And so they waited, meditating, as each had done so many times before, on the moment their Three Hundred Years began.
As history wore on, in books of stories it began to be told that Greyclaw and Rainfeathers, Grimalkin’s gryphon familiars, nested in her skirts.
In fact gryphons do not nest. Being mythical creatures they need no physical shelter or place of rest – neither nest nor lair. What they do require is invisibility, to be obscured from the prying eyes of men, and Grimalkin’s magical skirts had provided this. A bargain is always struck between a witch and her familiars: their assistance – their company – in exchange for… Well, it could be many things. It could be power – her power allied with theirs. It could be invisibility, as in the case of gryphons. It could be as simple as food.
A cat, for example, is made of flesh and blood. She needs food, and the witch provides it. Any ordinary cat may pay for her food in trophy mice dropped on the doorstep, or in real or faked affection. A witch’s cat does the same, but with this sole difference – that she may carry her mistress’s essence from one reincarnation to the next. Felix-the-Cat and Robin-the-Redbreast – these alone of the animal kingdom are entrusted with the soul of a dying witch.
Then came the dreadful day when Matthew Hopkins, the self-styled Witchfinder General, moved into the County. At the age of twenty-five Hopkins was coming close to his own death, though not as yet aware of it, only of an occasional fever and the spitting of blood. Failing health only made him more determined to add to his execution-list. Increasing weariness made him cast around for proxy means of catching witches, and he was inspired, one day, with the thought that he could conserve his own energy by pitting one witch against another.
And he had the witch Thomasine, said to be the most powerful magician in the East. The woman had been languishing in a roach-infested cell in Chelmsford for some time, awaiting the coming of the Justice. Powerful, Hopkins estimated, but as scared of death on the bonfire as any other old woman might be. For the price of her life Thomasine proved ready enough to betray her sister witches, just as Judas betrayed Our Lord. For every visit to every town a fee of £20 plus expenses would accrue to Matthew Hopkins and his crew: some towns had to raise a special tax to pay for them. Hopkins still imagined, at the age of twenty-five, that he would be living long enough to savour his riches.
Grimalkin sensed them coming, thin-coughing-man, he of the black hat and buckled shoes, alongside Thomasine, whose energy signature was strong enough to be picked up miles off. Grimalkin warned the little gryphons, who instantly blended themselves into her skirts and adding their power to hers. Grimalkin knew she was fighting for her life, and focussed all her energies on leading the hunters astray or blocking their path.
The soundless spell-battle between the great witch Thomasine and the lesser witch Grimalkin was to last for many days. Both knew it was a battle to the death. If Thomasine won, Grimalkin would die. If Grimalkin won, Thomasine would find herself back in the cell, awaiting the Justice of the Assize at His Majesty’s Pleasure.
Many times, Thomasine and the Witchfinder found themselves lost in scrub or woodland that had not existed a moment before. Darkness fell when darkness ought not to have fallen. Hideous music surrounded the pair, maddening them and confusing their senses. At various times both Thomasine and the Witchfinder woke from a dreamless sleep they were unaware of having fallen into. At times, plagues of frogs streamed across their path and bats curved down in daylight to tangle in their hair.
But Thomasine was the more powerful witch by far, and after many a delay was to lead the Witchfinder to Grimalkin’s cottage by the river. Matthew Hopkins men arrived on horseback and Grimalkin was dragged away to await the Justice of the Assize. And the gryphons…?
Huddled together, dangerously exposed, they prayed for the soul of the Good Witch Grimalkin. They asked for a robin to alight at her barred cell window, or that the jailhouse cat might prove to be no ordinary feline. Matthew Hopkins failed to see the sibling gryphons, even without the protection of Grimalkin’s skirts, but the Witch Thomasine did. She laughed.
Three Hundred Years, she sneered. Three Hundred Years, my lion-lings, before you shall set eyes on each other again. Greyclaw shall fly North and Rainfeathers shall fly South; and when you land, my baby-eagles, you shall each be turned to stone for Three Hundred Years.