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Synopsis

After entering an alternative world through a portal, Sig and her cat, Reggie, find themselves on a perilous journey to find Sig’s father and to reclaim Reggie’s throne.

When Sig finds herself under a collapsed barn on her farm she falls through a portal which brings her into a different dimension, a strange world filled with gruesome creatures, dangerous centaurs and gracious and magical fairies and butterflies.

She finds herself not alone when she bumps into Reggie, who she at first doesn’t recognize to be her own cat from her life back on the farm, as he’s changed into a boy.

Sig soon finds that she has a special power which is prized in this strange world. She can see images, people and present happenings through a piece of mirror which she found during her dangerous journey. Throughout the story, the pair stick together in this dark and mysterious world, each on their own mission leading them into outlandish towns and landscapes and meeting bizarre and entertaining characters.

Join them on their journey through the most unexpected and nail-biting twists and turns, which will keep you on the edge of your seat, longing to know what happens next in the chapters to follow.


Chapter Four

An Engagement

CHAPTER 4 AN ENGAGEMENT

A rustling noise by the bed pulled Sig from her sleep. She peeked through cracked eyelids and spotted a black-bearded man with watery blue eyes examining her.

The red rims and bulging veins surrounding the irises nauseated her almost as much as his warm, fetid breath in her face. She pretended to sleep.

He snorted, then turned away lumbering over to the table.

“She’ll do,” he grunted, “even if she’s a bit sickly.”

“An unmarried man your age, Koloda, should be grateful for a grandmother’s gift,” said Titka Freya from her spot near the fireplace.

“What about me, Grandmamma?” A thin, balding man seated at the table scowled at Titka Freya’s back as she dished up stew from the pot over the fire.

“Pff…such nonsense, Pavel. You break my heart every day, ever since my only daughter passed away when she whelped you. And a grandson at that —you should have been my granddaughter.”

Pavel glared at the old woman with black, beady eyes and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. Koloda pulled a big stump from under the head of the table, straddled it and sat down with a thud.

Titka Freya placed a large bowl of stew in front of Koloda. “Eat up, Lodi.” She patted the top of his head as he ladled the steaming potage into his mouth, spilling the rich broth down his greasy beard.

Pavel picked at the small bowl of stew in front of him. Titka Freya sliced the end of a long loaf of brown bread and tossed it towards Pavel. She handed Koloda the rest of the loaf. He broke off a chunk, wiped the broth from his chin with the bread and shoved it in his mouth.

“Where’s that boy?” he asked, bits of bread shooting from his mouth as he spoke.

“Fetching water for the kettle as I asked of him,” said Titka Freya.
Pavel snorted. “Fancy that, he’s filling it for his last bath.”

“Shush,” ordered Titka Freya. “You’ll wake the girl.” The men went back to eating. As they were finishing, the front door creaked open and Reggie stepped in bearing two buckets from a yoke over his shoulders.

“Here’s your water for the house, Titka Freya,” he said, stooping to get out from under the heavy yoke and buckets.

“Do an old woman a kind favor and pour the water into the warming kettle. Did you fill the outside kettle for our washing tomorrow?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Reggie, as he carried the buckets to the large pot near the fire. “Full to almost the brim. My shoulders are bloody sore from carrying the buckets from the pond, but I’m glad to do it in light of your kindness to us these past few days.” He poured the water into the pot. “Do you think she’ll awaken soon?”

“Yes, yes. She stirs in her sleep now, so soon she’ll be awake and good as new. Her wound has healed nicely,” the old woman said.
Koloda gave a deep belch before pushing back from the table.

“She best be awake soon so we can go about our business.” Titka Freya pursed her lips and shook her head. Koloda shrugged and smacked Pavel on the back.

“Come, little brother, and leave the cleaning up to the women and children. Let’s have a smoke before bed. Grandmamma, will you be joining us?”

“Boy, would you let an old woman have a few moments of relaxation and tend to the dishes?” she asked Reggie.

“Yes, by all means, go and enjoy.” As the trio left the hut, Reggie began dipping water from the warming kettle into a shallow metal dishpan.

“Reg,” whispered Sig, hiking herself up on the bed by her elbow.

“Sig!” he exclaimed. He hustled over to the bed and sat on the edge. “How’re you feeling?”

“Pretty good, but still wiped out.”

“No wonder. You were pretty sick and have been sleeping for two days.”

“I heard them talking. They plan to marry me to that stinking fat guy. And they mentioned something about a final bath for you.”
Reggie took her hand in his. “I know. I’ve heard those two louts muttering threats towards me under their breath ever since they showed up that first night. We need to get out of here.”

“I can hear them talking right outside this wall,” said Sig. She kneeled on the bed and motioned Reggie to the small window in the wall. They could see the two men squatting on the ground facing their grandmother who sat with her back to the hut.

Koloda took a deep draw on a bone pipe, and then blew a plume of smoke from his broad nostrils. He passed the pipe to Pavel, who brought the pipe’s slender stem up to his threadlike lips.

“We’ll have to send word to your father’s kin,” Titka Freya said, “even though they have never offered a coin to put bread on our table. Of course, they’ll expect a feast in their honor at your wedding.”

“And the girl? What of her kin?” asked Pavel, handing the pipe to Titka Freya. Koloda cuffed the slender man on the back of his head.

“Hold your tongue. Her kin will not be in need of her services any longer. She’s to be joined to our family—hers is of no consequence. We’ll be rid of the boy by tomorrow as well.”

“Why don’t we keep him for work?” asked Pavel. “I have too much to do and could use help.”

“Nonsense,” said Titka Freya. “The girl will help with the work load while meeting Koloda’s needs.”

“What would Lodi know to do with a woman?” asked Pavel. He ducked as the big man’s hand took a swipe at his head.

“Enough foolish talk,” said Titka Freya. “We’ll have the boy to tide us over until Koloda can hunt down the doe that wandered into the forest this past week. She and her fawn will make fine roasts for the wedding feast.”

“Interesting bunch aren’t they?” Sig and Reggie whirled around at the voice behind them. A red tabby cat sat on the table.

“Who are you?” asked Sig, not too surprised that a cat was talking to her after the experience with Reggie.

The cat lapped stew from Pavel’s abandoned bowl before responding. “My name is Ailish Rionach, Aily for short. You two are right. You’ll need to leave this place before she turns your boyfriend into stew and marries you to that pig, Lodi.”

“He’s not my boyfriend. And my foot is hurt. I don’t think I’ll get very far,” said Sig.

“Did the witch put saguaro cicatrix ointment on you?” Aily jumped from the table to the mantle, picking her way along the glass jars to the end of the ledge where she sat on her haunches and peered down at Reggie and Sig.

“She put some thick, yellow goop on her foot,” said Reggie. “It looks pretty good today.” Sig stuck her foot out over the edge of the bed. The wound was covered in a thick, waxy material but otherwise appeared normal.

“From the saguaro cicatrix,” confirmed Aily. “It’s an all-purpose healing ointment. One can only obtain it from the flesh of certain saguaro cactus that have been nibbled on by rabbits. Your foot is good as new.”

“Is she really a witch?” asked Reggie.

“Yes, warts and all. She put a spell on me and turned me into a cat when I refused to marry malodorous Lodi. It ties me to this place until the spell is broken.” Aily turned her and licked her coppery fur vigorously, flicking her tail from side to side.

“She’ll probably do the same to me if I refuse,” said Sig.

“Oh, being a cat isn’t that terrible,” said Reggie. “Being made into the next batch of stew, however, isn’t a very tantalizing thought.”

“If you refuse, you’ll go right in the pot next to your friend,” said Aily. “The only thing saving me from the stew is my father, Prince Harald. When he finds out what she’s done, she and her ugly grandsons will be drawn and quartered.”

“You’re a princess?”

“In the flesh, so to speak. Unfortunately, the spell can’t be broken until the old hag dies. I linger here waiting for death to pass this way, but she won’t go until Lodi is married.”

“Why don’t you go home to your father? Certainly he knows of someone who can break the spell,” said Reggie.

Aily shook her head slowly. “No, this witch is the last of her line, and good thing. Spell casters have brought nothing but troubles into this world. She’s looking for someone to bear Lodi a daughter as the line will only continue through the females in the family.”

Scuffling noises outside made Reggie spring onto the bed to look out the window. “They’ve finished their pipe,” he said. “Looks like they’re going to use the outhouse.”

“They’re getting ready to come in for the evening. It’s too dark and dangerous in the forest for you to leave tonight, so first thing in the morning, you go” said Aily. “Boy, see that shard of mirror on this mantle?”

Reggie shimmied off the bed and walked to the mantle. A bit of broken mirror was propped up among the numerous glass jars. He picked it up and returned to the bed.

“Let me see that,” said Sig, reaching for it. “I bet my hair is gross.” She looked into the mirror. Her pale face framed by messy hair stared back at her. As she looked, the mirror clouded over with a white smoke, then cleared. An image of a man sitting with his back to her appeared.

Sig brought her face closer to the mirror. The man lifted a mug of dark golden liquid to his mouth. He was seated at a bar-like counter. Rows of bottles sat on a shelf behind the bar and a sign with the word “Grimeke” was tacked up on the wall over the bottles.

The man in the mirror turned and she gasped as she recognized his profile. She dropped the mirror on the bed.

“What’s wrong?” asked Reggie.

“I…I was just looking at my reflection in the mirror and suddenly I saw a guy sitting at a bar in a place called Grimeke. He was my dad. My dad must be here.”

“Oh, that’s not good,” said Aily grimly. “You have the sight. Everyone with the sight has been hunted down and…”

“And what?” demanded Reggie. “You can’t say a frightening thing like that and leave us hanging.”

“Take my word. It is not a good thing and you’d best keep that to yourself.” Aily’s ears perked up and she stood. “They’re coming now. Put the mirror back on the mantle, but be sure to grab it and the blue cloth in the jar next to it before you leave in the morning.”

“Why?”

“The mirror is the last piece of the telling mirror. It’s a priceless artifact. Now that we know Sig is a seer it is rightly hers to use or dispose of how she sees fit. I’d suggest ridding yourself of it as soon as possible. Sell it for food if you must or bury it.”

“What about the rag? What good is that?” asked Reggie.
Aily ignored him and scurried across the mantle and leapt onto the bed in an alcove opposite to the one Sig sat on.

“As soon as dawn breaks and when their attention is elsewhere, leave the hut by the window over your bed,” said Aily. “Do not go through the door. It won’t let you out. Flee towards the boulder by the crooked pine and run down the path. It will lead you down the valley. Run as if the devil himself has set his dogs on you, and don’t look back until you reach the crest of the hill overlooking the valley.”

The door opened and Aily jumped onto the window ledge over the bed. “When they are in the valley and you are on the hill, throw the blue cloth and they’ll meet their just ends. Just remember to pick the cloth up afterwards.” The cat disappeared through the window as the family came into the hut.

The inky sky outlined by the small window above Sig’s mattress gradually turned to foggy gray. Sig turned to her side and looked down at Reggie, rolled up in a thin, moth-eaten blanket next to her bed.

The two men slept near the fireplace, grunting and snoring on their straw mats. Titka Freya lay on the other bed with her hands crossed over her chest, her mouth gaped open.

Reggie glanced up at Sig and nodded. She returned his nod and he noiselessly climbed into the bed. He slid to the head of the bed, kneeled and cautiously took the mirror and blue cloth from their places on the mantel. He wrapped the mirror, along with the remnants of last night’s bread and a hunk of cheese in his dingy blanket. The blue cloth went into his rear pocket.

Koloda gave a loud snort and his grandmother stirred. Reggie slid off the bed and curled up on the floor. Sig ducked under her covers. She heard the witch’s feet hit the floor and peeked out from the blanket. Titka Freya had slept with her boots on, which she used to kick Koloda in the rear.

“Get up and fetch wood for the fire,” she ordered. Koloda gave a surprised snort and sat up.

“What? No breakfast?” he grumbled. “Isn’t it enough that we had to sleep on this cold, hard floor?”

“Enough. Wake your brother and go cut wood.”

Koloda stood, scratched his rear and stretched before kicking Pavel in the side. The smaller man cursed and pushed off from the floor. The men shuffled to the door, tossed their heavy axes over their shoulders and left the hut. Titka Freya tossed her shawl over her head and shoulders and followed the two out the door.

“Sig, we need to go now while they are out in the wood lot. The witch will be in the outhouse.”

“Quick, both of you, get dressed.” They looked up to find Aily sitting in the window sill above Sig’s bed. “Do you have the mirror and cloth?” Reggie nodded as he handed Sig her shoes, socks and hoodie.

“Right here,” said Reggie, patting the blanket.

“Hurry now,” said Aily, “there isn’t much time.”

They hastily dressed. Aily jumped out the window and the children pulled themselves through the opening, tumbling to the ground.

“Did the house move?” asked Sig, untangling herself from Reggie’s legs.

“Yes,” said Aily, “it knows you’ve escaped.”

“What?” they said in unison. Reggie pulled Sig to her feet and they looked at the house. The hut had risen up, on two large chicken-like legs and spun around. The front windows and door snapped open and a howl came from within.

“Run!” The trio fled toward the trees. They heard Titka Freya screaming for her grandsons. A moment later the men were cursing and crashing through the forest in pursuit.

Aily led the way, becoming a red blur, weaving in and out of trees, bounding over fallen logs. Reggie and Sig raced after her, spurred on by the sound of the men—and the hut—blundering through the forest.

“She’s enchanted them to run fast, you must hurry,” panted Aily.
Sig’s side burned with pain, but she pushed herself to run faster.
“She’s on top of the house,” hollered Reggie. Sig glanced back. Through breaks in the trees, she could see Titka Freya astride the hut’s roof.

“Don’t stop to look,” ordered Aily. “We’re close to the valley.” The trees thinned and they ran into an open meadow of short grasses. They raced across and began a lung-burning uphill sprint. Aily reached the summit, followed by Sig who collapsed. Reggie brought up the rear and doubled over, hands on his knees, gasping for air. Koloda and Pavel had crossed the meadow and were beginning to ascend the hill. The witch and the hut lumbered behind the men.

“Throw the cloth!” screamed Aily.

Reggie whipped the blue cloth out of his back pocket, wadded it into a ball and lobbed it downhill. As it hit the earth, it expanded then surged into a wave of water which crashed into Koloda and Pavel, sending them tumbling downhill in a roiling swell. The water hit the hut which burst into splinters sending its rider to a watery grave. Koloda and Pavel bobbed up once, then twice and finally disappeared into the dark water.

“Are they…dead?” asked Sig.

“Yes!” shouted Aily. “The spell is broken. I can feel myself changing, the spell is lifting. I owe you, but I must go now.” Aily appeared to have grown to the size of a lamb and her face had elongated.

She turned to leave, and then looked back. “You will find a road, a good path, a day’s walk from here. It will lead to Grimeke. I must get back to my people now.”

“Wait!” said Sig. “Come with us. Please. I hate wandering around this country not knowing where we are going.”

Aily shook her head. “I need to get back to my father and my land. You do as well. Our paths must diverge now. Thank you, my friends, I shall never forget the gift you’ve given me.”

Aily turned and sprinted off and was soon swallowed up by the forest.

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M. G. Nelson

Ortonville, USA

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