Quiet as a mouse she inched the door open. Three figures draped in black stood in a circle swaying back and forth, chanting in sync, their hands held aloft over a kneeled figure.
"Firmamentum," she breathed the preparation. The figure closest to her turned around in a flash and was pushing her out the door before the other figures took a breath.
"Not now, Aila, it is the hour for casting," the older witch, her mother, chastised as she ejected her daughter from the room. "Go play with your rats."
The door shut behind her, sucking the magic out of the air as it did. Aila huffed and dragged her feet, wandering into the room that served as part apothecary and part library. One side of the room had shelves laden with books- books of every size and thickness- and on the other side of the room stood shelves crowded with jars. The jars were stuffed with ingredients ranging from sage and lavender to newts' feet and hummingbird beaks. The potent and dangerous ingredients were stored on the top shelves, where Aila's little arms and legs couldn't reach.
"Admiring the tomes?" The friendly voice came from across the room. It was Aila's grandmother's familiar, a black cat named Kaves, who was lounging on the bookshelf.
"Kavey, they kicked me out again!" Aila pouted, swinging an arm out behind her in the direction of the closed door.
The feline chuckled, "and why, little bat, do you think that is?"
"They don't think I'm ready!"
"Do you think you're ready?" Kaves asked, licking his paw as if her answer meant nothing to him.
"Well no," Aila admitted. "I need to learn."
Kaves gave an approving look as he rose to his feet and disappeared behind a row of books. Seconds later a thick volume crashed to the floor, landing on its spine and falling open. Kaves appeared in its spot.
"Then start learning," he purred, leaping from the bookshelf and sauntering out of the room.
Aila waited until his tail vanished around the door frame before she scampered over to the book. Its pages were yellowed with age and its edges were peeling from use.
Then start learning. Aila repeated to herself as she kneeled in front of the book; it was open to the chapter called Potions for the Novice, how fitting. Turning to the first recipe, she gathered her ingredients.
Arms laden with jars, Aila hurried to the shed behind the house and dumped them inside. Sneaking into the kitchen she pilfered the small pewter cauldron that was just her size and took back towards the shed.
Laying her supplies in a half circle around the cauldron, she turned to the recipe. Mutantur Vocem, The Draught of the Changing Voice.
- Fill cauldron with 2-3 cups of flowing stream water and bring to boil.
"Okay" She mumbled to herself. She ran down to the nearest stream with her cauldron and filled it with icy water. Too excited to walk, she jogged back to the shed before she realized water was sloshing out left and right. In the shed were the supplies needed to make a small fire.
"Once the water is boiling, add in two teeth of a blind mute, one stem of a mushroom of the genus Amanita, and one spoonful of mud from the base of a wolfsbane plant. Stir until thick, add three drops of blood from a virgin and let contents sit until clear. Prepare subject. Lastly add the esophagus of animal for desired result. Have subject ingest."
"Oh I do love that one," came the voice of Kaves behind her. Aila jumped, nearly spilling the jar of mud on her lap.
"Kaves!" Aila yelled.
"Shh, little bat, lest you get caught." He walked up and sat beside her, his tail flicking back and forth.
"Kaves, what is a virgin?" Aila asked, tapping a finger to the ingredient list.
"You are a virgin." He said short-handedly.
"Oh," she raised her eyebrows, "but what is a virgin?"
"That is for another time." He closed the subject.
"Okay," she conceded. Into the mix went the mushrooms and mud. Though there was only one spoonful of mud, the potion thickened instantly. Finally Aila took the small athame from her boot - closer to the size of a pocket knife- and with Kaves watching intensely she pricked her own finger, squeezing three plump drops from the wound. Sucking on her finger, Aila stirred with her other hand until it was ready to sit.
"What should I use it on?" Aila nudged Kaves to get his attention.
"Don't look at me," he said. "Didn't your mom tell you to go play with your rats?"
"Oh, Kavey, what would I do without you?" Aila laughed and scratched his neck.
"Not get in as much trouble, certainly." He joked and watched as she jumped to her feet and sprinted to the house. She returned momentarily with a distressed brown rat clamped in her fists.
Aila set the rat down in front of Kaves who held it down with one fluffy black paw on its tail, a threat. She turned to the unopened jar and retrieved the esophagus of a wolf; she would have preferred a different animal but this was the only one she could reach, and on her tippy toes.
"Eww it's all slimy," she giggled and stared in wonder as it dissolved into the clear liquid. Taking her spoon she dipped it into the mix and brought it to her mouth to blow on it. When steam no longer rose from it, she brought the spoon close to the rat's face who in turn struggled fiercely to escape.
"Spartacus, I need you to drink this," she pressured. "It won't hurt you."
The rat looked up with trust in its eyes even as Aila brought the spoon closer to its mouth. His little tongue darted out to taste the potion once, twice, three times.
"How do I know if it worked?" She turned to the cat who did his best to shrug. The two waited, nothing happened. Finally Aila put the rat down and gathered her supplies.
With a rat on her shoulder and a cat on her heels, she set off towards the house in disappointment. Heading for the library, she stopped in her tracks. Her mother was standing in the doorway, hands on her hips and rage in her eyes. She wore a long black chiffon dress and an ornate black underbust corset, her black hair fell in waves around her, and those fierce green eyes were narrowed nearly to slits.
"Aila Martha Carrier, what in all the realms have you been doing?" Her mother thundered, crossing the distance between them and clamping a hand on the little girl's shoulder, guiding her into the study across from the library. In the study were Aila's aunt leaning against the desk, her grandmother who was bundled up in the large armchair in the corner, and her older sister who was hovering by the door.
Kaves snuck in behind Aila and her mother and jumped onto the back of the armchair, nestling into his witch's neck. Aila's grandmother gave a knowing smile and winked at the little girl.
"Running off with a book?" Her mom fired off, yanking it from her daughter's arms. "How did you get this down?"
"Explain yourself," her aunt instructed calmly, putting a hand on her sister's back.
"Well I wanted to make a potion," Aila started, all eyes around the room narrowed. "T-to p-prove I'm ready," she stuttered. She could feel her mother's rage from the doorway and resisted the urge to turn tail and run.
"To prove you're-" Her mother fumed but was interrupted.
"Did it work?" Her grandmother leaned forward, hands squeezing the arms on the chair.
"Mother, that's not the point!" Aila's mother shouted. "She-"
"Shush, child," the elder witch silenced her daughter. Still leaning forward she looked straight into Aila's heart.
"Did it work?"
Aila took the rat off of her shoulder, whispered "sorry" to it ahead of time, and gave it a strong pinch on the butt. Instead of the enraged squeak she was expecting, Spartacus let out the soul-tearing howl of a lone wolf during the full moon. The chords filled every niche and cranny of the room and the echo haunted their bones long after the notes had subsided.
In a flash the elderly witch was across the room with Aila in her arms. "My little granddaughter has the gift!" She cried and spun her little bundle in a circle. Her grandmother set her down and darted out of the room. Aila gave her mother a sheepish look.
When Aila's grandmother burst back into the room she was carrying a small black item hidden in the folds of her robe. Motioning for her daughter to join her, she stood strong and tall in front of the confused little girl.
"Aila Martha Carrier, it is apparent that you are ready to begin your training," They chanted together. Her mother whispered "ahead of schedule," under her breath before they continued.
"We shall guide you in the ways of the realms. We shall teach you to become a guardian of the old ways, a guide for the magic within you, and above all we shall teach you to be one with the world around you. We bestow upon you the garment of a witch."
With the last word they produced a small witch hat, it was all black and made of strong, thick felt. It had a wide brim and the top curled back onto itself.
Best of all- it was just her size.