After the first surprise of seeing her daughter on her threshold after more than ten years, and after getting a big hug from a little kid that turned out to be her grandchild, Tara asks them in.
It’s time for breakfast anyway, but the old witch has lost her appetite. She sets the table and stands silently watching her daughter and grand-daughter devour last night’s leftovers.
They are eating as if they’ve been starving. Or is it just the effect of Mrs. Brown’s excellent “cuisine”? And my perfect vegetables of course… Taïga… Such a strange name. Not from our side of the family… But she looks just like Shasta, she even has our mark on her neck. I wonder if she has inherited our powers too… She is a first born after all, even if her father hasn’t been chosen for her…
The dark-haired little girl catches her staring and smiles. Granny just looks back at her until the smile vanishes and she continues eating with downcast eyes.
Hmm… Her eyes are not really grey, like ours, but there’s something else I can’t pinpoint… I have to ask Shasta about the genitor… But it has to wait until later, we have so much to catch up on…
After finishing breakfast, Shasta sends her daughter off to explore the Grey Cove.
‘We have lots of things to talk about with your grandmother, darling. Grown-up things.’
‘OK, mom!’ Taïga starts out of the kitchen, ‘Can I go upstairs?’
‘NO!!!’ Tara’s high-pitched voice stops her in her tracks. ‘Err… Just be careful not to touch anything. Or break anything.’
Taiga stares wide-eyed at her stern grandmother, who stares back a moment before turning her back on her.
‘Maybe it’s best if she waited outside, in the garden. There’s a bench on the porch she can sit on.’ She says grumpily.
‘Mother? It’s almost freezing outside!’
‘Well. But tell her to be careful not to bother Mrs. Brown in the kitchen. Or my cat. Or touch anything.’
‘But you said Mrs. Brown is off today!’ Taïga says.
Tara turns and bends to look the child in the eyes. ‘Don’t sass me, child.’ Taïga gulps. Her grandmother looks austerely at her. ‘Do you understand?’ Taiga nods. ‘Don’t. Touch. Anything!’
Taïga scoots off. The house seems huge, filled with strange and exciting things, but her grandmother is kind of scary…
She bumps into a black cat almost immediately. She sits on her heels and caresses the silky fur. ‘Hi, who are you? Oh, Minuit? And what’s this?’ She holds out her hand and the cat poses a little creature on her open palm. ‘A lizard for Granny. For her potions? Oh, no… poor little lizard. Let’s take it outside…’
Back in the kitchen, Shasta has tried to impress her mother by nonchalantly making an apple appear in her hand. She takes a bite from the juicy fruit, but Tara just frowns contemptuously at her daughter.
‘So, that’s all you’ve learned during the last ten years? Conjuring apples? Any fake magician could do that…It’s basic magic.’
Angrily Shasta puts the half eaten apple on the table and pushes back her chair. ‘Mother, you’re always criticizing me! I’m capable of more, you know I am. You were supposed to teach me magic! It’s your… Your duty! Huh?’ She gasps for breath, ‘And if you don’t -want to, I mean- I’ll find someone else who does! I’m sure Missy would be delighted to teach her sister’s daughter everything she knows!’
‘Well. At least it won’t take long…’ Tara mutters under her breath.
‘Or… I could contact the Council! God knows they’ve been looking for me.’ Shasta says, defiance in her voice.
‘Oh, yes they have. And they didn’t find you because of the cloaking spell I sheltered you in!’
‘Unshelter me then!’ Shasta stomps her feet like a little child.
They stare at each other over the table. When Tara speaks again, her voice is ominously low and Shasta has to strain to hear her.
‘You show up on my doorstep after thirteen years. Thirteen years without any sign from you at all. You didn’t even tell me I’m a grandmother. And here you are, using emotional blackmail, menacing me. You’ve hardly finished your meal before you start accusing me for not doing my motherly duties as a Grey witch. Have you forgotten why I sent you away right after your initiation, Shasta? It was to avoid you getting married to a man you’ve never seen before, and to have to carry his child!’
Tara opens and closes her fists to keep her hands from trembling.
‘The Council only wants one thing with us Grey witches, and that’s pure offspring to keep our magic alive. And strong.’ And probably to control us as well, she adds silently to herself. ‘They choose our husbands, and we have a child that will carry our legacy forward. I helped you escape your destiny. And apparently you had a child with someone of your own choice. And I approve of that.’
She remembers her own wedding, and how she had tried everything to escape. In vain. She sighs.
‘So continue talking about leaving again. The Council won’t teach you anything. They’ll probably punish you for your disobedience, but you’re useless to them now… And Missy? Forget about her. Now, I have a headache. You can have your old room. We’ll talk this through tomorrow.’
She walks briskly away, but stops in the door. Without turning around she says over her shoulder, ‘And I don’t want to be disturbed, so keep the child calm. Please.’
Taïga is happily unaware about her own importance and the tension between her mother and grandmother. She’s excited about the Cove, and happily talking about all the things she has seen in the old house, all the while getting ready for the night. Shasta has to bribe her with a story from one of her old books to finally get her into bed.
‘“… and the prince held on to the princess’ hand, and promised to cherish her forever…” End of story. Goodnight, sleep tight my little princess…’ Shasta sniffs.
‘Goodnight, Mom… Wait! Why are you crying?’
‘It’s nothing, honey, I just got caught up in the story I guess… Now sleep…’ She kisses her daughter on her forehead.
‘Stay with me, mom…’ Taïga asks sleepily and Shasta nods.
‘I won’t go anywhere before you’re asleep.’
She sits on the edge of the bed and looks around the familiar room. Nothing has changed, it’s just like when I left… even my teen magazines are still on the floor beside the bed! And this book… Mother used to read it for me when I was Taïga’s age… Wait a minute, what’s this???
A worn, crumpled paper falls to the floor. Shasta picks it up, smoothing it out with her hand. It’s a torn part of a letter.
“… and I’m sorry if I hurt you. I guess your silence means that it’s over, but as I said in my last letter, your family would never let-”
What? He wrote to me? She rapidly scans the remaining lines,
“-and that’s why I’ve decided to return to my wife and my two young children, accepting my marital duties.
I will always love you,
Renauld Vanderburg had written to her, apparently several times. And she who thought he didn’t love her, that he just left!
Her mind wanders back to her last summer at the Cove. She had fallen madly in love with the rich and much older Reinhold Liebersturm during summer camp in Lakeview Springs, but the Council had of course found out and opposed their veto. She had been locked up the rest of the summer, and her mother had taken her out of school until the blood moon and her initiation. She had cried, threw fits and threatened to kill herself, but to no avail… How she had hated her mother for locking her up, and Reinhold for abandoning her…
And what about the letters I gave to Mrs. Brown to post? Oh. My. God…
Mrs. Brown is getting ready for bed when Shasta bursts into her room.
‘I know what you think of me, and I know what you’re capable of! I found Reinhold’s letter. No! Don’t say anything – you know very well what letter I’m talking about!’
‘It was for your own good I contacted the Council! Mr. Liebersturm was much too old for-’
Shasta interrupts, ‘Who are you to judge what was good for me? If I find out you’re trying to stand in my way again…’ she lets the sentence trail.
She stops on the threshold, looking at the android housekeeper’s metal body. ‘You might have fooled me with your kind, human face, but I can make your stupid robot body rust in an instant…’ she spits venomously.
To her satisfaction Mrs. Brown recoils, but she doesn’t answer. Shasta glares at the old housekeeper before stalking out of her bedroom, not bothering with closing the door.
Taïga is sound asleep, exhausted after the long trip, and doesn’t stir when her mother rapidly gets dressed. They were supposed to have stayed for at least a couple of days, but tonights revelation has changed Shasta’s mind.
Should I wake Taïga up before I leave?… I can’t take her with me, that’s for sure. I don’t even know if Reinhold is still available, but showing up on his threashhold with another man’s child is not a good move… She’ll be crying, of course… And after all, no. Definitely not… This is my chance of a bright future, I must leave before someone stops me!
With a last glance at her sleeping daughter, she tiptoes out of the room…
The first snow has fallen during the night, but after reading the weather stick on the north wall, Tara knows it won’t last. The thin spruce stick is cheerily pointing upwards, a sure sign it will be sunny later today. She taps her feet on the doormat to get rid of the slush under her shoes.
She pats Minuit, ‘Must ask Mrs. Brown if she’s taken care of the sand supply, it will soon be nee-’
‘Granny, where’s Mom?’ Taïga is coming running down the stairs. ‘I can’t find her!’
‘What?’ Granny puts Minuit down and dries her hands on her long skirt. Darn kid is already up and bothering me with stupid questions. ‘Isn’t she in her room?’
‘No, the bed was empty when I woke up this morning.’ The little girl looks at her with huge eyes, waiting for her answer.
Granny freezes. Uh-oh… She’s left – again! And she didn’t take the child with her! What am I supposed to do? She cannot stay here! ‘Ahem, your mother has probably left to get fresh bread at the bakery. She’ll probably be back in an hour or so. Or a couple of days. She’ll probably be back before the week end!’
‘She wouldn’t go to the bakery for several days, Granny.’
Granny stares at the little girl. ‘Well. The bakery is far away. Now off you go.’
The following days a routine is established. Granny keeps away from the child as much as she can, getting up early to have breakfast alone. But this morning she finds her grandchild in the dining room, talking to the portrait of Glinda Grey. Granny starts to discreetly back away before having to engage in a useless conversation,
‘Good morning great-great grandmother! How are you today?’ Taïga smiles to the portrait, and to the old witch’s surprise the portrait smiles back! Granny gasps.
‘Good morning Granny!’ Taïga greets cheerily.
‘What do you think you’re doing!?!’
‘Err… Talking to my great-great-grandmother…’ She glances at the portrait, ‘I think she’s the only one who seems happy to have me here…’
‘Did she say so?’
‘No. But she smiles.’
‘Why do you never smile, Granny?’
‘I smile. Maybe not all the time, but it happens.’
Taïga looks at her.
What? Oh, she wants me to smile. Hesitatingly Granny gives a hint of a smile but her grandchild continues staring at her. Granny’s lips stretch further and she shows her teeth.
Taïga sighs, ‘You know you must smile with your eyes too, Granny.’
Granny’s smile vanishes. ‘Enough. And she isn’t your great-great-grandmother-’
‘But Mrs. Brown said-’
‘-she’s Glinda Thornton-Grey, my mother. That makes her your great-grandmother.’
Taïga returns her attention to the portrait. ‘She looks a lot like mom. I bet she was a happy person! Like mom…’
‘No she wasn’t.’
‘Is that why mom never talked about her grandmother? Because she was unhappy? Like you?’
‘I’m not unhappy!’ At least I wasn’t until recently… ‘She probably didn’t talk about her because she never met her. My Mother died in childbirth because she was foolish enough to think she could have a second child.’
Granny walks briskly away before her nosy granddaughter asks another stupid question.
Taïga is also up early most of the time, but not as early as Granny. She has breakfast alone, if you don’t count Minuit, who avidly waits to see if there will be any left-overs. Mrs. Brown makes the most delicious pancakes and waffles, and kindly talks to her, so it really doesn’t matter if Granny never shows up.
‘The sun seems warm today! I’ll show you my favorite dress, Minuit! And maybe we can go through the forest to watch the school! What do you think?’
Minuit purrs, and licks the last cream from Taïga’s plate. The cat loves this new little witch. The only annoying thing is that she always releases the squirrels and other small animals she hunts down for her. But Minuit is so happy to see the little witch’s joy when she gets to hold the furry little thingies so she keeps catching them and bringing them home…
The weather stick is usually right. The frost and snow that settle during the night, melt away in the morning and the sun’s rays are warm, at least in the vicinity of the house. Taïga has put on her best dress and is crossing the yard towards the forest with Minuit in her wake.
‘What are you doing outside dressed in a… in a summer gown!?!’ Granny’s cold voice stops her in her tracks.
Taïga looks startled up at her grandmother’s stern face. ‘Err…’
‘I think we have to talk about establishing some rules in this house if we are to… live together. Even if it’s only until your mother returns.’
She scrutinizes Taïga’s rapt face, ‘There are three rules to follow in this house. Rule number one: Never go up to the attic. Never. Rule number two: You can’t play in the house. You can read, but not play noisy games.’
‘So where can I play?’
‘Outside. In the garden. But not in the forest. Do you hear me? You stay in the vicinity of the house.’
Taïga nods, feeling guilty.
‘Rule number three: Don’t disturb me when I’m busy…’ She bends to look Taïga in the eyes, ‘… and I’m always busy. Always.’
Taïga swallows but doesn’t break the gaze.
‘Good.’ Granny straightens her back and starts back inside. ‘Oh. And don’t touch anything!’
‘That makes four rules, Granny.’
‘Don’t be snotty, child. And get inside to put some warm clothes on!’
Granny hates technology, and only allows the most necessary modern contraptions in her home. There’s a telephone in the den – a black heavy thing with a rotary dial that in Taïga’s eyes probably dates back to Alexander Graham Bell. But there are no computer and no television, as Granny prefers books.
Mrs. Brown might be an android, but she recognizes boredom when she sees it. She has an old black and white television set in her bedroom and invites Taïga to join her in the evening. Taïga feels less lonely, there’s something comforting with the purring cat on her knees, and the sound of Mrs. Brown knitting.
But Mrs. Brown is ironing downstairs this evening, and there’s nothing interesting on TV.
‘Come on Minuit, let’s find out what Granny is doing! Maybe she can read me a bedtime story, from the strange book we found this afternoon!’
They head upstairs to Granny’s study.
’Granny! Granny! Look what we found this afternoon!’ Taïga waves excitedly the little leather book in the air as she dances through the door.
Darn, darn, DARN it! Her grandchild barging in makes Granny’s hand tremble and she loses the precious powder she was painstakingly adding to her potion. Oh no! The dragon powder! Aargh! I lost all of it… What does she want now again?
She turns ominously towards the young girl, ‘I’ve told you NOT to come up here! Especially when I’m working!’ She’s interrupted by an assault of coughing and sneezing. She fumbles for a Kleenex and blows her nose.
Taïga hides the book behind her back, ‘Jeez, Granny. I can make some hot honey water if you’re coughing. And-’
Granny holds up her hand to stop her grandchild from drawing closer, ‘Don’t come near! Dragon powder is dangerous if inhaled …’ She wipes her eyes, ‘You don’t want to be covered in scales, do you?’
Taïga backs away a few steps, shaking her head. Satisfied the nosy child seems to have understood the danger, she makes a mental note about contacting Ailis O’Cuinn in Carrigcastle, to see if she can get her some more powder… Noisily she blows her nose.
What now? The child is still here? Granny shudders and sighs. ‘Well… the deed is done so to say… What do you want?’
‘Err… I found this book, and it’s kind of difficult to read, so if you could…?’
She wants me to read for her? But I don’t read bedtime stories… ‘How come it’s difficult to read, Taïga? You can read, can’t you?’ she sneers.
‘Of course I can read! But the letters in this book are not like the ones mom taught me!’ Taïga is offended, but she brings the old leather-bound grimoire out from behind her back. ‘They are bizarre…’ she adds and hands it to Granny, who snatches it out of her grip.
‘Where did you find this!?! It’s been missing for decades…’
‘It was under a loose planch in Mom’s room…’
Taïga is careful not to tell Granny what else she found, she wants to keep the blue wand to herself.
‘Can you read it for me?’
Reverently Granny turns the yellowed pages, humming to herself. Hmm… Hmmm…
‘What? Yes… Yes, I’ll read it for you.’ The dumb child will beg me to stop and never ask me again, hehehe…
‘I’ll just have to finish this first.’ She gets back to her almost ruined potion, while Taïga discreetly settles in an armchair in a corner. Granny glances at her, but the child doesn’t make any noise. She just follows every movement Granny makes with those huge grey-green eyes of hers.
Without thinking she starts to explain what she’s doing, mostly talking to herself as usual. ‘… but it’s probably ruined anyway.’ she finishes.
‘Or it might be much more powerful.’ Taïga ventures.
Granny starts. She had almost forgotten the girl was still there. ‘Hum…’
‘Or you could maybe increase the other ingredients and make a huge batch of whatever you’re making!’
Granny raises an eyebrow. ‘Good point well made, Miss Grey…’
Finally the potion is finished, and it seems it’s a quite powerful remedy for arthritis. She’ll test it herself when her shoulder starts to ache with the humid weather. Her granddaughter is in bed, but even if the spell book is complicated and Granny forces a monotonous voice to bore the girl to sleep, she’s lying there wide awake.
‘… ‘’and then with a spoon made of oak, mix all the incense ingredients carefully and place in an airtight glass jar. Leave for at least one week. Sprinkle carefully on a lit charcoal disc and get into the Samhain spirit”!’ Granny closes the book. I’ve read fourteen spells! Fourteen! And the kid is still awake…
‘What’s Samhain, Granny?’
‘Oh, Samhain. It’s our big holiday, Taïga. I guess you know what Halloween is? I suppose your mom let you run amok in the streets, begging for sweets…’
Taïga shakes her head. ‘No. But the other kids did.’
‘Let me tell you about how we celebrated it when I was little…’ Granny loses herself in long gone memories, rather surprised of how much she can recall.
Taïga listens avidly, fighting the sleep, but finally she sinks into the arms of Morpheus. Granny leans in to kiss the little girl’s forehead, but changes her mind and just tucks the duvet tightly around the frail body…
Granny’s habits are turned upside down. Wherever she goes, there’s the presence of the young girl. Taïga tries to be discreet, but she’s only a child after all. She’s always running. Granny thinks she doesn’t know how to walk. She glides down the railing and is talking non-stop during the meals. She’s asking questions all the time, and when she runs out of things to say, she starts singing.
Granny is on her way to her study, but pauses at the landing, intrigued by the little girl who is painting in the winter garden downstairs. The two story high, wooden encased windows let’s in the afternoon sun’s last rays, illuminating the unruly dark hair. For a brief moment Granny is transported back in time… Just look at her… Acting like she lives here. How dare she use Shasta’s easel without asking my permission first? … Hmmm…
She leans a little over the railing to have a better view. What is she painting now? A landscape? The colors aren’t too bad… She frowns slightly. Is she singing again? If she’s not blabbering she singing! Seems she can never be quiet… But her voice is not unpleasant… I recognize that melody…
She lingers in the shadows on the landing, discreetly humming along and watching the painting take shape.
‘It’s nice, isn’t it?’
Granny is startled by Mrs. Brown suddenly appearing. ‘What!?!’ Dang woman doesn’t walk, she sneaks!
‘Having a child in the house. I thought I would teach her to make cookies,’ she says in that low, flat voice of hers.
‘What is she painting?’
‘How should I know? I just got here.’ She stomps away, feeling Mrs. Brown disapproving look at her back. ‘Humpfff… Nice? Humpfff…’
She heads up to the attic, feeling twitchy. What’s happening to Mrs. Brown? She never likes anything! The woman hardly ever speaks, for God’s sake! Of course she can say that it’s nice having a child in the house – she doesn’t have to listen to her crying every night. She probably just turns her dang hearing off!
Taïga misses her mother, and even if she can keep her sadness at bay during daytime, twilight comes with tears and she cries herself to sleep every night, keeping Granny awake.
There must be something in the grimoire to help me out. ‘Spell book of my ancestors – open up…’ She hovers her hand over the large book, waiting for it to react.
The pages open, and starts to turn. Every page. And back again, until it finally stops somewhere in the middle. The ancient text appears… Ah, there it is!
‘What!?! “How to make your next of kin love you unconditionally in 10 steps”??? Sounds like the headlines for a women’s magazine…’ She starts reading.
‘Hmm… Hmm… Aha!’ She follows the instructions with her index, mumbling to herself, ‘“Tie her up to an old oak at the full moon” Well, that seems logical. What else? Uh-huh… Uh-huh… Oh, she won’t like this: “Feed her live worms until her spirit changes or is broken”!?! It’s feasible, but broken? Nononono…’
She shakes her head to emphasize her refusal, ‘I don’t want to share this house with no zombie-child! I guess I’ll just have to do it my own way… And live worms are disgusting anyway…’
She closes the huge tome with a thud. ‘No spells! Did you hear that?’ She eyes the spell book malevolently and grumbling starts pacing back and forth.
‘… and I asked you, old dusty book of spells, to help me make that noisy child stop crying every night.’
She waves her finger at the spell book, ‘I never said anything about being loved by her!’
An hour or so later she finds Taïga on the kitchen floor, stroking Minuit’s soft fur. The cat jumps up when Granny enters the kitchen, meowing for her to open a window to let her out. Gaah. Even the cat betrays me, preferring a restless child…
She holds out a multicolored bundle towards the girl, ‘Here! It’s your mom’s old ragdoll.’
Granny doesn’t know why she lies, ‘Mrs. Brown found it. Not me.’
Taïga takes the doll and hugs it, fighting the tears that threatens to burst forward. Moved by Taïga’s brave attitude, Granny adds, ‘You mother used to tell him everything, I guess you can too. He’ll keep your secrets.’
Taïga nods and hugs the doll harder.
‘Well.’ Granny turns to leave, now she’s done her duty, when Taïga’s voice stops her.
‘When will Mom come back?’
Granny is taken aback, ‘I should hope soon… But I don’t know, my poor child, I don’t know…’
Hesitating, she touches the girl’s shoulder, ‘Tomorrow we’ll carve pumpkins for Samhain. I’ve got some really big ones in the garden…’ Goddess! What did that come from!?! She slaps a hand over her mouth and hurries out of the kitchen.
‘Carving pumpkins!’ Taïga holds the ragdoll up and scrutinizes its round, blank face. ‘I’ve never done that before! Did mom use to carve pumpkins and go Trick ‘r Treating?’
Minuit scratches the windowpane. She holds a squirming present in the mouth to cheer the little witch up.
Taïga opens the window to let the black cat in, ‘What have you brought me now, Minuit? A squirrel? Again! Thank you!’
Her voice is so soft, like velvet. And her hands feel so good when she strokes my back… I like her! The cat purrs and rubs against Taïga’s legs as she walks to the door to set the squirrel free.
That night, Granny reads to Taïga from the old spell book, without waiting for her grandchild to ask her. At least it prevents the little girl from crying herself to sleep.
But what about her constant nightmares, waking the whole house up? Tonight it’s the full moon, and Granny can throw a protection spell on her grandchild.
As soon as the girl is sound asleep, she draws her wand.
May sleep bring rest to your body and soul
May no evil dreams come near
as long as Granny’s spell is here…
Granny weaves a fine net of magic around her sleeping granddaughter. Anything to keep her from crying… Satisfied, she exits the room and softly closes the door.
She almost cries with fright when she turns around and finds Mrs. Brown standing behind her on the landing, human face but robot body on display.
‘I heard some noise and-’
‘Don’t, Mrs. Brown! Don’t say a word! I know what you think, and you’re wrong. I’m not starting to like her – I’m just … just… taking care of her until Shasta comes back for her! That’s all!’
She looks disapprovingly at her housekeeper’s robot body, ‘And for god’s sake don’t run around naked – you’ll scare my grandchild to death if she sees you like that!’
Part I – End of Chapter 02