Tree Witch: Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten: Black feathers and red blood..

The tree dangled it’s large branches above their heads, nearly barren with the last remnants of fall leaves. It’s huge trunk was expressive and led to a large cascade of roots, heaved up and slithered into the earth like giant snakes. They were strong roots, deeply anchored to the shale rock and earth below.

That is where they had gathered, sitting and hanging from root and branch. All waiting for the Tree-witch to show. Even the young ones hid close by watching the gathering with wide eyes and fevered giggles.

But as time passed and the evening hung with a huge full moon; no witch came.

As they waited and the wind howled – patience started to grow thin. None more so then the Queen herself. She was obvious among the grouping of scattered fae folk. Among the pixies, brownies, will-o-whisps and various intermixed faeries – she was the shining light among them all. Great Queen of the Seelie courts.

She stood leaning against a large thick root of tree with her sparkling fae lace dress cascading over her nearly naked form. She was regal and proud, and standing behind her were only the bravest of her council and a circle of royal guard which scared the others back.

“Queen Aibell, there is no sign of approach. She isn’t coming.” The tall, almost human looking male brushed his red hair from his eyes and glared at the nearby path to the road. His voice was even and cold. “This isn’t going to work.”

“Hush Kallen.” the woman hissed and straightened her spine further, as if mustering her pride. Her dress matched the ethereal elegance of a translucent set of long and delicate wings. The moonlight made them sparkly with dew glow like the crystals on her dress. Looks were everything, and she resolved herself to keep perfect posture for the moment their guest arrived. One of her wings twitched in agitation. “Do you think she has much choice? She seals her own fate if she refuses. You know that.”

He shrugged and leaned back against he roots as the moonlight glowed. His outfit was proud and elegant but pulled at him uncomfortably. He loosened the lacing on his black and silver tunic and grunted. “How long do we wait?”

“Knock knock!” shouted a harsh crass voice from a nearby aspen which edged the clearing of the great tree. Knives were drawn by royal guards as a large black raven swept from the forest path and landed in the furthest of the tree’s large branches. It’s silver talons clicked against the hard wood of the tree as it’s beaded eyes glimmered while it peered down at the gathering. It’s head bobbed low as it’s wings spread wide and tilted down at the Queen in a somewhat formal bow. “Salutations!”

“Who goes there?” snapped Kallen as royal guard arrows slid into place on either side of them. Dozing faeries and jittery pixies stood to sudden attention. The whole glen woke up and various lights and luminescence seemed to come alive along the tree from various forms of wee folk and unseen creatures.

“Caww! I am but a messenger, I am! Important words I must speak.”

With a steady hand Aibell motioned for the arrows to lower. With practised restraint and embellished manners she lowered her head to a formal nod. It was stiff and annoyed, but a formality none-the-less. Her guards stood down and the many eyes of the gathering watched with renewed interest.

“Then… please speak feathered one. What are your ‘important words’? You interrupt important matters.. so for your own sake I do hope you have a good reason to be here.”

The bird hopped closer towards the royal party, dropping down one branch with fluttering wings and shoeing a few small and skittish will-o-whisps from the tree. They glowed like fireflies.

“The Tree-witch is unable to attend. I come to say that she must not be harmed or hunted. Leave her alone! Caww!” He fluttered his wings and adjusted himself proudly. His icy eyes stared at her even when the guards shifted and others laughed. A choir of remarks, taunts and laughter edged the circle.

“You would demand such? You would take such liberty?” The very air around the Queen grew cold, her expression shifted from annoyance to anger. “Your words mean nothing here! You are nothing to us.”

The guards rose their aim again, but the large bird did not falter. Instead it made a strange sound and bobbed it’s head in an unnerving display of laughter, for as much as a raven could laugh. It came out in short bursts of caws and chuckled clicks.

“Not I, sweet Queen!” His eyes glinted in the moonlight, and began to glow on their own accord. Two small lanterns of midnight blue among the night. More and more of the crowd scurried to either a better vantage point – or a safer hiding spot from the unfolding drama.

“Then who?” snarled Kallen. “You bloody gnat, who’s orders do you come by? Do you speak for the witch herself?”

For a moment the blue glow of the birds eyes seemed to intensify and the bird neither moved nor spoke. It stared at them for an uncomfortable moment in time before the man broke it’s glaze by shouting once more.

“Answer me!”

“You betray yourselves, I see now! I see what others miss, I see your hollow nests and empty spaces.. cawww..” it’s voice creaked out like cemetery gates. The accusation in his words now growled out of his sharp beak even if the words seemed like nonsense. It flustered his feathers and puffed them up in defiance. “I see! I see behind your eyes!”

He dodged the first arrow as it flew and hit the branch under it’s left talons, it embedded deep into the wood and cut the very air between them. Quickly the raven flurried his wings up to gust a few stray leaves as he lifted off and dove in a wide circle around them.

Kallen grabbed the bow from the guard closest to him.

“Dangerous games!” the bird screamed with chuckles of laughter as it swooped around the girth of the mighty tree, dodging low towards branches and scattering onlookers here and there with it’s cries. “You can not have her! Here me! I speak for another, you may not have that one! The Tree-witch is his!”

As he swung down for another closer dive near the tree an arrow plunged deep into his right wing and through to the branch closest. It pinned him with a sickening thud as he hung bloodied by the joints of crunching wing bones. A second later and his left one was struck, again plunging deep and through his wing into the solid branch behind him.

His feet and talons kicked and flailed wildly as he desperately tried to free himself. Black feathers ripped from their sheaths fell like the blackest of snow. They twirled damaged in the air with the rush of faeries running from the assault. They mingled with the last falling leaves from the large tree. Blood seeped down and dripped freely below.

“Got him.” Kallen sneered and sent the guards to clear the area from prying eyes as he and Aibell approached the sputtering animal. The bird was hissing and gasping, it’s large midnight blue eyes glow was now pulsing with it’s heartbeat. A quick and steady pace as it’s blood seeped down it’s twitching body. It was as if they were flashing.

“Who sent you?” snarled Aibell, the aire of formality leaving her quickly as more and more eyes were no longer watching.

“…Mad…” it wheezed and twitched hard, it’s body convulsing. It seemed as if it struggled to maintain it’s elegant use of speech. It’s animal instincts were taking over it’s frantic mind.

“Of course I am mad!” snarled Aibell.

The raven, once more managed it’s crass and deep chuckling with what little breath had remained in it’s lungs. It’s eyes came back to itself and the midnight blue burned like torchlight.

“Mad King… of the.. Daoine Sidhe” The strange bird convulsed one final time then stilled. It’s whole body seemed to simply cave in on itself and it’s feathers simply dropped all at once around them. Two arrows remained, but flesh and bird had strangely disappeared.

“The bird was bloody mad. Magicked into being a desperate trick, that’s all. She probably enchanted it herself, the fool. The Daoine Sidhe have no King!” snarled Kallen as he brushed black feathers from his clothing. It left the faintest smears of blood.

“They used to..” whispered Aibell. Her expression had paled and her temper extinguished. It was replaced with a foreboding aire of dread. “We need to speak to the Goblin King. Immediately.”

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Tree Witch: Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine: Smoke, Shadows, and Tears

Under the knots and charms the red headed tree witch drifted in sleep. Time ticked away in fever and healing as her body adjusted to the damage it had taken. Bruises would soften, bones would strengthen, and scars would cover wounds. At it’s basic level healing was the very oldest of magick. It moved in it’s own currents and time. Healing a body is fairly easy. A body wants to heal. It was the mind and soul that worried Arzhel.

The old bear of a man watched over her carefully, changing her bandages and applying ointment, salves and wrappings. He fussed and tended to her between his daily chores and meals. And he watched. It was something his old eyes were accustomed to doing, though not usually for the likes of her.

His old eyes watched and even if they were dusted and greyed with age, they seemed to see beyond the normal scope of things. It was almost as if he could see the process of healing like some could read the stars. He watched as her wounds stitched back together and nudged the process along as much as he could. His charms and enchantments were subtle, but hung in the very air above her.

And while she slept and healed, he waited.

It was during one of these silent moments that he sat and puffed deeply on an old carved pipe while sitting in his favourite chair. His large hands were busy absently stroking a dull silver and mahogany fluff of fur in the crook of his elbow. It’s once full and fluffy tail was looking rather barren – but it’s aged coat was still soft and whispy as the finest pelt.

The fluff was called Cass– a red squirrel that he had also mended along his long solitary stretch in these hills. Unlike most of his charges which ran into the brush to live out their lives after his interventions, Cass chose to stay. In fact she very stubbornly refused to leave.

When he had first brought the woman to their little sanctuary Cass had sulked and pouted from the rafters chittering her discontent. Now though it seemed as if she had finally forgiven him. Perhaps she was too old to hold grudges for long. She was 8 years old, which was exceptionally long for a red squirrel and nearing the end of her lifespan.

Perhaps instead Cass came to the realization that this Witch was more important then she may have seemed at first.

“Your eyes look tired, have you slept at all since she arrived?”

The voice didn’t startle him too much, after all he had expected to hear it again at some point. He grunted and stretched slightly which made his old bones creak. Cass merely pulled her tail closer and snored as if oblivious.

“Sleep is a privilege not always given. This ol’ girl sleeps for us both.” he carefully picked up the curled ball of fur and tucked her into a small woven basket filled with soft cotton and wool cloth. A perfect makeshift bed just for her. “I got’s to keep watch. Don’t think she’s outta the woods yet.”

“No, she is not.”

Slowly, as if drifting from the very whisps of smoke from his pipe the air flickered a little. He watched it float and pull as if dancing in the air before it trailed off on it’s own accord. He inhaled deeply, focused, and blew out a slow and heavy puff of smoke in it’s general direction and in it’s wake a pale and dusty a form of a woman started to appear.

The glow of the fireplace behind the transparent figure illuminated through her making the visage of her long and wild hair all but a flickering glow behind the smoke and shadow of her silhouette. It burned like the brightest fire.

He turned to face her more properly, brushing stray hairs from his elbow as he did. Her voice was wavered with concern. Wrinkles of crow’s feet still marred her temples, and her brow still furrowed with worry. Still, despite all this she remained beautiful. Part of him ached inside.

“Come to haunt me again?” He cleared his throat to keep it from cracking. “Aye, it’s dangerous for you to be here. You know this.”

“I know.” for a moment the edge of her lip raised in a familiar gesture. “I’m used to risk.”

“Aren’t we all? We are old enough to deserve it. That one… Does she even know how deep she is? I would know who she was even if I were blind and half mad… but does she even know?” The questions hung like accusations and the woman’s form faded in and out as if trying to squirm from them. The smirk long gone.

“She knew what she needed to know. She knew how to keep herself safe, how to help. Things… things fell apart before we could teach her everything. Kallen was supposed to…” her eyes welled up, even in the smoke and shadow they glimmered wet.

“And he’s gone. Just like you’re gone, Heather. Pussy footing around ain’t done the girl good – now she’s got a bloody war on her head and for what? To protect her?” His voice rose gruffly, and Cass chittered a volley of squirrel curses at him for waking her. “She don’t know enough to keep her head on her own neck at this rate!”

“It should nay have mattered! Kallen promised they’d never question her lineage! The Queen swore to him that she had erased the evidence…” it broke his heart to hear her defend herself, but he stayed fast to his own stubbornness.

“Lovers oft’ promise impossible things!” The edge in his voice was sharper then he intended. It cut her deep and for a moment they both fell into bitter pained silence. Even the cursing of Cass stilled to a hush.

“She needs you.” the voice was a shadow, just like her form. A mere shadow of the power and strength it once held. A pleading whimper. “Please… you are the only one now. She is due at court tonight and when she doesn’t arrive, they will all be hunting. For their own agenda’s yes.. but hunting all the same.”

He let out a low grumble, put the pipe down on the table and buried his face in his hands. “An’ if I intervene to keep her hidden, then I forfeit my own peace. If I train her, I bring em’ all down on me. I break my Oath. You know what this means.”

“I know. And I am sorry.” He felt her hand very softly stroke his shoulder. A memory of another time and place. A crushing blow with a whispered softness.

It was all crashing down around him. His paradise. His simple sanctuary. His happy lie that he hid himself away in. It was all about to crumble at his feet and it was devastating. The fear of it all being stripped away was a panic in his chest, an angry buzzing of bees.

And her hand was a comfort he longed for. One of his frail good memories in a long winding history of bad ones. A ghost he could never quite shake.

His voice found itself eventually and breathed out in surrender. “I suppose I knew it would come to this sooner or later. We can run, and we can hide.. but eventually who we are always catches up. All things die in the end – one way or another. Even dreams.”

Tree Witch: Chapter Eight

Chapter 8: Falling down…

There wasn’t a sudden moment when Maeve came back to consciousness. Instead it was a swimming process of trying to find herself again. There would be moments of dull pain, a deep dark slumber, and then fragments of almost waking. There were never images or memories to haunt or keep her company. No dreams to take her away from the world. Merely a dull sense of being lost in an unusual void.

And then some time later she seemed to find that she was aware her eyes were open and she was looking absently at a mass array of netting above her head. Not just nets – but charms and herbs which were dried and tied in strange patterns crossed above her. At first she thought she must have been caught up in that strange tangle of netting, until she noticed the dust floating in the space between.

It was fairly dark and the light of lanterns made the reflections and shadows bounce and dance around her. Sometimes shafts of coloured light reflected off a random crystal or cluster of glass beads and scattered coloured light along the wooden beams and stone walls.

“Ah. Awake from the wandering, eh?” the voice was gruff, but soft at the same time.

She turned her head and noticed a movement by the firelight of an old hearth. A bear of a man shifted and caused her to jolt painfully. For some reason she had felt so alone in her unconsciousness that she expected to be so now.

“Aye, hold girl – you’ll shift the splints if you fuss too much.” The large form moved slowly towards her, limping hard on the right while placing down a bowl filled with something hot and fragrant. She seemed to have interrupt his supper. “Spent too much time on them to have to redo it all again.”

“Who are you?” Maeve couldn’t remember the last time her voice sounded so harsh and broken. She barely recognized it as her own.

“A good question. One we ask ourselves often, I assume.” his chuckle was smooth gravel as he plopped down on a stool close to where she lay. It creaked under his large form.

He was built like a tower. Sturdy, wide and strong. His weight was working weight – half muscle and half simple mass. Those eyes of his were a warm brown but dulled with age and bloodshot with fatigue. Under the bridge of his strong nose half of his face seemed lost in a long grey beard which trailed down past his chest was tied relatively neatly with knotted cord and a silver charms. His long brown and white hair hung back behind his well decorated ears which chimed with metal rings and stones.

Despite all the jewellery and adornments he dressed simply enough. A white linen shirt, a dusty wool tunic, and sheepskin pants. A peasant who wore the adornments of a dwarven king.

“You are lucky you have friends.” he chuckled to himself.

She tried to pull back when one of his large hands came towards her, but the sharp pain which shunted up her shoulder prevented it. Her tongue tried to find the proper curse word to accentuate the pain – but she could only manage an “Ouch!” and a yelp.

“Hush I said, stop fussin’! You shift more then fledglin’s do!” He tried again, although slower to spare her a jolt. He adjusted the wrapping on her left arm carefully, making sure the carved wooden splint was still even and firm. “Want your bones to heal straight right?”

“What friends do I owe thanks?” she mumbled finally.

For being such a large man, he was gentle enough. He leaned back and watched her quietly as if debating on the answer. “A kind ol’ woman, firey hair much like yours. An an attitude to match. You got yourself in quite a tangle I imagine. You are lucky I found you when I did.”

Her right arm was bound tight with a lot of linen and wood shunts. Her ribs also seemed to be bound by the same careful wrappings. Her left hip was now starting to ache deeply and she imagined it was likely blackened with bruises.

Whatever other injuries she had were forgotten when she came to the realization she was actually naked, save for what looked like one of his spare shirts which hung around her like a chemise. The thought that she had been undressed in front of this bold stranger made her cheeks flush. Mostly in anger.

He laughed seeming to sense and shoo the accusation away. “Aye, one of my best shirt’s you know. How else was I to fix you up? Let you stay all broken and bloodied? Dun’ you look at me like that ‘miss, I ain’t the type.”

Maeve intended to sit up, but her head swam and the room spun.

“How did I get here? What.. happened..” even as she spoke the memories returned to her. The black visage of Gaen running.. running fast and hard. She dizziness swam over her and she struggled to open her heavy eyes.

“I know that look, lass. It’s a pain I can’t fix. Wish I could heal that for you.” The sincerity in his voice was deep and troubled and flooded to her in an ocean of darkness. “Rest now lass, you are safe. None of that dirty business can touch you here. Not while Ol’ Arzhel is watchin’.”

Tree Witch: Chapter Seven

Chapter 7: Of Hearts and Kings

Greenback suckled on a cup of Burrberry wine. It was sweet and floral – but it’s intoxicating buzz was warm and spicy. His beady eyes were dancing with a slightly glazed dullness. Leaven was half hung out over the edge of the luminous toadstool, already half past a drunken slumber.

“Did you see how he ran?” He giggled. “Got him good we did! Spelled him so deep she didn’t even know! Hah!”

Leaven slurred something, or perhaps just mumbled in his stupor.

“And she thinks herself a witch! Can’t even ride a horse right!” he giggled again and scratched behind his ear before congratulating himself by pouring another cup of wine.

“My.. aren’t you two comfortable…”

The voice seemed innocent enough, but the familiarity of it knocked Leaven off his perch completely, letting his small body crumple to the ground. Greenback jumped at his friend hitting the floor and nearly toppled the delicate green bottle of wine onto the same stone floor beside him.

“King!” Greenback tried to stand at attention, but his limbs were still processing the drink. Instead he clumsily bowed low and nearly bashed his head on the table. “We were celebrating we were! We done good for you!”

“Have you now?” He slipped closer, the dull luminous light of the hall framing him.

Unlike the small insect like Greenback and Leaven – he was tall and lean. He towered over their little celebration spot like a giant. His very aura one of dominance. Around his neck draped a silver coloured chain with a wooden disc at it’s centre.

The Goblin King looked as regal as his name suggested. You might be forgiven to mistake him as human from a distance. His lean and muscular form was neither short but not overtly tall. His black hair was long and draped over his shoulders and back – but was not a highly unusual colour.

His eyes however betrayed a human appearance. They were fierce eyes. Predatory eyes. Deadly eyes. Elegantly lined with black soot, neat and winged. They were the colour of silver ice, but shades of blue, green, and gold seemed to play in the silver like shifting colours of crystal.

And his clothing, although seemingly relatively simple were made of the finest silks and brocade that the Fae world could provide. He needed no crown to announce his royal blood. He needed only a look or a posture.

A knifes blade at questioning throats didn’t hurt either. His nails were pointed and slightly long. He looked them over carefully as if admiring the knife like edge.

He smirked a little, though it was of a mean sort. The edges of sharp canine teeth glittered over his dark lip. “Tell me how good a job you did? Perhaps I will celebrate with you then. Hold a ball in your honour? Slay a boar for a feast?”

Leaven at first seemed thrilled despite the horrified look on Greenbacks face. He slowly used the toadstool to lift his head and peer at the King. His small voice came out barely above a frog’s croak. “We killed her good. Like you wanted, Your Majesty…” He hadn’t had Boar in weeks. His long thin ears perked in hope as his mouth salivated.

“Then where is her heart?”

“…Pardon?” Leaven’s ears flicked back and drooped.

“Her heart. Where is it?” His pale silk shirt ruffled as his arms crossed, and both of them cowered back a step. It never boded well when he crossed his arms.

“If she were dead, as you two say, having done an excellent job at killing her –” He continued, voice quiet but still stern and acidic. “–where is her heart?”

“Her horse rode her right off! Down to the bottom like a rock!” Greenback started, even motioning with his hand a long steep drop – then a “whoosh” of a splash.

“Underwater! We can’t go underwater!” Leaven finished quickly, the very thought of it made him squirm in his skin.

The King growled and eyed them more firmly. The dull light in the hall made his eyes seem aglow with green slants of light. “Find a way! I will have her heart by the Dumannios Full Moon, or I will have your wings… choose wisely.”

And with that he turned and dissolved into the form of a steel grey wolf, Oak and silver necklace still at his throat. He growled again as he vanished through the left door into the outer courtyard.

“…He wouldn’t really take our wings would he?” Leaven croaked when a few tense seconds had passed and both of them were sure he was now out of range.

Greenback answered with a quiet sober whimper. “We need to get the Tree-witch heart.”

Tree Witch: Chapter Six

[ This was a harder chapter to write, things get a bit explosive and there is a bit of sad (at least to me) scenes here. You have been warned. ]

Chapter 6: The Ride.

Gathered up in her old sheepskin bag and leather pack was everything she felt she could possibly need on her journey to his old tree. It was a place she had not visited in many moons. It was a place she was afraid of more then anything. Where his hill offered her council and comfort – the Tree was one of pain and fear. She would have avoided it at all costs if it wasn’t for the uncomfortable warning visage in a spider silk gown.

She remembered when he had asked her to take him there. His once strong body weak and failing from disease. His last breaths echoed under those shifting branches. It was the place they had met, a place they fell in love. And it was in the comfort of those gnarly roots in which he had been taken from her – far too soon even among human standards.

The Tree wasn’t too far from there. Not even a days ride on the back of her strong stallion Gaen as long as she rode him hard and stopped rarely. She was already preparing to ride hard and fast and get to the Tree with plenty of time to wait.

Gaen was powerful and fast. He was black as night and rode like the wind. It was the only constant companion she had in her little homestead, aside from the few sick or wounded stray animals that managed to cross her path seeking assistance or asylum.

As she bundled her bags and wrapped her cloak around her, she also palmed a few small apples from the bench by the window. It would be a long hard ride and old Gaen would be pleased at the snack.

Only when she left her cobbled home and locked the large wood door shut did she realize that at her feet were the bundled herbs she had kept mounted above her doorway. She tensed slightly, bending low to gather them up and inspect it.

“So.. you wanna play those games?” she whispered softly. “Keep the house. Tis nothin’ in there for you at the moment.” She glanced around, feeling the shifting winds.

The mounted bundle had not blown down from it’s place above her door in the strongest of winds. She had tied it good and tight and checked it often. Sometimes replacing pieces of it to strengthen it’s repelling charms.

Anything drawing malice would not have been able to remove it – but no spell is foolproof. No enchantment free from ways to work around it. Either way this was a clear warning more then anything that she needed to watch her back and get this mess done with as quickly as possible.

Tucking the bundle into her bags Maeve made a mental note that it would be yet another thing she would have to do upon returning. For now she simply focused on the trip ahead.

The large black stallion was stock still and calm, his large nostrils billowed steady fogs of breath in the crisp air. She clucked her tongue and he swung his head slowly around to look at her and lazily clumped his large hoofs towards her.

He was brilliant. She offered him an apple but he seemed content enough to simply bow his head and accept an ear scratch instead.

Ah, my darlin’ not hungry yet?” she eyed his trough and nodded at the lack of oats, grinning wide. “I guess you knew something was up – got a good feed in you, aye? We’ll save these then for down the road.”

Few things brought Maeve a sense of stillness like tending for Gaen. Brushing down his sleek coat with her hands and feeling his muscled body – well aged but strong – tempered only by his calm and gentle nature.

He was warm this morning. Steam rose off him as she placed down Kallen’s horse blanket along his spine. It seemed fitting to ride with this one considering the journey she was embarking on. The horse’s back twitched and settled under the blanket woven with grass reeds and cotton wool.

Quiet this morning.” She whispered while she hugged the large animal gently along the neck. She breathed her own fog of an exhale into his mane. He smelled of wildflowers and oats, and of course pungently of horse. “I guess we are both deep in our thoughts.”

She attached her packs to the lightest saddle she had and gathered her worn corded bridle for around his neck and head. Then as she had done a hundred times, the woman swung herself deftly onto his back and ran her fingers soothingly through his well kept mane.

Out from the shelter of the barn and onto the main road they carried on at first with a trot as he worked his muscles out, and then a canter – and then as the dawn carried briskly and the dirt road became less distinctive and wooded she dared a gallop.

Her lips, flushed with the wind flickering across them curled into a smile. This was freedom. This was joy. She caught herself laughing a bit as the day’s sun hung high and warmed the coolness from the grass. The frost burned into playful hangings of fog at their feet as the relentless pounding of his hoofs hit against solid ground.

She was glad she had not bound her hair too tightly into a braid – for it swam out behind her in a tangle of copper fire. What white hid itself among it’s copper shine merely added to the effect.

It would have been pure joy and happiness if not for a sudden uneasy thought which crept up into the pits of her stomach.

His hoofs did not sound the same. His heart seemed to beat too fervently in his chest as she rode him. She tried to pull on the makeshift reins to slow his gallop so she could examine him more closely – but his large charging body refused.

Gaen!” she shouted but his focused ears did not even twitch.

Now that freedom and joy turned into a sickening twist of fear. Out of instinct she pulled her body closer to his, digging heels against his flank as she gripped him around his large muscular neck.

His shoulder-blades thudded into her chest hard with every powerful step in his run, but it was not hard enough to break her grip. “Gaen stop!” But he would not. Froth spilled from his nostrils and she saw it blow back along his face. His large eyes, normally kind and gentle were bulged and blinded by panic.

Her hands gripped into his mane and pulled in a desperate attempt to pull him out of madness. His heart thudded so loud it felt like a pulsing against her legs. The froth of foam coming from his wide flaring nostrils seemed tinged now with blood as it coated along his neck and left trails along her arm.

Now the wooded path led to danger as branches snapped out and lashed against her. He was driving blindly through the tree lined forest and moving further from the safety of the road. One branch snapped out and ripped a line across her face, snapping her mind out from panic and into self preservation.

What was worse is she knew what lay in this direction. She knew the lookout point that wasn’t far ahead and the drop down the Cairn Falls that possibly awaited them.

Please!” she screamed. Her hand rooted into her bag for anything that could help. She struggled to maintain her grip on the light saddle, and finger around for anything she could use.

He crashed into another large branch, but his body took most of the blow. It ripped open his sleek black coat and tore at his strong flesh just as the trees opened up and the path to the Cairn falls lay ahead of them like an open maw waiting for it’s meal.

Self preservation. It was a strong and powerful emotion. Strong enough to make a desperate witch cut her saddle free from a mad horse and trust her fate in the crash as she tumbled painfully into the ground – bags and all. As the world spun around her and her body rolled her belongings scattered around her.

If it was branches that cracked and snapped, or her own limbs she didn’t know.

The last thing the tree witch saw as she drifted towards unconsciousness was the visage of her strong black horse, wild and unstoppable run without hesitation straight off the falls with his legs still kicking.

Tree Witch: Chapter Five

Chapter 5: Sweet kisses, sweet dreams.

Time passed oddly during the walk home, the daze lifting slowly and carefully from around Maeve. She found herself having walked the whole way with nothing more then instinct being her guide. Her footfalls having known this path more then her eyes had known the directions.

Her stomach was uneasy with the thought of what the strange meeting really meant. She would be present in the Seelie courts.

A shiver traveled up her spine before she sighed and eased her nerves again. Her thumb gently stroking along the hilt of the iron dagger, even now as she approached her own door.

Her house seemed rather common. Nothing large and fancy like the other houses closer to the city. Yet it was well loved, and well worn. Her hands had been at the beginnings of it, piling the stone and digging its foundations. It did seem rather common, but it was hers. And it held beloved touches that made her smile. Even the door which shimmered in the darkness with inlayed moonstones. They glowed lightly and welcoming to her. She had been so glad to see them that the downed herbs from above her door didn’t seem that amiss.

When she was inside she finally dropped her dagger and her bag in a heap beside the small carved coat rack that was never used. She turned, locked her door, and wandered like a soul lost into the small bedroom to the left of the small house. Maeve collapsed cloak and all into the soft confines of her bed. Curling up softly into her pillows and blankets.

She should have stayed up and prepared for the things ahead. Making sure her powders, herbs and tools were ready for what may find her – but she found herself more tired then she had remembered being. It was as if sleep had been the only option her mind would agree to.

But even then, it didn’t keep her thoughts still. They ran with new fuel. Things certainly were stranger then they normally seemed for her. These new questions simply added more uncertainty to her. But even that fuel hadn’t lasted long. Soon her thoughts of the fae, the meeting, and even her beloved Kallen succumbed to the temptations of deep sleep.

As she stirred and finally settled curled up into her pillows to sleep, two sets of eyes watched her far up in the corners of the room. Both forms mingled playfully in the shadows as their tiny eyes surveyed her. Gossamer wings stretched out and slowly twitching with their whispers.

So this is the Tree-Witch? The one Aibell has called for?”

It is. It has to be the one. Why else would the Goblin King send us here?” One of the small fae shifted in the shadows. It’s wide eyes peering out like two tiny shards of glass. “He wouldn’t dare get Her wrong.”

If Aibell finds out, she would kill us! No, worse! She would!” the other hushed back. Timid and afraid of what the great queen would do to betrayers.

She will do nothing!”

Silence returned to the room a moment as Maeve shifted in her sleep. Fingers twitching as if grabbing hold of something. They waited but soon sleep took her deeper and her hands seemed to relax. It was hard for a mortal not to be tired after a fae kiss. For all the protection it granted them, it took it’s toll in deep slumbers.

Still she wasn’t very intimidating lost so deeply in sleep. Just a mortal, like any others they had watched at night. Even the younger ones, so new and fresh became somewhat boring after so long. These humans – ageing so rapidly. Growing so old so quickly and never even having tasted true magick.

Yet she was different. Her marks glowed with a different colour of light. Her essence, her feel. It was as if it shimmered a deeper colour then normal mortals. It was obvious she was a witch. But still mortal. Always still mortal.

Why do you think she is like that Leaven?” One whispered to another, both creeping somewhat closer from their place near the hidden ceiling. “What makes her a Tree-Witch?”

She fell from the tree, and she is definitely a witch. What else would we call her? I don’t know why she glows so much. It’s an odd thing that no one will really talk about.” The one known as Leaven frowned at the thought of it. His wide eyes glaring disdainfully. “She doesn’t seem like anything special. Just a smelly ol’ human.”

But Greenback, to some humans we are nothing more then insects. Yet we are lot more then that. Kallen had to have seen something in her. What if she is like us?! What if she can’t die?”

She’s mortal. But we can’t kill her… they will know if we kill her.”

The laws.” Leaven affirmed quietly. “We must not kill her. We could take her though? Would she come? The laws say we can take any mortal who comes willingly with us, or replaced with a changeling?”

Of course she wouldn’t come!” He snapped back sharply. “She is a witch, she knows we would try to keep her! Aibell would be aware anyway if we did and lead her back. She knows of that sort of thing- Feels when mortals step through to our places.”

What should we do then Greenback?” The voices hushed a moment listening to other things stir in the night. They both waited seeing if anything had caught them there before speaking again.

Nothing for the moment. In the morning she will leave – we know her steed rests in the back pen. I doubt she’s ever ridden a horse touched by us! No, I doubt she’s ever ridden one like that.” They both giggled to themselves. “We’ll drive it mad with fury and it’ll take the Tree-Witch away.”

Yes yes! It’ll be fun to watch her try! We’ll dance that horse into a fury by the morning. Then no one will know.” They both fluttered out, like passing moths through the rafters, out the attic opening. “Split her head open it will. Buck her straight off. Yes Greenback. The Tree-witch is mortal! And she can die.”

Tree Witch: Chapter Four

Chapter Four: “Tree-Witch”

Connar was awake and itching to be out of his bed again before Maeve thought it safe to leave. Young Shaylee also seemed better from the spooking and things at the Shae farm seemed to be slowly moving back to the usual.

Tara was keeping herself busy cooking fruit into compotes, and planning a full meal and Gheir had returned to her small house closer in town to keep her watchful aged eyes on everyone else.

Everyone seemed happy and healthy again in the old stone house and that had been good enough payment for Maeve who didn’t ask for anything more for her services and had firmly refused to be compensated for her time.

She had been quiet most of the morning, and verged on a little pale. She never did discuss anymore though, not even about the story. She was a silent house-guest.

Perhaps she had said too much. Perhaps she was still somewhat ill. Either way she passed some time quietly watching and observing how quickly normality took hold of the farm again.

Connar promised to keep the necklace and wear it always. She wasn’t sure how safe the young man would be, but she had done her part at least. He was alive and it was more then what she could do for the Bennar boy.

She left with nothing more then she came with, and perhaps a little less. They offered her a ride back on Freeda but the walk seemed nicer to her and the day seemed like it would be warm and gentle.

It wasn’t too long of glancing to the leaves and the sun trickling through the branches before she came to the more familiar paths she knew. It gave her ample opportunity to think, which was both a blessing and a curse.

It had been a long time since she recounted parts of her own history. It left the taste in the back of her throat that only painful memories can leave. A tingle of remorse and longing tainting the colours of the day.

The road back up past the old mill was quiet. It always was. The work there stopped about 8 years back and the abandoned building was left to rot and slowly decay. Some say the place was cursed, too many workers who died in too short of time.

She took the left path and walked closer to the tall skinny building. Its large sets of waterwheels were stock-still and moss had slipped up and rotted the moist wood. The waters that used to be kept so clean with its constant churning now seemed a little stagnant.

“Why are –you- here?” Chanted a child’s voice from behind her. She turned to spot a fleeting blur. “The Tree-witch is here! Send her back! Send her back!”

“Show yourself.” Maeve demanded as she adjusted the bag on her shoulder. Inside her bag she knew she had an Iron dagger, made for protection against the fae but she knew she would only provoke an attack if she reached for it now.

“The Tree-witch demands of us? Of –US-?” Called out the voices again. The wheels of the mill started creaking and as if there were unseen workers still inside. Like a waking giant it began to turn. “Show ourselves, show ourselves!” chanted over and over taunting and grating.

Maeve forced herself calm. Her eyes hardened and her back straightened. Other then the annoyance it caused her, dealings with the Fae world were no strangers to her. As she was no stranger to them. It was just figuring out why they bothered her now that left her confused. If they had intended her harm they would have already attacked, she reminded herself firmly.

“Tree-witch, talker to the dead?” A clearer voice came from behind her, with far more strength to it then the taunting chorus.

Maeve turned to face an elegant looking woman who stood almost stark naked save for a very thin weaving of cloth that looked like spiders silk sparkled with dew. It did nothing to hide the perfect proportions she seemed to have though. The dress didn’t hide a thing, merely accented it with a thousand tiny glimmers of reflected light.

“I am.” Maeve answered cautiously listening to the voices of the child-like ones murmuring to themselves.

“You were the wife of Kallen?”

“Am- I am the wife of Kallen.” Maeve corrected fiercely and watched as a smile spread over the woman’s painted lips and she nodded.

“That is what the wife of Kallen would say. Then I know that this is for you and your ears alone. You are to meet in the Seelie court.”

A rare pause struck Maeve. The seriousness in her eyes made her unease even worse. No mortals were invited to the high courts and left to speak of it. Kallen himself had said once before that even those like him, the fae, feared to be called in serious matters there.

“What purpose am I to be there?”

“What purpose?! What purpose she says!” The voices rallied around her and Maeve swallowed down the lump gathered in her throat. Now she knew who this chorus was. It was the royal troupe – the congress to the council. She saw them now, fleeting shadows circling around them. Barely visible when your eyes fell upon them.

“Silence.” The ethereal woman said as she glanced around and the voices hushed to murmurs once more. “Tree-witch, the council gathers. Untruths need to be spoken before it is too late. I will not lie to you… your life will be in danger. But far less danger then the place it is now.”

Her attention had slightly wandered, her head clouding some as if she were near sleep. The voices around her seemed to be saying something… but she couldn’t hear or understand them. The woman leaned in whispered in a soothing but urgent tone.

“Watch for the ones with the oaks on their chest they are from the Unseelie courts. You will see them and they will come. They wish your death more then anything. They will trick you at every opportunity and will lead you to harm. There are many who want your death, Tree-Witch. Fewer who would see you live.”

The woman leaned in pressing her lips soft against Maeve’s own. Tenderly even though there was an aire of innocence to it. It was soft as a passing breeze, yet sparked of magick even she could not understand. A wild flurry of chaos and joy. A memory tucked into the back of her fuddled mind. A memory that came to her suddenly and powerfully. A memory of a first kiss with the love her her life. Her Kallen. Her mysterious love.

The shock was enough to bring Maeve back to full awareness, breaking the lack of concentration she had fallen into. And bringing a flush to her cheeks.

“Remember all that Kallen taught you of us, for most of it was true, and a lot of it is worse. Make your way to the Eldar tree in three days time. You know which tree I speak of. The tree that Kallen called to you from. The tree where his life was taken.” A smile touched against the woman’s face and then the smile, the woman, and the voices were gone.

She stood for a few long moments in the hollow emptiness she was left in and the fleeting messages that tried so hard to leave her mind. Oaks, court, and a warning. The strange tingle left behind on her lips.

“The Eldar tree…” she whispered soft. Her voice being the final thing to break the spell around her. If it had indeed been a spell at all. “Our tree.”

The mill was long stopped now and the sky had darkened suddenly. It felt like time had abandoned her for those few minutes she was drawn here and now she felt as if she was misplaced and disoriented. Unsure if it happened all, yet she knew better then to doubt.

With the warm flush still on her cheeks she turned and took the path home. Her hand clenched against the small iron dagger from her bag until her knuckles were bone white.