With great pleasure I give you the first chapter of the new Hilda book.
It won’t be long now until the book will reach your favourite reading devices. I’m still working on the paper edition but may your lust for a new adventure be present and quenched a bit by what you’ll read here!
1. Bird lake
“I’m dreaming. William, tell me that I’m dreaming.” Hilda poked her wizard in the side.
“Do you want me to lie?” he asked.
“No. I just want to be dreaming. This can’t be real.” She pointed at the lake in front of them. “For a dream this is shiny though.” They had been alarmed by a message on an arrow. The message had come from Lombardia, a village close to the lake they were standing near to, and the problem reported was that there were no more birds flying around. The magicals had discovered why that was: all the birds were flying in the lake. Under water.
“You’re not dreaming, Hilda. I see it too. Birds flying under water.” The wizard was as baffled as the witch. In all their time together they’d never seen anything like this, and the worst thing was that they had no idea how to fix this as they didn’t know what had caused this strange avian behaviour. Nor whom.
“We’ll have to catch one of them to see what causes them to fly under water. It’s not natural, they shouldn’t be able to breathe that way,” said the witch.
Understanding who would do the inspecting and who’d do the catching, William looked for a fallen branch, changed that into a net and waded into the water a few steps, so he could catch one of the birds. That proved easy enough, because the birds were much slower than in the air. With the bird in the net he then walked back. “Strange, you see that?” he said. “The bird seems fine to breathe air as well.” He was right: the animal was flapping about trying to get out of the net, but didn’t look worried about breathing.
Hilda took the bird in hand and looked it over. There was nothing wrong with it, except that it was wet. She popped up her wand. “Let’s see what this tells us.” William saw how she checked the bird for magical influences. There had to be some, otherwise these birds were the strangest kind the magical duo had ever seen. “See, that’s it. Magic. Stupid magic. Clumsy magic.” Hilda put the bird down and they watched it hop to the waterside and dive in again. “Can you catch me another one?”
“Of course, sweetwitch. Your bird is my command,” the wizard laughed and waded into the lake to fish up another bird. That too received the same verdict.
“Clumsy magic.” Hilda looked at William. “We know what that means, don’t we?”
“Indeed. Flower witch,” he replied.
“Yes. I don’t know why people keep making them. They’re more trouble than they’re worth and lately they refuse to stick to flowers. And don’t give me a smart idea that we should call them bird witches now,” the wicked witch warned the wizard. “We’ll first get these birds out of the water, undo the stupid spell that’s on them, and then we need to find that flower witch.” Hilda showed William how he could counter the spell that was on the birds and then they spent a lot of the day locating birds. A good thing was that William didn’t need to catch each one by hand: they flew over the lake, spotted a bird, magically pulled it out of the water and in the same magical move they could undo the odd incantation the birds were under. By the time they were almost done a loud shriek attempted to pierce their hearing.
“Crappedy crap, who does that?” Hilda asked as she looked out over the lake. The scream had been loud enough for a person to be harmed in ways unimaginable. Another scream let her locate the source. It was a girl that wasn’t being harmed in any way. She just stood there and screamed. Hilda and William set course for the woman and landed their brooms as another scream started to appear. Hilda’s magic prevented the noise from reaching full bloom. She didn’t need a wand or any other additional magic to know that they had found the flower witch. Or rather: she had found them.
The woman grabbed her own throat and looked desperate. “What did you do?” she asked.
“I fixed us some ear protection,” Hilda explained, “by making sure you don’t scream us to deaf.”
“To death?” A fearful look came upon the woman’s face. “Do you think I could do that?”
“Not to death. To deaf. You didn’t get the joke. Apparently you’ve been screaming so much that you affected your own hearing. And no, you couldn’t do that to us anyway.”
“Not even after-” the woman started saying, then clasped both hands over her mouth.
“After what?” William asked.
“Noffing,” she mumbled from behind her hands while her cheeks turned red, a clear proof of the opposite. That was enough for Hilda.
“Just tell us. You’re here for a reason, probably for the birds. That means you know of them. Tell us about it.”
“I’m not going to,” said the flower witch. “You’re that witch from nearby.”
Hilda frowned. “Would it make a difference if I was from far away?”
The woman thought about that for a moment. “I guess not.”
William shook his head. “What’s the problem with telling us?”
“I’m afraid I’ll get into trouble.”
“Don’t worry about that. Do you know what happened here with the birds?”
The flower witch nodded. “I got this little potion from this big man and I took it. And then I could do magic. Serious magic.”
Hilda rubbed her nose. “Like making birds fly under water.”
“Yes. I thought that was quite impressive, to be honest.”
“And you can still do that magic?” William asked.
“No. It was over after a day. I came back the next day to get the birds out of the water but I couldn’t do it any more. I really felt bad about the poor birds being in the water like that so I came back every day to see if they were still okay, and when I found them gone just now…”
“Yes, then you tried to take out our hearing,” the wizard nodded. “Do you still have some of that potion?”
The woman stared at the wizard. “Why? You don’t look like you need it.”
“I want to know where it came from. Someone who’s dealing with potions like that might be a danger to the community,” William explained. The idea of ordinary people all having magic and taking their personal feuds out on each other that way was something he didn’t want to consider, but with such a man at large it could be a serious issue.
“No, I used all of it,” the flower witch confessed. “And then I threw away the bottle because it started to smell bad.”
“That’s a pity,” Hilda said. “It might have told us something. Was there any writing on it?”
“Yes, there was,” the woman said. “It looked quite pretty.” Her words crushed Hilda’s hope to learn what had been on the bottle. This woman was one of the many who still hadn’t learnt to read or write.
“Next time someone comes by and hands out bottles of potions, be careful. You never know what is in them.”
“Oh, he told me it was absolutely safe,” the flower witch commented on that, “and he didn’t exactly hand them out either. He knocked on my door late at night, looking for a place to sleep, and I let him in. The potion was his way to say thank you.”
Hilda and William understood exactly where the man had slept. “Still, be careful next time.” Then Hilda looked at the wizard. “What are we going to do? Get some lunch here before we go back, or do we go home and then eat something?” The wizard opted for the first choice; they’d flown quite far and the work they’d done to un-bird the lake had taken quite a while as well. Hilda turned to the flower witch again. “You’re local, do you know a place where we can eat something?”
“Oh, certainly,” said the woman. “You can eat at my place.” That sounded as good as any other option, so the magicals walked along with the woman.
“We’re going to pay you in copper though, not in potions.”
“Thank you. Without copper and silver a business can’t survive.”
“Business?” Hilda and William were very surprised by that.
“Together with my husband I run the local tavern. We have a very good reputation for our food and the clean rooms,” the flower witch said. William and Hilda understood that they had misjudged the woman who probably wasn’t even a flower witch; the man who’d given her that potion had simply slept in one of the reputable, clean rooms! As the first houses of Lombardia came into view, the woman stopped and turned. “Can you please not tell my husband about the man and the potion? My husband was travelling that night, and, uhm…” So their initial feeling about the woman and the travelling potion-man had been right! They assured her that they’d not mention it.
“If you don’t give us a reason to talk about the potion then we won’t, it’s that simple,” William said. That was good enough for the flower witch and tavern owner.
Lombardia was a nice, little town. The roads were the same as at home, the number of pigs in the street was slightly higher and the tavern was a bit larger than the one in their own village. The food there was very good indeed, and when William pulled out a pouch with his coins, the lady owner rushed over to their table and told them that there was no bill for them to pay.
“Shiny, we should come here more often,” Hilda said as she winked at the wizard.
“Please do,” said the tavern-running lady, “it would be very good for business if I can tell everyone that even the magicals from Sunrise come here to eat.”
Hilda now was surprised. “You know the name of our village?”
“Yes, I do. I was born there.”
The wicked witch shook her head. “Almost no one knows that the village is called Sunrise. Thank you for the food, it was good. And no more experiments with little bottles, please. The birds will appreciate that.”
As Hilda and William took their brooms, one of the customers looked up as something had come down and landed on his plate. “Bloody birds!”
As the magicals arrived home William hurried inside. “Damn you cats!”
Hilda walked in. “Damn you wizard for leaving all that stuff lying around on the table. You know they like to walk around over it while we’re not here. You should put that in a safe place,” she added with a chuckle.
“We have two cats, need I remind you? That means there is no safe place.” William bent down and started collecting the crystals, the pieces of paper and the tiny bits of metal he’d been diligently collecting.
“What are you trying to do with that crappedy crap anyway?” Hilda had never asked him, thinking it was just a temporary thing, but he’d spent so much time on it and now he was even blaming the cats, so this was becoming something serious.
“I’m trying to make a phone.”
“A telephone. Actually I want two, one for you and one for me. They’re used to talk to each other when you’re far away from the other person.”
“William, we have our crystal balls for that, remember?”
The wizard nodded. “Yes, and when was the last time you took that with you in case you had to talk to Babs?”
“Are you crazy? You don’t take that thing with you. It’s just too big and heavy, and I’ve told you what happens when you shrink a crystal ball.”
“I know. You end up with a pocket full of crystal dust and you’re buggered to find a new ball.”
“Shiny. I like how you listen to me,” said Hilda. “So how does that telephone work?”
“At the moment it doesn’t,” William said, “but once I get it to work we’ll be able to talk to each other wherever we are.”
Hilda walked to the kitchen and made it prepare tea. “We already do that, wizard, because we almost always go to places together.”
William rose and looked at his hands full of tiny bits. With a sigh he dropped everything to the floor again. “Why do you always know the right thing to say so my efforts feel like a waste of time?”
“Because I’m me, remember?” Hilda walked up to William, carrying two cups of tea. Almost without thinking William took one and changed the other into coffee.
“Of course you’re you. And I didn’t mean it when I said always.”
Hilda raised her eyebrows. “You didn’t? I’ll need to work on that then.” Then she grinned. “I’ll go see if there are any messages.” She made her coffee cup hover where it was and walked out, to return with three arrows. She picked her cup from the air, sat down and started to unwrap the messages that had come in.
“Only three?” William wondered. “Is our popularity fading?”
“I doubt that,” Hilda said as she looked over the first message. “Are you interested in flying over to King Walt’s place? Someone claims that there’s a gargoyle walking through the woods.”
“You’re kidding, right?” the wizard asked.
Hilda looked down to her stomach. “No, not at all. Why did you bring that up?” William stared at her, not understanding. “Kidding?” she said, “as in having kids? Being pregnant?”
“Oh!” William laughed. He laughed so loudly that he chased Obsi off, who had just begun to approach the table. “But the gargoyle, that’s not a joke, is it?”
“The person who wrote this doesn’t think so. Here, see for yourself.” Hilda handed him the note and picked up the second one. “Crappedy crap!”
“What’s that one?”
Hilda threw the paper into the air, popped up her wand and incinerated the message before it reached the table. “That’s that. You wouldn’t believe this. It’s a note from a king a few kingdoms down south, asking if we want to come and work for him.” As William remained silent she explained: “Then we’d be dancing to his music instead of being independent magicals. Not my cup of coffee, William, this witch is a free witch and will stay a free witch.” The wizard agreed with that. Being the magical in a king’s service almost always meant a good life but it often was terribly restrictive. He’d heard how many good magicals were wasting their life away in the lack of service of a king or queen, simply because the royals in question had nothing to do or were even afraid of their magical employees. Making them swear a magical oath to only act upon their king’s wishes and keeping them unoccupied was the safest bet.