The back of the Dresmend property was atypical for the plains, rocky with the ground grown over with thorny brush. Old foundations and garden beds from an earlier time, still easily spotted despite the passage of many years. As well there was the old coal quarry and the mine, neither of which saw much use anymore. What water was available had a brackish taste to it, the old well had dried up years back. Most folks seemed to think the area was haunted or of an ill aspect. Her father let folks hunt in the area, there were plenty of game birds and rabbits.
When she reached the last remaining homestead she noticed that her uncle had been busy since her last visit. Even as she arrived at the old stone building he was returning with a cart load of coal. It looked like he had moved one or two loads a day for the last three days. She was impressed, something of their last conversation must have reached his pickled brain. She reached the old house a bit ahead of him. He gave a nod and lumbered by, sweating profusely.
She almost gagged at the smell.
The main room of the house had been tidied a bit and the old mattress he had been sleeping on was gone. She grabbed the broom she had made for him last visit and swept the floor. He had cleaned up in the water trough while she had done that. He sat on an old stump of iron wood, generations old both the stump and, at least in appearance, the man. The stump looked like it would be around for another hundred years, the man not so much so.
She smiled at him from the door, “Place is looking much better.”
“Yeah, well when you asked what I’d do come winter you got me thinking.” He looked disgruntled, like thinking was a bad thing.
“That’s good. I’m sure Pa will be happy for the coal and for keeping the place up.”
“More about surviving than keeping my brother happy. Anything interesting going on in the village?”
“You mean with Kerine? The usual I guess, she’s still in TownHall, still bossing Gibler around, changing the decorations and wall hangings from what I’ve heard. But I’ve been keeping clear, like I promised.”
He nodded, “Good.”
“Why do you think you are safe here, uncle?”
He hesitated a few moments, sitting in the sun with his eyes closed, she wondered if he would answer, this was not the first time she had asked the question. With a heavy sigh he said, “Holy things happened here some years back. Unholy things as well. It was during Natareen Ghoulst’s rebellion, a woman by the name of Andisal Moro fought a mind mage here, a renegade priest of the Tannicans or something. Miracles happened and death, we near lost an entire branch of the family.”
“No one ever talks about that. I thought Abler’s kin died during the fever?”
“Your father was only a bit older than you are now when it happened. It was a bad time for the family and an even worse time for the village. The hanging tree was heavy with fruit the weeks following the mage’s death. It was Andisal that killed him, but people had done a lot of horrid things under the commands of the renegade priest. There was bad blood in the village for months following. Until the fever came and killed off more people than the Winter War did.”
“Oh.” This was all news to her, well not the Winter War or the fever, but all the rest she had never heard about until now.
Her uncle continued, “Andisal Morro had made a name for herself, during her youth, as one who served justice and truth. She had ascended as a champion of the God of Justice. The eastern lords knighted her and bestowed weapons and riches, awarded her property, tried to marry their sons to her. Even the Pwhanna respected her and considered her as one of their own wise women.
“Before the fight with the priest she had come to Abler and the rest of us here, she had been tracking the priest for months by that point. She had then created a circle of protection around the house and connived with our kin to lure the mage out here.
“So, really, I have no idea if this place is still protected. I’m hoping its location does most of the work, staying away from where the witch is, that’s my best defence. If I can sober up enough I plan to go to Lekas and see if Andisal will help us.”
“Oh, Lekas is not far, I could go find her.”
He looked at her a moment, considering, then shook his head, “No. Your father would string me up in the hanging tree if he thought I’d sent you off across country on your own, chasing up the past.”
“I know someone from Lekas, a priestess. She said I was welcome anytime.”
“That’s all well and good, but travelling alone is not safe. Promise me you won’t go alone.”
“I can do that.”
She spent the rest of the time with her uncle getting a soup started and chatting about what the family was doing. She tried to keep things light, but his dark mood was not easily shifted. She left him with enough time to get back home before dark.
The next day promised to be as hot as the previous. As usual Mir was up early and had decided to do some work in the commons garden, weeding and killing pests. After a couple of hours she had worked her way down a couple of rows and was not far from the first of Gibler’s wood kilns.
She thought she heard weeping from the area of the wood shed. When she investigated, she had at first heard nothing, but after having checked under the building and walked around it she again heard a few raspy sobs. She went to the door and lifted the latch, stepping into the relative darkness of the shed she held the door open and said, “Hello?”
Nothing. Again she spoke up, “Hello? Are you alright?”
A couple broken sobs and a faint voice from the back of the shed, behind the first stack of lumber, “Please help.”
Mir let the door close behind her and she moved around the piled wood. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust, then she saw a young woman laying naked on the floor. “By the gods!” Mir exclaimed and went to a knee beside the woman.
The young woman recoiled at first. Mir did not know who she was. As Mir’s eyes adjusted to the dim light within the shed she could see the woman’s face, battered and swollen. A dark stain of blood along her inner thighs. “Oh gods.”
There was no sign of clothing or other belongings.
The woman sobbed, and shook. It sounded like she was dehydrated. Mir offered her arms and the woman sat to be held and continued the raspy sobs. After a long while she quieted, her breathing settled and Mir thought she had fallen asleep.
“I’m going to get my mother, she’ll help, she’s good with plants.” The woman gripped her arms then lay back, she would not look at Mir.
“I’ll be right back.”
Mir almost told the woman not to go anywhere, but thankfully thought better of it. She departed from the shed and quickly crossed the commons, trying not to run and avoided looking over towards TownHall. She had no proof the witch or her people were responsible, but her intuition said it was likely the case. Either way, she did not wish to draw their attention.
He mother was busy in the house, most of the children were elsewhere, he father was with a customer up near the white shed. She quickly explained what she had discovered. He mother went from looking startled to angry and then to sad, but she quickly gathered some clothing and a jug of water. She instructed Mir to make some tea with bitter nettle, then to open up the sick house; make the bed, sweep and dust.
Her father came to the sick house, it was one of the smaller stone structures north of the main house, she had nearly cleaned it out. He asked what was going on. She told him.
His brow creased with anger, “Was it one of the village women?”
She shook her head.
“No matter. I’ll pass the word and have the village council gather. Let us know when you have learned more.” He left with purpose, his anger still obvious.