PART I – CHOCOLATES IN THE MUD
Albion’s leading newspaper presents the first part in a new series delving into the most enduring mystery of all: Theresa! Is this mythical soothsayer real? What has she been up to all these years? And how come she just won’t die? Investigative reporter Penelope Chumley finds out.
It started off as one of those daft rumours traded among stall owners on Bowerstone Bridge: the reason King Logan had gone off his rocker was a visit from a blind woman who showed him the future. I dismissed it along equally preposterous reports, usually featured in rival publications, featuring such headlines as “I Married A Hobbe” or “Turnips Ate My Horse”.
But the more I looked into it, the more evidence of this woman emerged. She even had a name: Theresa. And it seemed she’d been doing this kind of thing longer than your average fairground psychic. About half a millennia in fact. Determined to get to the bottom of this, I began what turned into a fascinating and eye-opening journey into the history of Albion itself.
After my initial enquiries, I was put in touch with a group who not only believes in her fervently, but has built an obsessive cult around her. Perhaps “cult” is too sinister a word. “Fan club” would be more appropriate, as evidenced by the banner hoisted above their headquarters. It reads: “Theresa’s Fan Club”.
I was invited to attend their monthly gathering the following week, but first I met with Head Seer and club co-founder Bertie Knippet. Knippet’s enthusiasm was infectious and, when he said he’d take me to the place Theresa was born almost six-hundred years ago, I couldn’t help but share in his excitement.
We took a long and uncomfortable coach ride to the ominously named Wraithmarsh, once the site of the quaint little hamlet of Oakvale, supposed birthplace of the elusive seeress (Knippet insisted we use the feminine form of the noun at all times). During the journey, I was told of the horrific things people had seen in Wraithmarsh, such as hollow men and banshees, though Knippet insisted the Fan Club had made several pilgrimages over the years and only once suffered a fatal attack. No stranger to monsters myself (you may remember my recent encounter with a certain scholarly balverine), his tales failed to unnerve me.
As we walked around the funereal swamp, Knippet finally started to give me the good stuff. Theresa grew up in this area when it was still Oakvale, a peaceful farming community that was razed in a brutal bandit attack led by the infamous Jack of Blades over five hundred years ago. There’s still some evidence of this in the few crumbling headstones that stand in commemoration of that terrible day. The only one I could make out featured the name Rosie, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d been a friend of the young Theresa.
“Shame she wasn’t a seeress by then,” I said. “She might have been able to stop the whole thing.”
“Oh, but she was,” came Knippet’s tremulous reply. When I asked him how he could possibly know, he produced a leather binder and extracted from it, with all the care one would take with the sacred relics of a saint, a couple of charred pieces of paper. “They cost me half my life’s savings, but they were worth it. They’re from Theresa’s childhood diary.” I read what appeared to be the last two entries:
“Harvest, Day 19 – I had another dream. I was opening birthday presents and I was so happy. Then something happened, and it was so horrible it woke me up. I think that part was only a dream though.
Harvest, Day 21 – It’s my birthday today! I bet my brother forgets again, but at least mother will be back. I got up early to look out over the sea, and now I’m going to play in the top field.”
“And you think this dream was a prophecy of the bandit raid?” I asked Knippet.
“Of course. She saw the whole thing the night before. She was just too young to realise. And then, when she was celebrating her birthday, it happened. Let me show you something.”
He led me then to a secluded piece of swamp and, for a moment, I thought one of the creatures said to inhabit this place was standing before us. Even after I realised it was only a scarecrow, I couldn’t help but remember tales of hollow men who’d adopted this disguise. But how many hollow men would put flowers and boxes of chocolate at their feet? This, Knippet told me, was a shrine left on the Fan Club’s previous visit. Theresa had stood by a scarecrow much like this one as a small child, holding her birthday chocolates. Her last moment of innocence before the bandits came and stole her away, blinding her in the process. I don’t mind telling you, seeing those flowers wilting over soggy, mouldy chocolate boxes sent a shiver down my spine.
On the coach ride back, Knippet told me what he knew about the events following the raid. Theresa’s brother, according to some sources at least, grew up to become the legendary Hero who defeated Jack of Blades, possibly out of revenge for the attack. As for Theresa, she grew up among bandits, developing her clairvoyance and fighting skills. Little is known of her whereabouts after she left them, only that she was somehow involved in Jack of Blades’ demise years later. “But that,” Knippet says, “can wait until you come to our Club’s gathering next week. We’re doing re-enactments!”
In the next issue: How did Theresa become immortal? We speculate on the seeress’s “missing years”, with the help of her fan club and a few guests! Does Reaver know all her secrets? Find out, only in The Bowerstone Times!