The Dark Witch
The Hanging Tree
Hildigunn walked the entire day only stopping occasionally to feed or change Hella. Physically she was strong, but emotionally she was a mess. She felt distraught over her husband's death, and lost without him. A part of her wanted to lay down and die, but her motherly instincts kept her going for her newborn's sake.
Hildigunn cried most of the night, an emotion her child seemed unable to share. As the morning sun slowly rose in the east she fed her baby, and began to slowly walk to where she remembered the old shack to be. Every step seemed as difficult to Hildigunn as the final walk to the hangman's noose must have felt to the Heathen martyrs all those years ago. Not only did she not want to live, but Hildigunn did not want to go into the haunted forest !
When the woods became denser and began to close in all around her she knew she was close to her final destination. Then, as the sun was almost entirely blotted out by the high tree limbs, she came to a wall of thorn bushes. Holding Hella tight against her chest Hildigunn covered herself and the baby with her hooded cloak, and forced her way through the thicket. When the thorns stopped pulling at her garment she pulled back her hood and found herself in a small clearing. And there, as her husband had promised, stood the old shack.
To reach the old hut Hildigunn had to pass an old gnarly tree. It had frightened her the first time she had seen the hangman's tree with her husband all those years ago, but now, all alone, it absolutely terrified her ! As though her hood could somehow protect her from the evil spirits of the forest Hildigunn pulled it back over her head and hid within its confines as she slowly moved towards the shack.
Thrain had told her all about the old tree when they stumbled upon it years ago. He explained to her how the early Christian priests had used the tree to hang Heathens who would not convert, or who had been found guilty of being witches. Thrain had showed her where each Heathen's name was carved into the tree who had died there. By carving their names into the tree the Christians believed it condemned their souls to forever be imprisoned in this forest. The Christians stopped coming to these woods when strange things began to occur here. The priests now warned everyone to stay away from this cursed region because they believed that evil draugr haunted every inch of these woods.
Hildigunn kept her head down and did not look at the tree as she came upon it. Hella, however, squirmed in her mother's arms, and began to giggle when they were directly across from the first of the hangman's branches. Suddenly, a cold wind blew up out of the north, and howled as it made its way through the trees. As Hildigunn listened she could hear the moaning and groaning of the dead !
Hildigunn screamed as she ran as fast as she could for the shack. She jumped all three rickety stairs in one jump, and then threw open the door with her free hand. Once inside she closed the door as quickly as she could behind her and leaned her back up against it to brace the door from any intruders.... dead or alive ! After a moment she looked down at Hella to see how she was doing. The child looked up at her with those red eyes, and black pupils, and smiled at her mother.
The shack was a wreck ! The roof seemed to be intact, but in many places you could see sunlight shining in through the many cracks and crevices in the walls. The fireplace appeared as though it were usable, but Hildigunn was certain it would need to be swept first. She was happy to see that there was a table with a few chairs in the room, and the remnants of a bed sat next to the fireplace. All were dusty, and very dirty, but they were salvageable.
Hildigunn spent the entire rest of the day cleaning the shack as best she could. As she was sweeping the floor she discovered several tools lying about the shack. The most important was an old axe. The blade was a little rusty, but it still appeared to have a sharp edge. When she noticed that the sun was setting Hildigunn set Hella on the bed, and wrapped her in the blanket that she had bundled the clothes and food in. She then went out in the dimming light to chop firewood.
Not far from the cabin she found a dead tree which she chopped down. As the moon began to rise above the treeline Hildigunn carried the firewood into the shack. Carefully she stacked the wood in the fireplace and shoved some dried grass and leaves under it. She was not very good with a flint stone, but she knew she had to try to start a fire before the cold of the night set in. After what seemed to be a hundred attempts she began to cry out of frustration. The dried grass she placed below the firewood simply would not catch the sparks. Then, from behind her, Hildigunn heard her child make a strange sound. Without warning the wood caught fire, surprising Hildigunn and knocking her backwards on her ass. When she recovered from the shock of the moment she turned to her daughter, whose eyes glowed brighter than the fire in the dim light.
" Thank you dear ! " she told Hella.
Hildigunn was physically and mentally exhausted, and yet she knew her day was not over. First she changed Hella, and then she sat at the table, and fed her daughter. In between bouts of crying and nervous laughter Hildigunn took a few bites of the food she had brought with her. When her body and her mind could take no more she lay down on the bed with Hella, and wrapped the blanket around them both. Her exhaustion allowed her to sleep soundly through the horrible noises that reverberated at night through the haunted forest.
The Chieftain Olvir did not want to venture into the haunted forest, and went back to the village. The search for Hildigunn and her daughter was soon forgotten when the chieftain and his warriors combed through the burned out Stave church to retrieve the charred bodies of the villagers who had perished in the fire. Olvir did send a contingent of warriors to Oslo to see if Hildigunn had actually visited her mother, but no one in Oslo had ever heard of Thrain or Hildigunn. Over a number of years the devil child was forgotten, and only the great fire was spoken of by the skalds.
- End Chapter 4
- Next : Chapter 5 : The Rune Ring
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2015.