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A NineStar Press Publication

Published by NineStar Press

P.O. Box 91792,

Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87199 USA.

www.ninestarpress.com

Ghost’s Sight

Copyright © 2018 by Morwen Navarre

Cover Art by Natasha Snow Copyright © 2018

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact NineStar Press at the physical or web addresses above or at Contact@ninestarpress.com.

Printed in the USA

First Edition

June, 2018


eBook ISBN: 978-1-948608-81-7


Warning: This book contains sexually explicit content, which may only be suitable for mature readers.

Ghost’s Sight

Witch’s Apprentice, Book One

Morwen Navarre

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Epilogue

About the Author

Prologue

The cry was too plaintive to ignore, a thin wail bereft of hope. It was the cry of the child the gods wanted her to find, perhaps even needed her to find. The Witch grumbled to herself as she stepped over the remnants of something metallic, inconvenient for someone well on her way to fifty. She was not as limber as when she walked the path of the maid, or of the dam, for that matter. It was easier to be male, to be more resilient in the face of the passing years, but it would mean a stunted life were she to forsake the gifts she had been given. Most males never took the final step past their place as sires to become truly wise. She had moved on to become a hag, and her power had grown along with her wisdom. Now she sought the male who could also take such a step into wisdom. He was the one who could be a witch, a child with the Sight, or so the gods whispered. How long had it been since there had been one who saw the hidden things? Too long, and the Witch paused to listen.

It tugged at her again, such a forlorn cry, pulling her deeper into the ruined place. She had never experienced childbirth herself. The dam’s blood had come, and eventually, the dam’s blood had stopped coming, and this was fine by her. The Witch chose not to use birthing to define her, though many of her sister witches bore children. She had the gift and the learning. She could heal with her herbs or with the gods’ light, the potent little dot that could knit a bone or seal a wound and that drew its power from the witchglass atop her home. She had the Seeker’s box to read the blood and give her the ancient words, words that named the potion or poultice in her formulary. They were lost now to all but a few, along with the secrets of making witchglass or how to repair the delicate relics. Only the witches remembered the words, they and the rangers, the barely civilized scavengers who combed the ruined places and gave themselves fine airs.

The Witch sniffed, smelling the taint of a ranger in the air. No ranger would touch a witch. Not everything in a witch’s formulary was gentle and wholesome. There were things that could tear a man’s mind out, make him beg for death. The Witch grinned to herself, her amusement a dark and feral thing. No, she had no need to fear the unseen ranger. He would not interfere with her or dare to touch the child she sought.

Again the cry sounded, so close now, and the Witch stepped over the threshold of a ruined building. There was a bundle weighing no more than a sind’s whelp, and she gathered it to her, words coming in a soft singsong. “Hush, little one. We’ll leave this place, we will, and go where the skies are kinder, hm?”



The child grew swiftly, all gangly arms and legs, a Northern child as pale as the moon that had filled the sky the night the Witch had brought him to her home in the valley of the Heartlands. His hair was white as milk, and his eyes the palest blue the Witch had ever seen. Ghost, she named him, and he cried in the night as though he were indeed haunted.

The Witch read, and when the words failed her, she turned to the scrying mirror to consult with other witches in the hope their formularies would hold a recipe not known to her. There was one witch, her words cadenced with the slur of the distant South. She spoke of the power of the gems known as peridot, green and subtle. They had the ability to banish the nightmares plaguing Ghost, among other things, and the Witch made careful notes in the secret writing of her craft. “He might learn to dream,” her witchsister murmured. The peridot might even waken the inner eye, to let him see as far as the gods.

When the moon was full again, the Witch gave Ghost a tea to make him sleep while she took up the gods’ light. She fused the peridot to Ghost’s forehead, a thin spiral of stones that grew narrower as it turned inward, glittering green against the translucent pallor of his skin. Ghost never moved while she worked, and her voice was like honey as she murmured lullabies and brushed the sweat-soaked strands of white from his temples. She called on the Seven as she worked and shed a drop of blood to placate the Eighth, to keep that dread one’s eyes closed. And when she was done, she washed away the sweat, laid Ghost in his little cot, and watched over him as he slept the entire night for the first time since she had brought him home.

Chapter One

“Fuck, Conn, pay attention,” Gerry growled, low and irritated. He ran a hand through his hair, narrowing his eyes as he glared at his younger companion. “We’re not hunting runners today. Mother’s got us after sind, and you’re spotter, so spot, you little shit.”

“Don’t fucking tell me what to do,” Conn retorted, his shaggy brown hair flopping into one dark-blue eye. “You’re a dependent, same as me, so don’t pull the fucking alpha shit. Only Mother tells me what to do and he’s not here. And I am spotting, you stupid fucker.” There was berry juice on his lips, and his fingers were stained with it, belying his words.

The hunter frowned, watching the lithe young man turn away, poking the ground at random and with little enthusiasm. Gerry fought the urge to reach out to cuff Conn, to see the pout leave the little shit’s face. Still, if he was going to be an alpha one day himself, he needed to master his temper. The world was evidence enough of what could happen when those who led lost sight of what mattered most.

When everything had gone to shit, well back before anyone living could remember, there was nothing left of most families. The cities were burning or ravaged by looters. Anyone with any sense had fled for the open places. At first, it was tents or rough camps where strangers gathered and tried to make sense of what had happened. Those were hungry days marked by illnesses thought eradicated.

The godsmen called it a just punishment and burned the books that might have held answers. What had been a minor cult was now the only faith, and the godsmen took every opportunity to shape the new world emerging from the ruins. They made sure no one would make the mistakes of the past by eradicating all traces of it, other than the knowledge preserved by the witches who ignored the godsmen and their edicts.

The witches used bits and pieces of ancient relics, scavenging them from the ruins of the cities themselves or trading with the rangers who haunted the ruins and lived outside the godsmen’s laws. The witches could not heal everything, but fewer people died when a village had a witch, despite what the godsmen said. The godsmen compromised by declaring witches followed the Seeker and the witches pretended to agree.

Those few who survived the aftermath were determined to prevail. They built houses, rough at first, but increasingly sturdy as their skills were honed by failure. Random strangers began to form themselves into families. The people most comfortable leading became known as alphas. Alphas took on dependents, mostly children who were on their own or the elderly left with no one to care for them. They learned what could be eaten by tasting every root and found familiar fruits hanging from trees or growing on bushes and vines. The factories that produced most other foods were as lost as the cities, so they had to teach themselves to hunt and fish. Runners, graceful and long-legged herd beasts, were not afraid of men back then and their meat was curiously satisfying.

The motley collections of houses turned into villages, and once the rivers had settled into their new courses, there were fish and there was trade. People adapted. Crops were sowed, and hunger ceased to be the most pressing concern. That left room for the godsmen to speak up and remind the people they were all under the eyes of the Eight. Life went on.

Gerry had just turned nine that moon when Conn came. Mother had taken him in, not a year before, when his dam had died of the flux. Gerry’s sire had been long gone, and without an alpha, he would have been dead as well before a quarter moon had gone by. He had just gotten settled into life with Mother when Conn joined them. It had been fifteen years ago now, he realized and found himself surprised by the tally of time that had passed.

Gerry had thought it would be good to have another kid around, another dependent for Mother to train, someone to share the hunt and the guarding when they were both old enough to be more use. Conn was only a tiny thing at the time, four years old, or maybe five. It was hard to tell because Conn had been a runty bit, all big eyes and a mop of brown hair that had darkened over time to a deep umber. The boy was a pretty enough thing, and he was quick to twine himself around Mother to get his way.

At first, it had been good. Conn was quick to learn and grateful, happy to be free of his mead-addled sire and happier still to be done with the begging for scraps that had been his job. Mother was a skillful hunter who brought back enough meat to trade the surplus in the market for fruit and vegetables, flour, eggs, and sometimes even sweet honey candy for a treat. No one went hungry in Mother’s house.

For his part, Gerry had done his best to befriend Conn. It seemed to work until Conn was around thirteen or so, when the kid had gone moody. Everything Gerry said angered Conn from that point onwards. He could barely breathe near the kid without some tantrum erupting, and the cause always boiled down to the same thing. Conn was afraid Gerry was going to do something to come between Conn and Mother.

In truth, Gerry had no interest in Mother as a lover. The man just was not the type for Gerry. Gerry liked his lovers smaller than himself, slim and lithe, and Mother was tall and broad-chested. Conn might have been closer to Gerry’s tastes, except for the outright jealousy Conn harbored for Gerry. Conn did not want to take the chance of falling in love with a fellow dependent, even if Gerry might be likely to branch off to become an alpha himself one day. Conn was going to stick with Mother. Gerry was in Conn’s way, or so Conn had apparently decided, except for those nights this past year, when Conn had crawled into Gerry’s bed after Mother had turned him out.

“You’re not focused.” Mother’s voice was quiet and deep, a firm tone that could not be ignored. Gerry looked up, a stray beam of sunlight working its way through the canopy of the trees to make him squint. “A hunt isn’t a good time to think about anything but the hunt itself.”

Gerry hung his head a little. “I’m sorry. You’re right.”

“Where’s Conn?” Mother’s head lifted, his dark eyes narrowed as he scanned the trees. His thick dark hair, shot through with silver now, was plaited tightly and hanging to his waist, the end wrapped around with a thin strip of leather.

Gerry had once asked the man how he wound up with the name he bore. Mother had laughed and told Gerry one of his first dependents had called him so, the old word for a dam, still used sometimes by the oldest hags. Mother had tugged on the thick braid to illustrate the confusion while Gerry had nodded, tentatively, as if laughing at an alpha might get Gerry in trouble. Mother had not been angry, though. Mother had been much as he was right now, calm and quiet. That dependent was grown and long gone now, an alpha with dependents, Mother said, but the name had stuck.

Gerry lifted one shoulder, returning to the present. “He’s spotting, I hope. We’re getting closer to where they have their lair.”

The hunt today was for sind. Sind were omnivores and opportunists. They were also agile and fierce, with a nasty habit of digging holes to bring down the fleet runners with their long, delicate legs. If the runner did not spot the hole in time, those slender legs would snap like the kindling Mother used in the hearth fire. Sind meat was considered far superior in flavor to that of the more common runners. Gerry did not agree, finding it to be a bit strong, but the market clamored for it. Their pelts were as valuable a commodity as their meat, so sind traded well on the market, and Conn—Conn again—needed clothing. Mother could trade a few good pelts for the services of a weaver to buy a bolt of their best cloth and have them stitch fine tunics and breeches for Conn, who complained that leather chafed.

Gerry was happy enough with his leather tunic and breeches. He and Mother had tanned the runner hides themselves, scraping one side smooth and leaving the other soft and velvety. Mother had taught him the trick of stitching the hides together with neat, small stitches. The bootmaker in the village was always happy to take a runner haunch and enough tanned leather to make a fine pair of boots, the one thing Gerry could not fashion well enough on his own.

Conn, however, pricked his fingers, and swore, and broke the needle when he was set to stitching anything. Mother had sighed and taken away the sharp bone needles before Conn could break any more. It was much the same with most of the tasks Mother tried to teach Conn. The boy would whine and find a way to fail until Mother would sigh. Only Gerry would see the flash of triumph in Conn’s dark-blue eyes. Mother held firm to the belief an alpha did not abandon a dependent who could not care for their own self, and Conn played it for all he could.

Mother patted Gerry’s shoulder, his eyes averted. “Stay sharp. The whelps should be big enough now to be long gone, but if not, let them go.”

Gerry nodded. The pelts of the whelps were not as prized as those of mature sind. It was also better practice to let the whelps mature and breed, ensuring there would be sind to hunt in the future. He split away from Mother again, moving as quietly as he could, his bow ready as he drifted through the leaf fall.

The quiet was shattered when Conn screamed, a high-pitched sound filled with fear, and the low chuff of a sind filled the vacuum left when Conn’s voice faltered. Gerry did not even pause to think; he spun around to sprint through the trees in the direction of the scream, his heart pounding like a temple drum. He could hear the sound of Mother’s pursuit as well.

Without warning, Gerry was falling, his leg trapped. The wind was knocked out of him when he landed hard, his bow slipping from nerveless fingers. He watched it skitter away across the leaves.

Gerry’s vision blurred with pain. He sucked in a desperate breath, his bow too far ahead of him to reach. He heard Mother’s voice and Conn’s ragged whimper, blended into one note. He heard the chuff again, and this time it was so close he could feel the sind’s hot breath. His hand crept down his leg while he turned his head with infinite care, feeling for his knife, and he was never so glad to touch the leather strips that bound the grip as he slid it from the sheath. His lips moved in a silent prayer, calling on the Hunter to aid him, the Father to protect him.

The sharp twang of a bowstring interrupted his prayer, and the sind dropped, the heat of its body bleeding through Gerry’s leather breeches. Gerry let out a breath, his body flushed with adrenaline. It was only then he truly felt his leg, and he gagged as the pain ran up from his ankle to his groin.

“Oh, fuck,” Gerry moaned. “Dam-fucking, hole-digging little shits. I hate fucking sind and their busy fucking little paws.” Tears stole his vision as he swore to keep from screaming, Mother kneeling by his leg.

“Oh, shit,” Conn whispered, looking up at Mother, his pretty face pale. “It’s bad. It’s really fucking bad. Is Gerry going to lose the foot?”

Gerry sucked in a breath, but he did not have a chance to speak.

“Shut up, Conn.” Mother’s voice was just as quiet as ever, but Conn squeaked before falling silent. Even Conn could not pretend to ignore the fury in those words. “If you’d been spotting properly, you’d have uncovered that hole. Assist me, and if you even think about fainting, the Lady help you, I will leave you where you lie.”

Conn swallowed hard while Mother knelt to slide Gerry along the leaf fall. “Grab his foot and ease it out. Gently, boy! Lift the leg under the knee. Think for once, Conn.”

Gerry moaned, black spots obscuring his vision as his stomach twisted. He had never felt a pain even close to this. He fought to remain conscious, to try to help Mother as best he could.

“Easy, man. We have you.” Mother’s deep voice sounded so confident Gerry nodded without even thinking about it. “The Witch isn’t far. I can carry you on my back, and Conn can bring the sind. We’ll not get another now anyway. They’ll have scattered.”

Chapter Two

The Witch walked out of her drying shed with a small bundle of something leafy in her hand as Ghost hurried over, wary. He pointed at the path that led into the yard, a figure visible and coming closer.

“He’s coming. They’re coming.” Ghost’s voice was no more than a whisper. He slid behind the Witch, watching as a tall man in hunter’s leathers approached. For every few strides the strange man took, Ghost took a half step backward, into the shadow of the drying shed.

“Who is he, you silly little thing?” the Witch asked, squinting down the narrow path. “Do you know them?”

Rather than answer right away, Ghost shivered, wrapping his arms around himself, his knitted tunic far too big as it slid off one shoulder. He reached up to tug his hair over his eyes. “I saw them in my dreams,” he breathed. “One who leads, one who loves, one who is known by the End.” Ghost’s vision blurred, and his breath hitched as he spoke the name of the one of the Eight who was never named aloud for fear of catching the dread one’s eye. His heart hammered in his chest in time with the pressure that throbbed behind his eyes. He fought the urge to flee into the woods, to the places he had carved out where one could hide and never be found.

Ghost saw the curiosity in the Witch’s eyes, but he just shook his head, his words lost in the memory of the vision. He ducked inside the shed, breathing in the smell of drying herbs and berries, letting the fragrances soothe him. Ghost knew what they all did, had learned it all at the Witch’s knee, along with the names of the Eight and the count of days and moons. She taught him to read the ancient words, to match those words to the coded entries in her formulary. He could mix the potions and the salves as well as the Witch, although she had forbidden him to touch the gods’ light or the Seeker’s box just yet. He made a game of it, though, standing behind the Witch, trying to guess what the Seeker’s box would say about the people who sought her help.

“Don’t do a runner, boy. I may need you.” The Witch sounded calm, but she turned to put a pot of water on the tripod over the fire pit. As Ghost watched, the lone figure shifted and became two figures. He knew the Witch wanted him to tell her, and so he spoke.

“He’s carrying one of them.” Ghost lifted his chin, not realizing the Witch could not see the gesture while he hid in the shed. Ghost knew she saw well enough for most things, and better than most close up. It was only distance that made her narrow her eyes and fuss at him.

“Don’t suppose you’ll tell me who’s who,” the Witch said under her breath. “Seeker guide me, you never make it easy, little one.”

“Because it’s never easy. It hurts,” Ghost replied, one hand stealing up to tug at his hair again, pulling it down over his forehead and into his eyes before he wrapped his arm back around his chest. “I don’t ask to See.”

Ghost hugged himself harder as he watched the Witch walk forward, the woman looking as unafraid as ever. He could have listened if he wanted as she spoke to the tall man with the dark eyes. The stranger had long hair shot through with silver, prettier than the Witch’s hair. The man was tall and broad, and wore leathers that were clean and neat. The Witch looked like a beggar next to the man.

The Witch looked drab on purpose, though. No one looked too closely at her, a hag with unkempt gray hair hanging in lank strands around her face. They tried not to notice the rusty black homespun with the raveling edges, and the nicks and stains that marked her hands. They missed the sharp, dark eyes like those of the raptors who tore the little songbirds to pieces and scattered bright feathers to the winds, never saw the fine bones of those deft hands.

The Witch looked up at the tall man with her fierce glare.

“Mother,” the Witch acknowledged. “It’s been a time.”

Ghost did not mind the tall man who the Witch greeted with such familiarity, or even the limp hunter this Mother carried. The third man had a sind across his shoulders, which he dropped, assuming an air of injured innocence when the tall man turned to look. That one made Ghost’s hackles rise.

“Conn.” Mother’s voice was firm. Ghost found himself nodding approval of the rebuke as he watched from the shed.

The tall man turned back to the Witch, having issued the quiet reprimand. “This is Gerry. Can you help him?”

The Witch looked at the third man, the one called Conn, her eyes flashing. “Bring the injured lad in,” she said to Mother. “That one, your Conn, he can wait here. If he needs to be useful, I’ll take that sind.”

Ghost nearly choked. The sind held a gland that was worth as much to a witch as a double hand of pelts, but it was something the witches did not want known, nor did they share the uses for the potent musk. Ghost relaxed when the Witch continued in her tone that allowed for no argument.

“He can hang the carcass in the tree there and leave it to bleed out proper. Your dependent’s got a bad break, and a sind should cover the fee.” The Witch looked up from under her lank hair, her expression unreadable, even for Ghost.

“As she says, Conn.” The tall man had to stoop to enter the house, while Ghost edged closer to the door of the shed, pulled along despite his misgivings.

“Bring the water, little one.” The Witch followed Mother. Ghost hurried to the fire pit to take the pot of water from the tripod.

Ghost did his best to avoid looking at Conn. He could feel the loathing in those eyes as they raked him. It did not help, and Ghost flinched when Conn hissed at him. It was bad enough he had to concentrate to avoid spilling the heated water on his own feet as he stepped over the threshold into the Witch’s house. He placed the pot on her workbench, turning away to get out the basket of linen for bandages, the neat rolls wrapped in wide leaves to keep them clean.

“Is this your dependent?” Mother’s quiet voice startled Ghost, making him nearly drop the pot of salve he had gotten down from the shelf above the workbench. He shied away from the tall man’s gaze, unsettled without quite knowing why. To hide his confusion, he looked at the man on the table, the one called Gerry.

Gerry’s eyes were closed, his face pinched with pain, but his hair was thick and brown, shot through with strands of autumn red. Ghost inched closer, looking down the man’s lean body to his leg. The leather boot was intact, but even with the boot’s shaft around his leg, there was no mistaking the angle.

“Dependent? No, not really. Part apprentice, part pet.” The Witch laughed. Ghost looked at her with a small frown. “He’s here most of the time, unless I offend him, and then he disappears faster than the morning’s mist. He comes back in a day or two, hungry and tired.”

“I’m not a pet,” Ghost said, aggrieved. “I help. I know the plants, and I can make the recipes. I don’t make mistakes.” He looked at the Witch from under his hair, his eyes meeting her dark eyes without any hesitation. He did not fear her, and this was an old dance between them. “Unless you don’t want me.”

“Hush, little one. Has my door ever been shut to you?” The Witch’s expression was kind for a moment, the harsh mask she wore dropping away. “Now come and help me. I’ll need your hands.”

Ghost nodded, moving around the table to a spot opposite Mother.

“Hold him tightly,” the Witch instructed Mother. “Ghost and I will try to get the boot off without cutting it, but if we need to, we’ll cut it away. Better a boot to be replaced than a leg gone.”

Mother nodded, and Ghost noted his acknowledgment of the harsh reality. These were not market people. They knew well enough there were no hunters with just one leg. Ghost waited for the Witch to straighten the leg a bit more, before Ghost dared an attempt to remove the boot. The man moaned and stirred as Ghost frowned at the Witch.

“Hemp tea?” Ghost asked, stroking the stranger’s forehead to soothe him. Ghost could feel the sweat that glossed the man’s skin, oily against his fingers.

The Witch made a small noise, sounding disgruntled. “I don’t want to wait for it to work. Get something for him to bite on, and we’ll give him the tea afterward.”

Ghost complied, bringing over a leather-wrapped stick, thick and hard. He handed it to the Witch before moving down to Gerry’s foot, wrapping his hands around the boot. When the Witch nodded her readiness, Ghost began to pull the boot with care, one hand cupped around the heel of the boot and the other hand on the top of the foot.

As Ghost pulled, Gerry screamed, trying to jerk upright. Mother’s hand patted Gerry’s shoulder before pressing down again to hold Gerry still.

“We’re at the Witch’s house. We’ll get you well, man. Just howl through it if you need to,” Mother said in his deep voice. “Trust me, I’ve screamed a time or two myself in this very house, a long time ago.”

Gerry took a shaky breath as he subsided, his hands gripping the edge of the table tightly. “Do it,” he croaked around the leather-wrapped stick.

Ghost sucked in air, looking first at Mother and then over at the Witch. The two alphas returned his stare, and when the Witch nodded, Ghost pulled the boot off in a single motion.

The hunter’s scream was cut off when he passed out. Ghost dropped the boot, shrinking back in alarm when Mother moved around to the side of the table. But it was only concern for his dependent that spurred the man. Mother had no time for Ghost and bore no ire.

“He’s unconscious, little one. Let’s get his leg dealt with as quickly as we can, and you can make the tea for him afterward.” The Witch looked at Ghost until he steadied himself and moved back to the table.

It only took a moment for the Witch to assess the damage. She turned to Ghost, her voice crisp. “Get the pot of bone fibers and the vinegar. Some honey too.” She turned to open a small but ornate chest, taking out the gods’ light and a thin sharp knife. “He twisted when he fell. It’s a difficult break, but I can heal it. I’m going to open the skin more so I can see the break properly. If you can’t handle it, say so.”

Mother was as pale as anyone so tawny could be, but the man took a breath and nodded, much to Ghost’s surprise. He was sure he was mistaken, but he thought for a fleeting instant there had been fear in the tall man’s eyes. Ghost looked down at the small pot he had taken from the shelf, shaking off the moment as he went to the kitchen to get the honey and the flask of vinegar.

By the time Ghost returned, the Witch had opened Gerry’s leg and was spreading the muscle away from the bone. She looked up at him. “Good. Hold this open for me.”


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