The first rays of sunlight were filtering through the clouds as Amber and Jermain knocked on the door of the last house in the village. Within seconds the door swung open and Urquhart stood there smiling up at them, relief written all over his youthful face.
“Your Highness, Amber, please step inside quickly,” he welcomed warmly.
Closing the door behind him, the wizard ushered them through to the kitchen. His sister stood at the hearth preparing a large pot of porridge. Tears of relief flowed down her cheeks when she saw their visitors had arrived safely. Ignoring protocol she greeted Amber first, hugging the fairy/elf tightly.
“You look exhausted, child. Sit down before you fall down.”
“Thank you,” said Amber, collapsing into the chair beside the hearth.
“Your Highness,” greeted the wizard’s sister, curtseying deeply. “It’s an honour to have you in our home,”
“No need for formalities,” said the imp, taking her hand and helping her to rise out of the curtsey. “It’s Jem among friends.”
Before she could protest he reached out and hugged her then kissed her on the cheek. Despite his current grotesque form, she blushed at the royal attention.
A soft cough from behind him caused Jermain to spin round. Seeing his aged wizard friend standing there looking like an eight year old boy made him laugh.
“Oh Urquhart, you’re a sight for sore eyes.”
“I could say the same to you, young man,” retorted the wizard with a playful smile. “And I see you have the brooch.”
Jem nodded as he fumbled with the silver brooch that was holding his cloak in place. After a few failed attempts, the catch gave and he was able to remove it from the thick blue woollen fabric.
“I believe you need this,” he said as he handed it to his old friend.
“Thank you,” replied Urquhart, slipping the brooch into his pocket.
“Artie,” began Amber, her usually musical voice sounding tired and flat. “Did you get the rest of the things you needed?”
“Yes,” nodded the wizard. “Everything is ready. We need to wait until tonight though before we can attempt this. It’s a full moon and I’d like to draw on that energy to help the spell. Plus you both need to rest before we start. This is not going to be easy.”
“But you can reverse the curse?” asked Jermain as he sat down at the table. “On both you and I?”
“I’ll do my best,” promised Urquhart sincerely. “Now, before I forget, Amber, I have something for you,”
Reaching into his other trouser pocket the wizard brought out the small grey cloudy bottle. He passed it to the weary fairy/elf who gazed into its murky depths at the hint of glitter.
“When your labour pains begin, drink this,” instructed the wizard. “I was given this fairy magic a very long time ago along with a rather cryptic message. I never understood it until now. This was meant for you, my dear.”
“Thank you,” said Amber with a smile.
“Right, enough of this, young man,” scolded his sister sharply. “Breakfast then rest for you two. Artie, if you want to maintain this ruse, you need to get to school.”
Laughing at the thought of the wizard attending the village school, Jem and Amber both accepted warm bowls of honeyed porridge from their hostess.
In her tower room the Lady Karina had taken great pains over her appearance. Finally the king had invited her to his chambers to enjoy a private supper. It was the opportunity she had been waiting for and she wasn’t about to let it slip by. The dark green velvet gown that she had chosen was low cut and well fitted to her slender figure. Her long ebony black hair was plaited with a gold cord twined through it. Around her neck the witch carefully fastened a gold pendant. It nestled between her full breasts. On the dressing table in front of her sat a small bowl containing a pungently fragranced oil. With a knowing smile the witch dabbed the oil behind her ears, on her wrists and into her cleavage. Coupled with the seduction spell she planned to weave, the enchanted perfumed oil should render the king helpless to her charm.
A knock at the door startled her back to reality. She unlocked it and opened it to find one of the king’s pages standing outside trembling.
“His Royal Highness the King is waiting for you, Lady Karina.”
“Well, we mustn’t keep the king waiting,” she purred as she stepped out into the hallway.
The king’s private chamber was surprisingly plain and simple. As she swept into the room, the witch was disappointed by the lack of luxury; at the lack of a woman’s influence. In front of the large fireplace, where a fire burned bright in the hearth, sat two high backed cushioned chairs. The king sat in one, gazing silently into the flames.
“Good evening, your majesty.” greeted the witch as she approached.
“Ah, my dear,” he sighed. “Welcome. No need for formalities this evening.”
“As you wish, sir,” she replied, her tone soft and sultry.
“Please be seated.”
Needing no second invitation, she took the seat opposite him and accepted a goblet of wine offered by a page.
“You may advise the kitchen to bring up our meal,” said the king. “And tell them to make sure the food is hot.”
The page boy bowed then darted from the room, leaving the king and the witch alone together.
Sipping her wine the witch surveyed the room, taking note of the large four poster bed and simple furnishings.
“Not what you expected?” asked the king softly.
“No,” she confessed with a smile. “Less luxurious. Less regal.”
“I lead a simple uncluttered life,” he confessed. “It was more opulent when my wife was alive. She liked pretty things around her.”
Before they could continue their conversation, there was a knock at the door and two maids entered carrying their meal. A third, Martha, followed bringing a fresh jug of wine. The king offered the witch his arm and escorted her across the room to the small table that had been set for them under the open window. As they ate their meal the both made polite conversation about court life; both avoiding mentioning the prince’s dramatic disappearance. Eventually though, after a few more goblets of wine, the king asked if she had heard any news of his missing son.
“It makes no sense,” he declared, gazing at her with grief etched into the lines of his face. “Why would he just vanish like that? So soon after Urquhart took off too. I miss them both.”
Seizing the moment Karina moved round to the king’s side of the table and knelt at his feet.
“I miss him too, sir,” she whispered, forcing herself to sound tearful.
“Of course you must, my dear,” soothed the king, reaching out to stroke her head.
Patiently she sat at his feet and allowed him to console her. With her hands covered by the heavy velvet folds of her gown, she began to weave a seduction spell. Her magic combined with enchanted fragranced oil she was wearing soon began to have the desired effect on the king. All maudlin thoughts of his missing son melted away as the magic captured him. Gently he ran his finger along her jawline, pausing under her chin, to tip her face up towards him. Staring him in the eye, the witch allowed him to bend forward and kiss her, gently at first but gradually becoming more demanding. Slowly she moved towards him until she was kneeling in front of him. With a lustful sigh, the king reached forward and began to unlace the bodice of her gown. With the leather laces loosened, he slipped the green velvet dress from her alabaster pale shoulders, pausing to kiss her neck as the bodice fell to her waist.
“My son doesn’t know what he’s missing,” murmured the king as he cupped her breasts in his hands.
The king pulled her roughly into his lap and began to suckle at her breast before biting her nipple hard. With a grimace of pain, the witch relaxed into his embrace. Her plan was working like a charm.
Darkness cloaked the village when Urquhart came into the bedroom to waken the sleeping prince. Both Jem and Amber had slept the day away in the wizard’s bedroom. Around sunset Amber had wakened and slipped soundlessly from the room, leaving the prince to sleep on. He was going to need all the strength he could muster when it came time to reverse the curse.
“Jem,” called Urquhart softly. “Time to wake up.”
“Mmmm,”mumbled the sleeping imp.
“Boy!” snapped the wizard sharply. “Now!”
“What?” Jem exclaimed, struggling to sit up. “What’s wrong? Is it Amber?”
“Nothing,” muttered Urquhart sourly. “But we need to prepare. My sister has a meal ready for you. Once you’ve eaten the moon should be high enough in the sky to shine into the room.”
Both of them looked over at the magic pattern drawn on the floor, still in shadow.
“And all I need to do is stand where you tell me to?” asked the prince, climbing stiffly from the bed, every movement agonizing.
“Yes,” replied the wizard. “And to stab through the bundle I give you. That will connect you to the witch. You need to hold that pin in place for as long as you possibly can. Hopefully that should give me a strong enough link to reverse the curse.”
“You don’t sound too sure, my friend,” commented the imp nervously.
“There’s always a risk,” stated the wizard. “Now go and eat. You’ll need all your strength to help me with this.”
Dinner was a simple meal of broth accompanied by freshly baked bread. None of them spoke much during the meal; all of them too scared to voice their concerns about what was about to happen. With their bowls wiped clean, the wizard said simply, “It’s time.”
“You go on upstairs,” said Jem, looking over at the silent fairy/elf. “I want a moment alone with Amber.”
Nodding Urquhart left the room, closely followed by his sister. Once alone, the imp reached out to take the pregnant fairy/elf’s trembling hand.
“Is this goodbye?” she whispered, her words barely audible.
“I hope not,” replied Jem with a weak smile. “If I don’t survive this night, I want you to still send the baby back to Urquhart. He’ll know what to do. I’ve left him a note upstairs.”
With tears in her eyes, Amber nodded, “I promise.”
“Amber,” he began,” I….”
“Don’t say it,” she interrupted sharply. “Please.”
“Alright,” agreed the imp. “Let’s do this.”
Hand in hand they made their way up the stairs to the wizard’s bedroom. In the centre of the room the enchanted circle was swathed in moonlight. Taking a deep breath, the imp let go of her hand and stepped into the pool of moonlight, taking his place in the intricate design. Urquhart stepped forward and instructed his sister and Amber to step back well clear of the moonlight. The wizard lifted one of the silk stockings from its mark on the floor and some of the witch’s hair, that had been teased from the brush, from its spot. Wrapping the two together he handed the bundle to the prince then passed him the brooch.
“When I give the word,” said the wizard calmly. “Force the pin of the brooch into this and hold it there for as long as you can.”
“That’s all I need to do?”
“Trust me, that will be challenge enough. This is going to be painful for both of us.”
With a final glance up at the full moon, Urquhart raised the wand and said simply, “Now.”
As Jem pressed the sharp silver pin through the bundle in his hand, the wizard began his incantation. Blinding pain shot through the imp’s cursed body and he let out a blood curdling scream of agony. As he collapsed onto the floor, Amber felt a sharp pain crush her swollen stomach, momentarily taking her breath away. Her leggings felt wet and, as she looked down, a pool of liquid was spreading across the floor towards the moonlight.
Entwined in the king’s arms, naked after their lovemaking, the witch glanced out of the window at the full moon. Soon the ruby would be hers. The plan was falling beautifully into place.
A sharp shooting pain suddenly filled her head. Instinctively she brought her hands up to grab her temples. Magic, cursed magic, was flooding into her! Her body began to writhe and contort in agony. Beside her the king looked on in horror as the beautiful woman he had bedded began to transform into a hag. The witch gathered enough strength to cast her transformation spell. In the blink of an eye, she was gone. A bewildered king watched as a large black hoodie crow, with a white flash on its wings, flew out of the window and into the darkness.
A single black feather lay on the pillow beside him.
As the crow flew overhead, two tall slender visitors arrived outside the last house in the village. The two elves didn’t stop to knock. Knowing that time was now against them, they walked straight into the house.