Needwood: A New World Fairy Tale

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Snapdragons and Crystals

Miles distant from Needwood Village, and deep within the shadowy confines of Needwood Forest, Savvy Morgan stared daggers at a tall snapdragon standing motionless before her. When Fiona told Savvy the time had come to practice the art of plant manipulation, she began the exercise with enthusiasm. After more than an hour of uttering commands and tracing symbols in the air, however, Savvy still could not bend the flower to her will.

Pacing a few steps before readying herself to try again, Savvy rolled up her shirt sleeves. That she continued to wear boy’s clothing attested to the force of Savvy’s personality, for she and Fiona had clashed over her attire early in their time together. The argument started when Fiona attempted to make Savvy exchange her trousers and shirt for a powder blue gown that she had laid out on her bed.

Regarding the dress with disdain, Savvy merely shrugged. “Dresses don’t suit me, Lady Fiona. I’m more comfortable in pants and a shirt. Can we please leave it at that?”

“No, Savilla, I will not leave it at that,” insisted Fiona. “Your clothes are tattered and filthy. Moreover, they are the attire of an ordinary mortal and you are no longer one of them. You are a Sirachim and you should wear the clothing of our kind.”

Savvy scowled down at the frock.

“I won’t wear it!” she exclaimed. “My mother, who was also a Sirachim, allowed me to dress as I please and I chose these clothes. If she let me wear what I want, you ought to as well, Aunt Fiona.”

Savvy purposefully emphasized the word “aunt” to make the point that if Magdalene had not been able to bend Savvy to her will, Fiona should not make the attempt either. Savvy braced herself for Fiona to respond, but, surprisingly, the Sirachim let go of the subject without further discussion.

Instead, Fiona levitated the gown from the bed and sent it back into her closet. Then she turned to the mirror across the room and beheld Savvy within it.

“Now, what about your hair?” she asked as she pulled loose the ribbon holding up Savvy’s ponytail.

The ginger strands slipped onto Savvy’s shoulders, prompting the girl’s lips to twist into a frown. Like her clothing, Savvy preferred wearing her hair up and she did not appreciate anyone suggesting she should change it, even Lady Fiona.

“A woman’s hair should be kept free,” insisted Fiona as she teased Savvy’s locks to their full length. “In our hair lies feminine power.”

Looking at herself in the mirror, Savvy blew the unbridled locks from her eyes. Feminine power or not, she preferred her hair away from her face.

“I don’t want to wear it like that,” she complained.

“But, Savilla, you will grow accustomed to it.”

“Patience isn’t one of my finer traits,” groused Savvy, “and neither is listening to you tell me what to do!”

Savvy snatched the ribbon from Fiona and tied back her hair. The she turned to her aunt and took her by the hands to plead her case. “Lady Fiona, please listen to me. Don’t force me to become like you in all things. I’m happy as I am and while I wish to be a Sirachim and to learn everything that entails, I also wish to be myself. I endured teasing every day as a child because I looked different from everyone else. That made me strong, Lady Fiona. Don’t force me to change who I am now.”

Peering deeply into her aunt’s eyes, Savvy thought she saw tears of hurt feelings, but Fiona merely mustered a grin.

“As you wish,” she said. “We are indeed unique and I am not accustomed to acting the part of mother. I wish only for you to be one of us, to be a Sirachim.”

“Lady Fiona, I fully intend to be a Sirachim. I intend to be one in every possible way. I’ll do everything you ask of me, but you must allow me to be myself, too. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” nodded Fiona and with that the contest of wills over Savvy’s clothes and hair came to an end.

This did not mean, however, that Fiona let Savvy run wild. At thirteen years of age and in the habit of coming and going as she pleased, Savvy chafed under the restrictions that Fiona placed on her freedom. Fiona said they were meant to instill discipline, but in reality they were meant to keep the girl safe, for Fiona did not wish Savvy to be out of her sight while Lilith stalked Needwood Forest.

Savvy, though, did not understand this and the restrictions aroused resentment in her. Yet she found sassing a Sirachim more difficult than defying a human adult. The worst Savvy’s father could do when she rebelled was confine her to her bedroom, but when Savvy defied her aunt, Fiona levitated Savvy off the ground and held her upside down until she apologized. Boy’s clothing and a ponytail Fiona would tolerate. Savvy copping an attitude, she would not.

Thinking the punishment another game, LeBits enjoyed Savvy’s grief immensely. He sat under her dangling hair with his striped tail flicking back and forth. Then he launched himself at her face. Savvy screamed for LeBits to leave her alone while Fiona laughed as if Savvy’s battle with the cat was the funniest thing that she had ever witnessed. Savvy chuckled at the incident now, but at the time she found it quite humiliating. Fortunately, that one occasion was the only time Fiona had lost her temper. Otherwise, she showed Savvy nothing but kindness.

And so with her sleeves now rolled tight, Savvy returned her attention to the hated snapdragon. She raised her hands and closed her eyes to see the tall plant swaying from side to side in her mind. Her fingers traced the figure eight lying on its side and she ordered the plant to move.

It stood there motionless.

“I can’t do it!” Savvy griped, her hands dropping once again to her side.

“What do you think you are doing wrong?” asked Fiona.

“I have no idea. My commands just don’t seem to work. I can’t even make the snapdragon twitch!”

“Now, now, Savilla, don’t give up. See the plant in your mind and ask it to move. You should have no difficulty making it heed your wishes.”

“I doubt it, but I’ll give it one more try,” Savvy huffed, and planting her feet in a wide stance, she readied herself to try again when something Fiona had said dawned on her.

“Lady Fiona, did you say I should ask the snapdragon to move?”

“Yes, Savilla, you must request cooperation. All living things possess a will of their own. If a plant or an animal does not wish to heed you, it will not. As your power grows, you’ll develop the ability to compel them to do your bidding, but the task is made easier if you secure their good will first.”

“Why didn’t you say that in the first place? I’ve been ordering the flower to bend. I never thought about asking it for permission.”

“My apologies, Savilla, I ought to have told you earlier. Give the exercise another go.”

Savvy resumed her pose and shut her eyes, but this time she did not command the flower to bend. She asked instead if it would dance for her. Then she visualized the snapdragon moving and twitched her fingers until Fiona interrupted her.

“That’s very good, Savilla. You’ve done well,” she said.

“What’s that?” asked Savvy, looking back at her aunt.

“See for yourself. You’ve made the flower dance.”

Savvy turned to see the snapdragon swaying gently back and forth.

“I really did it!” she yelped.

“Yes, you did. Now make the entire garden dance, only this time keep your eyes open so you can see what you’re doing.”

Savvy turned to face the wall of white, red, and yellow snapdragons before her.

“There must be hundreds of them,” she muttered. “Oh well, here goes.”

Raising her hands, she asked the garden to dance and began lightly moving her fingers as if she was conducting an orchestra. One after another, the flower stems twitched and bent until every snapdragon in the garden swayed to and fro. Elated by her achievement, Savvy beamed with joy.

“That’s very good, Savilla. Very good indeed,” said Fiona. “Now come inside. It’s time to begin your next lesson.”

LeBits greeted them at the door and followed them to a table covered with dried herbs, vials of oils, and small containers of strange smelling ointments.

“Let’s review some of the things you’ve learned thus far,” said Fiona. “What is this plant I’m holding?”

“That’s easy. It’s foxglove.”

“Very good, and what is it used for?”

Savvy gazed down at the pile of purple flower petals that Fiona had crushed into dust.

“Nothing. This should not be used.”

“Excellent. Why not?”

“Because it is the leaf of foxglove that contains the remedy, not the flower.”

“Correct. That’s very good,” smiled Fiona.

“When we put foxglove leaves into an ointment or poultice, it can be used to treat boils and lesions of the skin. Taken internally, it can stop bleeding and calm frozen muscles, like those afflicted by seizures,” volunteered Savvy.

“Indeed it can. You’ve learned this cure well.”

“But foxglove is more than a cure, Lady Fiona. It’s also a poison that can kill when brewed into a potion.”

“An important fact to know,” nodded Fiona. “I am proud of you, Savilla. Tell me, what are the other herbs that can both help and harm?”

“Oh my, there are so many I don’t know where to start. There’s wolfsbane, which can be used to put someone to sleep. Hemlock, of course; belladonna, henbane, mandrake root. Should I go on?”

“No, that is sufficient. I wished to know only that you understand some remedies must be used wisely.”

Savvy picked up a bottle of lilac oil and sniffed at it. “I’ve studied herbs and plants for as long as I can remember. It’s a subject that’s always interested me.”

“You get that from your mother. Her knowledge of herbs was the strongest among the three of us,” said Fiona.

“I also seem to know things that I didn’t know before I went through the tunnel,” Savvy added. “Is that because of the chalice?”

“Yes, that’s right. Do you recall what I told you about it?”

“I do. You said the potion in the chalice contains a compound used to open our minds. It enables us to see what is hidden to ordinary mortals and to comprehend concepts that are beyond the ability of normal people to understand.”

“That is correct. The effect of the compound is to heighten our magical ability and our spiritual connection to the universe. Your mother said after drinking from the chalice that she felt as if she had touched the fountainhead of Creation.”

“I understand what she meant,” nodded Savvy. “My mind completely left my body. I soared among the stars and it felt as if I became part of infinity.”

“And your physical senses, have you experienced their expansion too?” asked Fiona.

“I have. My hearing and eyesight have become much more sensitive. Food tastes richer and my sense of smell is stronger.”

Falling silent, Savvy pondered another strange phenomenon that she could not quite put into words. In addition to the heightening of her physical senses, she had developed a kind of second sight that was impossible to explain. It was this sixth sense, for example, that led Savvy to use the glowstone against the centipede. She did not understand how the knowledge of the crystal’s power had entered her head. It was just there, like an ordinary thought. She also experienced visions unlike anything she had seen before. Daydream-like images would suddenly pop into her head, only they were more vivid than dreams, as if she was seeing the subject of the dream in person.

Savvy knew, for instance, that Lilith busied herself with the conjuring of new evil helpers she called imps. At night, she could hear Lilith chanting their names and she could sense the malevolence of Lilith’s purpose. What Savvy could not discern was why Lilith summoned more assistance from the darkness. She knew only that the threat grew more ominous with each passing day.

Savvy mentioned this psychic ability and Lilith’s activities to Fiona, who nodded that she understood.

“I cannot hear Lilith, because she has shielded her mind from me,” said Fiona. “But Lilith does not know that you exist, Savilla, so she has not shut you from her thoughts.”

“Lady Fiona, how can that be?” asked Savvy. “Wouldn’t Lilith have learned about me by reading my mother’s thoughts?”

“She might have if Magdalene had not taken steps to cloak her mind. You see, Savilla, Magdalene did not want Lilith to know of your birth. Our sister’s descent into evil occurred over many years and Magdalene took the precaution of hiding you to keep you safe. Lilith will be shocked to learn about you, Savilla, and I am hoping to use that to our advantage when the time comes.”

“I see,” nodded Savvy. “Should I learn to hide my thoughts too?”

“You should, although learning the skill is not pressing just yet. For the time being, practice letting your mind go blank. Focus on your breathing and think of nothing in particular. If a thought pops into your head, allow it to slip out again in the same way. Do not hold onto anything. This practice will bring you a sense of calm and help hide your mind from Lilith until I can give you proper training.”

“I’ll do my best, Lady Fiona. Sometimes it’s difficult to find peace when I can hear the thoughts of every living thing around me. LeBits is particularly annoying when I’m trying to sleep. He’s always dreaming about mice and birds.”

The Felim looked up at Savvy from his place in the window.

“She can read my mind?” he asked.

“Oh yes, and so can I!” laughed Fiona. “Savilla is correct, LeBits, you are preoccupied with prey.”

“Hmpf! Well, stay out of my head if you don’t like what you find there,” huffed the cat. “I won’t make excuses for being myself.”

LeBits returned to grooming while Fiona responded to another question from Savvy about shutting out external thoughts.

“I think I’ll go insane if I don’t learn how,” said the girl.

“I understand,” Fiona nodded. “Try clearing your mind as I just described. Then visualize being behind a high wall that gives you shelter. See the space behind the wall as a place of peace. It should help.”

Savvy nodded that she would try and then turned her attention to Fiona’s next lesson.

“Now take out your crystal,” said the Sirachim. “There is more to its abilities that I wish to tell you.”

Digging into her pocket, Savvy drew out the quartz and handed it to Fiona. The Sirachim centered the stone in her palm and held it out before her.

“You discovered one of the crystal’s powers in the tunnel,” she said, referring to the searing beam of light that Savvy had cast from the stone, “but it has another power as well, a power that may someday prove useful.”

“What power is that?” asked Savvy.

“It has the power to cast a beam that will freeze the Krytten in place.”

“Really? I read there’s very little magic that will work against the Krytten.”

“That is correct. There is little we can do to stop it, but this crystal is one of those things we can use.”

“Then you should definitely have it, Lady Fiona. Your power is greater than mine. I’m sure you can use the crystal more effectively than I.”

“That is not necessary, Savilla. I gave this one to you so that you may protect yourself. You are the future of our kind and saving your life is important. With this stone you will be able to immobilize the Krytten. Not for long, mind you, but you will be able slow it in the event that you need to flee. To activate this power you say, ‘lumino Samael’.”

“Lumino Samael,” repeated Savvy. “That’s simple enough, but, Lady Fiona, do you mind if I ask a question? Something about the Krytten has been troubling me.”

“What is it, dear child?”

“If Samael is so powerful and only the Bane can control it, how are we supposed to stop it? And how will we save ourselves?”

A shadow passed over Fiona’s face. She reached for a goblet of wine and took a long drink before turning back to Savvy. “There is only one possibility. Do you have the amulet that Magdalene gave you?”

“The amulet? Sure, here it is,” said Savvy, tugging at the chain around her neck.

Lifting the necklace around her head, she held it up for Fiona to see. Fiona took the amulet and laid it in her hand.

“Do you see the names of the archangels inscribed here?” she asked.

“I do.”

“And do you know who they are?”

“I know there is a feast day at the end of September called Michaelmas that is dedicated to the angels. Father Anderson told us about it in Sunday school. I read a bit about angels in one of my mother’s books too. It said that Raphael is the angel of healing, Uriel is the angel of light, and the guardian of Eden, and Gabriel is the angel of revelation, or knowledge of the divine.”

“That’s right. These beings are more than angels, however. They are archangels, direct representatives of Elohim himself. Did you also know they rule the four winds? Raphael’s is the west wind, Uriel’s the south, and Gabriel’s the north.”

“This I didn’t know,” said Savvy. “But who is Elohim?”

“Ah, you have not been taught the ancient name of God. Elohim is how our kind refer to the Creator. But back to your amulet. It is called the Talisman of the Four Winds. Your mother fabricated it so that you might have protection from Lilith. She patterned it after an artifact that existed long ago, but which has been lost. There is nothing else like it in the world.”

Fiona handed the necklace back to Savvy, who stared at it intently. She had always thought the amulet a simple piece of jewelry. Clearly, she had underestimated it.

“The talisman’s missing a piece,” she lamented.

“It is, but not by accident,” said Fiona.

“What do you mean? Why would my mother create the talisman to be incomplete?”

“She did it because Magdalene believed that one day you would need to call upon Michael, the prince of the archangels, for assistance.”

“Michael cast Lucifer out of Heaven, didn’t he?”

“That he did. He is the most powerful angel in Elohim’s host. Do you remember what I told you about Lilith and why Magdalene hid you from her?”

“Yes, but what does Michael have to do with that?”

“Magdalene thought that one day you might need him to come to your aid,” said Fiona.

Savvy’s brow furrowed. “Do you mean to tell me that with this amulet I can call an archangel for help?”

“I do. Magdalene received the three pieces of this amulet from Raphael, Uriel, and Gabriel themselves. She left it to you to summon Michael, if you are in dire need.”

“But how is that possible? Archangels don’t just come when you call them.”

Fiona moved to her chair by the hearth and beckoned for Savvy to follow.

“Come sit with me, dear child, and I will make everything clear,” she said.

Taking a seat in the spindly rocker, Fiona reclined and invited LeBits into her lap. The cat leapt up and settled on Fiona with a contented smile upon its face. Then Savvy sat opposite her aunt and stared into the gray ashes of the fireplace.

“We Sirachim are a much older race than you might imagine,” Fiona began. “I do not mean by this that I personally am ancient. Each of us lives but a few hundred years before passing away. I mean, rather, that our kind are nearly as old as Creation itself. We spring from the first mate of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Lilith was her name as well. Do you know the tale?”

Savvy shook her head. “No, I don’t. We only learned about Eve in church. Wasn’t she Adam’s mate?”

“She was, but Lilith came first. You see, Elohim created Adam and Lilith as equals, but when Adam sought to dominate Lilith, she rebelled against him. Elohim asked Lilith why her mate displeased her, to which Lilith responded that she would not be subservient to Adam. She would be no man’s slave, but neither would she seek to dominate Adam. She wished only to live in peace with him in Eden. Adam, however, grew angry over this and he demanded that Elohim give him a new mate, a companion who would heed his commands and not rebel against him. Spurned by Adam and unhappy with her situation, Lilith asked Elohim to free her from Eden so that she could live her life in peace. Elohim granted Lilith’s wish and sent her out into the world. Much time passed after that during which Elohim also expelled Adam and his new companion, Eve, from the Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit. Adam and Eve gave birth to many descendants outside of Eden. Lilith took one of these men as her mate and bore him a girl child. She was the first Sirachim, our maternal forebear. We are descended from that child.”

“And Sirachim can summon angels because of this?” asked Savvy.

“We can indeed. Our kind have known both angels and demons from ancient times, when those beings inhabited the earth alongside mankind.”

“But why both angels and demons?” inquired Savvy. “I thought Sirachim aren’t supposed to do evil in the world.”

“We may summon demons because of our magical abilities and because mankind demonized Lilith for rejecting Adam. You see, Savilla, there are those among men who seek to dominate women. It is a trait they take from Adam. Those men lorded over women in ancient times and when the women rebelled, the men blamed Lilith for their behavior.”

Fiona paused in her discussion, thinking that she may have broached a subject beyond Savvy’s years to understand. Savvy sat there attentively, however, hanging on her every word.

“It’s all rather complicated and silly,” said Fiona at last. “That’s just how things can be between men and women.”

“I think I understand, Lady Fiona. There are men in Needwood Village who act that way toward their wives. But I want to know more about the Sirachim. Is Lilith’s release from Eden the reason why Sirachim live solitary lives?”

“It is. You have a quick mind,” nodded Fiona.

“I knew it! And is that also why you live alone here in Needwood Forest?”

“Yes. Our kind seek the solitude of the forest to remind us of the Eden that we lost. In fact, we Sirachim – Magdalene, Lilith, and I – used to refer to Needwood Forest as New Eden. This place has been our home for three hundred years and it was our mother’s home for two hundred years before that.”

Savvy’s mouth hung open in astonishment. Five hundred years! She could scarcely imagine a time before she had been born, much less half a millennium earlier.

“Your mother came here five hundred years ago? Do you know where she came from?”

“I do indeed,” smiled Fiona. “She came from the land of Hibernia.”

“Hibernia? I’ve never heard of that place.”

“Hibernia lies far over the eastern sea. It is a long journey, but someday I will take you there.”

“That would be wonderful. But your mother, did she also come here alone?” asked Savvy.

“She did. My mother loved to explore the world and traveling vast distances is not difficult for a mature Sirachim.”

“But she traveled by herself, right? It must have been lonely for her to come here.”

“What makes you think she was here alone? Haven’t you heard of the people who lived here before the settlers arrived from the Old World?”

“Do you mean the Pilgrims? We read about them in school.”

“No, not the Pilgrims, whoever they are. I mean the original people, the people who lived here before the people from across the sea arrived and drove them out. Do you know about them?”

“Hm. Only what I’ve run across in my mother’s books and they didn’t say much.”

“It is no matter,” waved Fiona. “The point is, Savilla, that most Sirachim do not have the urge to take male companions, so loneliness is not something we face. As I told you earlier, some of us do long for the love of a man. Your mother, for example. Our sister Lilith, however, retains a particular hatred for mankind. This, too, can be a Sirachim trait left over from our origin as descendants of the original Lilith. My sister resented your mother for not sharing her disdain and eventually she poisoned Magdalene for it.”

Tears formed in Savvy’s eyes. “Lilith poisoned my mother? I didn’t know that.”

“Yes, dear child. Somehow, Lilith slipped a toxic potion into your mother’s drink. The compound she used killed Magdalene slowly. Your mother recognized it and understood that there is no cure.”

Fiona fell silent while Savvy considered what her aunt had said. No matter how much time had passed, the mention of Magdalene still reduced Savvy to tears. Her mother had been taken from her too early, leaving a wound in Savvy’s heart that she feared would never heal.

Fiona noticed Savvy’s distress and thought to offer her some distraction, so she rose from her chair and told Savvy to take her hand.

“It’s time I taught you the invocation for summoning the archangel Michael,” she said.

Savvy wiped a tear from her cheek and stood to grasp Fiona’s hand.

Fiona gazed down at Savvy with her blue eyes and told her to focus her thoughts on a white ray of light in her mind. “See the light shining down on you as if you were staring at the sun. The light does not blind you, however. It is a divine light filled with love and warmth. Once you have filled your mind with the light, call out the following words: “Lord Michael of the Eastern Wind. Heed the age-old call of the Sirachim. Come to me by Elohim’s light and protect me with thy divine might.”

Repeating the words, Savvy felt a tingle run through her body.

“Oh!” she exclaimed.

“Is something wrong, my dear?” asked Fiona.

“I-I’m not sure. It felt as if something passed through my body—like I was being displaced within my own skin, like I’m not the only one in here.”

“That would be the divine spirit,” said Fiona. “I hoped you would feel it. It’s the first sign that you’ve made contact. Were you in danger when you spoke the words you would have felt it even more intensely.”

“That sounds amazing, but also a little frightening,” admitted Savvy.

“Do not worry, Savilla. I wouldn’t teach you anything that might do you harm. Mark what I say, however. You must commit the invocation to memory. Repeat it to yourself so that you can recite it in your sleep, because if a time comes when you are in danger, you may need to speak it quickly. There will be no time for remembering the invocation, just for uttering it.”

“I’ll memorize it, I promise,” nodded Savvy.

“That’s settled then,” smiled Fiona. “Now, I’ve grown hungry. Come and help me prepare the evening meal. I’ll teach you how to levitate the knife so that you may cut vegetables without using your hands.”

Pleased by this, Savvy laughed and rising from her chair she followed Fiona into the kitchen for her next lesson in practical magic.

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