18 YEARS AGO
The woman screamed as she gathered the last ounce of her strength. She struggled against the force inside her belly, sweat forming rivulets on her forehead, burning her eyes.
“Harder! I see the top of its head. Squeeze!” cried the midwife. A fire flickered, casting a hazy glow across the small cottage room.
The woman’s eyes clamped shut, her hand gripping that of the midwife’s assistant, she pushed once more.
“The baby can’t die,” said the man who stood in the shadows cast by the firelight. “Her purpose is too great.”
“Then perhaps you can help me, wizard!” snapped the struggling midwife.
“Unfortunately, I do not carry with me the power to control Life, nor Death.”
Once the mother was sure she could push no more, sweet relief came with the joyous cries of the midwife. “It’s a girl!”
The woman could do no more than groan. She panted, her chest heaving. Her worst fears were becoming a reality. She would never see her baby grow into a beautiful young woman. Pain wrenched inside her body and she could feel her strength fading as darkness clouded her vision. “Let me… hold her.”
The midwife placed the baby gently in her mother’s arms. “What shall you call her?” she asked.
Her mouth dry, her eyes closing, the woman’s last breath was laced with a single word: “Ranelle.”
The mother’s spirit left the earth and passed into the Realms Beyond.
The midwife turned to the man, who studied the baby with awed intent. “What are we to do?”
“Fortunately, I know of a woman whose sole desire is to have a child of her own. I will take her. But I must hurry, there are dark forces at work and they will stop at nothing to destroy the child.”
The midwife swaddled the baby in a smooth cloth.
“Make haste, wizard. I will bury the woman and hide all evidence of what has occurred here.”
The man left the cottage and mounted his brown steed, cradling the silent Ranelle in his arms.
“May the Creator protect you,” the midwife called after him.
◄ • ►
The horse’s hooves pounded against the sodden ground. The man gripped the child in his arms, careful not to let her slip from his hold.
The moon cast a pale glow, its light filtered through the haggard branches of the surrounding trees. They stood, sentinels for the man and the child.
Wolves howled behind him, the sound of their feet and that of a quad of horsemen reaching the man’s ears.
Dread struck the man’s heart like a lightning strike. The midwives had failed to detour the demons. He whispered an ancient prayer. In response, several trees uprooted and moved to block the demons’ way. He knew, though, that this would not do to stop his enemies, only slow them momentarily. Their magic was strong.
Ranelle whimpered. “There now, child. Be strong. We’re almost there.”
His horse galloped up to a solitary cottage amid the forest and he quickly dismounted. He burst through the wooden door. “Amethya!”
“Goodness, Gawayn. You gave me a terrible fright!”
“Thank the Creator, Amethya, you’re home!”
The woman’s tired eyes immediately noticed the child Gawayn held in his arms.
He approached her and placed Ranelle in her tender arms. “Listen carefully, this is the child I told you about all those moons ago. You must take her, raise her as your own, and when the time is right, you must tell her of her mission.”
Gawayn turned to leave, but Amethya grabbed his shoulder. “But how will I know when the time is right?”
He turned his neck and stared into her eyes. With a grave look and a thundering voice, Gawayn said, “By the spirits, you will know.”
Amethya released him. He left her standing in the doorway. She stared down at the babies, beautiful, round face and when she lifted her gaze once more, the man had vanished, as though carried by the wind itself.