Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Chapter XV Castle Tin-Ta-Gel


Chapter XV 

Castle Tin-Ta-Gel 

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. 

                                       Tintagel  Cornwall 

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"    

*** *** *** 

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 

Monday, February 6, 2023

Chapter XIV - The Ghost Castle


Chapter XIV 

The Ghost Castle 

by Faith McCann 

Avi and Catsandra with Sir Pip traveled along the path, going deeper and deeper into the Dark Forest. A magical, bewitched, enchanted ancient forest so old no one could remember it's origin story. 

They followed their glowing path, with at times the forest growing so dim that all they could see were faint glowing flashes of green, yellow and now blue along the path, beckoning them. 

The sounds of cheers, and loud raucous voices continued to filter through the woods. At times so loud it seemed they would come across a vast army of men right around the next tree and then so faint it seemed like a memory. They continued to share curious and determined glances. 

Then the light around them lightened. The canopy of leaves seemed less dense and shafts of sunlight pierced through ahead of them as they continued following the path. 

Suddenly, the path widened, smoothed out and draped onto the edge of a fine green field covered over with little kisses of forget me knots. What caused the small band of travelers to stop and gaze about them in surprise was the sharp silence that surrounded them. Everyone seemed to realize they were all holding their breaths as each let their breaths out in a gasp and walked out onto the edge of sunlight and looked around. What they beheld made each one 
|silent for another reason! 

They were utterly alone. No others. A vast expanse of grassland with a crumbling ancient ruin of a castle at the slight crest of the field top. They could see a slight indentation of an ancient footpath where countless feet had tread carving their memories into the earth. Grass covered and spiraling around and around before reaching the castle ruins it seemed to beckon them out of the forest. 

They could see there were no people anywhere on the huge grassy field. The ruins, gray, moss and lichen covered, rough were simply a few partial sections of walls and an archway. They could see from even their distant vantage point nowhere where such  large body of men, needed to make such a noise could be hiding. 

'Maybe they are on the far side of this field? Where we can't see?' Avi mind suggested. 

Catsandra had been very, very silent for a long while now. She looked around carefully. She slowly shook her head in the negative. 

'Come, but let us continue mind speak. There's something not right. I'm not sure, yet. Let us go up and explore the ruins.' 

They reached the ruins and the sun was high in the sky. It was hard to tell how many days had passed while they walked through the forest. It was as if they passed through a place without time. 

'Should we keep cloaked?' Avi inquired. 

'Yes. Until we know what we are dealing with.' 

Soon they reached the crest of the field and stood beneath the archway standing at a precarious tilt over them. A wind blew, brisk and chill, then again they could hear voices on the wind as well as smell of roasting pheasants, haunches of beef, venison and rabbits floating on the air. Baking bread could also be smelled along with sounds of horses blowing, snorting and cattle lowing. 

Avi quickly spun around looking around him both his short sword and wand held out in a defensive stance. 

'Avi, it's okay. I know what we face. Hold my hand. Close your eyes. No matter what you see, do not open them until I give you the word.' Catsandra held her hand out to him. With his hand in hers, both his sword and wand held in his other, and Sir Pip grasping on tight to her hair at her soft command, she reached out her right hand and touched the stone walls of the ancient archway. 

Sharply they fell, falling, falling, falling through space and time with years, decades, centuries swirling around them! Pictures of stone walls building back up, parts of the walls falling back down, being repaired again and the walls being bombarded by various warlord feudal rulers passed by them, moving faster and faster until they felt the grass beneath their feet solidify and steady. 

Catsandra opened her eyes first and looked up. She took a deep steadying breath and mentally said "Okay, open your eyes. We are here." 

Avi and Sir Pip both opened their eyes and with a shout and jumping back a good two steps Avi, stumbled back letting go of Cats hand and ended up sprawled on his backside looking up at the enormous Norman style castle that loomed above them. 

"What in Hades!" he forgot about mind speak and gasped aloud. He looked around him and though he knew both magic and different worlds, existed,  this was far different from anything he could ever have dreamt of. 

"Sssh, we still don't know, who may be among us." Catsandra slowly removed her hand from the strong, gray, tall stone wall that now, instead of a crumbling heap of forgotten granite memories was again a strong fortress that stood high against an azure sky. 

Avi jumped to his feet and they pressed against the castle walls looking about. They saw no one. It was as if they were alone in a deserted land. 

Then again.  .  .  they could hear .  .  .  laughter! Clanking of metal blades, the whinny of a horse, the chatter of many voices and the smells again. They seemed to be coming from .  .  . within the walls. 

"Come" Catsandra thought to her companions. "Let us find a way within. We are at a disadvantage because there will be no way to enter from the ground level. Keep close to the walls and follow me. "

"Squeak!" Sir Pip protested

"Of course, you are absolutely right. Here, allow me." Catsandra stopped for a moment and held her hand out under her cloak and Pip jumped onto her palm. She then gently placed him inside of her deep pocket inside of her inner long jacket, which she wore under her cloak. This way Sir Pip was in no danger of being dislodged no matter what troubles they found themselves in. She felt him snuggle deep  inside and knew he was taking a much needed rest. Mice tended to be nervous and prone to high anxiety and benefitted from frequent naps. She patted the pocket softly and thought, "rest little man, I'll let you know as soon as I have need of your skills."

Avi and Cat carefully stayed in the narrow band of shadow that kept close to the stone walls of the castle as they made their way around the fortress, It seemed bigger and more massive than they could have imagined from the few piles of rubble left in it's wake. 

"See there! her thoughts stopped him sharply! He pressed back against the hard stone. He felt the hard, cold stone beneath the palms of his hands as he pressed them against the stone. He saw her focus.

 It was the drawbridge, being lowered to the ground. Unlike modern depictions of castles, ancient castles typically had their drawbridges and any window openings, as well as living spaces on the second floors and upwards. Sleeping quarters on higher floors. All surrounded by a tall curtain wall system, which with their backs to the castle they could see way in front of them was not only high and mighty but looked impenetrable as well as lethal. 

They could see a stone wall, it looked 20 feet tall, maybe a bit higher. On the top sharpened stakes pointing not just out and away but pointing inward and up. Anyone caught inside who was a foe would quickly find themselves trapped.  On the inside, all along the base of the wall, were shorter sticks each sharpened to a wicked point. A formidable defensive system indeed.  But this castle was different from many she had heard of or seen herself in times past. It had a dual curtain wall. One with the nasty sharpened sticks, then after one got through that barrier there was the inner wall with the drawbridge and portcullis. That led into the castle courtyard and then the castle keep.  They had transported themselves here and found themselves within the two curtain walls. 

'Where's the moat with monsters?' Avi joked mentally. 'Most likely on the outer side of the outer curtain wall.' She answered in all seriousness. He grimaced and followed her. How is it a woman like her knew so much about ancient castles and fortifications? 

They came to a corner of the massive structure and heard voices, louder this time. They halted, still and silent as shadows. They peered around the corner and could see, closer this time, that the bridge had been lowered and the portcullis was being raised. Now, they could see people! People were coming out of the castle and others were approaching in carriages drawn by large draft horses. Avi and Cat could see the figures, who were moving back and forth looked somehow different. Every now and then it seemed as if they shimmered and faded only to reappear as solid as the stone castle they leaned their bodies upon. 

'Are they really here? Is any of this really here?' Avi wondered from his mind to hers. 

'I don't know in which dimension they are, or us for that matter, but yes, they do exist. As do we. But where we are? All of us? We will have to wait and see. All I do know, is the path brought us here, and this is where we are meant to be. But right now, we need to get into this castle, by means of that entrance. This fortress is too well fortified for any other way in. Tuck your cloak about you tightly and nary a whisper. Pip we are going in . . . silent as a mouse. Let us go.' She mind spoke to them all. 

'Yes, Lady. I'm here when you need me. I'll protect you all!' Pip mind spoke to both of them. 

They fastened their cloaks about them, and moving silently along the edge of the castle came up alongside the front to where the carriages were unloading. Men were unloading great casks of ale, mead, and sacks of grains. Bolts of clothing were being unloaded and along with the large sacks, swung up, two at a time on strong shoulders and sauntered into the castle courtyard along with crates carrying chickens, ducks, all variety of items needed for a household of many people, both royalty, warriors and support staff alike.  With no one noticing the waver of the air as they slipped past the fray of activity, they were soon inside the castle courtyard. They stayed close to the walls and away from any chance of someone bumping into something solid that wasn't there! 

They watched the bustle of activity. The women directing the newly arrived food items either in sacks, crates, on the hoof or casks to the various places to be stored. Some went to the larders, some to the root cellars, some to the kitchens for immediate preparation and some to the butcher. 

Catsandra reached out and touched Avi's hand 'Come' she thought, 'Let us go inside the castle keep.' He followed. 

They moved along the curtain wall and walking slowly and steadily crossed the courtyard and entered a darkened doorway into the keep. They felt a rush of  air or energy push behind them and they flattened against the wall. They saw soldiers in uniforms go down a set of stairs. 

'That's the guardroom, down there. We need to go up. To the great hall. Upstairs.' They could here more voices, a low roar as they ascended to the next landing on a sturdy staircase. The doorways were arched and open. There were armed soldiers standing at attention at the entrances of the great hall. 

There were many tables, planks on tree stumps for benches, rushes on the floor. Many people either sitting and eating, drinking, playing the game of tossing dice called passe-dix with much noise, cheers and jeers. 

A few women were wandering about the tables singing ballads hoping for a coin or a drink of mead from a soldier. And a jester was sitting at the foot of the Monarch and his consort hoping to win favors. 

Catsandra knew they were supposed to be here. But why? She also knew none, not a one of these people were alive. They were all ancient memories of times long gone by. Why? What could viewing these past events have anything to do with the death of Mother Shermona? She was a real woman in today's world. These events in front of them now, happened hundreds of years ago. 

As she watched, trying to find some clue as to why the path had brought them here, she noticed no one noticed them. That she, Avi and Pip were as much ghosts to them as the castle ghosts were to the travelers from Castlewick. 

Suddenly she felt a tingle. A piercing intense sense that someone was watching her. She glanced at Avi but he was entranced by everything happening in front of him. No, it wasn't him, then . .  .  who? 

She slowly started to scan the room. There were so many people. She saw her. A young woman. Dressed all in a rare dark woad blue, with a hood over her hair. Her dress the style of the old priestesses. She had a braided cord around her waist. The young priestess was staring right at her. But she couldn't see us. 

'Can't I? Do nae be so sure, one who visits us from so far away.' Catsandra heard her voice, as did Avi. 

'Did you hear that' Avi mind asked

'Yes, I did. and there's something you should brace yourself for.' Catsandra looked over at Avi, their eyes met through the cloth of their cloaks.

Cat could see the young woman slowly make her way through the throngs of people in the great hall. Few took note of her, as she stopped to say hello to one, to tousle the head of a child, to bend down to give a scrap of meat to a dog resting on the rushes. 

'What is it Catsandra? What do you know?' 

'We are about to meet Shermona'  she watched his eyes .grow wide and he looked back at the room, scanned it and saw the young woman coming towards them. 


'We  are about to find out. Welcome to the magical world, my friend.' 

* * * 

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 


Sunday, February 5, 2023

Chapter XIII - The Dark Forest

Chapter XIII

The Dark Forest 

by Faith McCann 

Catsandra, Avi and Pip walked carefully down the path. When it started to narrow, the trees seemingly darker and more menacing and it seemed as if every step was a sharp report! A snap! Pop! Rustle, which only announced to the entire forest they were coming. 

"Hold up." Avi said quietly. Catsandra stopped without question and looked at him. "Let us quiet our steps, shall we?" 

"Shall I?" She looked at him, glad to finally have someone who didn't shy away from her because of her magic nor used it as a means to fawn over her for favors. It was nice to have an equal. She looked around and saw a large stone a few feet off of the path. It was raised up about eight inches off the ground with a fairly flat top. She hopped up onto the stone. It was large enough for both of them to stand on it. She held out her hand and he stepped up. He was tall so he didn't need to hop. 

She closed her eyes and made a deep connection with the earth. She felt the energies flow up and over their feet, even enclosed in shoes. She felt her feet and lower legs get very warm then tingle and finally the feeling dissipated and she felt just as she had before. 

She looked at Avi, and he raised a brow. "That's it? It felt warm, but will we be silenced?" 

She smiled and jumped off the rock. He followed and they proceeded down the darkening path with absolutely no sounds emanating from their travels. Not a twig snapped, not a leaf rustled as they passed. 

She certainly was full of tricks, he thought. He had decided, firmly, that he was going to get to know her. He .  .  .  liked her. It had been a very long time since he had really trusted anyone. He knew though that she didn't hold much back. He felt that he knew where he stood with her. No games. 

They moved quicker now down the darkening path into the depths of the Dark Forest. She was aware that they were being observed. Whereas humans watch, other worldly beings such as trees, woodland creatures, the occasional faery or mossy gnome tended to observe and left humans alone. For the most part. 

Avi moved along and occasionally looked down at his own feet, encased in leather boots and still not making a sound. Then they both stopped in their tracks as if they had hit a wall! Before them was not one, not two, but nine paths that their path branched into. They could take one of three that branched to their left, one of three that opened up directly ahead of them, or one of the three that branched to their right. The tenth path, technically, the one they were on,  only went back the direction they had come. 

"Now this is a quandary." Catsandra said as she slowly turned around in the center of the opening of the path, carefully looking at each path to determine which one might be the correct one. 

She held out her palm on her right hand. Facing out towards the paths. She again turned slowly and the opening to each path grew darker as her palm passed by it's opening, until she came to the paths in the center, in front of her fellow band of travelers. She stopped when she came again to the path in the center which veered slightly towards the left. As her outstretch palm passed by that path, it suddenly lit up all along it's trail, glowing a soft greenish, yellowish light. The path was speckled with colored crystals that picked up the ambient lighting. Even surrounded by dark, dank trees, draped with ancient vines and covered with old moss, the lit up path beckoned and made them feel welcome. 

"Obviously this is the path we are meant to take." she said to her companions. 

"But is it the right path?" Avi sensibly questioned. 

She looked up at him, and with a slight smile replied " I suppose, like many important choices we make in life, that question will be answered after the fact. Yet .  .  .  not knowing the answer right now,  can never be a reason for failing to do what we feel is right." 

"This path feels right. Ready to go?" She pulled up her cloak's collar and smiled at Sir Pip. He squeaked his ascent to continue. 

"Let's continue on." Avi stepped in front and withdrawing his short sword he held it lightly in his right hand with his wand in his left. 

As they continued a sound started to grow. It was a low roar, which as they went deeper into the Dark Forest soon became distinct voices shouting and yelling. It sounded like many voices, rough, harsh and muffled in an odd way. It was difficult to determine where they were, and if the voices were friendly or not? The voices ebbed and flowed as if they were in a cave or on the other side of a mountain. She wasn't aware of any such places deep within the Dark Forest. 

"Can you tell from which direction the voices are coming from?" Catsandra asked. They sound like they are in  cave but I know of no cave systems in this area."

"The Dark Forest is reputed to be magickal, haunted, enchanted, and bewitched! Why would it be a surprise for it to create and recreate itself as it desired?" 

She and Pip both looked at him with pleasure at his deep grasp of the magic surrounding them. He was exactly right. Even the paths behind them could be completely erased as they attempt to go back, but she was hopeful the forest would sense that their soul's energy was good and kind and be kind in return to them. 

Catsandra stopped and pulling Avi close, whispered "Can you cloak yourself against discovery? Using magic? You know how?" She didn't have time to wonder if her questioning him as if he were a novice would be insulting. She could worry about hurt feelings later. 

"Yes." A short reply was best in these circumstances. They both brought their cloaks closed tight against their necks, hoods covering their heads and hanging low over their faces.  She laid her hands on top of both of his. Together they both made a magic circle of their energies and intentions for their mission. Suddenly two things happened simultaneously. Firstly they appeared to all observers, who just happened to be a tiny red squirrel and two blue jays in the branches of a ancient oak tree, to simply fade away. But wait, as they moved away a slight ripple of the air could be seen and then nothing. Simply trees, leaves laying heavy upon the ground, and the forest as it always appeared. 

Secondly, as they lifted both their heads, though completely cloaked, they could see through their hoods perfectly well. Not simply in front of themselves, but they had a clear awareness of all around them. 

"Just know" she whispered. Whereas our feet have been silenced on the floor of the forest. and our physical forms are cloaked in invisibility, should we speak or cry out, we will be heard. No matter what happens we need to be silent. Pip knows this all too well." 

He nodded. She held out her hand. "The Tintinabulum, please. Hand it to me. I will place both yours and mine in this lovely old tree for safe keeping. This way we can communicate magically without anyone hearing us." 

He hesitated, but he had known her long enough. He knew enough about her to know she had no interest in using her magic against him. They were both in this for one reason. To bring Mother Shermona's killer to light so he or they may be dealt with properly. He had enough experience in this world to know, that anyone who would betray or deal deception at another needed to have a reason, someway to benefit. He had nothing she wanted, except maybe his help. As he wanted her help. 

He handed her his tintinabulum, remembering when it was made for him many, many years earlier, by his uncle who had been a master metalsmith. His uncle, Aziel,was a man who was a master of many of the world's magical secrets. How as a young boy he would steal away to his uncle's shop to watch him working with all sorts of metals, sparks flying high from the forge, as if a great dragon was breathing forth the smoke and fire. A dragon made of clay bricks, smudged black with the flames of the forge as it worked it's magic. 

His mind flashed to that early morning, so very long ago, when he said goodbye to his uncle as he was about to set off on a journey to find his place in this world. His uncle gifted him with this special silver disc, designed after an ancient formula and charmed with ancient blessings and spells to keep his thoughts safe from other's magical intrusion. Whereas he was a young man and was still learning to read other's thoughts, his were cloaked from prying, evil intended magical ones. A journey that was suddenly interrupted by a knock on the head, almost as soon as he had left Aziel's shop, walking down the street when the sharp pain came out of nowhere and blackness descended upon him. When he came to he was aboard a huge ship in the middle of a great ocean. All of that seemed like a thousand years ago. 

He brought his thoughts back to this moment and saw her slip his silver charm into a small black pouch along with her own. She tightened the draw cord and went to the large oak tree. She stepped gingerly upon the exposed roots and stepping up, reach high above her head and tucked the small pouch into a crook of the tree. She whispered a few words, made a symbol in the air. Her palm made a perfect circle and then made an equal armed cross in the center. 

She came back down and the trio quickly started down the path.  

                                     The Oak tree in the Dark Forest painted by F.McCann 2022 

To be Continued Chapter VIX: The Ghost Castle 

*** *** *** 

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 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Chapter XII - What Will the Witch's Cottage Reveal?

Chapter XII

What Will The Witch's Cottage Reveal? 

by Faith McCann 

Catsandra walked through the woods towards Shermona's cottage, with Sir Pip nestled against her neck. He was keeping a lookout for vagabonds and other scoundrel types. Cat could feel the crinkle of the legal papers Mr. Charles left with her. She had glanced at them briefly but thought she would rather read them more carefully when she was at the cottage. Every dozen steps she took, Pip would peek out from behind her hair and squeak and nestle again behind his hair shield. 

The sun filtered through the dense canopy of the woods to send beams of warm, golden, yellow light to illuminate the path before her with patches of sunlight mixed with dappled shade. The underbrush was thick and dark with lush growth, flowers and the occasional rustle of leaves when a small woodland creature took flight out of their path as they walked by. 

They turned the corner of the path, passed the large guardian tree and saw the cottage. Catsandra, halted her steps to pause and look at the small, but cozy cottage. Small garden beds surrounding it, flowers, vegetables, all a profusion of blossoms, trailing tendrils and bees and butterflies were buzzing drowsily due to the pollen and sunshine. The aroma of leaves, flower petals mixed with the verdant earth from the woods 

Catsandra stared fixedly at the bees. Then rather than proceeding to the cottage, she veered off to the side and went to the back of the clearing in which the cottage and gardens were located. She looked and looked and then finally saw a large Ash tree, covered with all sorts of vines and hanging mosses. It seemed as old as the mountains. She found what she had been looking for. The large gaping hole, where a gigantic bee hive was situated. She could see rivulets of honey flowing down the bark of the old tree. 

"Mistress, there are a lot of bees! I hope they do not bite us!" Pip whispered. 

"No fear little one, this is an important job we are to do. Stay close, and stay calm." 

She went up to the tree, took the wand Shermona had left, and she tapped the tip of the wand against the bark, knocking three times. As the bees started to swarm, she said aloud " Your Mistress is dead, but don't you go. Your new mistress will be good to you." 

The swarm rose high into the sky and disappeared amongst the leaves of the tree. She could hear their sad buzzing at the news that their Mistress was gone. 

She, along with Pip went back around to the front of the cottage. The door was fastened tight. She again held the wand and tapped on the door three times, and the door remained fast. She glanced at her shoulder and could see Pip's confusion on his little furry face. She tapped another three times. Still it held fast. Then another three times and with a soft 'pop' it creaked open. It was indeed the magical key to the cottage. 

'Nine times, she thought. Of course, I'll have to remember that'. 

They entered the cottage. She had expected a cold, dark, dusty place, abandoned since it's rightful owner was horrifically murdered at the Home for the Homeless. Or at the least, to find moldering foods, forgotten chores, to be done, the house in need of care. Instead, she stood inside the doorway and with a bemused look on her face took in the scene before her. 

The fire was crackling cheerily in the fireplace, the dining room table gleamed. Polished to a high luster, not one speck of dust to be seen. The floors were spotless, and even Shermona's cat snoozed on the chaise by the fireplace. Catsandra wondered, "Could Shermona have done this, perhaps arranged for help to come in? But even just now, she had had to use the 'key' to gain entrance.

She walked in and closed the door behind her. She crossed over to the fireplace and put her hands out to warm them. She heard a sudden sound, and spun to see that she and Pip were not alone. Yet it wasn't a spirit who joined them. She inhaled deeply and braced herself as she saw Avi. She then raised her brows as she saw in one hand he held a similar wand, like the one Shermona left her. She looked at the wand she still gripped in her hand and taking a step or two, walked to the large dining table, and gently laid it on the surface. Then with an inquiring look from him, to the wand to him again, she questioned him, silently. 

He softly crossed the room, his motions smooth, easy and carefully laid his wand on the table next to hers. "Yes, she left me a wand to her cottage also." 

"You were already here, inside?" it then occurred to her that the cottage must have tested him also before allowing him entry. 

"Yes, I arrived a little while before you. I saw you go and tell the bees. That was kind of you." 

"No, not kind, necessary." Catsandra, a bit disappointed not to be alone with just Pip and her thoughts, walked slowly around the room, gently touching a teapot with her fingertip, and passing her fingers along a candelabra with several unlit candles and as her fingers swept past, they all flickered to light. Little flames dancing. 

She continued "Many traditions become traditions, not due to superstition or false beliefs, but after having been tested and proven tried and true for countless generations. Some, not all, but some traditions are simply right. Like telling the bees their mistress or master has passed on. They risk dying should they not be informed. We need all the honey bees we can get. Each tiny one, is vital to our world." 

She sat down, suddenly weary and needing to rest. Pip snuggled under her hair and listened and watched carefully.  She took out a pouch from under her cloak and gently took out the urn and placed it on the table. 

"There was a mix up, she never would have wanted to be cremated, but, it is done. It is up to us to give her a proper send off.  Has the Constable found out any further news regarding Mother Shermona's attack?" Her voice was quiet and weary. 

"Well, . . . no." the very manner in which he hesitated caused Catsandra to sit up and stare directly at him. Damn, his shield against her reading his thoughts was infuriating! "You know something!!" her voice was suddenly strong and direct.  "What is it? Tell me!" 

"I don't know anything for sure. All I do know is after Shermona was attacked, the three rougher men who had newly arrived at the Home seemed to vanish into thin air. I know many of us would like to question them."

"I assure you, scoundrels such as that lot, do not have the lightness of being to vanish into thin air. But . . . vanish into the depths of the woods, into the dark forest portion. That indeed would attract them. They won't hide from justice long. Lucky for us, I know the woods well." 

"Wait! What do you mean! It is too dangerous for you to venture into the dark forest to track these men. They have proven how dangerous they are. Mother Shermona had a magic about her, yet she was still struck down. It could happen to you!" He seemed distressed at her determined look. 

"Mona, sadly, trusted far too broadly when she was inside of the Home for the Homeless. She saw only the good in each soul. I do not make that same mistake. Nor do I think I am invincible. Be assured anyone that gets within feet of me will be struck down before I ask any questions. I have a rock solid philosophy, unless I truly know a person" . .  .  she looked carefully at Avi, . . . "I don't know them." 

"Come Avi, let us be going before too much time passes. We can get deep into the dark forest before needing to make a camp." Catsandra strode over to the door and grasped the handle. She pulled and was surprised at how it held fast. As if the wall and door were made of the same piece of wood. Sealed tight! 

'Unng!" she grunted very unladylike and pulled again. "Grrrr! it won't budge!" she lost her grip on the handle and stumbled back against the table. Breathing heavily, she glanced at Avi, and with a toss of her head, "Why don't you give it a go?" 

Avi smiled, just slightly and went to the door. He raised the wand he had retrieved from the table, "Of course! The wand, I should have thought!" she said to no one in particular.  

Avi tapped the door, nine times and still it held fast. 

"Try it three taps, a slight pause, then three taps, pause and then three taps, and see if that works?" Catsandra offered. It had to be. The wand was key. 

Still nothing came from their efforts. She grabbed up her wand and tried also. After several attempts they both sat down in the soft chairs flanking the fireplace. Both wore a similar gaze of curiosity and intrigue on their faces. Each was thinking hard as to how to solve this magical puzzle. 

Catsandra stopped her possible solutions from flowing one to another, and looked over at Avi, quizzically. She started to smile, and he caught her smile. 

"What?" he raised a brow as he looked at her. 

"I'm just thinking, most men would have tried to break down the door with their shoulder or kick it once, at least once. Hmmm, but not you."


"Why?   Do you know why it wouldn't have worked or did you simply choose not to do so?" 

"Magic secures this place. No amount of force will power through the barricades. One must use the proper keys, the right magic seems required." he answered still reclined in the softly upholstered chair but looking around, his sharp eyes taking everything into account. 

"I cannot but help feeling that the answer, like to a puzzle, of getting back out of this building is here. Right in front of us. Why do you think she wants us to stay here?" 

"Shermona? Hmmm, most likely to get us to play nice with one another!" Catsandra looked around and raised her voice slightly "See, Mother Mona, we are friends, playing nicely. Now unlock the door please." 

A slight chuckle, as if blown upon the wind echoed around them and then seemed to come down the fireplace chimney and they both for just a second, froze . . . looked at one another and laughed. 

A loud smack sounded throughout the small cottage as a large, heavy, leather bound book fell off of the bookshelf at the far wall of the main room and it seemed to glow a faint yellow glow, as if lit from within with tiny candles. 

Catsandra and Avi both rose to their feet and looked at one another and then walking together went over to the book. They each approached it from opposite sides as if it were a wild animal they might have to corner and capture!  Both got down on their knees and each stretched out a hand, allowing it to hover over the cover and then . . . both laid their hands down on the cover at the same time. A loud squeak sounded from under the cloaks hood nestled around Cat's neck. 

"No book should lie upon the ground." she carefully picked it up and cradling it like a baby brought it over the the table and laid it on top. She carefully opened the top cover and saw it written "Grimoire". They both knew, as did most people at this time, that a grimoire was a book of recipes, many healing, magical, and mysterious. Known mostly only to the person who owned the grimoire. 

"Perhaps the answers we are looking for are within this book?"

"Are you serious?" Avi scoffed "That isn't a book, as much as it is a tome! And it will take us months to read through everything. I don't suppose it has an index of any sort?" 

"Here, sit, read." She held out a chair and opened the book. Avi sat down and started to flip through. He pulled a candle closer to illuminate the pages.

"What will you be doing?" he casually flipped through pages showing charts, color wheels, pressed plant leaves with detailed descriptions. Dates, times, symbols and some looked so very old. More like tiny pictures, stick figures of sorts, than letters as he knew them. 

"Ssssh . . . I am sensing. That which should be here and that which shouldn't." She closed her eyes almost fully shut but she could see every item in the room and it's auric field as it glowed around it. She stood in the center of the room and slowly circled around. Taking her time. Seeing the energy of all of Shermona's precious items she had left behind and Catsandra's own crystal ball tucked behind other vases and figurines on the mantle! 

"My Crystal Ball!!" She opened her eyes fully and saw that it was very nearly hidden, if it had not been for her being able to sense it's energy which was in sync with her own, she might not have seen it at all. But she knew Shermona had arranged this. So, did that mean she knew this was going to come to pass? 

She reached up and it seemed to fly into her hands, the base and the ball as if the two pieces were one. She placed them in the center of the table. 

"Well, this is indeed a fortunate turn of events! You can stop looking Avi. This is our door to getting out of here." She smiled at him, and he reluctantly looked up from the confusing and mysterious symbols and swirling patterns that seemed as if he was gazing at the galaxies in the heavens above, yet were no constellations he had ever seen! He had a frown of concentration on his face and as he glanced up at her face transformed by the full, happy smile of her discovery, he felt suddenly as if he had been struck by a masthead . . . hard! What was she saying, . . . ? 

"Avi!? Did you hear me?" What was wrong with this man? Sometimes he got a shuttered look over his eyes and he grew quiet. She pushed it down, deep. She had a feeling, she had encountered so many people who thought her silly, or didn't take her seriously, or even feared her, she brushed it off. She could lick her hurt feelings later. Not that she ever admitted that they hurt, but she had to focus on the moment at hand. 

"Avi, look! here! This is My crystal ball! It was last in my shop. It never leaves, yet .  .  .  here it is!" She stepped back, with another big smile and her arms outstretched as if she had done a magic trick. Sir Pip popped out from his perch and ran down her arm and jumped onto the table. He clapped as loud as his tiny paws would let him! 

Avi looked understandably confused. Why would her crystal ball be such an exciting thing, they needed to escape a locked and sealed cottage, and sometime soon! He smiled as it seemed to please her greatly and looked back down at the Grimoire with renewed concentration. 

'SLAP' her hand, with beautifully manicured fingertips slapped the table right in front of his nose! 

"What! It's beautiful! But I fail to see how finding your crystal ball will help us right this moment. I suggest we focus on the dilemma we find ourselves in." 

Catsandra stood askance with hands fisted and placed akimbo on her hips, her toe tapping in a rapid succession. He glanced up to see not only her but little Pip shaking his tiny mouse head and putting his paw over his eyes as if he simply couldn't believe it! 

Realizing he had somehow made a big mistake, Avi, slowly closed the book and placing his hands carefully on the leather bound book, the smell of the old leather wafting up mixing with the rich smells of the crackling fireplace, he seriously looked at Catsandra and said " I apologize, please explain." 

"That's fine." he grimaced slightly at the dreaded, 'fine' all men of any intelligence fear from the tongues of women if they favor calm, pleasant discourse and peace! 

"Rather than trying to explain, convince or cajole, I will simply show you, shall I?" she smiled what appeared to him to be a slightly wicked smile, as if she was going to enjoy what happened next. 

She placed the packet of papers she had received from the attorney on the table and held out her hand to Pip. He hopped on and ran up to his safe place on her shoulder. 

"What about the packet, is it important?" Avi glanced at the yellowish folder laying on the table. 

"Not at the moment. Whatever Mona wrote in there was in anticipation of, apparently us, taking over responsibility for her place and property. Where that will still stay the same when we return, there is no guarantee her attacker will remain in these parts. He is the unknown we must track down. Or else, everyone could be in danger. We can't possibly know his motive for . . . what he did. here take my hand." 

She reached out her hand and Avi grasped it in his. His palm felt warm to her. Suddenly flashes of vivid pictures flashed through her mind. As clear as if she were witnessing them in real time. Avi, much younger but still handsome and tall, looking up at a high mountain, all around him shimmered golden sands, short cedar trees and ancient olive trees. She saw two large lions in the distance, their bodies undulating as they gracefully ran across the land towards a copse of trees. 

Then she saw him bound, hands tied with thick ropes behind his back and his clothes in tatters as he was forced with other men also in poor condition up a plank onto a large ship. She knew what a ship was but had never seen one up close. She could smell the sharp sting of seawater and she could feel the palpable fear in the hearts of the men brought aboard, all against their will. 

She started to see a large figure holding a bullwhip raised high above his head and as it came down with a sharp 'CRACK' she opened her eyes, gave her head a slight shake and smiled at Avi. There will be time enough to process what she had just seen. 

"Come now, it won't hurt. We are best off on our way, to see what can be seen. Before much more time has passed." With all three in physical connection with one another, Catsandra reached out her free hand and placed it upon the large crystal ball. With a feeling like a slight tremor, aftershock from an earthquake Avi felt everything around him shimmer and get warm. He found himself looking in her eyes, and felt as if he was falling into her eyes. They were big, deep and then .  .  .  

Avi heard the sounds of the forest birds, the rustle of small creatures in the underbrush and he could feel the wind, as it brushed against him. Wait .  .  .  they were outside?! He could tell he was standing, with Catsandra still holding his hand on a path that led from the village into the woods, and they were at the entrance, if you will, of the Dark Forest. It was plain, as there were signs, declaring Danger up ahead! Do Not Enter!! You were warned!! 

He felt her let go of his hand and she brushed her hair back and took a deep sigh. "Are you okay? That wasn't so bad, was it?" She brushed her skirts and peered under the collar of her cloak and saw Pip happily holding onto his little perch. 

"I'm fine. A clever way to travel, indeed." he commented

"Well, faster and more inconspicuous than other modes of transport. Let's go, it's best we go down this path to the left, why is it always to the left? Seriously." Without a look towards him she strode off down the path. He heard a slight squeak from her passenger and with a raised brow and a slight smile he followed the feisty witch. 

* * *  * * *  * * * 

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 


Thursday, September 22, 2022

Chapter XI - Are We Ever Really Gone?

Chapter XI 

Are We Ever Really Gone? 

by Faith McCann 

The Rag and Bottle Shop is a consignment shop. A large, old, three storied house situated on a slight rise of land overlooking the main street of the village Castlewick. The Rag and Bottle shop is a shop which provides many remedies for various maladies, primarily of the troublesome human sort. One would go to the apothecary for headache pills but people came to Catsandra for issues they felt were out of their control. Some people were even brave enough, or desperate enough to come seeking remedies for more supernatural troubles, and these she was expert in providing. 

On this day, it was a bright, warm, beautiful day, yet over the old house hung a black cloud with lightening strikes and a steady rain storm which gave the Rag and Bottle shop a gloomy, dark visage. The demarcation on the sidewalk where the dry met the straight line of wet was a wonder and people walking found themselves slowing their steps until they came right up to the line, then stopping. After looking up at the Rag and Bottle shop, a few by standers looked at one another. 

An old grizzled man, the town's blacksmith commented to no-one in particular "Looks like the Lady is in a most foul mood today. Best be giving her wide berth and move on our way." He looked at the two women and one other gentleman standing on the sidewalk, gave a decisive nod of his head, hunched his shoulders and braved the rain as he needed to pass the old house and it's singular rain storm to get back to his forge in the village center. 

After a time the others moved along, some choosing to get wet, others turning and going back the way they came. Still others came along the way, throughout the day.  But forging ahead was not such a hardship as the clear weather resumed after passing the shop. 

* * *  * * *   * * * 

Inside of the shop the atmosphere was somber. Catsandra was standing behind the sales counter in the big room placing tiny candles for simple spells in small glass containers. It was strangely silent as she normally would be singing or humming while she worked. She was not happy, in fact she was filled with grief, anger and sadness at the death of her good friend and mentor Mother Shermona. She worked quietly and her familiars were near but keeping quiet and allowing her her space. Cats and mice are excellent at understanding that there are times that one needs caring friends close by but silent at times, to process, to heal. 

The door bells jangled as the door opened and a man entered the shop. Catsandra sighed softly and took a deep breath while she straightened her shoulders and put on a slight smile as she raised her eyes to greet her latest client. She was slightly surprised to see Mr. Charles, a portly, balding, short man, whom she recognized as a local attorney.  He was shaking his coat off as he had not thought to bring a hooded cloak for poor weather. His hat was dripping from it's brim. He took that off as well. He looked around the quaint, yet elegant surroundings and finally saw her across the room. 

She smiled slightly as it occurred that everyone tries to cast a bit of their own magic to make themselves appear to others they way they wish. Some women wear make up, people of all genders wear wigs.  Mr. Charles, who walked as if he had a string pulling him just about off the ground, obviously wished to be considered taller than he was. He strode up to her sales counter looking a bit disheveled and very soggy. 

"Good day, Mr. Charles. How can I help you this day?" her greeting was soft but without it's usual lilt. 

"Ms. Catsandra. May I have a word with you? It is of some importance." It was then she saw he carried a flat, brown, leather portfolio, which he then unceremoniously plopped onto her counter and fishing a kerchief out of his pants pocket frantically wiped spots of water off of the fine leather finish. 

She remained silent as he finished and when he had, he looked up at her, and gave a slight exasperated "huff". His forehead was glistening with rain or sweat, she wasn't sure, as it was his regular look, of the many times she had seen him in the village. Always scurrying, always in a rush, like a small rabbit, hurrying to and fro. 

Catsandra smiled just oh so slightly and indicated with her arm, that he should follow her. She walked over to the part of her sales room that had the small table and chairs set up for visitors. They passed gleaming, polished antique furniture. Side tables, tea tables, embroidered foot stools, shelfs of jars and bottles filled with herbs, crystals, potions and crystal balls of varying sizes and colors all set upon gleaming carved wooden bases. 

The entire shop was cool and darkened, lit with ambient lighting from small oil lamps and candles. Even though it was daylight outside the interior always had an early evening feeling to it. The walls, what were not covered with wooden and glass display cabinets filled with a myriad of tiny, curious objects, and paintings of nature scenes, were a dusky red and the wood surround was a darker mahogany.  

Catsandra preferred the cool, elegant feel to the shop. It was fitting an homage to the grand history of the old house and what it had once been. She knew at one time this building housed a wealthy old family, wealthy and popular. Many a tale still circulated about the parties, both inside holiday parties and summer garden parties that had once been held here. Back when times were more prosperous for all, and the house didn't hold a business. 

. . . "Mother Shermona wanted you to have it". 

Catsandra started at the name of her dear, departed friend and looked in suspicion at the little, greasy man. She had allowed her thoughts to wander, a habit she had developed of late which kept her from falling into the abyss of sadness and loss. But this man, was speaking of Shermona? 

"Excuse me, sir. I'm afraid I didn't hear you. Could you please repeat that?" Catsandra shifted in her small, dainty, embroidered chair and leaned a bit forward now completely focused on the solicitor. 

Mr. Charles, with an obvious look of exasperation, as he really didn't much care for these kinds of unusual places, glanced nervously around him, then cleared his thought loudly. 

"I HAVE COME HERE TO INFORM YOU . . . " his raised voice stopped mid sentence when her hand went up, palm facing him. 

"Mr. Charles, there is no need to raise your voice. I am not hard of hearing. I simply . . .  wasn't listening to you." When his mouth fell agape at her unabashed honesty she continued " I am ready now. Please continue, you . . . mentioned . . .  Mother Shermona?" She tried, very hard to keep a waver out of her voice, 

" I have come here to inform you that Mother Shermona left her business, in the event of her death . . . " he paused for a moment as she grew pale but as she braced herself, lifted her chin and remained silent as he went on " for me to handle." He removed some papers from his portfolio and looked at them then carefully laid them down on the small table in front of her. "I am here to dispatch my duties on behalf of Mother Shermona." 

Catsandra let the papers lie where they had been placed. 

"You Ms. Catsandra, are to receive her cottage and all within."  He then grew a shade paler himself as he peeked into his portfolio, and gingerly with two fingers as if he wanted to touch it as little as possible, withdrew a wooden wand. About a forearms length, as a wand was typically measured from the point of the elbow of the witch who wielded it to the end of her ring finger. It was a handsome wand, made from the wood of the elm tree. It still had a grip of natural bark and the rest had been removed revealing the reddish brown wood of the branch. He dropped it onto the table top as if it burned his fingers and as she glanced from him to the beautiful wand she thought it probably had! Wands knew the heart of the one touching them. 

           Mother Shermona's Magic Wand left to Catsandra 

"Ahem .  .  . this is the key?" he said questioning. He had been instructed as such, by his client, and he looked at Catsandra for elaboration. She picked it up and held it lovingly and she could hear a slight voice whisper in her ear, " The Woods" " Go to the woods". She knew no one else could hear. 

"Of course, it is. The key." Suddenly she could abide his presence no longer. HIs mind and heart were so closed and tight it made her feel as if she couldn't breath. She preferred to stay away from such beings as he and his nefarious practices, though sadly some, like the recording of last wishes and ownership of property required such a profession. As unsavory as it could be. She rose "Thank you Mr. Charles. Will that be all?" 

He looked decidedly disappointed that she wasn't planning on elaborating about the wand, and opened his portfolio again and took out a small pottery jar. She knew, just knew absolutely it contained Mother Shermona's remains. This was the first she knew that she had been cremated. It may be convenient for some, but others had different ideas about how to honor the remains after a loved one has passed. She would deal with this properly. She looked at him directly and with a raise of her eyebrow, he packed up his portfolio and got up. 

He put on his coat, raised the collar and grasping his hat, looked out a window. It was still raining buckets, but was only until he reached the bottom of the slight hill and the sidewalk met the street. If he didn't slip he could get there in 20 paces, maybe less. 

"Don't slip. Thank you, for your service." Her parting words were quiet but he quickly spun his head around to look at her in surprise when she told him not to slip. 'These types', he thought. 'Humph I will be better off far from here.' 

The bells rang when the door opened and a gust of wind blew rain, leaves and a flurry of mist into the shop, then a louder jangle as he slammed the door and ran out into the storm. If he could carefully, but quickly make the road, he wouldn't have to change into dry clothes before going back to the office . . . 

His thoughts were cut short as a gust of water blew straight into his face and his legs went up from under him and he landed in a puddle with far more mud in it than was reasonable!!! SPLASH! 

Ummph! His portfolio went gracefully arcing into the air and seemed to hang suspended for a split second before it came tumbling down to earth and proceeded to smack him in the face as he looked up at it and then it landed with a corner speared deep into the muddy, wet ground before slowly laying over and as he reached, it was just past his fingertips, he could . .  almost . . . reach . . . it . . . "ugggh!" it finally came to rest in the puddle and then sank! He saw the bubbles rise to the top and shook his head like a dog and realized that his portfolio was ruined. He lay there for a moment on his back, feeling the cold mud and water seeping into his clothes. Shaking his head ruefully he tried to retrieve his leather portfolio. 

He fished it out of the puddle, rolled over, and crawled up onto his knees and when he regained his footing he was a muddy mess. He looked up at the Rag and Bottle Shop and took no pleasure when he saw that SHE had seen every muddy move he had made. He scurried along, pushing his hat back onto his head and vowed to not look back! Only bad things come from looking back!!

*** *** *** 

Catsandra was looking out of the window but she didn't notice the funny little attorney, nor was he even in her thoughts any longer. No, she held onto the wand and let happy thoughts of her friend float through her mind. 

"I had hoped you wouldn't forget me!" Catsandra heard a soft, familiar voice behind her. She took a moment, breathed in deeply, felt such gratitude fill her and with the biggest smile on her face turned to see Mother Shermona or rather her ghost floating in the air near the table Catsandra entertained clients and guests. 

" Oh, Mona. dear Mother Mona, I could never, would never forget you. I'm happy to see you."

Catsandra went to the table and sat down on one of the embroidered upholstered chairs. She lit a thick, white candle, and asked " Is this comfortable for you?" 

"Yes, my dear. I am glad you will get the cottage and all of my magical books, and items" 

"Thank you, I will care for them carefully. I'm sorry you were cremated. I will tend to your remains properly, in the woods." 

"Thank you dear one. It's interesting, on this side, it seems to matter very little. I care more that you are comforted by what happens to me now. I am very fine and will remain so. Do not be sad, my friend. I feel I may be able to stick around for a bit, maybe longer." 

"Shermona, what happened? I spoke to Avi earlier and he still doesn't knw who did this to you. Do you? I mean, you were there." She bit her lip slightly at the image and grimaced in sorrow. 

"Well, I don't know right now, but I feel if you go to my cottage, we all may find answers to what happened and what may still happen." then she seemed to shimmer on the air and disappeared. 

Catsandra didn't feel sad, she knew she would see her friend again, even if in spirit form. And suddenly she knew, she had to go to Mona's cottage right away. 

"Come Pip,  we have an errand to run. Balthazar, Abramelin, please watch the shop. Thank you" 

As she and Sir Pip left the shop the sun had come out and was shining bright and the rain had dried up. Except for a large mud puddle alongside her walk, which looked as if it had been rutted around in by a drove of pigs, everything looked beautiful. The days were getting much longer and the air warmer. Yes, indeed, it will be a perfect day to take a walk in the woods. 

After Catsandra and Sir Pip departed, the two fuzzy cats, Balthazar started licking his paws and Abramelin promptly laid out on his side on the sales counter and took his third nap of the day. 

* * * * * * * * * 

To be Continued. . . 

What Secrets will the Witches Cottage Reveal?

*** *** *** 

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 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Chapter X - Crafting A Confounding Charm

Chapter X 

Crafting A Confounding Spell 

by Faith McCann 

Catsandra and Sir Pip practically flew through the front door into the Rag and Bottle shop and just in time too!! 

She saw Abramelin on the counter and Balthazar on a soft upholstered chair near the sales counter and they were both conducting business with a couple of men who had a look about them that was not a kind one to cats or animals in general. Just as Catsandra came within earshot she heard one of the men say "It'll be the day I do business with a talking witch cat! Where's the money?" he was reaching out to grab hold of Abramelin's scruff . . .

"Hold!" Though Catsandra was still five or more paces behind both men and her hands were empty, she had her index finger pointed at them and they both could feel the cold, lethal point of a metal blade at the base of their necks. With their backs to her it was an effective ploy and it gave her plenty of space to avoid any foolish defensive reactions on their part. 

Catsandra added to the effect by throwing her voice and the men could not only hear her voice in their ears but they could swear they could feel her breath on their necks, as she said "As the owner and proprietress of this establishment, I do not take kindly to my staff and friends being mistreated, nor do I care for being robbed."

She continued, as she saw them stiffen. "Now kindly unhand my friend before he hurts you and please leave my place of business." 

The two men turned around slowly and looked surprised as they saw her standing several feet away. They quickly looked around but saw no one else and they each raised a hand to their necks to rub them as if to somehow verify there was no blade point still stuck into their flesh. As they felt a bit safer and their courage rose, one said "Ere now! we 'eard we could get some help if we came ere! We are down on our luck we are. Are you the Lady who helps those like us?" 

" You would have been treated kindly and would have left with more than you came with if you had walked in with honesty and good intentions. Now leave. I will .  .  .  not .  .  .  ask .  .  . again." Her voice became quieter with each word, yet somehow more forceful. In chorus her two familiars still behind the two evil doers hissed and started to caterwaul and the men quickly looked behind themselves and moved away from the cats, who suddenly seemed bigger and more vicious than before.  

When they looked back at Catsandra, she appeared to not have moved so much as a hair yet she held a shining, silver long blade in her hand crossed across her body, it's tip extending past her left shoulder and her left hand covering her right hand which had a strong grip on the hilt, easily resting against her midriff. 

"Trust, This blade is very real. Would you like to feel it again? I won't tell you to leave again. Be gone!" 

The two men didn't question her, they scurried and were careful to give her wide berth as they ran out of the shop. The door slammed behind them and the tinkle of the bells was a final sound as the two ruffians ran down the street. 

*** *** *** 

The silence covered the place and then with a flourish of her arms Catsandra flung her arms up and wide and the gleaming sword flew up and disappeared into the air! 

"Now my pets, we need to get to work! A confounding charm must be constructed! Quickly!! The days of a wizard reading my thoughts are a thing of the past!" she marched into the kitchen with her troupe following in her wake. She had already forgotten the two ruffians, as a witch could not spend any time on things which had not happened. 

"Help me, we need to melt down some silver." She quickly placed a crucible on the hot coals in the fireplace and placed some small chunks of silver in it. She asked Abramelin for the bellows and she took them from his furry paws. The air caused the fire to burn hotter and the silver to melt. She placed a wooden mold on the table and when the silver was melted, she poured it into the mold. 

While the charm was setting up in its mold, in the center of the table a curious assortment of items were placed in a specific arrangement around the silver disc. There were crystals, small bowls of powders, oils and various sticks and pieces of wood. Soon candles were put around and then a bell was rung several times. 

After the silver had hardened, she quickly popped it out of the mold and sat down and with an awl started carving very precisely a design onto the shiny, smooth disc. After the design was carved, she placed mirrors, tiny round mirrors on little stands surrounding the disc and the picked up a set of tingsha bells. She held them over the disc and while incanting a spell, rang the bells again and again. Soon the air surrounding the disc took on a cloudy look, almost like a tiny storm was brewing in the middle of the kitchen table! The clouds over the disc then changed color and the small group of magical beings watched as a tiny tableau played out in front of them. A full thunder and lightening storm with flashing, jagged lightening strikes and rumbles of thunder shook the table. The lightening strikes hit the silver disc and it jumped up from the table and after it fell back again the storm subsided and they watched as the disc glowed from blue to purple to green to gold to red to silver again. 

All faces, small and furry looked towards their Lady and had inquisitive looks. She on the other hand looked decidedly pleased! The silver disc was still smoking slightly so while it cooled she fashioned a cord of thin strong material to hang it around her neck. Once it was in it's proper place, she thanked her attendants, held out her palm for Sir Pip to hop onto and the two headed out towards the Home for the Homeless.   

*** *** *** 

It was already late afternoon when she made her way to the Home. Sir Pip again accompanied her. This time he rode along in her side pocket of her cloak. It was warm and fuzzy inside the deep pocket and he decided to take a nap as they strolled along down the sidewalk towards their destination. 

The weather was warm and slightly breezy, and she saw flowers blooming along the tall grasses that lined the edges of the forest, but she was more interested in the goings on as she came closer to the Home. In the short time since she had been here, more improvements had happened! There were a number of able bodied men on the roof, weaving bundles of thatch in thinning places and a cheerful folk song could be heard upon the wind. 

At a distance of a couple of blocks away, Catsandra stood in the shade of a flowering crabapple tree. She simply stood, very, very still. She allowed the breeze to flow over and through her, swaying slightly, virtually disappearing into the shadow of the tree. She watched the work around the Home. There were people scurrying around, picking up broken branches and tending to new plantings around the big building. 

She saw a curious gathering in the grassy field next to the Home for the Homeless. There were raised beds with growing onions, turnips, cabbages, carrots, garlic, chard and various herbs and fruit trees throughout the field. But it was the group of men, farmers by their look, talking to Avi that held her rapt attention. 'My he was handsome.' Oh! what was she thinking! Pay attention she chastised herself, glad she had not verbalized her thoughts, unsure if her companion was sleeping or simply quiet in her pocket. 

"Are we there yet?" Right on cue, a little grey head popped out of her cloak pocket and looked about. "Why have we stopped? What's going on?" 

"Shh" She shushed her companion. 

"Eeek" Sir Pip responded! 

They both watched as a group of men spoke with Avi. He was introducing another group of men, many she knew from the Rag and Bottle shop as rag and bottle men, and those who were guests of the Home for the Homeless. She felt a smile cross her lips as she saw the men engage in serious conversation but then laugh and shake hands, as if some agreement had been made between two then another two, and that farmer seemed to make an agreement with a couple of men, and interestingly each farmer gave the other men a slip of paper. They all continued to chat, laugh a bit more cordially then the farmers all shook Avi's hand and broke off one by one and by foot, or by horse and cart they departed. The men from the home stood in small groups sharing information with one another and she could hear even from her distance the loud 'Avi' shouted by one or another of the group every now and then! 

Soon, with each man taking a moment to say something to Avi they went back into the Home as it was close to dinner time. Avi remained out in the yard by himself, slowly pacing as if deep in thought. She watched him and wondered what the gathering had been about. She noticed he had not received a slip of paper. She decided to stay in the shade of the kind tree, allowing her shelter, until he went indoors. It wouldn't do for him to see her spying on him. 

She then saw him stop his slow pacing and he looked up and straight at her. Ugh! Great! Just great! Why does he have a way of making her feel like a neophyte inside. Now caught watching him. Well, there's nothing to be done about it. "Come Pip." 

"Eeek" he burrowed deep in her pocket. She straightened her back, held her cloak around her throat and with her head held high, a slight smile on her lips she walked across the grass as if it were a grand ball room. 

'How does she do that?' He wondered. She can walk across a field and look as if she were ascending the dais in a royal throne room. As she came closer, he put his hands in his pockets and smiled slightly. Ah, clever witch indeed. She has been busy. 

"Lady Catsandra, it is good to see you again. It is a beautiful day, is it not?" He looked up into the sky at the azure canvas with white fluffy clouds floating by. He smiled at her. 

"Good afternoon, Mr. Avigdor. Please, call me Catsandra." 


She gasped. She frankly was not accustomed to being told no. "Excuse me?" He really was insufferable. 

"Not unless you call me Avi" he smiled, just slightly at the edges of his mouth.

"Oh!" she giggled suddenly, then spun away and clapped a hand over her mouth in shock!  She took a moment to compose herself, it wasn't as if they were friends. She still needed to find out if he were sincere. She turned back to him, a smile on her face. 

"Okay, Avi. Yes, it's a beautiful day." She felt at a loss for words, then impulsively asked "May I ask? What was the gathering about? It looked like a serious yet happy event also!" 

"I had several of the area farmers meet with the men here at the home to see what kind of work they might do on the farms for various pay. Either room and board, or true payment. Each man makes his own contract with the farmer. It's done in many lands and an able bodied man needs a job to keep him in good spirits mentally, spiritually as well as physically. 

"I noticed each man was given a slip of paper?" 

"Yes, that was the directions to each farm and the farmer's name and amount each man negotiated with their farmer. I helped with the negotiating part."

"You? Arranged all this? What was the negotiating about?" She wondered aloud, while watching him carefully. He appeared relaxed, at ease and happy with the currents situation. 

"Ah, well, some men. . . " he wiped his brow,  "find it easy to forget that other men are human beings, deserving of the same respect, consideration and equal treatment, regardless of social status, personal wealth or poverty. I was here to assure each man received a fair contract and would be properly compensated for a hard day's work. These men may be poor but they are not slaves, nor should they be treated as such."

"The Home for the homeless does not simply assist the men in our community that have fallen upon hard times, but the women and children also. How would they benefit from your new ideas?" She asked as they started to walk slowly back to the Home. 

"Women are being compensated for tending and maintaining the gardens, helping to cook in the kitchen and along with the children, helping to clean the sleeping quarters. Those able to help stay here for free since they are helping in so many areas." 

She stopped walking to look at Avi in surprise. She reached out to touch his arm, overcome. "You would allow those to stay here without pay?" She had never encountered someone in a position of power to show such consideration for others, with no thought of repayment for themselves. 

"The work the women and children do, is equal in every way to any real job and their room and board is their payment. Just as any job. Some children are too young so some of the older children watch them and an adult woman supervises, each gaining experience and skills they may very well use in their lives again one day." 

As they proceeded into the Home, they entered the great hall and she followed him up the side staircase to his now typical post, leaning on the second floor railing overlooking the happy chaos going on below. Behind them were the doors to the fancy rooms rented by the day. For those a bit more affluent, mostly travelers as they came through Castlewick. 

As they stood on the second floor landing overlooking the great room below, Catsandra stood silently watching the people below, sweeping, setting out the plates and bowls for the dinner shift on the long tables. A happy chatter floated up from below, children laughing, a pleasant murmur amongst the people below. 

"I see you have managed to put us both on an even keel." Avi said quietly, without looking away from the ongoing activity below. 

"An even keel?" She queried

"Yes, where we are both now equal with our thoughts protected and each on an equal footing. An 'even keel' is a nautical term, one learns on the high seas." 

"I see, yes, an even keel. I agree." She did not choose to elaborate, but knew he had sensed her protection from his intrusion into her thoughts. 

He smiled and chose to forgo any further details as to how she had blocked his entry into her thoughts. And he knew she could not read his thoughts, so good! He thought 'Well, we will just have to find out about each other the old fashioned way'. He liked a challenge. 

They were comfortable in their silence, as they watched the goings on below. 

"Are you finding yourself settled in, since you've come to the village?" She steeled herself from looking at him. 

"Yes, people have been very welcoming, .  .  .  for the most part." She felt his eyes on her but she ignored his pointed tone, as she continued to look over the railing. The hardwood floors positively gleamed. The many rows of wooden framed cots, were well made up with a sheet, a pillow and a thin blanket per each one. Enough cots to accommodate more than they have ever needed. It made her happy and sad at the same time. That there was a need for a place such as this. That there were people in this world without a home to call their own. 

"You used a nautical term, earlier. Have you spent much time at sea?" 

Avi was silent for a long while, so long she finally glanced over to see if he had heard her. 

"Aye, I've spent too much time at sea. I much prefer the land." She remained silent as he spoke, hoping he would offer more of his past. 

She looked below and saw Mother Shermona moving amongst the crowds of people. She smiled and patted the heads of the children, bent down for an encouraging word to a young woman setting out the platters and trenchers for dinner. She moved over to a pregnant woman who was resting on one of the cots. She felt her forehead and soon had a hot cup of water brought. She took out a small packet of herbs and mixed them into the cup making a brew for the lady to sip. 

Mother Shermona often helped as a midwife and she knew herbology and was a pharmacutea, one trained in the old ways of the natural world, in her own right. 

At that moment a bit of a loud commotion was heard at the doorway to the home. They looked over and saw a small group of very rough looking men pushing their way into the hall. Catsandra narrowed her eyes as she recognized the tall ruffian who had tried to accost her and Pip on the trail in the woods to Mother Shermona's cottage. She also saw the two trouble makers who had run out of the Rag and Bottle shop earlier this very day. The three had picked up a couple additional ne'er-do-wells. They stumbled in, pushing, coarsely laughing and shoving each other, one taking his cap off and swatting another with it. 

Regular clients of the Home looked nervously at them as a troublesome group like this lot posed nothing but trouble and mayhem. A few heads quickly swiveled up to search out Avi and looked earnestly in his direction. Catsandra noticed more and more people stopped their discussions and chatter and the room grew quiet and fearful glances were cast at the rude men by the door. The men scanned the room and the tall one, the hard looking man that had held the long, sharpened stick in the wood before the great tree grabbed him up took a step forward and it was clear he was the self appointed leader of this motley gang. 

He reached out as a younger woman was hurrying by with a platter of baskets filled with freshly baked dinner rolls meant to be placed upon the food tables along the back wall. He grabbed her arm and stopped her and as he jerked her arm she let out a short cry and a few rolls fell to the floor. The young woman looked upset as she saw the precious food fall to the floor, and her face turned red as tears welled in her eyes. 

The tall man had no remorse as he laughed crudely and grabbed a basket of rolls and threw them to his mates. There was a loud murmur of concern amongst the regulars and Catsandra thought no more of the fact that it was not her place, or that Avi was now technically in charge, she simply would not abide a bully, not one, not five, she turned to glance at Avi, while moving towards the stairs. Not that she was looking for permission, but rather to see if he was inclined to accompany her to aid those below. 

As she looked at Avi, she saw him take his hand out of his pocket, raise it in the air and held it out over the railing from where they stood. Suddenly he opened his hand and she saw a small round object fall quickly towards the floor below. Momentarily distracted from the nasty men being mean to the young woman below. . . 

'BANG!' Catsandra could feel Sir Pip jump inside her deep cloak pocket. She herself gasped and clutched her hand to her throat. What had that loud sound come from? What could have made a sound as if a lightening bolt had let loose within the hall? Wait! Could it have been that tiny ball? But .  .  .  how?

The entire great hall below was shocked into silence! Catsandra, feeling more than a little impressed with such a show of magic, took a step back, bit back the words she had been about to utter and decided to follow the first rule of a well trained priestess, listen and observe. Yes, this was very much Avi's situation and she had a good idea he would handle it just fine without her help. 

Avi leaned, just slightly, over the edge of the upper floor railing, holding lightly onto the railing as if he hadn't a care in the world. 

"Greetings Gentlemen! Welcome to the Home for the Homeless!"  He spread his arms wide as if welcoming royalty. "You are new to these parts. My name is Mr. Avigdor. Most call me Avi. I am the .  .  .  one who cares for those in this place. These people are my responsibility." His voice, though not loud at all, seemed to carry through the entire building. Strong, confident, self assured and powerful. One would be a fool to test the mettle of a man with such a voice. One did not gain such a voice by simply going through puberty, but with much hard life experience and knowing one's abilities.

Avi moved to the staircase along the sidewall and soon was on the ground floor and he was in front of the group of rowdy men. She felt a sense of frustration as she was now out of earshot and found she desperately wanted to hear what he had to say to these troublemakers. She waited for him to throw the group out and was even more surprised when she saw the men listen to Avi, then take their hats off, and with a submissive bent to their stances, bend down to pick up the rolls that had fallen to the floor. One man gently brushed the dust off the roll and looking awkwardly around stuck the roll in his pocket. 

People started to murmur amongst themselves and a sense of calm and order seemed restored to the great room as chatter resumed and the clanking of platters and tankards being placed continued. Seeing as Avi seemed to have the trouble under control Catsandra looked about for Mother Shermona. She had really wanted to catch up with her as they had to finish their earlier conversation. 

Catsandra scanned the crowd as she finished descending the steps to the bottom floor. Wait, .  .  .  she was just here. "Ada!" She saw the girl who had been sweeping out front before. The young woman stopped and stared at Catsandra with a bit of awe and admiration. Cat smiled at her. "Have you seen where Mother Shermona has gone to? I wanted to see her for a moment." 

Ada smiled and looked earnestly and upon not finding Mother Shermona said "I'll take a look in the back if you'd like. Perhaps she went to the back area where we prepare the stew and biscuits? She is often helping with the food prep . . .  " 

A high pitched scream reverberated through the entire building! Everyone was shocked into silence. 

Catsandra immediately looked towards Avi and he was looking towards her, their eyes met. She was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling of dread. Something was very wrong. 

People were suddenly running, it seemed from all directions. Motion took over. Everyone was in movement. Everyone but Catsandra who was utterly stock still with an utter knowing that there was nothing she could do to change events as they were. Avi, she looked at his face and her heart sank as she knew he also knew that events had passed by their intervention. He had a look of great sadness in his eyes, sorrow as he looked at her. 

"MOTHER SHERMONA!! Oh No! No! Someone has done her in the worse way! Mr. Avignor, please Sir, help us!" A woman came running to Avi and she was crying, her hands wringing and she reached out and grasped his hands and pulled him desperately after her. 

He started to go with the woman and Catsandra followed. She heard a muffled squeak and felt Pip moving up her pocket and poke his head out. She went into the back and was behind Avi's tall back when he stopped. He turned and took hold of her shoulders. 

"Catsandra, don't look. I know you are friends." his voice was low, kind and very sorrowful. 

"Stop! I must see. Is it? No! Not Shermona." She pushed by him and took a step and stopped. 

There laying on the stone threshold of the backdoor leading out into the back courtyard was the body of Mother Shermona. She was laying on the floor. Her body suddenly seeming small, crumpled and blood was pooling around her head. 

Next to her body lay a large mallet, covered with blood and strands of her hair. 

It was obvious she had been murdered. A most foul deed. But why? Who could have wanted to kill such a wonderful, giving woman? 

Catsandra sank to her knees next to her dear friend. She felt tears course down her face and she felt Sir Pip slowly crawl along her dress until he was settled next to her neck and he sniffled as he wrapped some of her hair around his little body as he tucked in and tried to comfort his Lady. Such a wonderful soul, gone. What has this world come to? 

* * * * * * * * * 

To be Continued . . . 

Are We Ever Really Gone? 

*** *** *** 

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 


Chapter XV Castle Tin-Ta-Gel

  Chapter XV  Castle Tin-Ta-Gel  by Faith McCann  Shermona walked up to Catsandra and Avi and smiled. They both held their breaths as they k...