Harald's Story

The Black Adder

Berit walked down the road, watching the distance between her and the port town decrease with each step. The sun had set some time earlier, and the last remnants of light were quickly fading. She thought she could just make out figures in the distance rushing about to light the lanterns before total darkness completed its descent. She smiled to herself as she watched the barely distinguishable figures bustle about.

She had left her mistress just two days ago, traveling long hours each day as to shorten the length of her journey. The thought of that parting stirred some feeling she could not quite identify within herself. Reflexively, she reached down and caressed a pouch hanging from her leather belt. Inside were several items, including a small token declaring her a witch of her mistress's order. She had often found herself feeling the flat engraved stone through the bag, trying to reassure herself that it really was there. The last few days had been a blur, and her mind had not fully caught up.

"Of course it really happened," whispered a voice that only she could hear. "How much longer do you plan to keep trying to wake up from a life that's not a dream?" She smiled resignedly. It would seem that even her thoughts were no longer private, now that Gala was around. During part of the trip, she was grateful for the spirit's company. But every now and then, Berit wished she would mind her own business.

As part of Berit's initiation as an independent witch, the old woman had led the girl through a trance journey to seek out a guiding spirit that would help her on her way. Gala had stepped forward quite forcefully during the journey, practically bowling Berit over in the process. The old woman actually seemed a bit surprised at how quickly and strongly this spirit had come through, or so it seemed to Berit.

It had been the first time that the girl had experienced such a direct contact with a spirit as well. While she had helped the old woman in many ways, and had even sensed the presence of the spirits her mistress often dealt with, she hadn't yet fully seen, heard, or spoken with one directly. It was something she had often doubted she would ever be able to do, in all reality.

And yet, here she was hearing a spirit without even needing to enter into a trance. Gala seemed to be able to make herself heard no matter what Berit's state of mind was. What's worse, the spirit seemed to be quite fond of demonstrating that ability.

"Blasted nuisance anyway," she muttered, working hard to ignore the rejoinder that the spirit spit back. Instead, she turned her attention to trying to find any sign of the Black Adder Pub among the building which were much closer now. After a few minutes, she spotted the tavern, its name scrawled across a decaying sign in front of the building. She adjusted her course slightly and covered the remaining distance between herself and her destination.

Her nostrils were overwhelmed by the smell of poor quality beer and general filth before she was ten feet from the entrance. She took a moment to mentally steel herself for the worsening stench as she pressed on and passed through the doorway. Once in the dim lights of the barroom, she paused and gave her eyes a moment to adjust. She spoke softly to her new mentor, "You know, since you seem intent on being a regular nuisance, I'd appreciate it if you'd at least do me the courtesy of keeping an eye out for trouble while I'm here."

She didn't know if it was possible, but she got a strong impression that Gala actually snorted at that. "There was a time when such a young witch wouldn't dream of speaking to a guide in such tones."

"There was also a time when young witches weren't thrown into such crazy situations as the one I'm in. So you'll forgive me if I throw convention out the window like everyone else." With that, she began to look around the room for the man she was here to meet. She smiled as she spotted Harald waving to her from a table in one corner. She crossed the room quickly, not bothering to dodge the occasional serving maid that came close to crossing her path. As she expected, the poor girls practically dropped the drinks and food they were carrying to get out of her way. Berit was not in full ritual attire, but she wore just enough hides and charms that everyone would recognize her profession.

Harald spoke as she sat at the table across from him. "I'm surprised to see you already. I had figured it would be a couple more days."

"And yet, here you are, wasting good money on bad beer. You are a mystery, Harald Erikson."

"Well, I figured it was best not to chance it. If there's one thing I know, it's to never stand up a witch, even unintentionally. Besides, it's the abbot's money." He said this last with a sly grin.

An eyebrow shot up the girl's forehead. "Surely you haven't returned to a life of crime."

Harald shook his head. "No, Father Delling gave me this money of his own free will. He's given me a small allowance to help cover expenses for my quest."

Berit nodded at this revelation. "Yes, I suppose that would make sense. Have you found a ship?"

"A few days ago. It's captained by a man named Soren. We can go see him tomorrow so that you can negotiate passage with him. My passage has been secured, along with Brother Jens's."

"Brother Jens? Do you mean to tell me that I not only have to go on this fool's errand, but I now also must put up with a monk?"

"I'm afraid so. I'm sure he'll be equally dismayed when he discovers that he must put up with you, as well. Though to be frank, I'm more inclined to feel bad for him."

The girl laughed at that. "You probably have a point. After all, I haven't taken a vow of non-violence. Though as long as he doesn't get too preachy, I'll try to control myself."

"I don't think that's a problem. The captain has already informed Brother Jens that getting thrown overboard by an annoyed crewmember is not entirely outside the realm of possibility."

"Very well. At any rate, going to meet the captain sounds like an excellent idea. Shall we meet by the harbormaster's office tomorrow morning then?"

Harald nodded. "Will an hour after sunrise do for you?"

"It's manageable."

"Do you need money for a room someplace?"

"No. I won't be staying at an inn. I've found a place more to my liking."

"Oh? Where?"

"That's not your concern."

"Very well. Aren't you supposed to have something to give me, anyway?"

Berit glanced around. "Yes, but I would rather wait until we meet tomorrow. Quite frankly, I don't like this place. That fellow two tables over has been entirely too interested in our business. No, don't look. Just take my word for it. I think it best if we part for the night."

"Fair enough. I'll see you tomorrow, then."

Berit stood. "Indeed. May the gods and your wits keep you well until we meet again."