Ledia Runnels' "World of Fantasy Fiction"

{May 20, 2011}   Tales of Nightshade: Curse of Job

It was one of those crystal mornings.  A crisp, cool breeze fell against Luena’s face and rustled her golden hair as the sky above her shone so blue that it hurt her eyes.  She knew she should not be wasting time daydreaming; Brunda would not approve.  But the day was so glorious; Luena just could not help herself.

Her basket of herbs was not half full, a touch of contrition squeezed at her heart, but that was soon forgotten when the sound of a bird drew her attention.  She found herself following the small cardinal as it flitted from tree branch to tree branch, her task of gathering herbs for the week’s lessons totally forgotten.

A patch of clover spread out in the field before Luena.  She stopped in her pursuit and knelt beside the pungent herbs and reached out to caress the diminutive pink blossoms that grew among them.

A sudden pandemonium broke the tranquility of the morning causing Luena’s small head to rise.  Within moments, she was surrounded by a band of horsemen.  Before she could give a cry of alarm, one of the hulking brutes reached down and clasped his dirty hand across her mouth.

Hot tears sprang to Luena’s eyes and instinctively, she sank her teeth into the meaty palm.  With his free hand, the man delivered the child a stinging slap across the face.  Luena crumpled, her small body racked with sobs…

Brunda peered out the window.  This was the third time in a week that Luena had been late completing her chores.  “Why did I ever believe I had the patience to apprentice such a young child, or anyone for that matter?”  The old witch said to Mandrake, who dozed lazily on a wooden chair.  He turned a yellow-green eye in Brunda’s direction, dampened one paw and began stroking his ears.  He paused in mid-stroke to perk up his ears, as if he heard something; then he went back to washing.

“Better go and check on her.  It is getting late and we need to start work on her lessons before the day is completely gone.”  The old sorceress seized her broom and was out the door with Mandrake close behind.

Brunda flew across the meadow, searching for signs of the little girl.  She soon spied Luena’s gathering basket in a crushed bed of clover and swerved toward it.  Landing her broom, Brunda noticed that the basket lay beyond the invisible wall that hid her land from outsiders.

“Now where has that child gotten to?  Luena!”  The old woman cried in vexation.  She shot a glance toward Mandrake. “Haven’t I told her time and time again not to go beyond the protective barrier?” Steadying herself, Brunda stretched forth her hands, reciting a temporal displacement spell, and waited.

At first, the images came slowly; then they swept the atmosphere in a broad panorama.  Brunda gazed upon the ephemeral portrayal of Luena’s capture; a consuming fury blazed within her as the scenes played to their conclusion.  She cast the spell several times more to see if she could make out who the men were, but each time the images came through much too vaguely.

“Those savages!”  Brunda tore at the air.  Then she turned to Mandrake.  “Though it irks me to have to admit it, I need Druzelle’s assistance in this.  With her talent,” Brunda almost choked on the words. “For making people believe she is what she is not, perhaps Druzelle can go into that cursed village and find out what has become of the child.”  Mandrake meowed loudly and in a wink was gone to carry Brunda’s message.

Druzelle listened carefully to Mandrake while tears of rage filled her blue eyes.  Then, in a twinkling of an eye, she vanished from the forest and appeared behind one of the village shops, wearing the guise of the village gardener.  She maintained that the townsfolk were always eager to accommodate the talented botanist.

Unfortunately, the information Druzelle acquired had nothing to do with the whereabouts of Luena.  Which persons needed their lawns cultivated or raised gardens pruned.  Druzelle heard more than enough about that!  A few people looked askew at the ‘old man’ when asked about Luena’s family.  Since Luena’s mother had been charged with witchcraft, the subject was taboo.

Standing at the edge of town, Druzelle quickly changed back to her true self and teleported to the edge of Brunda’s land.  She found the other sorceress still standing beside the spot where Luena had disappeared.

Since sending Mandrake on his errand, Brunda had been reasoning out the curious business of Luena’s capture.  It had finally occurred to her to look in the direction of the Earl of Campbell.  Though Brunda had thwarted his previous plans to seize her land, the Earl was still a thorn in her side and would be so as long as he lived.

Druzelle related her failure to obtain any valuable information. Then Brunda explained her idea concerning the Earl.

“I can see where you would get that idea, Sister, dear,” Druzelle nodded.  “The Earl is a terrible brute and from what I gathered in the town, he is the main force behind most of the witchcraft accusations.  He is not only devious and cruel, but a truly uncivilized rat!”

“Yes, he is one of those who can never get enough of the riches of this world.”  Brunda added.  “He won’t be content until he owns most of the land within one hundred miles of here.  Greedy, greedy fool!”

“But why would he want Luena?”  Druzelle wondered.  “He has already claimed the Pierce land for his own.  The way you describe this morning’s happenings, it sounds as if he was deliberately searching for the little girl.”

“Of course he was, you silly ninny!”  Brunda snapped.  “With Luena alive to claim the land, he could not have a clear title to it.”

Druzelle’s cerulean eyes widened.  “Brunda, do you think it could have anything to do with his grudge against you?  Those men were looking near `your’ land, after all.”

The black depths of Brunda’s eyes became a blazing inferno.  When she finally spoke, her voice came forth soft, but deadly.  “Yes, of course, you could be right.  Though he is a cur, he is not entirely stupid.  The old scoundrel must have been watching these fields and Luena simply got caught in between.”  Brunda stroked her chin.  “Ah yes, it all makes perfect sense now.”

Druzelle stood in the garden outside the Earl of Campbell’s manor house.  With a swish of her hand, she became the image of Sarah, the Earl’s housekeeper.  Quietly, she made her way into the dwelling.

As Druzelle passed through a hallway, she happened by a rather dusty cupboard.  “Tsk, Tsk what an untidy maidservant you are, Sarah, dear,” she remarked while running a genteel finger through the grime.

Dusting her hands together, Druzelle found herself heading down still another passageway.  Suddenly, she stopped dead in her tracks as a chill swept up her spine.  Just inside one of the rooms sat the traitorous witch, Yulricka.

Druzelle quickly stepped from view.  “What is she doing here with one who hangs witches?”  Druzelle stood perfectly still, not wanting to continue past the room.  Yulricka was a malcontent in the witch community and possessed a strong telepathic power, though that is about all the witchcraft she did posses; Druzelle feared the other might have the cognizance to see through her disguise.

With quick side steps, Druzelle turned to head down an adjacent passageway.  Then she spied something on the floor.  Reaching down, Druzelle drew up a miniature silver locket.  Crushing the fragile necklace against her chest, she whispered.  “Surely this is the same one that Luena always wears.”

Quickly, Druzelle ducked down the other passage that led to the larder.  There, she surmised would surely be servants from whom she could hear the manor tattle and perhaps find out something concerning Luena.

Druzelle stood outside the manor house once again.  “Ignorant peasants!” she howled.  “All they can talk about is how high the bread has risen and if snow will come early to the fields.  Not a one of them has any good gossiping skills.  They are, undoubtedly, the most boring bunch of old crones I have ever seen.  Humph!”  In a flash, the rotund witch vacated the premises.

Druzelle laid the tiny necklace in Brunda’s outstretched hand.  Casting another temporal displacement spell, the two watched the vision of Yulricka jerking the locket from Luena’s neck and tossing it to the floor.  The scene faded as the little girl and her assailant moved away from the necklace.

Brunda’s eyes narrowed to slits.  “I’ll see that witch become jackal tidbits!”

Eagerly, Druzelle put in. “At least now we know who was responsible for Luena’s capture.”

“Yes we do,” Brunda continued to speak in low, sinister intonations. “When I get my hands on that…” Without finishing her words, Brunda strode across to her worktable, where sat her sleeping crystal ball.  “I have been trying to find Luena within its depths all day.  It must be Yulricka’s doing that no image of the child can be found.”

Druzelle began to wring her hands ruefully.  “What shall we do now?  How do we avert Yulricka’s magic?”

“I’m not afraid of that traitorous bag o’bones!”  Brunda thundered.  “Once the moon’s golden fingers touch Luena, she will be able to tell us where she is.  We must not underestimate the child’s power, Druzelle!”  Then Brunda chuckled to herself.  “Yes, Yulricka will wish that she had never tangled with us.”

Tendrils of moonlight filtered through the window as one silver finger rested upon the crystal ball.  Brunda smiled as an explosion of color began to form within the orb.  The two sorceresses leaned in unison to watch the rainbow eruption.

Then within her mind, Druzelle began to hear the same words over and over, “Scared, Hurt, My Head Is Hurt, Brunda-Druzelle, Brunda-Druzelle, Help!”

“I hear her!”  Druzelle exclaimed.  Brunda smiled wryly while the multi-colors within the crystal ball merged to form the golden haired child.  Luena was seated on horseback, surrounded by several men, including the Earl of Campbell, and closely guarded by Yulricka.

“I recognize that stretch of road!”  Druzelle clapped her hands.

“Yes, as do I,” Brunda nodded.  “I will meet you there, Sister.”  She tossed the words over her shoulder as she took up her broom and leapt through the doorway, airborne.

“Yes!”  Druzelle affirmed.

The direction the party traveled led to a wayside inn of unsavory reputation.  Towards this place, Brunda aimed her broom.  She came to a stop and dismounted only moments before the ill-fated band arrived.  With hatred glazed eyes, the old witch stood directly in the middle of the road, waiting.  Within moments, Druzelle joined her.

In order to create as much chaos as possible, the rotund Druzelle decided to conjure an illusion that she and Brunda were giant ogresses, equipped with battle-axes and spiked clubs.  She chuckled to herself as she wove the spell.  “Brunda will hate it and it will not fool Yulricka, but what fun to watch the mortal curs scatter like leaves in the wind.”

When Brunda realized what Druzelle was up to, she started to protest vehemently.  But then the irony of it became very clear and Brunda allowed the glamour.

The first ones to see them reacted just as Druzelle had hoped.  Dropping their weapons, the men bolted for the woods, screaming and shouting at the horror they had beheld.

Then Yulricka saw.  “It is not what you think.” the traitor jeered.  “There are no hulks blocking our way.  Just a pair of enfeebled old women trying to frighten us with their carnival act.”

Wild rage consumed Brunda.  “That is the last straw!”  she thundered.  Reaching within her cloak, she drew out a pouch of crushed herbs.  With a wave of her hand, she began to weave an incantation.

But when she looked up to release the final words, she saw that Yulricka had suddenly vanished.  “Where is she; where did that mangy hag fly off too?”

Brunda felt a tap against her shoulder and the sound of Druzelle clearing her throat.  “I did it, sister. We cannot have our consciences burdened with the killing of another, even though it be a traitorous witch. I am sorry if I have angered you, but I put her into the black abyss.  It will take her a few years to figure a way out.”

“You hope.” Brunda scowled as she turned her attention toward the Earl.

Even without his magician consort, the man sat upon his horse as arrogant as ever. “Well,” he blustered. “Do you intend on sending me to the abyss as well? I would like to know how you would explain my disappearance to the town’s folk.”

Brunda’s smile was brutal. “I explain myself to no one, Campbell.  And no, I do not intend to send you to the abyss; that would be all too nice a punishment for the likes of you.”

Then her smile was gone. In its place, Brunda’s face became a cyclone of revenge. “I let you go without punishment once before, but this time you have gone too far.”

A wild look came into Druzelle’s eyes as she desperately tried to draw Brunda’s attention toward herself.  “Let me be, Sister!”  Brunda thundered.

Then she turned back to the insolent Earl.  “I curse you with the Plagues of Job.  Job was a Godly man and passed the tests, but let us see how well, one such as you, will fair.”

The ground beneath their feet began to rumble as the sorceress raised her hands.  A flux of greenish oozed dripped from Brunda’s fingertips before turning into lightning and striking the air surrounding the Earl. He lowered his head and raised his arms to shield his face.

Brunda was wild with laughter as an emerald vapor enveloped Campbell, who began to cough and choke, but not one of his men dared reach out to assist him. Soon, the foul, green cloud consumed him.

Brunda dusted her hands, picked up her broom and walked over to where Druzelle had joined Luena. The little girl looked shaken, but she smiled at her friends.

Brunda lifted Luena from the horse and placed her on the broom beside Mandrake.  Before climbing aboard herself, Brunda turned back to survey her handiwork.

The green mist had finally evaporated and the Earl could be seen still astride his horse.  With childish curiosity, Luena turned back to see, but quickly averted her eyes.  For the once arrogant Earl sat slumped over in his saddle, his entire body, or at least what showed beyond his clothing, was covered with seeping raw boils.

Through his agony the Earl vowed, “This is not over, witch!”

Brunda merely smiled as she climbed aboard her broom.

Copyright by Ledia Runnels 2011


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