A Witch’s Friend

Ember scurried into Zarina’s bedroom. If the coven caught her with a bottle of ritual salt, she would be in so much trouble. But her little sister was upset that she wasn’t allowed out on Halloween night like all the other children in the world, and Ember blamed herself. Zarina would’ve had no idea about mortal customs for Halloween if Ember hadn’t read her that book she stole from the library. If the coven found out about that too…well, she would be in even more trouble. Ember didn’t want to think about that, though. 

Careful not to trip over the various tapestries decorating the drafty wooden floor, Ember crept slowly through the bedroom. She dodged dolls made of hay, handmade tutus, and various trinkets Zarina had foraged from the attic of the castle. Ember thought it important that Zarina was allowed to play like a normal child. Soon, she would turn seven and be thrust into a world of magic and duty.

But for now, Ember would do whatever she could, despite their mother’s scolding, to make sure that for at least a few years, her sister was happy.

Ember sank into the mattress and laid a gentle hand on Zarina’s bony shoulder. “Are you all right?” 

Zarina looked at her sister for just a moment with a tear-streaked face and cheeks a burning red. “It’s not fair!” she whined.

Ember stroked Zarina’s matted, black hair. The room was bathed in candlelight; it reflected off the jewels hanging in constellations from the ceiling, casting a myriad of colors about the room. 

“I want to dress up and get candy.” Zarina’s voice was muffled from burying her face in her kitten’s fur.

“Candy, huh? Well, guess what I have?”

Zarina sat up quickly. A grin replaced her frown when Ember pulled a handful of rainbow-wrapped fudge from her cardigan pocket and held it out to her sister. Zarina snatched it eagerly.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Zarina shook with excitement.

“That isn’t my only surprise,” Ember said, pulling the bottle of salt from her other pocket. Zarina frowned.

“I don’t want to practice magic now,” she said around a mouthful of fudge.

“You’ll like this magic, I promise. Now help me move some of your toys.”

Once they had moved the toys to the corners of the room, they sat opposite each other with a pentagram of salt between them. “Focus, okay? I need your fire for this. Can you conjure the flame?”

Zarina nodded and squeezed her eyes shut, holding her tiny fist over the pentagram. After a moment, she opened her eyes, and a deep red replaced their usual caramel brown. Then, she opened her fist and a flame settled in her palm, small and controlled.

Ember reached forward, cupping Zarina’s hand as she whispered almost inaudibly, “Prodeunt spiritus ignis.”

When Ember withdrew her hands, Zarina gasped. Her flame had turned into what looked like molten glass, but it had little arms and legs, wide eyes, and a mouth full of fangs. Black, leathery wings unfurled from its back, and it let out a burp of fire.

Zarina giggled at the creature sitting in her palm. “What is it?”

Ember’s heart filled with warmth at her sister’s joy. “It’s a fire sprite. They’re sort of like the pigeons of Hell. They’re the sweetest things, just don’t let it—”

“Ember!” Their mother’s shouts echoed about the castle. “Ember! Where are you?”

“I’ll be back later to send the sprite home, okay?” Ember promised as she fled the bedroom.

Zarina was too focused on her new sprite to realize her sister had left.

“Would you like to join me for a tea party?” Zarina set the sprite down and rummaged around her toy box, popping a crown on her head and pulling out a patchwork dress Ember had made for a doll. It fit the sprite perfectly.

“You look handsome!” she squealed, patting the sprite on its head.

Zarina gathered her toys and set them in a circle. “Stay there. I’ll get tea.” The sprite obeyed, plonking itself down as Zarina ran out of the room with a pink teapot.

When she returned, a man was in her bedroom. He was tall, had white hair, was wearing a fancy suit, and held a cane topped with a silver cat head.

“Get off me.” His voice was gruff as he shook his leg. Her kitten was biting his ankle, hissing through her teeth.

“Luna! Stop.”

The cat immediately let go and hopped on the bed, glaring at the man.

When he turned and faced Zarina, a look she couldn’t quite distinguish crossed his face before his features softened and he crouched slowly to her eye level.

“So, you’re the one who kidnapped Egan.” Up close, Zarina noticed his skin was so pale she could see his veins through it. 

Zarina cocked her head, her crown slipping slightly. “Who’s Egan?” 

The man chuckled, pointing at her new friend. “The fire sprite you’ve dressed like a princess.”

“Oh.” Concern furrowed her brow. “We’re having a tea party.”

“A tea party, huh? Is it tea you have in your pot there?” He nodded at the teapot.

She giggled. “I’m too young to drink tea, it’s just water.”

“Of course, how silly of me.”

He stood and walked with a slight limp over to Egan, who’d been chewing on one of Zarina’s wooden dolls. “You know, if you’d given Egan water, he’d turn into a lump of coal. It’s a good job I got here soon enough, or I’d have lost my favorite pet.”

Zarina ran over to the sprite, picking him up, “No, no, no. I’m sorry. I don’t want to hurt him.” She passed the sprite to the man, who tucked him into his suit pocket. 

“I know, little witch.” He stared at her innocent face, so naïve to the world she would grow into. “There’s so much you don’t know yet. Promise me, you won’t try to summon anything again until you’re much older.”

“Old like you?” she asked.

“Yes.” He paused. “You never know what you’ll bring into this world.”

Zarina held up her pinkie finger. “I promise.”

As he curled his cold finger around hers, he disappeared just as quickly as he’d arrived. 

“He was a bit grumpy wasn’t he, Luna?” The kitten settled on the mattress, finally at ease now the man had gone.

Zarina toddled over to her toys and sat down on the floor. “Who would like some tea?”

 

Eliza Wilson has always had a wild imagination and a need to share it with the world. Now in the final year of her Creative Writing degree, she is honing her skills on the page and working on her fantasy trilogy, Secrets of Pinewood. You can usually find Eliza sitting in a cozy corner of a cafe, oat milk, iced vanilla latte in hand, hunched over a notebook, and escaping into the world at the tip of her pen.

 

 

Featured image by Kayla Maurais.