The Dark Times; Part 21
Aituár got up on her feet helped by the dark-skinned woman. When the door leading out of the hut opened, they both turned their heads simultaneously to see who it was. It turned out to be Wotan and – what was it that he had called the old man – Jeremiah? They were both looking troubled.
'There seems to have been a tremendous fight – the ground has been ripped up, twigs broken and stones overturned' said Wotan.
'But no bodies – and no blood' added the old man who then turned and looked thoughtfully at Déomarr.
'I wish the dragonling could talk – he must have seen what happened.'
'But where are my manners – I have not introduced myself yet, have I?' and he wheeled to face Aituár.
'My name is Jeremiah the Hermit – and I believe you have some of my herbs in that bag of yours1.'
'Oh – yes – eh – I thought that maybe you would not mind if I...' stammered Aituár, blushing.
'Not at all, not at all,' beamed Jeremiah 'as long as your purposes are good! And this is Antaja' he continued, indicating the dark-skinned woman.
'If you want her to, she will help you find out if you have gifts of power and what they might be.'
Aituár chewed thoughtfully on her lower lip, and then she squared her shoulders.
'Yes – I had better find out, had I not? I mean – it might be the reason we have been followed, right?' she said, looking at Wotan who nodded and replied 'Quite possibly, me thinks.'
'Let us go then' said Antaja, and lead the way into the next room.
The room contained a berth, a desk and some bookshelves lined up along the walls. In the middle of the room there was a worn rug lying on the floor. Wotan bent down and dragged it aside, revealing a wooden hatch which he opened.
Antaja took the still-burning candles that Aituár had seen through the keyhole and handed them one each, before walking down the steep stone steps that had been concealed by the hatch.
When Aituár had climbed down she could see a dark tunnel. She could hear Wotan muttering behind her and turned around to see him struggling to get the rug in place again before closing the hatch above his head.
'Come' urged Antaja from in front of her, and Aituár hurried into the tunnel.
The tunnel lead into a round cavern. Lit candles made the stone statues that lined the walls cast flickering, eerie shadows. In the middle of the cave there was a round, low stone table. It looked like some sort of altar, with runes covering its surface. It was for this slab of stone that Antaja was heading.
Antaja sat down cross-legged on the floor facing the altar, and gestured to Aituár to do the same on the oppposite side. Jeremiah took up a position behind Antaja with his back against the wall, standing very still between two of the statues, looking like one of them. Wotan took up a similar position behind Aituár's back.
Antaja opened up several small pouches that seemed to contain sand, one colour in each pouch. She leaned forward and began filling in the outlines of runes that had been carved deep into the stone with the sand.
'It is a shame that Neni died2.' said Antaja suddenly.
'She was to be your mentor and your guide into your spiritual life. Unfortunately she passed away before you were fully prepared.'
'You – you knew Neni?' stammered Aituár.
'You mean she was a – a –'
Aituár hesitated to use the word, but Antaja filled it in for her.
'- witch. Yes, she was one of us, the sisters of Luonto.'
Aituár sat quiet for a while, watching Antaja bring life into the runes. Then she said 'Then – then I am one too?'
'Yes, we think so. Neni's mission was to find the child of one of our sisters, Ihme' Antaja replied.
She looked searchingly at Aituár, then nodded.
'I think it is time you heard the story.'
'This was before the dark disease started spreading, before the soldiers turned up. We had received signs of dark times nearing and Ihme set out to investigate it, to look for omens. She insisted on taking on the mission, knowing full well that she was the person best suited for it. Since she was far gone in her pregnancy her husband, the druid Ajatus, was to accompany her.'
'We knew that Ihme had given birth to a baby girl. That was to be the last thing we ever heard from her. When we discovered that it was impossible to establish telepathical contact with either her or her husband we sent out a search party.'
'It was as if Ihme had been wiped off the surface of the earth, as if she had never even existed. We did find her husband, but he had gone insane and had also become blind. We never managed to get anything out of him except for incoherent babbling, and so we could only speculate on what had happened to cause this.'
'There was no sign of the baby, but Neni felt convinced that it had survived. When the others returned, she stayed behind to continue searching for the child. She heard of an orphaned child in the village of Anítsir, and travelled there to find out more.'
'Once Neni had established herself as the wise woman of the village, she got the chance to examine the baby. She reported back to us that the little girl bore the sign of the sisters – a small birthmark on the left shoulder, shaped like a butterfly.'
Aituár winced as she heard this, because she had, indeed, a birthmark like that. She was hoping that Antaja would continue her story, but it seemed that the decorating of the altar was finished. The witch unwrapped a bundle of purple velvet and placed a crystal ball on the stone, right in the centre.
'It is almost midnight – place one hand on each side of the crystal ball and look into it' said Antaja.
As Aituár did this, she could feel the surge of power between her hands. Shapes began to form inside the ball, shapes that moved. She leaned forward to see them better and Déomarr tried to look too, standing on her lap with his eyes and snout barely reaching over the top of the stone table.
'What do you see?' asked Antaja.
Aituár was just about to reply when suddenly a section of the wall collapsed with a crash. Statues were heaved aside and dark cowled figures came surging into the cave. Antaja made a quick gesture that made all the candles go out, leaving the cave pitch black.
There were sounds of fighting and Wotan was bellowing, enraged. Aituár flung herself down on the floor as something whizzed over her head. Quickly she rolled away from the altar with Déomarr clutched to her chest. In the darkness she hit one of the stone statues and crawled in behind it.
Suddenly everything became very quiet. Aghast, Aituár held her breath and listened intently. She could sense rather than hear something moving close nearby. Instinctively she closed her eyes and began chanting quietly to herself, in her mind.
'I am invisible, I am invisible, I am invisible.'
Will the chant work?
Does Aituár have powers now that it is past midnight?
Or was the ceremony interrupted too soon?