Photo credit: Poulepondeuse via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Dairine is an only child and has long been the center of her father Lord Gwillym’s life. Now an interloper has entered the picture in the form of her new stepmother Lady Ethne. A curse has fallen on the child and only the magic of her rather unusual friends and her father’s love can help her.
It was late, and Gwillym was tired. He started towards his chambers. He heard running footsteps behind him. He turned around to see the healer. “My lord, we’re losing her.”
Gwillym ran into his daughter’s room. She was gasping for breath and her whole body shook. “What happened?”
“I don’t know. We’ve been giving her tea and broth every few hours to keep her strength up. We just fed her as we usually do. Within minutes she was like this. We’ve done everything we know how to do,” the healer said.
“I’ll be back.” Gwillym strode out of the room. He ignored everyone and made his way into the forest. He went to the altar. “What else can I do? She’s dying and I can’t stop it.”
There was silence for a moment, and then the forest came alive. The ethereal being appeared, followed by the gnarled man and a woman no bigger than his hand. “Someone has poisoned her with dark magic,” the ethereal being said. “The little magic we have been able to do is useless against it.”
“Then what am I supposed to do?” Gwillym asked. “I swore an oath.”
“You did, and we have a way to help her,” the tiny woman said. “But it’s going to take you being alone with her once more. Use whatever excuse you must. But no one else must see you.”
“What is it?” Gwillym asked.
The gnarled man handed him a few leaves. “Place these leaves in her mouth. They will dissolve quickly and she’ll be able to swallow them. We’ve put as much of our magic as we dare into them. We cannot guarantee they will work, but it’s the best we can do.”
Gwillym took the leaves. “I’ll do as you say. Thank you.”
“Send the little one out to thank us when she’s well,” the tiny woman said. They faded back into the forest.
Gwillym returned to the keep. “My lord, she’s stopped shaking but her breathing has become even more labored,” the healer said.
“Send everyone out of the room,” Gwillym said. “I want some time to say my good bye in private.”
“Of course, my lord.” The healer bustled everyone out. Gwillym walked inside. He saw Ethne at the foot of Dairine’s bed. She had a dressing gown wrapped around her nightdress. “Ethne, I need some time to myself here.”
“I hate to think of you holding her if she were to die,” Ethne said.
“Please,” Gwillym said. “I need to have this time with her.”
“Very well,” Ethne said. “I just pray she lives long enough to hear your farewell.” She walked out, her nightdress fluttering around her ankles.
Gwillym searched the room carefully before sitting down at his daughter’s side. He pried her mouth open and placed the leaves on her tongue. They dissolved quickly and she swallowed them. Gwillym held her in his arms. He kissed her sweat soaked forehead. “I know you can’t hear me, Dairine. But I want you to know I’m sorry. This isn’t natural. Your friends have said as much. This didn’t start happening until she came. You were right. I should never have brought her here.”
Gwillym laid her back down. She gave a shuddering sigh and went still. He bowed his head. The healer opened the door. “My lord?” Gwillym stood and stepped to the side so the man could see. The healer approached the bed and started checking her over. “My lord, her breathing has eased. I don’t know if this was a passing thing or if it will happen again. But for now she seems to be safe.”