“Is she really a witch?” asked Reggie.
“Yes, warts and all. She put a spell on me and turned me into a cat when I refused to marry malodorous Lodi. It ties me to this place until the spell is broken.” Aily turned her and licked her coppery fur vigorously, flicking her tail from side to side.
“She’ll probably do the same to me if I refuse,” said Sig.
“Oh, being a cat isn’t that terrible,” said Reggie. “Being made into the next batch of stew, however, isn’t a very tantalizing thought.”
“If you refuse, you’ll go right in the pot next to your friend,” said Aily. “The only thing saving me from the stew is my father, Prince Harald. When he finds out what she’s done, she and her ugly grandsons will be drawn and quartered.”
“You’re a princess?”
“In the flesh, so to speak. Unfortunately, the spell can’t be broken until the old hag dies. I linger here waiting for death to pass this way, but she won’t go until Lodi is married.”
“Why don’t you go home to your father? Certainly he knows of someone who can break the spell,” said Reggie.
Aily shook her head slowly. “No, this witch is the last of her line, and good thing. Spell casters have brought nothing but troubles into this world. She’s looking for someone to bear Lodi a daughter as the line will only continue through the females in the family.”
Scuffling noises outside made Reggie spring onto the bed to look out the window. “They’ve finished their pipe,” he said. “Looks like they’re going to use the outhouse.”
“They’re getting ready to come in for the evening. It’s too dark and dangerous in the forest for you to leave tonight, so first thing in the morning, you go” said Aily. “Boy, see that shard of mirror on this mantle?”
Reggie shimmied off the bed and walked to the mantle. A bit of broken mirror was propped up among the numerous glass jars. He picked it up and returned to the bed.
“Let me see that,” said Sig, reaching for it. “I bet my hair is gross.” She looked into the mirror. Her pale face framed by messy hair stared back at her. As she looked, the mirror clouded over with a white smoke, then cleared. An image of a man sitting with his back to her appeared.
Sig brought her face closer to the mirror. The man lifted a mug of dark golden liquid to his mouth. He was seated at a bar-like counter. Rows of bottles sat on a shelf behind the bar and a sign with the word “Grimeke” was tacked up on the wall over the bottles.
The man in the mirror turned and she gasped as she recognized his profile. She dropped the mirror on the bed.
“What’s wrong?” asked Reggie.
“I…I was just looking at my reflection in the mirror and suddenly I saw a guy sitting at a bar in a place called Grimeke. He was my dad. My dad must be here.”
“Oh, that’s not good,” said Aily grimly. “You have the sight. Everyone with the sight has been hunted down and…”
“Take my word. It is not a good thing and you’d best keep that to yourself.” Aily’s ears perked up and she stood. “They’re coming now. Put the mirror back on the mantle, but be sure to grab it and the blue cloth in the jar next to it before you leave in the morning.”
“The mirror is the last piece of the telling mirror. It’s a priceless artifact. Now that we know Sig is a seer it is rightly hers to use or dispose of how she sees fit. I’d suggest ridding yourself of it as soon as possible. Sell it for food if you must or bury it.”
“What about the rag? What good is that?” asked Reggie.
Aily ignored him and scurried across the mantle and leapt onto the bed in an alcove opposite to the one Sig sat on.
“As soon as dawn breaks and when their attention is elsewhere, leave the hut by the window over your bed,” said Aily. “Do not go through the door. It won’t let you out. Flee towards the boulder by the crooked pine and run down the path. It will lead you down the valley. Run as if the devil himself has set his dogs on you, and don’t look back until you reach the crest of the hill overlooking the valley.”
The door opened and Aily jumped onto the window ledge over the bed. “When they are in the valley and you are on the hill, throw the blue cloth and they’ll meet their just ends. Just remember to pick the cloth up afterwards.” The cat disappeared through the window as the family came into the hut.
The inky sky outlined by the small window above Sig’s mattress gradually lightened to foggy gray. Sig turned to her side and looked down at Reggie, rolled up in a thin, moth-eaten blanket next to her bed. The two men slept near the fireplace, grunting and snoring on their straw mats. Titka Freya lay on the other bed with her hands crossed over her chest, her mouth gaped open.
Reggie glanced up at Sig and nodded. She returned his nod and he noiselessly climbed into the bed. He slid to the head of the bed, kneeled and cautiously took the mirror and blue cloth from their places on the mantel. He wrapped the mirror, along with the remnants of last night’s bread and a hunk of cheese in his dingy blanket. The blue cloth went into his rear pocket.
Koloda gave a loud snort and his grandmother stirred. Reggie slid off the bed and curled up on the floor. Sig ducked under her covers. She heard the witch’s feet hit the floor and peeked out from the blanket. Titka Freya had slept with her boots on, which she used to kick Koloda in the rear.
“What? No breakfast?” he grumbled. “Isn’t it enough that we had to sleep on this cold, hard floor?”
“Enough. Wake your brother and go cut wood.”
Koloda stood, scratched his rear and stretched before kicking Pavel in the side. The smaller man cursed and pushed off from the floor. The men shuffled to the door, tossed their heavy axes over their shoulders and left the hut. Titka Freya tossed her shawl over her head and shoulders and followed the two out the door.
“Sig, we need to go now while they are out in the wood lot. The witch will be in the outhouse.”
“Quick, both of you, get dressed.” They looked up to find Aily sitting in the window sill above Sig’s bed. “Do you have the mirror and cloth?” Reggie nodded as he handed Sig her shoes, socks and hoodie.
“Right here,” said Reggie, patting the blanket.
“Hurry now,” said Aily, “there isn’t much time.”
They hastily dressed. Aily jumped out the window and the children pulled themselves through the opening, tumbling to the ground.
“Did the house move?” asked Sig, untangling herself from Reggie’s legs.
“Yes,” said Aily, “it knows you’ve escaped.”
“What?” they said in unison. Reggie pulled Sig to her feet and they looked at the house. The hut had risen up, on two large chicken-like legs and spun around. The front windows and door snapped open and a howl came from within.
“Run!” The trio fled toward the trees. They heard Titka Freya screaming for her grandsons. A moment later the men were cursing and crashing through the forest in pursuit. Aily led the way, becoming a red blur, weaving in and out of trees, bounding over fallen logs. Reggie and Sig raced after her, spurred on by the sound of the men—and the hut—blundering through the forest.
“She’s enchanted them to run fast, you must hurry,” panted Aily. Sig’s side burned with pain, but she pushed herself to run faster.
“She’s on top of the house,” hollered Reggie. Sig glanced back. Through breaks in the trees, she could see Titka Freya astride the hut’s roof.
“Don’t stop to look,” ordered Aily. “We’re close to the valley.” The trees thinned and they ran into an open meadow of short grasses. They raced across and began a lung-burning uphill sprint. Aily reached the summit, followed by Sig who collapsed. Reggie brought up the rear and doubled over, hands on his knees, gasping for air. Koloda and Pavel had crossed the meadow and were beginning to ascend the hill. The witch and the hut lumbered behind the men.
Reggie whipped the blue cloth out of his back pocket, wadded it into a ball and lobbed it downhill. As it hit the earth, it expanded then surged into a wave of water which crashed into Koloda and Pavel, sending them tumbling downhill in a roiling swell. The water hit the hut which burst into splinters sending its rider to a watery grave. Koloda and Pavel bobbed up once, then twice and finally disappeared into the dark water.
“Are they…dead?” asked Sig.
“Yes!” shouted Aily. “The spell is broken. I can feel myself changing, the spell is lifting. I owe you, but I must go now.” Aily appeared to have grown to the size of a lamb and her face had elongated.
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