The story is untitled as of now. It is a witch craze AU, where those who practice the Kurain Channelling Technique have come under suspicion of witchcraft. Characters include Mia, Maya, Pearl, Gant, Manfred and Phoenix. There are no trigger warnings for this snippet I'm posting.
Hope you enjoy reading!!
“Mystic Mia! Mystic Mia!”
Little Pearls came rushing into the house, looking distressed. Mia stopped kneading her dough and turned to her younger cousin.
“What’s the matter, Pearly?”
“Someone’s taken our plants again!” She was on the verge of tears, so Mia bent down and pulled her into a hug.
“It’s okay, Pearls. Show me.”
Pearls nodded and pulled Mia by the hand out to the front of their house.
The garden beds that lined the worn down front fence had been destroyed. Mia crouched down and inspected the soil as Pearls hung back behind her. Everything had been taken — all that was left behind were a few roots and dead leaves. She pinched some soil and rubbed it between her fingers. Their lost herbs were not the only casualty — whoever had done this had also salted the earth ensuring that nothing could ever grow here again.
Mia exhaled loudly through her nose. This hadn’t been the first time someone had done something like this. The thefts had begun a few months back — around the same time all those city folk flocked to their quiet little village. She dusted off her hands and stood up. What was she going to do about this? But more importantly, what was she going to tell Pearls? She turned around and her little cousin looked up at her expectantly. She was, for the most part, in the dark about why their family had been targeted. But she was a bright girl and if Mia didn’t tell her, she’d work it out on her own.
“Hey Pearls, why don’t we go inside and talk about it?”
Pearls’ expression grew concerned. “O-okay…”
Mia let her into the house first. She stopped at the front door, turning to look back at the street. A few villagers were walking by, staring at Mia in fear or anger. She closed the door and locked it tight. The village was no longer safe for the Feys.
Lord Gant ripped a chunk of meat off the bone in his hands and chewed noisily. Between squelches he asked: “So you're that famous witch-hunter, eh?”
“Manfred von Karma. It is a pleasure to finally meet you, your Lordship.” He gave Lord Gant a curt bow.
“Hmm. Yes, yes,” Gant said as he gnawed at the bone. He slurped his beer and slammed the mug down on the table. “Ahh! Now come — join me!”
“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly waste your Lordship’s ti—“
“Nonsense! Somebody,” he shouted at the servants standing by the door, “fetch ol’ Manny here a plate of something— and bring out some more beer!”
Manfred slowly approached the long table with a strained smile. He sat down opposite Lord Gant as one of the servants brought out a plate of stew and bread trenchers and placed it in front of him. Another servant brought out a pitcher of beer as Manfred examined the food with distaste. The only cutlery he could see was the spoon in his stew and the large meat knife skewered in Gant’s lamb.
Such incivility! No wonder they have a witch problem.
He glanced up to his host; Lord Gant was looking at him expectantly.
“It’s not what you’re used to, I know, but it’s good. You have my word as a gentleman,” Gant promised, a greasy hand placed over his heart.
“This is all so unnecessary, my Lord. I don’t won’t to impo—“
“For goodness sake, Manny. You’re not imposing!” He gestured to Manfred’s meal. “This all would have been thrown away if not for you.”
Ah, thank you for giving me your repulsive leftovers…
Lord Gant gnawed a little more on his bone. Manfred had a stare off with his supper. I suppose I should attempt to eat something… He reluctantly picked up the spoon a put it to his lips. The broth tasted more like oily water than soup and he set the spoon back down in the bowl, his face carefully blank.
Lord Gant was obliviously gnawing away at his bone like a dog before finally setting it aside. “So, onto business then. You say you can get rid of my witch problem?”
“That is correct. I have perfected the method of confirming a witch’s guilt at trial.”
“Hmm.” Lord Gant rubbed at his chin. “And can you do this quickly? I don’t want any of that mass hysteria they had a few counties over…”
“My method is quick and efficient. It shouldn’t take more than two months to round up all the trouble makers.”
“Now, now,” Lord Gant said, pointing the carving knife at von Karma. “I just want you to take care of the witches.” He cut off a large chunk of lamb a plopped it onto his plate. “Leave the rest of the trouble makers to the Inquisition.”
Von Karma smiled thinly. “Of course, your Lordship. Now, if you’ll forgive me, I really must sojourn.”
“O ho ho! So eager! Well, I won’t keep you from your work, Manny.”
Von Karma stood and left the table. One of the servants opened the door hurriedly, struggling to pull the heavy wood.
“Oh! And say hello to those witches for me!”
It was by the order of King Payne that the local Lords encourage the spread of Christianity throughout the country. In unifying the country through religion, he hoped to garner the loyalty of the people. Althaea was a lively town for one so remote from a major city. Because of its location, the monarchy had only just begun to gather some sway amongst the people.
Under King Payne’s orders, certain elites had moved to Althaea temporarily. The local folk religion still persisted but had begun to lose favour with the strength of the nobility’s persuasions. Slowly, as the townspeople began to convert to Christianity, those who upheld the old ways were increasingly regarded with suspicion. The Kurain Channeling Technique, once the pride and joy of the village, was officially declared heretical by Lord Gant a few months after Christianity’s introduction. And the Feys, the leaders of the Kurain spirituality, became public enemy number one.
“I heard that famous witch-hunter arrived in town last night,” Maya said as she sat at the table eating breakfast with Pearl.
Mia froze in her cleaning. She hadn’t heard that. It was terrifying how out-of-the-loop she had become. She cleared her throat and resumed cleaning, acting as natural as possible.
“Really? Well that’s interesting…”
“Mystic Mia, what’s a witch-hunter?”
Pearls. Mia put down her rag and turned to face the two girls seated at the table.
“They’re the people who capture the witches and burn ‘em at the stake!” Maya said, waving her spoon around madly.
“Maya. Mind your manners.” She gave her younger cousin a reassuring smile. “It’s nothing you have to worry about, Pearls. Besides, we’ll be leaving Althaea soon.”
“Yep!” Mia turned back to her cleaning. “I think it’ll do us all some good to get a fresh start.”
She continued to scrub as the two girls took in this new information.
“Is this about our stolen herbs?” Pearl asked.
Mia’s heart sunk. She hadn’t thought little Pearls would work it out so quickly.
*Bang. Bang. Bang*
“Oh, I’ll get it!” Maya said, springing out of her seat. She pulled open the door.
Four men stood before her. The two standing on both flanks were labourers with dirty clothes. In the centre was the town crier, decked out in his usual red and gold garb. And standing next to him was a foreign man with a severe expression.
“We’re looking for one Mia Fey,” the town crier announced.
Mia cautiously made her way to the front door. “Can I help you?” She asked, guiding Maya behind her.
The town crier unfurled a scroll that had been tucked under his arm and began to read from it.
“As decreed by Lord Gant of Althaea, on behalf of His Royal Majesty King Payne, you are hereby taken into custody under the charge of witchcraft.”
The two dirty men stepped forward, took Mia by the arms and pulled her out of the house.
“No, you can’t do this!” Maya screamed, trying the grab onto her sister. The town crier held her back.
“It’s okay, Maya,” Mia called back as she was dragged towards the road. “I’ll be fine. Look after Pearls while I’m gone.” Mia was shoved into the back on a carriage that had been waiting outside. The town crier and the foreign man took their leave without another word and followed the working men into the front of the carriage. Maya fell to her knees as she watched the carriage pull away.
“Mystic Maya…?” Pearl peeked over the table from where she’d been hiding. “Where are they taking Mystic Mia?” She was on the verge of tears.
Maya took a deep breath and opened her arms wide for a hug. “C’mere, Pearly.” The little girl flung herself into Maya’s arms. “It’s okay,” Maya cooed, rocking them back and forth. “It’s going to be okay.”
“Ahhh…” Phoenix exhaled deeply, revelling in the clean country air. After years of studying in the city, the fresh air was a welcome change. He hauled his luggage from the carriage and gave a nod to the coachman. With a crap of the whip, the horses started and the carriage click-clacked down the cobblestone path.
It’s good to finally be back, Phoenix thought as he looked around at his village. Nothing had changed much since he’d left five years ago. The same tired shops lined the street, their awnings sagging towards the ground. A few had received a new lick of paint that was already starting the crack and flake. It wasn’t the prettiest, or most affluent, village in the area, but it was Phoenix’s home. He took another deep breath, slung his bag over his shoulder and headed for the town centre.
On the way, he smiled to the villagers he recognised and nodded to those he didn’t. He stopped smiling when he reached his destination.
In the middle of the plaza was a wooden platform, which held the gallows. Six nooses swung from the beam in the gentle breeze. Phoenix frowned. Althaea was a small village and when he had left there’d only been one, solitary noose. He’d never been too fond of the death penalty, but what made him most uncomfortable was the public spectre of it all. People enjoyed watching the executions. To them it was good, wholesome, family entertainment. Phoenix shook his head and began to walk away. Today was a celebratory day — his homecoming — not a day to ponder the dark side of the law. He gave the courthouse a sidelong glance as he exited the town centre.
He walked along the cobbled path with a more sober expression. It was then that he began to take more notice of the people he passed. Most wore grim frowns and others looked at him with suspicion. There was something he was missing.
He approached the outer region of the village where the farmers and labourers worked and lived.
And Mia. His closest friend, it was she who inspired and encouraged Phoenix to go to the city to study. Five years on, he could still hear her voice telling him how proud she was to have a future lawyer in the family. They weren’t related by blood, but Phoenix’s parents had succumbed to illness when he was a young boy and Mia, being the village leader and mystic, had taken him in. That’s why she lived on the edge of the village — as head of the Kurain spirituality, it was her responsibility to grow and prepare sacred plants to help protect Althaea from harm and ensure its prosperity. There wasn’t enough space to do this in the cramped quarters of the town proper, so the Feys had always resided there.
But as he rounded a bend in the path he realised there was something seriously wrong. All the herbs and flowers that had once adorned the front garden of the Feys’ home were gone. The soil was bare and lifeless. The house itself looked more haggard than usual.
Phoenix slipped his bag slowly off his shoulder and pushed open the gate with undue care.
I’m sure I’m just over-analysing things. Mia will open the door and everything will be fine. There’s probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for the garden.
But Phoenix still wasn’t convinced. Taking a deep breath, he raised a fist and knocked twice. It took much longer than normal for the door to be answered. At first, it only opened a crack, one eye peering out — not enough for Phoenix to recognise who it belonged to. The eye opened wide with recognition and the door swung open to reveal a taller and more womanly Maya Fey.
Maya stood in the doorway, bemused. “I–oh, c’mere.” She pulled him into a tight hug. “Why didn’t you write ahead?” she asked, squeezing him tighter.
“I wanted it to be a surprise.” He pulled back to take a good look at her. “Wow, you’ve changed so much — I barely recognise you!”
“Pshaw.” Maya swatted at him playfully. “Stop being so silly.” Her happy expression dropped for a moment as she scanned the path behind Phoenix. When she smiled again, it wasn’t half as genuine as it had been. “Well, you better come inside then. Don’t want to catch a chill.” She pulled him in and closed the door behind her firmly.
“Look who it is, Pearly,” she called.
Pearls came scrambling from the bedroom.
“Hey Pearly,” he said, squatting down so that he could give her a proper hug. “I didn’t think you’d recognise me.”
“Of course I do!” she exclaimed. “I wasn’t that young when I last saw you.”
“You were four!”
“That was five years ago!”
“What does that matter?”
Phoenix laughed and ruffled her hair as he stood. “I suppose you’re right.” Pearl poked her tongue out at him. “So… where’s Mia?”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, the whole atmosphere changed. Maya and Pearl looked at each other, their faces strained. Pearl dropped her head down, eyes fixed on the floor. Maya was looking at anything but him.
Phoenix looked between them with a hint of panic.
“Girls… Where’s Mia?”
Pearl bit her lip. Is she… holding back tears?
“Where’s Mia?” he repeated, more insistent.
Maya told him and he dropped his bag to the floor.