Excerpt from Book One-Bold Women of the 17th Century Series
The Firefly Witch
Circe watched the light hover over the Great Marsh. Its flame was beautiful and mesmerizing, sometimes a rich gold, sometimes a cool blue but always moving and flickering. Surely no one was out there holding a lantern. The flame was too brilliant and suspended too high above the reeds and grasses. Her heart jumped. It had to be fire from the fairies. Tucking the bundle of fabric she was carrying under her arm, Circe headed closer. Except for the sound of crickets, the marsh was quiet. It was a clear night, lit by a full moon giving the Great Marsh an ethereal luminescence. But this did not surprise her. It was always bewitching here with upland island willows swaying in the breeze and silver-tipped cordgrass feathering the shore. As if in a trance, she walked onward. When she stepped forward to slog through the mud and grass, something lifted her, and she soared into the air, light as a feather. Circe gasped with astonishment as she floated toward the apparition. As she drew closer, she realized that the light was actually the dazzling image of a woman. She was a breathtaking creature with long, flowing blonde hair and a golden helmet on her head. Her aura was brilliant, and like the flames surrounding her, her image flickered and flared. Dressed in a long, white robe and a glistening girdle, her eyes were fixed on Circe, and they were a fiery red. The heat was so intense, Circe had to turn away. “Show it to me,” the woman demanded in a deep voice. Circe squinted, trying to look at her. “Show you, milady?” “I command you! Present it to me,” the apparition ordered. Circe knew what she wanted. With trembling hands, she opened her bundle and held up the robe. It was a garment of the finest linen, exquisitely woven and dyed the color of the sun. Embroidered with intricate Celtic designs, the color was rich and luminous, the texture sublime. The quality was so exceptional that it seemed otherworldly, challenging even the flawless workmanship of the gods. The deity’s eyes widened and burned hot. She looked from the robe to Circe and back again. “You did this?” she demanded in her low, rumbling voice. Circe nodded. The specter’s nostrils flared, and her chest heaved. The earth began to shake, and the waters began to roll. Suddenly, the woman transformed into an old hag took a breath and roared so loudly, that Circe’s hair blew back. The reeds and grasses arched in the sudden tempest and leaves were stripped from the trees. Circe flew through the air and hit the trunk of an oak tree with such force she was knocked senseless. When she opened her eyes, all was quiet. The moon was shining over the Great Marsh, the fierce wind had stopped, and the vision had disappeared. She looked around dazed and confused. She was perched on a tree branch, and when she moved, she realized that was tangled in something sticky. There were long white strings all around her. When she reached to free herself, her eyes widened, and she gasped. Her arm was no longer human. It was long, black and covered with fur, and protruding from her round black torso were seven other furry limbs. The malicious deity had turned her into a spider! Screaming with horror, Circe fell out of the tree and tumbled down into a dark chasm whirling around and around.
Suddenly she was awake again and standing on the edge of Plum River, her home in the distance. She looked at her arms. They were the arms of a girl once more, and when she touched her face, it was her own smooth flesh. She breathed a sigh of relief. She was no longer the black, hideous spider.
Feeling nauseous and weak, Circe looked up at the web in the tree, its threads shining in the moonlight. This was not the first time she had experienced this nightmare. It haunted her continually. It was one of the many dreams that plagued Circe and forced her to walk in her sleep. Her mother said it was the vestige of an evil myth created long ago by pagans, and that she must never repeat it to anyone, or they would accuse her of sorcery. Squaring her shoulders, and taking a deep breath, she started toward home, reminding herself that she was no longer the girl named Circe. She was Azubah Craft, daughter of Josiah and Abigail Craft, Puritan millers of Ipswich.