The Witch, the Flower, and the Golden Goose by Guest Author, Jim Doran
It is my pleasure to present an excerpt of, The Witch, the Flower, and the Golden Goose, a Jorinda and Joringel retelling by guest author, Jim Doran. Mr. Doran is the author of the series, Kingdom Fantasy, and he also writes multi-genres shorts stories. He’s been published in the online magazine, Havok, and in the anthology, Moonlight and Claws. You can check out more of his work on his website, jimdorantales.com
The Witch, the Flower, and the Golden Goose
by Jim Doran
Magic flower in hand, Joringel traversed the Forest of Blood toward the witch’s castle. He strode forward, cut through the dense foliage of the woods, and climbed over fallen trees, making his way from one footpath to another. The malignant creatures of the area—illusionary chimera, bloodthirsty were-insects, and packs of dormadogs—never crossed his mind, so focused was he on a single goal—the rescue of the lovely Jorinda.
Every caw of a bird recalled Joringel’s parting with his sweetmate, and his pulse quickened when he thought of her fate and how her life hung in the balance. Only days before, fearing himself to be out of options, he had sat drinking in a wretched state in the Inn of Five, crying salty tears into his mead. But now, after acquiring the enchanted flower, only one pertinent question remained: would he arrive in time to save his beloved?
Joringel walked tirelessly through the long night and the morning of the next day, but soon after the sun reached its zenith, his pace slowed, and his eyelids drooped. Although his blood had raced with renewed vigor through his veins when he’d first seized upon the flower, exhaustion overtook him now. Joringel stumbled, lost his balance, and fell to the ground. He was a fool to think he would reach the witch’s dwelling without slumber, but Jorinda’s fate lay in his hands.
Fearing what the sorceress did with her captives, Joringel pushed away sleep’s feathery tendrils. If he delayed too long, the hag might kill her. Nevertheless, the determined lover blew leaves out of his mouth and whispered to himself, “I must reach her.”
But his depleted legs refused to obey any command Joringel gave them. A brief two-hour nap, he thought, and then he could continue his quest. He decided to sleep under a bush where the acrid scent of mold and soil filled his nostrils as he covered himself with the detritus of the forest. He then closed his eyes and succumbed to the peace of sleep until a sharp jab poked him in the ribs.
He sat up and the shrub’s branches clawed his face. Howling with pain, Joringel rolled from under the bush, spying two diminutive sprites—male and female—standing before him holding pointed sticks.
The woman turned to the man. “I told you he was not a bugbear.”
The male, thirty millimeters long with mint-colored skin, lowered his branch. “Why hide under the leaves then?”
Joringel, dazed by the abrupt awakening, scanned the sky. “Where is the sun?”
The female sprite’s skin tone matched her husband’s. She ran a hand through her straight, purple hair, which contrasted with her husband’s shade of red. “We have three hours of daylight left.”
“I have slept too long. I must be on my way. Leave me alone.”
“Where are you headed?” asked the male sprite.
“It is of no consequence to you, but my destination is the lair of a witch who has trapped my sweetmate.”
The male’s transparent wings fluttered with excitement. “Exactly what we were hoping for!”
The woman sprite crossed her arms. “I do not think so. Let us leave the gentleman on his quest and continue on our way.”
“But what stories it will make for our children!”
Joringel had no idea why he didn’t leave the creatures at once, but something about these sprites made him pause. On the scale of respect in Kingdom, sprites took their place somewhere lower than feral cats but above mosquitoes. However, Joringel had a soft spot in his heart for sprites, and he had to admit, if this creature hadn’t poked him, he might have slept longer. “If you have children, do not follow me. My quest is dangerous.”
The female fairy floated within centimeters from his nose. “We have no children as of this moment. I am Basil. My husband is Gnow. We are on our honeymoon.”
Joringel brushed burrs from his shirt. “In the Forest of Blood?”
Gnow bobbed his head up and down while Basil tipped her head reluctantly. “It was his idea. My new husband is a bit foolhardy.”
“You are no doubt right.” Joringel hitched up his pants. “I would advise the Plains of Safe Passage. A much more pleasant environment.”
“Humans are not kind to us,” observed Basil. “And brutal predators of this forest do not concern themselves with small beings such as us.”
Gnow hovered in front of Joringel. “Let us come with you. We will not be in the way. We talk about quests in the tunnels of Faerie Forest where we live but never seem to experience one. I want to show my bride the abundant adventure outside our little corner of Kingdom.”
Basil scowled. “We will be in abundant pain if we follow this hapless gentleman.”
Joringel scratched his chin. The evil witch was known to cast spells to immobilize her victims. What if she froze him as she had the first time he had met her? Wouldn’t he be better off if he had allies who could aid him if he encountered peril? Two sprites would not be much help, but they might be able to fetch someone to assist him. Or if he dropped the flower, they could pick it up and hand it back. “You may follow, but keep your distance. The witch is a cunning creature who would not be averse to having sprite stew for lunch.”
Basil’s forehead creased with worry, and Joringel wondered why an apparently normal creature would marry such a dullard of a husband. She was pretty for a sprite, too. Why Gnow?
The three companions traveled deeper into the forest toward the witch’s abode while avoiding the danger of other creatures. Gnow asked questions all along the way. “How do you know this witch has taken your beloved?”
Joringel slashed through the undergrowth. “I was there when the dreadful events occurred. My sweetmate and I were taking a daily constitutional while discussing our upcoming wedding. Thinking ourselves invincible because of our love, we strolled too close to the witch’s grounds, and she froze us with her magic. The hag transformed my lovely bride into a bird and put her in a cage, chuckling as she took her away. I did not regain motion until the sun dropped below the horizon.”
“Did you not then follow the witch?”
“The birds of the air told me to leave or remain still forever. I returned to a nearby inn and inquired of a method to defeat the wicked one. An adventuring party told me I should seek a powerful artifact to counteract her sorcery. A wizened mage suggested an enchanted flower from the forest.” Joringel withdrew the item from a pouch and showed it to the sprites. “This very one.”
The two sprites flitted around the blood-red flower. This species of plant had a white dewdrop-shaped center and a single healthy petal. Mesmerized, the small fairies examined the flower from different angles. “’Tis no ordinary flower. Was it easy to claim?”
The human tucked his flower back into a pouch. “That is another story.”
After a further hour, Joringel recognized his surroundings and knew the way. The sprites had to fly quickly to keep up with the man, and they nearly lost him in a thicket. Then the three travelers at last emerged onto a cleared field housing gardens of vegetables and spices. At the far end of the meadow, an imposing castle with green turrets rose to the height of the surrounding forest, itself emulating a sort of tree of the woods. A round, open door, resembling the maw of a massive creature, beckoned them forward.
Basil perched on a branch of an oak at the edge of the tree line and shaded her eyes with her hand. “I do not like this. Do you see the boy standing yonder?” A boy of about sixteen years of age wearing a wilted green hat and green leggings stood transfixed in the field.
“He is trapped by the witch’s magic, no doubt,” Joringel observed.
The three companions traversed the field and approached the motionless boy, who was holding a box. He blinked and squeaked, “Please help me. My body is immobile.”
Joringel eyed the box. “The witch has trapped you in a spell.”
“I saw her. She took my love.” A single tear fell from one of the boy’s eyes.
“Who are you?” Basil asked.
“I am known as the Simpleton, and my betrothed and I were on a walk. This box held a gift for my lovely cherub. I did not know I was trespassing. The witch turned my dear one into a bird and took her away.”
“I do not think these invisible bonds will release you until we defeat the witch,” Joringel said. “Fare thee well, Simpleton, and may fortune be on our side.”
The travelers continued toward the castle and entered, noticing the chirping of birds from a large chamber on their left. They followed the cacophony of squawks to a room with shelves and hooks displaying a menagerie of hundreds of caged avians, screeching to be released. The remains of a bowl of soup, bird bones placed next to it, sat on a table below the cages.
Basil’s attention went from the bowl to the cages. “She consumes them. She eats them in front of those imprisoned here.”
Gnow turned a different shade of green. “Horrible.”
Joringel scanned the cages. “My beloved is trapped in one of these containers, but which one? How can I tell?”
Before anyone replied, someone cried out from an adjacent chamber. Joringel sprinted and the sprites flew toward the room. Gnow arrived first, speeding into the chamber and emitting a squeak of deep surprise. As Basil and Joringel entered, Gnow passed them going the other way, hurtling toward the wall. Basil caught his arm and the two swung around like dancers twirling each other until they ceased spinning.
A circular chandelier holding five candles illuminated the room. The other occupant, a gray-skinned elf with a wart on her left temple and a turned-up nose, glared at the uninvited guests. The female elf’s eyes were entirely black, lacking pupils or irises. And while her weathered and aged face resembled that of a toad, her arms and hands were young as a woman in her second decade of life.
“How many fools will disturb me today?” she asked. “I sent my familiar away after I captured the maiden.” She examined Basil and Gnow. “I’ll grind your bones to spices and flavor my broth with the human’s blood.”
Joringel reached into his pouch and groped for the flower without averting his eyes from his grotesque enemy. He withdrew the plant and presented it as a hunter would present a crucifix to a vampire. He advanced on the witch with dire purpose, and his eyes danced with victory. At the sight of the enchanted bloom, the witch recoiled, pulling her shawl tightly around her. “Where did you get that?” she shrilled.
“I know you remember me and my beloved Jorinda. Tell me where she is or I will remove your power.”
The witch cackled, her wart wobbling with the motion of her head. “I cannot be expected to know the identity of all my birds.”
“You turned her into a nightingale, and she is the most beautiful bird among your collection.”
The witch spat at Joringel but missed. Her saliva sizzled against the ground and burnt a small hole in the stone. Basil flew toward the indentation and examined it. “Beware,” the sprite warned. “Her spit is like boiling oil.”
Joringel thrust forward the flower. “Where is she? What have you done with her?”
He and the witch locked eyes. Neither paid attention to the two sprites behind the young man. Sprites were, if tavern gossip was to be believed, the most ineffectual creatures in Kingdom. Basil whispered to Gnow, whose expression brightened, and he left the room.
The Witch, the Flower, and the Golden Goose continues at https://jimdorantales.com/witch-flower/