A village midwife, caught between witch and shaman, uses powers to protect her flock.
|The Witch and the Demons - W/C:967
The night was damp and breezy, and Alena was exhausted. The baby she’d just delivered was squealing lustily in her arms and the mother was finally sleeping contentedly before her.
Its father was snoring just outside her hut, and since the evening was relatively warm, she allowed him that respite. Men seldom understood the miracle of birth, but they recognized the effort it took to bring new life into the world, and granted their womenfolk the ritual of childbirth.
She quietly renewed the incantations taught to her by her mother, and her mother before her for the safety and protection of the infant in her arms. These were ancient talismans, repeated over centuries of reproduction, for reasons that had become lost in time. They worked, she admitted, as she’d delivered nearly 200 young souls into their primitive world over the years.
A witch, some declared, but she considered herself the shaman of her village, a living memory of their past, their history extending to the beginning of time. At least to her, the children that she’d brought into the world were hers, albeit attached to the different families composing her village, and she extended her protection to all of them.
Her powers? She simply acknowledged them as common sense. Cleanliness, timeliness, and an awareness of what was working and what was not. Many of the incantations in the tomes that she’d inherited over the years made no sense to her, but she knew better than to ignore them altogether.
Of late, however, she’d noted dark shadows haunting her efforts; shapes that slipped back and forth through her line of sight as she attended her midwifery duties. Whether they were evil or benign was uncertain, but she felt that any entity that interrupted her birthing activities was more than just a distraction.
This particular delivery was an example of increasing attention by unfriendly forces, even though she was unable to see them directly. Out of the corner of her eyes, she watched as the fire feeding the pot of boiling water in the fireplace snuffed out. Needed for sterilization, she quickly checked the pot and discovered it full of dirt and grime.
It had been time, she thought, to spend more time studying the incantations and history that she’d inherited from her forbearers. Her mother had told her of encountering malevolent shadows during her administrations trying to interrupt her efforts at serving the villagers, but she herself had not seen the full extent of it, until tonight.
Birthing was stressful to both the mother and her midwife these days, although the science relating to the process was much less primitive than times past. Why entities, or demons would haunt such a natural event was beyond her ken, but she’d had a few generations of collective lore and personal experience now to convince her of their presence.
There were no deliveries that she’d attended to that were painless; the pain and agony that accompanied each had seared her soul, along with that of the mothers. Attempts by her to alleviate that trial by her ministrations had helped, but not eliminated it entirely. Bringing new life into this world was very hard, and oftentimes unsuccessful.
Several days examining piles of ancient texts, notes and diagrams left to her by her forbearers had given her a plan of attack against the forces now forming against her. If nothing else, it gave her an opportunity to test the strength of the potions, incantations and spiritual arts passed on to her by her ancestors.
No mother’s labor begins the same, but a first baby was the most unpredictable and usually most difficult. This one was no exception, the mother almost immediately screaming in agony as the contractions took over the process.
Alena had already muttered the incantation of protection for mother and the upcoming birth, but she had two new spells to cast, hoping for the best. The first was a simple exposition spell, allowing her to see any invisible entities in the area. Harmless, it nonetheless provided her with a target for the second, more important chant.
As her patient intensified her cries of pain, Alena spotted four ominous, gnarly figures pressed against the borders of her protection spell, apparently eager to continue their mischief against the birthing at first opportunity.
Laying her hands gently against the woman’s swollen belly, she braced herself for the pain she knew would come.
Opening her psyche to that of her patient’s, she immediately felt the crush of expected pain, nearly obscuring her view of the leering demons. Hoping that her plan would work, she painfully uttered the second incantation, keeping each of the demons in sight. Slowly, the pain in her body abated, until it was nearly gone. At the same time, she witnessed the vile creatures writhing in agony, soon echoing the cries of the woman on the bed before her, who had abruptly gone silent as the now painless contractions continued to completion.
Her spell of transference was successful, as her patient’s pain had been transferred to the creatures threatening them. In a few moments, they’d abruptly disappeared back into the darkness from whence they’d come.
Alena smiled softly as she gently laid the newborn in the dozing mother’s arms, guiding the youngster’s mouth to her breast to feed. She watched as the mother instinctively cuddled the child to her as she slept.
In the silence of the room, aside from the suckling sounds from the newborn, Alena reflected on the history of her clan. It seemed that she’d discovered, or rediscovered, a remedy for the interference of demonic entities in the affairs of men.
At that moment, she felt it proper to awaken the father and report; “Congratulations, mother and son are just fine.”