The Sugar Quill
Author: Raven Snape (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Ancient Prophecy  Chapter: Chapter One
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Chapter One

Mysterious Water and Fire, the Earth and the wide-ranging Air,
By hidden Quintessence we know them, and we will keep silent and dare.

 

The sun was hot on her face, the air cold through her billowing black hair. The faster she drove the harder it flew out behind her. She loved the feel of the wind, free and wild on her. Often she wondered if her mother had named her Raven after the black bird of Poe’s tales:

Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore;--
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore:--
’Tis the wind and nothing more!

It was more likely that her loud mouth and satin black hair earned her the name.

She was weaving in and out of traffic, and people stared at the 66 Chevy convertible--roof down--on a cold September afternoon. As she blew by them, heads turned her way--often followed by rude gestures, which Raven failed to notice. Not that she’d care anyway. She had not cared in weeks. Only the sun and the wind were with her now, consoling her.

Roy had tried. She smiled at the thought of his awkward attempt to be the man in charge of her care.

“Raven, go. I’ll watch the store for you. Though why you want to re-open so soon is beyond me.” Roy had a way of making her smile even during the worst moments of her life. She considered him her one true friend.

He had moved into the upper studio flat above the shop three years earlier while Raven and her mother lived in the apartment attached to the back. At sixteen, Raven quickly fell in love with the tall, muscular, twenty-year-old blond. He was charming, polite, smart, everything a mother would want in a son-in-law! Of course, when Raven discovered he was gay her plans went up in smoke. By then a bond had already formed between them, and Raven soon realized her friendship with Roy was better than she had with any of her “girlfriends.” All the support, none of the pressures.

Sweeping her hair from her eyes again, Raven left the highway and pulled off onto a gravel road leading to the ocean. Her hair. How often it had been an issue between her mother and herself.

“Please do something with your hair. You’re not a wild child. Let me braid it or pull it back, please.” As always, Raven’s responses were thrown over a departing back.

“Not now Mum! I’m late for rehearsal and we’re running lines tonight.” Or “I like it down—don’t treat me like a child.”

Always the same battle, just a different day. The sigh that escaped from her mother’s chest was the same each argument, though, as Raven tore from the family’s shop behind which they lived. In a swirling black vortex of hair she’d fly down the street feeling her mother’s knowing eyes watching her. With long legs and striking features, dance was a pastime for Raven, but her passion was the theater, and she hated being late.

How easy it would have been to make her mother happy. Now the choice was gone. No more reflective smiles, no more blue eyes—the centers dappled with flecks of gold—windows to a troubled soul. No more. For the first time, Raven felt tears welling up into her own blue eyes, but she blinked them down and pressed harder on the accelerator as she headed North along the coast. When she crossed into Maine, she didn’t know; but New York was behind her, and so were the eyes of her dead mother.

The tears needed to come, she knew that, but somehow she couldn’t just “let go” with her emotions. Raven was always the brave one, always the strong one. You had to be, growing up in New York—the only child of a single parent who most “normal” folks considered an eccentric European. Her mother never minded, though, she just smiled reflectively at the comments. That self-confidence transferred onto Raven, allowing her to grow into a strong-willed, independent 19-year-old woman, whose exuberance often led to mischief.

She was up to mischief that night three weeks ago, backstage in an Off Broadway Playhouse. She stayed out too late with friends and found herself rushing home with excuses on her lips, ready for her mother who would greet her. No mater how late, Ezmarelda waited up for her daughter. There was always work to be done in the “back room,” the section of the shop reserved for special customers.

Master blends from the purest plant oils to fragrant teas from hundreds of pure plant essences. Over the years Ezzy’s reputation in blending medicinal plants grew as her wealthy and elite customers shared their health secrets with friends. Ezmarelda often joked that the FDA would have a coronary on the spot if her back shop were ever discovered. A loyal clientele of well-chosen patrons kept their mouths shut. God forbid if their purifying salts, soothing body oils, and calming tea blends were denied them.

The front of the shop held the usual “New Age” crap that the general public came to expect: energizing fragrant oils, tension-relieving lotions, sleep inducing candles. Cedarwood and Sage Advice always smelled like its name. In the corner a small book section held titles such as Speak to the Mind and the Body Will Listen and Fifteen Minute Tarot for Beginners. Across the aisle, shelves were lined with crystals and talismans of all shapes and sizes. Wheels of the Year and Witches Redes hung on the walls, and wands lay in velvet-lined boxes behind the glass and walnut display cases. “All of it a farce,” her mother would remark. “They wouldn’t know a real wand if it flew up and bit them in the arse.” The back of Cedarwood contained the real world of Ezmarelda and Raven.

It was there that Roy found Ezmarelda’s crumpled body, auburn hair fanned out behind her on the polished oaken floor. Awakening late in the evening to the voice of Ezmarelda shouting to be left in peace, Roy ran downstairs, where he was greeted by a violent flash of green light radiating from within Cedarwood and Sage Advice. Fearing a fire in the old building, he triggered the alarm system and searched for her.

There was no fire, nor was there any sign of theft that he could tell. The police of the local station knew Ezmarelda. She was well known and well liked by most of the neighborhood, which made her death even more puzzling. She did not appear to have been working on a mixture; the workroom was in order with nothing out of place, no sign of violence, no sign of struggle. Her eyes, however, told a different story.

Fear, loathing, shock, pain. If all those terms could be used to describe one look they applied here. “It almost looks like she was scared to death,” Roy heard the crime scene investigator comment; and he, too, agreed with this assessment.

The scene that greeted Raven as she approached home caused pain like she had never known. Roy had tried to stop her from entering the room, even going as far as to bodily remove her to the street, but she broke free of his hold, struggled through the police and flung herself down next to her mother. Even now, weeks later, the blurred events left an empty ache to her very soul--the police station (for questioning); the coroner's report(cause of death unknown); the funeral home(had the whole neighborhood really been there?); and today, the lawyer’s office.

As she parked the car, Raven discovered she had found her way to Acadia National Park. She and her mother had spent many summers there, gathering everything Mother Earth had to offer them. From meadows and marshes to dense evergreen forests, the ocean made its presence felt everywhere, whether by sight, sound or smell. Here they would walk among the granite cliffs side by side, with the sand, cobblestone beaches and glacier-carved mountains rising from the sea, cupping deep lakes in their valleys.

“It reminds me a bit of home, the coast does. Too bad the plants are not all the same,” Ezmarelda laughed with her daughter one trip.

The plants they could not gather in the States were ordered through an English woman who her mother knew before she moved to the US. They corresponded often, sharing packages and creations for years. Once she received a large, polished brass kettle, such as would hang over a fire. The postage was astronomical. The weight alone--not even figuring in the logistics of shipping something of this size--was staggering. Raven recalled the look on her mother’s face as she set it up over the workroom fireplace. It showed reflection, longing, and then excitement as she set a fire blazing beneath the pot and set to work.

Raven simply did not know where to go from here. The shop was now hers: lock, stock, and barrel. She had come from the lawyer’s office that morning. Roy had insisted on accompanying her, holding her hand big-brother style, and she welcomed his calming effect on her. She signed her legal name--Raven Sevrena Klause--more times than she could count; and on September 21st, her 19th birthday, became the sole proprietor of Cedarwood and Sage Advice.

According to Mr. Cohen, the lawyer handling her mother affairs, Raven's trust was considerable. That, combined with her mother’s life insurance money—which the company had tried to withhold due to the mysterious nature of the death—left Raven quite well off. So well, in fact, that Mr. Cohen assured her she wouldn’t need to work for many years.

“It was your mother’s wish that you go on to college at the start of next term. I understand you have been accepted to Cambridge as well as Yale, but deferred them both for a year?” Mr. Cohen spoke knowingly, looking over the top of his glasses.

“I’ve already tested out of my freshman year with Advanced Placement exams at school,” Raven reflected. “Plus I've taken 9 credits in Linguistic Studies through a summer internship with a professor from Cambridge. I want to go to Europe to study ancient languages further.”

“There is no problem with funding for either college location; however, according to a stipulation she insisted on within the trust, you must attend school here--ah, in the U.S. I am sorry if this is a problem for you but--”

He was cut off by Raven’s look. “Damn her!” Raven spat back at the lawyer. “Even from the grave it’s the same argument! She refused to even speak with me about the possibility of an education in Europe. It was good enough for her, why not me?”

“Ms. Klause, I can’t answer that. All I can say is she was adamant about receiving no amount of money if it involved you and Europe. I can’t even release funds to you if I suspect you are planning on traveling out of the U.S.”

“Well, it’s not like I’m going to fly across the water and run into my father, is it?” she shot back. “Why, I’ll just go and stay for free with relatives there, whoever the hell they may be!” Raven pushed back out of her chair and paced the room. “Not once in all the years we fought over this did she manage to explain why she feared me going there. You’d think the very Devil himself was waiting there to torture and kill me. I’d trade every dollar on those papers for one paper explaining what her fear was. And it was fear, Mr. Cohen, no doubt in my mind.”

Raven alighted back on the chair, face red with frustration. “Can you explain it to me, Mr. Cohen? Because if not, then I think our meeting is through.”

“Raven, I never understood your mother. But I will say that she knew what she was doing. She was a shrewd woman, who had a reason for everything she did.”

He paused, opened the top drawer of his desk, and reached in. “I was given her effects by the police the day they interviewed you. . .these belong to you now.” He handed her a small manila envelope whose contents shifted when she tipped it. “I believe it’s her jewelry,” he said.

Roy walked Raven to her car and urged her to close the shop for a while. “Get away for a rest, Raven. You need it.”

Cedarwood was her only family now, and the thought of closing it left her unsettled and fearful. It was too much a part of her, almost father-like in its support of the family.

Roy handed her the paperwork from the lawyer, shut the Chevy door, and made Raven promise to call him if she would not be home tonight.

“How will you get back?” she asked.

“Don’t worry about me, love. I know the way home.”

“Then why don’t I know where home is, Roy? Why don’t I?”

The cry of a Peregrine falcon brought Raven back to her seaside panorama. A small silver key hung from a long chain in Raven’s hand. Raven could not recall ever seeing her mother without it around her neck. Ezmarelda often fingered it with a far-away look in her troubled blue eyes. As a young child, Raven would intertwine her fingers in the loop of the key and run the key along the edge of the chain.

“Mum, what’s this for?--Mum, can I wear it?--Mother, why do you keep that silly key around your neck? You know I’ve stayed out of your stuff for years.” Ezmarelda’s answers varied each time. Most often her response was, “It’s the key to my past, and the key to your future. I wouldn’t want to lose that, now, would I?”

Raven could not even put her feelings into words. There were no words to describe the loneliness that ached within her as she clutched the key in her hand. Seeing the key, she could not help but see her mother as well.

“My future,” she spoke out loud. “I guess I will just have to go looking for it, Mum.” And the only place to start was the travel trunk that the key opened, back at Cedarwood and Sage Advice

//
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