Anja and the Druid

Chapter 7


Rhiannon was of medium height, that is to say about a metre sixty in stocking feet. Her hair, a deep plum in colour was tousled and shoulder length a string of beads laced through lightening the effect. Her gentle brown eyes set amid a well proportioned face with high cheekbones around her neck she wore a crystal pendant on a gold chain.

Although not of heavy build, she was well endowed about the chest, a fact she did not hide favouring a loosely tied bodice of soft tan leather that only served to emphasise her figure. A deep ornate belt set with precious stones sat above a skirt of soft leather decorated with red, cream and chocolate scallops which followed the hemline, her dark brown hose only accentuating the mid thigh length.

On her feet she wore soft leather walking shoes of maroon with punched vamp decoration and a buckled instep bar. About her shoulders sat a stony coloured wool cloak with red dyed fur for the hood, utilising rabbits feet for the ties. Apart from her knife she was unarmed save for a stout walking stick, however she wore ornate gold and bronze greaves and her hands were well muscled.

Adun was obviously a man used to the fight, of medium build his metre ninety height was however well muscled. A face much like his cousin's sported a dark brown beard to match his wavy collar-length hair. He was dressed in dark green tunic and pants over which lay a light mail coat and a two-tone green surplus.

From his wide belt, less ornate than Rhiannon's, hung his hunting knife and long sword and at his shoulder his longbow and quiver supported by a tooled leather bandolier. His travelling boots were tan as were his leather gauntlets, his cloak hung from his shoulders supported by two gold brooches and was of green to match the rest of his garb.

They stood together beneath the oaks, Adun watching as the forest animals skittered about them, a tortoiseshell dragonette happily sitting on Rhiannon's hand eating oak apples and occasionally cocking its head to one side to listen, then continuing in its feast.

A short distance away they could hear the Schwein Falls as they tumbled through the trees of the Schweinwalde. Several kilometres away stood the village of the same name and above them the Black Mountains stood in silent regard. The last days of summer were near and already some trees were taking on their autumnal tints.

The cousins had been waiting for a little over an hour in the clearing, neither spoke, the animals antics keeping them occupied. They waited for the man known only as the Druid, who if legend was to be believed was in excess of two hundred years old. The message to meet him had been delivered three days ago by a tame mogwach that departed as quick as it appeared at their home, the inn called the Osbrook in Bad Kehl. They lived with Adun's parents; Rhiannon's parents had perished in a flood many years since and the pair had been brought up as brother and sister.

After the message was delivered they prepared to leave at once and were on their way by late afternoon. Using the forest trails, Adun led them above the Hohe Spout, then through the forest to the west of the Plain of Pastron. Two days later they reached the road to Schweinwalde and on the third day arrived in the clearing.

The dragonette stopped eating then without warning took flight into a nearby Plane and was lost from sight. Moments later the Druid appeared at the far side of the glade and soon joined them.

"You made excellent time, thank you for coming."

Like most who did the Druid's bidding the cousins knew not why they did so but did so none the less. They stood now, Adun unmoving, Rhiannon fidgeting with her staff.

"I have work for you, the blade Tolgarth has disappeared from the land along with its keeper, Anja of Rottal, you have knowledge of her?"

"Only what we hear at the inn", Adun replied, " but that does not include a description, only tales of travellers."

"You pre-guess me, yes your mission will be to locate both keeper and blade. She owns a cottage in Rottal to the north, but often lives in Zilcken by the Elbst, with a merchant. Try these places first, but beware the Kelacker is also searching for the blade."

He passed to Rhiannon a blue stone set in a gold setting.

"Use this cautiously and let no others know of it, it will direct you to the blade"

"Why do you not do this yourself?" Rhiannon asked of him.

"These troubled times with the Kelacker about do not allow me to leave the Keep of Pastron for more than a couple of days, so you must be my messengers."

"What do we do when we find Anja, or if we don't?" Adun asked.

"You will find her I am certain, as to your first question bring them to Pastron, we have need of her services."

Thus the cousins were despatched to search for the sell sword Anja and her sword Tolgarth. With no more comment, the Druid left them in the glade. Although the pair rarely travelled far their knowledge of the land's geography was good, the patrons of the inn made sure of that and Adun's hunting and tracking skills would be put to use on this trip.

They returned to Schweinwalde and secured lodging for the night using a brace of pheasant as payment. Rising early next morning, they started what would turn out to be a long trip with a spring in their step. Making good time they walked until dusk, which found them at an inn on the road north to Rottal.

Next morning they woke to a sharp ground frost and a white mist laid across the land, sitting on the fields and hanging from the trees like so many wraiths. With cloaks around them they continued on, passing others on the way, merchants, woodsmen and itinerant labourers amongst them - by mid-afternoon they had passed through Zweibrucke and at nightfall again stopped at a roadside inn. The weather had remained cool all day although the mist had dissipated.

The weather remained much the same next day and they made good progress reaching the mining town of Clausthal just after dark. Apart from a few lewd comments to Rhiannon from some drunken miners no one gave any interest to the pair and Adun read that as a good sign. After another night at an inn they set out for Rottal am See refreshed and with a warm wind at their backs.

They reached the hamlet soon after midday and after little enquiry located the cottage of Anja. Neighbours tended the garden in the owner's absence so it still looked in keeping with the rest of the village. Although the shutters were closed everything looked normal, the woodpile was well stocked, the shingles were all in place and the shutters recently painted.

Not wishing to draw suspicion the pair withdrew to the lakeside a short distance away to await evening before entering the cottage. They waited until most houses had their shutters closed and traffic had disappeared before they returned to Anja's home. Adun located the spare key and they entered to search for clues as to the owner's whereabouts. Rhiannon lit a lamp and turned it low giving just enough light to see by.

Passing from room to room they found everything in order as though the absence was planned. Rhiannon prepared a light meal from the stock in the larder and then they continued searching for clues. They soon exhausted all the possibilities and resigned themselves to travelling on to Zilcken. Re-securing the cottage they left straight away for the Rotwalde Pass. When they had gone some way from the dwellings Rhiannon held the guide stone in her hand and slowly turned full circle with no change in its appearance.

They rested until dawn and hit the road anew, destination Zilcken. They climbed the switchbacks of the pass overlooked by the Rottalhorn and camped that night by the cairn at the summit where a small lean-to provided shelter. They gathered food along the way, wild vegetables and rabbit, using salt and seasoning they carried with them to produce a good stew.

The cool mountain air followed down from the pass to the Elbst ferry next day and they lodged on the east bank in a well supported hostelry. In the privacy of their room, the girl again tried the finder stone and again the result was negative. After a week they still had no more clue than the Druid had given them and little chance immediately of changing that situation.

Mist again shrouded the land next morning as they departed for Zilcken, trees appeared to float from the vapour covering the fields and here and there, heron appeared to sit on the surface as they waited for eels in the dykes and scattered ponds.

The mist was slow to clear and still blanketed much of the land when they arrived in the bustling town of Zilcken. After eating a snack of bratwurst from a street vendor they set about finding Anja's employer. This proved no easy task as many warehouses dotted the streets, holding everything from raw wool to tableware, wine to cured meats. After trying several they sought room at a hostelry and settled down for the night.

Rhiannon again tried the seeker stone and was slightly surprised when it glowed faintly as she turned to the south.

That evening with the thought still in the back of her mind Anja rang her mother. The conversation drifted but Anja, by the time she put the phone down had discovered one thing at least, that she had been unusually quiet, if not withdrawn, all weekend, something her mother put down to the weather. Then there was the brooch she had discovered in her handbag, a bit on the Goth side it was a sword reproduced in fine detail, still it had some appeal.

Although it troubled her only remotely, her dreams that week were of strange places and people although some of the scenery was familiar. After a couple of weeks the dreams only recurred rarely and the slight feeling of de ja vu had evaporated.

It was almost three weeks after she had visited her parents that the boss asked if she and Margrit would go south on a business trip, visiting customers and suppliers. This opportunity occurred only rarely and they both jumped at the chance. So it was that Anja's BMW was loaded with samples, gifts and suitcases on a cool Thursday morning, the trip would last over a week, they were due back the following Friday.

They would not be pressed for time on the trip and the weekend was theirs to enjoy, probably in the clubs of München. First stop would be Delitzsch about fifty k's away, the nippy 214 pulled out of the car park and selecting the Költen road they were soon leaving Zerbst, Margrit dropped a minidisk in the player and they were soon belting along toward Aken on the Elbe.

Margrit was twenty and not long in the job she held as marketing manager. She had settled in with the other staff quickly, Anja was her immediate supervisor as sales manager, although they all used one office. She was quite petite and was often mistaken for a schoolgirl, at one metre fifty-three all was in proportion topped by a pretty face surrounded by sandy hair and spotted with green eyes. She was a follower of fashion but for this trip her wardrobe was a touch more cosmopolitan.

They were soon over the river and moving into the industrial region surrounding Költen. Anja picked up the 183 for Bitterfeld but took the E51 when they reached it then the 183a to Delitzsch. They made their call as planned, then dropped to Leipzig stopping in the suburbs for lunch before embarking on the first of several calls in the city. It was nearly seven when they left for their overnight accommodation at Altenburg. By taking the autobahn south to Boma, then the 93 to the old town they were there shortly after eight and booked into their hotel in time for dinner.

Returning to their room a little after eleven, they lay talking awhile listening to the sounds of the street below and the last sounds of the railways just across from the hotel.

Anja woke early next morning intending to hit the bathroom before Margrit had a chance. However there was something amiss, the bathroom was gone and the décor had changed, that sense of De ja vu returned anew. Memories came back to her and checking in the small mirror by the washstand her fears were confirmed, the blonde tresses and, on further inspection, body art of her dreams replaced the expected view.

Margrit, the though exploded across her mind. Anja checked the other bed for her erstwhile travelling companion and was relieved to find a figure occupying the covers. Trying not to disturb the sleeping girl, Anja ascertained that she appeared unchanged except that she now wore her hair much shorter and it was now dark brown in shade.

The memories returned of Dav, Keren, Rhodrii, the Druid and the others although she remained conscious of her BMW owning existence much more so this time about. She checked the pile of possessions at the foot of her bed, boots, leggings, cape, tunic all as she recalled and there hanging from the chair back, the blade known as Tolgarth. On the floor was a travelling bag, which by its weight was packed for a long trip.

Margrit stirred and Anja went over to her, the girl froze in terror as she saw the still naked Anja by the bed. Realising the shock her appearance would have on the girl Anja did her best to calm her.

This was going to be a good trip, Margrit thought as she lay in a half dream state. The boss's car was comfortable, their accommodation would all be of good quality and the weekend was theirs. Sensing rather than hearing movement she guessed that Anja had risen to beat her to the bathroom, well she could snooze a little longer then. She turned on her side and lay dozing for a moment before jerking awake to find a stranger standing over her, first instinct was to scream but that was frozen in her throat as she realised the barely discernible features were Anja's, but not. The other knelt to try and comfort her and soon she had regained her composure. Anja sat on the edge of the bed, the room still only lit by early dawn greyness.

"I am sorry" Anja started, " I didn't know this would happen."

Margrit was taking in the details of the 'new' Anja.

"This happened to me a few weeks ago" Anja continued, then recounted briefly her previous experience in this 'other' life. "...And so you see I have no control over it and no idea why it happens."

Margrit was in a state of mild shock still. "You don't have the tattoos in the real world?" was all she could raise in query.

"No, nor this or these" Anja indicated her nose stud and nipple rings, "I suggest you get to know your new body too."

Margrit had not thought she would be affected.

"Your hair's different for a start," Anja continued, "wait, I'll get a light and the mirror and you will be able to see."

The older woman did as she had said, pulling on her tunic en route.

Although still petite, Margrit had like Anja increased her bust, but other than her hair remained essentially the same girl, sporting only a tattooed belt at her waist as body decoration.

"You got off light," Anja commented as in the better light she displayed her own extensive coverage to her colleague.

"I guess so," the other replied, "but what now?"

This was the question that Anja had been waiting for. "First we assess our belongings"

They soon ascertained that Margrit's possessions were similar to Anja's, although the sword was less ornate and her garments tended to brown rather than Anja's blue. Checking their bags, Anja discovered that the contents were different to before, the outerwear and travelling gear remained similar but the shift and gown were not present as before, instead a soft leather bodice and matching hose and skirt of shades of sienna took their place and the jewellery was entirely missing.

Margrit's bag contained much the same; her outfit though was of white leather and included some beading around the breast. The young woman was just about in control of herself and the pair dressed as the dawn light broke over the roofs opposite. Anja ascertained they had some currency and with words of encouragement steered her companion down the stairway to the hall below where others were groggily eating breakfast.

Selecting an empty bench their arrival raised no more than cursory interest from the other diners, two sell swords, even female, were not uncommon about these parts. Steaming gruel followed by bread and cheese, washed down by a herbal tea was a bit more than Margrit could manage, but Anja tucked in and cleared the platter. By the time they had finished eating most of their fellow guests had vacated the room.

After paying their dues Anja led them outside where the town was just coming to life. Not having a guide this time around, not yet anyway, Anja led her still bewildered companion through the market purchasing provisions on the way and on locating a signpost managed to select a south bound road out of the town still in this place known as Altenburg. Picking their route by half instinct, half memory, the blonde woman had decided to make for the home of Keren and Rhodrii in the lowlands.

The roads were pretty good in this area; low hedges with the occasional tree lined the fields in which root vegetables were interspersed with grain and fallow, the traditional three-field system being used exclusively in this region. The land was not flat but gently rolling to the distant hills that separated them from the lowland.

The way was lightly travelled, mostly farm labourers and their charges moving between the numerous farmsteads that lined the road. Margrit was starting to come to terms with her new situation and followed her friend's lead when dealing with others. The distant hills grew larger, the road mostly straightish passing through occasional hamlets and through wooded tracts. The day remained dry but overcast although a blustery wind scooted the clouds quickly across the sky.

They stopped in the lee of a haystack to consume a light lunch washed down with goat's milk from a nearby farmstead. Anja added meat to her earlier description of her travels for Margrit and secretly wished that they had some guidance on their destination.

During the afternoon their generally southward route became hillier, the farmland becoming more pastoral and the habitation more spread out. Anja explained her reasons for heading to the lowlands and Margrit concurred that her theory was pretty sound. Afternoon turned to evening and by dusk they had arranged lodgings in one of the wayside hostelries. The other patrons were mostly local labourers in for the grog and the women were undisturbed whilst they ate a hearty meal, Margrit now having the appetite she lacked earlier in the day. Other locals came in and soon the building was alive to the singing and story telling of its occupants.

Anja found herself exchanging stories with the best of them and even Margrit ended up joining in the rowdy sing song. It was in to the early morning when they made their way to the rather basic room they had rented. By now Anja had slotted back into this persona that gave her renewed confidence in their future, whilst Margrit had basically accepted that they could do little to change their situation.

Next morning broke wet and cool and after a hearty farmhouse style breakfast, the girls headed off down the road. Fellow travellers were far and few between, most remaining in their dry homesteads. The road started to turn to mud and puddles appeared in the depressions. The hills became enshrouded in cloud and the whole landscape took on a grey pallor. By midday the pair were thoroughly sodden and reaching a small village located an inn and set about drying off. Late afternoon lightning with widespread thunder convinced them that a stay in 'The Lamb's Head' would do very nice thank you.

In distant Pastron, the Druid discovered Anja's presence to the east during his twice daily scan of the land. Although relieved that she seemed safe it also meant that the Kelacker would likely also know of her whereabouts, not only that, this new companion was new to him and may also prove a danger.

Hurriedly he wrote a message to the girl, without wanting to alarm her or draw the Kelacker's attention to her, he instructed the girl to meet him at the lowland town of Dinaant, which being on the route she was following should not alert their enemies. Finishing the note he called a mogwach to him and showed the animal Anja's position. No one knew for sure how these small animals located travellers on the scarcest of information but they seldom failed to deliver and were much faster than a man on horseback.

With no more to do he despatched the animal and then sought out Mad-a-lyn. He found her, as expected, in the tower that she used as home and study centre. The girl was wise beyond her years and devoted much time to studying both the biology and science of the planet as well as the less definable activities of the Circle of which she was the youngest member.

Knocking once her mentor entered and found the girl studying an illustration of the body's internal organs.


The girl broke from her study and faced the other.

"We must leave with all haste, we are to meet Anja in the lowlands a few days hence. Prepare yourself for the journey then you will find me in the Great Hall." He waited a moment to gauge her reaction, but her face remained unreadable, turning without further word he was gone from the room leaving Mad-a-lyn alone again.

Rhiannon checked again and sure enough the stone glimmered dimly as it pointed south.

"Do you think that means that she is distant or in the town Adun?" the girl asked.

"I don't know," her cousin replied, "but we should wait 'til morning before finding out"

"Why not now?"

"Because I think we would be better trying the merchants when they are actually there"

Rhiannon had to concede that that did make sense. "Okay, but first light we start again."

With that they prepared to sleep and without any further conversation they turned down the lamp.

Next morning they breakfasted before first light and set out with renewed vigour on their quest. With only her name and a description, which was basically 'blonde hair', failed to bring an early result. Eventually though they located her employer who could do nothing to help them, Anja had left or rather disappeared two weeks ago and he had not heard sight nor sound of her since.

They left slightly dejected and finding a secluded corner checked the stone again. It still glowed in a southerly direction; it was now obvious their way would be southward. By mid afternoon they were heading down the road that would eventually take them to the low country far to the south.

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