Whispers is an Erien Tale short story by Terri Pray, a prequel to Broken which is now free via Kindle Unlimited.
Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz3D, Photoshop and Filter Forge.
“Can’t you hear it?” Leanna twisted on the fallen log, nibbling on her bottom lip.
“No, nor should you listen to such things, child.” Her mother didn’t look at her, but continued to work on the mending she held in her lap. “Such things are a danger to us.”
Leanna pouted and reached for her staff. She knew where this would lead, the same place it had every time it had before in her eight short years but she had to try. “You hear it. I know you do. Why do you say you don’t, when I can…” she paused, trying to find the right words, “feel it.”
With a sigh her mother looked down at the mending, folded the tunic and set it into the basket. “You’ve asked this before.”
“Yes, but I’m older now, I should know, don’t you think?” She rose, leaning on the staff. The smooth golden wood was her life line, she could move without it, but at a far slower pace. Even with the staff she couldn’t run and play with the other children in the rare times that her mother took her down into the village. “My life is here, with you, momma but I need to understand what is going on, why they hate me, why the adults turn their back on me, I have to…”
“Enough, fine, maybe it is time after all.” Her mother sighed, folding her hands in her lap before she closed her eyes. “It’s something… it’s your leg.”
She looked down at her leg and scowled. “It’s just a leg.”
“Yes, it is. They, however, are afraid of what it might mean.” The older woman rose, taking a step away from the crude wooden bench. Light played over her mothers long, spiral, midnight locks. Dark skin gleamed in the sunlight, a smile pulled on her full lips, yet sorrow shone within her mother’s dark brown eyes. “They see your leg as a sign that I displeased the gods, or consorted with evil magic in order to gain a child.” Her mother looked away, letting her gaze move over the slope and down to the village nestled within the valley. “They didn’t know your father, they never saw what we shared or the love that built between us. They only saw the result of that love. You.”
Leanna leaned on the staff, then turned and walked a dozen steps away. Pain wrapped itself around her heart, a band so tight and jagged that her breath caught in her throat. She rubbed one hand over the center of her chest, vision blurring as she blinked away tears.
You are more than this, more than a crying child.
“It hurts,” she murmured, not turning to look back at her mother.
“Yes, it will, and that won’t go away anytime soon, my love. Not unless I find a way to cure your leg, but no magic I’ve found has… not even the two healers I spoke to knew how to give you a straight limb.”
She lies, but to protect you. There is one way, but she will not expose you to the dangers of such magic. The voice, soft, female, and protective, continued to explain.
“There is something, momma.” Leanne turned, resting on her staff. “The lady told me.”
Her mother’s eyes widened, color draining despite her dark complexion. Her tongue darted out, nervously swiping over her lips before she spoke. “Lady?”
“The one who whispers to me, momma.” She nodded toward the trees behind their small home. “She said there was a way, but it was dangerous.”
“Very and the cost to you is too high.”
She is right, young one. It is a dangerous magic, called black by some, blood by others and it would cost you your soul.
“She should not be speaking to you of such things, not when it is my duty to teach and protect you.” Her mother sighed and pressed her fingers to her temple.
Leanna frowned, taking in the changes to her mother’s appearance. Lines had formed at the corners of her eyes, small spiderweb lines traced out from beneath her lips but it was the touches of silver in her hair that were the hardest to accept. Had protecting her, caused the silver in her mother's hair?
“Did you hear me, Leanna?”
She blinked, pushing back the unwanted thoughts. “Yes, momma.”
She worries, she fears she misjudged my intentions when I first reached out to her. She does not recall the stories passed down to her. That I have always watched over the women of your line.
How many mothers and daughters, aunts and sisters had the spirit called out to? “Do you not remember the lady, momma? How she helped you to learn?”
Her mother shivered, eyes closing for a moment. “I remember what my uncle did when I spoke of the spirit.”
Leanna leaned on the staff as she moved towards her mother. “I don't understand.”
Dark eyes blinked, a single tear traced a path down her cheek. “And I pray you never do, sweetling.”
He had no magic. He grew jealous of your mother and her gifts. He tried to steal her power, tried to force her to use her gifts at his command when he was unable to take them for himself. But there are parts to the story that are your mother’s alone to speak of when and if she is ready to do so.
Leanna shifted her weight, leaning heavily on her staff. What had her mother been through? She had never spoken of a brother, nor any other siblings for that matter. “Mamma, it’s alright. Please, the lady is trying to help me. She doesn’t want to hurt me.”
“I know she doesn’t my love, I remember her.” Her mother sighed, wiping the trace of a tear from her cheeks. “She was good to me, when I was able to listen to her, but that was a long time ago, and so much has…” her voice trailed off, gaze narrowing. “Inside, now.” She moved in between Leanna and the path that led up from the village. “Go. Please.”
Leanna hesitated, her gaze drawn to the path. Figures approached at a rapid pace, dust lifting into the air obscuring their numbers. Fear wrapped itself around her heart, tightening in a band that choked her lungs and spilled acid into her mouth. She turned, leaning heavily on her staff, her twisted leg wracked by spasms as she took the first step.
Voices called out behind her, the words lost but even from this distance she could hear the anger that carried ahead of the small crowd.
“Run,” her mother called out.
Leanna tried, her need to escape building with each new beat of her heart. Whatever had brought the crowd, whoever had worked them up, she had a good idea who they were after. This wasn't the first time a group from the village had stormed their way up from the village, but this was the largest gang she'd seen.
Her bad leg complained as she drew closer to their small home. She winced, but didn’t make a sound, didn’t dare, not when it might distract her mother.
She knows what to do.
Leanna wanted to turn and look, to see what was about to happen, but she knew better.
Trust me. Trust her. You will be safe.
Safe, had she ever truly been safe? Leanna stumbled, only the staff saving her from hitting the ground, but she pushed back up, clearing the final few paces between herself and the small house. She reached out, scrambling to grab the handle. At first her fingers refused to close on the handle, but on the second grab she closed them around the metal handle. With a gasp she half pulled herself into the cabin, slamming the door behind her. Only then did she risk peering back, this time through a small window.
She caught her breath, leaning on the wooden frame, her face pressed to the bubbled glass. One of the last things she’d seen her mother create using magic. Despite the bubbles, the warped glass, she could see the crowd drawing closer to her mother, close enough now that she could make out individuals. Some she knew from the village, others were strangers or figures she’d only seen once or twice in passing.
The baker, a large man, one she had been fond of in those rare moments she’d been allowed to talk to others. He hadn’t been a cruel man, but kind, sometimes offering her a bite of a sweet piece, but now his face was red, angry, hands balled into fists at his sides. The others, a seamstress, some of the farmers, and craftsmen who had waved to her mother, all crowded around her, not touching her. At least not yet.
Voices carried, screams, yells, protests.
“Please, don’t hurt momma,” she murmured.
I won’t let them hurt her. She won’t let them hurt you either. Watch.
The whisper felt different. A hint of power, warmth and strength filtered through the words.
Her fingers tightened on the wood, eyes wide, Leanna was unable to look away, to focus on something else.
Light sparkled around her mother, small bubbles of it at first, dancing between her fingers as she stood there. Her lips moved, a soft sound, a word or two, but it wasn’t loud enough that Leanna could understand what was being said.
The lights grew, a hundred and a hundred more, bubbles, sparkles that expanded, pushing back at the men and women around her mother. It flared, a violent explosion and Leanna pressed her hands against her eyes, sobbing as she looked away, tears spilling down her cheeks.
I told you to trust her.
Trembling she turned back to the window, searching for her mother. The crowd from the village had scattered, half of them sprawled out on the damp earth, the other half already running for safety, screams of witch left in their wake.
It’s time. Collect your things, and your mothers. You can’t stay here, not now.
The whispers, that soft voice, it had always been right, but once, just this once, she wanted it to be wrong.
You’ll be safe with me, your mother already knows that, safe within my forest…