Jemmy awoke the next morning to the sound of birds chirping outside the window. The sun streamed through the window, warming his face. He and Thea had tired each other out with their lovemaking last night and their sheets were sweaty. The witch was lying beside him, fast asleep, her mouth open and her blond hair spread around her on the pillow. The sunlight shone off her green cheeks and forehead.
He kissed her on the nose. "Thea?"
Her eyelids fluttered and she mumbled, but didn't wake.
He gingerly touched her green cheek. It didn't feel improper to do that, now she had held him in her arms and comforted him. He supposed that kind of thing broke down the formal barriers that existed between him and strange ladies.
Her blue eyes opened and she gazed up blearily. "Huh?" Her eyes focused on him and she smiled. "Oh. Good morning, love." She sat up and kissed him full on the mouth.
"I know what we must do," said Jemmy. "I have my sense of purpose again." That phrase impressed the girls back home.
Thea beamed at him. "That's great."
We must go to Arunn's Hill. We both know that an ancient evil is stirring there. There are people there who need our help. There are lives to be saved."
Thea nodded vigorously. "You're so noble. That's something I love about you. Let's go and investigate."
The two of them travelled by road directly to the hills, travelling in the direction of Arunn's Hill. But soon a winged shape soared over them and a strange creature swooped down, landing on the road before them. It looked like a monkey, but with bat wings. It had dark grey fur.
"Uh oh… It's Duskie. Mistress Moonfall's familiar," said Thea.
The monkey spoke in a reedy voice. "Thea, you bad girl. Mistress Moonfall is worried sick. How could you walk out on her like that? You are to come home this instant."
"It wasn't her fault," said Jemmy stepping forward.
"Will you please stay out of this, boy?" said Duskie.
"We're going on an epic quest," said Thea. "My and this handsome warrior. We can't see Mistress Moonfall."
"Could Mistress Moonfall help?" asked Jemmy.
"She might try and stop us," said Thea.
"It is not open for negotiation," said Duskie.
Jemmy looked up to see a dark cloud in the distance. It moved rapidly until it was directly above them, and now he could see the sky boiling with a swarm of winged monkeys, all like Duskie.
"The Mistress has sent her furbabies," said Thea. "They're her companions. She's been lonely for too long. She's got like a crazy monkey lady!"
The monkeys alighted around them.
"We're going to carry you back home, Thea," squeaked Duskie.
"Um…" Thea shifted nervously on her feet.
"Where Thea goes, I go," said Jemmy, taking Thea by the hand.
"As you like," said Duskie.
"Don't worry. It's not too bad… just go along with it," said Thea. "They'll fly us to Bluefen village quickly."
The monkeys clutched hold of the kids and hoisted them into the air, then they were flying with astonishing speed. The wind blasted Jemmy in the face.
"Will I ever get used to this?" Thea wondered aloud.
Soon they could see a marsh stretching out below them, and then a sprawling village. The monkeys flew past the house and the village and to a grassy hill. There was a slit in the side of the hill, where the monkeys alighted, releasing Thea and Jemmy.
"Hurry now, don't keep the Mistress waiting," said Duskie.
Jemmy took Thea by the hand. The witch's green face showed traces of apprehension. "I'll face her with you," he assured her.
They entered a stone passage that opened out into a rough stone cave hung with tapestries. A group of the winged monkeys followed her. There was a glass window in the wall of the cave through which sunlight streamed. Another witch was pacing the cave. She had a shiny green face, just like Thea. She had long, fiery red hair that glinted in the sunlight, and she wore a flowing black dress that hugged her shapely form. Jemmy guessed she was about a year older than he was.
This witch glared at Thea, her sky blue eyes glinting. "So nice of you to drop in, Thea."
Jemmy thought her voice sounded refined, even though it was quivering with anger. She strode over to Thea, her dress swishing, and gripped her by the shoulders. "What did you mean by it, walking out on me like that? Do you want to make me ill worrying?"
She choked. She was breathing hard so that her breasts were rising and falling.
"I had to follow Danny," said Thea. "It's no big deal…"
"Please go easy on her, Mistress," said Jemmy, giving the Coltbridge curtsey.
Mistress Moonfall released Thea and turned to stare at him. She stared at his face and moistened her lips with her blackish green tongue. "Please warrior, this is a matter between us witches." She sounded breathless all of a sudden. "And I know more of Thea's misadventures than you guess. I know she blundered into mortal danger. I am much better practiced in magic than she is."
"Maybe if we sit down somewhere quiet and discuss it calmly, you will see things my way?" suggested Jemmy.
"Very well," said Mistress Moonfall. "Thea – wait here for us." She snaped her green fingers and the monkeys leapt to attention. "My babies, see that Thea is refreshed, but she can't have any cake today. She's been a naughty girl. She's made Mummy angry."
She ushered Jemmy into another room. This one was a bedroom with a soft looking bed, a table and two chairs. A monkey followed them in. It was carrying a plate of tea and scones with jam.
"I am Jemedar of Coltbridge," began Jemmy.
Mistress Moonfall planted her elbows on the table and cupped her face in her hands. "Mm. I know. But I prefer Jemmy. My name, my real name, is Princess." She sat up again. "When I was seven, I accidentally wondered into a spot sacred to Shekka. It lay within a copse in the grounds of my family's Manor. I heard the Goddess whispering, asking if I wanted power to help people and make them happy. Clearly, she could sense my thoughts. I agreed and she put her power in me." The witch touched her green cheek. "Princess is a name that hasn't suited me in a long time."
"I like Mistress Moonfall, or 'Moonie' for short," said Jemmy boldly.
"Moonie… call me that if you like," said the witch, flicking a strand of her long red hair away from her face.
"And I implore you not to judge Thea harshly," said Jemmy. "If you knew the whole story…"
"I do," said Thea. "I have been watching you, handsome warrior. My crystal ball lets me see some things. I tracked Thea down and saw you both making a love nest."
Jemmy felt his face grow hot. The witch threw back her head and laughed, her shiny green nose crinkling. "Oh, you poor thing. I've got to be honest. My gaze can reach where it's not supposed to and I saw enough to make my lady bits grow moist." She grinned at him, eye blue eyes sparkling. "You blush so sweetly. A touch of roses in your cheeks." She leaned her face close and touched him on the nose. "It's obvious why Thea was salivating for you."
"That is my future wife you're talking about," protested Jemmy.
"Listen to me," Moonie interrupted him. "You should be cautious around witches. I couldn't play with kids my own age because I was dangerous."
She was poker faced when she said this, but Jemmy thought he heard an edge of bitterness in her voice.
He touched her green hand. "I'm sure that's not true." He realised that sounded like he was accusing her of lying. "I mean, I think you're not dangerous," he added awkwardly.
"Psh. I could change you into a frog with a simple hand gesture," said Moonie. "You've got no sense of caution, Jemmy. I wouldn't feel comfortable letting you go into danger like you're planning."
"You know I must go on a desperate and perilous quest?" Said Jemmy, trying to sound desperate and impressive. "It's more important than my life."
She stood up. "Jemmy, come to me." Her arms were outstretched.
Hesitantly he stood up as well and the witch put her arms around him. He relaxed into her embrace. Her breasts were pressed against his chest.
"You're a unique and precious warrior," she murmured in his ear, her breath tickling. "You've no cause to throw your life away."
Jemmy wondered if he could persuade her to help him. If she was a much more powerful witch than Thea, she would be an invaluable ally in fighting the Infernal Beast, and the plague at Arunn's Hill.
He cupped her face in his hands. Her blue eyes widened. "Moonie, you are a special and powerful lady, but as a warrior, I do what I must. Know that I would defend you and take care of you no matter the cost."
He kissed her on the mouth, the way Thea had taught him. She gave a little squeak of surprise, but then gripped his arms and kissed back fiercely. They broke apart. Jemmy's heart was racing. He was feeling the familiar feelings of arousal.
Moonie's blue eyes were bright as she gazed at him. "How did you know you could get away with kissing me?" she said.
"I'm attracted to a woman of real power. Like a moth to a candle flame," said Jemmy.
A smile played around the witch's greyish lips. "I can reveal a warrior's true glory very easily."
Suddenly Jemmy's shirt became unbuttoned and his belt unbuckled and his clothes fell to the floor. Moonie blew him a kiss. "What a buffet of manliness."
"Don't you want to sample it?" said Jemmy.
The witch clicked her fingers and Jemmy felt himself pushed onto her bed. Then her dress slipped to the floor, to reveal her naked green body and rounded breasts and...
"My vagina salivates," said Moonie. She pounced on him.
After they had enjoyed hot and sweaty sex together, Jemmy was sated. He lay back exhausted, but Moonie was still hungry… Her green skin gleamed with perspiration, but she was kissing his neck again. "Give it to me! give it to me!"
"You're insatiable!" he said. But he felt arousal flare up in his body. The witch was very excited indeed – she was all over him, so he rolled on top of her and gave her what she craved.
Finally it was time to take another breather.
Sunlight shone off the witch's sweaty green face. "Stay with me forever… you must!"
"Will you help me on my quest?" asked Jemmy. "That is my condition. I'll stay with you if you agree."
"Ohh… you drive a hard bargain…" she groaned. "Now you know I just can't live without you. Fine. Now give it to me again!"
When Jemmy and Moonie were fully satisfied, the witch held up a glass jar. "Jemmy, my love… can you please put some more of your seed in here? I do like to store the very best seed. I can help infertile couples, for one thing. It's an ingredient. Mothers and fathers who yearn for a strong and beautiful child to call their own. Let me try something?"
Jemmy crouched on the bed while she inserted a finger into his anus. This caused a raging orgasm and made his seed erupt forth into the jar.
"Call it 'Jemmy's Baby Juice,'" she mused. "The very best kind."
They met with Thea in the main room for lunch. "Jemmy has got me persuaded, apprentice," said Moonie. "We're helping him on his quest… Goddess help us."
Thea's smooth green forehead crinkled as she scowled. "What d'you do to persuade her?" she demanded of Jemmy.
"Don't start with that attitude, Thea, if you please," Moonie glared at the other girl. "Jemmy's doing us both a great service, giving us his beautiful babies…" she looked misty eyed. "You want Jemmy to stay with us? Then help us with the quest. Then you get your own little Jemmy."
Thea sighed and lowered her gaze.
The winged monkeys flew them to Arunn's Hill that afternoon. They alighted on the road that lead to the village. A deathly stillness hung in the air. The village was shrouded by the smoke from several bonfires. Moonie gripped Jemmy's left hand and Thea his right. The winged monkeys stood around them.
"What a place!" said Thea with a shudder.
An old woman with a huge pack of possessions tied to her back stumbled towards them.
"Don't worry about the monkeys, Madame," said Moonie. "They're my furbabies."
The old woman shook a gnarled finger at them. "Stay away, handsome boy! Stay away, green girls! There's a plague in Arill!"
Arill… the local contraction of Arunn's Hill.
The trio looked at each other.
"We have a mission," said Moonie. "But first I'll cast a spell of plague deflection…" She made a series of complicated motions with her fingers which glowed bright like the moon for a moment, and then fired a volley of sparks into the air which rained down on the three of them like silver raindrops.
"That will ward off the plague," said Moonie.
They walked towards the plague-ridden settlement.
As they entered Arill, they could see that many of the buildings had large red plague symbols painted on their doors. Two men were unloading corpses from a cart and throwing them onto one of the bonfires. The smell of burning flesh made Jemmy's stomach heave. Beside him Thea sniffed.
"Aw, Thea, come here…" Moonie took the other witches in her arms to pull her into a bear hug.
Jemmy wasn't sure what to do. "Are you alright?" he asked awkwardly.
"Of course Thea's sensitive to the villager's pain," said Moonie.
"I lost my Dad to sickness," said Thea. Her voice was choked. She sniffled. There were tears shining in her blue eyes as she peeked over Moonie's shoulder.
Mistress Moonfall planted a kiss on top of her head. She had certainly got over her anger about Thea's desertion. There was more of a bond between the witches than Thea had led Jemmy to believe. He gazed at them, feeling like a intruder on the scene. Then, not wishing to be at a loose end, he called out to the people what their intentions were. "I am a warrior and my comrades in arms are witches. You will find us uniquely qualified to assist you."
One of the men who had unloaded the corpses smiled and led him to the village elders who were in a large, stone building. The only stone building in sight.
The village elders, two men and one lady, listened impassively as the trio assisted each other in explaining their intent to free Arill from the plague. Thea spoke less and sniffled occasionally.
"Arill is overrun with rats," said Edgar, the chief elder, "and it is clearly these vile rodents who brought the plague. A demon-worshipper lured them hear with his pipes."
Jemmy nodded. "I know. I killed the rat faced evil-doer myself. I just pray to Seraton that I'm not too late to undo his wicked work."
"A plague caused by magic can be undone with magic," said Moonie.
"We have a plan," said Edgar, "if it were possible to get all the rats into the old barn outside Arill, we could eliminate them. We could set fire to the barn and contain it, without the fire spreading. But we've got no way of luring the rats there."
Jemmy had a brainwave. "The pipes! I took the ratty villain's pipes when I killed him! I've got no magic to make them work, but the witches can."
"Good, Jemmy. I was wondering when you'd think of that," said Moonie.
"While we're here, best eat the Aramance I got at Redstone," said Jemmy. "It may help ward off the plague. I think we'll need it."
He divided the sprig into three and chewed on his part. It tasted sort of bitter. He hoped it would work.
Jemmy held up the Piper's pipes. "Who can play this evil instrument?"
"Give it to me," said Moonie.
She put the Piper's pipes to her blackish lips and blew. She looked funny with her shiny green cheeks puffing up.
An eerie, dirge-like melody rose from the pipes, slow and haunting. The witch took them from her lips, but the mournful tune continued to emanate from the pipes. Moonie snapped her fingers and a winged monkey came fluttering up to them.
The witch pointed in the direction of the barn. "Take these to the barn and hold them there until the place is burning and the rats cannot escape. Then fly away and for the Moon's sake, don't get burned."
The monkey fluttered towards the barn. With a shudder, Jemmy became aware of hundreds of beady eyes watching them. Crawling out of the cellars and sewers of Arill, the rats came in their hordes. Some were thin and scrawny, while others were large as dogs and covered in coarse black fur. Jemmy could see their sharp, yellow teeth and in every red eye, a malevolent gleam… The monkey led the way from the village to the barn, and the rats swarmed towards them, a river of furry bodies.
The trio followed at a safe distance to observe.
When every last rodent was in the barn, the villagers slammed the heavy doors shut. They were began to set the dry straw alight with torches.
Moonie clenched her fists and bit her lip. "C'mon, Peanut…"
And then the monkey came flying out from the roof of the doomed barn and alighted on the road before them, clutching the enchanted pipes.
They could hear the dying screeches of the plague-rats as they roasted alive. They could smell the smoke from the rat pyre. The setting sun cast a bloody light over the hills and trees.
"Good riddance," said Thea.
As the barn roof collapsed and the flames blazed higher, a small crowd of the villagers surrounded them and gave them a rousing cheer. While some of the villagers stayed around the barn to make sure it burned to the ground, the others escorted the trio back to the elders to report success. This time it was Edith, the silver haired lady who spoke to them. "With the rats gone, there is hope anew for the people of Arill."
Jemmy remembered the grey-haired Pilgrim's troubling story. "Arill. Arrun's Hill. There's a legend around these parts, isn't there? Of the canker in Arrun's Hill?"
Edward, the third elder, nodded his hoary head. "Yes, m'boy," he wheezed. "A servant of the Demon, the Spirt of Disease. The evil one who brought plagues of rats and flies to Arrun's Hill. A great Warrior Hero struck him down. Decades came and went, and the evil still lies entombed. The curse lives on and on."
Jemmy turned to the witches. Thea's eyes were wide and fearful, but Moonie compressed her lips in a grim expression.
"This ancient evil must be stirring again," she said. "Perhaps the evil rat-man aroused it? We should investigate, or our work is only half done."
"I second that," said Jemmy.
Thea gulped and nodded.
The elders ordered Gerrod, the village tanner to take the trio to the point at the bottom of the hill where the stone used to rest. Jemmy noted grimly that the hillside had caved in, opening a way into the hill. Dusk had fallen.
"If the Canker lives again, he'll have conjured plagues of flies…" said Moonie. "Fortunately I know a spell to repel them." She made complex interlocking motions with her fingers over Thea and Jemmy, and then over her own head.
"Now, Thea… I believe you need to practice your popping pebble spell. Show us how you do it."
Thea picked up a pebble. "Just a second..." She clutched the pebble in her green fingers and murmured a garble of syllables. The pebble glowed green. Thea squeaked and dropped it and it exploded with a little pop on the ground.
"Try again," said Moonie.
"OK…" Thea picked up another pebble and mumbled. The pebble glowed green and she chucked it at a rock. It exploded, leaving the rock cracked down the middle. The witches scooped up fistfuls of pebbles and put them in little cloth bags tied around their waists. Then the three of them crept into the tunnel in the hillside that led to the Canker's lair…