Harald's Story

A Muttered Conversation Beside the Fire

After several minutes of sorting through the various cookware and trying to pack it all securely, Berit lifted her head slightly. She could sense the slow approach of her mistress. Apparently, the king had finished with his instructions. Berit nodded slightly to herself, then returned to her work. She knew it would be best for her to continue doing her duties until her mistress told her otherwise. Although she wanted nothing to do nothing more than run to the old woman and find out what this maddening night portended, she knew it would not be wise to do that.

After a couple more moments, the old woman stepped into the light and let out a ragged cough that was only slightly muffled by the aged hand she used to cover her mouth. Berit smiled slightly upon seeing Harald jump at the sound, only recovering once he determined its source. The thief must have been too engrossed in his fretting thoughts to notice the hag's approach. Berit felt her usual smug satisfaction at noticing other people's lack of attentiveness, though it did not afford her as much comfort as it had on other such occasions.

The old woman walked over to Harald and addressed him plainly. "Had I known what a mess you were involving me in when you asked for help, I would have turned you away. Indeed, I've half a mind to send you off with a curse at your back, now that it's too late for me to walk away from it."

"I swear, I had no idea what would transpire," Harald stammered, a mix of defensiveness and apology emanating from his voice.

"I realize that, which is why I will stay my wrath against you. But it would do you well to remember these words. The next witch you might seek help from may not be so merciful."

"I understand. And I thank you for your mercy."

"Very well, then. After speaking with the old king, I am inclined to advise you to allow more time between now and your eventually departure by sea. The girl and I have much work to do before then, and I think the spirit underestimates how much time it will take us to accomplish it."

"What do you suggest, then?"

"Choose a ship that will set sail no sooner than ten days after you arrive in Garnswick. That should be sufficient."

"I will do as you suggest."

"Good, then leave us immediately. I must speak with my student alone. She will meet you at the appointed place when we are ready."

Harald bowed to the woman. "I thank you for your help and I bid you farewell."

"Bid that no further harm befalls me because of you, and I shall consider that thanks enough." At that, Harald nodded to Berit and walked away. After waiting several minutes, the woman addressed her pupil. "All right, girl, you can stop with your chores. Come sit with me so that we can talk."

Berit set aside the sack she was trying to pack and joined the woman by the fire. She sat on a log the old woman gestured to as she approached. "I'm listening, Mistress."

The old woman studied Berit for several long seconds before sighing. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry. Both for what transpired tonight and for the direction your life is about to take. When I chose you as my pupil two years ago, I never dreamed that such events would unfold."

"Have I displeased you, Mistress?"

"No!" the woman barked. Then realizing the harshness in her voice, she immediately softened. "Never think it, child. You have been a superb apprentice, and have done a far better job than I did so many years ago when I studied under my own mistress."

"Then why am I being sent away with this man?"

"Because the spirit of that old corpse up there is demanding it, that's why!" the hag snarled, glancing back towards the burial mound. "He took a great many liberties tonight, and I would see that he paid for them if circumstances were different.

Berit blinked at this revelation. "So then I did see you try to fight him off when he first entered you?"

The old woman nodded. "You saw that, did you? Good, it tells me that your second sight is developing quite well. It will serve you well in the days to come. Yes, I did try to fight of the spirit. I had not invited him in, and had he been almost any other spirit, I would've banished him and destroyed his grave for such an offense. But this king is not like most spirits. He's old and wise. And what's more, he seems to know many of our ways. It's why I couldn't fight him off."

"But Mistress, how can this be. I thought our order kept our ways secret? How could anyone else know them?"

"I don't know, my child. To be honest, there's a great deal about our order and its history that no one can remember. There are so few of us left, and we spend so much time just making sure we survive despite the animosity of many townspeople. There's little time to record the lore of old, especially lore that is deemed to have no magical value.

"All I know for sure is that this spirit knew much of our ways, and was able to overcome my defenses because of it. But more than that, he knows of certain signs and codes, things which grant him the right to make requests of me. And he invoked this right when he asked that you travel with Harald."

"I understand. So I am bound to go on this trip, and I accept that. But can you at least tell me why this spirit would make such a request."

The old woman thought for a long moment. "I cannot give an answer you're likely to find satisfactory. But this spirit seems to believe that the thief will need the further services of a witch during his quest. For whatever reason, the old king is inclined to provide for that need, rather than leaving the man to seek out a witch on his own."

"But I'm merely a pupil. My training is not even close to being complete."

"Yes, and I've told the old king as much. However, he is insistent that he sends someone with the man. And I'm too old and infirm to make the journey. So the spirit chose the only other option he had, figuring a half-trained witch was better than nothing.

"Do not be too dismayed, Girl," the old woman said as Berit's head sagged. "I may have no choice in sending you, but I will do what I can to offer some hope for your future. You will not leave as a disgraced apprentice, but as a recognized witch."

Berit looked up in amazement. "But my training-"

The woman interrupted, "It is not necessary for your training to be complete for me to release you as a witch. Releasing a girl early is not a common practice, but it's not unheard of either. Besides, I will see to it that your training continues."

"But how?"

"As we have already discussed, you already have developed your second sight fairly well. I suspect many of your other psychic abilities, while not fully developed, are adequate for sensing and communicating with the spirit realm. I can ask a spirit guide to accompany with you and help you. That guide will also continue your training.

"I will warn you, you will find this form of training quite difficult. Indeed, what I could teach you in a couple more years may take as many as five or six for you to learn during your travels. But it's the best option you have."

"Thank you, Mistress. I'm in your debt."

"Perhaps. But I suspect you will repay that debt some day. But come now, if we are to do this, we must get started."