By the next day, almost a week since Tiria’s body had been found, most of her belongings had turned to dust, including the majority of my – rather the – books and the stuffed chair. The only things that remained intact were the map, the hanging lamp we found in the reading area, the small chest, and Jeslynn’s flower vase. The Elders asked everyone to return the items, in whatever shape they were, to the village center. The ashes they piled by the wildfire memorial – which seemed fitting to me – and the intact items they put in the tavern.
“Something seem odd to you about the lamp and the flowers?” I asked Jeslynn, as I polished the bar and occasionally pondered the pile on the big table. She didn’t answer or pause in her sweeping.
“Do you?”
“No Gestin, they don’t seem odd.” The village well had dried up and so had her patience with me.
“Did you put new flowers in your vase?”
“No.” She stomped off to the kitchen.
I went over to the table and pulled the flowers out of the vase and tilted it up to see inside. I didn’t see any liquid. I almost turned the vase upside down, but stopped – thinking of our now water deprived state. I grabbed a pint glass instead and attempted to pour the water – for what else would you put in a vase to keep flowers fresh? – into. Nothing came out.
The flowers, lying on the table, started to shrivel, so I put them back in the vase. They perked up at once.
The lamp which had been burning in the house a week ago still burned brightly, shining on the empty space where the empty bookshelf used to be. Only two books remained. The texture of the leather bindings felt wrong and the interior pages reflected the light as no normal paper made out of cattail fluff, sawdust, and tree bark all mashed together did. The ink did not spread out and the writing appeared unnaturally uniform. Whomever the scribe had been, he or she was very precise. I couldn’t read the language, although some words had a familiar shape to them. The books gave me a headache.
I returned to examining the lamp. I lifted the globe and tried to blow out the wick. Although the flame bent to the wind of my breath, it did not extinguish. I got a bar towel and wetting it with my spittle, attempted to squeeze the flame out. The flame popped back up, burning as brightly as ever.
Looking around to ensure that Jeslynn hadn’t returned, I tried to light the towel on fire. It wouldn’t catch or get warm even. I ran my finger through the flame quickly and then more slowly. Only a slight tingle, as if my hand had gone to sleep.
Magic. Had to be.
I heard the front door open and I put the lamp down quickly.
The three elders and several others, mostly men, came in, grim faced.
“Beer all around?” I asked, moving to go behind the bar. Weaver Noth stepped in front of me, blocking my passage. Jeslynn came out of the kitchen.
“What’s going on?” she asked Elder Ponmay.
Torgood, who must have come in the back door, stood in front of the exit to the kitchen, his arms crossed.
Elder Inveer started to speak, his whiny voice quavering. Elder Ponmay stopped him.
“No, let me. He’ll take it better from me.” She put her hand on my shoulder and bade me to sit on my own bar stool.
“Gestin, do you still believe Tiria was a witch?”
I looked at the faces around me. Most were frowning, some looked angry, and one or two looked sad. I glanced at Jeslynn and she made a small gesture with her hand, indicating that I should answer.
“I…” I looked at the table with the possible magic items. Wulfgit’s words of encouragement returned to me: speak your mind. I straightened my shoulders. “Yes, I believe she was a witch.”
Elder Ponmay sighed and shook her head.
“We are starting to agree with you.”
Weaver Noth jerked his shoulder at this and the elder held up her hand to forestall whatever he was about to say. “Or something similar. We believe this drought and the strange disintegration of Tiria’s things are a direct response to your disrespect.”
“What? Disrespect can’t cause a drought, otherwise we’d all have starved long ago.”
“The weather gods are not happy with you,” Woodsman Arne, a normally taciturn man, said from the back of the group.
“Disrespect that you show at every turn,” Elder Cosank pointed out.
“Sorry. It’s been a trying time for all of us.” I gave a little bow in his direction.
He glowered at me.
“We believe you caused this trouble, son.” Elder Ponmay patted my arm.
I looked to Jeslynn to back me up and she bit her lip, twisting a bar towel between her fingers. I looked back at the elder. “You’re joking.”
She shook her head.
“No, Gestin Hospitlar,” Elder Inveer said, “we aren’t. We want you to break this spell…”
“We want you out of town,” Weaver Noth added.
“…that you caused to happen. Either by being a witch yourself or by your rudeness,” Elder Inveer raised his voice to be heard over the rumblings of the other men.
I would have fallen if I hadn’t already been sitting.
“I’m not a witch.”