The Story of Avaline
Anya forced her stiff and aching body out of the bed and into the stable area. She left her sleeping friends behind. Running on autopilot, she stumbled across the gardens towards her home. When she entered the side street, the rising sun alerted her of the time. She ran the rest of the way and flung open the door. Her family was already up and eating breakfast. That meant she was late!
“Young lady! Where have you been? This is twice now you’ve not shown up, and this time it wasn’t even until morning!”
Anya threw on her uniform as she pleaded with her mother. “Mom, I’m really, really sorry. But I don’t have time to explain. I’ll have to later. I’m already late, and we can’t afford for me to get into trouble at work.”
“You better be glad for that, because I guarantee you being here would be a whole lot worse than that kitchen today!”
Anya flung her hair back into a frazzled braid and ran out the door. “I’m sorry, Mom! I promise I’ll explain later! Everything’s OK! Please don’t be mad!”
Her mother yelled back from the road. “You better have one dragon of an explanation, young lady! And it better not be a load of flabber!”
A few of the workers were already in the kitchen when she arrived. Her heart pounded fast. Too fast. She started to panic. What if Cook found out? What if Canis used this against her? Would she lose another day’s pay? A week’s? She rushed in, lit the fires, and practically threw the buckets of water where they were needed. She managed to complete her chores enough that Cook and Canis didn’t notice anything off when they arrived later, together and laughing. Anya let out a breath of relief and got to work on everything else that still needed doing.
Her snoozing brain and sore muscles made the day difficult to complete. But, having her little secret made her feel special and kept her thoughts busy. As she washed the endless supply of pots and pans, she played the exciting events over and over to herself. She had trouble believing they were all real.
Traveling outside the Field to where no living Cupolian had ever been before. Mesmerized by the bright fire-breathing lizards. Her friend, the secret potion master. GOOSH! A massive plate fell into Taika’s potion splashing … dirty dish water? Anya looked up to see Canis next to her with a giant grin on her face. “Oops. Guess I dropped it.”
Anya was seething now. Her face was covered with food boogers and a horrible, horrible stench. She hated Canis. So, so bad. I wish I were a witch. Then I could turn her into a flabberfly and open a store that sells fly swatters. Anya’s rage strengthened as she watched Canis walk away, her head triumphantly raised. Her fists squished the chunky water out from between her fingers. “Some day, Canis. Some day.”
“Hey.” Basil had walked over. “Calm down. It’s OK. Here.” She reached up with a towel and wiped off Anya’s face.
Anya took the towel. “Thanks, Basil. One of these days. I’m going to get her so good!”
“Anya, I know how you feel, but do you want to be like that?”
“How is that like her? I didn’t do anything to her!”
Basil’s face was gentle but firm. “No. But chances are someone else did. Why else would she do it?”
“I don’t care why she does it. I just want it to stop.”
“Well, maybe if you knew why she did it, instead of just wanting revenge, you might feel differently. At least you would understand her better.” Basil walked away to finish her work.
Anya didn’t want to think about Canis at all, let alone feel sorry for her. And Anya certainly didn’t want to understand someone like that. She had the right to be angry. She was a good person being wronged by a bad person. But as her arms rose and fell with the hypnotizing rhythm of her day, she finally calmed down and concluded she shouldn’t be mean just because someone else had been mean to her. All that does is bring more meanness into the world. It had to stop somewhere, and Anya decided she would let it stop with her. If she didn’t let this go and forgive Canis, it would eat her up inside and turn her into a bad person too, just like Basil said. And she didn’t want that.
By the time her shift was over, she was smiling in the satisfaction of being better than that angry person she was just a few hours ago.
“Did you have a good day today?” Taika was waiting by the well outside.
Anya didn’t want to go into all the details, so she just shrugged. “Did you?”
“You were gone when we woke up. I wanted to make sure everything was OK.”
She had completely forgotten about this morning. “Oh, Taika. I am so sorry. I was so tired this morning I completely forgot to wake you all up. What happened? Did Gevin get into trouble?”
They strolled passed the laundry area. “Don’t worry. We got up in time for Gevin to make it look like no one had been there. His parents were rather upset though.”
“Yeah, my mom was too.” She yawned loudly. “I hope she’s still not mad at me. I just want to go home and go to bed.”
They rounded the main gate of the courtyard. “Anya?”
“Your mom’s still mad at you.”
This can’t be good. “How do you know?”
“She came by and talked with my parents. I’m in trouble too, for not making sure it was OK with everyone that my dad wasn’t coming.”
“Oh no! You mean she knows?”
Taika nodded. “Do you need me to come with you and help explain?”
Yes. “No. I need to do this on my own.” She did need to do this on her own. She didn’t want to, but if she wanted her mother to take her seriously, to trust her, she needed to.
Neither one had anything to say for a long while. As expected, the throng of citizens had become mere trickle by this time at night, so the only noises to break the silence were a few tweeting birds and a couple of howling cats. Anya watched as one of the cats chased an oversized rat into a thatched roof.
When they reached the point where they normally parted ways, Taika muttered, “I wonder,” and kept walking straight down the main thoroughfare.
Anya didn’t notice. She had already hollered, “Bye,” and headed down her side street. When she didn’t get a response, she turned around in place a few times and then went back out to the main street looking for Taika. There she found her talking to Methuselah, the crazy old man. “Taika,” she sighed, and walked their way.
His voice was faint but strong. “Her name is Avaline, and she was a Royal Wizard from when I was still a boy. When the others put the Field up, she ran away, into the woods. No one knew where she was or cared after that. They forgot about her, just like they forgot about magic.”
Anya walked slowly up to them, spellbound by what she saw. Methuselah’s eyes shone with alertness. He had one hand on his cane, leaning against it, and the other was moving animatedly. “There were others like her. Others that refused to give up magic. They left Cupola too. But when her beau refused to leave with her, her heart was broken. He agreed with the Queen and went to work for her as a knight. This gave her a hatred no mortal could contain.
“She vowed to kill the Queen, but the Field wouldn’t allow her to use her magic in the queendom. So, she waited. Just outside the Field. And attacked every knight she found. I was one of those knights, 200 years ago. It was then I learned the knights weren’t being killed at all. We were transformed into animals and kept in cages. I don’t know why she didn’t just kill us all. It would’ve been less cruel that way.”
Anya’s mouth gaped open as she continued to listen to the old man’s story.
“Not long ago, about 40 years or so, I suppose, her monkey, Alexander, was feeding me. My cage didn’t get shut well enough, and I escaped.
“I remember everything. We may have looked like animals, and acted like animals, but we were still people underneath all that fur. I knew exactly what was going on.
“I waited for her and that blasted monkey to go to sleep, and then I crept out of my cage. So many years. So many years. So many years I had been cramped in that wooden bottle.” Methuselah started to get that crazed look in his eye again. His faced scrunched up, and his fist clinched the top of his cane. Angry tears spilled from his eyes as he stared off into space once more.
Anya was absolutely bewildered with his transformation. Being held captive as an animal for that long would make anyone go a little bonkers. Her heart started to break as she filled with sympathy for the man. Taika, however, kept asking questions. “Then what?”
He turned to her, widened his eyes and said, “I ran. I ran as far and as fast as I could. I was many miles away from the castle. It took many days to get back here, to where my family was. I didn’t realize it had been over 150 years since I had been made a prisoner in her dungeon.
“They were all gone.” He looked away again. “My family was all gone.” He started sobbing incoherently, and dropped to sit in the street once again. Taika and Anya didn’t know what to say. They felt horrible for him, but what could they do? You can’t bring back someone’s family.
Right when they were about to turn and leave, Anya thought of something. “Um … Mr. Methuselah?” Anya asked tentatively. “How did you change back?”
The tired old man looked up through his red and swollen eyes. “Hmm?”
“How did you change back? If she made you an animal, how did you become a man again?”
His face switched back to normal in an alarming way. There was an awkward silence before he smiled and proclaimed, “Oh! The water fairies! I met them on my way back, and they let me swim in their waters. They cure everything, you know.”
Taika said, “You’ve been immensely helpful Mr. Methuselah, and I’m awfully sorry for what has happened to you, and the loss of your family. I’m exceedingly grateful for you sharing this with us, but I do have one more question, if I may.”
“You said she was many miles away, and that it took you many days to get here?”
He nodded. “Yes.”
Anya lowered her brows and pressed her lips together. “But it only took us a few hours on horseback. And we were only walking.”
His face filled with fear. “Then you must stop her!”
Anya said, “I don’t understand. What do you mean, stop her?”
“Avaline’s house sits on the edge of the Field at all times, waiting for it to show some form of weakness. If her house is closer, it must mean that the Field is shrinking. Its magic must be fading. If the Field fails, she will destroy us all!”
The girls stopped walking and hid in a muffled cubby behind a quiet house. Anya rubbed the sides of her head with her fingers. “Is he for real? The Field is failing?! What are we going to do? That woman is dangerous! We have to do something! Maybe Gevin was right and we should go back and let him chop her head off.”
“Sorry. I think he’s rubbing off on me.”
Taika paced back and forth in the small area a few times, tapping her lip with her fingernail and muttering to herself. Finally, she turned to Anya. “We have to tell the Queen.”
“If this witch, this … Avaline … is truly getting closer, then something must be done. Cupola is in danger, and the Queen must be informed.”
“But Taika, the Queen already knows.”
Anya pushed away from the house. “Yeah, remember? Gevin said that she thinks someone is out there trying to kill her all the time, and that she believes in magic?”
“Be that as it may, she still may only suspect a threat, not confirmedly know about one. It is still our responsibility to warn her of the danger we now know.”
Taika began turning in place again. “I don’t know, but we have to.”
“And what if she doesn’t believe us? What if she gets mad at us for knowing her little secret?” Anya sunk back against the house. “Oh! Could this day get any worse?”
Taika chewed her lip while her eyes rapidly moved across the scenery as if a book were written there. Her head slowly nodded. “Let me think about this. We’ll meet back at the library sometime next week. OK?”
Anya nodded in agreement, but she wasn’t entirely sure she meant it. Taika was smart. Real smart. But sometimes she didn’t think about everything she should. Like telling everyone ahead of time her dad wasn’t going to be able to make it to the “hunting trip” so that everyone was forced to make a snap decision. Inevitably making a bad one.
Speaking of which… Anya walked home slow enough to think things through. How was she going to explain last night to her mother? She stood outside her house and stared at her door, waiting for any ideas that might feel sorry for her or get lost and spontaneously pop into her mind, which turned out to be about as helpful as it sounded. So, she gave up and went inside. Might as well get it over with, she thought with a sigh. Besides? What’s the worst that could happen? She already hated her job and was running from an evil witch. How much more horrible could it get?
Her mom and Terrence were sitting on their beds eating when she entered. Terrence got up and went outside to eat. Silently.
This was bad. This was really, really bad.
Her mother continued to eat her supper and watch Anya sit on the edge of Terrence’s bed in silence. Time went by slowly, and her mother wasn’t saying anything.
After a while, Anya couldn’t take the silence anymore and blurted, “Mom, we got back so late that you had already gone to bed—”
Her mother put down her bowl and looked her daughter directly in the eyes. “Anya. Why did you lie to me? Of all the things I have a problem with, what is number one?”
Anya’s voice was barely audible. “Lying.”
Her mother nodded. “That’s right. What happens when someone lies?”
Anya swallowed. She stared at the floor. There was a burn behind her nose.
Her mother continued, “No one trusts them. How am I ever supposed to trust you again?”
She sobbed, “I’m sorry, Mom. Mr. Wolf was going, but then Taika showed up that morning and said he couldn’t.”
“So this wasn’t planned?”
“No! I had no idea he wasn’t going until that morning. When we got there, Taika already had the horses ready to go. That’s when she told us. We had worked too hard to make everything work out that we just went ahead and went anyway.”
Her mother looked thoughtful.
“I’m sorry. I knew I should’ve come back and told you, but I didn’t. I’m sorry!”
Her mother sat in thought. She pursed her lips and tapped her arm with her fingers. “I believe you.”
Anya breathed again as she put her elbows on her knees and held her head in her hands.
“Taika said it was her fault. She said she didn’t tell you until it was too late.”
Taika also asked if she needed to go back and make sure it was OK.
“We have all decided to ground the three of you until next week.”
Anya raised her head up from her hands. “Taika and Gevin too?”
“Yes. Everyone.”Taika must have sneaked out to warn her. And she even offered to come help explain.
That week went by fairly eventless. Everyone was grounded after all. There were no lunchtime visits, no spending the night in the kitchen no matter how late she worked (That part wasn’t really an issue.) She couldn’t even sit outside her house and talk to Gevin sitting outside of his.
But, the very day, the very first day of ungroundedment, Gevin and Anya went to Taika’s library. They climbed the familiar stairs, their usual excitement now dread.
Gevin whined, “What do you think she’s going to make us do? I don’t want to talk to the Queen. What if she doesn’t follow the ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’ rule? She’s not exactly a very nice person.”
“I know. We just have to find some way to convince Taika that it’s all a bad idea. But do it nicely. I don’t know what happened with your parents, but she took the fall for me.”
“Me too,” he mumbled.
They opened the door to a sweaty Taika and a billowing yellow stench of steam. “Hurry! We mustn’t be seen!” She grabbed and yanked them in, promptly securing the door behind them.
Anya covered her nose and mouth. “Oh! That is putrid!”
Gevin squinted his watering eyes and tried to breathe through his shirt he had pulled up over his nose.
Wisps of Taika’s pigtails were plastered to her yellowed face. Her robes were tightly closed and covered in splotches. Sweat rained down her temples and neck. She poured herself a glass of water from a nearby pitcher and wiped her forehead with an already soaked sleeve. The cloths draped over the library shelves had turned the darkened yellow of the smoke that filled the upper two-thirds of the room.
Taika gasped after a large gulp. “If this smoke doesn’t clear soon, we may have to wait outside.”
Anya walked over to a shuttered window. “Why don’t you just…”
“No!” Taika ran over and stopped her from unlatching it. She then walked to the center of the room and sat on the rug, looking exhausted. They sat down next to her, happy with how much cooler and cleaner it was on the floor.
Anya asked, “What’s wrong with opening the windows?”
“What do you think would happen if anyone saw yellow smoke coming from the library window?”
“They may think it’s on fire,” Gevin said through his shirt.
Taika wiped some more sweat off her face. “They might. They might also think we’re doing something suspicious.”
Gevin blinked in confusion. “But no one believes in magic.”
“Even if they did, there’s not actually a law against magic,” Anya countered. “Besides, I thought the Field prevented magic in here anyway.”
“I can’t do actual magic, no. But I can make a potion with nonmagical ingredients that draws great suspicion. We’re about to tell the Queen there’s an evil witch approaching. Do you think it wise to advertise our potion making?”
“Oh… Probably not.”
“What all is in that bucket of nasty?” Gevin’s shirt was still muffling his voice.
“Sulfur, stink bugs, pine needles, citrus peelings, and several other common items.”
“And why are you inflicting this misery upon us?”
Taika squirmed somewhat before explaining, “Otis has a little … problem … when he sleeps.”
Gevin looked at Anya for an explanation. Anya shrugged and tugged down the corners of her mouth.
“He smells … bad.”
Anya raised her brow and formed an O with understanding. Gevin snorted, dropping his shirt. “You mean he farts? Your supervisor farts in his sleep?” He fell to the floor and cackled with glee.
Anya and Taika rolled their eyes at each other and muttered, “Boys.”
After he calmed down enough to sit back up again, he wiped his eyes and asked, “So where is the gas bag?”
“Gevin!” scolded Taika.
“Don’t call him that! He’s a very nice man. He just has a small … problem.”
Gevin set off into another fit of giggles.
Ignoring his howling as he rolled across the floor, Anya asked Taika, “Where is Otis anyway?”
“Oh. I told him to take today off since he covered for me during our ‘hunting trip’.” She looked sheepish. “He didn’t want to because of all the grandkids his wife watches, so I made him sick.”
Taika held up her hands in defense. “It’s only supposed to last eight hours. I put it in his lunch yesterday so that it would kick in today, keeping him home and out of my way.”
Gevin stopped laughing and propped up on his elbow with his mouth agape. An untouched tear from his previous laughing fit moseyed its way down one cheek.
Taika brushed the issue aside with her hand. “It’s the same thing I’m going to do with this potion here.”
Pink smoke began to rise from the cauldron by the alchemy set. Taika jumped up and stood on the purple spot on the floor. She stirred the concoction with an oversized wooden spoon and sighed, “Ah! It’s turning now.”
Gevin got up to peer at the potion. “Taika, you’re starting to scare me.”
Taika began ladling the draught into small vials and placing them on a shelf that was almost full with flasks of differing contents. “Oh piddle-posh. Just be glad I’m on your side.”
Trying to ignore that their friend had recently proven herself to be devious, Gevin finished off her pitcher of water, while Anya brought down the sheets and lined up more bottles for Taika to pour the remaining potion into. They opened the shutters and tried to shoo as much of the smoke out as possible. By now it was dark enough no one would have noticed it anyway.
Gevin scratched the back of his head and said, “I know I’m going to regret saying this, but weren’t we going to talk about the Queen?”
He continued, “Do you still plan on telling her? I mean, even if she does decide not to kill us, she doesn’t just see anybody.”
Taika answered casually, “Oh, I’ve got that taken care of.”
Gevin muttered, “Of course you do.” Anya regretted not trying to stop her immediately after their talk with Methuselah.
Taika explained, “The Queen does see ‘just anybody’. On Ball day.”
Gevin and Anya gave her confused looks. Gevin emitted a, “Huh?”
“Ball day is the one day of the year that the Queen acts like a villager and communes with them. If anyone has anything they want to tell her, they approach her at the Ball.”
Their looks didn’t change.
“Ugh! Was I the only one that paid attention in history class?”
“Probably,” said Gevin.
“Gevin, I know you didn’t, but Anya, surely you remember.”
Taika rolled her eyes and waved her hands. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll loan you a history book later.”
Oh goody, thought Anya.
Gevin interrupted, “But what if she doesn’t believe us? What if she finds out about everything. About you”—He wildly gestured his arms about—“Making elixirs and using them on people? Remember how she feels about magic? We can’t let her know that we know what she knows! You know?”
Taika tried to calm everyone down by gently explaining, “I’ve got this all figured out. I will write her a letter”—Gevin tried to interrupt her, but she held up her hand to stop him—“and Anya will deliver it.”
“The gramwhat I will! I just got ungrounded, remember?”
Gevin yelled angrily, “You’re not putting Anya in that kind of danger!”
Taika waved her palms frantically. “It’s not what you think! She won’t hand it to her in person. No one will ever know it was her. The Queen’s meals are delivered from the kitchen, right Anya?”
Anya just fumed with her arms crossed. This was not going at all well. They were supposed to make Taika forget all this nonsense with the Queen. Thanks a lot, Gevin!
Taika continued, “So I will write a letter that could not possibly be traced back to us. And Anya will slip it under the lid of the Queen’s meal.”
Anya’s eyes drilled holes into Taika. “No.”
Gevin asked, “If she’s not approaching her highness directly, then why does it have to be on Ball day? Can’t she do that anytime?”
“Because on Ball day, the Queen expects to hear from the citizens of Cupola. With that and all the chaos going on that day anyway, it will be harder to pinpoint who did it. And, and this is the most important part, we can judge her reaction to the letter because we will see her that evening.”
Taika clasped her hands together as though she had just produced the magical potion that cured all ails. Anya’s hole-drilling stare only changed by the slight raising of one eyebrow. Gevin acted like he was waiting for his brain to catch up.
“No,” said Anya.
“No. I’m in enough trouble as it is. On top of my aforementioned ungrounding, there’s also a bulldog named Canis that’s constantly getting my pay docked and trying to get me fired. Remember? Besides, I may not even work that week. What then?”
Gevin’s brain must have caught up. He asked Taika, “What if you delivered the letter?”
“Me? How am I supposed to deliver the letter? I don’t work in the kitchen at all. It would be obvious who planted it, since I would be the only one there out of place.”
“Yeah, but no one cares if you do something offensive.”
Anya looked at him kind of funny for that one too.
“No one’s trying to get you fired,” he said. “In fact, you’re probably the only person in the whole queendom that even wants this stupid job. Last week was the first time you’d ever gotten into trouble for anything in your entire life.”
Taika tried to come up with a retort, but wound up looking like a fish trying to breathe out of water instead.
“Thanks for taking the fall for that by the way,” he added.
“Yeah, thanks,” said Anya.
Gevin continued, “And everyone thinks you’re a bit off anyway, so one little act of insanity isn’t that big a deal.” He stared ahead and gave his best impression of a monotone Taika. “I was reading a book on the magical implications of fiction, Your Highness, and it talked about a wicked witch in the woods. My imagination took control of my body and forced me to write the letter of warning. I’m sorry.”
Taika crossed her arms, turned away, and huffed with indignance. “Well! I’m just so glad everyone thinks I’m insane and unable to control my emotions.”
Anya’s snort went unnoticed. “He does have a point, Taika. If you get caught, it won’t be nearly as bad as if I did.”
She dropped her guard but refused to look at Gevin. “But my way, no one gets caught. Anya, please. This is the safest way to tell the Queen. No one will ever know.”
Anya disagreed. “I still think we need to just leave it alone and let the Queen deal with it her own way.”
“And what if she doesn’t? What if the rumors are exactly that? Rumors.”
Taika was right. They had no way whatsoever of knowing the truth of the whole situation. And they had to do something. There was a wicked witch in the woods bent on mass destruction after all. And Anya didn’t want to put her friend in any danger either. She sighed in defeat. “Alright. I’ll think about it.”
Taika smiled with satisfaction.
Gevin stood up. “Are you insane?!”
“Taika’s right, Gev. We can’t be sure she knows everything. Someone has to tell her.”
Gevin shrugged. “It’s your funeral, Ahnny. Just remember I told you so.”