We ate a cold breakfast and learned the names of our two hosts. The boy was named Blunt because he spoke his mind regardless of other’s feelings. The old woman was called Veritas. What an interesting pair. When asked, the boy told us that Veritas had never told a lie in her life. The old woman cackled at that and assured us that she’s never been asked anything worth lying over.
They escorted us into High Field, Blunt riding ahead and announcing us. Turns out that Veritas had foretold of our coming, just as she had foretold the coming of Eronel which saved most of the villagers in the first place.
Only a few farms were burned, and a third of the village. They lost a cooper, a brewer and a chandler. But they did not lose the mill which was a godsend. We were escorted to the main village hall where we were treated to a feast of fresh vegetables and roasted pig. Liz and I were placed in a seat of honor at the head table with Veritas and a pair of old men who looked like they’d rather be stabbed with sticks then share a meal with the old crone. Blunt cleared things up, however, when he told us in a carrying voice that three days before Eronel had come, he and Veritas had lived on the far edges of the village, in a hovel where they’d been shunned for three generations. I looked at the boy and he showed a gap toothed grin. His mother had died in child birth and village dumped the body in the woods. Veritas had arrived shortly after and delivered the boy by cutting him out of his dead mother and raised him to be her eyes.
The story did not sit well with the two men to my left and they did not eat a single bite. As a matter of fact, I thought one of them looked a little green at the story. The entire village looked a little chagrinned, actually. Pavil and her squad sat in one long table, while Ingrid and Lilith sat opposite them with three village women to fill out that second table. The rest sat outside on long benches, sharing mugs of beer and feasting like it was a high holiday.
The celebration lasted for several hours before Veritas stood and all heads turned toward her. She paused as the wave of silence spread out of the building and across the village square. Then she began telling us a tale.
From the time she was a small child, Veritas had been gifted with the sight. For the first eleven years of her life she had lived with her mother, the leader of High Field, telling her mother the things she saw, helping the sly woman to keep her place of power among a world mostly dominated by men. It was during the harvest festival of her eleventh year when Eronel came into her dreams. She warned her mother of the witch, but she laughed at her daughter, knowing that no witch had existed in the lifetime of her mother’s mother’s mother. The last sorcerer had been murdered by his acolytes generations ago and no others could exist.
Veritas had tried to warn her mother, but in the end, ran into the woods to hide the day the witch and her thugs came into the village, killed her mother, and took the first dozen children. After that, the witch returned every year, taking the pick of the village — from girls to crafts — and left six crucified villagers as a warning to the rest.
By the time Veritas had reached her sixteenth summer she had sealed her reputation as an oracle, providing healing and scrying for any brave enough to seek her out in the deepest part of the wood. She was tolerated by those who ruled the village because often she would foresee storms and other calamities, giving the villagers time to prepare before the worst.
They did not love her, though. More than once a mother or father would come to the young woman and ask for her insight as to the fate of their child, only to be told that until the fool returns, none would be safe. They began to blame her for not helping them and twice burned her out, only to find she’d foreseen their betrayal and moved deeper into the wood.
But girls in trouble, and mothers with stolen children will forget any grievance and beg for forgiveness and help. Veritas was a kind woman, and always told what she could before they gave in to grief and anger and the blame turned to her again.
Veritas took a long pull on her beer and Blunt stood, declaring the feast ended and that everyone should go back to their homes. The villagers cheered and left with a smile for the oracle had been circumvented the machinations of the witch Eronel and for the proof of the fool that she had predicted had come to town. Years of losing children to the witch had come to an end and the women danced in the street.
The two men who shared the table with us had been the last of the council that ran High Field. They had not wanted to believe Veritas when she came out of the wood with Blunt, warning that Eronel was coming, but that she was being pursued by one of the elder people, and the fool that she had predicted nearly her whole life. Many of the old folks remembered the tales, however and some listened. The council had rebuffed Veritas’s advice, but they had been shouted down and the villagers did what they thought best for the first time in a generation. Two of the council had wanted to negotiate with the witch, preferring appeasement over rebellion. Fully a dozen men joined up with the witch, but the rest did as Veritas said and fled to the woods with their families. With no resistance, the witch rolled through, burning a few buildings, but not spending the time to slaughter those who hid from her.
Then, as she had seen in her dreams, we appeared on the trail of the witch, outlanders with powers straight out of legend.
It was a strange feeling walking through the village and having young women bringing us flowers. One even kissed me before I knew what was going on. Liz laughed at my inability to speak.