Prophecy, Part 4: Orphan Born of Flame
The night was silent, the blanket of darkness above speckled with stars. Even the wind blowing between the trees did little to damper the serenity of the forest.
Saraid often took walks through these woods after the sun had set, as she had for many years. Rarely did she ever experience anything unusual during these excursions. But then again, it had been a strange week: a solar eclipse, but no confirmation of a birth nearby. The other druids had panicked for days, and Saraid, one of the youngest among their ranks, just needed some air and some time to think.
Granted, the druids were right to worry; this was the worst-case scenario. An eclipse signified an important cosmological event. Either a prophecy had been spoken and gone unheard--which seemed unlikely, as a prophecy was never delivered without a witness--or a child of prophecy had been born and left unidentified. This child would, as was foretold centuries ago, grow into the third prophesied champion of their people, the most important of them all. Their fate would heavily intertwine with that of the entire land.
And yet, no newborns were reported. The child was nowhere to be found.
A twig snapped under Saraid's foot. She looked up, realizing she'd been lost in her thoughts. Glancing over her surroundings, she realized she'd wandered off the familiar path.
Great, she thought to herself. Now I'm lost.
She sighed exasperatedly. The other, older druids would just love to hear that Saraid had actually gotten lost out here. They constantly berated her, scolding her for constantly escaping to the forest. They didn't mean it to be mean--none of them were bullies or anything. But Saraid didn't understand why, as one of the protectors and keepers of nature, she should be held back from basking in it.
She traced her steps back, stomping on more twigs in frustration. For a moment, the cracking of the wood was the only sound breaking the silence of the forest.
Then a new sound, quiet but carried on the wind, reached Saraid's ears. Despite its clear distance, the sound was sharp and unmistakable:
A baby. The sharp wailing of a newborn child.
Saraid froze, listened for the sound, and sprinted toward its source. Her arms were protected in their traditional druidic wrappings as she tore through the brush, but her face wasn't as guarded. By the time she broke through into a clearing, her cheeks were adorned with plenty of cuts and scratches.
The pain didn't matter. Here, in the center of this clearing, was the crying infant.
He was loosely wrapped in thin, poor-quality cloth. He was hairless and tiny; Saraid guessed from a distance that he couldn't be older than a few days. His cries, now up close, were piercing and pained.
Saraid approached the lonely child, looking around through the trees to see if someone else was coming--his mother, perhaps, or whoever left him here. But she couldn't see anyone.
He continued to wail. Saraid almost wondered if he knew he'd been abandoned. His pain could be clearly felt through his cries.
She reached down to pick him up. The moment her fingertips touched the cloth surrounding the child, an image flashed across her vision.
Flame. Smoke and cinders. She felt the heat against her skin, and heard the crackling of the inferno. And behind it all, beyond any of her physical senses, she felt a deep, primal dread. It rose from her core like a laugh--or a sob.
The split second passed. Saraid faltered, nearly collapsing from the shock. She wiped her forehead, suddenly drenched with sweat, and began considering the implications. A child of prophecy is born nearby and goes unidentified, and now a mysterious infant appears abandoned in the forest nearby, invoking in Saraid visions of flame? The dots weren't difficult to connect.
Saraid knew this child's importance. He must be brought before the druids.
- Saraid [SAHR-ad]