She travels in a hut that
walks on spider legs, talks in poetic riddles, and wields powerful magic that
disregards conventional boundaries between good and evil – Dula the Witch
inspires fear and fascination in children and adults alike. She is a prominent
figure in Southern Sarvonian peasant lore,
and appears in countless stories, songs, and sayings. Although unmistakably
human, neither goddess nor
demon, she is said
never to age, as she possesses the secret of eternal youth.
Santharian witches hold Dula lore in high
regard, and believe that much wisdom can be gained from it. In fact, Dula has
been called the daughter of all witches: the wise child that every witch has to
find within herself, and whose subtle and wayward voice she must learn to
Yet most ordinary people are wary and resentful of Dula, citing tales that illustrate her moody character, her inclination to vengefulness, and her twisted morality. She is a friend of the feeble, the ugly, and the outcast, and is said to help misshapen children, cripples and oddballs more often than respectable folk. Yet even Dula’s most fervent detractors may, at times, hope for her help, when unrequited love pierces their heart, when their marriage remains barren, or when all other healers have failed to cure a sick loved one.
Picture description. A rare portrait of the elusive Hildula Hauntwell, who is rumoured to be the alter ego of Dula the Witch. The painting dates from the 1640s. Image drawn by Sheil.
Many Santharian peasants firmly believe that Dula the Witch has, at some point in the past, visited their village, and that she may return at any time. Most clear-thinking minds, however, argue that she is a figure of myth. And yet we cannot ignore the rumours that link Dula to a historical person by the name of Hildula Hauntwell, a mysterious but doubtlessly real researcher of renegade magic. It is probable that Hildula was but a macanti or an ordinary witch, albeit a talented and learned one; yet some say that Hildula and Dula are in fact the same person, and that Dula the Witch likes to take on the guise of the plain “Hildula” when she leaves her spider-legged hut to visit cities and to partake in debates among sages.
Dula the Witch is always described as a young woman, almost yet a girl. But as
far as nearly everything else about her appearance is concerned, the stories
vary widely and, indeed, wildly. Sometimes she is beautiful, at other times
ugly, and most often ordinary. Her hair is blonde, black, or red. She is tall or
small. Her clothing is rich and ornate, or simple, or even bedraggled. Yet for a
youthful witch skilled in the art of love charms and wise in the ways of
fertility, it seems remarkable that no description has ever suggested that Dula
was a seductress. Neither men nor women seem to have found her erotically
alluring. She has the aura of a wise child, and of someone who may know all
about other people’s desires, but lives in a world apart, ruled by cravings
unintelligible to ordinary souls.
Dula is credited with the power of seeing beneath the surface of the world. People who claim to have met her often report that at first they thought her cross-eyed, until they realized that she was looking not at them, but into them. Apparently, no-one can hide their thoughts and designs from Dula’s penetrating gaze. Hence, if an Erpheronian tells you that you have “Dula’s Eyes”, he is paying a double-edged compliment: he means to say that you have uncommon insight into people’s hearts; and he also means that he therefore won’t trust you.
Personality. According to popular belief, time and space do not pose the same limits on Dula as they do on ordinary humans. Throughout Southern Sarvonia, you will find many an old gaffer or hag who will allege that they have met Dula twice in their lives – once in their childhood, and once in old age – and that Dula’s appearance had not changed at all in the interval. If you express incredulity, you will be confronted with further testimonies, handed down from grandmother to granddaughter, and alleging that Dula has always been, and always will be, the young woman that she is, and that the teeth of time have no power over her.
Dula never stays in one place for long. She lives in a hut that has eight legs, shaped like those of a giant spider, and capable of walking day and night without tiring. In this hut, she travels about the land, covering long distances at magical speed. In one story, the hut is said to have wandered from the Thaelon Forest to the Rimmerins Ring in a single night!
In short, Dula lives anytime and anywhere, all the time and everywhere. Theories about her origins have only two things in common: each contradicts the others, and all are equally implausible. In Nermeran, folks believe that Dula originally came up from Manthria; the Manthrians place her origin in Enthronia; in Enthronia, Dula is commonly suspected of being an outcast of the Ximax Academy in Xaramon, while in Xaramon it is customary to hint at barbarian magic originating up in Nermeran.
Wherever she appears in the popular imagination, Dula is an outsider. Her arrival is greeted with wariness, and her departure with relief. For although one may be anxious to seek her wisdom, and hopeful of her help, her tendency to side with the weak and the outcast means that the bullies, the abusers of power, the selfish, and those that turn a blind eye to others’ suffering (that is, much of humanity) tend to fear Dula’s vengeful retaliations. Dula, it is said, has no tolerance of the everyday cruelty and indifference without which ordinary life would not go on. She may hex warts onto the noses of children who have taunted a crippled boy; bring the gout to a woman who chose to ignore a sick kuatu she found by the roadside; and cause a family man’s teeth to fall out, because he has let his senile father rot away in a back room on small rations of gruel, reserving the best food for his children and himself. Dula’s view on human weakness often seems unkind, and her punishments cruel. Yet if you discuss this with actual witches, you may be confronted with the argument that there is a metaphorical meaning to such stories. “Dula is naught more than what’s in people’s hearts themselves,” one witch told us. “What is it that keeps folks awake at night? It’s their worries, their regrets, their remorse. It’s them doubting if what they do is right. And that’s what Dula is. That’s what the story is about. People’s hearts.”
Another common complaint against Dula is that she does not, like decent people do, favour humans and humanoids over animals. Many Dula-stories feature the witch as a helper of little creatures, even if it be at the expense of people. Although her sympathy extends to all kinds of animals, Dula is especially associated with bees and spiders. If this seems paradoxical to the reader, who may wish to point out that in nature, spiders and bees are enemies, we recommend trying this argument on Santharian story tellers. If one does so, one is quickly admonished that between them, spiders and bees symbolize the whole contradictory range of Dula the Witch’s qualities and powers: for spiders represent death, poison, trickery, weaving, slyness, solitude, patience, and bitterness, whereas bees stand for life, nourishment, cooperation, building, straightforwardness, community, industriousness, and sweetness. All these qualities are Dula’s, one will be told, and what she uses them for is beyond simple human notions of good or evil. In Erpheronia, the popular Sarvonian tale of “The Boy Who Was Good For Nothing”, which famously features a wizard who commands both bees and spiders, is sometimes told with Dula in the role of the wizard.
While Dula’s association with spiders is most prominently symbolized by the eight spider-legs of her hut, her association with bees often manifests as the belief that she can communicate with hivelings – apparitions whose bodies are made up of a multitude of small flying creatures, such as bees. In fact, some stories go so far as to ascribe to Dula the power to conjure up such hivelings – calling on the bees to create a body that allows an otherwise ethereal nature spirit to take form and communicate with Dula. Bees, in their search for nectar, travel far and wide and learn much that they are unable to either understand or tell, unless their collective experiences are drawn together in the single body of a hiveling, and expressed by a hiveling’s mysterious voice. It is said that from her dealings with these spirits, Dula can divine many things about a place – such as the best place in the forest to find plants with healing qualities; or what curse has caused a field to remain barren; or the source of a pestilence that has befallen a village.
Magic. Folklore ascribes to Dula considerable magical powers, which she uses sometimes to help, sometimes to harm, and sometimes to play tricks, according to the inscrutable whims that inspire her designs. Her sorcery often involves the use of language, music and dance to unfold its effects. Songs, incantations, ecstatic dancing, the muttering of rhymed spells over potions or charms – these are Dula’s magical methods of choice.
Furthermore, many stories tell of the power that Dula can gain over people if she gets hold of something that belongs to them: a lock of their hair, a treasured possession, or even the cushion on which they rested their head last night. And if these things are freely given, rather than obtained by theft or deceit, then Dula is sure to have the owner in her thrall. This aspect of Dula’s magic is well illustrated by the beautiful story of “Kelder and Bryella”, which tells how Dula tricks a treacherous woman into handing over not only a lock of her own hair, but also a lock from the hair of each of her two daughters – with disastrous consequences for all three. Even to “give away” your name to Dula is thought to be dangerous, and it is all too easy to do so unawares, as Dula often leaves her conspicuous hut behind and wanders about in the guise of an ordinary woman, talking to unsuspecting folk and entrapping them in her designs.
So what are the witcheries that Dula engages in? What are the effects of her magic? If the fairy tales are to be believed, Dula can make the crops on the fields grow or whither, and knows the secret of making your livestock barren or fecund. Even the wombs of women are said to be susceptible to her powers. Dula also makes potions and charms to bring about the most unlikely love matches. And her gaze, it is said, can see through the mask of your face, enabling her to know your innermost desire more clearly and more fully than even yourself. If you anger her, she is capable of putting a curse on you so that your children will hate you but forever pretend to love you; that your parents will forget your face, and think you a stranger; that every spider will bite you, that every bee will sting you; and more. But if it pleases her, she can also help to lift even the most ancient curses, and when wailwomen or white ladies haunt the nights, people pray that Dula may come and release the unhappy spirits from their plight. In short, Dula’s powers are of the type traditionally ascribed to witches, although the mythical Dula is, of course, infinitely more powerful than even the most experienced real witch.
Many sayings record beliefs about Dula’s witchery: “He’s been to Dula,” peasants might say of a man, whose doubtful character and unfavourable looks make them wonder why the prettiest girl in the village chose to marry him over the many other, more reliable and more handsome men that would have been available to her. – “Dula has spit on the fields,” the farmers grumble, when the harvest is poor even though the summer has lacked neither rain nor sunshine to make the bredden grain grow. – And what of a girl who has stolen a jar of redberry jam from the larder, and who is being questioned by her father as to the whereabouts of the jam? Why, she would surely reply: “How should I know where that jar walked off to? Am I Dula the Witch?”
In the fairy tales that are told about Dula, the outcomes of her trickery are often unexpected, and even bizarre. The popular Nermeranian story “The Duke’s Love Song” exemplifies this.
In the tale “The Duke’s Love Song”, the young Duke of Astran asks Dula to help him win the favour of a cobbler’s daughter, whom he has taken a fancy to. Dula agrees and bewitches the girl, so that the duke but needs to sing a certain song, and she is flying into his arms. Thus the nobleman gets his fling with the pretty commoner, intending never to see her again. However, Dula has secretly supplied the cobbler’s daughter with a similar charm. The betrayed girl enters the duke’s palace, sings the magic song, and thus makes the duke fall in love with her. Unable to hide his feelings, the duke confesses them to his family. They, of course, disapprove; a marriage between a nobleman and a commoner is impossible. So the pair elope. They drive off into the night in the duke’s coach, with his enraged relatives and heirs in wild pursuit. But during the chase, which lasts several days, the charm loses its magic: the pair’s love wanes, and the duke and the girl decide to go separate ways. However, each has learned something from the escapade, and the cobbler’s daughter settles in Ximax to become a mage (“never again to be powerless in the face of another’s magic”, she says), while the duke changes his name and starts a successful coach business in Elsreth (“helping people escape the fetters of destiny by going places”). The duke’s family fail to catch either of the two runaways, but they do find out who started the whole affair. They return to Astran and try to punish Dula, but she sings her magic song to them, making each family member fall in love with some unlikely person or creature. The duke’s mother woos an old, smelly rat-catcher; his uncle pursues a blackhog; and so forth. The next day they all wake up embarrassed and determined to forget the whole affair. The duke is declared dead, and his eldest sister is given the throne. It takes her a week before she dares to face her subjects (who all too well remember her recent and very public infatuation with a hobbithorse). Then, while on a coach ride through town, her eyes fall on a tanner’s son... and there the tale ends.
Thanks to travelling theatre troupes of Black Butterfly Rovers, who have made the story into a farcical comedy play, the tale of the “Duke’s Love Song” has become known far beyond the borders of Nermeran. On village greens and market squares throughout Santharia, people like to laugh at the enchanted nobles that woo drooling geezers and bewildered animals. It is therefore not surprising that performance of the play has been declared illegal in the whole of Nermeran, as well as in several duchies of Manthria and Enthronia.
Picture description. The familars of a witch can have any form - even that of a seemingly ordinary black cat sitting on the window sill. Image drawn by Seeker.
A corbie sitting on a nearby fence
inclines its head when you talk, as if it could understand the words. – A
spider weaves a peculiar web, making a
pattern that resembles letters; and as you look more closely, you realize that
they spell: “Stay away.” And you know that this advice is for you. – A
kuatu leaves the safety of its tree and
walks straight past a dog, who does not dare to approach it. – A
cat sits with its back to a mirror,
its bright green eyes sparkling within its deep black fur; and from the mirror
glass, the same two eyes stare at you. – A
flittermouse hovers in front of your window at night, knocking its head
against the shutters, and you know what it means. You don’t know how you
know this, but you do.
If something like this should happen to you, and if you’re sure that you’re not just imagining things, then it is clear that you are a character in a Dula story, and have just met one of her familiars. There is always something unsettling about them, and people intuitively feel that although the familiars are animals, they are at the same time also more than animals. They are Dula’s spies, some say. Her messengers, say others. They are forest spirits whom she has given a body. They are the ghosts of people she has killed. Or they are enchanted princes or duchesses or tailors who tried to trick her, and were banished into an animal’s body as a punishment.
Birds probably feature most frequently, especially those kinds that have a reputation for cleverness, such as corbies, scoffles, and wood owls. But aelirels and doves also sometimes appear, and we have even heard a story in which Dula is accompanied by an exotic “talking bird” – a description which would seem to fit the gossiper, a R’unorian and Northern Sarvonian species that is almost unknown in Santharia. Other types of familiars sometimes associated with Dula are cats, flittermice, dragonfly lizards, rainbow serpents, and even kuatus, forest twotails, and fairy mice. In short, Dula’s companions are as varied as her character. Sometimes they even speak. And if it’s you they speak to, you know that you have no chance of getting out of this story before the end, and must hope that Dula will think that you are one of the good ones.
Apprentices. A child born deaf, or with six fingers on each hand, or who, being seven summers old, still does not speak more than a handful of words – these are the sorts that Dula the Witch takes on as apprentices. “She was sent to Dula” is a euphemism for an unwanted child that is taken to the forest and abandoned there to fend for itself (which means, in all but a few cases, death). If Dula had indeed received all the wretched children that have allegedly been “sent” to her, and had turned them all into witches, there would now be more witches in Santharia than rats. Nonetheless, the legends of Dula’s apprentices do contain a grain of truth, since many real witches do indeed look for magically gifted children, and seek to teach them the art of witchcraft. And since real witches, just like Dula, are viewed with suspicion, and families therefore unlikely to entrust their child to a witch, it turns out that witches’ apprentices are indeed often children whom Avá has dreamed disfigured faces or bodies, or who have odd minds that their families do not understand.
Not all Dula-tales feature an apprentice. And the witch never has more than one helper at a time. Many stories mention an apprentice but in passing – for colouration, as it were: how a visitor to Dula’s hut is greeted by a one-eyed boy, how Dula sends a leprous girl to deliver a curse, and so forth. Yet occasionally an apprentice features as a protagonist. In particular, many a yarn has been spun around how Dula acquires her apprentices in the first place. Remarkably, it often remains ambiguous whether Dula “takes” or even “steals” the children, or whether they come to her of their own accord. Does she catch them like a spider, entangling them in her web of illusions? Or do they find her like a lost bee finds a hive, happy to serve their true queen rather than languish in the wasteland that, for them, is ordinary human company? Like many aspects of the Dula myth, the issue of her apprentices inspires the storytellers and their listeners to debate and doubt, rather than to certainty and firm belief.
Picture description. An artist's depiction of the famous hut of Hildula Hauntwell crawling through the woods. Image drawn by Bard Judith.
that walks on Spider Legs. Famously, Dula the Witch lives in a
wooden hut that walks on spider legs. The legs are said to be eight in number,
just like a real spider’s, and each to be as long as a young tree. Legend
ascribes this hut a mind of its own, and anyone who wants to research its lore
should be warned that they are going to spend many a tiresome evening at town
inns and village bonfires, listening to arguments about whether the hut moves
where Dula wants it to go, or whether, on the contrary, Dula ends up wherever it
pleases the hut to take her. Go to any northern
Santharian village, and you will meet
people who claim to have seen it, often at dusk and from a distance, walking
over a ridge of hills, or making its way through a forest, breaking the branches
of trees that stand in its way. Most tales say that the hut shuns the people’s
gaze, and hides in forests or secluded valleys by day, preferring the night for
journeys across open country.
As to the size of the hut, most accounts are vague, and those descriptions that do exist contradict one another, although there is a certain method to the confusion: for it seems that those stories that only mention the outside of the hut describe it as small, no larger than a broom-cupboard, whereas those that feature the hut’s inside tell of a large space like a king’s hall, filled with furniture arranged all higgledy-piggledy, leaving plenty of nooks and crannies, where wise-eyed animals and flittering apparitions lurk.
Relationship to the Twelvern Gods. Dula the Witch seems to be her own story, and may originally have had little to do with the Twelvern faith. Nonetheless, by and by popular imagination has sought connections between her and some of the Twelvern Gods. And where imagination starts to seek, it will certainly find something and, what is more, will stubbornly insist on keeping it, even if it be the greatest humbug between moon and sun. Thus, Dula the Witch is often associated with Etherus, God of Desire and Excess; with Jeyriall, Goddes of Harvest and Fertility; and with Seyella, Goddess of Destiny. And indeed, Dula’s habit of creating romantic chaos and unlikely liaisons would make her seem to be sister-in-spirit to Etherus; her alleged power over the growth of crops, livestock and wombs links her to Jeyriall; and her waywardness and unpredictability to Seyella.
Dula’s alleged congeniality with Seyella has even been evoked among the learned. In the words of the historian Artheos Mirabilis Federkiel, who, as we shall presently see, had reason to look into these matters: “Dula the Witch is the sort of person that Seyella, Goddess of Destiny, would have become if she had chosen to try and live as a human being and behave as ordinarily as possible, which, Seyella being Seyella, of course doesn’t turn out to be very ordinary at all.” Some scholars have interpreted the Dula legends as parables, whose hidden meaning points to the failure, so common among humans, to understand one’s destiny. And indeed, the humans that meet Dula the Witch are often left confused by the encounter, and even if they gain some help or wisdom, they usually find that some other aspect of their lives, which they previously were quite certain about and content with, now seems doubtful and unsatisfactory. Dula’s character thus seems to stand for the inscrutability of fate, and her fickleness reminds us humans that it is our lot to make life’s most important decisions in ignorance of the consequences.
The "Hildula Hauntwell" Phenomenon. After all that has been said up to now, serious scholarship would seem to have an easy job of classifying Dula the Witch as a mythological figure. Yes, we can find plenty of individuals and even whole villages that claim to have encountered Dula – but these reports can be explained as fruits of the wild imagination that a peasant’s life of hardship, drudgery and boredom tends to give rise to; and we have personally seen more than one nifty macanti who, cognizant of the power of folk beliefs, used the name of Dula so as to better sell her fake potions and snaffle the coins of the credulous – performing ludicrous and useless ceremonies, variously promising to remove warts, to make sure that a woman’s next child is a son, to bring rain, or to bring sunshine.
In short: most so-called “evidence” for appearances of Dula the Witch turns out to be, on closer inspection, mere hearsay, superstition, and charade. Yet our academic contentment is unsettled by the ample historical record concerning a certain scholar of witchcraft and magic, a human woman who called herself Hildula Hauntwell. This Hildula is most famous for her works exploring what she referred to as “nature magic”, including druidic magic, some aspects of witchcraft, and the (alleged) magical abilities of creatures such as swamphags, grass rippers, and uglings. Her work “The Ugly Thing and the Beautiful Dreams” (Lorehaven, 823 a.S.) remains the single most important source on ugling lore to this day. Moreover, Hildula has distinguished herself with writings on superstitions and on popular prejudice against magic practitioners, including witches. Most notoriously, her debates with the self-declared “witchfinder” Malleus Mallefiz about the evil ear superstition degenerated into a deadly enmity. Records from the Lorehaven mayoral office suggest that, in the late 840s, Mallefiz was suspected of having hired an assassin to kill Hildula. But, as the records also show, the investigation was abandoned when no proof of Hildula’s death could be found.
Indeed, the question of Hildula’s death – how it occurred, and even if it occurred – is unsolved to this day. And this, in fact, is the source of speculations that “Hildula” may indeed still be alive, and that the assiduous 9th-century scholar might not have been what she seemed to be, but was in fact but a guise assumed by Dula, the witch that stays young forever.
For it seems that Hildula, after she had allegedly passed into Queprur’s realm, merrily kept on publishing. More remarkably even, the dates of the publications attributed to her span no fewer than eight centuries – longer even than most elves’ lifetimes, not to speak of a human’s. Her earliest work, a little known treatise on the "firedance" phenomenon in red druidic magic, dates from 811 a.S. After that, a period of extraordinary productivity sees her write one major book every two or three years, until almost 30 years later, in 840, she publishes the enormous tome that more than anything else incites Malleus Mallefiz’s wrath: her “Concise Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Rumours, and Slanders against Witches and other Honest Folk”. Then, after her alleged death in the early 840s, there is a long silence.
But in 932 a.S., Hildula’s name appears again, this time as the author of “The Spirits of Revenge: Curses and How to Thwart Them”. Another period of frantic publishing activity follows, and ends in 945 a.S. with “To Make Your Loved One Want You: Amorous Enchantment in Seven Times Seven Easy Steps” – a book of verse, all written in the form of incantations to be used in the concoction of love potions. (Whether any of them are effective we are unable to give an authoritative opinion on.) Over the following seven hundred years, Hildula Hauntwell appears about once every century, publishes an astonishing number of works within a period of two or three decades, and then vanishes. The last of these spells ended rather recently, namely in 1666 a.S., when a pamphlet entitled “The Arts of Warts, or: How to Take Revenge on the Infuriatingly Pretty” appeared in New-Santhala. This book is widely believed not to deal with actual magic, but rather to be a satire designed to mock vain and superstitious folk who desire magic creams and powders to make them beautiful, as well as to criticize the macanti charlatans who take advantage of such folk by selling them fake wonder drugs. And yet we have heard reports that after the pamphlet’s publication, an epidemic of warts broke out among merchant families in the New-Santhalan trade quarter.
As far as Hildula Hauntwell is concerned, it is of course possible that each of her “incarnations” was in fact a different person, and that each took the name and guise of an earlier scholar in order to lend mystery and credibility to her work, or conceivably in order to maintain her anonymity. Yet serious researchers have argued that Hildula Hauntwell is but a cloak worn by Dula the witch when she leaves her usual haunts in countryside and semi-wilderness and enters the cities, and in particular the world of scholarship and magical learning. Supporters of the “Dula” theory cite a curious fact: although we have few descriptions of the appearance and character of “Hildula Hauntwell” from any period, those that do exist always describe her in the same way: namely as a young woman, girlish in appearance although sharp in wit, and with a gaze that made people feel uncomfortably as if the woman’s eyes could see straight into their hearts.
The historian Artheos M. Federkiel has eloquently summed up the mystery that is Hildula Hauntwell. In his seminal work “Histories of Witches and Witchcraft” he asks:
“How can we explain the following pair of historical records: one from 1291, when the Gravioness of Starmiran, in her diaries, describes her encounter with one ‘Hildoola Houndwell’, author of an ‘amusing little book’ entitled ‘101 Things to Do with Lizard’s Tails’, and emphasizes that she had ‘never met a more learned and reasonable young woman’ – and another from 1323, fully 32 years later, when Marcogg’s mayor Skeijorn Herrhal Marmarsek issues an arrest warrant for ‘Hilldulla Hontwel’, accused of Vilification of the Thane’s Officials, and describes her as a ‘young woman of no more than 20 summers, infamous for scribbling that vile pamphlet entitled 101 Things to Do with Lizard’s Tails, which promotes black magic, the abandonment of traditions, and bad cooking, and which contains receipts for abominable dishes whose stench, thanks to their unintelligible popularity, now wafts through the streets of our beloved Marcogg like a pestilence’? Shall we assume that there were two young women, both calling themselves Hildula Hauntwell, and both claiming to be the author of the same work? Or do we conclude that both descriptions refer to the same person, who was fortunate or skilful enough to preserve a youthful appearance into the sixth decade of her life? Or, as a third possibility, must we believe the unbelievable: that Dula the Witch, the eternally youthful, wandered around in the Manthria of the 13th and 14th centuries, politely conversing with gravionesses in one place and insulting mayors in another, leaving behind mischievous traces that have befuddled historians ever since?”
Artheos Federkiel finds that
he is unable to settle the question; and so, we must confess, are we.
Importance. Dula the witch and her spider-legged hut wander through the landscape of northern Santharian folklore like the rootless spirits that they are. Sometimes they appear on a distant hill, a shadow against the sinking sun, reminding us that there are more things between the disk and the sky than we will ever know. At other times they walk through the main town gate and straight to the market place – and if they do, you can tell that the tale is going to be one of magic, mischief and gallimaufry.
Apart from providing many a story to scare children into eating up their dinner and staying indoors at night, Dula is significant as an archetypical image of a witch. Due to the immense powers that folklore ascribes to her, ordinary people often overestimate what a real witch is able to do – a misconception that may sometimes work to the real witches’ favour (because folks are careful not to offend them, and wary of a confrontation), and sometimes do just the opposite (when a witch is unable to meet a customer’s expectation, or when folk suspect her to be guilty of the most devastating enchantments that far exceed an ordinary witch’s powers).
Witches, for their part, put the blame for the prejudice they face on human witlessness, rather than on Dula lore. As one witch told us, with a twinkle in his eye: “If humans hadn’t invented Dula, Avá would have had to dream her into existence, for she is too good not to be in the world.” Apparently, witch’s apprentices, when they start off, often believe that by becoming a witch they would one day be shown the secret place where Dula retreats with her hut, and be invited in, and see the wondrous abode and its mistress with their own eyes. But they are soon taught that Dula is far too important to bother herself with the insipid malarkey of actual existence, and that all one can learn from her is contained in the stories people tell about her. “Be like Dula,” the witches say, “and follow your desire as determinedly, as blindly, as a child follows a flitter-twitch that it wants to catch. Doing this, you will lose your way, and only once you’re lost you can find yourself. And if you find yourself, you will never grow old. That is Dula’s lesson.” Naturally, nobody except for witches understands any of this humbug – a fact that doesn’t perturb the witches in the slightest.
We cannot conclude our account without reporting that the mysterious Hildula Hauntwell has become a figure of importance in her own right. This is because the works ascribed to her have recently enjoyed a baffling rise in popularity. In the cells of Lorehaven’s scholars, in the offices of Cavthan’s merchants, in the chambers of New-Santhala’s courtiers, in the cabins of Ciosa’s sea-captains, and in the suites of Nyermersys’ army officers – wherever people can read, copies of Hauntwell’s titles may be found. From the Academy of Ximax, one even hears whispers about secret gatherings of young magic students discussing Hildula’s works and dabbling in non-Ximaxian theory. But the most ardent readers of works like “The Arts of Warts” and “To Make Your Loved One Want You”, it seems, are to be found among the literate daughters of well-to-do patricians. A proportion of these young women, we have heard, are bored out of their wits by conversations about dresses, flower arrangements, husbands-to-be, dowries, weddings, and the like, which their mothers and aunts and elder sisters impose upon them day after weary day. Thirsting for adventure, but disinclined to stray more than half a morning’s carriage ride from the wealthy streets that they call their home, they have taken to the colourful, tradition-defying, and often obscure writings of Hildula Hauntwell like parasitic limpets to a piece of exposed skin. That Hauntwell’s works are considered risqué is, of course, a big part of their attraction. Yet it is the whole spirit of Hauntwell’s prose that makes it so enticing: every line oozes irreverence to authority, and every paragraph hints at the possibility that anyone may dive below the surface of humdrum everyday life and discover deep currents of her own soul that, if properly channelled, can be brought up into the light, freeing an inborn magical energy, which will burst out in joyous sprouts like the majestic outbreaths of the first-singers that rise out of the sea. Indeed, the excitement about Hauntwell’s “philosophy” has spread widely enough to spawn, in cities with a sizeable wealthy population, such as New-Santhala, Lorehaven, and Ciosa, a veritable fashion, the expressions of which are decidedly not to everyone’s taste. To wit, the venerable compendiumist Valan Nonesuch has been heard lamenting his encounters with “… young geese, who one day decide to call themselves ‘follower of Dula’, stick their hair into preposterous shapes, don fanciful black dresses… And if you remark on their silliness, or try to bring them to their senses, they put on self-important mysterious smiles, and dismiss you with exalted gobbledegook. One of them had the audacity to tell me: ‘May Etherus teach you how to enjoy your life’. And she didn’t even giggle!”
Astute marketeers and hucksters, on the other hand, being more practically minded than compendiumists, have found ways to make a pretty coin from the Hildula-craze. Bookbinders prepare cheap copies of Hildula’s tomes; herbalists, who may not be able to read, confidently proclaim that this and that herb on their display is mentioned in this or that of Hildula’s works; and macanti purport to sell potions prepared from Hildula’s recipes. In Lorehaven, in the summer of 1667, the eagerness of traders to make a profit, and the credulousness of their customers, brought forth particularly strange flowers – and quite literally, too. It so happened that a hitherto little known work by Hildula Hauntwell had been discovered in the Lorehold Library. This work, entitled “The art of the rose: clairvoyance of the soul” claims to reveal the secret of how to read other people’s emotions, and in this regard makes much of the properties of the R’unorian rose, which is alleged to change its colour and its scent in response to the feelings of the people around it. Now, the remarkable incident was this: that once news of Hauntwell’s book had spread, on the very next market day all the flower girls of Lorehaven had suddenly contrived to acquire R’unorian roses. As the perceptive reader will surmise, these allegedly magical flowers sold like hot butterball delights. It is not far-fetched to suspect, however, that many an ingenuous customer, once they had returned to their home and sat down to admire their purchase, found that their magical rose looked rather a lot like any old rose they might have bought from the very same flower girl during the previous summer, or even in the previous week. Whether in response to the proliferation of these roses Lorehaven’s populace was seized by a sudden surge in empathy is not reported.