Love, Lust and Lullabies
It was a joyous time for Jemmy the Warrior. He sat on the couch in next to his wife, Larissa. They were in Larissa's mansion and she now held their baby son, Leo, in her arms. Jemmy's good friend Tira the witch sat on Larissa's other side. She gazed enraptured at baby Leo, her blue eyes shining. Two of her familiars sat on each of her shoulders. They were vibrantly coloured mice. One was pink, the other a rich, warm apricot.
Larissa hummed a lullaby in her soft voice as she rocked Leo:
"Let those eyes sparkle and shine, never a tear, baby of mine."
Tira grinned broadly, her white teeth making a weird contrast with her lime green face. "That's so beautiful! I wanna sing a lullaby, but I can't, cos I'm worried I'm not good enough."
"We're not here to criticise, Tira," said Jemmy, reaching over to pat her arm. "You should sing."
Larissa smiled, her dark eyes crinkling. "Please do, my sweet."
"Vocally I'm still learning, you know?" said Tira.
"Try an easy one," suggested Jemmy. "A traditional Coltbridge lullaby, since you're here in Coltbridge. How about Hush A Bye Baby?"
Tira twirled a strand of her blond hair in her bright green fingers and sang nervously:
"Hush a Bye Baby on the treetop,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
When the bow breaks, the cradle will fall.
Down will come baby, cradle and all."
Tira frowned, her green forehead creasing. "That song's kind of scary to me though. Cos I don't want the baby to fall."
Jemmy touched her cold cheek, suppressing a chuckle. "Most traditional songs were written by the people, not professional songwriters. The quality of the lyrics tends to reflect this."
Tira gazed at him with wide blue eyes. "Oh. I think you're smarter than me, Jemmy."
"I'm not so sure about that," said Jemmy.
"Keep being you, Tira," said Larissa, turning her face to the young witch, "you bring us so much joy."
Tira's grin lit up her green face. "Aww, thanks so much, Larissa. You give everyone the warm fuzzies. You're such a great mother. That's why I love you." Tears shone in the witch's blue eyes.
Larissa kissed her shiny, green nose. "You are the sweetest."
Jemmy felt warm and contented inside, just watching his wife and beloved friend interact. Just how it should be… But suddenly he became aware of a presence in the shadows in the corner. A small, monkey-like figure, with blue grey fur and eyes, yellow as a cats, watching them.
"Well met, Masters and Mistresses!" said the little creature in his reedy voice. It was Gloom the Grimalkin, another of Tira's familiars. Gloom leapt onto the head of the couch. "I live to serve. Can I help with your wig, Mistress Larissa? It looks like it's slipping off."
Jemmy cringed a little at that. Larissa had lost her hair on one of her adventures in her warrior days. Her head of coppery hair was a wig. Why was Gloom suddenly calling her 'Mistress Larissa?'
"No, it doesn't, Gloom," said Tira, her smooth green brow crinkling in puzzlement. "What are you talking about? Larissa's looking great. Like a mother should look." The witch sighed a little.
Larissa's lips twitched to form a wry smile. "'Tis a first-class wig, my dears."
"I do like it too," said Gloom. "'Tis merry and bright." The imp leapt onto Tira's shoulder. "There's such a thing as wearing out one's welcome," said Gloom in a loud, hissing whisper. "Mistress, sharing in lullabies is all good, but now our business is concluded, we should not presume too much on the generous hospitality of our hosts. Not now they have new family."
Larissa tickled Gloom under the chin. "I am delighted Tira is here. She at least won't wear out her welcome."
"What are you implying?" said Gloom. "I like colourful hair. And lullabies too."
"And Gloom," said Jemmy. "Don't act like you've forgotten our adventures. Or that Tira will always be my comrade in arms."
In the bedroom that night, Jemmy was restless. He gazed out of the window at the starry sky. Leo was asleep in the cradle by the fourposter bed. Larissa lay on her side in bed, propping up her head on one elbow. She had removed her wig, revealing her bald head. "Jemmy, Sugar-pie… come to bed."
That was her nickname for him, but only in the privacy of their bedroom.
Jemmy crossed the floor to the bed, his feet sinking into the soft, blue carpet. He slipped into bed and Larissa's sinuous arms were around him in a moment, her warm breath on his face, and her dark eyes gazing into his. "What's wrong?" she asked without preamble. She was very good at gauging her husband's mood at any given moment. There was no point in hiding anything from her.
"I am… restless, Larissa. It has been so long since my first, and last adventure. I've not done much as a warrior since then."
"You got rid of the Infernal Beast though," Larissa reminded him.
"It was Tira's show all the way," said Jemmy.
Larissa cupped his face in her hands. "That is not how Tira tells it. She always calls you a great warrior."
"She is a very kind girl, that Tira. We both know. Anyway, I have to confess I admire and envy you, my love. Your adventures are all the stuff of legends, and there are so many of them. What does it say about me that I'm envious of my wife?"
"I say it matters more that you can tell me anything," said Larissa, her breath tickling. "I also say that you were all I ever wanted. I knew it the first time I gazed my fill on your sweet face. And you gave me a son as perfect as you. What does it say about me that I could forget all my adventures when I gaze into your eyes? Come, let's not be melancholy. Come to me…"
They pressed their mouths together, but at that moment, a terrible, screechy wailing arose in the front yard, and baby Leo awoke and his high, drawn out cries added to the cacophony.
"Oh dear," said Larissa with a sigh. "That killed the moment." She scooped Leo up in her arms and rocked him. "Dreadful noise. But I suspect it's nothing."
Leo hurried out onto the landing to investigate. Tira had woken up too, and was stumbling onto the landing, clad in a pale pink gown that contrasted weirdly with her bright green skin. Her blue eyes were wide. He took her clammy hand in his.
"What is that infernal racket?" said Jemmy.
"It sounds really scary," said Tira. She flexed the green fingers of her free hand. "Lucky I've got better at casting spells. I don't get so tired afterwards. Please wait here, Jemmy. I'll go down and see…"
"Pssh. We always go into scrapes together," said Jemmy.
They crept stealthily out into the yard. The terrible wailing was all around them. The moon came out from behind a cloud, bathing them in an ethereal light. In the middle of the yard they found Gloom, a tuft of purple hair attached to his head. He was standing in front of a small group of cats and conducting with his clawed hands as they caterwauled in their terrible, screeching voices.
Jemmy felt a surge of relief.
Tira's mouth fell open in indignation. "Gloom! What in Shekka's name are you doing?"
"Can't hear you, Mistress!" screeched Gloom over the noise of the cats.
"Yes, you can!"
"No, I can't. Not a word. Not a syllable."
Tira gazed around at the cats and gestured with her green fingers, making weird, complicated patterns in the air. The cats fell quiet and began to purr. Tira glared down at Gloom. "Well? What have you got to say for yourself? Are you trying to wake up everyone in Coltbridge?"
"My new pals and I were practicing a lullaby. The Cat Concerto. Don't they all have strident voices?" The imp fingered the tuft of purple hair attached to his head. "I think I'm new wave."
Tira folded her arms. "I suppose you think this is funny. Well I bet you woke baby Leo. Being embarrassing is one thing, but this … this is too much."
"If the exhibition is over, I'm going to bed," said Jemmy.
Hopefully Larissa would have rocked Leo to sleep by now. Regardless, having a baby meant a lot of sleepless nights, with or without Gloom.
The next morning, Tira had to set off on her broom, back to her mentor, Willow the good witch. The life of an apprentice witch involved a lot of hands on training in witchcraft.
Jemmy hugged Tira tightly. Her cold cheek rested against his. "Give my love to Willow," he told her.
"I will. Listen, Jemmy. I – uh – I made these." She held up two little necklaces in her green fingers. Silver moon signs on fine silver chains.
"Those are really good. You've got so talented," he said.
Tira grinned, her white teeth a contrast to her green face. "Thank you! Um…" she bit her lip. "They're best friend necklaces. One's a gibbous moon, the other a sickle moon. They fit together. See?" She put the symbols together and they clicked into place to make a full moon symbol. "Willow says they um… symbolise how friends love each other in their hearts. And if one friend gets lost, the other can find them with their heart."
"Interesting," said Jemmy. "Witchcraft has a lot of uses."
Gloom appeared at that moment. "It's all very fascinating to talk about moon symbols fitting together," he said in his reedy voice. "Call it an academic exercise."
"Not just academic," said Tira. She coughed. "Um… Jemmy, I want you to have this one," she held out the gibbous moon talisman. "It shows we love each other as friends and if you ever got lost, I could find you."
"Ooh. Well thought out," said Gloom. "Don't chance his wondering off and getting lost, Mistress."
"I'd be honoured to wear your necklace," said Jemmy, placing the necklace around his neck as Tira fastened the sickle moon symbol around her own.
"Hurry up," said Gloom, cantering around them in circles. "It'll probably rain soon. No fun flying in that."
Tira put her arms around Jemmy, her cold breath tickling his ear. "Love you."
"And I you," he said gravely. He cupped her green face in his hands as she stared back at him with wide blue eyes. "Even though you cannot be my sister by blood, or in Shekka's light, you are in my heart."
"Aw, that's so sweet," said Tira. But was her smile a little sad? "Thank you so much."
One day soon after, Jemmy was coming back from the market when a sudden gust of icy wind blasted him. How the wind howled… There was fog all around with weird shapes swirling in it. Suddenly, he felt terribly dizzy and lost consciousness.
"It's time to wake up," a soft murmuring in his ears. Was it a dream? There was a flickering of green in front of his vision. Green fingers swirling and twining in a weird pattern before his eyes. "Wake up!" He was dreaming…
But then he saw the bright green jaw of a woman, and her glistening, black lips. Her breath on his face was cold and smelt musty…
She waved her green fingers in front of his face again and his vision cleared.
He was in a cave, with rough stone walls. Green crystals hung from the ceiling, giving off a sickly, greenish yellow glare.
A woman swathed in a hooded cloak sat opposite him. Her hood was down and only her mouth and jaw were visible. He didn't recognise her, but judging by her bright green skin, she was obviously a witch.
"Welcome to my home," she said. "I've brought you here. You may be wondering why."
He tried to sit up, but his limbs and torso felt strangely heavy. He tried to speak, but only managed a croak.
She reached out and touched his cheek with clammy fingers. "It's OK." She smiled.
Where had he heard her voice before?
"You may be wondering why I brought you here. I've been watching you for a long time." She leaned close, breathing on his face again with her cold, fetid breath. "A very long time. You know I'm a witch, but I'm not like those friends of yours. I'm a little bit different." She put her mouth very closed to his ear and hissed. "I've been watching you for many, many months."
She pulled back her hood to reveal the livid green face of a young woman with a long nose and dirty blond hair. "Don't you recognise me? Come on, think back." Her brown eyes were fixed on him with unnerving intensity.
Suddenly, it clicked. "Mill… Millie? The Bedlam Hag?"
She gave a cackle. "Ah, you do remember me, sweet-face. Then you remember that I said I had to have you. You're mine now!"