The witch used an antler to make a sling beneath her cloak and settled the baby inside. She slipped past the guards, beneath the portcullis, and hurried into the forest.
Hours passed before she heard the howls and snarls of the dogs sent to track them. She lay the sling in the snow, removing the girl-child’s swaddling cloths in haste. Her fingers brushed the Mark of Future Ruler on the baby’s belly. The third girl born with the mark. The King and his knights had slaughtered the others for their sex. This one, the witch vowed to save.
The frenzied dogs drew nearer. Rabbits and birds fled past, leaping over the babe in the snow. The witch pulled her magic quickly to her and whispered a spell of shifting.
The baby cooed as she grew from infancy to womanhood in a heart’s beat. The old antler sling made a crown above her head. The witch thought it fitting.
When the dogs arrived they circled, sniffing, round and round, but only a naked woman, a bear, and the fast fading scent of baby remained. The dogs couldn’t read the mark upon the woman’s belly, or see the bear had the old witch’s eyes.
Whining for their lost trail, the dogs scattered into the forest.
“Best stay in this form for now, little one,” said the Witchbear, gathering the woman in her arms.
The future Queen cooed.
The Witchbear reached for the antler. Best keep it. It made a fine crown.