I had a plan some years ago. I was born to the dark and became a formidable piece of it. A sliver of the dark itself on earth. I’d devastated humanity and though I’d been mad with grief at the time, it’s no excuse for my grisly crimes. I paid the price and it nearly cost me my life. On that day, I swore I’d set things right if I were given another chance. I found that chance in a sailor called John Ward. He was a seventh son. Therein was my plan. If I could bear him seven sons, the seventh would be special. He would be a force of reckoning to the dark. I couldn’t ever hope to undo what I’d done, but giving the Light an ally of that power would be a start.
He would have to be trained, of course. There were men in the county of Lancashire, where John lived, who specialized in this. They were called Spooks. The best was a man named John Gregory. My seventh son would be his apprentice. It pained me some to think of the life that son would lead. It would be lonely and he’d never know the joy of marriage or children, but that was a small sacrifice for what he’d become.
They say the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. I expect this goes for old goddesses as well. I’d made my way as a midwife in the County. I was one of the best at it. I was summoned in the wee hours of the morning to Pendle where a lass was having a bit of a hard time. She’d been stubborn enough about it, but I knew she’d send word eventually.
Her name was Grimalkin. She was a bit of an odd duck. She hated the Fiend and refused to conform to the rest of the witches. She didn’t seem to want anything to do with anybody. No doubt she’d been hurt in the past but I knew nothing of her family life. I couldn’t say what had gone wrong. I’d encountered her before. She was sullen, quiet and brooding. I was surprised that she’d bothered to have a child at all. She was only sixteen and didn’t seem suited to mothering at all.
I found her easy enough. She had her own little cottage. Grimalkin was lying flat out on a cot in the front room. Blood was dripping from it to the stone flags below. Her entire body was soaked in sweat. I got to work straight away. I washed up and made sure she was totally numb. The problem was obvious straight away. The baby had turned too far.
“Right girl, brace yourself. I’ll have to turn it and it’ll be uncomfortable.”
She gripped the sides of bed, biting her lip as I did so. She never cried out. I changed out the bloodied towels under her. Now it had been set straight, the baby was coming fast. She bore down one last time and it was over. I severed the cord, then rubbed the baby all over to get his blood going. He began screaming at me. I could hardly believe what I was seeing! Grimalkin must have noticed the my expression because her own face had no expression at all.
“If its a demon, I don’t want to see it. Break its neck. Drown it. I don’t care. I only had it to be rid of the Fiend. I’ll call him to see it, tell him it died and be done with it.”
“It isn’t a demon. I don’t know how you managed it girl, but you’ve got a lovely, human son.”
I placed him on her chest then helped her sit, propping a pillow against the wall. She didn’t seem to know what to make of all this. I busied myself with the after birth and set to cleaning. Once I was done, I built up a small fire in the fireplace on the opposite wall and burned the lot. I washed myself up again. When I turned my attention back to Grimalkin, she looked like a totally different person. She had a broad grin on her face. The baby was trying to feed and she was stroking his face gently. She cradled him tightly to her and kept kissing his head. I sat down next her. I don’t think she was even aware of my presence. She was transfixed, examining him all over, marveling at his impossibly tiny toes, the shell-like curve of his ears and a fist smaller than a walnut. He opened it and she looked at all his little fingers, kissing them. He closed his hand around her finger. It was only just big enough to make it all the way around.
She suddenly looked up at me, tears in eyes. “He’s perfect!”
I agreed. “Congratulations, dear. He’s beautiful.”
“I’d never considered keeping the baby. I was sure it would be a monster. I don’t know the first thing about being a mam!”
“For now, the hardest bit will be staying awake,” I smiled. “It’s going to be okay. It’s not as if there’s only one way.”
“But I want to be a good mam.”
“You love him, Grimalkin. You’re already a better mam than many women. No one is always a good parent, but as long as you continue trying to be better, that’s all that matters.”
“There will be time for that later. I have several books I can give you that should prove useful. For now, you need to take it easy.”
She snorted indignantly. “I don’t have much of a family and none who’ll care to visit. Those who don’t think I’m a traitor think I’m mad for having this child. I’ve got things to do and apparently books to read. How can I take it easy?”
“I can stay a few days, if you like,” I offered without really thinking it through. “I’ll send something on to my husband to let him know I’ll be longer than expected.”
“What? Really?” Grimalkin looked surprised, then suspicious. “Why?”
“Because, as you’ve said, you don’t have anyone to help you. Plus, it sounds as though you could use some advice. Being a new mam is difficult enough, even when you’ve got help. You’ll only hurt yourself trying to be up and about. My own family can get along without me for a few days. You don’t have to accept my help, but the offer is there if you want it.”
The daft girl actually tried to get off her cot. I caught her before she fell. I don’t know what she’d have done if I hadn’t been there. She growled in frustration.
“Doesn’t look like I’ve got much choice,” she mumbled. “Right, I give in. You can help me. Only until I’m back on my feet.”
Three days later, Grimalkin was sitting up in her proper bed, laughing as we played dice.
“These are Greek dice, aren’t they? They don’t like County folk!”
“Tough crumbly cheese! I’ve won!”
“Do you see what she’s doing to your mam?” Grimalkin said to her son. She put the dice in his blanket. “Here, hide these. She can’t cheat if she can’t find them!”
I laughed. Her son was shaping up to be an extremely handsome lad. I expected he looked something like his father’s human avatar. He already had dark hair growing thick on his head and large, blue eyes full of happiness.
We’d been having a good time together, Grimalkin and I. She had a very hard surface but it didn’t go all the way through. She was a kind girl when given the opportunity, witty and charismatic. I discovered she had strong, admirable values. All she really wanted was the freedom to live life her own way. That isn’t easy to do in Pendle. Nearly every witch answers to someone higher up in the coven. It wasn’t as though she didn’t want companionship, she just didn’t want her life dictated. I understood that too well.
She was proving to be an excellent mam. We’d had many lengthy discussions on motherhood and she eagerly absorbed the tips I gave her. It would be plain to anyone that she loved that little child more than herself. I said before that I’d seen her on a few previous occasions. This was the first time I’d ever seen her happy.
I packed my things away and prepared our final meal together. It would be bittersweet having to return home. When I called out that dinner was ready, Grimalkin came and sat down, the baby tied in a sling securely around her chest.
“How many children do you have?” She asked.
“Six,” I replied. “All boys.”
“Good lord! I couldn’t do that. I may like more some day, though. How do you manage?”
“That’s the best thing about a farm – there are always things for energetic children to do. The three eldest are already helping their dad with the chores. The younger three like to think they’re helping. They’re useful around the house. The trick is making everything fun!”
“Could I visit some time? I’d like to see your farm. Maybe my lad could be friends with yours.”
I was pleasantly surprised by her suggestion. “Of course! I’m sure my boys will like him. I think they enjoy any baby that isn’t staying permanently.”
A enormous clap of thunder interrupted our laughter. There hadn’t been a cloud in the sky. The room grew icy cold and the fire flickered, then died. The baby began to cry as if sensing something was wrong. Grimalkin and I looked at each other, both realizing at the same moment what it meant. The Fiend had come to see the child. She looked out the windows the were beginning to frost over. Her lower lip quivered and I could see her hands trembling.
“Best get it over with,” I whispered. “I don’t think he knows I’m here. Go on, girl. I’ll be watching.”
She nodded and got to her feet. She walked out the door on shaky legs and headed around to the back of the house. I followed, staying to the shadows. It was all I could do not to snarl when I saw him. He appeared very suddenly in front of her in the horrible form he used to terrify people into submission.
“I believe you have something for me, my dear,” he grinned down at her, showing long, needle pointed teeth.
The Fiend laughed and clapped his hands together expectantly. Male heirs were his favorite. His long claws reached out and plucked the boy from Grimalkin’s chest. He held it up in a way that made me fear he would break the child’s fragile neck. He sniffed it. Growling, he turned his red eyes on Grimalkin.
“What is this? A human! You would spawn my own seed to be my enemy?”
“No! I’ve not betrayed you! Not on purpose! Don’t kill him, please! Kill me!”
He bellowed in rage. The earth shook and lightening came down all around us. Roaring, the Fiend threw the infant to the ground. Grimalkin fell to her knees, screaming and sobbing.
I have many talents. I can change my appearance at will, going from the human facade everyone sees to a lamia form. My full form as a goddess takes time but I can easily shift into a formidable winged creature, bigger and more powerful than any of my sisters. I also have the ability to slow time. I am not as adept as the Fiend who is a master of time manipulation. Yet I had the element of surprise on my side.
I struck out faster than any human eye can see. Faster than “his Fearsome majesty” could see, too. I slowed time just enough that I caught the infant safely before he hit the ground, sliding several feet across the grass. The Fiend was stunned into silence. I carefully laid the child down. Before he knew what was happening, I rose quickly and tackled the Fiend. I raked my venomous nails across his face then bit hard into his neck. Black blood spurted in all directions. I pumped a heavy dose of vemon into him. It wouldn’t be enough to kill him, unfortunately, but he’d be in a world of hurt for a good time.
He screamed in pain and fury, trying to grab for me. I had my back talons in his hairy hips and deftly dodged his attempts to grab my upper half.
“Grimalkin!” I shouted. “You can force him away! Do it now, girl!”
She’d been staring at the pair of us in shock. She recovered quickly and glared up at the Fiend.
“You’ve seen your son, now get you gone!” She cried. “You aren’t welcome here! Go back from whence you came, you horrible old nag!”
She spat at him and he was gone in the next second. Back to his domain or only several miles away, I don’t know. I dropped to the grass and started going back to my human form. Grimalkin crawled to her son, grabbing him up. I went to them when my change was complete. She was laughing with slightly mad relief.
“He’s okay,” she sobbed, grinning up at me. “He’s perfectly okay! No doubt he’ll have nightmares the rest of his life, but he’s okay!”
I helped her to her feet and she unexpectedly hugged me close. I put my arm around her. I could feel her shaking.
“He would have died without you here. I owe your our lives! How could I possibly thank you?”
“That look in your eyes is more than enough. Keep the lad safe, that’s all I ask. You heard the Fiend – he’s the most formidable force against the dark that we’ve ever seen. Once he grows and is trained right, his father won’t stand a chance. His dark reign is coming to an end and he knows it.”
I had to wash and redress myself before I set off for home. When I left, Grimalkin was sound asleep with a smile on her face and her son was snug in his cradle beside her. I had no doubt I’d see her again soon enough.
The walk home left me time to sort out my own thoughts. The future I had seen had taken a drastic, unexpected turn. I had six sons. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I told John we’d have seven. That was inevitable. I’d feared the future I’d once seen for that child. Yet now, perhaps, there wasn’t a need for such a thing to come to fruition. Grimalkin’s son was an even fiercer opponent! Was it possible that my child would not have to train as a Spook? Grimalkin’s boy had natural gifts that would repel the dark whether he used them or not. I thought and thought all the way home. I decided that I would ultimately leave it up to him. I would take my own advice, training him up and doing everything I could to make him a dangerous foe to the dark. I would set my lad in the path of Master Gregory and hope for the best. If he did not end up a proper Spook, at least I had peace in the knowledge that I’d saved Grimalkin’s boy. It was a winning situation for me in either case