The Witch in the Lake

The Witch in the Lake by Anna Fienberg

Book: The Witch in the Lake by Anna Fienberg Read Free Book Online
Authors: Anna Fienberg
‘Breakfast,’ she thought, and jumped out of bed. Last night, with all the worry and surprises, she’d hardly eaten a thing. Now she was hungry and the new day had given her hope.
    She took a fine linen under-gown from the drawer and chose a red dress to slip over it. A new girdle her mother had packed, of white silk webbing with silver threads, was tied around her waist. She gave her long hair ten brush strokes (her mother had always done a hundred) then dashed out into the hall.
    She could hear laughter, and around the corner she met Maria and three others who were all hurrying to the ‘Yellow Room’ for breakfast.
    As she entered, an ocean of voices crashed around her ears. It seemed that all the women were present, sitting at six long tables. The pale yellow silk of the walls reminded her of eggs and cheese and her stomach rumbled. She quickly glanced around, searching for the friendly girl of last night, when she felt two heavy hands on her shoulders.
    â€˜This way, young lady,’ boomed Aunt Beatrice, her breath stale in Merilee’s ear. ‘Come with me.’ She steered her to the third table where Brigida was seated.
    â€˜We can’t start too early with her lessons!’ Aunt Beatrice said importantly, making sure Brigida heard.
    Brigida smiled at no one in particular, and went on eating her fruit. Merilee was beginning to recognise that smile. It seemed kindly and a little vague, but you could tell that behind it Brigida was watching everything like a hawk and she’d make her own steely mind up, thank you, and there wouldn’t be a thing you could do about it.
    Merilee looked away uneasily and helped herself to some figs.
    â€˜First thing this morning, you go to Workshop 4,’ Beatrice told her. ‘You will be learning about essential oils—how we gather them, why we use them.’
    â€˜Will you be teaching me?’ asked Merilee, choking a little on her fig.
    â€˜Close your mouth when you’re eating,’ barked Beatrice. ‘Unfortunately not. I have to give a lesson myself, on my Tonics.’ Her voice rose suddenly and she leaned forward on her elbows, towards Brigida. ‘I think the lecture will prove very interesting—I’m going to discuss the use of geranium and ginger, oils which restore vitality to the body with remarkable speed.’
    Brigida thoughtfully swallowed her egg.
    Beatrice sat back on her chair sharply and turned to Merilee. ‘Listen to all that is said in your lesson, and take notes. I want everyone to see what a studious niece I have.’ She picked up a hunk of cheese and swallowed it. ‘Tonight I’ll come to hear what you’ve learned. So pay attention.’

Chapter Nine
    It was late afternoon when Leo arrived home from the lake. He had wandered in the forest for a while, trying to quieten himself before he met his father. But Marco was already at the table, preparing supper when Leo stepped through the doorway.
    â€˜Chop some more wood, will you?’ Marco called as he looked up. ‘I’m bone-cold, there’s ice in my veins.’
    Leo nodded quickly and went round to the courtyard where the logs were stacked. He was glad to be alone, his breath still ragged, his heart wild.
    He dragged out a log and picked up the axe.
    The hour he’d spent walking had done nothing to calm him.
    Coward!
he hissed as he swung the blade.
Dunce!
he spat, splitting the wood.
Call yourself a wizard?
For a moment the dark rose again before his eyes, the impossibility of it, and despair made him crack the log in two, sending splinters flying.
    â€˜I can’t even
see
now,’ he told the earth as he flung himself down. ‘A cat could see better in the dark than me. What have I against the weapons of witches?’
    Leo split all the logs that were piled in the courtyard. He went on working for longer than necessary, beating out his frustration as he crashed through the wood. It was dusk

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