The Fire Witch's Tale

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Walls Have Ears

Eva dreamt she was running. Running through the streets of Weycombe. She looked back and saw men from the town, but they weren’t any men she was familiar with. These men were different. One was pudgy and the other tall and muscular. Eva kept running. She knew if she stopped they would hurt her. Her legs felt like gelatine though, but she kept going. She watched as she passed townspeople unfamiliar to her, all staring at her.

“Someone help me!” she called to them, but no one heard or maybe they didn’t care.

She tripped on an uneven gap in the cobblestones and fell to the ground. She tried to scramble up, but it was too late. The fat man bounded towards her, smiling menacingly. He hit her hard on the head using the staff he held and knocked her out. Nothing.

Eva started. Her head ached and she held her hand to it. She felt another hand that was not her own, running through her hair and froze. The hand was cold and Eva slowly turned to see the fiery haired ghost at her side. The spirit of her grandmother smiled sweetly at her as she inspected the bump on her head.

“Oil of chamomile and lavender will help it heal and relieve your pain,” she said.

Eva sat unmoving as the spirit walked to Eva’s wardrobe, as if to collect the oils from there. She returned and Eva felt her rubbing at the lump on her head and the pain began to dissipate. She lowered her hand cautiously.

As soon as the apparition was done she stood straight, looked Eva in the eye, smiled and bent over to kiss her on the forehead.

Then she was gone.

Little Flame appeared from below the bed and jumped onto Eva’s lap. The cat purred hypnotically as she curled up, bringing Eva back to a sense of normality.

The next day Eva helped her father in the workshop, taking over Matthew’s duties. She had found out in the morning that her father had given him the day off to settle his business and move into his new home. The whole day Eva was too plagued by what had happened the previous night to worry about Matthew finally leaving and marrying Lora, though. She threw herself into work, hammering iron ore into shape and mending utensils and tools, trying to forget about it. But it wasn’t so easily done. Everyone in town had heard about the fire and many had enquired about her safety at the workshop. The word was that Eva had accidentally knocked the candle over, and fuelled by the wooden table, and spilt alcohol, the blaze started suddenly, taking everyone by surprise. Some even said she had become drunk, like John had suggested, and had been clumsy when picking up her cup. They were plausible excuses. Fires had happened before by candles being knocked over and many had caused a big blaze in a short amount of time. Fire was such an unruly, unpredictable force, that it wasn’t a huge leap to make. But to Eva, it seemed strange that it was such a large fire and happened so quickly. She was sure the other people there thought so too, but what was usual with such things was people would look for the simplest, sanest explanation and ignore the clearly strange circumstances. Eva knew though, that she had caused it. She saw the fire from the candle leap off onto the table. She knew it meant she had her grandmother’s powers and that she was herself a witch as well.

She wondered if that was why her grandmother had visited her last night – this time more kind and loving than before. Was she showing her happiness that Eva would be joining her? The thought scared Eva. She didn’t want to be evil. She didn’t want to be the next Weycombe Witch. She was sure the dream was some sort of bad omen.

When sunset finally came and Eva had finished dinner with her parents, she decided to go see Matthew. He was always the one she went to for advice and comfort, and she needed both of these badly. She was nervous about sharing the truth about the fire with him though, so was still wondering how she could speak to him about it, if at all. Matthew was no different to any of the other townspeople when it came to witchcraft: it scared him. But it was Matthew, and Eva always felt like he understood her, even when no one else did. Maybe it would be different with him.

Eva took off before nightfall settled over Weycombe. The Tylers’ home was on the opposite side of the town, closer to where the church lay. When Eva got there, the tenement was lit from within, Eva seeing the candlelight seeping through the cracks in the shutters and in-between the door frames. He was home. Eva knocked and heard his footsteps approach.

“Eva, what brings you here?”

“I needed to talk to you,” Eva replied.

“Come in. Welcome to my humble abode.”

It was certainly not humble. The home was larger and more spacious than Eva’s parents’ home. Matthew’s mother’s fine crockery of jugs and serving plates were lined up along a buffet’s shelves on one end, tapestries hanging from the wall on the other. The pantry doors by the kitchen’s bench space were carved intricately, displaying a vine of flowers painted in red and green. A rich carpet was lying over the stone floors too, making the room warmer and more comfortable, a table and two benches at the centre of it. Eva had only been to the home once before when she was very young. It was after the Great Mortality, when Eva’s father had gone to fetch a few of Matthew’s things. Then it was filled with a smoky herbal smell from when the apothecary had tried to cleanse the house of the sickness. The house smelt of tallow candle and mutton stew now though, and although not more pleasant of a smell, it did feel more homely.

“You cook?” Eva questioned, gazing at the iron pot over the hearth, wondering if it was indeed edible.

“I would, but it seems everyone thinks me incapable. That’s Lora’s mother’s stew. She came over earlier to prepare it for me. I tried to tell her I could look after myself, but she wouldn’t have it,” Matthew said, shaking his head, a crooked smile on his face. “Would you like some? I have so much that I could never finish it.”

“Oh no,” Eva said, placing her hand over her mouth, as she felt queasy at the thought. “I’ve had to endure Mother’s pottage again and have been thoroughly put off food of any kind for the night.”

Matthew grinned. “I think that’s fair. Come sit.” He opened the shutters, letting more smoke out and a faint breeze to creep in. He then motioned to the bench as he sat down.

Eva sat opposite him and he poured them both some ale from the pitcher on the table.

“I see you’ve done a lot with the house. It looks good,” Eva said, wondering how to tell him.

“Thank you. Most of this is things my parents owned; the tapestries and kitchen items just needed a clean. The rug they had was eaten by rats, so I bought a new one. I had to buy a new down mattress and sheets too. The others had been burnt...” Matthew said, his eyes lowering and his voice growing faint and sad.

“I’m sorry Matthew. It must be hard to live here, where they once stood alive and well.”

“It’s alright. I actually like it,” Matthew said, frowning as he looked away. “It’s reminded me more of my childhood and of my mother... I miss her most I think.”

Eva could tell that it was hard on him and that he was lying about liking it.

Instead of bringing them closer, the talk drew them apart and Eva could feel a wedge between them grow in the stillness of the room. The fire wood crackled as the light from the hearth danced on the walls, the tapestries lighting up in places and making the woven flowers seem to move in an artificial breeze, coming alive from their flat surface.

It was always like this when his family came up in conversation: Matthew seemed to find it hard to speak about them, despite denying it. Eva didn’t like the feeling it gave her when his family came up in conversation either. Like a pulling away.

“How are the plans coming with the wedding?” Eva said, breaking the silence, despite not wanting to know anything about Lora.

“Well. We should be married before the end of summer. Oh, and I must show you the ring.” Matthew said, burrowing his hand in the small leather bag attached to his belt. He pulled out a dainty silver ring, finely engraved with flowers and vines and only slightly tarnished on the underside from frequent wear. “It was my mother’s” he added, handing it over for Eva to look at.

“So soon?” Eva cried. She turned the ring over in her fingers and then handed it back to Matthew.

“Yes... You know well that isn’t an unusual amount of time,” Matthew said, puzzled.

“I know, but why the rush? You barely started courting and now a wedding in just a few short months?”

Matthew leaned in, a stern look on his face. “Eva, Lora and I will be man and wife soon. I know you find it hard to understand that I would be able to have the love of someone such as her, and that you are jealous, but you have to accept it.”

“Jealous?” Eva exclaimed. “I am not jealous Matthew Tyler. Jealousy is furthest from my thoughts. Do not flatter yourself so.”

“Why not? I don’t receive any other good words from you. And yes, you’re jealous. I guess that you are a bit unaccustomed to me being the centre of attention, and not you, the social butterfly of Weycombe.”

“Oh, Matthew. You miss the mark completely.”

“Oh? And how is that Eva? Pray, do tell me, for I am on the edge of my seat.”

“Lora is not a good match for you.”

“I know, you made it quite clear that you didn’t find me worthy of her.”

“No, in fact, she is not worthy of you.”

Matthew gave an exasperated laugh. “But she is the most beautiful maiden in town. What makes her so unsuitable? Is it because she is too beautiful and you fear she will take away from your popularity? Is it because your pride has been bruised since she and her family do indeed find me a suitable match? I bet you had hoped I would settle for a plainer girl. Maybe for your friend Margery? That way you could still remain the star in my and your family’s world, right? The one who is most clever and most appealing. Was that display at The Lion Rampant just a way to get attention too?”

Eva’s face grew red-hot and she clenched her teeth. “It was not a way to get attention. And Lora is not suitable because she is a horrid girl who only wants you for money and power. You are wrapped around her greedy, conniving little finger and she plots against me.”

“Now you flatter yourself, Eva. Plotting against you? As if people would have anything to benefit from that.”

“I’m not making this up,” Eva yelled, slamming her hand on the table. As she did though, a pillar of fire grew where she had hit the table, but as soon as Eva and Matthew’s attentions were taken by it, the pillar disintegrated with no more than a charred mark left on the wooden table top.

“What... What was that?” Matthew said, pulling back.

Eva’s eyes gushed with tears and she reached for Matthew’s hand. He pulled back, shocked.

“Please Matthew. I am not evil. You of all people must believe me.”

Matthew met Eva’s gaze. “The tavern fire?”

Eva nodded. “But I did not mean for it to happen. It happened because I grew angry at Lora. But I did not mean to hurt anyone. It was as if my anger came alive with fire.”

“You’re a... a... a witch,” he uttered, his eyes filled with fear.

“No. Please Matthew,” Eva said, rushing to his side. She placed his hands in hers and knelt before him. “It is I – your dearest friend. Not a witch. I don’t know why I have these powers, but it is not for evil. I think that it may have been my grandmother, the Weycombe Witch, who has done this to me. She has cursed me or something, trying to make me like her. But I am not like her. You must believe me.”

Eva searched Matthew’s eyes for a glimmer of hope. They sat still in that position for a long time, neither knowing what to do, but Matthew gazed into Eva’s eyes and recognition seemed to cross his face.

“Of course you are not evil. How could you ever be a witch?” Matthew said, holding her cheek in his palm. “Is it true? Do you really believe she has cursed you? She was those... nightmares you were having?”

“Yes,” Eva said, relieved. “And yes, I do think she has. I don’t know how she has done it from beyond the grave, but I have seen her twice. Why else would she come to see me?”

“Is there anything we can do? To stop her from doing whatever it is she is doing?”

“I don’t know. I hope there is... I do not want to become evil like her,” Eva said, sobbing.

“Eva,” Matthew said, lifting her chin so she looked up at him. “You could never be evil. It is not in your nature. And I will always be here to protect you from whatever comes.”

“What if you can’t protect me from this Matthew? I have never needed your protection, but the one time I am in need of someone’s protection, yours is no help. She is beyond either one of us.”

“We will figure this out together. Like we always have,” he said, kneeling down and embracing Eva wholeheartedly. “I am sorry we fought. Of course you are worried about Lora and me. You fear that we will grow apart when you are most in need. But know that I will never abandon you. How could I do such a thing?”

Eva decided that it would be best not to raise the issue of Lora with Matthew this time. It was enough he had found her out as a witch.

Matthew let go of Eva and looked her in the eyes. He held her cheek and gazed on her in pity and worry.

“I’m sure we will rid you of her. She will not have you.”

Eva gave a half smile, between tears and sobs. “Alright.”

Matthew wiped away the tears that came from her eyes and kissed her forehead. “You are my adopted sister after all. As your big brother it is my duty to care for you.”

Eva gave him a slight push away, “I can look after myself you know.”

They laughed.

“Yes, I know,” he said, hugging her close again.

While the two of them embraced and Eva felt that things would finally be okay, what she did not yet know was that someone had been watching. Someone else was privy to her darkest secret and it would soon become her undoing.

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