The Silent Witness (Published)

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CHAPTER 5 - JUDGEMENT IN PASS NØTT FØREST

“This is stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” muttered Motiňa in frustration. She was busy looking in the mirror, fussing with the new hairstyle Samrósa was proposing to introduce to the women on Barathorn. At first, Motiňa thought it beautiful, but now, trying it out herself, only made her more irritated. It looked easy enough when Samrósa showed her. There were the occasional days when she thought Samrósa was only using her as a trial run.

“I’m past my prime,” she chided herself. “I don’t need any tips from that vain niece of mine!”

While fussing with the gossamers, she heard the cry of a child. She turned sharply, trying to focus on where the sound was coming from. After a moment of silence, she thought she was only imagining it. Turning back to face the mirror, she continued fussing with the gossamers when she heard the crying again. Turning and looking down on the marble floor, she willed the image of Barathorn to appear before her.

There, in the Pass Nøtt Førest, was a child, a little boy, no older than five, lost in the forest and crying out for his mother. She saw on the other side of the forest the child’s mother, wailing and cursing herself for letting him out of her sight. Many times Motiňa had seen children wander into forests, disappearing from their parents in the blink of an eye. Motiňa closed her eyes, began to shimmer and disappear, heading towards the Pass Nøtt Førest.

She appeared in the forest, dressed in a dark-green woollen cloak with the hood covering her head, standing a good distance away from the little boy. She knew - as with all children - the idea of a stranger appearing before a child would only terrify them more.

While looking at him, she heard a twig snap and turned around. A group of six men slowly approached and formed a semi-circle around her, cutting off any means of retreat. They were armed with bows and arrows, daggers, and other assorted weapons. Their grins showed they had only a few teeth and they reeked a terrible, pungent odour. Their eyes were malevolent, filled with lust and violence.

Bandits!

These were just some of the men who preyed on innocent people, stealing from them and giving this particular forest the reputation of being cursed and its given name. Even when people pleaded for their lives, they’d be tortured then butchered just for the fun of it.

Women would often be abducted from either Pass Nøtt village or even as far as the farmlands from the town of Tøwer Hall and brought into this forest, as bandits knew people would not venture there willingly and they would commit the most unforgivable violation imaginable.

This had been one of the many disturbing acts of violence that sent Sërafinn crying to her parents, begging for them to intervene. It also sickened Samrósa and on a few occasions, she used her powers by turning some of the outlaws into women and would abandon them near their camps. The result would be the same fate as those women who were left defiled, leaving them physically, emotionally, and mentally scarred.

Some women eventually got over the horrors and tried to lead normal lives, while others were broken inside, reliving the ordeal night and day. Sërafinn used her powers over sleep and dreams, letting them fall into a deep, dreamless sleep, only to awaken the next morning feeling strangely refreshed and filled with renewed hope.

Rolling her eyes, Motiňa sighed and pulled her hood back, waiting for some pathetic remark that would normally petrify a human being.

“Well, what do we have here boys?!” said the man in the middle, with a big grin on his face. He was tall, powerfully built, and on his shoulder was a double-sided axe with a knife tucked under his belt. Motiňa guessed he was the ring leader.

“Since we are in the presence of the fairer sex, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Kris Cross!” imitating a mocking curtsey while the others barked out with laughter.

“I hope that’s your nickname,” countered Motiňa. “For your crooked teeth says it all.”

The men dropped their jaws and fell silent. Kris Cross gave her a murderous look.

“It’s a nickname because no one crosses through my forest and lives.”

“Oh, I have indeed heard about this forest,” Motiňa said lightly, looking around her purely for emphasis. “Some say it’s cursed by the gods.” Kris Cross then bellowed with laughter, along with the others.

The gods! There are no such thing as gods, you suspicious wench,” he sneered. “We are the leaders, we determine our own destinies and we choose the fates of those foolish enough to enter my forest!”

“Did you say your forest?” Motiňa asked with an amused look on her face.

“Yes it is woman, so give us all your valuables and afterwards we can have a little fun!” The others had savage smirks on their faces.

“Barathorn is mine!” Bellowed Motiňa, now irritated, taking the men completely by surprise by her sudden outburst. “I created the forests and you’ve turned it into a stench in peoples’ noses with your meagre presence!”

Kris Cross bent backwards and laughed. “This woman thinks she’s a goddess!” They laughed so loudly Motiňa was afraid the child would hear them and run in a panic. When she looked in his direction, the boy had gone further into the forest. She came here for one purpose: to save the child, not entertain brutes. Her mind, now racing, became resolved. Turning back to them she lowered her voice and spoke in an icy tone.

“Take a good look around you, boys. Do you think all these trees are real? Or were they once men like you, who defied the gods and in return, were transformed into trees, cursing them with immortality, having the eyes and ears and yet never able to warn others of what becomes of them if they continued to follow the wrong path in life?”

Her eyes turned dark green and one of the bandits could’ve sworn he saw a clap of thunder in her pupils. The others looked at the trees as if it were the first time they’d ever seen one. Kris Cross looked at his men, but their expressions gave him no comfort. A cold sweat broke out on his brow.

“You’re bluffing,” he said, but his tone gave away that he wasn’t feeling so sure anymore, as her stare never once trailed away from his eyes.

Suddenly, an alarming tremor began underneath them. The men could not run, for they stood in shock and fell backwards. They looked at Motiňa, who began to shimmer a forest-green colour. Her features formed a mist, twirling up, transferring herself into a three metre tall goddess.

Towering over them, she was dressed in an emerald green-and-white sleeveless chiffon dress, fitted with an empress-like lining under her bust. The material fell loosely to the ground with a train behind her. Her entire form shimmered jade. She had two silver shawls that were fastened behind each shoulder, flaring out and attached to her silver wristbands. Her emerald-green eyes were striking and her diadem radiated a faint, emerald green symbol. These men had seen that symbol before. A symbol of authority. A symbol of a goddess. The symbol of Motiňa.

Raising one eyebrow with her mouth that now twisted into a sarcastic smile, she asked, “Do you believe in the gods now?”

Kris Cross, the only one who had the strength to remain standing, fell to his knees, bowing his head and replied with a croaking voice, “Forgive us, Lady Motiňa! I beg of you. Spare us, oh great goddess, creator of Barathorn! We will never raid again. From now on we will protect this forest until its name shall no longer be assumed as a curse. I swear it! We all give you our word!”

His comrades nodded fervently. Motiňa stood silently for a while and indignantly retorted, “Have you ever spared anyone? Have you ever let a person of the fairer sex go by without assaulting her? Have you not raided and tortured innocent people? Was it not all of you who determined the fates of others? Have you?

Kris Cross knew he was doomed. He summoned what little courage he had and stood quiet for a while. He looked around, then suddenly bolted towards the path leading towards one of the entrances of the forest, leaving his men behind, who were still stuck in their spots in utter shock.

Watching him run, Motiňa waited for him to be out of sight from both her and the bandits. She then extended her arm, pointing in the direction Kris Cross had run and from her index finger, a forest-green mist came forth and raced after Kris Cross. Even though no sound was heard, the others knew something dreadful had happened to their leader. Turning back and fixing her powerful eyes on the others, her pupils now evidently clapping with thunder, she asked in a mischievous voice, “Right! Now! Who would like to be a rock or a flower?!”

* * * * *

Standing behind a tree, Motiňa; having taken care of the remaining bandits and dressed again in her woollen cape with the hood covering her head, observed the boy without giving her position away. He would no doubt have run further into the forest if he saw her.

Looking around, she saw a small deer, grazing peacefully about a stone’s throw away. She beckoned the animal to approach her and as it did, the deer kneeled on one of its front legs and bowed his head. Motiňa smiled fondly at this beautiful creature and understood why Kafshëva was so protective of her animals.

She instructed the animal to approach - with care - the child, nudge and play with him and slowly coax him out of the forest. She then closed her eyes and placed a thought into the mother’s mind to go west of the forest. The mother had no idea why this thought had suddenly appeared, but she lifted her dress and ran towards the west entrance as fast as she could.

The deer would gently nuzzle the boy, who in turn would squeal with delight, forgetting his fears. As soon as he wanted to hug the animal, the deer would playfully skip around the boy and then sprint further towards the entrance, making sure the child would always remain in the line of sight. The little boy was determined to catch his new furry friend. At last, both mother and child came to the west entrance at the same time. The woman scooped up her son, crying and thanking the gods for his safe return. Only afterwards did she notice the deer, who was still standing in its place with its head cocked to one side.

She walked towards the animal and humbly thanked it. The deer came forward and in a gesture, the deer pressed its forehead gently against the mother’s and then bowed before the boy. Afterwards, the deer turned and darted back into the forest.

“A blessing from the gods!” the woman said in awe. She thanked them all by name so as not to offend any of them. It wasn’t the first time she had heard tales from those who were adamant that it was divine intervention that saved children, finding their way back home safely and reuniting them with their families.

* * * * *

A woodcutter came up the hill towards the forest. His wife kept badgering him to fetch more wood for the fireplace. Saying nothing and with a sigh, he picked up his axe and set off towards the forest. He knew better than to stride far into the forest. He had grown up in the sleepy village of Pass Nøtt, listening to absurd stories and the more exaggerated accounts from travellers.

Many people thought those whose stories involved divine intervention were either unhinged or simply too drunk to explain the unexplainable. Throughout his life, he’d never encountered any of the events in the stories, but he steered clear all the same. Whenever wood was needed, he would simply chop down one of the trees on the outskirts of the forest. He came to the nearest tree and braced himself for the strenuous task ahead.

As soon as his axe struck the bark, blood began to pour out. At first, he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him, but on closer inspection, the blood began to ooze out more swiftly. His legs gave way and he found himself unable to shout from the shock and fear that had taken hold of his body.

He looked up wide-eyed and saw the leaves of the tree shaking vehemently even though there was no strong wind to make them sway so. It was as if the tree was crying out in pain.

He eventually got up and ran as fast as he could back to Pass Nøtt and on the way he swore to all the gods that he would rather sit up with a nagging wife and take up another trade that wouldn’t involve trees spurting blood.

He never went back to retrieve his axe.

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