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The Looking-Glass (standard:fantasy, 895 words)
Author: Ian HobsonAdded: May 14 2004Views/Reads: 3089/0Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
The dapper-looking grandfather clock in the hallway struck nine, and with a wink, lifted its top hat and bowed stiffly towards Astana, before resuming its regular pose and its steady tick… tock.

The Looking-Glass 

©2004 Ian Hobson 

The light was fading rapidly, as was the summer, but the evening was
still warm.  He took her hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze, but 
then suddenly, he was gone, leaving Astana sitting alone beneath the 
willow tree.  But Astana was used to Valdo's sudden departures; his 
habit of melting away, or sometimes, when he was feeling theatrical, 
vanishing with a loud ‘pop' or in a cloud of green or orange smoke. 

Astana sat for a while and then, rising from the bench, she stepped
lightly along the stone pathway and up the steps towards her cottage.  
There was a light breeze, and the full moon, now visible as it almost 
crested the tops of nearby trees, conspired with them to cast dancing 
shadows across the garden.  Astana stopped beside the small circular 
pond and, using a spell the old warlock had taught her, she raised and 
tilted its mirror-like surface, to look at her own reflection. 

She was beautiful.  Her features were fine, as though chiselled from
granite, yet her skin was as smooth as porcelain.  In the moonlight her 
long golden hair shone, her emerald-green eyes sparkled, and her 
full-length gown of ivory coloured silk seemed to flow over her 
feminine form like melt-water running over a frozen waterfall. 

‘I have much to thank you for, Valdo.'  Astana's voice was as soft as
falling snow.  She stood for a moment then, as she turned away towards 
the cottage, she let the pond fall gently back into place; causing 
circular ripples to run from its circumference to its center, where 
they took the form of tiny fish, leaping above the surface and 
returning with a splash.  From the shadows beneath a bush, a black 
kitten raced to the edge of the pond, stopping just in time to avoid 
falling headlong into the water. 

‘There you are, Caldra.'    Astana had turned full circle and was
looking down at the kitten, as it playfully reached with its right paw 
towards the center of the pond.  ‘You're not still falling for that 
trick, are you?  You should know better at your age.'  Caldra meowed as 
she looked up at her mistress, enquiringly. 

‘Yes, Valdo has gone.  Though I don't know why you are so afraid of
him.'  Astana reached down to stroke the kitten; and as she ran her 
long fingernails through the sleek black fur along her flank she purred 
loudly, arching her back and lifting her tail.  ‘Look at all he has 
done for us.  You had almost used up the last of your nine lives, but 
he's given you nine more.' 

Once more Astana turned and continued along the pathway towards the
cottage, now with Caldra skipping along behind her.  The scent from the 
last of the summer's climbing roses filled the air as they passed 
through the pergola, and a fresh fall of petals carpeted their way.  
The cottage stood in darkness, but as Astana approached, welcoming 
lights appeared in the windows as candles were lit inside.  This time 
the magic was Astana's own, for though her craft could not quite match 
Valdo's, she was more accomplished than most witches. 

Before Astana reached the threshold, the timber and iron-studded door
swung open, and as she stepped inside, it silently closed, almost 
trapping Caldra's tail as she leaped through the narrowing gap.  Astana 
laughed.  The newly refurbished cottage had a mind of its own and 
seemed to enjoy a little childlike mischief now and again. 

The dapper-looking grandfather clock in the hallway struck nine, and
with a wink, lifted its top hat and bowed stiffly towards Astana, 
before resuming its regular pose and its steady tick... tock.  Astana 
stroked its polished mahogany frame as she past, before entering the 
parlour, where the log fire beneath the Adam-stile fireplace began to 
blaze and long velvet curtains drew themselves across the single leaded 

She looked even more beautiful in the firelight as she crossed the room
towards the alcove beyond the fireplace; yet the long shadow she cast 
seemed distorted.  In the alcove was another velvet curtain, but not 
until Astana stood in front of it and held up her left hand, did the 
curtain glide silently open, revealing a full-length mirror. 

This part of Valdo's miraculous spell was less than a pleasure, but
served as a reminder of the gift he had bestowed on Astana.  His words 
of warning echoed in her mind.  ‘Remember, for the spell to remain 
unbroken you must return to the looking glass, daily, at the appointed 
hour, and gaze upon yourself as you really are.' 

The hag who gazed back at her was old and wrinkled; her nose long and
crooked; her hair, straggly and grey; her eyes dull and lifeless.  And 
her tattered gown, stained with the grime of years, couldn't hide the 
stooping and withered shape of her aged form. 

‘You were almost late,' the old witch admonished, in a hideous croaking
voice.  ‘One day you will be late, and then I will be freed from this 
accursed looking-glass...' 

Astana sighed and raised her hand, closing the curtain before her other
self could say any more.  Then suddenly, the youthful and handsome love 
of her life was beside her again.  And, as she turned towards him and 
returned his smile, he took her hand and gave it a squeeze. 


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