“Will it be soon?”
“Soon enough. Be prepared, my brother, always be prepared.”
“How long must I wait?”
“You know that, in this domain, I have no knowledge of time. You must always be ready for the dark clouds that gather.”
In that moment, a warning “meow” brought him back to his place, sitting crossed legged on the tattered rug before the open fire. He felt a shudder, despite the warmth from the hearth, and exchanged a meaningful glance with his familiar.
Suddenly, the door burst open and, framed in the doorway, was a woman of unimaginable beauty, dressed in a simple gown that was inclined to flow in the gentle breeze. Rather than standing there, she appeared to float a little above the ground, as if on an invisible cushion of air. He gasped at the sight of her.
“Isadora! Is it you?”
“It is. Are you not going to invite me in?”
Timothy Spaemann stood at the edge of the function room, glancing around at the groups of people conversing over their drinks and canapés. It was the usual crowd, mostly dressed ‘casual.’ Some wore 1980s gothic, some were dressed in what he had recently heard described as ‘steam-punk,’ others with more of a sense of the outrageous, but mostly casual. Hardly a ‘wizard’ robe in sight. These days, nobody wanted to look like an extra from a Harry Potter movie. Spaemann was the least noticeable of all, in light gray slacks and tailored blazer.
It was the annual gathering of the Daughters of Damona. The official Covenstead of the Southern witches, but all were welcome. It was, after all, the time of the Feast of Divine Love and Compassion. The venue was The Links Hotel in Guildford, county town of Surrey, that leafy shire in the South-East of England. The evening had just begun, and everyone was circulating, reacquainting, and generally catching up on the gossip.
A dark-haired young woman had attached herself to Spaemann and was trying to make conversation. He wasn’t helping much.
“What’s the best spell you have ever cast, then?” she asked, speaking with a pronounced West Country accent.
“Well, spells are not really my thing,” said Spaemann. “And I am not sure how I might rate them, even if they were.”
“My name’s Morwenna, by the way.”
“Timothy ... charmed,” he said with a thin smile. Morwenna fidgeted like a small child waiting for a treat or a telling off. He broke the silence by turning the question back on her.
“And how about you?”
“Well ... some guy in my village rejec’ed me once,” she replied. “Said he already had a girlfrien’ ...”
Spaemann raised a significant eyebrow. Morwenna held up her left hand, crooking the little finger, mimicking her victim’s flaccid member, and giving a lewd smirk.
“I ’ear he couldn’ ger i’ up for a month,” she continued, with a chortle.
“You know, curses are not a good thing,” said Spaemann.
“What makes you think I wanna be good?” she asked, with a kind of naughty girl expression replacing the leer. There was no answer to that. “Anyways, he were fine, once the spell had wore off. Must ha’ been, as his girl got preg’nt soon after.”
“I don’t mean they are not good for the person you have cursed. I mean not good for you. Dark magic, even a little dark magic, can sap your strength, harness your inner energy to malevolent forces, weaken your aura.”
Seeing his mood was serious and noting that her flirty approach was getting her nowhere, Morwenna started to get restless and began to look around the room for someone more engaging to talk to.
“Wha’ever ...” she said, as she wandered off to a group of younger people.
Spaemann drifted around the room exchanging pleasantries with people he knew and those introduced to him. He had a dull conversation with a university professor who had been researching the history of the Spanish Inquisition.
“The Inquisition was not in the least bit interested in sorcery, you know,” said the man, who introduced himself as Jonathan.
“No, not at all. In 1526, the Inquisition issued a proclamation recommending repentance, rather than execution, for witches. They also banned the confiscation of property from witches altogether.”
“Is that so?” Spaemann did not mention that he had a cousin who had benefited from the edict, reconciled himself to the Church, and retained his considerable estates in the Navarre region. From then on, he was much more discreet in his practices, outwardly playing the devout Catholic.
“Yes, indeed. You see, the Inquisition was far more concerned with tackling what they regarded as heresy, and with persecuting Jews and Muslims. They hardly bothered about witchcraft at all ... Are you a witch by the way?” Spaemann smiled at the question.
“I dabble. And you?” He already knew the answer.
“Oh, no, no, no. I am here strictly as a person who studies the art and its history. My interest is purely academic.”
The evening progressed in its usual tedious manner. Fleeting conversations with assorted pagans and wiccans, along with the usual bunch of herbalists and crystal therapists, tattoo artists, and ‘earth mothers.’ Hardly a true witch among them, though many of the people he spoke with would describe themselves as such.
Looking across the room, Spaemann noticed young Morwenna talking to a tall youth with long, lank hair and numerous facial piercings. The couple were clearly engrossed in their conversation, articulated with gestures, smiles, and laughter. They were seemingly oblivious to their surroundings and had not noticed the shadowy form lurking behind them. Spaemann perceived a slight dimming of the light, apparently the only one to notice, although Morwenna gave a sudden shiver and looked over her shoulder, breaking her conversation momentarily. Only then did Spaemann see the faintest, barely perceptible, bluish glow, almost like a halo, emanating from Morwenna, surrounding her head and shoulders, visible against the darkness that grew behind her. It surprised him that he had not seen Morwenna’s aura before.
Spaemann could now feel the draw of dark energy from the growing menace threatening Morwenna and, knowing the danger, moved quickly towards her, focusing his attention on the shade, left hand raised in defense. The shade dissolved into nothing as Spaemann approached. The entire drama had gone unnoticed.
Seeing Spaemann from the corner of her eye, Morwenna looked up, asking her companion for a rum and diet Coke from the bar. The boy was clearly none too happy at thus being summarily dismissed, particularly as he had noticed the well-known and wealthy philanthropist, Timothy Spaemann, approaching. The youth hesitated a moment, a glass in each hand, raising his eyebrows enquiringly.
“Anything from the bar, Mr. Spaemann?”
“Thank you so much, but no, I have a drink, thank you,” Spaemann replied, holding up his glass of sparkling mineral water. The young lad made his way through the crowd to get the drinks.
“Well,” said Morwenna, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. “Talk of le diable and he flaps his wings.” Spaemann grimaced at the comparison.
“No doubt young Tristan has been talking about me.”
“You bet, Mister Timmy Rich!” replied Morwenna, with renewed interest in her erstwhile companion, the broad grin still animating her pretty but heavily made-up face. Spaemann couldn’t help but warm to her mischievous manner. He could still feel her aura, and wondered if she, herself, was aware of it.
“Well, none of it is true,” said Spaemann, rather defensively. He hated talk of money, considering it distasteful. “My means are ... modest, to say the least.”
“Yeah, right!” said Morwenna, pronouncing the word more like ‘roight.’ “Pull the other one for a rendition of jingle bells.” Spaemann drew in a breath but let it go, changing the subject.
“Now that we are friends, Morwenna,” he said. “May I ask you something?”
“Fire away, friend,” she replied, still beaming, hoping he would ask her for a date, yet somehow doubting it.
“Do you have many other friends you could call upon, if needed?”
“Sure, but not all wicca ...”
“No matter. Would you be able to bring them together if I were to ask?”
Morwenna laughed, wondering what manner of debauchery Spaemann might have in mind.
“You plannin’ a par’y or summa, you dark horse?”
“Well, yes, in a manner of speaking ...” He would commit himself no further at that point. Excusing himself as Tristan returned with the drinks, Spaemann picked out a familiar face among the crowd.
“I’ll call you then, if I may,” was his parting comment, as he drifted off into the throng.
You don’t know my number, thought Morwenna, before realizing that Spaemann had not spoken audibly, but that she had merely perceived the words. At which point it occurred to her that he did not mean to use a cellphone to get in contact.
Heading off towards the center of the room, there was no mistaking the striking golden aura surrounding the person Spaemann had noticed while talking to Morwenna. The rather elegant lady of indeterminate age was adorned in a beautiful, yet discreet, evening gown, an exquisite silver amulet held by a delicate chain across the low-cut dress. She turned as he approached.
“Spaemann, darling, how delightful,” she exclaimed with a warm smile, holding out her arms to him. She always used his true name, and never his adoptive ‘Christian’ name. She had known him too long.
“Maiden Mother, to see you is a blessing,” said Spaemann deferentially, as he accepted the embrace. She held him to her for a moment before stepping back, holding him at arm's length, looking directly into his eyes as he raised his to hers.
“You honor me with your presence at Covenstead,” she said.
It was, in a way, a rebuke, as she knew how tiresome he found such gatherings. She smiled generously, nevertheless, indicating that she was only teasing, as she was wont to do.
“I feel strength grow within me at your touch, Mother.”
The ‘Mother’ was an honorific; they were not related. Formalities over, the two old friends embraced again, this time with a more familiar cheek-to-cheek kiss. They talked happily together for a while before the conversation moved to business.
“Do we have a foe in our midst?” he asked her.
“Oh, you saw it too?”
“Felt, more than saw, but yes, its darkness tore at my eyes as well as my soul.”
“A portent of the dark clouds gathering around us.”
“Are the sisters prepared?”
“I am drawing my circle around me, as you are with yours,” she said. “You make a good choice in Morwenna, by the way,” she said, nodding in the young woman’s direction. “She might seem a shallow child, but she has hidden depths. Do not dismiss her mischievous ways. We cannot all be as serious as you. There is room in our lives for a little fun, particularly in our youth ... if you can remember that far back.”
“Your wisdom, Maiden Mother, is always a guiding light to me.”
They were back on formal terms now, as Spaemann bade permission to leave and prepare himself for what must come to pass.
Before she dismissed him, Maiden Mother had some gifts.
“I have sent the Sword of Avalon to your home. You will need it.”
“I had not known that it was real.”
“It is real enough, and you will feel its power when the time comes,” she said.
She then handed him a velvet pouch enclosing the most dazzling, brilliant-cut diamond, mounted in a golden filigree of Celtic origin, and held by a chain of superb and intricate workmanship. He weighed the jewel in his hand. It was no lightweight.
“The white crystal will guard you against dark forces. Keep it close to your heart. One more thing, Spaemann,” she said, handing him a paper wrap containing herbs.
“A potion?” he asked.
“No, silly. Some chamomile flowers from my garden, to make tea. It will help you sleep. Judging by the lines under your eyes, you need it.”
They both laughed, breaking the tension.
“Go in peace, my son, and guard yourself against the dark forces of nature.”
“I will, Lady. Be strong in your circle. Blessings to you and our sisters.”
As he arrived home, Spaemann saw the jewelled case lying on the table, his black cat, Trinity, curled up before it. The ornate tooled-leather case was a thing of great beauty, adorned with swirling silverwork of breath-taking artistry and encrusted with every shade of gemstone. He marvelled as he lifted the lid to reveal the Sword of Avalon.
“Excalibur,” he exclaimed, with a voice full of wonder. “I never dared to dream that I would one day behold your glory.” He whispered a prayer of thanks to Artōrius, who had wielded this very sword, and to the demi-gods who had forged it.
* * * * *
Dark Clouds Gather first published in Dimensions of Fantasy: volume two.
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About the Creator
Author based in Kent, England. A writer of fictional short stories in a wide range of genres, he has been a non-fiction writer since the 1980s. Non-fiction subjects include art, history, technology, business, law, and the human condition.