Coughing she fell to the earth, to the deep snow through which she doggedly trudged, holding her worthless bandage soaked with blood to her ribs. Delirious with fatigue and pain she looked around and above, still lost as to her whereabouts. The sky was gray, the snow still fell, covering the tracks she had made. Slowly she toppled from her knees to her back, the snow falling on her face provided no succor to the raging fever that inflamed her, and her cloak would provide her no relief from the cold- she could go no farther, she knew she would die.
A week or more she had been aimlessly in the wild. Her father’s trading caravan had been attacked by brigands and she, knocked senseless in the fray, awoke to find herself in the bed of trade sled tipped on its side, her father’s dray horse fallen over and frozen to death. Gripped with fear and confusion, she jumped to her feet and gasped, pain ripping through her left side.
A careful inspection showed her bodice to be torn and stained with frozen blood, beneath it the gash under her broken rib still bled,-a rock also stained with her blood on the ground the cause of her injury. And around her, ten men in winter bear coats were frozen in place beside their fallen mounts as they sought shelter. The brigands, the ones that had stolen her away and possibly killed her father had found their death. Grieving cost her heat and time, neither of which she had to spare, and since she did not know his fate, she would stow it away for later.
Rummaging around she found clothes for extra warmth, something to bind her wound, make fire, and took whatever provisions she could carry. It wasn’t much, but she hoped it wouldn’t be necessary for long. The storm had hidden the tracks so she headed in the opposite direction of their travel.
But now she lay dying, her wound septic and no more found than when she awoke.
Except that she awoke again, a fire blazing in the hearth, and a women of stark-white hair dressed in an unadorned green robe, murmuring over her body while moving her hands the length of her naked form. She could not gasp, she could not move, she was rooted to table beneath, only her eyes could roll in her head to scan the room.
Dried herbs, lizards, and bats hung from the rafters; and crocks were neatly stored on the shelves, but her view was limited and that was all she could see- trademarks of the witch.
“Ah, I see you are a back from the veil, Nyliesia,” the woman’s voice greeted her warm and reassuring, rich in its gentleness.
With that her fear faded and she found it was only that which kept her speechless. “How do you know me? Where am I? Are you a witch?”
The woman stopped her ministrations and placed a soothing hand alongside Nyliesia’s cheek. “I know many things, my sweet child, you among them. You are in my humble home deep in the forest. And yes, I am a witch, a good one I hope, but a witch nonetheless. I have immobilized you so that you may heal, don’t be alarmed.”
“How did you find me?”
Her ruby lips spread in a loving smile as she stroked the girl’s flaming red hair. “It was not hard, I brought you here. You fell only a short distance from my threshold. I guided you as best I could, but the injury slowed you. Unfortunate that, I had not intended it to happen.”
Nyliesia’s heart thumped faster at her words. She did not wish to be some slave to a witch, never to be seen again. Fearfully she asked, “What do you mean?”
“I caused the bitter storm that killed those barbarians to save you, although I could not account for that rock.”
“Why, why did you save me? I am no one, just a merchant’s daughter.”
“Ah, but you are everything to me and it was time for you to come home, to take up your purpose. You are my daughter.”
Nyliesia’s mind reeled as she gave protest. “No, I cannot be! I lived my life Aytheria with father and mother!”
“Your father yes, rest his soul, and now you are with me. You are a witch such as I am, from a long line, and I shall show you proof.” She pointed to a mark above Nyliesia’s heart, resembling the face of an owl. “This here is our sign, our trademark of blood and power.”
“It is just a birthmark!”
The white witch arched an eyebrow, “Is it?” she lowered her robe off the left shoulder and exposed her matching mark. “Welcome home daughter, now let’s get you fixed up so we can plot our revenge.”