The Girl with the White Hair

For those of you who have read The Copper & Cobalt Trilogy, would you like to know how Anwyn became known as “The Girl with the White Hair?” Well, there is actually a story behind that. It was originally included in The Space Between Worlds in Chapter 4, but was later removed. Before finalizing that novel, I scrapped about 20,000 words in total in order for the book to start off with Bridget finding herself in ancient Sumer as her past-life self, Iltani.

Just for you, I dug this section about Anwyn’s unwanted nickname out of my previous versions vault. The scene begins with Bridget and Celena teleporting back to 500 BC in ancient Wales with the purpose of speaking to Orwen and Meuric.

* * * * *

Enid and Anwyn found themselves in one of the cottages in the settlement of Kassrikmagon. Enid thought this must be the house of Anwyn’s father, Orwen, before he was chieftain. In this culture, rulers were elected; they did not come to it by birthright.

Like other homes of its type, the cottage was round and made of stones, the gaps between them filled in with a dark grey, plaster-like substance. Enid knew this to be a mixture of mud, clay and animal dung. The walls were undecorated at present, but quite solid and in good repair. Looking at the ceiling, Enid could see some wooden beams overlaid with a thick layer of straw. In the center was an opening to let smoke out. That made it possible to burn wood inside the cottage to cook and heat with, but it also meant that to some degree there was a draft of cold air all winter long.

In the very middle of the home was the dome-shaped, clay oven next to a small fire pit. There was a bronze kettle and a spit for roasting, and next to this a wooden platform with bowls, plates, knives, ladles and various other implements – the kitchen in its entirety. The floor around the oven and pit was bare dirt surrounded by stones to contain the fire (which at that moment was burning but dwindling) if it strayed. The rest of the floor was covered with deer skin.

The area in which Enid and Anwyn stood was where the family slept. There were four beds, and these consisted of straw placed on top of raised, wooden planks and then covered over with hide. Several woolen blankets were folded near the wall. There was a small, wooden table upon which rested a few combs and hair clips, and beneath it a small basket with a lid.

And on the other side, beyond the oven, was the living area. There was a small table and five wooden stools. To its right was the food storage area: one part was above ground in baskets and the other was below, dug into the earth and covered with a wooden lid. On the left side of the table was an area for weapons. Several bows, daggers and swords were hung on the wall, while the projectiles such as arrows and spears simply rested against it.

Looking at their immediate surroundings and then at one another, they found themselves to be extremely small, even younger than six. Enid felt like she was practically an infant, with her fleshly legs poking out the bottom of her short, loose, woolen dress. It was like wearing a bag – an itchy, ugly, uncomfortable bag.

“I think we must be about four years old,” Enid chirped at her friend. She was surprised that she had some difficulty squeezing the words out so well, but when she considered this, it made sense. Her voice wasn’t as trained as when she was older, even if she still had the same mind.

The result of Enid speaking, of course, was Anwyn being unable to restrain herself, laughing until she had to sit down on the floor, which was contagious.

“You sound like a chipmunk!” Anwyn said, her broad smile revealing many uneven baby teeth. Her hair was wispy like gossamer and snow-white. It was unbrushed and fell in her face.

Still giggling, but composing herself, Enid said, “We cannot let anyone hear us speak so well. We really have to act like we are four.”

“I agree,” Anwyn said. “Chipmunk!”

They collapsed into giggles again and started pushing one another. Sounds could be heard coming from the front door and they stopped. A young woman came in with a pail of water. She wore several deer hide cloaks over her tunic. That, and the frigid air she let in, indicated to Enid that it was winter. When she turned to shut the door, Enid saw that her black hair was neatly braided and secured with a bronze clip.

“Megan,” Anwyn said in greeting to the woman.

Now Enid remembered. She was their nurse.

“Yes, I am back, little one,” Megan replied, scooping up Anwyn in one swift movement. “Now we have water to cook with and drink.” She smoothed back Anwyn’s bright shock of hair with her hand.

“Megan,” Enid repeated.

Megan did not seem to hear her. Still carrying Anwyn, she went to the sleeping side of the cottage and produced a comb. It was simple, with wide teeth, carved from wood.

Their nurse set Anwyn down on the fur rug opposite the cooking pit. Only now did Megan turn her attention to the dark-haired four-year-old.

“Enid, come comb Anwyn’s hair.”

A familiar, bitter-sweet reminiscence stung Enid. She was raised from birth to be an attendant. It wasn’t until later in her life that others in the village began to view her more like Anwyn did – an equal, a sister as much as a friend. Anwyn had asserted this to her father, bit by bit, and gradually wore down his opposition. But the upgrade in status was most opposed by Megan, Enid remembered, as it was she who had spent so much time training her.

Enid obeyed and took the wooden comb. She sat down behind Anwyn and tried to make her plump, awkward hand drag it gracefully through the fine stands of hair. Things were different here; one learned one’s business as soon as the hands were capable of holding a tool. Pouting and childishness were not tolerated.

Megan busied herself with getting the fire going and poured some of the water into the iron kettle. Then she produced some roots and vegetables from the in-ground storage and began chopping them.

The door opened again, letting in a fresh, biting wind, and Orwen came through carrying what was presumably the leg of some animal. He was twenty-four and had a round face like his daughter. Furs were slung over and around his shoulders and fastened with a bronze clip that rested just beneath a twisted, bronze necklace. The braid that hung down his back was bleached light brown (a popular fashion in the village), as was his short beard. Following him was a young man with hair almost as dark as Megan’s – Meuric, as he was at about eighteen or nineteen. He, like Megan, ignored Enid and said words of greeting to the fair-haired child in front of her.

Why is he here? Enid thought furiously. Even now, after so many memories had sprung readily to the surface, she still had trouble recalling his place in the settlement and why his rank and duties remained obscured. He seemed ever present, yet he was not related to Orwen or Megan in any way that Enid was aware.

Meuric mumbled a greeting and smiled at Anwyn. He paid no attention to Enid, just as the nurse had done. Anwyn was silent. Enid couldn’t tell if she smiled back or not, but behind the sweetness of Meuric’s evenly pitched voice, there was something else. The smile looked a little strained. His eyes did not really hold affection.

Megan asked him, “How fares the breaking of the new colt?”

“He is breaking well. He will now let me place my full weight on his back for three heartbeats before he wriggles away like a fish.”

The nurse laughed. “That sounds like progress.”

Finally! Enid thought. She was glad to at last know what it was that he did. He looked after the livestock and trained the horses. Having that little bit of knowledge started to free other clouded memories about Meuric, such as how his role would increase when Orwen later became chieftain. She seemed to remember him not only caring for the stock and training exceptional horses but working on the fortification of the hill fort itself as the settlement grew. That information seemed useful somehow, especially since Enid knew of the future invasion – the one in which she and Anwyn would perish in the cave with the other villagers. The fortification would seem to have very little defense at that time despite its many advantages.

Orwen slung the animal leg down by the kettle in which Megan was now dropping sliced roots and herbs. “More come to see Anwyn. How I tire of it.” He sighed and peeled off his fur wrappings.

Megan laughed softly and nodded in understanding. “Yes. It may not cease in your lifetime. Such a rare gift. Who could fault them for coming to see?”

Orwen tried to smile but didn’t manage it. “And each time I must explain the truth to these people, as though they are children. Not that she is not special to me, and my only daughter but –” He stopped, searching for the right words. “I fear that ill will eventually come of such a thing.”

There was a pounding on the outside of the thick, wooden door of the cottage. Enid wondered how many had arrived to see Anwyn and why they would want to see her four-year-old mistress.

Megan snapped to attention over her cooking. “Enid,” she said a little too sharply. “Check Anwyn’s clothes.”

She knew what that meant. Enid walked around to face Anwyn and took her hands, helping her to a standing position. Then she looked at her friend’s little, woolen dress and tried to smooth the creases from it with her hands. Sitting had made a few lines in the fabric. The linen ribbon which laced the dress in the back was starting to come undone. Enid shook the ends free and went through the careful motions of tying an imperfect bow.

Orwen sighed again. He looked at the stool nearest him but didn’t sit. He looked uncertain of where to place himself and it seemed that he longed to be elsewhere. “Let them in,” he said flatly.

Megan’s glossy, black braid had slid in front of one shoulder as she stirred the soup. She hastily tossed it behind her and left the kettle. She flung open the door and the resulting gust made Enid shiver. Anwyn moved closer to her, seeming to dread the on-comers as much as her father did.

“Su din!” Megan said brightly. It meant “Good day.”

“Su lat,” a man’s voice replied. It meant the same thing, though one of the words was different. The variance told Enid that the visitors must live in another village, some distance from Kassrikmagon. Megan seemed to understand quite well. Distance or not, the tribes were not strangers from one another, and they were let in without question.

They filed into the cottage one by one. Enid stepped back and nearly collided with her friend; she hadn’t realized that Anwyn was hiding behind her. There were five visitors altogether (two women and three men) which made a total of ten occupants – far too many. All the adults introduced themselves while the two young children stood by silently, Anwyn still mostly hidden from sight by Enid’s slightly taller frame. Enid had trouble catching their names and felt it would be impossible to remember them.

“Come Anwyn,” called Megan cheerfully. She reached for Anwyn’s hand with her own. “They are here to see you.”

As Anwyn was led forward, Enid heard the gasps and exclamations from the guests. They shook their heads and looked at one another, murmuring their disbelief.

“There she is,” a voice said. It was the same man who had first greeted Megan at the door. “The girl with the white hair. It is true!”

But Enid knew what he really meant: “The Girl with the White Hair.” It was a line that had been spoken many times, so many times that people began to know it and repeat it to others. It was almost a name in itself, a name that had eventually become a sort of informal title.

Enid felt sick and unsteady on her feet. So many memories began to dart in and out of her thoughts, flashes of images and bits of broken audio, cloudy pools of what had been and what was now playing out before her. Now she remembered. It had been buried for so long that it took her being here as a little girl again for it to truly come back.

In all the settlement and in all the neighboring ones with which they traded, there were varying shades of brown hair. Many had black and once every ten years or so a child might be born with hair of a deep auburn. Not a single person had blond hair. But for a child to be born with white hair? Never. It wasn’t that it was rare, or a bit extraordinary, it was just completely unheard of – it had never happened, not even in the recollection of the oldest grandmother, nor did the oldest grandmother ever hear of it from her mother’s mother.

Yet for whatever reason, having hair of a light color was considered desirable; even Orwen bleached his hair with lime to achieve a light brown or blondish hue. It was so coveted in fact, that when Anwyn was born with hair as white as snow it created quite a stir. This was a society ruled by beliefs in magic and divine influence, so right away there was talk of the child possessing mystical properties. A whole class of names arose for her at once, such as “Anwyn the Fair,” “Anwyn the Bright,” and of course the favorite, especially by those who hadn’t learned her real name: “The Girl with the White Hair.” That was, after all, what she was.

It was very alarming at first. That, coupled with the fact that Anwyn’s mother had died in childbirth made things very difficult for Orwen. Receiving that much attention and hearing reverent statements about his daughter was unsettling. The situation needed to be dealt with swiftly and correctly while he was still burdened by his crushing grief. But deal with it he did – for years – until the commotion had died down to only occasional visitations by people wishing to see if the claims were true. Now again the spectators stood before him, in his own hut, four years after the birth of his only daughter and he would once more have to explain things to them as though they were barely more than infants themselves. Enid thought that it was very fortunate that even in this time, there were a few wise people. There were those who could think for themselves and see matters at hand for what they really were, rather than committing wholeheartedly to the reactive views of the masses.

One of the women wrung her hands and made as if to kneel. Orwen stopped her immediately with a stern look. “No! She is just a child. Look.” He grabbed Anwyn under the arms and held her up before them. “See? She is flesh and blood, like you.”

The guests began to draw back a little. One man said, “Our chieftain said that she may be the Goddess Aerten come again, to lead us and give us victory over the invaders.”

Orwen chuckled wanly as he drew Anwyn into a more comfortable holding position against his side. “Nonsense. She is a normal girl. She has white hair. That is all. Now, have you gazed upon my daughter to your satisfaction?” Without allowing them to answer, he continued. “I beg you, go and tell your chieftain and your neighbors that Anwyn is only a female child. I am sorry, but there is no magic here, no divine influence, only an accident of birth.”

At the words “accident of birth” they seemed offended, but being in the house of another were obliged to hold their tongues. Still, Enid heard them grumbling quietly and looking at one another as though they could scarcely believe the presumption of this man – surely he must be mistaken.

“Then how do you explain it?” one man ventured.

Orwen looked him square in the eyes. He began slowly, carefully choosing his words. “I know you may find this hard to believe. But at times things just happen.”

There was another wave of shocked murmuring. No one in this place thought that “things just happen.” Everything was controlled by the powers that be in one way or another. Orwen went on despite them.

“I do not know everything, but I know the difference between a child and a divine being. Anwyn is my daughter. Perhaps the Goddess willed that she be born this way, and for what reason I have no knowledge, but perhaps not. Perhaps it just happened, the same as it just happened that it rained for a fortnight in early summer and was then dry for two moons. I cannot say. But to deify a child because of one physical trait – you shame yourselves.”

They gasped and voiced their disagreements again. Orwen eyed them tiredly. His patience was wearing thin. Though he was introduced to these newcomers only moments ago, and so might be expected to be more understanding, he had been subjected to this type of thing for four years.

“But it is unheard of!” one of the women said, a statement which was followed by the appalled agreement by those around her.

As Orwen continued to try and right their ignorant thinking, Enid looked up at Anwyn, whose gaze was fixed not on the unruly visitors, but on Meuric, the young man who stood silently on the other side of the kettle and cook fire. It still burned as they spoke and was starting to diminish somewhat, as Megan hadn’t been tending it. Enid could see that Meuric held something in his hand, barely visible above the rim of the large, iron pot. It appeared to be a small, leather waterskin. His eyes met Anwyn’s as she peered over her father’s shoulder at him. Meuric returned her stare with what Enid deemed a blatant, unabashed hatred. He lowered the skin to a level where it was no longer visible.

Enid’s attention turned once more to Orwen. He raised his voice as the last of his tolerance slipped away.

“I do not care that it is unheard of! It has happened. What of it? Can you not see that this is a child? A child, flesh and blood like you? What sort of madness has possessed you, that you ask of me these things, and come all this way to try and worship my daughter? Leave us now!”

Orwen’s eyes burned with anger as his uninvited guests mumbled their dissidence and reluctantly turned to go. It wouldn’t matter what he said to them or how logically he stated it, they would stubbornly hold to their narrow-minded, primitive views no matter what. And from their standpoint, it was he who was bigoted, a blind man who couldn’t see reason or the Goddess-child in front of his face.

The last traveler went through the open door and tried to slam it, but it was such a thick, unwieldy piece of timber that it mostly just collided against the door frame with a deep “thud.”

Anwyn squirmed and said unexpectedly (and quite clearly for one so young), “Father, Meuric is putting something in the soup.”

But Meuric had already drawn the skin flask away, its contents emptied into the cauldron, and placed it back on his belt where it hung before anyone turned around. He picked up the wooden spoon. No one saw him but Anwyn.

“Putting something in the soup? No, he is only stirring it,” Megan corrected.

“No, he put something in the soup. I think it was something bad. He did not want anyone to see,” said Anwyn assertively. Enid’s stomach dropped.

“Anwyn,” Orwen said a bit defensively. “How can you say such a thing? No, he was only stirring it. See?”

Meuric laughed playfully at Anwyn, the way one does when a small child makes a mistake. He tended the simmering liquid in the black, smoking kettle. Anwyn wriggled free from her father’s grasp and went to stand by Enid, who had gone thoroughly unnoticed this entire time.

“The fire is getting low,” Megan said. “Enid, get some wood from outside by the door.”

Enid hesitated. She wanted to stay with Anwyn in case Meuric pulled anything else, and she certainly didn’t see how any of them could eat the soup now, yet at the same time she didn’t see how to prevent it. She swayed a little on her feet, uncertain of what to do next.

“Enid,” Megan repeated a little more sternly. Frowning, the nurse walked toward Enid. It seemed that Megan was about to grab her and walk her to the door herself, but just as she was about to make contact, Anwyn stepped forward and slapped her hand. The surprisingly loud “thwack” made Enid smile. Anwyn had always carefully guarded her. She had protected her like this, when no one else cared, ever since they were old enough to walk.

As the girls watched the condescending look on their nurse’s face turn to one of shock, things started to change. The floor began to spin beneath them, the stone walls with their mud and cow dung packing started to blur and the faces around them were slipping away.

“What is happening?” Enid asked. She felt as though she were being pulled, drawn out of the present scene and into another. She was slipping away from being Enid, sliding into some other identity that threatened to consume her utterly and blot out her memory with an indelible brand. But while she was trying to make sense of it, Anwyn was fading. Enid tried to reach for her, but there was nothing there.