apprentice

Story Series: Hedge Wizard

September, 2018

Part 1


(Photo by Clint McKoy on Unsplash)

Chapter 1, Part 2

Flight through the Forest

As we flew over the treetops, with the great starry dome overhead, I seemed to be flying upside down over an ocean filled with innumerable lights. The blue child led me deep into the forest, and at one point slowed down to allow me to catch up with him. Then he locked elbows and flew with me, and suddenly all was changed. The trees glowed with light of many colors, like lamps of blue, green, red and violet, each type of tree a different hue. Some trees throbbed with light, while others gave off a steady sheen. In places I saw what looked like columns of light erupting from the trees up into the sky and eventually disappearing in distance. Elsewhere, shafts of light descended suddenly from the sky and fused with particular trees. The blue child led me to a glade in the forest filled with oaks and poplars. We flew to one particular oak and passed inside it through a hollow ‘fairy door’. I was in the trunk of a massive, giant oak tree with the blue child.

Some noise in the forest woke me up at this moment. It was early morning, just around dawn. I went back to sleep and had no dreams I recalled.

At breakfast the Hægtessa seemed pleased and rested. She said she’d had the best sleep in years, for it’s tiring at times to fly with the blue child or other dryads in the forest. At least when you get up to my age,” she smiled. “But while you’re young it’s great fun, and you gradually become acquainted with the deeper forest.”

Dawn can go home tomorrow,” she continued as an afterthought. “Try again tonight with the Blue Child. See if you can get inside the Great Oak. Tell me what happened tomorrow at breakfast. If you find you like doing this, and don’t mind learning herb-lore from me, you can be hedge wizard when I am gone. But think it over; you have plenty of time to consider it.

But the times you go home,” she added, in turning, “don’t speak of your experiences here. Just say you are learning herb-lore from me. That will provide enough reason for them to ostracize you. No point in giving them more.”

* * * * *

On the following night once again I was flying with the Blue Child through the night forest. The blue child led me to a glade in the forest filled with oaks. We flew to one particular oak and passed inside it through a hollow ‘fairy door’. I was in the trunk of a massive, giant oak tree with the blue child. Blue light was all around us.

We rested inside a recess in the oak’s trunk. Not far from us was the figure of an old man sleeping. He seemed carved from wood, or else turning into wood. On his face was an expression of contentment and rest.

Who is that?” I asked the Blue Child. “My Dad,” he answered. “He is falling asleep into the tree. Dad, Dad,” he called softly. The old man’s eyelids fluttered, scattering small splinters. He looked with love at the Blue Child. “Dad, this is Bird-brow. He is taking his first flight.”

The old man’s voice came resonantly from his lips, which hardly moved. “Welcome, Bird-brow,” he said. “The gods bless you.”

And you, Sir,” I replied. “But what is happening to you?”

Oh, I am dying. It is time to return to the Tree, our Mother. My son will serve Her in my stead.”

In the garth, where I live,” I said, “to die is an occasion for sorrow.”

Not among us,” the old man said, smiling. “For we do not die entirely so long as the Tree lives. And She has lived here in the Forest a very long time.”

You can still go upstairs if you’d rather, Dad,” said the Blue Child.

No, Son. My place is here with our Mother, the Oak. But you should go upstairs to tell the Bright Ones I will stay here and subside into wood.”

The Blue Child turned to me. “Rest here awhile. I will return soon.”

The blue light grew around us and seemed to lift the Blue Child. He rose on a column of light and rushed out of the crown of the Tree, up into the sky. He was suddenly gone. I looked at the old man inquiringly.

You must pardon me,” he said, closing his eyes once again. “I am becoming very sleepy.”

I moved outside the trunk up into the lower branches of the Oak. Around me the elms were glowing green, the larches a paler shade of the same color. Here and there in the haunted forest columns of light shot up into the sky and disappeared; once in a while a column descended from the sky and passed into a tree from above, and the tree took on its color and glowed softly.

After some time had passed, a shaft of blue light descended from the sky and the Blue Child was back. “Now we must scout out the Hægtessa’s herbs,” he said. “the old beds have dried up.”

But where were you?” I asked him, as we resumed out flight.

In our star. Every tree in the forest has a star. Ours is there.” And he pointed almost directly up, to the top of the sky. “You must return with the Haegtessa in the morning and help her pick herbs.” Once again we entered the oak.

But where are the herbs?” I asked. “The trees will find them,” he said, and then called out softly “Dad…Dad.”

The old face appeared once more in the wood. “Yes, Son, what is it? I was drifting off.”

The Haegtessa needs more herbs, Dad. The old beds have dried up. We must find the closest bed of wild herbs for her.”

Right away,” said the face, and disappeared into the wood.

Where has he gone?” I asked the Blue Child. “Down into the roots,“he said. “The roots of the great oak extend far on every side and touch the roots of trees growing around us. They in turn touch the roots of their neighbors, and so on. The search for the wild herbs is even now traveling far afield, along the roots through the Deep Forest.”

Presently the old face of the Oak Father appeared once more in the wood. Little splinters flew from his eyelids and lips as he smiled and said “Tell the Hægtessa the way to the herbs has been charted. If she comes here to the Great Oak she can follow the trail with her staff” “Thank you, Oak Father,” I said, and promptly awoke in the crystal room.

At breakfast the Hægtessa was radiant. “You’ve done well, Bird-Brow,” she said. “The Blue Child and the Oak Father both like you. That is important.”

I told her what the Oak Father said. “I know,” she said, “I have done this before, many times. What he said was for your benefit. We must go together today, since you may be doing this next time.”

After breakfast she said farewell to my mother and little Dawn. “She has recovered. Keep her quiet and well-rested for a few days. Bird-Brow is going with me today on an expedition. He will return home tonight.”

The Hægtessa put on her voluminous white robe and took her carved oaken staff from her cabinet. “Take this sack with you, Bird-Brow,” she said. “We will bring back some herbs for replanting in my field.”

I had flown with the Blue Child to the Great Oak and knew vaguely how to get there in the body, but the Hægtessa knew the way very well, and in about half an hour we mounted the hill leading to the tree. It was a quiet, blue morning, punctuated with light birdsong.

The Hægtessa grounded her staff near the base of the oak. “Grasp my staff, Bird-Brow” she said. I grasped its head and felt a tingling coming up the staff from the ground. She knew I felt it, and took it back. “Now follow along. We have a journey to make.”

She walked to the next tree, a smaller, younger oak, and then beyond it to a birch, feeling the ground with her staff with every step. In this way we went down hill and up hill for about half an hour. Coming to a shallow stream, we forded it, the Hægtessa feeling the trail along the stream bottom with her staff, and picking up the trail again among the trees on the other side. The land sloped uphill from the other bank, until we reached a plateau at the edge of a cliff. Far below I could see the field of herbs. Passing to the left along the cliff, we came to a mild grassy slope downhill, and followed it down to the herb beds.

The field of herbs was the size of two yards placed side by side. Beyond them the forest continued on a shallow rise. “The herbs have come here from many places in the forest,” said the Hægtessa. “They are our partners. It is our job to protect them, to pick the weeds from among them and ring them about with guardian plants like marigolds. Some we will gather up and replant in my garden. These will be of use, like the feverfew I gave little Dawn, but once replanted, the herbs have less potency. Here, in this field, is where they retain their full magic.” She showed me how to tell weeds from herbs, and we replanted a few marigolds along the margins.

You must come here with the Blue Child, Bird-Brow,” she said, “perhaps once a week, to see if all is well. You must also come here at times in the body to dress and protect the field, and gather a few herbs for replanting. That is, if you want to.”

She looked at me carefully. “I am old, Bird-Brow,” she said. “I cannot make the journey here often. If you wish to be hedge wizard after me, you must start now to help with the fields.”

I will, gladly,” I said. “But what of my father and the boar hunt? I have never been asked to be on it before, because I was too young. He is counting on me to be with him.”

Some problems have no easy solution, Bird-Brow,” she said.

When I visited the herb field and pitched my tent, all was quiet. In the night I saw one herb light up within, and in it I could see the Hægtessa preparing herbs. She looked very old and tired, and suddenly I knew I would disappoint my father and remain here with her. When next I slept in the crystal room, the Blue Child flew in and said I had chosen wisely. She would not live much longer. In the morning I told her of my decision to remain with her and learn her herb-lore. She smiled and took me into her garden, pointing out the herbs which had been replanted. “These can be used in healing, Bird-Brow. But they must be boosted with wild herbs from the field.” Back in her house, she showed me how to prepare the herbs, cutting them and mixing them with the wild herbs. They seemed to quicken into new life when mixed with their wild counterparts.

At night, I flew with the Blue Child to the wild herb field, but instead of returning to the Hægtessa’s house we flew together over the wheat fields to the Hall. There was a lamp lit inside the Hall, watched over by the Hall-Sun, a young, vigorous woman with straw-colored hair. I was surprised to see my father there with her. “He won’t come, Hall-Sun.” he said sadly. I had hoped to show him hunting. The Hægtessa has bewitched him to her service.”

He can still come along to the boar-hunt,” the Hall-Sun said. “He can fly with the hunters and the Blue Child.” And she nodded to my companion.

That night the boar-hunters ran through a long tunnel in the Hedge, carrying torches. My father led them. The great wild boar had been reported in these parts, and each hunter was armed with bow, arrows and spear. I hovered over my father and the Blue Child and I flew on ahead to scout out the quarry and report its whereabouts to the hunters. Once or twice I saved my father from the boar by warning him of its murderous attack. I think he was aware of my protection and thanked me. He showed me how he stalked the boar and in this way I learned about hunting. The Hall-Sun watched me closely and I was taken by her fresh beauty. She seemed sprung from the earth, like harvest wheat. Her gaze seemed to reprove me for not being with my father on the hunt. But then I thought of the Hægtessa and her difficulties, and when I did, the Hall-Sun nodded approvingly.

End of part one

Story Series: Hedge Wizard

August, 2018

Part 1

(Photo by Tj Holowaychuk on Unsplash)

Chapter 1

1. A Visit to the Hægtessa

I remember when little Dawn had a fever and had trouble sleeping, I went with Mother across the harvested fields to visit the Hægtessa. The green wall of the Hedge, tiny in the distance, grew and threw open its arms as we approached. On all sides it stretched, shutting out the Forest, except where the river ran by, downhill on the right, where the fishing lodge straddled the bank. I knew that far to the left, the hunters’ tunnel passed under the hedge.

Beyond the Hedge I could see the tops of many trees, outliers of the Forest. The Forest went on and on, they said, forever. No one went very far into it except the hunters. The Hægtessa, whose name meant ‘hedge-rider,’ went a little way in at times to gather herbs.

As we approached her house, Mother cautioned me to remain quiet unless spoken to. The Hægtessa, it was said, lived a very quiet life and disliked noise.

Her house ran right through the Hedge to the other side, and thus had two fronts, each barely extending beyond the Hedge itself. Her magic accommodated the Hedge to her house, neatly fitting it without impinging on it in the least.

I had never been in her house. I had been up to the Hedge, and down to the fishing-lodge by the river, and seen the gabled front of her house from a distance, but never herself. But now she came out.

But when the Hægtessa emerged, she was a kindly-looking middle-aged woman, getting a little stout. She was dressed in a simple farm smock and apron.

I’ve been working in the garden” she said to me, answering my thought. The morning sun peeped over the roof of the forest, and I squinted. She looked at me curiously, then turned to my mother.

Hello, Mopsy,” she said, using my mother’s little girl name.”What can I do for you?”

It’s Dawn, here,” said Mother. “She is hot and can’t sleep. I think her head hurts.”

The Hægtessa took Dawn in her arms. “She needs feverfew and a few other herbs,” she said. “Step in.”

We went up three steps and were inside her house, which seemed carved rather than built. A wide room stretched on both sides. Ahead were more steps, leading past cabinets of herbs and instruments up through the middle of the house. There were no windows to right or left.

Her magic keeps the hedge from bothering the house,” I thought. “But why the hump in the middle?”

Once again she answered my thought. “The roots of the hedge pass under the middle of my house. Else there would be two hedges.”

*

The Hægtessa ascended the inner steps and took several herbs from the shelves. She took dried leaves of feverfew and mixed them with fresh leaves. Then she prepared two or three other herbs.

When she brought the tea down, I saw a circular stairway at the back of her herb-closet. Past it steps probably started down to the forest side of her house.

We have to wait and see how she takes the herbs,” she said. “Please make yourselves comfortable. I will brew another tea.”

We sat on her cushioned carved benches and waited, while Mother applied a cool rag to Dawn’s head from time to time.

The Haegtessa kept us company. She talked about her need for an apprentice, “I’m not as young now as I once was.” She was running out of some herbs and needed help locating new gardens in the forest.

Somewhat later she felt Dawn’s head and said she felt a little cooler, but she needed to stay there for a night or two until her head was back to normal. She fixed up a bed for Mother in the room with Dawn, then turned to me.

Perhaps you’d like to sleep in the loft?” she asked, pointing to the circular stairs. “Come and see.” I followed her up the stairs. At the top, the gabled room was on the right. On the left a door opened into a circular chamber, roofed with crystal. I had heard of the dream chamber, but thought it was just a story.

In the center of the room was a wide, comfortable looking bed. Some treetops could be seen at the rim of the dome, but otherwise it was all sky.

Do you think you’d like to sleep here?” she asked.

Oh, yes,” I said. “Yes, thanks.”

That is well, Bird-brow; I give you that name in place of your boyhood name Hops. For outside, when you squinted, I saw a bird’s head, perhaps a robin’s, in the wrinkles between your brows. So I know you will profit from a night spent up here.”

The first night the dream chamber was filled with a blue light, whitened a while by the moon. I lay entranced by the starry sky and don’t know when I dropped off. Just before I woke I seemed to see a bluish figure flying around the room. It was a boy, a little smaller than I am, but I awoke before I could see more or speak to him.

At breakfast the Hægtessa was jovial. Dawn was much improved, and Mother had finally gotten some much-needed sleep. We had milk and meat and some fruit I had never seen before, juicy with a red pith. “One more night and Dawn will be well,” she said. “Did you sleep well in the chamber, Bird-brow?”

Why do you call him that?” asked Mother. “His name is Hops.”

He is growing fast, and has grown much overnight. See, already he is nearly eight years in stature. And I name him Bird-brow.”

Mother said nothing, but shifted a little uneasily in her chair. We knew that a hedge-witch has the right to assign a name to someone, and that name is not without meaning.

During the morning the Hægtessa took me out over the stair-hill and through the forest side of her house to the herb garden just outside the forest-door. Just beyond it was the blasted heath where the advancing trees of the forest had been cut down and the grass and seeds underneath them burnt brown. We picked herbs that day and she showed me how to store them in jars and prepare tinctures and other medicines.

At sunset a hunter came by with a brace of conies. “Have you heard that the great boar hunt is being prepared?” he asked me. “Your father is organizing it. Will you be with him?” I said certainly. He skinned them and stayed to supper with us, then went off again into the forest.

That night I dropped off to sleep swiftly, and before long the light of a star shone brighter, and the blue child flew or slid down the trail of light, landing at the foot of my bed.

Come, Bird-brow,” the blue child said. “You are asleep, so you can fly,” and we both flew through the crystal and out into the night of the forest.

To Be Continued…