“Cardota Aeron a Dôn at d at 'm chyfnertha...” Branwen chanted, even though she knew it was pointless; the telltale black glow of the curse her enemy was weaving had already crept into his mouth, she could see him clenching his teeth, holding it in till the very last moment, using the strength of his intentions to build up the power of his spell. She tried to stop the tears welling up in her eyes but all she could think about was her baby. Her hands fell to her sides; abandoning all attempts at summoning a charm to protect herself. She had failed. The cold night air seemed fresher to her than ever before, stinging the insides of her nose as she breathed in; readying herself for what was to come. She felt weak. All her life force had been drained out of her - first by the race for her life and now by the certainty of her own death and that of her child. Branwen wanted to be brave, knew that it was expected of her. If she screamed now, begged for mercy, her killer would take the news joyously back to the battle and let all her people know how cowardly she was. She wanted to be brave, but the best she could do was clench her fists and shut her eyes. She didn’t want to see it coming.
A scream rent the air around her and the force of it knocked Branwen to the ground, narrowly avoiding squashing Seren. Branwen still had her eyes tightly closed but her mind was racing, why wasn’t she dead? Why hadn’t he killed her? Perhaps that was never his intention, maybe he had been sent to kidnap her and Seren to use as hostages. She snapped her eyes open, searching the darkness for her attacker.
“Branwen? Are you ok? I saw him follow you but I couldn’t keep up - my infernal leg..” A man with greying hair stood, panting with fatigue, over the lifeless body of someone Branwen didn’t recognise. With shaking hands, her rescuer helped her to her feet - pulling her into a hug as she started to speak.
“Father? What are you doing here? Where’s mum? I don’t understand...”
“It’s alright dear. We have to move quickly, or as quickly as it is possible for me to move. I’m afraid I won’t be much good for too long, darling.”
“Let me take a look at it. Do you know what it was that hit you?” Her father shook his head, wincing as she tore the cloth around the wound on his left thigh. “I’m afraid I don’t know. Too many of them shooting curses from the hip, as it were. It’s a mess back there. A real mess. I can’t help but think they’re too strong for us this time.”
Branwen took in what her father was saying as she muttered the first healing spell she could think of. The fact that he had left her mother behind to try and save her told her how desperate the situation was. If he had to be doubly sure that Seren was safe, they must be very near defeat. Standing up tall she hoped that her father hadn’t seen her surrender herself to death like that. “I can’t do much for your leg - whoever threw it must have been powerful. Can you walk?”
“Just about. Where’s Seren? We can’t risk losing any more time.”
Turning to pick up her daughter, Branwen marvelled at how beautiful she was. In the semi-light of the forest Seren stared calmly around her with the big wide eyes of an innocent and Branwen felt her heart tremble in her chest. How could she give up her baby? This tiny little life that was hers, all hers to protect and love and nurture. Everything inside her was screaming for her not to give Seren away; to pick her up and hold her close forever and to leave the rest of her family and her people to fend for themselves.
“What’s wrong, cariad? Were you hurt?”
“No. No, I’m fine.”
Branwen didn’t want to let her father down. He had always done what was best for her, and for the family - she must trust him now, as she had done since she was Serens age. Picking up her daughter, she steeled her heart to her. She needed to concentrate. Still, though, as Seren cuddled in closer to her chest, she found she could not breath with the pain of losing her.