This was the end.
A journey lasting three weeks and two days, one that had taken them from one side of the world to the other, through the fields of Parda and the marshes of Silence and everything in between, one that had seen giants and wolves and the cat lady, one that had nearly killed most of them at one time or another, had finally ended here. The Moro woods surrounded them, oaks and birches and firs changing in the first hint of fall. The moon was high above. Behind them was the village. Somewhere riseways came the sound of the sea, so close now, so far from the one she knew. Ahead of them, closer, was the witch’s lair.
The fire they had built was still decent sized and throwing off good heat. Amira and Luke were fast asleep, near each other but wrapped in their own blankets. Journey had come to the end and tomorrow they were to be separated, Luke to finally go home, if the witch could actually deliver. She wondered if it was still what either of them wanted.
“It isn’t,” the witch whispered.
Rowenna of Mossy rolled her eyes and turned back to the woman.
Rowenna had been sleeping just as well as the others when she had been woken by absolutely nothing. No sound, no rumble. But she had opened her eyes and there the witch was, standing on the other side of the fire. Rowenna had been on her feet in an instant, her blade in her hands. The witch had waggled her eyebrows.
“That won’t do anything,” she had stated. “Not in here.”
The witch had nodded behind Rowenna. She had turned to see herself still sleeping on her bedroll, undisturbed.
“It’s a dream,” Rowenna had remarked.
“Still real, though,” the witch had answered.
And then Rowenna had been staring at her friends, and the witch had heard her. Thinking.
“Get out of my head, witch,” Rowenna demanded. The witch’s purple eyes had narrowed, and suddenly Rowenna found herself gasping for air, breathing as though she were ten feet underwater.
“Is that anyway to address someone you’re coming to for help?” the witch inquired. “I am no simple witch. I am Madam Moro of the Moro Woods, and if you want any sort of happiness for your friends, you had better start showing some of that Mossy charm.”
On her knees, Rowenna held up her hand, palm to the sky, in supplication. The witch smirked and let her go, and Rowenna was able to bring in loud, gasping breaths of air. Her friends didn’t stir.
“I’m sorry,” Rowenna stammered.
The witch retorted, “I gathered.”
“You know why we’ve come,” Rowenna snapped. She was standing back up, fixing her dress.
“I do,” the witch acknowledged.
“And you want something more than just courtesy, don’t you?” Rowenna asked. “You want something from me, specifically. That’s why you’ve met us out here.”
“You, my dear, are far too clever to be just the bodyguard of some silly princess,” Moro marveled.
Rowenna drew herself up to full height and exclaimed, “I am the right hand maid of Princess Amira from Mossy, who, if you know so much about us already, you know is no silly princess. Being clever is the only way to keep up with her.”
The witch smiled and nodded. “She loves the boy.”
“Old news, I’m afraid,” Rowenna replied.
“The boy loves her, too. But he doesn’t like it here. He won’t make it here. If he stays, he’ll become…resentful of her. They won’t last,” the old woman mused.
“They must be split up?” Rowenna requested.
The woman smirked, “Oh, dear, I thought you said you were clever?”
Rowenna’s eyes narrowed. “Both? You can send both back to his world?” she bellowed.
Moro made a fake pout. “I know. It would mean losing your darling Amira. So close you are, like sisters. Well, cheer up, honey. The payment for moving these two means you won’t be around to miss her, anyway.”
“You mean…my life?” Rowenna wheezed, holding a hand to her neck.
“Yes, but not in the way you’re thinking,” Moro voiced. Have you ever heard of a sleeper?”
“Me? A sleeper?” Rowenna questioned.
The witch stated, “You have power.”
Rowenna shrugged. “A little singing magic. What use is that to someone like you?”
“My business is mine. The point is, it is of use to me. And for your service as a sleeper, I’m willing to help those two gorgeous lovebirds find a real home,” Moro communicated.
Rowenna took another look at Amira’s sleeping face.
Don’t think, just do.
“Was that your thought or mine?” Rowenna demanded of Moro.
“Does it matter? Sound advice either way,” Moro disclosed.
“How many years?” Rowenna sighed.
“One hundred,” Moro divulged. “One year for every year they’ll live happily. Rounded up to a nice, pretty number.”
Rowenna announced, “I have two conditions.”
Moro paused. “I’m listening,” she uttered.
“They don’t know what I’ve agreed to,” Rowenna ordered, pointing. “Amira would never…she’d never let herself be happy, if she knew.”
“Done,” Moro said, articulating. “The other?”
“You get me back to Mossy when I wake up. I want to go home,” Rowenna enunciated.
The witch nodded again, and proclaimed, “Fine. When you wake tomorrow, come to my home, just as you planned, and you’ll find me more than willing to give a happy ending to your long journey.”
Rowenna awoke with a start. She was on her bedroll again. The fire was almost out. The witch was nowhere to be seen.
Next to her, Amira and Luke slept uneasily. She watched them for a while, breathing, turning a bit, dreaming about what would happen the next day. Rowenna had the inside scoop. And yet she laid back, eyes to the stars, listening to the pops of the dying fire. It was only in the early morning that she finally found sleep.
I see a lot of these ‘said is dead’ articles that insist you should never use the word said as a tag, and I figured the best way to show how incredibly, hilariously wrong this is was to take one of my perfectly functional scenes in my backlog and fuck it up.