Fiction: A Lady's Prerogative Book II: Wounded Aerth - Part V by Brian Joseph Johns

Welcome to part V of A Lady's Prerogative II: Wounded Aerth. I've made some effort to perform much needed edits on this part, though there are likely still many slight errors and grammatical ambiguities that need attention. However, its far better than it was. I hope that you enjoy it.

Brian Joseph Johns 
April 26, 2024

If you're arriving here from the website or an external link and haven't read this book before, you might want to start from the beginning of the book.

Warning: This story deals with some mature situations. Reader discretion is advised.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Father Wilsen

The directions they had received from Belmar took them through a section of forest along a meandering trail that led to the Church building. The ground was pocked with sunlit patches as shafts of morning light pierced the canopy of the forest above them, illuminating the blanket of dirt and leaves beneath their feet. They strode the journey with anticipation, still used to the small travelling distances of their time. When they'd walked for more than a half-hour, Barris commented with his sharpened wit, though fueled by his obvious impatience.

"I thought we were in the city? I mean wouldn't Belmar setup his shop close to one? We've been walking for nearly an hour and based upon the directions of that Llama dung eating twirp..." Barris cussed under his breath out of frustration and the soreness of his feet.

"What are you babbling about!? If he had Llamas whose dung he could eat, we'd likely be riding them right now," Sato shot back at Barris.

"...and you're the expert on Llama riding now, are you? Mr. I've forgotten more of the world than you've experienced. Well I'd take riding a Llama any day over trouncing upon my tender feet another step!" Barris spoke anxiously, clearly on the edge of bursting.

"Honey, I think what Sato was saying is that to Belmar, the Church is a short distance. Most of these people either ride horses or are used to walking for miles to get to local establishments," Mila tried to comfort Barris, while acting as a mediator between the two.

"If you'd rather arrive at the Church on an old man's back, I can accommodate that, but I won't hear another gripe out of your mouth should you agree!" Sato responded sharply.

"I can't say I'm fond of any of those ideas. Relinquishing my right to gripe, going to a Church or arriving there with an old man as my steed, but I have to admit there's a kind of bizarre satisfaction to the idea, but only if you could carry both Mila and I at the same time," Barris replied a twisted smile on his face.

Sato only grunted in response to Barris' remark, while Mila innocuously giggled to herself at their antics, which in turn may have spurred them to more.

She'd once again found Barris' complaints much more amusing than Sato, who had all but lost his patience with Barris. Frustrated he marched on ahead of them to keep watch in case of danger. They were still in the midst of the sixteenth century during the high point of the Wytch hunt. He'd taken the situation a bit more seriously than his friends had, though Mila refused to let the stress get to her as it did little good for anyone to linger on it. She kept herself more aware that it was a risk and a fact at this time and that she'd have to be careful about revealing her aetheric talents as such.

Barris had been gravely concerned but his stance had changed much since his encounter with Belmar and though he remained optimistic, he hoped that every encounter they had could be solved with camaraderie rather than conflict. He could not do as much to protect her as she could him and his sense of helplessness had taken a toll upon him. In fact, it made him feel more a burden than anything.

Even Sato could have dispatched perhaps twenty assailants if need be, yet Barris could barely handle himself in a conversation. He wanted to be more than just a jester alongside a beautiful Princess. He wanted to be her Knight, albeit in lacklustre armour. He'd a long way to go in overcoming his own perceived short comings before he'd arrive, never really comprehending that his shortcomings were more illusory than real. Perhaps it was his belief that made them all the more concrete and fouled his step along the way. His sense of chivalry was not misplaced or even lost upon her, for she'd seen it all in everything that he did for her. Her love for him was without such condition and the limitations imposed upon him were of his own dreaming.

They arrived in a clearing atop a hill where the forest path spread to a road wide walkway. The first part was set with wood, a boardwalk of sorts with the planks being sunk at an angle to the ground and set into two joists so as to provide an edge for traction. Barris admired the simple ingenuity of it as had Sato before him. They'd often found common ground in their admiration for carpentry and woodwork and even more so for ingenuity. 

Where the wooden path ended, it began as a stone walkway which stretched for forty feet up to the front of the Church itself. The stone path was set with intricate engravings which once served as artisan craft and traction for parishioners and purveyors such as themselves. The Church though relatively small was a building of mixed stone and wood design that had been crafted by the best that Sharlesbury had to offer at the time by way of the skilled colonists. An arched double doorway ensured easy access to the services of the interior and from the outside it presented a well concealed treasure of period construction.

"Do you think this is it?" Mila asked with a slight hint of sarcasm.

"Either that or this is Quasimodo's home," Barris responded trying to make light of the situation.

Sato stepped back from the Church building and looked around from the outside before speaking.

"The question remains is anyone home?" Sato asked somewhat rhetorically, turning towards and smirking at Barris.

"As I said, Quasimodo? The Phantom Of The Opera?" Barris tried his best to pry a chuckle from Sato, failing miserably.

Barris smirked a little too, sticking his tongue out at him before stepping forward to the door and banging on it using the large steel knocker. The sound echoed throughout the interior and exterior spooking some birds from a nearby tree. They squawked at the disturbance as they flew skyward abandoning the tree from when they'd departed. Moments later the door opened revealing a man with a long beard and blood shot eyes who smelled of wine and body odour. He peered at them, all three from a head's width opening in the door.

"The service, it be on Sunday. Ye'll hear the bell if ye've ears for it. Ye be a few days early still." The man grumpily told them attempting to push the door closed.

"Wait! We have need of your services Father Wilsen. We were sent by Belmar. He told us you'd recall him by name. The stable hand? He sent these clothes up here for you... I mean ye." Barris was slightly set off by the lurid air coming from the man as he tried his best to charm his way in.

"Did he as much? Well he still owes me another stack and a case of wine that one does!" The man exclaimed grumpily.

"Wait! Father? Father Wilsen? May we seek refuge in... yeeeee-ooooo-uuuur Church? We've nowhere to stay." Barris attempted once again to brave the blast of wine thickened breath to get them a warm place to rest for the day.

"Nay be thine answer!" The man slammed the door shut leaving them in a sharply contrasting silence.

"Well that could have gone much worse." Barris said to Mila and Sato.

"How?" Sato responded.

"He could have spoken for much longer, in which case we'd all likely have been asphyxiated by his breath!" Barris spoke loudly hoping the bearded man had heard him.

"I seem to remember a time when you came in from a pub crawl not four months ago, smelling much worse!" Sato reminded Barris of his own travels as Mila eyed him inquiringly.

"Was that the time I woke up outside of the shop, on the front door mat?" Barris verified with Sato blushing red with embarrassment before Mila.

"Not quite as angelic as I thought." Mila said to him smiling and poking his side.

"Honey. It was a special night. A long time friend's birthday and a party for the job he'd gotten overseas. It was a send off for him." Barris responded trying to explain.

"Do you have any more secrets you'd like to divulge?" Mila asked him, still smiling at him very much having the upper hand.

The truth was she found it cute seeing him wriggle his way out of such situations, as he had quite a knack for it and comically so at that.

"Well. Now what?" Barris asked Mila first then looked over to Sato.

"I say we wait over there." Sato pointed to what looked to be a small park with wooden benches, a podium and a gazebo slightly tucked away from the Church.

The gazebo also contained benches wide enough so as to sleep upon if they had to. It was sheltered from the elements and discretely hidden away enough so for them to remain obscured for the time being without being in harm's way. At least so they hoped.

"This looks cozy enough, though I should have kept Father Grumpy's clothes for us to use as blankets." Barris smirked as he cleaned off a section of bench for him and Mila to curl up together.

"May your dreams be good ones." Sato told them as they curled up together.

"You too Sato." Mila said to Sato compassionately.

Barris was already asleep tucked behind Mila and pressed closely to her back as they shared their warmth. When they were sound asleep, the door to the Church opened and Father Wilsen popped his head out in the afternoon sun looking for signs of his earlier visitors. He heard snoring coming from the gazebo and he immediately knew where they were. He closed the door once again returning moments later with a handful of blankets and a basin filled with water and a small serving of bread. He made his way out ot the gazebo silently and blanketed each of the sleeping visitors, leaving the water and bread on the only free bench in the gazebo, covering the bread so the birds didn't make off with it. Then he snuck back into the Church and closed the door, returning to his sorrows.

Since the incident five years earlier his life had changed a great deal in Sharlesbury and in the settled country. The strangers with their wytch hunting plans had begun training others about the great Wytch hunt and the madness had overtaken the land. The hunters had used the murder of the Widow Tanara Milaise as the choke point for the involvement of his congregation and his representation of the Church. Since that weary night the town had seen more than two dozen set down to their graves, guilty of Wytch craft. He'd known the apothecare Melinda Heyes to be a self confessed practitioner of the arts for which many had been murdered, and he worried for her night and again. Since that night he'd not spoken with the school administrator nor had she sought him out for explanation. Their friendship bond lost amidst the confusion and injustice of the hunt.

He'd stopped watching the night sky and mapping of features on the moon with his spyglass, instead having taken up the bottle. He'd sometimes even dip into the wine reserves in the cellar of the Church. Most of his week was spent in a drunken stupor as he fought with the demons of guilt in regard to the loss of Widow Tanara Milaise. She'd been felled by the first Wytch hunters in Sharlesbury who'd then handed the instrument of death to him, pulling it from her still dying body. It was how and where the great hunt started and he'd been its symbolic figurehead for the first year until he too was cast aside to bare the load of their crimes. Vilified both by the perpetrators and the victims alike.

He'd seen it grow out of jealousy and hatred and conflict between farmers of the land. One bad year of crops for one farmer might mean an accusation against the wife of another for the practice of Wytch craft. It started that way and then grew from there, fueled by jealousy. People of Sharlesbury and elsewhere looking to hide their sins on others and not wanting to change their ways, might charge someone with Wytch craft, sharing in the handsome paid bounties the hunt drew as well. If the accused were found guilty they'd be put to death and the sins of the accuser would be those of the deceased Wytch. It soon grew to epic proportions and had become a franchise in all of the most civilized places in the settled lands of the colony. The means by which some of the colony could absolve themselves at the cost of the lives of other citizens of the colony. Sometimes it was even a means by which the hunters could obtain the land and possessions of the accused. In essence, taking over the entire lives of those they'd murdered, leaving a dark and hidden history as a burden for generations to come.

Father Wilsen had known for some time that there were good practitioners of the craft who'd used their abilities for healing, such as Melinda Heyes. She'd explained to him that there were others possessed of craft powers, who'd use their's for wicked things. She told him that the Wytch hunters would hunt others for different reasons altogether. The bad practitioners of the craft might fan the flames to keep folks vigilant while the hunters would close in on innocent people for the wrong reasons. They'd be taken as substitutes for the deeds of the hunters themselves. The truth was that it was much more complicated and sinister than Melinda had even imagined. The hunt was a crime of opportunity. A genocide for profit.

Melinda, who'd been different her whole life and who'd discovered her affinity for the gift of the weave from a young age pursued life on a path not like that of her friends. She felt much different from other people her age and often felt like a woman without limits, the limits imposed upon many fifteenth century women, as she'd been born with an attitude that had given her the courage not to accept the limitations that society had imposed upon her. 

She had also found herself attracted to women, other women both romantically and sexually. During that day and age such behaviour was completely unacceptable unless you possessed the money and position in life to protect yourself from those who'd scrutinize you for such activity. There were sympathizers and they'd made life for such people much easier than it might be, though it was still far from freedom or equality. The truth at that time was that freedom and equality did not exist for most people. Such freedom and equality was kept and protected through the secrecy of immense trust and bond. Women like Melinda were certainly victims of the hunt, but they were not the only victims. Anyone with secrets, criminal or not were vulnerable. For the hunters, that was their real prey. Those with the ability to think and reason freely enough to escape the grip of control and upset the hierarchy of things in that day and age.

The colonies though having to answer to both the growing union between Parliament and Crown, was decidedly progressing towards the rule of representation. A rule where through local elections the people had the power to choose their representatives, the first of which would be the local Mayors of each township.

These Mayors would answer to the colony administrators who kept in contact with the Parliament back in Europe and the Crown who would provide the colony with resources, both human and material as required. This was part of their initial investment in the colony that would be repaid via real estate deals and trade tariffs.

Many of the colonists had left Europe for the opportunity of being able to define their own future, perhaps fleeing the wars fought between the Parliamentarians and the Crown, seeing only compromise rather than conflict between the two groups that would undoubtedly take a long time to settle the future of their country.

The colony was a fresh start and a means to remedy the mistakes of the past. The possibility to own one's own plot of land rather than being an occupant on the land of a Lord. The farmers would not have to spend more than two hundred hours per moon in hard labour in order to pay the rental price for such land and living space. Instead they would need to work their land in order to survive and prosper. The biggest difference being that they were now partners of the state rather than the exploited workers of wealthy land owners.

With this opportunity also came the chance to create a land with fair and just laws that protected the people rather than to control, contain and exploit them. The seeds of great revolution had been sewn across Europe and despite the fact that there had already been many years of war, many of those who left for the promise of the colony believed that the violence and upheaval was only beginning. Most of those who'd left for the colony were not warriors but families of skilled trades persons and farmers seeking to escape the violence that often destroyed the fruits of their labour. This was another chance to begin again amidst a land absent of conflict.

To those who'd stayed behind, the colonists were abandoning their own country. They were escaping the fight for the rights for which they so longed. Leaving others to do their dirty work and to get their hands bloodied taking the lives of others to earn a freedom and system of Governance that would progress the country as a whole. The colonists instead of doing the work to change their own country were going somewhere else and starting the same problems all over again. Where their children would have to fight the battles from which their parents ran.

The colonists saw that fight as a never ending conflict that would not find resolve. Those who loved conflict would stay behind and get exactly what they wanted. Those who didn't choose the never ending conflict would leave and pursue a means to survival by the natural way of things, which many believed to be the ultimate expression of a God or Goddess. They would contend with the struggles that nature herself threw at them. The laws of the colony would be gradually malleable through the representation of the Mayors, and the Colony Administration. The Church would also have say in these matters but for the first time in history, only as constituents themselves. Superstition would no longer be woven integrally into law, and faith would become a matter of personal choice. Many of the pagans and pariahs of yesteryear would finally find peace and a way of life amongst the peace loving. That was the promise of the colony and what attracted them to the new beginning.

Melinda having found herself being pressured by a society not willing to accept her as herself was often in conflict until she'd found that her gift had given her the ability to quickly heal others. Either using recipes or remedies she'd concocted from natural plants and herbs or from a natural energy she seemed to possess. Once she'd discovered her ability and its profoundly compassionate effect upon society she'd become comfortable with herself rather than fearing others. She owed no explanation to anyone for her sexuality though she chose to keep it quiet to protect others as much as herself.

Her live in partner, Bethel, who'd help her manage the apothecary had remained secret for three years after the hunt had started. It was during the height of a particularly bitter feud between one of the senior members of Sharlesbury, in fact one of its councillors and the local Wytch hunter guild that she was exposed though not as Melinda's lover. She was exposed as a suspected Wytch, putting Melinda and her apothecary at potential risk. Bethel instead of fighting the accusations promptly packed up and left in search of the True, the hidden protectors she'd heard about in the wilds not far south of the settled lands.

Melinda had been interrogated by the Wytch hunters and that was where she got her most important clue about their real intent. Their methods of interrogation relied upon emotional stimulation. Repeatedly trying to push their victims to any emotional extremes they could. Hate. Anger. Melancholy. Ecstatic Nostalgia. Anything that would enable them to extract information about the Wytch or others or even so as to make them appear guilty of crimes which they did not commit. 

As their efforts grew more aggressive and vile she gained alliance from someone she'd never expected. Father Wilsen had showed up that night, right in the middle of the interrogation. He was at the height of his fame as the figurehead for the hunt and on the beginnings of his decline. He still held much sway with the town and he risked it all for her.

"What is the meaning of this?" The Wytch hunters asked him as he entered.

"I hereby represent the Clergy of Sharlesbury. I am here to tell ye that this woman be innocent!" Father Wilsen proclaimed, his face clean shaven and his body clothed in his Church uniform. A Patriarch of the faith.

He stared the Wytch hunters down intensely seeing their malicious intent. He'd known what they'd been doing to garner guilty verdicts out of their victims. This method of riling them to reaction, building them up to anxiety and anger at a time when they'd be circumspect of such reaction and behaviour. The Wytch hunters were attempting to make the accused behave in a way that might make them seem possessed by the Devil or a demon of like. To make them behave in such a way so as to fit the criminal investigation, rather than to build a case based upon real world evidence.

"This Lady is a Doctress of the arts of healing. Those healing arts are not a part for which ye seek charges upon those in the craft of Wytchery. Life is thine Lord's Church and she is one of its angels." Father Wilsen told them truthfully.

Father Wilsen had known about Melinda and Bethel and their relationship and his feelings on that were neutral. He'd studied theology and linguistics and had come to understand that the original scriptures and ideas upon which most theology were based had come through translation. The ideas of early culture in reference to singular form versus plural form were often tied in with the concept of the masculine and the feminine. Man could mean one man just as it could mean all of humanity, men and women. The word for woman held no such plural form and therefore even during the task of translation there were possible ambiguities that were simply based upon singular versus plural form in language, and the implied gender imposed upon words themselves.

Earlier languages, just as earlier texts had differences in structure that made such ambiguities impossible to accommodate or even changed their possible interpretation. Meaning that the people who spoke those languages and who wrote those texts had a completely different understanding than what would make it through a translation, and that does not account for metaphor and allegory. Regional, temporal or otherwise. This had often made such translations difficult and what some would find as a reason for skepticism, Father Wilsen had seen it as good grounds for debate and meaningful discussion. It was through this discussion that most people of faith would come to their understanding rather than having one point of view forced down their throats. His subjective interpretation had sometimes caused dissension amongst his peers of the Clergy. Yet it seemed to work for the residents of Sharlesbury.

He'd come to understand that love and the expression thereof was a force that could only be limited by age where it involved sexuality, but not by gender and in all cases but age, the only limiting factor was consent. If wholly two mature people agreed that they loved each other and wanted to express that love to one another, that was their right if they each consented to it. Albeit inside of doors away from prying eyes, especially of those whom were not of age. Father Wilsen's views had earned him much scorn and respect alike, but when the Wytch hunt came, they sought to subdue his virility for their own purposes. At first he was their figurehead after their murder of the Widow Milaise. Thereafter he was their target when it was clear that they could no longer contain his disapproval with their actions or methods. 

His defense of Melinda was imperative and symbolic to the protection of all apothecaries the settled land over. It was also imperative on the grounds of standing by his convictions about her relationship with Bethel. Inside he knew that her persecution would be certain had the town found out about her relationship. This was not about her being a Wytch at all. It was about her choice of partner and about her partner's implied participation in the craft. This was the first evidence that Father Wilsen had that revealed the nature of the hunt. If Melinda was found guilty, apothecaries the land over would be burnt to the ground and their owners felled as Wytches. Further, if others found out about Melinda's relationship with Bethel, others too across the land would be hunted for such relationships, and tried as Wytches. What's worse is that they to would be laden with the burden of sin of those who'd felled them, even within their own graves.

"The law of the hunt, this is. Ye be out of thy jurisdiction Father Wilsen!" The interrogator barked at Father Wilsen.

"Are not the acts of a healer as acts of the one great healer? Thy would find the one great healer guilty?" Father Wilsen asked the interrogator who looked to the others.

Upon those words the others seemed to have lost their fervor and they looked to the lead interrogator with dismay. The lead interrogator considered continuing his verbal momentum and directing it towards Father Wilsen rather than Melinda. When he'd looked back to his peers he'd found that he'd lost the casus belli altogether. Instead he chose to withdraw for the time being seeing that he'd lost the fervor of his peers. He chose not to face down the iconified Father Wilsen.

"Perchance ye may be as ye speak. I will take my leave. Lady Heyes. Consider this matter settled." The interrogator looked nervously to Father Wilsen once again and to Melinda, whose eyes narrowed at him.

He quickly left, his men behind him closing the door to the apothecary on their way out. Melinda looked to Father Wilsen, relief slowly caressed her face.

"Of all the townsfolk to come through that door to my protecting, ye as t'wer last I'd expect Father Wilsen." Melinda told the Clergyman.

"This madness has taken many and far more than be it should." Father Wilsen told her firmly his heart still burning for the lost Widow Milaise.

"Have ye had words from Kathryn?" Melinda asked him.

"Nay. I be as lost to her as a boat in the tempest tossed tides." Father Wilsen lowered his head.

"A message for thy Lady. Give it I could ye, 'pon her hand." Melinda offered.

"Try many as I've had and ye'd see soon futility. Tho' none back. Too soon aways." Father Wilsen sullenly lifted his head as he spoke before his chin found his chest once again.

"Some food? I've more than enough. Its the least of which I could ye offer." Melinda asked him trying to change the topic.

"Nay 'gain, but take drink I will. Should that none be too much?" Father Wilsen declined seeking the alternative he wanted.

It was his painkiller and had kept his mind from the ghost of Widow Tanara Milaise, who'd visited him every night since her fateful fall in the forest.

Melinda paused and gave thought to her offering before she gave of it to him. Here was a man who was on the brink of a fall from grace and seeking drink. She wondered about whether she was right to give of such and then thought of his dreams and nightmares. Such a medicine that liquor could be to silence the torments of the damned such as Father Wilsen had become to his own conscience. Despite the fact that the murder was not his doing, he was protecting the Wytch hunters by not revealing the real story of that night**.

They'd driven the blade to the hilt into her, laughing as they did. Father Wilsen had attempted to tend to her retrieving the blade from her body when the rest of the town had arrived at the scene. The Wytch hunters had called to the town praising him as a hero for felling the Widow as a Wytch. Those events set the Wytch hunt in motion and forever had forsaken him.

Melinda returned with a bottle for him which he accepted gratefully. He had been at the beginning steps of alcoholism and had begun drinking to help him sleep. It helped to keep his own torments at bay and during the day it helped to keep the somewhat obsequious torments of some of the townsfolk unnoticed. He'd become their target as soon as his support for the hunt wavered. Recently he'd seen what it was to be subject to the full force of such a hunt and its precursors.

The interrogators were not deputized by law, they were merely volunteers who'd joined the strangers in the effort set forth for the hunt. The nearest law office was a quarter of a day's ride away and since the Wytch hunt began, they'd been overrun with cases and paperwork. This was a bad time for justice and the law office itself had been little more than a dispenser and notary of death certificates. Many like Evan had tried to follow the trail and to bring the hunters to justice but that effort had proven futile. The ranks of those who sought to end this madness and bring about justice for the fallen were so divided that it was a difficult time to know one's allies. 

Father Wilsen much like Evan Edwards had hoped that his words as much as action would clarify his stance to others. He was finding just as Evan was that those involved deep in the hunt had ways of skewing the public perception regardless of their words or action. Many people for this reason did not choose a side in this conflict, for they'd not risk their future by choosing the losing side. Instead they'd go with whichever side won, and deal with the consequences then.

Father Wilsen poured Melinda a drink first, sampling it for her by pouring his own.

"To health, peace and the end of this madness." Father Wilsen toasted.

"If it is hope we have, then let it be as ye spake." Melinda's glass touched Father Wilsen's, and the chime of change broke the sudden silence.

"Yet no hope bares resolution like the willingness to act," Father Wilsen spoke thoughtfully.

"Then fear is as equal to hope by way of action," Melinda responded.

"Then we drink to both fear and hope, whichever leads us to act in the name of the just," Father Wilsen toasted.

Father Wilsen's room was tucked away atop the Church in a loft where he kept his modest means to a life. After the death of Widow Milaise he'd long since given his favoured hobby of mapping the moon by way of his spy glass. It had been a gift from one of the crew mates of the ship that had delivered him here from overseas. Through it he could see the finest detail of lunar features and he'd provided the school with many of his drawings. The looking glass sat under his desk, collecting dust as did most of his interests. Liquor had taken the front lines in that regard and only his weekly service and sermon held his wavering interest any more. During the service he was often heckled by the by the hunters who had still remained parishioners. Melinda still came to see his services, though she was more interested in showing him her support as were the few remaining people who weren't victims of the hunt.

Kathryn had shown up regularly to show her support for Father Wilsen despite the fact that she was agnostic. Kathryn was experienced enough in life to know that one should not let differences in belief stand in the way of friendship, and she'd always been one to demonstrate that fact. Her feelings for Father Wilsen were as that of a close friend. She'd sensed his attraction to her though she never acknowledged that, instead keeping her feelings out of big decisions. Something else she'd also learned from experience and running a school. Kathryn had stopped showing up after the murder of Widow Milaise, unsure of what to think but ultimately believing that Father Wilsen had resigned himself to the madness that was sweeping the land.

Father Wilsen abandoned his memories, focusing his foggy mind towards his new guests.


Mila awoke first, feeling comfortable and warm under the blankets that Father Wilsen had left for them. She was on her side perched precariously close to the edge of the bench in the gazebo her arms and legs still asleep. She sat upright waiting for her circulation to return nibbling on a piece of bread.

"Honey... wha... oh. We're still here." Barris said groggily as he awoke, rubbing his hand gently down her back.

"He left us the blankets. Some food too." Mila handed him a piece of bread.

Barris inspected the bread carefully. When it passed his exceptionally reduced expectations, he quickly consumed it crust and all.

Sato awoke shortly thereafter, immediately standing and stretching silently.

"I bid you good afternoon, Lady Mila." Sato offered his greeting though she was unsure of whether it might be in mockery of their current situation.

"Don't forget one for Lady Barris." Mila winked at Sato, gesturing towards Barris.

Barris rolled his eyes as he sat up.

"It would seem he has a conscience. Maybe even a soft spot for the needy, though I doubt it with an organization like the clergy. I take it we have another shot at getting in to see Father Wilsen?" Barris shrugged off his sore back.

"I would say that is..." Mila stopped mid way through her sentence gasping for air.

She fell to the floor of the gazebo writhing in pain. Barris caught her keeping her head from hitting the wooden floor and held her as she struggled against the pain. A scream left her lips and moments later Father Wilsen emerged from the Church. By the time he had arrived Mila was semi-conscious, mumbling a stream of barely coherent words.

"Milaise... Milaise... the strangers did it..." A stream words left her.

"I beg yer forgiveness for my earlier manners. I am Father Wilsen. Allow mine to help ye get her into the warmth." Father Wilsen offered them.

"Its about time!" Barris said angrily as he lifted his wife to be in his arms.

When Father Wilsen reached to help him carry her, Barris stepped back.

"Stay away. She's in my care. Your house. My care." Barris scolded him still holding resentment for his earlier behaviour partly blaming him for her current malady.

"I understand yer ire lad." Father Wilsen offered as he led the way.

Sato kept a careful eye on Mila and Father Wilsen as they entered the Church. By the time they had gotten into the Church whatever ailment had affected Mila had passed as if she'd been suddenly relieved of a great weight.

They put her on a bench inside the Church and she sat up on her own still a little woozy from her momentary lapse.

"Milaise. It's Widow Milaise. You're Father Elias Wilsen. The same one from your letters." Mila spoke aloud to them. To him.

"I am as ye speak. By which of my writs ye do make to?" Father Wilsen looked to Mila inquiringly.

"You leave her alone. You brought this onto her!" Barris demanded of the Father.

"My son. It is in this place that ye be in err. I yer ally do speak. Do keep as such fer mine." Father Wilsen spoke with authority.

"The Codex. Nelony. Nelony put something into the Codex. This is all starting to make sense. You were set up in the murder of Widow Milaise. The people you call the strangers used you in their hunt. You've fallen from the grace of the people in the town and with your love, Kathryn. You love her. You do. Don't lie to me Father Wilsen. You truly love her." Mila told him, looking him straight in the eye.

Tears streamed down the Father's face as she spoke and for the first time in his life since this horror had started, someone knew him and his pain. He believed that his lord had sent him an angel.

"Aye. Yer words are as of an angel. Mary herself in speak. I am Father Elias Wilsen of Sharlesbury. I 'twere it seems been wrongly accused for the murder held in company with an ill the like of which I'd never share with stride." He spoke defiantly.

"You must stand against this Father. You must let Kathryn know of your true feelings for her or..." Mila tried to finish but found her lower lip trembling.

"Begging your forgiveness Milady. But for what do ye speak?" Father Wilsen asked her, Barris and Sato looking on in disbelief.

Mila's face flushed a pale white and she struggled to speak still shivering.

"...When none heed call and Aerth doth fall, so do we all." She spoke, her eyes hazy and distant before she fell to the floor of the Church unconscious.

Barris and Sato rushed to her side trying to revive her while Father Wilsen wet a cloth for her face as she lay on the floor shuddering.

"I think that it is time that we really talked about this." Barris demanded, looking towards Father Wilsen in serious concern.

The Court Of The Ancients

They sat around the fire, a living anachronism in motion each a different face beset by their masks much as they were beneath. The dance had been performed by their ancestors many times over for more than sixty centuries and had preceded many of the world's greatest triumphs as they had often preceded its greatest disasters. They had danced three days before the Isle of Pompei was consumed in fire and brimstone by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. It had left its mark blazed across the sky once around the entire globe, a dark cloud lining the atmosphere for all to see. Six years after that eruption they danced again when the acidity level of the oceans of the Aerth had once again balanced. The devastated algae populace of the oceans rekindled, sparing all life on the face of the Aerth from mass extinctions.

They had danced two days before the quake that had produced tidal forces that had consumed a large island in the in Mediterranean which had once housed what was thought to be the city of Atlantis, its remains still hidden amongst the reefs. They had danced for centuries prior to every major natural disaster for the last sixty centuries and their faces once again encircled the same eerie fire their ancestors had each time.

This was ceremony to them for they knew what was coming. They felt it in their bones as surely as they had seen it in the Fetmeewah. Their dance was inevitable as was their purpose in life hidden in the wilds away from modern civilization. They had sought the forgiveness of Meeweshaa many times over but Meeweshaa was not ready to offer forgiveness or solace. On every continent this night at each of the many original tribal grounds of the great and ancient nations of the Aerth over, the descendants danced in their ceremonial plea for time and forgiveness of humankind's negligence and its consumption of its guardians.

The North American Aboriginal populace of the Inuit, Sioux, Cree, Mohawk and Iroquois had come to life with preparations for their ancient ceremonies and a dance around the fire pit in plea to and in praise of the Gitchi Manitou. They were mirrored by their sisters and brothers to the south as the Apache, Cherokee, Chippewa, Navaho, Hopi and many others prepared for theirs. On the Island of Hawaii, a group had settled near the steaming mouth of an active volcano, camping in wait for the sun to rise and their dance to begin. In South America there gathered the remnants of some of the great extinct civilizations where they too prepared for their part in the plea taking up camp near the great ancient cities. Machu Picchu. Puerto Hormiga Culture. Cuenca. Kaminaljuyu.

In the United Kingdom, there gathered many of those who held the traditions of the eld, some had setup a vigil around the great Stonehenge itself. Others had set about in practice of their Welsh and Celtic tradition in chant and prayer to the Great Sea Heron, which had once been their nurturer and protector. This is how they'd earned their place as the carriers of babies to expectant mothers. Across the channel in France within a forest where three lady practitioners of the arts had sojourned to rescue their mentor from the clutches of the Norbids, a small group of people too paid homage to a shrine in their request of the Aerth for more time. Europe, the Mediterranean and the Baltic states were pocked by small groups of ancestors, each gathered around a local natural icon, as they carried out their ceremonies.

In Romania there too a group had setup vigil amongst some of the eldest of the Gypsy clans whom had received word of the ill that was to come. They had set about using their knowledge of the arts and scrying to aid in any way they could. Near the Dead Sea and particularly near an ancient cave and the site of one of the most significant archaeological discoveries, a group had taken up vigil around a fire and were praying for the Aerth. 

In some of the Churches found scattered across the world, there too they prayed for the Aerth as this was known to all bound in spirit. In East Asia and places inhabited by long hidden nomads and modern practitioners of traditional mystic arts, they prepared for a feast and dance in their shared plea. Many of them had fought for the Sanctum during the great battle a generation ago. They too had set about preparing their incantations to commune with the Aerth and to seek forgiveness in promise of balance. 

In the wilds near the base of Mount Fuji, a nomadic settlement of those who still followed the way of Bushido prepared for a Shinto ceremony in plea to the Aerth Mother herself. In New Zealand and Australia too the Aborigines gathered for their dance around the fire in hopes of cleansing the world of its injustices to restore the long lost balance of humankind and nature. They had all come together with the goal of averting what modern naturalists and scientists had been warning us about for as long as they had understood the processes at work.

Shamans spoke with their Spirit Guides while others conferred with the Great Spirits themselves in traditions that had not been practiced on the Aerth for nearly five centuries. Many had forgotten but the Aerth Elders had shared their knowledge and their teachings carefully. On this night, the ancient knowledge had found renewal, voice and the empathy of the Great Aerth Mother had prevailed. The forgotten knowledge had found its way through the ages thanks to the mostly aural traditions that had made their way through the generations. Most had forgotten but some had remembered and they would speak for humankind this night.

The sun had set and the Aerth was not as it had been, as its health had been steadily declining as the wilds bore the weight of human endeavor. The weight of injustice humans bore to one another. Its sickness had spread to the skies and to the places that humans did not go and bore itself to the fauna of all lands everywhere. None knew this more than the lady who was once Nelony. She'd become someone or something more dire than the world could understand yet full of more compassion for the whole than few could ever hope to know. She had her womb to the pulse of the Aerth and the life force of its fauna flowed through her. She felt the pain of every single living creature that had found the burden since the hunt that had felled Nelony's ancestors.

She lay half asleep close by, watching the dance from a distance on the edge of the Jungle on a bed of underbrush and dirt. Beasts of all kind had come to her aid and protection, some slept near her and others wandered about keeping near to her nervously. They felt it too and she had shared their pain and it was only growing by the hour. Her form was much different than it had been before her trip to the Librum Universalis Codex where she'd deposited Father Wilsen's letters. She was indistinguishable from her counterpart. Nelony Ardbloem had become as Nelony Theearin, across the ages on another continent where Yirfir and Jasmer were riding to a preordained meeting with the members of the True.

A large Jaguar slinked up slowly stepping into her view blocking the dance. It sat in front of her, its face a visage of concern as best a beast of the wild could muster. It growled and murmured looking to her. She continued to stare listlessly toward the direction of their dance as if there were no interruption. A trio of Hyaenas approached the Jaguar, yipping at it, coaxing it from the point it had chosen to perch. It turned to the three and snarled as they encircled the Jaguar.

"Selimbo! Nysishaicai!" She spoke firmly in a language that had never been heard by mortal ears.

The Hyaenas turned looking to her, puzzle on their face. She looked back at them maintaining her posture. They looked away from her returning their glance to the Jaguar with a sense of shame. They looked to the ground before slowly making their way back a distance. The Jaguar growled, its throat grottled deeply, echoing under the jungle canopy.

"Ctikrulak! Utoo!" She spoke to the Jaguar careful not to show any favour. It glanced back to her uneasily before striding back into the jungle, easily scaling a tree from where upon the limbs it kept watch over her.

She returned her attention to the dance watching carefully as if they were pleading to her directly to avert the coming disaster but she knew that it was inevitable. She could no longer bare this for the wounded Aerth and the time had come for the price to be paid. She was here to see that it had been carried out and that once the Aerth was freed from this burden that the balance would be restored.

For every mother the world over that had given birth in the last five centuries had been host to the signs, as they could feel it like no others could though most would not have known it. They too were attuned to the Aerth like the Order Of The Aerth Mother and some had known intuitively. Many had not been in tune with themselves enough to recognize it. They would have mistaken their discomfort for morning sickness or some other upset attributable to their pregnancy and the tiny growing life within them. Their children had known as well just as intuitively as their mothers though by the time they were five months eld, most had lost their empathy for such sensitivities and become familiar moreso with society rather than nature herself. Just as the Aerth had been the womb to all life and had carried it through its term, so had every mother and every Aerth Mother a link between thereto and by. It was theirs to know the pulse and the health of their Mother and the Aerth was that to all.

The Lobeeshtofah had known this from the beginning and their settling onto the island just off the coast sixty centuries ago had resulted from their quest to understand the great Aerth Mother. Like all children they had sought her love and had reeled in her writhing pain, some caused by humanity and some just natural growing pains. As time had passed on, the wilds had bore this load from her. In the last millennium its toll had been costly upon the health of the world though the Mother Aerth was strong and her wounds healed quick. Her wounds this time had been too long neglected.

Her immune system was deadly to all life the world over when awakened. The creatures of the wild had cared for her health for millennia where humankind had fallen short. That inequity had fallen out of balance more than three centuries ago during the hunt and had awakened the True in a world that had lived through numerous wars, genocides and killing sprees in the name of everything but life itself. The lady that had once been Nelony felt it coming, though she could do nothing to stave it off as she would be the one to carry out the foul deed. She rested for now drawing in the fertile energies of the jungle as she watched the Lobeeshtofah and their sacred dance in their effort to appease her, for she had become Meeweshaa: the Mother Aerth.

Her vision blurred and her mind drifted into a dream state as the dancers continued their circle around the pyre. The ground hummed softly to her as the blackness of sleep consumed her. She felt the ground moving beneath her as if the surface of the planet rippled in time with the events of this night. The oceans joined in with their own song, singing in tides and torrents. The continents each spoke to her in turn as a series of low frequency vocalizations in the same ancient language she had spake to the Hyaenas and the Jaguar.

"Meeweshaa. Summbeeka wenwani musakanusu. Chmreauum. Meeweshaa. Summsekara wenwanu elnelelkenduur Fetmeewah. Seccuum. Seesecuum." The continents and oceans had each spoken, Fetmeewah as their witness and each in agreement that the time had come.

"Meeweshaa. Kemsu wenwan wan dooshka wenwani moosooka. Meuuleemuu neeluu baa baa baaiee." The Great Shamans spoke in unison each representing all of humanity on the five continents and the Aerth over pleading mercy from the great Fetmeewah and the Aerth herself.

"Meeweshaa. Summbeeka lelu Kemsu. Hrshoowl grraauum chktirpeek geelubglub tkittkik essuua meeluu suumuu." The Animal Spirits of the wild spoke for the animal kingdom of the land and the seas the world over and though the load had been theirs for far too long, they too pleaded for mercy for the sake of all, including humanity.

"Fetmeewah lelu Kemsu meeweshnuu seskesku uuluushka." The Mother Aerth answered eloquently, her voice bearing as much presence as that of the continents, resounding and resolute in what had to be done though much in regret through the lady that had once been Nelony.

There was a moment of silence before Fetmeewah, the sky gave answer to their call.

"Meeweshaa lelu Kemsu summembi duumembussa schweeearuuaa ooshhoowaa." Fetmeewah's voice surrounded her as the air pressed her eardrums more so than making a distinctly audible sound.

The Great Spirits had spoken and all of the Ancient Nations of the Aerth had held their court before Fetmeewah and Fetmeewah had answered in harshness and anger.

The Aerth was to be purged and balance restored once again as it had been many millenia ago. Meeweshaa, Mother Aerth was to carry this out starting on the next sunset on the night of the summer solstice over the western most point of the continent of Africa and continue until the purge was completed to Fetmeewah's approval. The Chmreauum (wildlife) were to be spared any suffering and protected while humankind payed the price for the last five centuries of turmoil that they'd brought to one another and to the Mother Aerth. This process was to happen over the course of six days*** after which the remaining survivors would be spared and the Aerth healed.

"Then it is decided. When none heed call, and Aerth doth fall, so do we all." she spoke as she drifted back into her dream state in wait for the sunset.

Camp Encounters

Jasmer dropped the last of the kindling and brush he'd gathered onto the pit they'd made as Yirfir put together a quick meal from the food that Thedrick had left for them. He'd left them earlier in the day as they had made it to what he'd called "the place half and away". After leaving them with enough food for the rest of the voyage, they'd thanked him and he was gone. He'd given them directions to a water source nearby should they need it as this stretch of land was considered no man's land by the colonists. The rest of their journey had been peaceful and they'd even seen some of the wildlife marvels of this time, such as a small herd of water buffalo, one of the many species which would later become extinct as a result of rampant game hunting and wholesale slaughter. They had even come upon a deer nursing its fauna in a deer bed: a place in brush that they had matted down for their safety and comfort.

It was a wondrous voyage for Yirfir who had thoroughly enjoyed it despite the fact that she was immensely sore from riding and had needed to take several breaks along the way. She was able to make it for two hours in the last stretch, only dismounting once but more for her horse's sake. When they'd found the camp site they went about the business of setting up for their night's stay expecting that they'd likely have one more day's travel before they were in the territory of The True. Jasmer got the camp fire going with a little help from his magical skills while Yirfir skewered the vegetables Thedrick had given them and put two of the eggs near the base of the fire itself. Jasmer came over and sat down nuzzling up to her.

"This is a first. We've never been camping." Jasmer said to her, looking to her eyes.

"You mean the time that we had to venture into the Shadow Realm in pursuit of Franesworth wasn't camping?" She stroked his hair and returned the glance.

"We didn't have a fire, there was no food, we didn't have a quilt to sleep on. Not to mention that the Shadow Realm tends to be somewhat dark. All of the time. This is different. I mean look at the stars! I've never seen a sky so full of them back home in our time." Jasmer replied to her reminiscing.

"Yes my dear. You're right. It is different. It's like being in a much younger world. One with some serious growing pains. One that we'll never get to experience again. And we're getting to see it. How it was and how ours came to be. It is so different with all of the undeveloped wilds, isn't it? Perhaps something that everyone should get a chance to see. To breath. To feel." Yirfir pondered keeping the rhythm of her hand brushing his hair.

"Yes. There's definitely a lot of peace to be had here in the wilds." Jasmer gazed up to the sky which was spread full of stars bright and dim alike with the paint brush wash across the sky of the Milky Way.

"When we get back, lets do this again." Yirfir proposed.

"Do you mean like with Mila, Barris and Sato? Maybe Nelony and Shaela too?" Jasmer asked her.

"We could do that, but lets do it by ourselves first." Yirfir suggested.

"That sounds like a plan to me." Jasmer replied playfully.

"I never quite pictured Shaela as the camping type." Yirfir replied as she reached for the skewered vegetables checking them.

"I agree. That girl is in a place all her own. Where do you think they are right now? Looking for us?" Jasmer leaned up a bit to help Yirfir with the food.

"I'd say, though they're going to have a hard time finding us here," Yirfir used a cloth to safely remove the vegetables and spread them onto a few chunks of bread she'd broken from the loaf.

"They might not even be looking for us. I mean we're not looking for them. Perhaps they're doing the same thing. Trying to make it to the place where we'd all most likely end up. So perhaps they won't have as hard a time finding us as we'll have finding a way back. To our time," Jasmer replied to her.

"Do you think that we'll ever find a way back?" Yirfir asked him honestly handing him two of the concoctions as he poured her a cup of mead.

"Yes. I think that we will. The question is will we find a way back before they find a way to us?" Jasmer answered her posing his own question.

"Let's hope." Yirfir said, raising her steel mug to his to toast.

"Then here's to hope and fear." Jasmer offered raising his.

They stopped when they'd heard a twig snap somewhere off in the scattered brush. Jasmer stood to take a look when he heard the shot.

"Get away from the fire and lay still!" Jasmer told Yirfir as he edged out into the darkness.

Yirfir got up and ran for the darkness opposite Jasmer diving for cover as a shot flew over her head.

"It's a little late for hunting isn't it?" Jasmer yelled, drawing their attention.

When Jasmer's eyes had adjusted he spied that there were a small band of people just barely lit by the starlight, each brandishing an ancient fire arm huddled a distance away from the camp fire.

"Oh lovely." he murmured.

Jasmer crouched and made his way around them in attempt to flank them. He approached quietly as he could making it to less than fifty feet from them when he was caught from behind.

"Hold yer step, lest you lose t'all!" a voice spoke out from behind him as he heard the distinct click of the flint lock.

"Aye. I will not make move nor utterance from this place." Jasmer replied raising his hands, careful to use their speech.

"Y'ed be a fool to risk the patience of a well skilled tracker like my own." the voice responded.

The tracker walked him over to his compatriots as they eyed Jasmer carefully.

"He be one. There'll be another out there. A she," the tracker told the others.

"A good bounty this night! Are they?" one of the others responded.

"We don't know. They've not been examinated yet." the tracker replied taking liberties with his limited literacy.

A distance out one of them spotted Yirfir making a run for the safety of the brush in full sprint.

"Thar she be! Make it in haste!" the tracker pointed to Yirfir ordering three of the others after her leaving two behind to watch after Jasmer.

The three men ran hard after Yirfir as she breeched the brush still running full out. One of the men crouched to fire at her. The shot rang true and seemingly pierced her abdomen but she kept running full tilt­. One of her pursuers shook his head as he could have sworn that he saw his quarry pass right through a tree in her path.

"A bad shot! Keep her in sight!" the shooter yelled.

The others continued behind her in chase while the shooter tried to catch up. After keeping pace with her for nearly a hundred and fifty feet they stopped, each gasping for air.

"She's a swift one. One of them I say!" the shooter gasped for air.

Yirfir disappeared into the brush out of sight still keeping a fast and full sprint.

"She's a lost prize. We'd best finish this by horse," the shooter ordered them back to their vigil with the tracker.

When they arrived, they found that the tracker had bound and gagged Jasmer. He's also sent the other man to retrieve Yirfir and Jasmer's horses which were still waiting patiently by the camp fire.

Yirfir watched them carefully as they organized themselves to move out with their prisoner, her husband to be. The decoy she'd cast of herself had fooled them perfectly, buying her more time to put together another plan.

"I've only got one shot at this." She whispered to herself.

She quietly cast an incantation and waited patiently as one of the men gathered up the horses that Thedrick had given them,  bending down to pick up one of the vegetable snacks she'd prepared.

"I hope you choke on it you scoundrel!" She muttered to herself quietly.

She sat still waiting and when a tiny creature turned up in response to her incantation, she shrugged.

"Alright little one, I guess you'll have to do." She said, carefully stroking it in her hand as she began another spell.

The man that had retrieved the horses had just regrouped with his own.

"Yer wench cooks like a charm, she does!" Said the one who'd taken their horses, speaking to Jasmer.

"Mffflmmf!" He responded angrily.

One of the horses reared extending its front legs high into the air. The others started prancing nervously away from the men as they struggled to keep hold of the horses. The tracker stopped momentarily, looking around.

"Theeeere! Its a beast!" he said in a blood curtling shriek. as he pointed back towards Jasmer's camp fire.

They all at once turned to see a tremendous creature at least twenty feet to the arch of its back and thirty or forty in width crawling towards them, two beady black eyes staring at them.

One of them struggled to load his arquebus but the creature was already upon them, its great nose twitching from side to side. Whiskers flailing.

"Arrrrrrrgh!" he screamed as the creature bit down on his arquebus, breaking it readily in two.

The man leapt for one of the horses leaving his mates behind.

The beast turned its attention to the others, ignoring Jasmer completely. One of the men grabbed a broken tree branch from the ground and started waving it at the giant beast, which once again bit down breaking it to splinters. The others quickly jumped onto their mounts leaving the tracker behind to contend with the tremendous beast. 

He'd rounded the beast near its hind quarters looking for a soft spot to stab at it with his knife. He bore down towards one of its legs and stabbed it. The knife barely made a mark on the creatures leg and the creature reflexively twitched, flinging the tracker a hundred feet into the air and away from the creature. He landed broken and and battered, though he did not get up.

The creature worked its way over to Jasmer once again, sniffing him over.

"Thank you my little... big friend." Yirfir said gratefully to the giant chipmunk as she freed Jasmer.

"You sent a giant chipmunk to rescue me? Why not a giant wolf or cougar? Even a badger? I'd have accepted a raccoon," Jasmer said as he kissed her.

"You mean to tell me you have nothing to say to Whiskers here?" Yirfir said, returning the kiss then scolding him.

"I guess I do. Whiskers, I hope you didn't poop on our camp site," He said not losing a step.

Yirfir began laughing hugging him as he stroked the giant chipmunk's nose.

"So what do we do with him?" Jasmer asked her.

"We wait until the incantation wears off and then we send him on his way. Then we make another meal and go to sleep, but not before you set up some spells to warn us or protect us from this happening again." Yirfir said to him, giving him a peck on his nose.

"They likely won't be back for some time. It will take them a day to round up reinforcements. I guess that's why you're in charge tonight. Besides, I don't think I want to argue with a giant chipmunk on the issue of seniority," Jasmer smiled to her.

"Its settled then." she replied as they salvaged what the trackers had left behind and made their way back to camp.

"They were tracking us as they had been investigating Thedrick on the charges of Wytchcraft. They got his wife, now they're after him." Jasmer told Yirfir, a look of deep concern on his face.

"Let us hope that those who are protecting him are aware and are able to warn him." Yirfir responded a tinge of hope present in her voice.

"We both need rest. Are you hurt honey?" Jasmer stroked her hair pressing close to her.

"No, I'm fine. Starving, but fine. Let's get back to camp and get some food into us. Maybe you could see to casting some protective wards while I get the food?" Yirfir asked him.

"Consider it done. I'll be back before dinner." Jasmer pecked her nose and set about lining the area with protective wards.

Moments later Whiskers returned to his normal size and followed Yirfir back to camp where she gave it a large chunk of bread. The chipmunk struggled with it, dragging it all the way bag to its burrow in the ground, sharing its gift with its young. Whiskers' little ones had no idea of their mother's heroism though they were happy to see her once again. Especially so with Yirfir's food offering.

Yirfir, Jasmer and Whiskers all slept peacefully that night.

Shaela And Evan

"We need a moment to speak." Evan looked to Shaela, having finished organizing his case load information and filed it carefully in a locked cabinet.

Despite living in the sixteen hundreds and lacking the information technology of Shaela's time, Evan had set up a remarkably organized system of tracking and retrieving information. The only problem with it was the fact that it was high maintenance. It involved a paper filing system that was preordered so as to be retrievable by a number of means, yet still had its own implicit order. He did not like managing his office and much preferred being in the field following up on his leads.

He wanted to put a stop to the menace that had become the Wytch hunt for he saw it for what it was. A method of the disposal of human being substitutes, who'd pay with their lives for the crimes of others. It was a means by which the strangers and the Wytch hunters alike could take possession of their neighbour's property and good reputation while dealing death to those from which they'd taken those things. They weren't really hunting Wytches. They were cleaning themselves and creating a whole host of wrongs that multiplied the impact of their initial crimes a thousand-fold. 

The people doing so had no intention of changing to accommodate their own lifestyle or burden or even fighting for their rights to be as such, instead they just chose to put that weight onto others. Evan knew that what was happening was wrong, but he still had no idea of the weight of such activity upon future generations and the world itself. What was even worse was that the very perpetrators were making that burden heavy upon those to whom they'd transferred it, often tormenting them before their execution for the practice of the craft of Wytchery. Ultimately they were seeking to bury their burden and transgressions in the grave of a murdered substitute and live free of their own conscience afterwards.

Many of the accused prior to their trial and execution would begin behaving strangely. They would become manic at times with outbursts directed at some unseen malice from within the public. It was almost as if they were possessed, though Evan equated it to the tremendous social pressures in which these victims had suddenly found themselves. Most of the victims had been with the colony from early on, either as children of the founders or in at least three cases amongst the founders themselves. If Evan had knowledge or understanding of modern epidemiology he might have regarded it as being an outbreak of some kind. Rather through his astute observation he equated it to being the equivalent of a virulent social malady of some kind, involving group dynamics and a premeditated system of choosing the victims, though he'd not been able to relate motive to the victim selection process.

He'd tried investigating many factors, such as religion which especially in immediate history had been the root of many conflict and wars. Two or more competing religions amongst the populace could spell disaster if the believers sought to resolve their conflict through malice and or violence. There had seemed to be elements of religion involved, especially with the careful crafting of Father Elias Wilsen of Sharlesbury as the initial figurehead of the Wytch hunt. Evan once again had surmised that religion was being used as a cover for the underlying menace. Likely Father Elias Wilsen had been manipulated into the position which he'd found himself amongst the Wytch hunters.

Politics certainly played a role as well, though the strangers hadn't yet exploited the fear and division amongst the populace that had arisen as a result of the Wytch hunt. Instead, they'd continued indoctrinating and training new Wytch hunters, while keeping their methods secret with an efficiency that had eluded Evan. The situation became more complicated as their numbers grew, for they became less respectful of the rule of colony law, rather behaving like lynch mobs in the absence of Evan or one of his deputized representatives. This had further made other citizens fearful that the colony was being taken over by a force from within. Those not in the know, ultimately had no choice but to avoid choosing sides for their own protection. Three of the tried Wytches had attempted to form their own allegiance to stand against the Wytch hunt and to protect West View. It had been discovered early by a secret operation conducted by the strangers and the Wytch hunters themselves. Once the three organizers had been identified, they'd been summarily charged with the craft of Wytchery, and had become the targets of numerous bounties that had been placed upon them.

Shortly after the bounties had targeted the three, they were dead by public trial and execution. The many farmers and business owners of West View had found out about the deaths of three and had been horrified. All three were upstanding citizens who did their part amongst others in the colony without being outspoken zealots or busy bodies. They had merely tried to organize a defense against the activities of the Wytch hunters and soon thereafter they were dead. This had put a stop to any similar effort amongst the remaining people of West View who now were all in desperate fear for their own lives. Instead, they just pretended the Wytch hunt did not exist. Whenever the topic came up, they quickly changed the topic of conversation to a more light hearted one. Perhaps sticking their heads in the ground thinking that if they didn't see the monster, it couldn't see them.

After the three had been executed, getting details for investigation was near impossible for Evan. Nobody would speak to him or even be seen speaking to him with regard to matters of the Wytch hunt. In fact just about everyone in West View would avoid conversation involving any protest or negative view points about the Wytch hunt. People avoided expressing their opinions or opposition to it like the plague. Anyone who did express a negative point of view was often regarded as having the plague itself. They would be avoided for days before anyone would deal with them again, perhaps as a protection against any contagion such a free thinker might have.

All of these factors had hindered Evan's ability to protect West View from a threat of this kind and to keep the law. It had weighed heavily upon him but he was nay one to give up or in. Since meeting Shaela he'd felt that he'd found a kindred soul, someone motivated to put a stop to this same kind of corrupt persecution which seemed to be devouring the colony and replacing its optimistic future with an oppressive and hellish fate.

"We must take a walk to the reservoir. There I will tell you of all. Milady." Evan stood and walked over to Shaela, offering his hand.

"First of all you can dispense with the formalities, but I'll accept the chivalry. Don't think for a second that I'm soft and weak though." Shaela accepted his hand and stood, winking at him.

"The thought never crossed my mind." Evan quipped and a smile crossed his face.

A half an hour later and they arrived at the town reservoir. A pungent smell filled the air making Shaela gag.

"You really know how to show a girl a good time." Shaela choked on the smell.

"I apologize. This is one place we are guaranteed to talk without being heard by the others." Evan replied to her.

"Now why would that be?" Shaela replied sarcastically, gagging from the odour.

Evan looked around carefully before continuing.

"I need your help in these matters officially as part of my investigation. You'll be required to go to the recruitment center for the strangers and the Wytch hunters. There I need you to gather any information that you can find." Evan explained his request to her.

"You've seen what I can do. I'm a party to having taken out five of their hunters already. Well, technically they were kitty snacks. Now you want me to walk into their headquarters and get information about them? They're hunting for people like me. Women like me and killing us!" Shaela kept her voice down without losing its urgency.

"I suspect that your abilities may assist you. If you get the information that we need to press charges and call for an inquiry into wrong doing, you may save hundreds of lives and the future of this colony for generations to be." Evan reasoned with her.

"I might die," Shaela quickly responded.

"You and others certainly will if we do nothing," Evan continued knowing that her heart was noble and that she was full of good.

He just had to help her get over her own fears. He suspected that she'd had them for a long time and that they were weights upon her being. Chains of which she was unaware and that she would never admit to having. Shaela abhorred being perceived as weak and she had always kept that side of herself hidden. Evan's gift was knowing people and he knew what he saw in her. Maybe that's why he reminded Shaela of her own father.

"You'll show me what I need to know and what to look for?" Shaela asked, a tear beading in her eye.

"I will teach you what you need to know but my feelings are that you already know. You just need to unlock it, and yourself. A permission that can only come from within yourself," Evan put his hand on her shoulder trying to sooth her fears.

"I'll do it. Lets get them and keep them from hurting others in the same way," Shaela said with courage.

"That is our goal and what we'll achieve for the sake of the living and the already deceased," Evan replied sternly.

"What do I need to do?" Shaela asked him.

"The townsfolk know little of you. They are under the impression that you are of noble descent and on a visit from Europe. I thought it best so that others did not seek to scorn you, though some will. Many came here to escape the conflicts that have long plagued Europe and to find new lives as colonists. They weren't eager to leave, but like many they hadn't what it takes to fight for the kind of resolution needed back home. Perhaps that is more the ground of younger soldiers and idealists than farmers, blacksmiths, weavers, apothecares, carpenters and merchants." Evan explained the situation.

"Weren't they escaping the oppression of the Royal class?" Shaela asked Evan thoughtfully, piecing together what little she'd known about this time.

"It might seem as such, but in fact much of this colony is bank rolled by the Crown. The legal offices are as are the armed services, which in times of need are called upon to act in deputy to the legal service under my charge," Evan told her.

"Then doesn't that make your involvement in this issue weighted, as you'd just be representing what they don't want in their lives and what they were escaping in the first place," Shaela continued, having to be sure of what she was fighting for.

"Its true that a many prefer to live under a different law, and often seek to despite our colonial law. As a colonial law keeper, I live by the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law. There are many things here to which I turn a blind eye that are misdemeanors where there are no victims, they are often decoys to distract from the bigger goal of those such as the Wytch hunters and the strangers. They seek to undermine the safety and the rights of those in the colonies and villages here, to rid themselves of their wrong doing making someone else pay the price for it. Often the ultimate price and more often than not, the innocent, timid or those betrothed by difficulties of their own that we cannot imagine. The Crown, like many others too afraid to act seeks to end such injustice as those often prove to be the seeds of war and rebellion. Though there exists no mandate to stop this, I expect that our investigation will yield the support of the Crown, the Parliamentarians and the local leadership, who are landlocked and afraid to do anything from fear of falling victim to the same thing themselves, though the Wytch hunters are very careful not to make a martyr of any of their victims. That would prove disastrous to their effort as history has proven many times 'afore. Instead they will claim that we are oppressing the rights of the colonists and that the Crown is intervening to maintain their hold over the colony and subjugate the elected representation of the colony and this growing independent republic," Evan pointed out the fragility of the situation.

"This isn't then another ploy of the Crown to keep control?" Shaela asked her.

"I believe not such a thing. I believe that the real Crown and elected leadership are often beset by those who seek to usurp the power that they wield for their own purposes for they are figureheads in a way themselves, though forgive my candor in that matter. Others who wield different kinds of power use such figureheads to get away with their own crimes against the people. The Crown and the newly elected officials from the forces of the Parliamentarians can also be puppets of others who wield power of different kinds. Remember, that the public are a boiling and toiling froth at times and calm and yielding at others. It is better to regard the people as a tremendous whole, that does not see itself clearly for it is far sighted. In a way, the people are like a horse. Horses see everything in the world as being much larger than itself when in fact, horses are much larger than those whom they carry. That is why some horses spook so easily. Meanwhile others who understand this clearly know means of trickery to sway this tremendous whole that is the people to their benefit. Like knowing a sudden wind swept leaf can spook a horse. That in itself is power. Some choose to take that power by deception and trickery. Others through sincerity and truth. The people in their farsightedness cannot often tell the difference between the two and the sincere sometimes fall victim to the ire of the people while the deceitful sometimes benefit from joy of the people. Remember that the Crown, the Parliamentarians, the Merchant's Guild, the Church and the wealthy all compete for that power and sway and it is not always the virtuous and sincere that win. What history recalls of it is not always the way that it in fact is or was. There have often been times where the will of the Crown was in fact executed as the will of the Merchant's Guild, the Church or the wealthy. It is the figurehead that ultimately bares the weight for the results and that means the person that the people regard as being the power, regardless of whose hand was actually at the reins. The Crown and the elected officials of experience are likely aware of foes that we the people do not even know exist. That wisdom and experience could help protect our colony and due process in the future. We are best to benefit from their experience and work together with them, marrying the rule of the Crown with the Parliamentarians. To benefit from both," Evan explained his understanding as best he could.

"What about those who'd rather live free of the Crown altogether?" Shaela found the courage to ask that difficult question.

"A colony is much like a child leaving home. The child has ties to parents and sometimes requires their resources for food or other assistance until they are self sustaining. When the child has become self sufficient, they might declare their independence from the rules of their parents or they might live by the same rules, keep ties but ultimately maintain their independence. An extension of their family or a completely new branch. I'm certain that this is something of which the Crown is aware," Evan continued his explanation of the politics of the day.

Shaela was astounded by his views about the situation. He'd obviously given it much thought.

"How do you know all of this?" Shaela asked him incredulously.

"Good parents. A good father. Good friends (though some a little mischievous). Good teachers and mentors and life experience and a two beautiful women. My mother and my wife. When you are sworn to protect and uphold the law and the rights of your fellow citizens and to protect them, even from themselves and all in the name of the elected leadership and the Crown but ultimately what is good, you tend to ponder the meaning of what you are defending and why you are doing it. At the end of every day there is only one person that I must answer to and that is myself, and I can be a shrewd judge of character, even of my own. I must be worthy of this position to hold it and worthy of the people that I protect. I must be worthy to wake up beside my beloved every day and worth every bit of her love and the worry that I sometimes put her through. If you choose such a life and position as I have, you must think out all of the reasons for which you do such a thing, because sometimes you might be in a position that forces you to wager your life in protection of those values. If you have not thought them through thoroughly then how can you be sure of what you are defending or even what you believe?" Evan tried to explain once again the immense responsibility required of him giving pause before he finished.

"Many elected officials as much as the Crown can probably attest to what I am saying, though when you step into such a position it is likely as stepping into a torrential storm. When you are successful and follow your virtues well, there are those who seek to further their own position who will likely claim credit for your successes, and scorn you for their failures. As a law keeper for the colony I know this feeling too well and that is how I noticed the plight of those victimized by the hunt. By exerting too much force in suppression of this dire time, the strangers and the hunters would use it to sew the seeds of rebellion. When you are fair or you sway too much with their pressure, they will use that too politically to gain ground with others who may not have sided with their effort. It is a balancing act in which you must maintain fairness for the whole route and catch them in their wrong without creating it. The evidence must be overwhelming to both the court and the public, for the strangers and hunters have many allies. Even the best case can fall before a biased jury. Meanwhile they are trying to do the same to you, and if you are void of wrong doing, they will try to create it of you. Like a deadly dance whose conclusion arrives when the music has ceased with only one dancer remaining. The more that you journey that difficult and trying path, the more hardened and determined you become by having tread it." Evan looked at her intensely as if he could not convey what he was saying by word alone.

"When you've made such a commitment, it carries weight especially with those whom you defend and that is the case between. The values that you carry in doing so give weight to others to be worthy of it and vice versa. Most of all you must take time to enjoy that which you protect and in this case that means life, love and your time together. In your enjoyment thereof you must still be responsible lest it all fall apart. If I publicly stumbled down the main street of the town after having a few too many mead, which I enjoy from time to time at home, the town's faith in order would wither and wane. That does not mean giving up life and enjoyment though I've had little time for that of the recent years. It means being responsible in doing so and always keeping the values of your duty first. But always make time for your love lest you lose sight of that which you protect for all. Before I was appointed as the Sheriff of West View, I was the Man At Arms for Cromwell's Ironsides. I trained the cavalry riders and trained them in their mounted use of arms. Cromwell himself was a bit of an arrogant zealot and an arse. Not the kind of person under which I feel comfortable though what he fought for was honourable. I stayed with him under the promise that I'd never draw a drop of Royal blood and that I'd never see that happen in my presence. In such encounters, we would always seek a peaceful surrender and take prisoners. Regardless of our political differences, they are still my fellow country people. We must always be fair no matter the efforts of others attempting to lure us to any extreme and that is because either extreme oft do lead to zeal and self righteousness. It is within that fervor that the people find themselves most divided. We need them be united for what is right and fair for themselves and for those accused of Wytchery." Evan finished.

Shaela stared at him in admiration. He was truly committed to what he protected and knew exactly why. Evan was true through and through. Shaela once again thought of her father, tears streaming down her face.

"Alright. I think that I understand. Let's do this," Shaela offered with determination and courage.

Continued in A Lady's Prerogative II: Wounded Aerth - Part VI

** The story of Father Wilsen and Widow Tanara Milaise is covered in the Epilogue of A Lady's Perogative Book I: The Yearning And The Learning - Epilogue (added in November of 2013).

*** Six was an important number to both the Lobeeshtofah and the Spirits themselves. Each unit of their number system represented ten of what we would call degrees as an angle and reflected the number of fingers we have with both hands combined. Our hands were our first abacus, and today even form the basis of the decimal system which is based upon ten digits. Six comes into play in the ancients ideas in that it would take six to make an angle of sixty degrees. It would take six of those to make a circle of three hundred and sixty degrees. This was reflected in many places in nature and to be found by those who were observant of the wilds, for it could speak to us in this language of the number six. The Lobeeshtofah's entire system of understanding was based upon this concept of the Aerth and concentric circles for they had known the Aerth to be a ball when many had thought of her as being flat. It was how they had known when to plant, how they managed their grown food and timed their harvests. It was how they knew to navigate the wilds accurately when the rest of humankind were still trying to find their way. They were lovers of the yearning and the learning before it had bore name.