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The Pillar of Dominance


Chapter 3
The Witch of Apple Grove
Wendell was weary after a long day of training. Incantations
reverberated through his tired head like the flopping contents of a
fisherman’s net. He snuck out the side door and into the gardens. Glancing
in through the window, he saw his master inside with his back to the
window, resting in his rocking chair. The old man gently rocked forward and
back as he smoked his pipe and poured over a thick volume. Biting his
bottom lip, Wendell tiptoed from the yard. The old wizard glanced up from
his text in time to see the boy’s tiptoeing reflection distorted in a glass of
water before him. He snorted and went back to his book.
Delighted with his escape, Wendell rushed through town until he
came upon a dirt road leading away from the center of the city. He pulled
out an old map and studied the twenty-seven sites circled on the parchment
before continuing. He climbed the steep path for a long while until it opened
up into an ancient apple orchard. The branches of the trees were twisted and
dry. In the late afternoon shadows, the shapes of the trees were
uncomfortably eerie.
“Hello?” Wendell called. The air was heavy with silence. Not even a
breeze moved through the orchard.
“Anybody there?” Wendell asked more quietly than before, peering
apprehensively through the trees. In the distance, he saw an old woman in
black robes filling a barrel of apples. Wendell wiped the sweat from his
brow with his sleeve and headed over to her. As he approached, he could see
that her clothes were soiled and heavily worn. The old woman’s back was
hunched over from years of hard labor.
“Hello there,” said Wendell from afar, not wanting to frighten her, “I
was looking for a girl who might be working here?”
The woman glanced back at him over the top of her hump. “There are
no girls working here,” she croaked. “Be on your way young man. This is no
place to wander,” she grumbled, her voice dry and crackly like aged paper.
She knelt down, struggling to pick up the leather straps of the barrel of
apples.
“Let me help you with that,” said Wendell, easily shouldering the
heavy barrel. “Where do you want this?” he asked.
“At the top of that hill in my cottage,” said the woman. She jerked her
chin in the direction of a steep path. She squinted one eye at Wendell, and he
felt as though she could see right through him. Wendell walked in the
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