Something about the woman just felt wrong to Stevins, although he could not have said precisely what.
For one thing, she was young – much too young, Stevins thought, to be living out in the fengraf alone. She had legs that were too long, and wide, high-boned cheeks, and eyes that looked right at you and did not blink.
Her manners, to be sure, were impeccable, and she had been courteous with him to a fault – a fact which was all the more remarkable given that she had come across Stevins lying bleeding, half-dead, in a puddle of brackish water, with half an arrow still sticking out of his leg from where he had tried – and failed – to remove it.
That had been a mistake. A bad one. The arrow was in deep, and rangers always barbed their tips. But the woman had offered no comment, had asked Stevins no questions about how he had been shot, or why. She had taken him at his word, when he begged her for help, and had welcomed him into her home.
Maybe that’s what was wrong, Stevins thought to himself: the woman just didn’t seem like the sort of person you’d find in the fengraf. Soft-spoken. Courteous. Clean. He’d had a look at her hands, when she’d helped him to his feet. Her fingers were delicate and long, and her nails conspicuously clean.
She was surprisingly strong, too, for a woman of her size, to have brought him home as easily as she did. She had given him her arm, which he leaned on for support, as he stumbled and limped the whole way.
And then there was the matter of the cottage she’d brought him to, which had only amplified his unease. Because, just as the woman herself struck Stevins as odd and out of place among the mist and the reeds, her cottage seemed to him odder still. It was sparse, and tidy, with little by way of furniture – not even a bed, from what Stevins could see – but the walls were all hung with luxurious silk tapestries, like the finest Stensia salon. There was no kitchen, no cookfire, no kettle-bearing hearth – not even a plate to be seen. And the windows – of which there were many – had no curtains, no shutters, no glass. There was nothing at all between outside and in to keep out the dank, fetid air.
Or, for that matter, mosquitos – with no window nettings, how could she keep out the mosquitos? Just thinking about the wretched things made Stevins itch. He was covered in bites, from his head to his toes, and every one of them itched something fierce. Fengraf mosquitos got as big as small birds, and could bite through hard leather. Fumbling his way through the mire – leg bleeding, mind numb – Stevins had felt certain that, if the fensnakes didn’t get him, the mosquitos surely would. One nasty bite on the back of his neck had swollen to the size of a chestnut, and Stevins scratched it relentlessly. He glanced again at the wide-open windows, and wondered how the woman hadn’t been eaten alive.
But whether it was the woman’s odd house fueling his sense of unease, or maybe the odd woman herself, the sight of her coming toward him with a glass of clear water – the first clear water Stevins had seen in a week – overcame all his doubts, and he accepted the offered glass gratefully, before gulping down its contents with a haste which bordered on indecency.
The water was cool and clean, and it felt good on his throat. “Thank you,” Stevins said, but only after tilting the glass upward, greedy for every drop.
That made the woman laugh. A strange, chittering laugh.
“You are most welcome,” she said, and she held the pitcher up, with her head at an inquiring angle. Stevins nodded eagerly, and the woman refilled his glass.
“Thank you again,” he said, between gulps. “I’m ever so sorry to impose.”
“It’s no imposition at all,” the woman said, as she stared right at him with those big, dark eyes. “If anything, your coming was fortuitous – it has been much too long since I last entertained.”
“You live by yourself?” Stevins asked, wiping his lips. Then, feeling bolder, he held his glass out, which the woman refilled without blinking.
“Oh, hardly,” she said. “I have my children for company.”
Stevins paused between sips. The woman looked young for a mother – much too young, truth be told – and, if anyone lived with her, there was no outward sign.
“Do you have many children?” he said.
The woman laughed. “Over thirteen thousand.”
Stevins coughed in surprise, and then coughed again as the water went down the wrong way.
“Over thirteen thousand?” he said, not hiding his disbelief. But the woman just nodded and smiled.
Stevins cleared his throat, and shook his head.
“With such a family as that, it’s a wonder you can provide,” he said. He thought that this comment sounded stupid, but was unsure of just what else to say.
Again, the woman smiled. Her big eyes still didn’t blink.
“I have my ways,” was all that she said.
“Oh, really?” Stevins said. “And just what is it that you do?”
He was making pointless conversation, just to hear himself talk, for the woman was quite clearly mad.
Either mad, Stevins thought, or something entirely worse…
Either way, Stevins felt a strange, prickling sensation that began at the base of his spine, and – almost before he knew it had happened – his sense of unease flooded back. Arrow or no arrow, he suddenly wanted to leave.
But the dark-eyed woman – who still didn’t blink – kept right on staring at him, even as she gestured round at her silks.
“I’m a weaver,” she said. “I spin, and I weave.”
“A lovely trade, that,” Stevins said, as he tried unsteadily to rise to his feet. “I thank you for your hospitality – really, I do – but I’m afraid that I ought to be going…”
As soon as Stevins put weight on his wounded leg, though, his knee buckled beneath him, and he collapsed awkwardly to the floor.
“Oh, you poor thing,” the woman said, moving quickly to offer a hand. “You’ve gone white as a sheet! Between that wound and those nasty mosquitos, it’s a wonder you have any blood left.”
At the mention of mosquitos, the bite on Stevins’ neck itched, and – as he reached involuntarily back to scratch – he suddenly realized just what it was that was making him feel so wrong.
It was the mosquitos – those bloated, buzzing, damnable mosquitos. At this time of year, the fengraf was lousy with them. You could hardly open your mouth without fear of swallowing one. Just an hour or so earlier, he had barely escaped them alive.
But inside the woman’s house, with the wide-open windows? There were no mosquitos at all.
There were no mosquitos. Not a single one.
Not even a moth, to feast on all that fine, delicate silk.
“Angels help me,” Stevins said.
If the woman heard this remark, she said nothing of it. Instead, she kept on looking right at him, and kept on not blinking.
Then, at long last, when the woman finally did blink, Stevins saw something which made his blood run cold. Because, in that moment – in that blink of a moment – the woman had not two eyes, but eight.
“Yes, you poor thing,” the woman said again. “Between that arrow, and those mosquitos, it’s a wonder you have any blood left.”
She blinked again, then, and carefully licked her lips, and her grip tightened around Stevins’ wrist.
“Yes, we shall have to do something about that,” the woman said, “if you’re to be of any use to me and mine.”
Then Stevins heard a sound – a strange, chittering sound – which grew louder and louder as the room filled with spiders. Tiny, chittering spiders – no bigger than the tip of his finger – poured out from every corner of the room – from every cranny, from every crack – until the very walls were teeming with them, and the floor was one writhing, black mass.
The whole cottage was crawling with spiders – more spiders than Stevins had seen in his life, more spiders than he could have imagined.
Over thirteen thousand, Stevins thought to himself, and shivered.
Holding Stevins tight with both hands, the woman somehow poured him water with yet another, while a fourth pressed the glass to his lips.
“Drink up,” she thoughtfully said.
“The Somberwald Weaver” is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy and is not approved or endorsed by Wizards of the Coast or the Magic: The Gathering brand. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC