“Henry Scaletti and Old Bell” or
“The Story of how Henry made deals with Devils”
“… As long as it is possible, he should not stray from the good, but he should know how to enter into evil when necessity commands.”
- Niccolò Machiavelli
Henry could feel the sweat of guilt and fear pouring down his forehead and temples as he rode through the moonlit forest. The branches and newly sprung leaves seemed to use his pale face as a background for their own shadow play. What had he done? When he tried to remember, tried to make his mind focus everything seemed dreamlike… or rather – nightmarish. But the bundle in his lap, which felt heavier than it probably was, reminded him that his actions had been very real – and the consequences would be equally vivid. He wiped his wet forehead with the back of his hand. He felt feverish and cold even though it was a particularly warm spring night. And the horrible, thick taste of the old hag’s tea was still in his mouth. What was even in it, he thought for a second and the answers his fantasy conjured up made his stomach turn. Why had he done it? Those damnable idiots. Too caught up in their politics to do something meaningful. He could hear their voices inside his head…
“We cannot just kill him outright! We will make a martyr of him,” Daniel hissed and pointed his finger at Akiros who sat opposite him in the great throne room. “Then you figure something out, wizard,” the latter retorted with a snarl and hammered his hand down into the large oak table that separated them. “Please, this is not the time to lose our heads,” Erin coolly reminded them from her place at the table’s end. “We will simply have to give him a fair trial. It can be done no other way,” Barim decided, sitting straight in his chair, not a doubt on his face or in voice. “I respect your integrity, Barim, but it would be handing him the victory. He has already swayed the citizens against us with his eloquent speeches, and he will easily win a trial if we have no evidence against him. We need to know more. Who is he? What does he want? Who has sent him?” Erin said looking at the Erastil priest. “Well, how will you get them, your highness?” Daniel asked and leaned forward in his seat, his voice filled with spite. “We have been questioning him for three days, and learnt nothing!”. “Let me get the answers, Baronesse,” Akiros interfered. Henry felt no desire to look at the general. He knew his gaze would be filled with the icy coldness of devotion and anger. The former paladin seemed to radiate an aura of uneasiness, Henry thought while he let his eyes wander over the faces of the present council members. Daniel seemed to relax as he nodded his consent, Barim’s face was tight, his jaw vibrating slightly, but he didn’t object, Travin seemed far off in thoughts and hadn’t uttered a word during the meeting, Erin seemed to study Akiros’s face for a moment, then nodded her consent as well. “Very well,” Henry heard himself say as he rose from his chair. “That is the plan then.” But he knew that torture wouldn’t work on Gregory. The man was too zealous in his hunt for chaos to let a few broken bones stop him.
And thus Henry had left the throne room and walked to the stables where he had saddled Lucky and set the course for Old Bell’s cottage. And now he was here – on his way back from the witch, burdened by a deed halfway done. The image of her grotesque, green face was chiselled out in his mind. “Henry Scaletti, the great sword lord of Riverlight. How good it is to see you again so soon,” she had croaked for a welcome. Had she mucked him? Or had her greeting been sincere? “I have a problem, and… I require your aid, madam,” he had answered her while he hesitantly slided down from Lucky’s back. As she had stood there, withered and bent, in the remaining rays of daylight rocking slightly to and fro, her lips had spread in a knowing smile, revealing black, broken and lacking teeth “Oh but Henry, dear Henry, dearest Henry, of course you do. Please come into my humble abode.” Why had her repetition of his name sounded like an incantation? “I prefer waiting outside,” he managed to state calmly. “As you please, young man. Then do tell me about the nature of your distress,” she blinked, not at all fooled by his composure. “His name is Gregory. He is a scoundrel and an agitator, devoted to creating strife and chaos within our midst. His falsehoods are making the people despise us. Soon they will rebel if his silvered tongue isn’t removed from the cavity of lies in which it dwells, but never seems to rest,” Henry thundered, himself surprised of the increasing power and ire in his voice. Old Bell cackled and pressed her hands against her stomach. “Dear boy – lively lectures on dirty deeds won’t save your soul.” Simultaneously, anger and fear welled up in Henry at her words. “Name your price,” he commanded pulling himself together. “Your first born,” she replied, devilish cunning and scrutiny in her eyes. “No,” he refused point blank. He was regaining control now. He had entered this state of mind that filled him with stoic ease and determination. He had to make this deal, and he would, but not at her unlimited pleasure. “What do you propose then?” she asked sharply, not liking the sudden confidence that had settled over him. “You will get a shop and a house in the city from where you may sell your potions. We will begin the construction at the beginning of Gozran,” he offered looking down at the old witch. She tapped her hooked nose with a long, mould infested nail while considering the offer. Then she looked up at him with a smirk. “Very well then. Let me make you some tea. It will be a long wait out here.” She turned around and hobbled into the bleak darkness of her cottage. Henry thought that the door opening looked like a greedy mouth that would swallow any intruders body and soul.
The sun sank completely into its watery bed in Candlemere Lake, and yet Bell hadn’t returned. But occasionally Henry could hear her voice speaking in strange tongues and at one point he even caught a sulphurous smell protruding from inside the cottage. Finally she reappeared in the scarcely lit door opening, an object in her hand. She held it towards him and he stepped forward to receive it, but winced as he saw what it was – a grotesquely deformed doll made of skin and leather pieces with crude stitches for eyes and mouth. Its belly was cut open revealing hay as its stuffing. Henry stared at it in disbelief. Again reality hit him right between his eyes. Old Bell grabbed him by the chin and looked straight into his eyes. “You get some of his blood and hair. Then you put it into the doll and stitch it together – and bury it in graveyard soil before the sunlight hits it,” she explained slowly not letting go of his chin until he nodded his understanding. “Good boy,” she clapped his cheek and put the doll in his hand.
He did everything minutely as she had instructed, but he felt animated as he did so. He kept away from the others, not wanting them to know. And the day of the trial, he excused himself with important matters that required his immediate attention. None but Barim seemed to notice his quaint behaviour, but the cleric didn’t speak up, and for this Henry was grateful. Gregory was convicted and banished from the lands, and an air of relief settled in the castle’s halls. “How did it go?” he asked Erin as he returned from his ‘duties’. “Marvellous,” she chuckled “everything worked like a charm.” He could have strangled her for her unwitting remark, but he managed to smile and congratulate her instead.
Early next morning he went to see Oleg in the treasury to inform him of the building plans. “An alchemist’s shop?” the still crude man asked slightly surprised. “Yes, it will have to be ready first thing next month,” Henry confirmed. Oleg leaned back in his big chair watching the cavalier in front of him. “We don’t have no money until next month for such a construction.” Henry froze solid in his tracks. He was getting real tired of receiving beatings from reality.
“Bell, I’m real sorry, but it seems that we will have to wait another month starting constructing the shop. The trial was expensive and we’re running low on resources,” he explained with a light shiver as he once more stood in front of the old witch. She shrugged. “I know Henry. I always knew,” she stressed the last word. Henry looked surprised at her. “It is of course all right, Henry,” she continued and put her hand on his arm. “You will just have to do me one small favour in return for the delay.” “I’m listening,” the young man said suspiciously. “I so yearn for grand children, Henry. And you will help me get them. Tomorrow, my daughter, Lily, arrives in wonderful Riverlight. She will come to you and under the watchful eyes of Erastil the two of you will fulfil my greatest desire…”