Chapter Three - Aishe



Aishe


‘Priceless’, I thought to myself. The boy was damn near wettin’ himself
as he followed my Indie like a lap dog into the room. His face was a picture too, slack jaw…I have a cure for that in one of my jars.


“Hurry up, will you? The moon is near full and won’t be here long once it gets dark.”


 The boy couldn’t help but answer, giving me the chance to have some fun with him.


“What on earth are you on about, woman? That makes no sense at all, it’s already dark...and when else does the damn moon come out? Indie, she’s mental, let’s go!” 


I stopped him as he made his way to the door.


“Ah, the boy has a voice! And there was me, thinking my old ears were packing up as quickly as the rest of me. Well, in short, for the benefit of the outsider, it means the witching hour, the stroke of midnight...and there are many shades of dark, you fool. We are only a day short of a full moon; this is the last quarter of her waxing and during this time, she becomes invisible. Keeping up? And it would not be wise to leave just yet boy.”


I didn’t need to look at him; I could feel his blood boiling. I laughed silently and waited for the reply.


“I do have a name, its Burgess, and why are you always such a twisted old cow? Or does being civil only happen once a year during your stupid waxing moon, maybe?”


This boy had balls. Impressive, though I hated to admit it.


“Burgess it is, then. And never mind about the small print, all you need to be knowin’ is that we only have a few hours to keep Indigo safe…a door has been opened and it can’t be shut!”


I eyeballed the boy as I started to gather up my things. He looked as though he wanted to punch me clean off my feet. Good. He would need that kind of fight when the time came. I picked up my basket and began to pack my dried herbs and flowers for potions, candles, resins, crystals, acorns and the old marble pestle and mortar I’d searched for earlier. I could hear the teenagers behind me and I listened to them carefully whispering away to themselves. The boy hung on my Indie’s every word, like a love-sick pup. I allowed them a few moments of speculation whilst I pretended to gather more than I needed…they thought I was deaf anyway, I could take advantage of that.


Indie, please remind me why we are here? I’m going out of my mind and your so-called Aunt has a screw loose!”


“Burgess, stop that! I’m worried too, but I can’t really tell you why we’re here, because I don’t know. All I do know is that something’s coming for me, something dark and it wants to take me back. Aishe is the only person I know who may be able to stop it. ”


“Something dark? Back where? What does that even mean, Indie? It’s me, Burgess, the lad who nicks cars and hangs out with morons, as you so often point out. English, please?”


“I don’t know what it means, exactly. And yeah I know this is all a bit weird for you, but I can’t really explain it. That’s why we need Aishe.” 


“You’re damn right it’s weird, this is far from my normal Saturday night.”


“I know it is and I’m sorry. Anyway, all I can say is that this is happening whether you like it or not.  And that all of this is probably to do with...this.”


Too much had been said already, and now the silly girl was lowering her jacket to show him her shoulder. Indigo was more important than she yet realised. I’d known it the moment she was born, and so had Rosa, her mother. The midwives had tried to wash the mark from her, thinking it was dried blood, but as soon as Indigo had taken her first breath we’d both known what the mark would mean for her. The boy had no right to know about it. 


“Put that away Indigo, it is NOT meant for eyes outside of the tradition! You know that very well, young lady!”


“But Aunty, he needs to know if he’s going to help.”


“That may be, my girl, but right now the less he knows, the safer he will be!”


“He has a right to know the truth, Aishe. I’ve brought him into this; the least we can do now is be honest with him, surely?


“No, and I’ll hear no more of it! Have you forgotten what happened to your mother all these years passed?  It’s a risky business, bringing in someone who’s not a true-blood, it unsettles the balance.”


“But he’s already involved, Aishe!”


 “Be quiet child!”


She was right. The boy was involved, up to his skinny elbows, the fool!


“Let me sit for a moment Indigo, let me sit quietly. I need to think.”


I faced the boy and softened my look. I didn’t like this situation one bit, but I felt I had no choice but to trust my niece’s instinct, after all, it was my job to protect her. I studied the boy closely, while I wondered what I should do about him. His floppy black fringe waved about as he turned his gaze from Indigo to me, quite a handsome face too, with pale blue eyes that sparkled. He’d done me no wrong and for a second I regretted unleashing the sharp end of my tongue on him. Indigo was right of course and the boy had shown some courage by following her here. I’d best cut him some slack.


I sat in my rocker and turned it to face the West. West is where my instincts speak the clearest. I breathed deeply before I spoke.


“As you wish, Indie. I will offer your friend one chance and one chance only. But I hope for your sake that you are right about him.”


She touched my shoulders and kissed the top of my head while I sat. “Thank you.”


I cleared my throat and went against my better judgement.


“So, boy, you wish to know the truth about my Indie? There’ll be no way back once you’ve made up your mind, so think carefully.”


There was a small, uneasy pause.


“I think I do.”


I snapped at him.


“Do you want to know or don’t you? I have no time for indecision!”


“Then yes I do, Indie’s my best friend, I won’t let her down.”


“Then I will give you two choices, boy, but I warn you now, once you have made your decision, that’s it, I will not have my time wasted! We face a serious dilemma, one which will surely lead to danger, maybe even the death of us all.”


“I understand old woman! What are my choices?”


“You leave now, run away from here and safe from any harm. And, you forget about my niece.”


I waited, wondering if he would stay long enough to hear his second choice.


“That’s not an option.”


“Hear me out before you decide.”


“I said it’s not an option. What of the other?”


“That you are initiated, straight away...and told of the Imoogi curse which Indie bears on her shoulder. It’s not a light matter...and the initiation will take place if you wish be at her side!”


I got my answer quicker than I’d expected it.


“Initiate me now. I choose to be told.”


It’s not often I’m speechless. So I stood quickly, picking up the long, thin iron by my chair and I thrust it into the fire and stirred the coals.


“Indigo, remove his shirt.”


She looked disgusted with me, but it was her tough luck. If she wanted him to be involved, then we would do this properly.


“Is this really necessary, Aunty?”


“Do not waste my precious time child, do as I say.”


The patterned end of the iron soon glowed bright red. It was ready…and the boy? He stood rigid and stripped to the waist.


“Give him this.” I passed Indie the flat lid of a wooden box and she put it between his teeth, while I clutched his arm to hold him steady.


“Shut your eyes boy, the pain will only last a second or two.”


I gave him no chance to change his mind. I pressed the iron hard into the centre of his chest, his skin sizzling as the emblem burnt itself there. The boy screamed and fell to his knees; I withdrew the metal and threw it to one side.


“Indie, get him to my chair.”


He sat slumped, but we were running out of time. Already I felt a presence within the woods, I would need to work quickly now.


“Sit him up child, I need to finish.”


I ripped the curled edges of his blackened skin and cast them into the fire. And in my head I covered him with the protection of the clan, binding him to me and Indie, lord rest my soul!


He yelled as Indie re-buttoned his shirt before he could see what I’d done...and he looked at me with eyes that could kill.


“Forget your pain, boy; we will need to leave right away and I have no time for pity, this was your choice after all. Now, Indie, show him your shoulder, child. ”


She let her clothing fall from her left shoulder and moved her hair to one side. The mark was strong and the boys jaw dropped to the floor.


“Is that the Imoogi?”


“It is.”


“It doesn’t look real, it’s moving.”


“That’s because it’s part of her, living and breathing and biding its time. Once she is seventeen, in only a few days, the prophecy will begin.”


I watched the boy as he watched the mark. An iridescent vein of 
blue passed between the bold, red outline of two distinct wings. The wings were a sign of what my Indie’s future should’ve held – but things had changed. Now I feared her exile, and the looming fate of the previous Imoogi serpentines.

It was only small, for now, but it would grow once she came of age. Before things had changed in the other world, bearing this mark would have brought my niece great opportunity. But now, it only brings her the burden of its curse.

“What is the Imoogi? None of this makes any sense!”

The boy had paled from his pain, or perhaps it was from his world 
crumbling around those floppy ears of his. Either way, we had no time for a history lesson – or rest.


“An ancient warrior boy, one meant for the skies. Those wings 
won’t catch a breath of wind though unless we get going. I’ll explain more to you when we leave, boy. For now, put this on your skin and tape it tight. You don’t want it to get it infected."



He snatched the dressing from me and stood up, leaving me to fetch my willow basket. Unbothered by his dramatics, I made my way to the front porch.


“Right then, we must leave straight away, to the brook under Knowle Bridge. Boy, take a deep breath and put your fears aside; you’re part of this whether either of us likes it or not now. Are you ready?”


He nodded and made some kind of grunting noise as he put his jacket on, helping Indie with hers too. I felt the air drop another degree or two and noticed the long branches of the sycamores banging against the back of the house. Something was amiss, and that was enough warning for me to hurry the others.


“Well, don’t just stand there. Indigo, grab those blankets on that stool, and Burgess get my cloak, over there by the door. Come on, come on, we haven’t a minute to lose.”


I ushered them both out into the blackness and we walked silently, side by side. The path was still lit by the moon, but only just. I swapped places with Indie, stepping nearer to the boy and I quietly handed him a small, musty book. It was old, older than me. No words were exchanged as he hid it beneath his jacket; wincing when he caught his sore spot. But he never made a sound and showed some discretion at least, when he realised my intentions. I didn’t want Indigo to think that I might fail her. The book was for the boy, just in case.


We strode at a healthy pace but the wind still got into my old bones, and, as I glanced back at the old cottage, I spent but a moment recalling the last seventy years of my life there. Indigo sensed my longing and took my hand as she moved closer.


“It’s okay, Aunty, we’ll be back before you know it.”


I smiled at her kindness. “Yes dear, I’m sure we will.”


But I knew it would not be so. 




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