Hill of Sidh
Novelist : Judit Elias
From the top of the hill Licorice could
see the town and the smoke over her mansion. The grand building had burnt all
night and was now nothing more than black ruins. Licorice had not slept.
“They are sweeping the forest with
hounds,” Cedric informed her.
The mistress was not surprised. Of course
they would organise a search. They would also warn the neighbouring villages.
It didn’t matter. There was nothing that town could offer her any more.
“Good job scouting, Cedric,” she said, her
eyes not leaving the manor. “Where is your sister?”
Camellia took a deep breath as she entered
the little village where she had lived for the last seven years. She pulled
down the hood of her cape to cover her face well, only showing her lips. She
was dressed smartly and carried a big empty basket. It was winter, so large
woollen mittens covered her hands. It wasn’t the first time she had been in
town to buy some supplies but, after the events that had taken place the
previous evening, walking amongst normal people seemed stranger than ever. The
danger was more real.
With their hurried escape, they had not
taken any provisions and, as a faithful servant, she was not going to let her
mistress starve. She had summoned all the courage she could muster and had
strolled down the hill.
It was drizzling, which was the normal
weather in Victoria. The sky was grey, thick with clouds, and the streets, made
of dirt and cobblestones, were muddy. She was soon on the high street, the
widest one, where carriages pulled by one or two horses passed by, forcing her
to stick close to the buildings in order to avoid the occasional splash from a
puddle. Cedric had once described the town as sort of depressing. Villagers
went about their business sombrely and in silence, dressed mostly in
dull-coloured clothing. The tall buildings, some up to three storeys high, were
made of wood and painted in black and white, and the dim light of the lanterns
at night made shadows out of everything. Camellia disagreed with her brother,
for she had loved it there. She adored the wet atmosphere and found the houses
so elegant with their big windows and pointed roofs. She liked the sound her
shoes made on the cobbled streets.
As she passed the seamstress she stopped
by the shop window to admire the fabrics. She already had several beautiful
dresses for herself but she still couldn’t help looking at them, thinking how
she would like to touch them. That was not her purpose today, so she turned
down the street towards the market.
The marketplace was as lively as ever. The
townsfolk’s restraint disappeared in the public square, which was surrounded by
shops and filled with various stalls. Sellers were shouting and customers haggling.
Camellia passed by the fisherman’s stall. She loved fish. After seven years it
was still a novelty for her. The girl was tempted to purchase a nice big fat
haddock but decided she needed food that would last longer, as they were about
to start a long journey. So, instead, she went to the bakery. Even before
entering the shop, her mouth watered at the smell of freshly baked bread and
pastries. There were butter biscuits, almond rings, ginger cakes and even her
brother’s favourites: lemon tarts. She could hear her stomach rumbling loudly
and remembered she had not eaten supper the night before.
She stood in front of the door, trying to
convince herself not to buy any sweets and only the necessary supplies, when a
hand shook her shoulder.
She turned and felt the blood rush from
her face. It was the town’s mayor, the same man who had condemned mistress
Licorice the evening before.
“What are you doing on your own?”
Camellia had practised her reply thousands
of times in her head but still couldn’t help stuttering a bit.
“I…I…I… my mother sent me to get some
supplies. She is ill in bed and couldn’t come.”
The man seemed unconvinced.
“And who is this mother of yours?”
Camellia felt a nervous chill run down her
spine. She wanted to turn and rush away, but that would have been as bad as
confessing her true identity.
“My mother is Elanor Baggins,” she said, a
fake name she had taken from a book. “We just moved in, sir. We are staying at
Oakswood Farm was far away and its owners
barely went to the town, so news of an arrival could have been delayed. She saw
the mayor ponder it and then nod.
“Good enough, be on your way and send my
It was the mayor’s wife, who now looked at
Camellia with distrust.
“Look at her hair, darling!
Copper-coloured and braided, just like one of those horrible one-eyed
Camellia stopped breathing. A crowd had
quickly surrounded her.
“And they were small, like children, too,”
one of the villagers interjected.
“Take off her hood!”
The woman took the trim of the red hood
and pulled it back, slowly. The villagers fell silent and Camellia turned her
head slightly to look at her reflection in the shop windows.
Two green eyes over a tiny freckle-covered
nose returned her gaze. Relieved, she let out the breath she had been holding.
She turned to the mayor and tried to look scared. It wasn’t difficult as she
was still quite shaken.
“Look at what you have done,” said the man
to his wife in disgust. “You scared the lass out of her wits.”
The woman shook her head.
“Oh dear, I don’t know what has gotten
into me,” she mumbled. “What is your name, girl?”
“Rosie,” replied Camellia almost
instantly, and then added: “Rosie Baggins.”
By now the crowd had dissipated, everyone
returning to their chores and obligations.
“You must excuse us, Rosie,” apologised
She still wanted to run away but now a
part of her was more curious than afraid. So she decided to ask a question,
sounding as innocent as she could.
“Mister… what did you mean by monsters?”
The mayor looked at her gravely.
“Listen to me, young child,” he said.
“Just a day ago, in this town, there lived a witch!”
“A witch?” she exclaimed, quickly making
the sign Licorice had told her humans in the village did when they wanted to
protect themselves from evil.
“Yes. Moreover, with her lived these
hideous creatures, deformed beyond all humanity, for they had only one eye and
animal claws as hands.”
Camellia opened her eyes wide in surprise.
It was a bit difficult, because she had to make sure both eyes widened the same
amount and in unison.
“But do not worry, little one,” added the
mayor’s wife. “We drove them away and, hopefully, now the town will be safe
“However, it is still dangerous for
children to go around alone,” continued the man, “for the witch may be lurking
in the forest… They say she can see in the dark and transform into a heinous
The girl nodded, thinking that the
conversation had dragged on long enough.
“I will make sure to get my supplies and
hurry home, then. Thank you for your wise counsel, sir and gentle lady.”
The mayor’s wife looked pleased to be
called lady and gave Camellia some fresh fruit. The couple smiled and passed on
their regards to the farmers at Oakswood, then walked away.
Feeling more secure than ever, Camellia
entered the bakery.
It was midday when she joined her brother
and mistress in the forest. When she was asked where she had been she looked at
them with her two eyes and an innocent expression.
“I went to town to get some food,” she
Cedric made an angry face.
“I explicitly told you not to!”
The girl put the basket, now full of bread
and vegetables, on the ground and took down her hood. As she did so, her
freckles disappeared and her eyes joined together in one big green eye.
“No one could recognise me,” she replied
with a smug smile.
“Camellia!” Cedric chided. “You could have
fallen. You could have lost concentration. You could have gotten scared and
then the transformation would have been undone! If they had seen your true
The boy couldn’t continue. He dared not
imagine his sister getting hurt in any way.
“But we left the mansion in such a hurry!
We didn’t pack any lunch and I feared Lady Licorice would be hungry!” the girl
protested. “Also, I am really good at turning human with the polymorph spell.”
Cedric knew that this was true. His sister
may have been clumsy and lightheaded but the magic within her was strong, and
she could easily transform into a human, at least for enough time to go to the
town to get supplies. Her power had made their lives much easier during the
years they had been under the care of the mistress.
“I could have gone instead of you,” he
No he couldn’t. Camellia thought it but
didn’t say it aloud. Cedric was smart and talented in many things but he
couldn’t hold a two-eyed form for more than five minutes without reverting
back. The ability to transform into a human had been a refreshing discovery for
her. Finally something she could do well!
Cedric had managed to hunt a couple of
rabbits with his bow. Shooting an arrow to the place one wanted still seemed
more magical to Camellia than Licorice’s spells. The girl had built a fire and
roasted a few potatoes and carrots she had just purchased, adding some thyme to
increase the flavour. The meat was tender and flavoursome and the vegetables
soft and sweet. It was a filling meal and they ate hungrily and in silence.
Licorice consulted her diary while the
twins cleaned up after lunch. She had some of her charts laid on the ground as
well, along with a few very old-looking tomes.
“We must go now. We are leaving Victoria,”
the mistress said.
The cyclopes listened with a mixture of
excitement and nerves, for it was the first time in seven years they would
“Get your bags and come along with me.”
The siblings did as instructed.
Licorice produced a sachet, small enough
to fit in her open palm. She opened it with the utmost care, revealing a golden
sparkling powder inside with a strong scent of rosemary. She took a pinch and
sprinkled some over Camellia’s head, a bit over Cedric’s, then some more over
herself. Finally, she threw the rest on the ground.
“It tickles,” mumbled Cedric, resisting
the urge to shake his head.
“I like the smell,” whispered his sister.
It made her think of strolling in the
forest, enjoying a summer day with her brother and their mistress. Licorice
closed the sachet and hid it in her dress. She never parted from it, even when
she slept, for it was one of her most precious possessions.
grab my hands. No matter what, do not let go,” she ordered.
carefully, Cedric and Camellia intertwined their hands with Licorice’s thin
skeleton fingers. Licorice started chanting and, as she weaved her spell, the
powder on the grass emitted a bright gold light. Camellia couldn’t help closing
her eye, scared. She could feel a curious sensation deep down in her stomach,
like the one you have when you look down at the ground from a really high
place. And then, suddenly, everything changed. The moist air of the forest
turned arid and hot. The soft grass that was under her feet a moment ago was
now scorching sand. She winced, opened her eye and looked around.
were in a desert. A sea of dunes surrounded them. She could see buildings on
the horizon. How far, she could not know – she had never been good at judging
distances – but hopefully they would reach them before becoming too exhausted.
The sunlight burned bright, she thought, moving her gaze towards the sky. She
stopped breathing immediately.
could feel her heart racing. She looked, scared, at Licorice and at her twin,
who was as pale as her.
There were two suns in the sky.