Master Filiander Mercandor had spent a full day and night without any sleep. The assignment from Charles Stone had turned out to be no sinecure. Together with his colleagues they had compared a thousand charts and drawings with the sketch they’ve got from the heir to the throne. Sometimes they found a few similarities, but it took until the early morning of the next day before one of the geographers was lucky. On a crinkled parchment, there was an identical drawing of a sea dog with underneath some description.
This rock, which, strangely enough, looks like a sea dog, seemed to be the center of the attention of the superstitious crew of ‘The Seahorse’. After sailing in turbulent waters and a storm that lasted for two days, we are anchored before the coast of the island that’s called ‘Ralot’. This island before the coasts of Mandregon and Virgo is one of the biggest islands in the Big Ocean. We’ll spend the night here and stock up on fresh water before we continue our voyage to ‘Banchovar’, the land of the Thousand Giants.
Master Bargoel, geographer in the service of His Majesty King Conrad Stone.
Mercandor had fully understood their enthusiasm about their discovery. He thought it was very unprofessional and not worthy of a Master to whoop and patting each other on the back to offer their congratulations. He also knew that Charles Stone had pronounced a clear and not to misunderstand threat. The prince wouldn’t punish them all if they didn’t find the parchment, but he certainly would set an example. Nobody would volunteer to be the unlucky one to satisfy his anger.
Still the same morning, Master Filiander Mercandor, together with his colleagues, had paid their respect to the prince. The temper of the heir to the throne wasn’t one of the best, but that was no exception, he was known as an unpredictable and impatient person. Nevertheless, when he heard of their success, a smile came upon his face.
‘Master Filiander, I’m so happy with the result of your search. From this moment on I appoint you to be the organizer of the expedition to find this rock. You can have at your disposal a full detachment of soldiers, enough supplies, and other traveling materials to accompany me to this place. We leave early at first light in the morning.’
The Master was startled at this announcement. He hadn’t thought Charles Stone would appoint him to go with him on this quest. He was an old man and had won his spurs in the field. Fortunately, he could hide his surprise behind his hand, coughing loud in it. ‘Thank you, Monseigneur, for the honor to be able to serve you with this responsibility. May I ask what we’re looking for in the neighborhood of this rock or am I not authorized to be informed?
Charles Stone looked at him for a moment while this smile on him already had disappeared from his face. ‘Well, let’s say that my future’s waiting there for me,’ the young man mysteriously declared. ‘Or maybe a treasure, of which you all, at due time shall enjoy the fruits.’ This creepy smile appeared again upon the mouth of Charles Stone. Yes, you shall enjoy serving me, when I put the ring on my finger, nothing less nothing more. The thought of a Royal Future with the accessory pomp and circumstance was a dream, an obsession he soon hoped to be a truth.
Master Mercandor had guided many expeditions when he was young, both on the mainland as by sea ship to map everything in the kingdom of King Conrad. The old King had appreciated him and had treated him with respect. Yes, he had even rewarded him very well. The mockery he had made in a veiled plea during his first audience with the prince had gone his throat the wrong way. He understood very well he had to be right and whatever the prince was looking for, he’d better find it. Mercandor would like to enjoy his medals and prices for a few years longer, even if he was already above the average age of an Upperlander.
Tom Varsen and Jul Branden were happy to have a roof over their head. They had taken care of this roof so that Moira Goldfoot could sleep and stay dry. Without putting pans and pots everywhere on the ground to catch the water when it rained.
The little woman was very happy and prepared a fine meal as an additional reward besides the sleeping place she had promised. A nourishing sweet porridge and a good smelling stew, neither Jul or Tom knew which meat was in it.
‘Tell me, Mummy,’ Jul started the conversation after the meal, putting some tobacco in his pipe. ‘How can you live so alone here, so far from the nearest city and in the proximity of many dangerous predators? Think about the Buldra that almost send Tom to the Other Side. I know you don’t scare easily, but considering your age I guess you can’t oppose a serious threat.
The old woman who was cleaning up the table looked at him. She had poured them out each a mug of a dark kind of ale, what made them lazy, but tasted very good. ‘If you haven’t the strength, you…,’ she hesitated how she should formulate her words. ‘You have to use other means. Buldras walk in a wide curve around my cottage, if they find it already and I always warn them, what they really appreciate.’
Jul looked at Tom with great eyes. His look said it all. Tom knew that loneliness at a certain point could really trip you up and when you were old and not so spry of mind anymore, you could lose it. If the old lady thought she could talk to the Buldras he wouldn’t contradict here. He only hoped she wouldn’t do it really. She absolutely wasn’t dangerous, but both Jul and Tom were sorry for her. To become old wasn’t the worst, being old a whole other question.
Moira showed them their sleeping places. It didn’t offer a lot of comforts, but it was dry and warm due to the wood that was burning in the little fireplace. It didn’t take long before the worn-out friends were sleeping and dreaming their dreams.
It was a moonless night and after the wood in the fireplace was burnt out it was pitch darkness in the little cabin. The silence was so penetrating, that every sound you heard was double as loud as normal. A branch cracking, somewhere outside the little house, it was as clear as a whistle. However, Jul and Tom had been so tired, they didn’t hear the danger. The soft whispering and a smothered curse passed without being noticed while they lightly snored in their sleep.
When the door flew out of its handles inside the room, both men were startled. They couldn’t cope with the brutal strength of the three intruders who kept them on the ground, with their big blades pushed on their throat. Both Jul and Tom didn’t dare to move. They were unaware of the identity of their attackers, but they felt the weapon upon their throat and knew that any movement now, would result in a certain death.
‘Quaronda me sillo et regura.’ A hale and hearty voice sounded from the corner of the little cottage. From the corner of their eyes, both the men on the ground as the three attackers saw arise a light in this corner. The silhouette of a woman appeared in this light that grew in her hands. One of the attackers turned to her while his friends kept Jul and Tom to the ground with their weapons. The woman over and over repeated the same words. ‘Quaronda me sillo et regura.’ The light in her hands flared up with an unnatural brightness while the man calm and obviously not afraid walked in her direction. The beam of light, she threw out of her hands went loosely through the attacker who was approaching and left a big hole in his body. Lifeless, the body fell down on the ground. His two friends had watched the event with open mouth. None of them had expected this. Before they could react the woman had thrown two new beams and they dropped dead to the ground, perforated by this illuminated energy.
Jul and Tom jumped up very quickly and looked not understanding at the fallen warriors. ‘Thank you, My Lady, thank you for helping. Did you see an old woman, we have to find her, who knows what they have done to her.’
The woman threw the last beam out of her hands into the fireplace that began to burn with a clear warmth. She was tall, as tall as Jul Branden and stunning. Her long hair was silvery white and her eyes were as blue as the clear sky. Around her neck, there was a golden chain with a gem that looked like a foot and radiated all sorts of colors in the shining of the burning fireplace.
‘You don’t have to look far, Jul Branden and Tom Varsen. Have you eaten too much of my stew you no longer recognize me?’
Both men looked very surprised at each other and then put their eyes again on the beautiful lady. ‘Mmm… Moira Goldfoot?’ Jul almost stuttered.
‘The only real one. I would have been that old woman you have helped if I could grow old, and in a certain way I do, but not as fast as you people. I’m Moira Goldfoot and I’m originally from the Virgonese forests. You mortals would call me a witch, but actually I’m an ‘Agoeteia’. That means nothing to you, I know, but we are the counterweight for the ‘Goeteia’. Be assured, you don’t want to meet this kind of creatures. They fetch their magic from the Dark and work together with demons.
Jul and Tom had listened to the words of Moira Goldfoot. Obviously they couldn’t cope with the new appearance of the little old lady. ‘But why this deception by being an old woman?’
‘Not a deception, my dear Jul, who wants to hurt an old little woman is bad and works for the Evil. You, on the contrary, have helped me almost unselfish to repair this roof. It goes without saying I had to help you with these… Dulkas?’
The frown that appeared on Moira’s forehead meant she didn’t understand why these warriors were doing here in her house. ‘I know for a fact no Dulka has set a foot in this region yet. Now suddenly there are three of these brutes who attack us in the middle of the night. That forebodes little good. The only question is, why they have traveled so far outside Mandros. I think it’s time for using some old fashion magic, my friends.’
Jul and Tom were speechless. They had never heard of Agoeteia and Goeteia. Of witches, yes, but that they believed to be folklore or fairy tales to frighten little children. They had seen here a powerful example of the skills of an Agoeteia. They both asked themselves if they had to be reassured or just afraid. The frown on Moira’s forehead made them suspect it would be the latter. They hadn’t to be afraid for little Mummy Moira, who was in fact, Lady Moira, but for what these attackers were planning to do.
© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere
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