Do What the Witch Tells You

Do What the Witch Tells You

This is actually a direct sequel to the scene I wrote for I Trust Your Judgement, and has been on my list for a long time. (It also technically breaks my rule about only writing one Domerin scene in five, but the last one wasn’t technically about Domerin so I went ahead and did it anyway. Sometimes you have to write what the muse tells you to (and the muse is often named Domerin).)

Anywhoo, I’m not sure it covered as much new ground as I wanted it to, but it certainly revived my interest in this particular story. I’m hoping to write more of it in the near future.
. . .

The rider was beautiful. The more Crescent watched him, the more taken he was with his grace. It wasn’t the strength in his arms and chest, though his muscular tone was evident even through the bulky leather armor he wore to protect himself. It wasn’t his high cheekbones or the elegant point of his chin, though both made him look like a sculpture carved from the finest artist’s hand. It wasn’t the way his long midnight hair attempted to tumble from its tight bindings as it slid back and forth over his shoulder while he worked. It wasn’t even the depth of his storm-blue eyes, though the longer Crescent looked into them, the more they threatened to carry him away.

No, what drew the witch’s familiar to the stranger most was the way he tended his horse. The careful way his hands slid across the mare’s side while he slid the saddle from her back. The gentleness with which he lifted each of her hooves to check if they had gathered stones from the road. He even whispered fondly in her ear while he slid his hand across her angular head, soothing her, reassuring her that they had come to a safe and relaxing place before he sent her into the field to graze.

Not many two-legs treated their animals with such regard. It could be why he had spoken to Crescent on the road; because he had obvious regard for all things living. But that didn’t account for the way the stranger regarded him with obvious intelligence, expecting a human answer long before Crescent revealed he could offer one.

His tail twitched as the stranger turned to enter the witch’s hut, granting him a fuller view of his face. Why did this stranger seem so… familiar? Crescent couldn’t possibly have seen him before. He would have remembered that face. He didn’t live in the village; the townsfolk would whisper about a man like him for sure. So who was he? And why did Crescent feel as if he wanted to curl up in his lap and never leave?

The rider was close now, only three feet from the door, and Crescent leapt from the small window frame before the man had a chance to notice him watching. He darted across the room, beneath the table his mistress had just finished setting. He circled her legs once, brushing his back and tail against her ankles affectionately before he leapt straight onto the table.

She had set a place for him, of course. The tea saucer had obviously been sitting there for some time, allowing the liquid to cool enough that it wouldn’t singe his tongue when he sipped from it. He inhaled the scent deeply before he indulged. Chamomile and lilac, a soothing combination.

The cat could feel the stranger’s eyes on him when he approached the table, but gave no indication of it. Instead, he watched from the corners of his eyes, hoping the stranger might exclaim something about a cat drinking tea. But if he regarded this as odd, he gave no indication of it either, merely settling in the chair the witch indicated for him.

“I have come a long way. I believe there is something you can help me with,” he said as he sat.

“Yes,” the witch replied, smiling her knowing smile as she sat across from him. “I believe I can. But drink the tea first,” she added, flicking her wrist in the direction of his cup. “As you said, the road was long.”

He nodded and lifted the cup to his lips, making a soft sound of gratitude as the hot liquid slid down his throat. “The refreshment is welcome, thank you,” he said softly as he returned the cup to its cradle. “If you would be so kind as to share a portion of your evening meal with me, I would gladly return the favor by sharing the take of my next hunt. Provided you give me leave to hunt in your forest.” The rider bowed his head at this, perhaps hoping he hadn’t overstepped.

Crescent flicked his ears forward and back a few times. Who was this man who treated the witch like a great dignitary instead of a fearsome creature? The cat had never met his like.

The witch chuckled. “Beyond this humble hut, I make no claims to the forest. Hunt as you like. And though my hospitality comes without cost, I would be grateful to refill my stores.”

Most of the tension the rider carried in his shoulders seemed to ease at this. When the witch nudged the plate of pastries in the center of the table in his direction, he even reached forward to accept a few, though his face expressed guilt over the indulgence. “It will be easily and gratefully done,” he said before he bit from the first flaky pastry. His eyes widened at the taste and Crescent concealed a cat-like grin by bending to sip from his tea saucer again. No one ever expected the witch to be such a grand cook.

Silence filled the small space for several minutes while the rider ate and drank, curing himself from the road as the witch would have said. Crescent took the opportunity to observe him, noting that not all of the tension had fled his body when the witch promised him hospitality. He was carrying something still, something that put him ill at ease. Something that troubled him more than the witch and her reputation. Intriguing.

When the stranger brushed the crumbs of the third pastry from his fingers, he lifted his gaze back to the witch. There was something almost desperate there for a moment, but he hid it well. “Do you need me to speak of my purpose? Or do you know it already?”

The witch offered him another of her knowing smiles, lifted her tea pot and refilled both their cups. She lifted hers to her lips, blowing delicately across the liquid’s surface before she spoke.

“You have been thinking of me since I cured your kings curse.”

The rider looked surprised but, again, contained it well. He nodded. “The book of lost souls, yes. I begged him to allow me to accompany him on the journey, but he feared your price would demand blood.”

Crescent lifted his head and glanced in his mistress’s direction. He never could anticipate her reactions to statements like this. How could two-legs be so foolish? But it was amusement that danced on her lips rather than annoyance.

“That he valued your life above his in that instance says much, both about him and about you.”

Crescent protested silently.

Ears flickering back and forth, tail snaking along the edge of the table behind him, Crescent did as he was bid. Now he saw the slight point of the man’s ears, a clear indication of elven heritage. But only one parent, perhaps. Why else would have such strong ties to a human kingdom?

Satisfied she had made her point, the witch said no more, merely gazed expectantly at the rider.

“In truth, I think he may have feared I would seek assistance at the same time. I’m uncertain why he didn’t send me to you first, but I am grateful he has finally given me leave to seek your advice. He has been aware of my plight for some time.”

“Perhaps longer than you yourself have been aware of it,” the witch agreed. She paused to sip from her tea before she went on. “What did he tell you when you left?”

“Do not lose heart.” The rider’s accompanying smile was thin. “And do as the witch tells you. Do not hesitate.”

The witch set her tea aside and her smile grew sad. “Wise advice. Though I do not think you will like the course you must take.”

Often in moments like this, the witch’s visitors grew angry. They demanded answers. They cursed the witch for her riddles. Some even tried to demand she offer her assistance for free. But the rider did none of those things.

He straightened his back, lifted his chin and said, “Lady, if you can cure the madness that haunts me, I will carve my own hand from my arm.”

“That will not be necessary,” the witch reassured. “Though you may like the price asked of you no less.” She lifted her hand and slid her fingers through Crescent’s fur then. He allowed his soft purr to rumble from the depths of his chest as he rubbed his cheek against her hand, encouraging her to stroke him further.

“This is Crescent, by the way,” she said as she scratched behind her familiar’s ears. “I believe the two of you have already met.”

The stranger’s eyes shifted in his direction and lingered, instead of flicking away as the gazes of most visitors did when the witch introduced her companion.

“We have met, yes,” he agreed, “but we have not been properly introduced. I am Domerin Lorcasf. But I suspect you already knew that.”

The witch nodded, but Crescent shook his head beneath her hand. Why did that name sound so familiar?

This caused Domerin to smile, the first genuine joy they had seen on his face since his arrival, though Crescent couldn’t fathom why the statement cheered him so. “I don’t receive such compliments very often anymore. Thank you, Crescent.”

“There is a bathing tub out back,” the witch proclaimed, ending the conversation. “You’re welcome to it so long as you don’t mind hauling the water yourself. When you have eaten and rested, we will discuss your course in the morning.”

Domerin nodded and rose from his chair without question, apparently determined to take his king’s advice to heart.

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