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The piper of Shacklow
The fiddler of Fin
The old woman of Demon’s Dale
Calls them all in.
They said I was born of the Balefire, when the priestesses left the enclosure to open the womb of the land as the dark time fled. I did not know, not then.
She was of the Old People, small and dark, a plump figure hunched singing over the quern. He tended the goats and fowl and life was simple. I learned the ways of hut and hearth, playing in the dirt with the dogs, my feet always stained with the green of the grass.
I do not remember that they ever spoke my name. They called me little one or bright one because of my hair and smiled, and sometimes shared glances I could not read.
Grandmother shared our hut. She never moved from her place by the fire, her hands counting stories as she muttered in the smoke-scented shadows. At night I would sit at her feet and the wizened face would come to life, telling the tales of gods and heroes, her wrinkles drawing the map of her days as they passed through her dreams.
She would sit thus, pulling the rough comb through my hair, holding me between her knees as she worked, bringing the otherworld to life and showing me the pictures in the flames until I slept.
One night she too fell asleep. I felt the life leave her as a sigh and stayed there as her flesh cooled, the spark withdrawn, until he gathered me up, dried my tears and wrapped the furs around me.
I dreamed her that night. That was the beginning.
And then they came…