“Who’s there?” Yasmina put her book down on the bed next to her. Usually, she could hear a visitor’s reply from that side of the cottage, and while she could tell the caller was male, the voice sounded too muffled for her to clearly understand the message. With a slight annoyance, she got up and walked over to the door. She cracked it open just wide enough for her eye to see who had knocked. All she saw was a dark, green hooded cloak, which covered most of the man’s face. She opened the door wider and ushered him inside. “Come in.”
The man quickly entered but awkwardly stood in one place. Yasmina went to close the back window and told the stranger, “Have a seat on the rug.” The man did as she instructed, staring into her small fireplace where a flame burned brightly. He hadn’t taken off his hood, but Yasmina didn’t seem fazed as she sat down three clay pots before him. As she sat down, she inquired, “What are you looking for?”
The man replied, “The people say you’re the Magi of Neodrach.”
Yasmina felt a jolt of surprise to hear how commanding and yet warm his voice had sounded. She didn’t know anyone who sounded like that, and her curiosity began to rise. “You found me. What kind of elixir do you need? I have a healing potion ready.” She uncovered one of the clay pots to show a burgundy liquid. “I also have a remedy for sleeplessness and another for energy.” She revealed the other two as she mentioned them, and then she put down a large tome in front of him. “I can create something else if you need it. What did you have in mind?” She couldn’t see his expression, but she could see his head bob between the objects she laid out. She didn’t hear a reaction from him, so she added, “If you’ve come for a poison or anything dangerous, you can leave now because I don’t do that.”
Finally, the man spoke, “What kind of spells can you cast?”
Yasmina found this question peculiar. No one had ever asked her that before, and she didn’t understand his motives for doing so. “I specialize in more of the apothecary field.”
“You didn’t say you couldn’t do it,” he pointed out.
Yasmina started to get uncomfortable. She stood up and folded her arms as she addressed him, “Are you here to buy something or to mock me?”
“No, no, no!” He quickly stood up to fall in step with her. “I apologize, I had no intentions of offending you! I need help, and I wanted to know what you could do.”
Yasmina eyed him suspiciously. “Who sent you?”
“No one!” he immediately responded.
“Do you work for the king?” she probed.
“No!” he said adamantly.
She gave him a hard look before she turned her back on him. “I’m not a witch! I’m not evil! You can’t prove any-!”
He interrupted, “Not all witches are evil!”
She turned back around and stared at him in shock. In her whole life, she had never heard anyone say that! “Are you a warlock?”
“No,” he answered.
Yasmina had enough. “Who are you?” He hesitated, so she ordered, “Take off your hood!”
He didn’t do it right away, but he could tell from her demeanor that he had no choice. She didn’t have any clue what he would reveal, but it never occurred to her that he could be handsome! He had dark brown eyes that reflected deep thoughts, and his expression suggested a kind nature. His olive skin was smooth but bore a few scratches and bruises. He appeared around her age, perhaps a little older, and at that observance, she knew he didn’t come from this village. He bashfully admitted, “My name is Aidan.”
“Aidan?” Her first instinct was to not believe him, but a part of her pointed to the evidence. He had an aura of royalty, but he also had a wild look that a person might have after surviving a dangerous territory. The idea was still hard to believe though. “As in Prince Aidan?”
“Yes,” he confirmed.
Yasmina shook her head. “No! Prince Aidan died when King Dorian took the throne.”
“As far as he knows, I died along with my family,” Aidan told her. “I escaped, but I couldn’t return to the castle, not without help, which is why I’m here.” He took a deep breath and explained, “Ten years ago, my parents set sail to do business overseas. Not long after they left, an explosion sounded from their ship. Before my brother and I had time to even comprehend what happened, our castle was invaded. The Duke of Eidoman ran inside Rogamaith and found a massacre. After the funeral, they declared him king. This is what he told the kingdom, and all of this is true, but that’s where his honesty ends.”
“It always seemed strange that no one had any clue who did it,” Yasmina recalled.
“There’s a reason for that,” Aidan affirmed. “There was a plot to make sure that Dorian became king, but it wasn’t for his benefit. He was a puppet for someone more powerful who controls him.” Yasmina looked taken aback by his claim but did not challenge its validity. He went on, “After my parents left, my brother met with some advisors regarding his duties as next in line for the throne. I went to the other side of Rogamaith to take a nap in my chambers. Not long after I closed my eyes, I heard an explosion from the ocean. I immediately ran to the window facing that direction and saw my parents’ ship completely engulfed in flames.” He choked up a bit at this point, but he soon continued, “Before any of us could react, we heard commotion coming from the entrance of the castle. The guards were clearly fighting for their lives, so we ran to help. We didn’t get far before they found us…witches!”
“What!” Yasmina gasped. She expected a formidable opponent, but she didn’t see the story going in that direction. Her stomach twisted a a little because of her association with that realm.
“They flew in on broomsticks, pointing wands left and right, shooting spells at everyone they saw. Our weapons were useless! When I saw a wand pointed at me, I iimmediately collapsed. It didn’t hit me, but I played dead. Do you know how maddening it is to listen to people dying without being able to do anything about it?” Aidan paused as the memory haunted him for a moment. “After a while, the place was quiet. The witches surveyed their work and started celebrating. A woman who they called Daeva chided them for doing so. They were supposed to vacate the castle immediately so her puppet could find the bodies. The instant I couldn’t hear them anymore, I rushed to a secret exit and got away from Rogamaith as fast as I could! When I got far enough, I turned to see it one more time. I actually saw Duke Dorian arrive as Daeva said he would. I didn’t stay long, really, I shouldn’t have stayed at all, but I had to…say goodbye!”
A tear came down his cheek, so Yasmina handed him a handkerchief, which he graciously accepted. She gave him some time before she queried, “What have you been doing all this time?”
He replied, “I realized that I was now the rightful ruler of Caragsona, but I couldn’t take my lawful seat on the throne because a witch was always guarding the castle. I think they were secretly looking for me since they never found my body. The only way to save my kingdom was to seize control from the witches. I traveled the country learning all I could about them, and I couldn’t find any way a mere mortal could defeat a magical being. The only way Daeva and her coven could get defeated was through another witch. I’ve spent the last ten years trying to find one who I could convince to help me, but no one would do it, they’re all on Daeva’s side! I couldn’t give up though, not with so much of Caragsona collapsing because of their control! I knew somewhere, someday I would find a witch who would use her powers for good!” He stared Yasmina straight in her eyes and asked, “Are you that witch?”
Yasmina didn’t answer at first. She felt disturbed to learn that Caragsona got hijacked by evil witches, and her first instinct inclined her to help a kind soul who needed it, but her nerves were gnawing at the pit of her gut. If she opened this door, she feared the the wicked nature of a witch would take over her entire being. Admitting her identity would force her to embrace the very thing she worked so hard to escape. “Kadera the Soothsayer predicted I would try to kill the king!”
“She said you would try,” Aidan emphasized. “She told you snippets of your future to scare you, but did she tell you everything? Did she tell you that she’s also a witch?”
This revelation struck a nerve for Yasmina. “She’s a what? Ugh! She made me feel like I’m a terrible person, she convinced everyone in Neodrach that I’m a terrible person, and this whole time, she…ugh!”
“She saw something in you,” Aidan surmised. “A rival, someone who had the potential to collapse the empire they were building!”
“How could she possibly know that?” Yasmina wondered. “I’m no one special.”
Aidan responded by asking, “If you knew you had these powers, how come you’ve never used them to steal, harm, or destroy things? Or people? Have you ever been tempted to use them for your own ill gain?”
“Of course not!”
“Do you have any idea how rare that is?”
Yasmina had never thought about that before, and it certainly rang true for her. She felt a little better about herself, but she still felt hesitant about his plan. “If I were to help you, and if we succeeded, you’ll get your throne, but how is my life going to be different? How do I know you wouldn’t use me and throw me away when you’re done?”
“I give you my word that if you help me save my kingdom, I will make sure that you will live a life of dignity!” Aidan promised. “I also can assure you that if I can’t find anyone to help me, our land will crumble and decay. I know it’s asking a lot, and all you have is my word, but give me a chance to prove myself! If I show signs of betrayal, you’re free to leave. That won’t happen though because this is far too important!” He gave her a moment to mull it over before he ardently asked her, “So, are you a good witch?”
Yasmina feared that accepting this mission would risk what little she had, and she didn’t feel entirely assured that all would end well. Everything happened so suddenly, and her overwhelming emotions clouded her judgment. She didn’t think she could give an answer until she gazed into his eyes. His pleading pulled at her heartstrings, and her inner guidance urged her to do the right thing. She closed her eyes and forced herself to admit, “Yes, I am.” She opened her eyes, feeling strange. The truth was out there, and now suddenly the air felt different. The feeling both cleansed and frightened her! Something deep within her flowed free for the first time, and she knew the universe agreed with the path she chose!
Aidan asked her, “Will you help me in this quest?”
Yasmina answered him, “Yes.”
Aidan smiled in relief. “Thank you! We don’t have a moment to lose! It’s time to begin!”