Blodwin started life just like any other normal child. Her childhood would not have been classed in any way as peculiar. Things only started to change during her teenage years, but even then it was hard to pin down exactly when the change occurred. After all, peculiar behaviour is quite commonplace amongst hormone-riddled teenage girls.
Perhaps, it all started on Blodwin’s thirteenth birthday, which as sod’s law would have it, was a school day. Blodwin was walking home after another miserable day when she heard a piteous whining coming from within a nearby alley. She tried to ignore it; nearly walked on by, but when it came again the sound struck a chord in Blodwin’s heart strings. She had to investigate.
The alley was filled with threatening shadows. It was as if the sun had been banished from existing in the semi-darkness, despite it being a lovely spring day out on the main street. Her mother had always warned her to avoid such shadowy places, but when the mewling came again, she braced herself and stepped into the shadows.
The chill washed over her like a cold shower, making her gasp with surprise. She shivered and pulled her coat tight around her scrawny frame, considering retreat. As if on cue, the piteous wailing came again, more desperate this time. It was coming from further down the alley.
As Blodwin crept closer, she became aware of a powerful stench of rotting meat. Each step increased the smell until Blodwin had to cover her face with the sleeve of her coat to stem the rank odour. The mewling was coming from within a dilapidated cardboard box, discarded at the end of the lane.
By now, Blodwin’s heart was in her throat, beating like a hummingbird. Tentatively, she raised the cardboard lid away.
Flies burst free, buzzing angrily around Blodwin’s head like a swarm of hornets, and she shrieked in fright, staggering backward. The putrefying was even stronger now. Blodwin gagged back her lunch as she tried to swat the swarm of flies away from her face.
The piteous whining became more urgent as again Blodwin considered flight. It was as if the creator of the noise sensed the girl’s hesitation. Hypnotised by the sound, Blodwin found a tiny spark of courage and drew closer. She carefully lifted the lid.
The last few flies flew out, hurrying to catch up with their comrades, seeking out their next meal. Peering into the darker interior within the box, Blodwin could vaguely make out the form of a piebald cat. It was lying quite still in the bottom of the box. It appeared to be dead. Only its swollen belly showed any movement. The cat was being consumed from the inside out by a belly full of maggots. Blodwin had found the source of the putrefying stench.
Choking back bile she turned away in disgust, but at that moment, she spotting something else. In the corner of the box she saw a small black blob of fur with eyes like saucers. The blob mewed again. On shaky legs, the blob tottered nearer, wailing desperately like a banshee now.
“Ach! You poor wee mite,” cooed Blodwin, reaching into the box. Blodwin lifted the kitten up and cradled it against her cheek. The poor thing was all skin and bone, but it purred loudly in response to her touch.
Tucking the flea-riddled kitten under her coat against the cold, she decided, “You’d better come home with me.”
Arriving home, Blodwin pleaded with her mother to keep the kitten.
“We can’t afford it,” protested her mother. “We can hardly put food on the table as it is.”
“Please!” begged Blodwin, playing her trump card, “It is my birthday, after all.”
With a sigh, her mother relented. “Very well then, but don’t get attached to that thing. I doubt it will survive the night. The critter is far too young to be away from its mother.”
Grinning from ear to ear, Blodwin agreed, however, it was far too late for that. A strong bond had already been established between the girl and the little tomcat. Blodwin had even decided on a name for the kitten. She called him Dagda, after the famous Celtic god.
Despite the odds, the kitten survived, growing stronger with each passing day. Within a few months it was able to feed itself on mice and small birds. Within a year, it was as big as a medium sized dog and was bringing home rabbits for its adopted family.
Dagda loved to have his belly scratched. Well actually, to be completely honest, he loved to have his belly scratched by Blodwin. Anyone else who was foolhardy enough to put a hand near his belly was going to lose some flesh.
The only exception to this rule was Blodwin’s grandmother: Ms Carmichael. She is a spinster that lived at the edge of the Dark Woods with her pet raven; Mortimer. She made her living selling medicinal herbs, poultices, and potions, along with a bit of midwifery. She also had other means of income, but her customers were wise enough to keep that business to themselves.
Dagda was no fool. He hadn’t even stepped foot within the old woman’s isolated cottage before he knew that the owner of the residence had ‘The Knowledge’. He had no intention of being turned into a toad, or worse still, a poodle, so he kept his natural instincts firmly under control whenever the old lady and her ever watchful crow were about.
Apart from his night-time hunting expeditions, and his daily prowls around the neighbourhood to mark his territory and scare the crap out of the local canine community, Dagda was never far away from Blodwin. He escorted her to school, slept in the sunshine on the windowsill of her classroom until the final bell rang, and then escorted her back home.
At first, he had tried to follow her into the classrooms, which led to a lot of angry shouting and a particularly nasty incident where the Headmaster received a nasty bite on the calf.
After that, a tacit peace treaty was negotiated whereby Dagda remained, outside of the school building itself.
Blodwin, like many other children who were shorter, fatter, or generally didn’t fit the misconstrued concepts of normality, had been a constant victim of bullying at school, but the other children quickly learned how protective Dagda was.
Some of them had been a little slow on the intake, but having a large irate tomcat land on their backs, all teeth and claws, and hissing like a banshee, helped to educate even the densest of Blodwin’s bullies.
Blodwin, for her part, had been quite adamant, “No, Dagda! You can’t go around attacking anyone who looks at me the wrong way. Much though I appreciate it, I’m going to get expelled if you keep this up! You have to promise me that you’ll behave.”
Reluctantly, Dagda had agreed to the revised peace treaty, and thereafter, remained on his best behaviour during school hours.
Of course, there was always more than one way to flay a bully.
It didn’t take him long to track any would-be offenders to their homes, which was technically not covered within the peace treaty. A reign of terror then commenced, and only abated once Dagda was satisfied of their remorse and future behaviour.
He was an exceptionally clever cat, and did his best to find ways to avoid the blame landing at Blodwin’s door.
A chimney could be blocked up, filling the victim’s house with noxious smoke, or their beloved pet could go missing, never to be seen again.
Milk bottles regularly went missing in the early hours of the morning from the victims’ doorsteps, which gave an additional perk to the revenge.
God forbid if they had a cat flap, or left a window open.
The rank stench of tomcat quickly filled the house overnight, and would take weeks to eradicate.
Needless to say, word soon got around.
The neighbourhood mumbled amongst themselves about witchcraft, devil worshiping, and curses, and although Dagda was careful to avoid any blame, Blodwin quickly developed a reputation as a witch.
Granted, her grandmother’s career choices hadn’t helped, so it wasn’t technically all Dagda’s fault… just most of it.
Blodwin was far from oblivious about all this.
The first time she walked past a group of schoolgirls and heard the muttered curse, “Witch!” she thought nothing of it. She’d been called many names in her short life, and witch was far from the worst of them. After hearing it a few times in the same day, however, she began to suspect a common theme.
The final lesson of the day had just finished, and Blodwin followed the mad dash towards the exits, pausing only long enough to ram her books into her locker and grab her coat.
Once outside in the fresh autumn air, she looked around for Dagda. He was fast asleep on the bonnet of the headmaster’s car, or so it appeared. Blodwin had learned that looks could be deceiving, especially were Dagda was concerned. She knew that he slept there just to torment the headmaster, who was a little wary of the cat after their recent altercation. Rumour was the headmaster had received four stitched, along with a tetanus and rabies jab after the bit.
At that moment, she noticed one of Dagda’s ears twitch, and with a jaw-stretching yawn he rose from his makeshift bed.
Blodwin walked over, watching Dagda perform a variety of languid stretches that would make a yoga guru envious. She couldn’t hide her amused smile.
Dagda spotted her smirk and hissed mockingly.
“What! I can’t help it. You do know how silly you look with your head between your front paws and your arse stuck up in the air, don’t you?”
His look of disgust spoke volumes. He turned, hopped off the bonnet of the car, and set off in the general direction of the High Street, heading homeward with his head held primly high.
“Hang on a minute, Dag!” Blodwin muttered, calling him back. “I want a word with you.”
Her tone didn’t bode well for the tomcat.
It was rare that Blodwin scolded him, but she could be quite firm when she put her mind to it.
Dagda paused, one foot in mid-air like an over-enthusiastic setter.
“Come back here!” insisted Blodwin.
With an inward sigh, Dagda swivelled on the spot, and tried to look a picture of innocents. He’d been working hard on the look for the last few weeks, but still couldn’t quite pull it off. He’d even wasted a considerable amount of time studying Jack Russells, but had to admit that they had a gift for looking blameless that he couldn’t begin to replicate.
Blodwin waited, clearly unwilling to budge until she had said whatever she was going to say. He might as well get this over with.
Dagda jumped up onto the bonnet again, and sat down on the spot he had been warming earlier. After all, there was no point getting a cold anus as well as a scolding. He could look contrite for a few moments, and they could be on their way, but cold buttocks would stay with him for ages, and he was pretty sure it wasn’t good for his health.
“What have you been up to?” Blodwin asked.
Dagda’s eyes swivelled from left to right as he considered her question. It was far too open ended to elicit a response. It could lead down shady avenues that he would rather keep in in perpetual darkness.
If in doubt, deny everything.
“Don’t give me that look. I know you’ve been up to something. Did you have anything to do with that chimney fire in number 19?”
Dagda tilted his head to one side, as if considering the question, before lifting his back leg and licking his testicles.
“Dagda, please! Do you have to do that while I’m talking?”
The answer to that question was obviously no, but Dagda didn’t think she wanted to hear that. He ignored her and continued licking.
“Oi!” she yelled, slamming her hand down on the bonnet.
Dagda flinched, more from her tone than from any real concern of physical attack. She was, after all, putty in his feline paws. The most she would do was throw something at him, usually something soft and cuddle.
“Do you mind, Miss Carmichael? That’s my car you’re assaulting, and while you’re at it, get that flea bitten moggy off my Audi. Shoo before I call the police … and the pound.”
It was Blodwin’s turn to flinch. She had been so focused on Dagda that she hadn’t heard the headmaster approach. “Oh, I’m sorry, Headmaster,” she muttered, not making eye contact with Mr Peartree. “Come along Dagda.”
The cat paused a moment, staring long and hard at the headmaster. Mr Peartree looked away first, nervously fidgeting with his keys as if looking for the one with the four silver rings on it.
With a smug grin, Dagda rose and strolled casually away, making a mental note to shred the headmaster’s Sunday newspapers (including all of its supplements/magazines/junk mail etc.) … again, and leave a nice trail of confetti all over the headmaster’s front garden. They looked so pretty dangling from his prize rose bushes.
Blodwin was already through the school gates, so he hurried to catch up. He hated hurrying. Cats are not meant to hurry anywhere, at least not unless a tin of Kittykrap had been opened. Dogs hurried. Cats languished.
When he finally caught up with Blodwin, she turned to look at him. “Don’t think you’ve heard the last of this. We’re going to come back to this when we get home. I want to know exactly what you’ve been up to, and no licking your cherries either. That’s just totally gross!”
“Hi Mum, I’m home. What’s for dinner?” Blodwin yelled as she opened the front door.
Her mother didn’t reply, so she walked into the living room, “Mum?”
“She’s nipped out for a bit,” Blodwin’s grandmother informed her, “So we can have some peace. I wanted to have a little chat… just the four of us.”
“Waaauughhkkk!” agreed Mortimer the raven.
“Nanny Es! It’s great to see you. I hope that walk didn’t inflame your lumbago.”
In truth, her grandmother didn’t suffer from lumbago. She was the healthiest octogenarian for miles, but it was a good enough excuse. In reality, she just didn’t like crowds of people. They made her nervous. So she’d invented the lumbago to get out of visiting her daughter and granddaughter, making them comes out to her instead.
“I’ve a nice cup of tea stewing. I brought along some of my oatmeal biscuits too.”
Her grandmother was sitting with her back to the window, leaving her face shrouded in shadow. She was dressed in her obligatory chestnut-coloured two piece tweed suit, with a matching hat. On her feet, she wore a pair of ancient brown leather brogues. Sensible shoes for a sensible woman.
Blodwin had always been a little scared of her grandmother, even though Nanny Es had never spoken a cross word to her. Her grandmother just had that air of calm authority that intimidated everybody.
“Pull up a chair for your familiar too. This concerns both of you.”
When they were all sitting around the dining room table, or perching as the case may be, Blodwin asked, “What’s a familiar?”
Esmeralda Carmichael paused, considering her answer. “It’s an animal companion … amongst other things, but that’s for another day. I’m here to discuss recent events in the town.”
“What recent events?”
“Don’t play the innocent with me, young lady. You know quite well what I’m talking about. Let’s begin by discussing your involvement in that fire at number 19. I’ve inspected the house thoroughly, and that was no natural blaze. It started in the chimney, but from what I gather the flue had only just been cleaned last month by Jack; the Sweep. Jack’s an honest hard working individual. He’s never been known for shoddy workmanship, so I have to assume the chimney was in pristine condition. There couldn’t have been anything blocking the chimney. So, I have to assume foil play. Someone must have used magic to block that chimney, and I want to know who.”
Nanny Es nodded, “I gather you and Nelly Ramsbottom had an altercation a few weeks back.”
“Yes, we did,” admitted Blodwin. “She’s been bullying me at school for years now, but that was all sorted out …”
“They say she was a spiteful child, and had a cruel heart, but no one deserves to die like that.”
“I didn’t…” protested Blodwin.
“Well somebody did, and one way or another, we’re getting the blame for it. Our family has lived around these parts for generations; since this place was a small hamlet, and we’ve a long and proud history of helping out the local folk in times of need. Many of your ancestors were gifted, just like you, but we’ve never misused our gift.”
“What are you talking about … what gift?”
Esmeralda Carmichael sighed. “You have the gift, child. I sensed it on the day I helped bring you into this world, and the fact that you adopted that cat shows just how much of a gift you have. You could be powerful, if you had a little training.”
“I still don’t understand…”
“The gift has many names. Some call it magic, others witchcraft. We generally refer to it as ‘The Knowledge’. It doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is that you only use it for the common good. You can’t go around using it for petty revenge. The last time that sort of thing happened, they started burning Carmichael’s around here. We don’t want a repeat of those dark times now, do we?”
“But I had nothing to do with that fire,” insisted Blodwin.
Nanny Es looked long and hard into her granddaughter’s eyes and saw the truth there. Her gaze turned to Dagda, who tried to avoid eye contact. “Interesting!” Es mumbled. “I believe I might have found our culprit.”
“Who … Dagda? But he’s only a cat. Cats can’t do magic … can they?”
Nanny Es chuckled for a moment before replying, “Cats are one of the most magical of creatures to ever walk this Earth, my dear. Why do you think they are so often chosen as witch’s familiars? However, it’s rare for an untrained familiar like Dagda to perform the complexity of magic that would be needed to cause that chimney to block. I think it’s time your familiar learned a little about controlling his natural instincts, and in order to do that, I will need to start your education too. I’d hoped to put it off for another couple of years, but clearly we need to nip this in the bud.”
“My education? But I’m already in school.”
“Not that sort of education. The stuff they teach you in that school is about as much use as tits on a boar. No, I’m talking about your practical education. I know all about the sort of things they teach you in those places. Take algebra for example. Let me tell you something. Once you leave school, you’ll never use it ever again. Who on God’s earth would want to teach such nonsense to children? No wonder they have no common sense anymore. I never would have let you go there in the first place, but your mother insisted on you having a normal childhood,” Nanny Es paused to catch her breath. “Anyway, I’m getting off the point. From now on, you’ll begin home schooling with me. We need to develop your natural abilities before they get out of hand, and teach you how to keep Dagda in control, too. He clearly believes he’s the top of the pecking order. That’s got to change.”
Turning to the cat, she said, “Listen carefully, my furry little friend. I want you to stop all this nonsense, right now. If I find out that you’ve so much as pissed in the wrong place, I’ll string you up and use your guts for fiddle strings. Do I make myself clear?”
Dagda gulped. The old lady’s tone had been calm, but there was no mistaking the threat. He nodded in agreement.
“Right! That’s settled. I want to see you both outside my cottage tomorrow, at nine a.m. sharp. You’ll spend every morning with me, and in the afternoons you can attend school with the other children … I’ll speak to your mother and arrange it all … Now, how about a nice cup of tea?”
Dagda spent most of the evening sulking. He’d been enjoying his midnight forays around the town, causing trouble while Blodwin was asleep. He always looked forward to that part of his day. It was much more fun than sleeping on the headmaster’s car, waiting for Blodwin to get out of school. What was he going to do now? He was like a child who’d had their ice lolly taken away. He was so depressed that when it came time for Blodwin to go to sleep, he curled up in a ball and snoozed himself. He didn’t have the will power to go out on the town. It just wouldn’t be the same.
Morning found him just as irritable. He even turned his nose up at his favourite breakfast: some Kittykrap sardines and kipper in a juicy jelly, with a splash of double cream on the side.
“Sulk all you like,” muttered Blodwin, “But we’re going to Nanny Es’s whether you like it or not.”
Blodwin was a little irritable herself this morning. She hadn’t slept well. Her dreams had been plagued with visions of Nelly Ramsbottom being burnt alive in her sleep. Could Dagda really have been responsible for Nelly’s death? The idea haunted Blodwin like the ghost of the dead girl. Nanny Es had assured her that Nelly probably died from smoke inhalation long before the fire took hold, but this did little to alleviate the pangs of guilt.
There was so much that Blodwin didn’t know; didn’t understand. Her mother had been no help. Her answer to the hundred or more questions that plagued Blodwin was, “I’m sure Nanny Es will have an answer for you. She’s better than I am at this sort of thing.”
So Blodwin shouldered her bag of schoolbooks and set off on the road out of town, heading for the Dark Woods. Dagda followed along behind rather reluctantly. Every so often, Blodwin would look back to see if he was still there. She’d spot him in the distance, stalking through the grass after mice or leaping in the air after butterflies, but always within sight.
Nanny Es was sitting on her front porch sipping chamomile tea when they arrived. Noting the sleepless eyes and distressed look on her granddaughter, she patted the seat beside her. Handing a cup of tea to Blodwin, she asked, “What’s troubling you child?”
“I think I’m being haunted by the ghost of Nelly Ramsbottom. Dagda didn’t really cause that fire, did he?”
Nanny Es sipped her tea for a few minutes, collecting her thoughts. “Cats have a very different view of the world than we do. They are, by nature, very selfish creatures. Their motives, however they appear; are always concerned with number one. A familiar cat is just like any other cat in that respect. It is up to the witch to teach her familiar right from wrong. She must be its moral compass. A good witch will teach her cat to be good. An evil witch will inevitably teach her familiar to be evil. There is a very powerful bond between the human and their chosen beast, and even without knowing it, they influence each other greatly.”
“But why would Dagda do such a thing?”
“You told me that Nelly Ramsbottom bullied you, correct?”
“Yes. She’s done it for years. She could be very cruel, but I never meant to hurt her.”
“Really? Can you honestly say that deep down in your heart you never wished anything bad of her … that you never contemplated revenge for all the nasty things she did?”
Blodwin hesitated, her face flushed with sudden guilt. “Well … I guess I might have.”
“That’s perfectly normal. There’s no need to be ashamed about it,” assured Nanny Es. “Everyone does it. What you have to understand though is that those dark thoughts were felt by Dagda. He sensed your thirst for revenge, and acted upon them.”
“If anyone is to blame, it’s me,” admitted Nanny Es. “I should have seen this coming, but I was distracted with other matters. “ I should have taken over your education as soon as you became a woman, as soon as your gift blossomed with the full moon. Had your mother been a witch, she would have known what to look out for, but she was never blessed with the gift, so therefore, was never taught the knowledge.”
“Mother’s not a witch? Why not?”
“Occasionally, it skips a generation. When it does, their offspring can turn out to be quite powerful, as if they have been given the gift for both generations. Your Auntie Alice has the gift, but Melanie never did.”
“So Dagda thought he was helping me when he blocked the chimney?”
“Probably. It’s hard to be sure. He might have had his own reasons. As I said, cats are quite self-centred. Everyone has dark thoughts, but as a witch we have to know that our thoughts can easily turn into actions. We must maintain a firm grip on such idle thoughts, because of the possible repercussions. Someone may say something hateful in a fit of anger, such as; “I wish you were dead,” but people with the gift can make that wish into a reality. A witch’s curse is a powerful thing. You must learn to control your emotions, and your thoughts, and you must also learn to control your familiar’s. That, my dear, is what today’s lessons will be all about.”
By this time Dagda had caught up and was walking through the garden towards them.
“Speak of the Devil,” Nanny Es muttered, making a strange sign with her fingers to ward off evil.
Rising from the chair, she led Blodwin down to the middle of the garden, stopping in front of Dagda. Mortimer flew down from the branch where he had been warming himself and landed nearby.
“I’m going to show you something, and then I want you to replicate it,” Nanny Es instructed.
Turning to the raven, she said, “Mortimer, fetch me that stick.” She pointed to a twig lying on the lawn a little way away.
The raven squawked, spread his mighty wings, and took to the air. With little or no effort, he glided across the garden, picked up the stick in his talons without landing and flew back towards them. Transferring the stick to his beak in mid-flight, he landed on Nanny Es’s outstretched arm and presented the twig.
Nanny Es smiled warmly at him, taking the stick from his beak. “Thank you, Mortimer. You can go back to sunbathing now.”
“Awwwk!” squawked Mortimer, before flying off.
Nanny Es threw the stick away, before turning to Blodwin. “Now it’s your turn.”
“Dagda’s never going to do that!” Blodwin muttered with a worried look.
“He will, but you need to be firm. You are the master, remember that. You might be the best of friends, but ultimately, there has to be a pack leader. That is the natural order of things. You must assert yourself and make him understand that you are in charge, otherwise he will assume the role of lord and master, and you will be left as the skivvy. Cats are very good at that. Do you want that?”
“Erm … no, I guess not.”
Nanny Es sighed. “Is that you being assertive!?”
Taking a deep breath, Blodwin straightened up and said, “No. I don’t want to be a skivvy.”
“That’s better. Now, command him to fetch the stick.”
“Dagda, fetch the stick.”
Dagda sat there. There was no way he was going to do dog work. Absolutely not.
“Dagda! Fetch. Me. The. Stick!”
Dagda rolled onto his back, paws in the air, waiting for a belly rub.
Blodwin smiled, and her eyes softened.
“He’s messing with you. You have to stay firm,” reminded Nanny Es.
“He’s never going to do it.”
“He will, if you are strong enough. Here, let me show you.”
Nanny Es rummaged in her inside pocket and pulled out an intricately carved wand. On the base of the wand was a large well-worn chunk of feldspar. Es closed her eyes for a moment, summoning some power. The moonstone began to glow softly, as did the point on the other end of the wand. This she pointed at Dagda. “Fetch! Now!”
Dagda didn’t like the tone used by the old woman. It brokered no argument. He was a little concerned about that glowing stick too. He was pretty certain that it boded ill, so with some reluctance, he looked over at the stick.
The stick began to move, shuddering for a moment before rising up, and hovering in the air. Slowly, it drifted closer, rising higher until it alighted on Blodwin’s outstretched hand.
“That puss is too clever for its own boots,” muttered Es. “Throw it away and make him do it again … properly this time!”
Blodwin said nothing. Her mouth was agape and she had a look of bewilderment on her face. It was one thing for them to talk about magic, but this was the first time she’d actually seen any, first by nanny Es, and then, by Dagda.
“Snap out of it, Blodwin. You need to take control.”
Blodwin threw the stick, saying, “Fetch it, Dagda …, and no cheating this time.
Dagda yawned theatrically, and then began to lick his privates.
“He’s making a fool of you,” Nanny Es pointed out. “It’s time our little four legged friend had a lesson in humility.”
“What are you going to do?” Blodwin asked, concerned.
“I’m going to do nothing. You are. But first, you need a wand of your own.”
“Me … I’m getting a wand?” Blodwin couldn’t help sounding excited.
“Well … sort of. You won’t get a proper wand until you’ve finished your apprenticeship, but I have something in mind that will work just as well for this task. I spotted it in the pet store yesterday, when I was looking for some treats for Mortimer. Now where did I put it?”
Nanny Es rummaged around in her many pockets, “Ah, I’ve found it.” A moment later, Es pulled out what looked like a pen, on a key ring. “Dah-dahhhh!”
“That doesn’t even look like a wand,” Blodwin complained.
“Do you want my help or don’t you?”
“Of course I do.”
“Right then, stop complaining, and take it.”
Blodwin did as she was told.
“Now point it at the ground at your feet, and press that little button on the side.”
A red dot appeared in the short grass, as if by magic.
“Oh, I’ve heard about these,” enthused Blodwin, wiggling the light about.
“Good. Now here is what I want you to do,” instructed Nanny Es. Leaning closer, she whispered the rest of her instructions into Blodwin’s ear.
Biting her bottom lip, Blodwin nodded nervously. Clearing her throat, she looked again at Dagda. “Go and fetch me that stick … or else!”
Dagda looked at her in surprise, but remained still.
“All right, you asked for it. Don’t say you weren’t warned.”
Blodwin switched the laser back on and pointed it at the ground before Dagda, wobbling it from side to side hypnotically.
Dagda looked at the red dot for a moment, feigning disinterest. He knew this was some sort of trap, and he wasn’t going to fall for it. The red dot moved erratically, and almost without thought, his front paw lashed out when it came close.
There was no turning back after that. He was caught: hook, line, and sinker.
He fought against his own instincts, but eventually, he could take it no longer. In frustration, he pounced, determined to kill the annoying red dot.
It moved at the last minute, denying him the kill.
He pounced again, and again it skipped away. Somehow it had slipped right through his paws.
He found himself bouncing around the garden, hopping this way and that in an effort to catch the willow-the-wisp. With each pounce, his efforts became more frantic.
Finally, the rapidly moving red dot stopped, alighting on a large leaf.
Swishing his tail with vexation, Dagda crouched and prepared for the kill. This time, he was sure to catch the dot.
Tucking his feet underneath himself, he paused, waiting.
The red dot remained tantalisingly close, just a pounce away.
With one final flick of his tail, Dagda launched himself at the unsuspecting dot. His eyes were locked on target as he sailed through the air. The dot never budged. He could taste the sweet smell of victory as his feet landed on the dot.
The lily pad buckled under his formidable weight, and Dagda plunged into the water beneath.
He re-emerged a moment later, hissing angrily. His head was covered in pond slime as he paddled his way to the end of the fish pond. Trailing water weeds and dripping water, he scrambled for purchase on the slippery bank.
Peals of laughter and a deep sense of humiliation filled his head as he finally made it to dry land. He looked far less formidable when his fur was stuck to his ribcage.
Blinking away droplets of water, he looked for the source of the laughter.
Blodwin and Es were in hysterics, holding each other up as they struggled to contain their mirth. Even the raven in the tree was laughing, or so it sounded to Dagda.
When they had finally recovered, Blodwin again pointed at the stick. “Fetch!”
Head down and thoroughly cowed, the wet cat slunk across the garden and picked up the twig.
Dadga was put through the ringer for the next hour. Blodwin, under the firm instructions of her grandmother, had him jumping through hoops as if he was some demented circus poodle, and I mean that quite literally. Amongst a number of other humiliating things, they had him jumping through wooden hoops, for crying out loud.
If the other cats in his neighbourhood could see him now, he’d never be able to live it down. He’d be a laughing stock.
Finally, Dagda was let off the hook.
“I think that’s enough of that for one day,” declared Nanny Es. “We’ve made some real progress towards rehabilitating your errant feline. I think it’s time we focused on your own gift, Blodwin.”
With a deep sigh of relief, Dagda slunk off to hide in the woods, before they changed their minds.
“Waaaughhhh, wauuuugghhhhhhh!” screeched Mortimer from a nearby branch.
Apparently, they still didn’t trust Dagda enough to leave him unsupervised. The raven was keeping an eye on him while the humans did whatever it was that they were doing.
Dagda contemplated mischief.
He’d never liked the raven, but if truth be told, he was actually a little bit scared of the big bird. No bird should be as clever as this one appeared to be. Dagda had no doubts that this was not a normal bird. It had the knowledge.
Curiosity was always the curse of cats, and the smarter the cat, the more curious they became. Dagda was sure that he was the smartest cat ever to be born, and therefore, his curiosity knew no bounds.
Ever since the first time he had met Mortimer, when Dagda was still only a kitten, he knew there was something special about that bird.
Once Dagda became big enough and strong enough to protect himself against the dogs in the neighbourhood, he occasionally would slip away to spy on the raven.
He wanted to catch Mortimer out. He needed to spot him doing something unusual, something that only a bird with the knowledge would do.
Sadly, so far, Dagda had failed.
That didn’t discourage him, however. Far from it, in fact. He viewed this as a challenge. One day, if he was really cunning and sneaky, he’d catch the bird red-handed. He was confident of it. It would just take time, and a little patience.
Granted, patience wasn’t one of Dagda’s stronger points.
“Awwwwwkkkk!” said Mortimer, looking down at the cat with mocking eyes.
“Squawk all you like, you old bird-brain. One day, I’m going to outsmart you.”
He could almost hear the mocking tone in the bird’s voice.
Anger boiled through Dagda’s blood. He could feel it like a ball of fury burning through his intestines. He could feel the heat of it rising up his stomach and burning his lungs. Today had not been a good day for Dagda, and the last thing he needed was some fat overgrown sparrow giving him attitude.
He would have loved to leap into the air and drag the mocking crow out of the tree, but it was too far up. He’d never get up there before the damned bird flew away. Dagda lashed out in the only way available to him.
Dagda lashed out with the knowledge.
Witches are born with a gift. They learned the knowledge from other witches, and with it, harnesses and developed their own natural gift.
Cats, however, instinctively knew how to use their gift. They are, if you like, born with the knowledge. Although unskilled in the finer points of magic use and still growing into his power, Dagda relied on his feline instincts to overcome the limitations of his powers.
He sent a ball of fiery energy heavenward, hoping to incinerate the bloated carrion bird before it could fly away.
Mortimer squawked in surprise, but the mini fireball fizzled out before it reached the branch.
Clenching his teeth with anger, Dagda squinted his eyes and sent a second fireball skyward. The one was bigger and faster, but by now the raven was ready for it.
Dagda’s fireball ricocheted off an invisible shield and rebounded back towards where the cat was standing.
He barely had time to leap out of the way.
“Wheooagghhh!” yelled Dagda, feeling the heat singe his whiskers as the fireball consumed the leaf mould where he had been standing only a moment before.
More fireballs appeared out of thin air; tiny angry hornet-like infernos that gathered together in an angry swarm looking for their target. It didn’t take them long to find one.
As one, they stopped spinning around in an angry vortex, and darted straight towards Dagda.
Dagda briefly considered summoning a barrier to ward off the angry fireflies, but panic overtook rational thought. Packing his dignity quickly away in a small box at the back of his mind, Dagda did what any sensible cat would do when faced with overwhelming odds. He ran for it.
“Meeeeowwwwwww!” he yelled in protest as he raced away as fast as his legs could carry him.
The fireflies followed, gaining on him with every second.
Dadga dodged through some undergrowth, which erupted in flames as the fireballs gave chase. One of the fireflies even got close enough to singe Dagda’s tail.
Yelping with pain, Dagda found that he could run even faster, should the need arise. Lungs aflame and panting heavily, he raced out of the woods, and across the garden in front of Nanny Es’s cottage. The fireflies quickly regrouped and were again, hot on his tail.
“Oh no,” Dagda thought, “Not again!” But there was nothing else for it. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and as he felt the hairs on his tail erupting into flame, he knew that he had only one option left.
Dagda launched himself through the air and with a loud splash, dived into the duck pond.
Much though Dagda hated water, he hated being peppered with angry fireflies more, so taking a desperate breath, he dived beneath the lily pads.
He stayed underwater for as long as he dared, but eventually, the need for air drove him back to the surface.
Choking and coughing, he looked around with eyes as big as saucers.
The tiny balls of fire had disappeared. He was safe.
Exhausted, Dagda paddled his way to the edge of the reeds.
“Dagda, what are you playing at?” asked Blodwin.
She, and her grandmother, watched him as he dragged himself from the pond; for the second time that morning.
Dagda, still wheezing and coughing up water, collapsed onto the grass with a heavy sigh. He did his best to ignore the two humans.
By now, he was wishing that he could be back at Blodwin’s school, happily snoozing in the sunshine on the warm bonnet of Mr Peartree’s precious Audi. Life had been so much simpler back then.