"Do you know who I am child?" Her voice was so bright and sweet it made me long to be her friend or to be hers. I would be happy to sit at her feet with her hand stroking the top of my head. Part of me would; the other part knew I should take care. She could kill me with a flick of her finger. The thought of being killed did not scare though. I was angry and daring and sick.
"No, Mum," my voice was tight and rasping. "But, I have an idea. Won't you tell me?"
"I mean no harm, my beautiful girl. please continue."
I let go of my stomach and used the nearby tree to pull myself up and stand. I was wavering and unstable but it was better than groveling on the ground like a wounded pig. "You are one of the Slig Maith for sure, the Good People, and I would not be surprised if you were their very Queen." I said, boldly looking into her sparkling green eyes. Long, wild red hair framed her pure white, flawless face. She reminded me of my mum for some reason and suddenly my fierceness dwindled. I teared up and took my eyes from hers.
"So intelligent, so observant, she clapped her delicate hands together and small bells tinkled in the air. She was trying to bewitch me! It felt like little tendrils of vapor were streaming out of her. How I could know this I did not understand. I had never felt anything like it before.
"Woman," I said rudely. "What is it you want with me? I am not in condition to be your personal slave and if you want to deal me a blow, yer's will be the least of the blows I have received. But it would be the killing blow, I've no doubt. So just be done with it. I prefer not to live."
"Oh my poor wee thing. I know what your blows have been. I'm not come to finish you off but to offer you revenge, to give you power, to make you a goddess in this world."
"Call off your bewitchment please, it will do you no good." My voice trailed off as the sickness of deep despair tried to overwhelm me. I was so tired.
She stood very straight as if she had been slapped. There was a rush of air through the trees. I watched her through lowered lids as her hands closed to fists. Her riding outfit of rainbow hues went cloudy gray and her green cape got very dark, almost black. I could feel the danger behind her eyes, but I couldn't feel fear, I was too far gone. I looked at the grasses and weeds growing around the stream and realized I was no more than one of them. I waited for her hand to pluck me up and throw me aside like a weed in a garden.
"You are very powerful indeed, but sadly you don't know it." She paced along the stream edge, a few steps up and a few steps down. "The courts of the Slig Maith want your help. You will be taught about your own power, if you agree, come with me."
I was so very tired. I knew I was in trouble. It must be a trick; the Good People just took what they wanted.
"I have no power," my voice came out in a growl. What was she playing? I felt sick and dizzy, near to tears. What could she possibly want with me, a child, lost and alone?
"But you do have power; I can't get near you unless you allow it. My own bewitchment magic is obvious to you. It doesn't penetrate. You have protection and we have skills to teach you."
"Why?" I stared at her blankly. Her words barely penetrating my understanding. She confused me with her talk of power. I was uniquely powerless, my family was gone.
In mid-1400s Scotland, the magical beings known as Slig Maith have had enough. Due to human waste and destruction, a war now brews, just as young Bernadette’s life is shattered. She tries to save her mother from a witch’s death but fails. Now full of pain and fear, Bernie makes a bargain with the Queen of the Slig Maith.
In exchange for magical abilities, Bernie will help the Queen win her war, but Bernie does not understand the full ramifications of her actions. She can only think of avenging her mother’s death. Once the decision is made, Bernie’s education begins. She is taught magic and martial arts by a Taoist immortal while a house elf teaches her reading, writing, and all the manners of a high class lady.
Over time, Bernie becomes more Sligh Maith than human. Despite doubts about her newly acquired skills, she is forced to seek revenge before she is ready. Bernie now owes the Queen everything. All she longs for is a normal life with a husband and family. She has no choice; she must follow through with her bargain and become a mercenary for the Queen or face dire consequences.
About the Author
Melissa Johnson holds a master’s degree in anthropology. Her artistic influences include Native American vision quests, Taoist martial arts, and Buddhism. She enjoys blending fantasy, myth, and magic in her stories about people and places of long ago. Melissa currently lives in Southwestern Colorado.