Chapter Four – Necromancy
Imi straightened her dress, checked that her wings were undamaged and tidied her tousled hair. Warlock or no Warlock, nobody dumped her in a clump of nettles and got away with it. She would – she would – well, she couldn’t think of what she proposed to do to the Warlock, the most powerful entity in the woods, but it would be – ah – something. Right. But first she needed to know if the imprisoned elf was all right. She glanced sunward to get her bearings and set off back to the west wood, flitting a few inches above the stones and bracken.
The air was warm and heavy with the first scents of spring. Fine blades of grass were struggling into the light and buds were bursting out of their hard winter coats. Imi circled up into the soft air with the pure joy of the new season, just in time to avoid the pounding hooves of a unicorn. A unicorn! She looked down. There was a unicorn in the west meadow! Unheard of! And what was more – she stabilised herself to watch – there were several humans down there too, a female on a finely-bred chestnut mare and two grooms on horses of higher than normal breeding. And they were chasing the unicorn across the wide meadow! Imi snorted. As if any human could catch a unicorn! Imi hated humans who destroyed what they could not create, who turned the green earth barren, covering it with stone and poisoning it with their waste. She turned her back on them. “Run!” she shouted down to the unicorn as if he could be expected to hear her. “Run, big brother! Leave them in your dust!”
Inside the cool green of the woods she flew straight to the white birch but the elf was gone, only a few strands of spider silk on the ground confirming that she had returned to the right tree. She landed lightly on a branch, walked close to the trunk and stroked the tree’s papery bark, enquiring if it had suffered any harm at the Warlock’s hands but it seemed happy enough and Imi could get no impression of what had happened to its prisoner. She sat down on the branch and dangled her legs, trying to remember where she had been going when she had encountered the Warlock’s apprentice. To milk the dandelions for their rubbery sap? To inform the bees that the first patch of primroses had been spotted? It was something to do with the bees… she leaned against the bole of the tree and let her mind drift. There was no hurry.
In the Warlock’s cave, Galien was in trouble again, this time for being slow. He had been sent to draw water from the dew pond but the yoke on which he carried the two acorn cups hurt his shoulder and trying to shift it he had toppled over and spilled the water. He had had to refill the cups and walk back. The Warlock was in the middle of a concoction and was less than pleased at having to wait for the water.
“What kept you?”
“I am sorry, Master.”
“You will be if you don’t hurry up! Fill the retorts and set some water to boil. I’ve a list of potions to brew today. Scrub down the oak table and we’ll start on today’s lesson.”
“Levitation?” Galien asked hopefully.
“Oh.” Galien’s face fell. He didn’t like looking inside other creatures.
As he scrubbed the oak table, Galien told himself not to be so squeamish. A knowledge of Internal Workings was essential to a warlock for divination if nothing else, for if he didn’t know what normal insides were like, how could he recognise what they were saying when they were consulted about the future? He had never had any doubt that he would be a warlock. He knew he had a talent for communicating with animals, for weather lore, for natural healing and for making things grow, he just didn’t like the messy business of – Internal Workings. And he was not very keen on the strange incantations of the spells in the heavy chained books that stood on the shelves above his head. He glanced up at them, as if afraid the spell books could read his mind. One in particular made him feel queasy. It was the biggest, and had the heaviest chain and it trembled with the power imprisoned within its stiff pages. Galien was sure he did not image the trembling, but maybe it was him rather than the grimoire. He deliberately moved round the table so that he turned his back to it as he stretched across to dry the oak slab.
“Ready?” The Warlock appeared beside hm.
“Yes, Master,” Galien replied wondering where the high-pitched squealing was coming from. The Warlock set a rabbit on the table by its ears. The young rabbit was complaining loudly that the Warlock was hurting him.
“First catch your rabbit,” the Warlock was saying, “then…?”
Galien looked from the angry rabbit to the Warlock.
“Then?” the Warlock repeated.
“Let it go?” Galien suggested and received a clout round the head.
“Kill it,” the Warlock stated. “Without a knife.”
“Unless you’d like to examine its heart and liver while it still lives.”
The rabbit squealed louder and waved its front paws wildly in the air.
“I would prefer,“ Galien said slowly, ”not to injure him at all.”
“Oh in the name of the dragon!” snapped the Warlock. “I haven’t got time for this!” He clicked the fingers of his free hand and the rabbit hung dead in his grasp. “Take the skin off in one piece, no undercuts, and no damage to the Internal Workings. Then I want you to bring me the following organs with an account of the health of each – heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. Finally I want you to tell me the most propitious day next week to plant woad seeds. Understand?”
Galien nodded wordlessly and turned to do as he was bid, but as he reached out his long slim fingers and stroked the rabbit’s fur, he was overcome with a sense of dread. He jerked his hand away.
“Just do it, Galien. And when you’ve finished you can prepare a rabbit stew for dinner.”
Galien swallowed and looked back at the rabbit, reaching out shaking fingers. The feeling of dread was stronger than ever. Something was coming to the west wood, something bad…
copyright 15 March 2010 Hilary Robinson
A slightly longer chapter than usual, allowing the two worlds in this Tale to touch, just touch.. for the moment. Thank you to all of you who are following it.
All my writing is copyright and protected and is not in the Public Domain.