The night was eerily silent. The smithy had roused enough people out of bed to put the fire out before it took the whole village, but not in time to save the cottage, or the life inside. Discarded buckets littered the ash-ridden ground as the villagers stood by gravely watching as the smithy picked up a small tin soldier, one of the only things left unscathed by the fire. Embers sparked and fluttered in a sudden mournful breeze that caused the trees to groan and murmur.
The smithy had stood staring at the ashes for a long time.
“There will be a boy.” The Seer gave a shudder in the cold dark and turned tragic blue eyes to the woman sat before her. The fire reflected in the woman’s eyes, and the Seer stared for a moment, entranced. Another shiver ran down her spine. “A witch. You will find what you seek with him.” The dark woman gave a thin-lipped smile but did not reply. “A beast will come to his aid,” the young Seer continued. “A wolf.” She dipped her head to one side, like a carrion crow. Her eyes became hooded and haunted, shadows from the fire flickering in her eyes. “To go against them will be your death.”
The Seer’s dainty, black-booted feet whispered on the flagstone path that led to her small cottage on the outskirts of the village. The wind, which seemed to blow from her very pores, kicked up leaves and dust much like a child in the throes of a temper, and the sun had hidden from her fury behind a thick blanket of clouds. The old wooden door screeched open under her assault, and slammed shut behind her with a satisfying crash. The gale followed her inside, picking up sheaves of paper and dried herbs for a second or two before dying down. Her boots made small click-click-click sounds on the stone floor as she stalked to the oak table in the kitchen and threw her wicker basket onto its surface. A delicate white hand darted like a hummingbird, snatching at the first thing in reach – a tin jug – and hurled it against the wall above the fireplace, where it gave a dull thunk and fell to the faded red rug on the ground. The next item she threw, a small glass sugar bowl, complete with sugar, smashed gratifyingly against the open fireplace. The sound seemed to mollify the girl somewhat, and she sank slowly into the rocking chair next to the fireplace, lifting shaking hands to her pale face. She knew her anger was futile, but sometimes an emotion cannot be contained. The only other time she had lost control in such a manner was when the village doctor, her father, had passed. She rocked gently and finally let herself cry.
The Seer cleaned the mess she had made of the fireplace, and once started could not seem to stop, until the whole cottage was gleaming. The cottage, however, was not so big, so cleaning took very little time, and her mind needed distraction. She unearthed the old chest filled with her father’s things, odds and ends he had picked up throughout his life, and began to go through its contents, much as she had done many times in these past few years. His pocket watch, with which he had taught her to tell the time. The various implements of his practice. Unguents and potions, balms and oils. An old, battered copy of the Mabinogion, the book of Welsh legends he had read to her when she was a little girl. She remembered his voice, gruff, soft, but only distantly, as if the sound of his speaking was coming to her from a room downstairs, muffled and indistinct. Tears glittered at her eyes, and her throat felt hot and tight. A knock at the front door startled her, even though she knew it was coming. She put the remaining items back into the chest and closed it. The lid caught on the leg of a tin soldier, and she hastily stuffed it back in the box and heaved the whole thing back under the bed.
She did not waste time wondering who was at the front door, when everyone knew to use the side door. She all ready knew who was there. The trees and stones themselves were whispering to her.
“Come in,” she told the woman hoarsely. The woman looked taken aback for a moment, but quickly regained her composure. The Seer cleared her throat and led her back to the kitchen, where she stoked the fire and the kettle on its hook to boil. “Tea?” she asked.
“No.” The woman had long dark hair, much like her own, and piercing black eyes.
“You know why I’m here.” Her voice was much like the rest of her, cool, poised, dispassionate. It wasn’t a question.
“They say things about you.” She sat at the oak table, so that her right side was in shadow, the light of the fire dancing in her black eyes like devils on coals.
The woman gave a small smile. “People. They say you are a witch.”
The Seer shrugged her shoulders. “They say a lot of things.”
“They say that you poisoned some old hag’s sheep with a look.” The Seer chuckled. “They say that you cause cows to produce sour milk.”
“You’ve definitely been talking to the younger ones. None of the elders would say such things.”
The woman leant closer across the table, and her voice became quiet. A sudden gust of wind rattled the windows, and the Seer shivered in spite of the fire. “They say you can see into the future.”
The Seer said nothing.
“Tell me.” The paused, and it was obvious to the Seer that it offended her in some way to add, “please.”
The Seer sighed, got up to pour herself some tea and then rejoined the woman at the table. She took a delicate sip of the hot liquid, and the look of impatience from the woman gave the girl a petty spurt of savage pleasure. For a moment the woman’s eyes seemed to burn with a flame of their own, some trick of the light which quickly quelled the Seers amusement.
“Yes, I can see into the future. And yes, I know what you want.” She sighed again. “There will be a boy…”
The Seer sat alone in the rocking chair. The woman had left hours ago. The night air was still around her. She clutched the book of the Mabinogion to her chest, weeping openly. A word whispered from her lips, repeating every so often. Soon. She had always had the gift, just like those before her had their own gifts. Her father, the healer. She felt him close. The flames began to lick at the doors, and the windows, blocking any hope of escape. Sobs racked her chest, even as smoke smothered it. It was hard, being hated so. The older people remembered her father fondly, and left her to her own devices. But the youngsters, they had no such memories, and no qualms about making her life a misery.
A sudden wild, instinctual panic overtook her and she ran for the side door, only to be beaten back by the fury of the fire. Her breath came faster and faster, until she began to choke. Her last thought before passing out was that no one could expect to tussle with fate and win.