The coastal town of Acklington was known for its witches.
It was said they came from the sea, born of the salt and brine, with wide, grey wings, tipped in frothy
white feathers. They flew inland, following forest paths and floating over fields, until they came
across the little town of Acklington, the farmstead of Eadlac’s people. There, they shed their wings,
the feathers spun away by the wind, the women no longer free to move with the wind, but instead
rooted into the rich, damp soil.
As years went by, respect for the witches waned, the townsfolk forgetting where their healers had
come from, until the witches’ origins had been near-forgotten. The witches didn’t mind. Danger lay in
memory, and being forgotten was the easiest path to safety.
The Laird was furious.
He was not the most well-tempered man in the best of times, but he was particularly out of sorts on
that fine day in December.
The day previous there had been a hunt – or should have been. Some guests had come, travelling far
to visit this Laird’s land, and his boasted-about game, but had left empty-handed and disappointed
after a sudden rush of rain had beckoned a thunderstorm right onto their heads. The Laird had had to
call of the venture after the rain began to fall so heavily, one rider completely unseated by a low-
hanging branch due to the lack of visibility.
Nursing bruises and stamping wet shoes in the hallway, the guests had made their displeasure known
in the way only the most genteel of society can: tight-lipped smiles, and whispered asides that stopped as soon as the laird walked near. They had been denied their sport, their feast of blood, and their hands were disgustingly clean of gore. They left unappeased and unpleasant.
So, the Laird was furious, resentful, and, most of all, embarrassed. It was this last emotion that
catalysed his tale – as many will know, wealthy, young men are good at a few things, but regaining
face after a social faux-pas does not tend to be their forte.
The Laird was affluent, but he was a simple man when it came to his tastes, and so to regain good
humour, he went riding. But he was not the only soul in the woods that day.
The forest was green and fresh, just sprung after the recent rainfall. A light breeze rustled leaves,
sending tiny splashes of water to plummet onto the auburn head of Nancy Scott as she made her way
through the trees, a sprig of wild rosemary in her hand.
She’s as pretty as a picture, with green eyes, fragile white skin, and the red-gold hair of ancient
Angevin kings, but even with her glassine beauty, there is something that repels the Laird slightly.
She looks… untamed.
He calls out a greeting, however – or what passes for a greeting when a laird meets a wild girl in his
forest. “What are you doing here, Nancy Scott?” He knows her name. Everyone knows her name.
She turns her green gaze onto him. “Hmm? Oh, it’s all much of a muchness, truly, Sir.” She turned
away, feet moving soundless across pine-needled dirt. “Merry Christmas to you.”
The Laird blinked, mouth open, then shut it with a snap. He was not angry – no, he was far too
bemused to work up the familiar rage to warm his blood. Instead, he merely replied to her back. “And
have a merry Christmas too, Miss Scott.” He waited a beat, then spoke again. “The forest is
remarkably empty of late.”
Nancy Scott’s footfalls halted, her attention flicking back to him, quick and feline. “I wouldn’t be able
to comment, Sir.”
The Laird blinked again. Somewhere in the back of his head, he wondered how one’s eyes could be so green. The made the forest themselves look dim. “No? Surely you must have noticed?”
Nancy Scott’s grin was as sudden as a rainstorm and bright as the sun. “For a silver sixpence, I could
tell my lordship where to find a white hare.”
The Laird’s eyes narrow. “Should I have to pay to know the animals on my land?”
Nancy Scott waited, the breeze tussling a curl or two of her hair. A muscle in the Laird’s jaw ticked,
before he broke, red flushing across cheekbones. He dug into a pocket, and tossed a sixpence towards the girl, his throw hard and petulant. “You’ll hang if I don’t receive what was promised,” the Lairdwarned, the little voice remarking on Nancy Scott’s beauty gone silent.
Nancy Scott merely grinned, an impish twinkle in her eye, as if she knew exactly what he was
thinking and didn’t care a bit. She told the Laird of a hollow, far out into the moor above the woods,
where the greyish grass was bared to the harsh, white-clouded skies. “You’ll see your white hare, I
promise, good Sir,” she said, her tone just a flicker too dismissive to be proper for one of her station.
The Laird didn’t stay to watch her go. He had a hunt to rally.
Word spread quickly of the Laird’s white hare, and, despite his previous failure, there was quite a
crowd departing with him on the hunt. The Laird was quite aware this was his possibility of
redemption, and played up to it for all he was worth, all the while vowing to hang, draw, and quarter
that Nancy Scott if that hare wasn’t exactly where she’d promised.
The stream of riders flooded out, jackets coloured a brilliant hunting pink, the tan dogs leaping beside
the horses, saliva running, the spirit of the chase coursing through their blood. And just as Nancy
Scott had promised, that white hare was waiting on the moor, its fur as pale and blemish-less as
But if the Laird had expected an easy hunt, he had another thing coming.
The hare leaped through grassland, seemingly as insubstantial as a phantom, the dogs hot on its trail.
The riders fell behind after a while, unable to keep up with the swiftness of the animal’s step, but the
hounds pushed themselves faster, faster, leaping over heather and thistle, sweat lashing down their
flanks. In one split second, a dog’s teeth bit into the haunch of the hare, red spilling like silk onto its
crisp white fur, but the dog was exhausted, and one swift kick delivered the hare from mouth of the
dog, and dashed on, back towards Acklington, blood splashing the hard ground in wet droplets,
marking the escape of the little white hare.
The rest of the party laughed and cheered, acknowledging the good fight of the hare, and commending the Lard’s find of such enthusiastic prey. The Laird did not follow his guests back to his opulent estate, however. His eyes was drawn, time and again, to the track of crimson, just visible on the fresh grass of late spring. The party turned right, still laughing and cheering and taking gulps out of hip flasks, the whiskey burning bright in their cheeks, and carried on towards the Laird’s estate. The Laird held for a beat, then made his decision.
Nancy’s home was warm, lit amber by a smouldering fire, and smelled faintly of sage and burning
violets, and when the Laird entered, a swift breeze rustled the dried herbs above the grate. Nancy
Scott barely glanced up, relaxed in a low armchair.
“Where is the hare, Nancy Scott?” the Laird demanded, voice fierce and cheeks red with
embarrassment and exertion. Nancy frowned down at her lap, unravelling strips of white fabric,
seemingly unaware of the intruder in her house. Her brow was slightly furrowed in a frown of
concentration, but she is the picture of innocence.
An innocence that belies the drips of blood that led to her front door.
“Where is it?” His voice was like a whipcrack, but Nancy Scott still doesn’t look up.
The Laird stormed around the house, overturning chairs and ransacking drawers, spilling dried fungi,
bundles of grasses and chunks of rock, but the bloodstains had stopped at the doorstep, and there wasno sign of the brilliant white animal.
Cursing under his breath – for he was gentleman enough to censor his language in front of a female,
even in these most distressing of circumstances – the Laird made his way back to Nancy Scott, still
perched in her chair.
The Laird clenched his jaw, about to bellow his exasperation at the girl, but something held him back.
Instead, he huffed an annoyed sigh, and turned to the door. He took one last look at Nancy Scott
before closing her door. She was still sat in her chair, one leg curled so she could apply some kind of
herbal ointment. Her thin hands worked quickly and unfaltering, clearly practised at the work of
healing. The flames of the dying fire reflected off her snow-white skin, unblemished by a single
Mumbling more curses to himself, the Laird mounted his horse and trotted away. Time to find a new
Hairy Growlers workshop – Angel Blue