"Bring the witch here!" The young boy's try to keep calm was to no avail, for his voice began trembling when he spoke the final words. A single thought was reining in his mind, "Father would have know how to say it, father would have known what to do... but father is dead, and so is mother". They weren't just dead, they were murdered...
"Bring the witch to us!" another person with a voice determined and controlled called. Albena did not raise her voice, she never did. Instead, she just looked the old servant in the eyes and simply said the words. How was she always able to do it.
"Grandfather Stoyo, you are the oldest among the servants here! The one who has been here the longest! You are the only one that can help us! Please help us! We have no time to lose if we want to save her! We... we beseech you!" He couldn't show his tears. Not now, he had to be strong for his sisters. For mother and father.
The old man's eyes were leaking, a sign of his advanced age and his eyesight gone worse with the years, so you could never know if he was actually crying or not. But his look gave it away. He was feeling sorry for them. Something they did not need. They had a whole lifetime ahead of them to be felt sorry for.
The old man took a breath and knocked three times on the wall next to the right pillar of the bedside. With that, a hidden corridor revealed itself. Taking a candle from the nearby stand, he started walking as fast as his ageing body could. Vulcan watched until the very last glimpse of light was gone. The boy took pride in knowing the castle as the palm of his hand, how could he miss this secret passage? Did their parents hide something from them? Hundreds of new questions plagued his mind. But the things with the greater matter, flowed amove them. He turned towards Albena, shaking because of the storm raging outside. The same that had woken her up and the fear of which urged her to go to their parents' chamber. Where instead of safety and comfort, she would find their lifeless bodies, as well as Kalina - their youngest sister - wounded, barely breathing, holding herself to life. Albena was holding her body, both of their nightgowns soaked in blood, while the mask of courage had fallen and her tears were flowing.
"Why do we have to be so mature, we are just kids?!"
A question that caught him off guard. Thinking it will comfort, he put his hands on her shoulders, as he kneeled next to her
"Everything will be fine... I promise you. Kalina will live. I will make the witch save her, no matter the price!" Yes, he was the oldest, he was the heir, he had to take care of everyone - his sisters, the servants... the whole region of Kostica... He was the knyaz now. He was one of the 12 ones - the highest among the bolyars in the tzarstvo of Suntolia.
"We have to cover the mirrors." he continued, hoping he could distract them both.
"It is just superstitions. Old people's tales." His younger sister protested.
"The servants will be disturbed and afraid if we don't. They will start rumours. Those about how mother and father died will be enough. We don't need ones about vampires too!"
"You are right." She reluctantly agreed, carefully getting up from the settee and tucking her little sister gently. "We would also have to open up the windows and stay with them until dawn." She nodded her head tower their parents, the bodies of who the old man had covered with a sheet, so the children would not torture themselves when looking at the bed, coloured red from the blood.
"We have to light more candles too, in case the ones already led burn out". Vulchan replied as he was already heading towards their mother's tall mirror. He always thought it seemed old, at least 100 years old, but tonight it felt ancient. Staring at his own reflection, a chill ran down his spine. A figure, getting bigger and bigger, approaching him from the inside of the mirror itself. He started backing up, trying not to get its eyes off from it while looking for something to protect the girls in case. And then the figure, fully cloaked, stepped out of the mirror.
"Good. You know what to do when there is a dead in the house." It was a woman. She removed her cape's bonnet, revealing her black as a raven's wing hair.
"Who are you?" Asked the very much scared Albena, while Vulcan armed himself with a blood-stained dagger. His father must have used it to protect his wife and daughter.
"You are acting rather rude for someone desperate enough to ask a witch for help! Put that away, boy!"
"You are the witch?! Asya! How did you get here so fast?!"
"Very good!" She approached him and patted him on the head, prompting him to think, she was there to simply mocking them. "It seems I am not what you expect. I apologize, my chicken legs house is not travel friendly when it rains - the odour is rather unpleasant." By the tone, you could definitely tell she was mocking them. "You are wrong. Asya is my sister, I am a Delyana."
"Where is our servant?" Albena knew that people will be suspicious of the old mаn if he was not back by morning.
"With Asya. He is sick and old, he needed urgent rest. Do you not care for those who serve you, that you treat them like this?"
Vulcan had to look high and up to meet her eyes. He was told that he was tall for a boy of twelve years, but this woman was tall not only for a woman but taller than most men. The witch was at least two heads above his height.
"I don't care who you are! I just care if my sister lives! Can you save her?"
His eyes were fire, while her grey ones - ice. She rose her eyebrow.
"I can. However, you should ask me if I want to save her... Luck is on our side. I liked them." She turned her head towards the bodies. "Such a gruesome and unjust death. You'll have to be extra careful - wrap their bodies with tight ropes and put heavy stones over them when you bury them. They don't deserve more mutilations."
"What price must we pay for it?" dared to ask Albena. She was hugging Kalina even tighter.
"I don't need money or whatever else you were thinking to offer me. I just need her." She lifted her finger and pointed Kalina, who by now was fighting for every next breath. Albena and Vulcan's eyes opened wide. She was going to take her. They will never see her again!
"For half a year at least. She is wounded quite badly and will need to rest for a while. A calm place, warm and safe. Like Zhegavica." She took off her cape and wrapped Kalina with it. "But you see, it won't be just one time. I will need her to come every year in order for me to check her health."
"Good. I agree... I agree!" This woman probably has never met someone as desperate as these children.
"Good! But I will need you to swear that you will keep this promise!"
"I will! I WILL!"
She grabbed his hand and her nails sank into his flesh.
"Say it with me boy! I... I ... swear...swear... that ...that...my sister...my sister...will spend...will spend...the spring and summer... the spring and summer...with the witch Delyana...with the witch Delyana!"
Delyana's face showed no expression, neither pity, nor complacency, but she took off her cloak and gently wrapped Kalina with it, before taking her in her arms and heading back towards the mirror.
"One last thing, that you can take from one adult to a child forced to act like one - you may have had luck with me, for I am bound by my word, as a witch, but those 11 vultures are not. Don't make deals without thinking of what you'll lose!" And with that, she walked into the mirror and vanished.
All Vulcan and Albena could do was to look into each other's eyes.
"Do you think I did the right thing?"
"I don't know, I don't know anything..."
As they broke into each other's arms, the morning star appeared into the sky - the one they also call the deceiver.
Knyaz - Knyaz is a Slavic noble and royal title, that equals a prince or a duke. In this story, knyaz is the highest noble, standing second only to a tzar or a king.
Bolyars - Bolyars is the plural of bolyar, also called boil, bolyarin or bogatir. I use bolyarin when I refer to a single one and bolyars in the plural. The term for a nobleman, used during the first and second Bulgarian empire/state, with origins from protobulgarin. Later it went on to be used by Romanian, Moldovan and Russian nobility, under slight alterations.
Tzarstvo - A state rulled by a tzar.