By the fire’s light, the wizard sat in his chair, a small crafting tray in his lap. The grimalkin slept in the cauldron that hung not over, but near the flame, her purring echoing up out of the cauldron and filling the room. The beast was spread out before the hearth, gnawing the bone it had been working over for the last week or so. The wizard did not know the origin of the animal, but believed it to be from a baggon, the beast seeming to prefer their flesh above others.
While he sat, he chewed the root of a spring crimda, and he took two small dried bulbs of tandermum and, peeling back the outer layer, dropped the bulbs into a mortar and worked them until they were ground coarse. He took the second largest snapping of red grim bark and used a blade to shave it completely into the ground tandermum. He mixed the two with his smallest finger, then took a large pinch and filled the chamber of his pipe with it. And because he enjoyed the taste, he took a small pinch of sweet powder and scattered it on top.
He took the root from his mouth and worked the spit and juice over his hands. He discarded it into the fire, which produced a green flame and a hiss, and then he rubbed his hands into his eyes.
He took an ember from the fire, sat back in his chair, and used it to draw from his pipe.
Then the wizard stood in a hand that stretched for as far as he could see. Growing out of the hand were dense trees, each with a door. As he walked among the trees, he would sometimes come to doors with poundings and screams and curses coming from the other side. Those he passed by quickly, for they would bring things he ought not see, and ought not by be seen.
He found a tree with a door inscribed by a symbol that he recognized but could not clearly recall. He opened the door and passed through it.
Inside the tree, the wizard found himself among the stars in the black night sky. He looked and saw a bear, larger than the tallest mountain, and radiating with green light. The bear took the wizard in his mouth and carried him to the bank of a blood river. There, it let the wizard down onto the bank, and told him this: “When the woodfox dies by the wolfmother, the moon will rain blood and bring the end to all.”
The bear threw itself into the blood river and the wizard watched as it was swept away. Then the stars began to rain blood, and he became afraid, and he was not able to escape the blood rain, and like the bear, he was swept away. He did not know how long his struggle in the blood river went on, but it became all that he could remember.
When the wizard found himself again in his chair, the grimalkin had replaced the crafting tray (now on the ground) in wizard’s lap, and the beast lay over the wizard’s feet, both of them soundly sleeping. He kept still and listened to the fire in his hearth turn wood to ash, until the grimalkin and the beast were awoken by the morning’s first birds. He cooked them cakes made from pressed grains and a rabbit that the grimalkin had killed, and the grimalkin and beast ate, and stretched, and settled back into sleep.
But the wizard did not sleep. He did not sleep for three days on.
He knew it was the third day of the ninth month because that was when the Jeral’s boy would come with whatever the Jeral had managed to haggle from the merchants on the road, and he could hear the boy leading his horse through the trees and growth, on a path that was hardly a path. Tynr or Tarnyn or something, he could never remember the boy’s name.
He reached for his stick and went out to meet the young trader.
“Ah, hello again, sir. It is, ah, such a pleasant day for our meeting, what with the clear skies and gentle wind,” the boy said, as he slid off of his horse and unlatched his bags and cases. “I was just down at the Mae—”
“Just show me what you have,” the wizard stood back with his arms crossed his chest. The Jeral’s boy was twitchy and nervous, and the wizard took pleasure in it.
“Of course,” the boy said as he wiped sweat from his brow. He rolled out his leather, revealing oils and ground spices, pockets of teas and powders, dried herbs and dried fruits, salts, various bound greens both dry and fresh picked.
The wizard looked over the display, most items not earning more than half a glance, the inventory always the same, with rare exception. “Who sold you this flárneffoffi bunch?” he pointined at the wilting and greyish clump of leaves-on-stems, tied together by horse hair.
“Ah, well, yes, that comes from-“
“It is picked too late in the season. Look at it. You must pick it before it swells with an entire season’s water,” he spit. “You bought this from the merchant from Yon, did you not?”
“Ah, yes act-“
“It looks like his ignorance.” He gave the boy’s items a last look. “Give me what red salts you have and six hands of your grey salts, is that ground suma, I will buy both bottles if it is, and the larger of the pockets of sweet powder, and if those are sacks of grain on your horse, I will give you two luns and one bottle of brandishwine for four sacks.”
They traded and the Jeral’s boy led his horse back through the trees and growth, on a path that was hardly a path, and the wizard returned to his thoughts.
He lived with a beast, which did not have any other name than “beast” or sometimes “the beast,” and with a small grimalkin which he called Ferna, after a witch he once knew and had fond memories of.