[[ content warning: implied/referenced child death ]]
No one else sees her. No one else seems to remember her—but I do. I do. Annalise, golden haired Annalise, with her smile like the sickle moon in summer and her laugh like honey, rich and golden. Annalise, whose mother nobody knows. Annalise, the miller’s eldest child, first child, abandoned child, left on his doorstep one midsummer night with naught but a single golden feather in her tiny grasp.
Annalise, little innocent, little darling, little lost one. Her father delivered her to me when she was six summers old because there were golden feathers like the one she was found with sprouting from between her shoulder blades, and he was afeared for her in this sleepy little village where still waters run deep.
“Help her,” he begged at my wizened knee, the hedgewitch people only ever came to in secret desperation to solve their secret troubles. Fix her, he meant, and pushed the child into my gnarled hands.
I cradled her soft round face, and smiled down into her sun-bright eyes. “Oh, Annalise,” I croaked, for I am old and my voice as withered as my form. “Oh little witchling, faerie’s get, forsaken child,” I said, and I wept, for I knew what this village would do to this strange little child and her strange little feathers.
I wanted to spirit her away, I wanted to cradle her close and run far, but her father loved her, and he would not leave her in my keeping, he would not trust her to me. He begged me only to pluck her feathers and hide them away. And I did, but only because I loved Annalise, and if I could not hide her than I wished her to live with her father who loved her, in this village that would not if they knew her for what she was.
She did not cry, Annalise of the golden feathers, when I took them from her, but I did.
“It doesn’t hurt,” she assured me, kissing my blood-speckled hands. “It doesn’t hurt, Grandmother. Don’t grieve.”
She was sweet, was Annalise, softhearted and summer-blessed. She was wondrous and wild too, and no amount of plucking could change that.
The feathers returned, swifter than I could pluck them, until one day I was too late to attend them and in a flurry of golden light they sprouted, full-fledged wings, marvelous, magnificent.
It was enough to condemn her. She would not fly—I wonder now if she couldn’t, if her father and I had weakened her with all our plucking, or if she loved us too much to leave even as she was netted by the villagers, hateful and more monstrous than they accused her of being.
And now all that remains is a golden memory of a golden child, murdered child, buried child, and all her golden feathers like treasure, stored in a chest beneath my cot.
The ghost of her wanders the fields of her father, now and then, watching over the siblings who don’t know her, don’t see her, but feel her nonetheless, soft as sunlight and just as sweet, keeping them safe and smiling.
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