I am strangely satisfied by the dumbfounded expressions on Grayson and Mikael’s faces.
I’m a little shocked myself. That spell doesn’t always work so perfectly.
The square box I made is perfectly proportioned and even has the name of the herb I intend to store within it carved into the top of the lid.
‘How did you do that?’
Grayson shuffles closer to get a better look at my creation.
I pass the box to him and place my hand on the stone, creating more boxes as he watches.
‘I can reshape the elements when I have need.’
‘Amazing,’ he brings the boxes to his face, looking closely at the markings on the lids. ‘Who taught you to use magic?’
‘I taught myself.’
I bunch the herbs, waving them over the flames and using the smoke and heat to take some of the moisture from the leaves and stems.
Some will need to be ground so, using the last remaining chunk of the stone Mikael carried for me, I reshape it into a mortar and pestle.
Quite a beautiful mortar and pestle, if I may say so myself.
There are intricate designs all around the outside of the mortar. It looks more like a small art piece.
Silence falls as I work, using my magic to help dry them, and grinding herbs until I am satisfied with their consistency.
I put a small amount of dirt and water into the larger containers that will be housing the live herbs and sort the flowers and honeycomb into the bark lined pots.
I ignore Grayson as he watches me.
‘You really had no one?’
I don’t answer, placing the finishing touches on a pot of various live herbs that cure wound infections.
I look up and sigh.
What harm could there be in answering his question?
‘No, I’ve never had anyone. My birth parents abandoned me when I was an infant and I was too young to really remember anything about my adoptive parents after they were murdered. I’ve always been alone. Apart from the boar, but they’re gone now, too.’
I close my eyes against the agony that the memory of the dying boar inflicts.
My arms full of pots and containers, I walk over to my horse to arrange them in the saddlebags to distract myself from the pain.
The small task distracts from the grief of losing the boar long enough to shore up my defences and keep them from seeing my pain – both the physical and emotional.
‘Did they see the decree protecting the boar?’
No, not at all! I can’t help thinking to myself with extreme sarcasm.
‘They ignored it. Apparently, it is impossible for me, a pathetic peasant girl, to have any sense of honour or integrity and so it must have been a fake,’ I work to stamp down my rage, knowing that it will accomplish nothing now.
‘It was stamped with my seal.’
‘But I’m an evil witch, Grayson. I could have used magic to forge it.’
‘But that’s ridiculous!’
‘It’s ridiculous to you,’ I seethe. ’They didn’t care about anything but destruction and, no matter how official your decree, Your Highness, believing it was real would have put a damper on their fun.’
‘I’m so sorry. I thought it would protect you.’
‘Protect me?’ It’s hard, but I resist the urge to hit him. ‘You ran around my village like a coward, concealing your identity and puncturing the pride of those bastards in the village. If you wanted to protect me, you would have told them who you were. Instead, you came blundering into a situation you knew nothing about and decided that you were some divine saviour of the poor.’
The look of shock on his face almost makes me laugh. He’s probably never faced criticism.
‘That wasn’t my intention,’ he says weakly.
I just shake my head and turn back to rattling around in my saddle bags.
‘But she is right, Grayson,’ Mikael decides to add. ‘We did do exactly that. We presented ourselves as hunters. Maybe, if we had presented ourselves as Knights, they would have let her be.’
Silence falls over the camp again and I finish up with my herbs.
Lifting my shirt, I take a look at the bandages on my ribs to assess the damage. There is no smell, the bandages are relatively clean, and the herbs are still in effect, so I can wait until morning to change the bandages and apply a fresh poultice.
The sun finally sets, the only light coming from the campfire, and I sit at the edge of the light with the horses.
The Knights are comfortable, clearly used to being together like this, but I am more comfortable here. Helia, the horse given to me by the palace, is warm against my back. He is perfectly content to sit with me and keep me company.
It isn’t long before I feel my mind drift and let sleep take me for the night. My mind collapses into a world of nightmare where I am surrounded by the screams and howls of the animals I used to call family.
The first light of dawn creeps beneath my eyelids, thankfully pulling me from sleep and alerting me to the snoring, of both man and horse, throughout the camp.
Rummaging through my pack, I find the herbs I need and make the short trip through the forest to the small creek surrounded by vibrant green shrubbery and wildflowers.
I carefully fold the clothes given to me at the castle - for they are far too expensive to simply leave on the ground - and peel the bandages from my ribs. The blood barely soaked through, the sutures strongly holding my wound closed, but the bandage is soaked with sweat and has begun to smell.
Bending carefully to avoid reopening my wound, I clean the bandages as best I can, leaving them to dry on a rock beside my clothes. The herbs rustle as I wipe them from my skin, having given all the nutrients they could, and fall away in dried, brown flakes to the forest floor.
Flowing smoothly over the stones at the bottom, the crystal-clear water is cool to the touch and soft as I sit in the shallows.
I am cocooned in the peace of the forest and, for the first time since being dragged from my home, I let myself relax.
Natures energy flows to the cracks in my soul, an attempt to heal the pain.