The Old Woman Watcher

Once upon a mid-winter, on a day when deep, dampening fog slipped into a wooded glade, an old woman set out on a day’s long journey.
            The cold was bitter and bone-chilling, penetrating the skin.  It was all the old woman could do to stave off the bitter shakes that stabbed at her gnarled, swollen joints.  But her journey was one of gravest importance, for the child—and the mother—were counting on her presence.
            When at last she arrived at the worn cottage with a thin thread of steam whirling limply from the chimney, she crossed the house’s threshold with words of blessing on her lips.  The fire was nothing to be proud of; only thin twigs, the sort that dry quickly, made up its tiny licking flames.  But a fire it was, and the old woman sat in a chair of wood and held her hands toward it gratefully.  She did not bother long with warmth, however, for a glance at the sky told her the night was upon them—yes, them.  For she was not alone.
            In a cradle under the window, lay the child.
            Its mother had gone, having left not long before—and it did not come as a surprise.  The old woman had travelled as fast as she could, but a woman on her own and a child for which to provide sees much toil and so it was that she had gone to sell her wares of delicate lace at the evening market where the wealthy promenade on such a night. 
            A dangerous night to be away.  This the old woman knew, and the toiling mother, too.  For it was the night of the Snow Moon—a night when the fog would abandon its seeping haze as quickly as it had come, and the Fae would come to claim bits of a realm no longer their own.
            Thus, with her eyes firmly upon the child’s dreaming face, the old woman kept her vigil.
            An hour, maybe more, passed, and they came.
            Skittering, their light feet dancing, first upon the dead garden, then upon the window’s ledge, then upon the cradles’ wooden top, they crept, and danced, and twittered amongst themselves.  And then their eyes turned as Fae as they might, and their hands reached for the child.  It was with a quick grab that they leaned to take what they mistakenly felt was theirs.  But it was with a sudden stop that they froze, their fingers inches from the child’s face.  For they had felt the eyes of the old woman watcher.
            Slowly they slinked away from whence they came.  In a moment it was as if they had never been.
            The Snow Moon sank below the trees, and the light went out of the sky.
            And the woman felt her weight sag against her chair.
            The danger had passed.

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