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Excerpt for Crown of Power ( book 1 ) The Wooden Throne by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Crown of Power

Book 1

The Wooden Throne





Chapters



1 . Sabbath the White

2 . The Mother’s Curse

3 . The Wooden Throne

4 . The McKamy Sisterhood

5 . The Wind Wood Forest

6 . Circle of Light

7 . Fish Soup

8 . Mother Zeng

9 . Goblins in Pursuit

10 . Journey into Madness

11 . The all-seeing-eye

12 . Dragon Prince

13 . Dover Castle

Chapter 1

Sabbath the White



*

Mother Zeng squinted from her throne, watching the shapes of her sisterhood witches, their colours, red, mauve, blue brown, white, orange, black and yellow, as they filed from the chamber. A wind from the north rustled her silken grey gown, thin strands of hair fell across her shoulder, into her lap. Zeng was old, decayed by years of longevity, living through the corrupt power of the grey shard at her wrist, it alone sustained her life. For a moment she dwelled on inner calmness. The turmoil of questions from her sisterhood, fuelled her concern for Evie, the green witch, and her mission. The Mother was reluctant to announce her missing. She was armed with knowledge, and dared not strike at Talbert, he was under the protection of a far greater enemy. Lord Spiro, the dragon king.

‘Tara,’ hissed the Mother. The name of the sisterhood witch, came as a hesitant afterthought. She sensed her lingering presence.

‘Mother Zeng, it's I,’ announced Tara. The young witch was sixteen, she wore a mauve silk dress, her long hair skin and eyes were also shades of mauve. ‘I must speak to you.’ She paced across the floor to the steps of the throne.

‘You remain while your sisters have gone. I’m aware in assembly you were quiet, now you wish to speak. Do so but make it quick, I've little time, and will soon be busy for a while.'

'Sister Evie,' said Tara. She was aware her Mother had a short attention span. Yet the young witch had a liking for her missing sister, and questions regarding her safety. 'Sister Frieda's concerns resonate with us all. The mission's a risk too far. The crown of power's with Talbert, our enemy.'

'The wizard calling himself king, he’s hardly a threat, he doesn't possess the spell to unlock the safeguards we've placed on the object. As for your sister. I'm sure Evie's met a minor obstacle.'

'Mother, she's missing.'

'Your sister’s strong, don't underestimate her, I've guided and prepared her for the mission. Fate tells me she'll prevail. I believe in her and without question you should too.'

'I've never doubted your choice.' A vague expression crossed Tara's face, her mauve brow creased, she had reserved judgment. She knew why she was here. It was time to raise her question. 'My Sister Frieda thinks otherwise.'

'I've discussed this matter at length, and she's stubborn, she won't accept facts. It's your older sister's lack of emotion, compassion, that clouds her mind.' Zeng gave a lingering cackle. 'Human empathy, this made Evie the suitable candidate for the task.' She flicked a knobbly finger at the mauve witch. 'Until given further notice, you're free to go. Unless there's something further you'd like to mention?’

'Mother Zeng, there is.' Slowly Tara trod the first step to the throne, then halting, she stood stiff. Her question remained in her mind. 'Sister Frieda's coming of age, soon she'll be eighteen, destined to leave your sisterhood.'

'Ahhh.' The Mother gave a moment to reflect on the issue. She had recently given the matter some thought. Her eyes became slits, she squinted with curiosity at the mauve shape. 'I fail to understand your interest. When I placed the mauve shard at your wrist, you were a child of five years old. I've taught you. Preparing you for your future. The price, the ability to cheat death, Salamander's curse of a thousand winters.'

Tara tilted her head, the corner of her mouth curled up in a mischievous smirk, through her blurred vision, her Mother was unable to notice. 'I'm forever grateful to have this privilege. I've no fear of winter, I can't feel its chill winds, or falling snow. The power you've given me is worth the sacrifice. Otherwise I would be, humble, a destitute child, on a farm. My inherent power, unknown, beyond my grasp, until faded from this world.'

'Tara,' said Zeng, sharply. 'Once Frieda’s left us, you'll not miss your sister.'

'Mother, a sentimental fool I am.'

'And that won't do. The McKamy Sisterhood's at one, yet each unlike the next, your day will come.'

'I wish Sister Frieda all the best.' Tara was sickened by her pretence, she loathed her older sister, and thought her cunning and cold. Yet, Tara admired her from afar. She wanted to emulate Frieda, she saw greatness in her. 'Have you found a replacement?' she inquired.

Zeng shook her head, with a cackle, the sound was grating, choking in her, thin, bony neck. 'Tara, all this concern. She won't leave us for a while. Yet, when the time arrives, the first priority's my sisterhood. Nothing will be decided until then.'

'Mother, thank you for your time, I'll go and practice my spellcraft,' said the mauve witch, she turned to leave. 'Until assembly.'

'Tara,' said Zeng, briskly. 'To your sisters, it's best you don't mention Frieda’s coming of age. This delicate issue I'll raise with them.'

'Mother, as you wish.'

Zeng waited until Tara left the throne chamber, then arose from the throne. Her effort was slow, laboured, she winced in pain, struggling all the while. Once standing, she levelled the grey shard, hanging at her wrist by a chain, at the ground.

'Le-banara-kess,' hissed the Mother.

The shard sparked, a thin line appeared from its tip, glowing. Zeng directed it with precise positioning. She shifted, her thin frame swaying from side to side, she diverted her power, drawing a complete circle around her. The deed was complete. She raised the shard to her face, bathed in its glowing power, her features formed a cunning, grotesque expression. The mother had a plan. There was somewhere to be, and a mission to fulfil.

'Le-banara-kess!' she croaked, blasting the ground.

From the surrounding circle a grey light radiated upward. There came a gust of wind, the power of teleportation charred the air, with a brilliant flash, and searing heat, a smouldering black circle, was all that remained on the ground. The throne chamber at McKamy Castle was left vacant.



**



Zeng stood, squinting around the spell-chamber. The large bricks in the walls and floor, were cracked, tarnished by time, grimy with smoke. There was a large window, it led to a balcony, beyond, the Highland hills peaked into the distance. A log fire crackled in a corner, above it hung a large cauldron, its contents bubbled and spat. There was a long table to the left, along its length was a maze of glass tubes and jars, with churning fluids, belching thick smoke. A staircase rounded a curved wall, leading to a landing, crammed with shelves and spellbook, another wall had glass cases, filled with jars of pickled eyes, bugs and insects. The spell-chamber was lit by large candles, burning in the chandelier, high above.

'Sabbath the White,' croaked the Mother, her eyes adjusting to the shadows, she saw only blurs.

'Mother Zeng of the McKamy Sisterhood, I'm humbled by your presence, this is a rare privilege,' said the young witch. She noticed the sudden arrival of her guest. Sabbath the White's, satin lace gown, billowed around her. From the library above, she hurried, almost tripping, as she ran down the winding staircase. 'Never an invitation, just the unexpected appearance,' she said, out of breath, thrilled by her guest. 'You've arrived not a moment too soon. King Ainsley, he'll be pleased when he discovers you're here.'

'Since my last visit, I believe he's remarried,' said the Mother.

Sabbath the White, was none too pleased by the monarchs choice of wife. 'Glenda, the Queen Consort... King Ainsley married her three years past. And I'm unimpressed with his choice of brides, just when you think they couldn't be any bad ones left, they keep getting worse. She's the daughter of the Duke of Aberdeen, and I'll say this, she's very unlikable.'

'For now, his folly,' said Zeng, wearily. 'Until his next bride and so forth.' She was aware of the white witches affection for her king. 'Sabbath the White, you're a gifted, it can't never be.'

'Do you think I don't know this? Whenever I'm in a room with him my heart's his. The fool I am left wanting.' Sabbath the White lingered, stunned into silence, filled with regret.

When at the age of twenty-one, Sabbath the White left the McCrery Sisterhood, to take up the proposal for employment at Edinburgh Castle. She served as King Duggal’s councillor and witch. She saw his demise, he perished from an illness, then she saw the crowning of King Ainsley, his only child.

'Whenever you play diplomat, win his wars with your wisdom, you remain loyal to king and duty. Yet, he doesn't notice your pale skin, or your vibrant eyes.' The Mother raised a frail hand to the witches head. 'Your luscious white hair.' She squinted, focusing her sight on the witches face, noticing her hooked expression. 'You'd do better to acknowledge, each time he takes a new bride, it's your heart that breaks, not his.'

'Mother Zeng of the McKamy Sisterhood, you're wise beyond my understanding,' hissed Sabbath the White. 'I lack your strength. My feelings can't easily be controlled. Though I'm bound by duty, to be in his presence, is to hope.'

'For now this maybe,' said Zeng, coolly. 'But remember, every time he sees you, he's in awe of your beauty. He notices you above all else. He trust you without question. On the professional term, you're his righthand.'

Sabbath the White gave a slight nod of her head. She knew this, but having the Mother, who she highly respected, tell her, lightened the dilemma of her burden. The king she admired was beyond her reach. Any advance toward him, not within duty guidelines, would be met with distain. King Ainsley would dismiss her from her highly sought-after duty. She would be banished from Edinburgh Castle and the realm.

Sabbath the White plied a delicate touch to the Mother's arm. 'King Ainsley's, Silver Jubilee's three days from now. I'm sure you're aware he'll want you present,' she said.

'Of course,' said Zeng, patting the white witches delicate hand. 'There really isn't much I don't already know.'

'Then you'll stay as royal guest of honour?'

'That can easily be arranged, though, I've my sworn duty to my sisterhood. A Mother mustn't neglect her own. Above all else they come first. I confess, for the meantime my visit is brief.'

Sabbath the White acknowledged this news with a courteous nod of her head. 'Understood,' said the white witch. 'But consider my king's joy. If anything, you must be present, at least for the parade. Edinburgh City's set for a celebration like no other. I've been commissioned a task.' She was excited to reveal this information. 'To create a spectacle that won't disappoint the king, his royal guests, and the masses.' She guided Zeng to the long table.

'I see,' said the Mother, squinting at the maze of glass tubes. 'You intend to demonstrate your skills.'

'The lights above Edinburgh Castle, there'll be brilliant, those who observe won't forget, they'll be utterly bewitched. And a fanfare of trumpets will play. I've planned it all, there'll be tears of joy, my king will be proud. This will be a mighty performance.'

Zeng gave the boast scant thought as her attention wandered elsewhere.

'For such an occasion, nothing but the best,' finished Sabbath the White.

'Your detailed plans don't need my consent, though I wonder, to complete such a challenge, have you enough time?' inquired the Mother.

'The notice has been short,' admitted Sabbath the White. 'Yet, I accepted, and I've surprised myself.' She was pleased with her progress. 'For King Ainsley's Silver Jubilee, I've surpassed myself.' Leaving the Mother's side, she lifted a jar, half full with droplets, dripping from a tube. She placed it to her guests skeletal nose.

Zeng breathed in a sharp intake of the vapours. It took a moment for her to determine the components of the potion. 'Volcanic powders, acids, chippings from a duel-emerald, ground dragons tooth, and the eight spells of infusion. Black, green, red, blue, orange, mauve, yellow, grey.'

'Incredible,' said Sabbath the White, her voice a whisper. She was amazed, within seconds, the Mother recited each part of the potion, in its precise order. This task had taken the white which days and hours to formulate. 'I've harnessed the components to their very last detail.'

'And rightly so. Yet you're aware the spell infusion makes this a highly explosive substance.'

'Mother Zeng, it'll be used in very small amounts, that's all what's needed. It's intended to shake the ground, to set the sky above Edinburgh Castle alight with such spectacle. Those who witness it won't forget.'

'Sabbath the White, you just might succeed. King Ainsley's, Silver Jubilee is sure to be remembered, for the right reasons. Now, on my arrival, did I hear you say tea? Teleporting here has left me somewhat thirsty.' The Mother gave a grotesque crooked grin.

Sabbath the White took stock of her manner's, her guest had travelled far to see her. 'Please, Mother Zeng, you know where the seating area is by the window. Sit and I'll bring you a cup of your favourite herbal tea.'

'Black,' said Zeng, flicking a finger between them. 'And no sugar.'

'It's been a while since your last visit, but I haven't forgotten.' Sabbath the White returned the smile and turned away.

Zeng watched the white witches back, confident she would seize the chance, to achieve her mission. She levelled her shard, tracing it along a glass pipe, seeking the small opening, here the steam became droplets of fluid that gathered in a jar. The Mother knew how unstable the substance was. A shift in the balance of spell infusion, and when employed, it would become highly explosive. Before tomorrow evening, and King Ainsley's, Silver Jubilee, one last time, Sabbath the White would test her great achievement, with grave circumstances.

Chapter 2

The Mother’s Curse



*

'Your Highness, your Silver Jubilee has been a success,' said Keith, the kings orderly. The man with short greying hair, was almost bald, he had a clubfoot, and walked with a limp. After the unfortunate accident that claimed the life of Sabbath the White, he held her position, until the king appointed a new righthand witch. 'The folk adore you, you've secured their loyalty, it exceeds that of your father. If King Kegan were alive today, he'd be proud of your rule. In his time there was nothing but war.' He took the heavy fur cloak from the maid and presented it to the king.

'War makes fools of kings and friends enemies.' King Ainsley, he had handsome features, a thick beard and blue, kind eyes. With big hands, he clasped the fur collar of his velvet cloak around his broad shoulders. His stride was long, the gold heals of his buckled shoes, struck the ground. 'I wish my father saw this, that his life wasn't lost, fighting our enemies. King Leiden of Aberdeen, and King Henry of Glasgow, now our allies.'

Keith nodded, quick to raise his approval in his kings presence.

'And the barbarian clangs from the Highlands have called a truce. Now we await Farrell, the goblin king. Some call him the great invader of England. I've no doubt he'll attempt to conquer Scotland next.'

'The fight for England died with King El-Aubrey,' said Keith. 'And the crown of power, none know who has it, not even the goblin king.'

'Don't fear, while the south's fallen, our armies will be ready, we'll meet the goblins head on, before they attack. The quest for the crown's yet to begin. Farrell can't be allowed to claim it, if he does he'll hold power over every realm, no one will be safe.' The king sounded confident he would succeed over the threat. He strolled to the entrance of the banquet chamber. The gilded doors were opened by the sentries posted either side. They bowed to the king. 'The issue concerning Sabbath the White's replacement,' he said to Keith. 'I need a letter penned, a proposal to be submitted to the sisterhood's of Scotland. I appreciate your assistance, as custom, I require a righthand witch.'

'By the end of the day, the letter will be ready on your study desk, awaiting your seal of approval.'

King Ainsley, gave Keith a pat on the shoulder and sent him on his way. The king had a sudden bout of nerves. His newly formed alliance with his father's enemies should have gave him reassurance. Yet, he loitered a moment, in the entranceway of the banquet chamber. Beneath the high beamed, lofty roof, the magnificent hall was decked with silk wall drapes and gold gilded statues, sumptuous red woollen carpet, gilded framed portraits, and two large fireplaces, that gave a cosy ambiance. The large windows, draped in thick blue velvet, faced the seafront. Flames burned in large, gold gilded wall scones, and musicians plucked at harp strings.

As King Ainsley entered, there was a sudden silence, and the heads of the neighbouring realms, King Leiden of Aberdeen and King Henry of Glasgow, rose from their seats. Their wives and high politicians did the same. In total they numbered forty-six. King Ainsley walked with a sure-footed stride, aware all eyes were on him, he was the spectacle of the moment, and had been through the day. As his horse and coach was ridden through the packed streets of Edinburgh City, till the moment he received the arrival of his royal guests. His once enemies, who showered him with gifts of precious jewels, he was the subject of their respect.

At the head of the table the king took his seat. His wife sat beside him, Glenda, was beautiful, with blushing red cheeks, a high brow, and yellow hair. She wore a gown of fitting silk, with lace collar and wide cuffs, in a colour that matched her hair.

'My guests, please be seated,' said King Ainsley. As they sat and spoke with joyful laughter, he cast saddened eyes to the empty seat, on the corner of the table, to his right. 'She should be here.' He mourned the loss of Sabbath the White more than anyone.

'My love,' hissed Glenda, tilting into him. 'Embrace the celebration, your Silver Jubilee. This day will be remembered, by all, for you... That she can't be present needn’t concern you now, it's her loss.'

'How can you be so cold?' hissed the king.

'Sabbath the White, they come in many forms, with different names, as they do colours. There'll be another like her, a witch to rival all her achievements.'

'There you're wrong. None can replace her, she wasn't just gifted, but wise like no other. With her wisdom she brought an end to the war of our three realms. We mustn't forget that, she made the union possible.' King Ainsley’s gaze flickered around at King Linden and King Henry. 'If my father saw us now, united in peace, he'd believe as I do. Sabbath the White can't be replaced.'

'My love, remember the true reasons why King Linden and King Henry are present. To eat our food and drink our wine. And tomorrow, the celebrations will be over and forgotten, and you'll discus the inevitable, Farrell, the goblin king, and the threat he imposes on our homeland. You know this as well as they do. That's why there're here.' Glenda dipped her eyelids, flicking them to the seated kings. 'Once England falls to Farrell’s rule, he'll send his goblin army, to the Scottish border and invade.'

'And we shall thwart the enemy attack,' King Ainsley whispered back, with an air of self-confidence. He clapped his hands, bringing silence to the banquet hall. Slowly he arose to his feet. 'Kings, my neighbours and allies, my thanks.'

'No,' said King Leiden of Aberdeen, raising a goblet in toast. 'We're indebted to you.'

'To King Ainsley,' roared, King Henry of Glasgow, lifting his goblet in salute.

Around the table, glasses were raised in respect.

'Your too kind.' King Ainsley blushed, sitting once more. 'We eat!' He clapped his hands.

To the kings back, double gilded doors were opened by sentries decked in dark purple. From the kitchen beyond the head chef entered, standing to one side, and butlers entered carrying trays and plates of food. No sooner had the banquet began a spark of light not far from King Ainsley, to his right appeared on the ground. Swiftly it fanned outward, grey in colour, circular in shape, burning brighter. Heated air blasted out across the banquet hall. There was a swift response, the kings guards entered from the corridor. With drawn swords they grouped before the sudden spectacle. As sudden as the light appeared it was gone.

'Mother Zeng,' gasped King Leiden of Aberdeen.

'Mother Zeng, what a pleasant surprise,' said King Henry of Glasgow.

Mother Zeng stood, hunched, a circle of black ash smouldered at her feet. 'King Ainsley,' she croaked. 'I send my wishes, and those from the McKamy Sisterhood, on this, the day of your Silver Jubilee.'

'I'm grateful you came,' said the king, humbly, bewildered, but not surprised by the Mothers' sudden appearance.

Glenda, bent to her husband. 'What's that hideous creature doing here?' she hissed, her faced contorted with disgust, in her time of residency at the castle, she heard stories, but never met the Mother.

'She's Mother Zeng, of the McKamy Sisterhood,' the king hissed back.

'Of all the horrors I've heard, never did I imagine she'd look like this. It's frightful. The price of longevity has been unkind to her, she's pitiful, grotesque, a creature of nightmares. My love, send the thing away.'

'The seat,' said Zeng, sharply, pointing a bony finger to the empty chair.

'For Sabbath the White,' said King Ainsley, he shook his head. 'As she did my father before me, she sat to the right. She'll be missed.'

'Ahhh.' Zeng nodded. 'Sabbath the White, she was a rarity, gifted indeed. I heard of her untimely end.'

'My love,' hissed Glenda to the king. 'There's something about the creature. It mocks you in front of your guests, behind its arrival there's a reason. She wants to place one of her sisterhood at your right-side. Now send her away.'

'Be careful what you say,' warned King Ainsley. 'To even think such thoughts are dangerous.'

'It's true,' hissed Glenda. 'You believe Sabbath the White's death wasn't an accident, you told me so. She was gifted enough to overlook nothing; therefore, I suggest you consider the fact. We’re both aware she was deliberately removed.' Slyly she flicked her eyelids to Zeng. 'It was that foul creature, the witch. She was responsible for her death, and you know it.'

'King Ainsley,' croaked Zeng. 'I have a proposition, to replace that empty seat with the finest my sisterhood has to offer.'

'I told you,' hissed Glenda through clenched teeth. 'Before she places a curse upon our heads, do it, send her away.'

'Is something the matter.' The Mother bent, squinting at the yellow shape. 'Yes, I've heard about you. King’s bride, finally we meet under the most dire circumstances.'

'To you I'm Glenda, the Queen Consort of Edinburgh. And might I add, we know what you've done. Sabbath the White's death was no accident. You brought it on her,' Glenda raised her voice for all to hear. 'The explosion that ripped through her spell-chamber, destroying the east wing, taking a hundred lives wasn't an accident.' The Queen Consort's gown shimmered as she jumped to her feet, pointing a finger. 'It was you who planned it.'

'You point the accusing finger at me.' Zeng's face contorted in an ugly frown. 'Insolent creature how dare you.'

'I warn you, don't challenge her, you'll curse us all,' hissed King Ainsley to his wife. 'Be seated at once.'

Glenda ignored her husband’s plea. 'You think your visit went unnoticed, but a chambermaid cleaning Sabbath the White's chamber found a circle on the floor. I’ve been informed, the mark of teleportation leaves a stain hard to disguise. A day after that discovery, Sabbath the White was no more. And here you are, on the day of my husband’s Silver Jubilee, bearing an offer. To place one of your disgusting witches in my home. Creature without remorse, I pity you, return to your wickedness elsewhere, we don't want your kind here.'

'Silence!' rage the Mother, her shard flicked. 'Le-banara-kess!' Its power was activated, glowing, pulsing grey.

The Queen Consort's eyes bulged in their sockets, she choked, struggling, gasping for air. All the while her breath became shallower, she clutched her throat with both hands. King Ainsley arose swiftly from his seat, in time to catch his wife. She collapsed into his arms and he lowered her into her seat.

'Mother Zeng, don't do this,' said King Ainsley. 'Enough!' he pleaded.

Gasps came from the seated spectators. King Leiden of Aberdeen and Henry of Glasgow, sat in open mouthed surprise. King Ainsley’s guards approached the Mother with raised swords, waiting for the order to strike.

'Mother Zeng, of the McKamy Sisterhood, I beg.' hissed King Ainsley. 'Not my wife.'

The shard in Zeng's hand shimmered brighter. The Queen Consort's accusation, coupled with her scathing remarks, fuelled the Mother's anger. To remove the obstacle she would stop at nothing.

King Ainsley acted. 'Guards!' he yelled.

The kings guards rushed from all sides, closing around the Mother, swinging their swords. Their blades hacked, striking Zeng, shattering into fragments around her. Again the next row of guards pushed to the forefront. The steel of their blades was no match for the Mother's witchery. In contact, each blade shattered to pieces, and only the handle was left. Clattering of steel fragments collected in piles around Zeng's feet. A guard grabbed her thin wrist, attempting to snatch the grey shard. On contact, there came a loud hissing. He screamed, steam coiled, his skin blistered and burned, in pain he turned away. As the thwarted kings guards steeped clear of the Mother, Zeng tossed back her head, gave a harrowing cackle, then thrust forth her shard.

The Queen Consort gave a shrill scream, the air around her shimmered grey, her thin fingers curled around the arms of her chair. Her marriage ring slipped from her bony finger, to roll across the floor. Her skin peeled away and wrinkled. Her once yellow hair turned white, and clumps slipped from her thin, hunched shoulders.

'Have mercy,' hissed King Ainsley.

'A plea for the dying? Regret's a burden shared. What you do next is your choice.' Zeng's mouth curled in a crocked grin. 'King Ainsley, when I return I've no doubt you'll have a vacancy for my candidate. Court witch, Frieda the Red, kings righthand councillor. I'll expect nothing less.'

'But the lottery,' said King Ainsley.

'There won't be one.' Zeng was reluctant to argue, the use of power left her weakened.

'Loathsome creature,' hissed the Queen Consort. She did not have the strength to raise her head, that hunched on her shoulders, but her heavy eyelids lifted. 'My good husband won't never place your kind in my home. Now go, never return, your kind aren't welcome.'

'Be careful what you wish for,' said Zeng, equally as drained.

'Have mercy, spare her,' pleaded King Ainsley, his voice shaking. 'My wife.. What will become of her?'

'In a week, a month, two or three from now, I'll return. If the contract isn't waiting, your wife forfeits, before your eyes she'll perish of old age, and you... Every bite of food, every time you drink, you'll become empty. The hunger, the thirst, they'll become your demise. And on my second returning, I'll place a new king on your throne, and my witch shall take her rightful place... This is all, my curse, you've until I return.' With that Zeng of the McKamy Sisterhood levelled her shard at the ground. 'Le-banara-kess.' A blast of grey shot forth, illuminating a circle around her. With a blast of heat and a sudden flash, she was gone.

Chapter 3

The Wooden Throne



*

Talbert took a sip from the crystal goblet, pulled a disapproving face, and tossed it aside. Shaking his head, he watched his Shadowing snatch the cloak from the elderly tailor. The boy then hurried back to the wooden throne and offered it to him. Talbert waved his Shadowing away. The boy hurried to a long table and placed the cloak alongside the mountain of gifts, offered by Leonard’s townsfolk. There were caskets of diamonds, gold, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, all exports from the mines of Newcastle. There were also rare foods and barrels of vintage wine. There was enough to satisfy the appetite of even the hardiest of kings, but not Talbert.

Shame faced, the tailor dipped his head and stepped aside as Leonard, the party leader, stood in his place. Leonard was wary of Talbert. He battled his rattling nerves, fearing the worst, hoping for a better outcome. On the road to White Thorn Tower, he had come across convoys of travellers, they warned, this king had a short attention span, was selfish and arrogant. Leonard hoped that the lavish gifts from his townsfolk were enough to secure their protection from the goblin threat.

‘I bring this mock to a close,’ said Talbert, to the despair of Leonard and his townsfolk.

Leonard knelt on a knee before the wooden throne. ‘We’ve nowhere else to go,’ he said.

‘Return to where you're from, there's no place for you here.’

‘Great king. My people and I set out in hundreds to find a home, following tales told of a wizard, a handful of us made it this far. On the journey I've lost a brother and two sons. We ask you protect us from the goblins.’

Talbert leaned forward, pressing his face close to Leonard’s. ‘You do babble on, don't you?' He gave a dismissive wave of his hand. 'Your kind talk but fail to deliver. I don't think there's one amongst you aware of the meaning of the word, protection. It isn't bought with cheap gifts.'

'You've receive the best we've to offer,' assured Leonard, surprised by the remark.

'Know this, you're not the first outsiders I've had the pleasure of rejecting this week. Those before you came with stories and gifts. They were quick to learn, this hamlet's closed.' Talbert gave a frown. 'I've no dealings with outsiders. There're five towns in my domain, that's enough, now go.’

Far from his rightful home, Talbert sat on a wooden throne, carved from an oak tree, he had no royal bloodline, his claim to kingship was false. Since discovering this quiet corner of Yorkshire, eight months prior, he ruled here. His residence was White Thorn Tower. On his arrival, the dwelling had no occupant, they had perished during the War of Men, Magic and Monsters, on the battlefields at Dartmoor. The protective wards placed on the tower, by the wizard who built it had ran dry. It was here Talbert received the first travellers. Displaced townsfolk from other lands across England. These refugees built Umbridge Town, the largest of the five towns, it basked in the shadow of White Thorn Tower. Ruling over townsfolk was a poor pastime for Talbert. He spent many evenings locked away with his Shadowing, delving into the boy’s mind, searching, determined to find his lost brothers. He had survived the battlefields of war, they might have too.

Talbert arose from the wooden throne. He was thin framed, tall, eighteen years of age, yet clever minded. ‘I accept your gifts. Now go, return to the waste the goblins have left of your towns and villages, and bother me no further.’

The wizard did not linger to hear the protests. His guards rushed forward, blocking those who dared to overstep the marker, with shields they held them back. Talbert's cloak flapped as he turned and headed up the hillside toward White Thorn Tower.

Talbert had an unsettled rest that evening. His guards were overrun with new arrivals. Some reached White Thorn Tower, the front door knocker banged, and the Shadowing boy answered it. As requested by his master, he accepted the stranger’s gifts, then turned the tired, hungry travellers away.



**



During the early hours, the following morning, Talbert sat on the wooden throne. He listened to endless stories of hardship. Across the land of England, goblins laid claim to every farmers harvest. With autumn approaching and winter soon to come, folk were desperate, they feared starvation. There were also alarming stories of goblins invading towns and villages, snatching children and men, and taking them away in horse driven carts, never to return.

Talbert did not dwell on the hardship of others. He believed the fate of folk were in their making. He felt no remorse for their suffering. On the sixth day, he was furious and set up signposts that circled his lands, warning unwanted travellers.



TO WHOM IT CONCERNS!

KEEP OUT!

KING TALBERT WILL NOT SEE YOU!



When his task was complete, satisfied, Talbert returned to White Thorn Tower. The entrance hall was furnished with black velvet sofas, grouped around a large fireplace, where a fire blazed, heating the cavernous hall, and the spiralling landings above. Thick wool curtains draped long latticed windows. Fine paintings hung on the walls. Rugs of dyed white-black wool, covered the black marble floor. Pillars of gold supported the high beamed ceiling. Talbert marched across the entrance hall. Lately he had little time to search for King El-Aubrie’s lost crown. The object of power that would reunite him with his lost brothers. He halted at a glass table, taking hold of the leather handled whip that rested on it. He raised the whip, ready to strike his Shadowing.

‘It's time for another reading. My fate's uncertain without the object of my destiny, the crown of power. Its location, this you'll reveal to me,’ demanded the wizard.

The Shadowing trembled, afraid, the whereabouts of King El-Aubrie’s crown was unknown to him. The boys silence angered Talbert. He did not accept failure, until he talked, he would punish the Shadowing, whipping him within a breath of his life. The whip thrashed wildly, charged with power, it blazed and hissed.

Through the haze in his mind, the Shadowing saw, a vague vision, someone he hardly recognized. ‘Walter.’ He knew the wizard by his name, he had met him while Talbert was a guest at Holst Castle. Yet the court wizard was no longer youthful, but ravaged by time, aged beyond his years.

‘He's alive,’ hissed Talbert, the truth came as a shock to him.

Talbert first met Walter, at Temple Algal. Back then Talbert was enlisted to join High Sorcerer Erastus’ order of ten, and Walter was a student among them. Then on request of King El-Aubrie, Walter left and became the kings court wizard and close advisor.

‘I thought he'd perished during the war. Is it possible he escaped, capture, death, with more? Tell me, does he have the crown?’

The whip hissed as white sparks flew from it. The object fuelled Talbert’s anger while feeding on the Shadowing’s pain. The boys suffering excited the wizard to no end. He was eager to thrash him again. Salt tears welled in the Shadowing’s eyes and rolled down his freckled cheeks. Talbert was ready to deliver another strike, then there came a bang on the front door knocker, it echoed through White Thorn Tower.

‘That can wait.’ The king stroked his square chin and pondered. After long in hiding, why does Walter return to the lands?

The Shadowing felt his masters probe tighten on his mind, as he searched for answers. ‘Walter's traveling with Melissa, Liam and Trudy, the royal children,’ he announced, before the vision dissolved and became a blur. 'I can't determine much more, only, he's shielding them from preying eyes.'

‘Enough!’ snapped Talbert, suspicious. He was aware there was more than the Shadowing revealed. ‘I must know. Does Walter have the crown?’

‘Master, the object of your desire will soon be delivered to you.’

There came another knock at the front door. ‘Pests, I've erect signposts. I demand unwanted arrivals keep away, and still they come.’ Talbert gave the Shadowing a frosty glair. ‘Quickly, tell me, who dares blacken my doorstep?’

‘It's she, with a gift.’ Suddenly the Shadowing saw the shimmer of King El-Aubrie’s crown.

‘They bring nothing worth anything, I'll tell this illiterate fool what to do with her castoffs!’ raged Talbert. In a tight fist, he shook the whip at the Shadowing. ‘Stay here, we haven't finished.’ He marched across the hall, his heavy footfall echoed, he flung wide the double doors. ‘How dare you disturb me!’

The girl on the doorstep did not cower at the sudden outburst directed at her. She was tall, fifteen years of age. Her long-curled locks, lips and nails were tinted green, like her smooth dark skin. Her dress was also green and matched the vibrant colour of her eyes, yet, they were vacant. At birth, she was born blind.

‘My name's Evie, I belong to the sisterhood of ten,’ she announced, in a gentle, soft tone of voice. ‘I'm here on behalf of Mother Zeng, of the McKamy Sisterhood.’

‘You've travelled far on a wasted journey. Return to the Highlands of Scotland. Inform your Mother, Talbert doesn't bargain with witches.’ He went to slam shut the doors.

‘Wait, I have something of interest to you. Mother Zeng has an offering.’ Evie held out a bundle of grey cloth and began unwrapping it. ‘In the hands of the McKamy Sisterhood, this object's worthless, but too a trained wizard from the Temple Algal, it's all powerful.’

‘King El-Aubrie’s crown.’ The discovery shocked Talbert into silence.

‘He perished during the War of Men, Magic and Monsters, on the battlefields of Dartmoor,’ said Evie. ‘Yet his crown's sought after by many. It's power, for good or evil, is legendary. It's believed the crown’s lost.’

‘Yet seeing is believing… You've found it,’ grumbled the wizard, his pride dented, he remembered his past failures searching for it.

‘On the wearer, the crown will bestow untold power. Enough to rule every kingdom across the lands.'

'It's priceless.’

‘And yours for the taking.’

Eagerly Talbert ushered Evie inside. The wizard did not trust the green witch. Instead of his Shadowing, he chose to escort his guest on a tour of White Thorn Tower. Now he had her in his domain, he sized up the green witch, concluding, she was on a dangerous mission, and a fool. Only High Sorcerer Erastus, Talbert’s protector and former teacher, instructed him what to do. The king would not bend to the demands of another. As he walked alongside Evie, she was yet to reveal what Zeng wanted in exchange for King El-Aubrie’s crown.

‘You've an eye for fine paintings,’ said the green witch.

They strolled through an art gallery, without sight, it was now her trained senses came too good use, and she recalled what Zeng taught her, that which the Mother of the McKamy Sisterhood had seen in the all-seeing-eye. The layout of White Thorn Tower. Evie also tapped into the power of her shard. The thin, green slither of stone, hanging by a thin silver chain at her left wrist, would alert her if an unforeseen obstacle blocked her path. She also listened to her hosts heavy footfall and kept pace with his long stride. They ascended winding stairwells, carpeted in thick blue, wool carpet, the walls were draped with heavy red velvet. The king opened gold gilded doors, ushering his guest through chambers where pillars of diamonds supported high beamed ceilings, covered in landscape paintings. The previous owner of White Thorn Tower, was a collector of priceless objects, Talbert now displayed, proudly as his own. When the tour of the most impressive chambers in the tower was over, Talbert guided Evie back to the entrance hall.

‘This way.’ He took hold of her sleeve and steered her towards a sofa by a large window. ‘You're gentle, a young woman, and brave. This could've been a perilous mission. If I were as unreasonable as many claim I am, you would've already forfeited your life. Be seated and I'll listen to your Mother’s requests.’

‘Thank you.’ Evie gave a slight grin, safe in the knowledge, Zeng believed in her. The green witch was near succeeding in her mission. ‘Your hospitality precedes you. I heard stories of a ruthless king.’ As his hand slipped from her sleeve, she gathered he was unaware of her blindness.

‘You can't always believe idle gossip, spread by hateful folk,’ said Talbert, flatly. He admired the green witches subtle manner. 'If only we weren't destined enemies.'

Talbert sat on a sofa facing Evie, between them flames raged in the fireplace, and long shadows flickered on the walls. The green witch was on guard. She knew never to trust a wizard. Slowly she began to unwrap the cloth from King El-Aubrie’s crown.

‘What makes you think I'll not take it from you, by force if I must?’ asked Talbert, warily.

‘Try, I'm not here to stop you,’ she replied.

Eagerly, the king reached for the silver glistening band, with the blue jewel at its centre, it was a hypnotic sight. On numerous visits to Holst Castle, he had seen the crown on King El-Aubrie’s head. Suddenly he envisioned what it would look like on his. Talbert’s fingertips sparked on contact with the object. He gave an agonized yelp and jumped up.

‘What trickery's this!’ he raged.

‘Surely you know defences were set in place? The power of the McKamy Sisterhood, spell-guard the crown,’ explained Evie. ‘It's too precious to fall into the wrong hands.’ A contempt smile, spread across her face.

The king was angered by the fact, the crown was close, yet beyond his reach. He cradled his right hand. His fingers throbbed with pain. Talbert marched on his Shadowing. Since earlier, the boy had not moved from the spot, where he remained a shivering wreck. He cringed in the corner as his master approached, lifting the whip from the glass table. It thrashed wildly, the king demanded his Shadowing bring refreshments. The whip struck the boys back, on all fours, he crawled away, swiftly scrambling to his feet, running from the entrance hall.

Evie heard echoing sobs. She disliked Talbert’s treatment of the Shadowing. She wanted to cover her ears, to pretend he was not harmed. All she could do was hide her anger and concern from the wizard. Though really, she wanted to snatch the whip and use it on him.

‘You clearly disagree with my methods, its written all over your face,' said Talbert, leering down at the green witch.

She shrugged her shoulders. 'I've no idea what you mean.'

'You don't accept me punishing my Shadowing,’ Talbert stated the obvious to his guest. ‘It's for his own good. Without a thrashing, he'd become like all boys, idle. The he'll be useless to my cause. And that would be a waste of his talent.’

'I'm aware, some wizards employ the assistance of so-called lesser beings,' said Evie.

'Within the Shadowing's the key to my future. His power grows with age, and someday I'll know everything, my future enemies, their every weakness, and demise. Whatever it takes to secure my destiny, nothing will be beyond my grasp. My knowledge could mean I even outlive the Mother you answer to.'

To contain her anger, Evie bit her bottom lip. ‘How you treat the child isn't any concern of mine. But know this, he'll be set free.’

‘Of course, Mother Zeng, the trade.’ There was bitterness in Talbert’s voice as he realized what she wanted. ‘My Shadowing, that's why you're here.’

‘She'll accept nothing else for the crown,’ said Evie.

‘Here master.’ The Shadowing arrived. He gave a silver goblet to the wizard and turned quickly to the green witch. ‘This is for you.’ He gulped, entranced by Evie’s beauty, shyly he came forward.

‘Alex, thank you,’ she said, softly, accepting the crystal glass from him.

Shocked, she had spoken his name, the boy stepped back. Until now he only knew Talbert’s cruel, harsh words of rage. And felt the stinging whip that made his skin weep blood. Still, there was no greater punishment than his master calling him Shadowing. The name of an enslaved soul.

Talbert bought Alex from Dudley O’Brien, a rogue trader, while on a visit to Ireland, with his eight brothers, led by High Sorcerer Erastus, their teacher. The ship they sailed on was called, Seafair, they docked at a port in Wexford Town. Alex was five years of age. He was starved, in bad health, it was a miracle the boy survived the journey to England.

The life's being bled from him, thought Evie. Until now, she knew little about what a Shadowing was, and the harsh treatment they went through, at the hands of their masters. Yet when their fingers touched during the exchange of the crystal glass, she swiftly probed the boys mind, regretting her actions. What the green witch discovered brought her close to tears.

How's it possible a living soul can survive a life of such cruelty? No child deserves this, she thought.

‘He has no name.’ Talbert was annoyed with his guest. He observed her with a cunning eye, expecting something amiss. ‘I've told you, he's my Shadowing. The eyes and ears of my future. It's unwise to fill his head with dreams and hopes, he'll become idle, weak, pathetic, useless.’

Evie did not challenge Talbert, he was aware of the Mother's demands, the witches task was near complete. She took a sip from the crystal glass tasting mango, with a hint of lime and spice. Her thirst was quickly quenched.

‘Mmm, my favourite.’ Evie gave a satisfied sigh. No sooner did the glass leave her tinted, green lips, it slipped from her grasp. Juice spilt across the lamb wool rug at her feet. ‘Alex.’ She choked, clutching at her throat. ‘Why?’ She gasped, struggling for air, there was none, her body became limp, lifeless, she collapsed into the chair.

Chapter 4

The McKamy Sisterhood



*

The Red dressed witch, hurried down the hallway, wind howled through the large hollow window frames, billowing the white, silk wall drapes around her. She was dwarfed by the marble pillars that supported the high ceiling. The patter of her small feet echoed. Now and then she glanced back, wondering whether her sisters followed. A sudden breeze stirred her long red hair as she entered the spell-chamber. Under the domed ceiling, the windows around the curved walls were glassless. The Highland wind hurried in snow that carpeted the floor. The witch did not feel the cold, her red shard protected her against the curse of eternal winter, placed on her kind by the vengeful, High Sorcerer Salamander.

Already Zeng was sat waiting in the spell-chamber, at the ten-pointed, star shaped table. A painted eyelid, set in a black circle was painted at the stone tables centre. Runes decorated the star from point to tip. The all-seeing-eye, saw into the future. It was here, Zeng spent endless hours searching for Evie.

‘Mother Zeng.’ Frieda slammed shut the doors and approached. ‘I wish to make known my sister’s concerns.'

'Continue,' said the Mother, in her shrivelled, wrinkled throat, her voice croaked.

'Sister Evie, she's been gone too long. We haven't time to wait. Strike at the wizard before it's too late. Every second we're waiting, he holds knowledge against us. While Talbert has her prisoner, he has the crown, he becomes stronger.’

'You think Evie will reveal our secrets to our enemy. Frieda, you're well aware I could've chosen any of your sisters, you weren't the only wanting the mission,’ croaked Zeng. ‘I was tempted to send Deana. Away from McKamy Castle, it would've been her first mission. But at age nine, I considered her not yet ready. The rest of you are too forceful, self-centred, quick to take risks. The wizard would've picked apart your plans with ease.’

‘And you still believe Sister Evie had what it takes to succeed?’ asked Freida, when around the Mother, she concealed her most stubborn instincts.

‘You speak as though your sister has failed her mission,’ scoffed Zeng.

'There's too much at stake. Sister Evie's valuable, she can be persuaded. The disability she's inherited from her folk mother's a weakness to the mission.'

‘Frieda, you're lacking compassion,' said Mother Zeng, stiffly. 'The qualities your sister possess, they won't condemn her, but insure, the wizard can't resist her charm. I assure you, with grace alone she'll succeed. Both El-Aubrie’s crown and the Shadowing will be delivered to us.’

Frieda sat at the table, she was not convinced by her Mother's certainty, her doubts lingered. ‘What the all-seeing-eye has shown you doesn't change anything. The wizard might've already tortured my Sister Evie, gathered her knowledge, and at this very moment, be unravelling the protective spells we've placed on the crown.’ If her theory was correct, Frieda knew, armed with King El-Aubrie’s crown, Talbert would seek revenge on the McKamy Sisterhood. ‘On your command, I could venture to White Thorn Tower, and without further delay, complete Sister Evie’s task,’ offered Frieda.

Zeng shrugged her withered, thin shoulders and winced, at times, movement pained her limbs. And not even the power of the grey shard, hanging by the silver chain at her wrist, could relieve her suffering.

‘Mother Zeng.’ Frieda tried hard to act concerned. ‘Are you alright?’

‘Well enough… Frieda, believe me, Evie lives, I've hope in her, therefore we must wait a while longer.’

‘Is that regret I hear in your voice?’ inquired Frieda, intrigued, there was a slight raise of her red, left eyebrow. She wondered what turmoil went through the Mother’s mind, but knew emotions were a weakness. Long ago she taught herself to lock her feelings away. To the outside world the red witch was cold, void of emotion. ‘You should've accepted my offer. Instead you believed in Sister Evie, the weakest of us.’

Zeng frowned at the comment. ‘At present, there're other matters. We must attend to more pressing issues. Things to come.'

'Then all-seeing-eye's shown you a vision?’

‘For the present, I dare say no more, that would risk bearing knowledge to our enemy. Your minds aren’t strong enough, you and your sisters thoughts can easily be picked. For now, silence is our strength, the challenge is yet to come.’

Zeng dismissed Frieda, and for the remainder of that morning, remained in the spell-chamber. She attempted to contact Evie. Her failures mounted. With each decayed breath, she longed for her safe return. She cared for all nine of her sisterhood, but Evie was special, she loved her as a mother would a daughter. Unable to protect her from danger, Zeng felt powerless, this weighed heavy on her guilt-ridden mind.



**

That afternoon, in her private chambers, Zeng had tea and scones, spread thinly with blueberry jam. After, she summoned her eight sisterhood witches too assembly in the throne chamber.

The witches of the McKamy Sisterhood were each dressed in a colour unlike the next. They were youthful, gifted, grown beyond their years, intelligent, and blessed with an enchanting beauty. Frieda was eighteen years of age, the eldest, her dress was red, like her tinted skin, eyes, lips, nails and hair. Tara was seventeen, she was mauve, Haley was sixteen, she was blue, Lana was fifteen, she was brown, Blanch was fourteen, she was white, Edina was thirteen, she was orange, Claudia was twelve, she was black, and Deana was nine, the youngest in the sisterhood, she was yellow.

Before her sisterhood, the Mother sat dwarfed on a throne of white jewels. The steps to her throne were polished white stone, like the walls, and the floor, that was part covered in snow. Through the three large, glassless windows behind Zeng, and the domed glass roof, the sun shone bright, nearing its peak in the sky, east of the River Mountains.

‘I hear wings that cast great shadows across the lands,’ said Lana, the far-off sound of gushing winds filled her ears.

‘I feel talons sharper than the blades of elf swords,’ said Claudia, with intrigue, her probe studied the ice tipped, alien claws.

‘It’s scales shielded by ancient magic,’ said Haley. Her mind was suddenly diverted by a surge of power. She lurched forward, gave a trembling shudder, and was momentarily weakened.

Lana went to assist her older sister, when Zeng raised a knobbly finger, ordering her to stop, and told Blanch to continue.

‘I taste the forked tongue of a serpent,’ she said.

‘Its eyes are cruel.’ Afraid, Deana closed her child’s mind to the vision. ‘Mother Zeng, I don't want to peer, I can't see any deeper.’ The power of the yellow shard, hanging by the silver chain at her wrist, drained away.

Edina spoke next, she was hesitant, her voice was a whisper. ‘It has breath of boiling flames.’ She could feel the terrible heat rising in her lungs.

Zeng clapped her hands, she was pleased, these things were known to her. On many occasions, while she strolled in the gardens, they surfaced through her awareness. The visions began before Evie left McKamy Castle, for White Thorn Tower. They warned of danger. Yet, the all-seeing-eye, failed to make sense of their purpose. Then sometimes, Zola, the servant of the eye, deceived Zeng, as he had done the Mothers before her. The fact her sisterhood knew of the threat, fuelled the Mother’s concerns, she concluded the beast set upon them with one purpose, a challenge of war.

Zeng waited until the light faded from each sister’s shard, then croaked. ‘Tara, where does it come from?’

Tara did not need to summon her shards power, she knew the answer. ‘Swansea City, Whales,’ she replied.

‘Frieda,’ snapped Zeng, ‘Name the winged one.’

‘He’s Lord Spiro,’ she said with confidence. ‘The dragon.’

‘Well done.’ Satisfied, Zeng nodded her head. ‘All of you.’

‘Mother Zeng, plans must be made. We're at war, the dragon nation, they'll soon be here,’ said Frieda, calmly.

‘Haste not.’ The Mother rested her arms on her lap.

'He's far from home,' said Tara, thoughtfully.

'And I've suspicions that can't wait. I intend to discover for what purpose the dragon comes to our territory,' croaked Zeng.

‘By then it may be too late,’ urged Tara.

‘Be on guard.' The Mother flicked a finger. 'I sense our uninvited guest's near.’

Zeng clutched her shard, drawing life giving power from it, slowly she began to rise from the throne. Her effort was flawed, pain throbbed through her, she winced. Her once youthful limbs had been restored through the ages, now they were beyond repair. The lingering odour of rot festered. She had the appearance like that of a corpse. Her body frame was twisted, she limped, bent with a permanent hunch. Zeng lived to achieve her one purpose, greatness. It was not enough she was Mother of the oldest, most powerful sisterhood. She thought the eighty-eight Mothers before her were failures. Zeng wanted to leave behind her lasting legacy. To achieve what none other could, the impossible, to free all sisterhoods from High Sorcerer Salamander’s curse of a thousand winters. Only then would the McKamy Sisterhood be truly great once more.

Zeng shuffled forward, she indicated to Frieda. The red witch rushed to her side, held the Mother’s arm, and together they began their slow descent of the steps. The sisters gathered behind the Mother, they walked through an archway, outside, onto a broad, wide ledge. The River Mountains’, snow covered peaks were tinged orange, the sun was a blur on the horizon. Dotted below, wind swirled smoke from the chimneys of the sixteen McKamy towns. On this late afternoon, the townsfolk had no idea of the winged threat heading their way.

‘I sense him close,’ croaked Zeng.

‘Don't face the dragon alone. Let me stay at your side.’ Frieda pretended to care, she refused to release the Mother’s arm. ‘You can’t trust him. Mother Zeng, let's stand together.’

‘I wouldn't think of it, to our enemy, the appearance of frailty is a sign of weakness on my part,’ croaked Zeng. ‘And he'd mock our ability to challenge him. Everything we are could be at stake. During our meeting, at all time It's vital, I must appear strong. Without the direction of a Mother, a sisterhood's broken.’

As Frieda released her arm, Zeng shuffled away, she halted near the edge of the ledge. Wind gusts stirred the thin strands of her grey hair, and her long grey gown rippled. A gush of snow swept up over Zeng. Then the cloud passed, and she stood, rooted to the spot. A mighty roar echoed like thunder. It echoed above the howling wind, and far off into the distance. Zeng peered over the ledge. Again, a cloud of snow surged upward, battering the forces that rooted her to the spot, and there before her hovered Lord Spiro.

Heated steam coiled from the dragons flared nostrils. His giant wings beat the air, creating a snowstorm. Zeng staggered. Frieda went to help, coming to a halt, Tara held her by the arm. The other sisters raised their shards, ready to challenge any threat from the red dragon.

Again, Zeng staggered, clutching her shard tighter, she squeezed all she could from it. ‘No!’ Increased by the shards overload of power, the Mother’s voice boomed, drowning out the roar of the dragon’s wings. ‘Lower your shards at once!’

The sisters did as their Mother commanded.

‘You've trained them well,’ said Lord Spiro.

‘Too what do I owe this visit?’ inquired Zeng, harshly.

‘You dabble where fools dare tread.’

‘You aim to warn me. So, I thought dragons of the new age sought peace, that's what you preach these days, isn't it?’ Zeng’s tone of voice was to mock the red dragon.

‘If Talbert's harmed, you and your sisterhood will be held responsible, and my fury will have no end.’

‘This is about a puny wizard.’ Zeng chuckled. ‘Witches have no dealings with their kind. We're haters of them, and they don't like us. Remember, Salamander placed the curse of a thousand winters on our heads.’

‘The McKamy Sisterhood, I'm well versed in your past failures, the forgotten truth,’ Lord Spiro butted in. ‘And the ill fate you've brought on all other sisterhoods. Of course, present Mother, you'd want to forget, and if I was you, so would I.’

In the age of peace, when the McKamy Sisterhood governed all sisterhoods, then the thirty-ninth Mother was named, Leela. She was devious and plotted against the wizards. They laid claim to witch’s good deeds, reaping great rewards, there was fame and fortune to be made from their lies. Rather than share their knowledge and power with witches, wizards claimed witches harboured evil, and practiced dark magic. On the lies of wizards many witches were hung or burned at the stake.


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