Our Homes... So Far Away: Ishandra
“Ishandra,” says Flora softly, “I have heard you often speak of your home in Italy on Terra but you have never told us much about it other than that. What is it like?”
“Yes,” says Stella, her interest piqued, “I would love to hear about it and especially about the styles and what’s in fashion.”
“So would I,” says Bloom, having awoken from her short nap on Ishandra’s shoulder. “I was sent to Terra from Sparx by my sister, Daphne, but you were born there. It must have been quite different for you while you were growing up.”
“Well, where to begin?” begins Ishandra. “Yes, I was born and grew up on Terra but I did not live during the same time or even on the same continent as Bloom. I was born on a peninsula, which is shaped like a high boot, called Italy in the port city of Taranto which is in the arch and just before the heel of the boot. The best reckoning puts my date of birth, according to the system used on Terra, as sometime in the spring of 1798. We think it was about mid-April.”
“You’re not sure when you were born?” asks Flora with a look of disbelief. “But why?”
“You have to be aware that infant mortality was high in those times and mothers often died from childbed fever and other complications shortly after giving birth,” explains Ishandra. “After giving birth in those days, one was more concerned about whether mother or child or both would survive the ordeal than about the actual date of birth.”
“Being a Witch in those days was perilous,” continues Ishandra. “There was no tolerance for Witches as there is on Alfea and other worlds and, if one was caught, she would be put to death by being drowned, being burnt at the stake or garrotted. My mother was a Witch who always lived in fear of being caught and when it became obvious that I also had powers she made me swear never to use them in front of the populace and especially not in front of my father.”
“Why?” asks Tecna. “Would your father have betrayed you to the witch hunters if he knew?”
“No, nothing like that, Tecna,” Ishandra tells her. “We did it to protect him because, among other things, a man could be executed for harbouring a Witch. My mother told me that my father would do all he could to protect his wife and his little girl even if he knew our secrets but there was only so much he, as one man, could do and also, being at sea much of the time, he was not always around to protect us. It is for these reasons and for our great love for him that my mother said that we had to keep secret from him our true natures.”
“My mother still used her knowledge of witchcraft to do a lot of good as a healer and she was also teaching me the healing arts so I could follow in her footsteps. However, when a servant girl killed her aged mistress using medicine my mother had given her to help the old woman’s ailing heart, she was accused by this girl of practising evil witchcraft. The matter got dragged into court where the girl played all trusting and innocent. My mother had to explain how she created the medicine using a blue flower that is common to our region but she also had to explain to the court how the medicine had to be administered with great care. “Too little,” my mother told the court, “would not help the old woman but too much would kill her and the line between the two extremes was a matter of a few drops.” The court ruled that the old woman’s death was accidental and also, because she was so old, it may have simply been her time to pass on whether or not it was before or after taking my mother’s medicine.”
“Even though my mother was acquitted, rumours about us began to fly rampantly about the village. All of a sudden, the entire village had something to say about us and our natures. We were suddenly too tall, too graceful and too beautiful and our ears where just too pointy to be natural so we must be witches. If animals died or crops became blighted, it was our evil doing. If someone had bad fortune then it was we who jinxed him. When women miscarried then it was because we cursed them. And it went on but not openly. Then, when the shop owners in the marketplace finally stopped selling to us out of fear that while in their shops we would give them the evil-eye, we started to raise our own vegetables and fell back on our knowledge of edible wild plants and insects. But even then we could not escape the rumour mill. People saw us harvesting the large and potentially deadly tarantula spiders and assumed it was not because they were a source of high quality protein. No, we wanted to absorb the spiders’ poison so we could spit it into people’s faces and cause them to die. And when both my mother and I lost what little domestic fat we had through our hard work and our vegetable and insect diet and acquired a look of chiselled beauty then the women of the village became even more jealous of us and spread stories that we used unnatural means to achieve it. And the rumours fed upon rumours and the more outrageous they were, the more people believed them, until the whole village had worked itself into a lather of fear of us.
“And then we began to be hounded by people who were glad to find out that we could be witches. They were wicked people with only evil in their hearts who wanted us to cast hexes and curses on people we didn’t even know for what seemed like no reason at all. There were some who wanted my mother to use her extensive knowledge of herbs to create exotic poisons so they could use them to commit murder and get away with it. There were those who wanted charms and talismans and those who wanted us to transmute lead into gold, raise people from the dead, and tell them their fortunes. But my mother refused to have any dealings with them and turned them all away. Then, if things were not already bad enough, Lady Brocia, accompanied by her entourage, shows up at our doorstep and demands that my mother make a love potion for her so she could have the man she wanted. My mother refused to do it telling Brocia that there was no such thing as a love potion and if there was it was no less than a philtre that would make the man her unwilling slave but not her lover and she refused to do that to anyone. Then Brocia starts wailing and blubbering that she will never have the one she wants without my mother’s help at which point my mother explodes.”
“Look, My Lady Brocia,” she tells her, “no man will ever love you until you make yourself loveable and here is the witchcraft to do it. Firstly, amend that pompous, whining, spoiled bitch attitude of yours and learn to treat everyone with respect no matter what his or her station is in life. Secondly, get off that fat, lazy butt of yours and get some exercise. Thirdly, when you eat your meals, use a fork not a shovel. Fourthly, take a bath at least once a month and, lastly, after you have devoured a mess of pork spareribs with garlic sauce then at least do us all a favour and rinse your mouth out with some perfume. There’s your answer and you can start to work on it right now.”
“How dare you!” screams Brocia. “How dare you speak to me thus!”
“Well, I just did, didn’t I,” snarls my mother. “Now you have your answer so get out of my house!”
“You must have grown up among some pretty superstitious and narrow-minded people,” states Tecna coldly, “to make assumptions and accusations like that and to spread such rumours based only on hearsay without any research or demonstrable proof to back them.”
“Yes,” puts in Stella angrily, “and that Lady Brocia sounds like really bad news. Anyone like that would not be called a lady on Solaria. Your mother was right to put her in her place.”
Ishandra gives the two a small thankful smile and continues. “The day came when my father and all his ships were out at sea and there was no one in port to watch over us. It seems that that was just what the villagers were waiting for, for two days later, a piece of parchment wrapped about a rock comes smashing through our window. Upon it were written just two words: Die witches. My mother knew that we had to go into hiding to save our lives, so, I finally told her about the giant caves Muta and I had discovered a few years earlier with an entrance accessible only to those creatures who could fly. My mother thought it a good idea that we hold out there for a time until my father or perhaps one of my father’s ships returned. So bit by bit in the cover of darkness my mother, Muta and I moved all our possessions to the cave. We might have been able to hold out there for quite a few months longer had winter not come early that year killing all the edible insects or sending them into early hibernation and all the edible wild roots were frozen in the ground and nigh impossible to dig out. Muta had stockpiled her winter provisions and was willing to share with us but, unlike her, we did not possess a Faerie’s ability to subsist on tree bark and dried berries and whatever grains of wheat she could find amongst the stubble of the fields. I suggest to my mother that perhaps that, by bending the light to make ourselves invisible, we could steal whatever eggs or chickens we needed to say alive but she would hear nothing of the sort stating that she has never stolen anything in her life and was not about to start now. A few days after, all our provisions had run out and we knew that we had to do something or die.”
The six Winx Club Faeries look on while Ishandra struggles trying to keep her emotions in check.
“That fateful night, my mother and I decided to risk going back to the house to recover what provisions might still be there. It was a fatal error for there must have been someone watching over our house who raised the alarm when he saw movement. Within a few moments of our arrival the villagers stormed our house from the front and behind trapping us in a room where there wasn’t even a window to fly out of.
« Hide! » my mother sends urgently to me. So I wrap the light about myself and levitate against the wall trying to stay as quiet and still as possible.
My mother stands before the mob with Giuseppe, a scrawny, nervous type with a high, squeaky voice, who was then the Mayor of Taranto and, obviously, the one in charge, standing in fore. “Where is Isha?” he shrills at my mother but she remains silent.
Meanwhile, others, believing that there was now safety in numbers, must have been going through our house looking for plunder but finding none returned to report to Giuseppe that there was nothing to be had. “Where is your witch’s treasure? Where is Isha?” screams Giuseppe angrily at my mother and then approaches her as if about to strike her. My mother raises her hands to protect herself and then a large belaying pin comes crashing down upon her head. She falls to the floor and her head makes a sickening sound like a smashed eggshell and a black pool begins to form around it.
“Alfonso you fool!” yells Giuseppe. “Now we will never find that witch’s spawn or her treasure!”
“But she was about to cast a hex or something upon you,” protests Alfonso thickly.
Someone is examining my mother and I hear Lady Brocia’s voice saying, “She’s still alive? We may still yet be able to get something out of her.”
“Fine,” squeaks Giuseppe, “but we’ll take her to the hall to do it.”
I watch helplessly on as two men grab my mother by her arms and drag her through a pool of her own blood and out the door. I follow but could not enter the hall where they took her. I learned only afterwards that, although they tried to interrogate her, they could get nothing from her but senseless gibberish. About an hour later, they drag her out of the hall, tie her to a stake, douse her with oil and set her ablaze. That night I changed for what I thought would be forever for with every scream from my mother while she died writhing in the flames a part of me died with her until nothing was left of me but a heart frozen solid in a block of blue ice.”
The six Winx Club Faeries sit in shocked silence as Ishandra completely breaks down into tears: her hands over her face and her head resting upon her knees which she has drawn up to her chest and her shoulders shuddering with her sobs.
The six Winx Club Faeries quietly form a circle around Ishandra, each stretching out her hands and touching her. The horses also come to join the circle. Latifa, Ishandra’s horse, lowers her head over the Faerie circle and gently rests her cheek against Ishandra’s head and nickers softly. After a few minutes, Flora wraps her arms about Ishandra’s waist and, drawing her to her, allows Ishandra to rest her head upon her shoulder as she gently caresses Ishandra’s cheek and kisses her forehead. There is not a dry eye among them. Even Tecna, who is often criticized for her insensitivity and cold objectivity, is sitting in the circle with tears spilling over her eyes and down her cheeks.
“We had no idea,” says Bloom softly, breaking the silence. “To lose one’s mother in such a gruesome and cruel manner must be unbearable. I know, because, my true birth parents have been taken away from me and are now lost in one of the magical dimensions. I never got to know them at all but a part of me aches and longs for their return.”
“My father and mother are separated and I live with my father,” whispers Stella. “I rarely get to see her and, if it were not for the support of my sisters gathered here, the intervening times between visits would be lonely and miserable for me. It is not like losing your mother forever but I can understand somewhat what you are going through. It is not that I don’t love my father dearly. I do. But there are some things you can only share with your mother and some pains and heart-sorrows that only she can cure.”
“I have lost my mother too,” admits Musa between sobs of her own. “She died of a rare disease when I was still yet a child. It tore my father to bits and left a deep wound inside of me. Yet, I still feel her speaking to me when I sing the songs that both she and my father composed and I dedicate all my compositions to her.”
“I don’t know what made me spill this all out to you,” sobs Ishandra. “I have been holding this inside of me for so long. Except for maybe Alysoun, no one at Cloud Tower knows about this. I have not even told as much to Darcy or Leffi when she was still Stormy. But something inside of me said that you would understand and I just had to let it all out.”
“This is often the only way emotional healing can start to take place,” says Aïsha with a break of sadness in her voice. “You let it all out because you had to. Isha, you never have to feel that you need to face this all alone! You are a sister to us all now and we all share each other’s heart-break and support each other,” and all the Faeries nod their heads in agreement.
“Ishandra,” says Flora in a voice like a sweet zephyr, “there must surely have been good times. You must have some fond memories of your mother and of the time you lived in Taranto. Tell us something of those.”
“My mother and I were very close,” says Ishandra, sitting up and drying her eyes, “not only because we were Witches but also because my father, an English sea captain, was at sea much of the time and we only had each other. When my father, Andrew, would come home, it would be like being introduced to a stranger. It must have been difficult for him too seeing his daughter growing up in only spurts and jumps and missing out on many of the magical moments most parents share while their children grow up. It was awkward and sad at times for me knowing I had to keep secret from him my true nature and not being able to share with him all my triumphs while growing up as a Witch.”
Ishandra pauses once again trying to keep reign of her emotions. It is Aïsha this time who takes Ishandra into her arms to rock her and to whisper, “Let it out, Isha. Don’t feel ashamed to cry. Let your tears wash all of this out of your system.”
Ishandra makes a deep sigh and begins again, “It was my mother who taught me the rudiments of witchcraft and who was teaching me the healing arts and magic. She also taught me how to fly and how to bend light. It was shortly after learning how to bend light that I then began to see Faeries.”
“Faeries?” blurt Bloom, Stella and Tecna. “But didn’t Miss Faragonda and Ms. Grizelda tell us that there were no longer magical creatures on Terra?” asks Stella.
“Well, I can vouch for at least three Faeries living in Taranto during those times although only one of them, Muta, was to become my lifelong companion,” confirms Ishandra. “It is she who has melded with me to create the new creature that I am today. But a few months after becoming friends, Muta came to our home one night beaten and bleeding. I am sure it was her two companions and maybe others too who beat her and kicked her out of their shelter because she had bonded with me and because I am a Witch.”
“Muta?” says Musa, wide-eyed. “Then it was you who chased Stella and me that time in Magix. I remember being so ticked off with you for cornering me and for calling me Muta all that time.”
“Yes, it was I,” nods Ishandra. “You look so much like Muta that you could be twin sisters. I guess that I got carried away when I thought I was to be reunited with my friend and couldn’t understand why it was you were fleeing from me and couldn’t hear me when I tried to communicate with you telepathically. It broke my heart to find that you were not Muta and that you would not even consider being my friend.”
“I’m sorry, Ishandra,” mumbles Musa, shamefaced. “I guess that a great many bad things could have been avoided had I been a bit more tolerant and agreeable to having you as a friend.”
“That may have been the case,” replies Ishandra, “but it wasn’t and we ended up battling each other in a senseless fight for possession of the Dragon’s Fire. My research at Cloud Tower revealed to me my lineage and that I was a direct descendant of Ardala who was the last Witch Guardian of the Dragon’s Fire. It was being Ardala’s currently living descendant that indicated to me that I was rightfully the next Witch Guardian of the Dragon’s Fire. When you showed up with your splinter of the Dragon’s Fire, Bloom, I felt that you had cheated me out of what I thought to be mine. That is really what the fighting was all about. I just wanted from you what I thought you had stolen from me. It was not until I was taken into the confidence of my guardian, the Werecat, that I came to realize that there are four kinds of Dragon’s Fire. It is Bloom’s destiny to be the Faerie Guardian of the Red Fire Dragon’s Fire … and mine is to be Witch Guardian of the White Ice Dragon’s Fire. The powers that I received shortly after being transported to the Planet of Alfea by Alysoun and her rescue party are not from dead planets, as I once believed, but from the Witches’ sliver of White Ice Dragon’s Fire that the Great Dragon Herself gave me. I am so ashamed now for all the evil and strife I caused during the fighting. Can you ever forgive me, Bloom?”
“Certainly, I can,” replies Bloom to Ishandra with a gentle look in her eyes. “You, as Flora and Aïsha have so often told me, are not the evil Icy against whom I fought in those days but a new creature. How can I blame you for the misdeeds done by an evil Witch who is now dead and gone? Besides, if it were not for your training, I would never have realized all the powers and potentials of my splinter of the Dragon’s Fire. And furthermore, it is simply not in our nature, as Faeries, to hang onto grudges forever. So, yes, Ishandra, I can forgive you if you feel that that is what you are still in need of.”
“I think we can all show forgiveness,” says Aïsha with emphasis her gaze fixed on Stella and Musa.