Fiction: A Lady's Prerogative Book II: Wounded Aerth - Part III by Brian Joseph Johns
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.
A Lost Memory
She walked through the forest quietly and in pursuit of her prey as she had many times. The trees lined her path, perhaps even in guard of her much as did all the fauna of the forest assist. They could feel her pain. Those responsible for that pain were fleeing as they should be, considering what they'd done. Without conscience for the harm they'd caused countless people but more importantly: the anguish they inflicted upon all of her sisters.
She arrived at the clearing as she had before, but this was not that dream. There was no sign of her dream lover. The one that Mila had absconded with before their love had time to ripen and bear fruit. Her multiple quarry were much different this time. She continued with the eyes of the land watching and nature itself in pursuit of them. They'd soon be at the limits of their travel, while she'd be upon them like darkness upon the retreating daylight.
She paused, her vision blurring momentarily, then her becoming that of a small swallow in flight. It flew some distance at the other side of the clearing and had caught sight of one of them as they fled towards the lake. Presumably, they thought that they'd be safe in water. After all, that was how they'd rid the world of many of her sisters was it not? The innocent sink! The guilty float! Perhaps then the same judgement should apply to them. Their superstition would prove soon to be their own terror as she'd twist it into their worst nightmares before she'd scuttled them from their mortal coil.
The swallow observed the man as he ran, taking perch upon branch after branch and never losing sight of him. Not even once. She looked closer, through the small bird's eyes, spying something of horrific gall and disgust. The man, her prey, bore a trophy necklace. The hunter's means to keep a measure of one's effort to rid the world of the scourge of the Wytch-kind. To show to others the measure of their effort. His necklace was filled with such markers, each one symbolizing the extinguishing of a single Wytch. By drowning. By dismemberment. By immolation.
The more pain they suffered the less likely the demon by which they were possessed would return to continue their dark work as were the teachings of the strangers. She recalled the first time she'd attended her first burning. Not of her own choosing but rather out of local politics.
Intuitively she'd known that she'd been labeled as a suspect. A possible Wytch who was therefore under the close watch of the Strangers. Had she not attended, their suspicion would have grown and she'd likely have found herself forced to attend her own cessation by the pyre.
"Burn their sin, by such we win!" they'd chant as the pyre engulfed the Wytch.
By encroaching the process in ceremony, the hunters gave it legitimacy.
"Claim their toil, while their sins boil!" they'd continue as the Wytch's screams died.
The hunters would place all of their sins and crimes upon the Wytches they'd murdered, while they'd lay claim to all of their worldly possessions, history and life accomplishments to wear as if it were their own. The public record would then be carefully altered by agents of the hunters to reflect such lies, in order to ensure that the truth was never found.
She spied though the little bird's eyes as the man ran in his feeble attempt to escape. The bird watched intensely while real tears streamed down her own cheeks.
The man dashed through the final stretch of forest before he'd arrived at the hill which descended into the lake valley. The waters were still, which would mean he'd quickly be deteected, but Wytches and water did not get along. If he'd had enough time to purify the water he could even use it as a weapon against her. It, he reminded himself. She was no longer a she, but an it the Strangers implored him and other hunters at their training sessions.
He arrived at a branching point in the path he'd been following and paused long enough to make a decision.
Then it hit him from behind, literally, sending him airborne into the brush.
The deer, a buck with a sizeable pair of antlers stood on the path where the man had been, a spray of mist blew from the deer's nostrils before it leapt off in the opposite direction. The man stood struggling on one leg the other twisted and possibly broken. A large gash was spread across his forehead. He stumbled a few steps before falling into the brush perpendicular to that of the path from which he'd been thrown.
His foot fall didn't touch ground and he tumbled down the cliff face and onto the hill hitting thorns and bramble alike until he came to rest upon level ground where he rolled to a stop. He struggled to his feet once again, his face a mess of bruises, scratches and scrapes. He limped carefully through the patch of waist height bushes towards the beach which was now visible and within reach.
"Huh. I made it, that I did. They're lookin' me aft. I'm protected that I am!" The man held up his trophy necklace in victory as he approached the stone beach.
"How many of their braids there do you wear as trophies?" Nelony asked him appearing from his blind side, her voice bold as thunder and penetrating as lightning.
The man held his trophy necklace up towards her direction.
"See! They fell! So shall ye! Wytch!" He stumbled backwards falling on his haunches banging his head on the stones.
He crawled backwards across the stone beach towards the safety of water, holding his trophy necklace before him for protection.
"If the water is what you want, then water is what you shall have." Her imposing figure wrapped in vines and cloth of leaf hid her privates, sharp thorns and flowers adorned her hair.
Her eyes set upon the water and where her gaze fell, the water frothed momentarily as something from the depths released a pocket of air. The water then moved as it crept towards them beneath the surface sending foam and spray forth as it hit the shallows. He turned to face this new threat as it crept the distance toward him. He even attempted to stand and run as it approached, stumbling clumsily with every step.
He fell once more and it was upon him. He momentarily disappeared beneath the froth emerging in full stance once again a horrendous and blood curdling scream escaping his lips as he attempted to run. He was covered in a matte of leeches, each searching for bare skin upon which to attach themselves. They crawled his skin suckling and attempting to drain him of his blood: that which he cherished so much yet had bled from so many.
Strands of seaweed tightened around his ankles pulling against his effort and creeping the distance to his upper body restraining him further. He fell backwards grabbing perch of the ground beneath the stones, ripping his fingernails and tearing his flesh. His effort only delayed the inevitable and he looked deep into Nelony's eyes.
The eyes of every Wytch he'd murdered stared back at him and at once he knew his fate. The leeches found his irises before he was pulled into the lake where he remained conscious for another one hundred and six seconds. Ironically he'd lasted seven seconds more than that of her last prey.
The leeches and seaweed paused inches from Nelony's feet, perhaps taking some of her pain to bare and to ease her suffering as such before the infernal tide slipped back into the depths. The great weight upon her receded momentarily, though deep inside she knew that there were still more with which to be dealt.
A buzzing sound in her head caught her attention and she scanned the horizon for its source.
"Arrrrrgh!" She screamed as she lurched forward in her bed, her alarm blaring beside her.
She cried for a moment unable to stop her tears. She needed to talk. She needed to speak to Shaela. She'd understand. She always did.
Nelony picked up the phone and began to dial.
Arrival At Sharlesbury
Hours had passed and they'd not seen a soul including Sato. He'd disappeared into the brush and ventured forth as their scout leaving them to each other, although knowing Sato this may have been part of his plan. Barris pondered this for a moment wondering how often his friend actually had such things in mind.
His feet were sore now after walking through the scattered brush. He'd given up his under shirt to Mila to use as a make shift pair of shoes to protect her feet by ripping it in two and wrapping them each delicately. He peered at her admiring his magical artist ballerina as they walked under the mystical dome which followed them, the projected Aurora Borealis illuminating their voyage. He'd thought of A Mid Summer Night's Dream when she'd first summoned the dome feeling like he'd fallen under her spell once again. They had talked little during the journey though they periodically joined hands, playing with each other's fingers tenderly before parting again to deal with rough terrain. He would casually glance at her and she would of course know and communicate it with a delicate finger up his forearm but never returning his glance. He enjoyed this teasing as did she and this became their way of playing in the silence of the night.
Barris stopped for a moment to sooth his feet.
"I've got to stop. My feet were not made for this." He sat down in nothing more than his under shorts and rubbed his feet with his hands.
Mila slinked over to him silently still enamored of their caressing and sat by his feet. Her voice audible in the silence as she sang though extremely quietly. He found himself lulled into relaxation and she rubbed his feet with her soft magic hands as they grew warmer and warmer under her song.
"That's much better darling," he said to her smiling with both his mouth and eyes.
Mila continued her song and he found that despite their predicament, he felt quite good.
"Is this the ticket holders lineup?" Sato joked as he appeared from the darkness getting a little giggle from Mila.
"She's all mine, but I'll give you one if you'd like." Barris turned his head, still half in smile.
"Just as long as you're silent when you do. I'd hate to hear you butcher her song." Sato said grouchily.
"There must have been another reason that you came over here other than to badger us?" Barris asked him unable to get riled by his friend.
"No. My first priority is to badger you. But I also thought that you might want to know that we're near a small village." Sato indicated roughly pointing in the direction they'd been walking.
"Really? Did you hear that honey? We're near a village. Maybe we could get a hotel room and sleep for the rest of the night and then catch a bus back to Alivale in the morning." Barris suggested to Mila who kept her voice in muse.
"And where would I sleep in this arrangement? On the door mat outside." Sato returned sarcastically.
"Well it's that or the bath tub." Barris staid his calm and retained his smile.
"How far is it?" Barris asked Sato.
"About five minutes walk from here. There's no street lamps but it is a town. It appears rustic so it might be an historic sight." Sato informed them.
After a moment of Mila's voice the brush fell to silence as she finished Barris' treatment.
"There's not a town that I'm aware of that close to Alivale. There's Sharlesbury but its just one building and a plaque to commemorate the town that used to be there." Mila said trying to remember the area as best as she could.
"Maybe it's a farm with a few buildings that looks like an old town." Barris suggested.
"A farm? Sounds like the beginning of a dirty joke." Sato replied to Barris' idea.
"Three people lost in the woods stumble upon a farm..." Barris laughed.
"One of them turns the other two into toads and puts them into her pocket." Mila responded before continuing.
"But honey, you were going to be the farmer's daughter..." Barris responded.
"We need to take a look. Are you ready tenderfoot?" Mila stood invitingly in front of Barris extending her hands to him, half smiling.
"Can you carry me please honey?" Barris replied reaching up to her still intoxicated by her foot rub.
"Alright, toads it is." Mila replied.
Barris was on his feet a moment later and commenting on how much better he felt, thanking Mila profusely.
They continued their journey as a trio this time, Sato leading them towards the town he'd seen earlier. They came to a worn path that cut through the forest before it opened to a field. The path was cut with horse hooves and wagon tracks which Mila found odd, seeing as the only farm in the area that still kept horses was good distance from Alivale. Just at the edge of their vision and beyond, they could make out a building.
"We should continue along this path." Mila suggested.
"I'll stick to the grass beside it if its all the same honey." Barris said to her making his was to the soft grass on the other side of the path.
She held tight to his hand and they ventured towards the buildings. When they'd gotten close enough to see that Sato was correct in his observation of the town Mila stopped.
"Just a moment." She said to her fiance and their guardian.
Mila waved a hand over her head wiping the dome from existence. They were now alone with the night sky as their guide.
They continued into the town seeing a sign as they entered which was created of etched wood with space for them to paint the population in as frequently as needed.
Welcome To The Township Of Sharlesbury
Wytches Will Be Tried And Prosecuted As Per The Law
Mila covered her mouth with her hand gasping as she did.
"What the heck is going on?" Barris asked rhetorically.
"The question is not what but more likely when?" Sato said with insight.
To West View At Night
Evan had tried to round up the remaining dead bodies only to have the mature shadow cat hiss at him as he tried to pull them away. Rather than gamble with his life he focused on collecting their paraphernalia, writs or any bounty notices and official documents they'd had on them that would provide evidence of a conspiracy. None of them had the trophy necklaces that had recently become common amongst allies of the Strangers and Wytch Hunters. A sick and disgusting practice he'd always thought.
Shaela was sitting beside the shadow kitten which had curled up beside her mewing playfully. It pawed her a couple of times even baring its claws once. She scolded the giant kitten and it rolled over onto it's back still playing. When it was evident that Shaela was not going to put up with it's antics, the kitten got up and strolled over to it's parent's side and fell asleep. Obviously it had eaten enough of their vomit for one day to suffice a meal and was ready for a nap.
Shaela brushed herself off and stood in attempt to assist Evan as best she could.
"Where to now?" She asked.
"We're to travel to a hot meal and warm bed. I've to be up early and this matter must be attended to. The bounty appears forged meaning this was a grab of coin and unwarranted death. Should I prove this there'd be evidence implicit of the involvement of the Wytch Hunters. That would be the first we've had implicit of their relation to this madness." Evan explained to Shaela.
"Good. I'm coming with you." She insisted.
"You've a home. Why ever would you want a bed in my home? Aside from that, my wife snores a storm, she does." He told her, lying.
"So do I. I don't have a home right now. I will in three hundred and sixty years from now if you'd care to wait for that long." Shaela explained as best she could, feeling tired from her earlier exertion.
"And those things we'll put where?" Evan pointed to the giant shadow cat and its kitten.
"Don't worry about it." Shaela said stepping over towards the shadow cat, its kitten still fast asleep by its side.
Shaela's step momentarily touched upon grace as she cast her incantation to return the shadow cat and its kitten back to their home. The shadow cat started to de-materialize slowly startling it back to awareness. Before it had completely disappeared it grabbed the last of the deceased Wytch Hunters in its jaws, perhaps for a morning snack. They both disappeared safely to their home in the shadow plane, with the Wytch Hunter's body.
"You didn't kill that infernal beast did you?" Evan asked her startled at its disappearance.
"No. Its safe. The young one too. They live in a place that exists beside this one. We just can't see or feel it. But it is there. Time even passes more slowly for them there." Shaela explained though Evan clearly appeared puzzled by her explanation.
"Look can we just leave." Shaela asked him.
"Let me gather the horses then we'll depart. Can you ride?" He asked her.
"What, a horse? Are you kidding? No." Shaela answered him bluntly.
Evan seemed unperturbed by her answer. He tied all of the rider-less horses together in a horse train leaving his apart for now as he prepared to give Shaela a quick lesson.
He attempted to adjust the saddle, untying the strap from his horse and readjusting its position. The horse bellowed in relief though the strap nor the saddle were painful to the creature. It was much like someone loosening their belt after a meal, the horse felt a bit of relief after wearing it for most of the day.
When Evan attempted to put the saddle strap back onto the horse, the horse took a big breath of air, holding it in wait for the saddle strap.
"Renard! Let it out you mischievous creature!" Evan scolded his horse.
Renard, Evan's horse, had taken a breath knowing that Evan was going to put the saddle back on him. If Evan hadn't noticed before he tightened the saddle, when Renard had exhaled, the saddle would have been completely loose and they would have fallen from the horse's back.
Renard let his breath out and waited once again for the saddle. When Evan was satisfied that Renard was no longer toying with him he tightened the saddle up and tied it securely.
"They're wonderful creatures, but sometimes I'd swear that Renard here was trying to get the best of me. You devious beast! Are you sure you're a horse?" Evan stared Renard in the eye and Renard played innocent for Shaela.
"Stand here, if you would allow." Evan positioned Shaela correctly for the lesson.
"You need to mount the horse first. Stand by its left side. Put your left hand on the saddle top here holding the reigns loose and your right hand, near the middle of the saddle, on top here. Your left foot there 'pon the stirrup, then lift your right leg over his back. Please do try." Evan coached her on mounting a horse as he'd done countless times before.
She stood by the left side of the horse and put her foot in the stirrup and threw her right leg over the horse's back, nearly falling over the other side. She screamed and then laughed a little as the horse shifted uneasily. The horse knew instantly that she had never ridden and sought to take advantage of her. Shaela leaned forward onto its neck in an attempt to hang on as the horse galloped forward and then stopped, stepping to the side in short hops. Shaela laughed uneasily trying to hold on and thought she could hear the horse laughing too.
"For the horse's sake, grab the reigns! Grab them! Let him know you're in charge! Don't squeeze his sides with your feet and don't pull his head to either side. If you want him to stop pull back on the reigns but don't hold them back." Evan chased her a little trying to coach her as he did.
The horse continued its prancing and he followed until both the horse and rider had become accustomed to one another. To someone viewing the scene from a distance it may have been a comical one but he did his best to instruct her quickly. He wanted to make sure that she could at least stop the horse for her own safety. He attempted to get close enough so he could mount and get them both back to town.
The horse stopped, having had its bit of fun. It even whinnied a couple of times before Evan was upon the saddle.
"You're a comedic beast and a show off Renard, aren't you." He rubbed and patted its neck from behind Shaela who could only smell sweaty leather.
He maneuvered the horse over to the first of the rider-less horses and grabbed its reigns. He carefully tied the reigns to the back of the saddle with enough slack so his horse wasn't close enough to kick the one behind.
"Should anything happen, grab the reigns and pull them back. Not too hard, but enough to let him know that you want to stop. While we're riding don't clasp in tightness the horse with your legs. That tells the horse that you'd rather travel faster. Easy does it and enjoy the ride." Evan spurred the horse enough to get it moving and onto the softer land. The last thing that he'd wanted was to be changing a shoe out here in this dark.
Shaela relaxed and before long she'd fallen asleep with the gentle rhythm and rocking of the horses trot. She leaned back into Evan's arms and was dreaming of her father. They'd never ridden together when he was alive but they were doing so in her dream. She was laughing as her horse pranced around the fields obviously showing off to her father's steed. She hadn't for a very long time but when the first tear appeared the rest followed in a steady stream.
Yirfir awoke at the first of the rooster's calls and the smell of pig feed and manure. She'd never heard a real rooster before, at least on a farm so the sound was startling to her initially. Even a bit unnerving but that was understandable considering the situation. She was still very tired, perhaps like she'd not even slept at all. She felt dreamy in fact as if none of this were real. Surreal in fact. According to the farmer in whose house they were sleeping, they were currently in the year sixteen fifty four.
While the Sanctum had stood, she'd studied many time periods in her younger days as had Jasmer in the vast Librum Universalis Codex, the sum of all knowledge that the order had accumulated through the yearning and learning, the founding principles of their order and of the Order Of The New.
Yirfir had known that this time was full of turmoil and conflict as the continent itself had begun to take shape since the arrival of settlers from overseas, who'd began to arrive at about nine hundred a.d. Most had either been absorbed into the various indigenous tribes who were even more abundant at that time or they had founded early towns eventually expanding their impression upon the continent.
The colonization of North America had increased substantially after fourteen ninety two and Columbus' "official" discovery of the North American land mass. Many other colonies had landed in various parts of the continent creating settlements and laying down the beginnings of a network that would provide the means to grow throughout the land. In this time there was no conflict with the Aboriginal peoples and they had forged a strong trade alliance with many of the more peaceful colonies. The Aboriginal people had even engaged in exchange programs with some of the settlements in order to share and learn from one another. Around this time of course there were many Jesuits too. Those who sought to tell the Aboriginal peoples why their pagan beliefs were wrong, insisting that they should immediately convert to Christianity and repent for the sins of their savage ways. To many of the Aboriginal people this was amusing at best, perhaps not so much as to those who'd bought into the Jesuits' beliefs. Despite some disagreements related to history and the gods, they got along surprisingly well.
In the Codex there had been indications that this policy had changed drastically around the fifteen to sixteen hundreds and that many such alliances were collapsing rapidly. The Crown at this point was of course interested in what was happening and had hired many privateers to investigate without much success. This was the focal point in history that saw many alliances between the indigenous peoples and the settlers fall. This also began the enormous land grab, robbing the indigenous peoples of their home and heritage.
Yirfir was worried immensely because this was also the time that the great hunt had taken place. The great hunt was of course the name that had been given by those who'd taken part in it, in reference to the extermination of those practitioners of the dark arts. More specifically: Wytchcraft. As long as they were here, they were wanted by the law and the land itself. They were criminals without reprieve. The rooster had seemed to be reminding them of this as if it had known and was pushing them into play the great game.
Thedrick had already been out in the fields for two hours at this point working his already wiry hands to the bone. Tending first to the cows and chickens then to the other animals, who were of course happy to see his arrival and often let him know. Few of the animals were a source of meat as the cows were dairy, the chickens were for the eggs and hatchery, the two pigs were more of a natural source of potent fertilizer for the fields and easy to feed. The horses were there to plow the fields, grind the grain and to haul produce during the trade season. Thed would often trade with one of the other farmers or hunters for a source of cured and smoked meats as he was intensely against the idea of killing any of his animals.
His animals sensed this in him and generally lived stress free as a result. The animals in turn performed their duties with enthusiasm and sometimes even playfully. If one could measure the improvements he'd gained as a result they would indeed have been considerable though he never gave it much thought. Happier chickens seemed to produce bigger eggs and more often. Cows that had lived stress free and were able to roam would produce healthier milk with less fat content and more nutrients. The pigs' would metabolize their food (just about any vegetable matter that Thed could muster up) into fertilizer that nourish the soil and would yield abundant crops. Thed felt that what he was doing was right and was working, but he was never able to correlate his methods with his abundance.
His love of his efforts and his abundance eventually became a bane to him as when others who'd had bad years saw Thed's yield, they'd grown jealous and distrustful of him. Thed had never had a textbook "bad year" for crops or produce. This had caught the attention of his competitors and had turned some of them hostile towards him. The town's folk began investigating years ago and had come to the conclusion that his wife was a Wytch. She'd been caught singing to the chickens, who would sometimes attempt to imitate her voice, startling the investigators. Perhaps some kind of mesmerism?
She had taken an active part in some of his other farm duties which was uncalled for in these times for a woman. The town had eventually singled her out and unbeknownst to the two of them, she'd become the cause of a whole host of problems for the town itself. She was the reason that the Sullen's child had a deadly case of measles. She was the reason that Marin had slept with his neighbour's daughter. She was the reason that Malsy's two boys would wake in the night and raid the storehouse of the best smoked meat, which of course they'd eat themselves leaving the evidence outside Thed's door.
When the deputy representative had shown up with the papers for her arrest, old Thed had gotten down on his knees and prayed to the deputy not to take her. He swore on his farm that these charges were the devil's work and nothing more. When the deputy had explained to Thed that the charges were final, he began to cry and appeal to the deputy's sense of better judgement. Thed's wife of course had come out to see what the commotion was and when she'd found out that she'd been charged with the practice of Wytchcraft, she merely laughed pleasantly and said that's nonsense. She picked her husband up and told him that she'd be back afore supper and that they would enjoy the evening together under the stars. She eventually convinced him and he'd waited on that hope ever since. That was the last time that he saw her alive.
When the next day a messenger of the deputy's office came with the news that she'd been found guilty and put to death by hanging the same night, Thed had fallen into a state of shock. He followed the messenger and had seen her body in disbelief denying that it was her.
"That is nought my wife. Deputy. No. She's nought. My wife's not here." Thed stood convincing the deputy as if it were some kind of cruel joke.
The deputy handed him her necklace and ring, the very ones that Thed's own mother had given to him as she'd been given by hers. Thed took the jewelry in disbelief and then took his wife's body by his lonesome that night to the Church Morgue and sat with her all night waiting for her to wake up. The Father of the parish showed up the next day and eventually talked him into leaving. Thed had been a different man from that point. When he'd passed by the deputy's office to confirm that he'd seen and taken her body to the Morgue, two of the other farmers in the township were on hand to address Thed as he left.
"Your good crops be nature's wish to come by, rather than by the way of the vile darkest ones." One of them offered to Thed.
"I am by your hand Thed an ally. But crops as yours is nought so easily come by. Her's was the devil's way. You are so much better than the like of hers." The second said in full ignorance.
Thed's temperature boiled and he'd seen the devil right that moment three times. Once by the words of the first man. Then by the remarks about his deceased wife from the second. Then when he'd fought with all of the restraint he had against the urge to strangle and beat the two men to death right there in front of the deputy. That is how Thed had come to the decision to join them. The scourge of the Wytch Hunters. He would join the True.
The True secretly had approached him many times, though the clues came to him without the presence of any person and they always came when he least expected it.
The first was a feather. That of a pheasant. Pheasants were wild creatures and those in the township had neither the experience nor the skill to hunt them. Only creatures such as wolves, coyotes, badgers and brush lions would hunt such game. The wild creatures of the forest and the Indians. The Natives of the land though they'd not do so for sport without the approval of the spirits for to do so was to spit in the face of the spirits themselves. Such creatures were a gift from the great one, the Gitchi Manitou. To trifle them and play their needless death as a game was to anger the spirits themselves. A year of drought. A season without bison. A year of infertility. A year without visions or the guidance of the spirits.
Thed had at first thought that the feather was another cruel joke. He picked it up from his front door when he'd awoken at four thirty am to start his chores for the day. There it was in a munificent spread of colours laid before the door like a gift. He'd heard of brush lions doing so before, usually as an omen they were going to take a chicken or two. Their way of paying an homage to the source of their food just as Thed might pray before a meal.
When the next day Thed found another feather the same as before, he ran out to the barn and stables to make sure that his animals weren't in danger. When he saw that they were alright he pocketed the feather and continued his chores. He'd never heard tell of a brush lion leaving feathers two nights in a row so he assumed that something else was up. He even thought of his wife and how she might be trying to contact him from heaven. Upon thinking about it he decided that she would have used a chicken feather before she'd have used a pheasant feather.
There were no feathers for two months after that and he'd forgotten all about them. Then one morning when he'd gone outside to start his daily chores he caught sight of a necklace in the same place where he'd found the feathers. He examined the necklace seeing that it was made up of locks of hair: human hair. Each one was divided from the others by a bead and they were different colours each as were the locks of hair. He thought that maybe this was a sign of the devil and in one sense he was right. He made a mental note to take it to the deputy later that day.
When he arrived at the deputy's office in town to hand in the necklace, the deputy had confronted him.
"I see that word has already made way by to you." The deputy commented.
"I apologize, but word of what?" Thed asked him.
"Dannias. He was found dead. By the river bank. Drowned." The deputy informed him.
"I am sorry to hear of it." Thed replied sincerely though he'd known that Dannias was one of the Wytch Hunters who'd contributed to his wife's conviction.
Thed reached for the necklace in his pocket to hand it over to the deputy but paused when the horrid thought had occurred to him. What if this was Dannias' necklace? Thed would essentially confessing to Dannias' murder though he'd never participated in or even imagined such an act. Instead he kept it in his pocket and and asked the deputy if there had been any evidence to clear his wife's name.
"No. There has been none such as until now as there likely wain't be." The deputy answered.
Thed bit his lip and fought a tear before thanking the deputy and leaving, his fingers playing with the necklace in his pocket.
Thed went home and slept uneasily for the night and spent the next two months in the horrors of a nightmare involving his wife's execution.
On the morning of the four month anniversary of her death, Thedrick opened the door to start his morning chores as he always did, once again finding another necklace as the first one, this one many more locks of hair than the first he'd found. By this point he'd put it together that they'd been a sort of trophy necklace for the Wytch Hunters. They used the locks of hair of the alleged Wytches to count their successes and wore them in public as a status symbol.
This one he'd seen and were one of Lynelee's bright red locks. She'd died two weeks ago after fleeing prior to her conviction. The Wytch Hunters had pursued her finding her only one hour after their pursuit had started. The law had stated that if a Wytch had fled conviction or trial, they were automatically guilty. The death penalty was visited upon her on the spot and a lock of her beautiful red hair taken for the trophy by Panrick.
Panrick had been a farmer at one point who'd experienced a number of bad years eventually turning in his plow for the lucrative business of Wytch Hunting. Panrick had already made a name for himself between many of the townships here and in Sharlesbury. Sharlesbury was the first town where it became a sanctified means of dealing with Wytchcraft as Father Elias Wilsen had been the first representative of the clergy to kill a Wytch. That act of approval led to the arrival of the strangers who'd made the Wytch Hunt into what it was today. A powerful force in shaping the future of the continent.
Panrick had been the hunter who'd proposed that the absence of good weather and the bad crops were the results of Thed's wife singing to the chickens every afternoon. Also it was likely that the same singing was responsible for Thed's higher yield of eggs. The investigation had started shortly thereafter as a result and much of the evidence and testimony was provided by Panrick at the trial. Panrick had also attended his wife's execution and now here too was Panrick's trophy necklace with a lock of his deceased wife's hair. Thed assumed correctly that Panrick was now dead and that if he turned the necklace into the deputy, he would become a suspect in his murder. If both Panrick's and Dannias' necklaces were found, he would be wrongly convicted and join his wife shortly thereafter. Someone was letting him know that they'd been killed in retribution for his wife's death.
Thed had slept uneasily for the weeks following and he stayed away from town lest absolutely necessary, in order to avoid arousing suspicion. One day when Thed had returned from the fields after a particularly hard day, the deputy arrived by horse with what appeared to be a writ of some form in hand.
"Thedrick. A talk is required between us." The deputy demanded.
"Alright deputy, if I must comply." Thed answered sure that he'd been found out though he was innocent.
Thed invited the deputy in and gave him a chair and joined him in his favourite.
"This is a thing that I have been avoiding with all of my heart and the Lord his self knows that I must do it." The deputy looked at Thed his eyes piercing and determined.
"We found Panrick's body a few weeks ago. He'd been found hanging by the neck near where Dannias' body had been found." The deputy explained as he unrolled the vellum paper and unsealed a writ.
Thed thought about his wife for the first time since she'd told him that she would return for a night together. Innocent or not his execution seemed a welcoming thing.
"Thed. Your wife has been found innocent of the crime of the practice of Wytchcraft." The deputy proclaimed, handing him the writ, signed by the town council.
"We found a note in Panrick's own hand quill, stating how he'd come to the idea his self. He'd had a few bad years of crops and his jealousy had begotten his best. All in his own writing. The devils had spake into his ear and he heard for he started the rumours about her, then impressed upon the hunters that they might look into her." The deputy stated in a sombre voice.
Thed sat silently for a moment unsure of what to do. He wanted to scream at God. He wanted to ask him why he'd taken her and why he'd let her be taken in such a manner? He read the writ before rolling it back up.
"I would like very much to be alone." Thed told the deputy.
"I will ya oblige." The deputy responded as if it were somehow an imposition to him.
He stood and left the house silently closing the door behind him.
Thed went to bed that night thinking that God and the world had taken everything he loved and thrown him away. He took out his print copy of the Bible he'd gotten from his parents, opening it up to the Book of Job and spat on it, closing it hard on the spittle. From that moment he felt free of a broken promise that could never be repaid by the one who'd broken it. A bet. Job's life and loss resulted from a bet taken up by the one being he'd committed himself to nearly as much as he had his wife. All over a bet. Not just any bet. Wagering with someone's life, love and well being.
Thedrick in the months following fell hard into drink and would ferment whatever he could for it. He still managed to keep his schedule and tend to all of the duties on his farm but his only friend after a day's work was mead. He'd never learnt to make wine but had become an expert at fermenting a variety of different vegetables and fruits. Usually the resulting drink would be thick and very sweet and aromatic and much to his liking.
He would often sit at his table drinking only fall asleep at his table muttering an array of curses to himself only to wake up the next day at exactly four thirty and start his chores. He lived by these means for many months until the signs started coming again. He found a variety of acorn on his front door step that was not indigenous to this part of the continent.
Being a farmer he'd known just about everything that could grow in or outside of his field and how to recognize it from seedling to sap to sire*. The acorn he'd known was not local to his neck of the woods so he took it and put it in his pocket for later examination. By the late afternoon when he'd done his chores, he made his way back to the house for a bite and some of his mead. His meal was in his stomach and barely chewed before he began his daily romance with mead. Sitting there by his lonesome he leaned back in his chair and found something digging into his rump. Fishing through his pocket he found the culprit it of course being the acorn he'd found in the same place as the quail feathers months before.
He examined it closely discovering that someone had etched something into it's shell. He didn't recognize it as any language he'd be familiar with though his writing skills were extremely modest to say the least. This was a language that did not use the letters that he'd learned from his father twenty years prior. He left the acorn on the table and crawled into his bed for once.
That night he'd dreamt of a tree that had grown just outside of his house near the back gate. It stood there majestically like a guardian quietly in the evening sun. Thed had approached it and pulled an acorn from one of its boughs seeing clearly that it was like the acorn he'd found on his door mat.
In his dream Dannias and Panrick had been in the back way on the other side of the gate. When Thedrick stepped by the gate just under the tree to see what they were up to, he saw her: his wife. She was as she had many times sitting on her favourite stool singing as the chickens examined the dirt for feed. Her voice quiet and lulling and occasionally one of the chickens would attempt to imitate her voice.
Dannias was a body length behind her readying a rope carefully into a noose for the dark deed that was to come. Panrick was ready to spring upon her when the rope was ready for the task. As Thed came into view his wife turned to take notice of him and upon seeing him, stood and ran for him arms extended. Thedrick opened the gate and caught her, holding tight to her under the protection of the tree. He smelled the life in her and felt her soft hair against his rugged unbathed skin.
Dannias having finished the noose gave it to Panrick who was better at rope handling. The two approached the couple fully ready to take them both if they had to. A Wytch after all was a Wytch. As they approached the ground beneath their feet shifted and a tangle of roots caught their feet holding them fast. They attempted to lean forward and reach for the couple who had backed into the main trunk of the tree in retreat.
"We'll be at you Thed. You're wife's dead as will you be Thed." Dannias taunted the couple still reaching for them.
Panrick tried to loop the noose around the couple's necks reaching with it to toss around them. The tree's branches suddenly came to life and grabbed hold of him hefting him thirty feet into the air. During the process Panrick had somehow become entwined in his own rope and when the branches had abandoned him, he fell ten feet snapping his neck under the tension of his own noose.
Dannias screamed at the sight of his accomplice hanging motionless from the tree. As if to silence his cries the roots of the tree climbed his body intertwining themselves completely wrapping him head to foot. Once he'd disappeared beneath the roots, they were pulled under the ground itself with little concern for his comfort. His body was quickly mangled and crushed into the ground as he disappeared the sudden silence as piercing as his earlier screams.
The evening was once again peaceful and Thedrick had hoped that maybe the whole ordeal was just a nightmare.
"Thedrick, I must leave you. Hold fast and keep your faith my love. I will always love you." She said to him parting from him and slowly fading from the world.
Thed slept soundly for the night and for the first time in his life, he overslept.
He arose knowing that he'd drifted long and quickly got himself together to tend to his chores. Before he left the house he noticed the acorn on the table and decided that he'd plant it that day.
He dug a hole for it right where he'd seen it in his dream hoping that it didn't upset the posts for the fence as it grew. He fell to his knees on the spot thinking about the moment he'd had with his wife in his dream. The tears left his eyes slowly crawling down his face through his moustache and beard before dripping down onto the soil where he'd planted the acorn. He took a few moments to collect himself before he covered over the hole and gave it a healthy measure of water.
"My hopes are that ye'll be soon here. My thanks for the protection of my wife and I." Thed spoke to spot on the ground where he'd buried the acorn and his tears.
Thed worked quickly to catch up on his chores. His cows were already a little grumpy that he'd slept in as were the pigs who eventually ended up in mischief by the time he'd attended to them. They'd broken open the gate separating themselves from the vegetable compost to get at the rotting vegetable matter in lieu of their missed meal. He apologized to them profusely for his tardiness and promised never again to forget them like that. Of course they'd all but forgotten about it as soon as they'd had feed and everything was back to normal in their world. The chickens scolded him a little too and after he'd fed and watered them he took the time to try to sit with them on his wife's favourite stool. He sang a few lines from the only song he knew and when he thought he heard the chickens laughing at him, he stopped.
"See if I ever sing ye another..." He joked with them as they squawked back at him.
Thed dreamt again that night and was once again standing by the tree at the gate. The night air was still around him and the tree rose majestically before him.
"I've been waiting for you." The voice of a lady emanated from the tree.
"Who might ye be miss?" Thed asked anxiously a bit of nervous tension present in his voice.
The tree rumbled for a moment then fell silent. Then the interior of the tree opened up unfolding and unwrapping itself to reveal the figure of a woman.
She stepped forward out of the trunk of the tree and floated to the ground, her glowing hands illuminating the way.
"I am Nelony. Nelony Theearin." She said introducing herself to Thed.
If Thedrick had known Nelony of the twenty-first century he'd have mistaken the two of them for sisters despite the difference in their last names. The twenty-first century Nelony having the last name Ardbloem. Though they were not direct sisters in relation, they were connected in ways that few understood. Nelony Theearin's struggle from birth had made her both strong of body and character. Nelony Ardbloem's heart was delicate, frail and often forgiving at her own expense. The truth is that they could have learnt much from one another.
"I'm most pleasured to meet you, Lady Nelony." Thed blushed though he'd only really ever had eyes for his wife.
"I am the overseer of a group that has your interest as you have ours. Let us say that we share the same goals. I chose to come to you in this way due to the dangers in the world for our kind. By planting the tree you have indicated your interest in us and we have taken heed of the call." Nelony walked around eyeing the farm and surroundings as she spoke.
She continued her stroll around him admiring the land and the air. Where ever her foot fell, the plant life there suddenly grew energized as if her very essence healed the land itself.
"So what would you have of me next?" Thed asked Nelony.
"I want you to wait for me. Wait for the sign. Two people will come to see you, lost in the night. A lady and a man. When they do I want you to bring them to me." Nelony requested of Thed.
"Where might I find ye?" Thed asked her, very curious of her now.
"Follow my light. Stay clear of the hunters' darkness for it will be their undoing. You will bring them to the south. Travel for two nights and only travel at night as the Hunters rarely track their quarry during the night and we will know that it is you." Nelony walked towards the gate.
As she approached she floated effortlessly over the gate and back to the ground. Thed jogged over and opened the gate trying to catch up.
Nelony walked over to the chicken coop where the chickens were fast asleep as were the pigs and cows. She admired their worry free slumber and wandered over to the fields.
"They love you, you know." Nelony told him.
"By the mischief they'd get themselves into I'd never have known..." Thed replied his voice thick with sarcasm and humour.
"You're a good man Thed. Your wife really loved you. Its a shame they came for her." Nelony said sincerely a tear wandered down her cheek.
"Too many have been lost by their ire. Women and Men alike." Nelony said retrospectively.
"Why have they come to do this?" Thed asked her.
She paused while she admired his fields where the stalks of corn were already beginning their skyward climb frolicking to the rhythm of the wind.
"They were already here. The people that you call the strangers came to teach them how to rid themselves of their misdeeds and to bury them in the graves of others. They are those that find ways to expunge themselves of their deeds and foulness by placing it upon others, then torturing and killing them for it." She closed her eyes as if the words caused her pain.
"They do this to maintain their way of life rather than to change their ways. Others pay the price for their deeds. Wytches as you call us have often kept the balance safe and so that such deeds are answered for or reparations made that keep the harmony." Nelony looked to the forest surrounding the farm.
"When they've built up too much, they hunt for a sacrifice in their stead so that the price is paid. Often it is an innocent who pay and the selection is made out of jealousy, envy or greed. Their victims are painted in a poor light by those that take part in the hunt. By the end of their persecution they are as emotionally destroyed and tormented as the demons the hunters claim to seek. The rest of the township in seeing this then goes along with their sacrifice often casting their own sins onto the victim as well. Nobody fights it because none want to be next." Nelony held her fingers out and a large dragonfly took perch fanning its wings to cool itself.
"Every time this happens and every time that one is killed in their place, or any time that person fails to make reparations for the damage of their own deeds, that weight is pushed onto our children, and theirs and so on..." Nelony raised her fingers to the air and the dragonfly took flight after a mosquito quickly making a meal of it.
"When this burden grows to these tremendous proportions, the strangers show up and teach them of the hunt. The innocent pay and the hunters never learn to understand the damage their actions cause by having to make reparations to their victims or to society." Nelony reflected upon this.
"When that weight is too much for our children and our children's children, the burden then falls to nature and the wild and the great Aerth. When none heed the call and Aerth doth fall, so do we all." Nelony explained to Thed who listened in amazement and horror.
"Ye did fell those men? Dannias? Panrich? That is punishment of the most foul. None the better than the hunters. Are ye their like?" Thedrick questioned.
"They fell by the rules of their own law. The Wytch hunter's law. They lied about your wife. They concocted false evidence to incriminate her. They communed with the goal of taking her from you knowing that it would result in her death. These are the same charges they often cast upon their quarry. Usually the innocent or those guilty of far less than they. Without Panrick's written confession, those sins would have lay upon your wife's name and bore upon the generations to come. Not just yours. Everyone's. Dannias and Panrick died by the rule of their own ways. Had their ways been more forgiving and less deceitful then both they and your wife would be with us. They judged themselves." Nelony explained.
"That is enough for tonight. Remember to bring the two people that come to your house, a lady and a man due south two nights from here. Travel at night and only night. I will return here once more." Nelony floated back to the tree as Thed struggled to keep up with her.
"Who can I tell them you are?" Thed asked Nelony as she floated through the air.
"We are as we always have been as am I, Nelony Theearin Of The True." Nelony replied to him, her voice deep and resounding.
The tree welcomed her form and folded around her consuming her to its interior. She disappeared and the night grew still once again. Thed stood before the tree in disbelief and awe. From behind it she stepped out of the darkness and into view, his wife.
He ran to her and they embraced for the night.
Thedrick awoke in full memory of the dream he'd had in the months prior to their arrival. The two that Nelony had spoken of and they'd arrived just as she'd said they would. He got up to start his daily chores for he had a busy day ahead of him as his guests had a long journey.
They wandered into the town, walking through what would be considered by most in modern times to be the strip. They opted for silence in the early morning atmosphere of the town. The sun was still just below the horizon but the first light was beginning to break the darkness. The stars, moon and early morning haze combined to cast an eerie light upon the scene. There was a trading post, a messaging and courier service, an apothecary and a small food and vegetable market square that despite the day and age was remarkably clean. The town hall was also there as was a sizeable stable. The horses shifted uneasily as they strolled by.
Barris being a little bit of an historian surmised that despite the fact that they weren't aware of bacteria and microbes, they still had made the link between hygiene and health. Louis Pasteur wouldn't be born for another two hundred years so they'd have to wait for the practice of bacterial sterilization. Sato would have agreed if they'd spoken about it, though there were herbs that sufficed as antibacterial agents to his knowledge in the absence of modern medicine. The people were not as backwards as some might think and had come up with some pretty ingenious ways to do things that we take for granted today.
Mila's attention first drifted to the horses as she'd sensed their uneasiness. She whispered a quiet tune to sooth them and the tension in the air, Barris squeezing her hand to caution her. She heeded Barris' concern for her stealth continuing her appraisal of the town. The apothecary caught her eye as the building had been constructed a bit differently than the others with more curves and colour perhaps to indicate its purpose.
The town hall was another great construction as the lumber, joists and posts that supported the bulk of its weight were engraved with design and carvings, some of which had painted the story of the town itself. She'd have stopped to admire this story if they had not to be so cautious for her sake and theirs.
A little further down another building had caught her eye though for entirely different reasons that she currently couldn't understand. It was the school building, a simple and modest house with presumably one large room for the student's learning. It too had many carvings upon its wooden exterior which were partly the work of an artisan and partly the efforts of the students themselves. Closely tucked beside it was the house of its main instructor and teacher again which had caught Mila's attention, though she sensed a great pain from within that was beyond her explanation.
The three of them turned when they'd heard a noise from the stables. There a man was hauling a pail of water to the watering troughs that the horses drank from. He paused when he caught eye of the trio. They watched each other for a moment unsure of what to do.
"I say there good sir! Might you be able to spare a blanket and bread for a lost lot as we are?" Barris did his best to break the tension throwing some weight into his accent.
"And who by the devil's blazes are ye to be asking such a thing of a stranger at this time?" responded the stable hand.
"We are lost and have been separated from our caravan. The merchant's caravan out of Alivale? Perchance you'd be in the know of this?" Barris struggled to keep their cover.
"Alivale? That hogwash pile of horse droppings lot? Farnel there owes me two horses he does!" the stable hand responded obviously have had a button pressed.
Barris paused clearly in way over his head. He looked to Sato for some help only to have Sato push him closer to the stable hand. Mila rubbed Barris' hand tenderly and encouragingly.
"That weasel dung Farnel? He owes me a horse too! And by chance that's how we ended up here. You see, our caravan was already a horse short when we'd arrived at Alivale. Farnel had agreed to make up our difference and then reneged before we left! That vile crow beaked, llama poop gathering, moth eaten undergarment wearing excuse of a wretch!" Barris said pouring it on too thick.
Mila struggled to keep from laughing. Sato looked down shaking his head, his hand on his forehead as they were obviously now in way too deep to back out.
The stable hand paused for a moment, dropping the empty bucket and making his way over to their place in the middle of the dirt street.
When he arrived he gave Barris an eye and a dirty look to accompany it. Barris held his ground against the much bigger and burlier man who began to laugh hysterically.
"That was pretty good, t'was! I only have ye one question. What in the stink of hell is a llama?" he asked Barris bursting out to laughter once again his staunch breath blasting tears to Barris' eyes.
Mila unable to contain herself any more began to laugh as did Sato. Barris only kept a smile on his face though he felt pretty good. Standing in the middle of a strange town, three hundred and fifty years from his own time wearing nothing more than his underpants and he'd made a friend.
"Ye'll get yer blanket and yer bread for a laugh as good as that one! I've got some garments ye can 'ave too." he paused.
"...and some moth eaten undergarments!" he burst out laughing once again throwing his arm around Barris.
Mila and Sato immediately felt a bit of relief and were all at once and for the first time grateful for Barris' sense of humour. In this instance it may have save a great many lives including but not limited to their own.
The stable hand invited them into to the stable offices where as luck would have it he stored his salvage as he called it. Clothing that was discarded, too small for him and anyone that he knew personally. Before long they were each fully clothed and blended in with the local villagers.
"There be only a promise as ye to keep for this gain. Carry the rest of this clothing up to the Church, no more than a short hike through the woods. I'm sure that Father Wilsen could use what you don't. Tell him Belmar sent it." The man threw the remainder of the clothing in a rucksack and threw it at Barris', nearly knocking him over.
They discussed the directions for a moment and when Barris was confident he understood them he acknowledged Belmar.
"I'll do that mate." Barris' offered his hand, the man looking at it like he'd insulted him.
"There are no more garments! Now get afore I change my mind!" Belmar barked at him.
They quickly left the office and found their up the path to the old Church and in search of Father Wilsen.
continued in A Lady's Prerogative Book II: Wounded Aerth Part IV...
Copyright © 2014 Brian Joseph Johns