Gretchen - Clearing in the Forest - Early Evening
Moving silently, on bear feet as gnarled as the roots beneath, Gretchen came to stand before the writhing sack. Regarding it with baleful eyes she felt the usual mix of emotions. Pity, naive and impotent an emotion as it was she clung to any link to her fading image of kindness. Distaste, not for what she would see but that it could cause the bundle to reach her. And increasingly, a worrying indifference that pulled her through these emotions to what must be done on the other side of them.
Reaching down she retrieved the bawling child from the sack. Her eyes moved swiftly: first to its face searching for deformities, then to the hands totaling digits, before settling on the dark blotchy birthmark on the child's neck. That seemed to be a popular one recently. When the marks came in a row the midwives would see a hand print, a devil trying to claw it's way into the world through the child, in years gone by a priest would have cleansed the child and they would have lived a normal life. Gretchen chose to take the child's abandonment as a sign that faith was waning, another sign that now was the time. But now wasn't the time to think about that, her eyes surveyed the child again seeming to look not at it but within it now. She was searching for the small cinder of belief within it, so small it would die on its own. For a moment a midwife, or priest, or parent had seen a monster when they looked at this child, and when she found that belief she held it to her own, nurturing it with her own myth. The child would grow quickly, but it would twist to the obscene and the vile, that was the only way she knew how to raise them. Not that she didn't have ulterior motives, she needed all the help she could get for the coming days. Yet she also believed that a life as a hideous creature was better than what those who were supposed to care had left the child to. Hell, if she thought losing your beauty was worth dying for she'd of allowed herself to fade long ago.
With a bitter chuckle, bordering all too close to a cackle, she handed the child off to the stumpy little dwarf now hovering at her shoulder. She tried not to look at it as she handed it off, nevertheless her eyes lingered for a moment on its birthmark already darker, cracked and scaled, seeming to crawl outwards across the child's skin like some loathsome fungus. With an effort she straightened her back as well as she could so as to stare at the fattening moon. She didn't need to waste any of her magic to know the moon would reach its fullest on the night of The Feast. Yet another sign, nature seemed to be going out of its way to coincide on the coming evening. Dropping back, with some relief, into her usual stoop she made her way through the woods. She followed a path that would of looked meandering and aimless to a human, little wonder the poor devils were so often getting lost out here, she arrived at the sunken area of wood concealing a cave where she now made her home.
Across Bravia, on the eve of the festivities, kitchens would be a hub of activity as they had been for weeks before. Fires would roar, meats crackle and crisp, stocks would simmer. And in rather less dramatic fashion albeit far greater numbers vegetables from the harvest would be boiled, fried, baked, salted, smoked, canned, dried and pickled for the days of celebration and the coming winter. Gretchen had her own preparations to make too. Though her's, in stark contrast to the rest of the kingdom, would require silence and darkness and cold. There was a time when she could have filled a hundred vials with water and turned them into the potions she required as they touched the drinkers lips. Now she relied on natures powers to bolster her own and thankfully with her age came knowledge of what aid the dirt could give her. Wisps of white, fog-like smoke escaped from through a hole in the ground above as she set about her work, and the occasional green light could been seen flickering from the darkness. There were other preparations too she knew. She must tax her mind to remember the stories if she wanted anyone else to for one, and she muttered them to herself as she went about her work. Others would also want to cut deals ahead of the days to come and it wouldn't surprise her if they approached her before the night was out. Maybe there would even be talk of a new pantheon, her lips twisted to a sneer at this thought. If they could make The White god bleed her fellow gods would tear each other apart for a fraction of his belief.
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