Red and Raven

*I had the honor of being a featured guest writer for Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand this week! I tried to share my short story from their site, but my computer kept going blank. Here it is!*

 

“This is a stupid idea,” Celeste said as she leaned over the table, grinding sulfur down to a fine powder. She’d infused her face mask with eucalyptus oil to combat the mineral’s stink, but the craft room was so full of other minerals, herbs, and bottled oils, it had a sundry aroma of its own.

She traced her pinky finger over her recipe book, double-checking the measurement, then scooped three perfect spoonfuls of the yellow dust into her brand new copper cauldron.

Cast iron was so sixteenth century. Copper was better at conducting heat, and it was portable.

“I mean, is it really worth the trouble?” Celeste went on, pausing to tuck dark hair behind her ears. “I don’t care to start up another witch hunt.”

“King Alden cheated us, Celeste,” said Azara, her ginger locks elegantly curling around her face while her fox curled around her feet. She shaved slivers off a dead cypress branch into a mess on the table. “We upheld our end. Plague prevention was quoted at €790, and he stiffed us.”

“He just overthrew the monarchy. Probably needs the money to rebuild the northwest wall he blew up. We could call it a ‘welcome to Elisdale’ gift and leave it at that.” Celeste liked the peace, her and her sister working on their craft in the forest cottage. The humans respected that boundary. Nobody got hexed, and nobody got burned at the stake.

Azara slammed her palm on the table, waking up Raijin, the spirit in the house, with a couple windows startling open. “A witch lets one emperor walk all over her, they all start. We’re doing this.” She went back to shaving away at the cypress. Azara only got cuter with frustration, color flooding her freckled cheeks, teeth chewing on her plump bottom lip. She never really succeeded at being scary, hard as she tried.

Celeste need only glance in a human’s direction to make them shy away from, eyes deep as black holes. She tried to pull in starlight, but that was impossible during daytime, and humans had this weird rule about witches after curfew.

A thick, tightly-rolled scroll by Azara’s left hand began emitting a cool blue glow.

Azara’s anger dissolved in a flash as she snatched the scroll and pulled it open. Grinning, she plucked a quill made from a seagull feather and wrote a couple lines before folding up the bottom and rerolling the scroll.

Celeste pulled down her eucalyptus-infused face mask. “Azara, that’s too much cypress.”

Oblivious, Azara looked at her pile, then huffed. “I’m measuring by eye. Witchcraft is an art, an instinct.”

“I suppose it was art and instinct that made you put three-too-many drops of nightshade in the remedy for the bishop’s son.” Celeste had to give up one of her favorite memories making a deal with a demon to stop a nation-wide witch hunt, and they still had to write a formal apology for the incident.

Azara’s scroll lit up again, and she jumped to answer, her quill bit scratching beneath an incoming message.

Glancing at her own special quill, the feather gifted by the great eagle of their forest, Celeste resisted the urge to run it through her fingers. “I really wish you wouldn’t scroll at the table,” she said as she reached for a bowl of fresh-picked yellow clover.

Azara brushed her seagull feather across her lips and folded up her message, sending it across the world to the other witch who owned a feather from the same bird.

The fox at her feet uncurled and stretched. She sat up and yawned before leaping onto a stool to inspect the scroll for herself.

It lit up a moment later and Azara answered, blatantly ignoring her sister.

Celeste gave an obvious roll of her ink black eyes and began picking the clover apart. The petals fluttered into a clean grinding bowl.

“Talise says she would have us visit for the full moon.” Azara beamed. “I’m going to tell her yes.”

“I don’t want to go.” The last thing Celeste wanted to do was spend three days of the full moon doing small talk with a bunch of mermaids and nymphs she barely knew, and that was before any werewolves showed up with their bad table manners and worse pick-up lines. “Tell her we’re busy.”

Azara folded her scroll and looked up with big forest green eyes. “Too late.”

Enough heat to form a new star burned in Celeste’s eyes. “How about you get back to helping with this foolish potion?”

Azara set down the scroll and showed her palms. “Okay, okay.”

Silent seconds passed, their tempers balancing on the tense line between them. Celeste carefully measured her yellow clover petals to the recipe and dropped them atop the sulfur. She almost went supernova when Azara grabbed a handful of cypress shavings and tossed them into the mix. Now she was just doing it on purpose. Even the fox wore a sly smile.

“Alright, let’s do this,” Celeste said to her recipe book, pouring her anger into the task at hand instead of unleashing it on her sister. “King Alden will regret stiffing us that €780. All the humans will see what happens when a witch is wronged.”

With a sneaky smile, Azara said, “All of them?”

Celeste blushed, her hand pausing over her eagle quill. “Of course. They’ll all suffer us, as a warning.”

“Even a certain, I dunno, court astronomer?”

“Who are you talking about?” Celeste asked and wished she’d kept her mouth shut.

“Oh, you know.” Azara shrugged and gave her fox a scratch between the ears. “Shy type, wants to see the stars in your eyes, nice buttocks.”

Celeste busied herself with heating the cauldron and wrenching open a jar of bog water. “I really don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“Must have been my imagination, I guess,” Azara sighed.

Celeste let her stomach settle, pouring a careful amount of the filthy water into the cauldron.

“Must have been my imagination,” Azara repeated, “the nights you lay in bed, pulling moonlight into your eyes so you can read the messages he writes to your scroll.”

Celeste’s stomach fluttered.

“But that couldn’t be,” her sister continued. “To share a scroll you need two feathers of the same bird, and only a witch with an affinity to birds could convince a great eagle to part with two of his feathers.” Azara gave a pointed look at Celeste’s eagle quill.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Celeste said, faking a laugh.

Azara laughed too, a bright, cheery sound. “You’re right. It is a bit ridiculous. About as ridiculous as that evening gown hiding in your closet, and that lacy corset.” Azara pushed up her breasts and shimmied her shoulders.

Celeste slammed her hands on the table. “How did you know about that? I put a cloaking veil over it!”

“Raijin told me.”

“Raijin!” Celeste looked around at the heavy ceiling beams. “How dare you? As soon as I finish this potion, you are getting banished from this house!”

The curtain rods sagged and the kitchen cupboards clattered their doors in protest.

“I better go get fresh grave dirt,” Azara exclaimed and rushed out back. She checked the weatherdial, next to the sundial that even worked in the shade. It was set to rain in an hour, perfect conditions for dirt. She grabbed a pail and ran off.

Celeste crossed her arms tight and plopped onto a stool.

Azara returned with dirt all over the bottom of her smock and the pail of soil swinging from one hand. She dumped a large scoop of soil into the cauldron.

Celeste folded her arms over the table, letting Azara muck up the potion all she wanted. She didn’t realize until too late that Azara added an ingredient that was most definitely not on the recipe.

“Bat’s blood!” she shrieked, grabbing the tiny bottle from Azara before one more drop could spill. “We’re trying to upset the city sewage system, not blow up the keep!”

“But the city’s so big, I figured the spell need more Oomph!”

“You can’t just change the recipe. You always do this.”

Azara frowned. “Do what?”

“Mess everything up,” Celeste snapped. “Just go away, Azara. I’ll fix it, like I always do.”

Hurt shining in her eyes like the dew on the leaf, Azara blinked, got her scroll and quill from the table, and fled the crafting room.

Celeste began to sweep off the extra cypress shavings from the table, muttering under her breath. She collected the last of the ingredients into separate bowls across the table, all in a neat line. Birds watched through the windows, robins, magpies, and little sparrows.

“What?” she demanded from them. “She always does this, and you know it was well as I.”

The birds chirped and some flapped their wings as if they hadn’t been listening the whole time.

Celeste sighed heavily. She’d been too harsh on her little sister. Azara wasn’t always a disaster waiting to happen. Celeste remembered falling as a child, scraped her knees up good, and it was Azara who threw together a salve from wild plants and made her feel better, magic tingling over her broken skin. She remembered her first pimple, and Azara’s remedy to banish the blemish back to the underworld from whence it came. Lastly, she remembered the time she’d attempted to dye her hair, and it came out orange as pumpkins. It was Azara who fixed it, and later, Celeste realized she’d read the recipe wrong and mixed up two ingredients.

“I’ve made plenty of mistakes as well,” she whispered to the quiet craft room. The spirit of the house made a polite comment, probably an attempt to get back on Celeste’s good side. Working up the nerve, she left the room to find Azara and her fox sitting in the middle of the sofa together.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “You don’t ruin everything.”

Azara’s eyes went to her lap. “Yes, I do.”

Celeste bit her lip and rushed to the sofa to sit with her sister. “No. No, you don’t. You make the best beauty potions around and your colored eye drops are the envy of every witch in the nine kingdoms. You wrote that recipe.”

Nodding along, Azara pursed her lips, then said, “Yeah… that’s true.”

“And I’m sorry I never told you about…” Celeste dragged her eagle feather quill through her fingers, its edges soft and cool.

“It’s okay.” Azara rolled her eyes. “He’s perfect for you. If I didn’t like him, I’d never have slipped him that confidence-boosting potion. Stars know you never would have worked up the courage to ask him out.”

Celeste laughed, a hot blush spreading across her cheeks. “You did that? For me?”

“You would have smelled a potion in your drink from a league away.”

“Thanks, Azara,” Celeste whispered. She cleared her throat and hopped up. “I was thinking… Most of the recipes in Great-great-great Grandma Edith’s book are pretty outdated—”

Both Azara and her fox jumped up. “Maybe… we can experiment revising the recipes after we take care of our revenge.”

Celeste nodded, and the sisters finished their potion just before the first drops of rain.

“This is a terrible, horrible, incredibly foolish idea,” Celeste said as they opened their umbrellas and stepped outside, each with their own concealed vial of revenge. “Well, let’s see what happens.”

Azara skipped along, and a chirping line of sparrows trailed them. “You know, this is the kind of prank you’d expect a twelve-year-old warlock to pull, so we probably won’t get blamed at all! In fact, it would be hilarious when King Alden comes crawling to us for help. Then we can charge him double and send a shit spirit to clean up the mess.”

A smile tugged at the corners of Celeste’s lips. “I wouldn’t mind getting paid for that.”

 

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