Chapter 1 - The Three Ravens,
Three ravens perched on an icy branch, beady eyes piercing the winter scene below the spindly tree. A shivering breeze blew through the desolate highlands, vast country of grey and white snow stretched out beneath faded mountains. The world was near silent, the only sound the rustling of withered leaves dancing the ground. One raven flapped its scrawny wings and then opened its beak to a croaky squawk as blurry figures moved on the horizon.
A group of deer appeared from the mist, fighting through the wind that shook their twig-like legs. A warm glow of afternoon sun fell on them as they left footprints, their dainty hoofs pressing into the snow. Stepping out from the blur more came into view; the larger ones with beefier bodies and little horns strode out first, speckled and pretty little does followed suit and finally behind shivered fragile fawns, chocolate eyes wide and bright peering beneath thick lashes at the huge world before them.
The sun began to fall into the ground, the night creeping in and the air froze over. The fawns nestled into their mother's warmth, letting them kiss them with their soft heads. And then, out from the back came a sight the age-old highlands had never witnessed before; following the deer tracks, amongst the fawns, crawled a tiny, human baby.
The child was blue with cold, the ragged clothes she wore frosted and torn. Her dough eyes were round and full of sadness, blurring with tears that traced her silky skin. The tiny hands that had been crawling through the snow were numb and the baby clenched them into little fists and stopped moving, curling up into a ball, hugging her knees to her chest. Then she let out a sob and she was crying, bawling so loud the deer stopped in alarm and turned to see.
A female deer slowly turned, the swirling wind beating her face as she moved through it to the child, eyes blinking with snowflakes and worry. Slowly but surely she bent her head and nudged the baby softly, so gently it were as though she thought the child would break. The baby sniffed, looking up under her eyes into the deer's affectionate face. She reached up her tiny arms to the deer, cupping her wet, black nose in her hands. For a moment her cries were silenced. Then the deer shook her off and with one more nudge inched the baby off the floor and onto her knees. The other deer stood confused, heads cocked to the side as they watched the odd little creature being mothered along with the fawns. But soon they all wandered off, the baby crawling along among them.
The ravens, hearing the cries, lifted up into the air, their ragged feathers shaking out as they took flight. They circled the deer and the baby, squawking loud and menacingly, their yellow eyes blaring and sharp. The little baby pawed at her ears, lost and frightened.
Trudging up through the nearby fields was a farmer, boots caked in mud and trousers soggy. As he mounted the hill his sheep grazed on in the summer, whistling to himself, he heard a distant cry echo. The man stood for a second; he stopped whistling as he listened carefully. But as he turned his ear he only heard the shuffling of the trees in the wind and a few distant birds, so with a shrug he plodded on, picking back up the casual tune he had dropped. Then the cry sounded once more and swiftly the man turned and scurried up to the fence before climbing over onto the wild hill top on the other side.
But the place seemed empty, the trees lining the edges miles away. Once again the air fell silent and the farmer scratched at his head. But before the farmer turned to leave the cry echoed again, louder than before.
The man hurried in the direction of the alarming sound, almost running out of worry. Soon the deer came into sight and then the ravens, screeching above. The cries thickened and became clearer and it was then that the bewildered farmer recognized the cry. The cry of a human baby.
Suddenly the deer turned and froze under the man's stare, legs ready to bolt. The farmer slowed, not wanting to startle them, but he saw they were already frantic and scared. Inching closer the deer slowly dispersed, backing away as the man moved through them, his breath caught under the lump in his throat. The black ravens halted and scurried off, wings beating the air.
"What is this..." the man breathed. The small baby lay wailing on the ground, her tiny body shivering violently. Crouching down next to her he scooped her up, her face screwed up red in distress. "There, there" he cooed, stroking her head, holding her to him but not too close; she looked too fragile.
With the warmth of the man's chest the baby settled slightly and stopped screaming, dropping her voice to a whimper as she opened her eyes to his kindly face. They were filled with fright and sadness and as the man stared astounded at her his heart broke a little bit; so young and yet how many troubles has she faced? The man rocked her gently, at a loss as to what to do.
"Dear God, what happened to you?" he whispered, she was so tiny in his arms. "You must be, well...no more than 6 months old?" He looked at her for a second, her face now calm and sweet; how had she survived?
"You, my sweet, are a little miracle." The baby gurgled and snuggled in closer to the farmer's woollen jumper and a small tear fell from the man's crinkled eyes.
"I...we have to get you somewhere warm." Sudden panic lined his voice and pulling his jacket around her body he turned back round, not drawing his eyes from the baby's face.
But as he walked he felt movement, a scuttle, behind; the mother deer had followed. She bowed her head and looked up at the man with what seemed to be her asking for the baby back. The farmer stood confused for a second, but soon softened, a smile nestling into his face. In his arms the baby shifted and twisted round, stretching out her arm to the deer. The farmer, tears lining his eyes, whispered "Thank you...for taking care of her." Then he nodded to the deer before turning and striding off, wiping at his eyes as he tried to comprehend all that had just happened.
The deer stayed standing a while, watching them go, but eventually turned back round to her family and wandered off before the night truly fell.
"John...she is tiny. What are we to do?" Brìghde cradled the baby her husband had found; how did she end up alone in the snow, crawling with a group of deer? "Where's your ma?" She said to her but wondered herself, who would leave her? And why?
John collapsed down in the chair opposite his wife, head sunken to his chest as he sighed, "We can't keep her, love. We don't have the means to."
"I know." She sighed, running her hand down her pregnant belly. If she could she'd keep her. The world seemed too big for the child, so many dangers waiting and Brìghde knew too well the harsh lives orphans could lead. "I know."
John paced the kitchen, blinking away his frustration. Pressing his hands against the sink he looked out the window as the light faded; so many families and this child has no one. "We'll have to take her to the village...find someone to care for her...or who knows of a...orphanage."
His wife looked up, her face crumbled. Bowing her head to the baby she kissed her forehead, a small tear escaping her eye. It was times like this she felt so helpless, so defeated by the world. Still staring at the sleeping baby she murmured "You can't go now...it'll be dark soon."
"I'll go first thing tomorrow." John went to hang up his coat, his forehead creased with worry. Before he left he turned to Brìghde rocking the baby, "Don't get attached, dear."
Brìghde tightened her jaw trying not to cry and sniffed loudly. The baby's eyes fluttered open and she smiled sadly, "Who am I to be crying, right?" The baby's eyelids, heavy with sleep, drooped, struggling to stay awake.
"I wonder if you have a name..." She looked at her eyes, a freckled green-brown, "Perhaps Hazel? Or..." As the baby turned in her arms she caught a glimpse of something gold behind her top. Gently she traced her hand round the baby's neck and there dangled a shiny, gold chain, holding a small ring that rested on her heart. Brìghde tenderly picked the ring up and held it close to her eyes; slanted words were engraved on the inside, but they seemed to be in a different language. Brìghde smiled, her eyes shining, and tucked the necklace back under the girl's top, "You are a little mystery, you are."
Outside the sky had turned an inky black, the moon a crescent hanging high. Standing up Brìghde carried the baby to the window and looked up to the stars. "Look baby, look how beautiful the world can be." The child opened her eyes and peered sleepily out. "You see the moon? That's only half of it. One day you'll look up and it will be full..." she fingered the chain on her neck, "...complete."
"The world's a big, big place. Some people are frightened of it...but I don't think you will be. You're a wanderer. You were found wandering alone with deer....in the middle of the freezin' winter. I think you'll be a lucky one. Oh it may not seem it now...may not seem it for a while but...wanderers always have lives full of adventures."
Brìghde kissed the girl's forehead for what she promised would be the last time, "You'll have a beautiful life, you trust me."
Carrying her up to her bedroom she placed her in the new cot by the side of the bed, pulling up the blankets on her as she drifted into dreams. Before she flicked off the light she glanced at the sign on the end of the cot, 'Sorcha', and placed her hand on her belly. Then it dawned on her and a smile stretched across her face, "Faren." She nodded slowly, warming to the name's sound. It was perfect. "Faren. Meaning wanderer."
Then she turned off the light and knowing Faren would be gone by morning whispered into the room, "I wish you all the luck in the world. Goodnight, Faren."