Kilchoan, Mainland Scotland 1672
Swathes of wet hair clung and tangled around her face in a heavy curtain, enough to obscure her view as another spasm seized her. Pain far worse than she’d ever imagined wrenched through her, and clutched deep into her belly to tear at her insides. Pride refused to allow her to cry out. As she surfaced, she snatched another lungful of air. The frigid waters chilled her to the bone, sending a fresh rash of shudders through her between each painful contraction.
The villagers crowded closer, faces twisted with fear and rage. People she’d known all her life, people she loved. Women she’d tended in childbirth, and men whose wounds she’d healed. The sentiment turned vicious as the sun dipped below the horizon and the moon rose in the darkened sky. After a full day of her tied to the ducking stool, their disgust in her was palpable at not obtaining the confession they sought. How could she confess to something that wasn’t true?
She’d never consorted with the devil.
Hysteria driven, they leaned in closer to scream their blood lust. “Kill the witch, kill the witch.”
The terror of the moment was overcome with something far more important. Another stab of pain seized her body, forcing her to contort once again, but she pried open her eyes and met his frigid, slate-gray gaze across the wide expanse of water.
Tall and regal in his gentleman’s finery, there was no trace of the passionate lover she knew so well.
His handsome features were carved into a cold mask.
He could say something. In silent entreaty, she begged him to intervene.
He could save her.
He chose not to.
Instead, he took hold of his pregnant wife’s hand and turned away to stare up at the night sky. Her heart died long before her body. Tears flowed unheeded down her cheeks to streak through the slime of mud coating her skin as she sucked deep breaths into her lungs, ready for the next duck of the stool into the stinking, fetid depths of the river. She knew it was all in vain. Death was upon her.
Moya drew on her last ounce of strength and concentrated. Every muscle in her body contracted as she bore down to push, while her power waned. The ducking stool plunged once again, to submerge her into the icy depths and steal her breath away. The burn in her chest spread while she held the air in her lungs for as long as she could, but it was pointless. She closed her eyes and forced her muscles to relax. Her body floated a little above the stool. The ropes stretched in the cold and the wet. Moya raised her hips high, and her attention never wavered as she remained centered on this last, essential feat.
Little effort was required to weave the curse, for any witch knew a curse did not need to be spoken aloud. Instead, she focused the last of her energy to accomplish her final deed. Eyes wide again, she stared up through the dark murkiness of the water, into the night sky, where blood smothered the full moon and spread its tendrils out to blur beneath the overpowering cast of light. She recognized her death written in the blood.
Death and rebirth.
She took cold comfort in the knowledge her curse had worked. Agony clenched her body. She drew her lips back from her teeth and expelled the final, desperate clutch of air she held in her lungs. In a wild, frenzied scream, distorted by the bubbles, the sound carried to the surface. Ice froze the blood in her veins to numb her mind and dull the pain as she expelled the bairn from her womb in a cloud of thick mucus and crimson blood. It bloomed through the dark waters while her child spewed into the evil world. The heat of her own blood stroked a tender warmth over her frozen hands in farewell as Moya floated, lifeless, to the surface.
The full moon, obscured by a blood-soaked cloud, transformed the land into a desolation of deep shadows and dark craters while the scarlet waters around Moya turned inky black as it bubbled and steamed in the chill of the Scottish night. With proof of the witch’s existence, their screams pierced the dark as the villagers fled to hide behind closed doors and deny the wrongdoing they’d taken part in that night.
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