but it was more bitter than anything. “You’re the strongest empath I know. If I’m too messed up for you to read me, I think I really am screwed.”
“Language,” she scolded me out of habit, but her heart wasn’t in it. She gave me an appraising look, then reached for the little wooden box on the left of the table. She pulled out a white silk draw-string bag, and took out the cards from within it.
“If you aren’t going to tell me what’s going on, I’ll just have to find out for myself,” she muttered as she started shuffling the cards. She drew in one deep breath, then another, centring herself. Her voice was almost whisper quiet as she knocked on the cards and said “Show me the route of the problem.”
She laid down two cards, one next to the other; The Wheel of Fortune and the Ace of Cups. She inhaled sharply, and looked up at me from the cards. “Goddess… You’re pregnant!”
I nodded solemnly, and the look on my face discouraged the smile that had begun to take place on hers. “But, Jasper, surely that’s a good thing! You and Lucas have always talked about children.”
I shook my head. A tightness gripped my chest, and once again I felt that overwhelming feeling of anguish that had taken over my life for the past two days.
“This should be the best thing that ever happened to me Evie, but it’s not. I couldn’t think of anything worse.”
“Jasper, what on earth is going on?” She sounded impatient now.
“People like us are never truly safe, Evie. You know that.”
She gave me a stern look. “No, sorry. I don’t buy it, Jas. There’s more to this than you worrying about the dangers of being a witch. Besides, you know the coven would protect you and your child. She’s one of us, after all.”
I felt my eyes go wide, my breath coming faster. “She?”
She smiled at me, a happy, motherly smile. “So the cards tell me. I take it you didn’t know?”
“No,” my answer came in the quietest of breaths.
She reached across and patted my hand where it still lay across the table. “You’ll be an amazing mum, Jas.”
My throat tightened, and my eyes burned as I fought the urge to cry. But my voice was steady, as I said “Carry on with the reading.”
She didn’t question it, but picked up the cards and knocked again. “Show me the cause of her pain.” She laid the Empress and the Ten of Swords on the table. She didn’t look up from the cards this time as she spoke. “Someone else knows you’re pregnant. They’ve threatened the safety of your child.”
Two more cards joined the others on the table. “The Hanged man and the Seven of Cups,” she muttered. “You’re faced with a choice. I see three possible paths for you, and none will bring you true happiness.” She placed two final cards on the table. “Oh Jas, how the hell did you find yourself here?” She sighed, looking down at the Devil and Death cards she’d put down. “You’re being threatened, being forced to make this choice by someone but I can’t see who.” She looked up at me, her eyes shining with unshed tears. “What’re you going to do?”
It was too much then, and I started to cry. One slow tear rolled down my cheeks, then another. Soft at first, but then my breath caught and I was thrown into a gasping fit of sobs. I felt Eva move, but couldn’t see her through my closed eyelids. And then her warm arms were around me, as she bent over above me and pulled me into her embrace. I cried as she held me, until the tears stopped and the room fell silent in the absence of my wailing. Eva petted my hair gently, in small soothing strokes. I spoke into the fabric of her dress.
“I was sent to interview two witches who wanted to join our coven. All I was told was that they were a couple, the woman was a strong empath and that the man was powerful but hadn’t disclosed his abilities yet. They seemed nice enough at first. But then they suddenly turned on me. The woman could sense that I was pregnant, I’d only found out a few days before. They told me that if I didn’t do something for them, that they’d hurt my baby.” I drew in a shaking breath, coughing away the last of the tears clogging my throat. Eva didn’t interrupt, just continued the small circular stroking motions against my hair.
“There was something wrong with the mans face. His eyes were dead, as if he’d never felt any real emotion in his life. He said that he would rip my baby from my womb, and that leave me alive to live with the loss. I believed him.”
Eva hugged me tighter. “Goddess. Jasper I’m so sorry,” she murmured into my hair. “What is it they’ve asked you to do?”
I shook my head and pulled away to look up into her face. “They put a binding spell on me, I can’t tell you what they asked of me. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to tell you this much, but clearly they didn’t word their spell carefully enough.”
“Well that’s good,” Eva sounded encouraged. “The fact that they messed up a simple binding spell is a good sign for us if we’re going to fight them.”
“There isn’t time Eva,” my voice was almost frantic now. “I think they weren’t concerned with me telling anyone because I don’t have a choice in the matter. They have me completely bound to their will. Either I complete the awful task they’ve given me, and my child is safe. Or I don’t do as they’ve asked and they take my baby from me as they threatened. Or…” I trailed off, unable to finished the sentence.
But Eva knew me well enough to know what I was thinking. “Or you kill yourself, and go on your own terms,” She finished for me.
I nodded, looking into her face, her eyes the most serious I’d ever seen them. “You’d do it if it wasn’t for your child, wouldn’t you?” It wasn’t really a question.
“Yes,” I said, finding some strength in my voice again. “I can’t bare the thought of doing what they’ve asked of me. If it weren’t for the baby, I’d have gone from this life and begun a new life cycle already.” My voice sounded pained as I added, “Maybe I’d have better luck in the next life.”
Eva sank to her knees in front of me, taking my hands in hers once more. “Jasper, listen to me. You need to do what ever it is they’ve asked of you.”
I gave her a small, sad smile. “We’re witches, Eva. We’re not meant to do harm to anyone. What they want me to do is pure evil.”
Eva was the kindest, most loving person I’d ever known. But right then, her warm silver eyes turned the hard, dark grey of storm clouds. “Now, you listen to me. I know what we are, and I know the good we have sworn to do. But your child has made no such promises, and we do what we have to in order to protect our children. I will not let you sacrifice yourself, or this baby, just because you don’t want to jeopardise your moral compass.”
I started to protest, but she cut me off. “No Jasper, I mean it. Promise me, that you will do what they’ve asked of you. Do I make myself clear?” I must not have replied fast enough, because she grabbed the tops of my arms and shook me a little. “Well?”
“Yes,” I breathed my reply. “I’ll do as they’ve asked.”
Eva smiled at me, “Good. It’ll be ok, Jas. I love you.” She stroked my arm, then stood, starting to turn away from me.
“I love you too, Eva. But you’re wrong, this will never be ok. I’ll never be okay again.”
She turned back to me, mouth open as if to say something. But I’ll never know what those words would have been, because I grabbed the silver ceremonial knife off of the table, reached up, and plunged it into her body. The knife hit true, sliding between her ribs, the tip going up and into her heart.
She looked down at me with wide eyes, her mouth in a little ‘O’ of surprise, and started to sink to the floor. I slid off of the chair to catch her in my arms as she fell, and cradled the top half of her body against me as the life started to drain from her.
“I am so sorry, my sister.” I started to cry again as I slowly rocked her on the floor. She made little gurgling noises, and a small trickle of blood seeped from the side of her mouth. “I don’t know why they wanted you gone, but this was what they asked of me.” I wiped the blood from her mouth, and kissed her forehead gently, a few stray tears splashing against her skin.
She made a chocking noise, as if she’d tried to speak but couldn’t. I closed my eyes and focused on opening up the mental shields I normally used to keep other’s emotions at bay. Her pain hit me hard enough to make me cry out. But it faded almost as quickly as it had come, swept away on a tidal wave of other emotions. Confusion was there, and fear of what was to come. But there was acceptance there too, and, most surprisingly, love. So much love. I looked down at her face, and found her staring up at me. I don’t know if her eyes had really seemed peaceful in those last few moments, or if that’s just what I needed to believe, but the tight knot of grief and guilt that had wound its way into my stomach loosened ever so slightly. She drew one last breath, before she closed her eyes and the last signs of life were swept away from her body, leaving me still hugging her empty vessel on the floor. I kissed both of her eyelids, and whispered “Blessed be, my sister. I am so sorry.”
I drew myself out from underneath her, and made my way shakily towards the door. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that where once had sat a beautiful pure white rose, there was now nothing but a pile of black, decaying petals.
– © J. E. Fitzgerald –