Of the Little Wolf and her Demons

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  • Published: 21 Nov 2013
  • Updated: 21 Nov 2013
  • Status: Complete
This is a little thingumabob that I wrote for something or other about a year or so ago.
Just a few little pointers; it's set in Ireland around the times of the witch hunts/trials were happening, but in a small village where very little of this kind of thing happened. Also, the title refers to the main character, whose name means "little wolf".
Thanks for reading!

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“COINÍN! GET YOURSELF DOWN ‘ERE!”

Startled, a young brown-haired girl jumped with fright, promptly dropping the flower wreath she’d been plaiting while glancing towards the empty hatch from which she heard the thundering voice. Not wanting a repeat of the near earthquake caused by the yell, she leapt up and ran, her feet lightly tapping on old wooden floorboards and, upon reaching the tiny “kitchen”—which consisted of only an old, makeshift iron stove and a crudely carved wooden table with chairs to match—she looked up at her father. The girl received not the warm gaze one would expect a father to give his only child, but a cold and unforgiving glare. It was to be expected… She must have done something wrong again.

The child didn’t speak, only watched and waited for the man she called her father to tell her what it was this time. She watched a grubby finger rise and point at a small pile of potatoes, covered in mud. They looked freshly dug. “Why ain’t that done yet, ya lil’ brat?”

A confused expression marred the girl’s features as she opened her mouth to speak, only to snap it shut again. There was no point arguing with her father. There was no point saying anything to him. All she could do was to go along with what she was told to, even if that chore hadn’t been given to her in the first place… Of course, Kynan wouldn’t ever hit her like so many other fathers would—He was too gentle a man to do such an awful thing—but the look of disappointment and disgust he gave her if something hadn’t gone his way was more than enough. Coinín saw that look on his face far too often as it was, so she didn’t want to see it twist his otherwise handsome features any more than it already did.

So she never spoke back.

In time, the quiet girl with the boys’ name understood the reason for her father treating her with such dislike, but she also discovered the reason for him not abandoning her in some distant place long ago, for she often wondered why he’d raised her from when she was a small babe if he despised her so much. The reason for both seemed to be her mother or, to be exact, her late mother, Eithne. Kynan often told beautiful tales of her in the rare moment when he’d managed to acquire a small bit of a foul-smelling and apparently intoxicating drink Coinín was never permitted to drink. The bitter stuff always seemed to loosen his tongue and warm his harsh voice. It was then that Coinín heard stories of her mother, and she relished those moments with all her heart. She loved to listen to her father’s detailed descriptions of Eithne’s flowing red hair, the tales of how her eyes sparkled like emeralds in the sunlight, of how her song would have the world go silent so that everything could listen to it. She dared not say a thing in those moments in the fear that the fragile spell would be shattered if a single word was uttered in her voice. Even if the spell was bound to break shortly after the happiness anyway, for the stories of Eithne always led to tales of her birth, she wanted the love to last as long as possible. During those darker tales, poor Coinín was forced to watch her father’s face turn to cold stone as his eyes bore through her face and beyond it, as if looking right at the demon he believed her soul to be.

Coinín found out that Eithne’s childbirth was a difficult one, resulting in sickness, fever and the eventual wasting away of the once-beautiful woman. To make things worse, the child was prophesised a boy by the local druid, but was instead birthed a girl. A cursed child, in Kynan’s eyes, but ridding himself of it wouldn’t have been possible. The mother, his angelic and much-loved wife, made him promise to look after the child, their child. He had no choice but to give his word to his passing wife, however reluctant he might have been. The man eventually found himself growing unintentionally attached to the child as she grew older for she began to look more and more like her mother: hair acquiring the same red shade; eyes that looked like perfect copies; all the curves of her features and body ever so alike to his beloved Eithne. In his drunken moments, he looked upon the child fondly; he spoke to her as if his Angel was still here with him. Those moments twisted the seemingly mute teenager’s mind, almost forcing a constant smile onto her face—it was a smile she felt obliged to keep for the sake of her father’s happiness as well as for her own diminishing sanity.

Coinín hardly ever left the small cottage she and her father called their own, always having a terrible feeling in her gut on the weekly occasions she did go to market. She could never explain this ominous feeling but she was never entirely comfortable outside, away from her father, but her ecstasy at being able to walk free by herself and explore her village usually overpowered the negativity. One fateful day when she stayed out for just a few minutes too many at her favourite flower stall, she finally found a reason for the foreboding. The redhead returned to see her father in their humble kitchen, laying stone cold on the floor with foam running from the corner of his mouth and a bottle of that foul drink of his shattered in his hand.

Coinín didn’t remember much about what happened after that but heard stories that the superstitious villagers had spread about her howling like the wolf she was named after, crying to her father, wreaking havoc in the cottage.  A few moments after she woke from her delusions, the realisation came that she was on the floor next to her deceased father; the room around her looked like a wild animal had entered it and had its way. She hadn’t a clue, nor would she ever have, about what it was that killed her father but what was done was done. She was alone. In a daze—clothes torn, hair wild, eyes glazed—she left what had been her home feeling nothing, yet with a gentle smile fixed onto her face. She didn’t attend the small funeral; she didn’t officially pay her final respects as his daughter, but she was to be forever haunted by the horrifying event.

The expression froze on the girl’s face after that day, an empty smile and hollow eyes greeting any person who saw her. Coinín rarely saw anyone, however, drifting to a life of solitude in the wilderness of the forest surrounding the small village she was once part of. Every so often, she’d leave the place she inhabited (a shack in the woods) to sell wicker baskets and various herbs from the wild in an attempt to make money for meat and milk. It was rare for her to be blessed with a customer—the whole village believed her to be a cursed child, so only weary travellers from distant places like the North and even on occasion England bought from her and even those slowly stopped buying as the stories reached their ears quicker and quicker. The whole predicament pushed Coinín into the complete solitude of her shack, pressing her to hunt and forage for herself. It obviously made her all the more suspicious to the Christians of the village: Soon, parents were blaming the sickness of their children on the strange girl from the woods; farmers were blaming her for their crops failing; villagers blamed her for loss of money…

Soon, she was called a witch.

Now a fine-looking though slightly sick young woman, Coinín was restricted to staying only in her humble shack, living the simplest kind of life imaginable. Thin and hungry, she lived on wild berries, mushrooms, plants and the occasional small mammal or frog she’d manage to catch. The diet wasn’t enough for her to be fully healthy yet she lived on, carrying on with her meagre life until a plague hit the village. Once again, the blame was placed on the cursed wolf-woman. But time the destruction was too much for the people, so they set out to do something about this accursed woman.

Armed with torches and pitchforks, men and women alike marched down to the forest. Coinín’s flimsy shack was burned down, the confused young woman dragged out with embers in her red-brown hair: they pushed her and she fell, left eye gouged out on a fallen branch; ropes burned her wrists; twigs and sharp leaves cut her legs and face; people mocked and taunted the innocent, slightly insane woman who still bore the faintest trace of a smile on her face. They didn’t realise that they were the monsters, not her. They didn’t realise that they were in the wrong. They just wanted revenge and justice for the wrong that was brought upon them, even if they were looking for that justice in the incorrect place. They wanted the plague to leave their town in peace… And this was the only way they knew how to do that. So, in the spirit of the religion she was brought up with, she forgave them.

Even when her body was tied to the giant stake at the edge of the village, she smiled. Even when the flames licked her bare skin, she smiled. Even when they screamed their cursed at them, she smiled. The sun was slowly rising over the horizon, bathing her slowly burning form in pure light. She inhaled the smoky air and coughed. She watched a butterfly fly past the wild-eyed spectators and marvelled silently over the ignorance of nature. She watched the pseudo-humans urging on her death, her pain, her misery… And sadness suddenly washed over her. A single tear dried instantly at the corner of her undamaged eye as the smile slipped from her face while she began to feel sorry for what these misguided humans had become, though the flames devouring her flesh began to cause searing pain and a new, uncalled-for emotion made her clench her teeth. Wrath had overcome her, as new a feeling to Coinín as the sense of being burned alive.

In those last, brutal moments the shock of it all had some of her sanity returned to her and made the final realisation set in. This was wrong; she’d done nothing against anyone, so how dare these monsters blame her so? There was no reason to forgive this foul wrongdoing, no matter what any god preached, so she wouldn’t. If there even was a ‘god’. What kind of all-powerful, all-loving deity would let an innocent woman burn to death at the hands of her own kin? There was no such being. There were only humans and the devils they made of themselves. In a final fit of rage, she’d give the people what they always shunned her for supposedly doing.

As she inhaled the sea of flames and burned from the inside out, Coinín screamed her curse.

 

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