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"The king's manroot took a right turn."
"Wh-what? What root?" Blinking with confusion, Tykir Thorksson lifted
his head off the ale house table and gaped drunkenly at Bjold, the royal messenger.
"And he beseeches your service in correcting the...uh, problem."
"Me? Do my ears play me false?" With a brain that felt like a
mashed turnip itself, Tykir scratched the fine hairs on his forearm and wondered
irrelevantly how King Anlaf's emissary had even tracked him to Birka. And why, for the
love of Freyja, would he go to the botherment of the grueling trek from the far northern
reaches of Trondelag to this bustling market town on the island of Björkö in Lake
Mälar? To tell him about...vegetables? "Blód hel! I am inclined to take
offense. You see afore you a noted warrior and a trader in precious amber. Since when have
I become a farmsteader, with knowledge of roots?"
Bjold's jaw dropped at Tykir's ferocious overreaction. Immediately, he clicked it
shut and, with a snarl of impatience, tried again, "The king's cock has taken
a right turn."
"His rooster?" Tykir was becoming more and more confused. First,
vegetables. Now, poultry. Next, this lackwit would be asking him for help in drying lutefisk.
"Not that cock." Bjold sniffed huffily, clearly repelled by Tykir's
mead-sodden state. In truth, Tykir did not often drink to excess. Though he gave the
appearance of a carefree nature, he detested any lack of self-control. He had reason to
celebrate, of course, having just returned from a successful trip to the Baltic lands
where his workers had harvested a crop of prized amber for his trading ventures.
Still, this heavy cloud of depression had been hanging over him for days. No
doubt, it was just boredom. "A-Viking, A-fighting and A-wenching" had long been
his life-motto-- leastways on the surface--but somehow those pleasures were fading.
Having seen thirty-five winters, Tykir had garnered more wealth than he could use
in a lifetime. He'd lost count years ago of all the beautiful women he'd bedded, but now
he no longer felt a youthling's swift rush of enthusiasm at the sight of every comely
wench who came within snaring distance.
Then, there was the matter of fighting--a time-honored Viking pastime. From the
age of fourteen, he'd fought like a wild berserker in the battles of various kingdoms,
like his father afore him--May his soul be resting in Valhalla! But he found
himself questioning of late the motives of leaders who called for the rash spilling of
blood from their underlings.
Well, there was a-Viking. Tykir had seen adventure in all his trading and Viking
voyages. From the Rus lands to Iceland, from the Baltic Ocean to the English Channel,
Tykir had visited and revisited, explored and discovered, even conquered. Never did he
stay long in one place, though, by deliberate intent. 'Twas not good for a man in his
position to form roots.
What else was there to draw a man's jaded interest? What challenges that he had
not already mastered?
Tykir sighed deeply.
"By your leave, Jarl Thorksson, 'tis the king's other cock I refer
to." Bjold had been rambling on whilst Tykir's mind wandered. Suddenly, the
messenger's words sunk in, and Tykir's eyes went wide with understanding. Manroot.
Cock. He glanced down to the jointure of his thighs and winced in masculine empathy.
"The king's cock did what?"
"Made a right turn. Halfway down." The envoy thirstily quaffed down a
horn of ale, then wiped his mouth on his sleeve. He was clearly relieved that Tykir
finally understood his message. "Looks like a flag at half mast, it does."
"And he wants me to fix it?" Tykir gasped out with horror.
"Not you precisely."
Tykir leveled a glare at the impudent lad. "Who precisely?"
The tone in his icy voice must have caught the lackwit's attention. With eyes
darting nervously from side to side, Bjold answered, "The witch."
Odin's blood! 'Twas like pulling burrs from a wolf's tail, getting a straight
answer from the dolt. "Just any witch?"
"Nay. One in particular." The messenger shifted uncomfortably under
Tykir's close scrutiny.
Tykir rolled his eyes heavenward. "Well, that is clear as fjord fog on a
Bjold let out a long whoosh of exasperation -- If I were not so tired, I would
shake the brainless cur till his rotten teeth rattled for such discourtesy. -- and
disclosed, "The witch with `The Virgin's Veil'."
He might as well have said, "The witch with the wolf's tail," for all
that meant to Tykir.
Tykir made a low growling sound, and Bjold, with belated wisdom, hurried to
explain, "The witch's name is Alinor...Lady Alinor of Northumbria. 'Tis she who put
the curse on Anlaf's manparts. All because Anlaf and his hird of soldiers stopped by St.
Beatrice's Abbey in Britain one day last year. The abbey is home to a nunnery where Lady
Alinor was seeking sanctuary for a time from her bumbling brothers, the Lords Egbert and
Tykir wondered what would constitute "bumbling" in the mind of this
bumbling idiot. But he did not dare ask, lest he face another long-winded discourse.
Instead, he homed in on Bjold's other words. "Stopped by? Anlaf stopped by a
nunnery? For a bit of raping and pillaging, I wager."
"And if we were?" Bjold bristled, revealing his part in the marauding
band. "'Tis neither here nor there whether we were a-plundering or not. I daresay
you've done a fair share of plundering in your day, too. At issue here is the fact that
the witch waved a relic in the king's face...a blue headrail which she claimed once
adorned the Blessed Virgin Mary." He paused, then explained, as if Tykir were a
dimwit, "To Christians, the Virgin Mary is the mother of their One-God."
Tykir fisted his hands to prevent himself from throttling the fool. "I know
who the Virgin Mary is."
"Well, as I was saying...that's when Lady Alinor put her curse on Anlaf,
threatening, `Curse you, heathen! May your manparts fall off if you do this evil deed.'
Well, his manparts didn't fall off...leastways, not yet...but they took a turn to the
right." Bjold took a deep breath after that long explanation.
"And?" Tykir prodded. "What has that to do with me?"
"The king wants you to bring the witch back to Trondelag, with her magic
veil, to remove the bloody curse."
"Is that all?" Tykir remarked. But what he thought was, A Saxon.
Anlaf expects me to stop in the midst of my trading voyage, go all the way to Britain to
get the wench, who will no doubt be unwilling, take her back to Norway, by way of Hedeby
where I must needs drop off the last of my trading goods, then make my way home to
Dragonstead. And all this afore the winter ice sets in. Hah! Anlaf ever was an overbearing
lout, even when we were boys. But he goes too far this time. "Nay."
"Nay? Do you say your liege lord nay? Where is your Norse loyalty?"
Tykir stiffened with affront. "Hah! Anlaf is no more my liege lord than the
Wessex King Edred. You know well and good that Northmen pledge allegiance to a particular
leader, not a nation. My uncle, Haakon, is all-king of Norway and to him alone do I pay
homage. Further, 'twas Haakon--then fostering in King Athelstan's court in Britain and
having seen only fifteen winters--who went back to Norway on King Harald Fairhair's death
and returned to all bonders the odal-rights to their land. My title to Dragonstead stems
from Haakon and will remain free and clear in my family name for posterity."
Tykir felt a aching tug in the region of his heart at the mere thought of
Dragonstead. If he were being truthful with himself, he would have to admit that
Dragonstead mattered more to him than anything. And that was dangerous.
Bjold's face flamed with the heat of embarrassment, but still he blundered on,
"The king thought you might be reluctant."
"Oh, he did, did he?"
"He said to tell you that you could have `Fierce One' for a boon if you
wouldst do him this favor."
Tykir sat up straighter. "Anlaf would grant me his prized stallion...the one
gifted to him by that Saracen chieftain?"
"Yea." Bjold nodded emphatically. "The black devil with the white
markings on his hooves. That be the one."
"Hmmm," Tykir said, despite his misgivings. Still, he resisted.
"Nay. I have too much to do afore retreating to Dragonstead for the winter."
"In that case, King Analf directed me to offer the slave girl, Samirah, as
well. The one with the tiny silver bells on her ankles, and the two silver bells dangling
from the pierced rings in her..." He cupped two hands in front of his chest to
indicate Samirah's most noted endowments.
"Hmmm," Tykir said again, but not because of the slave girl, enticing as
he knew her to be. Truth be told, the horse held more appeal. In the end, though, he
repeated his earlier refusal. "Nay, I have no time."
Bjold wrung his hands nervously. "I had not wanted to tell you this, but
before I do...well, uh, tell me one thing. You are not the type of man who is wont to kill
the messenger with bad tidings, are you?"
Tykir drew himself up alertly. "Speak, wretch, or I will slice your tongue
from your mouth and send it to Anlaf on a bread trencher."
Bjold's face went even brighter. "'Tis Adam the Healer," he squeaked
out. "Anlaf holds him as friendly hostage till you deliver the witch."
"What?" he roared. "How did Adam end up in Trondelag? I thought he
was in the Arab lands. And what in bloody hell is a `friendly hostage'?" Adam was a
young man of no more than twenty years who had been studying medicine these past five
years or so in the Arab lands, where the most noted healers practiced their arts. He was
the adopted son of Tykir's halfsister, Rain, and her husband Selik, who resided in Jorvik.
Adam was like family to him...a "nephew" by adoption.
"Friendly hostage means Adam will come to no harm. He just cannot leave
Tykir made a low rumbling growl of outrage in his throat.
Bjold shriveled under his obvious wrath and concluded in a rush, "It all
comes back to the witch and your mission to capture her."
Standing abruptly, Tykir leaned across the table and grabbed Bjold by the front of
his surcoat, lifting him off his bench and half-leaning over the table toward him,
knocking horns of ale hither and yon. The boy looked as if he might soil his braies, so
afeared was he. "Start from the beginning," Tykir said icily, "and leave
He settled back for what he hoped was not an overlong tale. Especially since his
head was pounding like Thor's mighty hammer, Mjolnir. Especially since he was in
dire need of a bath house to rid himself of the fleas that infested his skin and clothing
after a long sea voyage. Especially since his good friend Rurik raised his equally
mead-sodden head from the table next to him and grinned, silently mouthing the words,
Rurik had good reason to relish the prospect of a witchhunt. Being godly handsome
(second only to Tykir, in Tykir's not so humble opinion), Rurik wore his long black hair,
as well as his beard, in intricate braids. His mustache was a daily-clipped work of art.
But Rurik's overblown vanity had been dealt a blow two years past...by a witch, no
less...a Scottish witch, who'd dyed a zagged line down the middle of Rurik's face, whilst
he slept, from hairline to chin, with the blue woad of the Scottish warriors. Thus far,
Rurik had been unable to wash the color from his skin, or find the wily witch.
Yea, Rurik would be encouraging him to undertake Anlaf's witchly mission.
Then things got worse.
Bjold had stepped outside for a moment to relieve himself, but he returned now.
Before he could begin to talk, though, Bolthor the Giant, Tykir's own personal skald--May
Odin have mercy!--slid onto the bench next to him. Tykir could not suppress the groan
which escaped from his lips. He needed a skald almost as much as he needed a witch,
especially a skald as tall as a small tree. But what was a man to do when a fellow warrior
saved his life in battle? When said life-friend lost an eye at the Battle of Ripon five
years past, Tykir had felt compelled to offer work to the despondent knight. Thus far,
Bolthor had tried, and failed, as cook, blacksmith and armorer on Tykir's northern
homestead. Finally, Tykir's household had revolted at the unpalatable food, burned-down
smithy and broken swords.
Tykir gave Bolthor a passing sideways glance, then looked again. Uh-oh! Too late
he realized that Bolthor had that certain dreamy expression on his face which foreboded
the verse-mood coming upon him. Too late to escape now.
"Hear one and all, this is the saga of Tykir the Great," Bolthor began.
It was the manner in which all of Bolthor's sagas began. They didn't get any
better than that opening line, unfortunately. Rurik's lips curved upward with mirth. With
a hand over his mouth, he murmured to Tykir under his breath, "Hver fugl synger
med sitt nebb."
"Humph!" Tykir said in reply. "Every bird may very well sing with
its own voice, but Bolthor's birdsong is the most unmelodious I have ever heard."
Unaware of their opinions, Bolthor adjusted the black patch over his one eyeless
socket and took a stylus into his huge hand. Squinting through his good eye, he began to
painstakingly press runic symbols onto the wax tablet he had set on the table in front of
him. 'Twas not the norm for skalds to write down the sagas, but Bolthor's head was thick,
and he often forgot the words to the tales he had composed.
"Methinks a good title for this one would be `Tykir and the Crooked Cock.'
Let me see, how shall I start? Hmmm."
"In the land of the Saxons,
An evil witch did fly.
To Anlaf's proud duckling,
She set her evil eye.
Now, alas and alack,
His furry pet can no longer
Nor with his mate
Bolthor paused. "How does that sound thus far?" he asked hopefully.
"Magnificent," Tykir said, patting Bolthor on the shoulder. Horrible.
Tykir barely stifled a grimace of distaste. I hope my brother Eirik never hears of this
one. He will fall over laughing, almost as much as he did over the "Tykir and the
Reluctant Maiden" saga Bolthor concocted last winter. Somehow, Bolthor's overlong
tales almost always end with me looking the fool. And best that Anlaf does not hear of
Bolthor enhancing his wordfame by referring to his manpart as a duckling or there will be
sword-dew spilled aplenty.
Tykir scratched his unshaven face and wondered idly if he smelled as bad as his
companions. Vikings were renowned for their fastidious nature, unlike those piggish Saxon
and Frankish men, who bathed but once a season. Lifting one arm, he sniffed under his
"How do you spell duckling," Bolthor whispered in an aside.
"C-O-C-K," Tykir responded dryly. Let Bolthor figure how to translate
the word into the futhark alphabet. That should take a goodly amount of time.
He turned to Bjold. "Proceed," he directed him with a wave of his hand.
"I doubt me I will like your report from King Anlaf, but spare me not even the
When Bjold finished, at last, a good hour later, a sudden realization came to
Tykir...one which drew a wide smile to his face, overshadowing the anger which lingered
beneath the surface over Anlaf's treatment of Adam. I am no longer bored.
He looked at Rurik, then Bolthor, before announcing, "It would seem we are
six sennights later
"The Vikings are coming. The Vikings are coming."
"Baaa. Baaa. Baaa. Baaa."
"Bleat. Bleat. Bleat. Bleat."
"Ruff, ruff, ruff, ruff!"
"The Vikings are coming. The Vikings are coming."
Whether it be her crying sheep, or her barking sheep dog, or her shrieking,
sheeplike maid, Elswyth, with her frizzy gray hair who was approaching with the dire
warning of yet another Northman sighting, Lady Alinor had more than enough problems for
one day. A most unladylike phrase escaped her lips--something to do with an unmentionable
exercise the Vikings, the sheep and the dog could do to themselves, or to each other, for
all she cared. 'Twas an expression she'd heard her hesirs use on more than one occasion
when they were ready to explode with ill-temper. And Alinor's temper was very ill, and
explosive, at the moment.
Hanging onto a tree root by one hand, Alinor was dangling into a shallow gully
infested with briars, trying to extricate one of her ewes, Bathsheba, from the sharp
thorns with the crook of her long staff. Her mangy sheep dog, inappropriately named
Beauty, was yipping off in the distance as it attempted to steer a small flock of straying
sheep back to the stone-fenced pastures of the lower dales.
Continuing to bleat his yearnings, non-stop, off to the side was David, a lusty,
overanxious ram of a curly-horned breed almost non-existent outside Córdoba--a bride gift
from her last marriage. Ironically, Sheba was in heat, and she yearned mightily for the
mating which would produce new lambs for Alinor's thriving flock come spring, but still
the dumb female had felt the need to play games of catch-me-if-you-will with the
curly-horned David. That's when the coy Sheba had landed herself in the briar patch.
Not all that different from human males and females in the mating rituals, she
"The Vikings are coming. The Vikings are coming."
"Baaa. Baaa. Baaa. Baaa."
"Bleat. Bleat. Bleat. Bleat."
"Ruff, ruff, ruff, ruff!"
Alinor paused in the act of cutting away the branches caught in Sheba's matted
fur, glanced over her shoulder, and groaned at sight of her kitchen maid rushing toward
her over the heather- blanketed flatlands, headrail flapping in the wind and brown
homespun kirtle hiked practically to her knobby knees. Elswyth always thought the
Vikings were coming, no matter if it were mere wayfarers approaching Graycote Manor from
the old Roman road, or stray cows from the pastures of Castle Bellard, three miles to the
In truth, fighting men from the North had been coming into Britain in droves this
past year as news spread of Eric Bloodaxe's campaign to expel King Olaf Sigtryggsson and
regain the crown of Northumbria. Recently he had achieved that goal, thanks to the efforts
of Archbishop Wulfstan and members of the Norse nobility residing in northern Britain.
Elswyth's fears had started a year past when she had accompanied Alinor to the
nunnery at St. Beatrice's Abbey. Whilst there, they'd had the misfortune to witness a
thwarted Viking attack on the good nuns. Alinor had been hiding out at the convent from
her twin brothers Egbert and Hebert, who had come up with yet another marriage prospect
for her...Ecgfrith of upper Mercia, a doddering old Lord with one foot in the grave.
Actually, Ecgfrith had passed away before Egbert and Hebert even found Alinor at the
nunnery. What a birching she'd received for her willfulness! Three times Alinor had wed
and been widowed since her fifteenth birthday, and her only having seen twenty-five
winters, all to serve the greedy needs of her brothers.
And it would seem her problems were unending for just yestermorn she'd received a
missive from her wool agent in Jorvik, informing her that Egbert and Hebert had been
boasting in the market town of a new marriage contract that carried the seal of their
third cousin, King Edred...a contract for matrimony between their sister, Lady Alinor of
Graycote Manor, and Lord Cedric of Wessex. The sickly king had been plagued by troubles
since his reign began six years past. If the Vikings weren't stirring unrest in the north,
his own noblemen were constantly nagging at him for favors...not least of all her own
It mattered not to her brothers that the short, corpulent Cedric was as wide as he
was tall. He weighed as much as a horse and was old enough to be her great-grandsire. The
important thing to Egbert and Hebert would be the estates Cedric owned which would cede to
a wife, and therefore to them as guardians, upon his death.
Well, Alinor could not refuse the king's command, but if she never actually
received the royal command of her weak-sapped sovereign, how could she be deemed lacking
in proper loyalty? Therefore, she intended to be long gone, into a new temporary hiding
place, before Egbert and Hebert's arrival which she estimated to be two days hence, giving
Alinor temporary respite from her brothers' machinations.
"Come, Elswyth," she entreated, now that the maid drew near. "Help
me free Sheba."
"But...but...," Elswyth protested breathlessly, "the Vikings are
"And if they are? What is it to us? We have no riches for them to
pillage--apparent ones, leastways." Alinor had willingly given up all the estates
deeded to her by three dead husbands, except for this one measly manor in the far north of
Britain, precisely so that she would garner no attention from her only remaining family.
The fact that she prospered with her thriving wool trade went unnoticed by her brothers
since she plowed all the profits back into the sheep folds and hidden chests of gold. Her
greatest dream was that one day she would just be left alone.
"But they could ravish us," Elswyth cried in a horrified whisper.
Alinor had to laugh at that. They would have to be sorry Vikings indeed to feel
the inclination to toss the aging Elswyth's robes over her head. And Alinor had known well
and good from an early age that she was not comely to men. With hair of a most garish
shade of red and with freckles covering her entire body, which was too tall and too thin
by half, Alinor held no appeal for the average man...and Vikings, renowned for their good
looks, were reputed to be most particular.
"Elswyth," she said in a kindly tone, "we are in more danger of
being raped by David, than any Viking, if we do not soon extricate his lady-love from
Grumbling, Elswyth reached forward to assist Alinor, but under her breath she
mumbled that famous Anglo-Saxon refrain, "Oh, Lord, from the fury of the Northmen
please protect us."
Tykir was furious.
It had taken him two sennights to complete his trading ventures in Birka, along
with some ship repairs, before sailing for British soil. Now, for the past four
sennights--twenty-eight wasted, bloody days--he and Rurik and Bolthor had been riding from
one end of the British isle to the other, searching for the elusive witch. Vikings were
meant to sail the seas, not travel long, bumpy distances on land, atop horses, till their
arses were bruised and their moods riled.
And it was all the fault of the Lady Alinor. Rather, the Lady Witch, he corrected
himself. An interesting lady, as it turned out. The thrice-widowed sorceress -- And
didn't that happenstance of three, conveniently dead spouses provoke a thinking man's
suspicion? -- owned a dozen wealthy estates across this hellish land, all managed by
her brothers, the bumbling twins Bjold had referred to. But she chose to live in a poor
holding in this bleak, far northern holding in Northumbria, almost up to the Scottish
borders...no doubt to practice her pagan rites in privacy.
Well, the quest was almost over. When they'd stopped at Graycote Manor a short
time ago, her castellan informed Tykir that the Lady Alinor was up in the fells tending to
her sheep. Tending? Was she engaged in some black rite involving animal sacrifice or
The odd thing was the timber and stone keep, with its crumbling ramparts and
stockades, was kept neat, but sorely out of date. At the same time, vast fields of cut hay
lay drying for winter feed. A dozen cows lowed in a nearby byre waiting to be milked.
Piles of harvested turnips, carrots, cabbages and other food items rolled by in heavy
carts. It was an ill-kept estate, overflowing with provender. How peculiar!
Well, be that as it may. He cared not if the witch was rich or poor. Soon, his
journey would be over, and the Lady Alinor would pay good and well for all the trouble she
had put him to. "We must be careful, Tykir," Rurik warned him.
The three of them rode horses side by side up one fell and down the other,
following the castellan's directions. Lady Alinor's dimwitted castellan--leader of a
scraggly band of hesirs--had not even thought to question his mistress's safety in sending
three Viking warriors after her.
"I am loathe to ask you...but why?"
"We know not if this witch is a `Solitary' or in a coven."
Tykir nodded, though he had no particular knowledge of witchcraft, solitary or
otherwise. He would have to bow to Rurik's greater wisdom in that regard.
"No doubt the witch will take on a most beauteous countenance to draw us
under her spell."
"Do you think so?"
"Yea, that is what happened to me, I warrant. Why else would I have let my
guard down in a strange country in the presence of a known witch?"
Tykir laughed. "Because the Scottish wench opened her lissome legs for you,
that's why. Because the man-lust is always upon you. Because you think with the rock
betwixt your legs, instead of the rock betwixt your ears."
Rurik lifted his chin with affront, calling attention to the blue dyed line down
the middle of his face--a testament to his foolish entanglement with a witch.
"Since we are so close to Scotland, why do you not go in search of the witch?
Mayhap you can rid yourself of her mark once and for all."
"All of last year I spent searching for the wench, to no avail. I refuse to
spend the winter months in the highlands freezing my arse in search of her now. Next
summer, I will find her, or be damned."
"I for one wouldst like to know if the old tales are true about witches
having a tail which they hide beneath their robes," Bolthor interjected. "'Tis
said that the only way they can lose the long appendage is by marrying a mortal man."
"See," Rurik argued to Tykir. "I was right about witches taking on
a tempting form. It makes sense that they would need to do so if they want to snare a man
and thus lose their tails."
"You two would believe anything," Tykir hooted. "All I know is that
I want to be the one to light the fire under this particular witch...once King Anlaf is
finished with her, that is. Then, if I never see English soil, or an English wench, again,
it will be too soon for me."
"There she is, there she is," Rurik said excitedly.
A long, telling silence followed, in which they all noticed the same thing.
Finally, Tykir snorted with disgust, and said aloud what they were all thinking, "So
much for the theory of beautiful witches!"
"Methinks this calls for a saga." Bolthor was already pulling his wax
tablet from a saddlebag, muttering something about, "Tykir and the Flame-Haired
Witch." Then he launched into his usual introduction, "Hear one and all, this is
the saga of Tykir the Great."
"How would you like a stylus up your arse?" Tykir responded.
Bolthor just ignored him and began spouting his verse.
"Flames there were
But not of fire.
Wild spume of
The witch's head
To catch the wary warrior,
Though he be grandson of
The great King Harald Fairhair."
"I saw a fruit that color once whilst a-Viking in the southern climes. 'Twas
called an orange, I think." Rurik spoke with awe on viewing the wench's odd-colored
Tykir had seen red hair before, they all had, of course. Even the great Odin had
red hair. But never had Tykir witnessed hair quite like this. Rurik was wrong about its
orange color, though; it was more like bright rust on a metal shield.
"Oh, for the love of Freyja! Is that the devil's spittle that adorns her,
too?" Bolthor shivered with distaste. "Hair like the fires of hell and the mark
of Lucifer on her skin...of a certainty, she is a witch."
He was right. The woman was covered with freckles, every part of her
exposed skin, and no doubt every other place beneath her drab robes. Her headrail and
wimple, which would normally cover the hair of a lady of her high birth, hung
ignominiously from a briar thatch just beyond where the Lady Alinor was chasing a ram
which was chasing a baa-ing sheep.
"Dost see her familiars anywhere about?" Bolthor asked in a hushed
voice. "Ofttimes witches use cats as their familiars."
They all scanned the horizon. Not a cat in sight.
"Perchance," Rurik said hesitantly, "her familiars are sheep."
"Sheep?" he and Bolthor said as one.
All of their jaws dropped open with amazement at this incredible turn of events.
But then Tykir came to his senses. "I have ne'er heard of anything so
ridiculous in all my life."
"Me neither," Rurik and Bolthor agreed.
But they all looked at each other, unsure. If indeed she did use sheep as
familiars, she must be a powerful witch. There were dozens of sheep in the area.
"And look," Bolthor added. "She carries a staff. Everyone knows
that a witch carries a magic staff. And a bell and crystal, of course."
A tinkling sound came from the neck of the female sheep being swived by the lusty
ram. The fine hairs stood out all over Tykir's body at that affirmation of at least one of
the witch's tools.
They all narrowed their eyes to see if she might be wearing, or carrying, a
crystal. They saw nothing but her simple, rumpled gown. No doubt, she kept it hidden.
"Do you think she dances naked in the forest?" Rurik wondered.
"'Tis a common witch practice."
"Did your witch?" Tykir asked with a grin.
"Yea, she did," Rurik told him, grinning back. "'Twas almost worth
receiving her cursed mark to see that exhibition."
"I'm not sure there would be so much pleasure in seeing this witch
naked," Tykir said. They all concurred.
While they were making these observations, Rurik's dog was barking wildly, the
sheep were bleating, and the nervous horses were neighing. In the midst of this chaos, a
mangy sheep dog galloped over the fells toward them, a flock of bleating sheep following
behind. Apparently, the sheep dog had noticed Rurik's wolfhound, Beast, which stood near
his horse's right front leg, trying to appear aloof, but pissing trickles of excitement.
The jaws of Tykir and his comrades nigh dropped to the ground with this ungodly spectacle.
Just then, the ram finished his rutting, and his sheeply mate escaped. But
apparently the randy ram had other ideas. He chased after her, then stopped dead in his
tracks, did an about- face, and began chasing Lady Alinor who had been shouting at the two
of them to desist, at once. When the ram bumped Lady Alinor's rump with his curly horns,
she fell to the ground, rump in the air.
And all three men stared, transfixed, at one particular spot.
Did she or didn't she?
Have a tail?