Friday, July 28, 2017

Chapter 21 – A Piece of Her Soul

 Three weeks had passed since the day old Maggie Magpie set out to find an orphan. The snow had settled over the forest and the wolves howled closer and closer to the village each night. Toadmila checked the path to the village each day. The trees were dead, but fresh paw-prints in the snow showed her each morning that the road was still safe, that whatever evil lurked in the depths of Grimwood Forest would not bother her customers.
But she had no customers. Even old Maggie Magpie had not returned to the witch's house. Every day, Toadmila cleared the path of snow and fallen branches. Every day she put up wards to keep the wolves away And she waited. And one evening, she could hear the snow screeching outside, under heavy footsteps. Toadmila jumped up from her chair by the fire. Sparks flew out of the wand in her hand, and the spell to open the door burst out on its own. She barely had the time to compose herself before the door opened.
Maggie stood in the doorway, with her hand raised, ready to knock. She seemed smaller, hunched under the weight of her many shawls. Only it wasn't just the shawls this time. On her back, there was a large lump, covered in rags, and a tuft of hair, of a color most distinctly resembling a carrot, sprouted out of the rags over her shoulder, caressing the old woman's cheek. Maggie dragged her feet into the house and collapsed on her knees.
“Can I put him down now?” she asked, panting.
Toadmila nodded. Her mouth was open, but she couldn't speak. The lump of clothes and rags looked conspicuously larger than she'd expected.
The old woman raised a wizened hand and patted the tuft of carrot hair, until a yawn could be heard from inside the rags.
“You can get down now,” she said softly. “We're here.”
Toadmila witnessed a miraculous transformation, as the humpbacked creature of shawls and rags before her split into two beings. The old woman was left on the floor, while the hump she'd been carrying on her back sprang to life, detached itself from the old woman, slid to the floor, and stood up on its own two legs. It was a boy, about three or four years old, small for his age, and feeble, only skin and bones, as the little ones from the orphanage always were. He peered at Toadmila from behind Maggie's shoulder, with round, gray eyes.
Toadmila hurried to give the old woman her hand and help her up. She helped her into her armchair by the fire and gave her a cup filled with a reinvigorating potion.
“You tricked me,” the old woman said after the first sip of the potion. “You said you'd make the ritual when we get here, but you'd already started it, didn't you?”
Toadmila pressed her lips together, trying to look professional.
“I wanted to take the smallest one,” Maggie went on, taking another sip of the potion and shuddering at the taste. “But you said to look at all of them, so I looked. And when I saw him, I knew you'd already done it. I knew you'd taken a piece of my soul and placed it in him. I saw it the moment I looked into his eyes.”
Maggie took another sip of the potion and stretched her feet.
“I thought I wouldn't be able to carry him,” she went on. “I thought he'd be too heavy. The sisters said he's four. But he's so light. You won't believe how light he is.”
Toadmila nodded. She peered closer at the boy, who was clinging onto Maggie's clothes.
“I carried him like you said,” Maggie added. “I only let him down when he needed to take a leak. Carried him on my back along the way, held him in my arms when we sat down to eat and when we slept. Did I do all right?”
Toadmila nodded.
“You can let him walk on his own, and eat and sleep on his own from now on,” she said, still inspecting the boy. “The bond is strong enough by now. He'll always have a part of your soul.”
Maggie breathed a sigh of relief and finished her potion.
“There's only one thing,” she said. “I wish I knew his name. I forgot to ask at the orphanage, and he doesn't speak.”
Toadmila gave the boy a long look. She set her wand aside, and kneeled in front of him, so that their eyes were on the same level.
“What do they call you?” she asked.
The boy's eyes grew wider, but he didn't open his mouth. Toadmila leaned in closer.
“It's ok. You can tell me,” she whispered into his ear. “I was raised there too.”
The boy's lips trembled a little.
“Imp,” he whispered.
Toadmila drew back and nodded. The sisters would do that.
“There's one more thing before the ritual can be complete,” she said to Maggie. “You must give him a name. He will leave his old name behind, and with the new name, he will become your son.”
“I've always liked the name Matthew,” the old woman said. “But maybe he doesn't like it.'
The boy looked at her with round eyes that were brimming with tears.
“I think he'll like it,” Toadmila noticed. “What do you say, Mathew? Do you like your name?”
The boy nodded so emphatically that the tears rolled down his cheeks.
“There's one more thing, Mathew,” Toadmila said solemnly, looking the boy in the eyes. “You must give Maggie a name too, one that only you will call her by. If you do that, you can stay with her forever. What do you want to call her?”
The boy turned his eyes to the old woman, and his lips trembled again. His fists clenched on her shawls and he took in a deep breath. When he spoke her new name, his voice was strong and clear:


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