Read a new chapter each week of this clean/sweet fairytale the entire family can enjoy!
“Bound by a spell, what can one do? Find the belief to know what is true.”
~ The Apprentice’s Handbook
The vase crashed to the floor, glass shattering and water spreading across the tiles. Felicia bent down to pick up the roses as the housekeeper hurried into the room.
“What have you done now?” she demanded.
Felicia dropped the flowers and tucked her dark hair back into place. “I’ll get my things,” she said.
“I think that might be best,” the housekeeper replied.
This was Felicia’s third job in as many months. Every time she thought she may have found her place in life, she managed to ruin it. This had been her last hope after the disaster at the dressmaker’s shop and the misunderstanding with the birthday cake at the bakery. Why would anyone put salt and sugar in similar containers and not label them?
“There must be something I can do to prove myself,” she muttered as she packed her few belongings. “Everyone has to be good at something.”
In the orphanage, Felicia had spent most of her time reading to the other children. She loved books and brought the characters to life as she told the stories.
“What I need is a way to be around books without dusting them,” Felicia whispered, passing the study on the first floor and nodding to the housekeeper on her way out.
As she walked out onto the square, she looked up and smiled. It was beginning to snow. Felicia loved winter, but she would need to find a place to stay. This might be a good night to visit her friend Eva, who was always there if she needed a warm bed and a hot meal. They had been like sisters since they met at the orphanage.
“I’m sorry to just show up on your doorstep,” Felicia said as Eva invited her in.
“You’re in time to help me with dinner,” Eva replied. Glancing at her sideways, she added, “Do you want me to show you where we keep the salt?”
“Very funny.” Felicia shook her head as she set down her things. “At least, you label your kitchen ingredients.”
“True,” Eva replied. She gave Felicia a quick hug, then took her to the fire. “Sit down here and have a cup of tea. You look like you’ve been out there for quite a while.”
“Thank you,” Felicia said. She warmed her hands and took a sip. “You always did make the best tea.” She smiled as Eva offered her plate. “And cookies.”
“Enjoy them, then take your things upstairs.” Eva went back to her cooking. She was taller than Felicia and had light blonde hair that curled on its own, but was now pinned out of the way. “William left the baby at his mother’s today, so I could give the place a good cleaning.” She smiled. “I was very fortunate to find such a good man…with a very helpful family.”
Felicia nodded. “He’s wonderful, but I don’t want him to think I’m taking advantage of you. I’ll have another position within a day or two.”
“Stay as long as you need,” Eva said. “I can always use help with the baby.”
“You know I’d love that, but I need to find a purpose and make my own way in the world.” Felicia glanced around. “You’ve made a very good life for yourself, and I need to do the same. It may not include marriage and family, but I know there’s something out there for me.”
“I’m sure you could have any man you wanted,” Eva replied. “All that long dark hair and big blue eyes, but I know you’ve always seen yourself doing more.”
“I didn’t mean to imply that this isn’t…” Felicia began.
“Save your apology,” Eva said. “I’ve known you most of your life, and you’ve always had this need to prove yourself.” She smiled. “I’m sure once you do, you’ll find true love as well.”
Felicia shook her head. “You and your fairytales. They were always your favorite.”
“That’s because you made the characters seem so real,” Eva replied. “Go ahead and get settled. We’ll eat in about an hour.”
William and the baby were both happy to see Felicia. They all enjoyed the beef stew and biscuits that Eva had made for dinner.
As they finished eating, Felicia said, “Eva, please sit down and relax. I’ll clean up the kitchen.”
“Thank you,” Eva replied, taking the baby from William. “Time for bed, little man.”
William smiled. “I’ll help Felicia with the dishes.”
As she washed and he dried, Felicia said, “I don’t suppose you’ve heard of any positions that might be available?”
“You know you can stay here as long as you like,” William replied.
“I appreciate that,” Felicia said, “but I would like to find something soon.” She sighed. “I doubt I’ll even get a reference after this afternoon.”
“That bad?” William asked.
“Let’s just say I usually make an impression, but it hasn’t always been a positive one.” Felicia shook her head. “At this point, I’m willing to try almost anything.”
“If you really mean that…” William hesitated.
“Go on,” Felicia said. “What were you going to say?”
“Someone I work with said his sister just left a position.” William shrugged. “Apparently, she’s the fourth girl to have the job in the past six months.”
“What’s the problem?” Felicia asked. “Bad pay or bad employer?”
“Neither, according to my friend.” William smiled. “Seems the old man is a bit eccentric and likes to invent things. All kinds of noises and strange smells, not to mention the messes to clean up.”
Felicia started laughing. “I’m pretty good at making messes myself.” She wiped down the sink, while William poured hot water in the tea pot.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re making tea,” Eva said, sitting down at the table. Looking at William, she added, “Our little Jack did not want to settle down tonight.”
“Too much excitement,” William replied.
“William was just telling me about a position that may be open,” Felicia said, pouring the tea into cups and handing them around.
“What type of position?” Eva asked.
“You remember that inventor I told you about?” William asked. “The one, who Edward’s sister was working for?”
Eva nodded. “Isn’t he the one who makes candles?”
“Among other things,” William agreed. Turning to Felicia, he added, “If you really want to talk to him, he has the big house on the other side of the foundry.”
“The one on the hill?” Felicia asked. “I’ve seen that and wondered who lived there.” She smiled at Eva. “I guess I’m going to find out.”
“Do you want me to go with you?” Eva asked. “We could take Jack.”
“That’s very nice of you, but I’ll be fine.” She finished her tea. “I’m going to bed. Thanks again for letting me stay tonight.”
Felicia walked out of the kitchen and smiled as she heard William tell Eva how beautiful she looked in the candlelight. Romance might not be in her future, but she was glad Eva had found her happily ever after.
The next morning, Felicia was up early and on her way to the house on the hill. As she got closer, she realized it was more like a chateau. At one time, it must have been quite spectacular. Even with the obvious years of neglect, the façade and landscaping were still impressive.
As she knocked on the door, Felicia wondered if this might finally be the place for her. She was surprised, when a woman opened the door. Maybe the position had already been filled.
“May I help you?” the woman asked.
“I had heard there might be a position open,” Felicia replied. “I hope I’m not too late.”
The woman looked her up and down, then sighed. “Come in. I’ll tell the master that you’re here.”
Felicia followed the woman into the main hall, glad to see the fire going. She waited as the woman walked down a back hall, then returned a short time later.
“I’m Mrs. Havermale,” the woman said. “Seems he wants to speak to you after all. You can wait in the library.”
Felicia followed her through the parlor, and a sitting room, finally walking through double doors into a large library. The shelves lined the room and continued up to the very tall ceiling. One wall had windows with bookcases in between and there were fireplaces on each end of the room. Two desks flanked the far fireplace, while a sofa and chairs were clustered around the other. She took a seat by the fire and waited.
After about five minutes, an elderly man walked in and smiled. “I understand you’re here about the apprenticeship.”
Felicia stood up and nodded. She had thought it was a maid position, but she was willing to try anything. “I’m a hard worker and I learn very quickly.”
The man motioned for her to sit down and took the chair across from her. “I’ve been looking for an apprentice for quite some time. Do you have a knack for gardening?” He smiled. “And what about cooking?”
“I thought you made candles,” Felicia said, then realized she should have just nodded. “I do like gardening and my cooking is usually very good.” She hoped he labeled his ingredients.
“That’s fine,” the man replied. “I’m Oliver Bertrand, and I do make candles…as well as other things.” He paused a moment. “I think you’ll do very well. Have Mrs. Havermale show you up to your room.”
Felicia decided whatever the position paid it was better than nothing. And if it didn’t work out, she could always go back to Eva’s and find something else. “Thank you,” she said as Oliver stood up and walked out the way he had come.
Mrs. Havermale entered from the other side of the room and walked over. “Follow me upstairs. We’ll send for your things later.”
Felicia nodded and followed her back into the main hall and up the grand staircase. They stopped at the second floor, but the staircase continued for at least one more floor. Felicia followed her to the end of the hall, then turned left and followed her down another hall.
They stopped at the end and Mrs. Havermale opened the door on the right. “It’s a nice enough room. Not very big, but it has a good view…and the fire keeps it warm enough in winter.”
As Mrs. Havemale turned and started back down the hall, Felicia walked into the room and looked around. It was beautiful. The bed had a white coverlet over a dark blue blanket and there was a small wooden dresser with a blue and white decorative scarf. The end table had a lantern and a candle, as well as a pretty cup…white with blue flowers. There was obviously a theme going on and Felicia wondered what the other rooms looked like.
She walked over to the armoire. It was a little lighter than the dresser and the wood carvings were very pretty. All vines and flowers. She opened it and saw more than enough space to store her meager possessions.
As she walked over to the other side of the room, she looked out the window and was surprised to see the gardens below looked to be in perfect order. Even with the light snowfall yesterday, she could see the hedges had been trimmed and the beds seemed very tidy.
She almost jumped at the knock on the door. When she opened it, a young woman with auburn hair was standing there. “I’m Trixie,” she said. “Mrs. Havermale wanted me to ask if there was anything you might need.”
“You’re the maid?” Felicia asked, then smiled. “I thought that’s the position I was here to fill.”
Trixie smiled back. “No, miss. The last few girls were here as parlor maids, but the master seems to think you’re apprentice material.” She looked down for a moment, then shook her head. “We haven’t had an apprentice in over a year.”
“I see,” Felicia replied. “Well, I plan to do a very good job.” She smiled as Trixie looked back up. “Do you know exactly what an apprentice is supposed to do?”
Trixie giggled. “No, miss…but I think you’ll fit in very well. Do you need us to send for your belongings?”
“Actually, I think I’ll pick them up myself,” Felicia said.
“Very well, miss,” Trixie replied. “Dinner is at six. You can look around all you like on the main floor and in the gardens.” She turned and walked down the hall.
Felicia closed the door, then went back to the window. She decided the gardens would be the first thing she explored when she returned.
Felicia smiled as Eva opened the door. “I got the job!” she announced.
“That’s wonderful,” Eva replied. “Come in and tell me all about it.”
The walked into the kitchen, and Felicia sat down at the table. “The fire feels wonderful,” she said. “It’s cold out there.”
Eva poured two cups of tea and joined her. “I just put the baby down for his nap. Would you like something to eat?”
“I’m too excited,” Felicia replied. “When I got there, it turned out the job was for an apprentice, not a maid.”
“An apprentice?” Eva repeated. “What will you be doing?”
“I have no idea,” Felicia admitted, “but it has to be more fun than dusting. Mr. Bertrand makes candles…and other things.” She frowned slightly at the last part. “I’m not sure what the other things are, but it seems to entail cooking.”
Eva giggled. “I think you’ll be fine. And candles sound like fun.”
“That’s what I thought,” Felicia agreed. “I’m supposed to pick up my things and be back for dinner by six.” She smiled. “They even offered to send for my things, but I wanted to see you.”
“Send for your things?” Eva smiled. “Sounds like you’ve got a wealthy employer. What’s the room like?”
“It’s beautiful,” Felicia replied. “And it has a view of the gardens, which are amazing.”
“Makes sense they’d have big gardens,” Eva agreed. “All those flowers and herbs for the candles.”
Felicia nodded. “I’m going to explore the gardens as soon as I return.”
“Then, let’s have a nice visit and you can stop by this weekend and tell me all the rest.” Eva paused. “You do get a day off, don’t you?”
“I have no idea,” Felicia admitted. “I was so happy to get the job, I forgot to ask.”
When Felicia got back, it was almost too late to see the gardens. She dropped off her things in her room, then hurried back down to the main floor. Access to the gardens was down a hall past the kitchen.
“I told you, we don’t have enough,” a woman’s voice said.
“It will be fine,” Trixie replied. “I don’t think anyone will notice.”
Felicia assumed they were talking about dinner and continued to the glass door. Beyond were the gardens, which turned out to be even larger than she had imagined.
“This is amazing,” Felicia said quietly as she wandered from one area to another. Tall hedges divided each area into separate spaces. At the back of the second garden was a large greenhouse, which she hadn’t seen from her room.
As she looked in the window, a man peered back at her. He walked out and asked, “What are you doing here?”
“I just got hired,” Felicia replied. “My name is Felicia, and I’m the new apprentice.”
“Didn’t realize we were looking for one.” The man shrugged. “I’m Harris, the gardener.”
“It’s very nice to meet you,” Felicia said.
Harris nodded, the went back inside. Felicia would have liked to ask him about the gardens but decided it was time to get ready for dinner.
As she sat down at the table in the dining room, Felicia was surprised to see the staff were all in attendance. At her previous job, the only time staff was allowed in the dining room was to clean or serve.
Trixie smiled, seeming to read her mind. “Things are a bit different here, Miss.”
Felicia nodded. “So, they are. I quite like it.”
“The master doesn’t always join us,” Trixie said, “but he’ll probably be down tonight. Seeing as how this is your first evening with us.”
“What about Harris?” Felicia asked. “Does he eat with us as well?”
“Harris keeps to himself most of the time,” Trixie replied. “He’s a bit odd, but he does know his plants.”
“The gardens are amazing…” Felicia began, but stopped as Oliver walked into the room.
“Why don’t you all sit down?” Oliver said, motioning for them to be seated. He smiled as a short, robust woman walked in and joined them. “Mrs. Porter, you’ve outdone yourself.”
The cook blushed and nodded. “Kind of you to say, sir.” She sat down next to Trixie, and Felicia realized there were still a few empty chairs.
Oliver looked at her and smiled. “We’ll have a few more joining us tonight. I want everyone to meet our new apprentice.”
Mrs. Havermale rolled her eyes but nodded as Oliver looked in her direction. “They’ll be here shortly, sir.”
“We might as well go ahead and start,” Oliver said. “Mrs. Porter’s food deserves to be eaten while it is warm.”
A few minutes later, two men walked into the room. One was Harris and the other was younger, but looked a bit like him. They both had dark hair and a muscular build.
“Ah, Mr. Harris,” Oliver said. “Nice of you and your nephew to join us tonight.”
“Sorry about being late, sir,” Harris replied. “Young Tim was finishing the new starts.”
“Those will be something you’ll be using,” Oliver said, looking at Felicia. “The starts are lavender and rosemary. We’re working on a new candle fragrance.” He smiled at Trixie. “Maybe we’ll include some of that bergamot you like so much.”
Trixie blushed slightly. “Oh, sir…that sounds lovely. Your candles are always such a treat to use.”
Oliver nodded, then looked at Mrs. Havermale. “I would like to speak with you after dinner.”
Mrs. Havermale glanced over at Felicia, then back to Oliver. “Of course, sir. Coffee in the library?”
“That would be fine,” Oliver agreed.
After dinner, Felicia went back to her room. Everyone had seemed very friendly and made a point of talking about the gardens, candles and orders for spring. What bothered Felicia was that they made such an effort. She got the distinct feeling they would have been discussing something else if she had not been there.
“I’m letting my imagination take over,” she whispered, then smiled. “What I need is a cat, so I don’t look so silly talking to myself.
A few minutes later, Trixie came to the door. “Would you mind looking after Nora? She’s a good girl, but she does like to get under Mrs. Havermale’s feet.”
Felicia looked down at the cat. She was not very big, but had gray stripes and a bit of orange with pretty, white markings. “I didn’t know you had a cat.”
Oh, Nora is not mine,” Trixie replied. “She belongs to the master. Her name is Elenora and she’s a sweetie. She seems to like everyone…but Mrs. Havermale.”
Felicia smiled and thought she could understand that. “You can leave her with me if you like.”
“Thank you, Miss,” Trixie said. “You can just let her back out in an hour or so. Mrs. Havermale will have gone to her room by then.”
Felicia nodded, then closed the door after Trixie left. Looking down at Nora, she smiled. “Well, I guess I have someone to talk to now. What do you think of this place, Nora?”
The cat looked at her with those bright green eyes, tipped her head to one side and purred. Then, she jumped on the bed and curled up by the pillow.
“Make yourself at home,” Felicia said. “I guess I should be careful what I wish for.” She smiled. “Good thing I didn’t say dragon.” She paused and glanced around, wondering for a moment if one would have shown up if she had.
Shaking her head, Felicia picked up the book she had borrowed from the library. It was all about herbs and flowers, which she hoped might help her with the candles. She sat down on the bed next to the cat and started to read.
The next morning, Felicia was woken up by a tapping on her door. She opened it to find Mrs. Havermale standing there.
“We don’t bring breakfast up to your room,” she announced. “The master will want to see you downstairs in a few minutes.”
Felicia nodded and closed the door, quickly getting dressed. As she started down the stairs, she saw Trixie polishing the banister.
“Did she get you out of bed?” Trixie asked.
“Yes. I didn’t know we were supposed to be up so early,” Felicia replied, glancing out the window on the landing. “It’s not even light yet.”
“She does that with everyone,” Trixie assured her. “Mrs. Havermale enjoys showing us all who runs the household.”
“I’ll see you downstairs,” Felicia said, walking past her. “I don’t want to be late on my first day.”
“Trust me,” Trixie replied. “You’ll have plenty of time.”
As Felicia walked past the dining room, Mrs. Porter waved to her. “Come into the morning room and get some breakfast.”
I’d like to, but I’m late,” Felicia said.
“No, you’re not,” Mrs. Porter replied, smiling. “Mrs. Havermale does this with everyone. Go ahead and check the library, then come back here and eat.”
Felicia nodded and went into the library. No one was there except the cat. She sat down in a chair and Nora walked over and purred, then rubbed against her leg. “I wonder what I should do now,” Felicia whispered.
The cat looked at her for a moment, then turned as Mrs. Havemale walked in. With a quick hiss, the cat slowly walked out of the library.
“Why that animal gets free run of the house is beyond me,” Mrs. Havermale said. “It seems the master will be coming down after lunch, so you might as well make yourself useful. Perhaps you can help Trixie.”
Felicia nodded. “I’d be happy to help any way I can.”
“I supposed you should have something to eat,” Mrs. Havermale replied. “Then, you can get to work.”
Felicia watched her walk out, then turned and went back to the morning room. Nora was already there, eating a small piece of sausage Mrs. Porter offered her.
“She’s such a good kitty,” Mrs. Porter said, then scooped up the cat and the plate. “I’d better take her to the kitchen.”
The food was on the table buffet style and it seemed everyone helped themselves. Trixie walked in and got a plate. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get some food and we’ll sit over by the bay window.”
Felicia noticed there were smaller tables here rather than the large table in the dining room. “This is a cheerful space,” Felicia said. “It must be very nice in spring.”
“Oh, it’s lovely,” Trixie agreed. “All those shrubs at the back of the garden are lilacs. When they bloom, it’s wonderful.”
Felicia hoped she’d still be here to see them. This was one job she’d like to keep. “Sounds beautiful,” she said.
“All the gardens are,” Trixie replied. “My favorite is the rose garden. The colors and fragrance…well, you’ll see them soon enough. I know they use a lot of rose petals with the candles.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Felicia said. Do they make the candles upstairs? I haven’t seen the third floor.”
No, the candles are all done in the cellars,” Trixie replied. “Something about the dried plants doing better down there. And the temperature is more constant.”
“That makes sense,” Felicia agreed. She took another bite, then smiled. “Mrs. Havermale and the cat don’t seem to get along.”
Trixie giggled. “I think they each believe they’re the master’s favorite. Mrs. Havermale does run a very efficient household, but I think Nora might win that bet.”
“Has she been here a long time?” Felicia asked. “The cat, I mean.”
Trixie nodded. “Seems they’ve both been here longer than any of us, which isn’t saying much. Most of us have only worked here for a few years.”
Felicia started to ask another question, when Harris walked in with his nephew. They got some food and started back out, when Harris turned back to her. “If you want to see the gardens this morning, we can show you around after breakfast.”
“That would be very nice,” Felicia replied. “Thank you.”
Harris nodded and walked out with Tim behind him.
“Looks like you’re getting the grand tour,” Trixie said. “I don’t know that Harris has ever done that for anyone.”
“I’m sure it’s just part of the job,” Felicia replied. She quickly finished her breakfast and went upstairs to get her coat.
As she walked outside, Felicia wished she had a heavier coat. The wind was blowing from the north and there was quite a chill to the air.
She smiled as she saw the cat run across the path in front of her. “Let’s hope they’re in the greenhouse,” she said as much to herself as the cat.
“There you are.” Harris walked over and frowned. “That coat won’t do at all. Do you have another?”
Felicia shook her head. “It’s all I have with me.”
Harris gestured for her to follow him. They walked around the side of the house to an area she hadn’t noticed before. It had smaller beds around a large shed. “Come inside.”
Felicia walked in and saw some coats hanging on hooks. There were also shelves filled with garden pots and buckets, several unmarked bags stacked against one wall, and a couple of large wheelbarrows.
“Try this one,” Harris said, lifting one of the coats off a hook.
Felicia put it on over her own coat. “This is much better,” she admitted. “I didn’t realize it would be so cold.”
“We’re up on the hill,” Harris replied. “It won’t be so bad once we get to the back gardens.”
Felicia followed him outside and through a few smaller gardens to a much larger one. It was obviously the rose garden. It had a beauty about it even without the flowers.
“We have herbs planted over in those beds,” Harris said, gesturing to the left. “And perennials in front of the long bed in back.”
Felicia looked around, trying to guess what the other plants might be. “It’s very impressive.”
Harris almost smiled. “Aye, it is that. It’s an honor to care for such a garden.” He shook his head and turned back to her. “Anyway, this is where you’ll be doing most of your work this spring. For now, we have most of the dried plants in the cellars.”
Felicia followed him as he walked though the garden and turned left, passing through a break in the hedge. “Oh!” She caught her breath and smiled. “This is beautiful.”
The garden featured a group of beds under a large pergola. The top seemed to be panes of glass and the snow slid off to the sides. Under the enclosure were boxwoods surrounding beds of hyacinths, tulips, daffodils and other bulbs. They were all blooming and the colors were carefully laid out for maximum appeal.
“What do you do with these?” Felicia asked.
“This is for Oscar,” Harris said, surprising Felicia by using his first name. “He loves the colors and says they inspire him.” He smiled slightly. “They are a sight.”
Young Tim came around a corner and waved at Felicia. “What do you think of our rainbow?” he asked.
“It is rather like one,” Felicia agreed. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Wait until you see the…” Tim stopped as his uncle cleared his throat.
“I think that’s enough for today,” Harris said. “Our Miss Felicia should go inside and warm up.”
Felicia thought a hot cup of tea would be lovely about now. She smiled at Tim and followed Harris back the way they had come. She wondered what was on the other side of the garden with all the bulbs, then realized it was probably the greenhouse.
“Thank you for the tour,” she said as they reached the house.
“Any time,” Harris replied.
“I can give you the coat,” Felicia offered, starting to take it off.
“We have plenty,” Harris said. “You’d better keep it for now.”
Felicia smiled and went into the kitchen to get some tea, while Harris watched her for a moment, then looked up at the second floor. He wondered if Oscar knew what he was doing with this one.
“Here’s your tea,” Mrs. Porter said. “You look half frozen. What was the master thinking having you out there in this weather?”
Felicia took a sip of tea. “Oh, this is perfect.” She smiled. “The gardens are amazing.”
“Did they show you the one with all the colors?” Mrs. Porter asked. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Of course, in the summer it’s the rose garden that takes your breath away.”
Felicia nodded. “I can only imagine. It’s very impressive.”
“Get yourself warmed up, then the master wants to see you upstairs.” She paused. “Have you been up to the third floor yet?”
“No, I haven’t,” Felicia replied.
“You’ll want to have a shortbread cookie then,” Mrs. Porter said, picking up a plate and offering her one.
“Thank you.” Felicia took a bite. “What does this have to do with the third floor?”
“Not to eat,” Mrs. Porter replied, shaking her head. “Finish that, then take one up with you.”
Felicia raised an eyebrow but took a second cookie and put it in a napkin. “Why?”
“You’ll see,” Mrs. Porter said. “Now, finish your tea.”
Felicia climbed the stairs to the third floor. There were halls running from the landing in three directions. She stood there for a moment, wondering which way to go, when Trixie came around a corner and smiled. “It’s this way,” she said.
They walked down the hall to the right and past a few doors on each side. At the end of the hall, it turned again and went up a few steps. Trixie opened the door and Felicia followed her.
“It’s good of you to come,” Oscar said, getting up from a chair by the fire. “This is my private study, where I do most of my work.”
Felicia saw it was a very large room lined with books on three sides and windows on the last wall, overlooking the gardens. In the middle of the space was a big table covered with more books. Past the table were two more chairs and a large parrot sitting on a roost.
Oscar gestured for Felicia to follow him as Trixie curtsied and left. “Come meet my friend and companion,” Oscar said. “Hob has been with me for quite a while.”
Felicia smiled. “He’s beautiful.”
The bird looked at her closely, then back at Oscar, who asked, “Do you have a cookie?”
“Mrs. Porter told me to bring one,” Felicia replied. She opened the napkin and handed it to Oscar.
“Oh, no,” Oscar said. “You should give it to Hob. He’ll like you forever after he has a cookie.”
Felicia carefully held out the cookie and the parrot gingerly took it from her, then quickly ate it.
“Now, let’s get down to business,” Oscar said, walking back to the table. “As my apprentice, you’ll need to learn a lot about some things and a little about…well, almost everything.”
“I appreciate the opportunity…” Felicia began.
Oscar waved a hand. “My dear, you are going to do a fine job. What I need you to do today is look through a few of these books, so I can get an idea of how much you already know. Once we do that, I want to show you the cellars. It’s where we do the main part of our work.”
Felicia spent the next few hours reading and answering questions from Oscar. He was clearly impressed with her basic knowledge of plants as well as math, science and poetry.
“You’ve had a very good education,” Oscar said as they closed the fifth book.
“I read a lot in the orphanage,” Felicia replied. “It was the easiest way to learn and escape for a few hours.”
“I know what you mean,” Oscar said, looking back at the shelves. “In my younger days, I traveled quite a bit, but now I spend most of my free time reading. A voyage of a different kind.”
Felicia smiled. “Exactly.”
“I just realized you haven’t eaten, and I could use something myself.” Oscar looked over at the clock. “Why don’t we have a late lunch, then I’ll show you the cellars.” He smiled. “An ominous name for a very practical workspace.”
Felicia nodded. “Will you be coming down to eat?”
“I’ll have Mrs. Porter send something up,” Oscar replied, glancing over at Hob. “For both of us.”
“Thank you,” Felicia said. “For giving me this chance.”
“I think I will be the one thanking you.” Oscar smiled. “I’ve been wanting an apprentice for quite some time.”
Felicia smiled back, then walked out of the room.
Mrs. Havermale was standing at the bottom of the stairs. “Trixie has a lot to do this afternoon. Perhaps you can help her?”
“I’m supposed to go to the cellars this afternoon,” Felicia replied. She smiled to herself at Mrs. Havermale’s expression.
“Already?” she asked. “That’s a bit ahead of schedule.” She paused. “Very well. I’ll help her today, but I’m sending Tim down to put up notice for a new girl. Trixie can’t do it all by herself.”
Felicia nodded, then turned and went into the kitchen. “How did it go?” Mrs. Porter asked.
“I think it went well.” Felicia smiled. “Hob is polite. And very big.”
“He’s a good bird,” Mrs. Porter said. “Spends all of his time up with there with the master.”
Felicia went over and smelled the stew on the stove. “Mrs. Porter, this smells heavenly.”
“Thank you,” Mrs. Porter replied. “Help yourself and there are a few biscuits left on the table.”
Felicia got the stew and sat down at the table. “Did everyone else already eat?”
“While you were upstairs,” Mrs. Porter said. “I just sent food up for the master. Are you done for the day?”
“We’re supposed to go down to the cellars after lunch.” Felicia took a bite. “This is wonderful.”
“It’s the seasonings,” Mrs. Porter replied. “An advantage to having all these gardens. We have fresh onions and garlic pretty much year-round. And cooking herbs in the greenhouse.”
“I’d like to take a closer look at the greenhouse,” Felicia said. “After I see the cellars.”
Felicia followed Oscar down the stairs, hoping the lantern would give off enough light to find her footing.
“Be careful,” Oscar said. “There isn’t much light until we reach the main cellar. I had Harris light the lamps, while we were eating.”
Felicia followed close behind, then breathed a sigh of relief as they reached the bottom. “How many cellars are there?”
“We have the main work area,” Oscar replied, “as well as the wine cellar, root cellar, three other storage areas, and our still room.”
They walked into a large area that was much brighter. There were several sconces on each wall and a few lights overhead with large arches connecting one space to the next. Three large tables filled the space along with a fireplace on one side and more bookshelves. A couple of chairs were pulled up to each table and two upholstered ones were by the fire.
“This is where I used to do most of my work,” Oscar said. “Now, I spend my time upstairs.”
Felicia followed Oscar past the first table and through another door. “This is the still room.” It seemed Harris had taken care of this area as well. A combination of gaslights and candles lit every corner.
“What a wonderful space.” Felicia walked over to the hanging herbs, then beyond to the shelves of apothecary jars.
“They’re all labeled,” Oscar said. “It should be easy to find what you need.”
“How many candles do you make?” Felicia asked. “I know many people still use them, but with the gaslights…”
“We make more than candles,” Oscar replied. “Come with me.”
They went back into the main area and over to the upholstered chairs. “These books have everything you will need.” Oscar gestured to a shelf on the right. “If you can’t find it here, ask me and I’ll help you.”
Felicia scanned the book titles, noticing many were scientific and had little to do with candle-making. “What exactly do you do here?”
“I wondered when you would ask that question.” Oscar smiled. “I make candles as well as lotions, medicinal compounds, and a few special items for a select group of customers.”
“I see,” Felicia replied. “Is it…I mean, will I…”
“Nothing illegal, I assure you,” Oscar said. “I’ve been experimenting with a few things that may make life easier for many of our residents. Let’s just leave it at that for now.”
Felicia nodded. “Where do you want me to start?”
“Get to know the still room and try making a few herbal concoctions. Something for the bath perhaps,” Oscar said. “I’m sure the ladies would be happy to try out whatever you create.”
“Maybe some lavender and…do you have cloves?” Felica asked.
“I think you’ll find we have just about everything you can imagine,” Oscar replied. “Enjoy the still room, but don’t forget to come up for dinner. We’ll be eating a bit later tonight, so you have until eight o’clock.”
Felicia nodded and walked back into the still room. “I’ll see you then.”
“Don’t forget to bring a candle or lantern to come back up the stairs,” Oscar said. “I really need to add some lights to that area.”
As she started going through the jars, Felicia saw there were several items she had read about and a few she’d never heard of. She decided to look them up in the books.
“So many to choose from,” Felicia whispered as she looked on the shelf. “Where do I start?”
Nora brushed past her leg, causing Felicia to jump, then the cat landed on the chair and looked at her intently.
“What?” Felicia asked, smiling. “Have you come to help me?”
The cat mewed once, then jumped down and walked over to the other end of the space. Felicia followed her and saw there was a shelf of books that looked much older. She pulled one off the shelf and set it on the podium nearby.
“This one seems to be in Latin,” Felicia said. She put it back and tried another, which was also in Latin. “Nora, I don’t think these are very helpful,” she said to the cat.
As she replaced the second book, she noticed one seemed to be sticking out and started to push it back to be even with the others. It was large and seemed even older than the rest. Felicia pulled it out and placed it on the podium.
Nora walked over and rubbed against her leg again. Felicia glanced down, then opened the book. This time she could read it, but the writing was all done by hand. She carefully turned the pages and wondered how many candles would need belladonna or wolfbane.
Felicia took the book over to the table where there was more light available. “What type of book is this?” Felicia asked, looking over at Nora. “I don’t suppose you can tell me?”
The cat looked back at her and tipped its head to one side.
“I didn’t think so,” Felicia said. She turned a few more page and stopped. “An in-between summoning.” She glanced at the cat. “Summoning? That seems odd.”
Felicia looked back at the book. “It says to find the in-between, one needs to call the distant ends of time, ask for chance and fate. Find the place that marks the space between the time and date.”
She looked at the cat and raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t make much sense.” Felicia started to close the book, when she felt a bit dizzy. She grabbed the side of the table as the room started to spin and then everything went black.
Felicia opened her eyes and saw the cat staring down at her. Nora was watching her intently. Felicia rubbed her eyes and looked again. The cat seemed much larger than she remembered. She pushed herself back and started to stand up, but she still felt a bit dizzy.
The cat seemed to waver in front of her a moment, then disappeared and a young woman stood in its place. She had light brown hair and green eyes. “I’m Nora,” she said.
“I must be dreaming,” Felicia said. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“You said the words,” Nora replied. “We’ve been waiting for the right apprentice for a very long time.”
“I don’t understand.” Felicia looked up and saw the top of the table far above her. “What happened?”
“You’ve found the in-between,” Nora said. “With a little help from me.” She smiled. “I’ve been stuck in that cat shape for far too long. It’s good to be back in my natural form.”
“Who are you?” Felicia asked. “Or what are you?”
“I am a pixie,” Nora said. “We’ve been trapped in this realm for the past three years. At first, Hob and I made quite a scene and scared away all the help…except Mrs. Havermale.” Nora rolled her eyes. “That woman will put up with anything if she thinks it will win Oscar’s favor.”
Despite the situation, Felicia smiled. “I had a feeling there was something going on there.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s all in her mind,” Nora replied. “I doubt Oscar has a clue.”
“So, Hob is also a…pixie?” Felicia asked. “Is that like a fairy?”
Nora frowned. “Not the same thing at all. Don’t you know what a pixie is?”
“Well, I thought they weren’t real…sorry, I don’t mean to offend you,” Felicia said.
Nora shrugged. “We get that a lot. Oscar knew we were real, but he wasn’t the one who called us. It was his former apprentice. That young man was smart but had no sense of honor. He found the spell, opened the portal and slipped in as Hob and I came through.”
“What portal?’ Felicia asked. “What do you mean?”
“I’ll get Hob, then we’ll show you.” Nora started to leave, then stopped and looked back at Felicia. “You’d better come with me.”
Nora changed back into the cat and sat down. Felicia grabbed on to the fur and climbed on her back, realizing she must only be about three or four inches tall. She hoped this was reversible because she didn’t want to think about being this small for the rest of her life.
Nora hurried up the stairs and through the back hall, then stopped to look around. No one was in the main hall, so she quickly trotted to the stairs and up to the second floor. As they started up the next flight, Felicia heard Trixie talking to Mrs. Havermale.
Nora heard them too and raced up the stairs. Felicia held on tight and managed to stay on the cat’s back. As they reached the top of the stairs, Felicia whispered, “Slow down. I’m starting to slide off.”
Nora stopped and waited for Felicia to get her balance, then continued to Oliver’s study. “What if the door is closed?” Felicia asked.
The cat walked past the door and over to a metal grill on the wall, then sat down. Felicia slid off and the cat turned back into Nora. “They use this to load the wood for the fireplace.”
They carefully climbed through the openings in the metal and scooted past the pile of wood. As they came around the corner of the pile, they saw Oliver asleep in his chair. “He’s been a good friend,” Nora whispered, “but he’s too old to help us this time. That’s why he needed a new apprentice.” She smiled. “I’m glad it was you.”
She turned and raced across the room and waved up at the parrot, who hopped down and disappeared. A man stood in its place, just a bit taller than Nora. As they came back, Felicia saw he was quite handsome with his dark blond hair and green eyes.
“You did it,” Hob said, smiling. “I knew you could. We’ve been watching you for quite a while.”
“We can talk about that later,” Nora said. “We need to get back downstairs.”
Hob nodded and Nora changed back into the cat. This time they both climbed on and Nora quickly took them back down the stairs. As they walked through the main hall, Mrs. Havermale came around the corner.
Felicia and Hob ducked down, hoping Mrs. Havermale hadn’t seen them. Nora hissed and ran past her. “That silly cat. I don’t know why the master keeps it around,” Mrs. Havermale said as she walked into the kitchen.
Nora quickly hurried down the cellar stairs and back to the table on the far side of the room. Sitting down, she waited for Felicia and Hob to slide off, then changed back into her pixie form.
“So, what can you tell me about all this?” Felicia asked, looking from Hob to Nora.
“Oscar knew we needed someone with certain talents,” Hob replied, smiling at Nora. “Not everyone can see a pixie, much less summon a portal.”
“Where is this portal?” Felicia asked. “And more importantly, why me?”
“You must have a little pixie blood somewhere in your family history,” Nora said. “It does happen from time to time.”
“Oscar has been watching you, and we…um,” Hob glanced at Nora. “We helped encourage you to leave a few of your earlier jobs.”
“The vase…” Felicia said. “I knew I hadn’t touched it.”
“And the baking ingredients,” Nora added. “Sorry, but we needed your help.”
“And the dressmaker’s shop?” Felicia asked.
“That was all you,” Hob replied, “but it gave me the idea. You were so distracted reading a book, you forgot about the iron and I told Nora…that’s what we need. Someone, who loves books and has pixie blood.” He smiled. “You were perfect.”
Felicia smiled back. “Thank you.” She cleared her throat. “However, I don’t know how I can help you with a portal. Why can’t you open that yourself?”
“It has to be opened on the human side by a human,” Nora explained. “And by a pixie on the pixie side. That’s why we haven’t been able to go home.”
“What about this other apprentice?” Felicia looked over at Hob. “Why did he summon you in the first place?”
“That clever rascal took advantage of Oscar,” Hob said. “He took the knowledge and realized he could enter our realm and probably do more damage than good. We not only need to get home. We need to send him back here.”
Felicia nodded. “I’ll help you. What do we need to do?”
Nora took Felicia’s hand. “We’re hoping our side has left the portal open. If so, we need you to repeat the words with us and see if we can open this side.”
Hob took Felicia’s other hand and she felt the heat go up her arm. It might have been a nice distraction at a different time, but she needed to focus on what she was doing. She took a breath and looked at Nora. “Now what?”
“We say the same words that shrank you down to our size,” Nora replied.
Felicia nodded and said the words with Nora and Hob. “Call the distant ends of time, ask for chance and fate. Find the place that marks the space between the time and date.”
A small breeze blew across Felicia’s arm and they said it again. “Call the distant ends of time, ask for chance and fate. Find the place that marks the space between the time and date.”
“Once more should do it,” Hob said. The wall is starting to shimmer.”
Nora nodded and they said it again. “Call the distant ends of time, ask for chance and fate. Find the place that marks the space between the time and date.”
The wall seemed to bend slightly, and a white beam of light shot out that slowly turned to light pink, then lavender. “That’s it!” Hob exclaimed. “Let’s go!”
They kept holding hands and ran towards the light. The wall disappeared and Felicia felt the breeze against her face as she landed in a meadow full of wildflowers.
“We made it!” Nora turned to Hob and hugged him. “We’re home!”
Felicia turned to give them a moment of privacy and realized there were flowers as far as she could see. They were beautiful but very large, and for a moment she wondered why…then remembered she was still pixie size.
“I don’t suppose we can grow a little larger?” Felicia asked, glad they’d landing by the chamomile and not the poppies. “Unless you don’t have any problem with wild animals here?”
“Well, we do have these,” Hob said, stretching out his wings. “We can always fly away from any problems.”
“I don’t think that will work for me.” Felicia raised an eyebrow. “Unless I have wings, too?”
“Sorry, those are not included with your spell,” Nora replied. “Wings have to be issued by someone with a little more authority.”
“Issued?” Felicia repeated. “Are you teasing me?”
“Not at all,” Hob assured her. “We aren’t born with wings; we have to earn them. And once we do, they come in very handy.”
“Well, we’d better grow a little larger until we see…” Nora began, then smiled. “Finally, I wondered where everyone was. Not a single pixie to greet us as we came through.”
Felicia stood on her tiptoes, trying to see over the chamomile.
“Those aren’t pixies,” Hob said. “Nora, take Felicia’s hand and get ready to fly towards those willows by the creek.”
Nora nodded. “Don’t worry,” she whispered to Felicia. “We’ll get you there in no time.”
Felicia looked from Nora to Hob, then back to the people approaching. “Who are they?” she whispered back.
“Just don’t let go of my hand,” Nora replied, ignoring the question.
As she and Hob each held onto her, Felicia felt herself starting to float above the ground. It was wonderful for a few moments. Then, her stomach lurched as they flew very quickly above the flowers.
All she saw was a blur of colors, then they were flying through the branches of the weeping willow. “Let’s follow the creek as far as we can,” Hob suggested.
“It would be faster to cut across the next meadow,” Nora replied.
“I don’t think we should risk it with…” Hob looked at Felicia and smiled. “With our guest.”
“Who are they?” Felicia asked, “And why are they chasing us?”
“Fairies,” Nora replied. “And trust me, you don’t want to be caught any more than we do.”
Felicia nodded, then closed her eyes as they zoomed between several small trees.
“They’re gaining on us,” Hob said, glancing behind him. “We need a distraction.”
“I’ve got it.” Nora reached out and grabbed a dead branch. It looked huge, but Felicia realized it was probably only six inches long.
“Take us over to those aspens,” Nora continued. “You know the one I mean?”
“Brilliant,” Hob replied. “We’ll be there in about fifteen seconds.”
“Whatever you do, don’t let go of my hand,” Nora said.
Felicia nodded and held on tight as they swooped down towards the grass growing around the aspens.
“There it is!” Hob exclaimed.
Nora reached out and swung the branch as hard as she could, then dropped it on the ground. They kept flying along the creek, almost touching the water as Felicia heard screams behind them.
“Don’t turn around,” Hob said. “Just focus on those tall oaks up ahead.”
“I think that should take care of them,” Nora said. “At least, for now.” She glanced over at Felicia and smiled. “Fairies don’t like hornets. And the feeling is mutual.”
When they reached the oaks, Hob flew to the top of the nearest tree. “Do you see anyone?”
Nora glanced behind her. “No. I think we lost them.”
“Then, let’s go home,” Hob replied. “We need to find out what’s happened since we left. Fairies have always been a pain, but I’ve never had any chase us that far. And I didn’t like what they were saying.”
“What were they saying?” Felicia asked, realizing it had sounded like a foreign language.
“Let’s just say, you heard some very colorful Fae curses today,” Nora said. “I don’t think you’ll want to repeat any of them.”
Felicia nodded and smiled as they flew back down to the creek and across the next meadow. From up here, she could make out every flower and they were all beautiful.
Be sure to check each week for the next part of the story!