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(fiction: Witch of the Foregate) - Not a rock, I'm just Ruth
All Me, no apologies
(fiction: Witch of the Foregate)
Title: The Witch of the Foregate
Author: Just Ruth
Theme: Storm
Rating: PG
Warnings: m/m relationship
Symbols: _italics_

Winter had come howling down from the north, where the Horns of the Moon stretched white to the grey sky, bringing crunching snow and putting fangs into the wind. The two monks were striding along the path to the fountain in main square of the Foregate. The town was at the foot of the road that stretched up to Caer Draco; the fortress that guarded the pass of Iwath between the lands of Caledon and the mysteries of the great forest called the Motherwood. More than once, the peoples called "Mongs" from the great General Mongkhut who first attacked a century ago had stormed the pass, seeking to conquer the lands beyond.

The monks were wrapped well against the cold, the taller of the pair leaned on a staff and the other wore a short sword. They were singing cheerfully.

"So up she strode and banged on the door, where her old sweetheart yet did dwell," caroled the sword wearer in a rich baritone. "I've brought back the ring you've lost. . ."

His partner joined him with a dark tenor, "Now _you_ can go to hell!"

"And that's why a woman is better than a man, put her through hell and she'll come back again!" They finished laughing. The fountain was of a plain design but a trickle of water still kept open a hole in the ice that covered the rest of it. The square was lined with small houses, every door tight shut to the wind.

"What do you think, Oliver?" the sword bearer pulled back his hood to reveal a strong face with a proud beak of a nose, dark eyes and brows, but the rest of his head was bald. "Shall we start knocking on doors?"

"Put up your hood, Mathias," scolded Oliver, "This wind is far too brisk to have that bald head of yours hanging out. I suppose we shall have to knock."

Half-way around the square, soft, sporadic snow began to drop from the sky. Twilight was beginning to dim the light. Oliver was openly scowling.

"Incredible," he sputtered. "Incredible! They're afraid to offer simple Christian hospitality! Twenty years of sensible churchmen and they still expect hysteria and the auto-de-fee!"

"We can thank our illustrious predecessors for that," Mathias sighed. "Well, back to the stockade barracks. The Captain warned us."

The Captain of the guard, an older dark-skinned woman with her greying hair in what looked to be a hundred braids had shaken her head, setting her beads clicking.

"The Foregate? I don't know Brothers," she said to the two monks swathed in their habits, heavy cloaks and sturdy boots. "I'll let you out the barracks gate but you'd be better off staying the night with us."

The barracks was a large room, divided with a half-wall between the men and women. There was only a squadron inside, no more than fifteen soldiers and a scruffy looking bard plunking on a lute next to a fireplace that doubled for cooking. "The town's jumpy as all get out since Dame Diota called down the Inquisition on 'em. I doubt you'll find a place to spend the night. Can't be too careful, you might let a heretic in the door." She scoffed with disgust.

Mathias had nodded thoughtfully and pulled a square of parchment from his bag. "There's a storm coming before midnight. If you would be so kind Captain as to dispatch this note to Captain Petra at Caer Draco?"

"Well," her eyes widened at the seal on the folded message. "Certainly, your Eminence!"

"None of that!" snapped the taller, "We're simply Brothers Oliver and Mathias come to find a bit of shelter for the night."

"Good luck to you then," she said. "And if you need shelter, feel free to knock on our door."

Oliver dropped his hood, revealing a lean face with shrewd blues and short, silver hair brushed back from his forehead. He sighed a great gust of steam into the chill air. "I think you're right, Mathias. What a disappointment!"

A meager figure wrapped in a patched shawl darted from a squat stone building hiding between the grander houses of the square.

"You're welcome to come stay with me, if you like, sirs," she said politely. She looked far too young to be on her own, built like a broomstick, her thin face was all blue eyes and too-large angular cheekbones surrounded by a cloud of black witchlocks. "I've watched you circling the square. I don't have much room, but I have enough to share."

"Blessings on you, child," Mathias smiled.

"Thank you!" Oliver agreed. They followed her to the small building. Over the stone doorway was a triangular stone carved with a weathering dragon. "Mathias, I believe this is from an old Imperial way station!"

"Wouldn't surprise me a bit," agreed Mathias. He dropped his hood as he came into the dim light of the little house. It was warm within. Oliver had to duck to come inside. There was little room. As they pulled off their boots and slipped on sandals from their packs, their hostess scooted past them to pull the chairs from a battered table and place them by the fireplace. She had them quickly seated and with a bowl of the soup that was simmering from a hook over the fire.

She went to a chest by the wall, where her small bed was and brought out two brightly colored quilts. Hanging their cloaks by the fire, she offered them the quilts and said she was going to bring in more wood.

"It's incredible," murmured Mathias as he sipped the soup.

"Oh, undoubtedly," Oliver nodded as he warmed his hands. "Why on earth is this child all alone?"

"I mean the soup. She cooks better than you."

"Mathias! I'm hurt."

"Taste it."

Oliver sipped at the wooden bowl. He scowled as Mathias began to laugh. "All right, so I'm no cook. Neither are you."

The girl came back with an armful of wood and a basket with seven eggs. "Don't blame the folks of town; they're more afraid of Dame Diota than of you." She stoked the fire and laid the wood so it would burn the longest.

"And you're not afraid of this Dame Diota?" asked Mathias.

"I'm the reason she's called the Inquisition," said the girl. "I'm Myfanwy ap Ceriddwyn, my Mum was the town witch"

"_What?_" the monks cried.

She sniffled a bit and explained as she cooked the eggs and made tea. Oliver shared out travel bread and Mathias had some dried fruit in his pack to stretch their dinner. She didn't know who her father was; her mother never said. Ceriddwyn came down from the mountains to serve as an herbalist and midwife to the people of the town that didn't always have the resources to send to the Fort for the physician. Myfanwy was thirteen years old and had been learning from her mother.

Diota's late husband had been the Reeve of the Foregate and she regarded herself as the leader of what was right and moral in the town. She had not approved of the single mother and of her trade even less. She had been even angrier when she suspected her second son of being interested in Ceriddwyn.

"He wasn't interested in Mum and Mum wasn't interested in him. Then he up and married the blacksmith's daughter – Dame Diota said he married beneath him. Said Mum put a spell on Col – Mum told her she was a stupid cow to her face."

Dame Diota had threatened to call the Inquisition at mid-summer. Her mother's magpie, Magus Pye, had flown in thorough an open window into the chapel where the traveling priest had been saying Mass.

"The Dame had a new headdress made for the occasion," Myfanwy explained. "Three horns and bright red, you couldn't help but look at it. Magus Pye flew in the window in the middle of the _kyrie_ and he crapped all over it."

Oliver sputtered in his tea. "_What_? She called an Inquisition because _a bird shit on her hat_?"

Mathias couldn't help but laugh again. "Oh, this is priceless! Where is this remarkable magpie now?"

"I don't know," Myfanwy's face twisted. "He went with Mum at Samhaine for some ritual she said I wasn't old enough to see and neither of them came back."

"Child! You've been alone since All Hallow's Eve?" Mathias lost his laughter and looked outraged. "It's almost Christmas!"

"Dame Diota, I suppose," Oliver guessed, disgusted.

Myfanwy nodded. "There's some that will trade for eggs and . . . and I was trading Mum's cough remedy for supplies but," her chin trembled. "I hate it! I have to wash things myself and I'm not doing that good a job and I can't go to the bathhouse because Mum said I should never go there alone and no one will go with me and. . . and I'm so tired of being alone."

"Tut!" Oliver swept her into his embrace and let her weep while Mathias patted her back. "You've given us a great deal of help, child. Believe me, the Inquisition will hear all of this."

Myfanwy curled up on her little bed while Oliver and Mathias shared another cup of tea in front of the fire.

"The wind's picking up," Mathias listened. "We may be here for longer than we thought."

"In the morning we will take that child with us to the stockade, we'll get her a bath and a decent meal. God! What is _wrong_ with these people!" Oliver scrubbed his fingers through his hair.

"They fear to speak against those they think have power," Mathias sighed. "Much as it was with my father."

He pressed his hand to Oliver's chest; to the scar now hidden by the robes. It was a brand on his left breast in the shape of an "h" with a line through it to make an inverted cross. The mark of the heretic. "I will do _anything_ to spare that child what you went through."

"Hush, beloved," whispered Oliver closing his hand around Mathias'. "It no longer hurts."

"It still hurts me," Mathias laid his head where his hand had been. "My father would have seen you dead if not for Brother Ambrose."

"He almost killed you as well," Oliver pressed on Mathias' back; knowing there were scars there from Lord Blackwell savagely whipping his son to force him to obey his father's wishes instead of his heart. "Brother Ambrose taught us how to use the power of the church as it should be used. As we will use it now – to awaken the people of this town to their duties."

"And humble a certain proud Dame," muttered Mathias.

The weather deteriorated through the night. The wind moaned and howled around the stone hut and the roof beams creaked loud enough to awaken the three sleepers.

"I don't like the sound of this at all," Mathias listened.

"Child," Oliver shook out his cloak. "If you had to leave right now, what would you take with you?"

"My quilts," she pointed to the chest, "and Mum's recipe book."

"Get the book. Mathias, help me make a bundle of the quilts." There were thirteen quilts, her mother had made one for each birthday. Mathias and Oliver rolled them into two bundles. Myfanwy dressed quickly, wrapped herself in the shawl and a hooded cloak that was too large for her.

"What about the chickens and the goat?" she asked, her eyes growing wide again.

"I suspect they will take care of themselves," said Oliver. The main beam groaned. "Pull your hood up, my dear."

Mathias forced the door open into the wind. The three struggled across the square to the dim lanterns hanging by the barracks. It seemed far too long before they reached the door and Mathias pounded away.

The night guard cracked the door with a curse and the three forced their way in.

I'm not sure where to go from here - start with the POV within the town or carry on with Oliver and Mathias?


1 comment or Leave a comment
yanagi_wa From: yanagi_wa Date: May 6th, 2007 01:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Great beginning. I'd stay with Oliver and Mathias for now. I feel it's a bit too soon to be changing POV. But that's just me, it's your story, do it your way. *Hugs*
1 comment or Leave a comment