Lara was a witch. At least that’s what the villagers had told her
when they founder her wandering in the tangled wood. She’d done her
best with her hair and her clothes, but the dress she’d run away in
had been outgrown four moons after she’d fled from her father’s
house. There was a lot she could do with vines and furs and cold
spring water, but it was never the same as woven cloth. She’d thought
she’d done better by her second winter. She had more furs then, more
stashes of ground nuts salted away, better arrows.
She could have stolen from the villages she passed by, but people,
especially men, had never ceased to make her skittish. At least on
the inside. She mistrusted them on sight. As if all men had cruelty
waiting to leap at her from beneath their breast.
She’d gotten good at making poultices for her scrapes and teas for
her illnesses. She’d even been forced to stitch her own wounds when
she hadn’t been fast enough to escape the wild animals who hungered
for meat during the winter months. Her plant craft had grown to the
point that she could keep strangers and wild animals away with just
the spread of the right herbs.
She’d been fifteen by her reckoning when this village had found her.
She should have known when she’d found the dilapidated hut she was
too close to civilization, but the storm had howled and the thought
of being partially dry and safe from the element she had never been
able to shake her fear of had been too good to resist.
Still, the first time they had found her, she had nearly shot the
unsuspecting woodsman before he’d got a chance to talk to the half
made-up/half feral wood child. His accent had been so thick that it
was almost unintelligible to her.
That had been almost ten years ago. When the villagers had decided
she wasn’t a faerie child, and the woman who had cleaned her up had
campaigned hard for that saying she was too pretty to be a human
child, they had dubbed her a witch. Lara couldn’t see any difference
in the suspicion raised by either of these two things, or her city
accent and her ability to read. Still, after the head man’s child had
come down with one of the endless fevers that plagued this century
and Lara had cured her, they seemed to settle into vague suspicion
rather than actual dislike. Lara didn’t care what they settled on, as
long as they left her to live in the cottage pretty much by herself.
Besides, they were right. She was a witch.
And so a new life had started. A little healing. A little midwifery.
A little calling elements to her. It didn’t make her rich, but it did
give her the ability to see into the dark, into people and to see
what was really there. She didn’t need to be rich. As long as she was
never found. Besides, the little fishing village kept her busy
enough. Crops that needed blessing. Fish that wouldn’t bite. Babies
that didn’t turn. If she had wanted to, she supposed she could have
made something of that, but she was valuable and she was hidden.
Being useful was a different kind of ambition than she was raised on,
but she found she could get used to it.
She didn’t get paid much, but the old cottage was warm and cozy now.
There was always food on the table and she had enough fabric and
thread to look at least civilized when she was called out. She didn’t
look like a rich man’s daughter, but not like a peasant either.
It didn’t make her popular. Despite cleaning up well, no suitors
darkened her door for anything but nefarious purposes. She wasn’t a
suitable match for good young men. No threatening half feral forest
women for good boys, no matter how pretty.
However, the call to the ship hadn’t been that odd though. She’d
brought the little black bag with the medicines and the twines and
the scary little implements that no one understood. She wasn’t a
doctor. She was better than.
The bite had gone deep. Almost too deep. “Hold him still,” Lara
ordered the clustered sea men as her patient thrashed weakly. “Hold
him still or get out of the way.”
The captain was a grizzly thick necked man with a greying beard and
a kind eye. “Can you save it? Only he’s got a new baby and a young
Lara looked at the bloody pulp critically. “Won’t know till we
try. And not if I keep gabbing.”
And she’d set to work. It was a long two hours and the man had
screamed until he wept and in the end she’d ended up more covered in
blood than he was, but she saved the leg.
“It’s done,” she said, quietly to the man. “Now I need you to
drink this. And sleep.”
Standing she wiped her forehead with a bloody hand. “It’ll be a
couple weeks, but he’ll walk with it again. Maybe always with a limp,
but not enough to prevent him from serving.”
The sailors whispered and shifted away from her when she moved, but
she was too tired to care.
The captain shook her hand though, blood and all. “Thank you.
About your fee…”
Lara shook her head, because it wasn’t important, she just wanted
“… I want to give you a bonus.”
She barely heard him. “I want to go to bed. Maria Costello
delivered herself of twins last night and I don’t care. Send whatever
you think’s fair to the cottage.”
She didn’t wait…just walked back to her cottage beyond the
village. Another story for the book. She’d have to write down that
stitching pattern. Tomorrow. She’d write it down tomorrow.