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“Move, peasant, or die with the invaders!” The hard words bolstered his courage, and hid his embarrassment.

Her hooded eyes flashed a cold, hard grey. She did not withdraw or feebly brandish her crooked staff to keep him at bay as he would have expected. Instead she strode towards him. Much to his surprise, it was Kurn—Slayer of Wolves, who gave ground. He slipped a few feet down the slope, pushed back by nothing more than the force of her presence.

She pointed a finger at him. “You’re very rude, I—”

Another scream, full of deep desperate grief, rang from the caves. Kurn smiled. The old woman looked worried. “The Dura Sat, Clan Lord of all Tamalan, has marked the Bear’s mate for death. Step aside, old woman.”

She gave a short, hard laugh. “Oh, please. I thought appearing out of nowhere would be enough to convince any fool that this hunt is over. I suppose there’s no accounting for feckless youth is there? Very well, boy, I’ll lay it out plain because I don’t have time for games. I’ve got some bread in the oven and it’s going to burn if I leave it much longer.”

He should just end the hag and finish his task, but it was bad luck to kill a lunatic. He raised his spear. The old woman chuckled. Wisps of grey hair haloed her face, caught by the same chill wind that carried the sound of anguished sobbing from the caves.

“Just go, and—”

“Hush, foolish child. I’d put aside a goat for this, but who am I to make such choices?” She narrowed her eyes, and stared at him as though calculating his worth. “Fuck ‘em’. I’m going to give you a chance boy—a chance to run an’ thwart the will of the gods. What say you to that, little lamb?” She looked up at the mountains and shook her staff, carved bone charms jangled against the wood. “Aye, you heard me. Now you—” She jabbed the staff at Kurn, “fuck off home to your mother.”

To the Void with bad luck. Kurn cast his spear at the old witch.

She gave a long rattling sigh. The spear quivered…in the ground beside her.

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