The Witch of Sonnemoor
"Two espressos, one cut." The waitress put down another plate. "And a slice of mango meringue straight from Morrison's this morning. Enjoy." Phanae held the back of her hand over her drink. "A bit too hot, but the cake looks good. So what's with the bribery?" Rigana sighed. "Right to the chase, then? There's a production of the Great Witches of the West scheduled next month, and the girl that was supposed to play the Witch of Sonnemoor dropped out because she didn't like the part. We need a replacement." She took a sip of her own coffee. "Interested?" "Well, potentially, if I was an actress, which I'm not." Phanae frowned. "Did all the other women of the troupe all get sick or something? Why come to me?" Rigana paused for a second. "Are you familiar with the Great Witches?" "Not at all." Phanae cocked her head. "I suppose there's a reason nobody wants to play the Witch of Sonnemoor?" A nod. "Of the five 'Great Witches', the Witch of Sonnemoor's the only one that was real, in the sense that she existed as a historical figure. That's why there's a lot of superstition about the role." Rigana tapped a nail on the table. "I figured you weren't the superstitious type, and the role has few lines, so I thought you could pull it off for a night or two. Just to prove to the others that the superstition is all hoke and nonsense." The guardswoman tapped on her temple. "You aren't telling me something. What's the nature of the superstition?" "That the Witch is still alive and will drown any who portray her in Lake Sonnemoor, and that some actress from a troupe at Patino disappeared two days after playing the part, some twenty years ago." Rigana took a drink. "You know how creative types are. Connect two dots and you've drawn a portrait. Needless to say, there have been plenty of actresses that have played the Witch of Sonnemoor that have not, in fact, disappeared." Phanae rolled her eyes. "Alright, getting prettied up to prance on a stage for a night isn't a big deal. But what's in it for me?" "I'll owe you a favor. An archmagus, a real witch with real magic powers, would owe you a favor." Rigana waved a hand in the air. "Think of the possibilities!"
On the idyllic shores of Lake Sonnemoor, there lived a maiden of unrivaled beauty, a girl who tended a flower garden along the shores, selling bouquets to passersby. Many suitors would arrive, asking for her hand, yet she refused them all with a clutch of flowers, and over the years, her beauty and fame grew, attracting even more suitors for her hand, some less genteel than others. After a number of such unsavory characters travelled through Sonnemoor, the Lord of Sonnemoor paid a visit, asking the girl to consider moving to the lord's town, or at a minimum taking up with someone reliable (suggesting his captain at arms) to protect her from the courtiers of ill repute. He pleaded that many of the men (and a few women) who were visiting were ill-mannered and reckless, and that this was causing problems at the local taverns and waystations. The lord returned to his manor with two new flower bouquets but no promises. Not long afterwards, the most infamous of the suitors arrived, a pirate without a ship, Blue Renaud, one of the most vicious of the pirate crews of the Stagonids, who decided that without the companionship of his Reaper, he would thus seek solace with the reputed beauty of Sonnemoor, and make her his own. With his crew of fifty he carved a path towards Lake Sonnemoor, his bandits pillaging as they went, with most of the local lords and petty kings paying tribute to have him move onwards and out of their lands. The Lord of Sonnemoor heard wind of this, and pleaded with the girl to come to his keep for protection. The girl simply smiled at him quietly, and bid him leave with a selection of black roses. When the Lord offered to post men to keep her safe, she shook her head, vexing him greatly. Though Blue Renaud and his retinue passed through the neighboring kingdom with a ruckus, none observed his arrival to Lake Sonnemoor, but all observed his end; the fishermen found his crew of bandits as corpses, floating in the still waters at the center of the Lake, with broad smiles on their faces and no sign of any physical injuries or assaults. When the Lord of Sonnemoor paid one last visit to the maiden's home, he found her entire garden blackened and withered, with no sign that the garden had ever been alive at all, and Blue Renaud himself was found in the maiden's garden chair, smiling with a bouquet of black tulips, content to waste away, completely still and unseeing. The whispers began to spread in the lord's town, and the suitors promptly stopped. Thus the Maid of Sonnemoor became the Witch of Sonnemoor, and Lake Sonnemoor is her grounds. Should any fool disturb the tranquility of the lake, they will find the tranquility restored, and themselves paying the cost, the Witch of Sonnemoor dragging them into the murky depths.
Lake Sonnemoor is a popular tourist locale in central Saibh, and is a much-painted subject for landscape artists. While there are archival records of a very comely florist living along the shore of the lake during the appropriate years, there are no such records of a mass drowning of bandits. Researchers from The Academy of Etoile speculate that a few men may have simply drowned in Lake Sonnemoor after drinking through their rejection; the lake is unusually deep, and locals discourage visitors from swimming in the lake.
The story of the Witch of Sonnemoor is not particularly well known in the modern Etoilean era but was more widespread pre-Unification, to the point where the King of Nasse avoided the lake and merely sent an ambassador to parley with the Lord of Sonnemoor (who, being a peaceable type, readily agreed to Unification). Its modern incarnation is within the tale of the Great Witches of the West, a play written in the Etoile Capital City in 681 to great fanfare.
Kadwyn Rivant, a social researcher of The Academy of Etoile, noted that it was not uncommon for especially beautiful women in the olden eras to simply be deemed witches at a glance, and ridicules the modern Great Witches theatre play as a manifestation of archaic thinking, unsuited to the principle of Progress. Yet the play, which by its nature features five beautiful women playing the leading roles, remains a popular attraction in the capital.
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