TITLE: “WITCH'S BREW”
AUTHOR: TABITHA SHAY
LINK TO BUY BOOKS: www.eternalpress.com.au
The Time of Bron Trogain
“Elsbeth Winslow, you are under arrest for the vile crime of witchcraft!”
Elsbeth dropped the large wooden spoon into the pot of stew hanging from the hob in the hearth. She whirled to face her husband as he entered their tiny cottage. “Not you, John.”
His six foot form blocked the late evening sunlight streaming from the entry door of their cottage. His brows beetled over eyes grown mad with heightened emotion. His once precious mouth, a hard, slim slash across his face, brooked no disobedience.
Elsbeth straightened to her full height, ignoring the stew she'd set to heat. Would the sun never set on this terrible day? Tomorrow would be no better. There would be more arrests, more questions, more sentences and more hangings. Men, women and children were sick and dying in the crowded jails before they could be brought to trial or hanged.
With charges now brought against her, Elsbeth knew there was only one decision she could make. She must flee Salem Village. Take her daughters and leave as quickly as possible. But first, she would have to get past her husband.
John closed the door behind him and strode closer. She backed up a step, but the hearth was behind her. She could retreat no farther. “Don't do this evil thing, John,” she pleaded. “I'm taking our daughters and leaving Salem. Do not try to stop me.”
The firelight from the hearth flickered, revealing John's eyes clearly for the first time since he'd entered the cottage. An ebony hue dulled his eyes. They were no longer the warm, gentle brown of years past, and lacked the sparkle of life and laughter that had always lit up the whiskey-colored depths.
Bewitched! Her husband was bewitched. Elsbeth barely stifled a gasp. “John.” Her throat went dry. Her voice sounded hoarse to her ears. “Samhain,” she breathed, invoking the god of the dead. “Help me!”
A wave of cold sweat broke over her. Her chest tightened as if the evil magic poisoning John's soul squeezed the life from her heart. She couldn't breathe. A veil of blackness slid over her vision. She shook her head to keep from swooning.
Someone had recently used Black Magick on her husband. The evil enslaving his mind reeked. Her eyes burned from the noxious, rotten-egg scent enveloping him. She wrinkled her nose, her nostrils flaring. The musky scent of sex and the spicy aroma of another witch rose from his close fitting doublet and baggy breeches.
He'd lain with another. Not John! her heart cried. It hurt. The jagged splinters of pain piercing her soul could feel no worse than if she'd been stabbed through the heart with a dagger. Dear Samhain, she could not bear this betrayal.
John was lost to her now, as surely as if Death had lifted his skeletal fingers and plucked her husband away to the Underworld. There was no undoing another witch's Black Magick.
Elsbeth blinked. Her eyes stung with unshed tears. A sob as big as a toad's banyan lodged in her throat. It was too bad full blooded witches were incapable of tears. She wanted nothing more than to fall to the floor in a sobbing heap like the illumrof females.
Instead, her heart bled crimson droplets of sorrow. She wept for what had once been and would be no more. Fleeing with her daughters to the safety of her own realm was the only choice left to her now. Her mind screamed an urgent warning. Go! Hasten! Run!
Cautiously, she stepped around John.
He grabbed her arm, twisting her around to face him. “Do not consider leaving, Beth, there is nowhere for you to hide.” He tightened his fingers around her wrist. “You will come with me. Magistrates Hathorne and Corwin are waiting to examine you this night.”
Her slippers skidded across the dirt floor as he tugged her toward the door. Terror jittered up her spine, chilling her blood. Her pulse quickened. Dear Samhain, she couldn't think with the scent of that other witch all over him.
She drew a deep, soothing breath, slowly exhaled, and told herself to remain calm.
“Let go of me.”
“You are guilty of casting spells. You must be punished for your crimes.”
“I have cast no spells. I am innocent of any wrong doing.” She clawed at his hands, wincing as his fingers bit into her shoulders. Her nails broke on his hard flesh.
“You have conspired with the Devil. Spawn of Satan! Cease fighting or I will drag you to the hangman and place the rope around your neck myself.”
She couldn't bring herself to obey or even to look into the eyes that had once been clear and brown as a rom's wing. There was no mistaking John's voice, but the cold tone was unnatural.
He yanked harder on her arm. “Move, Beth. Now!”
Elsbeth cried out as she lost her balance and stumbled toward him. She bit her lip, digging her nails into his wrist. Her heart pounded. The children! She had to get to her children. She wrenched free and put distance between her and John--what distance the crowded room allowed. He stepped squarely in front of the ladder to the loft and blocked her path to the children.
Slowly, she slid her hand across her aching chest, in a useless attempt to soothe the heaviness there. It would not be soothed as long as her babies were in danger. How could she get to her daughters when John stood between her and the way up to the loft where they slept?
She closed her eyes. To reach trance state, she needed to visualize the once-peaceful haven of her home, the low fire crackling in the hearth, the kettle hooked on the hob whistling a merry tune as steam shot from its spout in a wet hiss. She pictured the weak flame of the tallow candle, nearly burned to a stub as it flickered on the long table where they broke their fasts.
“Stop this witch's trickery! Your Devil's games will not work with me. I have no fear of you.”
Her eyes snapped open. Uneasy shadows danced on the rough, log walls, shadows cast by the guttering flame of the candle. Chills snaked up her spine. “Flickering shadows are a bad omen,” she whispered, “a sign of things yet to come.”
She thrust wispy strands of her hair under her mobcap and lifted her gaze to John. His face was set with determination.
“You talk nothing but foolish jabbering,” he said.
At last, he'd moved from her path. She scooted around the end of the table and headed to the rickety ladder propped against the wall below the loft. Her daughters slept up there and she was determined to get them to safety.
Samhain, forgive her. She'd thought they were safe in this world, safe from the soul-stealers of her realm, safe from witch assassins. But she was wrong and her mistake cost the soul of her husband.
Even the villagers were not protected from the vile accusations of power hungry illumrofs or ill-met witches who sold their souls to gain knowledge of Black Magick. Those who were innocent of practicing the Black Arts were tried, convicted, and executed alongside the guilty.
Of a sudden, John's burning anger slammed into her with the driving force of a hammer. Her bosom heaved as she struggled to keep from revealing her panic. His fury was unjustified; if anyone had the right to be enraged, it was surely she.
Someone hated her enough to destroy her marriage. Who? The accusing girls? She'd done nothing to them. They weren't witches, just unwise girls who'd swept the village into panic with their foolish lies and acts of convulsive seizures.
Elsbeth shivered. It should have been warm and toasty inside the room, but a chill pervaded her bones. Ice settled like a cold lump of congealed porridge in her belly, yet sweat glazed her palms. She stiffened under the onslaught of an evil presence that closed around her like a heavy cloak. Dark and venomous, the putrid, Black Magick surged into the room, filling it, surrounding them and twisting her husband into a stranger.
John stared at his hands as if he didn't know they belonged to him. He looked up, his expression dark and thunderous with hatred.
Desperate, she whirled around, searching for any weapon to defend herself and her children. Her gaze fell on the ax leaning against the wall by the ladder. She grabbed it. “Stay back!”
Spittle flecked his lips. His eyes bulged, wild and horrific. He charged toward her like a wild bull.
She raised the ax in warning. “Stop! I swear I will use it!”
He stilled. His big body seethed with convulsive rage.
'This is a heinous thing your people are doing, hanging innocents and crushing them with stones! I'm taking my babies and leaving this wicked realm.”
“Put down the ax, Beth. You are coming with me.”
“Get over to the other side of the table. Stay there or I will turn you into a legless lizard.”
She knew she had stunned him. She stunned herself. She had always been the obedient wife, but he'd cast away his right to give her orders. Her lips trembled. Dread lurched in her heart. She couldn't face this alone. She needed help.
Hesitating but a second, John put the table between them as she'd ordered. She lowered the ax to the floor, raised her arms in a graceful arc above her head, and swayed from side to side. Outside, the wind rose, howling fiercely through the trees so the window panes rattled. Sparks crackled and leapt up the chimney.
Drawing in a deep breath, Elsbeth chanted, summoning the Coven of the Sisterhood:
“Circle of three,
I summon all.
Come to me,
Heed your sister's call.”
She had no idea if the Sisterhood would answer her summons, but she knew they would hear her pleas. This night, the time of Bron Trogain, the Coven's power reached its zenith.
“Please. Help me!” Elsbeth tossed back her head, clenched her fists, and repeated the summoning chant. She prayed her words would bring them to her. The wind rose in strength, a screeching howl as it carried her pleas to the Coven.
“Stop it!” John shouted.
She continued her soft chant, ignoring his outburst. She couldn't risk her children, not when John had so betrayed her. She pleaded for guidance, begged for help, made promises to the Circle of Three. Not for herself, but for her daughters.
The wind died away, so suddenly, she knew she'd lost. The Coven wasn't coming.
I've failed! Failed as a wife, failed to protect those I love.
She hadn't expected them to save her; not after she'd wed a mortal and abandoned the Coven. Although her children were Impures because of their human blood, she'd thought the Circle might at least save ther daughters.
Lifting her head, she watched as John withdrew a paper from his vest pocket and shook it at her. It was a warrant for her arrest.
“Being wed to you has ruined my life,” he said. Accusation twisted his once handsome face. “You have no ability to produce sons.” His lips drew together, tight with contempt. “This warrant is for all of you. Awaken your daughters. They will hang beside you.” His lips twisted with victory. “Know this, I have bedded another and she now carries my son in her belly.”
Elsbeth swallowed hard. A child? A son? Her soul cried out. Her heart splintered and bled. Her husband would gladly hand her over to the magistrates just to gain his freedom. That treachery alone was enough to shatter her wounded spirit. But for him to create a child with another, and be willing to watch his daughters hang was unforgivable.
She lifted her chin. “Turn me over to the magistrates if that is your desire, but I will not allow you or the magistrates to harm our daughters.”
“Obey me or pay the price.”
“Search your heart. I know you do not truly feel this contempt for me. You have always been a righteous man, and now you are compelled. You are hexed. Fight it, John! We can go away. Start over. Remember how happy we were? ”
For a moment, his eyes--those dark, unfathomable eyes--sought hers. In that brief connection, she saw a second of lucidity. Deep grooves bracketed his mouth. Pain twisted his face. Tears spilled down his cheeks in a pale ribbon. “Beth,” he choked. “Forgive me.”
Then he cast off his remorse, as once more the oily spell blackened his mind. He mopped his tears on the back of his shirt sleeve, and his eyes glittered with renewed venom. “I renounce you!” he shouted. He clenched his fingers. “Your witchmarks will determine your guilt.”
Elsbeth closed her eyes. Fool! He couldn't see the invisible witchmarks any more than she could die from a rope. True, severe injuries ripped the soul from a witch's body and it could take centuries before it found its way back, but fire was the true enemy. There were others, but fire was the most damaging. It could force her spirit into an eternal black void, but John didn't know that. No one did, except another witch.
He dropped his gaze to her breasts. “You tempted me with your lush body.”
“Do not tempt me into turning you into a croaking toad! Harm me or our daughters and I will do exactly that! Now get out of my way!”
John threw up his hands. “Take your daughters,” he ordered. “Do what you will, for they are as evil as you. I never want to see them again! Get out!”
Elsbeth flinched at his cruel words.
“I have watched you in the woods with them. I have seen the magic fly from their fingertips,” he ranted. “I have witnessed your chanting, summoning the Devil. The silver-haired one--”
“Saylym,” Elsbeth interrupted. “Your daughter's name is Saylym. She is but two, John. How can you fear her? We were not summoning Satan but asking for blessings upon our home. Your children love you. You are their father.”
“No,” he denied. “Demon seeds! They are rooted from Satan's own seed, not mine.”
The light of fanaticism glowed in his eyes. He looked feverish, his face flushed with madness. Sweat trickled down his cheeks and throat and dampened the neck of his shirt despite the cool of the evening.
The leaves outside rustled against the window. The wind rose to a fierce howl until it surrounded the cottage. The Coven! Elsbeth's heart raced with excitement. Her pulse pounded.
“Mama?” The frightened voice came from their eldest, six-year-old Nyra.
Elsbeth whipped around and looked up to the loft. “Go, Nyra! Wake Saylym and Kirrah. Gather your sisters. Quickly! Our Coven draws near.”
“No!” John yelled. “It cannot be!”
Elsbeth turned her attention to her husband. Her steps faltered at the sight of the heavy, flintlock pistol shaking in his hands. Revulsion filled his eyes as he aimed it toward her. She drew a sharp breath at the sound of the lock mechanism snapping into place as he cocked the gun. “The children,” she said faintly. “Please. Do not do this terrible thing, I beg you.”
Not a whisper of remorse glimmered in his eyes as his finger tightened on the trigger. Elsbeth threw up her arms in defense. The sound of the gunshot exploded through the cottage.