Harriet felt sick. It was a loopy kind of sick. If that sounds like a strange description, it is because by this time Harriet had exhausted all other descriptive words in her vocabulary that could possibly be applied to the sensation of nausea. Hence, she was feeling loopily sick. Clinging tightly onto Rupert’s waist, she wished fervently that he wasn’t so skinny, because at least then she’d have the illusion that she was holding something with some stability. As it was, Rupert felt as twiglike as the broomstick she was sitting on. It also didn’t help that he was trembling.
To try and take her mind off the vertigo, Harriet tried to decide which part of the flight had been the worst. She concluded that – as bad as the whole experience had been – it was probably the take-off. Miss Caw had led them up yet another narrow set of stairs (the building seemed to be riddled with them) to a tiny attic room at the back of the house. It didn’t seem to have been put to any specific use in years, containing only a spindly stool and a rickety desk. This was probably because, due to her substantial hips, Miss Caw had trouble enough entering it, let alone using it comfortably. What the room did have, however, was a fairly large window set in the sloping ceiling, which opened wide enough to admit Rupert and Harriet out onto the slated rooftop. They stood quivering in the early morning sunlight, looking over the sprawling eclecticism of Barthane’s roofscape. It was like any small town’s roofscape, only with chimneys more crooked, more tiles missing, and more burglars – those who had stayed slightly too long – slipping hastily out of top-storey windows and scampering away across the houses.
Miss Caw passed the broomstick out to Rupert, who took it nervously. Juggalug took one look at it and hid himself in the pocket of Rupert’s waistcoat. He obviously didn’t feel as though it would be an amiable flying companion.
“Now remember, dears, be firm with it! Just like you would a horse.”
Harriet and Rupert, neither of whom had ever ridden a horse, both nodded obediently. They had slipped over the edge of nervousness into outright terror and were in no position to argue.
“Well, what are you waiting for? He’s getting further and further away every moment you stand there dithering, you know! Mount! Mount!”
They mounted, feeling ridiculous. A fresh wave of fear swept through them when they felt the broomstick wriggling, obviously eager to get away.
“You have to be closer to the edge, m’dears!”
They shuffled furtively forwards.
“Now, dears – jump!”
They didn’t jump. The broomstick, however, did. With a terrific lurch, it actually launched itself off the rooftop, carrying the frozen Rupert and screaming Harriet with it. Rupert clutched the broom with both hands, his arms braced and trembling, knuckles white. Harriet, who had been perilously close to falling backwards off the broom in a flurry of skirts, dived forwards to wrap her arms around Rupert and bury her face into his back.
The broomstick, which seemed to both of its riders the incarnation of evil, began its flight by … not flying. After the initial jump, it shot straight down the side of the house, so that the tips of their shoes were almost brushing the bricks. This was the point at which Harriet decided that she felt heart-wrenchingly sick, and that was only the start of a string of adverbs that would take far too long (and waste far too much paper) to record. Suffice to say that from that moment onward, Harriet felt sick.
Yes, that part had been the worst. But the rest of the flight had not improved much. The broomstick seemed intent on torturing the two of them by any means possible, and at many times during the long, nauseous, terrifying ride, they had been in mortal danger of being thrown off. They certainly had little leisure to enjoy the scenery, although Harriet had the vague impression that the landscape beneath them (although sometimes it was beside her, or above her head, depending on what the broom felt like doing at the time) was growing greener, the fields more fertile, the expanses of woodland less coniferous, the darkness of firs and pines replaced by the stately canopies of oaks and elms. The land flattened out; the mountains dwindled and rounded off to rolling hillside. Towns and villages became more frequent, although these rushed by in a blur of red-slate, thatch, and white walls. Occasionally, Harriet caught a glimpse of a white face gazing up at them as they zoomed (or spiralled, or loop-the-looped, or corkscrewed) past. She wished her face could be white again, because she was positive that it must be thoroughly green whilst airborne.
It was whilst Harriet was still feeling loopily sick (this particular sensation persisted rather a long time), that she realised the broomstick was starting to angle downwards. She wanted to ask Rupert where they were, but there were two important reasons why she did not. 1) she doubted he knew; the broomstick had been steering itself the whole way, and 2) she didn’t want to vomit on his tailcoat. However, her question was at least partly answered a moment later, as the walls of houses suddenly appeared to either side of her, and she felt leaves tickling her legs and feet. They were really quite low, and if the broomstick wasn’t careful – but when had it been? – they were going to head straight into that row of houses in front of themandthentheywerereallygoingtodieohpleasenopleasenononononoooooo...
At the last moment, the broomstick executed a devious little twist, depositing Harriet and Rupert onto the cobbles. As soon as it was free of them, it swept back into the sky, raced along a nearby line of rooftops, dove abruptly and disappeared from sight.
Harriet and Rupert picked themselves up. This took them quite a while, as they spent a good time convalescing on the ground before their heads had stopped spinning enough for them to realise that it was the ground they were lying on. When they finally managed to regain the upright position, their legs felt like jelly. Rupert tried to persuade his to work properly by rubbing them vigorously, but he supposed they had been out of use for so long that they’d gone into a sulk.
“What was the word she used?” he asked hoarsely.
Rupert considered this. “That’s a euphemism if ever I heard one.” He attempted to straighten his (by now very much worse for wear) evening dress. When he gave his waistcoat a tug, there was a squirming inside it. Juggalug’s head appeared. It wobbled.
“He looks like I feel,” said Rupert. “Stay in there if you need to,” he added to the banshee. Juggalug attempted to nod, but this just produced a more pronounced wobble. He sank back out of sight.
“We should be very thankful he didn’t scream.”
Harriet flushed. She did seem to remember that there had been a certain … vocal element to her flight.
Rupert’s bowtie was askew. Harriet thought about pointing this out as a minor revenge, just to embarrass him a little. She didn’t though. For one thing, she didn’t want to be petty. For another, she found it quite endearing.
Besides, Harriet’s own clothes weren’t exactly in top condition. Being generally a very practical person, she had donned a very practical travelling dress when she’d escaped from Winkton Manor. But even an eminently practical travelling dress would not have withstood the type of travelling she had been doing over the past few days. They were not usually designed for scuffling around in the back of carts, scrambling out of top-storey windows, or being fallen onto cobblestones in. Or at least, not for all three. As a result of this design flaw, her dress was coated with a combination of dirt, grass stains, and porridge. There were also several rips in the skirts, through which glimpses of not-quite-white petticoat were visible.
“You do realise where we are, though?” she asked. She had only just realised herself, but she was trying to compensate for the rather large amount of screaming she’d done during the flight by assuming an air of efficient authority.
Rupert’s expression informed her that he didn’t.
“Think about it! The broomstick used to belong to Miss Caw’s sister. It didn’t like being given to a new owner. It particularly didn’t like us.”
“Clearly,” Rupert muttered, still working on his legs.
“I’d bet anything that it’s flown us right back to Miss Agatha Caw. Or, at least, to the town she’s Godmother of.”
“Ah yes, the Witchy Godmother.” Rupert looked around. “Well, she seems to be doing a good job. After Barthane, this is… Well, it’s good. I mean, really good.”
Harriet had to agree. The cobblestones may have been painful to fall on, but they were smooth, rounded and even. Clean as well (for cobblestones, anyway). In contrast to the haphazard housing of Barthane, the residences here were like neat rows of schoolchildren, lined up in uniform and behaving impeccably. They had neat, red-slated roofs, with decoratively-trimmed hanging eaves. They had neat, green-grassed front gardens, with decoratively-trimmed flowering hedges. They had neat little white-paned windows and neat little blue-painted doors.
They also showed no sign of life whatsoever.
“Never mind good,” said Harriet uneasily. “It’s very … quiet.”
“You can say that again,” Rupert whispered.
Harriet didn’t. She didn’t want to break the silence.
In unspoken agreement they started to make their (still a bit shaky) way through the streets, which were all subtle variations on the same theme: neatness. Harriet couldn’t be sure as to whether it was just because she’d spent a night in Barthane, but the neatness seemed to grate on her in a way that Barthane’s outright despotism had not. She had been scared, yes, but it hadn’t felt … wrong. In a town like Barthane, there should be people in the streets causing havoc. In a town like this … surely there should be some people out and about?
Suddenly she froze. “Did that curtain just move?”
Rupert bit off a yelp of surprise. “Er, did it?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know either.”
“Shall we go on?”
They sped up.
The neat little streets made a neat little labyrinth, or so it seemed to Harriet as they tiptoed through them. White-framed windows stared blankly at them as they passed. Harriet began to think that perhaps they would never find a way out of this town, but would go on and on through the same neat little streets and past the same neat little houses with the same neat little gardens until their minds turned slowly into neat little versions of the neat little town and they became lost inside their own heads and …
They had, finally, found something different. The street they had been following opened suddenly into a (predictably) neat little market square with a fountain in the centre of it. The fountain was also predictably neat, unremarkable and symmetrical. But what immediately caught their eyes, and what had prompted Rupert’s exclamation, was the building directly opposite them. It was large, and had presumably once been grand and imposing, its shape blockish and utilitarian. Now, however, it was covered all over with a luscious growth of plants. Wallflowers climbed to the roof, sprinkling the exterior with clusters of rainbow petals. Trees had been planted at the building’s foot, and their branches had intertwined with the flowers so that Harriet couldn’t tell where one plant ended and the next one began. She even thought that she saw trees growing out of the walls, but again it was hard to be sure, the growth was so thick and tangled.
In front of the building was a wrought iron archway, up which more wallflowers had entwined themselves. Huge iron letters at the peak of the arch had also not been spared by the verdant growth, but were still clearly readable as: PINKTON TOWN GAOL.
Rupert and Harriet proceeded until they were standing before this impressive archway, looking up at it with frowns wrinkling their foreheads.
“Gaol?” Rupert asked incredulously. “Doesn’t look like a gaol to me.”
“It’s … beautiful,” said Harriet.
“How kind of you to say so!”
Startled, their eyes sprang away from the arch to find that a figure had appeared in front of them whilst they were staring up at it. Their eyes widened, Rupert’s more than Harriet’s, for reasons that will soon become clear.
In front of them was a woman, one hand on hip, regarding them with kindly amusement. She had long, thick locks that fell in golden waves down her back. She had wide, sparkling eyes the colour of the sky, which were framed by long, suggestive lashes. She had deliciously cherry-red lips. She had alabaster skin. She had a tiny waist and a not so tiny portion above and below it. She was also wearing a crimson dress that flattered this figure perfectly.
She’s even got shapely calves, Night damn her, Harriet thought furiously, suddenly painfully aware of her own shabby attire, her dirty face and her tangled, unwashed hair. She glanced at Rupert. As she expected, his mouth was hanging open foolishly. She turned her attention back to the woman, decided not to stoop to glaring, and tried for the most aloof expression she could muster.
If the woman noticed, she didn’t show any sign of it.
“It’s always welcome to hear one’s work praised.” The woman smiled sweetly, revealing perfectly straight, pearly-white teeth.
“One’s work?” This took a moment to register. “Wait,” said Harriet. “Do you mean to say that you are the Fairy Godmother? Are you Agatha Caw?”
The woman looked at her with a delighted expression that was so childish in its way that Harriet had a hard time maintaining the dislike that was her instinctive reaction as a female. “I am Agatha Caw, yes. However did you know?”
“We met your sister,” Harriet explained. “In Barthane. She lent us your broom. It, ah, it flew.”
Agatha Caw’s laugh was, appropriately, like the sound of tinkling silver bells. “Ah yes, it does have character, doesn’t it?”
“That isn’t exactly how I’d put it,” Harriet murmured.
“I wondered why it suddenly turned up after all this time! I half worried that Kathy had come to some misfortune, but I am glad to hear she’s well. And doing good deeds too.”
“But …” Rupert had finally managed to overcome the speechlessness that was his instinctive reaction as a male. “If you’re Miss Caw’s sister … and she’s … well, she’s … and you’re … so … so … young?” he finished lamely.
Another twinkling laugh. “But didn’t Kathy explain to you that my magic is so much more powerful than hers? We often used to joke that I got all the talented genes in the family, whilst she was left with the dud ones!” She laughed again. Harriet didn’t see how this was particularly funny, especially not for poor Kathy Caw. Rupert, however, let out an obedient chuckle. Harriet darted a sharp glare at him, but his eyes were occupied elsewhere. Harriet started to sulk.
“So you’re the Fairy Godmother of this town, are you?” she demanded, rather roughly, then cursed herself for allowing her jealousy to show. “Where are all the people?”
“My dear,” Agatha Caw said (No, I’m not, Harriet thought stubbornly), “the people of Pinkton are good people. And so they are all inside with their families, being good citizens and doing good things.”
“Can’t they do good things outside?”
“But that would disturb the neighbours!” Agatha Caw reprimanded her gently. “And we can’t have that, can we?”
“Certainly not!” chimed Rupert. Harriet wanted to hit him. He did glance at her then, and looked a little abashed. “Well, you know, it’s rude and all that …” He trailed off and looked at the floor, his cheeks turning a little pink. Harriet glowered.
At this point, Juggalug struggled out of Rupert’s pocket. It did Harriet’s mood no good at all to see the little banshee give a start when it saw Agatha Caw. Juggalug’s eyes grew even wider than usual.
Apparently the feeling was not mutual. Agatha Caw caught one glimpse of Juggalug, and recoiled. “Eurgh! What is that!”
Juggalug’s ears drooped. He hid behind Rupert’s head.
“He’s just a banshee,” Rupert rushed to reassure her. “And a half-breed at that. He’s not dangerous.”
“Are you sure?” She didn’t sound convinced. “I can’t have anything likely to cause trouble in Pinkton!”
“Absolutely sure,” Rupert said immediately. Harriet wasn’t quite so certain that Juggalug was trouble-free, but then she thought Pinkton could probably do with a little trouble. To liven it up, if anything.
Juggalug peeked round Rupert’s head, then came and fluttered anxiously about his left ear.
Agatha Caw considered him. “I suppose … it’s quite sweet, really.”
Juggalug gave a little peep! of pleasure.
“But are you sure it’s hygienic?”
Juggalug gave another peep, this time of offense.
“His name is Juggalug,” Harriet said irritably. “And he’s perfectly hygienic. Really, nothing to worry about.”
“Well, I suppose that’s all right, then.” A smile suddenly jumped onto her face. Harriet felt as though she’d been ambushed. “What am I thinking letting you stand outside like this?” She spread her arms in welcome. “I expect you’ve had a long and tiring journey. In fact, you must have done on that broomstick of mine!”
“It was rather, ah, surprising.”
Agatha Caw threw back her head and laughed as though Rupert had made the witticism of the year, then flicked some of her golden hair back from her face and gave him a radiant smile. Harriet’s own face grew darker. If faces were skies – as they often seem to be in the land of metaphor – hers would have been chock full of oppressive stormclouds, but ones which had been forbidden to let loose their precipitative potential due to a particularly pretty butterfly passing underneath that the gods felt shouldn’t get wet. And by golly, how the clouds hated that butterfly.
When Harriet had disentangled herself from the metaphorical stormclouds of her emotions, she realised that Agatha Caw had already turned and was heading towards the large set of double doors that were the entrance to the gaol. Rupert was trailing her like an obedient spaniel waiting for tidbits.
She ran to catch up, cursing as her torn skirts caught underfoot. “Wait, you live in the gaolhouse?”
Agatha Caw replied casually over her shoulder. “Why, it’s not a gaolhouse any more, my sweet!” – Harriet thoroughly resented the endearment – “It’s my palace of delights, you shall see!”
Palace of delights – how ridiculous! But even Harriet could not prevent a gasp escaping her as she entered the foyer of the building. A flight of stairs led upwards to a secondary platform, from which two further flights ascended in opposite directions. The stairs were lined with bars, reaching right to the high ceiling. These must once have been ominous and claustrophobic, but no longer. Agatha Caw had been at work. The bars had instead become supporting columns for what must have been thousands of large and beautiful-
“Roses!” exclaimed Agatha Caw, doing a graceful twirl of delight before rushing over to bury her delicate nose in one. She sighed deeply. “Don’t you just adore them? I know I do!”
“Obviously,” Harriet said, staring about her in wonder.
Rupert was still staring at Agatha Caw, who was stroking the petals of a particularly fine specimen of a red rose, which perfectly matched the hue of her dress and that of her lips. She caught him staring and smiled over her shoulder at him. He cleared his throat and found a spot on the far wall that was suddenly very interesting indeed and needed his undivided attention.
“But you don’t want to be standing about staring at flowers,” Agatha Caw continued. “You must be hungry after your long journey. Come with me to the kitchen, do.”
She flitted away from the roses, leading the way down a side corridor Harriet had not noticed before. This was almost as fascinating as the rose-covered prison bars, as the walls had been transformed into thick, intertwined treeroots, complete with leafy tendrils dangling from the ceiling. It was all rather wonderful, she found herself thinking, then quickly shook her head to dislodge such silly thoughts.
Further delights awaited in the kitchen, though Harriet stubbornly refused to be delighted by them. The usual paraphernalia of basins and cupboards, table and chairs, were all there. But so were the bushes: great, flourishing bushes burdened with every kind of berry Harriet could identify (and many she couldn’t) burst out of cupboards, drawers, and even under the table.
Agatha Caw giggled. “Help yourself, please do!” she welcomed them, following her own advice as she did so, plucking a great fat strawberry from the nearest bush and biting into its succulent red flesh. “They’re all delicious – I make sure of it! You too, little … ah … banshee.”
Rupert wasted no time in diving into the berry-jungle. Juggalug, who seemed a little unsure of how to feel about Agatha Caw, hovered about the bushes for a few moments, then cautiously nibbled on a berry. Soon, he was burrowing his face into it and munching away happily.
Harriet sniffed, and stayed where she was.
“Aren’t you hungry, my sweet?”
Harriet shook her head, though her stomach was yawning and the luscious berries looked so tasty … “No, thank you, Miss Caw. I had a big breakfast. And so did Rupert. I’m surprised he can eat anything actually, after the amount of porridge he ate this morning!”
“Ah, my sister’s famous porridge! Did she let on what the secret ingredient was?”
Harriet turned a little paler. “She did, as a matter of fact.”
“Ingenious, don’t you think? Who else would have thought that a cliché could result in something so worthwhile! I have always tried to avoid them, myself.”
Really, Miss cherry-lipped, golden-haired, snow-white skinned maiden? Harriet’s sarcasm screamed to be released, but she forced it down and managed a tight smile.
Rupert had by this time almost consumed the entire berry content of a bush. Crimson juice staining his lips seemed to Harriet uncomfortably reminiscent of his natural dietary choice. Also, the ecstatic expression on his face as he chewed and swallowed was making her increasingly uneasy.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough now, Rupert? You said yourself, your digestive system isn’t equipped to-”
“I’m fine!” Rupert managed through a mouthful of blueberries. “I can fit more in,” he added, patting his stomach.
“You don’t want to make yourself sick-”
Agatha put a hand on Harriet’s arm. “Let him eat as much as he likes.” She gave Rupert an affectionate gaze which Harriet disliked immensely. “He needs to build himself up a little, wouldn’t you say?” She tipped a wink at Harriet, who bridled immediately.
“I think he’s fine as he is!”
“Do you, my sweet?” A suggestive smile. “I must say I prefer my men with a little more … substance to them.”
Then stop looking at Rupert like that! the inner Harriet screamed in frustration, while the outer Harriet had to content herself with another sickly looking smile. She suddenly became aware that Agatha was looking her up and down with an odd expression on her face.
“What?” Harriet blurted out rudely.
“Oh, please don’t be offended!” Agatha exclaimed. “I was merely thinking how dirty your dress is, and that I could easily lend you another.”
“I’m quite all right in this one, Miss Caw. And besides, I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble-”
“No trouble at all! I would be delighted. And we could do your hair all nicely too.”
“But I don’t want-”
Agatha Caw clapped her hands. “What fun it will be! We’ll have you cleaned up and made over before bedtime!”
“Bedtime? But we have to get on! We’re looking for someone, and time is of the-”
“Don’t be ridiculous, of course you will stay with me tonight! I have the whole evening planned out. Now, if you’ll just stay here a moment whilst I pick you out a dress – I want it to be a surprise.”
“Miss Caw, I really don’t need-”
“Oh, but this is so exciting, I’m so glad you came…” And she was gone, swooping gracefully out in a rustle of red skirts and a waft of rose-scented perfume.
“Day save me …” groaned Harriet. She stepped further into the kitchen, cast about for a few moments, then reached her hands into the bushes. One came out holding a surprised-looking Rupert by the scruff of the neck, the other a reluctant Juggalug by the tail. "Right. We're leaving."
“What? Now? Why?” There were berry stains on Rupert’s shirt now.
“Because I don’t like this place. And I don’t like Agatha Caw either.”
“What?” From the look on Rupert’s face, this possibility had not even occurred to him. “Why ever not? She’s being so nice to us – and look at all this …” He waved his arms vaguely in an attempt to indicate the general splendour of the berry-filled eatery.
“It is exactly because of all this that I don’t trust her,” said Harriet. “Look, I understand that she’s a very attractive woman, and I understand that these must be very delicious berries. But there’s still something … odd about the whole thing. Doesn’t it seem a little reminiscent of those stories you used to read as a child? You know, the ones that went ‘Jimmy was a naughty boy because he ate all the berries and got juice on his shirt, so the nasty witch came and turned him into a toad?’”
Rupert only looked more confused. “What an odd story. I read ones that went ‘Jimmy visited the virgin’s bedroom at midnight, bit her and turned her into a vampire. She turned out to be a nasty drain on castle resources, so Jimmy learnt that he couldn’t keep all the pretty virgins he wanted.’”
Ah, thought Harriet, I see we’re dealing with a bit of a culture clash. “Forget that. But don’t you feel it? The oddness of it all?”
Rupert shook his head.
Harriet sighed in frustration. “Fine. Have it your way. We’ll stay. But only for one night. And we leave early tomorrow morning. Agreed?”
Rupert nodded. With another sigh, Harriet released him, and he burrowed back into the bushes. Juggalug squirmed.
Juggalug squirmed some more.
Harriet let go of his tail and watched him follow Rupert.
A whiff of perfume informed Harriet that Agatha Caw had returned. “My dear, I’ve found one that will suit you perfectly!”
Harriet rolled her eyes. But when she turned to look… It was of the finest silk, it was blue as a summer sky, it was stylishly cut, it was delicately embroidered round neckline and hem with an intricate pattern of…
“Bluebells!” Agatha Caw exclaimed delightedly. “The colour will suit you down to the ground – it compliments your eyes like an absolute dream! My dear, you will look gorgeous!”
Harriet did not think of herself as vain. Even at home, her wardrobe was not particularly fashionable or varied. But this dress … She tried, she really did; she mustered up all her previous jealousy, grumpiness, her disapproval with Agatha Caw, into an emotional battalion of defence. But the dress was just so … perfect. The battalion dissolved in an ecstasy of sighs. Emotions are not very good at playing soldiers.
“It’s … the most beautiful dress I’ve ever seen! Can I try it on now?”
Agatha Caw gave a delighted laugh. “Follow me, my dear! Rupert, you just stay here and eat as much as you want to. Don’t stint!”
Rupert’s head made a brief appearance. There were twigs caught in his hair. “Thank you, Miss Caw!”
“You’re welcome, my dear. I like to see a man enjoying his food. Now,” she said to Harriet, “come along and we’ll have you transformed in no time!” She winked, and whispered, “Rupert will hardly recognise you.”
Harriet wasn’t sure whether to take this as an insult or a compliment, but her eyes kept returning to the beautiful dress and she only nodded.
“Oh, I am sorry, my dear!” exclaimed Agatha Caw, withdrawing the needle. “I haven’t had much practice with seamstressing. Usually I just use magic. So much easier! A little wave and poof! Done!”
A standing lamp nearby found itself suddenly continuing its existence as a small cheery tree.
“Why – ouch! – don’t you just use magic now?” Harriet asked through clenched teeth as Agatha Caw poked the needle again into the dress’s neckline … and into Harriet.
“Oh, but I can’t do that, my dear. It’s a rule – and we must have rules, mustn’t we? Chaos is really not acceptable.” She sounded quite stern for a moment. “When preparing a gift for an Ungifted One – that’s what we call mortals,” she added apologetically, “one must never use magic unless one wishes to enslave the receiver of the gift.” She stood back. “There now! Beautiful! I must say, I never expected to have to take so much in at the top like that.”
“Do you enslave mortals often?” Harriet put in peevishly. She resented the line of pinpricks stinging under the floral neckline, even if the dress was gorgeous.
“Oh, not often.” Agatha Caw held out a hand, which Harriet took reluctantly. “Now just take a look at yourself!” With her free hand she drew aside a curtain of hanging vines to reveal a full-length mirror bordered by roses.
Harriet gasped. She couldn’t help it. After a lifetime of dresses passed down to her by her great aunt Nell (partially blind) or chosen by her father (who may as well have been) this was…
“Radiant!” Agatha Caw cooed, spinning on the spot with a childlike joy. “Join me, dear – have a twirl!”
Harriet twirled. The dress flared flatteringly in all the right places, and her hair – wonderfully clean – whipped softly about her face.
“But we simply must go back downstairs and show Rupert the new you.” Agatha Caw giggled. Harriet tried to school her expression so as not to show that that was exactly what she had been thinking. She managed an impressively nonchalant shrug. “You mustn’t be so modest, dear! Show off your best features, that’s my motto!”
I’m sure it is, Harriet thought dryly.
“Come along now!”
Harriet was taken by a dainty hand and hurried through a series of flower-clad corridors that comprised the upper floor of the gaolhouse. The walls were studded at regular intervals with closed doors, which must once have been the cells. Harriet regarded them uneasily; even framed by luxuriant growths of primroses and forget-me-nots, they still retained an air of menace. Some were completely overgrown by the floral décor Agatha Caw had provided, and to Harriet these seemed the most eerie of all.
They had almost emerged at the top of the main staircase when Agatha Caw exclaimed, “Oh, but I almost forgot! I want to show you something, my dear.” She turned aside and led Harriet along a small side passage, at the end of which was a lone door that looked rather heavier than the others. Harriet watched nervously as Agatha Caw pushed it open. Fortunately, there was nothing inside that seemed to merit the extra security. It must just have been a cell for more … difficult prisoners.
A large spinning wheel took up most of the small room. Clustered around its foot were bulging bags of both spun and unspun wool. A pair of knitting needles were sticking out of the topmost one. Against the wall in the far corner were stacked some wooden crates. Harriet hazarded a guess that they contained yet more wool.
“My hobby!” Agatha Caw announced, giving the spinning wheel a loving look. Harriet was surprised it didn’t blush. “I may not have had much practise with a sewing needle, my dear, but these-” She brandished the knitting needles. “-are a different story entirely! My knitting is simply exquisite – everyone says so!”
I bet they do. “What exactly do you knit?” She couldn’t quite reconcile Agatha Caw with bobble hats or lumpy jumpers.
Agatha Caw slipped past the spinning wheel to delve into one of the wooden crates. “These, my dear!”
Harriet lent forward, and her eyes widened. Agatha Caw was holding … a doll. About six inches tall, it was lovingly knitted with tiny, tiny stitches to preserve the greatest detail. This particular doll had on a tiny pair of green trousers (garter stitch), a white shirt (rice stitch) and a brown waistcoat (box stitch). The waistcoat even had miniature buttons comprised of single black stitches.
“His name is Albert,” Agatha Caw informed her. “Do you like him?”
“He’s … exquisite!”
Agatha Caw giggled. “Yes, everyone says so!”
Harriet eyed the wooden crates again. “Are those … full of dolls?”
“Oh yes, dear.” Agatha Caw laid Albert back in the top one. “I spend a great deal of time on my knitting!”
“When you’re not Fairy Godmothering?”
“Why, yes. You see, once people start being good, they tend to keep doing it. Delightful really!”
Harriet decided that Pinkton must be a very good town indeed, if the number and size of those boxes were anything to go by. “I see…”
“Oh, but do me a favour, would you, dear?” asked Agatha Caw, gently pushing Harriet back so that she could close the door of the spinning room. “If you see any of my little dolls lying about, just bring them to me, would you? I tend to forget where I’ve put them, you see, and I’d absolutely hate to lose any.”
Harriet nodded, a little overwhelmed now. Everything seemed to get more and more strange in Pinkton.
“Thank you, my dear!” Agatha Caw beamed. “And now, we really must show Rupert that dress!”
Harriet allowed herself to be led away.
|8 Oct 2008|| Jake Phoenix Beasley|
Sorry, I forgot I wasn’t logged in. I’m the above commentor, so if you could...
|13 Oct 2008|| Amy Ruth Schley|
This whole thing is awesome! I love the Pratchettian humor, the random bizarreness, and also the great characters you’ve drawn! The sisters’ rivalry reminds me of Miyazaki’s Swept Away, and also Pratchett’s Witches Abroad. Just amazing! (BTW, I would love to hear your thoughts on my novella.) Jess Hyslop
replies: "Is Swept Away a Studio Ghibli film? I love Ghibli, but I haven’t heard of that one, if it is...
Thank you for reading! I will try my best to read your stuff soon, but I am very busy at uni at the moment so it may be that I don’t have time for a while. But don’t hesitate to keep reminding me until I show up on your page!"
|4 Nov 2008|| Tolkien Freak|
Whoohoo! Luv this part! V. well written; nice amount of humor. I particularly liked the line, "Rupert was trailing her like an obedient spaniel waiting for tidbits." *laughs*
How like a guy IS THAT???!!!
And I agree... Mrs. Agatha is rather eerie... go Harriet! Sniff her out!
Keep writing; please, do. Prob. one of the best stories on Elfwood.
... I thought for a moment there we would have the cliche ’female protaganist pokes her finger on spindle wheel and falls into deep sleep’ gig. Bah. But you didn’t! *cheers* Jess Hyslop
replies: "Thank you! Shucks, such a lovely comment..."
|2 Dec 2008|| Tusca|
Hey, come on! Moremoremore!
This is quite Pratchett-influenced but not so much that people would read it and go, "Hey, this is way much like Terry Pratchett." You’ve got your own humorous voice and I think it is most definitely you enough to publish. Seriously.
Um... four, five, six, seventh
comment... um... hornpipe... or something. Jess Hyslop
replies: "Hehe, the next part is here now!
Aw thank you - I can’t believe this story has gotten so long, and the idea of publishing has actually started to enter my head in a serious way... Although I really don’t know if anyone would take it, and it needs a MASSIVE editing job before it could be sent anywhere. But thank you so much for the encouragement - I’m glad you are enjoying it!"
|2 Dec 2008|| Anon.|
I think the Swept Away must have been Spirited Away, Jess Hyslop
replies: "Of course. Stupid of me not to realise - I love that film!
|26 Dec 2008|| Lindsey M Butler|
Oooh, this Miss Caw is bad news! I can tell. And there is something suspicious about those dolls too. I am off to the next chapter! Jess Hyslop
replies: "I won’t say a word! "
|8 Jul 2009|| Suzanne Collins|
Hello again! I am still thoroughly enjoying this. This Agatha is suspiciously ’nice’, and I have a bad feeling about those perfect dolls and Harriet’s new perfect look... I also love Harriet’s initial reaction to the witch( the thunderclouds and the butterfly) and Rupert’s naivity. Great work, on to part 14! Jess Hyslop
replies: "Suspicious?! The stunningly beautiful woman with the strange hobby who lives in the oh-so-good town? How could you think such a thing?! "
|3 Sep 2009|| Anna Rose|
Uh-oh. I have a bad feeling about this...Agatha is that witch from Greek mythology, the one who turned men into pigs. Rupert better leave quick... Jess Hyslop
replies: "Woah, I didn’t know about the Greek association! Heh... what a coincidence... "
|13 Mar 2010|| Shelena Khlybova|
11th comment-twanking-on-guitar-song-thingy...*plonk plink twank POP...screams of ’AGH!!! ANOTHER BROKEN STRING!!!’*Or is it 12th comment? Anyways, Agatha Caw is SO not Circe. I’ll bet $5 that she turned THE WHOLE VILLAGE, not just the men, into dolls. But thats a major spoiler right? IF it happens. If it doesn’t, I owe myself $5, if it does, I’ll still owe myself $5...Hmmm....Win win situation. *grins*
|5 Dec 2011|| Anon.|
Hello new antagonist! Also, loving how these sisters are complete foils. Jess Hyslop
replies: " Indeed they are..."
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