E. R. Haroldsen
It is requisite of a wizard or a sorceress to pass portions of their power to others, lest all ability to do good be lost forever.
Fyra didn’t know this.
She was working at her tatting. Her long thin fingers darted, twining the bobbins of colored thread in what appeared to be a random pattern. Where the threads came together, they formed a lace picture that could edge handkerchiefs, cuffs or collars.
As soon as Chodestsheen came into the weaver’s shop, Fyra folded her work and thrust it out of sight under the table. This was obviously someone of importance.
“Is your master here?”
“He is not. He has gone to the city to sell cloth, my lady. I can get my mistress.” Fyra acted the quiet and loyal servant girl, keeping her eyes lowered.
“Do not disturb her. You can show me what is for sale. I am searching for something unusual.” Almost as an after thought, she added, “These clothes are starting to bore me.” The sorceress was dressed in a finely tailored yellow gown with a low neck and puffed sleeves. The full dress hid her legs so she seemed to glide rather than to walk. Her dark brown hair was folded back over a wire hair frame, giving it a smooth high profile. Her face was not unusual. It did attract attention, but afterwards, people found they could not recall what she looked like. No one knew her age, but behind her pail complexion, she carried the weight of endless years.
Fyra was a young maid of fourteen. Her hair was blacker than coal and her pale face was thin from poor diet, adding to her frail appearance. She was reaching the age where a mother, if she had one living, should tutor her in preparation for becoming a woman.
“My lady. My master is a printer of cloth. I can show you what he has done. He has many good designs and bright colors.”
“I can get good designs and bright colors in the city,” said the sorceress thoughtfully. “I am looking for something unusual and I felt I would find it here. Show me what you were working on when I came in here.”
“It certainly won’t hurt to show me. Perhaps it will help me decide what I am looking for.”
Fyra pulled the tatting from under the table and spread it out. It was about the length of an arm and three fingers wide. Unlike most lace, which is white, this piece consisted of countless colors, flowing together. The pattern was unique because it never repeated. Each section was a new design, original. There were images of horses, men-of-war, strange animals and dragons mixed with an asymmetric pattern. Intermixed with the exotic designs there was also the image of a man.
“Why so many colors?” asked Chodestsheen.
“I use scraps of thread that I find. Many are mismatched colors that will not sell in a lot.”
“You’ve used the colors well. Each pattern is matched with the color. Red dragons, brown horses, knights in shiny armor and yellow green basilisks.” She looked sternly at Fyra. “Where did you learn what a basilisk looks like?”
“I listen to the story tellers in the market.”
“And who is the man? A mighty warrior or a king, perhaps?”
“No. My lady. He is no one.”
She looked at the weaving. “I see you have woven his countenance into this five times. That can’t be no one.”
“He is the man I imagine to be my father. He is but a dream.”
“You are an orphan?”
“Yea. My father died in battle and my mother from plague.”
“Your master must be pleased with your work.”
“My master knows nothing of this.”
Chodestsheen nodded her head thoughtfully. Her eyebrows arched and she looked down on the girl with an expression of amusement mixed with concern. “If you will sell it, I will pay you well.”
“It’s not finished.”
“It is long enough for my needs. Tie off the ends and I will give you this.” The lady held a small silver coin. Fyra’s eyes grew wide. She got scissors and quickly cut away the bobbins and tied off the ends.
When alone, Fyra looked at the coin sitting on the table like it was holy. Her feelings of reverence didn’t come from seeing the money. The amount was not great. A webster would earn as much in three days, but Fyra had never had a coin.
A shadow came over the table. A fat white arm reached around her and took the coin. Fyra spun around, coming face to face with Blythe.
“Where did you get this?” demanded the fat bloated woman. She looked like a big white worm.
“It is not. Who did you steal it from?”
“I did not steal it. I sold something of mine.”
The flabby matron slapped Fyra. “Liar.” she shouted. “You don’t have anything to sell, you thieving child.”
“I sold some tatting. I sold my own work. I earned that money. It’s mine,” screamed Fyra as she doubled up a tiny fist and threw it at the fat woman’s middle. The hand disappeared up to the wrist in the woman’s belly. Fyra looked up for a reaction. Blythe’s eyes opened wide. Fyra sank her second fist into the woman’s stomach. A tremor ran through Blythe’s body.
Suddenly, Blythe swung both her arms. Fyra felt a deadening blow to her head and chest. She landed against the table, knocking it over.
When Fyra’s senses returned, Blythe was squatted on a chair, her arms folded across her middle. She was gasping for breath. Fyra ran from the shop.
When the master returned that night, Blythe gave a caustic report about Fyra. There was no mention of the silver coin or the blows Fyra had received. Fyra was sent to her bed in the attic without her ration of bread. Later, Blythe came and took away her single blanket as an added punishment.
That night, she thought about father. He had died before she was born and people said she had never seen him. Fyra knew it was not true. He had come to her one night while the others were asleep. He was a wise old man with a black moustache that blended into a grey beard. His eyes smiled at her and there were laugh lines in his face. He had placed his hands on her head and spoken some words. Then he went away.
The next morning, Fyra was getting water from the well when she saw Chodestsheen. She froze at the sight of the tall beautiful woman and wondered if the sorceress had just had come out of the air.
“Morning, my lady.”
“Have you decided how to spend your money?”
“It is gone. My mistress took it.”
The sorceress nodded. Again there was that mixed expression of amusement and concern. “It is of no importance. I have something else for you. Give me your hands.”
Fyra extended both hands, palms up, expecting another coins. Instead, the sorceress traced a pattern with her finger. First on the palm of one hand and then on the other. As she traced the pattern, a line seemed to remain on the skin and fade away. “Now let’s see if the gift has been received,” said Chodestsheen. “Sometimes it doesn’t stay.” She took two short lengths of string from a purse. “Hold one piece in each hand so the ends stick out. Then brings the two ends together. Now think of the two pieces as being one piece.”
Fyra did what she thought the sorceress wanted.
“No.” The lady came around behind her and took each hand in her own. She brought Fyra’s little hands toward each other until the frayed end of the strings were almost touching. “Now imagined that you are holding just one piece of string.”
The fibers of the string seemed to move, to reach out for each other like a person searching for something, reaching and searching. The sorceress moved Fyra’s hands together. The fibers touched, then slid around each other like a vine climbing a tree. The two pieces of string were one. Fyra looked up at the sorceress.
“How did you do that?” Fyra gasped in astonishment.
“I didn’t. You did it. I have only give you the gift to do it.”
“But why? What have I done to deserve such a gift?”
“You did nothing. That is why it is a gift,” said Chodestsheen. “You will have to practice with your gift or it will go away but don’t show it to other frivolously. Be wise. Be careful.”
“What are you?”
“My name is Chodestsheen and I am a sorceress. You’ve heard of me?” Fyra shook her head. “It is just as well. Whatever you might have heard would undoubtedly be wrong.”
When Fyra returned with the water to the shop, she found Blythe standing in the doorway, looking down the road as her husband rode away on a horse drawn cart loaded with fabric. As soon as he had turned the corner, Blythe grabbed Fyra by the arm.
“Drop that bucket and come with me.”
Blythe took Fyra down to the docks. She dragged her around by one arm. When the direction was not right, she was jerked back on course. Finally she found a foreign ship that was ready to depart. She found the captain and told him she wanted him to take Fyra away.
“Why?” asked Captain Lydand. He was a large grizzled man with dirty grey hair tied in a knot behind his head.
“Because I want her away from here. Far enough that she doesn’t come back.”
“Where did you get her?”
“She is a laborer for my husband. She’s an orphan. Has no family.”
The Captain Lydand shook his head. “No. Won’t do it.”
“Why not? She is young, healthy, strong and is a skilled webster.”
“Because your story is not good enough. Nobody sends away a good worker. You’ve stollen her from someone else or she has some disease or she’s a thief and a liar. There’s something more that you are not telling me.”
Blythe looked at the Lydand for a moment, then nodded her head. “Look at her. What is she going to be like in another year?” She pointed an accusing finger at Fyra. “She’s growing up. She’s becoming a woman and she’s becoming much too head strong. I want her out of my home and away from my husband before he takes a fancy to her.”
Confused by the events, Fyra stood silently, listening intently to the long awaited explanation of Blythe’s hatred. After hearing it, she still didn’t understand.
“I have no use for a webster,” Lydand looked at Fyra critically. “But there is potential. I’ll take her.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Get on board the ship, child.”
Fyra nodded and started forward. Then she stopped. “Blythe?” she said quietly.
“What?” Blythe glared down at Fyra.
Fyra drove her fist into Blythe’s middle. Blythe shuddered as Fyra ran up the plank and leaped into the ship. Blythe started after her. The captain, laughing, held out an arm and stopped her.
“Ho there, woman. She belongs to me, now.”
Blythe nodded glumly, turned and went away, clutching her stomach. Her last glance back at the ship boiled with hatred.
The voyage went badly. Storms came up shortly after their departure, blowing them further and further out to sea. For days, Fyra lay in a nest made from rags and bits of sail cloth among the cargo. During the storm, she was violently sick and completely ignored by the eight crewmen who fought to control the ship. On the tenth day, the storms stopped. Recovered, Fyra came up on deck.
Fyra looked down at the grey water as it swished past the side of the merchant ship. A cold wind made her small body tremble–or did she tremble from fear? She reassured herself that even through her voyage was a punishment, where ever it took her, it had to be an improvement.
Fyra noticed the remains of a hemp rope tied about the hand rail. The fibers were soft from age and the knot tight beyond anyone’s ability to loosen. She touched the knot with a long slender finger. The knot twisted and fell loose. She stripped the hemp into five bunches of fiber and braided them. Under her nimble fingers, the hemp seemed to move by itself.
When the braid’s length was twice the width of her hand, Fyra brought one end to meet the other. She stroked the hemp. The fibers moved together, one set intermeshing itself with the other. Finished, she held a finely woven hemp bracelet with nothing to show where the weaving had started or ended.
“Let them try and figure how I did that,” said Fyra quietly to herself. She couldn’t think of anyone to show it to so she tore it apart and dropped the wisps of hemp into the churning sea.
It was late in the day. The sky was a heavy layer of grey clouds. The sun, which had been hidden for many days, broke through under the cloud layer. The warm yellow light changed the clouds to red and the ocean to orange. On the other side of the ship, an island appeared, almost as if by magic. It was a line of mountains rising from the sea with a green apron, bright and shiny wet.
Fyra ran to the platform at the rear of the ship. Captain Lydand stood with his arms folded across his chest beside the seaman who controlled the steering ore. Fyra tugged at the Captain’s arm and pointed to the land.
“Is that where we are going?”
“No.” Lydand didn’t even look but shook his head. “You wouldn’t want to go to that island. There are cannibals. They would stick you on a pike and roast you over a fire. A nice tender woman.”
“I’ve never been outside of Bend.”
“You’ll bring a good price. Fair young women are among the dark races.”
Captain Lydand grabbed Fyra and pulled her tightly to his body. “I’m going to have to teach you. You’re not too young to learn.”
“Let go of me,” shouted Fyra as she struggled in his grip.
“No point in fighting it. You’ll have to get used to it.” Lydand laughed at her futile wrestling. Then his laughter became a stifled cry of pain. His loose fitting wool shirt was suddenly extremely tight. The sleeves were half way up his forearms. The waistband had slipped up over his belly. The collar was deathly tight. He clutched at his throat, trying to breath. The seaman at the tiller dropped the pole, produced a knife and cut open the laces at the neck.
Once the captain could breathe, he looked about for the girl. She was standing a short distance away, her back against the gunwale, her eyes wide with fear.
“You saw that. You saw what she did,” said Lydand. “She’s a witch. Catch her.”
A sailor leaped for her. Fyra scampered away, throwing a rope at the man as she fled. The sailor fell, hopelessly tangled in hemp mesh that seemed to stick to itself.
Other sailors joined in chasing Fyra. Even though the ship was only forty feet long, she did remarkably well in avoiding them.
In the middle portion of the ship, an iron pot of coals sat in a box of sand. Fyra tripped over a support pole, flipping the brazier on its side. The glowing coals scattered over the ship’s desk and into the hold. Smoke rose out of the cargo area.
The men panicked. While several fought the fire. Two sailors came toward Fyra with knives. They no longer planned to catch her. They were going to kill her. Fyra ducked under a man’s arm as he grabbed for her. He threw his weapon. She stumbled as a blade thunked into the wood beside her head. Then she felt herself falling. As she screamed, the cold water closed around her body.
The icy water held her in it arms forever, then, when her mind was turning grey, her head broke the surface. The tight weave of her dress was holding air like a balloon and buoyed her up. She gasp for air. She could breathe and hold her head above the water, for the moment.
The ship was moving away. Captain Lydand stood on the rear of the ship, his shirt hanging in shreds. He stood and watched as Fyra floated among the waves then turned away and joined the other sailors.
“No!” she screamed.
* * * * * *
Fauth, pulled the last line into his boat, coiled and tossed it into a wooden crate. No fish today.
Maybe tomorrow would be better.
Fauth had a fatalistic view of taking his livelihood from the sea. Sometimes, fishing was good. Sometimes, fishing was bad. The only thing certain was that it always changed.
There was food at home to last several months. He was nearing fifty and that was old for a fisherman. Some day, he would sail away, something would happen and he would never come back. Then Jausame, his wife, would sell the cottage, move into the village and live with the other widows of the sea.
If he had caught just a few fish, he’d have something to show for his efforts. It was strange, but even after thirty years, Jausame had never failed to show excitement when he brought in a large fish even if it was no bigger than one he had caught the week before. It was always “a giant. The best one yet.”
Lately, she hadn’t been as interested in his catch. He knew that when he saw her again, her eyes would be red, her face would not brighten when he came. It was as if she something in her had died.
Three weeks ago.
Three weeks ago, Fauth had build a cairn, a small pile of stone, out behind their cottage. It was all that marked the burial site of their daughter of eight summers.
For years they had waited for a child. Then a miracle to a woman beyond her years, a little girl.
At first, Fauth had been disappointed not to have a son but it was the mother that got her secret desire. She had never dared voice her secret desire but she had prayed for a little girl to dress, to teach, and to love. When Fauth saw the joy the tiny girls had brought Jausame, it brought him joy also. Soon he found himself bound to the child. When she had died from some unkown fever, he had buried her and then gone fishing. There was nothing else to do.
He pulled the sea anchor from the water. The ship drifted backwards with the wind. Fauth raised the sail and began to tack into the wind, the start of his journey home.
He knew these waters intimately. He could navigate by the color of the water, by the smell of the air, by changes in temperature. If he saw a rock, he knew where he was and which route had the deep water.
Suddenly, Fauth felt a wave of fear sweep over him. His weariness was replaced by a flood of emotions. He was seeing visions of the dead.
No. His daughter did not have dark hair. When the waves were in the right position, he saw a dark-haired figure waving for help against the cold green water.
He yanked on the rope. The sail dropped down the mast. He leaned on the tiller, bringing the ship about. He had lost sight of the castaway but knew he could find her again if she stayed up.
Just then the sun finished sinking below the horizon. In moments, the water turned dark. The sky lost is ruddy shine and everything looked grey. Minutes by minute, it became more difficult to see anything in the waning light. He threw out the sea anchor.
The waves were large. A person could disappear among them. A small girl would be more difficult to find. The ship was drifting and Fauth made adjustments to tiller and sail, trying to maintain his position. It was a loosing situation. He had nothing to tell him which way he was moving. With each second, the chances of finding her was getting smaller.
Then he wondered if he had actually seen her. Maybe it was a piece of drift wood or some flotsam. Perhaps a gull had been flapping it wings and he had mistaken the motion.
Almost too late, he saw her again. She was even with his boat and almost impossible to see. Even with the sea anchor, the wind was moving the ship through the water much too fast. He grabbed a rope and threw it. The cord trailed out, tangling in mid air and fell. Only the last few inches reached the child. He saw her snatch at it. Then he jumped to regain control of his ship.
Fauth tied off the sail, adjusted the tiller so the swell would not capsize the ship. When he looked back, at the furthest length of the rope, the water was breaking over a small figure being pulled through the water.
Fauth took the rope and started pulling it in. If he pulled too fast, he would jerk her free. Too slow and she would tire from the buffeting waves and let go.
Soon, he pulled the cold body into his ship. He leaned her over his leg. He struck her on the back. Water ran from her mouth. She gasp for air. When she was breathing, Fauth opened his quilted coat and held the trebling body to his. He rubbed her arms and legs to warm then.
Finally, she moved, putting her arms around him, clinging to him and receiving his warmth. She slowly opened her eyes and looked up at him. She saw a wise old man with a black moustache that blended into a grey beard. His eyes smiled at her and there were laugh lines in his face. She thought she recognized him. Then she smiled and closed her eyes.
As he turned his boat toward the island, Fauth thought ahead to when he would show Jausame his “giant catch. The best one yet.”
He did not notice the rope that had saved Fyra’s life. The end of it was wrapped around her wrist, woven into a loop with nothing to show where the weaving had started or ended.