The forest clearing was silent except for the distant murmuring of a brook. The night was bright for it was a full moon. Snow still lay in white heaps around the clearing but most of it had melted under the early spring sunshine over the past few days.
A rabbit paused in the clearing and twitched its nose. It seemed to be testing the air, but as there was no scent of danger it crouched and began nibbling the fresh grass shoots. Soon it was joined by another rabbit. An owl hooted in the distance as one of the rabbits sat up and twitched its nose again, its furry ears twisting to catch the distant sound. A twig cracked beyond the clearing and both rabbits quickly scurried away from their burrow.
A few moments later a human figure appeared in the clearing. The figure was wrapped in a dark cloak with a deep hood covering the head. A flash of purple velvet flecked with gold sparkled in the moonlight for a moment before the figure moved into the shadows. A careful observer might have caught a glimpse of a feminine face for a moment as she looked up at the moon before quickly lowering her head and letting the hood fall back over her face.
The woman held a bundle in her arms wrapped in an old shawl. She knelt to the ground and placed the bundle gently on the grass. A dainty gloved hand reached inside the cloak and withdrew a leather purse. With great deliberation she undid the string and placed the purse on the ground beside the bundle. She quickly looked around the clearing to check that she was still alone before pushing the hood back from her head. A long plait of silver hair fell from the hood and almost reached to her waist as she kneeled in the grass. She removed a glove and took a handful of herbs from the purse which she then spread in a circle around the bundle.
She raised her hands to the moon and began praying to the goddess. A beam of moonlight fell into the circle. The baby opened her eyes and began crying.
‘Hush, little one,’ the woman cooed softly. The baby quieted and looked steadily into the woman’s face. ‘When the time is right, my little dove, the goddess will return you to us. Until then I must protect you from the king. He must never find you or we are all doomed.’
The woman lifted her face to the moon and began praying to the goddess again. The herbs began to smoke before briefly catching fire, then turning to ash.
‘Blessed be the goddess. May she watch over and protect you.’
She stood with the baby in her arms and looked over her shoulder as she was joined by an older woman wearing a worn dress. The shawl around her shoulders suggested she was a peasant from the village.
‘We must hurry,’ the older woman said. ‘I must return before I am missed. Bryn will soon be home and wanting his supper.’
She gently took the bundle in her arms.
‘Hello, precious one.’
‘Her name is Ailis.’
The silver haired woman bent and kissed the child’s forehead.
‘Take good care of her. You will be contacted when it is time.’
She pulled the hood back over her head and wrapped the purple cloak tightly around her body before melting back into the darkness.
The blacksmith’s wife kicked dirt over the circle of ashes before returning to the path that led back to the village.
The full moon shone one last time, sparkling off the crescent pendant hanging around the baby’s neck, before it disappeared behind dark clouds.