The Darkwood Forest was heavy with mist rolling in off the Highland moors. Tendrils grey as smoke curled over the tops of trees, settling down into their boughs like an army of ghostly apparitions. Cool autumn winds couldn’t lift the unnatural fog once it settled; rather they pushed the mists further down into the glen. As Saoirse left her home, nestled deep in the mountain pass high above the dale, she watched the unfolding scene with interest. The dense curtain of thick, wet air was seeping slowly out of the woods and covering the small village near the forest’s edge in its embrace.
“Likely they will blame me for this weather,” Saoirse muttered under her breath as she walked down the stone path that led from her home into Darkwood.
A short bark met her hushed words and stopped Saoirse in her tracks. She turned on her heels, looking towards her faded blue cottage just as her faithful companion came barreling out of the shed. The dark-coated hound ran half-speed towards the footpath where Saoirse stood, a thick basket looped through one of her arms. The dog’s tongue rolled out of his mouth as he ran. He barked again, his tail wagging in furious motions as he caught up to his mistress.
Saoirse reached out her gloved hand, the supple leather meeting a mass of curly black hair silky as spring grass. Her hound returned the gesture with a cheerful bark.
“Likely they will blame you too, you shaggy beast.” She laughed as her companion rolled over into the wet earth and showed his belly. “No time for play, Ardal, we have mushrooms and wild garlic to collect and whatever else we can manage in this.” She motioned to the mist with a gloved hand as if Ardal could understand her words.
Saoirse lifted her dark green hood to tuck in her freshly plated mahogany locks, and whistled for Ardal to follow. “Perhaps the uncanny fog will disappear before long,” she told him as they left the cottage behind.
Her pet gave a hearty bark and ran off into the thickets as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Saoirse followed close behind trying not to worry of the foul weather.
“Did you see, Liam?”
Dressed in her morning gown, Brigid stood in front of the window, her eyes focused on the mists pour out of the woods like a wall of grey water. In late autumn it was not rare to see mists in the high mountains, yet the thickness was unsettling as was the way in which it seemed to cover the land like a burial shroud.
Liam, still half-asleep, rose groggily from the bed. He ran a hand through his dark hair and across the stubble of his jawline, opening and closing his eyes to adjust to the faint morning light. Leaving the warmth of the bed behind, Liam made his way across the small cottage to the window facing the woods. He wrapped his strong arms around Brigid’s waist and lowered his chin onto her shoulder to peer out through the smudged glass.
But instead of a comment on the thick fog, which now covered everything, he turned his attentions to the crease of Brigid’s neck, kissing it tenderly.
“Liam, I am serious. Look at it… I have never seen a mist so heavy.”
“And I have never seen a neck so lovely,” Liam whispered in-between kisses.
Brigid pulled away and took a step closer to the window, a deep furrow carved into her brow. “It is unnatural. Do you not see it?”
“All I see is a gorgeous sunrise right before me, blinding me with her radiant beauty.” Liam took a step towards her and grabbed her by the waist as he drew her in for a kiss. The worry on Brigid’s face slowly faded in his embrace.
“If I ever forget why I married you Liam Campbell, just remind me with one of your fancy speeches.” Brigid laughed. With a coy smile playing on her lips, she returned to the bed, throwing herself back into the folds of rose-colored linens.
“Oh, I’ll give you something to remember me by, my love.”
He flung his tunic across the room amid laughter.
“But we haven’t even had breakfast yet,” Brigid said with a half-laugh as Liam strode across the room unclothed with a wide grin from ear to ear.
She tried to playfully squirm away from him as he climbed atop the bed. But he grabbed her hips and rolled her over. He jumped on top of her to keep her from getting away. The dark linen was still wrapped around her but he could feel the heat of her flesh beneath him. In that instance, all thought of the world outside the cottage fell away.
Liam ran a hand through her pale hair, pushing the curls from his young bride’s face as she lay smiling up at him. Brigid’s skin was smooth and beautiful, freckled slightly from her carefree days spent out by the loch. Her deep blue eyes watched him carefully as he pushed the bottom of the sheet up past her thigh.
“You are the only thing in the world that matters to me right now.” He told her.
Brigid’s eyes were full of desire and she relaxed her grip on the sheet, letting Liam push the folds back completely. She pulled the white linen shift up and over her head with Liam’s help and whispered in his ear. “Kiss me… kiss me everywhere.”
Despite the newness of it all—their marriage and their home— there was nothing new about their desire for one another. They had waited a long time to be wed and their passion for one another could not be easily quenched. As Liam ran his hand across her naked flesh, the need and urgency to taste her, touch her, fill her, overtook him. And as they tumbled through the sheets, they took their fill of one another until both were breathlessly satisfied.
“Do you think it is a bad omen?” Brigid asked him as they finished their morning meal. It had been more than an hour since they had bathed and dressed and the mists still hung outside the window like a thick drapery.
Liam ate quietly in an attempt to think of the last few months of bliss rather than the mists or of the witch whose curse most likely had brought the unusual weather. He ignored Brigid’s questions, which had returned in earnest after they had sat to eat their meal.
“It is just that I remember the witches in the west and they were very cruel before the war and..”
Liam squeezed a piece of fruit so hard that it burst and sent sprays of juice across the white linen table.
“Liam, are you alright?” Brigid settled her napkin over the mess and tried to place his clenched fist in her hands but he pulled his hand away.
“I wish you would stop speaking of these things to me. I regret telling you of the war and their kind and of her.”
Brigid kept quiet and watched him from the corner of her eyes. But she could not keep her eyes from the mist, as if the strange fog was calling to her.
“Perhaps this witch …”
Liam slammed his spoon into his bowl and glared at Brigid, a sudden anger overtaking him.
“Do not speak her name… not here, not ever, Brigid. To speak it is to give her power over you. Do you know nothing of witches?”
Eyes wide as saucers, Brigid said nothing.
“Do you understand? She is not to be trifled with and you must listen, you must understand. Never speak of her to me. Never. Nor to anyone. What I told you was only for your ears because you are my wife and the Lady of these lands.” Liam had stood to his feet, pulling Brigid to hers in the process. The warmth in his steel blue eyes had faded, left behind on their wedding bed. Instead all Brigid saw was cold, bleak anger. Liam didn’t realize that he had shook her so violently until she cried out.
“You’re hurting me, Liam…”
He stopped instantly and looked between her and the window. A deep furrow set in between his brows as he looked down on his wife.
Liam released his grip and hastily moved about the room picking up boots and his belt and swords. He found his new set of flintlocks and dressed without another word to his new bride. It was as if a mad fury had overtaken him and Brigid, frightened of the way he changed so suddenly, hid near the bed as she watched through tear-filled eyes.
Gone was the joy they had found earlier in the day and she blamed herself for mentioning the witch. She knew well enough how Liam felt about the witches and he had warned her more than once to not speak of any of them to him, especially the witch that lived in the mountains. There was some darkness there, some unknown past that Brigid was unaware of. The secret of her existence had been given to her to guard. “It is for our safety,” he had told her when they first arrived in the mountain village. Yet, there was more to the story, hidden things that she dared not ask about. Why else would he be so angry, she thought to herself as she watched him shuffle through the cottage for his things.
But it wasn’t the mists or the thought of the witch descending from the mountain with her vile curses falling over the land that filled her with anxiety, it was her husband. He had never been so cold and unloving during their courtship. In the two years they had waited for his time in the King’s army to be over, Liam had never shown impatience or anger. True that they had seen each other little, as he was set to the front more time than Brigid could count. Yet, when she did see him, Liam Campbell had always been the model of chivalry and decorum as one would expect from a Lord’s son. This was a side of him she had never seen before and it frightened her.
When he finished gathering his things, he went to the door and unlatched the lock. He turned to find Brigid near the bed, her arms wrapped around a tall wooden post.
“Stay inside as much as you can. I will send someone to check on you.”
“Where are you going?”
“Promise me.” Liam’s voice was stern, cold.
“Only if you tell me, Liam, why are you leaving? I’m sorry that I brought up the witches…” Brigid tried to bit her lip to keep the tears at bay, but they fell down her cheeks and welled up in her eyes as she spoke.
“I know you are sorry, and I forgive you. But there… there is something that should have been done long ago and I can’t sleep in your arms another night with the thought that something might come between us. Now promise me that you will heed my words and stay inside as much as you can so I may leave with a clear mind.”
“I promise, my husband.” Bridget murmured with sadness.
He motioned to her to come and wearily she left the bed behind. Standing before him at the door, Liam drew her in for a kiss.
A tinge of guilt swept through him but he didn’t know how to tell her sorry. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for his love, and he did love her. After two long years as captain in the King’s elite guard, he had never wanted anything as badly as he wanted Brigid. She made him feel normal, as if the strange evil in the world, in his heart, was nothing but a dream. But not matter how much he loved her, he still couldn’t explain to her why he feared the witch that lived in the mountain. He was a soldier, a warrior, and fear was not allowed even if every solider felt it. He had to be strong enough for both of them and this was something that couldn’t wait. They had had their long honeymoon period and enjoyed every moment. But, he should have known better than to settle into marriage before tying up loose ends.
“Don’t fret, Brigid. I will return.” He whispered. “Just remember what I said and stay inside. I will send along the servants to attend to you while I am away.” He left his bride with one last kiss on the lips.
When she opened her eyes he was gone, only the shadows of mist playing in the doorway.