Harald's Story

Atop the Burial Mound

As the girl heaped more food into the bowl in her gnarled hands, the old woman turned her attention back to Harald. "As the girl said, we will be conducting the heart of our business - the right to contact the old king - a couple hundred feet from here, atop the mound where he's buried. I've already prepared my seat there and performed the preliminary rites to ensure that we are not disturbed by wandering spirits or other forces.

"It's important that we approach the site in complete silence, so be sure to ask me any questions you might have now. The journey to the ritual space should be spent in contemplation, perfecting the questions you will ask the old king. Bear in mind that the phrasing of a question can mean the difference between a helpful answer and a disastrous end to the whole ordeal."

The thief nodded, "I understand. I've spent some time doing some research on this rite. There's a certain formula to questions that seems most effective, isn't there?"

"Indeed, there is. Of course, in the end, you're at the mercy of the spirit's mood. At any rate, once we get there, I will take my seat. You should sit on the ground a few feet in front of me. Once we're situated, the girl will sing the summoning song while I enter a trance. Then it's a matter of waiting for the king to show up.

"Once he does, I'll let you know and you can introduce yourself - be sure to be formal and polite when you do so - and ask for his guidance. I will relay his response to you.

"This next part is important: Be sure to address the spirit directly. Do not speak as if you're relaying your messages through me. That would insult him, and we would all be in trouble."

"Is there someplace I should look when addressing him?"

"It depends on what he decides to do. If he manifests himself visibly - a rare occurrence, but not unheard of - you'll know where to look. Otherwise, watch my gaze to get an idea of where he is. If nothing else, look at me, but make it clear you're talking to him. Did you bring a gift?"

Harald nodded at that question and reached into the bad he carried over his shoulder. He pulled out a small package wrapped in cloth, untied the bindings, and displays a small, tarnished dagger. It's now-battered handle still showed signs of being made by a true craftsman. "I'm not sure how long it's been in my family. I'm sorry to see it go, but it's one of the few things I have that's worth anything, but wasn't stolen."

The old woman studied it for a moment. Harald almost wondered if her eyes had widened for just an instant. Finally, she frowned. "It will have to do." She then turned to the girl and continued, "Have something prepared in case the spirit chooses not to accept this gift."

"Do you think that's likely, Mistress?" the girl asked quietly.

The old woman sighed. "It's hard to say. Old spirits - especially those of ancient royal lines - can be difficult to predict. It's a good weapon, but in severe disrepair. But the time has come. We do this now or we can forget the whole thing.

The old woman stood slowly, Harald following her lead. The pair began to gather up the few items they would need while the girl checked the fire to ensure it would burn safely while they were away. Once these preparations were done, the old woman led the others away from the fire's light. They were soon walking up a slight inclined, again immersed in near blackness. Harald tried to calm his nerves, but little of what he had been told comforted him.

After a few more minutes, the ground leveled out again. Harald could see a low-sitting chair before them. It was made of rough-hewn wood and covered in hides. The hag climbed into this seat and pulled another hide over her legs. Harald lowered himself into a cross-legged position a few feet in front of her, as he had been instructed. The girl stood behind and to the left of her teacher.

The woman took a few seconds to get comfortable, and then signaled the girl with a nod. At that, the girl began to intone a melodic chant. Harald listened, noting that he could not understand the words. He surmised it was one of the older languages that only the scholars knew now. He idly wondered if even the old woman knew what the song truly meant. The melody itself was beautiful, though haunting, perfect for the girl's vocal range.

The hag opened her eyes, a puzzled look on her face. She opened her mouth, only to stop before the first breath flowed through her vocal cords. Her puzzled expression turned to one of shock, and she let out a little gasp and closed her eyes. Harald was about to come to the old woman's aid when she straightened in her chair and opened her eyes. Her eyes seemed to burn with a fire that had not been there before. She opened her mouth and began to speak with a voice that almost seemed to not be her own. "Long have I slumbered in luxury, and now I find myself called forth by this living corpse of a woman. This does not please me."

Harald gulped, wondering why the old woman had not mentioned the possibility that the spirit could actually possess her. He shifted nervously before proceeding. "Forgive this intrusion, ancient lord. I would not have asked to disturb your slumber, but all other options have failed me. My name is Har-"

The king barked, "Do not trouble my ears with your name, foreigner. I know well who you are. You and your fathers have troubled my people with your thieving ways for three generations. And now, spirits from another land trouble my domain because of you."

"Trouble your land?"

"Did you think that interfering with your burglaries is the only thing these rogue spirits have done? When did your noble ancestors decline into such shortsightedness? These spirits are doing whatever they can in hopes of obtaining what they seek. Many have been troubled by them. Even my slumber has been restless these past few nights."

"What do these spirits want then?"

"Justice. These spirits are your own kinsmen, foreigner. They are the descendants of those who stayed in your ancestral lands."

"They have come this far for justice?"

"There has been a great crime against your kinsmen across the sea, one which cannot be redressed by anyone there. So these spirits have come here, looking for any kinsman who might be able to help them. And they have found you."

"I know nothing of these things. I have forgotten much of my ancestral lands. I do not know how I can help redress anything which happened there."

"Nonetheless, you are their kinsman, and it is your responsibility to do what you can."

"And if I refuse?"

"Then you will have proven that your family has lost all dignity. You shall live in shame for the rest of your life. And you will do so as an exile."

"An exile?"

"Let us be clear, foreigner. You have brought trouble to my people and my lands. As the first king, they are my responsibility. As such, I have no tolerance for you, or the trouble you now bring with you. One way or another, you will leave my domain, for you are no longer welcome. And I will be glad when these poor marauding spirits leave with you.

"However, because there was a time when your grandfathers actually acted with honor and helped my people, I am inclined send you away with what little aid I can offer to satisfy your kinsmen's need for justice. Their spirits deserve the rest it will bring them.

Harald nodded, knowing he was beaten. "Very well. I will travel afar and see what I can do for my wronged kinsmen. But I'm not sure where to start."

"On that matter, I can offer some advice. Listen to me well, foreigner."