The piercing cries of the newborn's screams rang into the dark forest, sparking interest to the scurrying mice and the brooding owl perched by the hut. It ascended to the skies above and towards the heavens. The night marked the sign of January's arrival, of when the year would be born anew. The lands had already been cursed with winter's breath, as the trees had turned barren and Britain was flooded in a never-ending sea of white.
The night also marked the bringing of a new soul into the world: a boy. He was only hours old, cradled in the arms of the elderly woman. She did what she could to coo him silent, but it only made him scream louder, tiny fists clenched in frustration. The old woman rubbed her wrinkled thumb down his cheek, silently envying the child's smooth skin while she was doomed to die an ugly hag. How she hated the children... so beautiful... so precious...
A choked groan snapped the elder from her thoughts, turning her head to the pallid young woman sprawled about the hay mattress, now replaced with fresh and clean bed sheets, thank the lord. Her face was soaked in cold sweat, her chest rising and falling with each strained breath. Twenty hours of dealing with her incessant screaming and crying was more than enough for the elder to handle. However, she was not the only one suffering; the exertion for the mother was too much for her heart to take. She wasn't long for the world, and the slow mist wavering in her eyes gave proof of it.
The elder moved to the mother, resting her hand upon the clammy skin. "Rest as best you can, my dear. His name?"
"N... Noll... May I..."
"You are far too weak, dear. I will see to it Noll is well-taken care of." Noll, what a disgusting name. She had half a mind to wrap a hand around the infant's neck and wring the life from him. Perhaps later; his silence gave her the peace she longed for. His birth fell on the day of Arthur's kingship, on the day the prophecy had come to bring England from the darkness since Uther's passing. The so-called king was fifteen, curing the land alongside that fool, Merlin! Arthur was no king, he couldn't rule his way out of a cave without the old man's magic holding his hand.
Before long, the mother fell still, her last breath whispering between clenched teeth. Morgan le Fay paid little attention as she wrapped the infant into a neat and warm bundle and carried him away from the hut, the black night acting as her aide as she threw off the disguise with a flick of her hand, her body now that of a beautiful maiden, brown locks falling upon her white gown. Her skin was of fair tone, almost blending perfectly into the snow beneath. Yes, this form was much better; another minute in that ghastly skin and she would have set herself on fire.
The owl watched as she glided across the pale earth, cocking his massive head in amazement. He watched an ugly hide of a woman enter the hut and come out with the silent child, and now a lady whose beauty matched that of the fairest princess took her place. His dark feathers ruffled, his beak clicked in annoyance. He barely bothered to acknowledge the mouse bounding under the tree and leaping under a bare bush, hiding behind the thin trunk; that could wait for another time, and he already had his fill of the rodent's partner. Well, former partner, that is.
Before he knew it, the woman and the infant vanished into the surrounding forest. The entire branch trembled as he took to the air, unnatural bright eyes scouring the bandit-riddled woods. Out here, traveling alone meant a quick death. Traveling in groups of two or three ended the same way. The owl had seen all types die: peasants, children, religious devouts, lords, even knights. Had the woman belonged in those, she and the baby would last not even an hour.
But, even he knew all too well the powers that lay within Morgan le Fay.
He soared for close to ten minutes when he perched on the tallest tree in the forest, his feathers ruffling once more. It was silent; never was that a good sign. He clicked his beak loudly, fighting to find Morgan and the infant. Nothing. No footprints, no bandits rushing to attack, not even a whimper from the hungry one. Though her magic was great, she could not disappear into thin air, not without being noticed by another whose magic rivaled her own. If the owl could laugh, he would.
Time grew on, and Merlin began to worry. Not for Morgan, heavens no. She could be in a dragon's belly and begging for her life and he wouldn't grace her with a glance. The child was barely hours old and deprived of his mother's milk, now in the care of a scornful witch. What would she want with a mere boy? What lay in the child that she could use?
With another click of his beak, Merlin continued his search.
- - -
Morgan le Fay and Noll were far from the forest, the witch silently enjoying her triumph over the fool of an old man Merlin was. Let him search the forest in any form he pleased! She knew he watched her every move during the birth; he could have watched from the doorway and it couldn't have made a difference either way. She got what she wanted. Of all births that occurred on this night, of all births she witnessed, only this child had the will to survive. Not surprising. He had his father's will. And what better to use than to use his son for her goal!
The two soon arrived in a village, nary a candle or fire blazing. She made her way to the church, the proud stone building engulfing her within its shadows. An icy wind whipped past them and whistled down the road, selfishly taking numerous snowflakes with it. Morgan shivered for a moment, then looked to Noll. While the cold barely affected her, that did not mean the child was immune to the harsh winter. Still sleeping, good. Slowly, she lowered herself onto one knee, swiping snow from the steps before placing the infant onto the cold steps. Carefully she pulled the blanket apart from his small frame.
"Don't fret, little one. This shall take but a minute," she whispered, her eyes resting on his stirring face. Quickly she took scout to make sure no one was around to see, then looked back to Noll. She rolled him onto his side, and still he did not wake. Heavy sleeper, she had to admit. Her fingers brushed over his skin and landed on his left shoulder, her index and middle tracing invisible lines across the area. It took only three repeats for a faint, gray symbol to appear and engrave itself into the child. It was small, no bigger than a smooth river pebble. In seconds it swiveled into the form of a wolf's head, mouth wide and fangs bared. Noll whimpered, then went back to sleep. Sighing with relief, Morgan uttered under her breath and placed her hand over the symbol, eyes shut.
"Pro super parvulus eram prognatus in is hora , tribuo hoc ops trucido Uther's filius quod totus quisnam sto in suus via." She adjusted the bundle to cover most of his face, leaving only his eyes open. Rising, she pounded on the thick door and took flight, leaving the village as quiet as it once was, save for the screeching cries of the infant.