Monday, March 9, 2009

The Wyf

Heht mec mon wunian on wuda bearwe
I was bid to remain in a wood grove

under ÿctrÿo in þÿm eorðscræfe.
under a tree in this cave.

Eald is þes eorðsele, eal iÿ eom oflongad.
Ancient is this cave-dwelling, I am consumed with longing.

Sindon dena dimme, dÿna ÿphÿa,
T he vallyes are dark, the hills high,

bitre burgtÿnas brÿrum beweaxne,
the cruel town enclosure with briars is grown over,

wÿÿ wynna lÿas.
the dwelling place is joyless.

Ful oft mec hÿr wrÿþe beÿeat
Very often here I am bitterly seized because of the

fromsÿþ frÿan. Frÿnd sind on eorþan
departure of my lord. Is my lover

lÿofe lifÿende, leÿer weardiað,
occupying his own death bed,

þonne iÿ on ÿhtan ÿna gonge
when I at dawn walk alone

under ÿctrÿo ÿeond þÿs eorðscrafu.
under and oaktree through these graves.

Þÿr iÿ sittan mÿt sumorlangne dæÿ;
There I must sit as long as a summer's day;

þÿr iÿ wÿpan mæÿ mÿne wræcsÿþas,
there I must weep for my wretched journey

earfoþa fela, for þon iÿ ÿfre ne mæÿ
my troubles are many, for I have never

þÿre mÿdÿeare mÿnre ÿerestan,
had rest from my grief,

ne ealles þæs longaþes þe mec on þissum lÿfe beÿeat.
not wholly, since my life began.

Aside from the infrequent stand of birch or larch, deciduous trees are rare in the boreal forests south of Tannhauser for many days' journey. There is, however, an oak perched upon an ancient mound about 5 days march south-west of the stronghold. No other trees grow near or on the mound, but all about is covered in thick briars making any approach slow lest one become tangled.

At the base of the mound, a rough opening leads into an unfinished chamber carved beneath and between the roots of the great oak overhead. No insects or vermin will enter the mound at all and, it is said, that no wise man or dwarf will either, for within dwells the Wyf.*

The crone (for so she appears) is known only as Wyf for she will give no name, but commonly refers to a lost mate. She will happily entertain any guests that arrive, offering collected rain water to drink, and will talk seemingly endlessly about meaningless trivia and gossip that was current perhaps a hundred years prior. She will often tell of other guests that she has hosted, including some recognizable names from local legend, but mostly unknown men and women whose lives she will recount with great detail and accuracy if prompted.

Most information she gives for free will be virtually useless, only enough to tantalize. To divulge anything of worth, details of less than mundane sort that are already known by her audience, the Wyf expects a gift: something of great value to the giver, though not neccessarily of great intrinsic worth. Near the back of her cave, she keeps a sizable hoard of trinkets, gew-gaws, and oddements from previous visitors: lengths of thread, ribbons, shards of glass, a coin from the Telerian empire, an icon of an obscure and mostly forgotten saint, and other paraphenalia. If asked to display her treasures, she will happily do so, but will only show the most mundane items, unless payment is first received in kind.

Once her payment is received, the Wyf will divulge the information sought which will be 95% accurate and in the form of cryptic riddles, stories, or songs. When inaccurate, it will always be of missing data rather than outright falsehood. Information about the location of a lost and powerful artifact will, for example, take the form of a long and meandering tale of its last posessor, taking many detours to talk about ancillary characters or only vaguely related material, but buried within all of it will be a small kernel of truth that a wise and discerning man might be able to use as the beginnings of a roadmap to finding the artifact. In the end, it is up to the guest to decipher and use what the Wyf gives them, and it is the stuff of great heroes, it is said, the ability to untangle these vague and seemingly meaningless clues. Great fortune and fame can be had by correctly interpreting the Wyf's clues, and grave misfortune from mistaking them.

The Wyf shows no favortism, is objective to a fault some say, when payment has been rendered. She will advise bitter enemies alike, sometimes simultaneously, with no regard as to protestations of right and wrong, good or evil. Her tales and riddles, she says, are for all who seek them and can afford them. Within her home, she will brook no violence of any sort: guests are expected to behave themselves, and though she is frail and easily slain by a single weapon strike, it is known that she has the ability to back up this rule with force. Those who incur her displeasure - by demanding aid without a guest gift first, by initiating or perpetuating violence within her home, by rifling through or attempting to steal her cache of things, slaying her or not at least attempting to stop such an act, or perhaps simply by being rude - suffer one of the most dreaded curses known in the civilized, or uncivilized, world.

Mere hours after the incident, a mark will appear on the perpetrator's face in a location not easily concealed. The mark will conspire at any time to be visible: a hood will blow back in the breeze, a mask will slip, etc. Those who view the mark will immediately and forcefully shun the afflicted individual, turning him away at the city gates and refusing him entrance, refusing to cooperate or provide food and shelter for any reason, even going so far as to seek to kill the individual. A marked person will find no respite, aid, or welcome among any of the people of Thylia. Not even the orcs and goblins dare to tempt the evil of this curse and are most savage in dealing with it. Those bearing the mark are forced to wander the world, never staying in one place too long lest they be discovered and attacked by the virtually any sentient being capable of seeing the symbol.

It is unknown if there is a way of removing the curse. Perhaps the Wyf herself would be willing to answer this question, but nobody has ever asked, or if they did, nobody has ever revealed it. Perhaps one of the Mound Folk, to whose ancient writings the symbol bears a striking similarity, but again, it is difficult to find one of those folk in the first place let alone one willing - or able - to answer such a question.

*Yes, anybody with even a passing familiarity with Old English/Anglo Saxon will recognize that word, not to mention the reference. So sue me.

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