A little something, inspired by an idea from an fnh-er. So – time for a character origin story …
Child of the Blood Red Tree
The fire snapped hungrily in the rough stone hearth hastily built in the shallow bowl of earth, chasing off the shadow tendrils of the brisk chill of the night. White plumes of smoke rose from trio of people gathered by the fireside, the only sign for the moment that they lived yet and were not frozen where they lay. One, an older woman in leathers and fur, seemed carven from a gnarled piece of wood as she listened to the night, hovering a hand over the straining stomach of the younger woman just visible through the blankets covering her. The man, supporting the younger whilst keeping an eye on the night, broke the silent tableu with a hiss "Auntie. Auntie. We shouldn’t be here. Help me take Beth back to the house." He moved to help the younger woman to sit up, removing the heaped blankets to reveal her swollen stomach.
But his aunt put out a hand against him, staring intently at him with the piercing gaze of a hawk. "No Robert. It is time." Her voice was touched with rolling lilt of the northern peoples and she returned her gaze to the younger woman.
"Listen to her Robert" the younger woman whispered through gritted teeth. "The baby, he’s coming"
Robert looked at both women with a look of fear tinged with desperation. "Can’t we move back to the house. This isn’t a place for a baby"
"It is the place for a merrybegot, Robert. Come, help Beth up" The older woman fingered the acorn around her throat then kissed it, muttering quietly before putting her shoulder into the girl’s armpit. She looked in askance of her brother’s son, her gaze stern. "Now Robert."
Reluctantly Robert put his shoulder beneath his wife’s and helped her up into a squatting position, muttering "Surely we should be in a warm, dry house with the midwife and your sister and warm and dry and-"
"Hush Bobby" Beth whispered, wincing as the contractions came again. "The baby’s coming."
"Are you sure you don’t need your sister? Your mother? The village midwife? Auntie!" He whined pleadingly at them both, trying to convince his aunt to listen, but she ignored him, gazing intently at Beth’s stomach as it rippled.
"You need to hold it Beth. Not yet"
Beth squirmed in discomfort, trying to hiss, trying to do as she was told. "But I want to push"
"Hold it!" The older woman was fierce, gazing at the pregnant woman. "This must be done right!"
"But the baby is coming!" Beth Curwen wailed, gripping her husband’s fingers until they almost broke. "Aileen it’s coming now!"
"Hold it!" Aileen squeezed her holy symbol and seemed to be counting, eyes flicking furtively between the brief patch of midnight sky and stars and the surrounding woodland. "I said hold it!"
Robert tired to wriggle free of his wife’s grip. "This is madness. I’m fetching your sister"
"Don’t you dare leave me!" Beth held onto his hand, holding him back, a wildness in her usually meek eyes. "Don’t you dare! The baby, our baby, our son – he’s coming!"
Robert gaped at his wife and at his aunt, trying to leave but terrified to leave his wife as she pleaded with him. "Auntie?"
"No time Robert. Your son is almost with us." Aileen finished her counting and held out her hand, offering it to Beth to cold. "When next you feel the need to push, push. Longstor is with us this night."
"Robert!" Beth pulled on her husband’s hand as she took Aileen’s and moved to better bear down when the contractions came again. "Please."
He knelt beside her, holding her close to him. "Alright, I’ll stay. Let’s see him into the world and then get back to the warmth, okay?" Beth nodded, leaning against him, waiting for the time to push.
Then, that time came and Beth screamed, splitting the cold night air in two as she strained to bring the long awaited son into the world. Then the air was broken by another cry, a tiny shrill cry of a new life declaring itself fiercely. As Aileen wrapped the child in the prepared blanket, her face was grim before handing the child over to Robert. He eagerly took the child from her, holding it close until he realised his aunt was not smiling and his wife was looking at him strangely. "What?"
"The child is a girl" Aileen spat into the fire. "Tralda had her way after all"
"I knew it, as soon as she cried. I knew" Beth reached out to her husband to take the child to her breast. "What happens now?"
"Alexander is still Malcom’s Tanist. Then line will pass to him" Robert’s face had hardened as he handed over the child. "What happens next is in the hands of Lady Tralda."
Beth cradled her daughter and tried to smile but she began to weep as Aileen gazed out across the firelight, looking deep into the forest having heard a sound.
Robert frowned then turned to his wife. "We need to name her then get her out of the cold. You promised Father a grandson."
"I promised him nothing" Aileen snapped. "Nothing but a child to bring honour to his family."
"A grandson would bring honour to the family" Robert snapped, then cradled his face in his hands. "Not another granddaughter."
Aileen stood, a strange smile on her face. "Be not hasty, nephew. Your daughter is fortunate." She held up a small wooden stave that she had taken from a pouch on her belt. "Longstor has given her a blessing."
She pointed at a small shrub out at the edge of the clearing, glossy red fruit gleaming light jewels in the firelight. "The Travellers Tree still bears it’s bounty even though winter has come and is going hence. Longstor’s gift"
"What does it mean?"
"This child is as promised. I name her Rowan"
"Rowan" For the first time Robert looked down at his daughter and gently stroked her soft downy head. "Rowan Tait of Amblevale"
His wife leant into him and Robert wrapped an arm around her shoulder, holding her close. Aileen watched them then returned her gaze to the fire that was beginning to burn low. She leant closer, fingering the tiny wooden stick, staring into the fire as if she spied something in it’s burning heart.
Then she smiled. "Ah yes. Rowan Tait of Amblevale. Yes. Daughter of the Blood Red Tree. I see a bold future for you little one".
And in the heart of the flames, flickering as the fire began to die, the tiny figure of a woman in armour and hood and sash with the eagle’s head smiled up at some far distant star, fingering something around her neck. Then, like the ghost that she was, the future Rowan Tait of Amblevale flickered out.