Harald's Story

The Old King's Advice

The old king stared off into the night through the old woman's eyes for a moment. Finally, he broke his reverie and returned his gaze to the burglar. "The port town of Garnswick is two days' walking distance southeast of here. There you will seek out a captain who will give you passage to the shores of your native land. Though I think you will need help with that process. After all, you have no money with which to purchase a ticket."

Harald chaffed at this. "I can get money to pay my way. I have my means."

The woman's face twisted with incredible disgust. "More thievery?! I will not have it! Nor will the spirits of your kinsmen. Remember that you are embarking on a journey to set things right. This is a matter of honor. To fund your trip with moneys gained dishonorably would doom your quest before it was underway."

Harald flushed at this admonishment. "I'm sorry. You are right, of course."

The old king's tone softened at that. "Take heart, foreigner. I know what troubles pushed your grandfather to choose a life of crime. By the time you were born, your father had already forgotten much of the noble honor his father gave up in order to survive. And what little he had not forgotten, he failed to pass on to you. But if you are to be free from these troublesome spirits and the great duty they represent, you must rediscover that honor for yourself. You must rediscover it within yourself."

"No, you will need to achieve your goals through other means. Near Garnswick is a small monastery. The abbot there is a good man, and takes his obligations to help others well. You shall seek him out."

"I know this monastery and its abbot. I fear that despite his generous nature, he may be unwilling to help me. We've...had dealings before."

The king nodded at this. "The abbot will not be happy to see you, that is for sure. But if you follow my instructions, he will assist you. For while he declares the old gods to be demons, he still honors many of the old traditions. No, he will aid even one who has stolen from his order, providing you ask him in the right way."

"You must approach the monastery at sunset and ask for admission. When asked to identify yourself, merely say that you are a pilgrim who has broken troth and seeks to earn it back. Inform them that you have heard that you wish to seek the abbot's aid and counsel in your pilgrimage. The man who answers the door will leave you outside. You must be prepared to wait patiently."

"Eventually, you will be taken to the abbot. He will greet you coolly, but do not take offense at this. Eventually, he will dismiss the monk who led you to his chambers. It is important that you do not speak of your quest until after you are alone with the abbot. But once this has happened, tell him of your meeting with me. Tell him that you must return to your ancestral home and restore your family's honor, both for their sake and your own. Tell him that you will need his aid in bringing this to pass."

"And he will agree to this?"

"If you do exactly what I tell you to do, yes. And now we come to the part you will find most difficult. You must take everything that you own - save the dagger that you have with you now - with you. Bundle it all together, even what money you might still have. After telling the abbot your tale, while he still ponders your word, you must lay this bundle next to his chair. When you do this, say these words: 'I take upon this quest to retrieve the honor I have forsaken. To do this, I first divest myself of all those things I have unjustly gained through dishonor. I ask that you find a more suitable use for these belongings I do not deserve.'"

Harald balked at this. "You want me to give up everything?! I am to set out on the mad errand as a penniless beggar?"

The king frowned slightly. "If you wish the abbot's help and any hope of succeeding at all, you will do exactly that. You are not so honorless that you cannot see that ill-begotten gains must be left behind. Consider it the price you must pay for this opportunity at a fresh start. Or simply accept a life of isolation and torment. This is your choice."

"Then there is only one realistic choice open to me. Though it is not a pleasant one."

"Such journeys are rarely pleasant. Certainly not the ones worth taking. But once you have done this, the abbot should help you, albeit grudgingly. He will provide you with a small collection of clothing to begin your journey, and possibly a scanty bit of coin. More importantly, he will advise you on finding a captain who still follows the old ways and will give you passage in exchange for doing labor during the voyage."

"When you negotiate for your passage, let the captain know that a woman will be traveling with you, and that she will negotiate her own payment when she arrives."

Harald creased his brow in thought. "A companion? I have no wife, ancient lord."

"Nonetheless, a woman will be accompanying you. She will join you in five days, so be sure the ship does not set sail before then."

"I understand."

"After meeting with the abbot and arranging to stay at the monastery until you leave, you should spend the first two hours after nightfall at the Black Adder Pub. It lies on the very edge of town on the same road that leads to the monastery. One night, the younger witch will meet you there. She will have an item for you, which you will need when you reach your destination. It and the knife you now have will affirm your identity to those who need you. She may also have further advice from her mistress. Then you can prepare for the voyage ahead."

The girl interrupted at this, "I don't understand. Why does he need my help to prepare once I have done my mistress's errand?"

The king turned to address the girl. "Because you are to be his companion, of which I spoke earlier. He will most likely need the further assistance of a witch as his journey continues. As the old woman cannot make the journey, he will have to manage with you."

"But my training is incomplete! And I have no desire to leave."

The king waved off any further objections. "The matter is decided. Your mistress is in agreement with me on this matter. You will accompany the foreigner. As for your incomplete training, I suspect a solution to that predicament will present itself in time.

"I have given all the instruction I may offer. The two of you should return to the campfire. The woman and I have further business to discuss."

Harald nodded. "Very well. Thank you, oh ancient king. I am greatly indebted to you."

"Seeing my domain free of marauding spirits shall be payment enough for me. In truth, whether you succeed in your quest is of little concern to me. However, there is a part of me that prays that the small sliver of hope I have given you shall be sufficient."

At that, Harald stood and followed the girl back down the sloping mound towards the fire. He studied her, noticing numerous signs of agitation. Finally, he dared to ask her quietly, "I take it that things did not go as you expected, either?"

"Burglar, I doubt things went as any of us expected."

"Your mistress never mentioned that the spirit might actually take control of her body."

"As I said, I doubt things went as any of us expected. That particular detail was but the first example."

"So that is not a common occurrence?"

"Not at all. I know that it can happen, as my mistress has mentioned the possibility during my training. But she also has said that in her many decades of plying her trade, she has only experienced it three other times. And two of those times were completely different situations in which she was trying to get possessed."

"So what does that mean?"

"I'm not really sure. I can only guess there's far more going on here than we realize."

"Why do I find that thought discomforting?"

"I'm not sure. But I'm sure you should find it discomforting. I know I do."

At that, both figures fell into silence. Harald allowed his mind to play back the king's words as his feet carried him onward to the warmth of the fire. He thought he could really use that warmth about now.