Harald's Story

Berit Reflects on Her Past

The girl, named Berit by her parents, walked the rest of the way to the campfire in silence. She knew the thief was troubled by his encounter with the ancient king, but that concerned her little at this point. The night had troubled her as well. While some of her reasons were similar to Harald's, she also had her own reason. After all, she had been training with the old woman for just over two years now, and she was able to understand more of what was going on. That extra knowledge merely increased her worries rather than allaying them.

The thought of being forced to leave her mistress's side was most troublesome to her. When the old witch had come to her little village two years ago, Berit had been about to celebrate her twelfth birthday. The woman walked to the center of town square wearing the many layers of hide she wore for major ritual occasions and announced in her strong, but cracked voice that she was seeking to take on an apprentice. Berit had not been there to witness the announcement, but her seventeen year old cousin, Jorn, had been. He had told her that everyone paled at the witch's words.

However, no village in this land would dare turn away a witch on such a search, so all parents in the village reluctantly and fearfully brought any daughters they had between the ages of ten and fifteen. The old woman looked over each girl with a critical eye. She announced each one unsuitable until she came to Berit. Upon seeing her, the old woman studied her carefully. After a few moments her eyes glazed over, and only Berit could hear mumbled words escaping the old woman's throat. Finally, the woman's eyes refocused and she announced that she had found a suitable pupil.

Berit's mother sobbed as the girl's father stepped forward. The witch turned to him and asked, "Are you the girl's father?"

"I am," he said somberly."

"She is dead to you. I have claimed her as my own."

The man bowed his head and quietly intoned the words all parents knew and dreaded. "My beautiful Berit has passed from us. We mourn her death."

The old woman pulled some coins from a pouch at her side. Handing them to the girl's father, she said, "Your loss is by my hand. I offer you this money as wergild, that you will not seek revenge against me." The father nodded, took the money, and returned to his wife, never speaking to Berit. The witch then turned on her heal, barked, "Girl! Come with me, now," and began to walk out of the village.

From then on, Berit had simply been "Girl." No one spoke her name. After all, according to tradition, that girl had died the day she was chosen by the witch. Her family had even held a funeral for her a few days later. The girl had no identity other than the old woman's pupil.

And now, it seemed she was going to lose that as well. She had heard of witch's pupils who had displeased their mistress. They were cast out by their teachers and left to live the pitiful life of a vagrant. They could not return home to their original families - no family would take in someone who had lived with and learned the ways of a witch. They had no standing for marriage. They managed as best they could, using whatever shelter they could find and eating whatever food they could take. Many of them were much like this thief she walked beside now.

As she and Harald reached the fire, she set to work gathering up the various items and packing them away. She suspected her mistress would want to leave soon after she returned from her conversation with the old spirit. Besides, the busy work helped distract her from her worrisome thoughts.