‘The first sunlight that touches your cheek will touch not the face of a man, but the hide of a beast.’ – From the Witch’s Curse
Prologue: Outskirts of Edenhoven – Northern Europe 1687 AD
The beast hid behind the long dripping branches of a willow tree. He could see her, but she would never know he was there. Frustration clouded his vision as he watched the little golden girl. Her Gran was in the cottage garden quite a ways away tending to her vegetable patch. She was not paying the slightest attention to the child. He growled softly. He couldn’t reveal himself as he was - the girl would be more frightened of him than she would be of drowning. The death of her parents had left her terrified of large toothed animals, and he would be no exception. He leaned forward slightly, his claws clicking on the wet rocks by the stream.
The pretty little creature with her fluff of dandelion hair began throwing flowers into the water. Sunlight sparkled on the surface of the stream as the ripples branched out from each petal. Recent rains had swelled the meager creek until its banks could scarcely contain it, and it would be better called a river. It rushed with new currents and eddies, delighted in its larger more important life. The girl was still young and after her recent growth spurt, she seemed to be unable to keep track of her own arms and legs. She leaned perilously over the edge. He waited in expectation of the inevitable.
“He loves me.” She said tossing in a petal. “He loves me not.” She said with a giggle as she tossed in the second to last one. “He loves me!” She said as she threw in the final petal. She watched as it became trapped near some tree roots where the stream had strayed from its banks. It wouldn’t be able to chase its friends down the river. “Oh. I think I’m supposed to save that one.” She said, cocking her head to the side as she examined it. How did she plan to get to it? The creature exhaled a hot breath as he watched the girl try to ford the stream toward the little white petal. He knew that she could not swim. She was a very small nine years old, and the stream had found speed in addition to purpose with its recent promotion to ‘river.’ He stepped forward, closer, then back into the shadow. He wasn’t supposed to do anything. There were rules. The others would not appreciate him saving this particular girl. She was becoming a large concern for them.
Her foot settled on a very slippery, very mossy rock as she struggled to retrieve her petal. “Darn thing doesn’t want to be caught does it?” The girl said out loud as she reached for it, only to have it slide to a crevice further down. The creature bit back his reply. She wasn’t talking to him - she didn’t know he was there. She leaned further forward to try to reach the escaping petal. Her foot slipped off the mossy rock and she slipped right along with it. Unlike the petal which escaped gleefully to freedom, the child was in every danger of drowning. He could run as fast as the river could flee, but there was every chance that she would see him…and he was only supposed to watch…not to interfere.