By: Adir E. Golan
Maery MacTauthenach followed the fading footprints that stained the snow crimson. With each step the snow revealed a deeper, darker imprint. Bleeding. Maery padded faster. Whoever was injured had to be close, the dulled prints had changed from boots to narrow stretches of furrows. Crunching snow echoed like a slight heartbeat as she treaded through the woods’ bare limbs, branches crisscrossing to darken the forest further, as if in contest with the overcasting clouds.
Not so far in, someone was propped up against a tree, unmoving, hooded. By the freshness of the blood, likely not frozen to death.
Before circling the fat tree Maery made sure that her hood was fastened properly about her head. The last thing she needed was some stranger seeing that silvery white hair on a sixteen year old and realizing she was a witch. She couldn’t aid this person if they’d be trying to kill her. Sorcery was not yet a weapon Maery could wield. She had only turned on her birthday and fled the next morning — before the king’s men came to tie her to a pyre.
The blood freezing in the snow beside this person did not deter Maery. She’d seen worse. Kneeling down she peered under the stranger’s hood. Not a stranger at all… Frost clinging to his beard like a white porcupine, lips purpled and chapped. Tiny wheezes of air streamed out his nose in a steady beat like a dying metronome. For a moment Maery just watched him, eyed the wound on the left side of his ribcage — a terrible gash that ripped ruggedly through garments and flesh, inflicted with something far more painful and gnawing than a blade.
“What the hell are you doing out here?” Maery mumbled.
At that he opened his eyes slowly. Groaned heavily. He looked older than the thirty-eight years he had. “Bless you…” he huffed. “I thought I’d die alone out here.”
Maery could just leave him here. After all it was his decree that forced her to flee from her home, her family — or was that her mother’s fault? Either way his men would see to it that she’d burn alive without trial.
She said nothing.
“Is anyone else out here with you?” asked King Harlann.
Would it be murder if Maery remained passive? Or did she stop being passive when she chose to follow the trail? What bothered Maery most was the fact that she’d probably have had a hard time sleeping tonight if she hadn’t gone out her way and remained unknowing; yet now…
Her legs urged her to rise and run.
“Miss, I know — ” he stifled a moan, speech pained him, “this is
grim, but if you don’t help me, I’ll die.”
“You’re not going to die,” Maery said decisively, more to herself
than the king. “Were you out here hunting?”
“Aye. But the beast didn’t do this to me, my companions did.”
Maery shrugged the satchel off her shoulder and drew out a bandage
and some salve.
“You happened to carry that with you?” The king gave a half smile at his good
“This bag is my home,” Maery uncorked the salve. “Why would your companions
do this to you?”
“My companions aren’t like me…” he murmured.
“Like you?” he drew in a sharp breath through gritted teeth when Maery
used her dirk to cut away at his torn garb, caked with blood.
In reply, he merely stared back at her, as if she should know the
answer. “You don’t know?”
Maery shook her head and got to work on his wound — she’d tended to
the horses on her father’s farm, and the sheep that survived wolf attacks.
“You’re an innocent child, perhaps to your detriment,” the King pointed to a few locks of thick hair that had escaped his hood to rest in the notch of his neck. “See this eerie colour to my hair? Only witches have hair like this.”
Maery jerked her hand away from his wound. “I thought — it was
frost —” she knew the king was no witch.
He pulled his hood back a little. Definitely not frost. “Don’t
worry, I’m not really a witch.”
“Then who are you?” Maery shot back.
His mouth stayed open for a moment, then grinned a little. “My name is Edward. A witch cursed me with this silver hair, so that my companions would hunt me down and kill me. Luckily she didn’t take you into account.”
“No she didn’t…” Maery continued cleaning the injury, which still looked terrible, but at least the cold caused the blood to clot in a clump so it didn’t carry on bleeding like it might have in the summer. “Hold this here,” she told King Edward Harlann, and he obeyed. Fancy that… the witch-hunting king obeying a witch’s command at will.
“What’s your name, miss?”
The king nodded slowly.
“It’s going to hurt a bit,” Maery pulled tight on the bandage the king closed his eyes and winced, as she knew he would, and it was enough time for her to whisper a short incantation. “Sèididh am pian, an laigse.” It wasn’t much, but it would help the man walk with some support. “Let’s get you up, Edward.”
The darkening sky left the snow sparkling with moonlight as the two strangers treaded, very slowly, back to the path just outside the woods. Once out from under the canopy of the forest’s bony tree limbs, the wind blew fiercer, lashing the snow off the trees violently.
Maery kept a steady gait. She was just short enough to keep her shoulder notched under the king’s right armpit. His body heat and hunting furs blocked out at least half the wind and cold. Thankfully, the cold and wind still dulled out the bloody iron tang that was soaked into his clothes, so she didn’t have to suffer that.
“Where are you taking me?” asked King Edward. “Doctors will
probably want to have my head and go claim a prize from the… King…” he snorted.
“I know a healer that doesn’t care who what you are, she’ll treat you as long as she gets her pay.” Maery directed him toward the small village she had been heading for when she came across his trail. “But it will cost you quite a bit more if you want her to keep her mouth shut, so I hope you have funds…” Maery smirked knowing he couldn’t see her face. She still didn’t know why she was helping the man who was the reason for so many innocent lives being lost. Sure, witches could be terrible, but so could regular people. Maery’s mother was the one who alerted the crown’s authorities of her daughter being a witch the morning after Maery’s sixteenth birthday (after her mother had finished crying off her eyelashes).
Maybe she stuck with him because, whatever happened, Maery knew she couldn’t leave him here to die. Doing so would make her everything he accused her of, not that she would ever reveal her true identity to this villainous king. But Maery wasn’t a murderer and besides, killing him wouldn’t solve anything — his legacy followed fervently in his footsteps. Evidently — they tried to kill him. Maery wondered, maybe at least one life could be changed by his curse.
When they got to the healer’s makeshift infirmary — which was a lopsided shack built as an extension of a house — King Edward was huffing and coughing so hard his wound began oozing again.
Inside it was pleasantly warm, and smelled of cedar, ale, and rosemary.
“Keep pressure on that, lass,” the healer said. “I’ll go clean the tabel just had someone vomit all over it.”
The king groaned, shook his head.
“Thank you, Vivian,” Maery turned to the king as Vivian slipped
into the back room. “Shut up Edward, it’s this or death.”
He started at her when she addressed him like this. For an instant Maery was afraid, thought she’d pushed it too far with the way she was treating the King of Cantamohr…
King Edward slouched on the wide wooden bench that was bracketed haphazardly to the wall, creaking like a docked pirate ship. Maery sat beside him. Scrubbing could be heard from the next room. Maery was sure it was this that made the king wince as he lay there, not the pain.
“So tell me,” she sat up, crossed her legs, keeping steady pressure on the newly bleeding wound. “What does it feel like to be a witch? Hunted like a wild boar?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Wouldn’t you be curious?” she shrugged, tugging at her hood when
his eyes flitted up to the ceiling and he pondered and answer.
“Honestly, I didn’t feel like the animal… the others took that
After this they waited in silence. Maery never thought he would have been so honest with her. Most likely didn’t see the harm. Maybe an innocent homeless girl who saved his life deserved as much. Albeit, logic seemed to have abandoned her tonight for the most part, and she was tired of trying to figure out the king — it was tedious enough that she couldn’t precisely place her own behaviour.
“Look at that…” Maery yawned, smiling without joy.
“The curse must be wearing off. Your hair is regaining its colour.”
King Harlann sat up just a little and took his long hair in his fingers. He curled it and it stayed that way, getting darker and browner the more he touched it. As if it was thawing. He laughed — barely but merrily — then let his head fall back on the lath with a light thump.
“All right,” Vivian stuck her head out the door for a moment. “It’s
as clean as it’s going to be, bring him in!”
Maery got up to help him, but the king seemed to have a newfound
strength now that his curse had worn off. “I can make it there.”
He stepped closer to her, and dropped his voice. “I need you to
know something Miss Maery…”
“You’re King Edward Harlann,” she said.
He narrowed his eyes. Smiled. “You said you have no home. I’m going
to rectify that when we get out of here.”
Maery took a few steps back, grinned sadly, shook her head. “I’d like to tell you something too, Edward…” Edward watched her curiously as she opened the door to the snow. “I used to have a home; and I hope I’ll find one again, because I know I can’t be the only one out there who still does the right thing.”
Edward smiled weakly, “I don’t get your meaning.”
“What I mean is: I am who I am despite you — in spite of you. I’m done hiding.” Maery gave him a harsh smile. This was tougher than she’d thought initially. She pulled off her hood. Let her sleek silvery hair glisten in the dancing light cast from the chandelier above them.
Maery padded out and shut the door. She walked through the blizzard
feeling lighter than ever.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing