Prologue

Once upon a time, long ago in Stormhold, there lived a noble knight named Earl Edwin, the Knight of the Mountain Lion. He was just like other knights – he had a coat of arms and a motto, he rode a golden horse, and he had a beautiful castle in his possession. There is a legend that he visited Britain and was acquainted with King Arthur himself, but it has no proof.

Edwin's castle was a great one – suitable for both war and peaceful life. Every chamber in it was occupied but one – a chamber built by Edwin for his future wife, the lady he would fight for and sing praises to. But no lady whom Edwin came to love had crossed the knight's path.

The earl felt sad about it. He could easy enter into a marriage of convenience, but he didn't wish to. He longed to find someone to love. But alas! he lived alone and lonely for forty years.

One day he watched a shooting star while sitting in his garden, and his uncle, a warlock, told him to seek happiness in the place where the star had fallen. The knight agreed and departed on the next day. In the night before the departure he saw a dream of the field hit by the meteor. He saw a pretty red-haired girl, dressed in strange silvery clothes, lying there on the ground with half-closed shy gray eyes as though unconscious. Edwin realized that she was certainly the true love he had searched for.

But when he got to the field in reality (the road took him four days), he found no such girl there. He grew desperate and looked for her everywhere in the neighborhood. Suddenly, he came across a beautiful palace that he had never heard of before. Three ladies came out of it to greet him, and Edwin caught his breath. They were the loveliest women he had ever seen.

One was short, with shoulder-length ebony black curls, rosy dimpled cheeks and large sky blue eyes. The taller one was a bit plump (that made her look more attractive), with long bronze hair and dark eyes. But the tallest of the women was the most gorgeous one. Her hair was literally the color of gold, it even sparkled, her skin looked like porcelain, she had sweet grayish eyes, and a kind of majestic elegance her companions' figures lacked.

"Hello. Who are you and what brought you to such wilderness, dear stranger?" the plump woman asked in a beautiful contralto voice. Edwin reluctantly drew his eyes away from the blonde and tried to remember why he had arrived there.

"Eh… My name's Earl Edwin, the Knight of the Mountain Lion. I'm searching for a young girl with long red hair dressed in a sparking silvery gown…" the knight murmured.

"Oh, that poor thing!" the blonde exclaimed. Her voice rang like a gold bell. "She fell from a tree and died. We wanted to bury her, but wolves took her body away."

"What a pity…" Edwin said, barely caring about what he had said.

"You seem exhausted, sir," the short woman said. "Would you care to rest in our humble yet welcoming house?"

"Thank you, it would be such a pleasure!" the knight cried.

"Well, then, allow us to introduce ourselves," the blond beauty spoke in her singsong voice. "We are sisters. I'm the eldest one. My name is Lamia, this is Mormo, and the youngest is called Empusa."

The tired knight was escorted into the palace by plump Mormo. As he passed Lamia, he thought he saw a greenish ray of light coming from her fingers, aimed at him. He blinked, and the light disappeared. But right at the moment he realized quite plainly that he would never want to leave the golden-haired woman. Although, he did notice after his hallucination with the green light that there was a small gray tress in Lamia's sparkling hair.

Just on the next day Earl Edwin proposed marriage to the strange Lamia, and she accepted on the condition that her sisters would live in Edwin's palace as well.

At first the population of Edwin's earldom was thrilled with the arrival of such a beautiful lady. But then, strange things began to happen. Edwin, who had been known as a most kind and generous master, became a greedy tyrant. He constantly led wars with his neighbors, and one day he announced that he was going to plan a revolution in the whole country of Stormhold.

"Lady Lamia has bewitched him…" the common people used to say in a hushed whisper. They did not know their guess was perfectly correct.

As for Lamia herself, she always said to her sisters:

"How wonderful is that I married an Earl. With such a rank, we can access the throne of Stormhold – at least…"

"And what about Edwin?" Mormo or Empusa would ask.

"Edwin? Oh, he's a dull thing – though I pity him, poor stupid boy, he fell in love with me even before I cast the charm over him. I think we'll send him to some very remote isle when we become queens."

Sometimes, the sisters would appear aging – here and there some unfortunate nobleman noticed a silver hair, a wrinkled hand, a crooked nose in the appearance of the ladies. But when they caught the wondering glances, they quickly went to their chambers and always came outside looking young and lovely again.

One day, when Edwin was in the midst of planning his revolution, Lamia found out the most irritating thing. She was with child. The sisters came to a hurried meeting to decide whether to keep it or not. Finally, as Lamia was in a very good mood, she said:

"The child will not do us harm in any case. We'll keep it and let it grow up as our constant servant."

Nine months later, a little golden-haired girl was born. After some consideration, the sisters gave her the name of Illusia.

Another two months passed, and Edwin's plans of taking over the throne were found out because of the Earl's small mistake. Lamia, Mormo and Empusa immediately fled the earldom, taking little Illusia with them. Without his controlling and fearless wife, Edwin wasn't able to escape justice. He was soon hanged, his castle was abandoned, and his land was divided between other noblemen of Stormhold.

The king searched high and low for Lamia, Mormo and Empusa, because the earldom's inhabitants were sure Edwin planned the revolution under these evil sisters' pressure. But the women were nowhere to be found. Their palace had become invisible, and the witches, along with little Illusia, disappeared from the people's sight and then from everyone's memory. Peace returned, and after several decades few men even knew about the unfortunate history of Earl Edwin and his wicked family.