Fairy tales can offer hope of release from uncomfortable situations – they can allow us to escape a difficult present and imagine fresh possibilities. Join Tanya Motiani as she follows Emberlyn on a riveting journey.
— June Alexander
If the chilled chanting is not enough to terrify you, the putrid smoke that gropes the air is, for it bespeaks of devilry in its most evil form – of vile potions and despicable curses. Dwelling in a ramshackle treehouse amid the hunched branches of an ancient elm, the wizard concocts something mysterious and gruesome, the words of his incantation befouling the air. This is Ezekiel, resident wizard, and a threat upon all who dare draw near.
By Tanya Motiani
The Village of Ease nestles snugly on the edge of an enchanted wood. Elms and evergreens create a natural border betwixt the village and the wood and the dwellers of the Village of Ease – known locally as the Village of E – have prospered in elf-enchanted exuberance for nigh on 100 years. Until six months ago, the woods were bestowed with the name of Elvesbrook, on account of the mystic elves that dwell therein – tiny elves as small and delicate as a thumbnail. But nowadays, the woods are more aptly referred to as Ezekfoul and are presided over by the evil wizard Ezekiel. No longer are the woods a place to frolic and play. No longer are the woods a place of enticing excitement. No longer are the woods a place of harmonious peace. Darkness replaces light and evil lurks menacingly within.
Emberlyn knows better than to leave the relative safety of the Village of E. Nobody dares enter the woods since the Fog of Sadness invaded their homes six months ago, taking the lives of many. Emberlyn’s own parents, Ewan and Enid, perished with the arrival of the fog, their sadness over the loss of their second child – stillborn – amplified by the evil force of the enveloping fog. Conjured by the wicked wizard Ezekiel, the fog is fabricated from the foul vapours that rise from the stagnant swamp in the heart of the woods and is further poisoned by the eelsots, earwogs and emutes that slither, crawl and swim therein. The vapour seeps under doorframes, drizzles down chimneys, and curls and swirls its way into cracks in the very walls unless you stopper all access into your home. Symptoms range from slackjaw to creasebrow, to droopeye and yawnslog as the recipient becomes overtaken with unfathomable wretchedness and despair.
However, now alone in the world at the tender age of 12, Emberlyn must fend for herself, or she too will perish from grief. Why she does not succumb to the intrusive Fog of Sadness herself is anyone’s guess – perhaps she is enchanted in some way, since her delivery into the world has been aided by elves when her mother Enid struggled through labour. Emberlyn does indeed feel charmed, has always felt special, but now that her parents are dead, she grapples to find any joy in the world. She can almost sense the all-pervading sadness encumber her and she must fight to stay positive and optimistic in a world of developing darkness. Emberlyn knows that one’s sadness makes you weaker and less able to fight the Fog of Sadness should you be exposed to its treacherous powers, but how long can she battle with it? How long before she too succumbs to the overwhelming grief and despondency that took her parent’s lives?
Emberlyn had decided months ago that she would fight the Fog. And so, she has been training for the day when she might find herself on the other side of Ezekfoul where she knows the good witch Elliana resides. If she could just get past Ezekial’s dilapidated treehouse, get past the swamp and find her way to the Valley of the Elves she could ask for the tonic to fortify her for the last part of her escape – the path to the good witch Elliana’s house. Mayhap together they could cast a spell that would destroy the Fog of Sadness once and for all. It would take courage and cunning. It would take fortitude and fearlessness.
With the first signs of sadness descending hopelessly upon her, Elliana struggles to eat. No longer can she roam the forest with friendly elethumps and elkbraves foraging for food. And the lack thereof, in combination with her grief over her parents, weakens her. She needs that tonic, and she needs the good witch. She also needs the help of the elethumps and the wise counsel of the elkbraves. And if she doesn’t embark on her journey soon, she will be lost beyond salvation.
Wrapped about the face with a self-fashioned scarf to prevent herself from inhaling the woeful fog, it is close to midnight one eerie night when Emberlyn decides to make her move. Since the fog only comes during the day, Emberlyn chooses the middle of the night to find passage through Ezekfoul. Riding on a trusty elethump, she can navigate the first part of her journey with relative ease. But when she approaches the wizard’s hut and the filthy swamp, fear and trepidation threaten to overcome her. “I have practiced for this very day” she chides herself, “I am strong and resilient”. Just then she hears the vague mutterings of Ezekiel – clearly, he is making an incantation as he stoops intently over his cauldron, his crooked back and rag-clad body almost an apparition in the murkiness. Emberlyn watches, disgusted, as the wizard adds the tail of an eelsot, the pincers of an earwog and the beak of an emute, before opening a canister of foul-smelling vapour and stirring it into the mixture with his wand. So, this is how he conjures the Fog of Sadness, thinks Emberlyn. From a stinking, bubbling cauldron of the most vile of ingredients!
It is time for the manoeuvre she has practiced so long and so tiresomely with the elethumps and, sliding forwards, she knots herself into a tight ball and lets the elethump wrap its trunk constricting around her frail body. Making sure she does not inhale the noxious vapours, she lightly taps the end of the elethump’s trunk and waits with trepidation to be hurled across the swamp and out of the wizard’s reach. Closing her eyes tightly, she prepares herself for flight and before she can say “Ezekiel from Ezekfoul” she lands with a thud on the far side of the swamp, out of Ezekiel’s line of sight and to relative safety. Success!
She travels on foot the rest of the night, edgy and alert for signs of pursuit. Gradually her environs begin to change. Gone are the leafless, lifeless trees on Ezekiel’s side of the woods. Gone are any signs of the Fog of Sadness as day breaks. Emberlyn slowly brightens as she realises that she has entered the Valley of the Elves, the same elves that helped deliver her as a baby, the same elves she credits for keeping her alive, despite her grief. The burbling of Elvesbrook draws her onwards and in due course she comes to a clearing. Here she watches as dozens of tiny elves drop buckets, no more than the size of thimbles, into the clear, blue water and draws them up and on to the bank where other elves wait to siphon the pure waters into lidded canisters. These are the tonics of rejuvenation that Emberlyn seeks, potions that could strengthen her immunity for the last part of her journey to Elliana, the good witch. Upon her approach, several of the elves cluster around the hem of Emberlyn’s gown, tugging mightily to draw her attention. Upon bending down, Emberlyn is offered a dozen of the canisters to drink and finds their contents soothing and sweet upon her tongue. She thanks the tiny magical creatures before asking for directions to the witch’s house.
As she journeys onwards, Emberlyn discovers her spirits are somewhat restored. Although she feels lighter and more at ease than she has for six months, she now faces an even greater challenge. It is one thing to have conquered her own passage through the Fog of Sadness but quite another to eliminate it from the woods altogether. And yet, for the safety and future of the Village of Ease, this is precisely what she must do. Fortified with grit and determination, Emberlyn all but marches onwards, stopping only now and then to shut her eyes for ten minutes before resuming her rapid pace – for who knows what is creeping and slithering in her wake or what evil vapours are in pursuit.
Miraculously, just as Emberlyn is starting to flag and lose all hope of ever finding Elliana, the trees part and within stands a flower-bedecked abode, evening primroses and everlasting daisies adorning its windowsills, roof line and chimney. In fact, the whole house oozes vitality and life and so overcome is she that Emberlyn sinks to her knees in gratitude. At last, she has arrived, at last she is safe, at last here is an answer to her most fervent prayer – that the Village of Ease be forever more protected from that dastardly wizard Ezekiel.
When Elliana welcomes Emberlyn into her house, the latter swoons. Here is a house filled with light and love, and here is help in the form of the beautiful, good witch Elliana. She suddenly realises what she has been missing these six long months. After tea and maple biscuits, Elliana and Emberlyn begin to make plans. First, Elliana explains, Emberlyn will have to live with her for as many months as she has been grieving – six to be precise. In that time Elliana will teach her about healing tinctures and fortifying tonics, about spell making and casting, about how to make your own enchanted empowered wand, and much more besides. It is to be a time of gentle but powerful guidance and lessons in the lore of witchcraft.
A full six months passes happily for Emberlyn. Here she feels safe at last. Here she feels the love she has been missing since her parents died. And here she knows lies the answers for how to save the Village of Ease from further hardship. But it is going to take a spell of gigantic proportions. It is indeed going to require Elliana and her new apprentice – Emberlyn – to work together and use their collective cunning to trounce Ezekiel and rid the land of the Fog of Sadness once and for all. Together the two concoct a most potent spell. With each stroke of their respective wands, Elliana and Emberlyn spell out the words of the enchantment, watching carefully as each word floats into the air, towards the besmirched swamp, and into the wizard’s ramshackle treehouse. Their wording serves to encapture and enfold the wizard in goodness and purity, elements he is unaccustomed to, and which squeeze the life out of him, such is their inherent virtue. Without his incantations, the swamp is transformed into a bubbling brook once more, and all eelsots, earwogs and emutes shrivel and die.
The forest takes on its former glory and its former name also, Elvesbrook.
I live in Geelong, Australia, with my husband and my pet cat, Oxford. Having recently resigned from my part-time job as an assistant kindergarten teacher, I now work as a nanny. In my spare time, I like to meditate, write, read, watch old movies, walk in nature, cook and birdwatch. My favourite place to be is at home, often with a candle lit to induce feelings of peace and contentment. I am enjoying my nannying jobs as I feel there is now purpose and meaning to my life, helping out parents and making small humans happy! Through my pastimes, I seek to improve my wellbeing as I continue to suffer both from the grief of losing my father two years ago as well as a deeply entrenched eating disorder. I use the craft of writing as a therapeutic tool through which I might understand, and ultimately resolve, these issues.