Elder Cale Barnside sat in the hearth room and scowled at the butter churn. Shup almost expected it to scowl back. The Gritter boys brought it from Klendale because Mrs. Farspig yammered nonstop that it was going to kill her. The elder had been examining it for two hours, Shup suffering next to him and pretending to study. They could both sense just a quiver of power running through it.
“Do you recognize this lettering at all?” asked Cale.
“Huh?” Shup looked at Cale running his finger up the handle. Curly letters starting inside the upper chamber went to the top and back down the other side. “No. Are you sure those are even letters?”
“They’re letters,” said Cale. “This churn isn’t old, so it’s not even an ancient language. It must be some native tongue from wherever it was made.”
Shup set down his book. “Why is she afraid of it? It’s a butter churn.”
“Should an apprentice show this kind of skepticism so early in the process?” asked Cale.
“I’m not an apprentice. I’m a prisoner.” There was a dash of truth to it because Cale didn’t give him any choice when they met. That’s what happens when you abuse the power in front of an elder.
“You’ll be both before long.” Cale said. “Stay here while I look something up.”
Shup tried to read, but found himself staring at the lettering on the churn. He scooted his chair over to get a better look, the eerie quality striking him. He pulled the rod out a little to see the hidden lettering. The top plate jostled against it, catching the ring and popping it off, slats loose and collapsing, the ring between the chambers dropped and the entire churn fell apart.
“Oh, no.” Shup scrambled to put the slats back in place, bracing one against the other, but they kept springing apart about half way around. He tried it several times, then attempted to use the top ring and plate to hold them in place. He almost had it when it fell apart again, just in time to hear Cale coming back down the hall. He placed them quickly in place again. He had them all set with the top ring and pulled the middle one up in place, but it was tight. He inched his fingers around it to ease it up a little at a time.
The door opened, and the slats tumbled apart, Cale looming over him as he scrambled to keep the pieces from falling.
“What have you done?” said Cale.
“I was just looking at the lettering.”
Cale hastened to the churn and took a knee next to Shup, grasping his face and squeezing it together like a kid would do to make a fish face. “I just did some research. This butter churn is made for stealing souls and dropping them in other people’s bodies.” He pulled up Shup’s eyelids with his thumbs, tilting his head upward, and peered deeply into his eyes. “I’m convinced that Mrs. Farspig was being oppressed by her cruel uncle’s soul that was trapped inside—but now you’ve let him out!”
“I’m sorry! It was an accident. How can we catch him?”
“You don’t understand. You were the only one here—he’s inside you now.”
“Come quick!” Cale pulled Shup out the door and dragged him down the hall. He stopped a servant and ordered him to gather the elders. In the elder’s parlor, he put Shup in a chair in the middle and ordered him to silence.
When all were assembled in front of the hearth, he stood next to Shup, rapped his staff into the floor, and addressed them all gravely, lingering on Elder Midsen, the Resident, tall and clean-shaven, dark brown hair. “Shup has been possessed by the ghost of Hangel Farspig. It lies upon us to make the grave decision, whether we should attempt to exorcise him with the ritual of digging holes, attempt to purify him with the fire of the Vine, or just lock him away forever without visitors, instruments, or cutlery.”
Maz turned red, and Dock’s eyes went wide.
“Elder Midsen, would you start the proceedings.” Cale squatted next to Shup and grabbed his arm, an encouraging gesture. Shup waited for Midsen to speak.
Midsen seemed to think hard about how to begin. A long minute passed.
“Let us first discuss the ways that this will manifest,” said Midsen. “I believe the first symptoms are clammy skin and perspiration.”
Shup was sweating, and his face felt clammy.
“Soon he will run around and bark like a dog.”
Oh, no! I can’t abide that!
“We cannot abide that,” said Midsen. “So at the very least he will need confinement. After all, it will take weeks to compose the proper exorcism.”
“Good Resident, can we protect him from himself while he is confined?”
“Hmm.” Midsen scratched his chin. “As long as he is muzzled, he should be safe.”
“Muzzled?” whispered Shup.
Midsen stepped forward and pointed his staff at Shup. “The worst part…” Midsen’s lips began to tremble. “The worst part…” His body started to tremble. “The worst part is—“ Maz chortled and Midsen burst out laughing. “I’m sorry, Cale, I can’t go any further.” He looked at the others and pointed at Shup. “Look at his face!”
Shup looked at Cale, who now laughed as loud as Midsen. Shup groaned, throwing his head back. Cale was never going to let him live down those rocks he put in his travel sack on their first journey together.