Black Ribbon, White Hair

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And then the spiders attacked. Waves of legs scuttling across bough and root, tuft and shadow, as multitudes of vicious eyes sought their prey. Almost silent on their own, the swarm’s venomous, tiny teeth scratching and scraping together and the stomp of eight-million little feet crescendoed through the quiet field like a rising, eerie battle cry.

And, in that quiet field stood a little girl with a black ribbon through her pure, white hair.

She was no ordinary girl. No, she had been born under the Full Moon and blessed by the last of the unicorns and bathed in the Old Lake beneath the First Mountain. Even older things had crept out from where they hid and offered the Old Gifts of blood and body under her oaken crib as a newborn. The ageless Fae themselves had woven together the star-beams as her strands of fate, blessed her with their light and their Undying Queen had kissed her forehead on her seventh birthday.

She was the next in line to the Eternal Throne and the last in the Unbroken Line.

When she spoke, the Sea quietened to listen and the Stars leaned in close. When she laughed, the Sun danced across the sky and when she cried, typhoons pummeled the coast as lightning split the old oak tree down the bottom of the garden into a million splinters.

In that quiet field stood a little girl with a black ribbon through her white hair and the world at her feet. This world. A beautiful world of hope, dreams and moonlight that danced through the heather.

But the spiders did not care. They answered to the Hungry One. The Mouth in the Wall. The Eater of Worlds. They–like all the creatures that scuttle, crawl, slither and kill–were not of this world. Having consumed their own world and all subsequent worlds, they had followed the Hungry One and its Great Hunt into the next world.

This world.

Her world. Here and now.

The buzzing, scraping, scuttling swarm was nearly upon her. The field blackened by their numbers as the air began to fill with wasps and flies like clouds of doom gathering to rain down the apocalypse. Hissing snakes appeared in the grass as clicking scorpions scuttled out from under every rock, their tails flicking back and forth as their claws clicked and clacked…

The little girl tightened her black ribbon and smiled faintly. She closed her eyes, stretched out her left hand, and grabbed the silvery moonlight right out of the night sky. With the spiders nearly on top of her and the Swarm just behind them, she began to whisper the Old Words. The Sea quietened to listen, the Stars leaned in closer and the very wind held its breath as the world’s fate hung in the balance.

***

“What happened next, Grammy? Please, you can’t end like that?” the little girl pled with the elder woman as she tucked her tightly into bed, closed the window and blew the candle out.

“Oh, little one, I’m not leaving it any which way,” the Old Woman cooed, brushed the little girl’s white hair off her forehead and gently kissed her there, “The Fae will finish the tale in your dreams for you. That is what they weave and dreams are our fate. Besides, some stories are perhaps not stores to tell little girls just before their bedtime.”

The Old Woman checked the window was closed again–you could never be too careful–and her glance lingered on the bright, Full Moon outside. The inquisitive Stars all paled in comparison to the magnificent, mysterious light that gleamed out amidst the endless, cosmic darkness.

“Now, you go straight to sleep, OK?” the Old Woman said as she walked to the door, “Tomorrow is a big day. You are turning seven year’s old and, your mother, as I and all those before you, began our own stories at that age.”

“I know, Grammy,” the little girl yawned, having heard this a thousand times before, “I know, I am going to become a big girl tomorrow and I must rest now while I can. Good night, Grammy!”

The Old Woman smiled and gently closed the door behind her. The little girl was fast asleep before the handle turned. The house was quiet now.

***

After all the nightly chores were completed, the fire burnt down to smoldering coals in the hearth, the doors all locked and the windows all checked thrice, the Old Woman tiptoed to her own bedroom.

Closing the door behind her, her room gleamed silver from the Full Moon outside glowing through her window. She did not even bother to light a candle but slipped off her shoes and sat in the silvery light on her bed looking up at the cosmos outside her bedroom window.

There was a hunger somewhere outside in the darkness, and there would always be one. This was a dark world that they lived in. But there was also beauty out there, twinkling in the fragile starlight and dancing across the radiant moonbeams. Such eternity–if you listened really, really carefully–whispered of the Eternal Throne and the Unbroken Line that sat upon it.

Theirs was an endless destiny to hold back the hunger of the world from eating itself. Theirs was the sacrifice of generations. Theirs was the night.

The Old Woman sighed and reached for something on her bedside table. It was a black ribbon, soft and silky, pure and infinite as it absorbed all the moonlight and the Stars leaned in a little close to peer at it in wonder.

Tomorrow this would be the little girl’s. Tonight the Undying Queen will bless her as she sleeps and soon–too soon–she will be fighting the Hungry One.

The Old Woman tied the black ribbon in her pure, white hair. She closed her eyes, stretched out her hand, and grabbed the moonlight right out of the night sky. The Cosmic Darkness crept closer, the curious Stars all pushed their faces against her bedroom window and the very Night itself held its breath. The Old Woman smiled faintly and began to whisper the Old Words…

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