Hello everybody! Today, I’m very excited to be on the blog tour for what is coincidentally my latest read, Witchstorm. I have an extract of the prologue, and I definitely felt hooked when I read it. Onto the post!
Stories and songs change the world, one word at a time. That’s what Ma says. Ma loves stories and songs – the ones set in stone, the ones carried in our bones, in our hearts, and on paper. Ma tells and sings them at every opportunity.
“Tale or tune?” hums Ma, as we stand side by side in the galley of the Kingfisher, our narrowboat, chopping strawberries and blueberries.
“Tale,” I reply.
Ma curls a lock of red hair behind her ear and leans close.
“One about the Shuck, the mystery Fen beast, the black lion that roams in storms and has a roar like thunder? One about Barton, the deserted Fen town that disappeared overnight without a trace? Or one about will-o’-the-wisps, the ghost lights that lull travellers to a watery grave?”
I glance through the porthole window at the riverand the fading light over the Fens. “Tell me a tale of witches.”
Ma’s eyebrows narrow as she throws me a serious look. “Are you sure? There’s still time to change your mind.” I smile.
“All right then, witches it is.” Ma matches my smile. She smooths a flour-dusted hand down her apron. Then she scoops up a handful of sliced berries from her chopping board, and drops them into the chipped mixing bowl.
“Once there were witches. Witches here in the Fens, and all around the world. They were beautiful and wise, and used magic to make the world better. They brewed potions from barks, berries and leaves – helping sick people, crops and livestock.”
I know every twist and turn of this story. There are some stories that never leave you once you hear them. I gather up my sliced berries, add them to the bowl, then stir them as the tale continues.
“Everyone in the Fens loved witches. Then one summer, a group of hunters arrived. They saw how much power and respect the Fen witches had and they wanted it for themselves. No one believed the hunters when they said that witches were evil. So, they made them believe.”
Ma pauses to cleave a lemon in two. She wraps one half in cloth, and squeezes the juice into the bowl. Then she unstoppers a small bottle of rosewater, and adds four dashes.
“They spread sickness with wicked poisons. Crops failed, and cattle and people fell ill. The hunters told everyone they had uncovered a secret plot. They said that witches – up and down the country – were making things sick so they could be paid to make them better. The story swept across the land like a summer wildfire.”
I breathe in the rich scent of berries, rose and lemon and carry on stirring the bowl. The scent makes my mouth water.
“As the tide in peoples’ hearts turned to distrust, the hunters set themselves up as witch-hunters. They offered to rid the Fens of witches, but for a price. Most folk agreed to pay their demand in silver or gold. That was when witch-hunters, all across the land, tracked down witches, one by one, and killed them.”
“Not all of them.” I stop stirring. Together we spoon mixture into the waiting pie cases.
“Not all of them,” echoes Ma. “Our family never believed the witch-hunter lies. One night, during a terrible storm, a young witch called Agatha Crow was fleeing witch-hunters. When she arrived at the home of Lori Knight – our ancestor – Lori took her in and hid her in the rafters. Soon after, the witch-hunters came looking for Agatha. Lori let them search the house, but they never found her. Lori called Agatha the Last Witch, but Agatha said there were other witches who survived. Living in secret—” “Hidden high in the mountains, scattered across the world,” I chime in. Ma nods. “That’s what we strongly believe.” We place the pastry lids on top of the pies, then gently crimp the edges as Ma continues. “Agatha didn’t join the other witches, because she wanted to prove to everyone that the witch-hunters were liars. Agatha spent months spying on the hunters as they got drunk on their riches. She found the evidence she needed, a written confession by one of the witch-hunter generals, but when she showed the Fen folk no one believed her.” “Because a lie told long enough becomes the truth.” “That’s right.” Ma makes a little cross in each pie lid with a knife.
“The witch-hunters had friends with mechanical printing presses, who helped them to spread their lies. Agatha was chased back into hiding. She stayed hidden, keeping an eye on when it was safe for witches to return to the world. Sadly, it wasn’t during her lifetime. But just before she died, Agatha buried her witch treasure and taught Lori a song.”
“A secret song that has been passed down through the Knight family for generations, and that no one else knows.”
My insides turn. I know this isn’t true. Not since I told Alfie Fitch, my best friend.
“The song that reveals the location of Agatha’s treasure.” There’s the familiar creak of Fa’s footsteps on the galley steps, then he appears in the kitchen. Apart from his many-pocketed jacket with sun-faded shoulders, we’re dressed the same. We have the same dark eyes and peat-black hair, the same cowlick that always sticks up at the back. “Mmm, those pies smell good.” Fa’s eyes twinkle. “What’s going to happen when you find this witch treasure?” He grins playfully as he pulls Ma into a hug. “Are you going to use it to find the hidden witches, then fly off on a broomstick and live with them in the mountains? Leave me and Will all alone with your sister?” Ma smiles and wraps her flour-dusted fingers over Fa’s.
As their wedding rings clink together, Ma says, “I’m not going anywhere. I just want to find it – for us – so we can prove witches really exist.”
Fa holds her close and winks at me. “But you and Will already believe in them.”
Ma jabs an elbow into Fa’s ribs. “I know, but you don’t, and neither does Hera any more.” Fa beams. “I want to believe in witches, and for magic to be real, but I’ve seen nothing in the world that has changed my mind. Maybe one day I will.”
He reaches for his mandolin on the bench seat, then plays the first few chords of Agatha Crow’s song.
Ma closes her eyes and begins to sing in her honeyed voice. I join in. A warm feeling floods my chest as our voices and Fa’s mandolin weave their music.
“We sing the song of Agatha Crow, A witch who lived A long time ago. Beneath great skies And Fenland weather A hidden witch Buried her treasure. Below Crow Rock And underground Witch treasure sleeps And waits to be found. Witch treasure sleeps Through sun, wind and rain Until it is needed to waken again.“
The music fades and leaves Ma and Fa with faraway looks and faint smiles. There’s a long moment of silence, then I say, “We haven’t been to Crow Rock in weeks. Witch treasure is waiting. We should go back – first thing tomorrow morning.”
My voice pulls Ma and Fa from their daze. “Alright,” Ma blinks, then picks up the tray of Midsummer pies and slides them into the hot oven.
“But Crow Rock will have to wait till after I’ve delivered these pies. We can have lunch at West Meadow, before it’s gone. We can watch the goldfinches peck at dandelion seeds, and the swallows swoop through the sky. We need to fix the meadow in our minds, so we’ll always remember it.”
My insides twist. I don’t want West Meadow to disappear, but we have no choice. I thought it would always be there, for ever and ever, like my family, and Agatha’s song and Crow Rock.
Thank you so much for reading! Are you planning to read this? What are some of your favourite witchy books? I’d love to chat in the comments!