Maithair

 

Maithair

 

This is fantastic! The scenery here is amazing. Everything seems wilder here, the hills more rugged, the people more fierce and the spirits much more alive. And the men wear skirts, which is a novelty. The winds blow colder too, though, and I can’t decide whether to leave before winter or hole up somewhere cozy. I’m curious about their spirits. How come they are subtle and muted in Ryendor, and so powerful here in the north? I see their churches of the Light and their priests here as in Ryendor, but they don’t reach as deep. As if people here acknowledge the Light, but knows there is something else as well to be reckoned with. Makes me curious…

 

The stones speak to me – heavy voices. They speak of ancient times, of strong deities and great powers. No wonder the people here are so fierce living side by side with such great forces. The soil too is rich with life. I sit down in a circle of large rocks, burrowing my hands into the earth and am almost overpowered. The earth breathe through me – heavy breaths reaching back through time, eternal. The winds tug at my hair and clothes, and though I sit perfectly still I can feel myself swirl towards the sky with them. I howl in joy! I am free! I fly over this land, this living timeless land. Far far away I see a pulsing in the ground and I move closer to inspect. The winds bring me near the ground and a regal looking old woman look straight into my eyes. ‘You need to find me’ she says – her voice gentle and stern all at once ‘Maithair is asking about you, and I have no answers. You will come here and answer for yourself’. A gesture of her hand and the winds pull me back to my body. I am puzzled. Who is that woman? And Maithair? Who is Maithair?

 

The inn is nice – just as an inn should be really. Cozy and warm, dark rooms with dark furniture – aged and worn. Pascal and I share a room – I get the bed and he’s got a thick straw mattress on the floor. The people here are friendly, and do not care a whittle about my magic. They’ve got their own remedies. I pay for our stay by telling stories at night and cooking foreign meals. Pascal lends a hand in the stables, and seems happier that he has for a long time. He is a social boy, and needs more company than a woman ten years his senior, and more of a home than a fire by the road and a blanket to roll up in. I keep forgetting he’s not kin and do not desire the same freedom as I do. He is happy here, and I will leave him behind when I move on.

 

I dream. The woman from my soul journey comes to me. ‘You need to find me’ she says again ‘I will send someone to guide you’. She is beautiful and I cannot put a finger on her age. She is old, very old! Her eyes are ancient! Her hair is silver white and even braided it almost reached her knees. Her skin is smooth and only slightly wrinkled. She stands straight and power oozes from every pore and fiber of her. I have sought her for so long, have felt the tugging of the winds when I made a wrong turn. As if this entire land wants me to meet her. Almost as if she IS the land. She reaches out and touches my cheek. Her fingers are like ice against my skin. She smiles ‘You are such a creature of fire, my dear’ she says ‘Such a wild one’. For just a moment she looks just like my mother. ‘Such a wild one’ my mother whispers and I wake. I wake into a dark room, the moonlight streaming through the open window. Pascal moves on the floor and I can still feel her presence in the room. She is real and she is sending someone.

I am running through the orchard. Several children are chasing me, laughing. I laugh too. We were sent to pick apples, but the air is just too fresh. I am overjoyed. It is a season like none I’ve ever experienced. The leaves have every color between light yellow over bright red to brown. The air is crisp and more full somehow. The sky is the most amazing blue. It is like no duties should be performed today. It is a day for play and laughter and… I run face first into him. My nose hit a metal buckle on his clan sash across his chest. His hands grab my shoulders to steady me. My eyes water and I hold my aching nose. My vision of him is blurred and I blink. He is tall. Red hair, clean shaven freckled face. Bright blue eyes with a twinkle and a curl of a smile at the corner of his mouth. His chest is broad and bare apart from the sash. He wears a kilt, his legs bare, his shoes are leather. I stare. I cannot control it. I stare. And I think my heart just exploded.

 

His name is Fynn and the Priestess sent him. She is a priestess, the woman from my vision and my dream. The children greet him like a loved uncle. At the inn they greet him with pleasure too. He is well known and well loved. The children swarm around us. I’ve found myself a worthy opponent when it comes to being popular with the kids it seems. They were shy with me at first. I don’t dress to fit in, and everyone knew from day one that I am a witch – so they were fascinated, but afraid. I bribed them with homemade türkmenish delight and tales from my homeland. And now I have a trail of kids everywhere I go. It’s quite the help, when I go collecting herbs, or go berry- and apple-picking. I never get lost that way, and learn a lot about the land. Children are so clever. They seem to absorb everything you tell them, and store it for future use. Quite useful.

 

The wind blows cold against me. I feel a little foolish now that I insisted dressing as I always do. My flimsy outfit is no match for the autumn cold. I just felt I had to meet her in my true guise. Only native clothes I’m wearing are leather shoes and a long, heavy cape. I keep the hood up and the cape wrapped around me. Fynn takes the worst of the wind, always keeping himself between it and me. When the going gets too steep he reaches out and takes my hand. We do not talk much – every word is stolen from our lips by the wind. I struggle on. This is a trial – I can feel it. I must conquer this land. The spirits are my friends, but not my servants, and I cannot get them to play to my whims. I must show my strength! I slip. Fynn catches me by the elbow, and I lean into him. I have not forgotten my first untoward meeting with him. He must think me such a useless child. I hold up a hand to make him step away, and close my eyes. ‘Please’ I beg silently of the winds around us and the rock beneath our feet ‘Please aid my way. I ask it of you as a friend. I was wrong to treat you with arrogance. I was wrong to think myself your mistress. Please ease my steps!’. And the wind stop tugging at my clothes and hair, only a gentle breeze caress my skin. And the path before us seems smoother than it was – green moss where sharps stones would have cut my feet. Fynn stares at me. ‘What did you just do?’ his voice low and incredulous. I smile ‘I asked my friends for help’ and skip down the path, now endlessly easier to tread. The rest of the journey is easy. Fynn looks at me differently – his blue eye trying to see beyond my frail look. I enjoy having teased him. I like that he does not think me a fool anymore. Some trinket he was sent to pick up. I have powers of my own – I just need to control them better.

 

The moor is before us. A musty smell hangs in the air along with smoke and the scent of sheep. At the edge of the moor there are low huts and odd people emerge from them. Well, people… they are almost people, only too tall or too short or too crooked. Their hair and faces are too coarse or too fine. Some have eyes full of wisdom, some are witless. Some miss limbs. Fynn seem like a perfect specimen of the human race as he walks tall and straight among them. He greets them and they nod or hail him. At the sight of him the smallest man I have ever seen run on short bowed legs to a horn hanging in a tree, as crooked as the people, and blows it. The tone sounds strong and free across the moor. Fynn leads me to the edge of this peculiar village. A sort of gate is built of stone and branches and moss and flowers – and open gate that opens up to a path through the moor. I step towards it, but he holds me back. ‘You cannot walk it’ he says ‘You must be initiated or walk with her’. There is an edge to his voice – like he is displeased with me. I cannot fathom why. Then he nods in direction of the path, and I see the woman coming towards me. The Priestess. She is not as tall as I had imagined, only half an inch taller than me. She is beautiful, but regular. A person, not a goddess, as I had almost imagined. I can’t see the power in her, but every spirit around her reacts to her, and bows to her. She greets Fynn warmly and hugs him. He speaks to her in a low voice and she looks at me curiously while he does. Then she smiles and walks towards me with open arms. ‘Dzemila’ she says ‘How pleased I am to have you here at last’. I am embraced, and I feel her warmth, and I cannot help but like her. She holds me at arm’s length and looks me over. Her eyes rest at my pendant, and she frowns. Then she nods at me and reaches out for my hand.

 

She leads me through the moor by strange paths. I could never have told bog from path on my own, though she does not look down a single time. We seem to walk forever through a fairy tale land. I see creatures out of the corner of my eye that should not exist. I begin to wonder whether I am dreaming or not. We reach what must be the center of this peculiar labyrinth – a small patch of stamped earth and a small hut with a fire in front of it. The priestess turns to me and hands me a small ball of herbs. ‘Chew these’ she says and motions me towards the hut. The herbs taste fresh in my mouth with a bitter aftertaste and I settle into a comfortable position inside the hut. She stays outside. I chew and chew and chew and I begin to feel drowsy. There must be some sort of narcotic in the herbs, because the hut seems to grow and in front of me a passage opens up. I rise, or I feel like I rise, and walk towards it. At first it is dark and full of shadows, then it seems to open up into a clearing in a forest and in front of me stands a woman. She changes her appearance all the time. With every breath she changes from maiden to mother to hag, a new face all the time. Only the eyes seem the same. She looks at me for at long time, and I begin to feel uncomfortable. I can feel her displeasure. Fool girl. The words ring through the air, though she does not move her lips. Fool girl who plays with powers she cannot understand. Fool girl who thinks the spirits are her playthings. Fool girl who carries a demon around her neck like jewelry. My hand touches the pendant. I feel a little affronted. Fool girl indeed! Who does she think she is? Don’t mock me, girl. You are a speck in time, a passing moment. I am eternal and forever. I am life and death. You need to learn humility! Or your little games will turn on you and be the death of you! She snaps her fingers and the pendant grows warm and grows bigger. It tears from the chain and a terrible creature writhes and grows in front of my eyes. Completely black, with yellow eyes and white, white teeth – oh, so many teeth! It hisses at me and leaps. Though I turn to run it grabs me with long clawed hands and bites down on the softness of my side. It begins to eat me and I scream and scream in agony. My hands bat at it uselessly, but I can feel my flesh tearing and my blood flowing. Then the sound of a snap of fingers, and the monster shrink and the pain eases and in a blink of an eye I stand once more in front of the woman and the djinn is once again a black rock pendant on a chain. I fall to the ground, panting. My heart is pounding. Fool girl to think you can control it… I look up with anger ‘I CAN control it!’ I say ‘I have never failed’. She turns her head in an almost serpentine fashion. But you will, girl, you will and it will gobble you up – if you do not learn some humility. And you will leave the spirits alone too! ‘The spirits are my friends and I have spoken to them always with gentleness! I have never moved against their will’. She hisses at me and without moving she seems to move very close to me. The spirits are NOT your friends. They are curious as to why you can speak to them and they play along with you, but they are NOT your friends! Maybe you can play with lesser spirits of other lands, but my northern children do not bow to little fool girls! I breathe through my nose. I am furious. Then I laugh. ‘You are afraid of me’ the realization jumps into my mind like a ray of sunshine. ‘You are afraid of what I can do!’ She moves away from me, the expression on her face is not fear, though, more like sorrow. I fear FOR you, girl. You have great power and can bring great destruction, if you do not learn to control yourself. If you do not learn humility. She shakes her head and sighs. Begone, girl. Begone from my land with your foreign and arrogant power. Begone with your proud heart and stubborn mind. I will not bless you. There is a feeling like a rope tied around my spine pulling me back, and I wake up in the hut. Alone.

 

I exit the hut and the priestess comes toward me. Her face is ashen. She cups my face in her hands and looks into my eyes. ‘You must go south immediately’ she says in a low voice ‘Across the border and never come back. I would have liked to keep you here and teach you the things you must learn, but Maithair wants you gone. She calls you poison. Oh, dear girl, what did you say to her that would make her say that?’ I look away. It is hard to look into her eyes. ‘She would hold me back’ I whisper ‘She fears my power and would have me curb it’. I look fiercely into her face ‘I will not curb it! I will not be bound by her rules. I was not brought up to be humble, but to be proud! To stand tall! If she will not have me here I will leave. I have better places to be!’ My heart pounds in my throat and a strange feeling gnaws at my insides. Surely not doubt? I steel myself and turn to the woman, whos face is now a picture of deep sadness. ‘Please lead me out of here, and I will be gone as soon as I can’. I stare in wonder as a tear rolls down her cheek, as she takes my hand and leads me back.

 

I trip for the one thousand times and I can hardly get up. I left Pascal behind, and the stupid mule. I carry all my things on my back. The only things I bring with me from this accursed land is the cape that keeps me warm and the leather shoes that are almost worn to shreds. The journey has been murder! You should think that every local spirit is fighting me every step of my way. The rocks cut my feet. The winds keep making me go in circles. The water tastes bitter and foul. Every animal keeps its distance. One should think that the goddess wants me to stay or to come back. To apologize perhaps? To realize the error of my ways? No thanks! I am leaving this cold and heartless land and will not come back! I feel a longing to just lie down right here and sleep, sleep, but I get up for the one thousand times and move on. I will reach the border soon, and her power over me will cease. Maybe this was thought to be a lesson in humility, but I stand prouder every time I get up. I will look after myself, control my powers and be extra careful around Calcifer. I will prove her wrong! I will show her that I can too control my powers!

For years Dzemila is on the move, supporting herself by making and selling potions, powders, medicine, amulets, and occasionally poisons across Epirus and Ryendor. Every now and then she does invoke the djinn... Calcifer is a master builder of traps, labyrinths, puzzle boxes, secret rooms and compartments. It is dangerous every time she invokes him, but the works he does pays well, and Dzemila has learned to enjoy life in - if not luxery, then in comfortable circumstances. In southern Ryendor she is hired to build something of a devilish device for a local nobleman. The thing is build (by Calcifer), and Dzemila stays around on the promise of further work, but is apprehended by a motley crew of noblemen and raggedy soldiers (the other players). One of them, Louis, seduces her and convinces her that she should abandon the nobleman she has worked for so far, and join forces with them. Dzemila is intrigued and agrees. And here the story truly begins...