As they approached the bonfire in the center of copse, Jean heard a voice chanting in the Dark Tongue. It sounded dangerous, and menacing, and full of menace, something the sight of four shapes striding in time around the fire only added to. And then Elaine burst out laughing. “You’re putting on the slipper?” she declared, cheerfully.
The four witches moving around the fire suddenly stopped. One turned. “The failed du Lac dares to speak? Here? Now? She DARES?” All of which, Jean decided, would have been far more impressive if the speaker’s voice, when not speaking the Dark Tongue, was rather high-pitched, and very young. And, she decided, as the speaker strode forward, if that individual was not a very short Marsh Erl, with a snub nose and hair done in a long ponytail.
“You speak thus to a child of House du Lac, Witch of the Coalo?” snapped out Grace Greenteeth, forgetting Viviane’s instruction to speak in her natural voice.
“INDEED I DO!” bellowed the witch--or rather, attempted to bellow, as her voice was not made for bellowing, or even a very rough approximation of it. “And the Witch of the Ruhl had better not try my patience!”
“Melissa Marshtreader,” said Viviane in soothing, patient tones, “do you really want to get on my bad side? I mean--really?”
Melissa did her best to stand tall and defiant. “Custom is custom, O Badb! And it is my shield, and my sword!”
“It is custom to defy our honored leader?” shouted Grace, pacing around the Witch of the Coalo.
“If she act in a manner that is worthy of defiance,” hissed Melissa. The pair glared at each other in a manner they doubtless thought was impressive but only succeeded in looking like a kitten and a puppy about to have it out with each other.
Jean glanced at Meg Mowton. “So, are they sisters, or something?” she whispered.
“Cousins,” answered the old witch. “The Coalo and Ruhl are rivers. Their witches serve House du Lac as heralds. In theory.”
Jean nodded. “And the reality involves lots of quarrelling and stepping on each others toes?”
“OWWW!” yelped Grace as her pigtails yanked back, seemingly of their own accord. She glared at Melissa, whose own hair likewise yanked back. The Witch of the Coalo shrieked in pain and alarm.
“Yes, but usually with more dignity,” stated Meg flatly.
“That is enough!” declared Viviane. She clapped her hands together, and the sound that issued from them was that of thunder. “I have not come here so that you two can waste our times with petty hexes! I am the Badb, Dark Lord of the Accursed Marsh, Queen of the Old Magic, and I am not pleased!”
Grace and Melissa both gulped and backed away from each other, retreating to their opposite sides. Melissa stepped behind a tall woman clad in a ragged robe, stitched together from a thousand little scraps, and a very young girl who held a metal staff topped with what looked like a stylized cat. A third witch stood nearby, a short woman, covered in what looked to be creeping insects. The girl with a staff took a deep breath, and stepped forward. “We do not doubt your power, Badb. Merely the succession.”
Viviane eyed her warily “Well, I see the true leader steps forward. Has the Witch of the Velvet Paws sunk so low that she must work through proxies?”
The witch seemed to shudder slightly, then tightened her grip on her staff. She stared at Viviane with measured defiance. “Your accusations are baseless, Badb. The High Coven meets as a body of equals. All speak with one voice.” She glanced at Melissa. “Even if some of us speak more than others.”
“Or more than is advisable,” noted the witch covered in vermin.
“Livia!” said the witch with the staff.
“Just saying what we were all thinking, Cait,” said Livia. She turned to Viviane. “But come now, Badb. The Witch of Velvet Paws. The Witch of Worms. The Witch of Rags and Tatters. And, yes the Witch of the Coalo. Not people you may freely ignore.”
“Are you sure about that, Livia?” said Viviane, crossing her arms. She glanced at the witch in the ragged cloak. “Urganda. I am surprised to see you siding with this… insurgency.”
Urganda glanced away. “I… I’m sorry, Viv, but… we need to be sure.”
Jean heard a deep chuckle to her side. Mother Flint was there, though Jean was sure she hadn’t flown with the rest of them. As Jean’s eyes turned to her, the strange witch gave another of her terrible smiles. Viviane took a deep breath, and turned to her sister. “Well, Jean--are you up to it?”
Jean shrugged. “Hey, it’s not like I have anything better to do now is it?”