She doesn't notice the passage of time so much as seasons. it is warm, and there are many birds and ground dwellers to hunt. It is cold and they are fewer.
But, the jump from babe to child is short, and little bird now greets her with more than babbling sounds. Old Mother laughs at his antics, at his garbled speaking. Little bird walks, stumbling and like a newborn calf. Now he tries to follow her, calling "Mama" she knows not the word. Witch's magic granted animation, and Chimera's a glamour of life. Neither gave her speech.
the boy clings to her muddy dress, hands tight like mortal rope. And it's the Witch's magic that guides her, as she settles the boy on her back. He babbles into her ear now, shrieking with something like joy. The little hands wind into the braids the Old Mother had made of her hair. Her chest feels heavy with the thought of little bird's joy, but the weight is warm, and she cannot blame magic for it.
She carries him in a length of cloth wrapped tight about her front, leaving slack enough at her back. He is small still, and fits there easily. The old mother has tied knots to keep the tension. Bouda does not yet know how to manage them, and slides the cloth over her head when she must remove it. Her claw-less hands pat the lengths of twine, curious to their making, but she struggles to replicate. Little bird progress faster, able to tug on the frayed length and send himself tumbling from her back when the tension immediately slackens.
The winter is crawling closer, and Old Mother has tied the boy up on Bouda's shoulders. Little bird fusses, but the bobbles plaited into her hair distract him. The crone hoists a basket full of goods into her own arms, and leads Bouda from the cottage. They walk down the mountain, edging carefully along the deer trails. Old Mother speaks as she walks. She points to creatures that Bouda knows, and says her names for them. She points to creatures that the Chimera has never known, and says names for them also. Little brown birds that flutter and bluster, she calls Wren. Little birds like the boy on her back, a little wren.
Old Mother guides her through the village, the press of the clustering crowd. They sit on a spread blanket in the paved square, and the old mother lays out the things in her basket. A woman comes to speak with the crone, and stays for some time. She is wrinkled, like a dried up fruit. Old Mother doesn’t look so old as she. The woman has hair like spider silk, and milky eyes. A pack of children race by shrieking, and the woman leaves.
“Smile, please, you mustn't look so bitter.” The crone whispers, but Bouda does not know. She twists her face, contorting her mouth and its flat, flat teeth oddly. Bouda attempts it. Color drains from her cheeks, and old mother shakes her head, as though shaking off a particularly annoying bird. “Never mind, dear, your smile is nearly as bad as your frown.”
they sit, and Wren begins to fuss once more, and the crone takes him.
Round the sun goes, and it grows dark and a poor time to hunt, and the Crone rises, tying little bird on Bouda’s back, and passing the emptied basket into her arms. Old Mother leads her by the wooden structures extended over the water. The woman does not look at them, does not speak to the men on boats who wave and call out to her. Bouda follows. she smells the rot of fish left too long uneaten, of things dead in the water, far below, of water plants dried up. It is not a pleasant scent, for all the crone breathes it in deep. Old mother barks at a man with nets of fish, and Bouda’s nose crinkles, and she feels her face contort, and she thinks of rotten carrion. The fish are loaded into her basket, and she turns her head. Old mother walks on. She leads Boada past a square building, the color of crushed bark. A man stands outside of it, and he sees Old mother, and jumps down from the step. He speaks with her, and Bouda shuffles behind, facing away from the wind. She does not wish to smell the rot of the sea any longer. Old Mother laughs at the man, reaches a hand into his yellow hair. Yellow like dead grass. He’s younger than both Old Mother, and the old woman from before, but he is older than the Witch was.
The thought makes her cold, despite the glow of the sun. Witch, full of bitterness and jealousy and longing. Wanted back a soul, carelessly lost. Little bird does not look like the witch. He looks like the scraps of human left on the many faced beast that had killed the Witch.
The man walks away, humming a song that sounds of mournful keening, of longing like the Witch’s. The Old Mother picks it up, humming the tune all the way back up the mountain.
“I’ll never say it was or wasn’t so, but let me tell of a harrowing time, where the noose embraced the neck of a boy who ne’er knew his crime.”