This is a continuation of the story that began here: The Old Woman, the Stag and Me. You may like to read that first if you haven’t already, but it isn’t a prerequisite.
As it turned out, it was the materialisation of the myth ‘The Howling Woman’ that finally gave us our omen to leave the village. Here’s how events panned out.
Among the stag’s clients there was a gentle dowager who cried almost all of the time. She had lost her daughter, she said, though there were no records of her ever having one. It was generally surmised among the village folk that what she had lost was in fact her marbles, as a result of her husband coming to grief at a trial for treason and subsequently being hanged. She lived all alone in the years that followed, and most were disdainful towards her with no rational cause. She came to the stag for a finding potion, and begged of him to take her sorrow.
Finding potions weren’t known for their usefulness when dealing with people who didn’t exist, so at first he went down the route of anguish-removal. He tried spells made from Buddhist proverbs, in attempt to align her to the idea that sorrow, like pleasure, was a fleeting thing that must be allowed to come and go like the wind. He tried filling her with warming light, that it might kindle her own inner glow. And he tried an elixir – just two drops per day – made from pure euphoria and tears of joy. It was unheard of for such things to fail, but the daughter remained lost. Putting on a jester performance raised a smile or two, but the sadness in her eyes seemed insurmountable.
Distracted by his lack of success, the stag came to me one evening and asked for help. He brought with him a purple scarf donated to the cause by the dowager herself, and a potion he would ordinarily use for finding things. I put a drop or two into the pool, wrapped the scarf around my wrist and submerged my body into the warm water. The image came to me very quickly. What I saw was a young girl dressed all in black and wandering as slow as a dirge around a waterfall in the park. She had a glassy stare and near transparent skin, but by far the most striking thing about her was the familiarity of her features. I realised that this was no daughter of the dowager, but a younger version of her. This was her maiden, her inner youth, separated from her body and mind and wandering lost.
I told the stag of my deduction just as soon as I had surfaced and sat down to dry by the fire he had kindly lit for me. The old woman had joined us with interest by then, and brought with her enough broth for everyone. After some deliberation, the three of us concluded that we must reconnect our client with her estranged fragment. Unfortunately before we were able to formulate a plan, we were disturbed by a ruckus outside.
A procession of villagers were storming their way up a hill that led to the sparse moor. By the light of their fiery sticks we made out a struggling human figure strapped to a stretcher carried by four men. There was shouting. With no time to lose, the old woman took on her owl form and flew toward the commotion. She reported back later that night that our dowager had been forcibly removed from the village, accused of bringing misfortune upon its residents as a result of her incurable sorrow and lies. They had tied her to a makeshift crucifix on the moor screaming the most eldritch of screams and full of wrath.
The villagers retreated to the bar in a strange mix of celebration and solemnity as soon as their captive had been secured to the cross, but still the old woman hadn’t been able to get near. The screams had taken on a physical force, and vicious winds were howling across the moor. It was hard for her to take a breath let alone fly in a direction of her choosing. She stayed a while though, long enough to see that the dowager was not weakening but growing in strength. Had she known how to direct her inner power she could have broken free from her restraints, but instead it became wild and furious.
Months, she was up there. To this day I don’t know whether the villagers had originally intended to bring her down after a night, or whether they wanted her to catch her death. But certainly no one wanted to visit the moor at all once the deafening, blood-curdling howling began. There were fires too. They emanated from the woman herself and spread outwards. We did what we could by containing the damage within a ten metre radius using an energy field which left us utterly fatigued. The old woman visited her daily, inching closer whenever the flames were quelled, gaining her trust. She simply had to be shown how to harness the power and there was no other way out of this.
Except, of course, to reunite her with her missing fragment. I took it upon myself to hunt down and coax the ghostly young woman from my vision up onto the moor. I befriended her as a cat, and she seemed glad of the company; glad just to be seen. One day I took a risk and told her the situation straight. As luck would have it she was receptive to the truth, but took some convincing that reconnecting with her older self was a smart move. Her older self was the stupid one, she said, that had gone and got her trapped with a man that could give her no children and went and died on her. I reasoned that neither she nor her older self could ever move on if they didn’t reconnect. They could never start a new life. In time, she agreed to come with me to the moor where she successfully became whole again. After that there were no more fires, winds or howls.
Seeing that the dowager had not only survived the ordeal, but also activated and gained control over her inner magic, they came to collect her. She collapsed onto the same stretcher that brought her there and was carried back down the hill and into the stag’s treatment area in our tiny castle. He used many a healing technique on her over the weeks that followed, most prominently a regenerative mask. She remained silent and still for all that time, only moving to take of the old woman’s broth.
By the time we released her from our care her skin had become golden, her once bedraggled grey hair was a mass of miracle, and wings had begun to grow from her shoulder blades. She gave off a scent of magic and promise. And our work was done. The villagers made her their queen and she ruled them well. She was protective and motherly yet fair.
But the village existed only in one of the realms of dream, and a change as big as this one to the workings of our home was enough to force a paradigm shift. We could feel the pressure on the walls of the castle, pushing us up up up through dimensions. The dreamer was waking up, and we were about to be plunged into reality.