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Hereford Eye
September 28th, 2005, 12:54 PM
In the land of the Twin Gods, men were assumed to be upstanding citizens until proven elsewise. Departure from the straight and narrow happened for a reason and, generally speaking, the effect could always be traced to a magical cause. Who wields magic? Witches.
In a small village like theirs, Jer’s mother could not go to the inn to meet the man, not even with Jer accompanying her. The man might be charmed into a moment’s infatuation, a passing yen proceeding to what in later years might be termed a one-night stand and should that happen, why there was obviously witchery involved. What else would make an upstanding citizen decide to chase a woman’s skirt?
The man, on the other hand, could journey to Jer’s home. Having business to conduct, he could be assumed to be visiting the place for that purpose and no other. In this instance, when the business to be conducted was witchery itself, the clear lines of logic might blur a bit in the prism of the Twin Gods’ courts, but the truth would be discovered and the witches would be burned.
Of course, someone would have to discover the nature of the man’s business and that would not be easy. He was certainly no more apt to talk about it than the witches were.
Jer’s mother, her name was Vera, sat at the kitchen table as far from poised and comfortable as she imagined she might be capable. This man wanted to talk magic, after all, and Vera had only ever talked magic with members of her own family, immediate family at that. Yet, there he sat, as seemingly as unaffected as she knew herself to be in turmoil. His look felt as if he could pierce her soul, know her through and through, be as familiar with who she was as her husband had grown to be over the twenty years of their marriage. Vera did not care for that.
“Ye claim we are witches; why are ye not off to the Investigators, then? Ye have a duty, sir, as the Twin Gods have declared that duty to be.”
“Mother!” Jer started but she cut him short. “And, ye, my son, ye want to become known as a witch, eh? Is that what we’ve come to after all these years and your own da burned? Is that what it is you’re after?”
Vera thought the man started a bit at the fact her husband had been burned as a witch. Well, maybe not startled so much as affected somehow. His look said he already knew her husband’s fate but that he was surprised to be reminded of it. Or some such thing.
Jer shut his trap as she had intended him to do. “Well, then, sir, have ye no answer to my fairly put question?”
“I’m on the side of witches, good wife. I have no business with Investigators other than to some day stamp them out.”
Vera thought he sounded sincere, there was that feeling to his words that must be based on personal misery. “You’ve had truck with them, then?”
“Our paths have crossed to my misery and, on a day to come, to theirs.”
Again, Vera believed the man believed what he said to her. But, she was not yet willing to trust him.
“So, ye come here accusing us of witchery and ye have no facts to show, just the blame. Tell me how that differs from the Investigators, eh?”
Now, she saw Jer understanding her purpose at the same time she saw a grin spread across the man’s face. That unnerved her. That simple act set her mind on edge. That expression sent her deep into the core of who she was and who she might become to gather her talent, prepare for their defense.
“Ah, ma’am, you misjudge; you do. Were I here to play the Investigators’ game, why I would have brought a dozen men and charged you as witch before them.”
“Ye have no evidence,” Vera objected. “Ye wish us to change that circumstance, supply ye the evidence ye require.”
“An Investigator needs no more evidence than his own suspicion. To that, I can testify. Were I an Investigator, we would not sit here talking.”
“Ye can testify?”
“As I told you, ma’am, I have had dealings with those and will have again. But not, I don’t believe, as concerns you and Jer. My master has taught me much of this and he sent me here to enlist your aid. You are of no use to us in the hands of the Investigators.”
“Use to ye? How might that be that we could be of use to ye?”
“The Gates are opening.” The man made the claim with such a simple statement delivered with no fanfare or great emotion yet great emotion trembled beneath the words. Fear, terror, horror, each and every flitted in and around the words. The same emotions filled Vera as the words sank into her consciousness. She felt the horror followed by her immediate disbelief and denial. She brought the denial forth: “That cannot be! The Three would not allow such a thing to be.”
Another smile appeared on the man’s face. “The Three?” he asked but his look said he knew exactly who she meant. More, it said her question betrayed her identity.
“Ah, ye be daft enough. All we peasant folk remember The Three. It doesn’t prove anything.”
The man ignored her protest going instead to the heart of the matter: “The Three need time to manufacture the chain to replace the one that even now is breaking. They need to find a Singer to assist the Master Smith. They plot and they move as best they can but they need help, your help. The Master Spell Twister needs your help.”
Vera yielded the field to the man. He knew too much, said too much openly to be other than he claimed. “Our help, then? How? What do we do?”
“You, good woman, remain here to protect this village. The imps and the goblins have already passed the gate and even now sweep over the land. When they arrive here, you must protect your people.”
Vera immediately understood the logic of the task but that understanding could not prevent an icy chill of apprehension from filling her body. “And Jer?” she asked not wanting to hear the answer she knew was coming.
“Jer travels to the Master. He needs a young witch to be at his side.”
“To tap his strength, ye mean. That’s what the Master needs, the energy of youth to cast the spell to lock the Gates.” Vera sobbed her next accusation. “He needs Jer to sacrifice himself, isn’t that it?”
The man did not respond at first. His eyes filled with compassion looking at Vera and something else altogether when he turned to look at Jer. Vera could not be certain what the new emotion was but it seemed supportive for Jer and not harmful. When the man looked back at Vera, tears welled. “It will be dangerous for Jer as it will be dangerous for you protecting this village. When the Gates open there is danger enough for everyone; no one escapes. But, Vera, Jer has as much hope as you do. He is not going to certain death though death certainly threatens. He goes to do his part. No more, no less.”
“I can do this, mother,” Jer said as much excited at the glory of the whole endeavor as at the opportunity to leave this village to see the world outside.
“Of course, ye can do this. The Master would not ask if ye could not. But, that does not mean that it will not cost ye more than ye can begin to suspect. There is a reason for the Gates, ye know, a very good reason and the things that wish to see them open have no more respect for children than they do for rats. Mayhap they respect rats even more.”
“I can do this, mother.”
“Of course ye can. But, should ye? Is this what your poor da and I wanted for ye?”
“He would have said to go,” Jer replied.
“Aye, I believe he would,” the man agreed.
“And what would ye know about it?” Vera stormed. “This is our boy, his and mine. We had dreams for this one. You want to send him off to terrible danger and ye claim to speak for a man ye never knew.”
“I’ve only claimed to speak for the Master, woman. Yet, if I were the lad’s da, how could I want to stop him from doing the thing we both see to be right and proper? Could your husband have done that?”
“Nay, he could not,” Vera sobbed. After a moment, very softly, she added: “Nor can I.”
With that she stood to meet Jer who was also standing, grabbing him, holding in an embrace tighter than they had shared for many years, probably since they had learned of the death his father.
“I’ll be okay,” Jer murmured. “I can take care of myself” Over and over, a mantra designed to calm her fears but succeeding not all.
“Don’t be making predictions, Jer. Just be promising me to try.”
They held the embrace a while longer and then tenderly parted. As if the whole thing had been of no particular matter, Vera shook herself and said aloud: “Ye’ll be staying for dinner, then, I presume. No since departing before day break. Do ye have a name, then, or do we just talk around you with no familiarity or friendship?”
The man laughed his answer. “The Master named me Laz.” He said.