fable

A Gathering of Sorcerers

September, 2017

The tale-finder had traced the story as far as a small tavern in a remote village. Quaffing his ale, he greeted the other guests and, after a customary exchange of pleasantries, asked if anyone present had heard the story Hob told of a midnight gathering of sorcerers. There was some chuckling, and then a giant of a man sitting in the corner replied that he knew the tale, or knew of it.

It isn’t much of a story,” he began. “This farmhand Hob, in some stead over the river, was about to head home for the evening when the Mistress of the farm stopped by and asked him if he would wait on some guests who were due to arrive later that night. She said he could enjoy a full supper after they had eaten, and all he had to do was pour water and ale for them, then serve them food when they called for it. For the rest, he was to stay out of the way and not pry, but remain within earshot. He would get extra wages for it. She said that usually she tended them when they came, but she had to go see to a sick sister over the ridge.

Hob agreed, and along about ten or eleven in the evening they arrived heavily cloaked on horseback. He took their steeds to the barn while they settled themselves comfortably in the straw-strewn main room of the farmhouse. There were about a dozen present, plus one who sat a little apart. He was taller and thinner than the others, and evidently in charge of the meeting.

Hob brought them well-water and ale, and then retired to an adjoining room, shutting the door between. Being an inquisitive sort of fellow, though, and telling himself he had to listen for their meal-call, he left the door ajar by a little crack and sat close by.

The room was quiet for a time, then the leader spoke softly. Hob could just see him through the crack.

“ ‘Gentlemen, are you all comfortable?’ There were several grunts of assent. ‘Have you all found your places? Have you removed your heads?’

When he heard that, Hob felt a chill. He wanted very much to widen the door-crack to see if their heads were off, but did not dare.

The leader said ‘Very well, now my head is off.’ A great fear fell on Hob as he saw the leader sitting in his place with his head in his hands. His neck was not bloodied, and his voice seemed to be coming from the hole in his shoulders. He couldn’t see the other sorcerers but assumed they looked the same.

At one point, everyone stood up and began pacing in a circle round the room. Their heads, apparently, were set aside somewhere safe where they would not be kicked or tripped over accidentally. As the pacing continued, the headless sorcerers seemed to rise slightly until they were circling together two or three inches off the ground. Peering through the crack, Hob saw them pass by one at a time, each without a head on his shoulders! At the same time, an enormous buzzing noise started filling the room, and energy throbbed so strongly that it pushed Hob’s door fully closed, without, however making a sound. Hob was deathly afraid the headless sorcerers would discover him spying on them, and take off his head, but they took no notice and, from the sound, apparently continued circling a while longer. Finally they stopped, and it would seem that each resumed his seat, since it grew quiet once again. The throbbing had ceased.

Hob was afraid they would call for food with their heads off, but presently the leader said ‘Gentlemen, you may now replace your heads and lose your places.’ They then called for him to bring in the food. As soon as he had done so, he withdrew and, not waiting to gather the dishes later, much less eat the leavings of such uncanny creatures, quietly left the farmhouse and tore off across the fields as though the night-hag were after him!”

All the guests roared with laughter, a little nervously, and complimented the giant on his narration. The tale-finder thanked him and bought everyone a round, but secretly he felt disappointed, since he had had the tale in this form before. He thought perhaps he hadn’t gotten any closer to its place of origin.

After a while, he asked the giant where he had heard the story. The narrator answered, somewhat shortly, that it was in general circulation.

Is this Hob still about?” he asked the room. Someone remarked that he had died in his grandfather’s time, but it was known that he never returned to that farm, not even to collect his wages. He decided the Mistress must be a hægtessa 1 to play hostess to such beings, and he shortly left the district. But before he left, he told his story to a bard, a loremaster in the hills this side of the river, who passed it on to his successor, and in this way it got around.

The tale-finder asked where he might find this bard or his current successor, and after some grumbling, especially from the giant, someone gave him directions. He explained then diplomatically that his work involved hunting down the oldest form of such tales. He doubted he would ever hear the story told better than it was told tonight, he added. With that, the giant grinned and everyone relaxed. They drank another round of ale, and then the tale-finder rose and bidding them all good evening, went to his bed in the loft above the tavern.

In the morning he rose early, paid the innkeeper, saddled his horse and rode into the hills. He had no trouble finding the cot of the bard, and by lunchtime was seated across a rude table from him. This was not indeed the man Hob had told, but his second successor. The tale-finder repeated the story as the giant had told it and waited for the bard to make comments.

He said nothing for a while, but smiled and snorted a bit. “Yes,” he said at last, “that is the popular version, but it is not what Hob told old White Hawk. He said that after the leader of the group had told everyone to take his head off, and had said that now his head was off, Hob was surprised to see his head was still there, securely on his shoulders. But you should have surmised this,” he added, raising an eyebrow, “else why would he have bothered to tell the others his head was off? Or why would he have asked them if they had removed their own heads, since with his on he could obviously have seen if they were headless?”

He took a bite of bread, shrugged, and added “But of course, really headless sorcerers make a better tale.”

And the circling?” asked the tale-finder, “the rising into the air?”

The bard smiled wryly. “That is a subtler matter. It is possible they became lighter, and perhaps they even floated a bit in their pacing. I don’t think Hob exaggerated that very much.”

And what of the strange buzzing that filled the room?”

That you would have to experience for yourself,” he said. “But I don’t think it was heard with the ears. It was, perhaps, more like a pressure.” He nodded and rose. Lunch and the interview were over.

The tale-finder thanked him for his information and hospitality. He felt more confused than ever, though. As he turned to say good-bye at the door, the bard thought of something else. He brought a bucket of well-water and held it up to the tale-finder’s chest. “It is customary in these parts,” he said, “for us to share a drink of water before parting. But before I dip the ladle, look into the bucket. Tell me what you see.”

The tale-finder looked and saw his weather-worn face looking up at him. “My face, my head,” he said. The bard pulled the bucket away. “And now,” he said, smiling, “where is your head?” The tale-finder felt his forehead and cheeks and said, “Well, here it is, only I can’t see it.”

Exactly,” the bard answered. But do you usually notice that you can’t see it? If you don’t, you reside in your thoughts. You have lost your place in the room. Do you understand?”

The tale-finder’s mouth fell open. “So that’s it?”

That’s it.” They shared a farewell drink of water, and the tale-finder went on his way.

1 A hedge-rider, i.e., a witch.

Red Riding Hood

December, 2008

Once upon a time, I was hunting sheep.  It was a dark and stormy night!  Okay, actually it was a very nice sunny summer day.  It is just that bad things aren’t supposed to happen on very nice sunny summer days.  That is the way it should be anyway.  On the particular pleasant day of which I’m speaking I was having myself a sheep lunch.  It was so yummy!  Even after all it cost me I still remember that succulent meat with fondness.  Well fed and well cared for animals taste much better than those who are not.

For the past week or so before I had the heavenly lunch that turned my life up-side-down, I’d only been able to find underfed rabbits to fill my belly.  One of the main laws of hunting is that the prey must be as well fed as the predator if the meal is to be healthy and satisfying.  By the time I came upon the small flock of sheep I was more than ready for some decent food. They were grazing on a little hill with no one watching them.  The kill promised to be so easy.  There were no sheep dogs to bark and alert anyone that there was danger.  There were no young men with hooked sticks to attempt to drive me away from my feast.  Of course when I approached, the flock scattered like the frightened sheep they were.  My heart raced with excitement, for these sheep were also deliciously fat.  My eagerly open mouth dripped with hunger driven drewel as I leapt upon the nearest one.  My jaws eagerly snapped at the struggling creature’s throat to still its thrashing so that my dining could commence.

The poor thing died fast enough, kindly allowing me to have my meal in peace.  Did I say yet how good it was?  Oh it was so good…So very bloody yummy!  I ate and ate, stuffing myself until I could hardly move.  When I at last turned away from my kill, there was nothing left of it but a pile of hide and bones.  Running my tongue over my blood reddened chops, I gave a belch of the purest satisfaction.  So heavy and fully sated was I with my kill that I’d have taken a nap then and there if I didn’t fear remaining too long in the territory of men. Not until I rose to depart did I see the old witch.  She was almost on top of me!  I didn’t understand how I’d missed seeing her before.  Perhaps I’d been too engrossed in my kill, but I should’ve at least smelled her scent on the wind or heard her footsteps nearing my feeding ground.

Before I could even think of fleeing, she’d knelt down and placed her hand right on my head!  I opened my mouth to snarl, but no sound came out.  I tried turning to take a chunk out of her thin shriveled arm, but I was unable to move!  It was then that I realized that she was a witch.  She must have used her magic to mask her scent and the sound of her approach.  So she was not only a witch.  She was a very strong witch.  I tried once more to sink my teeth into her arm, but nothing had changed.  I still could not move.  It was almost as if I was frozen in place.  I could open and shut my mouth, but not turn my head.  I could move my eyes, but not very far for it was hard to look away from her ugly ancient face.  Like all old witches, she had a long pointed wart covered nose along with an equally long and sagging chin to match.  Her matted hair scraggled about her shoulders, and seemed to twitch in the wind with a life of its own.  To my mind, she was the ugliest witch there was.

As I was held immobile, she stared coldly into my yellow eyes with her nearsighted green ones.

“I have laid a spell on you so that you are able to understand my words, wolf.”

Her voice was raspy and put me in mind of a frog.

“I wish for you to fully comprehend the curse I’m about to place upon you, after all.”

It had worked!  I could understand her!  That was scary!   If I’d not been bound by her magic, I’d have jumped into the air from the startlement of the experience. I’d never understood the words of humans before.  The few times that I’d come close enough to hear them at all, I’d only gleaned meaning from the tones in which they spoke.  Now I was understanding the old witch as clearly as I’d understand a fellow wolf.  I didn’t like it.  It just felt wrong.  There was no time to think on that for long, though, for she spoke on.

“You have dared to fill your greedy belly on the flock of a witch, foolish wolf!  For that your hunger will only be fully satisfied when you feast upon human flesh.  If you do not, no other meat shall satisfy you.  And to make matters worse, if you do not kill a human at least once a month, you shall starve to death in a matter of hours.  Your body will not recognize anything you put into it as being food unless you have dined on human flesh monthly.”

My eyes widened in horror.  That was dangerous!  A wolf would only do such a thing in times of dire starvation if at all.  Men had tricky ways of killing wolves that another beast would not.

The old hag had not missed my change of expression.  It made her cackle with delight.

“I enjoy killing humans, you see.  Each human death that I cause adds to my power.  As you have offended me, I find it only fitting for you to be an instrument of my will in this matter.  It is the least you owe me, do you not think?”

Was she insane?  It had only been one lousy sheep!  I tried to whine my displeasure, but to my horror words came from my mouth instead.

“I don’t want to!”

Somehow the words still came out in the tone of a plaintive whine which did gratify me somewhat.

She laughed.  The sound was harsh yet high at the same time.  It grated on my sensitive ears causing them to twitch.

“That is just too bad, for you’ve no choice!”

As she spoke those words, she gave me a hard smack on the head.  Oh how I wanted to tear her arm off then and there!  As I still could not move, that wasn’t happening, though.  While she spoke on, I could only listen.

“Don’t you want to hear the rest of the curse,” she asked sweetly.

Her voice was so awful that the new sugary tone only made it sound even more scary.  I had no idea what to answer to that question, so luckily, she left me no time to do so.

“You shall only be able to hunt humans who are alone.  There can be no other human near by.  That will likely keep you safe from being killed so long as you’re not stupid enough to attempt to take down a hunter.  You do know what a hunter is do you not?”

She tilted her head to the side to peer demandingly down into my face.

I didn’t answer which only won me another hard smack to the head.  It was then that I decided that answering her right away was the best course of action.  It wasn’t as if I’d ever be able to kill her after all.

“Yes,” I growled out angrily.

“Hunters carry things with them that they use to kill animals.”

“That is right,” she crooned.

Her sweet tone was really making me sick.  I would not throw up the sheep I’d so recently dined upon, however.  I’d paid for that sheep after all.   My belly was going to keep it.

“Is that all,” I demanded.

“I do think so,” she said thoughtfully.

“Unless you want some more, that is.”

Her mad shriek of laughter made me shiver from head to toe.  I most certainly did not want anymore cursing.

“No,” I told her quickly.

“I think I’ve got all I can stand, thanks.”

Then as another thought struck me, I dared to speak again.

“Why have you given me the power to speak the tongue of humans?”

“You are able to speak because I’ve linked you to myself magically,” she told me smugly.

“I normally would not consider making a lowly wolf my pet, but as you’ve gone and offended me, the honor is yours.”

After another rough smack on my head, she stood abruptly.
”You are free to go now.  After each kill, you shall be magically compelled to return here so that I may accept the power you’ve gained for me.”

accept?  I was astonished at her choice of words.  It wasn’t like I was giving her a gift because I wanted her to have it!  If she’d been a normal witch rather than the most evil one in the entire world, I may have been able to make amends for eating her sheep.  From what little I knew in listening to the forest gossip of other animals, most witches had cats.  Cats tended to bring their human masters gifts of dead rats or mice.  If I’d eaten one of the sheep of an ordinary witch, I could’ve perhaps apologized by bringing her a whole bunch of dead rodents.  That would never work with my witch, though.  She’d likely never had a cat in her life.  If she had, she’d probably killed it.

As these thoughts were flitting through my mind, the evil hag was walking away.  I found then that I could move once more.  Springing to my feet, I dashed away faster than I’d ever run before.  I didn’t stop until I was quite far away.  My sides were heaving with the effort of my exertions, and my full belly hurt.  Flopping down on a bed of thick moss under a tall oak, I set to work at once feeling quite sorry for myself.  What had I ever done to deserve this, I wondered dismally.  So I’d eaten a sheep.  So what.  A wolf had to eat, didn’t he?  Somehow and in spite of my worry and fear, I managed to fall asleep.  My belly was stuffed, after all.  Not to mention I’d just run a long way quite fast.

When I woke, the sun had set and evening had fallen over the forest.  For a moment, I just lay there on the moss wondering why I felt so very depressed and dejected.  Then it all came back to me.  Looking up through the canopy of branches overhead, my eyes sought the moon.  It had not risen yet, but I let out a mournful howl anyway.  That one felt so good that I did it again and again.  I cried out my pain to the sky until my throat was raw.  That witch had me trapped quite soundly, and I knew it.

When I finally dragged myself from the bed of moss, it was to wander about the forest in search of other animals.  Anyone who knew a bit about witches or magic would do.  I was not generally the social type except with other wolves, but that night I even spoke to field mice!  None of them knew much of witches or magic, though.  Nor did the badgers, snakes, or owls.  The lack of knowledge from the owls surprised me the most, for weren’t they supposed to be wise?

I even tried to question a rabbit, but it ran away before I was able to form a proper greeting.  Sure I usually ate rabbits, but this time I’d only wanted to talk.  Rather than lose the rest of the dignity I had left, I let it escape.  I found a fruit bat to chat with instead.  I need not have bothered, for the silly thing knew nothing.

I was about to give up when a voice from behind me, along with a crackling of the underbrush caused me to start.

“Is it witches you’re wanting to know of?”

The fox was standing just behind me, his sharp face pointing up at the moon who had only then made up her mind to rise.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Do you know of them?”

The fox nodded wisely.  We stood there in silence for several minutes after that.  I was waiting for him to go on, and wondering why he’d not done so.

“Well,” he asked impatiently when he at last spoke.

“Well what,” I demanded.

I was tired and grumpy.  If this fox had some information for me, all I wanted was for him to be out with it.  That didn’t seem like too much to ask after the day I’d had.

“Well what did you want to know about witches and magic,” he asked peevishly.

His tone made me give a silent snarl of annoyance.

“I want to know what a witch can do to an animal with her magic.”

“Ah!”

He licked his whiskers slowly.

“So you’ve gone and gotten the attention of one of the witches what lives round these parts!  My, my.  What a mess.”

“Just answer my question,” I growled.

He stared at me in shock as if I’d offended him.  I let out a heavy sigh of pure exasperation.

“Please?”

The red fox waved his bushy tale in the air and gave me a sly grin.

“Good.  That was all I wanted.  A fox does have a right to a bit of politeness, after all.  Just because you are a big bad wolf doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be nice when seeking information.  So what has the witch done to you?”

I told him my story of woe.  He listened intently without interrupting.  When I’d finished, he stared off thoughtfully into space for a bit before speaking.

“Sounds like you’re in a bit of a bind, my friend.  All I know of witches only affirms that.  I shall still share it with you nonetheless as you did request it of me.  Witches can even do more than what you’ve just spoken of.  They can go so far as to turn a person into an animal, or an animal into a person.  They can turn an animal or person to stone as well, or even into some silly human object that they can use for mundane chores.  So what I’m saying is that you’re lucky to have gotten away with your natural form.”

“And that is only so I can kill people for her,” I howled in dismay.

“It would seem so,” the fox agreed regretfully.

I thanked him then, and slunk away among the trees.  There was nothing else to say on the matter, after all.  I was done for.

I spent the next month trying to work up the nerve to look for a human to kill for the wicked witch.  I just couldn’t make myself do it no matter how hard I tried.  From time to time a traveler would pass by my den, and I’d consider attempting my first human kill.  I’d poke my head out, and sniff the air.  The smell of human would hit my nose, but rather than wetting my apatite, it would cause me to begin shaking with fear.  The humans were always on horses, so would be difficult to catch anyway, I told myself.  That was why I’d not bothered.  It had nothing to do with the fact that they may have something sharp with which to kill me.

On the last day of the month, I noticed that I was beginning to feel weak.  I’d killed no human, after all.  The witch had promised that ordinary meat would no longer sustain me if I did not do so.  I did not want to die!  This was the most unfair thing that could ever happen to any wolf!  It was then that my upset and cowed terror turned to rage.  I had not done anything to deserve this.  If the witch wanted someone to die, someone would die!  Someone would die who lived all alone in the forest.  Her curse had stated quite clearly that my victim had to be alone.  As my desperate plan began to form, I felt my mouth spreading into a slow wolfish grin.  I would not be bound by her curse if she no longer lived.

Before that last day, it had never occurred to me that I could kill the very one who caused my torment.  The witch had made me so afraid that I’d never once even considered that I could perhaps best her.  The thought was extremely liberating!  I would trap her with the words of her own curse!  I felt as if I were walking on air as I headed through the forest.  The witch’s cottage lay on the edge of it above the hill where her dratted sheep grazed.  Those sheep were the root of all my troubles, so I ignored them as I passed by.

When I reached the little wooden door of the witch’s cottage, I raked it with my claws to let her know that I’d arrived.  Though I was happy I’d formed at least some sort of plan to attempt to save myself from her clutches I was still afraid.  She did have magic, after all.  What if she could use it to read my mind.  If so, she’d know just what I was up to.  I had to try, though.  There was nothing else for it.  No wolf was meant to be a slave to a human.  Not even a witch.

Against all my instincts of rage and terror, I forced myself to remain calm when she opened the door.

“Well,” she demanded.

“What do you have for me?”

She reached down and gave my ear a sharp tug.

“Get in here, then.”

I knew that I had to act before I lost my nerve or before she placed another paralyzing spell upon me.  With a snarl of rage I sprang.  The momentum toppled her back onto the wooden floor just inside the cottage.  She was surprised!  She’d not expected me to be smart enough to fight back.  Somehow that knowledge only served to feed my anger.  I tore out her throat in a matter of  seconds.  Before I could stop myself, I’d eaten the old hag right up.  The curse she’d placed on me had ensured that I’d be craving human flesh, after all.  I didn’t really like the taste of it, dry and tough as it was.  That being said, I did  not plan to dine on it ever again.

As soon as I was done, I backed away from the spot where she’d lain.  It was over!  I’d won!  If I’d had my way I’d have run away then and there.  Yes I could’ve feasted on sheep, or taken a rest on the soft wool rug that lay neatly in front of the hearth, but I just wanted out of there.  My whole body was shaking like a leaf from the stress of it all, though, and I couldn’t go more than a few steps without stumbling to a stop.  I’d almost made it to the door when the smell of an approaching female human brought me up short.  My nose told me quite clearly that she was headed directly in the direction of the witch’s cottage.  Growling with frustration, I backed inside, pushing the door shut with my muzzle.  Who ever the female was, she’d surely leave when the old witch did not seem to be at home.  Then I’d be free to go on my way.  The smell of human became stronger as the sound of small feet grew near.  When the loud bang came on the door, I nearly jumped out of my skin.

“Grandmother!  It is me.  I’ve come to visit you!  I’ve got a basket of goodies that I know shall make you feel better!”

I did not move.  After a few moments, she banged on the door again, harder this time.

“Grandmother!  I know you’re feeling sickly, but that is why I’ve come to take care of you.  Please let me in.”

What if she just pushed open the door?  She’d find me and there would be all sorts of trouble.  An idea came to me, I’m sure out of pure desperation.  As I’d been given the power of human words, I may as well use them for my benefit, I thought.

Trying my best to sound like thee old witch I said, “Go away!”

“Grandmother!  It is Red Riding Hood!  Let me in or I’ll open the door myself.  I’m worried about you!”

It was panic that caused me to dawn the old cloth garment that I’d torn from the witch’s body before eating her up. Then I scrambled up onto the large bed that stood in the corner of the room.  If the girl was going to come in, perhaps she’d just leave her goodies and get out if I pretended to be the old witch.  What were goodies, anyway, I wondered as I hid myself as best I could under the long heavy bits of cloth that covered the soft bed.  Under them, my wolf’s body was not as visible.  Before I could bade the Red Riding Hood to come in, she opened the door firmly and came inside.

She was a girl, just out of childhood from what I could tell.

“Oh Grandmother,” she cried.

“You look awful!”

“I am just sick, child,” I said.

“You can leave the goodies and go home so that you do not become sick as well.”

I really wanted her to get out.  It was hard to make my voice sound as frog like as the old witch’s had.  If the girl did not believe me, I may have to kill her.  I’d had enough killing and upset for one day so really did not want to do that if I didn’t have to.

Her next words changed my mind on that, however.

“Oh Grandmother!  Did you take too many lives at once again?  How many times have I told you about that?  We witches have to take it slow at your age.”

So she was a witch as well!  I should’ve known!  I made myself sigh.

“You are right, of course!  Come closer, Child.  My old eyes can hardly see you.”

I’d kill her just like I’d killed her grandmother, I vowed.  Only I’d not eat the girl.  There was no reason to put food into my belly that tasted as bad as the meat of humans did.  She came closer, but not close enough for me to spring.  I would not risk an attack unless I was sure that I could pull it off in one jump.  If she had time to use her magic, I was done for, and I knew it.

“Grandmother!  What big eyes you have.”

I smiled.  How I did hate evil witches!  It would be good to rid the world of yet another one.

“The better to see you with, my dear.”

She came yet another step closer.

“And Grandmother!  What big ears you have!”

My smile grew wider.

“Oh the better to hear your sweet voice, my dear child!”

She came two steps closer.  Those two steps brought her right up to the bed and just within my reach.

In that moment, my nose distracted me.  It told me that someone else was coming.  Why did they all have to come at once?  I just wanted to get out of  there, but people kept showing up!

“Grandmother!  What big teeth you have!  What ever did you do to yourself this time?”

The young witch’s eyes were now wide with fear.  I was glad of it.  She should be afraid.  After all, she’d surely made enough of her own kind very afraid before taking their lives.

“All the better to eat you with  my dear child,” I howled.  By that time it was no longer important to me to pretend to sound like the  froggish old witch.  I leapt at the girl who called herself Red Riding Hood just as the door to the small cottage burst open.  I tore open her throat as a shadow fell over the bed.  It seemed there would be no time for me to get away, I thought tiredly.  As soon as I was sure that the girl witch was dead, I turned to face a man whose heavy sharp killing instrument was coming right for me!  I did not have time to move.  The blow came, and the pain was the last thing I knew.

When I woke, the sharp pointed face of the red fox who had told  me what he knew of witches was the first thing I saw.  The first thing I felt was a painful tugging at the skin of my belly.

“Why did you go and eat her,” the fox demanded.

Before my groggy mind could form an answer, he was speaking once more.

“My friend had to knock you out so he could split your belly open and get her out of you.  If not, you’d never have gotten rid of the curse.”

The knowledge that my belly had just been split open cleared my head quite quickly.

“What,” I yelped.

“Why?”

The fox shook his head and sighed.

“What ever got into you to make you eat the witch?”

As usual, he did not give me time to answer before going on.  I wished he’d stop asking questions if he did not wish to know the answers.

“That brilliant idea just ensured that the curse would never be broken.  You’d taken her magic into yourself, you see.  To be rid of a curse or dark spell, you must be fully rid of the magic that caused it.  When the witch dies, that problem is usually solved for anyone who was so cursed.  That is, of course, as long as the silly fool doesn’t decide to eat her.  Your doing so just kept her magic within you.  Therefore the spell could not be broken.”

I took a moment to process all that before speaking.

“So I’m free now?”

The fox nodded gravely.

“Thanks to my wizard friend there.”

He nodded in the direction of my belly.

“Don’t look now,” he advised dryly.

“He’s still stitching you up.”

“How,” I asked dumbly.

“With something called a needle.”

I gave an exasperated sigh.

“No!  How did you know I’d need help?”

“I have dreams in which I’m shown things that shall be,” the fox said mysteriously.

“And the man wizard,” I asked.

The fox shook his head.

“He doesn’t have dreams.  He needs me to tell him what is going to happen.”

The smug tone in which he spoke made me sigh and roll my eyes.  My belly hurt a bit, and I didn’t have the strength to try to fully understand what he was saying.  Dreams that told of what was to come sounded much too strange for me to get my tired mind around just then.

“You know…”

The fox’s thoughtful stare filled me with apprehension.

“What,” I growled.

I didn’t at all like the thoughtful way he was looking at me.  I’d had about enough for one day.

He snickered.

“It is only that you look quite silly in that old witch’s night-dress!”