Ravenwood- Chapter 4 - Through the Eyes of the Legend
It was no easy day under the potter's tutelage; Todd's mind could not be put at ease because of all the thoughts racing with pounding footfalls through his brain. Twice he saw Keana through the window of the shop, rushing by and searching the glass for his face. Though she was some distance, Todd could see that she was nervously searching for some way out of their plan. He did not know what worried her so. Keana was smart and respected in the town, yet she was too competitive and rushed all the time. There was never any time when she could really enjoy herself. In essence, she and Rika were acutely different.
When his work with the potter was finished, Todd went to meet his companions at the old tree. Three horses were tethered to separate branches and Brock pulled off a lumpy saddlebag of one's back; Todd could only assume that the contents harbored oil for the lamps. Rika looked irritated. "You forgot to come and meet me at the inn," she snapped.
"Ah, yes," Todd said jokingly, "actually I forgot about it. I was too busy thinking if I should tell of the happenings lately. She might do us all a good favor."
The scowl on Rika's face multiplied twofold. It was clear she hated Meg as much as Meg hated her.
"Don't be angry, Rika," Todd continued apologetically. He ventured to where she was standing and gave her a long kiss. Brock turned his head, "Don't turn that into anything habitual."
Dain grinned, and Keana giggled. Rika rolled her eyes and kissed Todd back. "You're just jealous that you all have no one with you."
Brock's smile turned solemn. "I guess we are," he said darkly, looking at Todd.
Dain sensed tension. "I see the hole you were talking about, Todd. Shall we all go in?"
Breaking away from Rika, Todd nodded. "Yes, let me in first and then I call you down if everything is
Dain moved aside and Todd pressed his chest to the ground, trying to clear the hole once again. Once he felt the cold air of nothingness, he turned himself around and slid into the hole legs first. Immediately the air froze and sharp chill was aroused from the roots of the tree. "Hand me a lamp!" he cried up, "it's blacker than pitch down 'ere!"
He reached up toward the entrance and felt Rika's slender hand grab his. With her other hand she tossed down a lit lantern that almost hit him in the head and nearly blew the light out in the process. "Sorry," she said quietly, as Todd recovered from the lantern assault.
Todd lifted the lantern and scanned the dark hall, spotting the door immediately. "You can come down now!"
Rika came first, for she was closest to the entrance. Dain followed and helped Keana down. Finally, Brock, pushed himself through the opening and nearly crowded his companions with his large frame. "Is that the door?" he asked. Todd nodded, but said nothing.
"Follow me," he said, making his way slowly to the shallow door.
He pushed it open, and surprisingly, it did not creak, as if someone had oiled it previously. There was darkness in the small cavern, except for the glowing embers of a dying fire. Near the fire lay several books, all opened and scattered. Todd glanced away from the fire and made his way into the center of the room. From the side he saw that the heap of blankets had gone. He looked away and spotted the bed, there, under layers of blankets lay the sleeping head of Kay Ravengard on coarse pillow. His companions saw her as soon as he did and all at once they made their way to the bed side.
"Shhh," Todd motioned with his finger to his nose, "we must not disturb her, let us wait until she wakes."
Kay stirred and her eyes fluttered opened. "Thank you for those kind words, Todd Flannery. But you need not wait until I awaken." Kay sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. "You see," she said, "I am already awake and sleep has escaped me for quite a while as I lay here thinking about when you should come next."
She directed her gray eyes towards his friends. "I see you have brought your companions with you: Master Brock Berlinbrau, Master Dain Morgan, Mistress Rika Lucius, and Mistress Keana Kincaid." Amused by the astounded glances on the company's faces, Kay's eyes lit up and she spoke. "No, Todd told me naught of you, but I have flown these woods for years and have learned much about everyone."
Brock shifted his weight, "Then you are."
They all nodded, but did not speak.
"Yes," she smiled.
Todd was confused. The day before she had been a strange and lost young woman with an ominous and foreboding past, now she spoke and acted like his sister. If Kay knew about everything, Todd wondered how much she knew about him.
"I am the legend," she snickered, "that was told to you as children, the evil wandering witch hunter who slew all those who practiced the art of black magic."
"Then the stories are true," Todd said, kneeling by the bed side. He wanted to view her face closer, to see her expression.
Kay's eyes clouded up, and her brow furrowed into a solemn line across her face. "Yes," she said quietly, "but most had rueful endings, ones that did not end with the beheading of a witch. More likely, the victim was a relative, a companion . . . a lover. It all depends on how you tell it."
"Where are you from?" Rika suddenly put in.
Kay broke out of her sad memories. "From Novegard, if that is what you want to call it."
"I don't understand." Rika glanced confusedly at Todd.
"You will," Kay replied.
"What happened a century ago that Novegard would need a witch hunter for?" Dain saved Rika from any further nonchalance.
"You won't believe me, when I tell you this, because it is not in your history books, nor in the minds of your elders. But I was there, I have seen it. Once you stretch and extend my story to the periphery of its use, you no longer care to understand the truth behind it all. My life has not been glamorous. I was only fifteen when I took up the hunter's ax, and six years later I was doomed to fly the world until my summons was read. Let me tell you the story as I know it, as I lived it, perhaps, if you listen well, you will understand the fatality of this quest."
Todd searched the eyes of his companions individually, but none of them could decide what Kay meant.
"When this land, Novegard, as you know it, was plagued with evil, I was but a small girl. I grew up in a woodcutter's shack in a dark forest, miles from the nearest village. But yet my family lived well on the products of the wood and an occasional trip to the village. Aithnea, it was called, but now it lies in ruins amongst the stone hedges of the baron's manor that looked over the town.
My mother died when I was but ten. She was slender and dark, with skin like the smooth brown wood of the chestnut tree. Her name was Krea, which means, I believe, in the tongue of the fairer folk, elf-woman. And she did, look like an elf I mean, with her slender fingers and slightly tipped nose and ears. She called me her changeling child, for I used to wander the forest alone and come home dirty with grass and dead flowers stuck to my clothes.
It was after she died that the specters began to come. No one else saw them before I did, and even then, I saw them only in my dreams. They would suddenly appear in my room in the middle of the night when I thought I was asleep. I was so afraid of them and yet they passed by me, unhindered by my presence. I never told my father of these dreams, even when he told me that in the village people were talking of ghosts. Sometimes they would come as far into the woods to our cottage, and ask him advice. Though only a poor woodcutter, my father was a wise man.
'Witches' my father called them, 'escaping from their graves on the other side of the world.'
"I was terrified after that, thinking that my room was a portal for these hideous beings, and for years I lived in the terror of discovering what lay beyond my room. On one occasion, when I was fifteen, I ventured into the woods with a battle ax that I had been fashioning with my father. I did not know for what I was searching, perhaps I was determined to find my dead mother's grave, and then guard myself from anything that tried to attack me. I did not find it that day, but when I returned home there was no one there. My father's cottage no longer looked the same. It was old, broken down and none of our old furniture remained inside. It was if I had returned from a trip that lasted several years, returning to nothing.
"I opened the door to my room, the one directly across the front door, and I found . . . I found nothing.
"It was a wide, dark open space-like on a moonless night without the comfort of stars. And there were strange sounds, I recall, noises from that dark netherworld. I slammed the door shut, but not before the black cleared and I saw the land beyond Novegard. A dark, grim land with the four seasons sparkling in a row.
"I was frightened, finally realizing that the portal in my room was something much greater than I had imagined. I could feel the magic seep through the cracks like a thick fog, it was not a pleasant feeling, and I retreated from my house. I ran all the way to the village that night, calling my father's name. When I arrived at the steps of a carpenter's cottage, I was choking down sobs and holding the ax too close to my head. The carpenter's wife found me, and brought me to the council room, where that night they were holding a meeting. When the baron of the manor, who was conducting the meeting, saw me, he stepped down and approached me with grave steps. He took me aside and whispered into my ear, 'Your father is dead, child, he was struck down this morning by some foul presence in the market. If you wish to hear more about the reality of this situation, we will allow you to stay, however, if you wish to leave-'
'I'll stay,' I had replied, and I waited for them to relinquish the topic of my father to me.
'You see,' they said, 'your father came to warn of us of a growing portal in your house, one that he did not put there. But your mother, on the other hand, she is not from these parts, and may not even be from this country, we have reason to believe that Krea came through this portal and could not go back. Krea does mean elf woman in our tongue, but in the language of the strange souls, the witches, it means black maiden.'
They believed that my mother was responsible for the opening in the woods.
That meeting changed my life, I decided that I would rid Novegard of those foul beings, before they corrupted our lives. Armed with my ax, I, only fifteen years of age, rode out of the town on a dying white mare, and sought my first witch.
"I encountered one two years later, though I had met several, she was the first that struck me as evil. I could not see why those around her could not tell she was a witch, it must have been that I had a sense for evil, having lived by the source of it for so long. I revealed her for all that she was and had her executed the following day. My doings were a marvel to the villagers and they projected this incident all over the country. It seems that I have a sixth sense that can determine the difference between a good and bad witch, bluntly speaking. Soon I was on duty all the time and the name "Kay Ravengard," became synonymous with "witch-hunter."
"It was a grueling four years from then on and I destroyed several witches. Though I never injured myself, nearly everyone who accompanied me was wounded or killed in a confrontation with a witch. I never considered this, but people said that I possessed magic, or rather a special ability to sense, to capture, and to execute many witches. I was somehow impenetrable to their spells and magic. I have decided that my mother is again responsible. Perhaps she cast some witching spell on me.
"One day I decided to return to my old cottage and somehow seal up the portal, to stop the witches from coming in. I did not want to hunt them all of my life. When I got there, however, I was greeted by a repletion of strange beings. I destroyed them all, but lost a friend in the process. I sealed the portal with magic of my own, a spell that can only be broken by me. Now, no witches could come through again, though I think all of them already had. When I turned to leave my home, I was met by a tall woman with black hair. She introduced herself as the one witch I would not destroy-the stone witch."
Kay stopped and sighed, the rest of the company sat silently, not knowing whether or not to believe her.
"I attacked her," Kay said, drawing the words out. "But we didn't fight there, she was far more powerful than I had ever thought, and she transported us to a cliff, a mountain-cliff called 'the mere of Rhialnoon,' Rhialnoon was the queen at the time. I fought her there, fought her viciously with my ax, but I did not prevail, and one swift blow of her hand threw me from the cliff. I plummeted, but I did not die, nor was I scarred, for she had used her magic, and magic was still not powerful enough to kill me.
'Curse Krea!" she shouted to me, and because she could not kill me, and I could not defeat her, she came down from the cliff and picked up two small pebbles. She crushed them in her hand so tightly that they became two black jewels. I was stunned and helpless, my ax, broken in two. The stone witch approached me and stuck the two jewels forcefully into my eyes, and those jammed into me a whole other look at life, and I have seen things through the eyes of the raven ever since. That is why Kay Ravengard never died, but only disappeared."
"How old are you?" Rika questioned.
Rika seemed shocked. The young woman who spoke with such wisdom was younger than Rika herself. Todd could see a wary look approach Rika's eyes. "Then what of the other woman," she asked. "Aya Hawke."
Kay sighed, "Alas, it is a cruel injustice to the world that the name of Aya Rhea should be spoken aloud freely, with no notion of the woman behind the name."
Todd's mind shrank back. Aya Hawke seemed a good and kind person. Todd reflected back on her white robes and twinkling arrows. Kay caught the quick but faint smile on his face and her clear eyes darkened like clouds on a stormy day.
"Aya Rhea is one mortal who was a witch hunter like myself. But that was indeed years before my time. Perhaps she could be likened to my fame." Kay cheeks stirred with color, as if she was ashamed of her well known story. "Aya Rhea was a legend among our people, a goddess to some it seemed. My mother told me the story of the beautiful white maiden, Aya of the White Hawks who lived in the snow covered mountains with her people, the fairer folk."
"There are no white mountains in Novegard," Rika perfunctorily stated.
"Perhaps she never lived in Novegard." Kay gave her a knowing look.
"That's impossible, Novegard, well Novegard is the world."
Strange thoughts passed in front of Todd's eyes, Erika had slightly grasped a forbidden notion. The thoughts disappeared fleetingly, and Todd returned his ears to Kay's story. But the witch hunter wasn't done speaking of Novegard. She addressed Rika, "Have you ever thought what lies beyond the mountain-cliff, the forest, the villages at the edge of the land?"
"The Seas of Torinth," Rika stated, then realizing her stupidity, "and I suppose there are islands across the waters, other lands for that matter as well."
Kay shook her head, "No, you are right, Novegard is the world, your world. Nothing lies beyond the Seas of Torinth, nor the mountain cliff, nor the great forest. It stretches endlessly, and anyone that has told you otherwise has been duly misinformed. Your world is perpetual, there is no end to the rolling of lands, and that is because your world is unfinished."
Keana clasped Dain's arm and Rika stared at the floor.
"Aya Rhea came from another land, not part of your world," Kay said. "She came from Tiernanell."
Todd lifted his head with a jerk, Kay had mentioned the name when he had first met her. "Tiernanell, the land of glittering snow."
"Correct, Master Flannery. And do you know where Tiernanell lies?"
"In Ravenwood," he repeated Kay's words as if in a trance, "it lies past the Arouet River at the Ford of Harrinyoung, the entrance to the dark crested trees of the old forest. The belderim woods; blackened trees and darkened leaves."
Protest arose from the company. "That forest is off limits, no one goes there, strange things are said to have happened there," Brock said, laying his hand firmly across the bed post.
"Strange things have happened there," Kay said, "that is where the portal lies."
Todd's head filled with excited thoughts. A pulse ran through his chest like a wild wind and fluttered to a stop. "In the woodcutter's cottage."
Kay raised a brow. Her eyes grew sharp and clear once more.
Todd kneeled by her hands and gazed up into her face. "And what of Aya Rhea?"
Kay's face was lined with creases of sadness. "The pale mistress of the stars?"
Todd nodded. "Tell us what became of her, and why her summons was written next to yours."
"She betrayed us all and now serves the stone witch."
"The stone witch is still alive?" Erika burst out.
Kay ignored the outburst and looked down into Todd's eyes, holding them prisoner. "You read the summons, the one that brought that evil woman back."
He nodded. "There was nothing by the rhymes, I could not have known that they pertained to you or her."
Kay looked up toward the ceiling, as if she were gazing at the moon. "Then the world is in grave trouble for the stone witch must have need of her familiar once more."
"Who is the stone witch?" Keana asked.
"Run to the top of the Acropolypse and tell me what you see. The castle Veramere, home to your queen. Queen Rhiannon the Fey, Rhiannon the fairy, Rhiannon the witch, the stone witch."
Brock raised his arm. "You've gone far enough," he declared, his head filled with anger. "First you feed us this nonsense about Ravenwood and Kay Ravengard and then you tell us blasphemous lies about our queen, the one who protects us."
"Protects you from the truth."
Brock swung his hand but caught himself in time. He was not about to hit a poor mad woman. "I've had enough of this. Todd, I'm leaving, Dain, Rika, Keana?"
"I'm going too." Rika got up and started for the door with the others. She turned around. "Todd?"
Rika left the room. Todd stood up and looked down into the eyes of Kay, if she was indeed Kay Ravengard. "Are you telling the truth?"
"You, of all of them, should not have to ask me that." Kay cast her eyes sadly at the ground but in a snap raised her head once more. "Tell your sister, Megalynne, that is her name?"
Todd nodded, wondering how Kay could have known about Meg. "She runs much, does she not? Commend her to run to the top of the Acropolypse and tell you all what she sees. For all of you will have to follow her there one day. Do not return until you are satisfied. For when you come back, if you have agreed to the terms that are presented to you, you will have a large quest awaiting you."
Despite his confusion, Todd asked, "Will you be here when that time comes?"
Kay spoke carefully, "When you need me, you will find me."
Todd did not attend the company of his friends on the way out, but instead took a shortcut to the mill pond to see Meg, the healer's apprentice, and confide in her what Kay told him. Meg was not a formal member of their company but she did favors in exchange for very little.
Apprenticed to the local healer, Meg's job was hard work, and to escape from the cerebral monotone of memorizing medicines and herbs, she took daily runs up and down the cliff side. After years of running, Meg became an 18 year-old legend, the fastest runner in the town.
Todd found her lounging lugubriously at the edge of the mill pond, dipping her aching runner's legs into the cool pool that mirrored the sky. Wisps of blond hair covered her tanned face like cobwebs; she brushed them away. Though her eyes were closed, Meg could hear Todd approach her back. She jumped up defensively without opening her eyes. Slowly her lids drew apart.
"'Tis only you, Todd, the obstreperous potter's apprentice," she said, her voice deep, almost mannish. Todd knew that Meg was but joking.
"Meg, Meg," he began, "Your fighting spirit is destroying the serenity of your sibling's temper. Is there not a time when you would not fight."
"Perhaps during the time of labor, when a woman is with child. Meg would be brave and she will keep silent where other women would fight relentlessly to keep the screaming child from hurting her."
Todd laughed and gazed at his younger sister. "A violent tempest shall you rouse when you birth your first."
"I shall not vacillate when I am courted, rather I will be definite about my future spouse. Only the man who can outrun me shall I consider."
"I will acquit any man who tries."
"I shall run with apathy, for no man in Novegard can catch Meg Flannery. I shall run him to his death; off a cliff, into a bog, or perhaps a deep pit. Having run the forest-cliffs for five years, I know them better than anyone else."
Todd surveyed his sister's austere appearance; she wore the stiff collared shirts and breeches of a man. Dirt and scratches covered her face, and her golden hair was covered a dusty triangle of sackcloth. She tried hard to hide her prettiness yet Todd could see the real Meg behind all of her disguise as a hoyden.
"Come," he said, changing the subject, "lack of lunch has left me emaciated, join me for dusk meal and I will share with you a new idea of mine."
Meg's eyes sparkled and she pealed with laughter at her brother's expression of intelligence. Renewing an old idiosyncrasy, Meg and Todd clasped each other's wrists in agreement and ran past the mill-pond through Rika's family's field, leaving deep prints in the loam.
As a treat, Todd bought his sister supper at the Seven Hearths, agreeing to pay at the end of the meal when Meg had eaten everything she wanted. When Meg asked for a plethora of provisions, Todd could only hold back a gritted smile.
"When you die," he told her, as she choked down her food, "-and you will die first-I will be the one at your funeral to read a eulogy; Meg did beg, for food unnecessary, and soon she died from the ache in her side."
A splatter of crumbs and chewed up food exploded from his sister's mouth in a burst of laughter. Todd realized his fatal mistake; once Meg started to laugh, she would never stop. He picked up an ossified breadstick and attempted to bite into it as he waited for Meg's laughter to subside.
Remarking sarcastically, "Ah, Meg, without you-the amphibious runner who must always be soaking her sore ankles in the mill pond-life would archaic and banal indeed."
Meg stopped laughing and started to talk at once. "Tell me Todd, is it true that you and Rika are betrothed?"
Meg's blue eyes were serious and questioning. Todd let out a deep sigh. "Nay, it is not wholly true, though as it is, Erika and I have formed an attachment."
Meg scowled, "I knew it, that blight to humanity, that vile woman who you court would stab anyone in the back but you and her 'friends.' And if you ever reconsider your relationship, she will indubitably decapitate your reputation. A female reprobate if I ever saw one."
Todd was stunned, never had he seen such an indecorous outburst from his sister. The sanguine hue had gone from her cheeks and was replaced by a violent flare that would not capitulate to the feelings of her only brother. Suddenly the air seemed fusty and the omnipotent feeling of inn had shrunk to an infinitesimal pity. To Meg, her outburst was perfunctory. Though she herself disliked Rika, she felt it was her duty to warn her brother, it was no expedient matter. Somehow she sensed that she had reached the periphery of her brother's temper and offered no further criterion.
Todd was deep in thought, the brevity of his sister's argument had left him shocked. How could so much anger from one so vibrantly garrulous become in the first place? Meg tried to commensurate her anger with an apology by silently muttering aloud, "Well, brother, what will you have me do?"
Todd shrunk out of his confusion and his mind drifted back to the present situation of the strange women.
"As I told Brock, Keana, Erika, and Dain, this may seem a little bit odd. But-"
"You met them, didn't you."
"Yesterday I was-" Todd broke off, "Met who?"
"Dain told me all about it this morning, his little sister was sick so the apothecary sent me up into the hills to bring her a remedy. I met him in the fields and he told me you would have something to say, but you know Dain-"
Todd shifted his position and grumbled, "Yeah, he can't keep his mouth shut." He sat back up, "Did you believe him?"
"Dain wouldn't lie, I knew he was telling the truth about what you said, but I didn't know if you were telling the truth."
"I was. That's only part of why I came to talk to you."
"What do you need, and what do I get?"
"Well, for one thing, you can have my hunting horn, the ivory one, gilded in gold."
Meg's eyes widened immensely and she leaned forward, "I'll do anything you want times two for that!"
She sat back down suddenly. "What are the terms?"
"You must run to the top of the Acropolypse and report anything you see up there that is odd. You must stay one full day and look in the direction that Ravenwood lies. Say nothing of this to anyone, and ask no questions of me."
Meg's eyes wandered and she licked her lips. "You are asking a great thing of me," she said quietly. "Does this have to do with Kay Ravengard and Aya Rhea?"
"That one question I will answer you. Yes, it does."
Meg seemed satisfied. She clasped Todd's wrist and he hers, they shook evenly. "Done brother, but what should I do if you are gone forever?"
"If in two weeks time we have not gotten word to you, you must tell them the truth. Tonight run to the Acropolypse and tomorrow morning race back down, tell us what you see and after that, who knows what we'll make of it."
"I shall leave within the hour." Meg got up and kissed her brother on the cheek. "What should I look for?"
"Aside from Ravenwood?"
"A white woman in a white dress carrying a white bow."