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The following excerpt has been taken from the new book The Way of Wyrd, by Brian Bates. It is published by Hay House (February 2005) and available at all bookstores or online at: www.hayhouse.com.

The Way of Wyrd
Tales of an Anglo-Saxon Sorcerer
By Brian Bates

PART I
CHAPTER 1

The Sorcerer’s Spirit Circle


"WASTE-DWELLER, WHY DO YOU spin your spell?"

The sorcerer’s voice rasped from gaping fangs as he crouched over the sick woman like a giant Wolfman. He looked awesome, wrapped in an enormous, gray wolf-skin, the wolf-head resting on top of his own so that he towered at least seven
feet tall.

The Spirit House was crowded with the entire population of the settlement, including children and even babes-in-arms, but no one moved or made a sound. People sat still as carved icons, fire-shadows dancing on faces crammed three deep around the walls. Inside the Spirit Circle, bounded by ropes suspended from stakes pounded into the earth floor, only I sat next to the sorcerer, dry-mouthed, gripped by the imminent presence of the pagan powers of darkness.

Firelight crawled over the giant wolf-skin, glowed on the snake-clasp at the sorcerer’s throat, and brought the gold-wrought eyes of the wolf-head glittering into life. Slowly, carefully, the sorcerer settled into an attacking position opposite the woman, humping his back like a hunting wolf. The woman sat stiff and straight-backed, her scrawny body clamped by fear. Her head bobbed and weaved to avoid the Wolfman’s glinting eyes until, twitching, she dropped her head and stared at the ground as if spellbound by the floor straw. In the smoky light, I could see the grotesque growth at the bridge of her nose and the flesh around her eye, puffy and angry with infection. Abruptly, the Wolfman howled, hoarse with emotion:

"Spirit, why do you dwell on this woman’s face? You have snatched this woman’s soul and left your battle scars on her face. Without her soul, this woman is dying. Where are you now? Where do you lurk, nursing her soul like a flesh-ripping carrion eater? Are you prowling the forest like a dealer in death? Are you on Dodda’s Ridge? Grendel’s Pit? Eagle Mountain? Or are you lying low, like a wounded fox, in stagnant ditchwater? For an evil sickness, voyaging far from home, you have outstayed your welcome. Wherever you are hiding, I shall hunt you down!"

There was a short silence, punctuated only by the hiss and snap of the fire. Suddenly, without warning, the sorcerer ripped off the wolf-skin and rolled into a hunched shape next to the woman, his back humped and head pressed between his knees, his elbows projecting out from his sides.

"Leave me alone!" he said, in a high, shrill voice. Astonished, I darted a furtive glance around the room; serious faces watched the proceedings intently, and I choked back a nervous laugh.

The sorcerer leapt back into his wolf-skin.
"Leave you alone?" he snarled, stalking menacingly back and forth in front of the woman. "You are leaving, banished to the Land of the Dead from whence you came!"

He threw off the wolf-skin and jumped back into his humped position. "What are you going to do?" he squeaked, again impersonating the wart-shape.

The Wolfman leapt to his feet, his eyes flashing like dragon-flame before they disappeared beneath the wolf-head. "I am going to hunt you down!" he howled.

The crumpled wart-shape again stared at the empty wolf-skin. "Why are you hunting me?" it squeaked. "Who summoned you?"

"Worthy spirits summoned me, for you are a burden. You are a waste-dweller trespassing where you are not wanted. You are a menace, to be driven out!" ranted the Wolfman, strutting around the Spirit Circle, the massive wolf-skin swaying from side to side.

I glanced back at the woman’s face, almost anticipating a reply from the little wen sitting imperiously on her nose. In a mead hall, the charade would have been greeted with roars of laughter as worthy drinking entertainment, but in the smoky Spirit Circle, the proceedings were haunted by the choking chill of danger.

The Wolfman turned his attention back to the woman.

Squatting in front of her, he slipped a hand inside the wolf-skin and, like a conjurer, produced a beaded leather strap. He handed this to me and pointed toward the woman’s head. I scrambled to my feet and knelt behind the woman in order to tie back her long hair. I had been expecting such a task for, although totally alien to such rituals, I was sitting inside the Spirit Circle as the sorcerer’s assistant. But suddenly becoming the center of attention terrified me, and my hands trembled like the limbs of a frightened rabbit. The woman’s hair slipped out of the loop before I could tighten the knot, and the audience stirred impatiently, pushing against the hemp-rope barrier of the Spirit Circle. Blinking sweat from my eyes, I tried again; this time the knot held, and I tied it back firmly
.
Again the sorcerer dipped into the wolf-skin, and this time produced a large linen sack from which he drew handfuls of spiky leaves, still fresh and green. Quickly and skillfully he folded them together, intertwining the stems, and rubbed them vigorously between his palms. I could hear him murmuring in a strange, high-pitched voice, as if he were singing to himself.

"Little wen, little wen, you have stolen this woman’s soul. She is now as hollow as a rotten tree, but not for long, not for long."

He padded softly up to the woman and tipped his head to one side, the glittering eyes of the wolf-skin glowing craftily. Then he addressed the spirit in a high, wheedling tone.
"Little wen, you should return home to the wastelands, where you will be happy."

Suddenly he slapped the pack of crushed leaves directly on to the woman’s face, and she swayed back with the impact. The Wolfman glanced at me sharply, and I moved quickly behind the woman to give her support, holding her head in my hands.

Sitting back on his haunches and pushing the leaves against the woman’s face with his left hand, the sorcerer slowly raised his right arm above his head: Rows of eyes flashed in the firelight, following the gradual rise of his empty hand and watching his white fingers spreading apart above the wolf-skin. Suddenly his hand held a large object. A gasp whistled around the packed darkness, and my stomach lurched sickeningly, for he was grasping the enormous claw of a bird—three huge, black eagle talons glowing menacingly in the flickering firelight.

The sorcerer moved the claw slowly toward the woman’s face. Her eyes must have been open, for I could feel her head straining to keep the approaching object in her line of vision. She began to tremble violently, and when the hideous stump touched her she whined and whimpered like a sick dog. Clamping the leaves on to the woman’s face with the eagle claw, the Wolfman began a strange writhing, crawling dance, his body weaving slowly, silently, the wolf eyes locked to the woman’s face. He chanted again, his words a wet cackle:

I begin my singing,
and begin my chanting.
Mighty spirit sitting at earth’s rim,
wrapped in eagle feathers.
Mighty wind-winger,
stallion of the sky,
lend me your power
that fares over Middle-Earth
and the affairs of men.


His voice reverberated inside my head like a chanted mass, and the room began to spin before my eyes. The Wolfman’s voice faded to a hoarse whisper:

My words wing from Eagle-Spirit,
sharp-eyed dealer of death. . . .
Under the Eagle’s claw may you wither,
under the Eagle’s claw may you dry and drain
like barley in a bail, and water in a pail.
May you become as small as linseed grain,
and become so small that you become
nothing at all.


Silently, like a specter, the humped wart-shape appeared at the Wolfman’s side. I thought that my eyes were playing tricks and shook my head to clear the dual image, but the wart-shape remained, not moving or breathing, but staring directly at the Wolfman. I had not even had time to take in the physical appearance of the monster when suddenly the Wolfman shivered, jerked violently, and was thrown to the ground, the eagle’s claw dropping from his hand. The room burst into uproar, and immediately the spirit shape disappeared. The Wolfman’s body convulsed and writhed dangerously close to the fire, and I scrambled over to him and forced my right leg between him and the fire as a barrier. The sorcerer’s body was bent backwards like a hunting bow, and under the wolf-head his face gleamed as he gasped and gurgled for every breath.

Feverishly I struggled to snap open the snake clasp that secured the wolf-skin around his throat, but it was stuck fast. Desperately I whirled around, peering through swirling fire-smoke for help, but at that instant, the sorcerer’s knees slammed into his chest, shot away from him, and he sprang to his feet like a willow whip. The heat of the fire burned into my leg, and I jumped away with a yelp. I crawled back to my place on the edge of the Spirit Circle, watching the Wolfman in utter astonishment and unable to believe that his desperate choking had been merely an act.

Stepping away from the woman, the sorcerer paced around the fire again and began to hum. The audience fell silent immediately. Barely audible at first, the Wolfman’s humming rose higher and higher in pitch, then became loud, harsh, and plaintive as if he were pleading with someone. People around the packed room took up the refrain the Wolfman had established, the humming gradually rising and falling with increasing power, the sounds vibrating against the walls and echoing into the roof-beams. Soon the audience began to sway back and forth, clapping in time to the rhythms, the smoke from the fire seeming to break up the movement of their bodies into small staccato jerks. The effect was spellbinding. I raised my hands and began to clap with everyone else.

While the noise continued unabated, the sorcerer turned back toward the woman. He seemed to have changed tactics. Squatting purposefully in front of her, he took another linen bag from inside the wolf-skin. Pulling open the drawstring, he carefully tipped out about a dozen irregularly shaped stones, each about the size of a man’s fist, and arranged them on the ground, apparently laying them out in a set pattern or sequence. When he had finished, I could see that each adjacent stone interlocked with neighboring cavities to form an unbroken ring.

The sorcerer reached again into the sack and brought out a small glazed pot, painted with a mass of angular symbols, which he placed carefully in the center of the small stone circle. Each movement was carefully controlled and precise, even elegant, and utterly compelling. Not once did I take my eyes off him.

A third time the sorcerer reached into the linen bag and this time pulled out a small pouch of the type used for storing finger rings. He picked open the knots on a drawstring threaded with tiny beads and poured the contents of the pouch into the glazed pot. Then he dipped a taper into the fire until it popped into flame and, slowly and deliberately, passed the burning taper back and forth over the bowl. The taper went out.

All around me, the clapping and humming crashed rhythmically into my ears, as the Wolfman relit the taper and again applied it to the bowl. Wreaths of copper-colored smoke spiraled slowly from the circle of small stones; immediately he discarded the taper, leaned over, and blew steadily into the bowl. He exhaled powerfully, hissing like a striking snake, and the burning power-plants crackled, popped, and glowed deep red, smoke pungent as altar incense billowing into
the air.

The smoke drifted around my head like a shroud, and I sniffed at it cautiously. At once the hairs inside my nose prickled and stiffened as if frozen by a winter frost, and I felt a tightness in my throat. My eyes began to stream tears, and a moment later my ears buzzed and hummed. It was a disturbingly powerful sensation, and I shut my eyes tightly in an effort to regain control of my senses.

When I opened my eyes, the sorcerer was leaning directly over the smoking substance, his face close to the bowl, breathing deeply and rhythmically. Incredibly, the wolf-skin expanded and contracted like a weapon-smith’s bellows as he pumped his body full of the orange smoke. I watched in horrified fascination, my head still floating from the merest whiff of the smoke. I could not conceive how he could fill his lungs with it.