Prologue: March 1680
The screaming was almost more than Phoebe could stand. The savage woman, bound to the bedposts with straps of leather, bucked and cried out in her unintelligible language, the mound of her pregnant belly reaching to the ceiling of the little cabin. The only thing she could hear beyond the pitiful wailing was the thunder outside as a storm tore through the woods.
Phoebe wasn’t surprised when the figure stepped from the shadows in the back of the cabin, although she knew no one had been there earlier. Alistair Black—it wasn’t his real name—walked to the bedside and looked at the suffering woman with a smile, seemingly enjoying the commotion.
He wore riding clothes; boots, breeches and jacket, all without a drop of rain or a spot of mud despite the raging weather outside. He slapped the pregnant woman’s belly with his riding crop, just hard enough to leave a red welt and make the woman wince despite her more demanding pains.
“How soon, Phoebe love?” he asked, turning his head sideways to glance at the midwife with a voice loud enough to carry over the wailing.
“Soon, m’lord,” she answered. “It’s going to be a difficult birth. It’s as if the child is tearing her apart inside.”
Black appeared amused by the remark. “Perhaps. More than a few of my spawn have had both teeth and a hunger strong enough to use them at their birth. You may need a butcher rather than a wet-nurse to feed the whelp.”
Phoebe shuddered at the thought as Black’s smile grew wider. The fiend actually enjoyed the suffering and misery he had wrought. Just as he had enjoyed raping the young Indian woman and just barely killing her. And he enjoyed the prospect of enslaving her in this cabin, far from any of the colonists or native tribes. And Phoebe wondered, as she often did, what it would take for this fiend to trade her own usefulness for an evening’s amusement.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a change in the rhythm of the woman’s screaming; the time was approaching. She walked to the bedside and glared at Black’s smiling face and, as he stepped aside, lifted the filthy sheet that covered the woman’s womb. The sheet over the mattress ticking was stained with the water and blood of birth. The woman was bleeding quite a bit, but not enough, she hoped, for the child to be devouring her from within. She could see the crown of the child’s head trying to emerge from the opening.
“Be prepared.” Black had crept up behind her and was whispering in her ear. “My offspring can be quite hideous to behold.”
She knew he was grinning that evil grin of his, enjoying the discomfort he was causing.
The delivery seemed to take hours, with the intensifying screaming of the mother and the diabolical comments of Black, who merely alternated between a bored pacing of the cabin’s short width and peering in closely with demented glee as the pain intensified for the savage. When the head finally broke free, however, the rest of the child emerged quickly, and as Phoebe pulled it from its mother’s womb, the child merely coughed up a lungful of fluid and mucous, then stared around the room as if it could see and understand everything perfectly. No crying or squirming, just an almost dignified examination of the cabin and its occupants.
The mother’s wailing had died to an exhausted moaning in the aftermath of her suffering, and Black rushed to Phoebe and seized his spawn from her grasp, cord still attached to the bloody afterbirth now oozing from the mother.
Black appeared to be taken aback by the child’s appearance, although Phoebe was relieved by its apparent lack of teeth.
“That’s odd,” he mused as he felt the child’s cranium, then it’s back, then the fingers and toes, although he didn’t appear to be counting. Phoebe winced inwardly as he inspected his spawn, half expecting him to crush its skull in his fist. “It appears completely human.”
“Is it not supposed to?” she asked nervously.
“It is very rare.”
“What does it mean, m’lord?”
Black thought for a moment. “It means, dear Phoebe, that you and your coven need not keep his existence a secret from the others. Raise him as your own—say he is the whelp of a dead relative and teach him all you can of your craft when the time comes. He will be very useful.”
Phoebe knew better than to protest, even thought the proposal would cause a great deal of inconvenience to her. Thankfully they were interrupted by the pitiful mewling from the creature’s mother, holding out her arms and repeating some plea in her savage tongue.
“What of the mother?”
Black considered the spent woman a moment. “Let her bleed to death, then let the scavengers devour her carcass. ‘Twould be a shame to waste such a large portion of meat.”
With that, Black—whose name was not Black—strode back into the shadowed corner of the cabin and faded from sight. Phoebe knew he was gone, even though there was no door or window at that end of the cabin. And yet, Alistair Black was never truly gone.