|“With willful sin and subtle scorn, we witches stir up skies of storm.” The ominous chant gave way to silence and Tella breathed in at last. She looked up nervously through the cauldron's steam at her mentor, Antha. Tella put her hands back to her sides as she finished her final hand motions. A flick, following a sway of the hand that crossed over the other, signaled the end of the spell. Tella, who was barely sixteen, looked up at her older mentor.
There was a pause, and the echo of thunder was heard from a long distance. Antha, who had been stolid a moment before, sighed in exasperation.
“Tella,” she reprimanded. “You have to be exactly precise with your hand movements. The storm is at least three miles off. You failed to keep the sepulchral tones, which I specifically told you to maintain during the incantations.” Antha ceased her pacing around the room and stood over Tella's cauldron.
“And this,” Antha added. “I prepared this cauldron for you, and you still messed up the hand motions. Make sure to wave your hand like this.” Antha demonstrated the proper way to demand distance and time from a spell. Tella watched closely, taking mental notes. She nearly fell from her chair as she leaned over to watch the hand gestures.
It had been only a few weeks that Tella had been under the apprenticeship of Antha. Tella felt honored that Antha was to be the one to coach and mentor her. All of her life, Tella wanted to learn magic, and now she couldn’t believe she had the opportunity to learn from the best. Antha was well known throughout the land as the most skilled witch to ever have stirred a cauldron or chanted a spell. It was rumored that she had once cursed a royal family (which extended to several different kingdoms) with a plague that put them all in bed for three months.
“Are you aware of the reasons for which I chose you to mentor?” Antha demanded suddenly, having stopped lecturing her on the proper facial expressions versus vocal tones to have during a chant. Tella responded immediately.
“You chose me because I was determined to be the most talented and have the most magical tendency of all the children in the kingdom.” Tella had been told that same reason more times than she could count since she had been selected, although she personally objected to being called a child.
Antha nodded acceptingly, and then strode the short distance to where Tella sat. Tella almost shrunk back into her chair as Antha loomed over her.
Antha looked down to Tella and said, “You were chosen, because there is a war looming at the northwestern edge of our kingdom, and we are going to stop it.” There was a solemn moment of silence before Tella broke in.
“What?!” she shouted, flabbergasted. “We're going to war?! When did this happen? Who are we fighting with? Why do you need me? And how are we supposed to stop it?” Tella was frantic, rattling off questions to her mentor like there was no tomorrow. If there was a war brewing, then there very well might not have been a tomorrow.
Antha did not seem even slightly perturbed by the questions. She merely stood up tall, her brown hair quavering, and rattled of the answers just as fast, as if it were nothing more than a set of simple trivia questions that she was answering.
“Tensions have been mounting between our kingdom and the small landlocked kingdom of Cikra to the Northwest. They have been demanding for a long time that we provide them with a safe route to the sea. However, we demand a tax on all traveling merchants and for some reason the Cikran ruler, Draimar, is not satisfied with this even though it is a fair tax. Do not mistake yourself, child, I do not need you. The King thinks that I need an apprentice in case things do not go well for me, so that I have another to carry on my craft or aid me if necessary.
“I,”—she emphasized this word—“will be creating a spell that will cease the tension between the kingdoms by easing emotions on the subject. It is a secret tactical movement to avoid war, and I believe that if known by the Cikrans, would give them the excuse to go to battle, seeing as how they are the ones to be cursed. They can’t just go around declaring wars, willy-nilly. They need a solid purpose and foundation unless they want to be shown as the unjust villains. We would be just so lucky if we are able to conduct this curse without any outsiders finding out. That, child, is why you were brought here with such haste. The King and I feared that someone would contact you and try to get information from you. Thankfully, this cottage is too remote for anyone to stumble upon by accident.”
Antha had sat down sometime during her explanation, and was looking at Tella with slight concern and contempt. She was worried that Tella would not be able to comprehend or handle the information she had to tell her. But Tella wasn't thinking about the colossal importance of this discovery. Her mind flashed instantly back to her journey here, when she had met the curious stable boy. She had not had anyone to talk to in a long while, because of her transport guard who was not very fond of conversation, and had gladly taken up a conversation with the boy.
She remembered that she had told him about her school, and about her journey to be the apprentice of...
Something whizzed through the air and Antha immediately put a hand up to the back of her neck. Tella screamed as Antha slumped to the ground grimacing. The sound of horse hooves on the ground indicated the departure of the assailant.
Tella knelt beside her mentor. Antha painfully plucked the needle from her neck, and held it in front of her. A curious orange syrup dripped from the edge of the needle.
“Take this to the vial of blue liquid on the shelf over there. Drop it in and tell me what color the water turns.”
Tella, too stunned to speak, took the needle by the dull end, and ran it over to the vial. She dropped it in and anxiously peered into the liquid.
“Antha, it turned into a wispy sort of green froth,” Tella shouted nervously.
The older witch sighed. “It's Nocrale root poison; deadly but not fast.” Antha pushed herself up into a sitting position, wincing as the poison ran through her veins.
“What... what do I do?” Tella stammered.
“Take that vial and pour it into the second cauldron over near the far wall.” She gestured towards a boiling cauldron that was only filled with water. Tella ran to it and poured it in vehemently.
“Now what?” Tella asked.
“You have to add the rest of the Elarcon leaves, but only three at a time. Make sure to do the cross-wave hand gesture after each one,” Antha instructed. Tella stopped dead.
“I've never cooked up a potion before, Antha. I've only ever done the incantations!”
Antha began to say something but was overcome by a fit of coughing. Tella tore her eyes away from her mentor, and returned to the foaming cauldron.
“What do I do? I've never done this before!” Tella bit her lip before taking up the Elarcon leaves. She carefully dropped them in, at opposite ends, and performed the required hand motions, fighting to keep her hands steady. With each set of leaves she dropped in, a burst of smoke and steam erupted from the spot where they fell. Tella carefully finished adding the leaves, before turning back to Antha.
“Antha, I have the leaves in, now what?” Tella asked. Antha looked over at Tella, her eyes seemed unfocused and her skin, dull.
“Stir it in the opposite direction that the flames rise up on the sides. Five turns is good. Then you—” Antha cut off, and slumped against the door frame again.
“What? What comes after?” Tella was met by an ominous silence, broken only by the sound of her raging heart. She quickly went back to work, too frightened for Antha to stay focused. A sweat broke out on Tella's brow and she stirred with controlled fervor. Five turns ended. Tella looked down at the innards of the cauldron. It had turned soft yellow and seemed lighter than a liquid should.
“Antha, I have it. What’s next? What do I do?” The only response Tella received was a rasping cough from where Antha sat. Tella didn't let indecision reach her, however, and quickly ladled a vial of the cool yellow froth. She rushed it over to her mentor, praying to anyone that could be listening, to let her have brought it in time.
Tella carefully tipped the vial into Antha's mouth. She coughed and gasped, but swallowed it. Tella knelt on the wooden floors. She put her head in her hands and waited and waited and waited.
She practically jumped out of her skin when Antha spoke. Tella leaned anxiously over her mentor to listen to her words.
"Now we are at war!"