The Curse of the Orthana by Nick Tamboia

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Raven put a doubtful look on his face. “And if she doesn’t?”

“She will.”

“I can’t stay here,” Raven then told her. “I have to move on. I move forward and I move back. Sometimes sideways. I have to move on.”

Alia looked back at him and nodded her head. “Thank you for helping me.”

“What are you going to do if she doesn’t come back?”

Alia glanced around the mess inside the cabin for a moment before looking back at the winged boy. “I’ll wait a day or so, incase she’s hiding in the woods and comes back. If she doesn’t, I’ll sneak back to my father’s farm.”

Raven made no remark to that for a moment, just stood there looking at the girl. Then a sudden, handsome smile blossomed on his face as he said, “hey I got an idea. Come with us. Bob and me.”

Alia actually smiled at that. “And where are you guys going?”

“The restaurant at the end of the world,” Raven replied in a cheerful tone. “Bob’s buying.” Outside in the yard behind the boy, the elk appeared to nod his head as if agreeing with that statement.

“No thanks,” Alia said with a smile. “I have to wait for Old Nann. Wait to see if she comes back or is hurt and needs help. She took care of me. It’s only right.”

“Oh well,” Raven said with a sigh as he looked down at the floor. “If that’s what you really want to do.”

“It is.”

“I am sorry I can’t stay with you.”

“I know. Thank you for your help, Raven.”

The boy looked up at her and nodded his head as he smiled back at the girl. After a moment he turned to leave, and then looked back at Alia. “If you go through the doorway and end up with some crazy big lady who thinks she’s all that and a box of donuts, play dumb. Don’t let her know everything about you and you’re magic. And remember, even the most powerful person has enemies. Use that.”

Alia put a confused frown on her face, not understanding most of what he had said. What was a box of donuts?

After a moment the boy flicked his right hand out at his side, as if trying to snatch a fly out of the air. There was a flash of light, and then the girl saw him holding something up in his hand. Raven walked over to her and held the object out to her. It was a leather necklace from which dangled a small, silver hourglass, exactly like the one he was wearing.

“Here,” the boy said as he handed it to her. “Something to remember me by. Might bring you luck.”

Alia took the necklace and smiled up at the boy.

After a second he nodded his head and turned and walked out of the door, shouting to the elk, “they better have these double bacon cheeseburgers at this restaurant at the end of the world you keep telling me about, Bobby.”

The elk grunted a reply.

Alia stood in the doorway, holding the necklace in her hand that Raven had given her, watching as the strange boy with wings on his back, climbed up on the elk and began to ride off into the misty fog. After a moment the boy looked back at her and waved.

Just before Raven and Bob vanished into the fog, Alia heard him start singing again. “Doe, a deer, a female deer. Ray, a drop of golden sun. No she’s not.”

Bob the elk made a loud groaning sound.

“I know she’s my sister but she’s still a pain in the butt,” Raven told the elk.

A moment later they vanished into the fog and Alia was standing there alone. It was oddly quiet. After a moment she looked down at the necklace and without thinking about it, looped it over her head, putting it on. That done she looked back into the mess in the cabin and sighed a heavy sigh, before going about, as best as she could, the effort of cleaning up.

When the dark of night began to seep into the cabin, Alia grew frightened. Not frightened of the dark itself, but she began to wonder and worry about the Witch Hunters and Puritan Kane showing up. Wonder if they saw the light from the lamp she had lit so she could see?

After eating a small meal of bread she had salvaged, and some vegetables she had warmed up, she suddenly remembered the cellar. There were no windows down there, so no one would see the light of her lantern, and know she was hiding down there.

She collected up some blankets and pillows and carried them to the far side of the cabin where the stairs were that led down into the root cellar.

Thankfully the door was still in place there, not broken off and thrown into the yard as the others had been, and Alia entered the cellar and found it as it always had been, and not a destroyed mess as the upstairs had been.

The men had probably not known it was down here. In the lamp light she saw the trunk sitting on the floor, just where she had first seen it, the lion head lock glittering in the light.

She set up her bedding in the corner of the room, and then managed to craft a lock and locked the cellar door shut from the inside.

For a while she sat there in the corner, thinking as she looked at the trunk and listened to the night sounds around her—the last few crickets of the season singing to the moon as an owl hooted.

Suddenly she recalled the story Old Nann had told her about how she had gotten lost in the woods when she was a girl, just as Alia had, and how she had been helped by a boy.

“A boy who could fly,” Alia whispered, recalling that Nann had told her the boy had given her the trunk and asked her to keep it safe for him.

“It was him all along,” she said with a grin. “Raven, that little, crazy winged whatever he was. It was him!” She imagined hearing the boy laughing. Remembering the hourglass necklace he had given her, she pulled it out from beneath her shirt and looked it over.

“Restaurant at the end of the world,” she muttered with a grin. It almost sounded like a joke. She knew what a restaurant was, a fancy place where people went to eat, like a pub or other such places, but mostly they were in the Old World, across the ocean, and only very wealthy people went there. She grinned at the idea of Raven, looking at the way he had and dressed as he had been, riding Bob the elk into a restaurant in old England were very wealthy people were dining, and shouting about wanting something to eat. While she understood what a restaurant was, she had no idea what a bacon double cheeseburger was, but it sounded good.

She eventually fell asleep without realizing it.

Old Nann did not return the following day. Worried for the old woman, Alia crafted a pair of boots for herself to wear, as well as another umbrella and a long slick jacket and went out into the silver, pouring rain to look in the forest around the cabin for her friend.

By noon, after finding no sign of the old woman, the girl returned to the cabin and decided to stay there for the rest of the day. She used her magic ability to repair much of the damage the Witch Hunters had done, mending holes in the wall and broken furniture, and plates. She even used her magic to put the front and back doors back on the cabin, which in the end would turn out to be a mistake.

Toward evening, Alia made herself a fairly decent stew, and after eating two full bowls of it, she took a lamp and went back down into the cellar again, spending the night there as she had the previous one.

She found herself looking again, at the trunk. After a moment she leaned forward, studying the lion head lock. She was half tempted to open it right then and there, but she recalled what Old Nann had told her, and that was to only use it in an emergency.

“I really want to open it and see what’s inside,” she whispered to herself as she ran her hand over the top of the wooden trunk. “But it’s Old Nann’s. It wouldn’t be right to open it without first asking her. And she said only to do it if I was in danger.”

She wasn’t in danger, at least not at the moment, so she sat back on her bedding and eventually dozed off.

The following morning, after a nice warm breakfast, Alia went out to look for Old Nann again. While it wasn’t raining as it had been for the last two days, the sky above was still overcast in a sheet of gray clouds, and the air had that chilly bite to it, reminding Alia that the cold of winter was right around the corner.

Alia had searched the woods for a long time, finding on sign or trace of the old woman. Eventually she began to wonder if it was time to head back to her father’s farm. Old Nann was gone. Either Kane and his Witch Hunters had taken her or she had managed to escape them and rode the donkey into town.

Whatever the truth was, the girl realized that like the boy Raven, she needed to move on.

Back at the cabin, she had made herself a nice late lunch or early dinner of warm bread, potatoes, and some dried jerky she had found in the root cellar that had not gone bad yet—the jerky she had softened and warmed in some of the broth leftover from the stew she had made the day before.