4. Mother Knows Best
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Balin’s mother, Catalina, stood before a wooden pail filled with water and beside a tall stack of glazed clay dishes. In the reflection of the water, the image of a willowy woman with dark sable skin shimmered upon its sparkling surface. A young man appeared at the doorway. It was her son Balin.

“Where’s Balan?” she asked her son as he entered the simple, unornamented house. She was scrubbing away at some dishes with a rag.

“He’s with Lady Viviane,” Balin responded as he kissed her on the cheek.

His mother did not reply. She seethed as she continued scrubbing.

“They’re playing with her dirty pets again,” Catalina muttered to herself with a scowl.

Balin began hopefully searching about the house for some one-and-a-half-inch gears that may be laying around on the floor somewhere. He peered under the dining table, behind the weapon racks, and in the straw-stuffed bed boxes which they slept in. Maybe, just maybe, he had dropped one or two around the house by accident.

“It’s beautiful,” he went on, unaware of his mother’s growing rage. “It’s like a tiny Glastonbury Tor filled with mice, rats, hamsters, squirrels—black, red, and grey!—oh, and even dormice!”

His mother muttered something Balin didn’t catch before scrubbing harder.

“And there was this sword, stuck in a stone,” Balin continued. “Me and Balan tried to pull it out but it didn’t move. Lady Viviane tried too but she couldn’t do it. I’ll bet Arthur could do it—”

She threw the dish down, shattering it on the floor. Balin froze, then look up at his mother. Her fists were clenched, and her eyes were bloodshot with fury.

“That’s King Arthur to you, boy,” she chided him. “Do not take the young king’s friendship for granted. If his father were alive, you’d be dead as a doornail today, boy! You’re on thin ice as it is with him what with the stupid, stupid murder of his cousin. Do not ruin this for your brother. Do not ruin this for us!”

Balin stood there in shock, backing up from his mother.

“I don’t want you hanging out with her anymore!” she shouted as she approached, crunching upon the broken dish as she did. “Same goes for your brother for that matter!”

Balin shook his head, which was responded to with a tight slap from Catalina.

“Do you hear me, boy?!” Catalina screamed at the boy holding his hot cheek. “Balan will find himself a lovely Northern gal to marry someday. Not some witch! Not some…. pagan witch that plays with rats!”

Catalina grabbed the boy by the ear, pulling it side-to-side.

“Do you hear me?!” she screamed directly into it.

“But mother,” he rebutted. “Aren’t…?”

Catalina’s eyes widened. She tilted her head as she pulled Balin’s face closer to hers by his ear.

“What?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Balin said sheepishly.

“No, go on then! Spit it out!” she shouted. “What were you going to say, boy?!”

Balin gulped. He thought against it, but then decided to finish his line of questioning.

“Aren’t you a witch?” he asked. “I mean, not a witch witch. Like a witch doctor? Right?”

“I!” she screamed as she squeezed Balin’s ear as hard as she could. “Am a Priestess!”

Balin yelped in pain. Catalina released her grip, and wound up her leg

“And you,” she continued as she sent her foot forward. “Are daft!”

She kicked him, sending him flying across the room and shattering a small table that used to hold up a vase of flowers. Her eyes glowed white with an intense heat, and her fingers crackled with energy.

“Get out of my sight!” she continued. “How dare you call your mother a witch!”

Balin ran out the front door.

“Your own mother!” she screeched. “You’d call her a witch?!”

Balin ran for the hills.

Catalina picked up the wet rag and a white dish, and continued to scrub away furiously, muttering to herself as she did.

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