The Watcher in the Marsh
The trek across the dank and misty marshes had been bad enough; the Watcher in the Marsh lived a long way from the village – from any civilised people – and only those who were bold, who were in need, or who were desperate risked the crossing to the hillock on which the ill-thatched hut crouched like a shaggy bear. But what lay inside was much, much worse.
Eired had no tales of their own. Too young and no chance yet to blood a spear on a foe, not had a chance to build their own legend. But now Carrec was laying in their hut with a wound in the belly that would go bad before the week was out. Eired needed the kind of miracle that only heroes could hope for – heroes, or those desperate enough to come and treat with the Watcher of the Marsh. Desperate enough to answer the price.
Inside the hut was dank with smoke, the smell of herbs drying, something awful boiling in the pot over the fire, and the sour smell of someone who had grown too accustomed to living unaccompanied. The watcher crouched opposite Eired; a shadowy shape easily mistaken for a bundle of rags and sticks if you ignored those eyes. Those terrible, terrible eyes. Eired looked at the floor, a yawning pit of fear opening in their stomach.
If I tell you a secret, it may earn you what you need. But there will be a price.
There is always a price.
Five days later, to the astonishment of all, Carrec was sitting up and eating solid food. Eired had gathered a strange mix of herbs and clay and used it to make a poultice and Carrecs wound – which Meurig the Woundbinder had looked at and shaken his head sadly at – was half-healed. Meurig went before the Keepers and told the tale, and they accorded to Eired the title Cutward, in respect of the tale.
Eired never spoke of their trip into the marsh to anyone. As time went by they even, sometimes, managed to forget, briefly, that they owed a life for a secret.
But debts always – always – come due.