WELSH MAGIC: EPISODE #4
(Updated Weekly Each Friday)
Rhian pushed down on the pestle, grinding the ingredients together by candle light. The fly was the grossest part though Alaric’s vinegary egg came a close second. He’d been good about not asking questions, though perhaps he already knew what she was up to and was waiting for her to verbally share. And why didn’t she, they’re all friends. Ugh. Rhian squished the egg chunks into the sugar. She was being foolish. It was Gareth behind this if it was anyone. Still — with Gretchen and Afia out there somewhere, best not to take any risks.
Bronze figurettes clicked around a Victorian bed-side clock — an hour until midnight. Rhian scraped the paste into a mini cauldron with a pink comb that she swore to herself she’d wash later. A little heat and a quick stir later and the vanquishing potion was complete. She filled four glass vials, stuck in their stoppers and put two in each pocket of her Crymych School of Druidic Sorcery issued pyjamas, grabbed her non-issued puffy coat, slipped on her wellys and practiced pronouncing ‘ffrwydro’ under her breath as she crept down the dormitory hall.
The twisting stairwell was dim. She ran her palm along the bumpy stone. The top of her plastic wellington boots pressed against her shin with each careful step. The foyer waited through the Norman archway cast in an orange light. Rhian hesitated on the last step. Muddy boot prints led from the where she stood to the grand doors where a scrap of parchment stuck above one of the handles. Rhian swallowed and followed. She leant forward to read the paper careful not to dislodge it. The word ‘Natgloi’ was written in a messy hand under a drawing of a key. Rhian reached to try to door and found it unlocked.
The culprit may be out there, but it may mean her friends were still alive — for now. Fear and hope swelled inside her. She stormed down the slab steps and ran down the lit cobbled path. Past well-kept gardens of fruit trees and knotted stones, Rhian jogged over devil’s bridge. The rush of the river blending with her huffs for breath. On each side of the single lane road were trees older than King Arthur, probably even older than the Celts. Their canopies blotted out the stars and moonlight. Rhian braced herself against her legs and panted for breath.
A blue flame blinked into existence a few feet into the darkness. Rhian conjured her own flame in her hand, casting a warm halo around her. A stout creature little more than three-feet high held a long stick attached to a lantern. The lantern’s blue flame swung as it waited. This she remembered from Mystical History. Púcas were known to lead travellers to either fortune or trouble, depending on how they felt about the one following them. Gretchen would be proud — will be proud, when she told her.
“Could you bring me to my friends, please?” Rhian called out gently. “I’d really appreciate it. I’m told there’s a spider?”
The púca’s flame jostled as he moved out from her fire’s aura. Rhian followed through a passageway of trees. Sticks snapped under her weight. The púca kept an even distance from her, waiting when needed.
“Have you seen anyone else passing through tonight?”
It didn’t answer. She so hoped he was bringing her to where she wanted and not walking her off a cliff. After some time the púca stopped and its flame extinguished. Leaves rustled above. Rhian held her hand up brightening the trees. A massive cobweb stretched across four of them. Body shaped cocoons hung along its centre. Rhian gasped and stepped backward tripping over a root and falling on her bottom. Her fire puffed out. More rustling in the canopies and a clicking sound.
Her heart pounded. She tried to heat her hand but the chill of fear prevented any flame from forming. Her eyes began to adjust, but the darkness was too thick to make anything out. Get mad, she commanded herself, arms shaking. She pictured her parents sat in a camper having sacrificed everything — for what? For her to get eaten by an overgrown house pest? That slime Gareth led Afia and Gretchen out here to die just because they were born in an area different than him — and for what? Some stupid scholarship? To fit some nationalistic vision — a region looking and sounding like he pictured it did a thousand years ago? Bugger him and bugger his vision!
Rhian pushed herself up. A tower of flames rose from her palm. Fire reflected in eight round eyes. She gritted her teeth and pushed the fear down. A hairy spider crawled down the top of the web. Its fangs as long as her forearm.
“Gretchen? Afia?” Rhian called out.
The spider clicked as it scurried over to the people-shaped snacks it had wrapped up. Rhian skin crawled begging her to blast the disgusting creature, but she held herself back. The cocoon fell from the web. The body landed on its back, it had been wrapped like a mummy, with each limb separate. The spider moved to another, dropping its strange fruit until three silk-spun forms lay at the root of the tree. It stared at her waiting with its shiny black eyes.
Rhian reached into her pocket and pulled out vial. She crept forward.
“Ffrwydro!” She flung it at the eight-legged beast.The spider reeled and lifted its front legs. But it didn’t explode.
The spider emitted a shriek. The first of the cocoons pushed itself up.
Rhian backed away. “Hello? Are you okay?”
It staggered toward her, arms out, each finger delicately bound. The second rose, then the third. Her firelight shone on silken strings connecting each body back to the creature. The spider clicked and dropped itself down to the earth. Eight feet high and double that long, it skittered forward using it’s puppets as a shield.
Rhian’s fire began to sputter. The spider’s doll reached for her neck. Her ability failed. She shoved the sticky cocoon back and ran. Stumbling through the dark, she groped trees as she passed. Clicking followed behind. She wasn’t sure which way to go.
“Púca! Púca, please…” She gasped for breath. “Help me out of here!”
Rhian did the breaststroke through the dark, eyes straining for a source of light. Her foot caught under a root. She fell flat to the forest floor, sticks and stones dug into her ribs. Her doom loomed near skittering through foliage with cricket-like chirps. She tugged her leg to try and free it. Sticky silk splatted across her bare neck. She pulled her foot from her boot, flipped herself over and scrambled back. She pulled out another vial and hummed it into the dark.
“Fryrow! Fforado! Ffugetit.”
Dolls lumbered between the tree trunks. Rhian pushed herself up and hobbled as quick as she could manage in only one boot. She felt each twig and stone through her sock. Blue flashed in the distance. Rhian thanked whatever gods might be listening and ploughed toward it with uneven strides.
The ground ceased to be beneath her. She fell through the icy water with a plunk. The river’s current pulled Rhian down toward the bridge. Finding her footing she waded across and dug her fingers into the earthy bank. The river pulled away her remaining welly as she pulled herself out of the water and onto the school’s neatly manicured grass. She shivered in her wet pyjamas and hugged her puffy coat. The chittering of the spider returned. Cocooned dolls ambled over the bridge, leading the spider via silken reigns. The massive arachnid crawled along the railings, a set of hairy bamboo-like legs on each side.
Rhian ran across the lawn and up the stone steps with a thundering heart. Cold hands gripped the handle. With relief she found the door still unlocked. Her wet feet splatted across the stone tiles, through the archway and up the stairs to the teachers’ dorms. She banged on the door to their hall.
Chirping wafted up from downstairs.
The sound of a latch being unbolted echoed through the stairwell. The door pulled back and a groggy Mrs Mackerel rubbed her eyes.
“Rhian? What is it?”
Rhian wanted nothing more than to pull the door open further and barrel past her composition teacher to hide. “The spider. It’s followed me in.”
Mrs Mackerel’s brows scrunched down in confusion. “Spider? What are you talking about?”
“It took Gretchen and Afia. I heard it was in the woods so I tried to find it to vanquish it.” Rhian reached into her pocket for her remaining vial. She stuck it out to her teacher. “I tried, but it didn’t work, I think I’m saying it wrong, and it’s down there right now… and it has the others with them — it has my friends.”
Mrs Mackerel took the potion and glanced over her shoulder into the dormitory. “You sure you mixed this right?”
“Alright.” Mrs Mackerel slid past her down the stairway. “Golau.” The lights brightened.
Rhian followed behind her.
“By the goddess,” Mrs Mackerel muttered. She flung the vial toward the creature, “Ffrwydro!” Her voice bounced off the walls.
Silken threads wrapped around Rhian’s legs pulling them out from under her. The spider spat more web and dragged Rhian across the stone. It’s dolls swarmed Mrs Mackerel.
“Don’t hurt them,” Rhian cried as she was pulled. “I think they’re the missing stud — ”
The spider clicked. Rhian turned to see its fangs above her and eight black eyes. What a fool she’d been going out on her own, what an idiot she was — Rhian’s palm grew hot, she blasted it with torrent of fire. The spider shrieked and reared up. It didn’t even singe.
“Identify it.” Mrs Mackerel knocked the puppets back with a blast of air. “Nodi, touch it and say Nodi.”
Easier said than done. Rhian rolled just as the spider stabbed it’s leg down at her. She heated her hand and melted the web that bound her. Scrambling up she dashed to the spider’s side and lunged up at its hairy torso. Bristly under her palms, she called out “Nodi” — her eyes rolled back in her head, her vision blanked to white.
Soil and spit.She landed on her back. Sight returned. No wonder her vanquish attempts failed. It wasn’t a real spider, but a golem, crafted like Gretchen’s squirrel. The spider-golem skittered toward Rhian for another attack. A blast of air blew over her. She pulled of her sock, spat on it and flung it onto its beady eyes.
The creation exploded into a shower of mud. Rhian shielded her face.
“Rhian, come here!” Mrs Mackerel leaned by one of the silk-spun bodies lay motionless on the stone.
Rhian stumbled over and knelt down beside her teacher just as Mrs Mackerel tore open the silk.
“Gretchen…” Rhian brought a hand to her mouth. Feet stamped down the staircase.
The teacher reached a finger to Gretchen’s neck and waited. “She’s alive.”
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Diolch! (That’s Welsh for thanks.😉)