The Barrow Witch

I wasn’t asleep, but I feigned it as Sir Geraint searched the camp with increasing panic. The knight checked the lady’s bedroll. He circled the horses, and scanned the surrounding woods. The object of his search still unfound, he whirled in a rage and kicked a half-rotted stump, sending up a cloud of punk.

“Squire!” he cried.

“Mmmhmmph?” I said, pretending to wake.

“Where is she, Bertram?” the knight demanded. “Where is Lady Enid?”

I looked around, my face a mask of bewilderment. “I don’t know, sir,” I lied. “Perhaps the witch’s curse has maddened her too. Perhaps she has gone to the Barrow.”

“The Barrow,” Geraint said. He looked down the road with hate and grief warring on his hawkish face. “By Saint George, I swore to Lady Enid I would aid her in finding the Barrow Witch, to end the curse on her family. Maddened or not, I cannot allow the lady to face this danger on her own. I cannot leave her side now!”

“She’s already gone,” I said. “Maybe you should just…let her go?”

Geraint scowled at me.

“Alright, alright…it’s my task to pack, right?” I got to my feet, untangling myself from my cloak and brushing leaves from my hair. It felt strange, cropped so short, but one does what one must do for love. I began to collect Sir Geraint’s things, but the knight put his hand on my shoulder.

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed your insolence this morning,” he said.

I shrugged. “Sorry, sir. Sleeping rough doesn’t agree with me.”

“Enough, Bert,” the knight snapped. “And make haste! We may yet find the lady before she reaches the Barrow.”

Such was his devotion that Geraint deigned to help me pack and ready the horses. Then we spurred our mounts, and raced down the road after Lady Enid. It might have been a pleasant ride if not for the brooding of Sir Geraint. He spoke of nothing but the Barrow Witch, and gave the litany of her crimes. The witch’s curses withered crops, dried up cattle, and sickened babies, and she was known to suckle evil spirits in the form of black cats.

“And poor Lady Enid…” Geraint sighed. “Her father now thinks himself made of glass. Her brothers are consumed with shaking fits. Her mother has been confined, to prevent her from committing the sin of self-slaughter. And for what? What insult have they done to the Barrow Witch?”

“They spurned her friendship,” I said.

The knight looked at me with narrowed eyes. “What?”

I shrugged. “That’s what the lady said.”

“Lady Enid told me she knew no cause for the witch’s displeasure,” Geraint said. “Why would she tell you a different story?”

“I have a way with women,” I told the knight.

Poor Geraint looked baffled. “Have I gone mad?” he asked. “Or have you? You do not seem yourself today, Bert.”

“My mind is sound, sir,” I said.

The knight lapsed into uncomfortable silence.

We passed the edge of the woods, and entered a broad meadow with a great hill at its center. The Barrow. The road lead straight to it, to a dark fissure in the hill’s flank.

“I don’t see Lady Enid,” I said.

Geraint sighed. “Then we must pray we are not too late to save her.” He stroked the hilt of his sword, the cruciform talisman, and muttered a brief appeal to his god. I aped the knight’s gestures.

Then we entered the Barrow.

The narrow cleft led under the earth, corkscrewing until day and direction were both lost. We ventured down, the knight with his sword in hand, and me with a torch. It was dry within, and warm. Geraint sweated in his layers of mail and wool. “It is as if we are descending into Hell itself,” he said.

“Oh, come now, Geraint. It’s not so bad as that,” I said.

Again he peered at me, but he could not see past my disguise. To his eyes I was his squire and friend.

But he suspected now.

And moments later, when we reached the Barrow’s heart, he knew.

There were Bertram and Enid both, sitting by my hearth. Bert was tied to his chair, naked. His eyes bugged out when he saw his master at my side. Enid only looked up from petting one of my cats, and asked, “What took so long?”

“Your knight slept late,” I said as I dropped my glamour. Now Geraint could see me as I am. A woman, slim but strong boned, wearing his squire’s clothes and sword, my glorious black hair shorn to match Bert’s ugly bowl cut.

“You’re the witch!” Sir Geraint cried.

“And you’re a fool,” I countered.

“What have you done to Lady Enid?” the knight demanded, leveling his sword at me.
“I have loved her,” I told him. “And she has loved me.”

Enid nodded, and blew a kiss my way.

“I wanted nothing from her family,” I continued. “But they tried to have me burnt at the stake. So I drove them to madness. Seems fair, right?”

“No!” the knight cried. “You have tempted their daughter into damnation!”

“Eh,” I shrugged. “Anyway, if you and your squire swear to leave us in peace…”

Geraint chose that moment to lunge at me, his sword aimed for my breast.
But my curse already wound around his mind. I gestured, and he recoiled from demons only he could see. He slashed at the air, roaring at his unreal tormentors, and drove his sword into the earthen wall of my home. The blade snapped, and Geraint ran from my Barrow.

“I’ll just go,” Bert said.

“Good choice,” I said as Enid untied him.

Squire fled after knight, and I took my love into my arms and kissed her.

“Too bad about Geraint,” Enid said. “He protected me on the way here. I never would have made it without him.”

“Well,” I said, “I did tell him you were already gone…”