Once upon a time, in a long forgotten land, there lived a young woman whose name struck fear into even the bravest of hearts. She lived in a tiny cottage at the edge of a deep forest, near an old dried up creek. Her name was Arwyn.
Please indulge me as I turn back the clock to the night Arwyn was born – it was the night of the full moon, late in October. You see, that was the night a druid girl, heavy with child, was travelling through the forest in the hopes of finding a safe place to have her baby. A little over three moons before that fateful night, her entire family, including her husband, had been slaughtered by renegades in search of riches – all they found were two horses, a cow, three chickens, a quarter bag of grain and dried vegetables left over from the last harvest.
At the first sign of trouble, her husband shoved her into a crawl space under the kitchen floorboards to keep her – and his unborn child – safe from harm. Yllanys did her best to stifle her sobs as she listened to the massacre taking place in and around the house she would never call home again. Hours later, as an all too quiet darkness descended, she lifted the loose boards and crawled out of her hiding place. What met her was a sight that would only be banished from her mind for a few brief hours before her death.
That first night, under the cover of darkness, she set out toward the east with nothing more than a canteen of water and a threadbare blanket. She pushed herself harder than she had ever imagined she could, for dawn would soon be upon her and she knew that she had a distance to travel before she reached the next safe haven. Night was her friend, for all druids knew how to use the shadows to their advantage. Dawn painted the sky red by the time she reached the caves of Cairn at the foot of the Jade Mountains.
Exhaustion overtook her the moment she lay her weary bones down on the unyielding cave floor, but peaceful sleep would not be on the cards for her that day - or any other day after. She was ripped from her slumber by images of blood-soaked bodies - bodies wearing the faces of people she’d known all her life, people she’d loved. The stench of burning flesh still lingered in her nostrils, making her retch until her throat hurt, bringing back flashes of what she had done before she left the farmstead, of what she had had to do. Loath as she’d been to linger, it hadn’t felt right to leave them like that.
Her mother had been a waif of a woman, so she had been the easiest to move. Yllanys found her first, slumped in a kitchen chair, a gaping wound to her head, still clutching her triskele pendant to her chest in a bloody hand.
Half of her brother, Vichorn, lay across the front step, where he had no doubt been guarding the entrance that would lead to his mother and sisters. The rest of him had rolled a distance from where he had been felled, as if trying to flee its fate.
Her dear husband, Aeric, was kneeling in the grass just beyond the well. She rushed toward him, thinking that he was still alive, but his body toppled into a heap as she touched him. The sight of him with his innards spilt into his hands would haunt her to the moment she breathed her last.
Where was Ygrette? It suddenly dawned on her that she’d not seen her sister anywhere. She prayed to every spirit – earth, sky and sea – who would listen, for her sister’s safety. Being taken prisoner by the likes of those who had violated their sanctum, would indeed be a fate worse than death. When she did eventually find her, she wished that she had not. Yllanys found her sister sprawled across one of the stone altars in the temple, naked. Dried blood coated her legs, her young body not only lewdly violated, but also left on display in the wickedest way imaginable. She tried not to look into her sister’s vacant eyes staring up at her as she covered her body with an altar cloth, but those eyes would haunt her for as long as she drew breath.
After she had managed to gather her family in the one place they had all held sacred, she set the temple alight with their bodies still inside. She prayed for their souls, as well as the souls of those who had harmed them, then set off on the journey to bring her child to safety. There would be time for tears once she was far away from the farmstead and those who threatened the life of her unborn child.
She journeyed at night and rested during the day, for the roads were no place for a woman traveling on her own - three moons and eight days she wandered alone, living only off the land and her wits. Over the years, she had been around many an expecting mother and even watched her mother help a young neighbor birth once, yet no amount of watching or studying had prepared her for what was to come. She had felt the changes in her body from the moment she had conceived, for she had been born with a deeper intuition than most and every day she marveled at her body’s natural instinct to prepare for the life it was about to bring into the world. There were more than only physical changes, something else had shifted inside her, sharpening her senses and wreaking havoc with her emotions. It was this keen sense that came into play the day she sensed that she was no longer alone.
“Hello?” She asked tentatively. “Is anyone there?”
Her eyes scanned the darkness beyond the trees that stood directly before her, but nothing moved. There was no sound aside from the dry rustling of dying leaves, yet she knew that someone else was out there. Something else. Instinctively her hands moved to cup her growing belly, feeling the soft flutter of tiny limbs moving beneath her hands.
“You can’t have her.” She spoke softly into the darkness, yet she knew that her words and its meaning were not lost. “Do you hear me? She is not yours to have. Leave us alone, we mean you no harm.”
Within seconds, the soft breeze grew into a howling wind that whipped branches off trees and blew them in a spiraling mass toward the young mother to be. Yllanys fell to the ground, arms wrapped around her head as debris rained at her from all directions. Once the timber storm had subsided, she rose to her feet and ran. The forest was new to her, yet her feet kept moving, as if guided by something unseen, something she trusted.
Despite the pain in her back and belly that had begun the moment she had sensed that she was no longer alone, she had kept moving for her unborn child’s safety. In her heart she knew that her birth date was not for weeks, yet by the time she reached shelter, unbearable pain drove her to her knees. That very night, in a small alcove littered with dark berries shed from the cherry laurels encircling it, she would hear the sound of her mother’s voice once more.
“Hush child.” Her mother’s voice whispered into her ear. “I know that we never planned for it to happen this way, but you have to be strong now. Stronger than you have ever been before, my child. I know that you’re afraid, but you need to be still. Can you do that?” Yllanys nodded, gritting her teeth as she fought through the contractions with stifled sobs. “Listen to the sound of my voice and breathe, child.”
Her mother’s soft chanting calmed her, despite the excruciating pain and the fear of everything she did not yet fully understand. She listened and she breathed, feeling her child fight her way into the world. A world filled with beauty and wonder. A world ruled by fear of the unknown. A world that would never understand or accept her kind.
Thus it came to be, that at the deepest hour of the darkest night, Yllanys Silverkin gave birth to a baby girl. She felt weak, but somehow found the strength to swaddle the infant and rock her gently.
“She is beautiful, just like her mother.” Her mother’s voice had grown fainter, as if she were moving further away. “Yllanys, do you know how I am here with you?”
“Some things I do not question, mamma. I do not question them lest they not be real and my plight has driven me to madness.”
“Ponder this, my child. The veil between our worlds has dropped and it’s what lets me be here with you.”
“It’s Samhain? I… I… how could I have lost so many days?”
“This night allows more than just vexed mothers to cross over, child. There is darkness in this place, the likes you have never before come upon.”
Yllanys felt a chill as she remembered her earlier encounter.
“Do not fret, child,” her mother continued, as if noticing her distress. “This place is guarded by ancient druid magic, it is why I guided you here. No evil can enter. Do not fear for her welfare, she will be safe here until the veil has been drawn.”
“She…” Yllanys clutched the baby to her chest, a sob caught in her throat as the true meaning of her mother’s words dawned upon her. “Mamma, tell me it isn’t so… tell me…” Her tears flowed freely, quiet sobs wracking her slender body.
“No, child, you did not live through the birthing. There was too much blood and it was not the child’s time – your body was not ready for what it had to endure.”
Yllanys hugged her child tighter and cried. “It’s not true, I can feel her, I can smell her, mamma. I can smell her. How can I not be alive?”
“We have linked our powers to sustain your life force long enough to bring her into the world, but our powers grow weak. Aeric was right here beside you, we all were, child. He says to name her Arwyn.”
“Arwyn. Aye, it’s a fitting name.” She touched her lips lightly to her daughter’s brow, blinking back tears as she laid herself down onto the hallowed ground of a cherry laurel alcove. She hugged her child close and sang to her quietly. “Hush ye now wee child, On mother’s breast rest yer sweet head, Yer slumber be guarded from harm, As angels draw near to yer bed. Hush ye now wee child, In moonlight and cherries bedight, Before the sky is red with dawn, Yer mother has to say goodnight.”
“It is time to say goodbye, Yllanys.”
By the time night lifted, a woodsman would find the body of a young mother still cradling her struggling baby to her chest. The baby was wrapped in a bloodied, threadbare blanket, a silver triskele pendant tied to one corner.