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CHAPTER 48 ~ WITCHY
"Bonjour. Comment vous appelez-vous?"
Quietly, Gunther closed the front door behind him and set down his briefcase on a small side table, as he listened to the French lesson ensuing from the kitchen.
"Bonjour, Monsieur. Je m'appelle Mortimer."
"Enchanté de faire votre connaissance."
"Enchanté de faire votre connaissance."
He smiled. God, he loved hearing Valois speak in his native tongue, and Mortimer's accent was improving by leaps and bounds, thanks to having a genuine Frenchman teaching him.
"Merci, Monsieur. Je suis enchanté.... Oh crap. I forgot!"
Gunther walked into the kitchen at that little wail, bending to kiss Valois's cheek.
"How goes it?" he murmured, grinning at Mortimer.
"Very well," Valois replied, "but I think Mortimer is focusing more on his dinner than on his verb tenses."
Gunther hadn't missed the delicious scent that had wound its way to his nostrils from the second he'd walked into the house. "It does smell bloody good. What is it?"
"Salmon something," Mortimer piped up. "Salmon... um, oh! En croûte! That's right, isn't it?"
"C'est vrai. Bravo!" Valois closed the school books and sat back in his chair, catching hold of Gunther's hand and bringing it to his lips so he could kiss the back of it. "Good day at work, mon cœur?"
"So-so." Gunther sat down on the kitchen chair and gave Valois a tired smile. "Natalie showed me her dresses—plural—for the wedding. Something short and posh for the day and something long and glamorous for the evening. And, uh, just the usual meetings and stuff."
Valois caressed Gunther's cheek briefly, and it was all Gunther could do not to lean gratefully into it. No, not in front of Mortimer.
"Well, after a nice dinner and maybe a hot bath, all will be well again, hm?" was all Valois said, and Gunther nodded. All will be well again meant a while curled up at Valois's feet, invisibly-collared and safe, albeit fully-clothed. He could do with that right now.
"Can I go and paint?" Mortimer asked. "I mean, have I got time?"
Valois glanced at the kitchen clock. "I will be dishing up in approximately ten minutes, so it depends on how quickly you can paint."
"Oh." Mortimer giggled. "Okay. I'll just work on that peacock sketch I was doing for Esther."
"She likes peacocks?" Valois asked.
"Hm." Valois tapped a thoughtful finger to his lips. "I have a collection of beautiful peacock feathers somewhere at home, gathered on my last trip to France. Would you like me to fetch some for you to give to her?"
Mortimer stared at him, then beamed broadly. "Would you?" A quick glance at his dad, who just smiled, and then he corrected himself. "I mean, thank you. If you don't need all of them, I think Esther would love them."
"I shall go tomorrow and pick the nicest ones out for you."
"Thanks!" Mortimer leaned back in his chair, tilting it onto its back legs. "Um..."
I knew there was something else. Gunther glanced at Valois. "Um?" he prompted.
Mortimer chewed on his lower lip for a moment. "Can I ask you something, Valois? About Esther?"
"I just, well I sort of get the feeling you'd understand this. I dunno why, but it's something that happened, and—"
"Get to the point, son." Gunther chuckled. "There's no judgement here; you know that."
Mortimer pulled a rueful face and gave a little shrug. Then he smiled. "Yeah, I know. It's just so wierd, what happened. It was like— Oh. Well, uh, she found something out."
For a brief, panicked moment, Gunther’s heart almost stopped. Holy shit, please don’t tell me she’s pregnant! You’re too young to be a dad and I’m too young to be a grandfather!
With commendable presence of mind he kept his voice under control as he murmured, "Oh? And what’s that?"
"She can do this thing where she makes things appear or change. Like a magician. I was upset because I'd spilled my drink, and when we'd mopped it up I went to take the empty glass into the kitchen… and it was full again."
Valois cocked his head and watched Mortimer carefully. "Well, that is strange. How did you know it was Esther who did it?"
"Because a little bit after that I accidentally tore the page I was working on in my sketchbook, and she picked it up to see. When she gave it back to me it was all mended."
"Sounds to me like that's a handy thing to be able to do," Gunther murmured.
"She was as surprised as I was!" Mortimer looked up at him, and then across to Valois. "I thought you had to train to be a magician, or do it on purpose. I've seen you do that sometimes, Valois. You can do magic tricks and stuff, like pulling flowers out of nowhere to give to Dad. Esther said she didn’t even know she was doing it!"
"There is something special about Esther," Valois said softly, "and it sounds as though it is beginning to show itself. Shall we all sit and talk about it?"
"She ought to be here if we do." Mortimer's voice held a note of wariness, but also of fierce protection, and Gunther smiled at that. It was a good sign. A damned good sign.
"Hello, Mr Goth. Hi, Mr Fulcanelli." Esther gave them both a big smile as Mortimer led her into the house half an hour later. Gunther had offered to drive over and pick her up, but Mortimer had insisted on cycling to her house and escorting her back himself.
"Hey there!" Gunther walked out of the kitchen bearing a tray on which sat four big mugs of tea. "Perfect timing. And it's 'Gunther' and 'Valois'; none of this 'mister' stuff around here." He winked at her, then turned to Mortimer with a raised eyebrow. "Living room?"
"Oh!" Mort opened the living room door and held it open for his dad, who just grinned at him.
Valois already had the fire ablaze—most likely by means of a spell, since he'd only entered the living room a few moments after Mortimer had returned—so, once chairs were pulled up around the fire and they all had a mug of tea in-hand, it was Valois who began.
"Esther, Mortimer has mentioned what happened to his drink and his sketchbook page a few days ago..."
"Is it something I need to worry about?" Esther regarded him with calm eyes. "I mean, I'm not sick, or anything, am I?"
Valois smiled. "No, not at all. Everything is perfectly all right. Will you give me your hand for a moment, please?"
Hesitantly, she held out her hand, and he clasped it between his palms, closing his eyes.
Mortimer cast an anxious look at Gunther, mouthing What's he doing? But before Gunther could reply, Valois opened his eyes and let Esther's hand go.
"It is as I thought," he said. "Esther, ma chère, you have a rare gift."
"She's really good at art—" Mort piped up, going quiet again as Gunther rested a hand on his arm.
"Is it dangerous?" Esther whispered.
"I will not lie. It can be, without training. You, my dear girl, are a witch."
Mortimer's jaw fell open, and Gunther watched as Esther took the news with commendable steadiness.
"How do you know that?"
"Where do I get the training?"
Both teenagers had spoken at once, and Gunther leaned in to murmur in his son's ear:
"Let Esther ask the questions for a bit, all right? She's going to have a lot of them, and Valois can answer them."
"Okay," Mortimer mumbled back, folding his arms and pouting a bit. Gunther put his arm around his son's shoulder, knowing how helpless he felt.
"I am willing to train you, ma chère," Valois said softly.
Esther stared at him. "But how can you— You mean you're a witch?! I mean, a wizard?"
For the second time in one minute, Gunther saw out of the corner of his eye Mortimer's mouth fall open, and he smiled to himself.
"Witch," Valois corrected, but kindly. "Wizard is not a word that our kind use for ourselves. We are witches, all. No wizards, and most certainly no warlocks."
Esther tilted her head and looked at him, thoughtfully. "All right," she mused. "I'll believe you... if you can prove it."
Valois just chuckled and snapped his fingers. The fire died instantly, and Gunther felt Mort stiffen with shock under his arm. Another snap of Valois's fingers, and the fire blazed into life again.
"Proof enough? Or do you need more?" Valois murmured, one eyebrow raised.
Valois gestured to her mug. "Are you enjoying your tea? You have barely taken a sip of it."
"Oh!" Esther raised her mug to her lips with an apologetic smile toward Gunther. No sooner had she tilted the mug than her eyes widened and she took it away from her mouth again.
"What the...?" She held the mug upside down. Nothing came out. She tapped gingerly at the tea with her fingernail, and it made a *tink* sound.
"Waste of a perfectly good cuppa, if you ask me." Gunther chuckled. "Valois, stop teasing the poor girl. Esther, I'd hold that the right way up if I were you, and quickly."
Just in time, Esther righted the cup as a little splosh of tea went over her thumb.
"Woooooaaah," Mortimer breathed. "That was COOL!"
"Okay." Esther stared down at the mug. "I believe you. And I can do this stuff? Seriously?"
"With training, yes, and much more." Valois sat back in his chair. "You are a fifth daughter, ma chère. That means you are the fifth in a generational line of witches that began with your great-great grandmother."
"Is that good or bad?" Esther put down her mug on the table and leaned in, all ears now.
"The longer the line, the greater the potential." Valois smiled at her. "I sensed, too, that your line has not been diluted, so your magic is pure. But, my dear girl, you need thorough training in how to handle the power that you are coming into. Otherwise, those little 'accidents' and strange happenings will become bigger accidents and bigger strangenesses. Sometimes they can get out of hand, so you must learn to control your magic."
"You've got magic, Esther!" Mort was all-but bouncing up and down in his chair. "You really are the Grand Witch of Emercale!"
"Do witches have titles like that?" Esther asked, and Valois chuckled.
"No, not really. Sometimes we are known by our first name and the town we came from, but no. No titles."
"Well she's going to be the Grand Witch of Emercale to me, anyway," Mortimer said. "It's a place we made up for Dungeons and Dragons, so it's not like we're claiming she's from somewhere else."
Gunther smiled at that. He liked hearing his son being so protective over Esther. And, as for Mort referring to them both as 'we' all the time... well, he wouldn't be surprised if the first official date didn't happen soon.
"How many generations are you, then?" Esther asked Valois. "Would you be like a seventh or however many son, or something?"
"Ah. I am a little different, ma chère. Generations do not apply where I am concerned. I shall simply say that there is no witch in the world more qualified to train you than I."
Esther narrowed her eyes, then sat forward in her seat a bit more, reaching for Valois's hand. He gave it to her, watching her intently as she took it in her soft little palm, cradling it as he had done her own hand earlier. She closed her eyes and the room fell silent.
After a minute or two, Esther opened her eyes and looked up at Valois, still holding onto his hand.
"What was that?" she whispered. "What did I see?"
"Describe it to me."
"Lots of trees. Like a big forest, and with snow everywhere. A huge forest!"
Valois's face lit with a smile. "Dieu, training you will be such a joy," he exclaimed. "Dear girl, what you saw was the Veil. It is the place where only those like us may go. It is not quite of this world. Think of it... hmm. Think of it as another dimension."
"Wow. It was beautiful, but a bit scary. I was all alone."
"You will have a home there, waiting for you. We all do."
"Can I go there?" Mortimer asked.
Valois turned to him and shook his head with an apologetic smile. "It is only for the Supernatural races. I am sorry, Mortimer."
"Wait!" Esther gripped Valois's hand so hard that he started and turned back to her. "Supernatural races?! There are other... beings?"
"Bien sûr. But, perhaps that should wait a while—"
"Fairies?!" Esther gasped, and Valois laughed.
"Well now, who did you think coaxes the flowers to grow in spring, hm?"
"Um, that's Nature," Mort interjected, then bit his lip. "Isn't it?"
"And who wakes up Mother Nature?"
Mort stared at him, then giggled. "You're pulling our legs!"
"I am." Valois chuckled as Esther finally let go of his hand. "However, I am not pulling your legs—and what a strange expression that is!—about the faeries. They do exist, most definitely."
"Will we get to meet them?"
"You probably know a few already. They can conceal themselves as humans extremely well."
Mortimer laughed again. "Really?! This is so weird!"
"Indeed, and I suggest that you do not tell your classmates about it," Valois advised. "Humans can be cruel when they want to, and it is rare for them to understand and accept the existence of Supernaturals. I do not wish for either of you to be teased because of this."
"So when do I start my training?!" Esther was all smiles and excitement, and Gunther felt like he could hug her. Mort and her. Hell, the pair of them!
"As soon as this weekend, if you so wish. We will, of necessity, begin with small things, so do not expect to be able to summon fire after just a few hours."
"I don't care. Oh my god, I can't wait!"