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source:rnatime:2023-12-04 21:28:00

Witch Martha lived in a small lonely cottage down by the river. Very few people ever went to see her in the day-time; but at night she often had visitors. Mothers who suspected that their children were changelings, whom the Trolds had put in the cradle, taking the human infants away; girls who wanted to "turn the hearts" of their lovers, and lovers who wanted to turn the hearts of the girls; peasants who had lost money or valuables and wanted help to trace the thief--these and many others sought secret counsel with Witch-Martha, and rarely went away uncomforted. She was an old weather-beaten woman with a deeply wrinkled, smoky-brown face, and small shrewd black eyes. The floor in her cottage was strewn with sand and fresh juniper twigs; from the rafters under the ceiling hung bunches of strange herbs; and in the windows were flower-pots with blooming plants in them.

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Martha was stooping at the hearth, blowing and puffing at the fire under her coffee-pot, when the Sons of the Vikings knocked at the door. Wolf-in-the-Temple was the man who took the lead; and when Witch-Martha opened the upper half of the door (she never opened both at the same time) she was not a little astonished to see the Captain's son, Frithjof Ronning, staring up at her with an anxious face.

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"What cost thou want, lad?" she asked, gruffly; "thou hast gone astray surely, and I'll show thee the way home."

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"I am Wolf-in-the-Temple," began Frithjof, thrusting out his chest, and raising his head proudly.

"Dear me, you don't say so!" exclaimed Martha.

"My comrade and foster-brother Skull-Splitter has been wounded; and I want thee, old crone, to stanch his blood before he bleeds to death."

"Dear, dear me, how very strange!" ejaculated the Witch, and shook her aged head.

She had been accustomed to extraordinary requests; but the language of this boy struck her as being something of the queerest she had yet heard.