Friday, February 17, 2017

Chapter 7 – Sticks and Stones Are for Building

 Toadmila woke up shivering. The forest was quiet. The villagers had, at long last, returned to their homes. Even the fire seemed to have burned itself out, and the air smelled of frost, but not smoke. Birds were chirping in the trees and a frightened rabbit dashed back into the undergrowth when she turned to look at it. Her first thought was that she'd like some rabbit stew. Her stomach was growling, reminding her that she'd left her hut without having dinner. But she decided against killing the rabbit, and avenged her hunger on some equally innocent berries. They were dry and mildly sour, but it seemed, at least, that they weren't poisonous.
There was very little left of her hut when she returned to it. Toadmila waved her wand a few times, and leveled the ashen remains to the ground. With great care, she extracted the chestnuts from the night before, but they were blackened and uneatable. Toadmila scowled at them, as if it were their fault, and tossed them away. She conjured up a wind wyrm and cleared the land where the hut had been. One good thing about this, she thought, was that she was rid of the dung, and of that impossibly impractical shape of the Dilapidated Hut. She tapped the ground with her wand, and it opened up in a square shape, of the right size for the foundation of a house. Back on her broom, hovering above the ground for a better look, she adjusted the size and the shape of this space. Its corners nearly touched the edges of the clearing when she was done. But that didn't last long. Slashing the air with her wand, she felled several large trees, opening up more space. She cleared them of branches and used the trunks as beams that would support the frame of a roof. When the frame of the house was set in place, Toadmila rolled up her sleeves and began a slightly more complicated ritual. Just as she'd turned dung into plaster, she turned the wood into stone, so that it wouldn't burn. When she was done, she reached for her broom again and, still heaving from this extraordinary exertion, she flew up to explore the area.
She followed one of the trails she'd noticed at the sides of the hut, hoping it would lead to a river, or some other source of fresh water. The trail was long, reaching beyond the rows of dead trees and into the living part of the forest. But when it opened into a large clearing, there was no river there. Instead, Toadmila found the orderly rows of a vegetable garden, now somewhat covered in weeds and a little wilted. There were rows of carrots and turnips and beetroot, and further on she recognized with delight bushes of bloodthorn and clumps of dragonbreath. Further still, there were herbs: mint, thyme, pixiegrass and gnomebane. And the whole garden was surrounded by two rows of garlic and, by what she could tell, the last remnants of a well-worn shielding spell.
Toadmila strengthened the old shielding spell, cast a few more wards to make sure everything was safe, and placed an extra large layer of protection on the carrots, for good measure, remembering the rabbit she'd seen by the pond. Then she dug up a turnip for dinner and went to explore the other trails. One led to a clearing filled with dangerous plants. The shielding spells here were stronger, and the plants rare and poisonous. She found foxglove and mandragora, belladonna and stoneheart and all sorts of magical ingredients that could, in the right hands – or perhaps in the wrong hands – destroy a small army of humans or trolls or even of dragons.
The third path led to the river. Fresh water gurgled above a bed of round rocks, and silvery fish darted though it. Toadmila examined the muddy banks and found, to her satisfaction, that a little bit off magic could extract clay from them. First, though, she needed the rocks. She went through the spells she knew, looking for the best one. It crossed her mind, briefly, that she hadn't revised so many spells in one day since her last round of exams. Finally, she chose the most difficult and complex incantation, one that she was specifically proud of. The entire ritual lasted for a good quarter of an hour, and she was sorry, at the end of it, that she didn't have an audience to show it off to. This particular ritual had gotten her the coveted praise of her Advanced Spells teacher, as well as a good amount of envy from her classmates. She had even had the satisfaction of hearing that obnoxious Augustus Lefroy saying that he was impressed. But that was all in the past, in her school days. What the ritual brought her now was building material. The rocks tumbled on the bottom of the river, then the larger ones sprang up, as if brought to life and began hopping along the trail to the hut. Temporarily imbued with intelligence, they jumped around in a complicated choreography, and settled into the spaces between the stone pillars, forming thick walls for the new hut.

The sun had set by the time they were finished. Toadmila felt exhausted and her arms hurt from all the spell casting. She threw one last binding spell at the rocks, which would hold them in place better than any mortar, and then she went to sleep inside the newly built walls, beneath the starry sky.

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