Flash Fiction Friday – Devil’s Bargain
I wasn’t really planning to do the flash fiction challenge this week. I have been seriously lacking in motivation. I thought about it a bit though. It has been cold here. This morning, this story was there.
The prompt: In a Blizzard
She stumbled through snow that was knee deep and rapidly getting deeper. When the next labor pain hit, she grabbed a tree and struggled to stay upright. She knew if she fell again, she wouldn’t be able to get back up. Her baby’s fear of the process that now gripped them both washed through her. She tried to offer telepathic reassurance but at this stage, the contact was nebulous at best and mostly one way.
As the pain passed, she caressed the bark of the sleeping aspen tree, coaxing it to share some of its hoarded energy. It wouldn’t be enough. The land was too quiet. Stubbornly, she reset the warmth spell on her skirts and cloak anyway. Her personal energy was getting dangerously low and she needed it for her daughter’s birth as well as for warmth.
Wolf song warned of the danger in the woods. Perhaps one or two of the pack had been caught away from the den. It would be unusual for them to be hunting in this weather. Danger was behind her too. The cold and the wolves offered a cleaner death than the two-legged predators who had chased her out of her home into this weather.
She and her husband, William, had been warned just before the witch-hunters descended on them. They had no deal with any god or devil but the religious-minded wouldn’t believe them. The cold gray afternoon had not been a promising time to flee. The blizzard already threatened the town. Anyone knew that going outside of the walls was foolishness but the choice had been to run or face torture. They had trusted in their knowledge of the land and their own powers. Their connection was to the earth and the elements.
Once outside of town, their coach and four was more reliable than the hunter’s horseless carriage. They might have escaped to somewhere safe if their daughter hadn’t decided to join in the excitement. Every time a labor pain hit, it shattered Elizabeth’s concentration. Each time, it took her longer to recover and find the energy needed to hold off the snow. There was a price for her meddling that had let them stay ahead of the witch-hunters. When mother nature reasserted herself, she was angry.
White out conditions and poor footing for the horses had caused the carriage crash. William had died. The surviving horses were in bad shape. She had cut them free of the harnesses and released them from the tack, covering them with the blankets kept in the coach. They had limped down the road towards home. Elizabeth was hopeful that they might be found and tended.
She had stretched out to the farthest end of her telepathic range. The hunters were there, back towards town and closing in. They were on horses now, having abandoned the lifeless hunk of metal as useless in these conditions. There were other minds deep within the sleepy woods that she thought might be a small settlement. They were closer than the hunters if she went in a direct line instead of worrying about the road. It was the only hope.
A full moon rose above her as she struggled from tree to tree. The snow and her own body were against her. The witch-hunters hadn’t found her yet but she hadn’t found the settlement either or any roads larger than a game trail. When the next pain hit, she felt the baby’s water break and cried out. She closed her eyes and panted through the contraction. She was still in the stand of aspen. They didn’t offer much shelter from the wind or snow.
When Elizabeth opened her eyes, amber eyes stared back. They were very close, apparently fearless. She wasn’t carrion yet; she refused to be prey. She reached out telepathically, intending to turn them away. Instead of hunger or aggression, she met only curiosity.
*Is the baby well?* a voice asked. The words were formed clearly on an open telepathic channel.
These were not natural wolves. These were humans who had made a bargain, giving them long life and the ability to shape wolf form. She hadn’t made a deal with the devil as the witch-hunters had accused but they had. She knew now that the minds she had thought belonged to human villagers in the distance were these wolf-men. There was no safety in the dark cold.
*This is not a safe place to whelp,* a female observed. Her mind was closer to the wolf than the first. A nose poked at Elizabeth’s belly as it tightened with another labor pain. They were coming too close together now for her to get the warmth spell back up between them.
A wolf yipped from not too far ahead. *Here!* said another voice from not too far away.
*There is a well under the evergreen. It is not a den but it is shelter.*
Somehow, Elizabeth made it. Her connection to the mother strengthened as she crawled into the clear ground under the low branches of the evergreen. The snow had drifted around the tree, creating a shelter from the wind. The wolves pressed into the shelter too, radiating a bit of warmth. The evergreen had more energy to offer than the aspens. Her daughter was born into the cold, surrounded by the pack but she was alive. One of the wolves licked the human babe clean as she nursed for the first time. Elizabeth’s strength was very near its end. She didn’t think either she or the babe would make it. The wolves couldn’t be human until the moon set.
*The master will help, if you call him,* one of the wolves assured her. He pressed the symbols into her mind. Elizabeth wondered if that was how his own bargain had started. Was it life or death? Was there ever a good reason to make bargains with dark forces?
Her newborn daughter looked up at her with big trusting eyes.
994 words. You can find other stories with this prompt here.Tags: Flash Fiction Friday, in a blizzard, writing prompt