Plantation, South Carolina, 1836
The woman arched forward, trying to escape the claws tearing at her insides, stifling her moan into the rolled-up cloth between her teeth. The fire in the hearth leapt, licking at the wood with a fiery tongue—in the same manner the pain scorched her womb—splitting her in two.
She couldn’t bear this. No, that wasn’t true. She would bear this. She must. What she couldn’t bear—was what must happen after.
When her contraction subsided, the aged witch, who worked over her, brought cool water to her lips—before following with a hot liquid smelling of something strong. Simmone tasted the bitter herbs, and nodded her thanks to the old crone, who was her grandmother.
“You do well,” the old woman told her. “It won’t be long now, granddaughter.”
Tears sprung to Simmone’s eyes. For nine months, she carried her daughter under her heart. Now, her time had come, and with it, a time when she must also let her go….
She didn’t know how to say goodbye to her baby girl. Yet she knew she had no choice in that—not if she wanted her to live.
“I’m so sorry. You know this must be, child,” her grandmother told her, echoing her thoughts and touching a cool cloth to her head. “The master will never allow you to keep the child. He always kills the half-breeds who spring forth from his loins,” she said bitterly.
“He’ll never believe she died on her own,” Simmone whispered her greatest fear aloud, and not for the first time.
Once spoken, her words seemed to take on a life of their own, squeezing her throat with terror.
“He must.” the old woman admonished, picking up her sage to smudge the little shack again. A child of the Goddess cannot be allowed to be killed, or raised as his half-breed, even if he were inclined to do so—which he’s not….” She came back to the bed. She must not be raised a slave,” she reminded in a quiet, gentle voice.
Simmone nodded. Her grandmother was a healer, well-known and respected, both wise and kind. As hard as it was for Simmone to say goodbye to her daughter, she knew her grandmother spoke the truth. She must not live in a make-believe world, pretending the worse wouldn’t happen. She must be strong. She couldn’t allow harm to come to her daughter—even though that meant she’d never see her little girl again.
She took a sip of the bitter brew her grandmother held to her lips, swallowing the hot liquid on a sob.
She gasped as another contraction hit her, and put the rag back between her teeth. She dared not scream. She dared not even moan—in case one of their master’s spies heard her and reported them.
When the contraction passed, Simmone fell back, staring into the fire, burning in the broken bricks of what was left of the embers, within the hearth. She knew it wouldn’t go well for her. He wouldn’t believe their daughter died. And he wouldn’t take her rebellion lightly.
She didn’t care what happened to her—as long as they protected her daughter, from her father, who intended her harm.
Her grandmother arranged for the babe to be taken into the deep South—to the bayou—to her grandmother’s people, where she’d be safely transported to a place, where she was to become the daughter of a powerful family. Simmone wouldn’t be told where her daughter was to be taken. She knew the child’s father might whip the answers from her. She couldn’t be told, so she couldn’t tell what she didn’t know. But Simmone knew the story of her grandmother’s people well, and she knew of the home where they were to take her babe. Knew they’d provide what she couldn’t give her.
She’d brought her daughter into this life. Now it was up to a family, she didn’t know, to save her.
She arched her back, just as she’d begun to doze, another contraction ripping through her insides, threatening to rip her apart. She managed to get the rag between her teeth, waving at her grandmother, as a much stronger sensation gripped her.
Fear consumed her.
Her grandmother came to help her to get down onto the dirt floor, and turn over to lean over the bed, showing her how to grab the ropes she’d provided for her to strain against. Simmone lost all connection with reality and time. She bellowed muffled pants and choked off screams into the rag. Neither of them paid attention to the fact that she wasn’t overly loud, yet neither was she silent, as they labored to bring her babe safely into the world.
When her daughter sprung forth in a rush of fluid, the old woman gently cleaned her. Though healthy and strong, the babe didn’t cry, as if she knew to do so would place her own life in peril.
“You are the daughter of the Goddess,” her grandmother whispered gently near her ear. “You have the power of the ravens.” She touched her brow again with the cool cloth. “You are protected by her power. For you—are the witch of the Vampire.”
She touched the mark on the baby’s neck, looking up at Simmone. The babe’s mother leaned forward and kissed her daughter’s forehead.
“One day, a daughter will spring forth from the loin of your loins,” she whispered. “The Goddess will come forth, once more, to take her place in a world, who has all but forgotten Her. A mighty nation awaits Her, and She will take her place among them. The time is at hand, for the love of the Goddess to heal our great Mother Earth—and free her children from those who would rule her children with fear.”
She fed her daughter, watching as she suckled hungrily, for what would be the first, and last, meal she’d ever receive from the breast of her mother. When the babe slept, her tummy warm and full, Simmone watched her grandmother bundle her newborn babe and put her in a basket. Simmone sobbed, placing a final kiss on her daughter’s brow. She watched as her grandmother went to the door, to call out to someone who waited.
There was no more time left to lose—and they were well aware of the danger permeating the air with their every breath, these past several hours.
When she’d gone, Simmone sank into a dark pit of despair, even as she fervently prayed for her daughter’s safe passage. The hours slipped by—and though they went, as she lay mostly unaware of their passing, in her grief, the part of her which remained bitterly aware resented every moment lost to her—of time she could have spent with her babe—while being keenly aware that every moment that passed also took her little girl to safety.
At nearly dawn, they woke to a heavy fist banging on the door. The men didn’t wait for permission to enter, but pushed the old witch aside, as they stormed the interior of the small hut. They gave not a care as they drug Simmone from her bed.
They didn’t stop until they’d drug her before her master. By then, she lay there, far too weak from blood-loss and grief to care that he’d have her beaten to death. When she told him the babe had died, he demanded to see the body. And when she refused to produce it, he had her strapped to the post, he was so fond of using for meting out his punishments, and had her whipped.
Well into the late afternoon, he finally realized she might actually be dying and had her returned her to her grandmother’s care—demanding the old witch save her life.
It was then the old crone knew—that in spite of his cruelty, somewhere in his icy veins. he’d a speck of something inside him—that loved her granddaughter….
Out this summer!