|The White Witch by Ian Daniels||
Sybille sat behind the ancient willow tree. One side of the tree was brown and decayed; the other full of lush grey-green leaves. Its trunk had been split by a lightning bolt one night in the spring when sudden rains had flooded the village. Sybille peeked around the tree’s wide girth.
She saw a young woman struggling on foot up the path towards the forest. The young woman fell to her knees, tried to crawl on all-fours then stood again. She cupped her massive belly with her two arms and plodded on up the path.
A white flash of light struck Sybille from somewhere deep behind her eyes. She could no longer see. This happened so often these days. She’d learned to breathe evenly, relax and let the vision come. The white flash of light took shape. She saw the young woman, a beautiful girl but sad. She was to deliver a child, alone in the forest. Then she would die. Sybille could do nothing to change the woman’s fate.
Sybille had seen many things in the past. She told the villagers of her visions: one day people would travel in wagons that needed no horses; a great plague would befall mankind; there would be a war that would desecrate Europe. Her name would adorn history books as the greatest seer of the age.
The villagers had banned her from her house. They forced her to live in the stone house at the top of the North Hill under four linden trees. The trees once served as gallows. Her only companion was a black rabbit that was as old as she herself, and she was generations old. Sybille could do nothing to change her own fate, either; this ancient curse.
The vision faded and she wiped the sweat from her brow. She peeked around the split willow trunk but the young woman was no longer on the path. She stood and followed the same path, towards the forest, hoping to find the young woman.
Pounding hooves forced Sybille to jump down from the path into a ditch. One, two, three, four horses she counted. After they passed, she stood, smoothed her white dress and continued into the forest.
A man’s voice shouted. “I knew you were a witch! What sort of bloody ritual are you performing here?”
A woman’s voice whimpered and sobbed.
Sybille caught sight of the man through the trees, his sword drawn and dangerously close to the woman’s neck. The woman sobbed and pleaded. As Sybille came closer, she saw the bloody mess surrounding the young woman that must have been caused by the child’s birth. But where was the child?
Sybille steadied herself against a young oak as another white flash slowly overtook her eyesight. The white flash took shape and she saw the young woman’s newborn baby, quiet and unmoving. But the baby was alive. The baby was a miracle. The baby was destined to be a legend, too. Sybille must rescue the child. That much was sure.
The vision faded. She heard a sword swing and a thud. She rubbed her eyes and saw what was left of the young woman crumpled on the ground. Her head lay next to the afterbirth. The men mounted their steeds and rode out of the forest. A hawk cried overhead.
She ran to the young woman, her eyes searching the bloody scene for a trace of the child. Her heart raced as she heard another horse approach. Only one. A man the color of the forest came into view, jumped from his horse and ran to Sybille’s side.
“She’s dead. But the child lives,” Sybille said.
He said nothing. A peep like a baby bird sounded from the ground beneath the young woman’s cloak. The man the color of the forest bent down, threw the cloak aside and raised the child up high.
“This is our child,” he said.
“Take the child away from here. She will have many tasks to perform. She will be detrimental to your life.”
“Where am I to take her?”
“If they find you, they will kill you. Get on your horse and ride past the ponds.”
The man jumped lightly and settled on the horse’s back. The hawk flew through the trees and lighted on a tree stump.
“You will only stop when the horse stops. He knows where to go,” Sybille said.
She wrapped the baby in the woman’s light blue cloak and handed the package to the man. The hawk flew off the stump and out of the forest. Sybille slapped the horse’s behind and he bolted in the same direction.
“Good luck,” she said.