The White Witch
Irenia lifted her head and inhaled the scent of faerie magic on the air. They were coming, good. She was tired of all the waiting. She was ready to face this test. It would be a relief to finally have done with it, whether for good or ill.
Mixed with this familiar smell was a more powerful fragrance, one that nearly overwhelmed that of the faeries. This was from the one she was waiting for: the one who might just be she of whom the legend spoke – the Wolf Queen. With protection afforded by the wendigo king, the barrow faerie was no threat, just a nuisance; but the girl…
The witch closed her rheumy eyes and focused her formidable mental powers on locating the changeling. If she could touch the child’s mind, perhaps she could turn her away from this path she was set upon. Irenia could sense that this impending collision between the two of them was not of the child’s making, but that made what must be done all that more difficult. Had this girl been expecting what was to come, she would have had her defenses up and the witch could have had the measure of the girl’s powers. Now, however, as the child did not know, any action by Irenia would be met with an unexpected reaction. The old woman could not anticipate the ferocity or strength of such a reaction; and that worried the witch. It worried her much, for she had a feeling about the girl and the depth of the power that dwelt within her.
Irenia concentrated and expanded her search, lightly touching each mind she encountered; just enough to identify and then move on, not wanting to linger; but more important, not wanting to alert it to her presence.
She touched the minds of several small forest creatures, as well as two wraith faeries, but passed over them quickly in her search for the girl. When at last she found her, as she knew that she would, the witch pulled back a little and gently probed the girl’s mind.
What she saw with her covert probing was as she would expect of a young girl: thoughts of family, a boy – Caillen, and…a black wolf?
A voice screamed, GET OUT OF MY HEAD! And then a mental door slammed shut, momentarily trapping one of Irenia’s probes and filling her aged mind with agony.
With a tremendous mental tug, the witch withdrew her probe, wincing at the sting as it pulled free with a painful ripping, and then sat in her dingy hut gasping for breath, wiping at the trickle of blood as it seeped from her crooked nose, and swearing not to underestimate the child again.
“What power she has,” Irenia said and scratched at her scabrous chin. “But you did not gain this power on you own; oh no, my dear. You have been assisted by very strong magic.” She closed one eye and thought hard, her thin brow wrinkled in concentration. Could it be possible that they would give such aid to a mere child? Irenia recalled the intensity of the girl’s rejection to her mind probe and knew that power. She had felt that type of magic once before, many and many a year gone. But once was enough to make a lasting memory of the dark faeries. They preceded the gods; nay, some say they created the gods as a distraction so that they might go on undetected. The dark faeries were the supreme power in the many worlds. At least, Irenia amended, the ones of which I have knowledge.
Irenia pondered what she now knew of the girl changeling. “Too strong to defeat in a fair fight, yes; but, she is still only a child,” the witch said. “We could use her innocence against her, if we are careful.” Then, becoming aware of what she had said, Irenia allowed a croak of a laugh, “There is no we, not anymore; now, it is only me, and that must be sufficient to do what I must. I am old and tired, but not yet dead; heh, heh, not dead by half.”
The old woman rolled the bones to see what the spirits thought and smiled at the results. “Mayhap there is still enough left of this old, white witch to best this young changeling.” With that, Irenia threw her head back and laughed.
Outside, the roosting crows took flight, startled by the sound of madness from within the hut.
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