Connal sat by a large elm tree in the middle of a pasture within sight of the castle’s walls. The grass was long, and insects buzzed around doing what insects do all day. Occasionally the grass would bend as a small rodent would run here and there in pursuit of something or other. It was warm, and apart from the fact a witch was nearby, it was, all in all, a lovely day. Just as his eyes started to close and dog’s voice made him startle.
“I’m not sure if you are growing old gracefully or getting younger badly Connal.”
He turned quickly to see another Wolf Hound staring back at him, however, this one was much prettier and much stronger.
“Hello Brita, you’re looking as lovely as ever.”
She smiled, padded over to him and touched her nose against his ear.
“Good to see you,” she said.
After an hour of Connal telling Brita what he knew and what conclusions he had made, they sat in silence for a while before Brita said,
“I know this witch, she is old, powerful and like all witches, only craves to live longer; her name is Hazel and she lives beyond the Dark Forest in an underground castle. There are no guards to protect it, apart from a spire with a watch tower. People don’t go near it and certainly do not try to enter it. However, beasts like you and I pass around such places almost undetected.”
“Almost?” asked Connal.
“You and I are Witch Watchers Connal. We have a smell and glow about us that dark things sense. Our advantage is our size and strength, we were bred for hunting before the wizards found a better use for us!” She looked at him and waited for him to say the words she already knew would come.
“Will you help me get the Princess back Brita?”
Captain Simon felt the warm waters embrace him. It was pure heaven to be enveloped by the heat over every surface of his body. He could still feel a dull ache between his legs, but it was manageable. He straightened his legs until they touched the end of the big copper bath he was in, and slowly lowered his shoulders, and then his head under water. The silence and the warmth greeted him like an old friend. He became aware of a high pitch tapping around him and opened his eyes to look up. A number of pale faces looked down on him. He blew the remaining air in his lungs slowly out and pushed himself out above the water line. One of the pale faced girls was tapping a key on the metal tub and another was holding shiny steel manacles.
“All finished playing, have we?” She said in a sarcastic voice. He swallowed hard, suddenly remembering that this group of lovelies were only beauty skin deep.
Trixie stood with her head bowed, breasts hanging over her corset, wet and shaking. Her hair hung around her face and shoulders like damp spaghetti, sticky and heavy. She moved her eyes and saw the two previously laughing elves lying on the stone floor with blank expressions and lifeless. She heard a whimper to her right and swivelled her eyes towards the noise. Through her hair she could see the bottom of a black shiny gown with small scales, and immediately next to it was the elf that had tormented her. He had his hands on his head and was trying to say something. Trixie felt scared for the elf, she could feel his terror and yet would rather watch him than look up to whatever horrific monster was standing over her. The elf started to cry and then scream, as it was slowly forced to the ground by an invisible weight. The elf could hardly breathe, and even when its bones began to break, it could not make a sound. Suddenly the elf went limp and slumped to the floor like a bag of water; it was dead. Trixie sniffed a back a tear, she didn’t like the elf or the dirty things he did to her, but she also didn’t like watching something being killed in front of her.
“Look up child,” said the black monster.
Very slowly Trixie lifted her head only because the voice sounded surprisingly calm and inviting, even so she kept her eyes closed in fear of what might be there. She jumped when a warm finger touched her chin.
“Open your eyes Trixie, you have nothing to fear from me.”
The voice was intoxicating and the feelings she had when previously on all fours crying out loud returned, although this time she felt tingles deep inside he stomach. She opened her eyes and saw, what she thought, was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. The black monster smiled, and the hallway seemed to light up and get warmer.
“Hello Trixie, I am Hazel, your fairy God Mother, you’re safe now and everything will be just fine. Why don’t we get that lovely body of yours washed clean and get some suitable clothes for you?” Trixie just nodded, and to be honest, if the witch had suggested something nasty, Trixie would not have heard it, for once Hazel’s eyes briefly flashed red, Trixie was lost.
Connal was tired, wet and hungry. He and Brita had been walking for three days, only stopping occasionally for water when it presented it self in streams or ponds. At night they would rest curled up next to each other for warmth and protection. Neither slept soundly as it did not pay to drop your guard in unfamiliar territory, so whilst both eyes were closed, one ear was always up! Brita was good company and as they walked they shared knowledge that the other did not possess. Connal knew a lot about the countryside; where to find food, what not to eat and his knowledge of the plant names was endless. Brita on the other hand knew about magic. She was older than Connal, much older in fact, and her family had been Witch Watchers for centuries. Connal, however, was new by comparison and only a second-generation Watcher. Although unknown to him, this time with Brita would later save his life.
“Witches are vain,” said Brita. “Vainer than any creature on this earth. They will sacrifice anything to stay looking young even if for a minute. I was told by my grandmother that one witch killed herself in the belief that the sacrifice would make her live longer. You don’t get more desperate than that!” The time passed very quickly on their journey to the Witch’s underground castle and before nightfall on the third day Brita suddenly stopped and the fur on her back stood on end. Connal lowered his body, lifted his ears and sniffed deeply. He sniffed again and listen harder but there was nothing other the faint trace of rabbits and the sound of his own heartbeat. They remained motionless for a few minutes until Brita final said, “It’s nothing.”
Connal had been holding his breath and let out a big gasp.
“Please don’t do that again, you almost gave me a heart attack!” he said.
Brita ignored him and loped off into the dying light of a wood. Connal was just about to move when a scent caught his nose, it was familiar, and yet masked by something horrible. He waited for the wind to change to see if he could pick it up again.
“What’s the matter?” said a voice behind him.
Connal spun around quick as a flash and bared his many sharp teeth. By a tree stood a large raven. His feathers were black as night and his eyes were as sharp and keen as his beak.
“What’s a dog doing walk…”
The raven’s question was cut short as the jaws of a large grey dog grabbed him tightly by the back if the neck. Brita held the large bird in her mouth whilst it’s wings beat around her head in its struggle to escape.
“I would suggest you stop moving,” said Connal. “You won’t get away, you’ll only hurt yourself.”
The raven continued to flap for a moment and then, resigning its self to his predicament, slowly calmed down. Connal waited until it was still,
“This is how the conversation will go, I will ask you a question and if Brita here, that’s the lady who is holding you in her very strong jaws, thinks you are not being honest, she will squeeze, hard. Do you understand?” The raven looked at him and finally nodded.
“Great!” said Connal. “Okay, first question; are you from the Witch’s castle?” The raven looked at him. “You smell of witch by the way.” Connal added. The raven nodded. “Good, second question; does the witch have captive a princess and a Captain of the guard from the neighbouring kingdom, and, let me finish, are they still alive?” The raven could do no more than nod in response. “Thank you, Brita,” said Connal and with that she shook her head so suddenly that the raven’s neck instantly snapped. She dropped the dead bird and spat out a couple of small black feathers.
“That was disgusting, I knew I could smell witch earlier, you did too didn’t you?” she said.
“No,” said Connal, “I smelt something else as well, something I now know to be true; we still have time to save the princess.”
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