The Witch Who Spoke to the Wind
Sequel to Eindred and the Witch
In which Severin, the golden eyed witch, learns that his greatest enemy and truest love is fated to kill him.
Dealing in prophecies is a dubious work. Anyone who knows anything will tell you as much.
“Think of all of time as a grand tapestry,” his great-grandmother had said, elbow deep in scalding water. Her hands were tomato red, and Severin watched with wide golden eyes as she kneaded and stretched pale curds in the basin. “You might be so privileged to understand a single weave, but unless you go following all surrounding threads, and the threads around those threads, and so on - which, mind you, no human can do - you’ll never understand the picture.”
Severin, who was ten years old and had never seen a grand tapestry, looked at the cheese in the basin and asked if his great-grandmother could make the analogy about that instead.
“No,” she replied. “Time is a tapestry. Cheese is just cheese.”
And that was that.
By fifteen, Severin who was all arms, legs, and untamable black hair, decided he hated prophecies more than anything in the world. He occupied himself instead with long walks atop the white bluffs well beyond his family’s home. Outside, he could look at birds, and talk to the wind, and not think about the terrible prophecy which followed him like a shadow.
His second eldest sister had revealed it - accidentally, of course. Severin lived in a warm and bustling house with his great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, two aunts, and three sisters. All of whom were generously gifted in the art of foretelling (a messy business, each would say if asked), and every one of them had seen Severin’s same bleak thread.
He would die. Willingly stabbed through the heart by his greatest enemy and truest love.
Willingly. That was the worst part, he thought.
Severin, who had no talent in the way of prophecies, but plenty of talent in the realm of wind and sky, marched along the well-worn trail, static sparking around his fingertips as the brackish sea breeze nipped consolingly at his face and hair.
I will protect you if you ask me to, it blustered, and Severin was comforted.
He didn’t care who this foretold stranger was. When this enemy-lover appeared, Severin would ask the wind to pick them up and take them far, far away. Far enough that they could never harm him. The wind whistled in agreement. And so it was settled.
At seventeen, he was still all arms and legs, though his eldest sister had managed to tame his hair with a respectably sharp pair of shears. The wind, who had delighted in playing with his wild, tangled locks, did not thank her for it. Severin did thank her; in fact, he’d asked her to do it. He was of the opinion that his newly shorn hair made him look older - more sophisticated. And he left his family home with a new cloak draping his shoulders and a knotted wooden walking stick in hand, thinking himself very nearly a man. He was far from it, of course. But there was no telling him that.
He set out on a clear, cool morning to find his own way in the world, and was prepared to thoroughly deal with anyone who so much as dared to act ever so slightly in the manner of enemy or lover.
He discovered, soon enough, that this was not a practical attitude to take when venturing into the world. Severin spent his first months away from home making little in the way of friends and plenty in the way of thoroughly baffled enemies.
When you meet his gaze, you’ll know, the wind chided as it whisked in and out of his hood.
“His?” Severin said aloud, lifting a single dark brow. “Do you know something I don’t?”
The wind whistled noncommittally in answer.
The wind did know something, as it turned out. At twenty, Severin stood on the warm, sun-loved planks of a dock. As gulls cried overhead, he pressed his fingers to his lips. The young sailor had touched his lips to Severin’s in a swift, carefree kiss before departing on the sea. And though the feeling was pleasant enough, Severin knew that his enemy-lover was not on the great ship cleaving a path through the cerulean waves.
“When I meet his gaze, I’ll know,” Severin said, golden eyes sweeping the horizon. The seaward breeze blustered in such agreement that the gulls overhead cried out in alarm.
What will you do? The wind asked, delighting in whipping the gulls into a proper frenzy.
“Get rid of him, of course,” Severin replied.
What if you don’t want to?
Severin thought that was the stupidest question he’d ever heard. “He’s going to stab me through the heart. Why in the world wouldn’t I want to get rid of him?”
People are foolish, the wind answered, shrugging the nearby sails.
“Not me.” Severin leaned on his stick and looked out at the sea. “I won’t let anyone get away with stabbing my heart.”
When he was twenty-two, Severin knelt at the bedside of a withered, wilting woman. She was a stranger, but the town’s herb witch was away, and Severin happened to be passing through. Though his true strength would always remain with the wind and the sky, the youngest of Severin’s two aunts had a special way with plants, and she’d taught him a fair bit about the many healing properties of the region’s hardy, windblown flora.
He boiled water, adding the few herbs he carried to make a rejuvenating tea. He helped the woman drink, his hand supporting her head and fingers tangling in her sweat drenched hair. After, he pressed a cool cloth to her head, and in the half dark room, she murmured, sharing delirious fears that she would accidentally speak cruel dying words and lay a curse upon him.
Kindly stroking her forehead, Severin assured her that he was not afraid of curses. Even uttered by the dying, a true curse was rarer than the superstitious soldier’s and barbarians liked to believe. Besides, she wasn’t going to die. Severin, who’d seen just enough of the world to have a taste of wisdom, was certain he could save her.
She died within the day.
Whether her condition had been beyond help, or Severin lacked the skills to twist the herbs to his bidding, he would never know. The wind rustled reassurances through the sparsely-leaved trees, but Severin was beyond consolation. Clouds gathered on the horizon, and by nightfall, great branches of lightning crackled across the sky.
He spent the next year and a half in the wilds. Beneath the jubilant light of the sun, he collected plants, acquainting himself with the earth. And beneath the soft, watchful light of the moon, he whispered to the wind and dared to wonder at the shape of his enemy-lover’s face. He could never seem to summon the slightest picture in his mind. Though it really didn’t matter, he supposed. Their eyes would meet, and Severin would know. And then he’d use all of the power at his disposal to send his enemy-lover away.
During this time, Severin sometimes saw bands of barbaric warriors crossing the plains. He kept his distance, but he doubted any of them were interested in either recruiting or killing a scrawny young man in a worn woolen cloak. Few he encountered ever suspected he had any great abilities, and Severin certainly didn’t go out of his way to advertise the fact that he could command the wind and sky when he wished. The barbaric companies had their eyes on more obviously lucrative targets, anyway. A handful of city states which spread across the great peninsula were openly at war with the barbaric tribes from the north.
It was when Severin was returning from his self-imposed isolation that he had his first real encounter with war. He held his sturdy walking stick in hand and carried a bursting bag of herbs, poultices, and leather-bound journals over his shoulder. Severin was so surprised by the sudden, brutal clash of metal and the primal cries that erupted nearby that he halted where he stood. His curiosity both outweighed and outlasted his fear, and after a minute or two of tense consideration, he pressed cautiously onward in the direction of the noise.
By the time he arrived, the battle was done.
It had surely been an ugly, bloody affair, if the splayed out bodies of the city soldiers and barbaric warriors were anything to judge it by. Holding a hand over his mouth, Severin gingerly navigated the carnage and valiantly resisted the impulse to be sick right there in the field. He was nearly on the other side of it when movement caught his eye. Squinting, almost afraid to look, he glanced from the corners of his eyes, sure that it was some grotesque remnant of warfare which awaited him.
Instead, it was a man.
Just a man.
The movement Severin had spotted was the rise and fall of his chest.
Only after turning a careful look around the terrible and silent battlefield did Severin approach the fallen man.
The barbarian’s eyes were closed and his pale brows drew together, as if reflecting pain. His face would probably have been handsome in a rough, simple sort of way if it weren’t smeared in dirt and blood. His light hair, braided and pulled away from his face, was bloodied as well, and Severin frowned at the sorry state of him. After a second wary look around, he knelt with a sigh.
The barbarian’s leather vest was cut, and his thick, scarred arms had earned several new slices as well. Severin, who had more than enough herbs and poultices on hand, reluctantly tore his only spare shirt into bandages. Within the hour the stranger was fully bandaged and muttering in fever addled sleep.
“Don’t worry,” Severin murmured, knotting the last makeshift bandage. “I’ve learned enough from the plants and trees to save you from both fever and infection.”
Behind closed lids, the barbarian’s eyes flitted anxiously to and fro and he mumbled something that sounded like no. Nose wrinkling, Severin leaned in. He heard the sleeping barbarian say, his voice low and cracking, “The curses will take me.”
Severin frowned down at him, unimpressed. “No they won’t,” he snapped, and yanked the bandage tighter.
The barbarian silenced then, and Severin stared at him a moment longer, pursing his lips in consternation. It wasn’t that he minded using his supplies to heal a stranger. But a part of him worried that healing a warrior made Severin responsible for whatever slaughter he resumed when he rose.
Severin abhorred warfare. It was such a terrible waste. But he supposed there was no helping what he’d already done. The barbarian was already on his way to recovery, and Severin certainly wasn’t going to murder him in his sleep. He reached out, intending to test the temperature at the man’s temple, but no sooner had Severin’s fingers touched his overheated skin than the world bled around him. In its place: a vision.
Shock echoed through him, because he was not like the women in his family, able to see phantoms in time. He’d always simply played with the air. The vision dancing before his gaze, however, didn’t seem to care.
Like droplets of ink spreading in water, a prism of colors twisted, threading together into nearly tangible shapes. From the chaos, rose a blond child holding a knit sheep. He was ruddy cheeked and pouting up at his mother. Then ink and water swirled and the images collapsed and shifted. Hulking shadows loomed over the child. The mother wailed her grief. The formless ink shivered, morphing from one scene to the next, nearly too quickly to follow, and Severin was swallowed up in it, overrun and overwhelmed by violence, blood, and pain. Beneath his fingers, Severin felt the movement of shifting, slipping thread.
Just as abruptly as it had started, the vision ceased. Severin’s knees ached where they pressed against the dirt and the barbarian’s skin beneath his hand was no longer overheated. How long had he been within the vision’s grasp, he wondered?
As Severin shifted back, the barbarian groaned. Severin watched as the man’s eyelids fluttered - and at once, the air turned heavy, as if the wind had drawn and held an anticipatory breath.
Dread flooded Severin and he rushed to stand. The barbarian had not yet opened his eyes, and Severin knew with a terrible nameless certainty that he must not be here when this man awoke. Severin could still feel those elusive, unknowable threads beneath his fingers, and his hands shook as he rose. Awakened by his urgency, the wind roared, lending him speed as he fled the clearing.
By the time the barbarian cracked open a single, world weary eye, Severin was long gone, heart still safely beating in his chest.
Severin endeavored to forget about the barbarian. He convinced himself that the vision had been the hallucination of an overexerted body, and that the sensation of inexorably moving threads beneath his fingers was nothing more than a flight of fancy. Severin did not think about how the threads had felt - certain and unyielding - beneath his fragile, very mortal hands. If he did, he feared he might ask the wind to whisk him away from the world altogether, and that, surely, was no way to live.
In a deep, secret place, however, Severin suspected the reason he was granted such a vision was because the stranger’s thread was woven perilously close to his own. Because of this, he set upon an easterly road, endeavoring to put a healthy distance between himself and the pale barbarian.
After nearly a month of travel, he arrived in a small village which sat nestled in foothills, tucked beneath the shadows of great mountains which stood like sentinels above. Severin hadn’t intended to stay, but when it was discovered he had some skill with plants and medicine, the villagers eagerly led him to a hut some distance from the village. It was empty, they explained, and had been for some years. A healing woman had occupied it, some years back, before she’d passed on. The villagers had been saving it, hoping the space would be enough to entice a new healer to make their isolated village a home.
Severin had nowhere else to go, and he supposed a distant, mountain village was as good a place as any to avoid a blade to the heart.
Two years passed, and Severin settled into his little hut. He spent his mornings taking long walks around the surrounding lands, collecting herbs and specimens. Returning home, he’d throw open the windows to allow his friend the wind a brief but wild rampage through the hut. With the air freshened, Severin spread plants across his square dining table and sorted them into jars to be sealed, dried, or preserved in vinegar. His neighbors in the village visited frequently, just as often for his company as for his medicines, and Severin delighted in visiting the town on market days and making the streamers dance in the wind for the children. Evenings were spent in his rocking chair, with a book in his lap and his feet pressed near to the low fire in the hearth.
He was happy, and hardly thought of the barbarian he’d found bleeding in the dirt. That is, until fate caught up with him.
One day, when he was foraging for moss on the hillside behind his hut, Severin felt the whisper-soft touch of thread against his palm. He sat upright at once, and turning and craning his neck, he absently rubbed his palms against his robes.
A company marched into the village. From up on Severin’s hill, they appeared a swarm of ants overtaking the miniature thatched roof homes. The slipping, shivering feeling beneath Severin’s palm intensified, and he stood. His heart drummed a frantic beat against his ribs, and Severin felt with a terrible certainty that fate, like a hunting hound on the scent, had sniffed him out at last.
When Severin called out, begging the wind’s help, it rushed to him, howling atop the hill.
I am here. I am here.
Cradled in the gale, he begged the wind to take him and hide him away, so that the tapestry’s relentless threads might cease dragging him toward the one he never wished to meet.
So be it, the wind said. If that is truly what you wish, I will take you and hide you away forever.
In that moment, nearly caught as he was, Severin was willing to do anything to avoid meeting this man who would kill him - until the screams rose from the pastures in the valley beneath his hut. Severin’s heartbeat was in his throat, on his very tongue, as he held up a hand to stay the wind.
“Just a moment,” he murmured, and turned bright, pained eyes toward the village. The terrified screams of his neighbors pierced him as surely as any blade, and with a mournful twist of his fingers, he bade the wind disperse.
By the time he reached in the pastures, the shepherd, the blacksmith, and Helvia’s two sons lay dead. At the sight of his friend’s bodies, grief and rage stirred within Severin, and the wind, always nearby to him, trembled in sympathy. Gaze sweeping the warriors, he marked the five whose weapons were stained red. Severin was not violent by nature, but if he was to die this day, he resolved to remove from the earth at least these five men, who with bloodied blades, uncaringly spoke of feasting upon the village’s few precious sheep.
When the warriors turned and finally noticed Severin, he lifted his chin and prayed his voice did not betray his fear. “These are simple people. They have little in way of money or goods. It wasn’t for nothing that the shepherd, blacksmith, and teenagers died. They need these sheep. And I cannot allow you to take them.”
The men glanced at one another, eyes filling with a cruel sort of mirth. They laughed at him, and Severin steeled himself for what must come next. He was friends with the wind, but to call down the heavens was an entirely more serious matter. And he’d never done it. At least, not like this.
Severin turned his palms up and glared at the heavens, daring them to refuse him now when he needed them most.
For a long, terrible moment, nothing happened.
And then, the skies erupted.
He had never felt pure, visceral power in such a way, and as it whined and crackled, Severin, with splayed fingers, used all of his strength to tear the lightning from its home in the sky. It rained upon the warriors, screaming in wild, untamable fury. Severin watched the men cry out in agony, and he felt horror and satisfaction in equal measure.
When a single figure broke from the group, agile enough to evade the lightning and charge across the field, Severin could only look on in exhausted realization. It was the pale barbarian. The man from the battlefield. The child in the vision.
The barbarian charged like a beast, his thickly braided hair bouncing. His brows were drawn down in focus and his lips poised on the precipice of a snarl. It was with a hopeless sense of finality that Severin met the stranger’s gaze.
He met eyes of icy gray, the color of hazy, snow capped mountains in winter, and Severin knew, he knew with a certainty that was sunken into his bones and twisted in his marrow, that this barbarian was the shadow which had haunted him. And he knew, more than anything, the crude blade in the man’s scarred-knuckle hand was fate’s exclamation point at the end of Severin’s ephemeral existence.
Watching as the barbarian pivoted, drawing back his blade, Severin only wished he understood why the women in his family had persisted in calling this man Severin’s truest love. If this was love, the man had a spectacularly terrible way of showing it.
Time slowed to a crawl, and sunlight flashed, reflecting off the blade. As the jagged edge touched the fabric of Severin’s robe, the wind whispered at his ear. Let me show you a piece of the picture.
The wind around him froze, and so too did the world.
Look up, said the wind, a rustle within his ear.
The complexly woven image was shaped by currents in the air - all but invisible to any whose eyes are untrained to look for them. But Severin had a born understanding of the wind and sky, and when he looked up, he saw bits and pieces of an impossibly complex tapestry.
He saw scarred knuckles gently shaping wood. A small child that sat upon broad shoulders. Rocking chairs placed side by side before a glowing fire. Warm hands enveloping his own. Safety. Home.
It was...everything, and Severin’s heart ached with a strange and complex longing for a future that surely could never be.
It’s not impossible, the wind whispered. But the threads will have to tangle and untangle just perfectly so.
“How?” Severin asked, and wondered if he was a fool to feel so desperate a pull towards this life glimpsed in impressions and half images.
The warrior must weep and repent. And a curse must come to fruition.
“And if these things do not happen?”
Then your soul will fade from the earth.
Severin felt torn in two.
The blade has not yet struck your heart, the wind murmured, kind and conspiratorial. There is time still for me to secret you away. I could pull your thread from the tapestry altogether.
“But there would be no hope for that life,” Severin said with a last wistful glance at the scattered mosaic above.
No, none, the wind agreed.
“Okay,” Severin whispered, “okay.” And it felt terrifyingly like surrender.
The wind stirred, and a breeze like a kiss tousled his dark hair.
The blade struck.
It was an intense pressure and then swift, vibrantly blooming pain. Severin wavered on his feet, and looked up. For the second time, he met the warrior’s gaze. And Severin saw and understood that there was no malice in those wintry eyes. Not even frustration or anger. But, instead, an exhaustion deeper than Severin could conceive.
When Severin toppled backward, it was concerning to realize he could no longer feel the grass beneath his body. The man knelt down, and Severin blinked tiredly up at him.
It seemed as though the man were waiting for something. Severin’s slipping mind struggled to think of what - until he recalled the dying woman and her talk of curses. And hadn’t the barbarian said something about curses when he was fever addled and hurt? What had the wind said? Severin was struggling to remember. As his life trickled away in red rivulets which stained the grass and soil, he thought of the boy in the vision - lost and afraid. And he thought of the man he’d become, kneeling stonily over him.
And Severin knew exactly which words should be his last.
Swallowing, he mustered the strength to whisper, “-my hut…it’s just past…the next hill over. In it, I keep medicines and herbs. For the villagers. And travelers who pass.”
For the barbarian would have to stay if he were ever to show remorse. He couldn’t very well continue going about fighting and murdering his way across the peninsula. Which brought Severin to his final words. It took all of his remaining strength to lift his hand. When he reached out, the barbarian startled, as though he expected more lightning to spring forth from Severin’s fingers. But Severin merely tapped his chest and smiled. “May you live a life of safety and peace.”
It was a fitting curse, he thought, feeling particularly clever. And there, on the field, surrounded by sheep, Severin’s heart stuttered and stopped.
It was an abrupt, slipping sensation, like losing your footing on iced over earth. Raw existence rushed around Severin, and he was battered and blown about, like a banner torn loose in the storm. This continued for a dizzying moment, or perhaps a dizzying eternity - Severin really had no way of knowing which. But it stopped when a familiar presence surged around him, blowing and blustering until the wild chaos of existence was forced to let him be.
The wind could not protect him forever, Severin knew, and so he focused his energies until, like a wind sprite, he swirled about the hillside. Below him, he saw the barbarian, his great head bent. Severin, as incorporeal as a breeze, could not resist blustering over the barbarian’s shoulder and observing himself, limp and pitiful in death. Whipping around, he beheld the barbarian - because surely this sight would bring him at least to the verge of tears.
The barbarian frowned down at Severin’s body and rubbed a scarred hand over the patches of stubble on his chin. And then he rose with a great sigh and set off down the hillside, away from Severin and the village.
Severin, who was nothing more than wind and spirit, watched him and despaired. He could do nothing more than whip and howl through the hills as his murderer left him without a backward glance.
Severin did not follow after the barbarian. What good would it do? In this form, it wasn’t as though Severin could speak to him. And if he was doomed to fade and dissolve from existence, he would much rather do so here in the hills he loved than in some strange land trailing after an even stranger man. The wind kept him company, at least, and Severin spent his days whistling through the black, porous stones at the base of the mountains and blowing bits of dandelions across wild tufts of grass.
One day, long after Severin had begun to feel more spread out and thin than was entirely comfortable, the wind rushed to him, carrying with it the scent of dust and dirt and faraway lands.
The barbarian had returned.
Severin was an icy breeze that whipped around the edges of town, and he watched with cool distrust as the man trudged through the streets. His shoulders were slumped and his blond head was turned down. He looked utterly defeated, and any sympathy Severin might have felt was eclipsed by petty spite. He didn’t hold any of the pettiness against himself, though. He was dead, and therefore felt he’d earned at least a little pettiness.
When the barbarian crossed the field, stopping to stand before the place where Severin had fallen, Severin swirled around him, newly curious. The man didn’t look grief stricken, but his face was difficult to read. There were dark shadows beneath his eyes and lines of exhaustion around his mouth. Mostly, Severin thought he just looked tired.
When the man approached Severin’s home after having ignored the invitation for months, Severin had a second moment of pettiness and whipped the wind up on the other side of the door, sealing it closed as the barbarian tried to open it. Only when the man shoved it with his great, muscled shoulder did Severin retreat, allowing the door to swing open.
It was with a strange sort of melancholy that he watched the barbarian’s silver gaze sweep over the room. The man looked first at the damp, unkempt hearth before slowly making his way across the room. He glanced from Severin’s well-loved walking stick to the bookshelf built into the wall. He fumblingly ran the backs of his fingers along the spines of the books, as if he was unlearned in the ways of a gentle touch.
Severin was still very much put out about the whole being dead business, but as he watched the barbarian’s almost reverent inspection, he unthinkingly twisted the air in the room, drawing out the cold and pulling in a bit of sun warmed breeze.
By the second day, the man was sitting in Severin’s chair. Severin stewed, swatting at floating dust by the window as his killer rocked to and fro in Severin’s favorite seat. Later, the barbarian stood, stretching his strong arms overhead and twisted his back experimentally. Brows lifting in pleasant surprise, he gave the chair an appreciative pat.
By the third day, Severin had no more dust to swat about. The barbarian had rolled up his ragged sleeves and set about scrubbing every inch of Severin’s little hut. When the hulking man worked open the stiff windows, the wind rushed in, delighting in whipping about the space once more.
He’s done a better job of cleaning than you ever did, the wind sang, slipping once more outside.
He was dead and that meant the wind had to be nice, and Severin told it as much. It’s reply was a soft rustling of chimes that hung from the house’s eaves, and the sound was almost like laughter.
Days passed, and the man began reading Severin’s books. This was probably the most surprising development yet, in Severin’s opinion. It wasn’t that he hadn’t thought the large, scarred warrior capable of reading, just - well, he hadn’t thought the large, scarred warrior capable of reading particularly well. But the man seemed to be doing just fine, and sat in Severin’s rocking chair, putting a far greater strain on the sturdy wood than Severin ever had, as he thumbed carefully through the book’s smooth pages.
When little Mykela took ill, Severin knew it well before anyone else. He’d taken a spin through town and as he rode the wintry wind past where she played in the yard, he’d felt the rattle of air in her lungs. But at this point, Severin was little more than a memory on the breeze, and though his worry was agony, he could do absolutely nothing. He spent the rest of the day roaring about the mountain peaks, sending snow flurries spilling down the far side of the cliffs.
Two days later, Severin was idly observing the barbarian, watching the crease between his brows twitch as he slept, when a great pounding broke out against the door. The barbarian rose at once, and Severin watched him cast a brief glance at the walking stick before turning instead to the candle on a nearby shelf. With warm light cupped in his palm, the barbarian approached the door.
When Dormund, Mykela’s father, entered the hut, carrying a limp mound of blankets, Severin felt a spike of icy terror. As the barbarian poked and prodded the fire, Severin carefully stirred the wind to better feed the flames. Severin would have shouted instructions, had he lungs to shout, but the barbarian already had two jars in hand. He held them up, looking a little lost, before he hurried to the bookshelf and selected a thick book. Muttering under his breath, he flipped hurriedly through pages until he found what he was looking for. And then he was kneeling before the pot of water he’d set over the fire, and Severin watched as he scooped careful measurements of Severin’s dried herbs into the roiling water.
Mykela was saved, and as the barbarian sent the girl and her father off with a bag of herbs, it occurred to Severin that he wished to know the barbarian’s name. He wouldn’t learn it until two days later, when Old Cara arrived at the hut, seeking the barbarian’s help for her arthritic knee. After supplying her with the appropriate poultice, the barbarian helped her to the door, and looking up, she patted his shoulder and asked him his name.
Eindred, was his answer.
Severin wished he had lips to test the shape of the name.
Months passed, and was easier now to watch Eindred move about Severin’s hut. In fact, Severin had even begun to enjoy riding the soft breeze from the windows as it wafted around Eindred’s shoulders, curiously observing whatever small thing he happened to, at any given time, be doing with his hands. One day, Severin was surprised to find Eindred’s hands at work, deliberately whittling the curved back of a rocking chair. When the chair was done, Eindred set it carefully, almost reverently beside the first. At the sight, Severin had a bright, nearly overwhelming flash of recognition, and he thought of the image the wind had shown him - of the rocking chairs before a warm, crackling fire.
Severin was fading, he could feel it. To hope was to court a greater disappointment than Severin could rightly comprehend, and yet - he watched Eindred set out with Severin’s walking stick to join the festival, and saw when Mykela took his hand. The barbarian’s stony expression softened, then melted as the girl tugged him after her.
It was the strangest of sensations, because while Severin didn’t strictly have a heart these days, watching the great Eindred meekly follow little Mykela made something in Severin’s incorporeal being ache with unexpected warmth.
Whatsmore, Eindred had been reading Severin’s journals and he would sometimes stop and stare about the hut, as if trying to picture the ghost of Severin’s life there. Once, Eindred draped a thick blanket over the back of one of the rocking chairs and ran his rough hands over it as he frowned contemplatively into the fire.
Summer had come and gone and Severin feared that parts of his soul had already begun to slip into that other-place. And so, with a tender sort of weariness, he drifted on the sunbeams cutting through the clean window glass, and watched with only mild annoyance as Eindred carefully tore a blank page from one of Severin’s journals.
Lips pressing together in focus, Eindred wrote in with small, precise letters, what appeared to be a list.
Confused, Severin drifted closer.
May your every loved one die screaming in pain.
I hope you die with your eyes stabbed out and your heart in your hands.
You will never know happiness.
Your existence will be suffering.
It was a list of curses, Severin realized. Morbid curses, by the looks of it. The last two, however, caught his attention.
May your greatest enemy rise from the grave and never leave you alone.
May you live a life of safety and peace.
And Severin understood.
When Eindred set out from the hut, looking drawn but resolved, Severin began at once to gather his energy. It had been nearly a year since his death, and he feared that there might not be enough of him left to make a return. The second to last curse would help things along, but Severin knew it would be a mistake to rely on it.
And so, as Eindred entered the village, Severin stretched upward and out, calling wind and storm clouds with reckless, hopeful abandon. For his entire life, Severin had lived, certain in the knowledge that love and happiness were not meant for one such as he. How could they be? When a blade was foretold to make a home in his heart?
But Eindred had changed. And the patchwork pieces of tapestry were there, a life Severin had never dared to dream of, right there - if he could only summon the strength to reach out and grasp it.
Below, Eindred bowed his head before the townsfolk, confessing his part in the tragedy which played out on their soil. Above, Severin swallowed the skies and became the storm.
Severin felt it, distantly below, when the people in the village forgave Eindred. And he felt when Eindred’s bittersweet tears tickled the earth. He felt Eindred return to the hut, and then after pacing restlessly about, return at last to the pastures where it had all begun.
And then came Eindred’s pained voice, calling out from the fields below. “Severin!”
Eindred had never said his name before, and Severin, who was the clouds and the wind and the rain and the sky, rumbled his joy at the sound of it.
“It was my hand which ended your life,” Eindred continued. His deep voice was shaking. “And with your dying breath you gifted what I thought was a nightmare. Did you know that it would turn out to be a dream? I think you did.”
Just wait, Severin wanted to tell him, because he’d seen a future better still. The only question that remained was whether he had strength enough to reach it.
Rugged face upturned, Eindred called to Severin and the sky, which were one and the same. “Though it’s a dream, I’ll never know peace. How can I? When I live in the home of the one I so coldly murdered? I would leave, but the villagers have my heart - as they had yours. In this state, I don’t think I’ll ever truly know true rest or true peace - despite the great power of your curse.”
You will, Severin said, and lightning streaked across the sky. I will.
“Even now,” Eindred said, through wind and rain, “I’m not sure if you are my greatest enemy or ally.”
There it was.
His greatest enemy.
Severin, with every ounce of power he possessed, claimed the title. For he was the greatest enemy the old Eindred, warrior and killer, had faced. With his parting curse, Severin had forced the old Eindred to do the one thing he’d feared most of all: to live and face all he’d done.
Severin felt a rushing, coursing energy thrumming within and without and he knew that he must catch it and hold it, though he wasn’t sure how.
The tapestry threads, the wind whispered. Severin had spread so thin, his old friend was nearly a part of him now.
Severin listened, and felt for that thread which had teased and tickled his palm. And when he was sure he felt it, he wrapped himself around it and pulled. The sky around him screamed as he dragged himself forward toward something - something -
White light was all around him, and then it wasn’t. The air was cool and damp, and the evening sang with the wind’s gleeful gusts and the soft patter of rain on grass. Severin lifted a hand, and looked it over in tentatively blooming relief. Pressing the hand over his heart which beat with a strong, steady rhythm, Severin breathed a relieved, ragged sigh.
Eindred stood in the field, turned away from him. Drawing in a breath, Severin delighted in the sound of his own voice. “May your greatest enemy rise from the grave, Eindred, and never leave you alone.” He smiled as he spoke, and very nearly pressed his fingers to his lips to feel the shape they took when saying Eindred’s name.
Eindred turned. “So you are my greatest enemy then?” He sounded wary.
“I don’t think it’s so simple as that. Do you?”
Eindred’s expression shifted and he shook his head. When he next spoke, it was soft and fumbling, as if he still hadn’t fully adjusted to a world which was kind. “I made a chair,” he blurted out. “A few actually,” he added, rubbing a hand over the back of his head.
Severin wanted to say, I know. I saw. But that would require more explanation than he cared to give at the moment, so instead, he replied, “Do I get the new rocking chair or my old one?”
“Any,” Eindred stammered, “Either. Both?” He looked at Severin, and the earnest weight of his gaze held the promise of all the chairs Severin could want and anything else Eindred could possibly make with his scarred hands.
The fondness that bubbled up within Severin was so abrupt and filled him so thoroughly that he wanted to laugh with it. “Lucky for you, I only need one chair. You can keep the old one if you like it. I trust your craftsmanship.”
Severin turned then, because it was cold and every part of him felt so entirely bright and buoyant that he thought he might die if he didn’t move. However, when he realized Eindred was not following, he stopped. “Well? Are you coming?”
Eindred looked up, as if he’d been startled. “Where?” he called.
Standing there, sodden in the field, Eindred looked after Severin, as if he was afraid to hope - as Severin once had been afraid to do. And it occurred to Severin that Eindred would need to hear it said aloud.
“Home, of course. Where else?”
“Home,” Eindred repeated, as if confirming it to himself.
And when Severin turned again towards home, Eindred followed.
By the time they reached the hut, both were shivering from the cold, and as they crossed the threshold into the warm space, Severin swayed on his feet. He’d almost forgotten the immense power he’d used, and now the harsh ringing in his ears was a stark reminder. Warm, rough hands steadied him and when Severin tilted his head up, he saw that Eindred wore an expression of poorly concealed terror.
“I’m not going to die all over again,” Severin assured him. “I just used a lot of magic.” As he said it, he swayed once more, this time falling forward.
Eindred caught Severin again, one arm wrapped around his back and his other hand braced against his chest. Beneath where Eindred’s palm pressed, Severin’s heart thrummed. And Severin watched, curious, as Eindred’s expression twisted. He no longer claimed the title of warrior, Severin knew, but it was nonetheless with a warrior’s gravity that Eindred met Severin’s gaze.
“These hands will never again harm you. I swear it.”
“I know,” Severin replied, and pressed a hand over the back of Eindred’s rough knuckles. “Help me to a chair?”
Eindred did, and helped to remove Severin’s thick outer robe before Severin sank gratefully in front of the fire. Eindred left him a moment, and Severin closed his eyes.
He intended to just rest them for a second - maybe two, but when Severin next opened his eyes, the room was darker and he was draped and bundled in blankets, softer and thicker than any he recalled owning. The fire was still crackling, and the warm light made soothing shadows dance across the hut’s wooden floor. The other chair was occupied, Severin realized, and he watched as the hearth’s orange light played across Eindred’s sleeping features. Compared to Severin’s mountain of blankets, he had just one draped over his lap, though he didn’t seem cold. Nonetheless, Severin shifted a bit, and peeled a soft fleece blanket off his own pile to toss it onto him. The blanket fell short, and with a quick whispered word, the wind slipped under the door and flipped the offending blanket up onto Eindred’s chest.
“That’s better,” Severin said.
The wind played a little with the fire before tousling Severin’s hair and departing with a sibilant, save your strength foolish human. You’re still recovering, and slipped out the way it had come.
When Severin turned back to Eindred, he saw the large man was sitting up and his eyes were now open. Blinking, Eindred rubbed a hand over his face and then, stiffening in sudden shock, he whipped to look at Severin. Heaving a great sigh, he rocked back in the chair. “Still breathing,” he said.
“I don’t plan on stopping.”
Something almost like a smile twitched at Eindred’s lips and Severin was enchanted by it.
“You were dead and now you’re alive. Forgive me. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.”
“You’re the one who believes in silly curses.”
Eindred’s brows rose. “Silly? Says the one who was brought back from the dead by one.”
Severin waved a dismissive hand. “The curse might have set the stage, but I was director, crew, and cast.”
And there was another smile, like a glimpse of sun between clouds. Severin was beginning to fear there might be no practical limit to the lengths he’d be willing to go to see another smile.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Eindred replied. “I get the feeling you know a great deal more about the world and magics than I.”
“Well Eindred,” Severin said, scooting his chair a little closer to both Eindred and the fire. “What do you know of grand tapestries?”
Eindred, looking more than a little lost, shook his head. “Nothing. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one.”
“Well,” Severin said, and grinned. “What do you know of cheese?”
EDIT: A novel based on Eindred and the Witch and The Witch Who Spoke to the Wind is in progress! I will post news about it on my Tumblr and my Patreon as news becomes available :)
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