My latest book, The Water of Awakening is set to be released on July 7 on Amazon.
In in, Helga, a young newly-married woman, is put on a quest for a strange artifact in return for a cure to her husband’s mysterious illness. This artifact, the Water of Awakening, is held by a clan of strange creatures on the edge of Fay, where reality and dreams are one and the same, and road is long and dangerous. Helga quickly quickly realizes that she is out of her depth, but persists and finds friends in unexpected places.
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Finally, the old woman stopped and looked toward the setting sun. “Yes, yes.” She nodded to nobody and went around to the pen where the sheep and goats were kept, then carefully climbed up on the low stone wall. With slow deliberate steps she walked along the low wall until it met the house, then climbed onto the shake roof. She sat down and seemed to relax.
“Is everything alright?” Helga asked from the ground.
“No,” Rafnhild replied flatly. Her eyes stared out at the setting sun.
“Is there something I can do for you?”
“No,” the old woman said again.
“Why are you on my roof?”
Helga shrugged and went inside to make supper for herself and for Erling, when and if he awoke. As she was cutting vegetables, she heard the old woman call from outside. Helga went outside and found the woman sitting in the same place.
“What is it?” Helga said.
“Do you have any mead?”
The woman seemed to grumble and croak in response. Then she huffed and said, “Any beer?”
“What would one woman do with a keg of beer?”
“Well I don’t have any.”
Again, Rafnhild croaked.
“I have brandy wine,” Helga said.
“Not good enough, I’m afraid.”
Helga threw up her hands. “Well, do you want any dinner?”
The old woman snapped her head to look right at Helga. “Don’t cook any food, for the sake of the gods!”
Helga walked back inside, but did as the old woman asked. She found from her cupboard a few stale biscuits and set about trying to chew them beside the bed. Outside, Rafnhild began to chant loudly, and then to sing. It was a harsh and unmelodious song, quite badly performed by Helga’s reckoning, and was in words she did not understand. Helga crunched her biscuits vigorously, deafening herself to the song.
Finally dusk fell, darkening the sky to a near violet. At last, the wailing song stopped. Helga stepped back outside and looked up onto the roof.
“I have seen,” the old woman said, still staring west
“So you are a volva,” Helga said, not hiding the sarcasm in her voice.
Rafnhild’s voice suddenly jumped up in pitch and rang out in a clear timbre, “I have seen. Much I have seen a second time. Your husband is called to the dark realm, the mist realm, the dead realm, but he clings to this world. He is not called by illness, but by name, and by blood. There is a path to break the spell, but a price must be paid.” With that, the volva relaxed her head and stared down. Then, without a word, she stood up and ambled back to the low wall, shuffled down it until it fell back close to the earth, then hopped back down onto the soil.
“You owe me three copper,” the old woman croaked, then walked inside. “I’m starving.”
Hilda walked back inside and put her hands on her hips. “I charge three copper for dinner.”
“Too much,” the old woman said. “One copper for dinner.”
“You said earlier that the silver was too much for the visit.”
“Too much for the visit, but not too much for the seeing. For the seeing I require additional payment. I must pay my way, you know, and the seeing is an exhausting experience.”
“You’re an old woman.”
“Very astute. Now let’s have dinner. You owe me two copper.”
Not really knowing what else to do, Helga set about making dinner. She cut up a duck that had been killed earlier that day and roasted it in a pan with the vegetables she had been cooking. While she worked, Rafnhild talked to her, or to herself, almost absent-mindedly.
“Smells too good. Would have frightened them away.”
“Who?” Helga said.
“The spirits. Music calms them, you know. Food drives them away. Reminds them that they are still dead.”
“I didn’t know that, but I shall remember,” Helga said, not quite able to hide her annoyance.
“No, you won’t.”
When she was finished cooking supper, Helga placed a serving in front of the old woman, who wolfed the meal down greedily, as if she had not eaten in days.
“Where is the extra bed?” she said after swallowing the last bite.
“There is none,” Helga said. She noticed that Erling was awake and rushed over to feed him food and water.
“Don’t lie, or I shan’t forgive you,” Rafnhild said. “You’re not a mother yet, so there must be an extra bed. Or two.”
Helga’s fear of sorcery was starting to wane with the increase in annoyance she was experiencing with the volva, but there was still enough there for her to answer honestly. “There, down that hall.”
“Very good. Warm walls.” Rafnhild then sighed and leaned back in her chair.
“Are you going to bed?”
“All in good time. For now, I’m going to enjoy the satisfaction of a good, if overpriced, meal. I haven’t eaten in a very long time, so even your bad cooking is satisfying.” With that, the old woman closed her eyes.
Helga tended to the weak Erling for a few minutes. Just when she thought she could hear the old woman snoring, Rafnhild stood up, picked up her bag, and walked to the extra room without saying another word.
Helga grumbled to herself, but not so loudly that her guest would hear her. Erling went back into fitful sleep and Helga undressed and got into bed with him. She lay awake, angry, for a long time, then went to sleep, where she dreamed of angry trees with the faces of old women, snarling at her and scratching her with thin twig fingers.
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