After parting ways with Mistress Crowfoot, they returned to Willow's cottage in triumph. Willow would be teaching Tira the ways of a good witch. Tira was so happy she felt quite giddy and wanted to sing, although Gloom pleaded with her not to. The threat of the Infernal Beast was eliminated, and she would finally have a mentor who would teach her to help people.
It transpired that one of the ways Willow helped people was by a free counselling service.
"That's great," Tira enthused, "I wanna help people by talking about their problems too."
"Anyone can relate to a magic woman with a green face," said Gloom. "I'm sure you can talk to anyone on their level."
"My counselling is especially for other witches," said Willow. "Tira, you may sit in on a session. The clients are a young couple, and the wife is a witch, like us."
The clients arrived, flying on a broomstick. Tira immediately ran up to hug each of them in turn. Their names were Samara and Reuben. Samara was a witch, only a little older than Tira herself, with long red hair. Reuben was a cute young man with a crooked nose and hair Tira thought was the colour of butterscotch. Willow ushered them into the room for the counselling session. It was darkened and lit up with flickering candles.
Tira and Willow sat on chairs opposite the couple, who sat on the couch. Tira beamed at them.
"Tell me of your troubles, my dears. This is the place for non-judgemental support. What do you feel is wrong in your marriage?"
"Nothing," said Reuben. "Our marriage is perfect."
"Oh Rube, you know that's not true," said Samara with a sigh. She pushed her long red hair away from her face. The flickering candle light shone off her green nose and cheeks.
"Sam… if you don't want to talk about it…" Reuben began, putting an arm around her shoulder. Tira felt warm inside at how sweet that was.
Sam shook her head, so that her long red hair rippled and bounced. "No Rube. We have to talk about it. I'll start, OK?" She kissed him on the cheek, then glared at Willow. "I didn't know all the problems turning into a witch would make for us. I thought it was a great idea. There were things we had to sort out so we could get married, and with me being a witch, they were easier. But…"
Sam looked at her feet.
"Go on," said Willow, her voice soft and quiet.
Sam looked back at her, with fierce brown eyes. "All this power. It doesn't make things easier. Rube and I had an argument and I lost my temper. I froze him with my magic so he couldn't move or speak."
Tira felt an unpleasant queasy sensation in her stomach. That did sound bad. Tira would never have guessed that Sam would bully the nice young man like that. Sam turned to her. "Yes, you might look at me like that. I'm not proud of it. And what if I really lost it?"
"It's alright," said Reuben, looking uncomfortable.
"It's not, though," said Sam.
"The question is anger management," said Willow. "Shekka gave us all this power, so we must only use it as appropriate."
The session was an eye opener for Tira and no mistake…
Tira and Jemmy slept in the same tiny little room on makeshift beds. Gloom was out hunting for bugs and moths. Jemmy wanted to talk about hero stuff and Tira was very happy to listen while he cuddled him to her with his strong arms. She felt so safe…
"Going on perilous quests… There's a side to it I never appreciated before. But seeing someone I love in mortal danger… I see it in a new light. When you collapsed on the moor after banishing the Infernal Beast, I actually thought I'd lost you."
"Awww. You won't lose me," said Tira, rubbing her cheek against his soft, warm one and then holding his gaze. "You're right about the perilous quests. I knew you'd appreciate that side of them in the end."
"Ha! You thought I was too slow to realise it before."
"Nooo…" Tira pulled a face, scrunching her nose at him. "I mean I knew you were clever enough to be able see that other side of them."
He cupped her face in his hands. "You were wise enough to see that problem all along. A witchy sort of wisdom, not warrior wisdom. To think, there are fools who call witches wicked! Clearly the opposite is true… I was blessed, the day you came into my life."
His words were exciting. Tira felt her heartbeat quicken. She gazed at him, at his soft brown eyes, his wavy hair, his freckled nose and cheeks, and his strong jaw. She felt the firmness of his muscles, of his arms around her, and the warmth of his body next to hers. "I – I really love you too."
"The quest is over," said Jemmy. "The book of Infernal spells that Nazek stole from the Monastery would not be safe in Father Dunstaine's custody. But Willow says she may be able to dispose of it safely. I'm going back to Coltbridge. After that, as is our custom, I will have to marry. I would dearly like for you to attend the wedding."
Tira felt her stomach twist as for a moment, time seemed to slow down. But she determinedly kept a smile fixed on her face. After all, what should she have expected?
"T-Thank you, Jemmy. One thing though… the bride's gotta be a good woman. One who'll treat you right. And beautiful. And brave." Tira realised she was gabbling. "She's gotta be worthy of you."
"I take your words to heart," he said gravely.
"It's important," said Tira. "The counselling session today… Um… Just remembered, I can't talk about it."
A thoughtful look came into Jemmy's brown eyes. "I can see how hearing about marriage problems could get disturbing."
"Really could," mumbled Tira.
"But I have a wise witch to turn to if need be," he said, touching her cheek.
"Witches have so much power," said Tira, twirling a strand of her hair in her fingers. "I always worry I might not know the right thing to do."
"I'd trust your good heart," he said. "Besides," he gave a small smile. "I can overpower a witch if need be."
He began tickling her mercilessly, making her scream with laughter and flail her arms and legs.
Gloom appeared at this point. "Is this some kind of human ritual?" He was bugging out one eye, as though trying to mimic someone raising one eyebrow.
Jemmy stopped tickling and Tira sat up, feeling breathless and a little giddy. "Jemmy showed he can overpower a witch." She put her arms around him and pressed her nose against his. "Haven't you?"
"Yes. The one and only witch to have ever been caught by finger shackles," said Gloom.
Tira was too wound up to go to sleep immediately. A niggling doubt was gnawing at her as she lay on the bed and it wouldn't go away. Would Jemmy want to marry her if she wasn't a witch? How could she ask that without being too obvious?
"I think I look funny with a green face," she blurted out.
"What?" Jemmy sounded puzzled. "I for one wouldn't change anything about you. You are a wonderful person the way you are."
"I… uh… I didn't look green before I was a witch though." Tira felt embarrassed as soon as those words were out of her mouth. Talk about stating the obvious!
"I didn't know you before you were a witch. I couldn't imagine you without green skin. Like I said, I love you exactly the way you are now."
Tira felt a warm glow to hear him say that. "I love you too."
It was a year later. The birth of Jemmy's first child was imminent. He waited anxiously for the distinguished midwife.
Suddenly he became aware of an imp shimmering into view on the rug in front of him. "Ready for the struggle of fatherhood, young warrior? Did battling the Infernal Beast prepare you for it?"
"Oh. Hello there, Gloom."
"The Mistress is coming now. She'll be alighting gracefully on the lawn. She's got a lot better at flying."
Jemmy ran out onto the lawn and scanned the sky. Yes! His heart leapt. There she was. A witch on her broomstick. He ran up to meet Tira as she alighted on the lawn, her green face split in a wide grin. They hugged. He squeezed her so tight she squeaked. He felt a warm glow inside at the feel of her clammy cheek against his, and her sweet, musty smell. "Lovely to see you, Jemmy," she murmured, her breath tickling his ear.
"Is there any kind of time pressure?" grumbled a voice nearby. It was Gloom.
Back in the mansion, Jemmy's wife, Larissa, went into labour. Tira conjured a sparkling, golden light in the palm of her hand that lit up her green face. "It's alright dear," she told Larissa softly. "It's all gonna be alright." Jemmy took Larissa's hands in his and Tira touched Larissa's forehead and murmured some strange sounding words.
Larissa breathed easier but continued moaning softly as her belly rippled and pulsed as she lay on the bed. Tira continued to murmur and lightly move her green fingers over Larissa's pale skin, her swollen belly, the intricate tattoo on her side…
"You're doing great," said Tira softly. She stoked Larissa's hair. "You're doing so great I know you'll make it through. You'll soon have your baby in your arms."
"Of course, my love,"
Eventually, the baby was born, in a hot slippery rush, and Tira severed the cord.
The witch held up the new-born baby boy, her blue eyes tearing up. "Ohhh! He's so beautiful! He looks just like his Dad."
Tiny little pink fingers curled around Tira's green one. The new-born peered through brand new eyes at what must be such a strange world after life in the womb. His legs kicked in a tiny jagged motion, looking for that resistance they were used to, but finding nothing but air. Jemmy wondered if that was unsettling or a relief. It must have been cramped in the womb. His son was so tiny, like a perfect doll. He looked at the babe in the witch's arms in dull blue wonder. A new person, and he was already filling up with love for him.
Tira and Jemmy sat on either side of Larissa as she held the baby in her arms.
"Baby Leonidar," said Larissa. Her face was pale and she looked exhausted, but her eyes were shining.
Tira put her face close to the baby, puckering her greyish lips in her kissy face. "Ooh! Ooh! Baby Leo. Such an adorable little face. Don't you look like Jemmy?" Tears shone in the witch's blue eyes.
Larissa chuckled. "Yes, I'm very grateful for that."
Two of Tira's familiars, a pair of mice, one rosy pink and the other a rich warm apricot, climbed onto the witch-girl's shoulders.
"Colourful mice," said Larissa.
"They're Pinkie and Goldie," said Tira grinning. "Aren't they pretty? You're tattoos really colourful too! I like them!"
"A relic of my own warrior days," said Larissa with a sigh.
"You're such a beautiful family," enthused Tira as she and Jemmy took a turn around the garden. "I love this part of being a witch. I get to hold the baby each time."
"Kind of hard not to, in a mid-wife type position," said Gloom the imp who had just appeared on her shoulder.
"Leo is so sweet," said Tira. "He really does look like his Daddy."
"Since when was Jemmy tiny and half-bald?" said Gloom.
"Ha ha. Try and actually be funny, Gloom," said Tira scornfully.
"Not trying to be funny," said Gloom. "I'm just glad Jemmy found a rosy cheeked wife who is beautiful and wealthy, and just so happens was a warrior in her girlhood. What a catch."
For some reason, Tira put a green hand to her forehead and closed her eyes.
Jemmy tugged on her arm. It would be good to distract her mind from whatever was troubling her. "Let's go on a flight. For old times sake."
His arms wrapped around Tira's skinny waist, Jemmy straddled the broom and Tira kicked off. They flew high into the air, the houses and trees growing tiny beneath them as they flew towards the moon. A little bat fluttered around them. "Oh, hi Baldy!" said Tira to the bat. It was another of her familiars. "What's that? Ahh. A Bedlam Hag, you say?"
Jemmy felt a thrill of apprehension. There came the sound of cackling, and a shape came hurtling towards them like a missile through the clear night air. It was a wild-looking witch. Her bright green skin was unmistakable from a long way off. She flew around them in circles. It was Vi. They had seen her a year ago. The self-appointed leader of the Bedlam Hags. But she was alone now.
"Hullo, Vi," said Jemmy cautiously.
"He remembers!" cackles Vi.
"Yes, we both remember," said Tira, narrowing her blue eyes at the Bedlam Hag.
"No hard feelings though, I hope?" said Vi.
"None on my part," said Jemmy.
"Good answer. Well I certainly don't harbour any grudge at all," said Vi. "No reason to."
"Gooood," said Tira.
"But I know of one who might," said Vi, her green face splitting in a grin. "Be on your guard. That's all. Have a good night!" She shot upwards in an almost vertical line and out of sight.