Title: Daughter of the Moon, chapter one
Rating: PG-13 for violence and graphic imagery
Category: Historical AU
Notes: Thanks to Dan, Mimic, FatCat, Karen and Mendy for beta
reading and Tanya for her ongoing support
"There." Edana stood up and brushed the dirt and leaves from her knees. "All I need now is some dead nettle."
Glancing up at the sky, she smiled at the moon. "Thank you for showing your face tonight."
She'd gathered herbs during many a full moon when the Lady had been more capricious. Although the Lady didn't cast as much light as the sun, her pale illumination was better than none at all. Edana had been out gathering herbs on countless cloudy and rainy nights so she knew to appreciate this warm evening of the Corn Moon, the tenth Esbat of the year. Summer would soon draw to a close and the nights would once more grow cold. When the Blood Moon rose before the turning of the New Year at Samhain, she would be more concerned with gathering wood than herbs and flowers.
It amused Edana that many people celebrated the New Year after Yule, instead of at Samhain, when the Lord of the Sun returned to the underworld. She suspected it had little to do with adopting the new calendar. Instead, it likely had to do with adding another celebration to the dark days of winter, since no one had given up marking the Sun's death.
Before leaving on her evening's journey, she'd cast her circle and thanked the Goddess and the God, as she did every Esbat. This ritual helped to ensure the plants collected would not only be at the peak of their strength but would carry a blessing as well. It was also for this reason that Edana gave water and honey back to the Earth anywhere she had taken Her gifts.
After retrieving her sacks and baskets, Edana made sure the vials holding the water and honey were sealed and well secured to the girdle about her waist before she began to climb the shallow slope of the dale where she'd been collecting ground ivy. She knew of a good patch of dead nettle on the upland. She still had a decent supply, but a dry night perfect was for harvesting. She might not be blessed with another dry night at the next Esbat.
By planning her night of gathering in a circular route, she wouldn't be far from home when she was done. It would be less than half an hour until she was safely cocooned under her blankets. The road was a ten minute walk from the dale but Edana preferred to use her own paths, even if they were more rugged. It used to be safe for a woman to walk the road by night, but there were many strangers abroad of late. And these strangers didn't practice the old ways nor were they fond of anyone who did.
By day, many of her fellow northerners prayed to the new God and his saints, but they turned to Edana when they were in need. It could be when they were poorly, wanted a child or didn't want one. Whatever the reason, it was her they sought out. She had been in enough houses to see the signs. She knew that behind closed doors, her neighbors still practiced the old ways and came to her with their broken bones and broken hearts.
Prying eyes rarely came this far north, but Edana knew if they did, no one here would tell a stranger much about her. Nobody knew how the invaders felt about the old ways and people hereabouts were always tight-lipped with newcomers. Edana knew that first-hand. While the priest at the local church in Keswick tolerated her beliefs, mostly she thought because he was trying to convert her, she wasn't certain how tight his lips were.
Edana was very young when her parents brought her to Northumbria. Her grandfather had scoffed at the sight of her; a small, pale, scrawny child with a tangled mane of red hair. She didn't want to leave her home or her brothers and sister, so she was happy when the cantankerous old man told her parents to leave and take Edana with them. Edana's mother, Maeve reminded the old man of his promise to teach the healing ways to one of her children if any of them seemed apt. And Edana was definitely apt.
"I can't answer the questions she asks, Da," Maeve explained. "She is very much like you in mind and temper. She's not content at the hearth and constantly pesters Wilburh to take her out to the fields with the boys."
"You and Wilburh can't control your bairn, so you want me to do it?" he asked in amazement.
"No, Da," Maeve sighed. "Edana has a quick mind. She's curious, just like you always hoped I'd be. She's eager to please and is usually quick to as she's told."
The old man's eyes narrowed. "Usually?"
Her faeder's concerns made Maeve speak hurriedly.
"I don't have to ask her twice, Da. With you she'll be happier.
She loves to skulk about in the forest and help in the garden. She would be a boon to you now, I think, and she will soak up everything you can teach, like a waterlogged sheep. Right, Edana?"
Edana looked up into her mother's soft blue eyes and simply nodded. She hoped the old man would hate her and send her home, but she'd promised her mother that she would be mindful and cause no grief.
"She looks thin and wan. Is she sickly?" Her grandfather spoke sharply.
"Not at all. She's sure of foot and she's stronger than she looks." Wilburh assured the old man. "She's a tough little thing, probably because she likes to take on her brothers. And she doesn't do half bad," Wilburh chuckled wryly. "But the sun burns her skin, so she's usually either red or white, save the freckles."
Edana felt her cheeks grow hot as the adults talked about her like she wasn't there.
The old man finally agreed to let her stay, swearing that she'd be on the next boat that to the Isle of Man if she caused him any trouble.
That was eleven years ago. At first Edana was terribly homesick, but she said nothing. She was angry with her parents for bringing her here, but at the same time she didn't want to disappoint them.
She quickly grew to love and respect the old man. There was more work to do here than at home, but there was also so much to learn. He taught her all about the plants and animals of the glen. She already knew how to tend farm animals and her grandfather didn't have as many as they had at home. At the market in Keswick he explained how to tell which imported rosemary was the most potent and told her which stalls could be trusted to trade with.
Aldefader taught Edana about the phases of the moon and how they affected everything. She discovered the power of lightning and the restorative ability of spring rain. She was trained in the four elements and the cardinal directions. Then she studied which herbs, stones, colors and animals were linked to each.
Over time she learned when to plant and when to harvest, not only harvesting what she'd planted, but the wild herbs and flowers, as well. Collecting them at the proper time ensured the potency required for the medicines her grandfather taught her to prepare.
Not long after settling in with Aldefader, he began to call her Little Fire. It was a name, he said, not only suited her stature and red tangles, but her temperament as well. Had anyone else used that nickname, Edana's ire would've been ignited, but from her Aldefader, it was more akin to a comforting hug.
As she grew, the old man insisted that Edana had a special gift for knowing what ailed people. She didn't think that was true. All she did was listen. She listened to what her grandfather taught her and she listened to people's complaints. She knew it wasn't a gift. It was simply paying attention.
When Edana was fifteen, seven years after her parents left her with her grandfather, the old man grew ill. She did everything in her considerable knowledge for him, but he told her he was dying.
"I've seen enough death to know," he assured her.
He lingered for a couple of months; steadily dwindling despite Edana's care. People still sought out his healing abilities, even when he was nothing but a shell, barely able to draw breath. They thought it was his care they were receiving and Edana let them think so. When he was finally returned to the earth, under his favorite Rowan tree, she realized she'd made a mistake letting people think the old man was still looking after them. Very few people came to see her. They didn't trust her the same way they'd trusted her grandfather. After a couple of months a few brave souls sought her out, mostly in desperation, she thought. As more and more people turned to her when their other options proved unreliable, word spread that Edana knew everything that her grandfather had, and perhaps a little more.
Edana's heart ached as she thought about the old man. Her ma was right. This was where she belonged. She'd felt more at home by her grandfather's side as he showed her a secret brew or at his feet in front of the fire listening to his wisdom than she'd ever felt on the island of her birth.
She was nineteen now. If she'd stayed with her parents she probably would've had a few bairns of her own already. But she didn't want a husband. It all seemed like too much trouble to her. She could support herself. Almost everything she needed she got from the land; gifts from the God and Goddess. She kept her own bees, made her own candles and soap, and traded for what she couldn't make herself. Cheese and butter, wool and pots, she got in trade. She kept chickens and could trap a rabbit if there wasn't a hen to spare. Fish were abundant in the many streams and rivers nearby. She wanted for nothing except maybe a baby. As far as she could see, that was the only thing she needed a man for. Occasionally she felt a little lonely, but usually no sooner had she felt the first pangs of loneliness when someone would show up at her door. Did she feel lonely enough or want a bairn badly enough to have a man constantly underfoot? She thought not.
Edana was almost out of the valley when the sound of shouting surprised her. It was after midnight. She had no idea who would be out and about at this time of night, other than her, or why they would be yelling. She sank to her knees and strained to listen. There were many voices, words she didn't know, accents that were new to her ears. She heard the whinnying of horses and the clash of swords. Edana knew there was war in the south, but no one had told her it was moving north.
War had always just been epic tales to her; stories of long ago, legends of glory and heroism she heard on long winter evenings by the fire. Aldefader had made the battles sound so romantic, but now as she heard the agonized screams of dying men, war no longer seemed epic or idealistic to her, merely brutal and gruesome.
Edana was sure the beating of her heart and her short shallow breaths could be heard for miles. To her ears, it sounded like the beating of drums and the whoosh of the bellows, but no one entered the wood in search of her.
When the screams finally quelled, a cheer rose up, but Edana couldn't understand the words the victors used. From her crouched position, she heard some shuffling and clanging but then it grew still for a few moments, making her fear she'd been detected. Calming her breath, she tried to remain as still as possible. Her legs began to quiver from her cramped position and she gritted her teeth to keep quiet. Then she heard the unmistakable sound of men climbing onto horses; the scuff of leather against leather, the jangle of the bit in a horse's mouth. She heard the rush of a horse's breath as it exhaled quickly. After a few minutes the men began to talk again and Edana could hear the horses' hooves against the hard-pack on the road. The noise gradually grew more distant but she stayed hunkered down until she could hear no more movement.
Rising slowly, Edana intended to go to the road but her ankle- length woollen tunic had caught in a bramble and she heard it rip. Cursing softly, she freed the fabric and began to move again on still aching legs. She couldn't help but be thankful that she'd chosen to don the blue this night. It was her oldest, most threadbare garment and consequently the coolest. She only wore it for her dirtiest work so it didn't really matter that it would now have an obvious tear. When the trees began to thin out, she could finally see what had happened.
Six figures were strewn along the road. Some had lost entire limbs. Others had been gutted. Setting down the herbs she'd gathered, Edana went to check on the two bodies that appeared whole. The throat of the first man had been slit so deeply his head was almost severed. The other man's head was bloodied, but the gash was shallow. Through the rents in his clothing she could see a more serious problem; a deep wound in his chest.
This man had not been hewn apart like the others, but his injury was severe. Edana hadn't seen many deep chest wounds in her life, but the ones she'd seen had been fatal. Although she didn't hold out much hope for him she knew better than to make assumptions. While she had seen much death she'd also seen people return from the brink too many times to rule anyone out without good reason. Her grandfather taught her that a strong spirit was the most potent medicine. Of course, having the favor of the horned God or the Lady of the moon played a large part in any person's recovery, as well.
Edana kept all of this in her mind as she ripped open the stranger's woollen tunic and linen shift to put her ear to his chest. Knowing that if he was still alive his heartbeat would be faint, she slowed her breathing to calm her own heart so she could hear. Clearing her mind, she thought only of the gentle rays of the Lady and how they kissed the dark leaves of the trees around her. She imagined the moonlight caressing her back. Her body grew warmer and her breathing slowed further. It was then she heard it; a muffled da-dum, then a second and a third. He was alive! But he wouldn't stay that way if she didn't get him to her house quickly.
When she straightened up, she discovered her hair plastered to the side of her face by his blood. In fact, it felt like a weight was hanging from her head. Looking down, even in the moonlight she could see the entire length of her hair was soaked. Now in addition to being torn, her sky-blue tunic would be blood- stained to her waist. For a moment she hoped it wouldn't seep through to her white linen shift. Blood stains were hard to remove and linen was expensive. She immediately admonished herself for thinking such things when a man's life hung by a thread.
Getting to her feet quickly, she gathered fallen branches and fastened them together with vines to form a makeshift pallet. Edana was slight and this was no small man. In spite of how strong she was, she realized she wouldn't be able to drag him by the arms through the woods. That could make his wound bleed even more freely than it already was. After rolling him atop the branches, she gathered her herbs and stuffed them underneath him. She couldn't leave them here. She was going to need the fresh comfrey this very night. Picking up one end of the pallet, she made her way through the undergrowth to her path as fast as she could. Home was half an hour away at a good pace and his weight would slow her down. She wasn't sure he had the time to spare.