There are several fundamental truths you should know about WITCHES. One is that you should never challenge a WITCH in her own home, unless you fancy spending the rest of your days as a chicken or a mouse. Or turned inside out, as was the case with one particularly inventive OCCULTIST and her hapless rival.
Another is that few things will irritate an ENCHANTRESS as much as having nothing to wear.
This was a fact that Hedione was frustratingly familiar with. She stood in front of her wardrobe, flicking garment after garment from its depths. Gossamer gowns, cashmere cloaks, wraps and robes in rainbow tints: each was discarded as inadequate, whether it was gifted by kings or won from tricksy demon seamstresses.
Perhaps a more exotic locale would have something to suit her tastes. One blink, and a portal shivered into being within Hedione’s tower walls. The first landscape she chose was an arid wasteland with shifting dunes; she ran a handful of sand through her fingers and judged it too coarse for her silken skin. The second was a caldera belching noxious smoke and bulbous ropes of magma; the hues were eye-catching, but too flashy to be worth immortalizing in brocade.
The third was simply a lake. It was deep in winter’s grasp, for much of it was frozen over, its glassy surface a stark contrast to the pines jutting into the sky at its edge. But Hedione was not alone: even as she conjured a witch-light for warmth, the purpling sky was blotted out by clouds of white. Swans, migrating back to their birthplace for their mating rituals.
The swans fluttered down and settled into the shoreline. They acknowledged her with deep nods and kept a respectful distance, for birds, more than most animals, are well attuned to a WITCH’s moods. Hedione, for her part, was considering passing to warmer climes where her lips wouldn’t be chapped by the biting wind. But a tingling at the nape of her neck told her to watch and wait, so she did.
It took several minutes before she understood what was bothering her. Instead of the honks and squawks she usually associated with swans, this colony was almost silent aside from the squelch of mud under webbed feet and the wet tearing of uprooted weeds. One large male, satiated by his grazing and still energetic after his journey, stretched his serpentine neck and flapped in a mating display. The song that issued from his beak, however, was arrhythmic and halting. Others made their own attempt at courtship, but they too managed only a discordant cacophony. Those lucky enough to have already found lifelong mates rose into the twilight, grunting their displeasure.
“Oh, this won’t do at all,” Hedione said out loud. The unpaired swans swiveled in her direction, consternation evident in their beady eyes. One of them let out a forlorn whistle. She held its gaze, nodded almost imperceptibly. “I’ll be right back,” she promised them, and when she WILLED her portal into being, it led not to another landscape nor to the plush comfort of her tower, but inside the dressing rooms of a shop she often frequented.
“Mistress Hedione, what a pleasure,” cried the proprietor as she emerged from behind heavy curtains embroidered with silver sigils. It looked like a pleasant-faced man with a bald head, but its palms were stippled like a lizard’s, and she sometimes glimpsed a razored gullet behind its human teeth. “Could I interest you in a lavalier or a coronet? Only the finest gems, polished with tree sap and maidens' tears!”
“I’m actually looking for a music shop,” Hedione replied. “Do you have any recommendations?”
The man-who-was-not-a-man almost frowned but recovered itself immediately. “But of course,” it said, and gave her directions to a stall under the arches of a petrified palace. There were antelope-horn trumpets and crystal cymbals on display, and the shop owner welcomed her with a many-jointed flourish. Take as much time as you need, it said as Hedione chose biwas and bassoons, bagpipes and bells. Its voice was a comforting susurrus in the recesses of her mind. It is always a joy when a WITCH deigns to peruse my wares.
When the time came to haggle, their discourse was swift, calculating, efficient. In the end Hedione paid with a pair of gilded combs that fairly hummed with enchantments. Then she stepped back through her conjured portal to the lake, her purchases tucked away safely into a pocket dimension.
Now the real work could begin. She called the unpaired swans to her and bade them sing. As they did, she chose for each one a mechanical counterpart and demonstrated melodies and harmonies, coaxing the birds towards a cohesive tune with each exhaled breath, each depressed string. It was painstaking work, and time-consuming – for swans, although tenacious, do not have the best memories. When the sun dripped below the horizon she curled up to sleep on the icy lake amidst her dragon’s hoard of instruments, sheltered from the elements by her charges’ mighty wings.
So passed five days and five nights. On the sixth day, Hedione knew it was time to put her tutelage to the test. She picked up a set of bone chimes, stroking them with one manicured finger, and the swans surrounding her stirred and stretched as its tinkling filled the predawn air. Then, recognizing her cue, one female swan began to sing, beating her wings to accent the rhythm. The others joined in one by one, first tentatively, then with increasing confidence. They took to the air and found their partners as the song surged towards the climax, and Hedione herself was buoyed up by surges of magic. She hadn’t realized that all this time she’d been casting a ritual with each sustained note and cascading chord, and she laughed aloud even as the frigid wind wrung the moisture from her eyes.
She hadn’t realized that all this time she’d been casting a ritual with each sustained note and cascading chord, and she laughed aloud even as the frigid wind wrung the moisture from her eyes.
By the time the sun crested over distant mountains, drenching the frozen lake in honeyed light, swans and ENCHANTRESS alike had landed gently on the lakeshore. As the other swans looked on, each newly bonded pair chose the longest, lushest feathers from their wings and lay it at her feet in gratitude.
And that is how Hedione, the Beguiling Chime came by her luxurious feather robe, setting a new fashion amongst the WITCHES, and all those who can appreciate the value of gifts given freely by the beasts of the WILDS.