Siofra

Siofra is a child who no one wants to know about - no one but a giant it would seem. So when the giant is killed by villagers who don't believe in the old ways, Siofra vows to show them the hard way.

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3. Chapter Three

“Siofra!”

The child giggled from somewhere in the foliage. Ailil tried not to grin. She was getting to good at this. Squinting, he tried to separate the shadows from the bushes, untangling the trees. Another sound burst into the air; the clap of wings. Birds went shooting up in indignant twitters from a bush directly to the left of him. The giant closed his eyes, then re-opened them, this time seeing the shape morphed into the leafy surroundings. With a chuckle, he reached forward and plucked the seven year old out.

She stood before him, her hair snarled and woven into a bird’s nest, her dress torn and muddied, her feet bare. “You’re getting too good at that,” he chided, rubbing her hair. She beamed back, exposing the gaping hole in her bottom jaw.

“I can do it now, it’s as easy as you said it would be. You just need to listen to what the forest tells you.”

Ailil looked down at the girl who had prospered in his care. She had sailed through the dangerous years of infancy, and now was becoming just as the others had been. Each day, he scrutinised her for the tell- tale signs of darkness the Old Mother had predicted, but as yet there was nothing. Any changes in her had been towards the light. Her eyes had turned a brilliant shade of green, her hair adopting the same colours but with highlights of silver and copper.

“It’s getting dark, we had better head home,” the giant prompted, noting the long shadows cast by the trees.

“Oh please can I stay out, just for a few more minutes. I’ll play by the cottage so you can watch me!” Her eyes turned huge and her lips began to stick out. Her hands linked together and started to twist. This card had been played so many times, but even he couldn’t say no. Rolling his eyes, he nodded, picking the girl up and placing her on his shoulder as he strode homewards.

Just outside the gate, he put Siofra down. She beamed up at him.

“Don’t stay out too late. You know what comes out to play. Stay in sight.”

She nodded her head vigorously then danced off.

Ailil headed inside, setting the fire ablaze. He grabbed a chair and hauled it over to the fire, twisting it so as he sat down, he had a clear view over the child’s playground. He could see her white shape in the gloom, cavorting. Very faint strains of song came back to him, the one he had taught her.

Fairies away, put down your heads,

With nightime’s fall, away to bed.

Soft leaves use to wrap up tight

And protect against the dark night.

I too away to bed will go

Safe aginst the darkest foe.

He grinned. That girl would never have the voice of an angel, but she had other attributes to make up for it. It was a wonder the fairies hadn’t launched a complaint. It was more of a torture than a night-time lullaby.

Everything was as it should be. He could feel the forest learning towards the small figure. Contended, he swallowed himself a moment to close his eyes. He wouldn't sleep, just think. Raising five children should have got easier with each one, but he had forgotten how much it drained him.

In the forest, Siofria  had seen something scurrying into an overgrown hedge. It snickered; a sound not belonging to any of her fey companions. Her eyes wide, she tiptoed up to the bush, seeing a black shape crash through the branches. Bending down so she was on the same level, she whispered "Hello. I'm Siofria."

It fell still. The silence unnerved Siofria. "It's  alright, I won't hurt you."

A creature exploded from the bush, a tiny shadow at first which grew into a figure the same size as the child. When it gradually stopped shifting, Siofria was able to see the wicked rows of teeth exposed with the snarl, and obsidian eyes which glared at her.

"Why are you meddling?" It spoke through its teeth, the tongue flicking ferociously.

"I thought....maybe you would ...play," the child whimpered, starting to back away. The thing moved with her.

"Do I look like I play? The only thing I play with is my prey before I kill it."

It dived towards Siofra, who skittered sideways in the nick of time. Cursing, the creature shrank down and began darting through the undergrowth. Siofra whimpered as she ran . Her dress kept tangling around her legs.

She ran until her lungs ached, till her hair was matted against her neck with sweat. Searing pain shot through her calves, making them useless. With a small exhalation, Siofra slumped to ground. As she lay amongst the brambles, she moved her head from left to right to see if the thing had followed her. Dusk had turned into the ripple of night, but even with the darkness she could see she hadn't  been followed.

Levering herself up on her arms, she began picking bits out of hair. Resiliant twigs clung to her dress, tearing the fabric as they came away. Shakily, she got to her feet.

"Boo."

There was no time to react to this hunter. Instead, Siofra felt a tremor, born of the earth, move through her feet, up her shins, settling on her heart. Unconsciously, her hands moved with the music, absorbing the breathing world around her. Everything jolted into being. She could hear the trees singing songs of protection and growth; she could hear the flowers breathing in the crisp night air. Over to her left, she could hear the scamper of paws.

Like fire eating fuel, insight spread along her nerve endings. Only dimly aware of the threat before her, she found the roots that slithered over the ground. Using the song of summoning Ailil had taught her, she coaxed the roots to let go. Instantly they become snakes rearing. Under Siofra's call, they weighed towards the malignance in their way. As Siofra splayed her fingers, the roots leapt forward, seizing the pixie and squeezing.

It squealed until Siofra's eardrums were ready to burst. The urge to keep tightening grew stronger, bringing with it a dark green mist. It started to obscure her vision and she did not know what the outcome would be should it take complete hold.

Wrenching herself free, she let nature's prison bars collapse and return to the ground. An exposed pixie stood wide-eyed in their absence. Both it and Siofra were unable to talk. Not one of them had seen that coming.

As Siofra blinked, the pixie vanished. Picking up her skirts, the girl ran home, crashing through the door and startling Ailil from his slumber. He took one look at her flushed cheeks and wild eyes, then sat her down in a chair by the fire. Whisking a blanket off the bed at the end of the room, he gently wrapped the child in its prickly embrace.

“What happened,” he asked, waiting for Siofra to regain some of her lost breath.

“There was a horrible thing out there…I just asked it to play and it tried…tried to kill me.”

Ailil stiffened. “Describe it to me.”

“Dark eyes, evil, pointed teeth…it grew tall…I think it was a pixie.”

“No, no, that wasn’t a pixie. You just met a lunatishee, the foul creatures that they are. How did you get free? Not many can shake off those things, especially a child like yourself.”

Siofra sat upright, the blanket falling down her shoulders. Snarled tendrils uncurled from her hair and the bold glow from the fire half-shadowed her face. Her green eyes were fierce as they looked into Ailil’s own.

“Nature listened to me. I don’t know what I did but the roots started to suffocate him. I managed to stop myself from killing it but it was scared.”

Ailil stared at the girl before him. He knew the child was still learning to control her power, but he had only ever show her how to use it to heal the forest, to call the animals, to provide for every living organism around them. He hadn’t shown her how to use it against other things. Somehow, she had figured it out for herself. One time was enough to start on that path.

He knelt down before his ward, taking the child’s small hands in his own huge, calloused ones. “Listen to me. This thing you did today…only use it when you are in a similar situation. If there is no danger, you push the feeling away and focus on what I have taught you. Do you understand?”

Siofra swallowed, nodding her head vigorously. Ailil’s eyes flared with an intensity she had never seen before.  Remembering the way the roots had felt in her hands, she started to shake. It had made her feel like she could do anything, make anyone listen to her. She didn’t want to feel like that ever again. 

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