Triumvirate of Sussex

Triumvirate of Sussex, fantasical tales
Triumvirate of Sussex

 Thanks to Larry MacDougall for his amazing drawings, which inspired this silly tale.

Midge bent over the fire, stirring the coals while Sandy adjusted the kettle's height. "Pet, give us a hand and pass me those toadstools," said the witch.
The elderly witch bent down, snapped up the three mushrooms, then handed them to her coven sister, who dropped them into the simmering cauldron. 
Midge returned to arranging the fire's embers into concentric circles.
Whinny, the youngest of the three, returned from gathering heather, thyme, and wild gooseberries. Carefully, she dropped each into the kettle's bubbling mixture. A variety of pops, fizzes, and gurgles followed. After taking her place next to the elderly witch, Whinny told no one in particular, "The wind feels wrong. I think the snow might fall early this year." 
Sandy stopped stirring the cauldron, turned her head skyward, and said, "Nay, just the Cailleach fighting with Bride to come early, I suspect. She'll calm when the moon waxes, love."
The three women have sat, brewed, and spun yarns of lost love, hidden treasures, and formidable adversaries for thousands of years. The hedge witches were known as the Triumvirate of Sussex. It was their duty to tell the endless tale each year on the eve of Samhain to ensure the safety of their people. These guardians appear as large crows to humans, but these ladies of the wind are much more than simple corvids. They can stop a wave of darkness trying to destroy the world. Tonight should have been the same as countless years before, except, as Whinny had correctly pointed out, the wind was not quite right. Sandy could not sense the coming danger with her self-assured beliefs, nor would it have mattered if she had. The dark ones had bargained with the elements to slow time in exchange for the lives of the three who stopped offering tribute long ago. The dark ones would finally have their vengeance against the witches for imprisoning them with the endless tale ages ago. When the world was young, humans had not yet walked the land. The dark ones, children of fallen giants, dwelt in the frozen north. These misshapen creatures lived in deep ice caves, fearing the light. The oldest told how great gods came to the land and slaughtered the giants, not out of fear or to protect the weak. No, they came and killed for gold.
Stories their descendants told of glory and righteousness hid a darker truth. The gods were common thieves and brutal murderers. Years passed, and the creatures ventured out from their dark places, only to find that the children of the gods were now spoiling the land of their fathers and growing great in number. A pact to avenge their fathers and wipe these demigods from the earth's surface was sealed in blood. The dark ones nearly succeeded in a surprise attack. Those who remained regrouped then devastated the dark one's minions with a berserker's fury. Without orcs and trolls to do their bidding, the frail creatures slunk back into the shadows of their ice caves to plan new ways of destroying their enemy. Ages passed, and the memory of war and those who brought it faded from the people's minds. One mystic, however, had remembered. She was determined to see that the dark ones never again could bring ruin to the land. While her magic was potent, she could not bring about an incantation strong enough to seal the dark ones in for eternity. The answer to this dilemma came from transforming three crows into guardians. Using a dark charm to ensure those bound in darkness would not walk free, the mystic created a spell to be renewed each year by telling a tale.
So, it has been for thousands of years. When the air turns cold and the trees shed their leaves, the sister witches gather at the appointed place to tell the tale that provides another year of protection to the land and its people. They thought this year should have been the same.
"Nay, I think Whinny is correct," Midge whispered. "I couldn't put my finger on it exactly, but all is not right with the world," said the elderly witch. Midge stood, walked to the edge of the fire's light, and gazed into the forest.
Sandy had finished brewing the potion and began pouring it into the stone bowls when a wave of darkness fell upon them. "Oi, me head," shouted Sandy, nearly dropping the bowl. "Steady, las tis the dark ones casting their blooming net upon us," said Midge. The three moved quickly to the fire, forming a circle with outstretched wings about the cauldron.
"Light of my heart, truth in my words, send the darkness back to sleep. Wind of strength that sways the trees drive the darkness away to stay," chanted the women. The wind rose, and the trees swayed, causing the moon's light to break through the forest canopy. Silver shafts of light danced across the ground to expose figures crouching in the shadows. The air was filled with
howls of pain as their soft flesh boiled under the moon's radiant rays.
Midge gathered a handful of ashes and tossed them to the wind. As the dust settled on the shadow folk's flesh, they burst into flame. Those lucky to escape the dust fled to their waiting masters across the shadow vail.
"Your failure has taken our advantage. You should have killed the witches even if it meant your life," said the dark ones. "We could not overcome the moonlight and the witch's burning ash.
They are too powerful, my masters," hissed the shadow folk.
"The elements have given us time. Let us use it to our advantage and combine our efforts in an all-out assault against those women," replied the dark ones.
Sandy was the first to speak, "What in blooming hell just happened, sisters?"
"I believe we have been fooled. Far too long have we kept the peace, and far too long, the dark ones have plotted against us. No more. Tonight, we will end this once and for all," said Midge.
"How? Even the great wizard could not lock the dark ones away. That's why he created us," said Whinny.
"Well, he didn't have three thousand years to think about it, and he wasn't a woman of ways either," replied Midge.
The older witch instructed her sisters to gather herbs, roots, gemstones, and precious wood to make a candle that would burn until the end of time, burn so brightly that the shadow folk would have nowhere to hide so that they would be forced back into their ice craves deepest recesses. Whinny ground the stone and wood into the finest powder while Sandy crushed the herbs to make dust. Midge mixed the oils of elm and hazel roots with bee's wax and combined everything into a small clay bowl.
Finally, each witch pulled one wing feather from their right-wing tip. The feathers were set in the cooled mixture to form a triquetra, an ancient Celtic symbol used to symbolize the triple goddess
of maiden, mother, and crone.
"As me being the eldest, it is up to me to cross over the veil and light the candles three wicks," said Midge.
"Sorry, love, ain't letting you go be a martyr for something we was all created to do," said Sandy.
"If you crossover, who will help me clear up this mess?" asked Whinny.
The three stood silent for a moment. "Well, it looks like we is all going over, don't it?" said Sandy.
Midge was having none of it, but the harder she fought, the more determined her sisters became. Finally, Midge sighed and relented. "Best we clean up before we cross, as we'll not be coming back anytime soon," said the elder witch. After putting everything into the cauldron, the three formed a circle, touched wing tips, and chanted the spell of vanishing. The kettle vanished, leaving only the sisters and the candle.
"We have a bit before we go, so I would just like to enjoy the moon and stars if that's alright with you, loves?" asked Whinny.
"It's a fine idea. It might be a long time before we see her hanging in the sky," said Sandy. The crows sat motionless for a few minutes, and then Midge spoke. "It's time we are crossing."
Sandy, Whinny, and Midge each placed a wing under the candle and then spoke the charm of crossing in unison. A vortex appeared before them. Midge lit the candle, and the sister entered the shadow realm. Before the gate closed, Whinny turned, blew a kiss to the moon, and whispered, "Don't forget us."
The night became still for a moment, and then, without warning, a blast of freezing air shot across the ground like a whirlwind. As the dust settled, a familiar voice said, "Oi, me bum!"
"What just happened, Midge? Did we get the charm wrong?" said Whinny.
"Oh, my precious ones, it looks like we have been given a gift from sister moon," said Midge.
"What do you mean?" asked Whinny.
"It appears that the moon decided she needed us here and pulled us back through the veil before the time of thinning passed," said Midge.
"What about the candle and the shadow folk? Did it work, or will they try and cross again next year?" asked Sandy.
"All is as it should be, my pet; the candle is lit, and the door is closed forever," replied the elder witch.
Whinny began to cry, which caused her sisters to turn toward her and stare in disbelief. "What on earth are you going on about?" Sandy asked. 
“Well, now that the dark ones and shadow folk are safely locked away, we are out of a job. What will we do now?" asked the youngest.
"Ha, I think after three millennia, we deserve a rest, don't you?" asked Midge.
"Besides, you is always going on about wanting to be a baker. Now is your big chance. As for me, I thinks I'll sit and watch the sun cross the sky with a hot cup of tea for the next few hundred years," chuckled Sandy.
The hedge witches, known as the Triumvirate of Sussex, stood up, dusted themselves off, started a fire, and then made a nice cup of tea to watch the sunrise in a world that no longer had to worry about the dark ones or their shadow folk minions for the first time since the earth was very young.
 

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