Scotland, May, 1055
They were the feared, the spurned, the filthy. Stinking women with grotesque exaggerations of the normal human afflictions. Most people fled from their approaches but a few hurled abuse and objects. Sometimes, these mortals’ threats were as terrible as the prophecies the women themselves uttered.
And, with the king’s ban on their vocation, it had become more dangerous of late to advertise their activity. So, the three had gathered, as was their moonlit custom, to a hovel half way between the back-road from Perth to Scone because this would ensure their safety from either the small group of pious villagers or the monks. It would keep secret their plan.
All who had knowledge of the spirit world knew that things kept in secret held power. And this was crucial to what they had planned.
For the past hour, they had been preparing themselves by drinking the bitter, intoxicating liquid made for such a meeting and boasting about the disastrous events caused by their devices.
‘She did think it were her husband,’ one said at the end of her story. They laughed at the stupidity of the dull wife.
The second finished her account gleefully exclaiming, ‘The lad was so upset he threw himself, weighted-dead with rocks, into the loch.’ The other two squealed with excitment. ‘Let us hope they blame the king,’ the woman added and her companions, grinning, nodded vigorously.
The final of their trio grabbed her conspirators, silencing them. She recounted a pastoral problem ending in death for some. Her eyes reflected the light from the candles and fire and she then offered her act of deceit. ‘They said the belly ache was the barley. No one thought that the wheat was the cause.’
All three clapped their hands. The first to speak then raise her cup. ‘Another victory!’
On it went until the eldest among them, wearing an eclectic arrangement of senseless clothing, threw the contents of her cup onto the earthen floor. She coughed, wiped her mouth and then waited for the other two to be silent and give her their full attention.
Her crusted eyes intent on mischief, she tilted her head. ‘When shall we three meet again?’ The recognition in their faces was a pleasing acknowledgement of her wit.
The tall, white-haired companion, the youngest of the three, nodded, expressionless. ‘Let us say: in thunder, lightning and in rain.’
A second of silence in the stuffy room then raucous noise as they roared wickedly at their vivacity. How clever they were to remember the power of using the identical question and response from another time. Their black hearts hoped for similar ruinous results as it would please their master.
But, on with the plan.
The third of the group scratched at her cropped head. ‘When the helter skelter does begin,’ she said, crushing a fat louse between her blackened fingers.
The first woman sniffed. ‘That will be after reaping.’
‘Cat will mew and ass will bray,’ whined her shorn-headed sister, twisting her hands.
‘A king might laud but maids will pray,’ sang the youngest, her pale complexion ghost-like in the moonshine.
‘Yes,’ cried the first woman. ‘Set to store the kingdom’s rule.’
They held hands and began to walk slowly in a circle, chanting:
‘Make and mar him as a fool.’
‘When the place?’
‘Before the spring.’
‘There to meet with Scotland’s king.’ With that, they joined hands again and began to pace around, dirty and powerful incantations dredged up from the blackness of their soul, to wind a charm strong enough to do what must be done.