by Heidi Wainer
Jayla opened the latch and stepped into the dark cottage. She had lived in the witch’s house her entire life but this was the first time it felt eerie. The thought made her chuckle; being inside the witch’s house only felt scary after the death of the witch.
She glanced at the rows of shelves spanning the length of the wall next to the fireplace. Jars of dried herbs and bottles of tinctures were stacked three high, each carefully labeled and organized by use. Memories of the many afternoons spent with her Gran, preparing the medicines in just the right way, crashed over her, making her pause. She would have to leave all the jars behind. Master Blackthorn and the village goodwives waiting outside had only consented to let her remove one small sack of belongings. The rest they would burn with the house to rid their village of the taint Master Blackthorn insisted resided at the top of Mossback Hill.
Jayla grabbed a jar from the shelf and threw it against the wall. The shattering of stoneware almost mimicked the sound her heart made earlier that day when the village council had declared it unseemly for a girl of nineteen to live alone. The goodwives insisted she would surely starve since she had no way to support herself. They thought her the perfect person to care for Master Blackthorn’s ailing wife.
Master Blackthorn had welcomed the idea with fervor. As long as Jayla could remember, he had been trying to rid the forest of the witch of Mossback Hill. Evil spreads, he told the council. He would do his duty and take the witch’s great granddaughter into his home. He alone could purify her soul and transform her into a proper woman.
Jayla immediately regretted loosing control of her anger and throwing the jar. She grabbed the broom sitting faithfully in its corner, and started to sweep up the broken pieces and the green leafy contents. She stopped suddenly. What was the use? The herbs would burn whether they were on the floor or in the hearth. She leaned the broom against the table, not even bothering to put it back in its corner.
She wiped a tear from her cheek and pushed a piece of long chestnut hair behind her ear. She stared up at the loft where she slept. Her belongings remained there but she walked past the ladder to her Gran’s bed. At the bottom of Gran’s trunk, lay the heirloom quilt Gran had stitched together after the birth of Gran’s first child, Jayla’s great uncle.
Gran had lived longer than anyone in the village. The mothers of the oldest of the villagers had requested Gran’s help with their birthing. If only Jayla had inherited the power. If she had the witch power, she could support herself. She could stand up to the village council, because they would need her. Without the power, she was nothing.
Gran taught Jayla how to gather and store leafy teas for all ailments, how to brew tinctures, and make poultices. But, without Gran’s power, Jayla did not know which remedy to administer. Gran always knew. Gran could just look at person and know if they needed tea for their stomach or tea for their liver. Sometimes she would send Jayla into the house to measure out doses of tea before the patient even walked through the garden gate. Gran even knew when nothing ailed a person, when what they needed was to sit by the fire and talk all night through. There was a tea for that too.
Gran’s diagnoses were always accurate. For that, the villagers tolerated her presence atop Mossback Hill. They ignored Master Blackthorn’s cries of witchcraft, his false descriptions of evil rites, and they paid Gran for her knowledge. The villagers would come with a bowl of eggs, a basket of preserves, or a skein of wool and leave with a packet of tea for whatever ailed them. Jayla and Gran had lived well until that winter when Gran grew sick. After Gran had started coughing, the villagers stopped coming. Jayla had been forced to butcher the chickens and goats one by one. Now, when the forest could almost supplement their pantry once again, no food remained in the cottage.
Jayla sat on the end of the bed and cried into the quilt, until she heard the rapping on the door.
“Hurry up girl,” Master Blackthorn’s voice boomed through the closed door of the cottage. “You know Goodwife Blackthorn should not be alone so long.”
Jayla stuffed the quilt into her sack. Gran had been much worse off than Goodwife Blackthorn. For three turns of the moon, Gran lay in this bed and coughed up green slime. Then, on a rainy day last week, Gran had taken off the amulet that she always wore around her neck and placed it in Jalya’s hand.
“It’s your turn,” Gran had said, and closed her eyes. Those were the last words Gran ever spoke.
Jayla had not been able to put the amulet on at the time. It would have meant accepting the fact that Gran would never recover. Now, sitting on the end of Gran’s bed, wearing Gran’s amulet seemed like the only thing that mattered.
She stood up, walked over to the cold fireplace, and opened the wooden box on the mantle. The blue stone called to her in a way it never had before. Jayla felt a deep pit of emptiness inside her that could only be filled by placing the amulet around her neck.
She opened the box and held the diamond shaped silver amulet in her hand. She stared at the small tear shaped turquoise stones surrounding the giant blue crystalline gem at its center. Each of the four corners held smaller tear shaped gems, the same color as the central stone that extended out from the silver diamond. Gran had said the amulet only felt right when all four of the gems touched her bare skin.
Jayla ran her fingers along the silver chain then placed it over her head. The amulet settled against her skin just below her collarbone and the stone seemed to hum for a moment before it blended its song with her own rhythm. The hunger in the pit of her soul dissipated, but it changed nothing. Master Blackthorn and the Goodwives outside were still going to burn her home as soon as she gathered just one sack of memories.
“Enough.” The door crashed open and Master Blackthorn stood silhouetted against the bright light. “Girl, you have had all the time you need to gather a few dresses. Come out now,” he shouted. As soon as you are established as part of my household, the council will agree Mossback Hill will be mine by rights.
Jayla stared at him, aghast that he would say such a thing until she realized, he had not opened his mouth since commanding her to leave. She had heard his thoughts inside her own head.
He looked different as well. Perhaps it was the bright outdoor light filtering around him, but he seemed surrounded by a greenish mist. “Green for envy, green for greed,” her Gran had always said. The goodwives thought they were placing Jayla in a household that would feed and clothe her in exchange for nursing and housework. The council hoped to cleanse from Jayla the stench of witchcraft. She finally understood, Master Blackthorn could care less about witchcraft. He wanted her land. Perhaps he always had, perhaps that is why he lied to everyone about her Gran.
The amulet throbbed against her chest. She could not let Master Blackthorn take Mossback Hill.
“No!” Jayla stood a little taller, just saying the word gave her confidence. She wiped the tears from her face and picked up the broom resting against the table. “You cannot make me leave my home.”
“You don’t get to say no, girl,” he snarled. “The council deemed you too young to live on your own. They begged me to take you. I have to follow their directives just like you, even though it means bringing your evil taint into my home.”
The amulet hummed and Jayla saw an image of Blackthorn placing a gold coin into the hand of a councilman. Blackthorn had paid the council to exile her from her home.
Goodwife Milka walked up behind him and stuck her head in the cottage. “Dear you must come. Goodwife Blackthorn needs your help. Besides, no man will ever want a woman who has lived without a chaperone. You must live in a suitable household if you are to ever find a proper husband.” She looked at Jayla kindly. She meant to help. Nevertheless, her mind continued, no man will marry a woman carrying the taint of your Gran’s magic.
“No,” Jayla said again. “I will continue Gran’s work. I would rather live my life alone, than give Mossback Hill to him.” She pointed at Master Blackthorn. “Leave my house. Leave Mossback Hill.” She charged forward, brandishing her broom handle like a woodsman’s staff. “Leave or I will tell the village about your plot to steal my mountain. I will tell everyone about the coins you gave the council members.”
Master Blackthorn’s eyes widened with surprise. He glared at her for just a moment, swallowed and then turned around. Blackthorn put his hand on Goodwife Milka’s shoulders and directed her away from the house. “She’s crazy with grief,” he said softly. To the goodwives waiting expectantly in the garden he said, “She will come down the mountain in a day or two when she is hungry. We can take care of the house next Sunday.” Then I will punish her for her disobedience.
Goodwife Milka turned back and stared sadly at Jayla, who stood in the doorway holding her broom. She hesitated, reluctant to leave. Jayla could see the worry in her face. Jayla could see no evil intent only a reddish black flare in the center of Milka’s chest. Her stomach was acting up again.
“Goodwife Milka, wait,” Jayla said.
The matronly woman turned and smiled. “I knew you would see reason dear.” She held her arms out to welcome Jayla.
Jayla disappeared into the house and poured out a packet of the stomach tea her Gran had always prescribed. She emerged from the house still carrying her broom. Careful to stay far enough away that no one could grab her, Jayla tossed the packet at the confused woman.
“For your stomach,” Jayla said. “Thanks for caring about me, but I’ll be fine.”
Master Blackthorn grabbed the packet from Milka’s hands, threw it on the ground and stomped on it. “She is bluffing, Milka. She is just a stupid ignorant girl trying to convince you that you need a witch.”
Goodwife Milka, looked down forlornly at the herbs scattered in the dirt for a long moment. She held her chest as if she could will the pain away, and then let herself be dragged down the hill by the other women.
Jayla drifted back inside, flopped down in her Gran’s favorite chair by the fireplace, and sobbed. She had won her right to stay, but unless the villagers paid for her herb craft, she would starve.
The amulet pulsed. Gran’s amulet had awakened something inside of Jayla. This afternoon, Jayla had known things about the others that she should not know. She had heard their thoughts. Jayla stared at the cold fireplace, so long her vision blurred.
Gran bent over the glowing coals in the hearth, looking like she had in Jayla’s earliest memories. Next to her on the floor, a baby rolled over and pushed itself up onto its arms.
“Jayla dear.” Gran showed the baby three gold coins. “These are for you from your mother. When you need them, the amulet will remind you where they are.” Gran reached over the coals, pried a brick loose from the back of the hearth, and placed the coins in the hole. The vision dissipated leaving Jayla alone in the cold dark cottage.
Jayla scrambled through the cold ashes to the back of the hearth but required a knife to find the edges of the soot covered bricks. With the memory of her Gran vivid in her mind, she pushed a brick in the far left corner inwards. It slid back just enough that she could to pry out the brick below. There, in a small cubby behind the hearth, lay three gold coins.
Jayla pulled one out and clutched it to her chest. Tomorrow was a market day.
The next morning Jayla, walked to the village with the gold coin tucked safely into the sash of her skirt. Her mind kept reviewing the list of items she wanted to purchase starting with three goats for milk and wool. The goats could also carry the sack of flour and oats she wanted to purchase back up Mossback Hill. Perchance if there was enough left over she could even get a chicken.
“Good morning, Master Rempton,” Jayla greeted the farmer who was letting his chicks out to roam in the makeshift pen that he had set up at the edge of the village square. She smiled at him as she had on market days last summer, when she had come to purchase items for her Gran.
“Good morning Jayla.” He smiled at her. “How is Goodwife Blackthorn today? Are you adjusting well to the move?”
Jayla scowled at the thought. “I have chosen to remain at Gran’s,” she informed him. “I will be doing the village herb work from her house.” Jayla spoke loudly so that others in the square might here her.
Master Rempton returned her scowl. “Jayla you cannot. The council has decreed it unseemly for a girl your age to live alone. You need a chaperone.” He took a step backwards, so that his back jabbed into the side of his cart. “If you go against the council, no one can help you. No one can do business with you.” He gathered himself and took a step towards her, shooing her out of the stall. “I cannot be seen talking to you.”
Disappointment threatened to overwhelm her, but Jayla would not be thwarted. “No one will see if you come to Mossback Hill for the pain growing in your left lung, bring a chick to trade for the herbs.” Master Rempton rubbed his lung on the spot she knew hurt him worse each day and stared at her in disbelief.
Rempton looked thoughtfully at her, but behind her Master Weaton, the most self-righteous of the village councilmen, shouted at the top of his lungs. “Witchcraft.”
Jayla spun around to face her accuser. “The witch Jayla of Mossback Hill is working her evil magic on good Master Rempton. She is making him sick so he will go against the council edict and buy herbs from her.”
Jayla could not believe he would say such a thing. “You lie,” she shouted back.
He ignored her. “She is using her witchcraft to seduce us. We thought the girl did not have the taint. We thought we could still purify her soul, but she has rejected the council’s edict. Master Blackthorn told me about the evil rites she conducts.”
Jayla turned back to the farmer. “Master Rempton,” she demanded. “Tell them you have had that pain since midwinter. Tell them how it grows worse each day and you complain each evening to your wife.”
He glanced at the council house across the square and shook his head. “Be gone with you.”
Jayla fled across the square but Master Weaton kept shouting. “No healing can come from evil magic. She has refused redemption. The darkness surrounding her will spread…”
At last, the bustle of the market drowned out his cries. Jayla knew she had to buy some stock before word of her defiance spread.
She ran to the southern end of the market where Granny Hodges always set up her stall when the old woman and her niece came to sell cheese and goats. Jayla breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the almost blind and practically deaf woman. Jayla hoped Granny Hodges had not heard the commotion on the other side of the square.
“Granny,” Jayla said as she approached the old woman. “I would trade you this gold coin for the six goats you brought to market today.” Jayla placed the coin in her hand. The old woman put it in her mouth and bit down, testing the metal.
“You’re Storfield’s girl?” she asked. Jayla did not correct her. “Your Papa has always traded fair. I must warn you he will be very upset when he discovers you have overpaid so greatly for these animals.”
Jayla shrugged and gathered the goats’ leashes. She bid Granny Hodges farewell, only to be stopped by Dayra, the old woman’s niece, rushing back to the stall.
“Granny what have you done?” the girl demanded. “You cannot be seen selling to…”
Jayla cut her off. “On your way home, gather plagar root for her. Her left knee is swollen on the inside. It will make it hard for her to walk.”
Whatever Dayra was about to say, she stopped. She stood and stared as Jayla left the village.
Jayla circled the village with her new goats, brooding about the consequences of her trip to the market as she walked. She hoped word would spread that she had inherited her Gran’s abilities. She hoped the villagers would be brave enough to defy the council and come to Mossback Hill for herbs. Except, if they believed Master Blackthorn, and listened to his lies about evil rites atop the hill, they would only come to Mossback Hill to burn her home with Jayla inside. Once she was out of the way, Master Blackthorn would control all the forest.
The faces of the people in the square haunted her as she climbed the hill. The accusations of evil rites had scared them almost as much as the thought of someone defying a council edict.
Could that be why Gran never went into the village? Had they accused her of evil and only come to see her in secret? No, she told herself as she entered her own garden gate. Gran had gone to the village when Jayla had been younger. She had only stayed away from the market the last few years, after it had gotten too hard for her to climb the hill.
It took weeks for Jayla to go to sleep without fearing the villagers would come and burn the house down around her. Each evening, she would sit on the wooden bench in front of her house and watch the slow turn of the moon, wondering if they were on their way.
She could ignore her worries during the day; too many chores called out to be finished. The goats escaped their paddock during their fourth night on Mossback Hill. She found all but one, but Jayla had to spend three whole days strengthening the fencing. If one knew where to look, the forest in the throes of spring could provide food. Spring medicinal herbs that she also gathered in the forest had to be prepared in just the right way.
Then one evening as she sat watching the sunset, Jayla realized she no longer feared the villagers coming to hurt her. Instead, she wanted to know if Dayra had gathered the roots for Granny Hodges’s knee. Was Goodwife Milka still suffering a burning in her stomach? Jayla clutched the amulet around her neck, but it told her nothing. The village was to far away.
Jayla counted the days she had been alone atop Mossback Hill and realized that the next market day would be in just three days. All the next day, she fought the idea of going. They would shun her, that is if they didn’t bind her up and burn her.
On the second day, she could not get the images of the villagers out of her mind. She craved to know how they faired. The more she tried to push the idea out of her mind, the more she knew she had to go to the village. Jayla hungered to talk to someone, anyone, just for an hour. That would be enough.
The next morning she woke early, tied her stone-colored cloak around her tightly against the cold and pulled her hood over her head. She milked the goats and chipped the thin sheet of ice off the top of the trough in the paddock. She glanced at the house one last time as she walked past it. Leaving felt like saying goodbye to her Gran all over again.
Jayla had been a small girl the last time she took the faint path down the backside of Mossback Hill all the way to the village. She remembered it to be longer but she could not bring herself to walk on the road through Master Blackthorn’s fields.
By the time the sun had risen high enough in the sky to break through the forest canopy, Jayla had left the part of the forest she knew well. The faint path disappeared three separate times, making her circle around to find it.
Midmorning, Jayla had lost the path yet again. She stooped down to get a drink from what had to be Ronual Creek. Had she followed the tiny stream behind her house, she would have arrived at this same spot. She stared back up the mountain; perhaps traveling down the backside of Mossback Hill might have been a mistake.
A deer sprinted out of the trees and jumped over the creek just in front of her knocking her backwards. She landed on her backside in the icy cold water just as an arrow zinged across the creek and impaled itself in a tree. Had she been kneeling, the arrow would have struck her in the head. Jayla screamed in shock.
On the hunt, Tyril ran from the woods. His eyes darted back and forth searching for the deer. When he spied Jayla, scrambling to climb out of the icy creek, fear flooded out of him. He dropped his bow and backed into a tree.
“Don’t harm me, Shade. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“Tyril,” Jayla said as she scrambled to her feet and squeezed the water from her skirts. “It’s just me, Jayla from Mossback Hill. I’m not a Shade.”
She doesn’t know she’s dead. His thoughts echoed in her mind. He shook with the fear of her.
“Tyril, I’m not dead.”
He shook slightly. “Master Blackthorn came to market and told everyone weeks ago. He said he climbed the hill to check on you, and found your naked body lying on top of your Gran’s grave. He told us about the rituals, the witchcraft, and the sacrifices. He brought the only surviving goat with him to return to Granny Hodges.”
“He lied.” She walked up to him, so close that she could feel his breath on her cheek. Years ago, she had dreamed about kissing Tyril, about marrying him, but now she figured she would marry no one. “Touch me,” she commanded.
He stood still, too frightened to move.
“If I am a ghost, your arms will move through me. You have nothing to fear. I’m real. I’m flesh and blood, shivering, and so close to you the goodwives in the village would flinch at the impropriety.”
I loved her once, before I understood witchcraft and evil.
His thoughts were like an axe crashing through her. When she defied Master Blackburn and the council, she hadn’t realized how much giving up a proper life would hurt. Jayla turned away from him and hung her head.
His arms encircled her from behind, clutching her hands more like a lover than a captor.
Could it be? he wondered.
She felt the warmth of his skin seep into her back. It felt good to have another person so close. His hot breath on her neck made her skin tingle.
He whispered in her ear. “Before they knew about your death, the goodwives were gossiping…”
“I’m not dead.” She insisted, half-heartedly.
“Yes, I see that now.” He pulled her closer to him, hugging her tighter. Jayla relished the embrace.
“They said you inherited your Gran’s power. Are you the new witch of Mossback Hill?” he asked insistently.
Suddenly Jayla knew. She knew his mum’s cough had gotten worse over the past months. Tyril did not want her; he wanted to help his mum.
She pulled out of his arms and twirled around to face him. “When you catch that deer, bring me a section and I will give you the tea your mum needs.”
“How did you…You can make it?”
“I made it before.” She stomped away from him, back up the hill. Suddenly the thought of going to market seemed more horrifying than being alone.
“I have three rabbits trapped downstream.” he called.
She stopped before she reached the trees and turned to him. “I’ll take only one if you go to the market first and tell them I’m not dead.”
“And tell them I’m not evil. I’m not dangerous.” She turned towards around home without looking to see if he agreed.
Jayla, you were always dangerous.
He arrived just before sundown, as she carried a bucket of water from the stream behind the house to the goat’s trough. Slung over his shoulder, a rabbit loosely dangled from a thick leather cord. He looked sweaty and out of breath as if he had been running.
Tyril stopped when he saw her ten feet from the garden gate. Something was wrong.
“What’s happened,” she called. She nervously wiggled her sore, bare feet in the dirt. Walking up the hill in wet boots had given her blisters. “Is it your mum? Her tea is inside. I’ll get it.”
Tell her to run, he thought. “Jayla they’re coming. I went to market, like you asked. My pa was talking with Master Weaton…”
The amulet throbbed against her chest. Jayla saw an image of Master Weaton, addressing everyone in the market as Tyril stood by in horror. All the farmers turned to listen as they packed up to leave. “This is what happens when a girl is left alone,” Weaton preached. “Young Jayla has been seduced by the darkness; even her shade is evil.”
Master Blackthorn stood as well. “We must purge Mossback Hill, like the council originally decreed. Fire is the only way to destroy the taint.”
Jayla glanced over Tyril’s shoulder at the road. They would be here soon. She could see the torch light flickering on the trees along the road. She could hear the clanks of long curved scythes.
She ran into the house, set the bucket of water still in her hands on the table and latched the door. Immediately she regretted her refuge. She had hidden away in a one-room cottage with a thatched roof. They would burn her alive.
The door burst open, unable to withstand the force of a man’s kick. Master Blackthorn stormed in followed by at least four other men from the village; three carried burning torches. Someone held Tyril outside as his pa entered brandishing a thick woodman’s staff. Blackthorn and Weaton both held their scythes ready to slice her open if she tried to escape. Goodwife Milka watched from just beyond the doorway along with at least five other women from the village.
Jayla backed up until the edges of the herb shelves jabbed into her back. When she could go no further, Weaton grabbed her hands, spun her around and wrenched her arms behind her back.
Jayla could feel Weaton’s fear and hatred of her magic. He believed Blackthorn’s story that she had used dark magic to return from the dead. He believed her work would spread the evil through the village. His desire to purge the darkness from Jayla’s soul consumed him. As he held her, Weaton decided she must have always been dark. Only someone deeply involved dark magic would reject Blackthorn’s offer of protection to live alone in this dangerous world.
Weaton yanked Jayla’s wrists upwards. Pain shot from her shoulders to her elbows.
Blackthorn’s mind felt different; it overflowed with rage and greed. He wanted Mossback Hill and he would kill her in order to get it.
Weaton held Jayla down in Gran’s chair as Blackthorn ripped the sleeves of her dress to tie her wrists to the arms of the chair. Strips of her torn skirt were used to bind her ankles, trapping her.
“Witch,” Weaton declared. “We will to burn you and all signs of your evil.”
Blackthorn tore the amulet from Jayla’s neck and handed it by its broken chain to Tyril’s pa. “Give this to your boy, as a reward for telling us the shade remained.”
Immediately, the misty color that surrounded the men disappeared from Jayla’s sight. Her mind quieted as their thoughts disappeared. This was it; she was going to die.
Last winter, before her Gran had died, before Jayla had ever worn the amulet, she would have given up. Now, even without the amulet around her neck, Jayla knew she had power. She may die, but she could at least thwart Blackthorn.
Jayla spoke as clearly and calmly as she could, given how fast her heart pounded in her chest. “Master Weaton, think back. Has anyone in this village ever come to harm from the teas and remedies my Gran and I made?”
Weaton ignored her and glared the amulet. “It should burn with her.” He grabbed the amulet from Tyril’s pa, clasping his palm around the silver diamond so only the blue corner stones could be seen peaking through his fingers.
Master Weaton’s face morphed into a look of horrific wonder as he looked around at the others in the room.
“Master Weaton,” Jayla said before he could let go of it. “Ask Master Blackthorn why he wants Mossback Hill.”
No one said a word.
Master Weaton dropped the amulet and jumped backwards into the herb shelves, toppling earthenware jars, which fell to the floor and shattered.
“You want to control the pitch,” he accused Blackthorn. “It was all a lie, the evil rites, her death, even your desire to care for the girl. You used me.”
Mossback Hill had the only pine trees within two day’s walk; Gran had always let the villagers gather their pitch. Jayla finally understood why Master Blackthorn wanted control of her hill. He wanted to sell the pitch to the villagers. Weaton’s sense of betrayal spread throughout the room as the meaning of his words registered.
Master Weaton lunged at Master Blackthorn, pushing him into the stone mantel.
Jayla reached out with her bare toe to where the amulet lay abandoned on the floor. It lay so close. If only the knots tied in her skirt were a little looser. She wiggled her foot, and reached forward.
Master Blackthorn punched his attacker. Weaton collapsed unconscious against the table as Blackthorn grabbed the torch out of the hands of the nearest man and tossed it into Jayla’s lap. It landed just as her toes gripped the blue stones of the amulet.
Jayla screamed and focused all her energy into resisting the burning pain.
Within seconds, the world shimmered and faded into oblivion. Her senses focused on her skin and the tickle of the flames as they burned through her dress and her shift.
The flames twirled and hopped in a joyous dance as they instantly consumed the cloth that donned her body. They flickered and spun down her legs and across her belly to the arms of the chair where her wrists were tied. She felt their tickle below her as the chair itself began to burn, engulfing the rest of her dress and shift. The flames released her unburned body from her bindings.
Jayla rose to her feet, clad only in soot and ash. “Get out of my house,” she pointed at the door. They stared at her in awe, too afraid to move.
All except Master Blackthorn, he lunged at her in a fit of boiling rage, pushing her back into the burning chair with such force that he fell into the flames on top of her. The pitch in his pockets, exploded with white-hot intensity. Jayla kept her foot firmly on the amulet as she listened to his screams.
By the time Tyril’s pa picked up the bucket of water from the table and doused the flame, Master Blackthorn’s hair had burned completely away and his skin had blackened into char. The goodwives rushed to get more buckets of water as soon as they heard Blackthorn’s screams. They saved the house but could not save Master Blackthorn.
Jayla pushed him off her. She picked up her Gran’s amulet, tied a knot in the chain and placed it around her neck. “Go home,” she said to the men in her cottage. She raised her head high, walked to the door and repeated the command to the villagers waiting outside. “Go home. Master Weaton will explain why you should not morn Blackthorn’s death.”
Tyril’s father helped Master Weaton outside insisting, “There is no evil here, and healing power is worth tolerating.” Master Weaton, still in shock from Blackthorn’s lies, only nodded.
Goodwife Milka approached her. “We heard Weaton’s words. Blackthorn will not be mourned, nevertheless his wife is still very ill, and most likely innocent of her husband’s greed.” Milka looked at the ground, afraid to ask something she thought she must. “Would you come and see her, perhaps bring her some herbs? I’m sure we could find something in the house to compensate you for your time.”
Jayla smiled. “I can come tomorrow.”
The villagers carried Master Blackthorn’s body through the garden. Goodwife Milka lingered as the villagers streamed down the hill.
I was so wrong to believe Blackthorn. Goodwife Milka thought. How do I tell her how sorry I am?
Jayla turned to her. “There is no need.”
Milka jumped in amazement, then nodded and hurried to catch up with the others.
At last, only Tyril remained. “I’m sorry,” he said. He looked forcefully at the ground. His thoughts, evoked by the sight of her naked body, made her suddenly very self-conscious.
“Wait.” She went inside and wrapped her Gran’s quilt around herself. Tyril followed her as far the doorway.
“I’m sorry,” he said again. He stared at her for another moment. “The rabbit you asked for is laying on the woodpile. I’ll just get it.”
“No, you can leave it there.” She walked over to the shelf and removed the packet of tea she had prepared earlier that day.
“This will help your mum,” she said, handing it to him. “But Gran always said that being cooped up in the house with your smoky fire caused her cough. You need to fix your chimney.”
“I’ll do that,” Tyril said, and tucked the packet of herbs into his shirt. “Could I come back sometime?” He stuttered through the question. She’ll never want me. She’ll blame me for the villagers.
Jayla smiled somewhat flirtatiously, let the quilt slip a little farther down her shoulders and teased him. “Anyone is welcome to come and buy my herbs, just like before.”
Tyril nodded somewhat disappointedly and turned to go. Buying herbs was not what he had in mind.
“Tyril,” she called after him. She was sorry now that she had teased him. “I think your mum might need more tea tomorrow.”
He smiled “I think she will.” He had a skip in his step as he walked down the mountain.
Heidi Wainer – is an outdoor educator in the national parks of Southeastern Utah. When not teaching, she can be found exploring the red rock canyons with her family on multi-day adventures. She is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, an addiction fueled by easy access to e-books. In her rare spare time, Heidi can be found riding her bike or attending her kid’s various ballgames. She is the author of a couple of unpublished novels and a handful of stories. Her story, “The Specters of Haveroan” will appear in The Lorelei Signal in July 2013.