Needwood: A New World Fairy Tale

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Alistair's Mistake

The last vestiges of daylight glowed orange in the western sky by the time Alistair, Savvy, and LeBits emerged from the tunnel in Long Mountain. Leaning heavily on Alistair’s shoulder, Savvy favored her injured leg until he lowered her onto a large rock. There she rested, squinting in the glare of the late-day sun.

“I am very pleased with you, Savilla. You did as well as I could have hoped,” said a familiar voice.

Fiona stepped out of the light with a wide smile on her lips. She picked LeBits off the ground and scratched behind his ears.

“You too did well, little Felim,” she cooed.

LeBits luxuriated in the Sirachim’s touch, a loud purr throbbing from his breast.

“Lady Fiona, it’s thanks to you that I succeeded,” said Savvy. “If you and LeBits hadn’t woken me up I wouldn’t have been able to rescue Alistair.”

“You may wish to see things that way, Savilla, but in the end it was your actions that saved Alistair’s life.”

“I guess so,” Savvy shrugged. “But things also happened down there that I don’t fully understand. The drink, for example, what was it?”

“You mean the Chalice of Knowing. I will tell you about it and much more in time. Now, however, you must rest.”

“I am hungry,” Savvy nodded. “I’ll bet you are too, eh, Alistair?”

“I’m famished, but maybe it would be better if I go home now, considering I broke the rules and all.”

“Nonsense,” said Fiona. “I knew you would go after Savilla.”

“But you said not to.”

“That I did. What better method could I have used to ensure that you would go? Telling you not to follow Savilla forced her to be brave and proceed on her own while giving you the impulse to follow later on.”

Alistair scratched his head. “Lady Fiona, I’m tired and not thinking too clearly. It sounds to me like you’re saying you wanted me to go after Savvy.”

“I did. In fact, I hoped you would.”

“And my going after her was part of the test?”

“It was.”

“But how?”

“The Revealing is intended to uncover the true nature of the person who endures it. In Savilla’s case she was required to do three things: to overcome her fear, to learn the importance of mercy, and to demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice her life for that of another. She did—”

“I did those things by facing down the illusion of the Krytten, by forgiving Lilith, and by going back to save Alistair from danger,” Savvy interrupted.

“Indeed, you did. Does the purpose of The Revealing make sense to you now?”

“It does, but what about the chalice? I really want to know more about it.”

“The chalice is a deeper secret that I’ll share with you another time. For now we must return to my cottage and attend to your wound. Are you ready to depart?”

“I am, but I’m afraid I can’t walk too well. How will we get down the mountainside?”

Fiona stepped forward and placed LeBits on Savvy’s lap.

“Hold our friend here and take my hand. Then take Alistair’s hand,” she said.

Savvy did as Fiona instructed and grasped Alistair’s hand, yet when his fingers closed on hers he yelped and snatched them back. “Ouch! Savvy, your touch just gave me a terrible shock. It felt like I got struck by lightning.”

“You did?” Savvy asked.

“Yes, Savilla, I’m sure Alistair is correct,” said Fiona. “Remember what I told you this morning.”

“You said I would come out of the tunnel a different person.”

“That’s right. The spark in your touch is proof of the change. The Revealing has awakened your magical abilities. You will now have the ability to do things that you could never do before.”

“I see, but Alistair does that mean you won’t ever touch my hand again? You’re my best friend.”

“I’m sorry, Savvy, I didn’t mean to pull away. It just surprised me to feel that shock when I didn’t expect it. I’ll be happy to hold your hand.”

An uncomfortable grimace on his face, as if he was placing his hand inside of a beehive, Alistair gingerly slipped his fingers into Savvy’s.

“Heh, that wasn’t so bad,” he said, nodding to Fiona that they were now ready to depart.

“Very well, hold on tightly,” said the Sirachim, and with a snap of her fingers they found themselves standing in her yard.

Alistair clutched his stomach. “Whoa! That was really odd. One second I could feel my body, the next it felt like it dropped away. Then we were here.”

“You become accustomed to it after a time,” Fiona assured him. “Now, come inside. I need to dress Savilla’s wound and prepare something for us to eat.”

Fiona led them into her cottage of fieldstone and thatch. The interior smelled strongly of sage and an aged hearth stood to one side of the large main room with carved rocking chairs set before it. Carpets covered the flagstone floor and gauzy curtains shielded the small windows. Beckoning for Savvy to sit at the large table at one end of the room, Fiona retrieved a wooden box in which she kept a cloth bandage and some small jars of ointment.

“What’s all this?” asked Savvy.

“These are my healing salves.”

“Salves? You mean like comfrey and thyme?”

“Indeed. You’ve learned your healing herbs well, Savilla, but those are not sufficient for your wound. For it I’ll use burdock root, goldenseal, and lavender with beeswax. Between the cure and your Sirachim constitution, you’ll be better in no time.”

Alistair took a seat by the hearth and rocked quietly in his chair while Fiona cleaned and dressed Savvy’s cut. LeBits leapt onto a window sill and commenced grooming the parts of his fur that had become soiled during the journey underground. Soon, Fiona had finished her work. Then she set about preparing them a hearty stew. Savvy and Alistair marveled at her ability to manipulate knives without touching them. The flying blades peeled, chopped, and diced vegetables until they were ready for the pot. Finally, Fiona levitated the cutting board to the hearth, lit a blazing fire with the flick of her finger, and dumped the vegetables into an iron cauldron that hung there on a metal hook. She added water, salt, and other seasonings before setting the cover on the cauldron and swinging it over the fire.

They ate some time later and afterward Fiona invited Savvy and Alistair to sleep in the same beds that they had used the night before. Savvy asked to know more about their experiences in the tunnel, but weariness overcame her and before long she and Alistair had both fallen asleep by the fire. Fiona levitated them to bed and pulled the blankets tight around them. Then she sat at the foot of Savvy’s bed to bid her goodnight.

“Tomorrow, I’ll answer your questions about the chalice,” she said to her drowsy niece. “There is much to teach you now that you have proven yourself to be a worthy young Sirachim. Your father remains far from home, so for the time being I will care for you here and divulge to you the secrets of our ways. We must prepare for Lilith and for all that is to come.”

“I understand,” Savvy whispered. “May Alistair stay too?”

“I’m afraid not. He must return to his family in Needwood Village. I have had a vision of his mother weeping for him. She believes him lost to the Krytten. It is time to put her mind at ease.”

“My mother is upset?” asked Alistair, propping himself up on his elbows.

“I didn’t know you were awake,” said Fiona. “Both your mother and your father are in distress over your absence. They need you to go back to them. Now, however, you and Savilla must sleep.”

“I am tired, Lady Fiona, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep,” said Savvy.

“Me either,” agreed Alistair. “I’m afraid of nightmares.”

“I have something that will help. Just lie back and relax.”

With this, Fiona produced a small velvet pouch. Taking a pinch of dust from the pouch, she sprinkled it over their beds and, feeling their eyelids grow heavy, both Savvy and Alistair fell into a deep, dreamless slumber.

Awaking refreshed the next morning, Alistair washed his face in a basin of water, laced up his shoes, and quietly crept from the room while Savvy slept. After he had pulled the bedroom door closed, he went to the kitchen for an apple and made quickly for the cottage door. Fiona came into the room behind him, however, so he stopped to greet her before leaving.

“Good morning, Alistair. Getting an early start?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am, I feel much better now than I did last night and you said my mother’s upset about my being away, so I thought it best I go. You don’t mind if I take this apple, do you?”

“Of course not, I set them out for you and Savilla. Be safe on your journey and remember to only travel due east. Lilith’s tower lies to the south. Stay on the eastern trail and nothing evil will befall you.”

“Alright, the eastern trail it is. Tell Savvy I’ll be seeing her. I didn’t want to wake her after the hard day she had yesterday.”

“I will, Alistair. Godspeed to you,” nodded Fiona.

Alistair headed toward the door, which creaked open of its own accord to let him out.

“I sure wish I could do that!” he exclaimed and with a last wave to Fiona he stepped outside.

LeBits watched Alistair from the window sill as the boy bit into his apple and set off down the eastern trail. Alistair passed safely through Needwood Forest, as Fiona had assured him, and emerged some hours later on the road into Needwood Village.

He proceeded from there into town, but found Main Street silent and empty. On a normal morning, the village fairly bustled with people going about their chores. On that day, however, everything stood quiet. Alistair wondered where everyone had gone when he noticed black ribbons adorning the houses. Needwood’s people had not gone anyplace. They remained at home grieving over the loss of their menfolk. The deaths of Constable Edwards and the others had simply saddened them too much to do to their daily work.

Walking past his parents’ store, Alistair stopped at the jailhouse. A length of black cloth had been nailed across the door and no lamplight came from inside. Peering through the darkened window, he saw the bench where he and Savvy had questioned Jacob Alder. He also spied the rack where Constable Edwards normally hung his coat. No coat hung there, however, nor any hat upon the rack’s uppermost hook. The building was empty.

Turning from the jailhouse, Alistair strode to his family’s store and went to enter when the door swung open before him.

“Goodness gracious, Alistair, you’re back!” exclaimed his mother.

“Hello, Ma,” Alistair grinned, his face crushed against his mother’s bosom as she swept him into her arms.

Tears streamed down Constance’s cheeks.

“Oh, my boy, we’ve missed you so!” she cried. “Where on earth have you been? You disappeared when the hunting party went out. We thought you lost.”

“I’ve been with Savvy in Needwood Forest, Ma. We’ve been safe.”

“Needwood Forest! Your father is going to be very unhappy to hear that. You’ve got a lot of explaining to do, young man!”

Constance grabbed Alistair by the ear and dragged him into the store.

“Robert, come here! Your son has returned,” she called out. Then she turned back to Alistair, her finger wagging in his face. “You’ve had me worried sick and here you were off gallivanting with that Savvy Morgan! You’re in deep trouble, Alistair McCad. I’ve a good mind to ground you for the entire summer!”

His cheeks gone red, Alistair stood there rubbing his twisted ear. How could he possibly explain what he had been through?

Emerging from the storeroom, Robert McCad strode to the front of the shop.

“Oh, Alistair, I’m so happy to see that you’re safe!” he said, giving his son a hug.

“Yeah, Dad, I’m fine.”

“But where have you been, my boy? After the terrible trouble in Needwood Forest we thought that thing might have gotten you too.”

“I’ve been with Savvy, Dad.”

“He’s been with her in the forest!” barked Constance.

“In the forest! Alistair, do you remember what I said to you the last time you set foot in this shop?”

“I remember. You said not to go to the forest.”

“That’s right and you did it anyway. You even did it after promising you wouldn’t. You lied to me, Alistair. Do you understand how bad that is?”

Alistair fell silent. After disobeying his father he would have to take whatever punishment his parents meted out.

“But, hey! At least I’m back safe now,” he volunteered cheerfully.

“Back safe?” snorted Robert. His cheeks flushed red and he cuffed Alistair’s sore ear with the palm of his hand. “How about saying you’re sorry for what you’ve done? How about apologizing for upsetting your mother?”

Tears welled up in Alistair’s eyes and he rubbed the side of his face. He said he was sorry for alarming his parents, but explained that he had to go to protect Savvy because she was going into the forest with or without him.

“That’s a poor excuse,” scolded his mother. “Savvy Morgan can take care of herself.”

After his parents had finished reprimanding him, they sent Alistair to his bedroom, initiating a long period of punishment. They forbade him from stepping outside, except to go up to his attic room, and they filled his days with extra chores. Sweeping, stocking shelves, and helping clear out the back room became the staple activities of Alistair’s summer existence.

So it was that the days passed into weeks. August loomed on the calendar and still Savvy had not returned from the forest. Tormented by nightmares of the Krytten, and thinking often of his friend, Alistair worried about Savvy and even considered going back to visit her. He argued with himself about it every day, muttering over his broom that he should go, but then he would remember his parents’ disappointment in him and his will to leave would falter. Instead, he would sigh and continue pushing his small pile of dust across the shop floor.

Missus Higgins worried ceaselessly about Savvy too. Pacing through the house, she would stop at the windows hoping to catch sight of Savvy coming up the road. Then word of Alistair’s return arrived and she hurried to McCad’s Store. Pushing through the shop door, she rang the little bell on the counter.

“Why, Missus Higgins, good day to you,” said Alistair’s mother as she came to the front of the shop.

“Good day, Missus McCad,” answered the nanny. “I was hoping to speak with your son about Savilla. I’ve had no word from her in weeks and I’m very concerned.”

“Of course, I understand completely. Alistair, come here, please.”

Dropping his feather duster, Alistair approached the counter. Thoughts of what he should say swirled in his head. It would not be easy to hide what Savvy was doing in Needwood Forest.

Higgins offered Alistair an anxious smile as she gripped her handbag.

“Hello, Alistair. I’m pleased to see you’re safe,” she said.

“Thanks, Missus Higgins. I’m glad to be back.”

“Tell me, lad. Where is Savilla? I’m worried sick about her and have heard nothing. Is she alright?”

“She’s fine as far as I know. Leastways she was last time I saw her.”

“That’s a relief,” sighed the nanny. “But where is she, Alistair, and why won’t she come home?”

“I dunno,” Alistair shrugged.

“She can’t possibly be living in Needwood Forest on her own,” said Higgins. “Who is taking care of her?”

“That’s true,” nodded Alistair. “Last I knew she was with a spinster we met in the forest. Savvy told me that she wanted to learn some new tricks with herbs.”

Higgins’s cheeks grew red. “A spinster? Herbs? She’s been in the forest all of this time fiddling with herbs?”

“Yes, ma’am, as far as I know that’s what she’s been doing, but I haven’t seen her for a long time now either.”

“But this is preposterous!” groaned Higgins. “Who is this spinster? There’s no one living in Needwood Forest except Lilith and that other witch, Fiona. Are you saying that Savvy is with one of those … those fortune tellers?”

Alistair stared down at his shoes. “I don’t know for sure,” he lied. “I didn’t get her name.”

Higgins peered hard at Alistair, an expression of shocked disbelief on her face. “I don’t know what to say. I’ve notified Savilla’s father that she’s gone missing, but he won’t be back for some time. Perhaps the men of the village can be prompted to go and bring her back.”

“They won’t go,” said Constance. “Everyone fears Lilith and the creature out there is too dangerous. No one has gone to retrieve the bodies of Constable Edwards and the others either.”

“But Savilla’s out there all alone!” cried Higgins.

“Yes, she is, and there’s nothing that can be done about it,” said Constance. “Now, you’d best go home and wait for Master Morgan to come back. He’ll know what to do.”

Higgins’s shoulders sank in defeat. “I expect you’re right, Missus McCad. There is nothing we can do now but wait.”

Higgins bid Alistair and his mother farewell and went back into the street, beginning her sad walk home past the gloomy houses trimmed in mourning black.

So passed the weeks of that awful summer, with Alistair lying in bed at night wondering how Savvy fared. He longed to be useful to her and to take part in her training. The image of Savvy burning the cave centipede with her crystal fascinated him. If only he could wield such power! He wished desperately to leave behind the boring life of a shopkeeper’s son and explore the world as a wizard or some other adventurer. Loneliness plagued Alistair too. Savvy, after all, was his best friend. They had done everything together. Now all he had were his broom and her books.

Then there was Lilith and the Krytten. They continued to haunt both Alistair’s dreams and Needwood Forest. Every day Alistair met grieving Needwooders in the store, their faces gray with pain and sorrow. Fury grew in Alistair and he resolved to make Lilith pay for what she had done to his town. The question was how. What could an ordinary boy like him do against a centuries-old sorceress in command of a demon?

The subject tormented Alistair. He spent all of his spare time poring through the books that lay scattered around his attic. He searched for potions and spells and ways of enchanting weapons so that they could be used against magical beings. No solution came to light, however, until one afternoon while reading in his attic he came upon a simple hex that seemed to provide an answer. The enchantment required no experience to cast and it looked like the safest spell that Alistair had yet come across.

Peering down at the book, he read the steps aloud. “Pour a circle of salt and place candles at the cardinal points – north, south, east, and west. Stand or kneel within the circle to protect yourself from counter-spells. Find a small glass bottle with a stopper and place it before you. Light the candles and clear your mind. Then repeat the following incantation while visualizing the person or thing you seek to entrap: ‘Changing size from big to small, into this bottle I thee call.’ If the spell has been successful you’ll hear a sound like the sucking of air from the room.”

It seemed a simple enough process and Alistair determined to try it.

“I’ve got her!” he exclaimed, looking up from the page.

Glancing around the attic, he searched for the things he would need. He found candles and matches, but the remaining items he would have to procure from downstairs. It should not prove difficult to find them, however. His father kept sacks of salt on a shelf behind the counter and empty tincture bottles in the storeroom. Climbing to his feet, Alistair threw open the attic door and rushed downstairs. He pushed into the store and greeted his father, who stood behind the counter. Robert looked askance at Alistair as the boy swept past him and into the back room where colored bottles littered the shelves. There, Alistair selected a cylinder of thick green glass about eight inches tall and stuffed it into his pocket. Then he returned to the front of the shop.

“Dad, can I have a small bag of salt?” he asked.

“It depends, Alistair. What do you need it for?” inquired Robert.

“It’s for slugs. They’ve been eating my herb patch out back,” fibbed Alistair, thinking quickly on his feet.

“Ah, nasty little things,” nodded his father. “They’ll eat all of your plants if you let them. Here’s a pouch of salt. Be careful not to put it too close to the roots or the plants will die. Just sprinkle the salt on the slug itself.”

“Alright, Dad, I will. Thanks for the advice.”

Taking the bag from the counter, Alistair returned to his attic room and cleared a space on the floor.

“I’ll teach that witch, Lilith, to come around Needwood Village,” he vowed. “She’s not the only one who can work spells. Once I’ve trapped her I’ll throw the bottle into Needwood Pond. Then Savvy will be safe and things can get back to normal around here.”

Alistair pulled open the bag and began pouring a line of salt on the floor. He wheeled slowly in a circle until he had traced a thick ring, then he tossed the empty sack onto a table. He reached next for the tapers and placed them at the north, south, east, and west points in line with the readings on his compass. Finally, he grabbed his spell book and struck a match. The flaring candlelight illuminated the room, which had grown dim as the sun set outside.

Dropping to one knee, Alistair placed the spell book on the floor in front of him and drew the bottle from his pocket. He pulled out the stopper and stretched to place the bottle on the floor just outside of the ring.

At last, he was ready. He knelt on the floor and cleared his thoughts. Then he focused on the bottle and imagined a tiny Lilith inside of it.

“Changing size from big to small, into this bottle I Lilith call,” he chanted, repeating the words over and over with his eyes closed.

His voice rose and fell in rhythm – first softer, then louder. Sweat beaded on Alistair’s forehead and he swayed back and forth. His feet gradually went numb beneath him, but he endured the discomfort to stay focused, remaining alert for the sucking sound that the book had described. When after a space of time no sound met his ears but that of his own voice, Alistair despaired of success. Far away in Needwood Forest, however, Lilith felt the enchantment’s pull. It began first as a nagging tug in her mind, then it grew in strength until she could feel the spell working in her bones.

Groaning, Lilith and sat up on her sofa, her hand going to her head.

“Mistress, what’s wrong? Is something troubling you?” asked Alabaster, rising to his feet at the base of the couch.

“I believe, Alabaster … I believe that someone is—oh, the pain! Someone is working a spell on me,” Lilith moaned.

“Fiona!” growled the cat. “It must be her. Who else—?”

Lilith staggered off the couch as the tugging grew more intense. Lurching forward, she clung to the side of a table.

“No! It is not Fiona who summons me. It … is … some … one … else! AH!”

Her body convulsing, Lilith closed her eyes to resist the spell. “Who is doing this?”

Lilith searched her mind for the origin of the words. Her second sight flew toward Needwood Village and her eyes opened when she spied him there, the boy in the circle chanting her name, calling her into the bottle.

“I … seeee … youuuu!” she hissed.

A stabbing pain shattered the smirk that had momentarily flickered across Lilith’s face. Alistair’s chanting grew louder in her ears and Lilith felt her essence draining away. She looked at her hand to see the fingers slowly de-materialize. The spell was having its intended effect.

Shutting her eyes tight, Lilith re-doubled her resistance to the magical force. She scrutinized Alistair for a weakness and suddenly spotted the boy’s error.

“The circle is incomplete!” Lilith cried, a dark laugh coughing from her throat when she saw a gap in the circle of salt that Alistair had unwittingly kicked with his foot.

Releasing the table Lilith staggered toward a full-length mirror. Her image loomed up in the glass and she raised her now transparent palms to it.

“Foolish child!” she screamed. “Reverbero nunc!”

The pull on Lilith instantly reversed direction and swept back toward Alistair. Its roar filled his ears and he grinned. “It’s working!”


The sudden force of the reflected spell knocked the breath from Alistair’s lungs. His head swirled and he pitched toward the bottle.

“No!” he moaned. “Nooooooo!”

A burning pain filled Alistair’s head when he awoke. Rubbing his temples, he rose to his feet to find everything around him bathed in green. Then his vision cleared and he reached out to feel smooth glass beneath his fingers.

“Oh, no!” he said, gazing around at the narrow cylinder. “IT CAN”T BE!”

Yet it was true. Alistair himself, not Lilith, stood trapped inside of the bottle.

Lilith approached him from her sofa, her mocking laughter booming in Alistair’s prison. Out of spite, she flicked the glass with her fingernail, sending Alistair to his knees with his hands covering his ears.

“I bid you welcome to my mantelpiece,” she sneered. “Are you happy with your confinement?”

Throwing back her head, Lilith laughed all the way back to the divan where the fluffy white cat stared greedily at Alistair, its tail snapping back and forth.

“May I have the tasty morsel?” asked the Felim.

“Not yet, dear Alabaster,” purred Lilith in reply. “I prefer to enjoy watching him in his new prison. He will be our guest for a long time, I think. Perhaps until the end of his miserable life itself.”

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