Wendell watched over every hilltop for a new sight. They had been riding for an hour solid since they left the inn. Rain was falling hard now, and it slowed the trio up quite a bit. The young king just knew he could accomplish this so much more quickly if his companions were a bit more… spry. Still he could not doubt their intelligence. For some reason, on this particular endeavor, everything was just more frustrating. It put Wendell in a mood that he just could not bear. Finally he saw a gloomy looking expanse of trees ahead of them.
"That must be it," he thought to himself. It was bright morning and still the forest was dark as midnight.
"It certainly is well named," Thomas said dryly as he cantered up next to Wendell.
"What I wouldn't give for a Maglite," Tony said in what could have been a whistle.
"So do we just go storming in 'crazy white knight style' or do take two extra seconds to formulate a plan 'sensible grown up ruler of a country style'?" Tony asked with a pointed look at Wendell. Wendell was about to give him a good set down, but thought the better of it. If he was being honest, and after all it was only to himself, he hadn't really had a plan past getting here. Besides, he would never want Anthony to be one of the simpering courtiers who were so common at home. So he just nodded.
"How does one track a witch through an incredibly expansive dark forest?" Wendell wondered aloud.
"Perhaps with the aid of another witch," said Thomas after a pause.
"How many witches do you know?" Anthony said somewhat suspiciously. Thomas stood a little straighter and, if possible, looked even more dignified.
Wendell's own thoughts echoed Anthony's sentiments, but he didn't express them. He was willing to explore any possibility.
"Thomas, do you mean to say that you know another witch, one who is trustworthy, and would be willing to help us with our problem?" Wendell asked.
"Trustworthy being the operative word here," Anthony mumbled.
"Your Highness, I believe in witches. I am profoundly sorry that I could not see through Mistress Yaga, but still I believe that not all witches are bad, just as not all people are bad. So yes I know many witches. Yes I know many trustworthy witches," Thomas said evenly.
Wendell considered his choices. It was true that he could probably find Mistress Yaga without magical aid. It was also true that forgoing that aid would cost him time.
"These witches wouldn't happen to live nearby would they?" Wendell asked.
"It doesn't really signify as to where they live, Your Majesty," Thomas said in as close to a murmur as Wendell had ever heard from him.
"Why is that? Do you have some witch whistle that brings them flying?" Anthony asked. It was clear that he wanted their involvement with witches to be as limited as possible. Thomas wore a look of long suffering annoyance when he answered.
"There is one witch who has given me a way to get in touch with her quickly should I ever need to. I will contact her directly and Your Majesty can decide whether or not to go further with her help,"
"Just how do you contact her?" Wendell asked.
Thomas took this question as permission and began building a fire. Then out of his coat pocket he took a small hand mirror and a tiny bag. When the fire was burning hot, he placed the mirror in the middle so that the reflective surface was facing the sky. All three men watched as the small silver mirror began to glow with the heat of the fire. Then when the mirror turned from red hot to blue hot, Thomas took a handful of sand out of the bag and sprinkled on the mirror's reflective surface.
"Stand back," was all Thomas said. A blue smoke engulfed the fire and in it, there looked to be a face. As the smoke became more of a solid veil, the face became more apparent. It was the face of an older woman. She was still beautiful with long dark hair and olive skin. Her eyes were gray and almond shaped framed with dark lashes. There were no lines on her face to indicate age, but rather she possessed an air of dignity that only comes with age.
"Ahhh, Thomas, it's so good to hear from you. You never come to see me anymore," the woman said in faux scolding manner.
Wendell's eyes nearly burst out of his skull when he saw Thomas blush! Surely Thomas was not this woman's er…paramour?
"It used to be so often. It seemed like every week you'd need to see me. Sometimes twice a week. But you were younger then, I suppose you just couldn't keep up that pace forever," she sighed. Wendell wasn't sure if he was taking all of this in correctly but Thomas' face turned a brighter shade of red with each word.
"My Lady Mohana, allow me to apologize for my long absence from your company," Thomas said quickly, "but I have called on you today in need of assistance. Allow me to introduce my companions," Mohana looked bored but played along. Wendell got the impression of a cat humoring a mouse.
"This is His Royal Highness King Wendell," Thomas announced ceremoniously. Wendell stepped in front of the smoke veil and allowed the witch to see him. He made a small bow of the head, after all he did want her help, and stepped aside. He heard a cough from Anthony and a sigh from Thomas.
"And this is Lord Anthony," he said in a rather anticlimactic way. Anthony slid in front of the smoke.
"So pleased to meet you, Lady Mohana," he said flashing a smile. He had apparently forgotten his distrust of witches. Thomas was quick to push him out of the way.
"Well Thomas you certainly do travel with an interesting party. What is it you three dashing heroes are in search of? It must be important if the king himself is on the quest," she mused.
It was at this point that Thomas wavered.
"We do indeed seek something important. We seek justice. We need a way to track Mistress Yaga through the Eastern Night Woods," Thomas said. At the mention of Mistress Yaga, Lady Mohana no longer looked bored. Her eyes narrowed and she leaned in.
"Tell me everything and if I feel your cause is just I will help you. She is a powerful witch. She may be more than a witch by now. It would put my life in danger should I help you and you fail. So I need to know why you are going after her," Lady Mohana said firmly. Wendell nodded to Thomas, and Thomas began a full recounting.
After hearing the story, Lady Mohana sat back in her chair. She was silent for a moment.
"So far, all you have said is that Mistress Yaga has left with her apprentice without actually receiving payment. Why do you care?" Lady Mohana asked sincerely. It was here Wendell spoke up.
"There is some evidence that Mistress Yaga may have committed a crime. I care because I am the king," Wendell said.
"Then why do you not send knights on this quest? What is so important about Mistress Yaga's flight that the king himself must take this task on? You have already given me one false answer, I will not suffer another," the beautiful witch said.
Wendell didn't know what to say. What was this woman looking for? Was there a riddle that he had missed? Why was he going after Rose instead of his knights?
"I am going after Rose, because I only trust myself to bring her back safely," Wendell answered.
Lady Mohana nodded at his answer. She looked pleased.
"I will help you. I trust one of you has a compass," Wendell offered his to the smoky image, "Very good, throw it in the fire. Then after the fire goes out, on its own mind you do not put it out, King Wendell you must mix a handful of the ashes with three drops of your own blood. Then rub this paste on your sword. The compass will lead you to your heart's desire. The sword anointed with the ashes of an enchanted fire and the blood of a true heart will then be able to pierce your enemy's flesh," she finished. With the end of her sentence the veil vanished and Lady Mohana was gone.
Wendell did as he was told and tossed his compass into the flames. It flashed with heat for a moment and then went cold. The fire went out in a spark just after the compass cooled down. Wendell then proceeded to make a paste of ashes and blood for his sword. After he rubbed it down, he felt it…quiver? Yes quiver was the correct word. It became almost alive in his hands. Now he felt ready. Now he could save her.