CHAPTER #5

Victorious in their battle against the trolls, Edgar, Harek, Falco, Dirk, and the one surviving miner spent the night at their camp of yestereve before setting out on the return trip to Glitterstead the following morning. Along the way, Edgar stopped at the hut of the mad hermit Garmund had told them of on their way out. He found the hermit to be a wild-eyed, spindley limbed, and an overall pitiful excuse for a man. A raving lunatic to be sure, who threatened the Gisiling with the wrath of Wod, all the while spitting folkish curses and shaking a churlish attempt at a nithing staff at him. But Edgar knew of runecraft and witchery, and that of the madman was akin to Helga's ... folkish nonsense with no power ... mere pagentry on behalf of this frightened old lunatic, designed to frighten off those who might harm him in his isolation.

Edgar soon left the company of the madman, unimpressed, but unable to shake his mention, his warning, that "Hagguth is once again on the prowl". He knew this name, Haggutha, but could not place it at first. Then later, after meeting up with the others and pressing on to Glitterstead, both Falco and Dirk mentioned that they too recalled this name. They recalled that when they were but pupplings, a number of men had gone missing in the Hyrcenian Mountains and how the adults whispered in hushed tones about "Burnt Haggutha" or "Hagguth the Witch" and shuddered at the possilbity of her "return". A secret that everyone knew about, but no one talked about.

And so it was the following day that the Gislar lads returned to Gisilberg. There Edgar sought out his grandmother and asked her of Haggutha. She hushed him and scratched hexes of protection in the air, explaining that it was forbidden to speak that dark and unholy name. But when Edgar explained to her the tale of Karl, the wolfheads, the witchery found at the dwarven hold, and then of the words of the madman, the wise old crone knew the tale of Hagguth could be "hidden" no longer.

She spoke of the reign of her own great uncle, the Lord Gisilbert, some hundred seasons agone, and of the great turmoil that followed his wedding to a Saxon lass who name has since been stricken from scrolls and neglected by gleomen. All that is remembered is that she was a beautiful Saxon lass sought after by all of the lords that ruled in the southernmost of the Saxonlands. Battles were fought for her hand, and in the end it was Lord Gisibert that claimed her as his prize. His love for her was great, and it ruled him in everyway. He would hear no wrong of her ... on pain of death ... but she was fickle and trothless, her "indiscretions" many and varied.

Many a man, both earl and thrall, knew her. And she was a great friend to all evil women. Crowds of such vixens were said to follow her about. And some said that this was no mere gossipy entourage, but indeed, a coven of witches, and the Lady of the Gisilings a witchqueen. Some say her coven numbered in the hundreds, and that she in fact drew her power from Wod himself; not indirectly as all witches ultimately do, but via personal and direct invocation! And some say that she was responsible for the rash of young children that went missing during this time; a belief that ultimately sparked war amongst the southern Saxon Lords once again. And while Lord Gisilbert was once again victorious, this time in defense of his Lady, he was struck a wound that proved to be mortal in the closing battle. And with his death, it was the Gisilings themselves that seized Gisilbert's lady, placed a bag over her head, and charged her before the Tivar with witchery. And it is for this reason alone that the Gisilings maintain their rank and station today. But in the end, the witchqueen was found guilty and burned at the stake. Her remains were then taken to the Nebel-bogs upon the Brocken in the Hercynian Mountains, and there sunk deep to join the other offspring of shameful felony and malicious deceit.

And so it was thought that the matter had been dealt with and life got back to normal in the Saxon south. But no more than a season had passed when those very Gisilings and their co-conspirators that had taken part in the trial of Gisilbert's lady began to turn up horribly slain. Hagguth as the folk began to call her had crawled out of the Nebel-bogs to seek her revenge.

Some say her witches gathtered to chant her back to life, others say likewise, but it was not the lady that arose from those bogs, but something older and more terrible still. But many died, and such was the fear that, before long, folk began leaving their unwanted children at the Nebel-bogs as offerings to appease Burnt Haggautha and satiate her anger. This worked until the folk themselves could no longer tolerate it. A hero emerged to track down Burnt Haggutha, slay and burn her once again; thence to return her remains to the Nebel-bogs.

And so again the matter was thought dealt with and a generation passed, when again folk began disappearing and then turning up horribly murdered and multilated. Again the folk whispered of the return of the Hagguth the Witch. But, or so the story goes, this time Hagguth had the misfortune of capturing two Gisiling youths, Edgar's own great-grandfather and his sister in fact. They are said to have tricked Hagguth, slipping their bonds and locking her in her own hut, before burning it down and recommitting her remains to the Nebel-bogs. But indeed, Edgar's grandmother continued, it remains that whenever someone goes missing in the Hercynian Mountians whispers will again begin to be heard of the old witch Haggutha; though such rumours die as quickly as they are born lest they lend to her actual return.

But this time ... THIS time ... Edgar himself had seen the signs. What else could it have been that snuck into their midst and bore off Karl without a trace? That tore his chest open and picked his insides clean? That done the same to a small army of wolfheads? And what was it that knew witchery powerful enough to cause the dead to get up and walk?

Edgar believed he now had answers for Lord Albrecht. Terrible answers.