Soft melodies came from the Longhurst palace in the morning. The piano melody was so soothing that it elevated the mood of all servants and every person who heard it.
Ralph had appointed one of the best maestro of piano playing in the region to teach his beloved daughter. Theodora was taking piano lessons for five years. It was believed prestigious for elite women to learn at least one musical instrument.
Ralph chose piano for her because that was his favourite musical instrument.
Every Wednesday and Thursday, Theodora took her lessons, and those were Ralphs favourite mornings.
Theodora sat with a straight back, maintaining her aura. Her long slender fingers danced on the black and white keys skillfully. Bertha stood at some distance, enjoying the music just like everyone else.
Theodoras teacher, a man in his late fifties, sat beside her. His eyes were following her fingers keenly.
The abrupt ringing sound of the wrong key spoiled the mood and every face which heard the wrong key soured.
”Theodora, what happened? ” The tutor asked with scrunched brows.
Theodora stood up, and before the man could understand anything, she kicked the huge piano with her sandals.
Bertha, who was standing not far away, gasped loudly.
The tutor was known as a short-tempered man with wholehearted dedication for his skills. He also stood up in rage after watching his student insulting the piano, which was no less than a god.
”THEODORA!!! ” His voice thundered, reverberating all around the place.
Hearing the tutors loud voice Ralph, Cordelia and Zerith came running to see what made him angry.
Theodora did not like the way the tutor raised his voice at her. Not even her father had ever done that with her.
”Do NOT raise your voice at me! Do not forget who you are talking to!! ” The nostrils of her long nose flared as she glared at the man with her hazel eyes.
”Theodora! What happened? ” Ralph walked further into the room.
Seeing everyone gathered around, Theodoras mood spoiled.
They all waited to hear her explanation. Cordelia passed a sideway glance at Bertha to see her as lost and confused as her.
”I broke my nail. ”
A still silence befell in the room at her statement.
”Is that why you pressed the wrong key and then kicked this piano? ” The tutor narrowed his eyes at her.
”Yes. This stupid thing ruined my efforts of an hour that I spend shaping and taking care of my nails. And now they do not look good! ” She frowned with a sad face.
Bertha and Zerith shared a meaningful look. That was so typical of Theodora.
For her, nothing really mattered. Let the kingdoms engage in the wars, let the people die in hunger and poverty, let the world turn upside down… she did not care.
All she cared about was herself, her looks, her name, her likes and dislikes, her arrogance and pretty much everything that involved her name.
”Theodora! You created all this fiasco just for your one nail?!! I can not believe you sometimes. How dare you speak with your tutor in that disrespectful way? Apologise to him! ”
Cordelia was always concerned for her daughter. She did not like a single thing that the woman had become. And she blamed it all on Ralph. If only he acted like a responsible father and had not spoiled her with excessive love, then her little girl would have become someone better.
”What are you saying mother? You want me to apologise to him? ” Theodora looked at her mother as if she had grown two horns on her head.
”Yes! I want you to apologise to your teacher. ” Cordelia affirmed.
Ralph cast a disapproving glance at his wife. Why did not she understand that Theodora was Ralph Longhursts daughter? She had the highest social status on the island, and thus she did not need to do apologise to people who held lower social status than her.
At such times, Theodoras only weapon was her father. She turned to her father and walked towards him.
”Father say something. Mother just does not miss a chance to humiliate me in front of people. I am not going to apologise to him because I have done no wrong. ” Theodora declared.
Her tutor, who was being patient all this time, saw a golden opportunity to quit the job. He was faded up by Theodoras tantrums and the insults she threw his way in every lesson. He himself could not believe how he spent five years with this rich spoiled brat.
But now he was done… done for good!
”Lord Longhurst, pardon me if I am crossing my line but if she is not going to apologise then I have no interest in continuing her training. ”
Cordelias eyes widened in shock. She knew after how many difficulties Ralph managed to find the appropriate tutor for their daughter. Nobody was ready to take a job because of Theodoras negative popularity.
”You are overreacting! ” Ralph finally opened his mouth, and as expected, he opened it in defence of his daughter.
”I am overreacting, My Lord? Your daughter just kicked the very instrument she is learning for the last five years. For artists like us, our art and everything associated with it is as sacred as holy books.
I have tolerated my insults all these years, but I can not tolerate the insult of my art and my instrument! ” The tutor was not ready to listen to anyone.
He knew that Ralph would never let him leave his job for any other reason. He had tried that many times only to fail. So he had to grab this opportunity.
Ralph opened his mouth to say something, but Theodora did not let him.
”Father, I am also not interested in learning this shit. I do not need this tutor. ”
”Theodora what are you saying? And do not call it shit. You know how expensive that piano is! ” Now Ralph was angry at his princess.
Theodora rolled her eyes in annoyance. Her complete attention was concentrated on her broken nail.
”Father, stop pestering me and certainly stop throwing your unfulfilled wishes on me. I do not like sitting behind these four walls and learn piano or knitting or anything useless like that! ”
Ralph knew where this conversation was heading, and he did not like it. To avoid the topic, he turned his attention towards the tutor. Ralph tried everything in his power to make the tutor understand, but when the tutor compared the insult of the piano with the insult of Ralphs favourite sword, made Ralph understand him.
And that left him with no other option than to let the tutor go. Besides his daughter was no more interested in learning the piano.
The tutor left, and now Ralph was so angry that his eyes turned red.
”Theodora, you cannot sit idly. You must learn womanly skills before you get married. How is the man going to choose you if you do not know any of that? ” Ralph glared at her.
Theodora always found these conceptions of contemporary society senseless. A man should love the woman and vice versa. Where do these womanly skills come in between?
”I do not need a man who will accept me as his wife only because I know how to knit, do the gardening or play the piano. ” She pointed at the piano behind her.
”Instead, I want a man who will accept me for who I am. I want him to accept me unconditionally and provide me with everything that I need and demand. I want a lavish life with adventures and something with which I can prove myself.
I want to be on the top of that pyramid of power father! And for that, I need to learn things, see the outer world, experience the freedom! ”
The passion she had for freedom and power frightened Cordelia. She feared that if her daughter did not get what she exactly wanted, then she might destroy either her or others life.
”Enough! I have important things to be taken care of! ” With that said, Ralph slipped out of there.
But that infuriated Theodora even more.
”See! This is how he always ignore me and my wishes. He claims that he loves me the most but I doubt it. Sometimes I even think that if I am his real daughter or- ”
A slap landed on Theodoras face taking everyone by shock.
Bertha and Zerith could not do anything other than just watch silently. They had no right to interrupt.
Cordelias chest heaved up and down in anger. Only she knew how she restrained herself with only one slap.
”If you dare to say it one more time then… ” Cordelia pointed her finger at Theodora in a warning.
The mother and the daughter glared at each other, but as a wise woman, Cordelia walked away before the situation worsened.
Theodoras eyes met Zerith and Berthas, but before any one of them say a word, she stomped her way to her chamber while wiping her angry tears.
Gerald, Isabella and Oscar were ready for their next adventure. They had two bags packed and loaded on the mens shoulders. Filch was ready and comfortable in Geralds jacket pocket.
Oscar pulled out his wand from under his shirt after they reached the right place. He moved his wand while chanting a spell. He moved his hand in a circular motion, and soon a fiery orange circle appeared in the air.
As its circumference enlarged, a forest could be seen through it.
”Ready? ” Oscar asked the other two.
”As ready as I could ever be! ” Came Isabellas enthusiastic reply.
”I can believe we are doing this! ” Groaned Gerald.
Filch made a squeaking sound sending his excitement to them.
Isabella was the first one who entered through the portal, followed by Gerald. Oscar was the last one to go through it. As soon as they all disappeared inside the portal, it also disappeared.
The three of them landed on a forest ground at the other end of the portal, and then it also disappeared. They scanned their surrounding, hearing the chirping of birds and other forest sounds.
”So according to the details given by Reznor, we will find those mushrooms at the top of the that peak. ” Isabella told after five minutes of studying the whole area.
She pointed at the peak that looked far away from where they stood.
”That peak? Oscar you could have get us right there with your stick. ” Gerald groaned again.
Oscar cast him a displeased glare. ”It is a wand Gerald and not a stick! ”
”They look the same to me! ” Came Geralds dry reply.
Oscar shook his head in annoyance. There was no point in arguing with that man when he was in not a good mood.
”Even the magic has its limitations, Gerald. No power in this world is above that creator. ” Oscar said wisely.
Gerald rolled his eyes at him with bored expressions. ”Then what is the use in being one of the most prominent wizards of the magic world? ”
Saying that Gerald began marching his way to their destination. Oscar was about to argue with him, but Isabella held his hand.
”Let him be. You know how grumpy he becomes when he does not find a work interesting. ”
Oscar sighed. He had no idea that the boy he took under his wings years ago would one day make him speechless in the literal sense.
Half an hour later, the flat ground ended, and the hills welcomed them.
The Sun was burning heatedly in the sky. And even though they were walking through thousands of trees, the high humidity made them beg for water and rest.
”I cannot believe we are risking our lives for a pets favourite food! ” Gerald grumbled.
Here we go again! thought Isabella.
”Gerald stop complaining and be careful. You are already here and now there is no way back unless we get those mushrooms. ” Oscar chided him.
”Whose pet eats mushrooms? ” Gerald made a weird face.
”Well… Reznors does. ” Isabella shrugged her shoulders.
Gerald was so jealous of her that he thought she used her female card very well in such situations. Like right now, she was walking free of any burden carrying only a stick to use for support while climbing the heights.
And he and Oscar had to carry the heavy bags when he had no idea what they contained.
”Why don you carry this bag for a while you smartypants? ” Gerald finally spoke his mind.
Isabella turned around, raising an eyebrow at him. ”Gerald be a genteleman for once and show the chivalry. ”
That was her answer every time he asked her to take an effort.
”Chivalry has never been my virtue, Mrs Payne! ” He smirked, seeing the blush on her face.
Oscar cleared his throat but kept his mouth closed as he by now understood that whatever he said was as useless as the dust under his feet.
”Because you lack womans touch in your life! ” Isabella retorted back.
Gerald made a face as if he was seriously thinking about it.
”You are right! I do not have a single woman in my life then how am I suppose to instigate chivalry in me? ”
”Exactly that- Oh wait! Have you just ignored me? ” Isabella stopped when she realised the meaning of Geralds words.
”Erm… no. I just said the truth. Oscar do you know a single woman I am associated with? Of course other than Sylvia! ”
Filch, who was now on Geralds shoulder, laughed throwing his forelimbs in the air. Even Oscar had a hard time stifling his laugh.
Sylvias name always irked Isabella as she considered her potential competition in getting Oscar. Which was actually a ridiculous thing in Gerlads opinion.
He thought he understood Sylvia better than anyone else. That witch was not interested in anything other than acquiring power. She was only impressed with Oscar for his abilities, just like every other member of Malvadogar and even the magic world.
”Shut up Gerald! Before chivalry, you should care about the way you speak with people. Perhaps that is the reason no woman wants to associate herself with you. And now even Sylvia is avoiding meeting you! ” Isabella burst out laughing and resumed walking.
But Gerald fell silent. He wondered why Sylvia was avoiding meeting him. He would find it once he returned back to Malvadogar, and this time Hades could not stop him!
While trekking their way up the hill, they finally sighed in relief when plain ground greeted them. The forest ground was covered with dry leaves and twigs.
The sight looked so inviting that isabella was tempted to run and jump on the bed of dry leaves.
But Oscar sensed something odd.
With furrowed brows, he looked around at the lush green trees standing tall and calm. And then his eyes again fell on the bed of dried leaves ahead.
”Stop! ” He commanded, and the other two halted in their pace.
”What happened? ” Isabella asked, sensing the grave seriousness of his tone.
Gerald and Oscars eyes met, and a silent conversation passed between them. He followed Oscars gaze around the green trees and the bed of brown-yellowish leaves.
”Will anyone of you please tell me what is going on? ” Isabella hated the way they spoke through the silence like two wise gentlemen when she knew how dumb they could be at times.
Gerald picked up a stone. Throwing it into the air only to catch it again, he narrowed his eyes and hurled that stone on the bed of the dry leaves.
As soon as the stone hit it, they heard rustling sounds, as if something moved under that bed. The three of them took an alert stance, and Oscar had his wand pulled out immediately, ready to defend them.
But nothing happened for the next one minute. But by Geralds attempt, they have figured that it was not safe to walk ahead on that same ground.
Gerald looked around at the trees that were scattered all over the place. He walked towards the nearing one.
”Gerald be careful! ” Oscar warned from behind.
Gerald stopped at a hands distance from the tree, observing it keenly. To his human eyes, it looked harmless.
Filch made a squeaking sound sitting on Geralds shoulder.
”Come on pal! ” Gerald encouraged, bringing his shoulder near the tree.
Filch protested at first, but when Gerald was reminded of the bag of shiny gold coins, he lost it. The niffler clenched Geralds shirt tightly and slowly touched the tree trunk with its tail. Filch closed his eyes in anticipation of something bad, but when nothing happened, he became confident.
Making happy sounds, it then slowly touched the tree with its limbs only to hump on it later.
”Its safe! ” Gerald smiled, turning his head back to Isabella and Oscar as they both sighed in relief.
Their relief was short-lived. Gerald moved his hand in the air, blowing air with his mouth on it.
”Gerald! What happened? ” Isabella was the first one to run to him.
She took his hand in hers, and her eyes widened in shock to see his burnt skin.
Geralds face contorted in pain as he looked at the tree. He did not understand what happened when he touched it even though Filch still sat on it harmless.
”Don touch these trees. They must be poisonous for humans and perhaps for wizards too. ”
Gerald, Isabella and Filch gave Oscar a glare to which he only shrugged his shoulders. ”What? I do not want to get the same burn. ”
Gerald rolled his eyes at him. Isabella pulled out a handkerchief from the pocket of her pants. Yes, she was not only a theif but was also a woman who was no less than a cultural shock for that society as she always wore Oscars clothes.
Nobody blamed her as they knew how convenient those clothes were for her, especially when she had to finish a mission given by Reznor or other witches and wizards of the Malvadogar.
She wrapped Geralds wound with it for the time being as she did not want it to get worse.
”What are we going to do now? ” Isabella asked, looking first at the trees surrounding them and then at the bed of leaves sprawled on the entire ground.
”I think we should take another route? ” She then suggested.
”No way! ” Both men said in unison. Isabella scowled at them while Filch only facepalmed itself.
”It took us a lot of efforts to find the right route. There is no way we are taking another one and stuck in the middle of nowhere. ” Gerald argued.
Oscar joined him but with a more logical argument. ”Besides, if this is the trap then it is obvious that one might take another route. What if it is also trapped like this or even worse? We do not have enough time and need to go back to Reznor with those mushrooms or he will cut on our rewards. ”
”Oh, God! Then what are we going to do now? ” Isabella groaned in frustration.
”That… I do not know. But first I want to see what lay underneath those leaves. ” Oscar said.
Isabella shook her head fervently to stop him. She always got frightened, when Oscar or Gerald and most of the time they both together called a danger their way.
It excites us and adds fun in life! They always said whenever she confronted them for it.
Before Isabella opened her mouth, Gerald had it covered with his good hand. Both men smirked, looking at each other, and Isabella knew that her efforts were futile, and now she only had to watch or run for her life.
Oscar moved his wand in the air, casting a spell that caused the whole bed of dried leaves to lift in the air only to disperse it around, clearing the sight in front of them.
And when they saw what was underneath, not only Isabella but also Gerald and Oscar had their eyeballs popped out of their skulls in shock.
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