by Faith McCann
Shermona walked up to Catsandra and Avi and smiled. They both held their breaths as they knew she could see them, but were unsure as to whether they should reveal themselves by removing their cloaks, or to stay as they were.
Shermona turned to stand next to them, her back to the wall facing the room. To anyone watching it looked as if she were simply watching the room, stretching her legs and enjoying the dining hour.
'You are right to keep your cloaks on for safety's sake. Even though this place is. . . 'in between' as is said, it doesn't mean that the spirits of this place won't be overly protective of what they believe still exists. and defend against any perceived enemy. It's very nice to see you again Catsandra and Avi. As well as you Sir Pip.' It was apparent she was adept at mind speak also in this ethereal place.
'I know all here are ghosts, Shermona, but this place? It's from so long ago. Were you here at the time it was a great castle?'
'Yes, I grew up here. I became the sorceress or enchantress. Legends have been woven as if tapestries about my deeds, misdeeds, successes and failures. Some have even stirred my stories into a legend about a merlin, a magical person who lived in the woods and could talk to animals and was mysterious, mystical and unknowable, yet they made me into a man. Most in my day here, called me a witch, but it was not a harmful word. Not within these walls. It's typical, stories throughout time. When involving a woman they inevitably get boiled into a stew of poison and she becomes an evil villain. The same story involving a man and he becomes a mysterious magical hero who saves the child who becomes the legendary king of fables. Merlin was never a man.
Catsandra looked at the monarch and his queen. They were a handsome couple. He was tall and handsome. She was confident and beautiful. They both looked happily at one another and back at their people as they overlooked their great hall.
Catsandra noticed how the castle's great hall was distinctly different from historical legend. The rushes on the floor were clean, serving girls were going around cleaning the empty wooden trenchers off the tables and filling the pewter mugs with ale or mead.
'Is that Arthur?' She asked, feeling curious if the tall, handsome king was the legendary hero.
"No, that is the King Eoin of this land and his Queen Aife. Sadly, Artognou' is a myth, much like the Merlin. A compilation of stories created by the jesters as they travel from court to court in an attempt to persuade monarchs to treat their people with humanity and decency. Some followed the myth and tried to be like Artur' as he became known and others remained mean and cruel. Persuaded by power, greed and self fulfillment. But the attempt was appreciated by many, such as those here in Tin-ta-gel."
She continued "If there were an Artognou, he would have been an ancient Celtic Warrior, who stories easily proceeded this place 600 years prior to the first cornerstones being set here."
Catsandra looked around at the magnificence of such an ancient but well built stronghold. "It is said that this place had originally been built as an homage to the legend of Arthur, or Artognou. Because of the Arthurian legends.?"
Shemona smiled in delight, but shook her head. "Can you imagine? The man hours, the engineering, the sheer strength of will to orchestrate a construction of this size during the Middle Ages? All because of stories told by traveling troubadours? All for an homage? No, this stronghold was built for purpose and it was. . . purposeful. We had brave kings and inspiring queens, who did exist. Who lived here and made a difference to the people of this land."
'Come follow me, no one will be surprised if I disappear to take a rest.' Shermona moved towards the staircase alongside the great hall and proceeded slowly up. Looking over the great hall, she smiled and waved at one here, another there. Never acknowledging that she was accompanied by Avi, Catsandra and Pip.
They made their way to the top of the landing and walked along the corridor, paused for a few moments to overlook the great hall below. They could see all of the people and the huge fireplaces set in the walls alongside the two walls of the castle. They were big enough for three tall men to stand abreast hands outstretched inside each fireplace and not touch the top nor touch the sides. Large enough for six spits and several haunches of beef, dozens of fowl, a dozen swine to be cooked inside of each and to feed an army which is what the king required to keep his castle and lands safe.
"What did you say was the name of this place?" Catsandra asked
"This is the Castle Tin-Ta-Gel in the land of Cornwall. We are in the mists of the ancient past. None of this exists in your time, but a few stone ruins. But it still exists when it is needed."
'Shermona, we came to find those who cruelly murdered you!' Avi whispered. He wanted to be done with this . . . whatever this was.
'Oh, dear boy, that is so kind of you. As you can see, I am very well indeed.'
But, you were killed!' 'The ones who did such a horrible act can not be allowed to get away with it!'
'Have you seen any of them since?'
'We do not know who did it?'
'Has anyone else been harmed?"
'No, not that we know. We have been away a few days.'
'No one else has been harmed, I assure you. Here let me show you.'
Shermona stood between them, she grasped their hands and lifted them up, one in each of hers and lifted them high above their heads and then brought them down in a swoosh and let their hands go. Suddenly the scene below them changed!
They were suspended in the air, but the air beneath their feet was solid as stone. They could see the ruins of the old castle, which looked again as it did when they had first come upon it. They could here Shermona's voice quietly in their minds
"Just watch, do nothing, say nothing."
They saw the grass that had grown up over the centuries. It had overtaken the stone flooring of the castle, the small bushes and trees taking hold in the cracks of the stones and taking back what nature always claims as hers.
Then they saw two men, running across the field after breaking from the dark forest. Looking behind them as if chased by the very devil himself. They ran and holding their sides, huffing and gasping for air, until they got to the apparent safety of the stones. They reached the stones and ran behind them, peering out at the dark edge of the forest and then laughing and congratulating each other at their good luck sank down to the ground and opened their coats and took out their ill gotten gains. A couple of loaves of bread, a slab of dried meat, and one pulled out a chain with a charm on it that made Catsandra silently gasp and she felt tears form in the corners of her eyes. It was Mother Shermona's and it was covered with blood and hair.
"What d'ye think we can get for this trinket? Shu'd be worth a pretty penny, aye?"
"Think we should bring it to the Rag and Bottle Shop? That witch might give us something for it."
"Are you crazy mate? That one, she sees this and she'll kill us right off. This un was a good friend of hers, I hear. They stick together, they do."
They threw it on the ground and started to rip apart the loaves of bread, and tear at the slab of meat. Both of them failed to see that the charm had started to glow, where it lay in the grass upon the buried stones.
Neither could have known it had been crafted on that very piece of land hundreds of years ago, and placed about the neck of a very young girl destined to become a very wise, very magical being.
Catsandra had only seen it once, as Shermona kept it tucked inside her blouse, close to her skin. She knew it was special and sacred to her. The charm started to glow. It looked to be made of silver, but soon glowed a golden hue which had tinges of green, blue, purple, and flashes of red. It started to shimmer and vibrate and slowly, so slowly the two hungry murderers failed to notice the charm with it's chain rising off the ground, floating higher and higher until it hung in midair, just glowing as if waiting.
'Aye! Eddie, look at this! What!" The larger of the two brutes, Gerard, looked and saw the charm hanging in the air. He jumped up, dropping his uneaten bread and meat and grabbed for the charm, but it floated lower and to the side, just out of his greasy grasp. His companion, Eddie, laughed, and then he stood and with a chunk of bread in his hand he swiped at the charm in midair but it floated higher.
Soon what seemed like a game turned very dark, sinister and otherworldly. The two thugs stumbled about, grasping at the glittering shining charm danced in the air above their reach, tripping on old stones. Stones that had been on that earth for a thousand years before them. The sacred place where they hid had been reactivated with the charm being placed in contact with it after so many years, energized the earth and the memories which it contained.
The transparent group of four floating above the tableau which played out below them, watched as they saw pale ghostly fingers spear through the grass and soil, raising higher, exposing pale white arms. First a few, then more, then dozens of arms appearing as if they were crawling out of the very ground! The two bumbling louts dancing around with their eyes aloft intent upon the charm suspended magically above their heads, they never saw the arms. Until they felt the hands clasping around their pant legs. The hands grasped, tore at their pant fabric, ripped their rude shoes off their feet, and the two murderers suddenly forgot all about the charm as they looked down at what was tugging at their legs and started screaming unearthly screeches.
Each man had so many ghostly hands pulling on them, clawing at their lower bodies that even with kicking, pushing and screaming it was as if they were encased in a quicksand of ectoplasm. The floating foursome watched in awe. In awe of the mysteries of the worlds we will never fully know as the two thugs were slowly, agonizingly and excruciatingly pulled alive into the birth ground of Shermona. Their shrieks continued until they were gone, along with their bodies until there was nothing left but the ruins, the grasses blowing in the icy winds, and the shrieking of gulls and other sea birds.
Shermona moved her hands turning her wrists so her palms faced downwards. and the group slowly started to descend until they touched their feet upon the ground. Everyone was silent. Each in their own place of processing and accepting that their quest was over. Mother Shermona's attackers had been punished, by the truest of judges, the earth on which she had been raised, trained upon and become the magickal master she was. Also by her ancestors, of whom a portion of, now inhabited that earth.
Avi was the first to move, stepping forward and picking up the charm which had fallen onto the ground. It lay upon a stone. He walked over and looked at the stone and saw it was carved. MCCXXX.
Avi looked up at Shermona with a curious expression.
She looked at him with a slight smile and her eyes were looking into the past. She raised a hand and with an open palm she reached out and held her hand out. Avi placed it gently in her palm and for a brief moment he felt the heat from her hand.
"1230, the year this palace's construction was undertaken. Remember it looked. . . like this!" and her hands went back up and as if a curtain raised on a stage the veil again rose to reveal the castle fully constructed, filled with people, sounds, smells, . . . life!
They all found themselves again against the side wall of the great hall.
They watched the jester doing tricks with a little dog dressed up in a little frilly costume. He blew flames from his mouth high into the air while his little dog barked happily and did flips in the air to laughter and applause.
There went up a loud roar towards the opposite side of the hall as a group of knights, swilling mead and ale, were engaged in a rousing contest of arm wrestling. With each win a loud cheer for those backing the winner and a clatter of coins as they hit the plank table top.
'When did you leave, Mother Mona? To come to Castlewick?' Catsandra asked.
She turned her head and saw Shermona looking not at her, but across the room. She saw a look on her face that was transforming. She looked to see who she was looking at and saw a handsome knight. An important man, by his very dress. Wearing a bright red doublet embroidered with golden thread. Tight fitted dark brown breeches with high leather boots. A sword and scabbard hung from a sword belt on one hip and a small quiver of arrows on the other hip. It was apparent he had just entered from the outdoors.
"I left . . . when he had died in battle. . . The awful Battle of Grunwald in 1410 where so many perished fighting overseas. He was a paid soldier as many were in those days, going where the battles and the money was plentiful, as long as you won. He didn't. I waited, many years until my scrying pool told me that he had perished. I left to do good on this earth. Now, I can be again with my lover."
Shermona, ran her hand down her hair, and adjusted her skirts as she saw him coming towards her. His eyes looked straight into hers, even across the room, he had no interest in any other.
She looked at her invisible friends. "Thank you, and you may indeed, see me again. But for now, I have a lot of catching up to do. Safe travels back, my friends. Do not grieve for me, I am finally happy, once again."
Her handsome knight came to her, and lifted her hand to touch his lips to her skin. She smiled up at him and together they walked away from Catsandra, Avi and Sir Pip. Avi and Catsandra heard a sniffle and looked to see Sir Pip, still under their cloaks wiping tears from his little mouse eyes.
"What's the matter Pip?" Avi asked
"Aww, I'm a romantic. I loves a happy ending. sniff!"
"Alright, let's be off then. Back to Castlewick to see what has happened in our absence! Shall we go?" Cat asked.
They all turned and left the castle and the spell it had upon it. As they neared the edge of the Dark Forest, they turned, removed their cloaks and looked back. They saw the stone ruins and smiled.
They walked strong and sure into the forest, time to go home.
Next . . . Catsandra's Origin Story . . . "Vestal Virgins"
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From the Author: I hope you are enjoying the story of the Rag and Bottle Shop. If so, please follow my page! I am enjoying sharing the adventures of Catsandra and her familiars and the community of Castlewick with you. Please feel free to share this blog link to other fans of magical fantasy fiction.
I write my stories using the inspiration of the incomparable Charles Dickens who wrote and published his work during the 1800's in Great Britain in installments. Mr. Dickens was a strong social critic of industrialization and capitalism, as well as bringing to the public attention the need for social reform. Thank You for reading my work, Faith M. McCann