The Cotswolds Witches

PART ONE
By: Steve Carr

Trail Matthews was pulled by the arm from the back seat of the black hearse by the driver of the hearse, a very large man with a misshapened bald head and beady black eyes. The driver pushed Trail to the mat in front of a cobalt blue door that had a brass knocker in the shape of a five-pointed star affixed to its center. The house was large and built of Cotswold stone. The driver placed Trail's small suitcase next to him on the mat. "Stay there until your granny opens the door," the man said gruffly. He then pounded the knocker against the door with his ham-sized fist three times, then rushed to the hearse and drove off, leaving a cloud of dust hanging in the dirt driveway from the spinning tires that squealed like a dozen frightened cats as the vehicle left the property.

Trail brushed driveway dirt from his jacket and shorts and stared at the brass knocker as he waited for the door to open. He had never met his Granny Matthews, but he had been assured by the nuns at the orphanage that she would treat him very well. This would be his first real home and he was excited, but nervous.

When the door opened, its hinges squeaked. The misty air that rushed out was scented with sweet and savory spices. When the mist cleared, a beautiful young woman with porcelain-smooth skin and flowing hair the color of honey that reached down to her hips and was adorned with live butterflies, stood in the doorway. She peered down at him with gleaming, green almond-shaped eyes beneath long curled eyelashes.

"What a fine-looking lad you are," she said.

"I'm Trail Matthews," he said. "Thank you for taking me in. I've never had a real home. The ones who were going to adopt me complained that I had peculiar ways."

"Peculiar ways is a trait in our family," she said. "Well lad, we can discuss your peculiar ways another time." She patted on the top of his head. "You must be worn out after that long trip all the way from America. Come in."

She stepped aside as he picked up his suitcase and walked into the house. Inside, standing in a large room, a balmy breeze circulated about despite a large fireplace where a fire roared, birdsong filled the air, and the gurgling of a forest stream rose up from the floorboards under his feet.

She closed the door, came up behind him and clapped her hands. Instantly the fire was gone and the room was quiet. He whirled about and stared up at his granny. "How did you do that?"

"Do what?" she said innocently. "Would you like some tea?" she said, gazing into his young face as if actually seeing him for the first time. "Oh you're still just a lamb, aren't you my pet? My teas are much too potent for one as young as you. Perhaps, a glass of milk for you then?"

"Yes, please," he said still gazing at her face, confused that his grandmother looked so much younger than most grandmothers he had seen or read about.

"Dreadsmore," she called out.

Trail turned as the large sliding doors at the far end of the room separated. The tallest man he had ever seen – at least ten foot tall – stood in between the doors holding a tray in one hand. "Tea for madam and milk for the lad, just as madam requested," He said. "I took the liberty of adding a plate of biscuits, for the boy," he added.

"Perfect," she said. "We'll have our afternoon tea and milk in the solarium."

"As you wish," he said, and then turned and disappeared in a swirling fog.

"How did he know I was going to have milk?" he said.

"Dreadsmore knows most things even before I do."

"Is he your husband, my grandfather?" Trail asked, his mouth still agape from seeing Dreadsmore's height.

She chortled softly. "No, dear, that is my manservant. "Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, you don't have a grandfather. You are the only surviving male member of the Matthews clan." She reached down and took his suitcase from his hand and then took his hand in hers and led him out of the room and down a long hallway into a room surrounded on three sides by glass. Amid large potted ferns, different ivies, orchids, bluebells, and purple iris sat two chairs and a round table upon which was his glass of milk and a teapot and cup.

"Have a seat, my pet," she said cooingly, waving her hand toward the table.

He then noticed she no longer had his suitcase. "Where's my suitcase?" he stammered.

"Dreadsmore has taken it to your bedroom, my pet."

"That's impossible, you just…"

"Nothing is impossible."

As they sat at the table, Trail saw the plate of biscuits. "Cookies!" he said with delight.

"Here we call them biscuits, but those are very special ones…"

"They don't look that special" he said as he reached out and snatched one and quickly bit into it.

"Aren't you the cheeky little one?" she said. "Have your biscuits, and then it's off to bed for you for a well-deserved nap."

"I'm not sleepy," he said, yawning, before resting his head on the table and falling into a deep sleep.

#

Trail stood at his bedroom window looking out over the verdant fields that stretched on for a great distance beyond his granny's house before ending at the borders of a heavily wooded area. Unlike the rest of the landscape bathed in afternoon sunlight, the woods were dark as midnight. When the door behind him opened he didn't hear it or notice.

"The young master has awoken."

Startled, Trail whirled about and saw Dreadsmore standing a few feet inside the room. The manservant was grinning broadly, the top of his head only an inch from the ceiling. "You scared me," Trail stuttered.

"There are many things that should frighten you, but I'm not one of them," Dreadsmore said. "Your grandmother has gone out and asked me to see that you had lunch and was shown the rest of the house. "Your lunch is there on the table."

Trail looked over to the small round table Dreadsmore was pointing at. On it was a plate with a sandwich and a glass of milk. "How did that food get there?" he said, astonished.

"Your grandmother warned me that you were woefully unschooled in the art of magic," Dreadsmore said. "That will have to be remedied."

Trail sat at the table and ate the sandwich and drank the milk as Dreadsmore stood over him, his arms crossed. Trail prattled on non-stop about the flight from Colorado to England, and then in great detail about the long ride from the airport in the back seat of the hearse. "The driver wasn't very friendly," he said, at last.

"Being turned from a fairy to a human makes some of them very surly," Dreadsmore said.

Trail laughed heartily. "That's a good one Deadsmore," he said. "That guy a fairy!"

"Dreadsmore," the manservant said, correcting the boy.

#

In the afternoon, Trail left the house unseen and wandered across the field toward the woods. As he got closer to the trees the air cooled and all birdsong from the fields silenced. Growing up in the orphanage he had only been allowed to see woods and forests from a distance, never allowed by the nuns to explore them. From many yards away the aroma of tree bark and the scent of dankness wafted out of the woods, luring him on, enticing him. As he stepped into the woods, twigs, brambles and dead leaves crunched beneath his shoes. It was dark as night inside the woods and as quiet as sleep. He had gone less than a quarter of a mile when he found himself standing in a clearing encircled by dead trees whose branches stretched out into the clearing like grasping, arthritic fingers.

It was the shimmering of light cast from the eyes of the fairies hiding in the bramble among the trees that caught his attention first, and then as pixies and elves stepped or flew into the clearing, followed by the fairies, he stood perfectly still, awestruck, as he reminded himself, he was wide awake and that it wasn't a dream.

The fae and magical folk who stood around him gazed at him fearfully. At last, an elf with long pointed ears and glittering wings stepped up to him.

"You're the descendant of Queen Portia, are you not?" the elf said.

"Who is Queen Portia?" Trail said.

The fae and others murmured among themselves.

The elf studied Trail's face and looked into his eyes. "You do not know, do you?"

"Know what?"

"The one who is your grandmother is also Portia, the Queen of the Cotswold witches."

"Witches!" Trail replied, astonished. "I thought witches and creatures like you didn't really exist, but here you are…" He glanced around at the others. "Why do you all seem so afraid of me?"

"Queen Portia is a very evil witch," the elf said. "She and the other Cotswold witches won't stop until they have turned all of us who live in these woods into your kind, twisted in mind, body and spirit, doomed to live lives of servitude at the commands and whims of the witches."

Trail glanced back towards the direction of his grandmother's house. "Dreadsmore?" he said.

"The most dangerous of all who have been captured and transformed. He was once the best friend to the king of he fairies. I, Lothor, am now the leader of the fae, but we have no king or queen. You are our last hope."

"I'm only a boy," Trail said.

#

At supper, Trail sat at one end of a long table and his granny sat at the other end. "We Matthews have lived here in Coln St. Dennis for many, many generations," she said, her face half hidden by large candles with dancing flames. "It has taken years for us to locate you since your mother ran away while she was pregnant with you, but now that you're here we will be able to finally claim the Cotswolds as ours alone."

"I don't understand." he said.

"You will in due time," she said. "Now eat your shepherd's pie, my pet. It was especially made just for you with the finest herbs from my garden."

After supper, granny took Trail by the hand and led him from the dining room as Dreadsmore waved his hand, clearing the table. Her gauzy floor-length black dress floated and swirled about her as if being blown by invisible breezes. Her hair coiled and uncoiled like writhing snakes that hung from her head, winding their way around her body.

Mesmerized, pulled along like a kite on a string, Trail followed along.

In a large room with pillars of Cotswold stone and a large pentagram painted in red on the floor, she sat him down in the middle of it. She then clapped her hands, bringing flames to the candles in the sconces that lined the walls. From out of the shadows, twelve women, similar to Granny Matthews in how they wore their hair and how they dressed, floated into the room and placed glass jars with lids punctured with holes on the floor around him. They joined hands with Granny Matthews, forming a circle around him.

"Help us," the elves, fairies and pixies inside the jars yelled as they beat their hands against the glass.

Trail recognized some of those in the jars, including the fairy, Lothor. As if glued to the spot where he sat and bound with an invisible rope, he was unable to move. He tried to speak, to scream out, but he couldn't make his tongue or lips move. When the witches began to dance about the room, while chanting unintelligible words in unison, he passed out.

#

The next morning Trail awoke in his bed, turned his head and saw sunlight streaming through the open window. He sat bolt upright as he tried to recall what had happened after supper and the remainder of the night before. A chill went up his spine when a brief glimpse of a fairy inside a glass jar begging to be let out flashed through his brain. He jumped out of bed, put on his clothes, and left his room.

Dreadsmore was standing at the top of the stairs at the end of the upstairs hallway. "The young master is up early this morning," he said.

"What is this place?" Trail screamed.

"It's your new home," Dreadsmore said, adding, "one of the finest in all of the Cotswolds."

"What happened to me last night?" the boy shouted.

"Happened?"

Granny Matthews came out of her bedroom situated across from Trail's, "I hope there's a good excuse for all of his ruckus." she growled.

"The young master has questions," Dreadsmore said.

"You're putting stuff in my food," he said, angrily, glaring at his grandmother.

She looked at Trail and scowled. "I believe you may have inherited your mother's erratic temperament," she said.

"Who was my mother…and my father?" Trail said in a demanding tone.

"She would have been a queen one day and he was nothing more than a fairy. They dared to secretly marry in the woods. When I had him put to death …"

"You killed my father?" he said, his voice shaking.

"His life was meaningless," she said. "You have been given the Matthews name, a name with power here in the Cotswolds."

"I don't want your name," Trail screamed.

"Put him in a jar until he realizes how lucky he is to have been rescued from that orphanage," she said to Dreadsmore.

"Right away," Dreadsmore said and clapped his hands.

Trail instantly found himself sitting in a large jar on the stone floor of a small dark room. There were air holes poked into the lid on the jar. He heard the sound of fingers scratching on glass coming from nearby. "Who's there?" he called out.

"It is I, Lothor." A nearby jar began to glow with light, illuminating the figure of the fairy king, and then other jars began to glow. Inside them were the elves, fairies and pixies he had seen during the witch's ceremony. "The queen of the witches intends to turn us into chimney sweeps, dog catchers, cooks and housemaids."

Tears began to run down Trail's cheeks. "I don't understand. What have I to do with any of this?"

"I believe down deep you know the answer to that question," Lothor said.

Trail recalled the frequent times that the nuns shut him up in a closet for turning frogs into cats or moving things across the room just by thinking about it and other things they said were "peculiar." Suddenly his jar lit up and the lid on his jar unscrewed. Minutes later he freed the others from their jars.

#

In the middle of the night, the magic folk who had been imprisoned in the jars followed Trail from the basement cellar where they had been held captive, up the stairs to the door leading into the kitchen. As Trail opened it a cloud of spice scents washed over them. In the kitchen large copper pots hung from hooks above wood chopping blocks and two stone fireplaces were ablaze. Kettles of boiling liquid hung above the flames. Shelves stacked with tins and jars lined two walls.

"I believe this is where Dreadsmore spends most of his time," Trail said in a whispered tone.

"How big he is in size now but how small in kindness he has become," Lothor said. "But that is the witch's doing, not his." He turned to the others. "Flee this house now and return to the woods to warn the others that the witches may burn down the woods once they discover we have escaped."

A door leading to outside opened and the others flew out into the darkness, leaving Lothor and Trail standing in the flickering shadows inside the kitchen.

"What now?" Trail said, his knees knocking from fear.

"You are the heir to the throne for both the fae and magic folk and also for the witches," Lothor said. "You must use your powers before the Cotswolds witches gather again."

Trail closed his eyes and saw the woods, the fields, his grandmother's house, and all of Coln St. Dennis. In his mind's eye he saw the clearing in the woods, as Granny Matthews and stood by, and hundreds of fairies, elves and pixies stood in a circle around a bed made of spun dew, lifting their voices in song to mother nature, Trail's mother gave birth to him. His father, Pathways, the King of the Fairies, lifted him in his arms, wrapped him in a blanket of sunshine, and declared his son, Trail, Prince of the Cotswolds.

"How can I kill my own grandmother?" he wondered.

The End

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