Though late in the eve, Yakim wished she had not braved the waters of Black Lake, nor set foot in the smoldering village. She did not feel the better of it, the last of her youthful air stripped away. Memory of the infant stained her soul; a cruel trick played expertly on her. She longed to feel the child’s embrace one last time before laying it down to rest.
As her heart bled, something sprung from the trees, latching onto her back. His fangs were small, pathetic. Yakim tossed him off with ease. The child rolled to his feet, and lingered in the nearby shadows, gazing at her with devilish intent.
“Why do you torment me?” Yakim wiped blood from her neck. The wound closed on its own accord, leaving behind a slight trickle. “Do that again, and you will force me to use my own.” She bared her fangs.
The miscreant cackled, and lunged for her throat. A bony hand plucked the child from the air, holding him up by a handful of hair.
“Leave the young lady alone. Can you not see she is one of us?” An elder woman stepped into the moonlight, and tossed him aside. “The moon plays tricks on us all, especially near Black Lake. Now stop harassing this poor soul, or we will make stew from your sorry hide.” She smacked the boy across the face. “I am Estrid, mistress of these woods. And this miscreant is my grandson, Edward.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance.” Yakim nodded.
“Few ever say such a thing,” she grinned. “What is your name, dear?”
“A strange name for such a delicious morsel. I see that you have an interesting choice in dress as well. So tell me, Yakim, what were you running from?”
“In truth, I am not sure,” the halfling replied. “The village of Merrymore has been decimated, women and children alike.” She broke into tears.
“There, there, dear. You do not need to spill your heart now.” The old hag put a hand on her shoulder. “Tell me, how did you happen upon our quaint village?”
“I was abducted.” Yakim wiped away the tears. “But I was able to evade my captor when he relieved himself in the snow. Eventually he caught up, and-”
“You would not believe me if I told you.”
“Entertain me, nonetheless. We get so few visitors, it is refreshing to hear a new voice. Come.” Estrid put her arm around her. “And do not worry about that little wretch.” She removed the boy’s scowl with a sharp pinch to the cheek. “His bite is no worse than a mosquito’s.”
“Thank you, mistress. Your kindness exceeds my grasp.” Yakim managed a smile.
“Alone we all are, if not humble.” She led her inside.