The Witch of the Wilds (Part One)

Submitted into Contest #86 in response to: Write a fairy tale about someone who can communicate with woodland creatures.... view prompt

22 comments

Fantasy

Once, in a time long ago, Lord Liam lost his way while hunting in Graythorn Forest. Many avoided this forest because a witch of the wild inhabited it, and she had long since cursed the place.


Being a Lord and leader of people, he disregarded such superstition. He was the strongest and bravest, and he was determined to procure the magnificent stag that was said to wander these woods. As luck would have it, the stag made itself known within the first hour of the hunt.  


Liam gave good chase before it disappeared again, into the depths of the tangles of undergrowth. After following its trail for hours, the lord finally gave up, knowing this continued chase was futile. For as brave as he was, he was not stupid.


So he turned back to follow the path he had carefully marked, only to find that everything had changed. After many hours, he knew he was lost, so Liam leaned against a tree to ponder his next steps.


Before long, an older woman approached him. Being the smart man he was, he knew this must be a witch of the wilds. This danger put him immediately on his guard.  


“Hello, young man,” she spoke in a hushed tone, pushing back a dark hood and revealing her long silver hair. She was quite handsome for her age, and he found himself taken with her allure.  


“You seem lost. Can I be of assistance?” She continued; her voice was soft and full, like an angel from above. If she indeed was a witch of the wilds, the stories did not speak of her beauty.


“I would like that very much.” His voice quivered when he spoke, and the lord found this very odd because he was typically quite confident. He felt the need to please this woman and was finding it quite challenging to focus.  


Her violet eyes, flecked with silver, locked on his, hypnotizing him further. “My help comes with a price, young man. You must agree to this before I send you home.”  


He wanted to protest and tell her that this forest was part of his realm, and she had no right to set such a price, but he could not find the will to reject her offer.


“I will pay the cost,” he finally whispered.


The witch seemed to grow three feet, and the silver flecks flashed red. “I know you are recently widowed and have many children to raise. They need a mother to comfort them, to hold them close, and keep them safe. I will lead you out of my forest, and you shall marry my daughter, Aoife. She is gracious and kind, and you will also find her relatively easy on the eyes.”


The king consented to the witch’s request with no hesitation. So deep in her thrall, he was. They confirmed the terms in blood. True to her word, the witch led Liam and Aoife to the outskirts of the forest. It was not long after that the two were wed.


Now, the witch of the woods was neither good nor evil. Her motivations were to lay claim to the realm that Liam lorded over. 


Aoife was innocent, sweet, and pure of heart. Graythorn Forest was all she had ever known. The creatures that dwelled within had been her only friends, and she was not accustomed to talking to other people. Transition to castle life was hard for her. The people in the nearby village were mistrustful, knowing that she came from Graythorn forest. And while they were not outright cruel, they were not kind either.  


Liam’s castle was more of a fortress than a home. Its cold stone walls quickly felt like a prison to a girl that had spent her entire life outdoors. His first wife had died over twelve years ago while giving birth to their youngest child, a daughter named Nuala. The other five boys ranged from age twelve to the eldest, Sean, twenty, and age with her.  


The months passed, and Aoife fell into a routine. The boys were kind enough but were clear that she would never be their mother. Sometimes they would tease her for spending more time in the stables or kennels than the apartments. She much preferred speaking to the horses and hunting dogs. All the boys were interested in was learning the sword. They had no time for her knowledge of herbs, and her experience with earth magic made her a pariah.    


Nuala was different. She bonded instantly with the young girl bonded, and Aoife was pleased to find that her stepdaughter had many of the same gifts she possessed. They would spend the days together, and Aoife would teach her young stepdaughter about the herbs and plants of the area, while the boys spent their time learning the sword and the hunt with their father and Captain Darragh.  


One day, as the two of them were wandering the forest, Aoife heard a young doe reach out in her mind. Your mother wishes to speak with you. An image of a clearing that Aoife knew well accompanied the message the doe shared. Her fists clenched in anger, for this was the first time her mother had attempted to contact her since she had left the forest.  


Aoife ignored the message and lead Nuala back towards the castle. 


“Are you just going to ignore her?” Nuala asked, having heard the doe as well.


Blinking, Aoife turned to her step-daughter in surprise, “you heard the message?”


Nuala nodded.


Joy flooded Aoife, and she wrapped her arms around the child. Loneliness subsided just a little as she realized she wasn’t alone. “Do not tell the townspeople. They do not understand.”


The girl looked at her quizzically and finally agreed to keep her secret quiet. “You should talk to her. She is your mother, after all.”


After finally agreeing, Aoife sent Nuala home. She did not want the child to be caught up in anything her mother had planned.  


Her mother was waiting when Aoife arrived at the clearing. “It is time to get with child, time for an heir,” the witch spoke coldly. There was no greeting or comfort. Aoife was only a tool.  


“But Mother,” Aoife whimpered, “Liam is distant. He has more love for the scullery maid than me.”  


“That is easily fixed.” The witch replied, a small vial appearing in her hand. "Slip this into your husband's wine, at the evening meal, and he will not be able to resist you."


Aoife’s shoulders slumped, for she had no love towards the man. “Even if I get with child, Sean is heir, and then Cornelius, Finn, Patrick, and Angus. My child would never be the heir.”


Her mother’s laugh cackled eerily through the forest, and she met Aoife’s eyes, “you get with child, and I will take care of the boys.”


Usually, Aoife was mild-mannered and meek, doing whatever her mother asked, but her anger flared. She stomped her foot and shouted, “You will not harm those boys! You made me come here and marry Lord Liam. You charged me with loving and protecting the children, and that I will do!”


It was quiet for a long while, and Aoife was not sure if her mother had even been listening. A cruel smile played on the witch’s face when she finally answered. “I promise, not a hair on their precious heads will be hurt.”  


In a flash of mist, her mother was gone. Aoife stared at the vial in her hand, knowing ignoring her mother’s wishes would make things end up much harder. Her mother never broke a promise. The boys would be safe.


****


Three seasons later, Aiden was born. He was a spirited baby with a shock of red hair. The other children welcomed their youngest brother happily, and even Liam was joyful. The family enjoyed one complete turning of the moon before tragedy struck.  


The five boys had left on a hunting expedition and failed to return when expected. Trackers were sent out immediately to find them, but it was as if the boys had disappeared from the face of the earth. Months passed, with no sign or word, and finally, Liam was forced to declare them dead. Aiden was now his only living son.  


Aoife was livid. Her mother had promised not to harm them! Early one morning, she gave Aiden to a nursemaid and headed towards the clearing to summon her mother. She reached out to the animals nearby, hoping to send a message, when a familiar voice entered her mind.  


Aoife It was just a whisper, a chaotic voice.


She saw the great stag just beyond the clearing, tall and proud, and knew it was Sean.  


Sean, she reached out, infusing her inner voice with strength. She knew in an instant what had happened. Do you know where your brothers are?


Sorrow was his only reply. Aoife shut her eyes and opened her mind to the surrounding forest. Cornelius, a great eagle. Finn, the clever fox. Patrick, a wee mouse. Finally, Angus, the stubborn boar. It was no wonder they couldn’t find each other, so different the creatures were. 


She had never been as strong as her mother in spells. Her magic had always been deeper. She stretched with everything she had and could not break her mother’s spell. All she could muster was one night on the full moon when the boys could take human form.


She reached out to each of the boys. I will keep trying. Every full moon, come here. 


A flash of white as the stag disappeared into the forest was the only reply she received. She could only hope they understood.


Before long, her mother arrived.  


“How could you do this!” Aoife cried.


“I did it for us, child. And as you can see, the boys are not hurt. They will live full lives, albeit not the one they were born into” She chuckled, quite proud of herself.


Now Aoife knew that her mother’s weakness was her vanity, and in a moment of bravado, she attempted to trick her.


“I thank you, mother, for not hurting them. How did you accomplish this spell? Can it be broken?” 


Knowing she was being deceived, the witch smiled. She was pretty confident that her daughter did not have what it took to break the spell.


“I crafted five enchanted shirts, one for each boy, and laid them out with their hunting gear. The moment they left the protection of the Castle, they transformed into their respective animals. Now, you know, every spell can be broken with the proper amount of sacrifice. For this one to be broken, and a new shirt must be sown, made from the fiber of the nettle. It must be collected by the one crafting the shirts, and not a sound can escape their lips. Silence for five years, one per boy. On the last full moon, before the fifth year is up, they must put on the new shirts. If the shirts are not completed, or a sound leaves the seamstress’s lips, the boys will remain in their animal forms forever.”


The witch smiled viciously at her daughter. “It’s best to let this be, dear one. Liam will soon forget his sons, and they will soon forget their humanity. You and Aiden will live happy lives, and all will be well.”


Defeated, Aoife sighed. To save the boys, who never really liked her, she would have to sacrifice her voice. She had a young son to raise that she loved dearly. How would she sing him lullabies with no voice?  


“I don’t want to see you again, Mother. I want you out of my life,” she murmured.  


Her mother just laughed, “I will not return until I need to.” Then the witch was gone.


Aoife didn’t make the shirts. She didn’t even try because she knew she would fail. The only chance the boys had was Nuala. Shortly after seeing her mother in the clearing, Aoife found the young lady and told her everything.  


That very evening, Nuala disappeared. Lord Liam’s grief was beyond measure. The once-powerful man was a shadow of what he once was. The only reason he held onto life was to ensure his only living child reached his birthright. Aoife never spoke a word to him. Nuala’s only chance of success was to finish the shirts.









March 24, 2021 18:08

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22 comments

Michael Boquet
19:45 Mar 24, 2021

If I hadn't read your author's note, I'd never know you've never written a fairy tale. This is very well done. I was totally immersed in the tale. I'm not 100 percent familiar with the story you drew inspiration from, but this piece certainly reads like a Grimm fairy tale. Nice job. Will be keeping an eye out for part 2!

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Beth Connor
22:06 Mar 25, 2021

I did end up getting a part two out there- a bit rushed, but I felt compelled to finish the story!

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Daniel Hayes
04:53 May 27, 2021

This was really amazing Beth! I thought the story was excellent, and very creative. What a wonderful imagination you have! The characters here are very well thought out, and the dialogue was amazing. The overall story had a great flow! I noticed you have written part 2!! I'm so glad you did, because now I'm headed over there to read it. Great job on this one!!! :)

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Beth Connor
18:35 May 27, 2021

Thank you! It's always nice when the prompts let me continue. I tried to make each story stand alone as well.

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Daniel Hayes
18:45 May 27, 2021

That's very true... It's hard when the prompts don't work and then you have to change everything to make something fit. :)

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Hannah Dominguez
11:24 Mar 28, 2021

I have so many questions! But Nuala's whereabouts is the biggest. This is my first fantasy read in reedsy and I'm so glad I chose this first.

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Beth Connor
16:06 Mar 28, 2021

I’m so glad you enjoyed this! I love reading fairy tales and fantasy too- so it was intimidating. Thank you for reading!!

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Kylie Rudolf
02:01 Mar 28, 2021

You have never written a fairy tale?! I thought you had rewritten a classic or something! You are so talented. I loved this story dearly like many of the classics, Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty, and the Beast. The fact that this story came from scratch delighted me and astounded me. You have a gift. please do a part 2!!!🤍🤍🤍

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Beth Connor
16:04 Mar 28, 2021

Thank you for the kind words! This was inspired/based on a Brothers Grimm story called the 6 swans, that I used to love! I did end up doing a Part 2

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Shannon Ethel
20:54 Mar 27, 2021

Talk about a fairy tale deep dive, this was very well done and engaging. I enjoyed it!

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Beth Connor
16:02 Mar 28, 2021

Thank you Shannon!

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Kenneth Michael
14:23 Mar 27, 2021

An interesting tale. I did enjoy the daughter of the witch being inserted into royal family affairs. I also enjoyed the way the witch changed the boys. I noticed a few odd wordings that didn't read as well but overall your tone was very tale oriented. Also, the captain was introduced abruptly and I'm not certain he is needed. The story did leave me wanting more and I expect defeating the witch will come eventually which is satisfying. Love how Aoife had a conflict with being willing to break the spell and the king's daughter has the op...

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Beth Connor
16:01 Mar 28, 2021

Thank you so much for your critique! I agree about the Captain, in fact I forgot about him lol (talk about unmemorable characters!). The plan was to do more with him, and I quickly realized that would not happen in under 3000 words!

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Kenneth Michael
19:12 Mar 28, 2021

You're very welcome. Totally understand. Sometimes we get an idea and just want to get it into the story.

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H L Mc Quaid
16:41 Mar 25, 2021

This was really, really good. I think you ought to write more fairy tales. You did a wonderful job of setting up the plot and describing the characters. I have some critiques (may look like a long list, but most of them very minor changes, should you opt to make them). When we first meet the the witch, her voice cackled, then it smooth and soft. That was a bit confusing. Here you could re-order the sentence so that we know the eyes that you're describing are the witch's, not Liam's: "Her eyes locked on his, violet, with flecks of silve...

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Beth Connor
22:09 Mar 25, 2021

Thank you so much for all the critiques- I opted to not get any work done today, and write a part two instead- it's probably a bit rushed, but I should have some time tomorrow to do a bit of editing on both! I DID change the six to five- in case I don't get back to this before it closes. The original Grimms tale had 6 swans, so I had six in my head!

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09:41 Mar 25, 2021

Beth, this is beautiful. It reads like a classic fairy-tale. I especially love the fact that each boy is a different animal, to suit his character. My only *minor* note, is that because of the phrasing, I didn't realise Nuala was a girl straight away. "His first wife had died over twelve years ago while giving birth to their youngest child, Nuala. The other five boys ranged from age twelve to the eldest, Sean, twenty, and age with her." --- the "other" five boys implies that Nuala is a boy, too. Perhaps rephrase it to, "the other five we...

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Beth Connor
22:10 Mar 25, 2021

I did end up putting out a part two this week. Fortunately, nettles flower, so I snuck it in. I may still play with the tale a bit more after the contest closes.

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Valerie June
23:15 Mar 24, 2021

Beth, you build such a whimsical world here. Like Michael said, I’d never would have suspected that this was your first shot at writing fairytales if you hadn’t told me in the author’s note. I was hooked from beginning to end. The part about what it took to reverse the spell and how the boys changed form was very creative. Thirdly, I see what you mean about separating this story into parts since I ran into the same issue with my mini “series” I wrote. This is just my opinion and you don’t need to listen to it, but here it is... I think tha...

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Beth Connor
22:10 Mar 25, 2021

Thank you! Part two is out there!

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Valerie June
22:16 Mar 25, 2021

Great! I'll read it as soon as possible. Also, thanks so much for reading the closing of my trilogy I really appreciate it. :)

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Holly Fister
13:26 Mar 27, 2021

Very creative story!

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