“Jus’ like your Ma, she is.”
“Don’t you go tryin’ t’pin this on me an’ mine, Randal. Ma’s a witch, that ain’t got nothin’ to do with our children. She’ll...well she’ll jus’ ‘ave to grow out of it, is all.”
“Kerri, we both knowin’ she won’t. Even when she ain’t beatin’ feet towards the forest, she looks at the animals like they’s people. Acts like they can understand her. Got your Ma’s eyes too, them ghostly blue ones.” He put an arm around her as she started to cry. “Folk lookin’ at her weird already as it is. It ain’t right, Kerri. Ain’t nothin’ we can do to fix ‘er.”
“I know’s it, Randal…I know.” They both hushed as they heard the pitter-patter of feet outside of their room. It was just the baby, Kiriana. They gave each other a silent look before they tended to their youngest child.
Not a tenday after, their daughter ended up in the forest she was so often running off to. Their oldest, Rindan, had been tasked with watching her. They were busy with the farm, and even more busy with the newest child. Rindan, though, had better things to do. He never saw his little sister run off to the Wealdath.
She loved to look at the sunlight sifted through the boughs of the trees. The sounds of Nature surrounding her somehow felt safe. Safer even than in her parent’s arms. She would prance around in the forest, talking to the animals she saw. She never feared them, and it seemed they never feared her.
That day was slightly different, and it changed many things.
She didn’t know the bear was there until it was very close. She was busy dancing around some flowers with butterflies and the occasional bird. As it neared, she could hear the odd fumbling sounds it made. It certainly didn’t act like any of the other bears she had come upon. It came closer than the others. The odd wobbling and massive amounts of foamy drool it produced made her erupt in laughter. The sound seemed to agitate it though and as it neared, gaze having swam around until landing on her.
The closer it came the more she could see the pain in its eyes. At five years old she had no concept of sickness and what it could do to animals. All she knew was the bear was sad, sad and in pain. Nothing made more sense to her at that moment than going up and giving it a hug. The fact that the bear was randomly snapping his jaws at the air gave her no pause.
“S’alright, Bear, I ‘ere for you.” The bear inched closer, nose forward to sniff her.
Both the little girl and the bear’s heads snapped towards the sound. The girl still smiling, but the bear beginning to snarl. The little girl looked back at the bear with worry, but before she could go to soothe it a pair of arms scooped her up. She looked back as the bear was shot in the arm, her older brother carrying her as well as he could. A few village men, her father included, running after them, the bears roars in her ears.
Back at home she stood, looking down at the floor, as her parents shouted.
“What were you thinkin?”
“Could ‘ave gotten yourself killed!”
“Why dint you watch her, Rin?”
“What you got t’say for yourself, girl?”
“A hug?! Kori, godsdamnit, girl you ain’t that dumb!” Her parents took turns yelling. At her, at her brother, at each other. It wasn’t until the baby woke that they paused. Her mother went off to soothe the baby, her father left to have a drink.
That night, Koriena heard her parents voice again.
“I know Randal. I’ll send for her.”
Later in the season her Gran showed up. She knew very little of her Gran, aside from the family calling her a witch. No one would get too close to her, her daughter, Koriena’s mom. They kept Rindan and Kiriana far away from her, as if touching her would infect them somehow. Koriena, though, was not kept away. Her parents watched from afar as Gran took Koriena out to the forest.
“Little one, why do you run off to the forest all the time?” Her Gran walked beside her as they strolled through the forest.
“Jus’ like it ‘ere is all.” Koriena looked all round her. “Rather be ‘ere than in the ‘ouse.” She turned to her Gran when the old woman did not respond. “Is that bad?”
Her Gran regarded Koriena for a moment before smiling and shaking her head. Instead of answering she turned to a bird that hand landed on a tree branch above. The bird chirped at them and Gran chirped back. Koriena watched as the bird landed on her Gran’s shoulder, and the bird and Gran chirped back and forth. It looked like a real conversation. After a while the bird flew off and her Gran looked back to a wide-eyed child. Her eyes were alight with awe.
“No, Kori, it ain’t wrong child. Unnerves some folk is all. Some don’t understand.” They walked through the forest a while longer before her Gran turned to her again. “Kori, would you like to learn the ways of the Wild, child?”
Her Gran left the next morning. Koriena left with her.