Mabel Blacksmith wandered through the dimly lit forest with basket in hand, her lantern barely casting enough light for her to see the floor beneath her feet. Luckily, she didn't need it. Mabel could walk this path completely blindfolded, the roots and divets in the earth like a treasure hunt for her to follow.
Moths and other insects floated to her luminescent presence, darting around in the darkness, disappearing and reappearing from view. One danced a little too fast and too close to the open flame, a sharp, short zap echoing into the night air as a grey wisp of smoke followed the moth, fluttering sporadically until falling to the floor.
"Silly thing," Mabel whispered, shaking her head as she crouched down. She balanced her lantern precariously on a mound of dirt just in front, ensuring no leaves were too close. One stray ember craving adventure and the forest around her could light up like a thousand candles. Mabel didn't want to chance becoming like the moth that now flickered at her feet. Its movements reminded her of the candle in her lantern as it rippled in the gentle breeze, moments from being snuffed out.
Mabel made a small cave with her hands, wrapping it gently. It's body and soft wings collided against her palms, intent of escaping. She scooped it up, ignoring its pleas for release. The flutters felt louder against the quiet night, the soft notes floating on the breeze to join the chorus of owl hoots and crunching leaves underfoot.
She brought her softly clasped hands up to her mouth, breathing a quiet prayer she had once heard her mother say when she was younger. The moth's attempts of escape ceased and Mable was sure she would unveil the creature to be dead the moment she opened her hands. She unclasped them tenderly and to her delight, the moth was resting peacefully on her left palm. It's furry antennas twitched skywards, stilling for a second as if pausing in thanks before flying off, enveloped in the darkness.
𝘏𝘮𝘮, 𝘐 𝘨𝘶𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘪𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴𝘯'𝘵 𝘢𝘴 𝘪𝘯𝘫𝘶𝘳𝘦𝘥 𝘢𝘴 𝘐 𝘧𝘪𝘳𝘴𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩𝘵.
Mabel collected up her lantern and basket, not giving the moth a second thought as she continued her journey through the forest. All she needed was some bishop wort before she could return home, it's pink-violet petals soon shining out to her amongst the dark summer night. She felt as the floor softened underfoot, the crunching leaves falling silent as she came to the clearing by the well, trees parting so that the sky was uninterrupted. Mabel always likened it to the most beautiful of paintings, golden stars sparkling upon a deep blue and black canvas.
The pink-violet petals caught her gaze as she headed deeper into the clearing as if paint splatters across the dark green grass. She dipped lowly to pluck a handful of them, ensuring she kept the stalks long so they didn't wilt too quickly. Mabel was very mindful that she had been gone too long already, her father was sure to check on her soon and notice her absence and he didn't need the stress. If only these errands could be done in the daylight, she thought to herself. But she needed the darkness to cloak her, hiding her from eyes that would scream lies.
Mabel didn't notice as footsteps joined in with the chorus of the night, stray leaves crunching underfoot until fits of laughter shattered the quiet. She froze when she heard it, trying her best to blend into the dark forest around her.
"Master Fellows, you have to pay before you get to play. You naughty, naughty viscount."
A brash but feminine tone carried the words easily to Mabel's ears as two shapeless shadows stumbled through the forest mere meters from where she crouched.
"I will pay, I always pay," a gruff man's voice replied, his tone heavy and slurred, heaving the smell of mead into the air. The sickly sweet aroma surrounded Mabel, causing her head to sway a little as each breath was tainted with it. She hated the smell of mead, a dreadful substance that stole a man's wits. Although on occasion Mabel was unsure some were ever graced with such a thing.
Mabel tried desperately to leave the clearing without her presence ever being known. If she was discovered then no doubt her father would be informed. And then there was the matter at hand, she was now clearly privy to a private affair, one that likely wouldn't take kindly to an extra pair of eyes being party to their late-night romp.
She shuffled backwards, begging the forest to silence her steps or hoping the mead muffled the pairs senses enough that her echoes didn't matter. As the stench of sweat and mead hit her nostrils once more a cough escaped her, unable to stifle it. A shriek ricocheted into the night, startling Mabel so her hand turned to jelly. The basket clattered to the floor, the mound of leaves nearby doing little to soften the thud.
"Come out. Show yourself."
Mabel stood up in the darkness as if a hidden force had thrown her upright. She couldn't move as her eyes locked with anothers, swirls of green pulsing in the twilight. It was as if she was a rabbit caught in a snare and Mabel felt as though she was staring right into the eyes of a fox.
As much as she tried, Mabel could not break from the woman's gaze, the spirals of green inviting her closer, her feet following the silent command as if it were her own. A wind seemed to tickle the hair that had fallen from its braid, hanging about her neck. It whipped at the stray ends as if trying to grasp at her and pin her in place.
Her mother's voice cut through the fog that had muddled her senses, her movements halting. Her eyes flicked to the lantern still in hand, the candle rippling in the breeze as it highlighted the woman features. Her black curls mirrored the darkness that surrounded them, falling loosely around her shoulders, the rest styled upwards to nestle halfway up the back of her head. Pearl-like stones shimmered in the moonlight as they carved beautiful lines into her hair. She was breathtakingly beautiful and Mabel was confused as to why such a lady was in the woods with a man, fumbling about in the shadows. She was the type of lady you strode proudly through town with as others looked on with jealousy in their eyes.
𝘋𝘰 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘧𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘱𝘳𝘦𝘺 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘰𝘹 𝘔𝘢𝘣𝘦𝘭. 𝘙𝘶𝘯!
Her mother's voice, loud and shrill, echoed from the corners of her mind, demanding attention. The words were crystal clear as if she was stood in the forest next to her, the darkness hiding her ghostly apparition in its never-ending depths.
The candle that rested in Mabel's brass lantern flickered before the flame vanished, replaced by a small plume of smoke, it's wisps and tendrils twisting upwards like grey silk. The candle, that once was a tall, stark white now resembled a grey, charred nub, blending in with the shadows that enveloped Mabel now it's light had vanished.
Mabel dropped the lantern to her feet, the clanging of metal tearing into the quiet night. The lady's gaze followed its journey to the floor before whipping upright, green eyes pulsing brighter as if Mabel's flame now lived behind them. As fast as her legs could carry her, Mabel ran. She continued to run even as the trees grasped at her limbs, branches twisting into gnarled claws snatching at her petticoat. Every part of her body screamed at her to carry on running.
𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘰𝘹 𝘮𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘤𝘢𝘵𝘤𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘳𝘢𝘣𝘣𝘪𝘵.
Mabel made it back to the cottage her father owned faster than death, almost tumbling through the back door into the kitchen. She righted herself before her knees met the stone floor, spinning and slamming the heavy door shut as if the wind itself now carried a threat. She staggered over to the deep walnut bench, her body collapsing onto it whilst she tried to calm her ragged breaths.
Her mind kept trying to grasp what it was she had seen. The lady's eyes had spun and twirled like the seeds of a maple tree as they danced to the ground. The sight had captivated her, drawn her in and now she felt oddly bereft, as if she was missing something. Her mind wandered through the memory, green spirals spinning across her mind like fireworks.
"Mabel? My, oh my, why aren't you in bed? Your father catches you like that and he will have your head and mine."
Gretchen's rough, strong tone snapped Mabel from her trance, her eyes flitting from the empty fireplace to the doorway. Her hands instinctively smoothed at the torn dress that rested messily against her legs as if the motion would help. Gretchen's face rippled with concern as she came towards her, her eyes cascading over the ripped material, widening in horror. Mabel opened her mouth to explain but Gretchen lifted a hand to silence her, before so much as half a word had tumbled out.
"Don't. I don't want to know. Let's just get you to bed and spare your father the heart attack."
After Gretchen helped prepare her for bed, tutting every time she found another hole, Mabel allowed sleep to claim her. Her body rejoiced as the mattress cradled her weary bones as two green embers burnt their way into her dreams.
The next morning Mabel readied herself quickly, determined to get to the market and purchase herself a new basket and lantern before her father inquired at where they were. He had an eye for such matters, always first to remind her when something of hers had been misplaced. It was his most annoying trait in Mabel's opinion, she didn't enjoy being reminded of how forgetful she was.
She made a swift exit out the back door, ignoring Gretchen's raised eyebrow as she stole an offcut of bread on her way out. The morning sun was dressed in clouds, the air holding the shiver of the night still as Mabel made her way through the alleyways. The clatter of hooves upon the cobbled streets pulled her in the right direction, the slam of a shutter spooking her a little, hastening her pace.
As she broke out between the stream of houses, her eyes fluttered amongst the small flow of people as they went about their morning. The stench of pig drifted to her nostrils before their squeals reached her ears, the rustle of fabric and the groan of a rope struggling to contain its cargo joined in with the symphony of the market.
Mabel's gaze fell upon the riches laid across multiple oak tables, food and wares haphazardly littering the surfaces. Her hand stroked upon the rough edges of the wood as she strolled by, heavy gazes falling upon them incase her hands danced too close and took an item without payment. Her soft smile did little to appease them so she dropped her hand back to her side.
Just up ahead she saw atleast one part she was seeking. A brass lantern stood proudly amongst a table of watches, dwarfing the tiny clocks that surrounded its bottom. The top was slightly domed, metal lines beautifully crafted so the top held firm to its hexagonal base. Some shards of glass were missing but that didn't bother Mabel, in fact it enticed her, her mind wandering off, swept away by the stories of past this lantern held.
"Excuse me miss? I think you dropped this," a musical, silky voice stated, drawing Mabel's attention away from the burnished metal beneath her fingertips. In the stranger's hands were her basket, piled high with bishop wort and some cloves of garlic nestled on top. Mabel looked down in disbelief, her hands clasping the handle without much thought.
"Is it yours miss?" the woman inquired and Mabel found herself nodding despite herself. The woman's features twisted infront of her eyes, shifting into one of immense pleasure. Her lips parted into a gruesome smile, green eyes flashing briefly before settling back to a pale blue. The woman took an exaggerated step back, into the now busy street, slowly raising her hand, contorting it till one finger outstretched, aiming straight at Mabel.
"Witch! Oh my! Help me. This woman is a witch!"