The Witch of Wicken Fen
Huw, Captain of the Duke of Chepstow's household guard, had
patrolled the Welsh borders for a dozen years both as soldier and
officer. In all that time, he had never encountered a sight as gruesome
and troubling as the one that now appeared before him, that of a dead
body in a hut in the tiny hamlet of Frome. He had scoffed initially
when he had been summoned to Frome with wild tales of black magic and
Devil worship. A man of faith, Huw had nevertheless grown up trusting
the evidence of his own two eyes above all else and he had been quick
to dismiss mutterings of sorcery and the like -- old wives' tales as
far as he was concerned. However, even his own instincts were now
telling Huw that what he had discovered was the Evil One's own work,
for surely no human could be responsible for this.
The body was that of a middle-aged man, somewhat on the portly
side but with the coarse skin and rugged look of a peasant farmer. His
body was splayed out on the floor of the hut and a chalk circle had
been drawn around it so that the impression was that of a pentacle -- a
witch's tool -- with the man taking the place of the five-pointed star
that would usually appear inside the circle. There was not a mark on
the dead man's body and it might therefore have been difficult to
determine the cause of death had it not been for the fact that the
corpse, which was barely a day old, was marble white already. The poor
fool had been drained entirely of his blood.
"The Baobhan Sith?" said Owain, Huw's young Lieutenant, in a
questioning whisper, articulating the worst fears of many of the
villagers that they had met.
Huw shook his head roughly. As far as he was concerned tales
of the vampiric Baobhan Sith were nothing more than that -- just
stories told to scare children that were no part of a serious
investigation. He was disappointed that Owain, who was otherwise a
promising young officer, had allowed the hysteria which had gripped the
inhabitants of the hamlet to overcome him to such an extent that he had
suggested a supernatural origin for the murderer.
"Nonsense Owain, there is no doubt in my mind that the agency
behind this foul deed is mortal, albeit one so warped and twisted as to
barely deserve to be called human. I'll have no more talk of ghosts,
witches or the Baobhan Sith while we carry out our investigations," Huw
"But sir," protested Owain, "we have checked this hut for
signs of intruders and found none. There is no evidence that anyone
else was here apart from the victim, Gruffud ap'Pwyll, at the time he
was killed. This hut does not even belong to the dead man -- we have no
idea what he was doing here."
Huw was seized by the sudden urge to leave the enclosed space
of the tiny hut immediately. Dead bodies did not particularly disturb
him most of the time -- he had seen more than enough in his previous
life as a soldier even before it had become his job to investigate
crimes committed in the Duchy on his master's behalf -- but there was
something about this place that made him uneasy. The atmosphere was
dank and there was a prevailing gloom that was a result of the lack of
light that filtered through the tiny windows -- slits really -- in the
walls around them. Then there was the body itself. Although it was
still relatively fresh and free from the cloying stench that it would
gradually acquire as the hours wore on, especially in the heat of Mede,
the sixth month of the year, it troubled Huw in other less definable
ways. The worst thing was that it seemed horribly familiar for some
reason, although Huw was no nearer to identifying why this was than he
had been when he had first seen it earlier that morning. He made a
decision then that nothing more was to be gained from remaining inside
the hut for the time being -- besides, in the course of his musings,
Owain had stumbled inadvertently upon a potentially useful line of
When Huw left the hut, the first thing he saw was the same
milling crowd of peasants that had followed them here when they had
first arrived in Frome. Their headman, a huge fellow named Geraint,
approached cautiously, a mixture of curiosity and fear warring upon his
"My lords," he said, inclining his head to show his respect
for them as Duke's men, "My people are restless, concerned that the
Evil One walks among us. Any word on when the Church will send a priest
to exorcise the shadow that has fallen over our village?"
"I have seen no evidence of magic here, black or otherwise,"
said Huw dismissively, "and so long as the matter remains temporal
rather than spiritual in nature it is the Duke's authority that will
hold sway here, not that of the Bishop."
"Of course, my lord, of course," said Geraint, bowing this
time, "I did not mean to suggest . . ."
Huw knew what the headman had not meant to suggest and had no
wish to hear it spoken out loud. Everyone in the Duchy knew that Duke
Edric of Chepstow and the Bishop, Gilles de Giscard, were not the best
of friends, despite their efforts to maintain the seeming that they
were. Although the Saxon Duke had been baptized and kept a Christian
home and hearth, even going so far as to marry a Norman noblewoman, he
had been born and raised in the Marches and was deeply familiar with
the Old Faith that had existed in these parts long before the coming of
Christianity. Bishop Gilles, all too aware of Duke Edric's mixed
loyalties, was always alive for the opportunity to discredit his
erstwhile ally. Huw had no doubt that the most lurid rumours concerning
what had happened in Frome had originated from outside the village,
probably from Tintern Abbey, but for the time being he would keep his
suspicions to himself -- after all, that was all they were until he had
proof to support them. For now, Huw would do nothing to further fan the
flames of the superstitious paranoia that was currently sweeping
through the Duchy -- an effect that could only strengthen the position
of the Bishop and undermine that of his own master.
"Enough," Huw said, raising a hand to forestall Geraint's
apology, "I need to know who this hut belongs to."
"Of course, my lord, this is the home of Fenran the Forester.
He is a good man, a widower since his wife and child died last winter
and he has understandably been somewhat withdrawn since that happened.
He is often away from the village for a few days at a time collecting
timber and supplies in the Whispering Wood but . . ." Geraint's face
fell suddenly, ". . . my lord, you cannot think that he had anything to
do with this -- this abomination!"
"I have formed no conclusions yet Master Geraint, I am merely
gathering information at this stage."
It was a phrase that Huw had used many times before, a phrase
that he was sure had been used on countless occasions by other men of
the law before him. Huw knew, however, that this time he and his men
would need help if they were to bring Gruffud's murderer to justice.
Huw only wondered if the price for resorting to this help would be
greater than his master the Duke would be willing to pay.
"By God, sir, this place is smaller and even more forsaken
than Frome!" said Owain.
Huw nodded in agreement with his Lieutenant's words, which
were true, but said nothing. It had been many years since he had last
visited the village of Wicken Fen, which lay midway between Frome and
Chepstow along one of the few Roman roads built in this part of the
British Isles, and it had changed little in that time. It was, like
Frome, more of a hamlet than a village but its location, beneath the
brooding shadow of the Black Mountains with wild woodland bordering it
on virtually every side, made it seem a far more isolated and desolate
place. For this and other reasons it was not a village that attracted
many visitors, but that did not matter -- Huw had not come to see a
place, he had come to see a person.
"Sir, I've heard things about Wicken Fen . . ." Owain began,
but stopped short when he saw that they had been noticed.
The villagers on the streets, some of whom were occupied in
menial tasks like cleaning, while others were in small knots either
bartering goods or perhaps just exchanging gossip, stopped what they
were doing when the two guardsmen passed by. As Duke's men, they were
not exactly unwelcome in these parts but the villagers would certainly
not go out of their way to make them feel at home. Huw and Owain might
have Welsh blood running through their veins but they bore the insignia
of a Saxon lord, and for the people of Wicken Fen that made all the
It should not have made a difference of course, Huw was forced
to remind himself. These people had owed the Dukes of Chepstow their
fealty for several generations by now, more than enough to wipe away
the scars of conflict between Celt and Saxon in any other part of the
kingdom. But time ran differently this side of the border, so it was
said, and as a consequence grudges were nursed for longer and the old
ways were forgotten more slowly. For instance, as Huw knew from
personal experience, the new religion of the Christian Church was paid
little more than lip service in Wicken Fen, which in many ways remained
a bastion of the Old Faith. Of course, that was one of the main reasons
why this was the perfect place to begin his investigation of the murder
"You there," Huw said, pointing at one of the villagers,
"where can I find the Wise Woman Morag?"
The villager, a big, surly-looking fellow, paid Huw no more
mind than he might have to a gnat buzzing around his face, which was to
say that he ignored him completely.
"Answer him, peasant," said Owain, placing one hand on the
hilt of his sword for emphasis, "We are Duke's men, here on dire
Huw winced at his Lieutenant's tone and especially at his use
of the term 'peasant' but it seemed to do the trick. The yokel spat to
one side and jerked a thumb in the other direction.
"Where she has always been, in the hut over yonder. My lord."
The last sounded more like an insult than an honorific and
drew a few smirks from one or two of the other rustics but Huw decided
to let it go. Owain clearly had other ideas and was on the verge of
drawing his sword, apparently intent on teaching these commoners a
lesson in manners, before Huw placed a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"There are two of us to fifty of them, lad," he said in a
voice low enough that only the other could hear him, "and the Duke's
authority in these outlying areas is not so absolute that the locals
won't resort to violence if provoked."
"That's treason, sir," spluttered Owain, "I'm not afraid to
die in the Duke's name!"
"No more am I. But are you prepared to have the massacre of an
entire village on your conscience in the afterlife?"
Owain dropped his head at that, chastened. Huw had spoken only
the truth, for the law of the Norman kings was brutal and absolute.
They did not tolerate any insubordination among the peoples that they
conquered, and they saw the Saxon failure to do the same as a weakness
that had allowed them to be defeated in the Norman Conquest centuries
earlier. For this reason none of the Saxon lords, including Duke Edric,
dared to meet any sign of defiance from their subjects with anything
less than the most brutal of reprisals. This included laying a hand on
those carrying out the Duke's justice.
Still on horseback, Huw and Owain continued to make their way
through the village. Huw tried to master his discomfort at the itching
between his shoulder blades that he felt as he passed the crowd of
people that had by now gathered in the village square, and whose eyes
bored into his back. More pairs of eyes peered out of ramshackle homes
on either side of them as Huw and Owain rode past. Eventually they
reached a hovel at the end of the street that was so decrepit that it
barely deserved to be called a hut, let alone a house.
"Sweet Lord!" said Owain, "What could we possibly want from
"Careful Lieutenant," said Huw, "If you keep calling on the
Almighty like that, he might actually appear."
Despite his subtle put-down of the lad, Huw found Owain's
reaction, dramatic as it was, perfectly understandable. The hut, with
its splintered beams and thatched roof full of gaping holes, looked
like it was falling apart. There was a garden of sorts out in front,
but it looked like it had not been tended in an age, overgrown as it
was with weeds. That and the house's general state of disrepair gave
the impression that the place had been abandoned for some time.
"Stay here." Huw said as he dismounted. Owain gave him an
uncertain look but remained on horseback. His hand, Huw noticed,
remained firmly on the hilt of his sword.
Memories, dark as crow's wings, assailed Huw as he walked up
the path to Morag's hut. He had barely been more than a boy when last
he had visited and the Wise Woman of Wicken Fen had been old even then.
His father had already passed away by that time and his mother was
wasting away at the hands of the illness that would claim her life
barely a year later. He was a parent in all but name to his younger
brother and sister and was growing used to -- if not necessarily
comfortable with -- the weight of responsibility that would become one
of the defining features of his existence from that time forward.
Pushing past his memories, Huw knocked on the door of the hut
softly. Since the door was half-hanging off rusted hinges Huw dared not
hit it more forcefully and, when he received no answer, he pushed it
open gently. When he was inside the hut he almost gagged as an
overpowering, stagnant odour struck him full in the face. It smelled as
if the place had not been aired in centuries, almost as if it was a
mausoleum. The tomb-like atmosphere was enhanced when, looking past all
the rickety tables and chairs, past the evil-smelling potions and jars
filled with who-knew-what lining the shelves, Huw saw Morag lying still
on her bed.
Huw rushed to the old woman's side and at first glance thought
that she must be dead. Her wizened face had a ghastly yellow pallor,
like a plague-ridden corpse, and her wrinkled hands were folded on her
chest, as if she had been prepared for a funeral cortege. It was only
when Huw laid his head on her ancient chest, his ear to her heart, and
felt the gentle rise and fall of Morag's breathing that he realised
that the Wise Woman still lived.
"Do not grieve," said a voice from behind him, "she is not
At the sound of the unfamiliar voice, Huw turned around and
saw in surprise that a young, dark-haired woman stood in the doorway of
the hut. As she moved into the light Huw noted piercing green eyes, a
wide, almost cruel mouth, and skin that was as pale as ivory. She might
have been called beautiful if it were not for the fact that she seemed
to have made a conscious effort to appear as intimidating as possible,
despite her slight feminine form. She was clothed entirely in black and
wore a silver torque around her neck. Silver also sat on her forehead
in the form of a much more delicate circlet, this one inset with an
emerald that was as green as her eyes. Yes, she might not have been
beautiful but the manner in which she attired herself ensured that she
was definitely striking.
Huw was about to ask the young woman what was wrong with
Morag but the words died on his lips at the look that suddenly crossed
her face. He doubted that the dark woman ever looked entirely
approachable but her expression had turned openly hostile when she saw
him clearly for the first time. Or rather, when she saw the brooch
pinning cloak to shoulder that was the sign of his office as the
Captain of Duke Edric's household guard.
"A Saxon!" she hissed.
"I am no Saxon," said Huw, and this time it was his turn to
bristle, "I am Huw ap'Nudd and I was born in the village of Usk, not
ten leagues from here, as true a Welshman as any other from the Wye
"And yet plainly you serve a Saxon princeling -- or do you
"I deny nothing. Duke Edric of the House of Hengist is an
honourable man and I am pleased to serve as his captain."
The dark woman's mouth twisted at the mention of the Duke,
clearly showing her opinion of him. Her mood seemed to mellow slightly
at hearing of Huw's heritage, however, and her manner changed from open
hostility to cold formality -- a slight improvement but one for which
Huw was grateful nonetheless.
"What business does the Duke's captain have in the home of a
Huw almost laughed at the woman's description of Morag as
'humble'. The Wise Woman of Wicken Fen had for years been renowned for
her wisdom, herblore and arcane knowledge. As long as Huw had been
alive, folk had been known to come from all over the Wye Valley and
beyond to consult her, which was part of the reason he was here. He had
no intention of telling the still-unidentified young woman that just
"I would be happy to tell you, mistress, but first, you have
something of an advantage over me?"
"You may call me Raven. I have the honour of being Mistress
You may call me Raven, Huw noted as the
answer she gave, not my name is Raven. Still, it
would do for the time being.
"I did not know Morag had taken on an assistant. She has
always worked alone as long as I have known her."
"Mistress Morag," said Raven, making sure
that Huw was aware of the emphasis she placed on the Wise Woman's
honorific, "took me on as an apprentice last
summer." Again, the emphasis was notable -- she had not seemed to like
Huw referring to her as an 'assistant.'
Raven moved to stand over Morag, bringing Huw into close
enough proximity to her that he could smell the fragrance of lye on her
skin and scented oils in her hair. She had bathed recently, which made
the thought come into Huw's head, unbidden, of Raven naked. Aware as he
had suddenly become of her, Raven seemed suddenly oblivious to his
presence as she instead focused her intense gaze on Morag. Huw hoped
that also meant that she could not tell what he had been thinking.
"She has been this way since the last new moon. It is beyond
my art to tell what is wrong with her or how to cure it." Raven said,
then looked at the small wooden cross that hung from a pendant around
Huw's neck. "Perhaps your new religion will have an answer where the
Old Faith has found none."
Huw grasped the cross.
"I will say a prayer for her."
Raven's expression grew unreadable.
"Now perhaps you can tell me what you came here for, man of
Huw gave her a wry grin.
"I was hoping that the High Priestess of the Old Faith would
have an answer for a problem that may be beyond the Christian Church."
Raven's eyebrows shot up in interest but she gave no other
outward sign of what she thought as Huw filled her in briefly on what
had happened in Frome.
"You tell an intriguing tale, but I still do not understand
why you came to see my mistress -- did you hope that she would give you
a spell that would repel the Boabhan Sith?"
Raven gave him a mocking grin. Heat entered Huw's voice as he
"I am not a fool and I do not believe in folk tales," he said,
trying to keep a rein on his temper, "I am, however, aware of the old
ways and the rituals that go hand in hand with them. This incident bore
all the hallmarks of a pagan blood sacrifice."
That got Raven's attention.
"If what you say is true . . ." she began.
". . . then if we do not act quickly, the Duke would have no
choice other than to institute an even more bloody reprisal."
Huw would not, until that moment, have believed that the dark
woman's expression could have turned more sombre. She looked at him
with a face as pale as that of a corpse and spoke in a voice cold
enough to freeze winter's heart.
"I will go with you."
The ride back to Frome was silent and tense. Owain seemed
unsure what to make of Raven, who, after the briefest of introductions,
barely deigned to acknowledge his presence. The young man plainly had
concerns about the direction in which their investigations were taking
them but dared not voice them in front of the dark woman. Although on
reflection, Huw thought that was perhaps one of the few good things
about having Raven around.
Huw had his own misgivings, which only grew as they approached
Frome. He had been uncertain enough about going to Morag but at least
the old Wise Woman was a known quantity. He knew almost nothing about
the woman who called herself Raven and what little she had revealed
about herself hardly inspired confidence. Still, she seemed willing to
offer what little help she could -- even if her motivations remained
something of a mystery -- and that was something.
It was almost nightfall when they arrived back at Frome and
for that Huw was grateful. It meant that the crowd that had gathered
around the murdered man's hut earlier had by now largely cleared. There
were still a couple of die-hard busybodies looking on but they at least
kept a respectful distance between themselves and the scene of the
crime. Huw hoped that would also mean that he would not have to explain
away Raven's presence to too many people. The villagers of Frome were
much more pious than those of Wicken Fen in their devotion to the
Church and they were unlikely to welcome a pagan priestess -- even a
novice one -- in their midst at this time.
"Stay here," Huw told Owain as he and Raven dismounted, "Let
no one in until we are finished."
The interior of Gruffud's hut remained in much the same shape
as it had been earlier that day, right down to the body that still lay
spread-eagled in the middle of the floor. Taking a sidelong look at
Raven, Huw was impressed by her reaction -- or rather lack thereof. The
young woman took in the scene like a seasoned campaigner, not flinching
at the sight of the dead man as she scanned the room for clues. When
she had finished her initial appraisal, Raven began to inspect some of
the items in the hut more closely, stepping around what was left of its
former owner as if he was nothing more than a pile of refuse in the
street. Huw was both impressed and chilled by the sight.
"Well?" he said when she was done.
"You were right to come to me," said Raven, her brow furrowed
in thought, "Blood has been spilled by the blade of an athame and
vervain has been burnt here. I am not Morag, but even I can see the
signs that this poor fool was the victim of a sacrifice."
"To the old gods?"
"Undoubtedly." This time she sounded more reluctant.
Huw's heart sunk. This was the news that he had been dreading.
"Perhaps someone is trying to discredit the Old Faith?"
Raven shook her head.
"I wish it were so but from the signs it is clear that, if
anything, it was the opposite."
Huw was confused by the priestess's words.
"The opposite? I do not understand."
Cold green eyes pinned him in place.
"I think that this is a message to those who follow the new
religion, an attempt to show that the old ways are as strong as ever in
the Wye Valley. This is an act calculated to instill fear in the people
If so, it's working, thought Huw, although
he did not trust himself to say anything out loud.
"Then we must go back to Wicken Fen," Huw said, "My men can
search there and in other villages where the Church has failed to take
"It would be a fool's errand," Raven said dismissively, "My
opinion, if you want it, is that we should remain here."
"What would that achieve?"
"I am almost certain that the perpetrator will return to
survey his handiwork and see if it has had the desired effect."
A murderer always returns to the scene of the crime.
Another piece of old wisdom, although Huw was unsure if it would be of
any help here.
"I find that hard to believe. What could possibly make the
culprit want to risk giving himself away like that?"
"His hatred," Raven said, then turned to Huw, her emerald eyes
glittering. "Do not make the mistake of thinking that you can
understand the motivations of the one who did this deed. I can, since
we at least share the same gods."
Huw nodded, although he was far from convinced.
"We stay then, just for tonight."
At Raven's request, Huw then sent Owain away. The
lumbering idiot will destroy any chance we have of catching the killer,
Raven told Huw, although he put it to his Lieutenant in slightly more
diplomatic terms. Owain obeyed, although it was clear from his
expression that he was not happy to leave his captain alone in the home
of a murdered man with a pagan priestess.
It was already late when Owain left and it soon darkened as
day gave way to evening. Although he had no real appetite, Huw dined on
some trail rations to keep his strength up. What little he had he
offered to Raven but the priestess coolly declined. She did not eat or
drink anything else as far as he could tell, although she did join him
at the crofter's table.
With the onset of darkness came an unsettling silence as the
sounds of the village gradually faded away around them. It seemed that
people were turning in, Huw concluded, and they were no doubt barring
their doors as they did so. Huw made an attempt at conversation with
Raven, more to break the tension than anything else.
"Did you grow up in Wicken Fen? I can't remember ever having
seen you when I visited the place as a lad."
"No, I came from over the water." Raven did not elaborate to
confirm whether the 'water' to which she referred was the River Wye,
the English Channel or the North Sea. Before he could ask any further
questions, she spoke again. "And you, man of Usk, how came you to serve
a Saxon lord?"
This time it was Huw's turn to be evasive.
"It is a long story."
"One which you are not willing to tell?" said Raven, with a
smile that could only be described as cruel, "You will forgive me, I
only asked because I wanted to know what could lead a trueborn Welshman
could betray his people as you have done."
Huw backed away from the table, not liking the ugly edge that
Raven's voice had suddenly acquired. He became uncomfortably aware that
he had left his sword on the other side of the room, beyond reach,
thinking that he would not need it while he supped with an erstwhile
companion. She is only a woman, Huw thought, surely
I would not need a sword if it came to that. For some reason,
however, he failed to find the thought reassuring.
Raven had risen smoothly at the same time as Huw. Her feral
smile widened, revealing teeth that were suddenly startlingly white
behind her red lips.
"Surely you do not fear a frail woman like me, captain? But
then, your Norman masters have never let that deter them from
slaughtering women of Celtic blood, and children too, in their
Huw gritted his teeth, not liking Raven's words but unable to
completely deny the truth in them.
"Duke Edric is not a Norman and he does not kill women and
"Norman, Saxon or Welsh turncoat, you are all the same," Raven
spat, "Killing indiscriminately, taking what is not yours, hurting the
land as much as the people who live there."
Huw found that his back was now to the wall or he would have
moved further away from the priestess if he could. He noticed that the
emerald nestled in Raven's circlet seemed to have changed colour and
become a ruby. With shock, he saw that the eyes of the priestess were
now just as red as the jewel in her hair.
"I came here to stop further death!" Huw said, although he had
no doubt by now that his protests would fall on deaf ears.
"Oh, you poor fool, do you still not understand?" said Raven,
opening her mouth wide to reveal long, cat-like fangs, "I brought you
here to kill you."
Transfixed by the demon's gaze, Huw was unable to move,
helpless as she advanced on him. Her nails were now every bit as long
and cruel as her teeth.
"The crofter was a poor meal, after so long a sleep," Raven
said, her voice no longer recognizable as human, "The blood of a
fighting man like you, Huw ap'Nudd, should sustain me for longer and
ensure that I do not need to take a risk like this before I have to
Caught in the demon's power, Huw could not even close his eyes
as her jaws reached for his neck. The bite never came, however, for
Raven stopped suddenly, her eyes glazing over in shock. Looking down,
an almost comical expression crossed her face as she saw a shaft of
wood thrust through her heart from behind. She collapsed to the floor,
the wood still embedded in her chest, revealing the ancient form of the
Wise Woman of Wicken Fen standing before Huw.
Morag looked from the creature on the floor of the hut to Huw
and back again.
"We must hurry," she said, "The stake only immobilizes the
Boabhan Sith, it does not kill."
The village of Wicken Fen took its name from an evil-smelling
marsh not far from it. Properly speaking it was the marshland that was
Wicken Fen, although the locals tended to call it simply 'The Fen.' Few
went anywhere near the Fen, for its ground was treacherous, and more
than one villager had been swallowed up by the marsh in years past.
Even the rumour of treasure buried in the Fen's depths was not enough
to entice anyone to go there these days -- which made it the perfect
place to hide a body.
"The Baobhan Sith are more spirit than flesh," Morag said as
she helped Huw carry the unexpectedly light body of Raven through the
marshes, "A fair outer seeming which is no more than a shell to conceal
the demon within. Once a year she arises from her grave to feed on
young men by night, seducing victims with her beauty, inviting men to
dance with her and eventually drinking their blood."
"She spared me the from dancing at least," Huw said, although
there was little humour in his voice.
"Her hatred for you was perhaps one of the few genuine things
about her. The swords of the Saxons have accounted for as many of her
kin as mine."
There was no hint of bitterness in Morag's voice but Huw
nonetheless thought it wise to change the subject quickly.
"How did she overcome you?"
"The Baobhan Sith can compel as well as kill and I fear that
even my willpower was no match for hers in that respect. Fortunately,
she only wanted me out of the way rather than dead, which is the only
reason that I am breathing right now -- and you for that matter might I
"I am grateful, Wise Woman," said Huw with feeling, "But are
you sure that we and everyone else in the valley are now safe? You
mentioned that the creature was not dead."
"That much is true, for I cannot kill Raven and her ilk."
"Then why have we come to this marsh -- in the hope that the
smell will account for her?"
Huw put a hand to his nose, for the odour of swamp gas was
indeed overpowering in its intensity. The old crone cackled, clearly
"We will bury the body and build a cairn over the grave to
prevent the evil spirit escaping."
Huw paused, not liking the idea.
"There is no other way? What if someone were to tamper with
the cairn -- wouldn't that free the demon?"
"It is a risk," Morag said, sighing heavily and for the first
time showing the burden of her vast age, "but I dare not try anything
else. Of old it was said that a vampire could be slain by staking it at
a crossroads until it could be burnt to ashes by the light of the dawn
sun. Sadly that is not an option that is open to us."
"Don't you see, Captain? The demon was not acting alone -- she
had to have been summoned, probably by someone in either Frome or
Wicken Fen. If we left her body at a crossroads it would be gone long
The information was like ice in Huw's gut. He had not in truth
even entertained the possibility that a mortal agency was behind the
"Do not despair," said Morag, seeing Huw's face fall, "Now we
know that those who follow the old ways are moving against your lord
and that will prove an advantage, however slight, in the days ahead."
"But they are your people -- why would you help a Saxon Duke
At that Morag again let out a loud, cackling laugh that Huw
found profoundly unsettling in the darkness and silence of the marshes.
"I might ask you the same question, Captain!" then she grew
serious, "I foresee a time when all of us must combine forces against a
common enemy, far more terrible than any we have seen before on the
Isle of the Mighty."
Huw remained puzzled. "How can you have foreseen this? And to
what foe do you refer -- the Normans?"
"You will have the answer to your second question in due
course. As to your first, well," Morag gave a gap-toothed grin, "call
it a woman's intuition."
© 2017 Ash Silverlock
Bio: I'm a blogger and short story writer. My website "Fabulous Realms" is dedicated to fantasy, folklore, myth and legend
and has over two thousand followers. My most recently published short
story appeared in the anthology 'Bardic Tales and Sage Advice' (Volume
8, August 2016).
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