Once everyone is safely back at Dahlia’s (well, everyone except Morgan and Thrud), Ember restlessly traces the boundaries of the inn as people settle down. She checks the bar on the door, the latches on the shutters, adds a few coals to the kitchen stove. Bidding god natt to the men downstairs, she ascends to the garret bedroom. FluffyKitten is already in bed with Wolfbane, and both are sleeping contentedly. She checks the shutters on the bedroom window, then places her cloak on the floor and folds it in half, then in half again, so that she can kneel comfortably while she prays.
She tries to give thanks for their safe escape from the Temple of Cretia, tries to pray for wisdom in unraveling the mystery of what has befallen the duke – but her mind wanders. Something is bothering her, distracting her, keeping her from focusing. She clears her mind of conscious thoughts, falls back on a silent chant and meditation – allows her unconscious thoughts to rise to the surface. If she can’t sleep well, at least she won’t have to pray for spells in the morning, just do her sunrise observance. Chant, chant. She hasn’t actually cast a spell all day, and her healing spells are intact. Why is she upset? Chant, chant. Suddenly she realizes that it is the fact that she has all healing spells, and hasn’t used any of them, that is upsetting her. Why? Carefully, deliberately, guiding herself between allowing her thoughts to surface, and then analyzing them, she eventually thinks she understands. By the grace of Glöð, she knows many spells, and they are increasingly powerful – but she uses hardly any of them. Glöð’s Remedy and Orisons of Heartmending are her near-constant choices. She feels that she has to choose healing spells, to protect the party – but that means she never has any of her other spells: she is wasting the wisdom that Glöð has given her. Perhaps with an attack spell, or a spell to discern enemies, or a spell to communicate, the party wouldn’t need so much healing – she could be more useful, her talents not wasted. Yes, she decides, this is what is bothering her – she accepts her role as caretaker to the party, but is frustrated, limited by that role. She focuses on this, mentally underlines it, spends a good deal of time reinforcing this in her mind rather than praying. Finally, she stands and hangs her cloak, changes into her bedclothes. She moves Fluffy from her position snuggled next to Wolfbane, lifts and sets her crosswise at the foot of the bed, lays a blanket over her, and climbs into the bed herself, ready to embrace what dreams may come.
When she awakes the window shows a dull haze – it is not yet dawn, but will be soon. From below comes the clank and clatter of the kitchen, so she leaves the bed, gasping at the cold, and goes downstairs to greet Dahlia. However, the women in the kitchen is not Dahlia – it is a white-haired crone bent over the stove, not the young tavern-owner. When the women turns and stands, Ember recognizes her as Moter Hilda, and she cries for joy as she rushes to embrace her.
The old women fusses at her until Ember releases her embrace. “Have you no manners, now? No decorum? Am I not still your superior?”
Ember bows her head, but answers confidently. “I thought those formalities would not need to be recognized now…now that you are dead.”
Hilda chuckles. “So, you figured that out, did you? You always were one of the clever girls. I suppose I don’t need this, then.” She lays aside her staff and stands taller, the aged stoop of her spine gone. She still has white hair and copious wrinkles, but somehow now appears in the best of health. “And we won’t be needing this, either.” Hilda waves her hand as if clearing smoke, and the tavern kitchen is dispersed – in its place is the interior of a longhouse, with a large hearth. Actually, several hearths – innumerable hearths, for though the longhouse is a normal span wide, it goes as far as Ember can see in both directions. All along its length, women tend the hearths and children help, learn, and play. An occasional man carries a side of meat, sharpens weapons, or has his wounds tended to.
Hilda settles into a chair by the fire, and this one is apparently hers, for no other woman is nearby. Oddly, there are no other chairs, and she does not offer one to Ember. “So, when last we met, you wanted advice on how to guide your party – how is that going?”
“Very well, Moter. Just as you said, by awarding and withholding my healing, I can help them choose to be good. The one who truly worried me has elected to leave us, and my burden is lighter now that he is no longer under guest-protection. Another died, and another betrayed us. I am sorry I did not see his treachery beforehand, but in the end he reaped what he sowed. All who would not see the light have gone, and all who remain are loyal guests.”
“And Morgan the Red, red with blood?”
“She repented of killing those men, and accepted the punishment for all of us. She is fierce, but I no longer fear her – she is brave and true and more good than she will admit.”
Hilda nods contentedly. “Then what is your dilemma now, min dotter? Why have you sought me out?”
Ember pauses for a moment to compose her thoughts. “Well, in a sense, using my healing to guide the party has been almost too successful. It seems it is all I do now. Glöð has blessed me with knowledge of many spells, but I seldom use any but healing. I feel I could play a more important role if I were more free to act as needed.”
“I see,” murmurs the crone. She leans forward and pokes at the fire. She traces designs in the embers, and floating images appear above it – images of women engaged in mundane household tasks. “Dotter, do you remember the tale of Erna Bjorklund?”
“Why, of course,” says Ember, for it was a favorite among the novices, who competed to see who could tell it the best. “God kone Erna was home by herself, knitting a sweater and her husband out in the fields, when a man entered their home and tried to take her by force. She drove a bone knitting needle into his eye so deeply that he died right there by the hearth. Moter, did you know this woman?”
“No,” Hilda chuckles, “that tale was older than I am when I was but a novice. But I’ve met her, you know, here. And many others. Anne Eskilddoter, a servant girl. When her lord’s castle was overrun by goblins, she subdued two of them in the kitchen by wielding an iron skillet. Merete Owe – she was tending a smokehouse fire when sea-raiders came to her coast-hold. By the time they had two of her kine back to their boat, it was well ablaze! Not many women are trained in battle, like our novices are. And yet, we find ways.”
“That is our strength, dotter, we women – our flexibility, our adaptiveness. Most men know just one thing – be it fighting, or raiding, or farming, or a craft. Oh sure, they may know hunting as well, or even lovemaking, if you’re lucky.” Hilda chuckles as the color rises in Ember’s cheeks. “But we women, we have to know spinning and sewing, weaving and dying, washing and mending, cooking and baking, milking and churning, knitting and singing, birthing and nursing…yes, yes, it just goes on and on. Resourceful, we are. Cunning, we are. Men know but one way to solve a problem – we have many. And if we don’t have a way, we find one. So, let’s find one for you.” Hilda waves Ember forward to the fire, and together they trace designs in the flames.
Ember loses track of time, but eventually comes to realize that her prayers, the spells she knows, are floating inside her mind like golden spheres. She can reach in and extract them, one at a time. And when she places them on the hearth, they burst into flame, transforming into other spells!
“There it is now, dear, you have it,” says Moter Hilda, and Ember is woken by Wolfbane turning in bed and throwing her arm across her face.
[Ember’s new power: Spell Fire. She may spend a round to “burn” a prayed-for spell to turn it into a fire spell of equal or lesser level. At this point, she may burn any prepared orison to turn it into Inner Warmth. She may burn any prepared first level spell to turn it into one to four orison’s of Inner Warmth, or a single Burning Hands or Hearthglow. She may burn any prepared second level spell to turn it into Heat Metal or Produce Flame, or any of the first level level spells, or four orisons.]