Elias wandered down from one of the thickly treed hillsides of early Europe. Below him, a village clung to the meandering river like an infant’s hand around his mother’s finger. Perhaps here he would find shelter and food for the night.
The wizard had followed a deer trail through the woods. With his wand before him, the recent hoof prints glowed white. Elias never traveled the trade routes used by the common people, he found using nature’s shortcuts much faster.
He had been in the thick forest looking for a tree he knew no longer existed. The moonroot tree grew only when sunlight was filtered by Luna’s surface. Only the wood from the thin, barkless tree was suitable for wands and no real spell could be completed without the curved five-foot staffs. It grew tortuously slow and had been loosing ground to more vigorous, sun-soaking specimens for hundreds of years.
Wizards, mages, and seers were always a thin profession limited in number by the difficulty of their art and the scarcity of the moonroot. In fact, a suitable moonroot had not been found since Elias claimed his wand in 563 AD. During his long life, Elias has had two apprentices leave in frustration and disgust after years of searching the Roman Empire and then the Germanic lands for moonroots.
Self-pity and shades of bitterness marked his thinking like a scar. “And now it appears I am the last to walk in the wizard’s shoes.”
Elias looked around him. He closed his eyes and let his presence reach into the earth and touch the clouds above his head. The magic didn’t speak to him in terms of tribe or nationality. It showed him rivers, mountains, and the great seas.
“I am near the fertile land of the Franks. To the East, lies Saxony.”
The village below looked vigorous with the occasional ox drawn wagon rolling along the hard packed roads, its axel in desperate need of grease. Small stone cottages were built haphazardly around the town square like a spilt box of children’s toys. Two thick spires from the town’s cathedral pierced the sky and nearby were larger, two story structures one of which was an inn.
Elias made his way to the town and stopped before the inn’s wide door. There were no sounds coming from the inside. A good inn always had commotion of some sort.
The wizard went inside. Its common room was dark with canvas draped across every other window. It was an obvious sign that the owner of the inn was in mourning. He approached the woman who had appeared from the kitchen at the sound Elias’ entry.
“Welcome to the Le’Porta sir, but I am afraid your welcome isn’t what it should be. The owner has died and his young widow is in no spirit to care for guests. As you can see we are in mourning.”
“Lady,” Elias replied. “All I require to eat is a crust of bread and salted meat. All I need to bathe is a large tub filled with rainwater. And all I need to sleep is a straw filled pallet. I will pay in silver.”
The woman looked down. Elias saw that she was a mature woman whose hair was still mostly brown with hints of gray. Her strong posture had fooled him into mistaking her for a younger woman.
“They could use the money.” She pointed to the kitchen door. “I will serve you. Go to the kitchen, on one wall is a large iron washtub. While I am preparing your bed, you may start the fire in the hearth, take water from the rain barrel and heat it to make your bath. When you are finished your meal will be waiting here by the fireplace.”
Elias went to the kitchen and used his moonroot staff to begin a fire. He levitated the entire rain barrel bringing it into the kitchen with only a few light pushes and poured it into the iron washtub with strength from his shortest finger. Then he dipped his wand into the water until it was at a near boil. Once he replaced the rain barrel, Elias found the lye soap to was his clothes and body.
“I wonder,” he thought as his body soaked. “Would it be worth my time to ask my hostess about the innkeeper? Perhaps I can help if it doesn’t take too long. I have many miles to travel before reaching the coast of Britannia.”
After his bath, the wizard dried his clothes with a touch of the moonroot and went into the commons area where he expected to find his meal. Elias entered the room and saw the woman tending to the fireplace. On the table behind her, was a plate and a wooden cup.
She stood suddenly when she noticed his presence. “Oh, sir. I have prepared some venison for you along with an old carrot or two I found in the cellar. There is some new milk in the cup though.”
Elias sat and began eating. “This is good. Thank you. What is your name, dearest?”
“Inge.” She sat down on a stool across from him. “It’s not a pretty name but it is sturdy, I suppose.”
“You grace it with you actions and stature.” Elias took a bite. The meat was tough but it would suffice.
She pointed to the moonroot wand on the table next the Elias. “I notice you carry a walking stick. Do you have a poor leg?”
Elias laughed. “No lady, this is a thin branch of willow from my homeland. It has no value other than to remind me of where I’ve been.” He gave his wand a dismissive gesture. “Why don’t you tell me what became of the innkeeper and why you now care for this place alone?”
“Almost a year ago, the Frankish lords came through with an army. They were on a campaign to punish the barbarian Saxons for raids some ways to the north. The men of this village were promised a share from what was taken. Most went and returned with less money than they had hoped for but at least they came back.”
Inge paused and whiped a tear from her cheek. “Four men did not return. The innkeeper was one of them. Like my husband, they followed the sword and it turned on them.”
“You mentioned a widow earlier.”
Inge turned to the fire. “Yes, actually all were married with at least one small child. They are still in mourning spending most of their days at home weeping for their husbands while family and others help care for their children.”
“And you take care of the inn?”
“I do more than that but their grief does not abate. They wail and cry as they lack even bodies to bury. I don’t know how long this can last.”
Elias took a drink from his milk. He joined Inge in looking toward the fire. “How long have they been so distraught?”
“Almost four months.”
“Go and fetch them.” Elias touched Inge’s shoulder and she turned. “Bring these widows to me and I will help them. Don’t ask me why or how just do as I ask.”