Looking for previous episodes? Scroll down for a PDF of Episodes 1-18. Then follow right here every week as we reach the conclusion.
“A Cold Spring”
Something Witchy This Way Comes
Far to the east, a full moon rises behind glacier-encrusted mountains shimmering with the last red rays of the sunset. Unruly cataracts tumble from the heights, falling in a silver ribbon and exploding in white mist. A snaking blue line, the Whispering River runs from its ancient bed at the base of the mountains, past the foothills, and into Highmoor Valley. In a wide curve it skirts the valleys edge and plunges again down the incline Mayebelle and I have just ascended. I hear its cold waters leaping across colder stones.
A sweet scent of meadow grass and early spring wildflowers carried up the ridge on a cool, damp breeze cools the sweat on my forehead. From the forest a chorus of spring frogs chirp and an owl glides past with a satiny whoosh. The shadow of the ridge stretches to the East. Heavy fog shrouds the valley.
Dotted with last year’s weeds, the road winds down the incline and comes to a sudden stop. Waist-high wheat-colored remnants of last summer’s grass and the first pale green shoots of the spring growth stretch for acres. No turreted castle, no flames, no Maddock.
The breath I’ve been holding leaves my lungs with a sickening gasp. I sink to my knees, eyes wide in the near dark of evening, searching for any sign, for any hint, for any hope.
I clutch the witch stone with one hand and steady myself on the cold stones of the path with the other. The stone throbs like a beating heart, blood-warm.
Mayebelle rubs a gnarled hand up and down my back but I find no comfort in her touch.
“I’ll build a fire in the hollow,” she says. “We’ll wait for dawn.”
I try to rise, but a sharp pain claws my side. And then another. A warm effluence dampens the inside of my thighs and I stare helplessly at the growing puddle at my feet.
“Your water’s broken,” says Mayebelle matter-of-factly. “The baby is coming.”
“A Cold Spring”
Episode 20: Timeless
“Why is this taking so long? Is this normal?”
Whatever I expected childbirth would be like, this long night of waiting is not it. At first there was no pain—even little Circe or Penelope or Athena stopped moving. Then the contractions began. Hours later, I understand why they call it labor.
“It’s normal for a La Croix baby. I delivered hundreds of those in the Time Before. I can’t say what ridiculous habits Darkmore mothers may have.” Mayebelle, always practical and brusque, presses her lips in a thin line. Her practiced hands mold my belly.
A fresh pain turns my sharp reply into a whimper. “It’s getting worse.”
“The pains are simply coming faster. Closer to the end. Don’t push yet.”
“What do you mean ‘don’t push?’ How am I supposed to not push?” I close my eyes and try to absorb the pain.
“Wait until dawn if you can. I can’t see what I’m doing by firelight.”
“That isn’t entirely in my control, Mayebelle.” I lean back on the pallet of bundled clothes and leaves, gasping as the contraction tightens my stomach into a hard ball.
Perfectly balanced, the full moon touches the western horizon as the first rays of the sun gleam behind the mountains. Today is the spring equinox. Sun and Moon and Earth in symmetry.
“I knew this would happen,” says Mayebelle for the one thousandth time. “I told you this child wouldn’t wait.”
“She’ll be born in Highmoor Valley. Just as I was. Just as Maddock was,” I say through clinched teeth. “If she’s going to be the last Darkmore and La Croix child, let her at least say she began her life here.”
“Hmmph.” Mayebelle snorts like a horse. “And look where such a boast got the rest of us. Bearing a child here tempts the dark magic that curses this valley. No good will come of it.”
Mayebelle mops my forehead with a damp cloth, but I push away her hand. Light grows, fingering the clouds in the eastern sky, flowing into the valley on the bubbling river foam. Forest birds greet the dawn with chatters and chirps. With a rustle of black wings and a chorus of harsh caws, a flock of crows whirl from the leafy forest roof.
I sit up, close my eyes, and concentrate on relaxing my belly. She may be as annoying as a boil but Mayebelle is also a midwife of great renown. I know I should heed her advice.
When the pain ebbs away, I take in a deep breath and open my eyes. Mayebelle, mouth gaping, points a scarred finger at the lodestone which hangs suspended from a cord around my neck. My movements have dislodged it from its resting place between my breasts. Instead of hanging like a stone should, it sways with increasing force. It stretches the cord straight toward Highmoor Valley.
The clasp snaps and the stone flies away, following the crows across the valley.
“What in the name of . . . .” My voice trails to nothing. The wayward witch stone is forgotten. Even pain, for a moment, becomes a secondary concern.
The lodestone flies straight and true into the heart of a tornadic spiral of fog in the very center of Highmoor Valley. I blink tears and sweat from my eyes, straining to make sense of the shadow within the spiral. Without so much as a whisper, a solid structure emerges from the swirl of fog.
The turrets still ablaze, smoke pouring from the windows, New Castle Highmoor materializes on the valley’s floor. The gates fly open and running forms emerge. They scatter toward the safety of the cold, clear waters of the Whispering River, but one tall figure strides toward us.
If you are just discovering the “A Cold Spring” or if you need to catch up–here is a PDF version of Episodes 1-18.
Use the arrows at the bottom of the image to move through pages and use the + and – to make the image bigger.A Cold Spring 1-18 Revised
And Here’s the link to Episodes 21 and 22!