7. RUMOURS OF A WITCH

7. RUMOURS OF A WITCH

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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Two parts, preparations in the north and manoeuvres in the south

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It was inevitable. After his stirring speech in the Northern village Gymboy was made de-facto leader of a people who hitherto had shown scant need for leadership and had depended on the bloodlines that had flowed from the late and very much lamented Tomass or Bodkins to guide them. Bloodlines may have been one thing but an immediate and obvious threat was something quite different and many were the men who saw the sense when it came to giving power to a younger man in order to coordinate the unfamiliar, to them, concept of defence.

You will still be my overlord, sire,” murmured Gymboy to the already stripped and weathered skull of Dodson lying together with those bones that carrion fowl and beasts of the wild had left, “and when this unpleasantness is ended we will turn to your kin again to lead us. That is my sworn word.

Little did he comprehend how fragile sworn words may turn out to be.

But besides coaxing both men and women to produce weaponry to be stockpiled for use in the event of a return of the man who had proclaimed ownership of their lands, he displayed a canny ability to establish communication with other peoples who were hitherto unknown to them.

Their forest and the farmland around it, in clearings and stretching to the distant river, had been tended by their ancestors since time immemorial (before even the great Tomass had seeded his bloodline, selecting the most beautiful women of his age to receive that bounty from him). So it was essential for him to establish facts and do it with both intelligence and determination.

Gymboy would melt away at dawn and not return until night, or even late on another day, and with him he would bring news that opened the minds of all who attended to him. Tribes of strangers lived within a day’s journey of their village, and beyond them, at an unthinkable distance, dwelt yet others, and eventually he succeeded in tracing news back even to the castle, and discovered tales of the king who sat on his throne in majesty.

“He is warlike,” he told a gathering one evening after dark and once again against the flickering backdrop of a roaring, blazing fire, “and it is said that he sits on an almighty bejewelled throne with glorious princesses kneeling before him, reday to satisfy his every whim.”

“He sounds like a proper tart,” croaked Kevvy, an oldster who was overfond of the sound of his own croaking voice.

“He must not be underestimated,” Gymboy told him, his voice even, his eyes glinting. “It is said that he sends ten thousand men to war, each armed with spears and axes and each willing to cleave heads in battle! And he scours his lands for the wherewithal to satisfy his capricious heart, collecting ever more taxes from those too poor to pay them. I ask you, Kevvy, what chance you or your kin would have if he chose to send such a warlike force this way, especially if he is in search of ever greater coffers of coin?”

“We would conceal ourselves,” protested the older man, “we know the lands around here! We know where a man can remain for a year and a day if necessary, and not once yield his position to a vigilant spy!”

“Maybe,” admitted Gymboy, “but how successful would he be when hiding from a thousand spies, all vigilant and all promised a bounty for every head they crack?”

Kevvy remained silent at that. The concept of a thousand armed men was beyond him.

“What we must do,” advised Gymboy, displaying a wisdom that all agreed was beyond his years, “What we must do is be vigilant, and to that end I have arranged a network of spies looking out on our behalf, ranging from here and reaching even to the southern castle. For it is to their advantage as well as to our own to judge what may befall them if the king rides out!”

“From what I know about kings I’d say he sits on his throne eating candy and ogling his princesses rather than riding out himself,” muttered Kevvy, obstinately.

“That may be the case,” beamed the newly proclaimed leader, “but which one of us is prepared to put his life on that judgement? Which one of us has the knowledge?”

And there was silence in reply to his question.

oo0oo

Meanwhile, down south, in a subterranean and stinking passage under the King’s castle…

“This is dark and troublesome, and the stench almost getting the better of my senses,” groaned Jackiss of the one arm.

“It will get worse,” advised Mirelin, the tip of his staff still casting an eerie green light on the shadowed passage they were struggling along.

“You do know we’re going the wrong way, I presume,” put in the Queen Amyheart clad in her widow’s weeds.

“What do you mean?” growled Jackiss, “are you saying that this torment is all in vain and that we must return to face whatever nightmare end is in store for us in Jasper’s castle?”

“I know direction,” Amyheart told him, “I have a sense within me that can judge North from South, and we are traipsing South along a passage going from Hell itself to whatever fate is worse than hell.”

“We are,” confirmed Mirelin, “and you, Jackiss, might have realised so much had you noted what directions we have been taking. But this is the only route out of the castle that isn’t guarded, and so it is the only route we can take.”

“If the stench and noxious fumes don’t get us first,” moaned Jackiss, stumbling and supporting himself against a rough-hewn wall with his one remaining arm.

“It is bad, but it could be worse, sweet one,” encouraged the wizard. “For there is but one more bend and we will be veering to the East, and you will discover that this passage ends in a garden where herbs and roses grow in marvellous profusion. It is a garden I know well, and it is less well guarded than the main gates from the castle.

“But it is guarded?” sighed Jackiss.

“Darling, it is,” smiled Mirelin, “but the guard is less toxic than those with spears and cleavers. For it is guarded by a witch, and that witch can take any one of many forms. It is said that sometimes she is a wolf prowling the lands around and snatching babes from their cots, and sometimes she is a wonderful and exotic maiden, almost naked and so desirable that many a man had been tempted to woo her and been taken by that fancy to his doom.

“She appears in what ever form pleases her mood, and none of her personas is safe. But only really fear her if she takes on the form of an ancient and bitter hag, for that is her true form and the one that possesses most magic.”

“Magic?” Jackiss faltered, almost out of control with weariness and the overpowering stench of rotting flesh that assaulted his nostrils in wave after wave of toxic gases, “I cannot cope with magic.”

“Oh, she has magic all right,” whispered Mirelin, “but then, my love, so do I...”

©Peter Rogerson 23.11.18




© 2018 Peter Rogerson


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Added on November 23, 2018
Last Updated on November 23, 2018
Tags: war, throne, king, escape, widow, magician, villagers


Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 76 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

Writing