I pried my eyes open, staring up at a poorly thatched roof, the sun’s beams streaming through and making the dust motes dance. My entire body felt stiff, sore. My mouth was as dry as parched earth and my head pounded fiercely. Memories began to flood my mind, images of a massive beast nearly killing me as I plunged my sword and dagger into his heart. I groaned, attempting to sit up, to figure out where I was.
“Stay put.” Emmy’s voice commanded. My neck turned sharply, relief flooding my veins as my eyes found her. She stood from her chair, pulling it closer and gripping my hand in hers as she sat once more. A wide grin spread across her face, her round cheeks rising, her eyes awash with happy tears.
“Wh-what happened? Where are we?” I rasped. She brushed my unruly ruddy curls from my sweaty forehead.
“You killed that bear, but he…clawed you. You lost a lot of blood.” Her eyes were full of concern as she stared at me. I nodded slightly, having known that much.
“This woman—Greeda, she helped me to save you. She…she healed you,” Emmelyne squinted, measuring my response. I felt suddenly uneasy at her words, glancing about the small space. Tinctures in small bottles lined the walls, dried herbs hung fragrant from the ceiling, a cauldron bubbled over the stifling fire.
I turned back to Emmy, a malicious sneer plastered to my face.
“She’s a witch,” I seethed. “Where is she?”
Emmelyne sat back, letting go of me as if I were on fire.
“She saved your life, Killian, she’s a good person—”
“We need to leave, now,” I tried in vain to push myself up, but I was admittedly weak. Emmy glared down at me.
“I told ye he’d be angry. He’s a fighter.” A languid voice said from an unseen vantage point. I hissed through my teeth, pushing myself completely up now, searching for my dagger to drive it through this witch’s heart.
“Ye’ll speak no more, she-devil,” I spat, turning my shoulders so my eyes could find her. She stood in the doorway, hands clasped around the handle of a wicker basket full of plants. She was of medium height, a bit plump, her long, once-brown hair now graying and frizzy. She smirked at me, pushing past the entrance and into her lair.
“Killian.” Emmelyne hissed at me. I ignored her, trying to swing my legs over the table I’d been laid upon. I heard the witch’s light laughter from near the fire.
“Get out of here, Emmy, I’ll take care o’ this,” I growled, planting one bootless foot on the straw-strewn ground.
“Killian!” She yelled, commanding my attention as she stamped her foot. I peered at her livid face, her flushed cheeks, her wild eyes. I knew this look all too well. If we weren’t in the presence of death and curses itself, I’d have provoked my woman into a frenzy, just so she’d have the chance to tame me later. As it were, I glared vehemently back at her, feeling my nostrils flare in anger, my blood begin to boil.
“Just listen for a moment, you damn brute!” She growled. I felt my teeth gnash together at her words. It had been quite some time since we’d been at each other’s throats in such a way. It seemed that our time of peace had run out, though. I stood, towering over her, though she refused to back down.
“Ye can stay, then, but I’ll no’ be stayin’ wi’ ye,” I growled, leaning over her. She took a menacing step forward, quite intimidating considering her small stature.
“You will listen.” She said lowly between her clenched teeth. We stared one another down, neither of us relenting. We were both stubborn fools, it seemed.
“Yer woman is a powerful one.” The witch’s voice said, full of laughter. I turned my glare to her, my entire frame shaking.
“Ye’ll no’ speak to her anymore.”
The witch rolled her eyes.
“Look at yer arm, Killian, Dougal’s son, and tell me what ye see,” she crossed her arms, smirking at me, her black-rimmed eyes penetrating the shadows. Without truly meaning to, I glanced at my left bicep and shoulder, where the bear’s claws had dug deepest. Nothing.
“I’m fine,” I growled, my face and stomach falling as I realized what I’d seen. I whipped my head back to my arm, the skin beneath my tattered and bloodied shirt as unmarred as it had been before. I felt my jaw drop.
“See?” Emmy said softly. “Greeda save you…and she…she understands me.”
I felt Emmelyne’s hand grip my right forearm. I shot her a look of incredulity. The witch snorted.
“I havena’ seen the likes of ye in a thousand years.”
I glanced to the witch again, my mind scampering around rampantly like a frightened rabbit.
“Wh-wha?” I breathed.
“Sit,” Emmelyne suggested, pushing on my arm. I obeyed, unable to do much else, fearing I may go into shock. I’d felt the deepness of my wounds with my own fingers, seen the way my torn flesh flapped over the exposed muscle beneath. Bile rose in my throat. And then my mind jumped to her other cryptic words.
“A th-thousand years?”
Emmelyne’s lips pressed into a thin line as she stood between my knees, her small hand resting on my thigh. I gazed into the depths of her blue eyes, calmed almost immediately. She brushed her hand through my hair once more.
“Greeda healed you.” She explained. I narrowed my eyes at her.
“How? I should be dead, or at the very least have lost my arm.” I growled. Emmelyne turned her head to glance at the witch, my eyes following suit. The woman was smug as she sauntered closer.
“I was given the gift of healing by the gods. Eli of Mount Tier used me for some time, before banishing me after I was not able to heal his sickened wife.” Her lip curled in contempt at the mention of that dirty bastard’s name. I gripped the edge of the table, my stubbly nails biting into the old wood.
“Ye should have killed him when ye had the chance.” I said. To my surprise, the witch threw her head back and laughed.
“Oh aye, I should ha’ done so. But the gods can be as just as they are cruel, and I’ve foreseen his end. I wouldn’t want to…interfere,” she smirked at me. I was chilled at her words, wondering—praying it was me she saw torturing him to death. Emmy’s grip on my thigh tightened. I reached for her, winding my now-healed arm around the small of her back and pulling her even closer. I shook those dark thoughts from my mind, choosing instead to focus on the witch’s other words.
“What did ye mean, about Emmelyne bein’ powerful?” I asked. The witch moved to her rocking chair, sinking down before grasping her knitting needles and swaying forward and back gently. The needles clacked quickly together in the quiet space. She took her time before giving us an answer.
“I meant this young woman has powers beyond what ye can ever imagine,” she peeked at me, smiling coyly. I glanced at Emmy, her eyes falling to the floor in embarrassment. The woman continued.
“Our land was once full of powerful seers, healers—witches, until kings of men came and began slaughtering us for not abiding by their will. Our will is that of the gods, and only the gods.” She spoke melodically, rocking back and forth, focusing on her work as though she were telling the story aloud to only herself. Trepidation settled into my stomach as she recounted the histories of old. Histories I’d heard of but thought were foolish. Magic wasn’t real, or so I’d thought. I was a rational man, a man that saw the world through a practical lens—until I’d met Emmelyne. It was then that I began to see just how much wider this world was—and just how close another world was.
“We fled, hid ourselves and our powers. We all but diminished and nearly lost the gifts the gods had given us. Some resisted. They formed a plan, so we would never truly die out. A pair would go to each corner of our world, would assimilate but continue to keep our traditions alive, quietly. This one here—” she nodded at Emmelyne “is from the south. But she is a direct descendant of the most powerful of us all.”
My hands trembled, clammy despite the warm air wafting in through the open doorway.
“How can you know this?” I growled. She tutted.
“Because I have the gift of sight as well, young Killian. Only I am limited to the past. I’ve seen all the way back, centuries ago, to her origins. I’m sure she would be able to share it with you, once she’s able to tame her visions.”
I glanced to Emmy as her eyes sheepishly met mine.
“Greeda said she’d help me learn to…to control them…” she whispered, her voice full of hope. I pressed my lips together, unwilling to say anything that may get me into more trouble with my woman at the moment. I turned back to the witch.
“What is it that makes her so powerful?” I asked. She smirked again.
“She can see forward, and back. She can heal, once she learns properly, she can bewitch and control those she wishes…and she can speak with the dead beyond the veil,” her rocking ceased, her grey eyes snapping to mine. I narrowed my eyes back at her, skeptical.
“What makes ye think I believe any o’ that?”
Chills erupted along my spine as the woman stared deeply into my eyes.
“Why do ye think she was forced into hiding as a child? Why do ye think her parents gave her away?”
My heart stuttered to a stop. Forced into hiding? Her parents gave her…away?
“What are ye sayin’, witch?” I growled. She grinned a devilish grin, tilting her chin down so her black rimmed eyes could pierce my heart and soul.
“I’m sayin’ I knew who she was the moment she was born. I told the man I served where to find her. I warned her family of the dangers comin’ for them. And I thanked the gods for giving us our last hope to save this wretched world.”