Double, Double, Toil and Truffle
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"... the perfect blend of magic and mayhem. This series has me completely bewitched!"
Caitlyn Le Fey is enjoying her first autumn in England, nut-picking in the forest, creating delicious treats in her grandmother's enchanted chocolate shop, and dreaming of cosy evenings with the handsome Lord James Fitzroy. But the peace is shattered when a mysterious woman claiming to be a witch arrives in the village. Some love her, others fear her... and one person is driven to murder.
Soon Caitlyn finds herself drawn into a mystery with links to ancient witch trials and--with the help of her toothless vampire uncle and a few magical spells of her own--she sets out to do some sleuthing. But strange things are happening, and Caitlyn is worried and confused. Why isn't her kitten Nibs growing any larger? What does the new guest at Huntingdon Manor really want? And what is the jewel that seems to be exerting a sinister influence over her cousin Pomona?
There are dark forces gathering in the village of Tillyhenge, and Caitlyn is about to discover that the savage tradition of witch-hunting is still very much alive...
This book follows British English spelling and usage.
Clean read: no graphic violence, sex, or strong language.
Genre: humorous paranormal cozy mysteries / witch cozy mystery/ cat cozy mystery series / women amateur sleuth / British cozy mystery
Release date: September 15, 2019
Publisher: Wisheart Press
Print pages: 358
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Double, Double, Toil and Truffle
Caitlyn Le Fey paused in the middle of reaching for another cluster of hazelnuts and raised her head to listen. Thunder rumbled in the distance, faint but ominous. Her red hair whipped back from her face as a sudden gust of wind blew through the hedgerow, making the branches beside her creak and groan, and the leaves rustle sharply. She glanced up at the sky: it was early September and, with the coming of autumn, the days had already started drawing in by this time in the afternoon. But now the sky darkened even further as black clouds scudded across the horizon.
“Well, don’t just stand there gawping, girl! Rain’s a-coming. We need to pick as many of these hazelnuts as we can.”
Caitlyn turned from the hedgerow as two women came up behind her, each with a basket filled with nuts slung over one arm. They could not have looked more unalike: the older woman—who had spoken—stood hunched over, her back humped under her dark cloak and her skinny chicken legs showing beneath the ragged hem of her black skirt. With a large hooked nose, bony hands, and wild grey hair escaping from her bun, the Widow Mags looked just like the old witches often seen in the pages of children’s fairy tales—and her habitual cranky manner and scowling countenance didn’t help to dispel that illusion. It was small wonder that many of the village residents regarded her with fear and suspicion, and whispered that the delicious truffles and bonbons in her chocolate shop must have been bewitched by magic to make them taste so good.
In contrast, the middle-aged woman standing next to her had an open, kindly face and a plump figure clad, as usual, in a voluminous purple kaftan—slightly incongruous for nut-picking in the forest, but Caitlyn didn’t think that she had ever seen her Aunt Bertha wear anything else.
“Mother, we’ll never be able to pick all the nuts before the storm arrives,” Bertha said in a patient voice. “We can always come back tomorrow.”
“The squirrels will have got them all by then,” snapped the Widow Mags. “It was a rare chance finding a hazel tree with ripe nuts that hadn’t already been eaten. We shouldn’t waste such good luck.”
Caitlyn glanced at the laden branches next to her. It was true: most of the trees they’d seen while foraging had been full of unripe hazelnuts, each still encased in a frilly green sheath that resembled an elf’s hat. Any nuts that had ripened had already been attacked by squirrels, who’d left nothing behind but tiny gnaw marks and cracked shells beneath the tree.
Bertha had explained that the fresh green hazelnuts could still be picked—they would ripen readily enough off the tree if kept in a warm, dark, dry place and turned often. And after a few weeks, they would dry and harden into the familiar brown nuts often seen on chocolate packaging and in Christmas nut bowls. For Caitlyn, who had never been nut-picking before and always thought hazelnuts came in packets from the supermarket, even finding the green nuts had been an exciting novelty.
And she was looking forward even more to watching the Widow Mags use the nuts in her delicious chocolate recipes. Just thinking about it made Caitlyn’s mouth water: smooth buttery pralines… truffles filled with rich chocolate-hazelnut paste… dark chocolate bars drizzled with caramel and chopped nuts…
An impatient movement from the Widow Mags jerked her out of her daydream and she turned hastily back towards the hazel tree. The old woman came up beside her and reached out to pluck some nuts herself, then flinched as her gnarled fingers struggled to grip the small round shapes tucked under the leaves.
“Here, let me…” Caitlyn offered, starting to help, but the Widow Mags twitched an irritable shoulder and snapped: “I’m fine! Don’t fuss!”
Caitlyn swallowed a sigh and stepped back again, wishing that her grandmother wasn’t always so proudly independent. With the coming of cooler weather, the old woman’s arthritis had been flaring up again and her fingers had stiffened, making it hard for her to work on her chocolates. Which meant that she was even more cantankerous than usual. But Caitlyn had learned not to take her grandmother’s sharp tone and brusque manner to heart. The last few months had taught her that beneath the prickly exterior lay a kind heart filled with warm wisdom. Like a hazelnut crunch truffle—hard and crusty on the outside and meltingly soft on the inside, thought Caitlyn with an inward smile.
In any case, her grandmother’s grouchy attitude did little to spoil her enjoyment of the day. With the arrival of the autumn and the start of the nut season, Caitlyn was relishing these long afternoons out foraging along the ancient hedgerows with her family. With my family. Caitlyn repeated the words in her head and felt a warm glow fill her as she looked again at the two women next to her. She had never imagined when she came to England at the start of the summer, only a few months ago, that she would find a whole new family waiting for her, here in the tiny Cotswolds village of Tillyhenge.
And what a family! Caitlyn glanced sideways again at the Widow Mags; her grandmother didn’t just look the part of a witch—she really was one (although if she did use magic, it was more likely to bewitch a cauldron to stir up the perfect mug of creamy hot chocolate than to conjure up any deadly potions). And as for Bertha—she might look like nothing more than an eccentric herbalist, her own shop filled to the brim with natural soaps, salves, and scented candles, but she, too, could use magic to heal and hearten.
And so can I, thought Caitlyn, still feeling a little thrill at the thought. She wondered if she would ever get used to the discovery that she was descended from a long line of witches, with the power to harness magic and make it do her bidding. Well, some of the time anyway, thought Caitlyn ruefully. So far, her abilities only seemed to extend to transforming things into chocolate—not a terrible skill, of course, she admitted with a grin—but she was hopeful that with continued training and guidance from her grandmother, she would eventually be able to focus and control her powers.
An irritable huff from the Widow Mags brought her out of her reverie again and she turned once more back to the hazel tree. But before she could grab another cluster of nuts, she heard the sound of running feet crunching through the fallen leaves and, the next moment, a young girl of about eighteen burst out of the woods beside them. She was panting, her frizzy red hair standing in a wild halo around her face and her thin, gangly limbs making her look like a galloping colt. Caitlyn smiled at her young cousin Evie, the last member of her newfound family. Although only four years divided them, somehow Evie always made her feel a lot older—but Caitlyn quite enjoyed the feeling of being the “older sister”. She reached out to put a steadying hand on the younger girl’s arm as Evie skidded to a stop next to her.
“Mum! Mum, I just saw her!”
“Saw who, dear?” asked Bertha.
“The new witch that everyone’s been talking about! You know, the one who came to the village last week and started offering custom spells and charms for a fee. Minerva Chattox—that’s what she calls herself. She says she’s descended from one of the Pendle witches and has been practising magic for—”
“That woman is no more a witch than I am the Queen of England,” growled the Widow Mags.
“But the girls from school say that she really can do magic!” Evie insisted. “I heard them talking in the village post shop yesterday. She gave Lorraine Miller a ‘Zit-Zapping Charm’ and the pimple on Lorraine’s nose vanished the next morning! And Tamsin Smith paid for a love spell… and then Simon Barlow asked her out two days later.”
“Oh, Evie—those things might have happened naturally anyway,” said Bertha with an impatient sigh. “They’re no proof of magic! You can’t just listen to a bunch of silly girls—”
“But it’s not just the girls at school! Some of the villagers have been to see her too.”
“The villagers?” Caitlyn said incredulously. From the day she had arrived in Tillyhenge, she had seen the hostility shown towards the Widow Mags and heard the fearful rumours about her grandmother dabbling in witchcraft—all for doing nothing more than living apart from the rest of the village and creating chocolates that were delicious beyond imagination. She couldn’t believe that those same villagers would welcome and even use the services of a self-proclaimed witch.
Evie nodded. “Yes, several of the villagers and staff from Huntingdon Manor went to see Minerva—she’s staying in a room at the village pub—and they bought custom spells and bewitchment charms from her. She even had customised ‘spellvelopes’ that you could buy blank and then you just had to add something linked to your heart’s desire, plus a few herbs, then—”
“I hope you didn’t spend any of your pocket money on that nonsense,” said Bertha in disgust. “That woman is no witch! She is nothing more than a con artist, deceiving the villagers with bogus spells and fake charms.” She shook her head in frustration. “I just don’t understand people sometimes. I try to help them using the genuine healing magic imbued in certain herbs and they accuse me of evil intentions… and yet here’s a charlatan taking advantage of them with ridiculous fake promises and they’re rushing to hand over their money!”
“Well, maybe we should be more like Minerva.” Evie gave her mother a defiant look. “You’re always telling me to keep my head down, to pretend I’m like the other girls and never practise magic at school—well, all that skulking around hasn’t stopped people saying nasty things about us, has it?” she demanded. “I mean, look at Minerva: she marches into the village, proud as you please, and announces she’s a witch. And instead of attacking her or making fun of her, they’re worshipping her! Maybe, instead of hiding it, I should be showing the other girls what I can do with magic… then they wouldn’t laugh at me or whisper behind my back anymore. They’d be impressed and think I’m really cool and wish they could be like me!”
Caitlyn was slightly surprised by the bitterness in her young cousin’s voice. Then she remembered how Evie struggled with being “different” and coping with the malicious teasing from her classmates. High school was always tough and it was even harder when you were a witch—especially a shy, clumsy, unconfident witch like Evie.
“Being a witch—a true witch—isn’t about using magic to show off and impress others,” said Bertha gently. “We live quietly and use our magical abilities to do good in the ways we know how. That has always been our way. We have no need to go flaunting our witch heritage, just to make people envy and admire us.” Her voice changed as she added briskly, “And people aren’t ‘worshipping’ Minerva. In fact, not everyone in the village is happy about her arrival in Tillyhenge. There are some who fear and hate her, and would do anything to see her gone.”
Evie didn’t reply, although she looked petulant. Caitlyn cleared her throat and tried to change the subject:
“Um… what was Minerva doing in the forest?” she asked her cousin.
“Oh, she was leading a group of people. They looked like they were walking through the forest to the top of the hill.”
“They’re heading for the stone circle,” said the Widow Mags with a nod. “She’ll be looking to take advantage of the mystical associations already surrounding the standing stones. Well, if the villagers want to believe her nonsense, then more fool them!”
“Yes, but when people find out that she’s a fraud and that they’ve been cheated and lied to, that will just give witches even more of a bad name,” said Bertha with a frustrated sigh. She started to say something else but she was interrupted by a brilliant white flash illuminating the sky, followed a few seconds later by a clap of thunder. Caitlyn felt a fat drop of rain splatter on her forehead.
“I told you the rain was coming and now we’ve wasted all this time nattering when we could have been picking more hazelnuts,” grumbled the Widow Mags.
“We’d better get back,” said Bertha, glancing worriedly at the sky.
She put a hand under the Widow Mags’s elbow and began urging the old woman down the hill, towards the small thatched-roof cottage in the distance. Caitlyn picked up the wicker basket by her feet and started to follow the others, then paused as she remembered something.
“Where's Nibs?” she asked.
The others looked at her blankly.
“I thought he was with you,” said Bertha.
Caitlyn shook her head, frowning. “I thought he was sleeping in my basket but he’s not here now.” She raised her voice, looking around the clearing, and called: “Nibs? Nibs, where are you?”
“There he is!” cried Evie, pointing to the edge of the woods.
Caitlyn whirled around just in time to see the little black kitten disappear into the trees. “Nibs! Come back here! Where are you going?”
There was another boom of thunder and rain began falling even faster. Bertha hurriedly pulled the hood from the Widow Mags’s cloak up over the old woman’s head.
“You go on first,” said Caitlyn. “It’ll be terrible for Grandma’s arthritis if she gets soaked. I’ll grab Nibs, then catch up with you.”
Bertha nodded and hustled her mother away, with Evie trailing after them, whilst Caitlyn turned and plunged into the forest.
It was even darker under the trees, with the weak light barely penetrating the forest canopy. Caitlyn peered ahead and saw a tiny black tail flick out of sight around a bush next to the path.
“Nibs! Come back here!”
All she got in reply was a cheeky “Mew!” and the rustle of a little body in the undergrowth. Sighing with irritation, Caitlyn dived after the kitten, rushing up the path to catch him. But he was faster than she’d expected. In fact, he thought this was a wonderful game and took great delight in darting ahead, keeping just out of her reach.
“Nibs! Stop it—come back here!” said Caitlyn, starting to really get annoyed now.
The kitten ignored her, scampering even farther ahead. As Caitlyn followed, she noticed that the ground was sloping upwards. The forest ran up along the side of the hill, covering part of it like a green blanket, and as she made her way through the trees, she was also climbing the slope. Soon, it began growing brighter and she could see the trees thinning, opening out onto the exposed hillside at the very top.
A few moments later, Caitlyn stepped out from the shadow of the trees and caught her breath as the wind whipped her face, tugging her hair even more fiercely and making her eyes sting. Lightning flashed again, somewhere overhead, and Caitlyn hunched her shoulders instinctively as she waited for the thunderclap to follow. She looked around for the kitten, but she couldn’t see him anywhere. Then her gaze sharpened as she spied the stone circle several yards away, at the top of the exposed hill.
The strange collection of sandstone boulders had stood on this hilltop for centuries. No one knew where they had come from or why they had been put there, and the mystery had inspired countless local folktales and legends. Some believed they were ancient warriors, turned to stone by a curse; others thought they represented a portal to the Otherworld, a site where the forces of magic were particularly strong… and the more pragmatic members of the village simply thought they were a lucky landmark, giving Tillyhenge a special mystique which helped it stand out from the other Cotswolds villages and pull the tourists in.
Caitlyn had been up here several times since she arrived in Tillyhenge and had seen the stone circle in many different lights—eerily lit by bonfire, mellow in the soft orange of sunset, and even bland and innocuous in the bright light of day—but she had never seen it like this. The misshapen boulders were brilliantly outlined by jagged flashes of lightning, looking as if they really could transform any moment into the ancient warriors that legend said they were. And there, at the foot of one of the stones, was the furry form of a little black kitten.
“Got you!” Caitlyn muttered as she swooped down and grabbed him.
She rose, clutching the squirming kitten to her chest, then paused as she realised that she was not alone. Huddling on the other side of the circle was a small group of people. They hadn’t noticed her—all their attention was fixed on the woman standing in the centre of the circle. This must be Minerva Chattox, Caitlyn realised.
The new “witch” was a tall woman, with flashing black eyes made even more striking by the dark kohl she had drawn around them. She was somewhere in her forties and although not conventionally beautiful, there was something about her that drew the eye. Her outlandish costume of green velvet, though, looked like a cross between a Halloween witch’s costume and a medieval gown, and her lurid red hair looked like it had come straight out of a bottle.
She had her eyes closed and her arms upraised towards the sky, and seemed to be chanting something, whilst the circle of people around her watched, rapt.
“I feel it!” Minerva cried. She had a good voice—an actress’s voice: strong, carrying, and vibrant with emotion. “The magical forces here at the stone circle are responding to my gift—they are converging around me… ahh… yes!” She opened her eyes and smiled at the group gathered around her. “Now… who would like to be first? Don’t be shy. There is nothing I cannot help with—I can cure addiction, impotence, illness, nightmares… find lost loved ones, remove bad luck, bring success in business, get your husband back from the clutches of another woman… Remember, destiny is a matter of choice, not chance!”
A girl stepped forwards, trembling, and said in a shy voice: “I… I was wondering when I might meet someone… you know… like, a nice chap… All my friends have got boyfriends but me… well, no one ever asks me out…”
Minerva gave the girl a knowing smile. “Ah… the path of true love never did run smooth… but fear not, my dear. I will use my powers to call on magic and find your soulmate for you. I will lead him through the mists of time to find you, so that the two of you shall meet before long.” She paused delicately, then held out a hand, adding: “Naturally, this will require a small fee…”
“Oh! Oh, yes… of course…” The girl fumbled in her pockets, then pulled out several notes and handed them to Minerva, who quickly tucked the money into a concealed pocket in her dress.
Caitlyn felt a surge of disgust, which turned to incredulous indignation a moment later as she heard Minerva begin to chant:
“Alakazam… Alakazam… Abracadabra… Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy… Presto chango… Sim Sala Bim… Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!”
Caitlyn stared at the group, who were watching Minerva with awed expressions on their faces. Was this a joke? Surely they couldn’t believe this woman was serious? Those weren’t magical incantations at all—they were simply random words used by magicians in shows or spoken by characters in books and movies.
Minerva waved her hands in a mystical fashion and twirled in a circle, crying: “Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble!”
Caitlyn gasped in outrage. She recognised the words as the famous quote from the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. True, Minerva was using a sing-song voice and garbling the words as she said them, so that at first, they did sound a bit like exotic incantations, but anyone who listened carefully could easily hear the truth.
And yet… the group of people were still watching her as if she were reciting magical words of the greatest power. Caitlyn scanned their faces, recognising several of the villagers, as well as some members of the Huntingdon Manor staff, and she felt an echo of Bertha’s frustration. How could people be so gullible?
There was a commotion suddenly at the back of the group and Caitlyn realised that more people had come up the slope. The newcomers pushed their way to the front of the group and Caitlyn felt a flash of relief as she saw that they weren’t showing awe and admiration on their faces. Perhaps someone sensible had come at last to ridicule Minerva Chattox and point out what a fraud she was.
But the newcomers weren’t laughing—no, their expressions were filled with fear and hatred as they stared at the woman in the circle. Most of them were the villagers who had always been the most hostile towards the Widow Mags, and now it looked like they were turning their pitchforks towards a new target.
“You evil witch!” screamed one of the women, jabbing a finger at Minerva. “I can’t believe you have the nerve to conduct your rituals here like this!”
“How dare you corrupt our village with your filthy black magic!”
Minerva faced them, undaunted. “It’s a free country. I’m allowed to share my gifts with the good people who wish to be enlightened. If you don’t like it, that’s just too bad—but you can’t do anything to stop me.”
One man rushed up to her, waving a clenched fist in her face. “Oh yes, I can! I can make you sorry you ever set foot in Tillyhenge!”
“Are you threatening me?” asked Minerva silkily. “Do you realise what a powerful witch I am? I can curse you and bring all manner of misfortune on you! I can even summon death!”
The man faltered, taking a step back. Minerva tossed her head back and laughed. She raised her arms and glared at the hostile villagers in front of her.
“Run! Run, you miserable sods, before I hex you all!” She waved her hands. “Hocus-pocus… Shazam-shazam… Ipso facto… Mea Culpa… Ali-ali-wham!”
Oh, for heaven’s sake. Caitlyn rolled her eyes. She couldn’t believe how terrified everyone looked. She wanted to step forwards and shout: “Don’t be scared—this woman is a total fraud and she’s just chanting a load of gibberish!” but before she could say anything, there was a flash of white in the sky and a boom of thunder that sounded as if it was right above their heads. The heavens opened and rain poured down, drenching them all in an instant.
Minerva laughed again—a shrill, cackling sound—as another jagged line of lightning cut through the sky. Caitlyn knew that it was just coincidence, but to the frightened villagers it must have seemed as if the self-proclaimed witch really was controlling the heavens, calling down the storm to wreak vengeance on her enemies. People screamed and began to run in all directions, bumping into each other and slipping and falling on the wet grass. Someone blundered past Caitlyn, smacking into her shoulder and sending her spinning.
She stumbled and nearly fell. She reached towards one of the standing stones but before she could grasp it, there was a burst of blinding white light. A lightning bolt snaked suddenly down and Caitlyn gasped, feeling the shock of the impact as it struck the top of the hill. Screams rang out. She stumbled backwards against the stone, clutching it for support. Then she heard a cry of pain and terror. Whirling, she saw that the man who had been threatening Minerva earlier was staggering into the centre of the circle.
“Oh my God… he’s been hit by lightning!” someone screamed.
Caitlyn watched in horror as the man gave another moan, then he crumpled to the ground and lay still.
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