“Justine! No! You can’t face him alone!” Malinda’s concern was palpable, hanging heavy in the air between the two witches.
“I have to, Malinda. Eleyna’s too hurt to go on, and she needs you and Alice’s help.” Justine gulped, staring at the imposing yacht docked near Castle Andar. “It’s up to me.”
Chewing her bottom lip, Malinda struggled to give Justine a hug, while still holding up the unconscious Eleyna. “You just be careful, dear, you hear? Remember what you’ve learned.” Malinda nodded and readjusted the sleeping woman’s arm around her shoulders. Together, she and Alice hurriedly dragged Eleyna away from the beach and into the night.
Justine faced the gently rocking boat once more. Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, she carefully climbed the ragged rope ladder hanging down from the main deck. Once on board, she hovered in the shadows, listening… Faintly, she heard voices coming from beneath her. Duke Ebrius must be down there, she thought. Inch by terrifying inch, she made her way to the captain’s quarters below deck. A light gleamed softly from under the heavy wooden door, and Justine heard the voices again.
“I told you they would be back, dammit! We should have gone after them when the little weasel prince bled out in that clown camp.” The Duke’s unmistakable snarky, permanently disgusted tone emanated from the room.
“Yes m’lord, you’re right. I-“
“It’s ‘Your Majesty’!” growled Ebrius, “How many times do I have to tell you, Mirgun? No one is ever going to take me seriously as a ruler if my own men don’t address me properly.”
“Yes, sorry, erm- Your Majesty.” Mirgun’s shaky voice betrayed his fear of his lord and master.
“Well, what do you plan to do about these pesky witches?”
“We could, er… that is, we…”
“Ugh!” Ebrius shouted in blatant disgust, “You’re absolutely useless. Tell me, why are you even here?”
“I, um, killed King Randir for you, so you could rule Andar?”
“Oh, that’s right. What you failed to do was properly get rid of his son, thereby bringing these annoying witches into the situation. If they hadn’t stepped in trying to save him, I’d be sitting on the golden throne right now. So, you – go. Clean up your mess.”
“Y-yes, m’Lor- erm, Your Majesty.”
Justine held her breath and pressed her back against the wall to the side of the door. It swung opened, and Mirgun stepped through. She waited until he’d closed the door behind him, then, using the cover of the shadows, and a large keg of Andarian ale, she whispered, “Inebriari,” smashing a fist into the keg and flicking droplets of the deep red drink toward the short, angry-looking man.
His eyes grew wide for a moment, then his shocked expression was replaced with a dopey grin. “He-e-ey,” he slurred, “Don’t I- hup -know you- hup!?”
He managed a step forward before tripping over his feet and falling flat on his face. Justine tip-toed over his now-snoring body, fighting back a giggle. Well, that takes care of him, she thought to herself, time to face the real threat. Twisting the handle on the door to the captain’s quarters, Justine drew in a deep breath. She didn’t know what to expect, but it wasn’t this. Duke Ebrius, known for his dashing good looks and handsome locks, was physically scarred and almost bald, with thin patches of hair here and there on his pale, lumpy scalp.
So shocked was she by his appearance, she audibly gasped. The duke’s head jerked up from his task at the large wooden desk. “Ah, so Mirgun has become an efficient asset, after all. And where are your friends?”
Justine was caught completely off-guard, “I, erm, they’re…”
“Ha! Tongue twisted in the presence of greatness, huh?” He smirked, “You know, the option to be my Queen is still on the table,”
“You’re a disgusting pig!” she spat, “Ventum!” A strong gust of wind came out of nowhere, swirling her wavy hair into twisted strands of fiery chaos. Dust from every nook and cranny was blown into the air, obscuring her, and the duke’s vision.
“Clever girl!” The Duke’s gleeful cry through the magical sandstorm sent shivers down her spine. The curtain of dust and debris parted, and one thin, white hand appeared in front of her.
She gulped. Her thoughts raced, thinking of all the lessons she’d been taught by Malinda and Alice over the years. Surely one of the spells she’d learned would be useful right about now? She continued backing away from the hand and another appeared next it. She bumped up against a large container, and a quick glance down showed it to be filled with decanters of oil for the ship’s lanterns. An idea struck her. She could use the oil and mix it with the sand and dust. With a little thickening magic, she should be able to immobilize Duke Ebrius.
She took a deep breath, ready to shatter one of the glass oil bottles, “Addenso!” Yet, before she could smash the bottle open to complete the spell, the Duke’s cadaverous hands reached out and snapped closed around her throat. The bottle fell harmlessly to the floor and rolled away under the desk.
“Nice try,” rasped the Duke, “You’re very brave, I’ll give you that. But also very stupid. Did you really think you could get the best of me? Think again. You should have taken me up on my offer to be Queen when you had the chance. Now, I think I’ll just kill you and get it over with.”
“You’re a monster!” shouted Justine as she gasped for air, “You’re nothing but a murderer and a coward. I would gladly give my life to prevent your rule. Do you really think the others are just going to be okay with this? Kill me. I dare you.”
“You’re right. Killing you may just make you a martyr. Still, your existence has proven far too hazardous to continue tolerating,” he said coldly, releasing her from his grip. For a moment, she thought he was going to let her go. Then she felt an odd sensation in her gut. It wasn’t altogether unpleasant, at first. It felt like a gentle tugging on her organs. Then, the tugging intensified, as did the pain. Justine screamed in agony, her insides felt like they were on fire, being sucked out from within her by some unseen force. Crumpling to the floor, she slumped forward in a lifeless pile of red hair atop the simple grey-green fabric of her dress.
The Duke grinned, his evil essence oozing from every orifice, “Now, to find the others.”
Some may recognize these characters. Malinda, Alice, and Justine are the witches from my novel, The Witches of Andar, now simply called, ‘Andar‘. This book is no longer available for purchase, as I’m seeking a literary agent and publication deal. I want to thank all those who’ve read and continue to read my stories. I love creating in this space, and the support I receive here has made a huge difference in my daily life. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there as a writer, and I want to say thank you for each and every Like, Comment, and Share. It warms my heart to know others enjoy my words. Thank you.