Chapter 9: A New Witch Hunter
I closed the journal, my thoughts and emotions quailing at the implications.
Was it, is it, my mission to finish, Gran? To hunt them? To avenge the lost?
Only the wind answered with a gentle breeze on my skin, a brief respite from the warm, westering summer sun.
Witches hunting their own kind. If I found them, what then? Would I be the only one? Do I have the power to kill them, or even the will to try?
I shook my head. Too many questions, and I needed sleep. I could summon a spirit for guidance, but I wasn’t ready to hear whatever it had to say. If it charged me with the task, there’d be a blood binding, and I’d be consumed by the desire to find them all, no matter the physical or psychic cost to myself, to feed them to the Dark Realm’s whim.
By their cowardly loyalty to the king, your own kind forced you and Gran to flee after they slaughtered her son, your father, along with your mother. They stole your childhood, and forced your birthright on you before you were prepared to receive it properly.
You have every reason to go after them, to find out the truth, alone or not.
“Or I could live my own life, and set my own path.”
A brief silence, and then an answer: Sleep, Tina. All will be revealed, settled, and reconciled.
“By me, or by you working through me?”
Will it not be the same?
“No.” I said it more out of hope than certainty. “And you haven’t told me your name.”
The silence that followed bothered me more than any response.
Chapter 10: Day of Departure
“I’m sorry, Tina.”
“Why? You were far more than kind to let us stay, Atheron.”
“If Hanna’s spell didn’t hide my cottage, we’d all be dead now.”
“But we’re not, you and me. You put yourself at risk for us. I couldn’t ask for more, and I won’t.”
“Hannah did say this day would come, yet you’re still so young.”
“Better I leave you now, then, while I can take the bumps and bruises ahead of me. I don’t want to practice magic here. If I lose control, or even make a mistake and try to correct it, it will spill over to you, to this place, and they’ll include you in whatever monstrous practices they do.
“I couldn’t bear that. You weren’t blood, Atheron, but you were, and always will be family.”
We shared a long embrace, and he spoke to the top of my head. “Know this, Tina: This door, it’s hearth, and humble fare, will always be open to you as long as I’m here.”
I nodded against his chest. “Thank you.” I kissed his scruffy cheek and release him.
There were no more words to say, and he lifted his hand in farewell as I turned from him toward the bright and warming day. Gran’s spell of protection would dissolve, and the cottage would be visible once more.
“I bid you peace, Atheron.” I wiped away a tear as I heard the door close behind me.
I stopped by Gran’s cairn, and knelt beside it.
There was already moss on some of the stones, and small leaf stems emerging between the spaces; nature was reclaiming her.
“Thank you for all you’ve shown me, for all you gave me, and did for me. I’m out in the world now, unsure of my fate and future, but I ‘ll use all you taught me to make my way, and leave my mark in it.
“I don’t know if, or when, I’ll ever come back this way. Maybe I’ll make it a yearly pilgrimage, but we’ll see what life holds for me until then.”
Brushing the undergrowth from my knees, I stood. “Farewell, Gran.”
I watched in fascination as one of the stones split, dribbling water, as if her own heart were crying at my leaving. I touched it with my finger, and felt its warmth, then left it behind, wiping more tears away that were unbidden, but not unwelcome.
My heart was breaking too.