Light In The Lantern: With The Last Witch Of Pendle
Greetings! Welcome to to Steampunk’d Lancaster! My name is Mrs Albert Baker and… well yes, that’s right I am a witch, how very kind of you to notice! Perhaps it’s my magical aura… or the smell of freshly baked gingerbread that tipped you off? Officially I’m actually The Last Witch Of Pendle but, sadly, there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats. But I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running my little underground soup kitchen for the street urchins.
Strange times have struck here in the Scattered Isles of Ire – Lord Ashton’s Flesh Eating Liver Birds plague the skies above us and hoards of Mancunian Sugar-Zombies roam the cobbled streets spreading their curse like a plague…
So some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in the city watchtower and keep its flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those running for their lives and being hunted down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords…
Tonight is my shift and never fear, I am well armed to protect myself with a hot cauldron of soup, a fistful of hexes and of course my trusty rolling pin, which has seen off many an Annoying Wizard, Giant Crab or Night Potato, I can tell you!
Over the coming weeks, a marvellous host of writers, artists and creators will each be taking a turn to keep the light in this old lantern burning through the dark and share with you some of their wonderful books, stories, artwork and other fabulous creations.
Now then, since I’m here I thought I would share a little excerpt from some of my own adventures with you. This is taken from The Curious Adventures Of Smith And Skarry when those two miscreant wizards had the cheek to break into my house in Pendle and frighten the wits out of myself and my husband in the middle of the night!
The two wizards scrambled to their feet but, on cursory inspection, Skarry realised they were trapped. This was not magic that they, as mere initiates, would have any hope of disabling.
“Oh! Burglars? Thieves? Oh no!” The woman standing in the doorway, dressed in a long cotton nightdress and curlers, trembled, sending the glaring yellow light from her lantern quivering over the moon-slicked floor, serving no purpose other than to irritate the eyes of every conscious person in the room. “Oh, this can’t be happening! I…I must get Albert, yes, he will know what to do!” and she quickly spun on her heel and disappeared again. They heard her stumble back along some hidden corridor, muttering in frenzied tones as she went: “Oh blessed mother! Oh Green Goddess, why is this happening? Why? Oh this is the end, I know it is! The end of Pendle, the end of everything! Oh Goddess, if it is true, if you have really not abandoned us to the mercy of Wiz, please, please grant me the strength to deal with this! But I cannot, how can I? I am the last! The very last!”
Her ravings slowly faded, swallowed into the belly of the house, and Skarry fired a look of utter bewilderment at his friend and tapped his forehead in silent questioning appraisal of the woman’s sanity. But, to his surprise and further confusion, Mercurio’s own features revealed that he was lost in some deep private reflection which was obviously beginning to amuse him.
Before long, the woman returned, now sporting an ill-fitting black toupee, which she had hastily balanced on top of her net of tightly curled hair, a false moustache and a quilted claret dressing gown. She held the lantern high again, swinging its luminescence into their squinting eyes.
“Now, see here!” she said, failing dismally at affecting a manly baritone. “Just who, may I ask, do you think you are? Bursting into my abode and frightening the wits out of my wife like this? Hmm?”
Skarry blinked. Surely, surely, this strange woman must realise the flagrant flimsiness of her charade. He opened his mouth to speak, but the woman pre-empted him.
“Don’t move! D-d-don’t move or I’ll…I’ll…well, you can’t move, can you? Hmm? If you try to, you won’t be able to so…so just stay there while I… er… go and call the Watchers… and The Good Folk. Yes, that’s it… now just you stay there! And don’t move!”’
Mercurio held up his gloved hands and chuckled with amusement. “My dear… Sir, we have no intention of going anywhere and, as you have pointed out, even if we wished to, we would be unable to penetrate this.” He gestured to the thin blue field of magical energy which now surrounded them, regarding it with the eye of a connoisseur. “But this is quite astounding!” He gave the moustachioed woman a look of respect, mingled with curiosity, which was not lost upon its subject.
She lowered the lantern an inch.
“Surely,” Mercurio continued carefully, “surely a spell like this could only have been set in place by… and please do not take offense, my good man… by a wizard? And an extremely powerful one at that. Perhaps, even, a witch?”
To Skarry’s amazement, the woman sank down into the leather armchair and began to sob, wringing the lantern chain between her fingers.
“My apologies,” Skarry said quickly, “if my friend has upset you, please… er… here, oh damn I can’t do that,” he returned the useless handkerchief to his pocket and glared furiously at Mercurio, who gave him a withering look and then hitched up a mask of sincere compassion and sympathy and turned it towards their host.
“Oh, you’re right!” the woman sobbed. “It’s true, it’s all true!” She pulled off the moustache and toupee and flung them angrily onto the floor. “Oh, this silly charade has been wearing me to pieces! But I have had no choice! There have always been six witches at Pendle, and there always must be at least one witch at Pendle – even Wiz himself says it – otherwise the whole town will crumble to the ground; the manor, the park, the houses, everything!”
“Wiz?” Skarry looked sharply at his friend, but Mercurio hadn’t flinched.
“Yes. It is only by his will that I haven’t been forced into the caves to be hunted, like game, across the marsh, like my poor sisters. He allowed just six of us witches to stay on here at Pendle because of the curse. There have always been six and we’ve always managed to fool the townsfolk into thinking we were ordinary citizens, but I am the last! And what will happen if I am found out? Oh it has worn me so thin you cannot imagine. Of course I cannot marry – who would marry a witch in this day and age? And yet I had to marry Albert or else people would become suspicious; a woman living all alone… people have such suspicious minds… you wouldn’t believe the things they say when my back is turned…” She was beginning to rave, the pitch of her voice crescendoing with the speed of the words. If she went on like this, she would be hysterical within the next 60 seconds and if she hyperventilated and fainted, even worse asphyxiated herself, they would be trapped. Possibly permanently.
“Why don’t you have a glass of brandy?” Mercurio suggested.
The woman shook her head “I don’t drink,” she sniffed. “It’s Albert who’s the drinker.”
“Albert?” Skarry mouthed silently.
Mercurio raised his eyebrows at him. “Well, perhaps Albert would care for a snifter then? Settle his nerves?”
Skarry closed his eyes so that he would not have to witness the woman reassembling her disguise so that she could nod and stumble unsteadily out of the room in search of alcohol.
If you’d like to read more about my adventures with those two Terrible Wizards, Scarlet Skarry and her marvellous Land Pirate crew and of course Eightcups Max and his fabulous octopus Collin, you can find The Curious Adventures Of Smith And Skarry here:
Well thankyou so much for joining me this evening as we keep the light in the lantern burning. I’m afraid that’s my shift over for the night, thank goodness it was a quiet one! Who knows, perhaps the smell of gingerbread was enough to keep wary monsters at bay?
Stay safe good friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark, look for the light in the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own….