Northshire was a small town close to the country’s border with the neighboring kingdom of Sarance. The town housed but a few hundred souls, yet any weary traveler who happened to stumble into it felt like they’d walked into a little slice of Heaven. It was a farming community built near a crystal-clear river: watermills dotting its sides, just as windmills dotted the countryside nearby it. Those wooden behemoths twirling far off in fields of deep green between the crop plantings. When a breeze blew through your hair, you could taste the wind in your lungs, the heart of the day swallowed into your body. It was a gentle place to rest weary bones, but not a place where much would happen. Most of those that would wander into it not the lost, but the driven, it being just a brief stop on a longer journey.
Yet, a little over a year prior, a quaint pair of souls drifted in and took root quite quickly. A tall woman with foreign features and golden eyes, and her strong but quiet companion with a disfigured face. Such strange guests were subjects of much hubbub and fascination at first with the people of the town, but it soon fell away into tranquility when they found there was no trouble being dragged along by the pair of strangers.
There were many rumors to begin with, of course. By the carriage they first arrived in, and with how quickly they had built the little cottage and smithery near the forest’s edge away from town, they thought there must be riches to their names. As time would pass, though, all those thoughts would fade. Seeing them dress so modestly, their faces so kind, and their demeanor so gentle, dismissed any ideas of riches to them. Perhaps there had been wealth once, but to see how easily they walked among them, how simply they lived, it was obvious they occupied the same world as them.
Being close to the border of Sarance, the superstitions from that land had made them wary at first of a girl with golden eyes and fiery red hair. It had made them unsettled by the old wounds that twisted her companion’s face, thinking her perhaps a survivor from the vicious war in that country. In time, despite their doubts, the people of Northshire would grow to see the pair as a blessing. Their small town had long lacked a proper blacksmith and doctor, and any major work they needed they had to travel the next town over to get done. In the beginning, the concept of a woman doctor and blacksmith was scoffed upon by most every soul, but none could doubt the wonder those hands could produce with everything they touched. Even the natural world bent to them: growing flowers of colors and shapes the town had never seen before, with a life that never seemed to wilt away. So when they’d see the smith Isolde come walking into town, they’d always have a smile for her if she had any flowers on her that day to give.
A few eyes would turn now and again at seeing Isolde and her companion Parisa walk together at times—arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand, or head upon shoulder—as if they were lovers. The ways their eyes could gaze at each other, how they lived together, that certain tone that came into their voices when only talking with each other. It could be felt, and it could be seen at times, but in a small town it was often better to let sleeping dogs lie. That whatever happened behind closed doors didn’t matter as long as it stayed there. Any tongues that did want to let loose were too afraid of losing the pair when their services were so valued. It might cause an unease in the hearts of some to see them walking in the twilight, so close and embraced, no space between them…then they would remember a broken bone that had been fixed, or new tools forged for farming, and they would look away again. Amidst such hard-working people, they had no desire to cut open the golden goose, but to leave it as it was and keep benefiting from the riches it gave.
The cottage at the edge of the woods they called home was about a thirty minute walk from the town, and a short trip by horseback. Built of rustic stone, with a hearty wooden roof, it was perhaps a bit larger than needed for two people, but nothing extravagant in any way. Out of its chimney stack smoke was slowly rising, the smithery attached nearby to it quiet and without flame. Dawn was still young, its newborn light creeping in through the cottage windows, illuminating those inside.
“Remember to stay calm,” Parisa whispered, face leaning over Isolde’s shoulder. “Keep your mind focused, your heart still, and keep the words clear and well-timed. I know you can do this.”
Isolde sat in a heavy wooden chair before a gnarled oak table, Parisa leaned in close with her. Parisa was dressed in a pair of black trousers and a white blouse, with Isolde wearing a simple, white day dress with a shawl over her shoulders. Parisa’s hands gently caressing those shoulders, easing out their tension, as Isolde’s gaze was fixated on a great mound of shattered porcelain upon the table.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Parisa said.
Isolde took a deep breath in, and her face took on that same focus as when she was lost in her forge work: that she was somewhere far, far away from the rest of the world, all of her being only upon her work. She lifted her hand up, and whispered under her breath. A chill seemed to pulse through the air, then a moment later, the shattered pieces of porcelain on the table began to shiver. They rattled in their places before standing on edge, twirling slowly at first, but then fluttering like insects. Their fragments forming into a storm that quickly re-arranged themselves into a white vase with beautiful blue-flower imagery painted all along it.
“I didn’t get it right again,” Isolde said, sliding her face into her hands. “This is hopeless.”
“Nonsense,” Parisa said, kissing the top of Isolde’s head. “Look at what a beautiful thing you’ve made!”
Isolde looked up to the vase, her half smile crooking up a little, hand moving along the curves and odd hourglass shape of the vase.
“It was supposed to be rectangular,” Isolde said. “If that was a bone I were trying to heal, then misshaped it like this, I would put someone into utter agony. Working with metals most of my life, I really thought I would have been better with re-construction spells.” Isolde pulled out of her seat, Parisa opening up some space, Isolde dipping her hands into a nearby water basin and rinsing her face. “There must be something wrong with me. I can’t get any of this magic right, no matter the kind.”
“We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and we can’t be perfect at everything. Maybe it hurts a lot when we can’t be good in the things we want to be, but we have to try and find a love for what we are capable of.”
The sunlight shone warmly through the windows of the little kitchen area onto Isolde's face. Fresh strawberries and blueberries that Parisa had picked were resting on the wooden countertop shimmering in her gaze, the scent of the sweet bread she baked that morning stinging into her nostrils. On the windowsill, many more vases of odd shapes and sizes rested filled with flowers. Isolde sighed, sliding down and leaning against one of the cupboards, gaze focused on her hands still wet with water, watching the droplets sink into cracks of the dark wood floor. When she had first reconstructed a vase—when she had first used any magic at all—it had filled her with such awe and wonder. Yet looking at her current work on the table, there was no glimmering light in her heart, but a deep ache.
“Then how come it only seems like I have weaknesses?” Isolde said. “I don’t seem to be particularly good at any kind of magic, no matter the type. And you say we can’t be perfect at everything, but you can do everything so flawlessly.”
“I’m the exception, not the standard.” Parisa slid in next to Isolde, Isolde keeping her gaze down. “You shouldn’t compare yourself to someone like me who was born with natural advantages. Someone like me who has had countless years of experience. I know you won’t believe me, but your abilities are quite impressive for someone without any boons or blessings upon you, for how long you've been working. You have to be proud of what you can do in the present.”
“But I don’t want to be normal,” Isolde barely uttered, clenching her left hand in and out. “I want to be extraordinary...like you are. I want to be able to save people’s lives. To fight off those that would hurt the people I care for. To be strong enough to stand on my own against anything. You’re like all the heroes in faerie tales, Parisa. I bet if dragons were real, you could slay one with your bare hands. But me…I’d probably get swatted aside.”
Without a word, Isolde felt Parisa’s arm gently wrap around her shoulders. A moment later, she felt that arm pulling her down until her head was resting upon Parisa’s lap. So soft a place to rest her head, Parisa’s hands trickling through Isolde’s hair as if she was a flower. The noise and fire in Isolde’s heart dimming a bit.
“You aren’t feeling very well again, are you?” Parisa whispered, keeping up her petting, those golden eyes gazing down so sadly. “Where does it hurt you today?”
“My head. My heart. Some days it just feels like there’s nothing in them...that I’m nothing and I can’t do anything at all.” Parisa’s hands froze up a moment, a tremble in her own heart, but she kept on with her petting. “Does it hurt for my head to be here with your burns?”
“They’re doing all right today, don’t worry,” Parisa said, trying to hide the small winces of pain that might dance over her face. “Just think of yourself and look after yourself…try and ease that heart of yours. I’ll be right here with you. You are never alone, remember that. I’m always here by your side.”
“Thank you,” Isolde said, shutting her eyes.
Parisa kept petting Isolde’s hair, trying as hard as she could to not let her body shift too much, to let discomfort grow on her face. There was a stinging in her thighs which jolted into her whole body, but she didn’t want Isolde to leave. She looked so peaceful, and what was a little suffering compared to Isolde having some peace?
Parisa’s hands kept steady in their gentle touch, a bit of tears appearing in the corners of her eyes.