These events take place in Scarborough and Camelot, starting 5 years in the past from the current point of the story. If you’re sick of darkness, skip the bonus chapters and wait for about… 3 weeks. If not…
“I’m not sure if it’s even my child, you know?”
“Of course it’s his child. The bastard keeps forcing himself on me – how could it not be?”
“…I shouldn’t have said that. Forget I said that, sweetheart.”
“Guin, darling. Run along home, now.”
“Come on, Michael. Let’s go home.”
“Gwin? Whas whith?”
“…They shouldn’t have said that. Forget it, sweetheart.”
Guinevere’s feet felt numb.
The three of them had been walking for hours, trudging through the sludgy, slippery mud as they tried to navigate the woods of Northumbria. Guinevere was tired. She hadn’t slept. She hadn’t eaten. The girl was chilled to the bone, teeth clattering as the rain ruthlessly soaked through her clothes. But she couldn’t stop. They had to keep going. Her father marched them through the woods until the sun came up, desperate to put as much distance between them as Scarborough as possible.
Desperate to keep anyone from catching up.
As dawn arrived, Guinevere could feel herself slowly reaching her limit. She hadn’t processed anything. She couldn’t. Every time the girl closed her eyes, she could see the same vision play out in front of her. It was as if she’d been frozen in time. Forced to relive the moment over, and over, and over again. The sight of her mother getting dragged away had made her blood run cold, causing a deep, primal sense of fear to overtake her. She hadn’t been able to move. She hadn’t been able to do anything. Guinevere could still hear her mother screaming at her to run, to get away, until the girl was physically lifted into the air and carried off.
She hadn’t processed.
She’d never see her again.
The tiny toddler that rested on her hip had slowly turned from a source of warmth into a debilitating weight. Guinevere could feel her arms trembling. She couldn’t carry him anymore. Michael was simply too heavy. As her father began to climb another muddy, slippery hill, Guinevere removed her painful hands from Michael’s bottom and gently put him down.
Her brother didn’t like that at all. Michael immediately began to protest, letting out a loud, frustrated wail that echoed through the forest.
“Up! Up! Uuuup!”
“Sorry, guppy,” Guinevere mumbled, disheartened. “You’ll have to walk for a bit.”
The girl shook her head, bending down to wipe some dirt from Michael’s face. Her brother angrily batted her hand away. The second wail sounded even louder than the first. Guinevere could feel her jaw clench in response.
“Michael, please- maybe dad can-”
“No! Gwin cawwy! Gwin!”
Guinevere silently shook her head at him. She didn’t have the strength. But her brother didn’t know that. Michael immediately started crying at the rejection, his demanding wails turning into loud, uncontrollable sobs. Guinevere could see his tiny hands ball themselves into fists as her brother quickly worked himself up into a tantrum.
He was exhausted, too.
The sound of Michael’s cries was more than Guinevere could handle. They pierced right through her, whittling down what little mental reserves she had left. Guinevere could feel her lower lip start to tremble as she fought back the tears. She didn’t know how to console him. She could feel the anxiety build in the pit of her stomach. She could sense the vague sensation of fear that bubbled just below the surface. The girl was at the end of her rope.
She needed help.
As Michael threw his head back, gearing up for another wail, Guinevere turned towards the person guiding them. The only source of safety that was left. With a voice that was about to crack from emotion, the young girl called out.
She never got to finish her sentence.
Guinevere could hear a sob. The next moment, her breath got stuck in her throat, as she watched her father suddenly sink through his knees. They buckled underneath him like a snapped twig. He fell to the ground, landing painfully on the dirt and mud. A second sob escaped from his mouth. Then a third. Guinevere could see his shoulders shake violently. His hands clawed into the muddy ground, desperately reaching for solace and finding none.
He was weeping.
It had been too much. Guinevere watched in silence as, in that moment, her father crumbled in front of her.
He couldn’t help.
No… that wasn’t it.
He needed comfort more than she did.
Guinevere slowly exhaled. As she did, she could feel her emotions fade away. Her lip stopped trembling. Her shoulders relaxed. The fear and anxiety inside of her slowly turned into background noise, numbed and carefully placed into a corner. She could feel her body calm down. Her breathing slowed.
Guinevere was vaguely aware of her hands going numb as she stepped forward. She didn’t care. Her attention was focused solely on the sobbing man in front of her. The young girl didn’t know what to say to him to make it better. She simply didn’t have the words. Guinevere stopped next to him, gently placing a hand on his shoulder as she provided the only source of comfort that she could.
It was the best she could do.
He needed it more than she did.
They hadn’t made it out of the forest before nightfall.
Guinevere wrapped her arms around her knees, tugging her legs in beneath her. She glanced at the meal that was slowly roasting over the fire. Guinevere’s father had managed to catch a fish in a nearby stream, and the two of them had fruitlessly attempted to add ‘roast bug on a stick’ to their dinner variety. Despite their efforts, the result ended up looking less than appetising.
Maybe Michael would eat it. Her brother had a habit of sticking whatever he could find in his mouth these days.
The two of them were alone in the little forest clearing. What little drywood Guinevere and her father had scraped together was already on the verge of burning out, and he’d been forced to leave to try and find some more. It had only been a few minutes since he’d vanished into the surrounding thicket. But to Guinevere, it felt like hours.
“I’ll be right back. Look after your brother.”
Logically, Guinevere understood why he’d left them alone. He had to find a way to keep them warm. If they slept in their wet clothes without any source of warmth, they’d all end up getting sick. Her father was doing what he could to keep them safe.
Guinevere didn’t care about being safe.
As the young girl stared at the rapidly diminishing embers, she could feel a wave of loneliness overcome her. She didn’t want drywood. She didn’t want to sleep out in the woods. She didn’t want to be left alone in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded by darkness.
Guinevere just wanted her mum.
They hadn’t checked on her in over an hour.
With an immense effort, Tyronoe lifted her bruised body to look at the flame that danced on the wall.
A small, barely visible line of smoke trailed up from the flame, dissipating against the heavy stone ceiling. In a rough, hoarse voice, the witch called out again.
“Ifri. I know you’re there. Show yourself.”
Tyronoe watched as the flames on top of the torch began to shift and change. She could see them leaking out from their socket, falling down and dropping onto the stone floor below. And their movement didn’t stop there. The heavy steel bars of Tyronoe’s cell were charred black as the creature slowly approached, its presence defying all laws of nature.
Like it always did.
Against her better judgment, Tyronoe stretched her hands out towards the flames. She couldn’t help herself. Their presence was almost magnetic. Tyronoe had always had a special bond with the element of fire – and that night, clad in irons and stuck in a cold, uncaring cell, the witch was desperate for warmth. Tyronoe could feel a slight resistance as she placed her hand onto the nearest flame. But only for a moment.
You are hurt, witch.
“I know,” Tyronoe mumbled. She could see the flames dance and flicker against the stones.
Defeated, Tyronoe hung her head.
“The townsfolk believe that I poisoned their harvest,” she explained softly. “They dragged me out of my home in the dead of night. That witch hunter put me in chains and they- they-“
For a moment, the witch struggled to form the words. She knew what was about to happen to her. She’d seen it countless times in the past. From the pit of her stomach, she could feel a primal sense of fear begin to rise up.
“There will be no trial. They’re going to burn me on the pyre.”
Tyronoe balled her hands into fists, biting down on her lip until she tasted metal. She’d given everything to these people. Everything she’d had to offer- and in return for her years of service, they’d clasped her in chains and thrown her in the dungeon.
She should never have helped.
In return for her kindness… they were going to burn her alive.
“Please. Help me,” Tyronoe pleaded, barely recognising the sound of her own voice. “I don’t want to die like this, Ifri. I don’t want to burn.”
You fear the flames?
“Every human does,” she muttered in response. “I know you can’t understand. But for us… it’s one of the most painful ways there is to die. I can’t- I can’t go through that. I won’t. I’d rather die right here.”
Is that what you wish? Are you asking me to end your life?
The witch didn’t answer. She couldn’t. Tyronoe watched in silence as the flames slowly crept in closer, stopping inches away from her tunic.
Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, the Sidhe spoke.
I will not end your life, witch, for yours is not mine to take. But if you wish… I could save you from your fear.
“What do you mean?”
Flames know to bend at my command. If you accept me, I can shield you from the fire. Any flame will pass harmlessly. It will never cause you pain again.
“You… you could do that?” Tyronoe muttered, suddenly out of breath. Her mind was spinning. The witch could feel the flames brush against her feet, filling them with warmth as a strange sense of energy began to seep in through her toes.
I can. But know that my aid is not offered freely. If I gift you a part of me, I will take part of you in return.
“Please. Just get me out of here. I’ll give anything.”
If she’d been in her right state of mind, Tyronoe might have thought twice before uttering those words to the Fae.
But that night, Tyronoe was not in her right state of mind. The witch wasn’t thinking straight. She couldn’t. After the ordeal that she’d just been through, the fear of being burned alive had finally driven Tyronoe into a corner.
She had no options left.
Her words had an immediate effect. The flames around her suddenly brightened, spreading out onto to the stones around her. Tyronoe could feel herself slowly being enveloped in a strange, buzzing warmth. It wasn’t a gentle sensation. The witch could feel something intrude on her spirit, pushing part of herself aside as it forced its way in. But She didn’t resist. Tyronoe gave in, allowing herself to be taken over by the creature’s energy and slowly feeling her body change as a result.
When the warmth had finally reached her heart, Tyronoe could hear that familiar voice ring out again.
It was the last time she’d ever hear it.
Tell me, witch…
What do you value most?