And now we’re in unexplored territory! Chapter 3! Yeeha!
Patreo looked up from his herbs and mortar when Verduan finished his story. “Why come to me?”
Verduan peeked into Patreo’s mortar. He stared at the tools, medicines, powders, herbs, stones, phials, flasks, and decanters cluttering Patreo’s workbench. “Are you an herbalist, Father?”
Patreo chuckled. “Do you know Greek? Apothe¦ke¦? Storehouse? More storehouse than anything else.”
Verduan pointed to the three small mounds under the muslin. “What are those?”
“Are you always so inquisitive when seeking help, Verduan of Nant?”
“A little knowledge avoids much trouble, don’t you think?”
Patreo smiled. “I do.” He nodded towards the cloth. “Have you ever heard of Greek Fire?”
Verduan shook his head.
Patreo removed the cloth, took a pinch from the bluest pile, and placed it in front of Verduan. He took a smoldering ember from under one of the vessels on his workbench and touched the pinch. The pinch disappeared with a shshshing sound as a cloud of bluish smoke rose rapidly from where it lay. He took a pinch from the yellow pile, dabbed some water on it, and touched the ember to it.
It crackled and popped like fat-soaked tinder. A darker smoke rose and smelled of rotten eggs. Finally, the yellow pinch burned and floated. The water didn’t put it out.
Patreo returned the muslin cloth to its place.
“What about the gray pile?”
“It’s not ready yet. It may never be.” He opened the book on his workbench and pointed at the leather strip marking a passage there. “This book is a translation of a translation, the original language lost or forgotten. So I experiment and go slowly. No errors that way.” Patreo closed the book. “Any other questions, Verduan of Nant?”
Verduan sat back and shook his head.
“Then my question remains; why come to me?”
Verduan sipped his wine. “Our priest is new to us. We…some of us…we…”
“Nant has a new priest? I thought Father Verrett served Nant and the villages around.”
“Father Verrett served our village and others for more than fifty years. You knew him?”
“How long has the new priest been with you?”
Patreo squinted into the distance. “Knowledgeable on doctrine? Ecclesiastics? That him?”
Verduan shrugged. “It is not difficult to be more knowledgeable than simple farmers.”
“Even the inquisitive ones?”
“I’m sure Father Baillot wishes I asked fewer questions.”
“We sought someone…with a broader knowledge.” Verduan waited until Patreo looked him eye-to-eye. “A knoweldge of oak and ash as well as line and verse.”
“You traveled alone five hard days through woods and mountains, come to my door, and now wonder if my knowledge is greater than you care to know.”
“I traveled five hard days from Nant to Tomeka because in Nant I heard of a priest with knowledge of The Old Ways on this side of the Kashel. In each village along the way I asked if any knew of such a priest. That eventually got me to Catiorec where they mentioned a Father Patreo in Tomeka. Here I asked about you and they said you knew the ways of herbs and roots, metals and waters. Outside, the Burger on the cart said yes, this was Father Patreo’s cottage, and that you cured his son.”
“You are a tracker, Verduan of Nant?”
“A herdsman. With fields and orchards.”
“You are wise.”
“I am old.”
“Not so old to travel here alone in five days time!”
“I did not travel alone.” Verduan let go a piercing whistle and Patreo covered his ears at the sound. A great white and black shape leapt his gate and cleared the window in two bounds.
Patreo laughed. “A horse? No, a dog.” The dog lumbered over, lapped Patreo’s offered hand, and rested its head on Patreo’s lap. Patreo patted its head and scratched the heavily furred ears. “And who is this – ” he leaned over and looked between the dog’s legs ” – handsome fellow? Your familiar?”
Verduan patted his thigh. “Buco, here.”
The big dog sat licking Patreo hand.
“If he’s a familiar you’re the witch. He never takes to people like that. He’s still wary of Father Baillot and has known him a year at least. How did you get him to take to you so?”
“I heard you talk quietly outside. Once stilled the shying horse, the other before you entered. I guessed you had a companion and not a child. No one leaves a child unguarded in a new village and you don’t seem the type to take a child on the trek from Nant to here. Only a fool would drive a herd that far, so a dog, and its scent is fresh on your clothes, so it was close by. As for why it favors me…” Patreo chuckled. “I greased the back of my hand with pig tallow when you tippd back your wine.”
Verduan’s hand slapped the workbench and he bellowed with laughter. He drained his cup and rose. “Have I come to the wrong man, Father?”
Patreo motioned Verduan back onto the stool. He lifted a roped bucket. “Water from my own well. Boiled and cooled. May Buco drink?”
“Why boiled and cooled?”
“Something learned in my travels in Muslim lands. An easy precaution against dark spirits in the water.”
Verduan’s brow rose as he looked at the water in the bucket. “Thirsty, Buco?”
The dog wagged its tail. Patreo placed the water beside Verduan and the dog lapped. They both watched the dog drink its fill.
Patreo took his stool on the far side of his workbench. “Tell me, does this witch have a name?”
“We know her as Sullya. Sullya the Witch.”
Patreo frowned. “Sullya? My mother told stories of Sullya the Witch when I was a child, something to keep me quiet at night. This can’t be the same Sullya. She’d be ancient now.”
“Do witches truly die?”
“Is there more to your story?”
Verduan stared into his empty cup. “Is there more wine on your shelf?”
Patreo placed the pitcher on the workbench in front of Verduan who refilled his goblet. Buco pawed some straw together, circled, lay down, closed his eyes and slept.
Verduan smiled at his dog and continued his tale.
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