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.
There is a ramshackle garage, not far from here, tucked into a fortress of overgrown weeds. Its roof is slanted, the paint crumbling. The garage door is painted with an artist’s imaginary car. It waits like an old friend, cheering passerby. Lines bisect it, the slats of its canvas, but the effect is unchanged. It could rumble to life at a moment’s notice with the tiniest dusting of magic.
The story hunter hadn’t been to this area of the wood for months. The stories had flourished in the absence of their predator. If he stopped moving, and held his breath, he could hear the plot lines rumbling in the soil. Now and then a piece of dialogue slipped through, filling the forest with possibilities.
He heard dragons, and fairies, and the slumbering sounds of bedtime stories. It had been far too long since he’d heard such stories. He put his trap away and left the way he came. Best to leave this place for now, and give the stories a chance to mature.
He began his life as a gargoyle in the big city. He spent his days staring into the window of a studio apartment across the street. Nothing much happened, until the day a clumsy wizard moved in. A few days later, an errant blast from her wand struck the gargoyle, and he found himself a free statue.
The gargoyle ran away without delay, escaping the city and heading for the coast. Once there, he found himself a decent perch upon a cliff. His days are now spent glaring out at the open ocean, thinking grumpy thoughts about fish, and frightening the occasional beachcomber.
On full moons he likes to stretch out his wings and soar around for a while, but he always returns to his seaside perch. “Home sweet home,” he tells the waves, still marveling at his luck.
He whispered to himself as he placed rocks into the puddles. Ancient rhymes and old spells spilled together without reason. He smiled to see pieces of the sky become trapped in the water’s reflection. A few more rhymes and he’d be able to smuggle them home in his pockets.
Not that he knew what to do with them. He’d probably just tuck them into jars and leave them on a shelf to frighten youngsters. It seemed a disappointing conclusion for his work and a sad fate for a bit of sky.
He added a new rhyme. The bits of sky grew restless, reaching up with wings which lifted them from the sand and flew them back up where they belonged. Much better to have invisible birds flying around than a chunk of depressed stratosphere trapped in a jar, he reasoned.
All at once the woods fell silent. There were no planes, no sounds of traffic, just silence and the forest. Time appeared suspended. As she wandered through the forest, how tiny felt the thread that held her to her time. It seemed as possible a knight in a suit of armor might come crashing through the bush as a plane might fly overhead. She lingered there, playing with the threads of time, more than willing to believe she had a choice.
At her foot lay a four leaf clover, colored purple so she couldn’t miss it. It looked ragged and strange, but she didn’t mind. She considered luck to be a rather tricky thing, so she hid the four leaf clover away in a book about folklore.
Inside, the clover pressed between the pages of a story about trolls and used up its luck burrowing into the story. She still has the book, so if you’d like to crawl inside a story and meet a troll or two, just ask. She’ll show you the page, pack you a lunch, and send you along the clover’s trail.
At long last the prophecy was coming true. All along the limbs of the wooden beasts they unfurled; the Eaters of Sunlight, Givers of Shade, and Echoes of Tranquility. Soon the forests would shiver with great green clouds of them holding back the sky and the long awaited summer would once again rule the land.
The noise of the crowd fell away as she stepped forward to accept her scepter. She forgot to breathe a moment when she first saw it. It would be the symbol of her reign and it was far more beautiful than she had hoped. She gripped it with her left hand and held it high. “Let the leafing out begin!” she called to the trees, and the forest filled with cheering.
The forest was filled with scrolls of age-old magic, but no one remembered how to read them. They languished in their secrecy, decaying unread into the soil. There the rootlets ate their forgotten words and grew great trees filled with ancient magic they fed us in the air.