The small wooden cross Mary had on her wall had slipped, tumbling free from the crooked nail which was driven into her dark small cottage. She noticed it now in the candlelight, her attention brought to that empty space on the wall by a reason she could not place. She went across and picked it up, holding it in her hands, remembering her mother who had fashioned it from the wood that surrounded them there in the village. Her mother, so capable. Cooking creating, tilling, mending. She did it all, for it were her and her children only. Mary, now half her mother’s age when she died, looked at the small cross, her thoughts snatching a prayer somewhere in her mind.
It was then she heard it.
Going to her small window, she looked up into the sky at first, the screeching wails sounding like birds fighting. In the night it was odd, maybe owls she thought. It came again, this time lower and more awful, drifting over the trees which lay all around. A candle flickered to life in her neighbour’s house, the village being awoken by a noise that seem to come from another world. Mary saw it then, a dark stain in the sky looming over Pollux Hall. It was like a smudge in the sky, a dark oil seeming to leak and spread from the tip of the tower, the only part visible from where she was in the village. She clutched the cross tighter, the evils of the world now loose in the land it seemed.
A thump on the door startled her, and she called out in alarm.
“Who is there?”
No answer returned, but the sturdy wooden door suddenly swung forth revealing Jacob, out of breath and eyes wide, hovering on the threshold.
“Mary, it is time.” He heaved as he tried to catch his breath. He had run from the church, the wolves following him. His eyes were darting all around, but he did not enter her house.
“Jacob, come inside. There is death in the air tonight.” Mary said, coming towards him. Jacob ducked inside and slammed the door, the sound of a wolf howling nearby followed him inside.
“Wolves?!” Mary asked, surprised. Jacob nodded.
“Did you hear the sound before?” He asked her, his eyes fixing on the cross then back to her eyes.
“Yes, and look, Pollux Hall.” She said, drawing him over to the window where the darkness swirled above the tower.
“It is time Mary, it is tonight. I’ve seen them all, I watched them gather. They go to free Agatha from the hall.” He said, almost gleefully.
“All of them?” Mary asked, a gasp in her words.
“All of them, tonight is the night. We must hurry though. They must be there already and who knows what is happening with those men in the mix up there.” He added. She stood for a moment, as if unsure of what to do next. The darkness spluttering over her candle and her mind taken to many places all at once. She then put the cross on the side and went across to the small cupboard in the corner.
“It is ready, though?” Jacob asked her.
“Yes, it is ready.” Mary replied and took out a black sack from the cupboard.
“We must be quick; the wolves are thirsty for more than just our blood.” He said. She nodded, taking a cloak from a peg.
“I know what will help.” And she took down from above her door some sprigs of flowers and herbs, intertwined with twigs and string. She handed them to him, and he smiled.
“I hope so.” He said, and they both left quickly, their path hastened as they made their way towards the hall through the village. The wolves, watching, but kept at bay.
He rubbed his eyes, the glass that had showered down had covered them all. He felt a sharp pain, a piece of glass caught at the corner of his eye, his vision on one side flooded with a crimson lens.
The room suddenly froze, the temperature dropping like snowfall. A sound and wind flurried inside, scratching at their minds and souls.
Agatha stood, her bonds now gone, and her stare fixed upon those men before her.
A blackness began to pour inside through the broken windows, a thick oozing smog as dark as charcoal flooded all around them. Some of the men tried for the door, but it would not yield, and in the trapped panic thye left-out yells of fear and weakness.
Jonathan watched through the only eye that could now see, his mouth mumbling prayers and sacred words which he hoped would protect him and the others there. God was not listening it seemed as a demon like figure began to mass there in the tower, the smoke filling into a being that sucked the light from the room. Outside they heard yells and calls, the others being attacked and laid upon by the other witches who had travelled there that night. Their identities still hidden, even in those dying moments of breath to those guards.
Inside the tower a voice began to utter the foulest words to those righteous men. It seemed to creep out of the walls and all over their skin, echoing in the chambers of their mind. It spoke to them of a reckoning, of a day which had come to pass when all would see for what truth was abound in the land.
Margellwood hunched over Agatha, a towering figure now behind her, seeming to fill the space they shared. Jonathan slumped against the wall, the others in their panic and fear huddled on the other side, clutching tightly to their crosses. The voice rang out still, the rain now pouring in from the window and splattering the wooden floor with rainy tears.
“And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words.” Jonathan said, an anger rising in him.
Margellwood stopped suddenly, flicking her head towards him.
“He speaks now does he, he acts now against his own demise.” She coughed, the words sticky and heavy.
“You have no power here, and you will not banish us into the dark. You mistake your actions here for power.” He bravely retorted. Margellwood laughed, her cackle fading to a hiss.
“You are not important, and you will not succeed. I can wither your heart Jonathan Prose, splinter your bones and send you mad with voices. But now, you will watch as what you hope for the most to disappear, and for you to lose.” The Witch said, placing her hand upon Agatha.
“You are the mistaken and forsaken one.” He said, and he pulled out his book and began to recite lines from it. The air swirled and hummed, a greyness suddenly buckling the light in the room. With a snarl Margellwood vomited out a sludge, hissing words bubbling and exploding out of it. It oozed and rose up off the floor, floating towards the men and coating the walls. The words seemed to battle one another, caught in a fight to overrun and devour.
Agatha turned, she looked up to the creature that Margellwood had risen into. She found her eyes and searched there, for only a moment. She turned and looked at the room, seeking something that seemed to be missing.
“Come, we must go.” She suddenly said to the witch, and she clapped three times and the room burst into flames, the darkness slithering out of the high window above like steam leaving a dead body in the cold.
Jacob and Mary could see the tower now, fire licking out of the high windows, illuminating the dead night’s sky. They ran on further up the hill, the trees clustering around them like lost souls coming together. They stopped suddenly seeing the dark shapes appear from the air in front of them.
They hadn’t been seen, and they ducked down low, a thicket at the side of the path covering them. They heard the voices now; it was Agatha and Margellwood. Mary took Jacob’s hand, not out of fear, but to steady his heart.
“You came.” Agatha said, her voice sweet and low, almost a whisper.
“They are done taking. Tonight, it all ends.” Margellwood said, running her hand through the woman’s hair gently.
Around them, coming out of the trees and with pops of black smoke the other witches appeared. Hooting and wailing, clicking their fingers in rhythmic unison.
“Tonight, we shall dominate and lay a waste to this rotten land!” Margellwood called, seeing the others appearing around them.
Mary and Jacob felt a kick behind them, and they both fell forward out of the thicket and back onto the road. They both stumbled to their feet, and the witches encircled them, leeringly.
Agatha came towards them, her eyes wide with an unusual light dancing in them. Off into the tree the howl of wolves was heard, and as the tower behind them burnt, the screams of men rattled through the sky.
“Over. It is over.” Agatha said. The other witches began to chant, a horrible, gurgled incantation that they rumbled and shouted. Some of them leaping into the air, the space now alive with movement and sound.
Jacob clutched Mary’s hand and they stood forth defiantly.
“You are not lost to us cousin.” Mary said, her free hand outstretched.
“Death shall take you master Jacob, Mary death will spirit you off tonight.” Margellwood hissed, coming up behind Agatha. “To see your sister, down in the ground.”
“Keep your vile mouth shut you witch.” Jacob roared.
The all laughed around him, bar Agatha. She looked at the small sack that Mary had at her waist. Her eyes flashing there in a moment of realisation.
“It won’t work, it would be folly to try.” Agatha said suddenly, stepping backwards in alarm.
Mary caught her stare and realised she had understood. She snatched at the sack, and Jacob reached quickly into his pocket.
“Tricks and toys is it?” Margellwood snarled, mockingly.
Agatha turned and ran, back up the path towards the hall. Margellwood turned, watching her, a confusion now spreading across her face like a setting sun.
“What’s thou….” But in that moment an engulfing light had sprung from the black sack and the words that followed from Jacob seized all of those present in a captured state. The skin on the witches became taught, and they rigidly creaked and cracked as if water were being squeezed from dead wood. Their faces contorted, spasms of anger and horror flashed across them until they all collapsed to the floor. All except Margellwood who seemed to be trying to resist the most. Jacob pressed on., reading aloud from a small book he held in his hand. The light and the sound now coming from the sack danced and glided around them, bathing them in an ethereal glow. The sound, at trumpeting call of another world, seemed to kiss upon the skin.
Margellwood snarled, her eyes leaking a blackness now. Oily tears staining her face. She fell to her knees finally and dove her hands into the earth and seemed to be pleading, begging for something. In a final move she had bitten off part of her tongue which flopped from her mouth now as the rest of her body crumpled to the ground. The witches all now lay about the road and by the trees, still but not dead, a change overtaking them as their souls silently came back. Mary looked at Jacob and smiled, they had succeeded.
Agatha ran, her heart pulsing now in her chest. She could hear the blood in her head, the river of red rushing around her mind. She ran up to the hall, the tower now completely engulfed in the flames which reached up towards heaven. She could see shapes moving in the courtyard below, dark images seeming to smoulder in the cold air. She ran onwards, past the hall and down through the garden to the stream which flowed at the back. She stopped by the banks, looking all around, hoping not to find what she was looking for.
It was there though, across the stream. It’s hunched shape dark and threatening. She fell to her knees and closed her eyes. Little spots of white floating in the space before her as she heard the flames, the voices of the men and the sound of a trumpet away from where she rested. She bit her lip, to feel something, to see where she was still and if it were really true. Opening her eyes she felt a warm feeling across her cheek, like sunshine catching her skin. The creature beyond stood, a rotting smell seeming to float across the water towards her from it.
“I take it back.” She threw the line out to the figure. Her words quiet and having much less weight than she’d hoped.
The figure looked at her, saying nothing.
“I can do that, I can choose!” She said again, desperately.
The figure took a step towards her, a groan emitting from it’s very centre. Agatha clutched her chest, frightened now and loosing hope. She closed her eyes again, despite the figure moving towards her, a ghostly groaning heaving out of it. Her hand still on her chest, she sighed. Light tears coming to her eyes.
“I am sorry.” She said, meaning those words more then any she had meant in her life. Repeating them unknowingly, waiting for the fade.
The village was bright as the sun speckled the thatched roofs withs it’s afternoon rays. A light rain had just fallen, and the sunshine shimmered off like beautiful diamonds. Though the market town nearby was the great hub of activity for selling wares, the village now bustled with the same energy with many people passing through and stopping to gather by the church and small the circled area in the centre of the village. Colourful ribbons were hung about, and the place had a May festival feel to it with laughter easily heard above the chatter from those who lingered. The church’s doors were wide open, and music flowed out of the huge wooden box, luring people towards it with the promise of food, entertainment and joy.
Mary and Jacob stood by the door, bundling little sprigs of heather together and handing them out to those who wanted them. Inside the church, the pews had gone, leaving the space open, where people came and went. In the far corner Agatha sat on a stool next to an old man, the sleaves on his arm rolled up. She was shaking something in a small vile, watching the amber liquid separate from the water within. He grimaced as he looked at the bench next to them, all manner of instruments and potions set forth. She caught his stare, and patted his hand reassuringly, he smiled back at her as she popped the lid from the vile and got to work.
Outside in the cemetery, fresh graves had been dug and recently occupied. Those who had not survived the events had been buried with rites and a service not before seen in the village. With their passing though, came a peace it seemed. One of the graves, not far from that of Jacob’s sister which sported fresh heather and flowers, was large and it too bore fresh flowers. Milada Margellwood, now at peace. A swirling triquetra symbol proudly, and almost defiantly, pride of place on her grave marker. Maiden, Mother, and Crone.