7. In The Lair Of The Witch Queen
Placing the box within a leather satchel, Weo put both hands upon the magic travelling bow and willed herself, quicker than the wind, back home to Amartham.
And Weo’s parents welcomed her back with broad smiles and took her deep in their arms and thanked the goddess for delivering their daughter safely home.
And then the Goddess appeared again; this time in the form of a white dove and Weo presented her with the box containing Klawhannas heart and the goddess said;
“Now it is time for you to go to Kelstren, the great city of the north and seat of the ancient kings of Kenglund and there meet King Godrok and his court. Show them the heart of Klawhanna and tell them how to defeat her power”.
Within the silver castle of Kelstren sat old king Godrok and the crown of Kenglund now pressed down like a heavy load upon his head, so overrun was his kingdom with troubles; famine in the east; pestilence in the south; invasion in the west and uprisings in the north; a treasury like a begging bowl and, all around him, deceitful nobles with hungry eyes upon his throne.
And all his troubles were Klawhanna's creation for she had worked long and hard to poison and weaken the nation of Kenglund. Over twenty years she had plagued Kenglund with famine, drought, disease and disaster and spread lies and evil rumours among the Kenglish people so that they would lose confidence in their king.
And even within the royal court she had her spies and henchmen; dressed as nobles and palace guards but traitors within their hearts and chief among traitors was the Baron of Bragen; a minister of the king but one who did nothing but feed him on doubts and fears; disguising pessimism, lies and distortions as wisdom, truth and fact.
“Klawhanna’s army of marching darkness”, he told the king, “Wears the hide of hell upon it. It’s as if their skin were woven together from threads of iron and all our swords and spears are nothing more than sowing needles against it. They are like a terrible black december that settles upon every field, forest village and town and buries it deep in death and all our soldiers; though brave and strong; keep falling like a lead autumn; helpless, hapless and hopeless skittles against boulders”.
But, while Bragen poured thick gloom into the kings left ear, on his right side sat the loyal and faithful duke of Genova; a true minister who always spoke honestly and did all he could to raise the spirits of the king.
“Your majesty”, he said, “Do not let this old crowthroat dye your mind with misery. Not all our brave young westerners have fallen. In the temple towns of Goodrick and Melkum and Lovering and my own Genova, the power of our sacred mother is strong and her power pours into the swords and hearts of our soldiers and I have even heard that there is a girl in one of our villages who has the strength of a small army in her right hand.
Such a person could lead our armies to victory”.
“Weo of Amartham”, interrupted Bragen, “A foolish peasants tale; a fairy tale and, even if it were true; would you have peasants running your armies? Would you have a goose herder for a general?!”.
Suddenly, however, as if it were destiny’s reply to the wicked barons words, Weo of Amartham appeared, clutching her magical traveling bow and kneeling respectfully before her king”.
“King Godrok”, said Weo, “Your majesty. I am Weo of Amartham and the goddess herself has sent me to you bearing the heart of Klawhanna”.
But, before the king could answer, the wicked baron of Bragen cried out, “Assasin! Guards! Assasin!” and a stream of palace guards rushed into the throne room with poleaxes and swords and set upon Weo and Weo was forced to defend herself against them, which given her power and strength was not difficult but she did not want to hurt them because she knew that they were merely good men obeying bad orders so she used the power of her magic helmet to conjur up an impenetrable protective halo around her, a shield of magical light that sword blades and axe heads couldn’t cut through .
“Stop!”, cried the good duke of Genova, “Lower your axes and your swords. This person is not an assasin but a messenger”.
And the guards lowered their weapons and the Duke commanded “Speak Weo of Amartham. Tell us your message”.
And so Weo told the king of all the strange, incredible magical events of her life and about how she saw the black horror of Klagok and took Klawhannas beating heart from the cave. “And if the heart is hurled into the hell-well”, said Weo, “Then all Klawhannas evil powers shall turn upon her and her army of walking shadows will fade and flee as ordinary shadows do when faced with the hero of the morning sun”.
And, hearing this, the old kings lips curled upwards. “Good news at last”, he said, “And if you succeed, Weo, then I will make you an honorary knight”.
But Weo refused the kings honour, “I do not want a knighthood, your majesty”, she said, “I am one of the peasents and my honour shall come from them”.
But the king insisted, “You are more worthy of knighthood than many of the nobles in my kingdom”, he said and, placing a hand upon her shoulder said, “Whatever you call yourself, I call you lady Weo of Amartham and when Klawhanna falls that land shall become yours”.
“Then”, said Weo, “I will give it away to the people for I believe that the ones who work the land, who give their lives to the land, should own it too”.
“Oh, Weo! Ploughman’s daughter and yet nobler than a queen. Here I sit every day, upon this wretched throne, fearing the fate of my crown and yet your only concern is for your people”, said the king, “You are worthy of things far beyond what a king can offer”.
“Give me just three of your strongest and bravest to accompany me on my quest”, said Weo, “That is all I ask for”.
And so the king selected three of his most trusted knights; Lord Warvren, Lord Calbron and lord Angelax and Weo saw in their eyes a genuine love of their king and country and something beyond their wealth and title and, happy with the kings choice, Weo said, “Brave brothers; place your hands upon my travelling bow. One wish and we’ll be there; in the cursed heart of Klawhanna’s castle but, be warned, we are walking, unwelcome, into evils home and will be met by hell and terror so know, just as you hold your sword in your right hand, you are a sword in the right hand of our Goddess; know that God lives in your heart and your sword arm, have faith and you will have strength”.
And, with all their hands upon the bow, the three brave knights and Weo became like arrows hurtling through space and time and into the innermost room of Klawhanna’s dreadful castle; the room where the hell-well, the source of all Klawhanna’s evil powers, was kept.
But they did not enter the castle unobserved for Klawhanna had as many eyes and spies as there are gaps between the stars and Rudrella crawled out of the well; not a child anymore but a tall woman; though more demon than woman, for she was naked and dripping with blood and her eyes were glowing with a strange, unnatural fire and the sight of her was terrifying to the three knights.
“What are you. Rudrella?”, asked Weo, “I thought that you were Klawhanna’s daughter”.
“I am half human and half demon”, she said, “The child of her marriage to the realm of abomination although my mother is more devil than I am. I lusted after her power and so she cast me down the well and now she calls on me to kill you and kill you I must, unless”, and Rudrella gazed at her mothers heart in the box in Weo’s satchel,
“Unless you give me my mother’s heart and then I would possess all her power and I would let you live because, you see Weo, I have half a heart”.
But Weo would not surrender the heart. “ If you had your mothers power then you would become twice the monster that she is and, if you had half a heart more then you would see what an evil thing you have become and melt in your own tears”, said Weo as she wept for the monsterous Rudrella.
But Weo’s pity only enraged Rudrella and she roared out fire and thunder that crashed against Weo’s magic shield, “Then I will take your own heart”, she said, “And eat it” and Rudrella’s body burst into red fire and this was her true form; a creature of living fire, her skin bristling with blood red flames; her fingernails growing into long sharp talons of white heat; her hair becoming long curling whisps of fire and smoke rising towards the ceiling but, when Weo looked into her eyes; she saw icicles.
And Weo picked up her travelling bow and whispering to God, hurled it into the heart of Rudrellas flaming body and Rudrella vanished.
“What happened to her or it or whatever that thing was”, asked Lord Angelax, startled.
“The travelling bow goes where I will it and it took her into the heart of God where she would finally be at peace”, said Weo.
But then they heard Klawhanna's devilish cackle echo round about their heads like a raucous flock of cawing crows and, up out of the hell-well, rose the black witch klawhanna like an evil sun rising over the rim of the well.
First they saw her tall, blood-soaked conical steel hat appear like a a small, sharp steel mountain; then her face, pale , thin and horrible with blood on her lips and blood rouged cheeks framed in long grey, tangled hair that was also dripping in fresh, red blood and her eyes were cold and narrow like metal spikes and her neck was draped with a necklace of foetal skulls and then they saw her long pale arms with long sharp fingernails dripping with more blood and then her long black witches robes soaked in blood and, as she rose, she incanted an evil spell:
“Gallow rope and drowning pale;
Dredge me up from hell’s dark gaol;
Shiver now with fiercesome dread;
Klawhanna comes to strike you dead”.
The three knights trembled so much with fear that their armour rattled but Weo’s backbone was as sturdy as a whales because she had already faced and fought with death a dozen times.
“I’ll cut off your rhyming head,tin hat and all, you witch”, yelled Weo.
“You?”, said Klawhanna, laughing loudly and showing off her teeth that were all canines, sharp and stained with red, “I am the bride of the starless, deep, everlasting night; the nesting place of a vast demon horde; the smallest finger on my right hand is your equal, silly farmers daughter. I shall suck the marrow from your bones before you die”.
“You are a rat crawling with lice”, said Weo, “That is all but I am a finger upon the hand of god and I will be your executioner”.
Smiling a sharp, white knife blade of a smile, Klawhanna drew a long sword from inside the sleeve of her witches robe and, stirring the air with it, spoke a deadly rhyme.
“Run little mortals;
Run for your lives;
The floor is made from quicksand;
The sky is raining knives”.
And Weo and the knights felt the stone floor beneath them became quicksand and over their heads, the stone ceiling became a stormy, thunder cracked sky which poured down long sharp cooks knives.
The knights had never witnessed anything more terrifying and Lord Angelax even shrieked but Weo wore the magic helmet which gave her the power to see and know all things and the helmet told her, “Don’t fear, Weo. These things are illusions. Believe that you are stronger than them and the knives and quicksand will vanish”.
And so Weo stepped forward bravely and the falling knives passed harmlessly through her and the floor beneath her feet felt firm and, inspired by her, all the knights did the same and the evil illusion vanished.
“Foul witch”, said Weo, “I said that I would lop off your head and I will”, and Weo swung her axe blade at the witches neck and her head rolled upon the floor but, though there was no connection between neck and head, the witches fallen head laughed loudly.
“Silly girl”, said the witch, “I cannot die that way” and Klawhannas head, though rolling about her feet, spoke another evil enchantment.
“Cauldron children, hear my call;
Hell-well rise and darkness fall;
Wicked, crooked, quick and cunning;
Cauldron children come a-running!”.
And, with every syllable of her evil spell, a little armoured imp scuttled up the inside wall of the hell-well and they looked like so many white ants crawling out of a decaying tree trunk, each with the body of a little child but with bald heads and the faces of old crones and bulbous eyes like frogs and crooked noses as big as ravens beaks and savage, sharp teeth like snarling dogs and each wore blood stained leather and chainmail and carried a blood dripping hatchet in its small, hairy right hand and the three knights soon dispaired when they saw what number they would have to fight.
“God’s mercy Weo”, said Lord Angelax, “The evil well-mistress has dredged up a batallion. What are we three knights against that?”.
Weo used her helmet to look through the walls of the room to see if help might be found nearby and she saw that, in the rooms to her right and left were dungeons where Klawhannas enemies and rivals had long been imprisoned and she sent her thoughts out to each of them, “Help me defeat Klawhanna and I will set you free”.
But, to Weo’s surprise, all the prisoners replied, “We are guilty. We deserve to be locked away in these dungeons. Klawhanna is good and we are wicked”.
Weo saw that Klawhanna had decieved her prisoners with some spell into believing that what she had done to them was right and fair and Weo told them, “No, no. Wake up! You have been decieved. Your guilt is a delusion. Klawhanna is evil. Search yourself and remember; remember how she tortures; remember how she enslaves and murders. Come now and fight beside me; defeat Klawhanna and you will release life and love and sunlight back into your land of woes. Defeat Klawhanna and your people will call you heroes forevermore”.
And Weo prayed for the Goddess to wake them and the Goddess entered their minds and stripped away the fog of delusion and shone light upon their brains and Weo could now hear them say, “I will join you and Klawhanna will die” and then Weo set all the prisoners free from their dungeons and locks and chains because she had the power to do so and the magic of the human heart did the rest as, flooding into the room of the hell-well came a little army of willing men and women carring anything they could pick up to use as a weapon and they fought with enormous courage for love and justice and all Klawhannas imps were no match for that and, while the battle between love and evil was raging, Weo saw a way to bring everything to a swift conclusion. “Take Klawhanna’s heart”, Weo told her magic battle-axe; assume your kestrel form and fly it over the heads of all and drop the heart into the hell-well”.
And the battle-axe, obeying Weo, changed itself into a kestrel and, seizing Weo’s satchel by the handles with its beak, flew up over the heads of the skirmish towards the hell-well.
When Klawhanna saw this she turned herself into a large black eagle and chased the kestrel through the air but Weo hurled a thunderbolt at the black eagle knocking it out of the air and allowing the kestrel to drop the heart into the gullet of the hell-well and, when this was done, all of Klawhanna’s power abandoned her and her army of imps turned upon her and, seizing her in their many claws, dragged her, screaming,down into the hell-well.
“Sleep well nightmare”, said Weo, “and never wake again”.
“As long as Weo lives”, said Lord Calbron, “Evil will not dare to trouble our kingdom”.
All the knights and the prisoners that Weo had free’d from Klawhanna’s dungeons gave a cheer for Weo and, as they cheered, the room became bright as if touched by summer although there was no window in the room and then the evil hell-well sank beneath the stone floor of the room and the great hole left by it closed up like a healing wound and, all across Kenglund, the troubles of the people lifted like the dusk; wherever there had been plague there was now health and healing; wherever there had been famine the earth now became fertile and overflowing with crops and fruit and then the shadow armies that had been terrorizing the west suddenly melted into dust and were swept away by the wind and then all the doors of Klawhannas castle opened like a prisoners mouth opening to breath in the air of freedom and Weo and the three knights and all the prisoners who had been trapped in that terrible place for so long walked out of the castle and, outside, they all witnessed a miracle. The snow of early spring was falling and, in the sky, a snowbow; a frozen rainbow of jewel coloured glistening ice; standing like a great victory arch over the whole of Garog and all the unhappy people of that benighted island, seeing the snowbow, knew that Klawhanna and her wicked hell-well had gone and, from that day, the people of Garog and Kenglund were healed together in friendship.