The wind was blowing against his face as the horse was galloping on a sandy forest road. Clouds of sand were flying into the air behind him. Bolko’s hands were holding the reins so hard that he could feel blisters forming on the skin. He couldn’t stop. The evening sun was lighting up the forest with longer and longer streaks of sunlight. The night was coming. He had to reach the town. There he would be safe.

In the distance, Bolko noticed a fallen tree blocking the path forward. He pulled the reins fast, forcing the horse to stop just in front of the tree. He was about to go around the tree when a feminine figure with bear’s skin on her head and shoulders emerged from the thicket. Her face was painted in dark green lines and she had a spear in her hand. Great, a dziewonia. Just what I needed, Bolko thought. The woman took off her headdress, revealing her pointy ears. “You need help,” she said. It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes?” Bolko didn’t know how to respond.
“Tie your horse to this tree,“ the woman pointed at the fallen tree, “and follow me.”

Bolko did as the dziewonia asked. She led him through the thicket into the deep areas of the forest. Areas which most humans avoided. Areas that were said to the homes of monsters.

After a while, they reached a small clearing in the forest. Through the middle of it went a small creek. On both sides of this creek, Bolko noticed simple tents and people doing their daily tasks. All of them had pointy ears and were dressed in animal skins. A settlement of dziewonie, Bolko thought. There was a whole array of people. Men and women. Children, adults and elderly. Sick and healthy. As they noticed Bolko walking through the camp, the men were hiding in the tents or turning back from him. Women, on the other hand, were looking at him with suspicion and interest. Bolko wasn’t sure if they wanted to kill him, drag him to bed or both.

On the other side of the clearing, under an old tree, stood a tent larger than the rest. As they approached it, Bolko’s guide turned to him and put her hand on his chest. “Men are not allowed in the chief’s tent.”

Bolko took a step back and waited as his guide entered the tent. After a few long minutes, the guide emerged from the tent and after her came another woman. This one’s clothes were complemented by an assortment of jewellery from bones and amber. In her hand she held a staff with a skull of an animal Bolko couldn’t recognize. She must have been the chief.

“Welcome, weary human,” the chief said. “Your arrival has been foretold by Mother Earth.”
“I don’t know what you want from me,” said Bolko,” but I need to get to the nearest town. I will be going now.” Bolko turned around and started to walk.
“You won’t be safe there. The assassins will find you,” said the chief.
Bolko stopped and looked at the woman. “How do you know about the assassins?”
“Mother Earth sees and hears all. We can help you.”
The chief raised her staff in the air. “Mat’-Zemiya, zashchiti etogo cheloveka ot vreda!”

The animal skull on the staff lit up with bright light. A moment later, it shot a beam at Bolko. It felt like the light was creating some sort of layer on his body. Then, the chief put her staff on the ground and the light dispersed as quickly as it appeared.

“What was it?”
“Mother Earth marked you with her protective sign.”
“How will it help me?”
“You will see. Now, go!”

Bolko left the camp more confused than he entered it. He couldn’t see much benefit in the so-called help Dziewonie gave him. He knew that magic, especially divine magic, can be mysterious and vague, but this was extremely unclear.

Bolko reached the fallen tree and got back up onto his horse. He continued his journey to the nearest town.

Cover image: Forest by jplenio on Pixabay


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