THE WITCH AND THE CURSED SWORD
”Our children turn ill, our crops are rotting! The days are filled with mist and darkness, and the nights with thunder and rain! And it is all because of her! Yes, we all know about her, the witch living in that house outside our village – she is cursing us with her evil magic!”
Ben sighed. He had been sitting there on the cold ground, leaned against a cold, grey house wall, for the greater part of the day, playing on his lute. But that damn priest was stealing the audience from him, and he hadn’t got a single coin yet. All the people walked right past him and joined the crowd that gathered around the old priest, standing on the edge of the Great Fountain in the centre of the big market-place. Talking about witches and magic… that was crazy. How could people believe in that stuff? But the weather was horrible, and the children were sick, but not because of some witch, who had cursed them.
It was so cold. His fingers felt frozen, and the humid, white mist that crept forth on the ground made his clothes go all sticky and damp and it would destroy his beloved lute. Without the lute, he’d be nothing.
After another ten minutes of being completely ignored and hearing the priest’s voice echo between the stone walls, he gave up. There was no point in sitting there anyway, destroying his lute and catching a cold, and the gods and goddesses knew what else.
He rose and dusted himself of, which was unnecessary since the sticky dirt wouldn’t leave his clothes in the first place.
“Why am I doing this, anyway?” he asked himself as he began to walk back to where he came from. “What’s the point?” He’d been a bard for about a year, and he didn’t earn anything. He had a good voice, he thought, and he could play, and he wrote all the songs himself, but that didn’t seem to be enough. People didn’t notice him anyway.
He tried to dry the lute off on his clothes, but since his clothes were as damp as the lute it didn’t make a big difference. He opened the folder as he walked, and made an attempt to put the lute in it to avoid further damage, but his foot slipped on the slick ground, and he fell, scraping his hands as he caught himself. He dropped everything he carried, and as he heard the hollow thump as the lute hit the paving stone, it felt as if it was he who’d hit the ground.
“Damn this!!” he shouted, ignoring the looks people walking past gave him. He crawled up on his knees, reached for the lute and rose. A big, deep crack decorated the back of it, and as he tried to play a tone it sounded all wrong. Broken. This was it. The gods and goddesses were against him, the world and all its inhabitants were against him
“Fine!” he said to no one. His days as the bard he wished he’d been were over.
“Hey!” he shouted, “anyone want a free lute?”
He threw it on the ground, and began to walk away with his cold hands in his pockets. This day was like hell. And what would he do now? How would he earn money? The priest’s hoarse, annoying voice still echoed from where he stood at the market-place.
“We need a fighter!” He shouted, “someone who can defeat the witch, someone who can kill her and restore the peace, break the curse! The one who does this will be rewarded!” Silence answered him. “Greatly rewarded! With gold!” Still nobody answered him. “Anyone?!”
Ben realised his feet where taking him back to the market-place. Gods, he hated the priest and everything the idiot stood for. He was fat and rich and someone should teach him a lesson.
When he stood among the crowd, he looked up at the man and shouted:
“Well, why don’t you do it yourself?”
The priest turned silent. Everybody turned their heads away from him and looked at Ben. Oh, he had an audience. Finally.
“If you truly believe in what you’re saying, shouldn’t you be the one who should pick a weapon and go off to kill this witch? Or maybe you can use your priest-powers.” He heard himself laugh. The priest looked like he had no idea what to say.
“Well…” he began, “I’m a priest. It is forbidden to kill…”
“That’s what I call being a coward!” Ben said, as an idea crossed his mind, “even I could do better. If you promise me all gold you can get, I will take care of this witch.”
The priest stared at him, surprise written all over his face. He opened his mouth, then closed it again.
And then people began to cheer.
“He will kill the witch!” They shouted, “he will save us from the curse!”
The priest finally seemed to find his words.
“Of course”, he said, “all gold you can carry!”
“What have I done? What was I thinking? Why?!”
Ben sat alone at a table in one of the darkest corners of the inn The Silverfish. He had ordered beer, but drank nothing. He felt like throwing up. He knew he had done something very, very stupid. Killing a witch? Him? Even if there was no witch… but maybe there was one? He had never held a sword in his life. He didn’t have a sword, and he didn’t know where to get one. He had no money. He had been so angry at everything when he said he would kill the witch, he hadn’t been thinking clearly.
Well, now you have your stupid audience, idiot. They think you a hero. Can you be one?
The answer was simple: No. but maybe he could pretend to be one? If there was no witch, which he believed there wasn’t, he had nothing to fear. The only thing he had to do was walk to that place, pretend to kill the witch (since no one would be there, no one would know he was lying) and when he came back he could just make up a story about the fight. It was as simple as that. But there was something else…
He took a deep breath, and poured half of the beer down his throat. It didn’t help against the sick feeling in his stomach.
If there was no witch, that would mean the sick children and the bad weather and rotting crops were of a natural cause, so if he pretended to kill the witch, he couldn’t be sure anything would change at all, and if nothing changed, the villagers would see right through him. They so strongly believed in this stupid witch! He pulled his hands through his light brown, almost shoulder-long hair, and leaned his forehead against the wooden table.
“A bad day, huh?” a deep, hoarse voice suddenly said. He looked up at the face of an old man, with white, dirty hair, and a long tangled beard. He was dirty, with a stinking breath and rotting teeth, and with deep shadows under his watery eyes. His clothes were torn and dusty, and he held two big glasses of beer.
“Bad”, Ben answered and rose, “have the rest of the beer. See it as a gift”, he said and walked out. The old man shouted his thanks after him.
Okay, so the first thing he had to do was to get a weapon. A sword, or something. He had no money, so he couldn’t buy one, and he was no thief, so he didn’t want to steal.
He had been sitting at the inn for a longer time that he had planned, and it was getting dark outside. The mist had gotten heavier, and rain had begun to fall. He could feel the cold drops on his skin where the clothes didn’t cover him.
He walked through the alleys with his hands in his pocket, in deep thoughts for a long time, but there didn’t seem to be anyway to get a sword, except for asking someone for one or looking for one on the ground. He had no friends in this village, no one he wanted to ask. And the chance to find a sword on the ground was very little. He had gotten to the outskirts of the village, where the trees and deep shadows of the forest began. Here, no torches on the house walls lit up the way. It was a dangerous place to be, where robbers hiding in the dark waited for prey. He turned to walk back as something gleamed in the corner of his eye. Silver.
He took two steps back again, and listened carefully. He didn’t hear footsteps. He didn’t see anything suspicious. He hoped he was alone. The few houses here were made of rotting wood instead of stone, and they were much smaller, and instead of stones the ground was made of mud. If someone killed him here, nobody would ever find the body, because normal people never came here. But that gleaming silver… it called for him. He walked quickly and carefully to the place where the pale, weak light of the moon hit the metal. He sat down on his haunches and reached for the thing. It was heavy. It was sharp. He couldn’t believe it. He had picked up a sword. He didn’t know for how long it had been lying here, but it looked new. And it was beautiful. Nothing special, but still beautiful. The silvery metal (he doubted it was real) almost seemed to glow, and the hilt was of a fine, dark material. He couldn’t see it clearly because of the darkness, but it was a sword, and exactly what he needed.
He rose and walked back into the part of the village where torches hung on the walls and chased away the shadows. For the first time, the world seemed to be on his side.