Samhain Writing Competition

The Birth by J.E. Wood

The ravages of time had not softened the roughness of their bark, yet each branch caressed her arms as she steps between them. Their fallen leaves strewn before her like a multicoloured carpet. The warmth of its hues beckoned her to follow.
How long it took her to reach its centre she could not tell, for time seemed to have lost it urgency. The breeze was the only sound to be heard as it played its autumn theme around the bare trees.
For the ancient forest had taken her to its heart; protecting her.
Terror had driven her here. Fear for the life she was about to give birth to. For even though she was now alone Selene felt the comfort of nature about her. No longer did she worry about those in pursuit. Not once had she turned in her flight to observe. She didn't have to. She knew. The forest would take care of her as it always had.
Its arms had intertwined behind her every step. The breeze had whipped up in a silent frenzy, then calmly the leaves had once again settled down and their carpet was free of her trace.
From under her white cape she produced a pipe, as she rested upon the lichen covered stump. Not just any pipe, but made from the ancient woodland itself. Selene placed it up to her lips and began to play.  Soon the younger trees bent their trunks over towards her as though being captured in the beauty of its melody.
These sounds were not meant for human ears, yet to all that laid eyes on her she was one of them. Hours passed and still she played. Beyond the boundaries of the forest, not a soul heard anything other than the cawing of the crows gathering their armies in readiness.

A serpent emerged with a silence that belied its girth. Large enough to swallow in a gulp, yet lying at her feet its forked tongue merely caressed the air between them. With each hour that passed, and note that drifted on the silent breeze, the time was nearing. The raven black birds hid themselves in the tree tops, the eyelid of the serpent opened in expectation.
The melody changed. The beaks of the crows became erect. The serpent began to move. Slowly she wound herself into a coil encasing Selene's feet. The music did not stop as the coil grew in stature, wrapping itself around the female body. Soon she was hidden from view, held fast within. A tree moved, another followed until a screen formed.

The crows cawing grew loud as they plummeted towards the humans below. With wings wide, beaks held like spears the black cloud engulfed all in its path. Still some managed to flee. Two humans slipped unseen into the forest. Though the forest was aware. Hacking at the branches that prevented their progress the man and woman made slow passage.
“I've never seen such forest before,” the female murmured to her companion as if the trees themselves were listening.
“That's why we need to find her. To stop this.”
“Yes, we must stop the birth. But this is never ending. By the time we find her it will be too late!”
Crole was right! It would be too late. He had to find another way of reaching the birthing stump quickly. For the sun would set within the hour. Once that happened their world would change for ever.
After all, it had been his fault that she had escaped. He, who prided himself on being free from all emotions. Strength of mind and body was all that was considered to be of value, yet somehow she had managed to penetrate his thoughts twisting them to her purpose.  He, Jeremi, king of all around him had allowed a mere Siluri to take control.
Not that he had believed that words that had passed through his lands. Myths, superstition, foolish thoughts of even more foolish people. Many he had locked up, for fear of inciting more half-wittedness but to no avail. It still pervaded his kingdom.
Then as the tales had predicted she appeared, unmistakable in looks. She did nothing to obscure the fairness of her skin nor the redness of her hair. It was a though she wanted to be seen. Not even that white cloak gave colour to such pallor.
“Right, my daughter, we will burn her out!” He announced with a darkness that was only matched by the hairs on his head.

They watched the flames licking the tree trunks ahead, branches crackling before dropping to the ground. In an instant the fire changed direction. As though coxed by unseen hands it sprang up behind them forcing the two of them to flee via the only direction left open.
They were being lead, this they realised as the flames petered making an avenue, yet it still raged with intense fury behind and to the sides.
“We are being drawn away from our quarry,” Crole called back to her father as she ran ahead, sword in hand, “They are leading us away.”
“They! There are no 'they'. It is her - she is doing this. Giving herself more time. Time for it to be born.”
Still muttering under his breath Crole returned to his side.
“What is 'it'?”
“The one who will inherit these lands. One who will rule in my place. One of her kind! Then nothing will be as it was. Nature will take over, buildings replaced by forest. War replaced by peace. The peasants will be given their freedom - to do what? Laze about doing nothing all day long!”
“How do you know that this will happen?”
“She told me herself.”
For the first time in his life he felt overcome with dejection. He was losing control of everything around him. Even allowing his own daughter to question his actions. A year ago she would not have dared, and he would not have permitted such an act of defiance.
“Look!” she called out, “There the crows they are fleeing.”
The black cloud appeared above the trees, as they flew overhead. Suddenly as though starving the fire of oxygen the flames lowered. Flickering like tiny worms wriggling at what was left of nearby tree trunks before they disappeared.
“No, they are going towards something. It has happened. My god, we are too late!”
“Or maybe not!” he added clasping his weapon with increased tension, “It will see the end of my sword if it's the last thing I do!”
They both ran in the same direction of the crows the dead branches crunching beneath their feet; their haste increasing with every step.

Jeremi and Crole stood unable to speak. Their assault halted abruptly by the scene before them. There she sat, with serpent uncoiled resting its head adjacent to the stump. But it was not her pale beauty that arrested them or the scaly creature beside her, but the babe in her arms. For although it had red hair like all of her kind, its skin was of the deepest mahogany.
“Father!” Crole cried out.
Despite his previous fervour, Jeremi found he could not move any of his limbs. Rooted to the spot his eyes were absorbed by the child. It could not be! Yet it was.
“Father! This is your chance. Kill it now.”
Still he could not move.
“If you cannot I will!” she cried.
But before she could take more than one step, he grabbed her arm and pulled her back to his side.
“You cannot …. for he is your brother.”
“My what? How can that be?”
He sword almost took off his head as she waved it about him in anger.
“She bewitched me with her ways. Entangled me in her web sapping away my manhood with her firey hair and white skin. But thankfully I came to my senses and shut her in the Traitors Tower before any more damage was done.”
“You knew that she was carrying your son, my brother, yet you still wanted to kill them both before he had even had chance to take a breath!”
Twisting away from his hold, he shook his head as he looked into his daughter's face. The fury leapt across it more fiercely than the fires they had set. Family was at the core of their very existence.
“No! I did not know it was mine until I laid eyes on him.”
Now he realised the tales had another meaning. His own son would take over his lands. A son born of two races. A son who would bring peace to his lands. A longed for male heir.