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A Mankind Witch: Chapter Nine

       Last updated: Thursday, May 5, 2005 00:06 EDT



Telemark and Trollheim

    In the mountains of Norway, some trails lead where they appear to. Others lead nowhere. A few lead... elsewhere. Don't follow those ones if you wish to return. Miners digging copper and fine silver in the mountains of Telemark know that this also applies to unknown galleries that they break into from time to time. No miner would go wandering down those galleries. Instead, wisely, they block the holes with heavy stones, and look to follow the ore-body in another direction.

    Sometimes something will shift the stones.

    Then it's a good time to go delving elsewhere entirely.

    Only a trail of mine-tailings in among the stunted trees, and on the rock-slope above a old, lichen-encrusted Bautarstein mark this spot. The driven stone is not a large one. But is very, very old. And it is coarse-grained gabbro, while the rock around is a pale and fine grained granite. It is well off the trail that leads through to the next valley. There is no trail to the hole in the rockwall, and its old spill of mine-tailings. But if you look carefully you will see the mark of bears. It is a dangerous place to wander.



    In the misting rain the file of Björnhednar had carried their mistress in through the mine and downwards. Ever downwards. Across the bridge which is called Gjallarbru, and out into her country. Bakrauf breathed the air of the place, drawing strength into herself from it. Much of her magic was derived from here and she needed to return there from time to time. They marched across the river -- a mere braiding on the sandbanks now, and onward to her castle. The pillars raised it and she was borne inward.

    Soon the troll-wife was on her throne, its posts carved with dreadful bears and the runes of binding. She sat and waited, preparing herself, repairing herself. Sometimes sunlight was inevitable. Troll-folk of lesser magical skill could not have protected themselves against it. Normally she'd have drawn on the strength of the half-aflar in the Odin-rites, but somehow this had been denied to her this time, despite her charms and the thrall-bracelets. That was worrying. So was the situation. So she waited. Her son would come when he had killed and eaten. Together they would have to try a working. She'd considered raising theDraug from the peat again, but had decided to go deeper. Further.

    At length her son shambled in. There was still blood on his muzzle.



    Bakrauf could see through the mask of humanity that Chernobog had assumed. The Grand Duke Jagellion had been overmastered by the Black Brain long since. For a human to attempt to control such a one was rank folly. In the longer term, she and the other creatures of the wider dimensions played for greater stakes than mere geographical control over pieces of the human world. But there were resources and power to seize. And there were the supernatural forces that opposed them both to be dealt with. One day they would struggle for supremacy. Here in her own place, the troll-wife feared not even Chernobog. In the wider world it might be different, and in his realm he could destroy her instantly. But for now they would co-operate. She and her son had designs on the North parts. It suited Jagellion to have a threat to the North of the Holy Roman Empire. The Svear were ripe for amalgamation. The Danes and the Imperial Knights in Skåne could never hold them, if they and the Norse unified. Besides, the Danes and the Empire were at each other's throats at the moment. The Norse and Svear could exploit that. Denmark too had people who yearned for the old ways and the old days. They could harry the Baltic, and the Empire's west coast was virtually naked. A new Viking age could be born.

    Jagellion would not oppose this -- although his own territories would abut theirs, if they succeeded. And his magician and aide-de-camp, Count Mindaug, was almost too expert in Western and Northern magics for his master's good... if his master had merely been Grand Duke Jagellion of Lithuania.

    Mindaug might... or might not be aware that his master had been absorbed by the demon. But when Bakruaf explained her problem to him, he did understand that at least, no matter what he knew about his master. He explained: "The constrained dead cannot lie, Lady. But they do not always speak the whole truth. The 'Draupnir' you speak of is more than just an arm-ring. Such items become the repository of generations of sympathetic magic. In a way it is the embodiment of the place itself. Forget trying to break the oath. You would have to shatter the very rock apart before that could work."

    "And if I destroyed it?" she asked venomously.

    "That would work, of course," said Mindaug. "But it would probably be easier to destroy the land itself. On the other hand, such symbols are usually protected, but they have geographical limitations. Remove them from their places of power and you may as well have destroyed them."

    She shook her head. "The arm-ring cannot be removed from the temple waerds. There is a curse on it, powerful enough to affect even non-humans such as my son and I. We tried. We used our tool-creatures, and they too failed. I thought that if I could bring it here, I could deal with it."

    Mindaug bared his sharpened teeth. Looked thoughtful. "If you could desecrate it in some way..."

    "How? My son and I are not able to tolerate something that could hurt such a thing..." Bakrauf paused. "I suppose we could get others to do it. Powerful Christian mages. And of course the oath must be renewed with the winter solstice."

    Jagellion, who had sat silent through the consultation, rubbed a hand across the place where his eyes would have been, spoke now for the first time. "The simplest would be to avoid the oath renewal -- if you can. The armring may compel such a thing, just as it placed under ill-fortune your earlier plans."

    Bakrauf's son growled. It was a terrible sound.

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