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Ala the Sea Witch

by Donald Eric Kesler

Ala, a Princess of Ostland, was the first born child of King Ragnar the Pickled and his wife Ingrid the Demure. On the day of Ala's birth, the King was most displeased. A male child was needed to secure his throne.

Fortunately for Ala, her parents were mostly indifferent. She was left alone and unloved, raised by the serfs and slaves who served the Court of Cnute. One of these slaves was known as Gyda Pin-leg, so named for her lost limb.

In addition to learning all the things a princess of Ostland normally learned, Gyda Pin-leg taught Ala how to read the words of magic, how to evoke the darkness and how to makes one's enemies slumber. This all transpired in secret. Since Princess Ala was mostly ignored by her father and his court, it was easy for her to keep secrets.

Ala was twelve when her brother, Hord, was born. Shortly after Hord's birth, a fire mysteriously erupted in the nursery. Ingrid the Demure died a horrible death, but the life of Hord was saved. King Ragnar the Pickled was so very pleased that his legacy remained secure, but, still, he demanded to know the source of the fire.

Once it was determined magic was involved, Gyda Pin-leg was, naturally, blamed. Princess Ala silently watched her slow, brutal execution with the rest of the Court.

The Court of Cnute had ruled from the city of Zaeburg for six centuries. While King Ragnar the Pickled had no use for words or the books in which they were found, the previous rulers of Ostland had amassed a collection of quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore. Into these obliviated chambers, the precocious princess disappeared. Great and terrible was the occult lore that she learned.

 
After the passage of some time, Ragnar the Pickled sought to form an alliance with Jarl Bjarke the Bent, the geriatric ruler of Soderfjord Jarldoms. To this end he offered his anomalous and reclusive daughter as a bride. Despite her singular ways, Princess Ala was strikingly beautiful. To the surprise of a few of the slaves and serfs, Ala silently acquiesced.

 
It was said that the Kraken of old, Hafgufa, sank the longship of Bjarke the Bent. He was traveling toward the Kingdom of Ostland to collect his promised bride. It was also said that in the days prior, Princess Ala went down to the sea and sang to the salty waters that flowed between Soderfjord and Ostland.

 
In a moment of rare sobriety, King Ragnar realized that his daughter, Princess Ala, had become a terrible and potent magician. Furthermore, she had become murderously willful. Trepidatiously, the King summoned his daughter to his Great Hall and banished Princess Ala from the Kingdom of Ostland. Without opening any doors, Ala the Sea Witch departed the Great Hall of Cnute.

 
For a decade, Princess Ala whereabouts was unknown. She had never been outgoing, so her absence didn't disrupt the court of Cnute. She had been all but forgotten.

 
Toward the end of this span, Hord Ragnarson ventured north to trod the icy plains of Norwold. It was in this strange land that he encountered the Crones of Crystykk. Some claim that these three witches are the Norns of the Northmen. In a strange place he found the three.

 
The youngest crone spoke, "Princess Ala shall kill your son." The oldest crone spoke, "Princess Ala shall kill your father." Finally, the crone of middle years spoke. "Indeed, Hord Ragnarson, once your eyes are dark with mourning, then your sister, Princess Ala, shall kill you, too."

 
Hord Ragnarson was both horrified and enraged. "Nay, witch sisters three, I shall thwart my fate," Hord swore. The Crones of Crystykk silently watched him depart.

For eighty-eight days and eighty-eight nights, Hord Ragnarson walked the world that his elder sister, Princess Ala, had walked. Thus Hord learned of the life that his sister had lived. Princess Ala had voluntarily enslaved herself to Tethys, daughter of Protius, enabling her to learn the enigmas of the waters. Later, Princess Ala become the consort of a huge, white dragon, Vladeck, that knew the secret language of the rocks. Later still, Princess Ala befriended Grugnir, Jarl of the Frost Giants, who bestowed upon her The Cloak of Endless Winters. Such had been the life of Princess Ala since she left the Kingdom of Ostland.

There is a place in the Ethengar Khanates where the Krandai River enters the steppes from the neighboring Kingdom of Vestland. Here the soil is rich in minerals carried from the hills of Trollheim, and the cherry trees bloom in early summer, adding a layer of pink to the succulent green grasses that grow upon the river bank. It was in this idyllic setting that Hord Ragnarson found his slumbering sister, Princess Ala. 

Fearfully, Hord Ragnarson crept toward his sleeping sibling. His strong hands trembled as he freed his sword. He hesitated for but a moment, then he plunged his blade, Ulfbeht, through the heart of Princess Ala, pinning her to her petaled bower. The blood of Princess Ala flowed into the Krandai River.

At that moment, in the Kingdom of Ostland, Ragnar the Pickled clutched at his chest and coughed up black blood. He, too, died.

Bones scraped upon bones. That was the sound that brought Hord Ragnarson out of his reverie. A cloud passed overhead and a dark figure emerged. It was the feared and respected hakomon of Ethengar, Bakalgu the Destroyer. Bakalgu's face was hidden by the black mask carved into the visage of a leering evil spirit; his grey hair hung down to his knees; his eight-inch-long finger nails clattered arrhythmically against the various skulls and bones that adorned his black robes. Hord Ragnarson was terrified.

The hakomon spoke, "You are the prince of Ostland, Hord son of Ragnar. You just killed your sister while she slept."

Hord Ragnarson waited. The Destroyer had made statements; he had not asked questions. With a clatter of bones and a rustle of cloth, Bakalgu slowly circled the grim, yet beautiful tableau.

"You should go home. As I speak," said the hakomon, "your father, King Ragnar the Pickled, lies dead. The Kingdom of Ostland needs its heir." As if in a dream, Hord Ragnarson obeyed. 

A terrible laugh emanated from behind the mask of evil. Bakalgu the Destroyer danced and sang and rattled his bones. The foliage joined the hakomon in his gyrations. Five of the cherry trees intertwined and enveloped the transfixed corpse of Princess Asa. This would be her tomb and her womb for nine months.

It is said that the soul of Princess Ala, borne by Ethengarian spirit magic, departed the Midgard and ventured toward the Well of Urd, whose waters impart cosmic knowledge and from whence the World Tree, Yggdrasil, is rooted. It is also said that Princess Ala confronted Mimir, a shadowy being whose knowledge of all things was practically unparalleled among the inhabitants of the nine worlds. Mimir achieved this status largely by taking his water from the Well of Urd.

 
Following the proscribed ritual, Princess Ala asked Mimir for a drink from the Well of Urd. The well’s guardian, knowing the value of such a draught, refused unless the seeker offered an eye in return. This is the way of Mimir. Straightaway, Princess Ala, gouged out one of her eyes and gave it to Mimir. Having made the necessary sacrifice, Mimir dipped his horn into the well and offered Princess Ala a draught.

In the Kingdom of Ostland, King Hord Dark-Eye had ascended the throne. Bakalgu the Destroyer had not lied when he said that King Ragnar the Pickled was dead. The coronation took place the day after Hord's longship arrived at the City of Zaeburg. Within a month King Hord Dark-Eye married Rhora Anlafsdottier, and seven months later she was seven months pregnant.

Exactly nine months after King Hord Dark-Eye had killed his sister, Princess Ala, Queen Rhora Anlafsdottier died. She choked to death upon a cherry pit. An effort was made to save the unborn heir; however, he emerged from the womb cold and still. Impossibly, a cherry pit was lodged in his throat, too.

The decades have passed. King Hord Dark-Eye rules the Kingdom of Ostland and waits for death. Ala the Sea Witch occupies Narvendul, the wandering island. She waits to kill. She is patient and cruel.