The Lorelei Signal
The Witch and the Wake
Written by Maureen Bowden / Artwork by Marge Simon
Today Bruno Magenta terminated my employment with ‘Magenta’s Psychic Consultations PLC.’ He called me into his office. “What the hell are you up to, Freda? I’ve had nothing but complaints all day. Phoebe Collins says you told her that the man she’s marrying next week will dump her in six months time after getting her best friend pregnant, and Mrs Appleyard says you told her that her fifteen-year-old son has a stash of an illegal substance under his bed. ”
I shrugged. “I’m bored with sending the clients away with nothing but pretty platitudes.”
He thumped his fake ancient oak desk, almost shattering the chipboard surface. “You’ve worked here long enough to know that we only give the punters good news. If you insist on burdening them with the truth you’ll bankrupt me. Your P45 will be in the post. Pack away your runes and leave.”
I chucked the runes in the pedal bin and left. They were only for theatricality. I can tell what’s in store for almost anyone simply by looking in their eyes. With a sigh of relief I walked away from the refurbished former Bingo hall that housed Bruno’s consultation rooms. The clients were in good hands. They had Morgana Delarosa interpreting their dreams: fun to be had there, no doubt; Madam Jacquetta keeping them in touch with their dear departed; and Bruno himself flogging them crystals for good health, horseshoes to ward off Old Nick, and it’s anyone’s guess what the magical amulets were for but they could be bought for half the price on Amazon.
I’d manipulated the sacking myself, of course. If I’d left without giving notice he wouldn’t have paid me my full month’s salary and I wasn’t about to let him get away with that. It was time to leave. In a dream last night I’d learned that Hereward had recovered his memory. We were about to renew our acquaintance after more than nine hundred years. I cast back my mind and revelled in remembering.
~ * ~
I was Torfrida, a noble woman and a daughter of Hecate, goddess of witchcraft. Hereward was a rebel, a freedom fighter, an eleventh century Che Guevara without the beret. I met him in Flanders where he’d been exiled from England by Edward the Confessor for being a reprobate, trouble-maker and general pain in the backside. The night I took him to my bed he whispered, “You’re my soul mate, Torfrida. I’ve searched for you all my life.”
“You’re a sweet talker, Hereward,” I said. “Be faithful to me and my heart is yours but if you do me wrong you’ll be in big trouble.” He laughed and bit my ear.
In due course Edward the Confessor scuttled off to meet his God. William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, invaded England, and Hereward had an attack of patriotism. “I must go back and fight for my country,” he said.
I handed him his warmest cloak and his rather fetching leather breeches. “When do we leave? I enjoy a good fight.”
He shook his head. “War is dirty business, my love. I wouldn’t want you to soil your hands in the murk of battle.” He always had a pretty turn of phrase but it was wasted on me.
“No need for me to stick a finger in the murky stuff. I’m a witch. I can protect you while you’re disembowelling the Normans and I’ll give them a few nasty surprises of my own. Am I in?”
He laughed. “You’re in.”
After travelling to his childhood home in the Fens of East England we found the dwelling pillaged, his family slain and his brother’s decomposing head nailed to the door. With an anguished howl Hereward pledged vengeance. I projected my consciousness to track down the murderers and I led him to them. They were fifteen in number, engaged in a drunken brawl, their senses dulled by the local homebrew, unable to defend themselves. He slaughtered every one and hacked them to pieces. Classic murk.
When the Bastard heard of the episode he sent a pack of slavering Norman warriors to satisfy their blood lust on the petulant upstart. They brought along a subcontracted witch to watch their backs. I watched Hereward’s back, and the rest of his anatomy, covering him with a magical shield that the Norman swords couldn’t penetrate. He rode into battle at the head of a small band of Anglo-Saxon rebels who had flocked to the cause. I dealt with the witch. She stood at the top of a hastily erected wooden tower and prepared to do her worst. She was no daughter of Hecate, and whatever dark forces she served they were no match for me. I sent a fireball to destroy her tower. It toppled in flames, taking her with it.
Hereward’s fame grew, and so did his band of freedom fighters. With the help of my far-seeing directions he was always in the right place at the right time. He would be lying in wait for the Normans, ready to pounce without warning. They found it impossible to ambush him as I pre-warned him of their coming. His countrymen called him the awakened one: the Wake. The Normans called him something that sounded obscene, but being a noble woman I didn’t know what it meant. Obviously I could guess. He had a cause to fight and he was happy. It was blood and excrement a lot of the time but we were having fun.
Meanwhile, a growing number of young women with the potential for witchcraft sensed my power and sought me out. If their own psychic abilities had been discovered they would have been condemned as devil worshippers. “We need your protection, Lady Torfrida,” they said. “We will be burned or buried alive if the churchmen speak against us.”
I reassured them. “Fear drives folk to act like fools. You were right to turn to me. I will not allow any harm to befall you.”
We took refuge in an ancient abandoned ecclesiastical building that I suspected had, long ago, suffered the onslaught of the Vikings on a rape and pillaging jaunt. The Normans believed we were a community of nuns. Only a trusted few knew we were a sisterhood of witches and we aided the Wake’s cause.
My contentment was shattered the day Hereward approached me with a troubled look in his fine eyes. “Torfrida, we have a problem. The countess Alftruda was recently widowed. She’s in need of a man and she’s set her sights on me.”
I knew Alftruda’s nature. She was an Anglo-Saxon trollop who’d secured her social standing by swearing allegiance to the Norman invaders. Now she wanted my man.
I controlled the rage that screamed to be released. “I wasn’t aware that you were available.”
He grasped my hand. “My heart is yours, my love.”
“I doubt if it’s your heart that interests her.”
“Whatever it is, that’s yours too.”
“So, what’s the problem?”
My sense of unease grew. Taillebois was William of Normandy’s fiercest warrior and Hereward’s most dangerous enemy. “Why is this his concern?”
William has appointed him Alftruda’s protector. He has discovered that you and the sisters support my cause and he threatens that if I don’t swear my devotion to her he’ll take revenge on you all.”
Was nothing too low for this venomed ratsbane? “My sisters and I can protect ourselves,” I said.
He shook his head. “Not all of them, not all of the time. Some are hardly more than children, and not yet in control of their power. If Taillebois attacks the convent with an army we can’t save them all and I will not endanger either you or them.” He took me in his arms but I pushed him away. He persisted. “I must give Alftruda what she wants until she tires of me, but I promise it will not be for long.”
“But no doubt you’ll enjoy yourself in the meantime.”
He grinned, “I’ll lay back and think of you.”
He underestimated my power. I could have thrown a ward around the convent so it couldn’t be found and I could have kept him with me by magic, but I would not hang onto a man against his will, as Alftruda did, so I let him go, but in my anger I withdrew my protective shield from him.
Months passed, then one night as I lay in my lonely bed I heard him call to me. “Torfrida, my love. I can stay away from you no longer.”
I sent my consciousness into the realm of dream. Alftruda stood in a doorway preventing Hereward from leaving. He took hold of her arm and flung her aside. She screamed after him, “If I can’t have you neither can she. No one will have you.” The inevitable melodrama.
The dream changed. I heard Taillebois address his warriors. “The Wake has misused the Lady Alftruda. We will find him. The man who kills him will be richly rewarded.” I watched him leading them away. I had to reach Hereward before they did. After warding the convent to keep the sisters safe I mounted a fast horse and let my far sight lead me.
I reached him too late. He was one man against the Norman mob and without my protection he was murk fodder. They continued to plunge their swords into his body as he lay dying. I burned them alive, unmoved by their screams.
Kneeling beside him I called on my goddess. “Mother Hecate. Please grant this man eternal life and youth, as you granted it to me.”
I heard her voice. “Heed me, Torfrida. You are the daughter of a goddess. He is a mere human. Immortality would drive him mad. He needs the respite of death between his lives.”
I sobbed. “I don’t want to lose him, Mother. Please do something. You always have a plan.”
“I will grant him far memory. He must die and eventually be born again, but when he reaches adulthood in his next life he’ll remember these fun and games and you will then find each other. Don’t make a habit of this kind of debacle.”
I held him in my arms until he died. After sending flames to consume his body I let the Fenland winds take his dust.
William the Bastard called himself the conqueror, but his day was brief and he died an ignominious death, with his possessions pillaged by his servants who left him naked, his entrails spilling from his burst abdomen. The Norman identity was, in time, devoured by the spirit of this land, just as that of the Romans and Vikings had been in days long gone.
Through the ages I waited. Finally, in the last decade of the twentieth century my patience was rewarded. My senses told me that Hereward had reincarnated and was growing in a woman’s womb. I sought his mother and spoke to her as she dreamed. “Your son’s name is Hereward.”
She stirred in her sleep. “Edward? I like that.” Edward the Wake. Close enough.
~ * ~
He was a man now, and he remembered. I was a twenty-first century unemployed witch looking for a rebel without a cause. My instinct drew me to Peterborough Cathedral, the site of one of his skirmishes with the Normans. His instinct had apparently been the same. He stood in front of the central of the three arches, above which, the statues of Saints Peter, Paul and Andrew appeared to look down on him in disapproval. He saw me. We walked towards each other. “Hello, Hereward,” I said. “What kept you?”
“You slipped my mind for a while, and I’m called Ed now.”
“I’m called Freda.”
“Whatever we’re called, I’m your man. Are you still my woman?”
“I’ll need to consider that, but there are plenty of Alftrudas around to keep you amused while I’m meditating on the matter.”
“Not interested. I’m only the Wake when I’m with you.”
Hecate spoke to me. “Stop teasing him, girl. He may have been an idiot but he suffered enough in the months he was humouring Alftruda. You are soul mates. He was always right about that, although he had no idea what it meant.”
I’d suffered enough too. I sent her a silent prayer. “I’m tired of immortality, Mother. Let me retain my powers of witchcraft but make me human. After this life ends grant me the respite of death until Hereward and I are reborn to continue our journey together through time.”
“Granted. I thought you’d never ask.”
I took Hereward in my arms and kissed him. “I’ve decided. Welcome home.”
He returned my kiss with satisfying enthusiasm. “I’ll never leave you again, and we have work to do. The country’s in as big a mess as it was last time around.”
I nodded. “So is the rest of the world. Plenty of causes to choose from. Take your pick.”
“Not easy. Fancy a coffee while we think about it?”
And here we are, hand in hand, Freda the Witch and Ed the Wake, making our way to Starbucks.
Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian, living in Wales with her musician husband. She has had 182 stories and poems accepted by paying markets, she was nominated for the 2015 international Pushcart Prize, and in 2019 Hiraeth Books published an anthology of her stories, ‘Whispers of Magic.’ They plan to publish an anthology of her poems in the near future. She also writes song lyrics, mostly comic political satire, set to traditional melodies. Her husband has performed these in folk music clubs throughout the UK. She loves her family and friends, rock ‘n’ roll, Shakespeare, and cats.