I promised an excerpt of my new project Fate And Destinies. Things became a little crazy with nominations and the best of listings. (yay!) But I did remember.
This is a rather large excerpt, a little over 7k, unedited of course. The story is currently at 48k and it looks like it will end up around 100k or more. I hope you enjoy the snippet! ^_^
Copyright © 2013, Lexi Ander
Fate And Destinies
Legend of the Bearwere Curse
My gut pained me with the rising uneasiness. In a few days I'd observe the turning of my ninth twelvemonth. I wouldn't be with my father and brothers, who were home in Alba. This was the time of my change, when my name would be scribed on the wall of the cradle as the upcoming ruler of my clan of werebears. I travelled across the rough and violent sea to the land of the Gaels with my granda Shaye. As one of the first-borns of the elders, he would induct me in the history of our people.
I was excited for tonight granda would recite the account of the legend that spoke of our people's origin and how we had become what we were. I understood some of the telling. I'd listened in on the hushed discussions of the elders of my clan. Finally I'd hear the whole story, not the scraps I gleaned before now. Where did we come from? Why I'd share my body with the spirit of a black bear? Not too many days away, on the eve of my day of birth, my animal would waken from slumber. The bear and I'd greet each other for the very first time. I could already feel him stir within me. Granda's stories were to brace me for what would soon come.
Out of honour for granda, I sought to keep my elation to myself natheless it was difficult with my gut rolling and twisting with eagerness. Granda beheld the journey along with the keen understanding of the history as a dark occasion. He scowled at me when I failed to contain my yearning.
We travelled swiftly to make the next Viking settlement before we stopped for the night's eve. We were granted a space upon the floor of the longhouse. I waited with little patience for granda, who spoke with villagers, asking after ships, rivers, other settlements as well as people, giving names of old friends from past travels. Once my granda slaked his need for local tidings, we claimed a space nigh the hearth for ourselves. After eating a late meal, I climbed into the furs with haste. If granda didn't start the telling soon I thought I'd burst.
Granda reached for the satchel, his wrinkled hands stroking the soft leather, brow furrowed in deep thought. I pressed my lips together to keep from demanding he make haste. Raising the flap, he withdrew the rolled hide treated to shield the scrolls from that which would spoil them, including water.
I beheld how my granda's grave countenance pinched at the outer corners of his grey eyes. He was one of the few among the clan being truly ancient, the dark beard and moustache streaked through with silver, not of a length long enough to altogether hide the down turned mouth. None of the other elders sported the white in their hair. Life as werebears gave us a long life compared to the rest of mankind. As the oldest among us, I beheld granda with awe and wonder for he had yet to submit to the call of the forest, as the other elders of lesser age had. Even my own father this past year showed signs he began to suffer from the werebear's call to the forest.
"This be the most essential telling, Ewen."
I met his eyes. "I understand."
With care, granda unrolled the leather revealing the aged scroll with flowing script in a tongue I could not comprehend. His fingertips traced the swirling lettering as he spoke, "When your time comes to read this to your successor you must handle this with caution, child. The scroll be spelled, the words impressed deeply by the will a goddess so we don't forget what came before. Respect the writing, learn from the lessons of the days old, and pass down the knowledge, this be your obligation."
He cleared his throat, glancing briefly at me. I gave my full attention to my gransire, relieved he wouldn't require I wait longer.
Kernunnos, Horned God of the Forest, walked the wood of the world. Mankind honoured and adored him, paying homage to the eternal guardian of the wildwood. As ages passed, men moved from the old groves seeking the lush fertility of the glens and flat faced plains. They built homes, then villages that grew into grand cities. Those who made their lives in the woods became fewer and fewer, forgetting the Lord of the Forest. They no longer understood how to live alongside the creatures of the wild and forgotten how to abide by the needs of the land as they gathered material wealth unto themselves.
Saddened by the withdraw of man, Kernunnos continued to care for the lessening wilds. Mankind cut down whole groves of the ancient trees to build their kingdoms, to wage war, to sail the seas, and to clear fields for their crops. Every continent he travelled, this destruction met his sight. Rather than raging at the loss, he planted new groves seeking to replace those which had become lost.
On one of his many travels he crossed paths with two black bear cubs. The hunter's arrow had claimed the life of their mother. Gathering the twins to him, Kernunnos nurtured the foundlings, his touch infusing them with magic, causing them to be ware in a way not natural to the animals of the wild. He determined the cubs would abet him with tending the forest. The human numbers grew and the ruin they caused multiplied as time went on. Their help would be beyond value to temper the confusion mankind wreaked upon the land in the wake of their passing.
Kernunnos named the twins, Avory and Fordel, teaching them to become keepers of the trees and all that took sanctuary under the broad branches. The twins were inseparable as they tended to the wildwood. They found short spans of time to tumble and play, all the while, not ware that time rolled forward and ages passed.
Then one day Fordel stumbled upon a young boy lost in the forest. Not afeard, the child curled up against Fordel, nestling down into his thick fur for warmth. He heard tales of mankind from the boar and the raven. "Beware," they had whispered to Avory and Fordel. "Humans thirst for blood, spilling it from all creatures without need, they are insolent and have no respect for the wildwood. They destroy. They take by force and slyly steal, never to give back." Yet Fordel perceived no evil in the innocent face that gazed up at him with trust and awe.
He took the boy and followed the cries of the humans who searched for him. He beheld from hiding as the young one was taken up with much ado by a man the child called papa. Keeping to the deepest shadows, he trailed behind the humans not sure why. His deed was done and yet a new yearning bloomed in his core as the boy gazed over the man's shoulder, smiling and waving.
When Fordel could go no further, he stayed until the men were gone from sight and yet he remained at the forest's edge until his brother found him gazing at the grasslands with such deep longing. When he told his twin of the boy and the men, Avory chastised him for being foolhardy.
"Did a man not murder our mother for her pelt then leave us to die? If not for Kernunnos, we would have become easy prey for the wolf before becoming overcome with hunger. Do not yearn for the world of mankind when we have all that we need in the wildwood."
Avory pulled him back to the heart of the forest, ever watchful over his suddenly moody twin. Fordel knew Avory spoke truth natheless he could only wonder about the whispered cities. He slyly slipped away from Avory's mindful eye to make his way back to the forest's edge hoping to meet the boy again or the man called papa.
On one such occasion Fordel stumbled into Kernunnos. The Lord of the Forest's regal head was adorned with a wide wrack of antlers made of saplings where finches chirped from their perch within. He had a flowing beard as green as spring moss, a long golden mane of hair that reached past his waist. Kernunnos stamped his dark cloven hoofed feet on the clover, black clawed fingers ruffled Fordel's thick dark fur. Kernunnos beheld him with large brown eyes, his smile full of warmth. "So it is true. Your brother told me you were curious of the humans."
"Please, Guardian, I wish not to cause strife. I simply want to walk among mankind however if I leave the forest as I am, the humans will behold the bear, not your humble servant, and afeard they will try to smite me or seek to steal my pelt." Fordel found that once he started speaking, all of his desire, all of his wishes spilled forth.
Kernunnos sat and listened with patience as he spoke long into the night, with abounding trust he revealed all. If anyone understood the light he felt blooming in his core, surely Kernunnos would.
When Fordel's fevered talking came to an end, Kernunnos hummed with great mirth even as his eyes appeared sad. "You and Avory are my children just as if you came from my loins. I'd that you be happy. Come, cub, and let us go and call upon The Morrigan. She may be able to help with your quest."
Fordel heard of The Morrigan from the ravens. Goddess of battle and strife, the Great Queen, The Morrigan spurred fighters to battle madness and used her magic to reign over the field of war. Fordel never witnessed war, only the violence that caused the death of his mother. He perceived not that he should be afeard of the knowledge The Morrigan carried.
He followed Kernunnos brewing with curiosity and elation before he even came face to face with the rare and harrowing beauty of the Goddess. She was dressed for battle, wearing hard leather armour tooled with images of ravens, carried a deadly sword sheathed at her side, and a wickedly tipped spear in her hand. Long, dark hair tied at the top of her head fell in shining waves to the backs of her knees. A high collar of raven's feathers circled her neck. The Morrigan stared hard at Fordel as she hearkened to Kernunnos as he spoke of Fordel's desire to walk among the humans.
The tone of The Morrigan's voice lent to her countenance of concern. "Child, men are tools for destruction. They would harm you rather than lend you a hand. They spill blood oft without need, and oft without provocation. Walking among them will only bring you pain and grief."
He understood The Morrigan's words natheless in his mind's eye he still could behold the innocent gaze of the boy, feel the small hands grasping his fur with complete trust. Surely not all of mankind lived as The Morrigan claimed. She was the Goddess of the field of battle, by chance did she ever enter the cities?
"To walk among the humans is what I want. To live as they live, see what they see, know what they know," was Fordel's final reply. He wished to determine for himself the manner in which men conducted themselves, albeit for good or not.
"As you wish, young one. I will grant you the ability to change into a human. Unlike the humans who bargain for the form of the wolf, thus becoming a werewolf, or those who desire to be the lion, becoming a werelion, you will become a bearwere for you are a bear bartering for the form of a human. In return, if—no—when you are on the field of battle you will act as my incarnation."
He agreed even though he didn't believe he would ever willingly take a life. The Morrigan grasped him about the neck and began a low haunting chant. His hide twitched and stung, rolling under her firm grip. He began to swell, his skin stretching overly tight about his body as if something was being stuffed under his fur. The sense of being too full bordered on an agony he could barely endure until he could not stand to be silent anymore. Fordel released a yowl that spoke of the pain of his suffering.
When The Morrigan's song ceased, he knelt on the forest floor staring in wonder at very large human hands, the pain of the change forgotten. Kernunnos and The Morrigan helped Fordel to his human feet and he stretched out his new legs. Never before had he gazed down at someone. Always he had looked up at others.
"There my child," Kernunnos said. "Now you may wander among man and see what you would see. At any time you can change back to your bear form. It is as simple as calling to mind how to walk on four legs. And keep in mind, you can find sanctuary and solace among any forest. All you need is one tree and you will be brought to the grove."
The Morrigan and Kernunnos clothed and taught Fordel what they knew about the lives of men. Charged with their knowledge, he grabbed his packs and headed to the forest's edge. Before he stepped from the shadows, the call of a black bear made him glance back. Avory stood rocking to and fro on his front feet, bewailing piteously.
"I have to go, brother." He knelt on a knee and clutched his twin to his chest. "I vow to return and when I do I will have such stories to tell you."
He had such an ache in his heart. He wished Avory would journey with him natheless his twin wouldn't leave the wildwood. After his fond farewell, he rose to his feet and strode from the forest, glancing back and waving as the boy-child once waved to him before beginning his journey.
Fordel travelled the continents, the years passing by. He knew both cruelty and kindness as he traversed many, many wonders, and came to know first hand the toils of mankind. When he yearned for the haven of the grove, he found a tree and stepped through the shadow where all he loved welcomed him home, natheless he still hungered for the world beyond the edge of the forest. Sooner or later he would leave again.
On one such trip, Fordel crossed paths with a great and wise king known by all far and wide. At once he knew the boy-child he had found lost in the wood years before then. King Allard bid Fordel to sup with him. Not able to turn the boy—king down, he followed after King Allard where they dined alone.
The king asked may questions of his travels before rolling out a scroll. Written within was a story about a prince who became lost in the wood to be saved by a bear. There before Fordel was a drawing of himself, not as a black bear but as the man he now wearing a bear skin upon his head. "Some say the forest is enchanted, making men to animals and animals to men. Although I beheld your face I clutched your fur in my hands. Tell me I am mad or call me brother, natheless you look now as I have always beheld you in my mind." Fordel caught up King Allard in a back breaking embrace and named him friend.
He stayed with King Allard, swiftly becoming not only the king's closest friend but his most trusted advisor. All who met Fordel thought highly of him, honouring him when seeking his counsel. He quickly became known as a man of upstanding character. His life in the kingdom was rich and full and for the first time in an age he knew peace.
He stood by King Allard's side when the news came that the queen gave birth to a male child christened as Prince Reginald. Together they exalted in the births of each of the king's other seven children. Fordel fought beside King Allard on the field of battle, finally paying The Morrigan homage by becoming her incarnation when he raised weapon and shield in war. His very presence assured a win as he fought for King Allard.
As Prince Reginald grew, he was pricked with jealousy over the people's attention to Fordel. He fought to garner the same high regard and seemed to fail. As the years passed Prince Reginald became full of rancour, all the while on the outward he laughed and grinned. What made the wound fester more, Prince Reginald understood Fordel held a father-like affection for him. The prince would rather have had the king's regard instead of Fordel's. Although Prince Reginald sensed his father loved him, he felt invisible when Fordel entered the room.
One day in an envious fit, Prince Reginald slyly followed his father and Fordel on one of their outings to the forest. What he saw there made him question his state of mind, before his very eyes Fordel changed into a large black bear. The beast sat at his father's feet accepting playful tugs on his thick fur. Stung deeply by the lack of faith from his father and Fordel, Prince Reginald stumbled back to the castle and barred himself in his rooms.
He pondered all he knew of Fordel. His father had grown old, his skin becoming lined by age, and his sword arm weak and feeble. In spite of the passage of time, Fordel hadn't aged a day. Prince Reginald's jealousy turned to a dark and twisted craving as he coveted the abilities Fordel had. He heard tell of the men who petitioned the gods to become a wereanimal. He began to plot, a new ambition taking root within him. If he too became a werebear, the people would love him more than Fordel. The prince set out to prevail upon the gods to behold him favour.
King Allard became ill and the royal physicians claimed naught could be done. The gods hadn't answered his pleas. Incensed, the prince fell into a deep rage from the slight. He heard Fordel tell his father he would go home to his forest, may hap to never return to the lands of mankind. He grew alarmed by the news. Fordel was the only one he knew who changed forms. If Fordel was allowed to leave, then the only chance for the prince to become a werebear would go with him.
Working quickly, the prince had the kingdom searched for those who wielded magic. Many sorcerers were brought before him natheless when they learned what he planned, each declined to abet him. All who denied Prince Reginald were murdered. Rumours of the sorcerer's deaths by his hand spread far and wide, causing the others to flee into hiding. Eryl Drake was caught by the prince's faithful men and when he was brought forward, Eryl agreed to execute the prince's plan for he didn't wish to die.
The day King Allard passed, all in the kingdom mourned for their beloved sovereign. Fordel vowed he would stay until the prince's coronation, natheless afterwards he would head home to his own family. Upon entering the new king's quarters to bid his farewells, Fordel became trapped in the sorcerer's spell.
I was… I was… "Granda, tell me…no, swear that Reginald wouldn't do such a vial thing." The promise, no, the belief that a thing of wonder would happen to me on the anniversary of my birth had been growing the entire trip. I'd finally meet my bear who I'd felt under my skin all my life and yet to know by what appalling means I came by this… what a terrible fate for our creatures!
Granda pursed his lips and gave me a stern look. "Enough with your lose tongue. Pay attention, child."
Three days Eryl the sorcerer laboured to remove the bear from the human body. Fordel fought and pleaded with the boy he loved as his own. He wanted to return to his grove. He vowed he would never set foot in the kingdom again. In spite of the pained moans and cries for mercy, King Reginald turned a deaf ear to Fordel's words and tears. The promise of rising to greatness, his need of power blinded him to the warning signs.
Kernunnos and The Morrigan sensed Fordel's spirit being shredded and torn from him. With rising dread they searched for the bearwere. Knowing that none became a were without the blessed touch of a god, Eryl had foreseen their meddling and set wards to hide Fordel and King Reginald. The God and Goddess paced outside not able to enter the city as Fordel's spirit was stolen from his body.
What Eryl could not guard against was Fate. The Goddess Cerridwen found them as Eryl placed the spirit into King Reginald body. That night every man, woman, and child heard the tormented cry Fordel gave at the loss of his body. All that was left was a human shell, and only as King Reginald began to order the death of that body, did Cerridwen step from the shadows. She claimed the human as her own, marking him with the sign of the crescent moon at the base of his spine. She placed him under her protection, forbidding King Reginald from harming Fordel's body or any descendant thereafter.
"A scourge upon you! If you or someone by your decree takes the life of Fordel's human you will assure your own death and cause the early grave for all of your children and their descendants until the end of time," Cerridwen warned. "Your blood is now cursed, King Reginald. Those you father will be bound to the forest, not able to leave for any length of time without going mad with longing. They will lose their regal birth right becoming guardians of what you have sought to steal from Fordel for he is not a werebear as you thought. Fordel wasn't born human but a bear, the only one granted human form to become the first bearwere. Instead of robbing him of the essence of the bear, that which would grant you the might and abilities of the bear, you stole his very soul.
"Eryl Drake, for your complicit roll in this heinous crime, you too are cursed. You are stripped of the power to influence magic and are hereby bound by my words. Until you make right the wrong you have carried out this day, you will walk the earth all of your long days yearning for what you no longer have. Your suffering will be great each time you try to pass to yon, three days you will suffer as Fordel suffered ere you wake again. All sorcerers will know your name, know your visage. You will be shunned and they will give you a wide berth for they will fear being contaminated by you. This will make your quest doubly hard, for you will be without the use of magic. You will have to find another way to reunite Fordel with his body, the spirit to flesh, before you find can peace."
Cerridwen made her leave of the cursed men, her warnings rang heavy in the air. King Reginald drew his sword and ran Eryl through. He wouldn't chance Eryl stealing the spirit of the bear back to break his own curse. The lethargic body that once belonged to Fordel was shipped across the sea to the north and sold into slavery.
King Reginald believed he had rid himself of all that would threaten his new status of a werebear. Alas, not all was as he anticipated for the bear's essence fought him for command of his body. Over the coming days, the meaning of Cerridwen's words began to sink in. He hadn't taken the bear from Fordel but taken Fordel from the human body. Fordel's spirit fully comprehended who and what he was. He understood King Reginald had stolen his soul. For the first time, King Reginald felt affright at what he had done. Grappling with Fordel, hearing the voice of the bear in his mind, a rage not his own dictated his actions. The struggle wearied him to the bone.
The first and only time he sought to change into a bear, Fordel made the ordeal so full of piercing torment he took to his sickbed swearing he would never seek to change again. What Fordel didn't have power over was the length of life King Reginald received, keeping him young and strong, his movement quick, and his prowess in bed became the stuff of legends.
Soon after stealing Fordel's soul, he married his betrothed natheless he continued to bring many mistresses to his bed. Upon them he begot many sons and daughters. Every child born of his blood had a bear spirit within their skin. They had a peace and balance as werebears that he didn't. Even so, the children sought out the confines for the forest, bound as they were by the curse, they were happy.
King Reginald and Fordel fought each other, never giving quarter. As the years waxed and waned, King Reginald became bitter, his mind fractured under the pressure until he went mad. Finally he threw himself from the edge of a cliff to plummet to his death.
The human body that once belonged to Fordel took another name as his own. Even though he had been sold into slavery he thrived and prospered under Cerridwen's guiding hand. He fathered many children, growing the lineage of Fordel's blood.
The once sorcerer, Eryl Drake, cursed by Cerridwen didn't die as King Reginald wished. He suffered for three long days, the length of time Fordel suffered, before coming awake and clawing his way out of the ground in the dead of night. After that, Eryl soon learned that every death, no matter the where or how, came with three days of torment and pain before a new awakening. As Cerridwen decreed, Eryl was shunned by those he once called brothers, no longer able to work magic.
The descendants of King Reginald found that with the spirit of the bear, they could not endure to be away from the forest for very long. They became guardians of the woods and eventually the siblings parted ways. The descendants of King Reginald's eldest son, Prince Theodoric crossed continents and oceans, ever travelled north until they finally found a home, taken in by Clan Meinnearin. In the line of the eldest, Fordel's spirit would be reborn every few of generations, waiting for the sorcerer to discover a way to reunite him with the body he had lost, thereby breaking the curse of the bearwere.
"Granda, Fordel's body be long gone. How shall he be reunited if there be no form to return to?" My elation over the awakening of my bear's spirit had been tamped down by the horror of the story. I was a descendent of a man who defied the gods for loathsome and selfish reasons, trapping Fordel in a place not meant to be his.
"As long as a descendant of Fordel's human side lives, then the sorcerer can break the curse. Until then we can only wait for what Fate has in store for us." Granda ruffled my hair and gave me a fond grin. "Now, it be time for sleep. We have a long journey ahead with a few cold days of travel before we reach the cradle. There your name will be listed as the next in line to rule the werebears. Take advantage of the warmth and rest while you can."
I crawled under the furs and watched the people move about the Viking longhouse. On the morrow, we would enter the Black Forest and travel to the gorge of the River Wutach. It was a long and dangerous journey from where my family now called home.
An exclamation at the other end of the longhouse drew my sleepy gaze. A boy-child, no more than three or four with hair the colour of the sun was rushed to the fires and swaddled in thick furs. His pale skin was blue-grey with cold.
"Pulled him from the water, floatin' on a slab of wood. Everyone on the boat drowned, sucked down into the murky waters by a dark spirit, I tell ye!" exclaimed the woman cradling the child. Her face pale from shock yet she sought to sooth the boy with humming as she rubbed his skin dry.
When the boy sat up and glanced about the room, eyes the colour of the palest blue met mine. A spicy aroma that spoke of clouds and sea and winds and magic tickled my senses. My bear, who should not wake for many more days, roused from his hibernation, suddenly alert. We sniffed the air again. I wasn't able to look away from those glowing eyes, and I became caught by a sense of familiarity as our gazes stayed locked.
My bear spirit gave a yowl of joyous tidings.
I followed the foul men through the muddy streets, praying they noticed me not. They came in to town separately, biding their time as they waited for each other to arrive. The stench of sorcery clung to them. I dared not let them catch me watching.
This be not the first time they came to my village always to leave behind a trail of innocent bodies. The first time I thought it be only coincidence but the second time, the itch between my shoulder blades ignited. The last time I felt so I be very small, and my village raided. I heeded the niggle and hid in a clever spot to be the only one spared while all others be killed or taken by the slavers.
Now these men came to town once more and they waited for the fifth man. He didn't reek of dark magic but his aura be stamped with the sign of an old curse. I remembered him well because that be the day sweet Iain came into my life. A crushing tragedy landing him in my care.
A terrible darkness hung in the air around the sinking ship, the signs be all there for anyone with a knowing eye to see. When the red-haired maiden surfaced with Iain, barely more than three or four, she came to me as if she knew I'd be there. She placed the boy in my arms and pushed me to the edge of the shore. When I glanced back she be gone.
I had carried Iain into the longhouse to warm him. That be the very first time I noticed the cursed man, though he seemed to be by himself. At the time I be hard pressed to believe it be no coincidence the boat sunk the first day the cursed man came to the village. Since then he continued to come back, seemingly in search of someone, if the bodies left in his wake be an indication of his purpose. It didn't escape my notice that many of the victims be ones who had been in the longhouse with him that night. Every time he returned my worry over Iain's future well-being increased.
When the men began to arrive this time, the pinch between my shoulders sharpened. Quickly I packed a bundle of necessities and with Iain in tow, we weaved behind the buildings, peering around corners for a sign of the dark sorcerers. Iain said nothing and stayed close as if he knew he be the prey in a hunt. I heard them asking about the sole survivor of the shipwreck four years back now. People be willing to talk, their tongues wagging about the blessed survivor, sweet Iain, not giving a thought to the strangeness of the outsider's questions.
We slipped down the road without anyone taking notice and I ushered the boy into the forest away from the town. When the road be no longer within view I urged him to run. It be as if I could feel them coming even though I couldn't see them. I ran until my legs burned and then I ran more. I don't know how Iain kept pace but he didn't complain.
Coming to a small glen we stopped and leaned against a tree gasping for more breath than we could breathe. I dared not drop the bundle that carried what we would need in the coming days of travel, if I only knew where to go. Iain caught his breath and looked at me with eyes too old for one his age. He would reach his majority in a couple of years but I'd always see him as the small boy pulled from the depths of the ocean.
The sudden appearance of the old woman startled us both. I clutched Iain to me, afraid he would be taken away but she made shushing noises, pointing a gnarled finger toward the opposite edge of the glen where the five men stepped from the forest's canopy. Her cold hard fingers clutch my arm as if to keep me from running. I didn't dare make a whisper. I be frozen in place by fear, a fat doe staring at the hunter waiting for the tip of an arrow to pierce my breast.
In my fright I didn't notice immediately the shadows about us had lengthened until it be too late. The gloom enveloped Iain and me in a cold embrace. I couldn't see the old woman but her hand upon my arm turned dry and hot, reminding me we weren't alone in the darkness.
The sorcerers walked by us as if we weren't there. I could smell the stench of their bodies and see the sweat upon their brow. If I so desired I could have reached out and plucked at their cloaks. My brave Iain buried his face in my stomach stifling any noise that would have given us away.
We waited. Long after I lost sight of them moving through the forest we remained in hidden in the shadow of the tree. When I thought they be far enough away I began to step into the light but Iain drew my sight, pointing a finger in time for me to see one, then two of the sorcerers step from the low brush not far away.
After that, we didn't move until the sun set and the moon rose fat and heavy in the night sky. I'd forgotten the grasp the old woman had on my arm until she pulled us from the shadow. Instead of releasing me, she pulled me along a faint path in the forest. Occasionally she made us stopped and hide among the trees. I saw and heard nothing but refused to gainsay the woman who had saved mine and Iain's life.
All night we walked, not daring to stop for too long. When we emerged from the forest we be leagues away from our village. A Viking longboat sat just off shore, a campfire lit the beach. Where I would've stopped and hidden again, the old woman hailed the camp, still dragging Iain and I behind her, albeit reluctantly now.
My poor Iain dozed on his feet and all I could do be hold him close, attempting to stave off my own weariness while the woman haggled for passage. I don't know why I trusted her, I shouldn't have. I haven't trusted man nor woman since the red-haired maiden laid Iain in my arms. I lost my husband and babes to an illness that swept through the village, leaving me behind, alone and bereft. I bid my time waiting for the reaper to come back to claim me as well. I gave up the wait when the boy came into my life and gave me something—someone to live for, to protect.
Why did I trust the crone who hadn't spoken more than three words to me? Because I remembered this very same woman came to the aid of my mother's mother when I be younger than Iain. Nothing about her had changed from the colour and cut of her dress to the tattered patches of her cloak. I didn't know if she be a goddess in disguise or one of the Christian angels the abbey monks spoke of. All I knew she helped us to escape the dark sorcerers.
"Passage has been paid." Her face be lined by time but her eyes clear and the same blue as Iain's. I hadn't notice the similarity before. "They will take you to an isle far to the north and you will seek out a priest by the name of Alric. Leave the boy at the temple and then go west on a Viking route." A satchel be pressed into my hand and she turned to leave us.
Suddenly I be scared. My home, the life I lead up to this moment would be forever gone once I stepped upon the Viking longboat. "Mother." My throat closed over the word, revealing the turmoil I felt in my breast.
She didn't glance back but her steps slowed. "Be vigilant, Ebba. Continue to trust your eyes for they will always show you what is true."
I watched her stride back to the edge of the forest where she burst into a flock of white owls as soon as she touched the trunk of the first tree. Startled, I glanced to the men by the fire for surely they seen what had happened. Nay, they seen naught but what they wanted to see. The men found places near the fire to lie down for the night, too busy with their tasks to notice the departure of the old woman.
Rousing Iain from a light doze, I claimed a place for us. I placed him between me and the fire, allowing my body to feel the fatigue for the first time since we stopped running. I'd never been aboard a boat for any reason. The journey ahead would be an adventure for myself as well as Iain.
The trip north took longer than I thought it would. Iain and I discussed the sorcerers and decided to change his name to Roi. It be no longer safe for him to be known as Iain. The length of the trip helped him become used to his new name before we reached the island.
Two days of inquiries brought nothing. I could not find a priest by the name of Alric and all I spoke to turned stony faced and closed lipped. In the end, the priest found us instead but rebuffed me when I told him another sent us. He slipped off through the crowds before I could call him back to explain further.
That night, Iain—Roi—woke me overflowing with excitement. "Ebba, I know the way. She told me in my dream. Hurry, come. She said that the moon must be straight up when I … we get there."
Again, I didn't question, merely gathered our meagre belongings and followed my excited boy as we snuck through the village and then left it behind. I know not how long we travelled to reach a circle of old stones, white and jagged almost like bony fingers pointing to the sky. The moon hung full and fat above our heads causing the stones to gleam.
I glanced down at Roi. He would soon be nine by my best guess, being with me going on five twelvemonths now. I knew when I climbed into the longboat with him our days together be numbered. Seeing his excited face, his sun colour hair painted white by the moonlight and I knew. We had found the place and soon I must leave. But thinking of leaving him crushed my fractured heart.
Roi approached the circle, the awe plain in the brightness in his eyes and the shape of his mouth. He didn't see the priests who watched from the shadows, but I did. When he stepped into the circle he went rigid, his whole body trembling. I took several steps toward him, afraid for the first time of what his future held. I thought running from the death the sorcerers intended, taking Roi away would make him safe. He was a boy on the cusp of becoming a man and he deserved to have a future. I didn't want another child of mine to be stolen from life when there so much more for him to know. May hap the old woman had been wrong and this be not the place for him.
In front of him appeared the woman, the red-haired maiden who pulled him from the sea and set him in my arms. Why had she given me the child if she planned on taking him away later? The maiden caught Roi as he sagged, laying him on the ground as the priests moved in and swarmed the unconscious boy.
"You cared well for him, more that I'd hoped for. You have my gratitude."
I blinked back angry tears. "The dark sorcerers, the ship be their doing?"
The red-haired maiden didn't answer my question but held out her hand. I knew what she wanted. The satchel the crone had given me held a man's robes the finest colour of crimson I'd even seen. I knew they would be Roi's one day and could only imagine what grand future he would have. Over the course of several stops, I added to the satchel so that he had something to remember me by.
Jaw clenched until my teeth ached I handed over Roi's bag but before I released the soft leather I glared into her eyes, the same colours as Roi's. Many terse warnings perched on the edge of my tongue. The thought of taking Roi and running came to me and left. The priests hovered over Iain, whispers words of "touched" and "seer" bandied between them. I knew. I knew I wouldn't get to tell him farewell. Others had claimed him now, carried him away, and I wouldn't get to call him son one more time. My chest ached with the knowing.
The maiden gently smiled as I paused, "I hear your warning. I promise he is safe, Ebba."
I heard the note in her voice. The one that said 'for now' even if she didn't speak it. If she couldn't protect him then I'd find a way to do what she could not. I released the satchel to her, watching the last of the priests disappearing into the fog bearing Roi away. I'd need to become more than who I was, who I'd been, if I was to be what he needed.
The morn's sun found me standing on the docks haggling for passage on a longboat. The old woman had said to continue west. I'd follow her direction even though my heart stayed with my boy. I'd discover what fate lay at the end of the journey. Then I'd find a way to use it to save my son.
Thank you for stopping by and reading.