A Dangerous Bargain
The men busy themselves with repairing the cage, and heaving the unconscious Bear-Lord back into its dubious security (at the very least it makes a lot of noise when he decides to leave the cage)
As the highest ranking of the commoner present, Pump looks towards the Lord and Lady Eurion for an explanation. Lady Jenna begins to speak, though her voice is tremulous, and her recollection of events is clouded at best.
“I don’t know, I can’t recall it all exactly… Father was in a meeting… in the woods… and everyone in the hall was talking about my dear Brychans death at the hands of that monster Leofwine, how the Saxons now commanded the waters of the Wash… something happened, I don’t recall what, I just remember that father ran into the woods and I ran after him.
I don’t know how long it was, but a long time later I met up with Crone Meroe. She said she would lead me to my father and then I was confronted with this great brown bear! But it… it knew me! And I knew it. There is no way to explain it, but I know its him; my heart sees the truth in his sad eyes, and he knows me for his daughter, though he struggles to recall his human past in other matters. Our love of family keeps us bonded” Her dejected gaze drifts fondly over to the recumbent bear.
“Crone Meroe brought the cart, and the cage, and said she would fetch man to pull the cart, but we got a mule instead.”
“We traveled slowly north, She told me you were still alive my husband, but I didn’t believe her. Then she showed me; showed me like a reflection in a pond, but with no water… she showed you looking for me, looking for us, but lost in the woods and in terrible danger!” the young woman shakes and clings to her husband’s arm, falling silent for a moment before continuing.
“She, Meroe that is, said she needed you for something, and that you were supposed to be meeting us… I didn’t understand it… Meroe was becoming more and more inpatient, more and more… strange. Until a few days ago, when she said to wait with the cart. She turned the mule loose and left us stranded in the road.”
Sir Brychan’s eyes narrow as he casts a baleful eye across the glade seeking the crone. But as usual she is nowhere to be seen.
“Meroe promised to restore M’Lord Father to human form if only M’Lord Husband would undertake some task for her… said she would only make him a man again if the task was done… I am not sure if I still believe her… but she told the truth about you, and I suppose about the bear being Father… maybe she is telling the truth this time” her voice is wistful, hopeful even, but doubt is writ large across her face.
Ever decisive Lord Brychan orders the men to get what rest they can for the night. The guard is posted again, but is more watchful of the bear now.
The birds twitter in the trees, oddly vocal for so dim and drear a day. The gentle rain drips through the forest canopy, and with no better idea of what to do other than head the way the cart was facing, the horses are hitched on long leads, and they troop forward.
After a little while an argument can be heard on the path ahead. Scouting forward, Bain, Issa and Daffyd see Meroe and the guardian of the ford in a full blown shouting match! Eventually the watery fiend gives way and agrees to wait upon the completion of Meroes ‘task’ before he seeks to fulfill his vows.
They are arguing at a shattered gate that leads to a tumble down cottage. Its roof is rotten and pierced with obvious holes, the stones of the low slung building are lichen covered and weathered. The closest thing to a well-kept space is the herb garden disappearing into the woods behind it.
Like the sun emerging from the clouds her mood lifts as, not even glancing in the direction of the concealed scouts, she skips and says “they are here, oh they are here” her demeanour suddenly far younger than has been seen before.
With a withering glance from the Crone to see him off, the Guardian of the ford bows, then merges into the shadows under the trees.
Crone Meroe greets the war-band as they all arrive. Sir Brychan wastes no time in questioning the Meroe as to what is happening.
“oh yes” she cackles, “told you everything did she? Did she tell you what your brave lord Ursal did? Did she tell you how he abused his liegeman’s roof? How he laid his hands on me, a poor defenceless bereaved widow woman? Acting like a beast and letting his drunken ardour control him? Besmirching the sacred laws of hospitality?!”
Unable to stifle a snigger Seamond mutters something along the lines of Lord Ursal usually having better taste. Meroe fixes him with a piercing look. “I had my court face on, one doesn’t dine with the lord of a hundred dressed like this… do you want to see?” suddenly unsure, but unable to fight down his curiosity Seamond gulps a nervous breath, and whispers out a “yes”.
Once again the octogenarian seems younger than first thought, as she skips and claps “oh yes I’ll show you, you can see my court face…” and with that she scampers into the hovel behind her. The confused group wait for a few moments as the sounds of clattering pots and rattled cupboards can be heard from inside.
A moment later a cloaked figure emerges. Surely it is Crone Meroe, but this woman stands taller, and her figure is far slimmer beneath the suddenly clinging robe.
With a dramatic flair the hood is cast back; revealing a woman of surpassing beauty. The resemblance to the Crone is still there, but this must be her daughter; or grandaughter even? Seamond takes an involuntary step forward, but is quickly pushed aside by Adeon. With her pouting lips curled into a coquettish smile, the woman passes her hands over her face, and the flesh-bending display that follows repels the advances of even the lusty Adeaon! It is horrible to watch as her faces melts, and flows and shifts. The clothes across her body ripple, looking like pestilent rats in a corrupted grain sack. With a cry of horror from Adeon, every man takes step back, except for Seamond who must be too stunned to move.
Crone Meroe is standing before them once more, her gap toothed smile terrible to behold “whats the matter boys, don’t you want a kiss?” her laughter has the bell like peal of the truly mad.
Oddly compelled by the arcane display, Seamond is the first to recover his wits and asks the pertinent question “What is it you need from us Crone? We have seen several times the power of your magicks; what do you need us for?”
“Oh yes” the witch cackles “My magic is great, but it has limits. I need a lock of hair from a giant, bright red it is, such a rare thing red hair from a dead giant… but I cant get it myself: But you lot, oh you could get it for me and then I could work some magic! Oh yes, powerful magic indeed” once again her lunatic chuckle raises the hackles of every man there, except perhaps for Seamond, who steps closer again to the Crone as she continues speaking
“What say you Sir Brychan? I will return your Lord and Father to human form if you get me hair of flame from a dead giant?”
With little chance to restore Sir Ursal otherwise, Sir Bryuchan is compelled to agree terms, despite the unsavoury nature of the person he is bargaining with.
Issa, Daffyd and Bain head off into the woods, following the directions given by the Crone, and it is a matter of moments to spot the broken tree branches and water filled foot prints of the giant. Daffyd swears, and the other two scouts quickly realise this giant must be fully 30 feet tall! They cautiously track it back to the rough shelter and fire pit the thing has made for itself, thought the primitive camp is empty when they get there. They quickly head back to report.
Meanwhile Seamond seems irresistibly drawn to the wyrd woman who has them all dancing to her lunatic tune. Amazed at his own temerity, he asks her if she could do magic on him, something to help defeat the giant!
Meroe giggles and sniggers, “oh yes, heh, oh yes, we can do magic on you, and willing for it too eh?” and with her laughter bubbling up in her throat she grabs him by the hand and drags him bodily into her ramshackle hovel.