The Riddle

Matthew noticed the wide berth they took and didn't blame them one bit. He didn't trust what would happen around him and any ladies too close. Perhaps a hint of sadness in his eyes but soon covered up as he approached the bar. "Potcheen, Alex, I'll finish the work tomorrow." He was done for the night as he didn't drink on the job and certainly he could use a drink at the moment. It was Anne he addressed from at least a ten foot distance. "It is a real curse," then adding as focus turned on Feather, "a medicine woman, it was a woman." In that moment the words finally became clear. Spouting them near as quickly so he didn't lose them again. "Darkness looms to devour. A curse upon thee this hour. Things possessed to be lost from small to large will be the cost." A breath drawn through his teeth as he had lost a lot in the decade past, "those fair of gender to flee as you bring upon them catastrophe. The days numbered until death or cure, the riddling to be obscure." Eyes held that out of focus quality as he was reaching inside, "the key persistence of one unknowing through rain and high water to never falter. When petals of the flowers bloom then sealed together to dispel the doom." Eyes refocusing but with a blank look the moment as if he would lose what he just spewed.

Alannah listened with right sympathy for the poor man, to bear such a curse was dire indeed and naught he did could surely warrant it. "How long has it been upon you, that curse, do you not mind the asking?"

"That's horrible!" Anne didn't try to hide her dismay as she blinked at the curse. "And no one's been able to break it yet?" Her bright head shook, resolved to do whatever she could to make sure he was freed from that dark cloud.

"It is indeed terrible." She frowned as she went over the words again in her mind. "The woman was very angry and very cruel." She looked at the other two women as she considered the words.

He shook his head, "until now I was not able to remember the whole of the curse. I had nightmares over the past few months here and there. A woman's voice in chant in my head. I remember the voice. My parents insisted I wed this woman of a family with prestige. It was said she was a witch. I thought in personality wise after meeting her. Self centered, greedy, demanding, quite insufferable. I refused, threats were made by my family, then by her. There was this severe pain in my head, a bright searing light. I must have passed out and the next day I packed up and left without a word. Roaming for a few years until I came here. Felt safe but there were still the incidences around women." Almost mentioning some of them but it might well be even more embarrassing than what happened tonight already. He was sure they could believe him.

Her hand tightened upon its cup of tea, for finding it similar in its way to her father's plight. Placing it to the counter with care, she looked to him a moment. "You have not sought a wizard's help or one of the wise workers of this land for their aid? It does not seem as if it will go without them."

"Alannah's got a point. There are some here who could get to the root of the curse and find out what it takes to lift it, Matthew. You didn't deserve to be punished in the first place, and it's unthinkable that you're continuing to suffer for having the good sense to spare yourself a miserable marriage." Emphatically nodding in agreement with Alannah, Anne glanced at Feather for support.

"It is possible that they might be able to, or, if nothing else they may be able to help explain the riddle." She looked thoughtful. "I may be able to look into the smoke and see if it was the woman who was angry who cursed you but unless I know her power, I cannot offer help." She could make a medicine bag that might help ease some of the trouble he had otherwise.

"No." The rigid line of his shoulders softened as a weight was being lifted. One glance to Alex but as usual he seemed not to be paying attention. Except Matthew knew better, probably knew Alex better than anyone, except maybe Hazel. He was sizing them up in that quick way of his before letting out a breath. "For a long time I hid here as being a jack of all trades and master of none. Someone insignificant that would go unnoticed. Although this curse makes me noticed, not in a good way. Until now I didn't realize such was a curse placed long ago. Usually I work alone and just avoided ladies to not cause havoc. Except it gets lonely being alone after a duration. Maybe that is why all this has been happening for me to realize what was done and find the cure it speaks of?"

"Aye, that could well be the truth of it. Or mayhap it is that you've come the point in your mind that you are ready to confront the curse and see it done?" She took the glass of Alex and went to offer it to him with a bit of an encouraging smile. "It's no small thing, the finding of courage to face truth."

Anne smiled at Feather with a nod. Now there was a helpful lady! "I can't speak for Feather or Alannah, but I'd certainly be willing to do what I could to see that you're freed, if as Alannah says, you're ready for that. It will take more than I've got, though. I know that."

"As would I. At least if we can find out if she is the one who placed the curse, it could begin to unravel its power." She watched Alannah and smiled. She was showing courage in giving the glass to him. Perhaps that too, could be a beginning.

Alannah was brave and in doing so touched his heart to come so close after all that happened and him having a curse upon him. "I never thought of myself as courageous," although liked the idea if he could be that kind of person. There was much he wasn't being for the hiding. "A decade about, living with such." All becoming clearer as he thought back on numerous instances. "I want to be free," hesitant to take the glass that it might shatter and not wishing her to get cut. Eyes lifting to Feather first, "could we make some smoke here and you look into it to find out?" Then upon Anne, "you would do this for me," spared between them all, "all of you?" Amazement was the color of his eyes.

The smile and nod urged him to take the glass. It was an act of trust on her part to prove herself willing aid the man beyond the curse's affects. "Aye, to be sure I will, on my honor as a Callihan. We're nigh accustomed to curses and seeing them removed now."

"Is that something you could do here, Feather, or do you need to make special preparations?" She looked between them, then grinned at Matthew. "Since I've come here, there's been all sorts of strange and unusual things I've seen. Of course I'll help.

"I carry what I need with me. We can make a fire outside. The smoke is pleasant and will not cause harm but I am not certain that Alex would wish the smoke in the tavern, even if briefly." She looked toward the tender in question. To make a fire would not take her long.

One hand slid to cup hers while the other moved in to take the glass. There was the oddity of pressure, not given by him, of pushing her hand away. Had his not been there the glass would probably have fallen and shattered, spilt or some like hazard, instead he managed to take it without incident. "Thank you," words low and meant before he was moving towards the side door leading out to the garden. "I'm sure we could out here and not disturb anyone." Obviously he wanted to be rid of it like one wanted to be rid of a virus.

"It would be cooler so as well, aye?" She made proper certain the glass was safely delivered ere she drew away to fetch her cup and see to the door.

Anne was already deep in thought as she went to follow Alannah and Feather out into the gardens, puzzling over what the resolution to the curse could be. "It sounds like it will take someone to look past your curse to see the worthy man behind it to me."

"Yes, much cooler." She stepped outside and took a few deep breaths, then began to gather tinder in the form of small branches. It wouldn't take much for her to start a small fire but it would be the blend of herbs she used that would create the smoke. Once she had enough, she used flint to start the flames, blowing on them softly until they caught.

"Aye," thoughtful with Anne's spoken words. That made sense in the curse being to keep any female away from him. He stepped out into the night without having any of them tumble or get stuck in the door with him, although almost, preventing it by taking a quick step back instead of forward. Looked strange but it worked. Then again he was being consciously careful. He took up a position close but not too close as Feather made the small fire that would turn to smoke. This was the longest he was near a female, let alone three where nothing happened in the last twenty minutes.

Not knowing the what needed to be done, she stood nigh to Feather to act as windbreak for the lighting of the fire and certain as the lass would tell her aught as she could be and do for the helping.

It sounded like sour grapes to Anne, a curse placed by a woman of power in a fit of jealous pouting. The whole 'If I can't have you, no one else can either' thing. She brought up the rear and went to watch Feather at work with fascination.

Feather knelt down in front of the small fire, watching as the herbs caught. They might catch the scent of lavender and juniper. The other scents were of pinion resin and of a particular type of sage. As the smoke grew thicker, she began to chant softly. At first nothing happened, but then it seemed to dance as if in a breeze. Shapes could almost be made out by them but it was one she focused on. "I see the face of a woman. One who is beautiful but not this night. Her face is contorted, showing the ugliness of her spirit. Her words are foul, evil and she too uses smoke but to curse, not to heal." She added another handful of herbs so that the others might see the woman as well.

"That sounds like Melisande, Sande," he hadn't spoken her name since that time. He was frowning. "I remember her anger when I said I'd not go through with an arranged marriage," looking a touch sheepish for he had been angry that night, being pushed from all sides. "I didn't love her, would never love her and would not marry her if she was the last woman on earth. Her heart was black. She was so angry I thought she might explode as she hissed, spewing her words that didn't make sense, some odd sound ringing in my head instead and woke hours later, alone." He had never seen one so angry and knowing well his words had been harsh but it was to the point they had to be for no one was listening otherwise. She was planning their wedding day, planning their lives, planning when he'd take his next breath.

"I can well understand the anger, for no woman wishes be rejected, yet to do this is naught short of cruel and monstrous." Alannah's head was after shaking with the very inhumanity of the deed done, and the fate of the one who would act in thus manner.

"Well, if that isn't living proof of the saying that hell hath no fury like a scorned woman." Anne didn't call the woman what she wanted to, no matter how much she deserved it. "I'm with Alannah. I can understand being angry and hurt, but this is just a blatant misuse of her power for selfish, spiteful reasons." 

Matthew backed away seeing that face before tearing his eyes away from the sight. Almost a fear that she could see him and somehow find her way to where he was hidden. To fear a woman like he did here without rhyme or reason before was something he had to live with. There was a lot they didn't know about him but he had not feared anyone before, now he knew it wasn't her but what she was. Glancing to the side until the smoke showed her no more before fully looking back. "It is my family's money she wants and I the heir. She tricked my parents into thinking she had connections they needed but she doesn't. I tried to tell them, aside all else that was wrong about the whole idea, but it was as they could not hear me at all. I decided the best thing would be to disappear if I could." She obviously didn't have enough power, or his will stronger, to keep him from that. "Now I know the reason for the curse and by whom, left only to find the answer to dispel it." The woman no longer a threat he was sure by this time, probably latched onto some other gold mine as she looked upon potential men in her life.

She shook her head, then carefully covered the flames with dirt, watching as the smoke cleared. "The answer lies within her words." She looked at Matthew, lips pursing slightly. "She cannot find you here. There is too much good  in this land that will protect you." Standing, she smiled. "I will make you a medicine bag if you wish. I am not certain it will work but it may."

"Perhaps Miss Anne has a bit of a notion in the what she said. Is there a lady as you might seek spend time with, to see about overcoming the curse?" Alannah knew naught of such matters or the reversing of them, but it made proper sense to him. "Aye, a medicine bag could help as well."

Anne blinked at Alannah's words then. "What did I say? Oh, about finding someone to fall in love with? Or something like that? I wasn't sure if that made any sense, I was just babbling."

"It would be nice to think I could spend time with a lady but it's like asking the plague to dinner. I cannot even know with the things that happen that something worse might befall them if they got too close. I think the riddle of the curse needs to be unraveled before, for it is against that very thing." He was wondering if he was making any sense but knew a lot so far this night was making sense.

"It would need be taken line by line, aye? The better to learn its meaning?" She was curious of the how now.

"We'll see. I still think it wouldn't hurt to ask one of the gifted for help, they might see something in the riddle that we don't." Anne was going to stand firm on that point, simply because she had no idea how to undo the curse.

"And finding someone is not always easy." She nodded slowly. "A curse is always breakable but it may take time. But speaking to one of the others must be your choice, Matthew."

"We have gotten so far to be stumped." It eluded him too but then the hour was late. "Maybe if we all sleep on it," well, more like maybe if they did being he had gotten no where with it, like it was not for him to know the meaning, kept from him even. Another had to. "If any of you figure it out or at least come up with some ideas to try, you can contact me here through Alex. I would be very appreciative of any such efforts." He'd been elated to get this far but now felt the pull of it all and didn't want to lose hope. He could ask around, not letting on how close the riddle was to his welfare.

"Aye, it is grown late and I ought return home, for there are preparations yet to be made." She nodded and would lend her mind the task. "Do I think of aught, I shall send word round."

"I'll do what I can myself. Maybe Odile will have some ideas too." Anne agreed, then added, "Will you write it down for us, Matthew? It might be more clear if we see it in writing."

"I will stay here this night, as it is late." Not that she was afraid to return to the camp, especially with Miakoda to escort her, but she was tired. She smiled at Matthew, daring to step close enough that she could look into his eyes. It was necessary in more than one way. "It will come, Matthew. You have three of us to help you. I think we will be persistent."

"I will do so and send it to each of you." Hoping Alex continued to have that steel trap of a mind that remembered everything as the words to the curse tended to fade in and out, getting it out fully for once. "I have faith again, not having such in a long time." Still, he knew he needed to be careful as best he could around any and all females until the curse was broken. "It is the first anyone has wanted to help me after causing so much havoc." He was still in that amazement and obviously meant a great deal to him. "Sleep well, I know this night will be a better one for me."

"Goodnight to you all and I look forward the hearing that your curse is broken, Matthew. Keep strong the meantime." She smiled and with a bit of a wave, headed to home.

"Good night, Alannah. I should head back too, before Odile sends out the troops." And she had a part to continue learning too! "I'll come by and see how you're doing in a few days too."

"Good night to each of you. May your dreams be pleasant ones." She headed for the door of the tavern. She might stay around for a day or two and try to work it all out.

In keeping things on an even level, he kept his distance. The glass returned to Alex having finished off the spot of potcheen. Giving a wave he was quick then to end this night without mishap as he headed for his quarters in another section of the tavern by way of that same hall, just not upstairs.

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