Of the River and the Fever

January 2, 2018

Once upon a time, in a forest of snow-white trees called Angel’s Teeth Grove, a huntress and a poet lived in a bone tree cabin. They were married, you see, the huntress trading white rabbits in the nearby town, while the poet wrote sonnets and sang to the doves of the Grove. They lived happily and simply, and were very much in love, and soon enough, the poet’s wife was expecting a baby. Delighted, the young couple sewed little bibs and nightgowns, and prepared for the child’s arrival. The huntress traded her rabbits for a cradle made of cherrywood, and the poet wrote lullabies about the moon and the snow.
Then, on the morning the first snow fell, the poet woke to find that his wife had become ill overnight. It was a fever that could burn through any winter, melting any ice set on her skin and setting fire to the herbs prescribed by the local doctor. The illness painted the huntress’s skin a moist, angry red, and drained the fat from her body, leaving her starved and haunted by nightmares.
Fearing for the health of his wife and child, and with no miracle cures in sight, the poet went to the window and sang a plea to the wind. The poem travelled through Angel’s Teeth Grove, carried on the moonlight, until it reached the mountains, and the ears of the Witch who lived there. The Gray Witch was an old woman who lived in a cave in the mountains and a practitioner of the magical arts. She was a benevolent creature, untouched by the cruel hand of time, and she felt pity for the poet and the huntress.
So, one winter evening, just before the moon rose over the trees, the Gray Witch lit a fire in her cave and entered a strange trance. She visited the huntress in one of her fever dreams, and gave her instructions to save herself and her child. Bolting from her stupor, the huntress called to her husband, and instructed him to tie strands of witch hazel around her wrists and waist, and to place a crown of forget-me-nots on her head. The poet was confused, but obeyed, fetching the ingredients from the cellar and adorning his sick wife with them. The huntress instructed him to fetch a coat for himself, but not for her, and told him to carry her into the Grove to the river that encircled the town in the valley. She did not explain why, there was no time.
The poet scooped his wife from the bed that had held her for so many weeks, her belly round and her body weak, and set out into the woods. As he ran, he began to see the flash of eyes in the bone trees, the eyes of the animals of the Grove. Wolves, deer, rabbits, owls, and ferrets trailed them silently, watching as he struggled through the snow, but not coming close. They were waiting, the poet realized, waiting for something.
It took most of his strength to carry the huntress through Angel’s Teeth Grove, and by the time he stumbled into the clearing that led to the river, the poet was exhausted. His wife was more aware than she had ever been, her eyes wide and clear of plague. Before them, the river that separated the Grove from the town babbled lazily, greeting them. The poet turned back to the woods, and there were creatures of all shapes and sizes gathered along its edge, their fur, scales, and skin as white as the trees around them.
The huntress instructed her husband to lay her in the river, which he did with some hesitation. The water that flowed over her legs was frigid and bit at her skin, but she did not feel it. She only felt the sensation that was building in her womb, and as she threw her head back to the moon, she prayed that the Gray Witch had led her true.
The birth was long and hard, drawing well through the night. The huntress’s pain was like a fire in her belly, burning through her not unlike the fever that had taken her, ignored by the icy waters of the river. It wasn’t long before her screaming drew the attention of the people in the town, who came from their houses to investigate. They, like the animals, were frozen to the edge of their land, waiting as the huntress struggled and bellowed in the river. Every living thing in the Grove and the town bore witness as a baby was born to the river, wailing so loudly and with such fire that her wriggling body scorched the waters and melted the snow on the banks.
As the poet pulled his daughter from the river, he saw that her eyes were open, the pale blue of forget-me-nots and her hair was going in thick yellow tufts, the color witch hazel. She was still thundering her wild war cry when he laid her in his coat, and her mother placed a kiss on her head. At the edge of the Grove, the creatures of the woods unfroze, satisfied with what they had seen, and subsided back to their homes. The townsfolk found their legs also, and rushed to the river to help the huntress to a warm fire. As they carried her to the lights of the town, the huntress cradled her daughter and named her Inna. The child born of the river and the fever.






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