Authors: Megg Jensen
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #sword and sorcery, #Sci-Fi & Fantasy
They bickered as they mounted their horses and raced back down the road towards the Wendak, their heavy packs slapping against the poor horses’ haunches. I didn’t dare to breathe until they were out of sight and the cracking noise of the horses hooves disappeared.
“It worked,” I squealed, dancing around Ivy. “I can’t believe you did it. That was amazing.”
Ivy stood still, her eyes wide, a smile on her face.
“I did, didn’t I? This is the first time I’ve intentionally used my gift.” She whirled around in a circle, her arms thrown out. “And it feels good. I can’t even describe to you how I feel right now. I relaxed them so much they were willing to do whatever I said.”
I grabbed Ivy, pulling her into a tight hug. She didn’t hug me back nearly as hard, but I was crushing her. Her eyes were staring off into the distance while her smile grew by tiny increments.
“We should keep moving.” I tugged on her sleeve to remind her I was still there. “They’ll be down this road again.”
“Oh, I doubt that,” Ivy said, snapping out of her reverie. “It’ll be too dark to leave by the time they get home. We won’t see them again.”
“Do you see the symbol?” Ivy whispered as we crept out of the woods on the outskirts of Keree. I strained to see anything in the black night, but the majority of the village was sleeping, along with their lights. Only far off flickers from the windows of what was probably the town tavern cut through the darkness.
Tania had instructed us to see Johna, an herbalist living in Keree. It was the safest place for us to stay until we learned how to make our own lives and function in the world.
“We’re looking for the sign with the hops on it?” I asked peering into the darkness.
“Yeah,” Ivy whispered back. “Can you read that sign?”
She pointed in to the first house about forty paces away. I squinted my eyes, trying to make out the symbol on the sign hanging above the doorway. “What do hops look like?”
“A green plant with little flowers that look like cones,” Ivy said.
“Then this is the place.” I could barely see the symbol on the sign as the wind danced with it. Back and forth it creaked, the only sound in the silent night. “What should we do? It’s so late. Should we just knock on the door?”
“Why don’t you talk a little louder?” whispered a voice behind us.
I spun around, as did Ivy, and we were face to face with an older woman. She’d appeared out of nowhere, nothing signaled her approach.
“Where did you come from?” Ivy asked. “No one else was in the woods with us.”
“I was out collecting nightbloom. Only blooms at night, you know,” she said with a wink.
“My goodness, child.” The woman walked straight towards me, her black cloak billowing around her. “You must be Reychel. You do sparkle, don’t you? Tania warned me, but my, oh my, you are beyond any expectations. Like a beacon in the dark night.”
“Are you Johna?” I couldn’t see much beyond the hood on her cloak to see if she matched Tania’s description of a middle-aged woman with long silver hair and a crooked nose. Her bright smile was supposed to make up for the crone image.
“That I am. And you’re lucky it’s me and no one else. You two need to be more careful. They’re looking for one of you and anyone would be out of their minds not to turn you in. Tania’s message spoke of a high reward.”
“Message?” Ivy asked. “We just got here ourselves, how could you have received a message already?”
“We have our ways.” The woman rebalanced the basket she held under one arm to stare at Ivy. “You sparkle too, Ivy, though not as strong as Reychel.”
I grabbed Ivy’s hand and squeezed. As far as I was concerned, her gift had saved us and mine had never even manifested. That told me hers was infinitely stronger, no matter how much my eyes shone. Her hand lay limp in mine but I squeezed again hoping she would know how much I cared.
“Now let’s get you girls inside. You’re wet and you could probably use a change of clothes before hitting the sack. Even though it’s late, someone might see you. We wouldn’t want that yet, would we? Not until I decide exactly what to do with you.”
We followed Johna into her cottage. Its layout was exactly the same as Tania’s, but couldn’t have looked more different. An entire wall was covered in hanging herbs, in various states of drying. I saw a few I recognized like lavender and sage but many more draped the wall in mystery. Wooden cabinets dotted with tiny drawers flanked the rest of the walls. A huge counter stood near the front of the room, presumably the place she sold her herbal concoctions to the villagers.
Johna pointed to a freestanding screen in the far corner.
“You can change behind that while I get something warm to fill your bellies. You’ve been walking in the rain and snacking on dry bread, not enough nourishment for rain-soaked young girls.”
Behind the screen, I slithered out of my wet dress and shivered in my shift. While my undergarments weren’t wet, they were lightly damp and cool enough to cause goose pimples to break out on my arms and legs. I grabbed the second dress Tania gave me out of my pack and pulled it over my head.
“Where can we hang up our cloaks?” Ivy asked, wringing hers out over a metal tub, also behind the screen.
“Over the door,” Johna said, waving to an empty hook. “They should be dry by morning.”
“Are we to leave then?” I asked, not seeing anywhere to sleep. I was afraid of having to move on again. I wanted nothing more than a quiet place to rest for a while. Too much had happened today and I couldn’t bear moving on again.
“No, no, child,” Johna laughed. “Silly girl. You’ll be staying here a while. See that door in the back?”
I looked behind her and nodded. I hadn’t seen it at first. I was too distracted by the wall of herbs.
“That leads to a separate room with my sleeping chambers. We’ll have to share for now. Close quarters won’t hurt, after all there’s much you need to learn before you can step out into that world on your own. There are histories to learn, rules to follow and techniques to master. Not only do you have to learn about our world, but you have to be able to succeed in the outer world without giving away your gifts. If you do, you might end up worse off than how you started.”
I sat down on the closest bench, resting my arms on the table. Allowing myself to relax seemed a luxury after all the excitement. Here I had a place to stay, a new home. No matter how short my time here I knew I would enjoy it.
“Tania said before we left that Kandak is looking for us,” I said. “Will that bring you any trouble?”
“Why don’t the two of you stay inside the house, and away from the windows, until he stops looking?” Johna scooped each of us our own bowl of stew as Ivy took a seat next to me. “A couple of slaves aren’t going to cause an uproar for too long. Something else will catch his attention sooner or later.”
“Away from the windows?” I had been looking forward to having some freedom and time to see the outside world. At the least I had hoped I could stare out a window in my free time. I had done so little of it and our flight hadn’t allowed me much time to enjoy my surroundings. I wanted to see what my world looked like.
“People stop by here unannounced all the time looking for this potion or that herb,” Johna said. “If they see you, they’ll talk and talk travels faster than a horse in a town like this. If one person knows, everyone will know. Hiding will have to do for now.”
“We’re sorry if we’re inconveniencing you.” Ivy laid her hands on Johna’s arms and casually extended the fingers of her right hand towards Johna. “It’s not our intention.”
“Don’t use your soothing on me, girl,” Johna turned her back and walked across the room slamming the pot down on the counter. “The first lesson you need to learn is to never use your gifts on one of us unless we ask you to.”
“I’m sorry,” Ivy said, retracting her fingers. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I was just trying to help our situation. Reychel and I have been through so much.”
“I understand your situation,” Johna sighed. “I was there once. Many of us were. None of us would ever turn you away. You just need to use your common sense and hide out for a bit.”
My eyes widened. I’d never seen anyone speak so harshly to Ivy before. Everyone always loved her. She sat as still as a stone at her chair, gripping the soup spoon in her hand so tight that her fingers turned a bright pink to match her cheeks. Perhaps it was because Ivy was able to soothe everyone around her before and she wasn’t used to dealing with any level of criticism, but I’d never seen her so irritated.
“It’s okay, Johna,” I interjected, putting my arm around Ivy’s shoulders. “We don’t mind. Hiding out here has got to be better than any day we spent as slaves.”
“I’m glad you see things the right way, girl,” Johna nodded. “It’ll get you far.”
I returned to my stew as my stomach growled loud enough for the whole village to hear. A smile broke out on Ivy’s face as she also remembered her supper. I was relieved to see Ivy’s expression slip back to normal as I took a sip of the warm vegetable soup. I tasted fresh leeks and carrots in the steaming broth. I hadn’t eaten a meal this warm in recent memory. Usually I was given leftovers or I ate too quickly to taste the food. Knowing that work waited for me after eating never gave me much incentive to sit and enjoy. I’d rather get eating out of the way so I could get back to my chores.
Johna sat at the opposite side of the table and stared at me, making it difficult to concentrate on my soup. I glanced up at her.
“I know what Ivy’s gift is. That much was obvious by her little stunt just now. What’s yours?” Johna tapped her spoon against the side of her bowl as she gazed into my eyes.
“I don’t know.” I looked away, not sure how I felt about my gift and the lack of its appearance. I shrugged and pursed my lips together. “I don’t really think there’s much of anything special about me.”
“You’ll figure it out soon enough,” Johna said with a nod of her head. “We all do. Very few people have had the spark and never learned their gift.”
“What happens if they don’t?” Ivy set down her spoon in the empty bowl.
“Imagine you knew you were supposed to be able to talk, but couldn’t. Everyone around you could speak, tell jokes or sing songs. Yet you sat silently by day after day just watching them,” Johna paused. “It tears some people apart.”
My eyes widened. Even if I never figured out my gift, I couldn’t believe it would damage me much. Being free was the best reward I’d ever been given.
“It’ll come to you, Reychel,” Johna continued. “Someone with as much power as you can’t stay silent for long.”
A rapid knock at the door woke me from the first restful night’s sleep I could remember. Ivy stirred next to me on the bed, jabbing her elbow into my back.
“What’s going on?” she murmured, obviously enjoying sleeping in for a change. It was a rare treat to not wake up with the first light.
“Shh,” I whispered. “There’s someone at the door.”
Our eyes grew wide as we crept to the door of the bedroom, our nightclothes silently sweeping the floor. Johna’s bed sat neatly made while our makeshift cots on the floor lay rumpled with sheets. I assumed Johna was already in the front of the cottage as she was nowhere to be seen. Yesterday she warned us to stay out of sight and we weren’t about to violate her rules. But we also wanted to know what was going on, so we lay down on the floor and listened through the crack under the door.
“Good morning, Roc,” Johna said. “What can I get for you? Millie feeling alright?”
“Aye, she’s better this morning, thanks to you. She’s no longer feeling the pains in her back. The baby seems safe for now.”
“Glad to hear that. What can I do for you today?”
“Oh, just a little more of those herbs for her bath, please. She says it helps her relax when the baby wears her out. He’s so heavy these days.”
“Of course, of course. All women feel discomfort during pregnancy. It’s natural.”
I heard a crinkling noise as Johna rustled through her herbs on the wall.
“Do you think this baby will be the one?” Roc asked.
“The one what?”
“You know, the Prophet,” he whispered.
“Do you really believe in that nonsense?” she chided. “How would one child save our people?”
“Well, the prophecy says…”
“I don’t care what the prophecy says,” Johna interrupted. “You take care of you and yours and that’s all the saving you need.”
“Yes,” he chuckled. “I suppose so. It’s silly of me to go on about children’s stories as if they’re true.”
“Now get yourself home to your beautiful wife. Soon you’ll be coming here to let me know that the baby is on its way.”
“Thanks again, Johna. I don’t know how the village got on before you came here.”
“Glad I can help.”
What prophecy was he talking about? I glanced at Ivy but she didn’t seem surprised. In fact she had lost interest early in the conversation and crawled back into bed. I backed away from the door too, pulled off my sleeping clothes and slid into a dress.
“You can come out now, girls,” Johna called. “I know you’ve been listening at the door.”
I nudged Ivy with my toe and she pulled the blanket over her head. I crawled over and poked her in the side. She jerked and giggled. With a sigh, and a roll of her eyes, she sat up. I stood up, took her hands in mine, and pulled her to her feet. She changed into a dress quickly too.