Joseph E. Swift





According to the story, it

all happened to a poet from our town,

Ulysses MacCool, his name.

(Some say he was the great, great

nephew of old Finn himself,

though that's as maybe)

No longer young, he was, but not yet wise.

His beard was shot with grey,

though his eyes still twinkled

with a certain devilment.

He found himself ship-wrecked upon the coast

and wandered long, a sole survivor,

clad in rags, in a magic wood.


He heard the howl of wolves

and sprinted for his very life,

until he heard their panting

close behind him,

felt their hot breath on his heels.

He turned to face his fate, one white,

one black, and heard

a dulcet woman's voice that said,

"Gryphon, Florian, hold now.

Let's not devour the handsome stranger,

not quite yet."


And he saw a maiden fair.

All golden-haired she was,

and dressed in furs.

He was familiar with her race, for she

was Hyperborean, from the land

beyond the north wind's home.

Good witches. Mostly. So they say.

At her command the wolves

stood still, although MacCool

was not precisely thrilled

by the hungry way they looked him

up and down. He fainted, then,

with the exhaustion of his long ordeal,


and vaguely knew that he was leaning

on her shoulder as she half-carried him

through the wood. Or was he flying?

The wolves trotted behind, obedient,

though now and then they licked his hand,

just for a taste.


He slept, and woke in furs,

as naked as could be,

in a deep, dark cave.

The Hyperborean maid

was naked too, wrapped up in furs

and wolves, and watching him

--an admiring stare--across the firelight.

He heard the clink of jewellery, and saw

another woman, this one dark,

with raven hair. A witch-woman,

clearly, from the Southern Isles.

Strange figures on her body

seemed to move, as if alive,

her eyes were deep and brown,

and there was blood red in her hair.

She wore only jewellery, and chains,

and a leather collar like a slave,

though she bore herself

with dignity and grace.

As she knelt beside him in the furs

and raised his curly head

to lift a goblet to his lips,

he felt her warmth against him,

raging like a fever,

felt her long soft hair cascade

over his naked body.


At a nod from Wolf Maid,

Dark One lay beside him in the furs

to keep him warm, purring

and rubbing like a cat.

This had a powerful effect upon him,

and the poet found himself

aroused as he had never been before.

The Dark Witch served him well,


moaning with pleasure,

as the Wolf Maid watched.

She never touched the man, Herself,

for every traveller knows

that forest folk like her

are dedicated to the Moon’s Great Goddess

and their eternal maidenhood,

for their magic power's sake.


Yet she watched with growing pleasure,

eyes flickering

like embers, and in the end

she crawled toward him

through the furs,

(The wolves raised up their heads,

and snarled their disapproval)

and she kissed MacCool upon the lips.

He felt her teeth bite down

and she drew blood,

just as the Dark Witch

drank his life's elixir

in another, and more pleasant way.

And then the witches kissed,

mixing McCool's elixirs on their lips.

And a power seemed to flow

into the poet's limbs. No more half-dead

from fear and injury,

as if in dream,

he passed the night in pleasures,

his lips and fingers exploring

the witches' bodies

like a blind man's reading,

and it seemed to him, at last,

that he no longer knew where he

and witch, and wolf, and forest

ended or began.


He slept, then, drained and exhausted,

soft in the furs before the fire,

in a great warm pile of wolves and witches.

When he awoke, it was mid-day,

and he found himself upon the beach again.


He spied a sail and waved.

The captain who rescued him,

told of a wind that rose

from nowhere, blew his ship

upon that very spot, as if by some dark art.

As for MacCool, he knew it must be so,

for from that day to this,

his verse was touched with magic,

of a kind that makes young ladies swoon,

the gift of witches in the night.





From time to time, the Master Wizard

called upon his student witches

for assistance with

particularly thorny tasks.

The sun-haired Hyperborean maid

was skilled with beasts from many years

of running with the wolves

and had the power to read the mind

of wolf, or owl, or any creature,

see through its eyes and hear its thoughts.

The Wizard knew that he could call

upon K'rin (that was her name)

for any task involving any beast

within his realm.

The ravens in the tower alerted him

and he gazed out to see K'rin emerging

from the wood, at stride. Her long cloak flowed

about her legs as if caressing them.

A pair of wolves--one black, one white--

were trotting dutifully behind.

She saw him on the parapet and waved.

Her warm smile made his old heart

leap with joy.


They sat at table as things elvish and invisible

prepared a meal. K'rin could see them briefly,

only from the corner of her eye,

for when she looked directly at them,

they would vanish from her sight.

"Your birds came to summon me,"

the young witch said,

"and so I came as quickly as I could,

for my dear Master's sake."

She placed her hand upon his own.

"There is a dragon

laying waste the countryside,"

the Wizard told her. "If we cannot

capture the poor beast and hide him safely

in your wood, where no one treads

without your leave, I fear the villagers

will seek a champion to slay him."

"I'd thought the dragons were extinct."

"As did I, myself. And it may be

that this young dragon is the last

of his proud breed."


When the horses in the stable

saw the wolves and smelled them

on the witch's cloak, they reared

and pranced in consternation,

their eyes wide and rolling.

With the touch of K'rin's hand upon them

and her gentle words, they soon grew calm

and they no longer feared.

The pair set out toward the East

upon the Wizard's princely steed,

the young witch clinging to his waist

behind him, and the wolves

dog-trotting at the horse's heels.

At night the Wizard's magicks

set a fire, the wolves went hunting,

and the travellers feasted.


"Florian, Gryphon, stay!" she said.

The wolf-pair snarled their protest but obeyed.

The cave yawned black and smoke caressed

their ankles, as they slipped

inside the dragon's lair. The bones

of prey, among them sheep and cattle,

crunched under foot, the Wizard happy

that no human bones were evident.

The Wizard entered first, his staff raised up

before them and his hand stretched out

in protection of K'rin. And suddenly, the creature

rose out of the gloom and towered over them.

The dragon's bellow echoed through

the cavern's depths. A blast of fire

enveloped them, but most of its fierce heat

was swallowed by the Master’s staff.

The witch could plainly see, however,

that the Wizard's strength was drained,

and in the stifling heat, she dropped her cloak

and stepped forward, nearly naked,

as the dragon towered over her.


The dragon looked into the depths

(as green as forest) of the witch's eyes

and suddenly became subdued.

He lowered his great head and licked

her hands and let her stroke his brow.

In her mind's eye, she saw the dragon's life

as if it were her own:

his mother's death at Village hands

a century before, his struggle to mature

and grow without her ancient wisdom.

Unskilled in avoiding human eyes,

driven by hunger to attack the flocks,

he'd spent his days in lonely vigil

in the cavern's depths.

A tear rolled down the witch's cheek

and the dragon's great horned head

caressed her breast.


The Wizard watched her go,

wolves trotting at her heels,

the dragon circling in the sky above.

She kept the creature in her cave,

upon a rock ledge just above her bed,

where she lay naked with her wolves

upon a pile of furs.

The dragon rumbled like a furnace in his sleep,

his breath keeping the cave

as warm as any roaring fire.

Sometimes the Wizard would appear

in K'rin's dreams.





Of all the seedy shops in Estuary's Magic Lane,

the Rat Emporium was known to be the worst.

The moment that the Master entered,

the proprietor could see his client

was a wielder of great power, and he smiled.

"What brings a great White Wizard to this

darkest part of town, where black arts thrive?"

The Master looked about him, scowling at the sight

of elves and faeries, caged and offered up

for sale. "I understand," he said, "you have

an item of some special interest in your cellar."

The shopkeeper thought: even the

whitest wizard has his weaknesses.

"Indeed, Sir," the proprietor oozed.

"If you will please accompany me..."


He took a torch and led the Master

to a cave beneath the shop, where flickering light

revealed a clouded panther pacing

in a cage. The creature's golden eyes

were burning with intelligence and bestial rage;

its white fangs bared in snarl

as they approached.

"There is a powerful enchantment here,"

the Master said. "The blackest sort of magic."

He bent closer to the cage, examining

the collar on the poor beast's tawny throat

--a human collar from the Southern Slave Isles.

When the panther hurled itself into the bars,

the Master waved his hand, and the

fierce creature stopped in mid-attack

and looked about in calm perplexity.

"I'll not presume," the magic-monger said,

rubbing his hands, "to tell the most-wise Master

of the nature of this beast, or of the dangers

that its purchase may entail. We can, of course,

offer no liability." "I understand,"

the Master said. "That is but one of many reasons

why this trade's forbidden in the realm."

"Indeed, Sir," the shopkeeper said,

an oily grin upon his face.


And so it was, the Master's gypsy

wagon took the road home to his Keep,

the panther in a cage within. All night

they journeyed northward on the River Road,

and with the first rays of the morning sun

upon the mountain peaks, they halted by a stream

to rest the horses, and the Master climbed

into the van. The panther paced, excited now,

and as the Master watched, it slowly changed

its form. Still sleek and dark,

and fiercely beautiful, it took the shape of

a young woman, draped in long black hair,

her naked body covered in tattoos.

"You must be powerful," the Wizard said.

"For it was your own witch's power,

turned upon you, that allowed this black

enchantment to take hold."

The young witch only growled and bared her teeth.

"I see there is much work ahead," the Master sighed,

"and many levels of enchantment to reverse.

Firstly, a self-protection spell to stop you

from attacking me in either human or

were-panther form; another spell to keep

you from escaping; and a spell restoring human

speech and thought. And, finally, a major spell

returning your shape-shifting power

to your own self-control."


All day, the Master studied, poring over ancient books,

until he dozed, exhausted. In his sleep,

he dreamed of the young witch, her body glowing

in the firelight of his own hearth.

Her tattooed flesh gleaming with sweat,

she knelt upon all fours before him,

on the furs strewn on the cold stone floor.

Her Master, young and strong once more,

bent over her and bit her neck,

as she purred sensuously and growled

in pleasure, clawing at the furs.

He woke and rubbed his eyes,

and saw the young witch peering out at him

quizzically within her cage.

"Yes, powerful indeed," he said.


Upon returning home to Wizard's Keep,

the Master went to work with spells and potions,

keeping the fierce creature chained, at first,

within the Keep's great hall, where,

cat or witch, she slept upon the furs

beside the hearth, eyes gleaming in the firelight.

When he retired each night, exhausted,

he could hear her whimpering like a kitten

in the great, cold hall. The protective spell

complete, he moved her to the tower, and chained

her to the foot of his great bed, where, cat or witch,

she slept, purring with pleasure, at his feet.

When the escape-proof spell was finished,

he unlocked her chains, but she would not

allow him to remove her collar.


Every night, exhausted from his study,

he retired to bed with the great cat asleep

upon his feet, and woke to morning sunlight

with a beautiful young woman snuggling

in his arms, beneath the covers.

Finally, her human mind and voice restored,

she said, "My name is Joh-An-Yi. I was

one of the greatest witches in the Southern Isles.

My enemies did this to me and sold me

into slavery--by night a ravenous beast,

by day a mindless slave to passion."

"I shall release you from your thrall,"

the Master said. But Joh-An-Yi continued

happily to serve him. Even after her full powers'

restoration, she remained some time

within the Keep--by day his most adoring pupil,

studying at her Master's feet; by night,

the equally adoring slave-companion of his bed--

though human, still a ravenous beast





The Wizard was accustomed to

the villagers approaching, hat in hand.

The Innkeeper appeared that day

outside the castle walls, the ravens

warning of his near approach.

The castle doors swung open,

seeming of their own accord,

and the man crept, fearfully, into the hall.

The Wizard, cloaked in grey, came down

the stairs and greeted him; he seemed

to glow with power and the poor man trembled.

"Master," he said, "I am the Keeper

of the Inn at Long Last, on the Chester Road."

"I know the place," the Wizard said.

"A blazing fire, good food and wine,

and bedding relatively free from vermin,

where a traveller might spend the night

and cross the Witches' Wood by day."


"There is a demon, Sir, or something like,

infesting our poor inn and all the nearby moors.

We've always dealt with elven folk

--spoiled milk and other tricks

a minor thing in view of our proximity

to Witches' Wood—-but this new creature

is a thing that manifests in women's' dreams.

It gives them Hellish visions,

and they wake in horror at an unclean touch.

My wife has gone, my kitchen-maids as well,

and lady travellers, few as they are,

avoid the place. Their men-folk take them

by the Ford and River Road across the valley."

"A succubus," the Wizard said,

and stroked his beard. "Good Man, fear not,

I shall do what is in my power."

The Innkeep bowed his thanks and left;

the Wizard called his winged

messengers down from the tower.


At the inn, the next night,

The door blew open and the candles flickered

in the blast of wind and rain, as lightning

etched the sky. The Innkeeper's glance

revealed to him the muffled, darkened

figures at the door. He rushed to help them

with their cloaks and stopped to stare.

Two women stood there, companied by dogs.

One figure tossed the hood

of her bright scarlet cloak, and golden hair

came tumbling down like sunlight on a leaf.

The other woman kept her hood up,

yet the Innkeeper could see her hair

was black as night. He heard the jingle

of gold jewellery as she moved with sensuous grace,

like a jungle cat. They sat at table

and he brought them meat and mead, the dogs

reclining at their feet, and it was not until

the animals looked up at him with yellow

eyes ablaze he knew them to be wolves.

"These two are witches," he said to himself,

"Sent here by Master Wizard,"

and he served them warily, though smiling.


"A cold night, and a dark one," he said.

"A road that's fraught with danger."

"We do not fear the forest," said

the golden one. "My name's K'rin,

and this is Joh-An-Yi." The other woman

tossed her cloak now and the Innkeeper gazed

with fear upon her barbarous aspect.

Her body was tattooed with mystic signs,

her hair streaked with a red that seemed

to burn like flame, and yet her dark eyes

glittered in a smile that made him flush

with embarrassment as his loins stirred.

The Innkeeper's fat old cat approached

the pair as if he had been summoned.

The wolves snarled an insult, yet

he walked right by their noses and leaped

upon the table. The dark witch petted him,

with the jingle of a dozen bracelets on her wrist.

"That is The Bear," the Innkeep said, and made

as if to shoo the cat away, but Joh-An-Yi

transfixed him with a glance. "His real name

is Moo-Khi," she said, "Stalker of Elves

in the ancient tongue, and it is he who keeps

your stables and your garden free

of gnomes and pixies, not the charms hung

on the gate outside, which lost

their power ages past and need to be renewed."


The meal completed, and the wolves fed

with a titbit or a few dropped from the table,

though they still eyed the fat Innkeeper

with disconcerting frankness, the witches

climbed the stairs and retired to their room.

The bed was brass, and creaked; the wind

came whistling through the door; beneath the

counterpane, they snuggled in each other's arms,

and slept. The wolves sat up and pricked their ears,

and growled. The candle guttered,

and a thing like shadow slid across the floor.

The witches' spirits watched as if from just

beneath the ceiling, as the shadow slid

onto the bed and crept toward their sleeping forms.

And suddenly, Joh-An-Yi found herself in Hell,

surrounded by deep gloom and deafened by

the shrieks of tortured souls.

She struggled in the foul embrace

of some goat-headed demon, reeking

of an ancient evil, death, and monstrous sin.

Her spirit hovered, powerless, and watched

her sleeping body writhe in fear,

her eyelids flutter in the struggle

to awaken from the nightmare.

And then she saw K'rin tossing her golden

mane in the self-same struggle,

as she too was possessed, her mind sucked

screaming down into the void.


K'rin found herself alone and naked, shivering

in a thick, impenetrable mist, heard screams

of tortures somewhere in the distance.

There came a slithering sound, as of some

monstrous serpent's progress, and a shadow

rose before her in the gloom. Her heart leaped

when she recognized her Joh-An-Yi,

until she saw the creature's cold, reptilian eyes,

and noticed to her horror that its lower body

ended in a pair of serpent's tails.

The creature seized her in its coarse

reptilian hands; a wave

of nausea and disgust washed over her,

yet mixed somehow with an unbidden pleasure,

as she lay back, helpless, in its grip.


The Innkeeper was awakened by the

desperate howling of the wolves. Despite

his fear, he leaped out of his bed and padded

down the hallway in his nightshirt, as

the walls about him seemed to move as if alive;

he heard the distant sound of screams and saw

a Hellish glow pour forth beneath the door

of the two witches' room. He burst in through

the door and saw the women struggling,

naked and magnificent, within the grasp

of the most foul, repulsive creature he

had ever seen. It had the torso of a human being,

female above and male below, but its great head

was goat-like and its lower limbs were

coiling serpents. It turned to blink at him

with nictitating eyes, then turned away,

ignoring him as harmless. The demon spread

its arms and both the witches,

eyes still closed in sleep, and seemingly unable

to resist, accepted its most foul embrace.


The wolves, snarling with rage and fierce

frustration, seemed unable to defend their mistress,

as if paralyzed, or frozen by the icy mist.

The Innkeeper, with unaccustomed courage,

rushed into the room to seize the creature,

and it threw back its great horned head and laughed,

a sound as deep and chilling as the pit of Hell.

It rippled in his grasp, like a reflection

on a still pond's surface, and his hands passed

through its insubstantial body.

As the ripples spread throughout the room,

the Innkeeper looked down to see that he

could look straight through himself. As one

might see a swimming trout through one's own face

reflected in a fish-pond, he could see

another form inside his own, as if in hiding there:

a long grey beard, a wizard's robes, a pair

of arms that reached out toward the witches.

As the right hand closed upon the left hand

of K'rin and held it tight, the left hand

grasped the right of Joh-An-Yi, and the women,

still asleep, reached down and took

each other's free hands in their own.

The Innkeeper felt a surge of power

flowing through his body, saw the Master's

withered arms grow strong and muscled,

and the demon, startled, found himself held tight,

encircled in a powerful embrace.


There was a howl of rage that seemed to come

from deep within the Earth;

the creature took a quick

succession of intimidating shapes

--a great black bear, a roaring lion,

and a monstrous dragon, breathing fire.

And yet the three held tight. The demon

shifted shape into a blazing fire, a waterspout,

a bolt of lightning, yet they held their grip.

The howl of rage became a scream of fear.

Their minds were bombarded with

the foulest images of monstrous crimes,

of rapes and tortures, brutal murders,

and great massacres of innocents

from every century past. And yet they held.

The creature's screams of fear became

a shriek of agony, as love of wizard

and of witches for each other

pierced its black heart like a blade, and lastly,

with a long-drawn cry of sad regret and

awful loneliness, the demon faded and became

a tiny wisp of smoke that dissipated in the air.

The icy mist, the Hellish fires,

the screams of tortured souls were gone.


The Master's arms enfolded his beloved students

in a tight embrace, and they awoke from sleep

as his grey image faded into nothingness.

The Innkeeper found himself in one of his own

guest-rooms, dressed in nightclothes, with

two naked women in his arms. He stepped back

in shock, the wolves grumbled a warning,

and the witches led him, quietly befuddled,

back to his own room. "You will awaken

and forget this dream," K'rin said,

as she tucked him in. "The demon has been

exorcised and will not trouble you again."

"And you may send a message

for your wife's return" said Joh-An-Yi,

making a sign over his bed, "for this will be

a house of happiness and pleasure for yourself

and guests, forevermore."


The Master reclined upon his divan

in the Keep's great hall, before the fire.

Joh-An-Yi lay beside him, sleeping,

with her head upon his lap.

He stroked her sleek hair, and she purred

like some great tawny cat.

K'rin sat at his feet, upon the furs,

with both her wolves asleep beside her,

and she and her Master stared

into the fire, in thoughtful silence.

The flames danced like tormented souls.

"You used us as bait," she said.

"I'm sorry," said the Master.





K'rin waited on the parapet of Master Wizard's

Keep and watched the cloud-filled skies;

her wolf-companions growled and paced

in worry that reflected her own thoughts.

The air was crisp and cold, with snowflakes

swirling in the breeze from out of Witches' Wood,

and K'rin shivered in her cloak, her golden mane

aflutter like a flag atop the windswept tower.

She spied a shape descending from the southern

mountains, and soon recognized her dragon.

With a gentle flapping of its iridescent wings

it settled on the parapet, and she reached up

to seize its reins. The dragon nuzzled her

as its lone rider slid down from the saddle.


The High Priestess of Estuary

patted the great beast's warm flanks

and the young witch embraced her.

She was a woman of mature years,

judging by the grey hair, though her body

remained young and supple, and there burned in

her blue eyes the wisdom of the ages.

They wrapped their cloaks about their scant-clad

bodies as they turned from the parapet

and stepped into the warm and firelit

Great Hall (behind them, the young dragon

blew a puff of smoke over his own near-frozen

wings and wrapped them round his body).

"I have never known such cold here,

in the Master's realm," the young witch sighed.

"Do you not know," the High Priestess said,

"that it's the Wizard's power keeps

perpetual summer in this place? If not

for him, the continent from your own Hyperborea

to the Southern Isles would soon be deep

in snow most of the year. The ice here,

in this valley, would be fathoms thick.

I fear it's all too much for him."


They saw the Wizard coming toward them

in the Great Hall, leaning on the shoulder

of young Joh-An-Yi. The student witch was

draped in golden ornaments, and the black mass

of her long hair contrasted sharply with the

parchment-paleness of the Master's ancient locks.

His hand upon his staff of power was palsied,

and his body stooped as if in agony.

He stumbled on the flagstones,

and the Priestess felt her heart sink

as she rushed to help support him.

Then she turned and barked out orders

to the servant imps, who ran to fetch

the herbs and simples she demanded.

"You can see the Master's servants?"

Joh-An-Yi asked in surprise, as she could

only glimpse them from the corner of her eye.

"They're my creation," the High Priestess said.

"A gift for my dear Master, many years ago."


Assisting the High Priestess at her spells,

the witches learned much of her craft,

and slowly came to understand how deathless was

the love of Priestess and Magician.

Once, some ages past, he'd been a poet and a

revolutionary in the Southern Empire, but soon

found himself in exile in the Northern

Provinces when that most terrible and prolonged

war broke out that nearly toppled

the great civilization waging it.

He spent some years as an apprentice shaman

for the Sun and Wolf and Raven Tribes,

traversing the Great Northern Steppes

each year from Smoking Springs to Estuary,

following the Lizard King's vast herds.

He crossed the Boreal Sea aboard a trade ship named

Foam Rider with an albino captain named White Shadow,

and served a term as galley slave in the

notorious Austral Fleet. As the High Priestess

spoke, and fragrant mists of potions

wafted through the Great Hall, as the


fire crackled, and the healing spell took hold,

it seemed to the young witches that the

Master's life passed like a dream before them:

trackless deserts under hurtling moons

where grey-robed figures lived in warrens

underneath the sand; great cities carved

into the ice, where plague-struck

people hid from monstrous death-machines;

city towers rising from the sea, their

gleaming spires draped with

vines and overgrown with jungle foliage;

dreadnaught ships with billowing sails

that moved through cloud-filled skies;

vast armies of the dead that marched

through shadowed landscapes, battling

golden angels from a blood-red sky.


They knew, as well, of the great love

between the Priestess and their Master--many

lifetimes long, so powerful that even separated

by vast seas and mountains, they could hear

each other's thoughts, and feel the calling

of each other's hearts for leagues across the realm.

When they awoke, the Master stood before them,

radiant and strong, no longer leaning on his staff

as one infirm and bent with age.

"It is your love, my Priestess, gives me strength,

restores my mind; the charms and potions

were but symbols of that power." He spread his

now-strong arms and lovingly embraced his dear

young witches and his life-long love.


The dragon spread his wings, enjoying the warm

sunlight on the parapet; the High Priestess swung

into the saddle and flew off into a sky as blue

as her all-seeing eyes, as a sad and grateful

Master Wizard watched her go. K'rin and Joh-An-Yi

descended from the tower and set out toward their

once more green, resplendent Witches' Wood,

the wolves dog-trotting happily behind them.





For centuries, the evil wizards of the Capital

had sought the precious jewels,

dripping with potent magicks,

that resided in the bodies

of the ancient race of Draco.

From their darksome realm

they sent the dragon-hunters out

into the farthest corners of the world,

and with the bravery of greed

they ventured into darkest wood

and, with the blackest magic,

found and slaughtered dragons

till no more than one or two

remained. And now the word had spread

that one last dragon dwelt

within the Witches’ Wood.


Thus did it pass one day, the dragon-hunters

came into the Master's Realm.

Hidden by magicks from the eyes

of witch and wizard as they entered

Witches' Wood, they found their quarry

at the door of K'rin's cave

and soon came to regret their find,

for at the moment that their hiding spell

was lifted, she bombarded them with spells

that left them wand’ring in the Wood,

bereft of all their senses, and it's said

that most of them were eaten by the wolves.


The Master, alerted by one young apprentice,

saw in his scryer's crystal that another ship

of dragon-hunters soon would land upon the coast,

and it was clear that many more would follow,

for a dragon's blood and dragons' teeth

and dragon scales, now rare, were still sought

after by black marketeers in all the major

cities in the South. And to protect

the last young dragon, the great beast

would have to be transported far

into the Western Province.

K'rin could not imagine the creature

alone in those deep woods without

his saviour witch to keep him

safely hidden with her spells.

And so it came to pass that K'rin

left her Master's Realm forever.

Alone, casting a spell that hid her tracks,

wolves trotting at her horse's heels.

K'rin forded the Witches' River

and she crossed into the deep woods

of the Western Province,

her beloved dragon winging overhead.

At her behest, clouds gathered in blue skies

to hide its gleaming form from prying eyes.


In later years, the farmers and the villagers

recalled that this day wrought a change

within the Master's Realm.

It seemed the warm sun

had departed with the golden witch

and what had been perpetual summer

now was gone. The nights were cold

and Winter came again each year.

The youngsters scoffed at this and said

their elders were simply nostalgic.

Winter comes each year, they said,

and yet the oldest men and women

seemed to remember summers

that refused to end.


Poor Joh-An-Yi was saddened

and her once great lust for life

appeared to be diminished.

Witches' Wood no longer rang

with bird-call and with frog-song

and the warm sun no longer dappled

the soft forest floor; the dark witch

wandered in a snow-draped mirkwood

filled with the ungainly goblins

and hag-witches which had not,

till then, dared show their ugly faces.


Happy within her tree-filled, sunlit glade,

deep in the Western Province,

K’rin saw in visions Master’s Keep

in snowfall, and remembered fondly

the great fire within the Master’s Hall.

Wise in the ways of nature, K’rin knew

the Master’s power had only postponed Winter;

When the season’s course was run

and balance had returned,

the Master’s realm would once again

become a place of sunlit beauty.

Joh-An-Yi, however, and the Master knew

That Witches’ Wood and Wizard’s Hill

Would never be as joyous

And as lovely as it once had been.





The Master had a scryer's crystal sphere, attuned

to all within his realm that held, for him,

a special meaning—-any use of magic or demonic power,

places of significance, like crossroads, and of course

some individuals with whom he felt a special bond.

Chief among the latter was his young apprentice

Joh-An-Yi, and it is thus he happened to espy

the young witch walking down the road to Witches' Wood,

accompanied by a young knight errant on

a handsome black Arabian. The steed was prancing

nervously, but with a touch the young witch

calmed the beast; the rider looked at her with

admiration. In the crystal, this knight's heart

glowed with his courage and his goodness.

Like champions before him, he had sought her

permission and a promise of safe passage through

The Wood. And yet the Master saw much more than this

--a spark that glowed in each young breast.


Always, he had believed that centuries of life

would still such heartache as he felt that day,

which pierced him like a blade, but now

he knew that neither length of days nor wizard's powers

could still the pangs of simple human sadness.

Joh-An-Yi glanced upward at the dark clouds gathering

in the skies and wondered at their suddenness.

The breezes fondled her black hair, and chilled

the knight deep in his heart. His steed

reared up in sudden fear. And then, as quickly

as they formed, the clouds were gone. The witch's senses

told her magic was afoot but could not trace the source.

It was of little consequence, she thought, for her

beloved Master had already seized control

and sent the darksome forces packing.


The Master's sandaled footsteps echoed in the corridors

as he descended the stone stairs of Wizard's Keep.

The imps and gnomes ducked out of sight, familiar

with his moods, and knowing of the power that lay there

in the dungeons far below. The Castle and the Master

were the same, and each had darkness in its heart.

It was important that the people of the Master's Realm

should never know of this dark place, for their belief

in their own Master's goodness was the basis of his power.

They feared him, to be sure, just as they feared

the wrath of witches or the trickery of elves,

but their belief in his desire to aid and protect them

was more powerful still, and if they knew that even

whitest wizards had the same black monsters gnawing

at their hearts as they themselves did, they would

turn against him. If truth be told,

the only creature in the Realm who knew

the Master's darkest heart was Joh-An-Yi herself.


A shadowy figure crumpled in the dungeon’s corner like a pile

of rags, as jet black as the wizard's cloak was white,

glanced up as the great door flew open, and

its eyes glowed red with foul desires, for it could sense

the Master's tortured spirit. The dark thing smiled

a mirthless grin and slowly rose to match his height.

"So! Now you've need of me!" it croaked.

"I need your power added to my own," the Master said,

"for only thus can I re-shape the keen mind

of a witch without detection." And an icy fog rose from

the earth and swirled about the towers of Wizard's Keep.


The memory was sharp as yesterday's: a clouded cat

caged and enchanted by dark mages from the South,

transformed each dawn into the form of this young

woman, black-haired and wild-eyed, her flesh marked

with tattoos of ancient power; the beast-woman chained

within the Keep's great hall, and later in the Master's

chamber as he wrought the spells to free her from

enchantment, and his wakening one morn to find

the woman sleeping, unchained, beside him in the bed.

But was it memory? Or was it simply some night's lonely

fantasy? Or nothing but the fading fragment of a dream?

And then, one day, the Wizard and his own High Priestess

of the Realm-—half-drunk with fumes from potions

they were teaching Joh-An-Yi the art of preparation—

falling to the fur-strewn floor and schooling her in arts

she was as keen to learn as magic. This, he felt surely

was no memory, only a hopeless fantasy. One last glimpse

of their faces, bending over him, and this too was gone.


And then one night K'rin and Joh-An-Yi, witches of light

and dark, of day and night, of sunlight and the storm:

K'rin sat at his feet before the fire, and Joh-An-Yi

lay sleeping by his side. There was a memory—-

or just a dream-—of both young witches in the Master's arms.

K'rin held back in fear of losing her witch-maiden's powers,

but Joh-An-Yi was hungry for his flesh. One final

kiss between them, and this dream was gone as well.


At last there came a memory as dear as any in the Master's

long, eventful life. As he sat in his chair, brooding

upon the fire, he looked up and saw Joh-An-Yi

in a slip of some diaphanous silk, bare-legged

and barefoot, holding her old slave-collar in her hands.

Shyly, she stood before him, eyes glinting cat-like

in the firelight, and fastened it about her throat.

The delicacy of her burning lips transformed

the Master's ancient body into young, firm flesh again,

as real as any sensual experience of his life, and then

the memory faded like the tatters of a dream.

The Master raised his staff. Its crystal blazed

with piercing light. The Shadow slunk away into the corner

of the dungeon and the Master turned and left.

The door slammed shut and locked behind him

with the firm finality of a chapter's end.

He paused upon the stairway, momentarily lost

and puzzled by a single tear that ran upon

his withered cheek, but found no reason why he should

be weeping, so he shrugged and climbed into the light.


Jo-An-Yi awoke, her body warm and dewed

with perspiration. Tiny fragments of some dream

were flitting through her mind, like bats departing

Witches' Wood at dusk, but though she tried

with all her power to grasp them, they were gone.

She turned toward her young knight, sleeping

peacefully beside her in her treetop bower.


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