Deep within the yew and cottonwoods, the beast waited. Across the gentle river, a town bolted their doors and did the same, stringing garlands of garlic flowers over their doors.
The beast’s belly was swollen, limbs sore and lacking their normal strength. She was young for her kind and had never experienced the waves of bone-deep pain before. Never had her body betrayed her so, the sharp aches overtaking her like a tide. She sunk against the base of a flowering yew.
Before she’d lost herself amidst the rotting trunks and towering trees, she’d wandered between midwife, inn, and doctor. They shied from her like their horses did from wolves, white around their eyes and nostrils flaring at her scent. When all had turned her away, they closed the gates. Fear, normally a gift to her kind, condemned her. Now, cradled only in moss and mud, she cursed the squat little town and its rank flowers.
The day ebbed away into night, the sky first deepening to amethyst first and then pitch.Her sensitive eyes welcomed the respite and the night air called steam from her burning skin.
In the depths of the woods, the beast gave birth to a son. The babe curled silent but warm as his mother on the forest floor. No longer alone, the took him in her arms and pressed her lips to his brow. He did not cry, as their kind were quiet things.
The new mother cradled her young, cleaning him as best she could with her shift and soiled coat.
Scenting blood nearby, an ambling bear approached the little clearing between the trees. Its head up and nose twitching, the animal stopped when as it came upon the two.
The beast met the bear’s glassy dark eyes. Her arms were occupied by the now squirming and bloody baby. The animal’s nose twitched, scenting the thing beneath the gore. It whined deep in its throat, shuffling its swinging body backward. It left as quickly as it could through the dense undergrowth.
She watched the bear go, content to let it leave. There would be time for food later, for now, she smiled down at her son and wriggled her fingers before his face. Already quick and alert, the boy’s face lit up at the movement. She repeated the game and he squirmed with delight.
The beast settled against the flowering yew. Morning would come soon enough. The town would breathe in relief and gather their garlands, they’d go about their short lives and some would forget. The beast would not.
For now though, with her son pressed to her chest and the serene silence of the cottonwoods and yew around them, the beast could wait.