The Coven of the Mushrooms was celebrating, that day, after a week, Leda would finally present her new daughter.
The coven was old and full of old witches, there were few children, so the birth of one was a cause for celebration and much more if it was the boss'. The old witches decorated the square with garlands of mushrooms and dried leaves, prepared plates and plates of soup with good herbs. They also brought out their bagpipes, those they used to play at night around the fire while they shared bad spells and ate some fried crickets. The old women shouted to the sound of the bagpipes, singing for joy, invoking luck. Even the frogs came out to see the seamstress's child.
In Cytisum pregnancies brought with them expectation. Some lasted four months, some nine, some a year, some even seven. Leda had been pregnant for three long years, three long years carrying her round belly all over the kingdom as she sewed buttons and wove silk costumes. Three long years of expectation, three long years of joy. For every month that the poor witch went without giving birth was a cause for joy, a sign that the creature inside her was becoming more and more powerful than the day before. Long births bring with them important figures, said the wisest witches of the coven. Before long, the rumor that there was a young witch who had been pregnant for years spread throughout Cytisum.
Leda's delivery had been painful. She had screamed her head off for three days and two nights to bring her daughter into the world. And although many suggested that the child be brought out by magic, the midwife witches refused flatly: No magic in childbirth, they said.
The whole coven stood expectantly, watching the chief's stone house, waiting for him to come out and announce that his second daughter had been born, and when he did, the trumpets sounded.
They had to wait a whole week until Leda was recovered to make the official presentation even though the chief had assured a thousand times that the child was beautiful and healthy.
So when the chief, a week later, came out dressed in an apricot-colored blouse and ochre-colored bloomers, the witches began to play a jaunty tune on their bagpipes. He was holding his eldest daughter, Cyrene, by the hand. The beautiful six-year-old witch wore a black dress that contrasted sharply with her blonde hair, inherited from her father.
And at last Leda came out with a small creature wrapped in blankets in her arms. For a second everyone held their breath at the sight of the newborn's upturned little nose, but that was far from what stole the attention of the coven, it was her dark green hair and the white curling locks that fell across her forehead. She is very beautiful many began to say even before the chief fully displayed her.
When they finally stood in front of everyone, the chief smiled.
-The chief said, "Achelarre of the Mushrooms, thank you for joining me and my family on this very special day for us: the day when we will show our daughter to the world," his voice echoed throughout the square.
Cyrene jumped up and down excitedly, hugging her father's leg.
-Leda, please," the chief said to his wife. She nodded and walked over to pass the girl to him with a smile.
The chief lifted the girl up so that everyone could look at her. The old women sang louder. The chief looked at an old wizard with a staff in the crowd and he stepped out of the crowd and slowly approached him. Once he bowed his head to the girl, the chief lowered it and passed it back to his wife very carefully.
-I speak for the entire coven in giving you my heartfelt congratulations," said the old warlock. The chief nodded softly.
-What have you decided to name the female? -He asked slowly, his broken voice sounding as old as the earth itself.
-Azna, Azna Argabrite," said the chief joyfully.
Leda cradled the child gently to her breast. The baby slept peacefully, oblivious to the celebration on her behalf that was taking place at that very moment.
Azna had round cheeks and the rosiest lips in the world. Her eyelashes were as long as fishing rods and the perfect white ringlet that caressed her forehead was shinier than absorbent cotton.
-Azna Algabrite," the old man proclaimed, getting the witches to clap their hands, "Azna Algabrite, the witch of the mushroom coven who spent three years in her mother's warm womb. The green-haired witch," he said, making the chief smile proudly and little Cyrene gawk at him as she heard all the good things that were already being said about her younger sister.
-Leda Algabrite, with every contraction, with every scream, with every tear, you gave your daughter part of your powers, of your magic. Is that true? -she asked. Leda looked at her daughter and after stroking the ringlet on her forehead nodded.
-I did," she assured him. The boss gave her waist an affectionate squeeze.
-Do you swear to teach her everything you know about magic and to make her a useful witch? -he asked. Leda nodded and put her hand on Princess Cyrene's shoulder.
-I swear, I will do it just as I have done with my firstborn," she assured him. The old man nodded and looked at the chief.
-The time has come for me to transfer your powers to you, boss," the old man said to him. He nodded and stood in front of his wife and daughter. He stroked her cheek with his thumb and the girl yawned with the fury of a thousand dragons, causing the audience to gasp in awe.
The chief raised a hand and an angry wind swept across the square, fluttering the garlands, blowing the witches' dresses. The bagpipes stopped playing for a few moments, everyone looked at the chief in silence. Cyrene squeezed her mother's hand tightly.
Suddenly the wind ceased and a burst of bluish energy shot from the chief's hand into the tiny baby's body. Everyone tensed, waiting for the typical cry confirming that the baby had received the energy. But Azna didn't even cry, she simply opened her big green eyes and looked at her father with total tranquility. Everyone waited in silence. The child, only seven days old, already harbored an immeasurable energy, she had not even felt the magic she had just received from her father, unlike her sister Cyrene who immediately burst into tears when the great wizard gave her part of his power at birth, on the day of her presentation.
The entire coven burst into shouts of joy and the place was filled with a great noise. It was a buzz that would haunt Azna for the rest of his days. The chief smiled and raised his arms in happiness.
Leda looked at her newborn, thinking that perhaps she was hungry, remembering the great voracity that Cyrene felt after receiving her husband's powers. -Sir, we want to give a gift to the little newborn," said the old man, pointing to the crowd.
A boy who could not have been more than five years old came out walking through the crowd, carrying an animal in his arms. It was a sheep with three eyes and two twisted horns, it looked like nothing more than a baby.
The chief walked up to the boy, gave him a smile and bent down a little to pick up the animal.
-This is Hecale, he will grow as big as an ox and will take Azna wherever he pleases, he will serve her with his own life. If the child is sick, her milk will heal her," said the old man. The chief stroked one of the animal's horns and nodded.
-Thank you very much for your present, Azna will be grateful," he said with a deep smile.
All was happiness, all was singing, all was laughter, dancing. And then an explosion followed the arrival of the king of Cytisum who materialized in front of the chief. Everyone was paralyzed. The chief hurried to bow firmly to him and the whole coven followed him. Cyrene hid behind her mother's skirts, frightened by the king's imposing presence, his golden crown and black velvet cloak.
Leda simply bowed her head, refusing to bow any further for the safety of the baby in her arms.
She and the king exchanged a fleeting glance but no words.
-Welcome, King of Cytisum, to our Coven of the Mushrooms. We did not expect your presence here, but it is certainly a pleasure," said the chief courteously. The king looked at him and nodded in agreement.
-I have heard of the child that has been in its mother's womb for three years, yes," he commented, fixing his eyes on the creature.
-Child, it is a girl, your majesty," Leda corrected him without delay.
-It is a girl," said the king, nodding and fixing his eyes on the white tresses.
-Her name is Azna," added the chief's wife again, and the king nodded. The coven remained vigilant, wanting to know why the king had shown up at that meeting.
-Azna," the king nodded, looking at the little girl's face as if he wanted to memorize it, "I come to give a special blessing," he said, looking at the chief who nodded and bowed his head. Some stifled sounds of surprise. Special blessings were reserved for princes and a few crown nobles.
-It is an honor that you come to bless our Azna. Someday she will fight for you," the chief assured him. The king laid a hand on the little girl's forehead, she reached out and grasped his little finger.
-Azna, you will be powerful," he said, raising his voice so that all could hear him. You will serve me, you will swear allegiance to the eternal crown. You will be blessed with lips as sweet as sugar, with a mouth as captivating as a summer sunset, everyone who dares to look at it will be deeply taken with your beauty, your person. You will have everything you desire, everything your hands can caress," he assured.
Leda kept her eyes fixed on her daughter at all times, who looked at the king with gentleness even though his tone was closer to distant than anything else.
-Your grace will be unmatched, your gifts envied. You will do well. Your beauty will remain intact from the age of fifteen, you will not see a wrinkle in her skin, an imperfection. Whoever has the pleasure of being by your side will feel blissful, fulfilled, full," he proclaimed, making the boss look at him fascinated for a few seconds.
-I give you power, Azna, yes, I give you even more power. But the day you use it against my own laws you will perish. Every time you sin, a white gray hair will appear in your scalp and when there is not even a green hair left, you will die.
The girl smiled at the king of Cytisum and made a few noises with her mouth.
-Serve me, my little flower, serve Cytisum and you will be worthy of your name and remembered by all. Use the power I have given you for your benefit, but abide by my rules," concluded the king, bending down and kissing her on the lips, for that was how important pacts were made.
Everyone remained silent, waiting for something to happen, and it did: a tremor shook the ground violently, causing Cyrene to go in search of her father, frightened. Leda stood still, staring at the king, but his eyes were fixed on the girl. The magic flowed from the king's hand to Azna and this time the child began to cry outrageously. The king disappeared in a fleeting manner before those present could notice.
Thus began the story of Azna, the witch who spent three years in her mother's womb.
Azna, the witch who spent three months in her mother's womb. Azna, the green-haired witch, the future head of the Mushroom Coven. Azna, blessed by the most high king of Cytisum. All were good omens for the great Azna or at least until Willow, her spirit guide, confesses to her that she has made a pact with the moon to bring a son into the world. A lethal boy. One he wants her to take care of. A lunar prince. One she hates with all her guts. Maybe everything would be easier if she wasn't trying to hide under her wing the son of Luna, her precious king's greatest rival.