Chapter 1: Prologue
It was 1801 when the Campbells, a young couple from London, looking for a place to start their lives together and a family, rented Thrushcross Grange in Yorkshire. This beautiful property’s landlord wasn’t exactly a person, it was more of an institution: Lady Robichaux’s School for Exceptional Young Women. And that’s probably what made the Grange affordable to the Campbells at all. The School held the reputation of a safe haven for young witches, those were said to be the descendants of the Avalon Coven, and the predominantly superstitious population of the countryside would rather not be associated with the sort.
But not Timothy Campbell and his wife Emily, in fact they were looking forward to establishing friendly relations with their exceptional new neighbours. That’s what took them from the Grange to the Heights, were the school manor rose from the moorlands, on an afternoon in December. They were greeted at the great wooden doors by a lady who was as unusual as she was warm. She introduced herself as Misty Day, Deputy Headmistress of the School, and welcomed them to the manor with an earnest embrace, instead of the polite curtsy they were used to receiving in London.
Misty’s sunny disposition stood out contrasting the morose atmosphere of the grey afternoon. The fact that she wore her hair down, letting her blonde curls flow down her back, instead of the up-do that was considered fashionable at the time, and wrapped herself in a colourful shawl made her look more like a proper High Priestess from Avalon than a Deputy Headmistress, and Timothy and Emily couldn’t help exchanging a glance, when she turned her back to lead them into the drawing room, and barely suppressing a giggle. This was even better than they had expected.
The two new tenants of Thrushcross Grange were introduced to Lady Mallory, Headmistress of the School and the Coven’s Supreme, who was waiting for them in the drawing room for the tea. Lady Mallory’s appearance wasn’t nearly as quaint as her colleague’s, but neither was it less surprising. She seemed remarkably young for her eminent position, almost girly, with delicate features like a fine ivory cameo. And unlike Miss Day’s wild locks, her honey-coloured hair was well coiffed and ornate with a golden headdress.
But that’s where the difference between Mallory and Misty ended, they were equally sweet and amiable. Mallory seemed clearly more reserved, but her gentle smile and pleasant manners made them feel as welcome as Misty’s embrace had. The small group chatted over tea and biscuits, about what would make a young and vivacious couple leave the agitated life in the Capital for the solitude of the Yorkshire moors. In turn the witches shared anecdotes of the many challenges of running a house full of adolescent, and uniquely gifted, ladies.
“Well, you must be doing a remarkable job teaching them manners…”, Timothy noted, “… you can barely tell there’s anyone else in the house at all.”
That was the first time they saw Misty’s almost permanent smile fail, she and Lady Mallory exchanged a look that seemed to bear a deep understanding between them, but was unreadable for the two guests. “They’ve gone home… for the Holidays. It’s just us two. And the Help.”, Misty smiled again making Timothy relax a little and forget what could have been a faux pas on him. But Emily couldn’t ignore the sadness in Lady Mallory’s eyes. Those big brown eyes, so bright and expressive, avoided meeting the others’ now, and seemed to be hiding a dark heartbreak that should never be seen by anyone else. Emily deliberately looked out the window, in an effort to stop herself from prying any further.
Emily’s jaw dropped at what she saw outside the window. What had been a grey afternoon was now violently white. A snowstorm had hit the Heights while they were having tea, and showed no signs of stopping anytime soon. It was evident that the witches couldn’t simply send the Campbells off into the storm, and the couple agreed to spend the night in the Manor. The group had supper together in the dining room, and Emily noticed the two witches seemed a lot more enthusiastic in discussing the remote past of the Coven, going all the way back to their ancestors in Avalon, than in talking about the recent past and their current students. Timothy was fascinated about the stories of the mysterious island, that had been hidden by their High Priestess behind a veil of mist, during the I Century.
Misty pleasantly accompanied them to one of the smaller rooms where one of the servants was preparing the fireplace to keep them warm for the night. Miss Day introduced him as Mr. Spencer, he was a very pale, with dark circles around his eyes and deep scars showing above the collar of his shirt, but otherwise good-looking young man. He was polite enough, saying he was retiring for the night but that the guests shouldn’t hesitate to call him up if they needed anything, but was the first person in the manor that didn’t seem very inclined to make friends with the new tenants.
Emily was at the window-sit in nothing but her undergarments and a blanket around her shoulders, while Timothy was arranging pillows in the small gap between the two single beds Mr. Spencer had pushed together for them. Now that the snowstorm was over, the cold night was crisp and clear, with the stars shining brightly in a moonless sky. “Tim darling, look what I found…”, she called her husband to join her at the window-sit, “… there’s graffiti on the windowsill!”. “What kind of graffiti?”, he was undressing too, getting ready to throw himself between the covers and call it the night, but indulged his wife’s wishes.
“Letters… probably initials. And little heart shapes… isn’t it lovely?”, she smiled at him.
“Well, look at that”, he joined her by the window, “how many generations of infatuated young witches do you think have defiles this windowsill?”
“A lot, apparently… look”, she pointed with her delicate index finger, “CG&MD… ZB&KS… M&M. Those two didn’t like surnames, I’m afraid.”
“I thought this school was only for girls…”, Timothy frowned, “there’s a Lord M Langdon, here…”
“… and Lady M Langdon”, Emily pointed at a finer writing beneath the first.
“Should we carve our initials there, too?”, he chuckled against the curve of her neck, wrapping his arms around her waist.
“No! At least not until I know for sure those couples had a happy ending… this window could be cursed for all we know!”, she turned her face towards his, and lovingly kissed her husband’s lips.
But the peaceful quiet of the cold night was disturbed less than an hour later. Emily’s shrieks woke every living creature in the manor up, and it didn’t seem unlikely to wake some of the dead ones as well. A wide-eyed and white-faced Timothy holding a hysterical Emily met Misty and Lady Mallory on the landing of the second floor, both witches in their nightgowns and holding candlesticks. Misty was wrapped in another shawl, her hair wilder than ever, while Mallory’s honey locks were neatly plaited in one long braid falling over one of her shoulders. Mr. Spencer joined them moments later, climbing the staircase two steps at a time holding a huge bronze candleholder like a bat, the lit candle dangling dangerously from one end.
“There was a man!! Outside our window!! Just now!!”, Timothy shouted above his wife’s head.
“That’s not possible, Mr. Campbell… your bedroom is on the second floor…”, Misty began in her pacifying manners.
“I swear to God, Miss Day!! I saw him!! Clear as I see you know!!”, Timothy tried his best to stay in control of his emotions, while holding a shaking and wailing Emily against his chest.
“Is this man someone you know? Have you seem him before?”, Mr. Spencer’s voice was raspy, probably from lack of use.
“What? No!! Of course not!! What kind of question is that?”, fright was giving place to confusion in Timothy’s features, while Emily’s remained buried in her husband’s chest.
“What did the man look like?”, Lady Mallory’s voice sounded strangely undisturbed in the middle of all the commotion.
The three members of the household held their breaths while Timothy tried to recall any striking feature on that stranger’s face, and Emily cried out in renewed terror, remembering too. “He had long, golden hair… fine features… and blue eyes… I don’t know! He wore dark clothes, but there was something red too…”, Timothy’s eyes lit up with a memory, “… and he had rings! Large silver rings, I saw them when he slammed his hands against the window!!”. “He was knocking at your window? On the second floor?”, Misty still seemed more confused than worried, but Mallory had covered her own mouth with her hand while Timothy described the man.
“He wanted us to let him in!!”, Emily sobbed against her husband’s chest.
“That’s how he woke us up, to be honest… we heard the sound of his palms and fists against the window… Ssshh, it’s ok, he’s gone now, my love…”, he hastily added after a new cry from Emily.
“Long blonde hair… and blue eyes…”, Mr. Spencer looked at Lady Mallory who was still staring at Timothy, her eyes glistening with tears.
“And silver rings… you heard them.”, Mallory’s voice was still oddly calm.
“You don’t understand!!”, Emily turned around, her face now both scared and furious, “It was a tormented man!! He was striking the window repeatedly!! Screaming to be let in!! And his eyes… the agony in those eyes!! It burned into my soul!! It burned like the fires of Hell!!”
“Mal…”, Misty began but Mallory cut her out with a single look, and turned to the Campbells. “My deepest apologies. We offered you one of the smaller rooms to give you privacy, but I believe you would feel safer spending the night with Misty in one of the larger dormitories…”, she turned towards the servant, “… would you care to join them, Mr. Spencer? For extra protection?”. The servant nodded, but Misty couldn’t contain herself any longer “What about you? Why aren’t you joining us?”.
Instead of responding, Mallory simply walked towards the room the Campbells had just left vacant. Mr. Spencer opened his mouth to protest, but Misty beat him to it “Mallory! You can’t be serious! You’re not going to spend the night in there alone!”. “You keep our guests safe, Misty…”, the heaving of Mallory’s chest betrayed the carefully composed look on her face, “I’ll be fine. You know as well as I do that this ghost would do me no harm.”, with a final smile and a curtesy, she closed the bedroom door.
It was only after they were settled in one of the larger dormitories and Mr. Spencer had gone downstairs to pick up more firewood for its fireplace that Timothy gathered the courage to ask Misty the questions that were shouting in his brain. “Miss Day. That man we saw… you know him, don’t you?”, Misty didn’t say a word, but her eyes said it all. “Lady Mallory called him a ghost…”, it was Emily’s voice now, sounding weak after all the screaming, she looked at Misty her bright eyes wide with fear. Misty lowered her gaze, trying to laugh the situation off. Unsuccessfully.
“This is not a bedtime story you would like to hear, my friends…”, she slowly shook her head.
“Maybe not. But, with all due respect, Miss Day, I don’t think any of us will be able to get any more sleep tonight…”, it was Timothy’s time to try, and fail, to laugh it off, “… maybe if we knew who he was and what he wanted, we would be less haunted by what we saw.”
“Or you could be even more haunted, have you considered that?”, Misty’s tone was not unkind, but she seemed a little frightened herself.
“He showed himself to us, Miss Day…”, Emily’s words were almost a plea, “… we’re involved now, whether we like it or not. But I’d rather know what it is that I’m getting involved with.”
That settled it. With a deep breath, and a silent prayer to the White Witch for guidance, Misty Day braced herself to relive the ghosts of the past.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
They had been brought into Robichaux’s around the same time, Mallory and Michael, neither of them older than the age of ten. Mallory came from a long line of witches, whose bloodline stretched all the way to Avalon, but her grandmother had been the last person in her family to fully embrace magic. Mallory’s parents had caught her floating in her sleep and thought she was a devil worshiper. They were more than pleased to send her to the witches’ boarding school, under the care of Miss Cordelia, but it was no secret that they wouldn’t have opposed to have the child burned at the stake as an alternative.
Michael was a different story altogether. The orphaned boy arrived at the Manor brought by Lady Fiona, the Coven’s Supreme at the time, as a personal favour to his grandmother, her lifelong friend. It was up to Miss Cordelia, who ran the school in her mother’s numerous and frequent periods of absence, to find a place for the unfortunate child. The Spalding family had been the head of the staff in the Manor for many generations, they were more than butlers, they were the Coven’s guardians. But the current Spalding was unmarried and had no descendants. So it was decided that Michael would be trained to become the next Spalding, when he grew up.
Mallory and Michael were as different as night and day. The little girl was all softness and warmth, a gentle disposition and a soft voice. A sweet smile always about to blossom on her lips, Mallory was a single ray of sunshine in the grey moors. While Michael was remarkably hard and cold for his young age. As a boy who had only known hardship and rejection, he carried a permanent sneer on his face. His clear eyes mirrored the sky before a storm, an omen of darkness. And, like the sky, his eyes would turn a peaceful blue only when the sun came out. And his sun was Mallory.
It was hard to imagine that two individuals so different could be so close, even though they were the only children in the manor at the time. But instead of driving them apart, their differences only drew them closer together. They completed each other. Mallory was all the kindness and sweetness Michael had ever known in his life. And he was her safety. The boy was so tough and independent, she knew he would always protect her with his life. The two rejected children had promised never to leave each other, from their first days at Robichaux’s. And whenever Mallory wasn’t studying, and Michael wasn’t working, they were seen together. Usually reading or talking under their favourite tree.
From the time she arrived at the manor, the little girl had been put under Misty Day’s wing, the same way Cordelia was under Myrtle Snow’s, back in the day. Misty shared one of the smaller bedrooms with her youngest student, while the teenage witches shared the larger ones. And it wasn’t unusual for her to hear the bedroom door open and close in the middle of the night. The soft padding of small feet on the floor, as little Michael walked to Mallory’s bed, the girl holding the covers up for him to crawl under them.
Misty knew it was probably something Cordelia wouldn’t approve of, not because of any prudish misconception that the children might engage in inappropriate activities while sharing a bed. They were still too young and innocent for the idea to even cross their minds. It was only each other’s company and the shared warmth that they sought. But Cordelia had been suspicious of Michael’s natural inclination towards darkness from the day he arrived at the manor, and Misty knew she would much rather have sent the boy away as soon as her mother, and Supreme, turned her back.
They were taking Mallory and a couple of young witches to gather herbs for potions one morning, when they found Michael kneeling before the severed parts of a black goat’s corpse, covered in blood, his eyes wide but unseeing. When inquired about the incident, Michael claimed to have no memory of how he or the butchered animal had gotten there. It was little Mallory, with her most remarkable healing and restoring abilities, who put the goat’s parts together and brought it back to life. Proud as she was of her new pupil, Cordelia wasn’t able to hide the look of contempt at that strange little boy at the occasion.
It was useful for the very job he was learning that Michael wasn’t a squeamish boy. And that when it came to bringing food to the witches’ table, he was able to give the animals a quick and clean death. But Cordelia feared the boy enjoyed that part of his job a little too much, and she didn’t wish for his darkness to become a harmful influence on someone as promising as Mallory. But Misty simply couldn’t bring herself to keep the two children apart. Their affection for each other was so pure and genuine, it made her believe Mallory’s light could eventually drive Michael’s darkness out. So she turned a blind eye to his nightly visitations to their shared bedroom.
Being the only children in the Manor, it wasn’t unusual for the two of them to be found in places they weren’t supposed to be and, more often than not, witnessing things they weren’t supposed to see. Like the time Madison and Zoe returned, in the dead of night, from a visit to the Estate of one of the most prominent families in Yorkshire, bringing home a mysterious wooden box, that was immediately taken to the greenhouse. When the two young witches summoned for Misty Day, Michael and Mallory were most definitely not supposed to be sneaking in the shadows among the plants to see what the three older witches were up to.
The two students had been away on another social gathering, the kind Madison always got invited to. A few young ladies and gentlemen would stay as guests at someone else’s house for a few days during the Hunting Season. The ladies would enjoy each other’s company for tea, while the gentlemen were out hunting, and in the evenings they would all get together in elegant balls, under the watchful eyes of the master of the house. In an unusual gesture of friendship, Madison had invited Zoe to join her this year. Zoe, who had come from much humbler origins than Madison, was more than happy to attend the function.
It so happened that some of the young male guests had gotten together late at night and lured Madison out into the gardens. The young witch wouldn’t go into much details, as she was still shaken by what had happened, but it was clear that she had been abused by those young men. Who would have probably ruined her reputation in front the entire country, if she hadn’t taken matters into her own hands. The next morning, as the hunting party was leaving for another day of sports, she enchanted their horses, making them would throw the riders from the saddles, and then trample them all to death.
One of those riders, one Kyle Spencer from Devonshire, had not taken part in the evil deeds that had been committed against Madison the night before. He was a decent young man from humble origins, conquering a slow a steady social ascension through hard work and dedication. And he had been enamoured of Zoe, whose pale countenance was a display of shocked grief for the bloody death of the one who could have become her betrothed. So the two young witches brought his ruined remains to Robichaux’s, and asked for Misty’s help to bring him back to life.
It wasn’t in Misty’s nature to deny that kind of request. She brought Kyle Spencer back with the help of the girls, but what Mallory and Michael witnessed from their hiding place was the awakening of some kind of monster. A mindless and inhumanly strong monster, that didn’t seem to match Zoe’s descriptions of the gentle and kind young man she had been in love with. Misty explained that bringing human-beings back to life was a much more complicated affair if the witch performing that magic was not the Supreme, but that soon Kyle would recover conscience of himself and be as good as new. But he would have to stay in the Manor, since several witnesses had watched his gruesome death.
When the matter was brought to Miss Cordelia’s attention, she was more furious about Madison’s cold-blooded murder of her aggressors than about the resurrection of Kyle Spencer. In her opinion Madison should have asked for the help of the Coven, instead of getting her revenge with her own hands. It had been sloppy and careless of Madison, even though the deaths were simply considered a hunting accident and would not be traced back to the Coven, it was an unnecessary risk she took. But since everything had already been said and done, Cordelia decided that Kyle would stay in the Manor as Spalding’s apprentice. And Michael, in his turn, would become Kyle’s apprentice. This new development drove Michael mad with anger. Even though he was younger than Mr. Spencer, he had been in the Manor for almost five years then. It was humiliating that he would have to answer to this newcomer, all of a sudden.
It was probably the humiliation and the sense of betrayal that made Michael so keen to break the rules at that age. And he would take Mallory with him whenever he could. One of those rebellious adventures took both of them all the way to Thrushcross Grange, to spy on the new tenant. A mysterious elder Lady, with no family, who had rented the property all to herself, and her many ferocious hounds. They had heard all sort of rumours about the lady, some of them sounded too superstitious even for a witches’ neighbour. The only reason Mallory agreed to join Michael in that expedition was for the opportunity to prove those rumours wrong.
They were still trying to approach the parlour window unseen, to have a good look at the tenant of Thrushcross Grange, when they heard a loud, beastly sound coming from around one corner of the house. Three Great Dane hounds had been set loose and seemed ready rip the intruders to pieces. Mallory and Michael ran for their lives, the enormous black dogs in their chase. They tried to climb a big old tree, Michael’s long and agile limbs taking him to the higher branches with ease, his still slightly disproportionate pre-teen body being put to good use for once, but petite Mallory wasn’t used to that kind of exercise. After being dropped from one of the lower branches, Mallory resumed her desperate run, the three ferocious dogs fast on her track.
Michael jumped from the branch he had sought refuge on to the earth by the tree’s roots. Without thinking, he reached out his arms in front of himself, just as the three heads, with three sets of sharp teeth, were getting dangerously close to the tails of Mallory’s skirts. The dogs immediately stopped on their tracks, unable to move forward, hard as they tried. Mallory, trying to glance back for a moment, twisted her ankle and fell down at a distance, too small for comfort, of her chasers.
The beasts barked even more angrily, writhing and gnawing against invisible ropes. Michael was still standing on the same spot he had landed on, arms stretched ahead, his face turning red with the effort. Mallory tried to get to her feet, but her severely hurt ankle made her collapse to the earthy ground again, bringing the dogs’ attention back to her. The animals fought even harder against whatever was holding them in place, their muscles straining visibly against the unknown force. Their three pairs of bloodthirsty eyes staring at Mallory’s livid face, the girl was terrified beyond her ability to even shriek.
With one final scream, that seemed to come from deep in his chest, ripping out of his throat, Michael opened his arms wide and the heads of the three hounds exploded, splattering blood all over Mallory’s face and the front of her frock, their lifeless bodies falling to the ground. Michael fell on his knees, unable to understand what had just happened, when Mallory found her voice again in a blood curdling scream. Michael scrambled towards the girl and took her in his arms, trying to wipe away the blood and tears from her cheeks “Mallory! Mallory! Are you alright?”. She looked at him with an unreadable expression on her face that seemed equal parts confusion, fear and gratitude “my ankle… I twisted my ankle”, she said in a weak voice burying her face on his heaving chest.
“What the Devil is going on here?”, it was the tenant herself standing before them, and Lady Mead had a look in her eyes that was not unlike the fury her hounds had in theirs, “My dogs… what the hell have you done with my dogs?”. “Madam, I am sorry… I didn’t mean to… but… I don’t know what happened… I…”, Michael began, but how could he explain what had just happened. He wasn’t even sure he understood it, himself. The lady looked at the decapitated carcasses of what had been her three proudest dogs, her eyes seemed to apprehend the fact that there were no severed heads to be found anywhere and finally fell on the blood splattered crying girl in Michael’s arms. And a strange kind of disbelieving understanding showed on her features.
She approached the two of them and touched the hair on the back of Michael’s head almost gently, pushing it to the side and taking a close look behind his ear. Whatever she saw there made her green sparkly eyes widen, and she took a step back, taking her hand to her mouth. Michael had already resigned to whatever punishment the lady might have in store for him. Whatever he had done, he wasn’t sorry. Mallory was safe and that was all that mattered. He was surprised when the lady spoke again, her voice affectionate, like a sweet grandmother “Let us go inside the house now, children, we’ll get you cleaned up and fed… I can hardly send you back to Miss Cordelia in this condition!”, she looked at Michael and her eyes seemed almost reverent, “Can you help your friend, boy? Her ankle needs tending… it’s swelling as we speak.”
Lady Mead turned towards the house, and Michael and Mallory looked at each other. There was a deep understanding between them, where words weren’t even necessary. After a silent debate that lasted mere seconds, they agreed that they had no choice but to follow the lady into the house, as she had said. They had been caught trespassing, and had somehow murdered three of her prized dogs. Out of place as her kindness towards them seemed, they were at her mercy. Michael got to his feet and helped a limping Mallory slowly towards the big house to face whatever fate awaited them.
The problem with children is that they grow. And everything that was once pure and innocent is lost to the corrupted cynicism that becomes necessary for survival in adulthood. Misty Day was obviously the first to notice the changes to come, and was quick to transfer Mallory to one of the larger bedrooms that would be shared by the other girls of her age, the new students. Like Miss Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt, a young witch from a noble family, who would soon become like a sister to Mallory.
The moment things started to change could almost be pinpointed to that first afternoon they spent in Thrushcross Grange, in the company of Lady Miriam Mead. Much to their surprise the lady offered them a kind welcome to her house, and took care of the two of them in a loving manner. Michael was visibly moved by the novelty feeling of having an adult taking care of him for the first time, but Mallory simply couldn’t make herself trust the lady. If anything her kindness seemed even more suspicious considering what they had done to her dogs just moments before.
While Mallory did her best to remove blood stains from herself, with a rag soaked in warm water that was given to her by Lady Mead, the mistress of the house said she wanted to have a word alone with Michael. After another quick silent debate with his best friend, that happened in the space of an exchanged glance, Michael told the lady he kept no secrets from Mallory. Whatever she had to say to him could be said in the girl’s presence. The connection they shared was so obvious to Lady Mead now that she was sitting in front of them, she immediately understood that there was no point in speaking to the boy in private, anyway.
She told them that Michael was special. He had magic in him, extremely powerful magic. In his heart, Michael felt it was true, but he couldn’t understand why Miss Cordelia, or Myrtle Snow, would have withheld this information from him. If he was so powerful, like the lady was saying, it was simply not possible that the witches didn’t know. Lady Mead explained that warlocks were considered a lesser class of magic practitioners by the witches. It wasn’t unusual for them to keep a boy like Michael from receiving warlock training by making him a servant.
On the other hand she, Miriam Mead, could help him awaken and develop his powers. She told him to place his right hand over Mallory’s ankle and try to heal it. Michael did as the lady told, but nothing happened. Whatever magic he had, he still had no control over it. He couldn’t find in himself the healing powers to help Mallory. An ice-cold glint appeared in the lady’s green eyes when he said he couldn’t perform healing magic, and the grin that came with it sent a shiver down Mallory’s spine. She reached out a hand, and healed her ankle herself, with relative ease, and reminded Michael that they should be returning to the Heights before nightfall.
They made most of their way back in silence. Michael was lost in his own thoughts, while Mallory’s heart was cold with a fear she couldn’t yet name. “You are not, are you? Accepting her offer?”, Mallory asked hesitantly, afraid to look into his eyes and see that his decision had already been made. “Mallory, you’re such a dedicated student… always willing to learn more and improve yourself. And yet, you don’t think I should work to develop my powers, if I have any?”, he looked at her and she saw the honesty of this question in his blue gaze, and how much he feared a negative answer from her. He could take it from anyone else, but not from Mallory.
“Of course I do, Michael! Your powers saved my life today! I just… I don’t trust that woman.”, she lightly shook her head and shrugged, a gesture that made her look like the little girl he had met five years before, and Michael had to repress the urge to take her in his arms again, hold her against his own chest, and tell her everything was going to be alright. He kept looking at his feet as he walked, deep in thought.
Michael knew Mallory was going to be the Coven’s Supreme one day. He didn’t think, he didn’t believe… he knew. He didn’t need to be told. It was certain as the sky above their heads and the earth beneath their feet. And where would he be when that happened? He wouldn’t even be her butler, her guardian, the head of the staff. That job would probably belong to Kyle Spencer by then. Michael would only be good to shine her boots, if that much. It would be degrading for the Supreme to be associated with someone like Michael.
Mallory was the only person that had ever truly cared about him in his entire life. And the only one he had ever cared about, too. The idea of not being good enough for her was simply intolerable. “You don’t need to trust her, Mallory, you just need to trust me. I’ll learn whatever I can from her,be the best warlock I can… but at the end of the day, I’m still going to be the same Michael.”, he held her hand in a reassuring gesture, and it almost brought peace to her heart again. But it didn’t change the fact that for the next five years, Michael would be spending most of his free time in Thrushcross Grange, taking lessons from that mysterious woman.
Mallory, in her turn, became the most brilliant student the Coven had ever seen. The most dedicated, the most enthusiastic… not to mention her natural talent. And in Michael’s absence, she learned to get along with other young witches like herself, and found out what it was like to have sisters. But none of them could ever occupy the place in her heart that belonged to Michael.
No one could tell for sure when it was that the nature of their affection for each other changed, not even Mallory and Michael themselves. It happened naturally, as part of the process of growing up. Suddenly being in each other’s company was no longer enough, they needed physical touch to feel anchored together. And then those touches were craved for more than just reassurance, they were born from the desire for one another.
And the two of them started a subtle dance of stolen glances and furtive smiles, in front of everyone else. The lingering brush of their hands as they walked past each other, with their fingers delicately entangled for the briefest moment, their cheeks blushing at the same time for the shared touch, identical smiles on their lips. The way Mallory searched for Michael’s approving eyes when he was around and she did something remarkably prodigious. The widest grin lighting up his face in response, that made his blue eyes sparkle with pure joy. The little presents he left where she could find. When Mallory would get caught up studying after hours in the library and missed a meal, he’d leave an apple, or some other fruit for her. On any given day, it wasn’t uncommon for Mallory to find her favourite flowers, freshly picked, in the most unusual places. And the secret kisses, in every opportunity, in all the secluded corners of the Manor, that felt like the very air they breathed came from each other’s lips.
Coco kept talking about the special gift Mallory could give Michael someday, but Mallory hated it when her Coco spoke in those terms. The idea that she would give something away to him, gave her the impression that she was about to lose something. And Mallory felt the opposite, she only had to gain by being intimate with Michael. After all, he would be giving it to her as well. It was a treasure they would be sharing. Nothing to lose. A lot to gain. And Mallory knew exactly when she wanted it to happen: on the day between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, Beltane, the fertility Sabbat.
Mallory wanted to give herself entirely to the man she loved the way the witches had done since the days of Avalon, as the Maiden Goddess being blessed by the seed of the Sacred King. It was as much an initiation ritual as it was an act of love. The Great Rite was a too ancient of a ritual, and too sacred, to be practiced inside temples built by men. She had seen Zoe and Kyle disappearing into the dark night, after the Maypole dance, on Beltane in other years. Leaving everyone else still celebrating life around the bonfire, they would be sheltered by the trees, performing one of the only kinds of magic you didn’t have to be a trained witch to perform.
Michael had built their own smaller bonfire and Mallory had made a circle around them in the clearing, by running a stick to the earth. She drew the proper symbols with the stick as well, and said the ritual words. They were just standing in front of each other, almost unable to breath, their hearts drumming in their own ears. They both wore the traditional flower crowns and white robes. Michael thought Mallory had never looked more beautiful, she was the Maiden Goddess herself. His sacred bride. It was like looking at the most precious jewel, he wanted to touch her with every fibre of his being, but he hesitated, afraid to cause any damage.
Michael had a powerful air of authority about him now, he looked positively regal. Mallory looked at the full moon above them when she heard the first notes of the music that was being played in the distance, asking the Goddess for her blessing. When she looked back at the blue eyes she loved more than anything else in the world, Michael read that love in her eyes and closed the small distance between them. Pulling her close by the waist, he kissed her like it was the first and the last time. Mallory responded with enthusiasm, her delicate fingers entangling in the golden curls of his hair.
Before they even knew what they were doing, they had already freed each other from the white robes. Michael’s lips found the soft flesh of her breasts, and he felt like he could just stay there forever. Their fingers were eager to explore the smooth uncovered skin, and they worshipped each other’s bodies with their lips. Mallory had never seen Michael, or any other man for that matter, naked before. She asked herself why people made such a taboo out of nudity. It was the most magnificent thing she had ever laid her eyes on. The real shame was that he would have to cover himself, on a daily basis.
Michael stopped for a moment, his hand on his beloved girl’s face, his lips slightly parted in wonder. Looking into Mallory’s eyes, he could see the stars reflected in that golden brown that made his heart sing. Mallory saw the light of the bonfire dancing in his blue eyes, and felt like her own body was being consumed by those flames. One hand on the back of his neck, she pulled him for another kiss and they slowly sank to the ground together. Mallory was lying on her back, with Michael on top of her, between her legs. He aligned himself to her entrance and looked at the face of the Maiden Goddess beneath his.
“I am the altar”, her gentle voice was firm with the power the Goddess gave her, but the sweet hand that touched his face was still the hand of his adored girl. “And I am the sacrifice”, he whispered entering her, a deep whimper escaping his lips. She didn’t feel any pain as he moved inside her, only pleasure. The sense of being whole for the first time in her life, of being exactly where she belonged. For Michael it felt like coming home, a home he didn’t even know he longed for. He lost himself to the rocking of her hips following his, the sweet moans she poured in his ears, as they danced the oldest of dances together, moving as one.
And in that moment they really were one. He was inside her and part of her at the same time, Michael couldn’t tell where he ended and she began. Mallory was him, as much as himself, but looking at her he could still marvel at the Goddess in her. Michael was her best friend, her brother, her lover, her other half… herself. As much the little boy she had met as a child, as a mighty king, or a god. As the pleasure was building up in the part of their bodies that was still just human, they started to move faster and harder, chasing their climax.
The sounds that left his throat were getting louder and more desperate, as her fingernails dug deeper in the soft skin of his back. When she came undone beneath his body, moaning softly with her eyes closed, her body arching in pleasure against his, he couldn’t hold himself any longer and spilled his seed deep inside her, with a groan. They remained there for a long time afterwards, shaking and catching their breaths. Tears were leaving their eyes, even though their hearts felt like they could burst with joy, and they shared passionate kisses, between alternated giggles and sobs.
That was the eve of Mayday 1790, probably the last perfectly blissful night before the Summer that changed everything. The Summer that would hit the entire Coven like a hurricane and leave no stone unturned, no life unsoiled. That night was the calm before the storm, and it was as perfect as the storm would be terrible.
I think it’s important that I make it clear that whatever mention to witches’ Lore in this chapter comes from the fact that I spent a good portion of my teenage years reading Marion Zimmer-Bradley’s books. They’re not really the product of a deep study of the history of witchcraft in Britain. (Any discrepancies are probably due to my own bad memory, they’re not from Ms. Zimmer-Bradley’s work, though.)
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
I know it’s been 84 years, guys... y’know, life happens. I hope someone is still interested in this story... I’m still as excited to tell it as I was all those months ago!! =)
Lady Fiona had returned to the Heights in time to celebrate Beltane that year, and it was very unusual for the Supreme to grace the Coven with her presence for one of the Sabbats. Most Covens would count their Supreme as a sort of mother figure to all the other witches, a nurturing and guiding presence. But that was not the case with Lady Fiona. She brought an overwhelming sense of uneasiness with herself. The entire Coven seemed nervous, and even a little jumpy, whenever the Supreme was in the Manor.
But Lady Fiona’s presence wasn’t the only source of uneasiness in that Summer, far from it. Zoe and Madison had always had a complicated relationship, equal parts “sisterly love” and “sibling rivalry”. But one thing was undeniable: the girls were very close. Even though there were times when what seemed to keep them together was mutual hatred, Zoe felt Madison’s absence more than anyone else, when the latter disappeared by late Spring. Most of the other witches were convinced Madison had run away on a whim, probably eloped with her most recent lover, whoever that might be. But Zoe could smell a rat from the start, and she wasn’t going to rest until she found Madison’s whereabouts.
By the time Summer was fully upon the land, the only two people in the Manor who were not sharing the sense of uneasiness, caused both by Lady Fiona’s presence and Madison’s disappearance, were Mallory and Michael. But that’s not the only thing they were oblivious of. The Beltane rites were not just an initiation ritual for the witches, it also gave the Goddess’s Consort full ruling power over the land, as the Sacred King. Which meant Michael’s powers only grew since the Sabbat. Not that any of the two young lovers would care, or even notice. They were simply too distracted by their own feelings, and their newly found physical intimacy, to care about anything but each other. But one person did realise the shift in the power balance that was happening in the Coven, and that person was Lady Meade.
She could tell Michael was becoming more powerful with each passing day, on every training session. Not only his abilities were growing, but the boy seemed more capable of controlling them. He was getting more comfortable in his own skin, owning everything he could be and everything he could do. He was starting to not feel so unworthy of Mallory anymore. He could finally begin to consider himself her equal. And the more intense Lady Mead’s lessons became, more eager he was to learn.
It became clear that something about that Summer was simply not right, when Lady Fiona died unexpectedly and apparently of natural causes. The Supreme had been gravely ill for some time when it happened, but for some reason she had kept it a secret from the entire Coven, including her own daughter. Cordelia was forced to put her own grief aside to take care of the Coven she was now responsible for, since Lady Fiona had died without announcing her successor. Nobody knew who the next Supreme was supposed to be.
Nobody but Michael. He was just surprised that no one else seemed to have noticed something that, to him, felt so obvious. Or the even more obvious connection between the sudden death of the Supreme, and the fact that for the first time in centuries the Coven had been left without proper leadership. But while Cordelia, Myrtle and Misty were busy trying to get the Coven prepared for the trials of the Seven Wonders, that would point them in the direction of the Next Supreme, Zoe Benson seemed lost in her own world, trying to find whatever she could about Madison’s disappearance. It became clear for Michael that what Zoe had been investigating was simply another thread closely entwined on the web of mystery that covered the Manor that Summer.
With Mallory as the intermediary agent, Michael used his own powers to help Zoe find Madison. For everyone’s horror the young witch’s body had been in Spalding’s room all this time, hidden among a most unsettling collection of porcelain dolls. Madison Montgomery’s corpse was grotesquely dressed in a doll’s frock. Her hollowed cheeks, already in stage of decay, were painted in rouge, in a horrendous imitation of life-like blush. Both Michael and Kyle were merciless in carrying their former mentor downstairs to be interrogated by the Coven’s impromptu leading counsil.
It took more than Miss Cordelia’s gentle persuasion to make Spalding confess for all his sins. They had to use the combined magic of Zoe and Mallory, as well as of Michael himself, to loosen the man’s tongue. But in the end, the quivering ruin of a man admitted that he had known about Lady Fiona’s illness, and her dread to be overrun by a younger witch. It has been said, since the dawn of times, that when a new Supreme starts to flower, the old Supreme begins to fade. Fiona saw too much of herself in Madison, she was convinced the girl was to be the Next Supreme. Lady Fiona’s plan was to restore her own strength by getting rid of the threat of replacement, and she had Spalding’s aid to get it done. He had accepted as much for his undying love for the Supreme, as for the promise that Madison’s discarded body would be his to do as he willed.
The Coven stood in petrified horror as Spalding shared his dark tale, but no one was more horrified than Michael. Spalding and Fiona had destroyed Madison’s life for assuming she would be the next Supreme, what would they have done to his sweet Mallory if they knew what he knew? He didn’t assume anything, he knew she was the Next Supreme. Michael felt the cold embrace of the purest fear at the thought of seeing Mallory in Madison’s place, that sent shivers down his spine and all the way to his fingertips. Before he had time to process what he was feeling, his entire body was shaking, but with blind rage. And his enemy was standing right there in that room, held down by Kyle Spencer’s iron-grip, and showing absolutely no remorse.
With one wave of Michael’s hand, Spalding was free from Kyle’s grasp, and thrown across the room, colliding violently against the wall. The strain of using his powers was obvious to anyone who would look at Michael in that moment. But to Mallory the most surprising thing about it was that it seemed a lot less like an effort than it had the last time she had seen it, during the incident with Lady Mead’s dogs. Michael held Spalding against the wall from distance, slowly raising his hand and lifting the man’s feet from the ground.
In her terror, Mallory couldn’t stop asking herself what the contents of Lady Mead’s so-called lessons had been. While with a delicate movement of his index finger, Michael sent Spalding’s body up the wall, hitting the man’s head agains the ceiling with a sickening smashing sound, Mallory was still trying to understand when it was that her sweet lover had become so cold and cruel… and so frighteningly efficient at it.
Michael’s mind, however, was focused on something else. Because, even though Spalding hadn’t said a word after he finished his dark tale concerning the fate of Madison Montgomery, he was speaking loud and clear in thoughts that Michael could hear. Spalding read Michael’s explosion of anger correctly, he knew the boy would stop at nothing to keep his precious Mallory safe. Spalding’s eyes fell on Mallory’s terrified face for a second and Michael felt a shiver down his own spine at the knowing expression in the older man’s features. “So this is the Next Supreme…”, Spalding was thinking turning his attention back to Michael, “… your bonnie lass, of all people!”, the man laughed showing teeth smeared with the blood that had been dripping from his nose, and Michael couldn’t take it anymore. With a flick of his fingers Spalding’s neck snapped broken and his limp, lifeless body fell to the floor.
The Silence the followed was deafening.
“What the Hell are you all staring at?”, it was Lady Mead’s voice what broke it, “somebody has to clean this mess before the ghost of this wretched man appears… you know what to do, son”, she added with a nod to Michael. Still shaking with the aftermath of murder, feeling red hot tears stinging his eyes, Michael took a deep breath to steady himself and snapped his fingers. Spalding’s body was immediately consumed by a strange heatless fire and disappeared. “It’s done.”, Michael said in a low, firm, voice to everyone and no one in particular.
It was Cordelia who had the presence of mind to speak among the chaos. And it was Lady Mead she spoke to, asking the older woman what she was doing in the Manor, and why at that precise moment. Lady Mead calmly replied that Cordelia knew very well why she was there. She had come for the boy. Cordelia spoke to the lady in sharp tones that were most unusual for someone so mild mannered as she was. Cordelia said she would sooner take her own life and put an end to the entire Coven by her own hands, if she was not able to protect Michael from the evil influence of the She-Devil in front of her. “You will vacate the Grange immediately. You will leave the grounds tonight, and in the morning I don’t want to find any trace that you were ever there.”
Michael wanted to confront Cordelia for the way she was treating his mentor, the only person who has ever seen true potential in him, and worked hard to teach him everything she could. But one look into Mallory’s eyes and his protests died in his throat. His Bonnie Lass, as Spalding had referred to her, was livid with terror looking at Michael with her eyes wide in fear and pleading, her tears begged him to tell her that things were not as they seemed, that he was not this devilish creature she had in front of her. Capable of killing with such cold-hearted power and ease, showing no remorse.
For Mallory, more than anything else, to take the look of fear from those beloved eyes, he would not stand up for Lady Mead while she was being cast away from the Grounds. He wanted to put Mallory’s heart at ease when he agreed to wait alone in one of the students’ dormitories, while the impromptu counsil would get together to decide what was to be done next. With the Coven. With the next Supreme. With Kyle as “the new Spalding”. With the crimes that had been committed by those who were no longer alive to answer for them. And with Michael. How does one solve a problem like Michael?
Cordelia made it clear that for reasons that should remain secret, Michael needed to be eliminated. The people involved in the hideous murder of Madison Montgomery were already dead, and Zoe wanted to discuss the possibility of bringing her friend back with the help of Misty Day. But Michael was too powerful and too unpredictable to stay in the Coven. And whatever his grandmother had told Fiona, and Fiona told Cordelia, simply meant it was not safe to let the boy go out in the world, either. Specially not under the care of someone like Lady Mead.
It broke Misty’s heart to think about Mallory and how she would feel when she learned about the Coven’s decision. Misty was the closest witness to the blossoming of their love, and she felt particularly miserable thinking about the star-crossed lovers. Because Misty knew that the true nature of her relationship with Miss Cordelia would be frowned upon in the Coven, since the very notion of the existence of such feelings had been all but prohibited by Lady Fiona. She knew what it was like to love someone everyone around you thinks you shouldn’t. But she couldn’t imagine how Mallory would feel when facing the imminent destruction of her beloved one, and by the hands of her so-called sisters.
Misty excused herself from Zoe, promising the younger witch that they would discuss the plans to bring Madison back on the next day, after the Michael Problem had been solved. She went straight to where she knew Mallory could be found: the old room they shared when Mallory first arrived at the manor, the one where they received Michael’s nightly visits, more often than not. All things combined, made her realise that the most appropriated person to communicate the Council’s decision to Mallory was Misty herself.
Mallory was on the window-sit, looking at the Manor’s grounds and seemed lost in thought. When she looked at Misty there was no hope in those beautiful, wide eyes. But no desperation either. Mallory knew what the sentence was before Misty’d said anything. But she knew there was something more to Cordelia’s decision, something no one would tell Mallory, of course. Misty dealt with the situation the only way she knew how, opening her own arms wide, and offering Mallory some kind of consolation. Mallory’s composed face broke, and she threw herself into Misty’s arms, crying copiously.
“I failed him, Misty… I should have told him what I really thought of Lady Mead and her relationship with him… now he’s lost. He’s lost and it’s all my fault!!”
“You can’t possibly mean that… what he did was atrocious, and he must answer for that.”
“But he did answer! Whatever atrocity he might have done was in answer to their atrocious acts…”
“Those matters should be taken to the Coven, my dear, not dealt with in one’s own hands…”
“So whatever the Coven says, it’s the final word…”
“Don’t you trust you Coven, Mal? Your family? Your sisters?”
“I love the Coven! I love the grounds around the manor, and the air over this building and everything it touches, every life it changes, and every word that is said here…”
“So there you have it! What about your feelings towards Michael?”
“My love for the Coven is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Michael resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Misty, I am Michael! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being. So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable. He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
But Misty knew separation was precisely what fate had in store for Mallory and Michael. Maybe not the abrupt separation of death, but he would have to leave if he wanted to survive. But what could possibly make him leave the Manor, when even the threat of imminent death wasn’t enough to persuade Michael to leave his beloved girl behind. The answer, Misty though, seemed to be the crying girl in front of her. Mallory would have to tell him to leave, but that wouldn’t be enough, he’d want to stay with her for as long as he could. Unless he was convinced she didn’t love him. Mallory would have to lie to Michael. To save him.
Misty shared her plan with Mallory, the young witch understood immediately that it was her only chance to keep Michael alive. She listened with wide-eyed interest, but Misty thought she could almost hear the hollow sound of the girl’s heart breaking. And soon it would be Michael’s. Those two hearts that now were beating as one would be shattered to pieces on the same night. Getting inside the room where Michael was spending the night was the easy part. It wouldn’t take much more than a simple Concilium spell to convince Kyle Spencer to let her in. The part that made Mallory’s blood freeze in her veins came after she had crossed the treshold.
The man she found inside the room was simply her Michael as she’d always known him, not the murderous monster she had expected. He ran to her with a sigh of relief and held her in a loving embrace. That only made everything even more difficult. Mallory wished she could stop time, so that they could hold each other and stay safe together forever. She buried her nose on the curve of his neck and inhaled deeply, the sweet and earthy scent of the man she loved, and it almost ruined her resolve completely. She couldn’t imagine her life without him, but if she didn’t do what she had to, she’d be forced to live in a world where he was not even alive. That thought gave her perspective of the importance of what she was doing there, and the strength to go on.
“Im sorry, I’m so sorry I lost control!”, he whispered urgently in her ear, “I was just so terrified when I thought their next victim could be you”, he added between quick kisses, “I just wanted to protect you, I meant no harm to the Coven, I’m not dangerous… You ought to make them see that!!”, he looked deep into her eyes at that point, holding both her hands in his. Mallory believed him, his words spoke directly to her heart, but she knew it wouldn’t suffice for Miss Cordelia and the Coven. It took every inch of Mallory’s will to keep her own voice steady when she added in an ice-cold tone “It’s too late, Michael”.
She couldn’t stop now, she had to say everything she had agreed to with Misty. She kept telling herself it was the only way to save him, “You don’t belong here, you never have…”, she wanted to fall on her knees and beg him to forget those words, but she kept going, “… all the time you’ve spent training with Lady Mead was proof of that. You should leave with her, tonight. This was never your home”. Michael still tried to reason with her, through the veil of sadness that had fallen between them “The Coven might not have been my home, but you were. You are the only home I know, the only home I’ll ever need! Mallory, I…”.
But she cut him off “you cannot be taking promises made by children seriously…”
“Mallory, we are not children anymore…”, this conversation was making less sense to Michael by the minute.
“I needed your powers”, she had to turn away so he couldn’t see the pain on her face, “I needed you for the sacred rites…”
“We have been together outside the rites!!”, his heartbreak was growing into desperation now, “we have loved each other as man and woman, not just as the Goddess and her Consort…”
“Loved? That is a strong word!”, his own pain kept Michael from seeing how much it cost Mallory to say those words, “I said what I had to say to get you where I needed you… and you believed whatever you wanted to believe.”, part of her wished Michael could see through her lies and make her stop talking, but she knew there was no other way. “But now it’s dangerous for me to be associated with you…”, she gave a short and bitter chuckle, “it was already degrading before, but you had to go and make it worse…”, Mallory could hear Michael’s sobs and all she wanted to do was hold him in her arms and beg for his forgiveness, kiss him and tell him everything was going to be alright again, but she couldn’t, “… which is why you must leave tonight, with Lady Mead.”, she left the room before she’d lose her resolve, and throw herself at his feet and begged him to stay. And Michael would never be able to see, blinded by his own misery, how much her heartbreak and despair mirrored his.
Misty found Mallory later that night, she went back to the bedroom they had shared. Mallory was by the window, silente tears streaming down her face from those beautiful eyes, while she saw the love of her life disappearing into the night. She accepted the comfort of the arms Misty offered her, collapsing against the older witch’s body crying the pain out. “How can I live without my life, Misty? How can I love without my soul?”