As summer began to wind down, Claire continued her secret friendship with Chantarell. It was secretive in that usually they only saw each other when Chantarell rode past and noted that Claire’s parents’ carriage was gone. Though, despite having been friends for that entire summer, the details of Chantarell’s odd life were still quite the mystery. After the confession about the alleged affair she and her mother, Ana, shared with their employer, Claire just hadn’t gotten up the nerve to ask her about all those other rumors. After all, if one was true, who knew how many others were? It was almost as though Claire was scared to find truth in all those other rumors, as she did truly like the other girl.
“So what craziness did you have in mind today?” Claire smiled to Chantarell after having tipped her off about another one of her parents’ days away, which led to Chantarell riding up the lane mere moments after Claire’s parents were out of sight.
“Dunno; wanna help me get ready for tonight?”
“What’s tonight?” Claire responded as she easily let Chantarell begin leading her away from where she had secured Storm in one of the Wallace’s unused stalls.
“It’s a holiday, silly.” Chantarell told her as she continued nonchalantly leading her away from the barn.
“It is?” Claire asked, not honestly able to quickly think of any holiday that took place the third week of September.
“Well, it used to be, anyway.” Chantarell stated with the tiniest trace of bitterness, “Some of us still celebrate it though.”
“Me, and my mother, anyway.”
“You gonna repeat everything I say all day, girl?” Chantarell teased her again.
Claire let out a wary smile before answering, “Well, you never seemed to have any interest in even introducing me to her, before, so it surprised me that you mentioned her, again, at all.”
“My mom has to stay at the house during the day, and it’s not like you could get away with coming to visit us at night. Your parents would tie you to the bed before ever letting you wander off to visit us, or even anyone else, after dark.” Chantarell teased further as she didn’t even slow her pace as they neared the approaching tree line.
“What do you mean your mom has to stay at the house during the day?” Claire asked with another crease of her brow as Chantarell began leading her into the woods that rested between her parents’ home and Mr. Torrence’s.
“Mr. Torrence just likes having one of us there during the day. I never said he wasn’t eccentric.” she added with another little grin.
“To put it mildly.” Claire replied under her breath, before speaking up once more, “Where on earth are we going?” she had to ask as she ducked to avoid a low hanging branch, while simultaneously trying to keep her long dress from getting caught on the rest of the plant life that covered the forest floor. Though Chantarell seemed to have no trouble traversing the forest in her own long dress, as though she were quite familiar with those woods.
“I told you, to get ready for tonight.”
“And I’m supposed to know what that means, and why we’re going through the woods to do it?” Claire asked as she wrinkled her nose as she ducked a cobweb that hung from yet another low branch.
“Well, if you’d rather go talk to the horses all day, just waiting for your parents to get home again, I’m sure that would be just as interesting.” Chantarell chided her.
Claire scowled at the statement before giving in, “Fine, lead on.” she told her with a shake of her head as she followed her onward to wherever this strange girl was leading her, after all.
Nearly twenty minutes later, the two girls arrived at Chantarell’s destination, which was a beautiful clearing in the woods. There was a stream running past the clearing which was surrounded by a thick tree-line on all sides that wouldn’t allow much visibility if there was anybody else passing through the nearby woods. But what really drew Claire’s attention about the beautiful clearing was the circle of stones surrounding a reasonably well-used fire-pit. On the stones were carved several strategically placed symbols that made no sense to Claire, but obviously worried her, considering some of those rumors she had indeed heard about the only person she had ever really considered a friend, at all.
Claire nervously bit her lip once more as her eyes moved over the different symbols, though she said nothing, simply standing at the edge of the clearing while Chantarell approached the pit and began emptying the contents of the bag she had had strapped over her shoulder when she had arrived that morning.
Chantarell went about laying out several runes, charms, trinkets, candles, a pair of chalices and even two small knives, all in strategic positions around the pit. Claire swallowed hard, almost painfully when she saw the two small knives. Though nothing in Chantarell’s movements seemed to be anything other than graceful and peaceful, just the mere sight of the blades was enough to make Claire begin wondering how much of the nastier rumors about the girl and her mother were true, after all, just like the one about them each being the mistress of a man who nobody in town even had a recollection of ever meeting.
“You’ve gotten quiet.” Chantarell spoke up as she continued her arrangement of the various items that were to apparently be used in the night’s celebration of whatever holiday she may have believed it to be.
Claire forced down another lump in her throat as she tried desperately to find a response to the girl’s query, “Just wondered if we were going hunting or…something.” was the only one she could come up with through her shock, and on such short notice.
“Hunting?” Chantarell only tossed a brief smile back toward the other girl, “What on earth would give you that idea?” she asked with her own creased brow, though she still wore the small smile.
“Well, those are…knives…aren’t they?” Claire dared as she nervously looked around the abandoned woods that surrounded them, not even sure she could find her own way back to her home without Chantarell leading the way again, that was.
“Actually, they're athames.” Chantarell replied without pause.
“A--what?” Claire asked.
“They’re not for hunting.” Chantarell gave her a simpler explanation, which did nothing to lessen her confusion, still.
“Then what are they for?” Claire swallowed hard, as she quickly looked back the way they came once more.
“Focusing.” Chantarell answered, finally allowing herself to turn back toward Claire, whose tension was more than obvious at that point.
“Focusing…what?” Claire asked as her voice grew smaller, not allowing herself to take her eyes off the other girl.
“Thoughts, feelings, wants, desires, emotions….power.” Chantarell told her in the same firm but gentle tone.
“Power?” Claire asked, her voice nearly a whisper at that point.
“Basically, yes.” Chantarell returned matter-of-factly, though still kept her eyes fixed on Claire as well.
“Um, Chan, you’re kinda sounding a little, scary, there.”
“What’s so scary? Focusing ones thoughts?” Chantarell returned in the same self-assured tone.
“You kinda well, sound like you’re talking about something like, I dunno, uh,” Claire looked around once more, then lowered her voice another decibel, “Like witchcraft or something.” she whispered worriedly.
Chantarell then let out an unexpected laugh as she glanced back at her arrangements before speaking to Claire once more, “You mean you hadn’t heard that one? That’s the big one, after all.”
“What?” Claire asked, her own thoughts a little too muddled to completely be present in the conversation.
“The one about me and mom being witches.” she chided in the same oddly unconcerned tone.
“It’s not funny, Chan.” Claire told her worriedly, “They’ve killed people for that.” she added in the same whispered tone.
“No, actually, they killed people for not giving up their own beliefs and becoming Christians, when they decided to make that religion up, that is.” Chantarell said with a bit of ice in her tone, though it didn’t seem truly directed at Claire, “Kiss the cross or they will burn you.” she added the last sentence with a scoff.
Claire swallowed again, not exactly that fond of religion, but she did find herself being scared of what others might do to her only friend if they had any proof of her own opinions, “So, you’re saying you actually are, a witch, I mean.” she added in another whisper.
“Do you know what witch really means?”
“Nothing good.” Claire added sadly, now very worried for her friend’s opinions truly getting her into serious, if not deadly, trouble.
“It actually is from the Latin word for ‘wise.’” Chantarell stated firmly, “Look it up, I’m telling the truth. It was the name for those who understood the true nature of the world around them, natural and mystical. The wise women or witches.”
“That can’t be what it means.” Claire denied, though hardly argumentatively.
“Like I said, look it up.” Chantarell repeated.
“I thought it meant women who cast spells and worshipped the devil, and made sacrifices…and things.” Claire dared.
“Spells like protection spells to ward off bad fortune, as well as spells to make their crops grow and their animals flourish, and mix herbs that work to heal and help others, and ease their pain? Yeah that sounds really evil doesn’t it?” she scoffed.
“What about the devil?” Claire asked, her curiosity just barely outweighing her fear.
“Wouldn’t know. I don’t believe in him, and I don’t know a single actual witch who does. After all, he was only created to give all the Christians something to fear if they broke a single one of the church’s precious, and ridiculous, rules.” she stated in the same firm tone, though she honestly seemed to want to answer the questions that would set Claire straight about the lies that had been spreading for nearly two-hundred years, about all of those who still held fast to the beliefs that existed for centuries before Christianity ever did.
“And sacrifices?” Claire swallowed again.
“We make offerings, not sacrifices.” Chantarell shook her head at that one, but still didn’t falter to answer the question.
“What kind of offerings?” Claire asked with narrowed eyes, trying not to give into the visions the ingrained beliefs of all the others around her inspired.
“Trinkets, charms, gifts, whatever the spirits wish to have. They all have their own personalities, just like us.” she answered with a soft smile, “And if it’s a spirit that wants something that would cause harm to a living being, chances are it’s a spirit you really wouldn’t wanna be dealing with any way. Not like they’d be very trustworthy.” she added, almost as though this was just an everyday conversation, which for her, it most likely was.
“So, you’re saying all of those bad things are untrue?” Claire repeated, still looking uneasy, though still not leaving the conversation.
“Like everything that a human has the power to do, it can be used for good or evil. But, if you use it for evil, the spirits and fates are much fairer than life. You will pay for it, and pay dearly. So using any of our power for evil, it’s something that would only be done by someone with a very short lifespan. Evil will never pay, and us witches know that. Hence the one commandment we have, which sums up all ten of yours, and much more thoroughly at that.” she added with another wry smile.
“What commandment is that?” Claire asked softly.
“Harm none.” Chantarell stated simply.
“Harm none?” Claire repeated thoughtfully.
“It means, live your life however you want, as long as you don’t ever hurt someone else to do so. Like I said, it’s much more thorough.” she added with another sincere smile.