Magic Appreciation Tour author Katharina Gerlach is back on the blog with an excerpt from her Treasures Retold tale, The Stepmother—Cat’s shot at crafting an alternate perspective on the Brothers Grimm classic Little Brother, Little Sister. If re-imaginings capture your imagination, you’ll definitely want to take a gander at what she’s got to share.
I stumbled over some roots again and had to straighten my heavy backpack once more. The Old Forest was never nice to visitors, and I was no exception despite my skills. If I’d had the money to spare, I would never have tried to pass through it on foot. Only a chariot, preferably a steam engine chariot, provided the necessary speed to evade its dangers. Since Ellie and Tobi had left without money, I didn’t think they would be in Bergia, the northernmost kingdom of this continent. However, after searching the other countries for more than three years without a trace of my children, I had decided to pay Bergia a quick visit. It wasn’t such a big kingdom, after all, and since I was born there, I knew my way around. I wouldn’t take more than a few weeks to search it.
But tracking through the Old Forest was arduous. Now, it assaulted me with thirst – again. My mouth went dry and my throat felt parched. I took no notice of the clear spring in the moss and stumbled on. Behind me, the bubbling spring called out to me, and my thirst intensified. I would not let it win. I’d seen what water like this did to the unsuspecting traveler and didn’t fancy living my life as an animal. When the urge to drink finally left me, I looked around for a dry place where I could spend the night. It wasn’t much farther to Bergia, but night was falling early in autumn, and it was impossible to navigate the Old Forest safely during the night. I would never be able to evade the puddles of magic that still lingered here.
I found a small clearing, barely more than a hole ripped into the canopy by a fallen tree. The root plate sheltered me against wind and malevolent forest creatures, and the branches of the dead tree provided me with more than enough firewood. Soon I had a soup bubbling over a nice fire, and my bedding was spread on a pile of dry leaves with my backpack stored beside it. I had dug a hole somewhere to the side that I would use as privy. Just when I was about to turn to my backpack to take out the machine, I heard someone sing. Was that Ellie? It couldn’t be. No matter how mad Ellie had been with me, she wouldn’t be so stupid to enter the Old Forest, or would she? I swallowed my fear, unhooked the lantern from my pack, lit it and followed the sweet voice.
I had not walked far when I noticed the unicorn. It stood beside its pool, the horn raised to the full moon that slowly crept higher, and sang. Every note of its clear voice made the surface of the water shiver. It was already glowing with power. I hurried back to my pack to fetch a glass vial. Unicorns, and maybe fairies, were all I would miss when science finally ousted magic. With that frame of mind, I was most likely the most science-oriented witch in the world. I did not mind using the power but my life was easier without, and I was glad it was fading from the world. Some countries didn’t have any magic left at all. In my opinion, it was for the best. Magic was a double-edged sword. Of course, a skilled witch could do much good, or much evil if so inclined. However, the power was restricted to those with the talent and usually complicated the lives of those it touched. Magic had cost me so much, too much, and I was not just talking about my missing left pinkie. I was glad to see magic go. I’d take science any day – with a few exceptions. Like water from a unicorn’s pond, for example.
When I returned to the pool, the animal was drinking. I waited until it left to inspect its part of the Old Forest before I hurried to the edge of the pond. Very carefully I scooped water into the vial. I made doubly sure to keep my fingers away from the surface. I didn’t want the unicorn to die next time it drank. However, I filled the vial to the brim. Water from a unicorn’s pond was the rarest and strongest of medicines. Magicians had called it the ‘Water of Life’ – which overdid it a bit, but it could really heal people on the brink of death. When I had plugged the vial, I walked back to my cozy corner and settled down.
After I had wrapped the vial in a soft cloth and stored it in a safe place in my backpack, I took the machine from its protective casing and set it up. It was a marvel, the only piece of technology I knew that combined science and magic in perfect balance. By now, the full moon shone brightly through the wound in the canopy. A small emerald set into the machine’s side caught its light and sparkled. I could have used the gem to buy all the comfort I’d been missing. The fortune it was worth would have lasted a lifetime of traveling. Unfortunately, I would never be able to dismantle my machine. It was the last connection to my beloved Daniel. He built this machine – with my help, of course, since he was no wizard.
Finally, the glow from the emerald lit up the crystal ball that formed the top of the machine, and a face in shades of gray appeared in the misty glass. I provided the color myself. Brown hair, doe-like eyes, and the lightest tan – that was what Daniel had looked like before his death.
“Have you found them yet?” Daniel’s voice still reminded me of the smoky smell of his business, but his hair held no ash, and his face was free from the smudges of charcoal that always clung to him in life.
“I am nearing the Bergian border,” I said, trying to sound optimistic. Already I felt the machine drain my life energy. It hurt. However, the loss of the children and the loss of Daniel were worse. The machine only caused my body pain; the loss of my family murdered my soul. Still, the longest I had been able to withstand the pain was ten minutes. I set the running time to a much shorter span these days, but I just couldn’t stop talking to Daniel. He deserved to know. Also, I couldn’t live without seeing his face. It made it easier to bear the fact that I’d never be able to touch him again.
An imaginative retelling of Little Brother, Little Sister by the Brothers Grimm. What if they painted the wrong picture of the stepmother?
Even with her powers as a witch, Isabel cannot find a trace of her stepchildren. Desperate, she crosses the Old Forest, filled with as much malignant as benevolent magic, to reach the distant mountain kingdom she left as a young girl when her magical powers manifested. She soon realizes that a sinister creature holds the unsuspecting kingdom in thrall. It will take all she’s able to give to save her children and the kingdom she once loved.
About Katharina Gerlach
Born and raised German with a generous helping of an adopted Scottish heritage, Katharina started writing at age seven (although she didn’t get serious until much later) when the tomboy adventures she lived in her father’s forest weren’t enough for her imagination any more.
Writing about balloon people, flying hearts, giant spiders, and more was her lifeline to sanity and Real Life™ all through her education. After finishing with a PhD in science, marriage and the start of a beloved but distracting family, she returned to her life-long vocation.
These days, Katharina lives for stolen moments of writing happiness in two languages while juggling her husband, two girls in puberty, a fledgling daughter that just left the house, a dog, and … laundry.
The easiest way to keep up with her publishing schedule is by leaving your eMail address with her (you’ll get a free eBook as a thank you). Or you can have a look at her amazon page or her homepage. She’s also on Facebook, Pinterest, and (occasionally) on Twitter.