Hello, Benjamin from Brother’s Campfire here.
I like to keep my stories grounded in how I understand the world to work, keeping the mythical to a minimum.
For the purist who expects immaculate finesse as to keeping with their expectations of me, I make no apology. I know where the story is going.
Sorry for the rant. I am feeling a wee bit defensive and stressed. Prison work will do that to a man on occasion.
As for you, my dear reader,
Now that I have my feelings shook off of my sleeve,
Ashton arrived just in time to see a gathering of townsfolk and country bumpkins assembling at the door of his mother’s home, murmuring and carrying on. There was no telling what prompted this, but he suspected it had to do with Hallr Agnar’s death.
Right he was. All eyes were on him as he approached.
A goat herder cried, ” he has cloven hooves!”
Ashton, a slow burning anger inside, was not in the mood for such meddling. Losing his girl, the beating, falling in the water trough in front of everyone, and all the back and forth from everyone about his life had pushed him to the brink. He was not having it.
“You sick jolly rancher, I’ll beat you into a unhappy farmer, you filthy plume plucker!”
This did not help Ashton’s plight and escalated matters.
Too late, he remembered how his words kept getting him in trouble. He had just been corrected for saying “slubberdegullion” earlier in the day by his mother.
To his dismay, the crowd’s attention was on him.
” See! his tongue is flames of fire!” Cried one.
” Take off your shoes and prove you are not a vargr!” Shouted another.
“Off the shoes! off the shoes!” They chanted, coming closer.
A reckless demeanor overtook Ashton and he stood his ground.
“I’m not wearing any, you sour ciderpresses! Let my mother’s home be.”
An evil smelling tanner who lived down the way spoke the wisdom of the ages. ” If she be no witch, why does she not answer the door?”
“Because she’s probably out working! Why do you want her? Have you come to try her as a witch again?”
“She is a witch! She is marked from birth!” Cried one.
“She has pointed teeth and collects marigolds!” Cried another.
“You were spawned from the earth!” Cried yet another.
As angry as he was, Ashton knew it was time to go. The peasants had farming implements and knew how to use them for unsavory purposes.
He sprinted with a well practiced stride towards the forest; He must find his mother and warn her.
“After the witch boy!” One yelled.
There was no catching Ashton. He was light, fast, fed, and knew the forest.
A little ways in, Ashton caught his breath and gathered his thoughts. Had the gentry influenced the peasants? The woodcutter said it was they who had started this. Likely, the word spread of Hallr Agnar and his companions and suspicion abounded.
Every so often this would happen. Something bad would happen and the villagers and country folk would dunk his mother in water to see if she floated or make sure her eyeballs were not catlike.
It was frustrating and Ashton cursed. “Dotards!”
The words no sooner slipped from his tongue when he felt a harsh rap to his head. It was his mother, and she had come out of seemingly nowhere.
“Boy! How many times must I tell you not to speak in such a way? Shall I pull your tongue out and beat you with it!”
Ashton was not surprised that his mother caught him unaware. She seemed to always be around when he was at his worst. He wasn’t worried about it now, he just wanted his mother safe.
“Mom! There were folks at the house looking for you! They were making sure I didn’t have cloven hooves of all things!”
His mother sighed. ” I heard about Hallr being eaten by a sounder. They wanted to ensure you didn’t have pig feet.
Ashton’s mom knelt down and grabbed Ashton’s toes. ” this little piggie went to market..”
“Mom!” Ashton recoiled in disgust. “They are after us and we have to do something! The woodcutter said the gentry…”
“Ashton, Ashton,” his mother replied,
“I spoke to the gentry. Despite what you think, everything is fine.”
“No buts. It is time to go back home and prepare dinner.”
As they drew closer, Ashton’s anxiety grew and they heard arguing voices.
“They will take us, mother,” Ashton whispered.
His mother said nothing, walking confidently ahead. On their approach, a well armed man astride a horse was on the path, giving orders to the peasants to disperse. The man did not appear to wield his sword in vain and his direction was met with compliance.
On their approach, the man saluted with a nod of his head.
“G’day my lady, the way is clear.”
“Thank you, good sir!” She replied cheerfully as they passed.
Out of earshot, Ashton asked, “what is going on here? Why are the gentry so protective one moment and so callous the next?”
His mother smiled. “manipulation dear. It isn’t always a bad thing.”
Ashton was shocked. “Mom! Whatever do you mean?”
“We live in a hard world, Ashton. I am just trying to help us survive. I make sure I have knowledge and I spend it like coin.”
“Like what?” Ashton asked.
His mother rolled her eyes in irritation of his naivete.
“Ashton, some of the gentry are afraid of what I know from cleaning their manors. Others are happy to have me slip a message here and there. No one knows if I am touchable or not.”
“It does not hurt to know a little medicine as well.”
Ashton was silent the rest of the way home.
Was his mother poisoning folks or helping them? No wonder they called her a witch. The thought was a thick mug to drink from, let alone swallow.
Dinner was a quiet affair. His mother went on with her nightly chores as if nothing was wrong. He resolved to follow his mother out tonight to see what she was really doing.
Rising from the table, Ashton said,
“Mom, I am going to bed.”
“Good night dear, replied his mother.”
Several hours passed. Ashton normally went back to sleep when his mother stepped out, but tonight would be different.
To his surprise, mother began preparing for bed.
Ashton could not hold a secret from his mother.
“Yes?” His mother asked irritability.
“You go out nearly every night and the day I go to follow you, you go to bed.”
Ashton’s mother was serious, a tinge of fear in her eyes. ” stay inside, Ashton, for the moon is full and the beast lurks, seeking the flesh of the predator. “
Ashton was incredulous, “that is absurd, mother.. “
A chilling scream echoed through the forest.