Blood was all over her sheets, the morning they came for her.
If it wasn't for the scent of her coming of age, Snow knew she would have been spared. His men came before dawn. They banged on the front door as hooves of horses startled her.
Their arrival woke the entire clan. People rushed from their chambers, water was boiled hot, dresses were hung and torches were lit.
The elders knew she'd bloom.
They knocked at her door before she felt
This was her clan's chance. And, finally, they would get rid of her.
Her mother would have prepared her. If only she was alive.
They pulled her from her bed as dripping blood trailed down her pale limbs. Snow's body ached. She cushioned her throbbing abdomen as they dragged her into steaming water.
Look at all that blood. The last time those sheets were stained red, the blood was not her own but her mother's.
Their hands grabbed Snow's locks as they dunked her head into the water. She was out of breath as she emerged from the warm liquid. Her lungs felt heavy. Tears welled in her eyes as she witnessed the number of elders tending to her. Her chest pierced in shame with her nakedness before them. Their eyes were unyielding, they pulled her and tossed her almost peeling her bare skin as they scrubbed her clean. Now, that she has come of age. It was Grimlake's chance to sell her off.
Look at her eyes, they resembled the witch herself.
Snow looked down as they dragged her out from the water. Dry linen grazed against her skin as she felt it sting. She looked down and saw how red her arms were. She was about to tuck a strand of hair beside her cheeks when a shot of pain bolted from her ear. She bit as a pleading gasp escaped her lips.
"They're for earrings, Milady," one of them spoke, "For sure, you can bare a wee ole pain after all the years you put us through."
The women giggled as they grabbed on to the other earlobe. The needle glimmered red against the flame as it sliced against the skin of her earlobe. Snow winced. Holding in her plea for she knew no one would heed it.
Don't touch her. You know what she does to people. One touch and she'll suck the soul out o' you.
Snow felt her head grate as they pulled a brush to tame her curls. From her periphery, she saw a handful of hair stuck against the bristles. Snow almost cursed as her fingers touched traces of blood on her scalp.
Weird ones. All seven of them.
They pulled the warm linens from her body as Snow stood in front of the elders of her clan. The she-wolves growled as they bent down to pull traces of linen stained with blood. They cupped her nakedness and stuffed more linen in between her legs as she winced.
The eldest. Yes, the eldest, can make flames with her hands. The bloody girl burned my hair once.
Snow thought. They were talking about Clara.
She eyed the gray-haired woman.
Bones dangled on her neck as webs of skin clung to her jaw. She smelled of coal and soil. Her teeth stained black of tar.
Snow bowed her head in acknowledgement of the Grimlake elder. The woman simply ignored her. She continued to burn incense around Snow's naked body. She shivered as the smoke lightly kissed her skin.
The last time Snow saw her clan elder was when she had her young wolf fang pulled out. They rarely went out of their caves. Their lives sworn in solitary worship made the shadows under their eyes black.
The second one. Was it the third one? No, heavens. The second one could read minds.
They tied the linen against her womanhood as they wiped on the dripping blood with damp cloth. Snow thought they smelled of burn tobacco and old stale bread.
The third one speaks to animals. Even birds. The cows would follow her. No wonder she hunts so well. The girl's but an ole cheat.
The elders were displeased with her and her sisters. Growing up to be peculiar than the rest of her kind, the Grimlake sisters were different. They were known to be a special breed for many. They possessed abilities the others did not.
But in their own home, the seven of them were like plague, a disease that made them the smallest pack of their nation. The elders noted the sudden drop of births as their women became less and less productive - as what they called it.
Their blood has circulated too long and it was no longer enough to bring forth live cubs. They needed to breed with other packs.
They were the answer.
Her eldest sister, Clara, is already with child. Snow hitched as she felt a cold palm touch her arms. They were rubbing warm salve on her skin. She saw the pale skin glisten. Her shoulders arched, her back stiffened as the women continued with their whispers.
Snow could hear them, though.
The fourth one is worse. I cannot even bear to speak of it.
The sound of her name made the hair on Snow's nape stand. She witnessed how Celeste reduces her enemies just by invoking a sorrowful emotion to her prey. Not that she has ever felt it. She'd only hear them weep. The handmaids said it was just the wind. But right from a young age, Snow already knew it was Celeste's victims. The only one Celeste could not affect was her.