In all her seventeen years of living, Ramsey never saw the witch. In all her ten years of bringing flowers to her home, Ramsey never saw one glimpse of the creature around which many of her village’s stories revolved around.
She only knew the witch through the stories her neighbors often exchanged. That the witch was a benevolent being willing to grant wishes to those who proved themselves to be worthy of her time and energy. That she was a vile, vengeful fiend to those who turned on their word after a pact with her had been made. That she was a woman of unparalleled beauty, with hair as dark as a raven’s wing and skin as fair as porcelain. That she was a hideous thing to behold, a sickness to the eyes with her pallid, ashen skin, sunken eyes, and shriveled lips.
No matter the number of stories that Ramsey heard about the witch, there remained one constant thing about them – the truth was hard to glean from each and every one of them. This, Ramsey decided for herself. And so, she found herself believing not one word of the numerous tales that surrounded the witch in the woods.
Ramsey was not a curious creature by nature. She was content to be constricted by the rules that her society had created for them to live by. Her life was one blank canvas that was yet to be painted with the colors of life’s joys and sorrows. Her life was uneventful, save for her visits to the witch during the nights where the new moon watched over the land. But even her visits to the witch grew fewer and fewer in number until Ramsey came to completely neglect what her father taught her when she was seven years of age.
It began on the day Ramsey turned eighteen, when a boy of twenty by the name of Javier swept her off her feet on the night of her birthday. It began on the day Ramsey became a slave to love’s whims, when every waking moment she spent with Javier came to occupy the space in her head, pushing out the instructions of her father to never miss a visit to the witch’s hut. And so Ramsey came to forget her family’s practice and she came to forget the witch.
But she never forgot the white lilies, red peonies, and blue delphiniums that she used to bring to the witch’s doorstep.
* * *
Agnessa was the goddess of protection. She was the deity that people prayed to watch over them during times of peril and darkness. Men prayed to her when they went out hunting in the woods, women prayed to her to protect their children from disease and danger. When a person lost their way and their direction, they prayed to Agnessa for guidance.
Before Agnessa fell to the earth below the heavens, she birthed three children that she sent in her stead to watch over creation. A creature of land, a creature of air, and a creature of water. Three beasts that mankind soon came to call monsters for their irregular appearances. And while they succeeded as guardians and protectors, these creatures were not always as gracious and gentle as their mother. Sometimes, they lost their sense of caution and gave in to their natural, primitive sides.
While humans were thankful for the guardians that Agnessa sent, their gratitude did not last long. While the danger that Agnessa’s children brought did not outweigh the good they did for the realm of creation, mankind came to see the beasts as more of threats than protectors. They chose to focus on the damage that the white wolf left on their farms in the aftermath of a fight with a pack of rabid hounds. And when the white wolf accidentally bit the arm of a young girl wandering in the woods during its hunt, after mistaking the child for prey, a village sent its finest hunter out to put an end to the beast’s life – the girl’s father.
On the bank of the forest’s river, where the slain child of Agnessa lied, its blood seeped into the grass and the earth below its breathless body.
* * *
The terrified cry that accompanied his son’s words immediately made Emile leave the walls of his hut as he ran outside to meet his son. Tears clouded Giles’ eyes as his legs carried him as fast as he could back to his home.
When he was near the perimeter of the hut, he skidded into a halt before he could crash into his father’s frame.
Emile was quick to notice the bow in his son’s hands and the quiver of arrows slung across his back. “Where have you been? What have you done?”
His breath came in heavy pants as Giles wiped away the moisture in his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt. While catching his breath was no challenge, finding the right words to explain what he had just done was no easy feat. How was he to convey to his father the crime he had just committed? No, the right words did not exist, there was no easy way to put it …
“Father,” Giles muttered. “I just shot a bird out of the sky.”
Confusion contorted Emile’s features as he narrowed his eyes at the young man before him. “Then why on earth are you crying? Did it hit you on its way down?”
“No, Father! You didn’t see it! I found it deep in the woods. It was flying high against the blazing sun when I shot it down and only when it was down and bleeding on the ground was I able to see its feathers of crimson and scarlet! I thought it was a one of those vultures at first but it was much larger and its blood was as black as … As …”
Tears began to bead once more in the corners of Giles’ eyes as he struggled to find his words. He watched as the realization dawned on his father, lighting up his eyes for a split-second before Emile shook his head. He placed his hands on Giles’ shoulders and tightened his grasp on him, giving him a reassuring squeeze.
“Son,” Emile said. “What is it that you think that you shot down?”
The words burned on his tongue as Giles replied, “One of Agnessa’s children.”
But Emile simply gave another shake of his head as he took the bow from his son. “Giles, Agnessa and her children, the gods – they aren’t real. None of them are. They’re just tales that were woven for the young,
To be continued…