Winter Sleeping, Tracker’s Day 14, Year of the Lion number 427; December 2, 1738 Agathon; Linne 181
The morning after.
At least, I think it’s morning. My window faces east, but the sun does not shine through.
I vaguely remember the stars of the night being chased away by the pre-dawn glow when I finally came to bed. Somewhat disgusted with myself, I find that I’m still wearing the clothes I wore last night.
Yeah. The rope. …
I pulled it, and the bell still rings in my head. I feel like my entire skull has been packed with the shed fur of a wolf, pushing my own fur out from the roots.
The attended arrived. “Something for the pain,” I said. She was prepared and handed me a small vial. “Drink this. It tastes nasty, but it will do wonders.” I put down my journal and pen. …
Wow. Incredible. The pain is gone and I feel refreshed. Quickly, I change into more comfortable attire after brushing out all the knots and tangles. In the mirror, my eyes are clear. Whatever that stuff is, I want more of it!
The attendant knocked again at my door. She brought breakfast. “Summon me when you are ready for today’s activities. Lord Baird and the Witch wish to take you on a short trip today.”
I’m intrigued. But before I go with them, I want to relate what happened last night – to the best of my memory. Certain details are still fuzzy, despite the potion. There’s no way to tell it all, but I’ll do my best.
After finishing yesterday’s journal entry, cleaning and dressing, I summoned the attendant, who escorted me to the main hall. The route there seemed impossibly convoluted, but we got there in short order. Lord Mordecai Baird and the witch, Propheta, were seated at the table. The steward, John of Scales, stood near the door while several servants dressed in white set the table. There were two others I didn’t recognize. An older woman with unusually dark skin and a young man barely beyond his teen years. The table was much larger than needed for our party. Easily, fifty diners could attend in this hall without anyone feeling crowded. However, we were all seated at one end. The boy rose as Mordecai introduced his son, Saxton Baird. The woman remained seated and smiled at me kindly as she was introduced: Pedora.
“Welcome, miss Vipertree,” Lord Mordecai bowed. “Please honor us with your presence this evening. We have taken the liberty to arrange entertainment for you, our guest. But first, let us enjoy our first course.” He waited for me to sit. When I did, the Lord and his son also sat down. The steward lifted the silver cover over a dish in the middle of the table to reveal a variety of “finger-foods” – fruits and vegetables, sliced thinly, the length of one’s finger. Small bowls contained an assortment of sauces. I was encouraged to try each one. I really enjoyed the orange pieces they called carrots, dipped in the white sauce that had a spicy buttermilk flavor. I didn’t care for the light-green stalks they called celery, though.
Pedora, who was seated next to me, cautioned that I not eat too much. “This is the first of five courses. Save room.”
At this point, the conversation centered on me and my experiences. They asked me about my home country, about why I left, and the events that led me to Linne. I showed them my dragon card and passed it around the table for all to see. It struck me odd that Propheta remained quiet during this entire time, but then, I knew that if she did say something, it would inevitably be a confusing riddle of some sort.
The second course was brought out: a light salad of mixed greens with a spicy, vinegar-based dressing. I only took a few bites of this. Leafy vegetables don’t do well for my kind. I tried to turn the conversation toward them. I wanted to know who this strange, dark-skinned woman was. She wasn’t an elf; I’d heard of dark-skinned elves, but in my travels so far, the darkest skinned human was just someone with a nice tan. Her skin was darker.
This was the first time Propheta said something, “Old Brownie.”
Pedora laughed. “Yes, I’m known as the Brown Girl, or, more appropriately, the Brown Witch.”
“A witch?” I asked.
“I’m sure you’ve heard of the Witch’s Coven of Linne. I am one of the twelve.” She held up her right hand and showed me the ring she wore. It was a silvery metal with a slight bluish tint and featured a large emerald. She pointed across the table to Propheta, who held up her right hand. She also wore a ring made of the same silvery metal, but her stone was an amethyst. “All twelve of us have such a ring. It connects us together in a binding that is more powerful than any known magic. While we may disagree on many things, we are unable to directly harm others. Also, except for the Linne Councilor, we are restricted from involving ourselves directly in matters of the people. Though, we still do when it is necessary.”
I was about to ask another question when the main course was brought in. “The finest cow was slaughtered to bring us this meal,” Mordecai proudly exclaimed. “The best cuts of meat lie before us, while the rest is given to the city’s downtrodden. I believe firmly that as we feast in the great hall, those who are the least among us should not be left to starve.” I noticed a disapproving scowl on the face of the steward.
The meal was delicious. I ate more than I should have, but I was secretly amazed at how much my host consumed. His son, as well. Yes, he’s a big man, but there has to be a limit somewhere. Again, I tried to ask about the witch’s coven. I was especially fascinated by the rings, thinking I’d like to record them in my other book. But I was thwarted.
A small band consisting of three instrumentalists and a singer entered the hall. They performed many songs – some I’d heard before, many I had not. I wish I could remember all the words so that I can write them, but the melodies and choruses are all jumbled in my mind. I specifically remember their last song, because Alani and I had performed a version of it when we were in Wailee. They said their entire set was written by the man the song was about:
“Hark and carp, come along with me, Thomas the Rhymer.”
The song told the story of how Thomas was sitting on a rock overlooking the ocean when the most beautiful woman he had ever seen came to him and said he must go with her to her land. He thought she was the queen of heaven, but instead, she was the queen of the elves. They traveled some forty days and forty nights through deserts, mountains, and forests. He had to serve her and her people for seven years.
Pedora said afterwards that the story was basically true, and after the end of the seven years, the queen and the bard were married. Oh, and the queen, Regina, is one of the Linne witches. Propheta said, “Royal Coachman.”
“Propheta has a pet name for all of us, including herself,” Pedora said.
Propheta smiled and said, “Humpy Black.”
“I think it refers to a blacksmith, the man she once loved long ago,” Pedora said.
Propheta said, “He became the cold clay and smothered her all around.”
Once again, I was stymied when the fourth course was brought in. A pie made of sweet, creamy cheese covered in a dark brown, almost black sauce they called chocolate. It was fabulously delicious and I ate two wedges, even though I struggled to swallow every bite. But there was something about it. After eating it, I started feeling flush. I could feel my pulse racing and my head began to spin. I said nothing to the others, as they didn’t seem to be showing any signs or problems. I don’t think I was poisoned or anything, just something feel right.
The evening continued on. More entertainment, along with the fifth course consisting of a type of coffee blended with some sort of alcohol, topped with whipped cream. I only took a couple sips. I remember Saxton, the lord’s son, telling jokes and stories that had us all laughing. He had a way with words that, in the context, relied on double meanings. When the alternate meaning was applied, it made the story hilarious.
Things started to blur. I felt woozy and I think I passed out at some point. I remember the maid helping me into my room and laying me down on the bed.
Well, that’s what I remember, anyway. I feel better now and am ready to face the day.
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Even though I don’t share the full lyrics of the songs, I feel it is important to cite my source anyway. Three songs used here are all Steeleye Span songs: Thomas the Rhymer, which first appeared in abbreviated form on Now We Are Six, in 1974, then full form, live, on Sails of Silver in 1997, and re-performed in studio in their 2002 reunion album, Present; Who Told the Butcher is on the Bedlam Born album, 2000; and The Two Magicians, which first appeared on Now We Are Six, 1974 and again in 2002 on Present. Thomas the Rhymer and The Two Magicians are based on old English ballads and are in Francis James Child’s catalog. Who Told the Butcher was written by Peter Knight.