The full force of the morning sun hit Orell as he left the shade of the trees. Ahead the road wound down a shallow slope to a crossroads. He slowed the horse as he reached the junction. North it rose again cresting a hill. To the South the wide well trodden track followed the shallow valley, disappearing as it bent around a finger of the old forest. Sounds carried up the road by the lazy summer breeze reached Orell. As he waited atop his horse a large group of people came into view.

They were a mob, that much was evident from the shouting and the flaming torches they carried. Some held axes while others wielded scythes or hammers. Orell kept his position as they approached.

“Ho, traveller,” the first of the men called, stopping some ten paces from Orell. “Where do you head?” The man had broad shoulders, muscled arms and a chest that bulged beneath a loose fitting smock.

“I have come from Lengan and am heading to Thun to meet with my sister’s cousin.” Orell matched the man’s stare but kept his voice even; he did not intend to provoke the group. “You are a large crowd,” he chanced.

“Do you know of the magus who lives on the south edge of The Wald Forest?” The man’s eyes scanned Orell as he spoke.

“I do not. Are you travelling to entreat him for help?”

A wave of muttering rippled through the crowd. Orell knew he had asked the wrong question.

“Ask for his help?” Anger rose out of the man. “We go to see him, but it will not be to ask for his help. He has cursed our folk and for that he must pay. We will take no more of it.”

Behind the leader others murmured their agreement.

Orell decided to risk another question. “He must have done great injustice to you all for such a band to be formed?”

“Aye, that he has,” the man replied. “He has been stealing the souls of the young; coming at night in the form of a raven while we sleep.”

Others joined in.

“My son is gone,” a man in the midst of the crowd called out. “Not three weeks into the world and now as cold as stone.”

“Resli has not recovered from the loss of her young ‘un,” someone else shouted. “She cannot rise herself from her bed.”

“And what of Dario’s twins?” said another. “Both strong young boys. Went out playing in the forest and have not been seen since. Three days we searched for them and never a sign. Just like they had been taken; body, spirit and all.”

Orell scanned the heads of the mob. There were twenty, maybe twenty five. He had no wish to fall on the wrong side of them.

“It seems you have good cause to hate this magus.” There were jeers of agreement. “I have no like of such people. As I am travelling that way it would seem good sense to go with you. I do not wish to be set upon.” These last words he directed at the leader, looking for acceptance.

“You are more than welcome,” the broad shouldered man replied. “Moving in numbers can be safer when such evil is about the land.”

Orell rode most of the journey in silence. What conversation he did enter into was filled with the townspeople venting their anger; the magus, it seemed, was to blame for so many of their woes.

Finally the group reached the base of a gentle rise. The road climbed up a shallow hill and back into the forest. To the right, less than a league away, stood a small cottage. Attached to one side of it was a stone built tower, the apex of the conical roof cresting the tress by half the height of a man.

The leader of the group turned to Orell. “Will you join us or is your business in Thun urgent?”
“My fight is not with this magus, but I will stay here and watch for as long as I can.”

The stout man gave a quick nod, then turned and walked up the hill towards the small building. The mob strode after him. Orell spurred his horse to the top of the rise and then halted it, turning to watch the confrontation.

For some time nothing happened. The crowd would not venture too close to the tower. Instead they jeered and chanted. When they got no reaction a few rocks were thrown. Then someone spotted movement in the tower, only a shadow at a window but it was enough; the shouting rose to new heights. A few of the braver amongst the group strode forward. Further rocks were thrown. Orell could not pick up the words but it was obvious they were rallying each other with their calls.

The frustration finally broke and someone let loose with a torch. It landed in the middle of the thatch and stuck. Moments later the flames had caught hold. More followed and before long the roof was ablaze.

Orell watched the burning building for a moment longer, then, with a small smile of satisfaction, he turned his horse and urged it along the road and into the forest.

The trees closed about him, offering respite from the heat. His mount took on a will of its own, stretching into a gallop. Shadows drew from out of the undergrowth adding to the gloom. They reached with dark fingers, wrapping themselves around the rider. A momentary light burst through the darkness, then both man and horse were gone. The shadows fell back leaving only a solitary raven winging its way between the trees.


27 November 2009
This week the Swiss will vote on a constitutional ban on building minarets in their country. There is very little problem with Islamic extremists in Switzerland, but that has not stopped those pushing for the bill from reciting common themes of fear.

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