An icy chill crept into Urquhart’s bones as he moved silently along the passageway to his tower. The torches in the wall sconces were almost burned out and the diminishing flames were flickering, casting dancing shadows across the damp stone walls. The wizard had met Martha as arranged at lunchtime and thanked her for acquiring the three items he so badly needed. As she had handed him the tiny snake key, Martha had told him that the cook had passed away shortly after giving her the key. News of the cook’s death had saddened him; the loss of an old friend always painful. He had taken the stockings and hairbrush back to his room in his sister’s house for safe keeping then returned to the castle under the cover of darkness. As he had entered the castle gate Urquhart had spun a silent cloaking spell and disappeared into the shadows. Making the familiar journey to his tower felt surreal, not to mention dangerous. Reaching out with his mind the wizard tried to detect any signs of the witch’s presence in the dark hallway.
The large carved door to his tower room loomed large ahead of him. In the flickering torchlight, the carved serpent design seemed to writhe and slither. With three quick words Urquhart lifted the protective enchantment from the lock then slid the tiny key into place. Despite having been shut tight for months, the lock turned smoothly, allowing the heavy door to glide open soundlessly.
With the door closed and locked behind him, the wizard breathed a sigh of relief and let go of the cloaking spell.
“Home sweet home,” he thought as he gazed round.
Everything was exactly as he had left it. Nothing had been disturbed. A protective layer of dust and cobwebs shrouded his realm.
Time was short and Urquhart knew he had to retrieve what he had come for and leave as carefully as he had arrived. Taking care not to disturb the dust, he tiptoed over to his desk. It was piled high with precarious looking stacks of leather bound books and scrolls. His wand lay in the middle of one of the tomes, marking his place. Resisting the urge to retrieve it, Urquhart instead opened the desk drawer and drew out a long narrow wooden box. Inside lay an intricately carved wand. It had belonged to his master and been passed down the line of wizards for centuries. This slender ancient wand contained an essence of the power of every wizard to ever touch it; this wand was his best chance of ridding them of the witch for ever. He shut the box and slipped it into the canvas satchel that was slung over his shoulder.
Next he went over to a tall narrow glass fronted cabinet. Every inch of shelf space was covered. Thousands of tiny glass bottles filled the entire cabinet. Instinctively his hand went out and he lifted two bottles and slipped them into the bag. He closed the doors over again then paused. A tiny bottle down on the bottom shelf caught his eye. It was a non-descript cloudy grey colour but as he lifted it something sparkled in the murky liquid.
“I wonder,” he mused as he stared into the bottles depths. “Perhaps you are the answer Amber is looking for.”
He slipped the bottle into his trouser pocket, feeling it hot against his thigh.
There was one last thing that he needed. Quickly he darted across the room, opened a narrow door and scampered up the spiral stone staircase to his private study. In the centre of the cluttered room stood a round table with a large wooden bowl in the centre. The bowl was filled with innocent looking coloured pebbles. In silence Urquhart used his fingers to weave the spell to lift the enchantment disguising the bowl. As the spell broke, there was a small flash of light. The bowl now contained an array of sparkling vibrant crystals. With his trained wizard’s ears, he could hear the crystals singing. He lifted a large angular amethyst stone then replaced the protection spell over the bowl. Again it stood silent on the table – an innocuous bowl of pebbles.
His task was complete. In his bag he had the last things needed to break the curse on Jermain. All he needed now was the prince and the brooch.
Their four days together, alone in the safety of the bothy, were too short. Once Amber felt fully rested after her arduous trek up the mountain, they had spent their time taking short strolls, collecting berries, fishing in a nearby stream, talking and finally, on their last full day, taking a swim in the pool near the bothy. Wearing only a long white shift, Amber had allowed the cool water to support her weight, relaxing for the first time in months. Beside her, Jem kept a close watch over her. When she saw his “real” reflection gazing at her from the water, tears pricked in her eyes. In that moment, seeing the love in his eyes, she resolved to do everything in her power to get their baby back to his safe keeping and, if she survived, to return to him.
As darkness fell, they gathered together a few essentials for the journey then stepped out into the dusky evening, closing the bothy door behind them. Taking no chances, Amber spun a cloaking spell to cover them both from prying eyes. She still couldn’t shake the feeling that the witch was watching their every move.
Their progress down the mountain was slow but steady. Both of them needed to rest for a few moments every few hundred yards. Every step jarred Jem’s twisted aged body and walking down hill sent sharp blades of fire through his hips and knees. Beside him, he was aware of Amber struggling, the weight of the baby making walking and breathing difficult. Eventually the lights of the village came into view; the end was in sight.
“Jem,” said Amber softly. “I need to talk to you about something before we reach the village.”
The imp turned to look at her, “Is everything ok?”
“Yes, “replied the fairy/elf. “I want to agree a message between us for after I’ve returned home. Something only you and I will understand.”
“What did you have in mind?” he asked curiously.
Amber fingered the two pendants she wore on leather cords round her neck.
“I’ve worn these since birth,” she explained. “And I intend to pass them on to the baby. I promise to try to find a way to send the baby to you, if I can. If he or she arrives with both pendants then, you’ll know I’m alive too and coming back to join you as soon as I can.”
“And if only the baby is delivered to me?” asked Jem, dreading the answer.
“Then I’ve passed from this life,” whispered Amber, tears glistening in her eyes.
Nodding, Jem reached out to hug her. He placed one wrinkled hand on her swollen belly and promised, “I’ll guard this little one with my life. I promise you that.”
Under his hand he felt the baby give a sharp kick. The first time he had felt the new life move. With a sad smile, Amber held his hand in place while the baby wriggled.
“We need to keep going,” she said reluctantly. “It’ll be light soon and it’s too dangerous for us to be seen in daylight.”
Hand in hand, they continued down the narrow path.
In the house at the end of the village, Urquhart sat alone in his attic room staring out of the skylight at the dawn sky. If all had gone to plan Amber and the prince would arrive at the house shortly. On the wooden floor in front of him he had used the wand to draw an intricate circular pattern. Each of the items were strategically placed in the swirls of the pattern – the hair from the hairbrush, the silk stockings, the amethyst crystal. All he needed now was Jermain and the brooch.