Griselda was in trouble. It wasn’t unusual for her, but this was the worst trouble ever This last witchly prank hadn’t gone as she intended, and a lot of damage ensued. So the leaders of the covens had ruled that she be put to death. She sat in the magically protected prison room, dejected and alone, deeply regretting her foolishness. She sighed. I really shouldn’t have tried to hang Randy Mason from the flagpole by his suspenders, she thought. But really, how was I to know the buttons would break on one side and he’d end up hanging by his neck? Good thing Witch Hazel came by, or he’d have died. And I will be dead tomorrow.
She could see the sky through the small, high window. Night had fallen, and she saw hundreds of sparkling with stars, and a sliver of moon. She sat and thought about all that she could have done in what should have been a long life, if she had only controlled those silly impulses to pull tricks on people. Then she heard a sound, and straightened up, turning her head, wondering what it was, where it came from.
It came again,”pssst!” Slowly, she stood, and moved to the door, pressing her ear against it. “Is someone there?” she asked, softly. A voice answered “It’s me, Rustyolute Residence, Griselda. I’ve managed to distract the guards, and have the keys. I don’t think you have been fairly tried and just can’t sit by and see you put to death in such a horrible fashion.”
“Oh, Rusty, you dear man. If you can get me out of here, I’ll head off into the wild lands. I just hope you won’t get in trouble.”
“Don’t worry, Grisalda, I got a potion from a friend, I told her it was to make my girlfriend forget I wasn’t with her tonight. Instead, I gave it to the guards in some wine. All they will remember is that I stopped by for a chat and shared my wine with them. Hold on, now, while I get the door open.” She heard the grating of the key in the lock, the rattle of the chain as he lowered it to the floor, and then the door opened, and there he was.
She stepped out and hugged him. “Rusty, I will never forget this. Thank you. I can’t say enough to thank you properly.”
“You’re welcome, Griselda.” He leaned down and picked up a backpack. “Here, I packed some supplies for you, food and such. And I managed to get into your room and get your magic kit. Just a minute while I relock the cell.” He replaced the lock and chain and soon all looked as it had. “Ok, now follow me. I know the fastest way to the edge of the wild lands.”
She took the backpack, settled it in place on her shoulders, and followed Rustyolute up the stairs and out into the night. They hiked for about an hour, and then they were there. The border was distinct – on one side, neat grass and flower beds, orderly rows of trees, on the other, wild forest, rampant growth, and the sounds of wild animals hunting.
She looked out over the wilderness, and sighed. Thanking Rusty again, she took the fateful step over the line, turned back and waved. He waved back and wished her good luck, turned and left. With another sigh, she gathered her long skirt in one hand, and set out walking.
Keeping a sharp eye on her surroundings, and using a protective spell to keep off any wild animals, she trudged on. Griselda was a witch. She had graduated from the Seven Rathgows Witchling Accademy last year. She should have received a summa cum laude, but due to her pranks, she got the lowest, just a cum laude. Shaking her head, she wished she had learned her lesson from that and stopped the pranks. Anyway, now she had to try to get to safety. She kept on trudging, her bare feet becoming bruised and scratched from the rough ground cover. I only hope I’m going toward the border with Ozland. I don’t want to spend a night here.
She walked on, watching and listening for possible danger. I wasn’t much more than half an hour later when she heard a very odd sound. It was partly a lion’s roar and partly like the lion was choking. She moved on carefully, heading toward the sound. She just couldn’t leave any animal in the kind of pain that sound seemed to indicate. Soon she came to an opening, a very small, weedy glade, and in the middle was a majestic lion. At least, he would have been majestic, except that he was tossing his head and pawing at his mouth, moaning and roaring in pain.
With the protective spell, she knew she could approach safely. When the lion saw her, he stopped moving and stared, then he moved toward her, almost crawling. She saw the pain in his eyes, and a pleading look. Cautiously she reached out and touched his head, and he rubbed against her hand.
“Oh, you poor thing,” she said quietly. “Will you let me see what is wrong?” The lion’s head nodded and he turned so that she could see his mouth. Something was stuck between his jaws, holding the mouth open, and there was blood mixed with the drool running down.
“All right. Be still, and I will see what I can do.” She kept her hand on his head, moved to his side, and quickly straddled him. He stiffened, and he turned his head and his eyes rolled back, looking at her. “It’s all right,” she said as she stroked his mane. “I need to be here so I can remove that stick or bone. Steady, now.”
Reaching around, she grasped his upper jaw in her right hand, the lower jaw in her left, and pulled hard. The obstruction was loosened, and she was able to grasp it with her right hand and pull it out. “Hmm…it looks like a piece of bone. Hold still now, and I will use a magic lotion to heal the injuries.” Carefully, she swung her leg back over him, and shrugged the backpack off. Reaching in, she found her magic kit, took out a small bottle, opened it, and rubbed some of the contents on the two open sores. The effect was immediate. The lion’s body relaxed as the pain went, and he lay down at her feet, licking her hand as he did.
Shortly, he stood again, and nudged her, then started walking off into the forest. He paused, looking back, and moved his head in a ‘come along’ gesture. She shrugged into the backpack again, and followed him. Soon he had led her to a lean, dry cave, obviously his den. She was tired, so she decided to accept his invitation, and gratefully settled down against the wall. He stood for a moment looking at her, touched his nose to her shoulder, and left. In a short time, he was back with a dead deer, and indicated that she should help herself. Not liking raw meat, she used the big knife from her pack and cut a large chunk off, cast a spell, and was soon eating hot, well-cooked venison.
Griselda and the lion lived together for several months. He hinted regularly, and shred his catch with her. There was a stream not far away, so she had water to drink, and to wash in. She thought several times that she should continue on her way to Ozland, but wasn’t sure she would be welcome there. She knew Rustyolute came from there, and he had saved her, but were the others like him? Would a disgraced witch be accepted? She pondered the question often, and always put off a decision till later
And then it was too late. One day, while Griselda was at the stream, a large net came sailing over her, and she was caught. The seven head witches came out of the forest and stood, gloating over her. Behind them, she could see the lion, also caught in a net, unmoving, but she could see that he was breathing.
“You thought you could escape your punishment, Griselda, but we tracked you, and now you will pay. And this time, you will be kept in a cell no one can get to, except us and our guards.” Delphina, the leader of the central coven gloated. “ We put the lion to sleep so we can transport him.” Turning to the guards, she ordered “put them both in the cart. We’ll carry out the sentence when the beast is fully ready.”
Two months later, a weary and dishevelled Griselda was shoved roughly into the pit to await her fate. I shouldn’t have stayed so long with the lion. Now he is captured, too. I guess I am just a jinx, and deserve to die. She stood waiting, shoulders sagging and head bowed. She heard the door to the animal pen open. Looking up, she saw an obviously starving lion come, rushing and snarling, ready to rend her body. But as he neared, he slowed, stopped, and sniffed. Then he came to her, licked her hand, and settled down at her feet. All of the witches stared, and gasped. Then Delphina stood up. “Griselda, how have you bespelled that lion?”
Griselda turned and looked up, her hand resting on the lion’s head< and explained how she had helped the lion soon after her escape, and had then lived with him, and how he had kept her fed and protected. “I have not cast a spell on him, other than the spell of kindness. He is grateful to me, and will not harm me. Gratitude is the sign of noble souls!”
It is, and it is true even of the dumb beasts. Griselda, your sentence is remitted. You are free to go. It is our earnest hope that you have learned your lesson from this.”
“I have,” Griselda said. “The lion and I will live in the border between here and the wild lands. Thank you for our freedom.” They walked together to the gate, and out to a new life.