The clock ticked painfully slow. The room smelt of medicine, warm yet suffocating. A stifled cough echoed in the room in irregular repetitions. The herbalist, with her nose and mouth covered neatly with a cloth sat beside the bed with a concoction of herbs in her hand.
The girl stood by the door her head hung low.
"You'll be staying with me for a while." The woman with raven black hair said as she rested her hand gently upon the girl's shoulder.
Her grandmother had fallen ill for a while with no signs of recovery. The girl turned back to look at her grandmother. She seemed restless as a feeling of uneasiness clouded her mind. It was as if something she had suppress has begun to surface and she did not like the deep sense of foreboding. She wished to say something but she could not find her voice. She knew she had to get rid of the thought.
Her grandmother was growing weaker but she hid the pain beneath her kind smile.
"Go on little one. I'll get better soon so we can be together again." She assured her grandchild.
The raven-haired woman looked down at the girl. Her eyes held empathy like she could see through what was going on inside the girl's mind.
"Let us go now..."
The girl looked at her grandmother, her lip quivered.
"Get well soon, grandma."
She said as she turned away. She had only taken a few steps out the bedroom door when she barged outside the house and ran as fast as she could to the river. Everything was dark, she ran as fast as she could only led by the light of a waning moon.
Years had passed since the girl was but a child. She had thought nothing would ever change. She never thought a day would come when her grandmother would be confined to a bed. It had been a long time since she last tasted the food her grandmother cooked. She could not recall the last time she heard a story from her grandmother. Those evenings seemed distant. And before she knew it, people were coming and going, paying her grandmother a visit as if they were bidding her goodbye as if they were ready for her to cross over to the other side. But the girl wasn't. She never will be ready to say goodbye. Her grandmother was all she ever had. She held her tears back as she ran. It angered her that no one felt her pain. It angered her how her grandmother tried so hard to be strong in front of her.
The girl stopped by the river. She drew in a long and shaky breath. Her head throbbed in pain. With her thoughts screaming at her, gnawing at her mind she could barely make out what she felt. She was angry that things were going to change. Angry at herself for being weak in front of her grandmother.
"How can I ever be like you..." She broke down as she fell to her knees beside the river.
"Be like the river ..." A voice answered from behind her.
The raven-haired woman that decided to take her in had followed her to the woods.
"Your grandmother had always been like a river. She is ever abundant in kindness and in wisdom. She flows like a river. She nourish and cleanses. And she doesn't hold back when she has found a driving will." The woman continued. Her voice commanding yet gentle.
"And she accepts everyone with open arms..."
The girl looked up at the woman.
"Get up child." She told her.
"Your grandma is still alive despite her illness, isn't she?... Do not dwell in worry of what the future holds. Be like a river."
The woman offered her a hand. Her crimson eyes seemed rather different from when the girl first met her but they still gleamed as if reflecting the silvery moon from the mirror of water beside them.
"This is an old friend of mine, she will be your mentor along the path from now on."
The little girl stared in awe at the woman standing in front of her. Her raven black locks shone under the sunset sky, her scarlet cape seemed to lightly caress the grass under her feet and her eyes a crimson red.
The day before, her grandmother had asked her if she wanted to learn more about the path her grandmother followed and she had excitedly agreed to be an apprentice to her grandmother's old friend.
The little girl gathered a foam of soap and blew away the bubbles on her hands. She amusingly watched the steam that rose from her skin and asked her grandmother to do the same.
"What if we evaporate with the steam?" She asked her grandmother.
"Then that would make us ascend to the clouds." Her grandmother replied.
"Like a dragon?"
"Hmm... A dragon can go far beyond that."
The little girl grinned.
"Like water then?"
"Like water vapour." Her grandmother replied.
"Grandma, have you ever seen a dragon?" The little girl asked after a long pause.
"Have you seen one?" Her grandmother asked her in return.
The little girl thought of the dragon and the promise she made to him. She kept quiet.
"You don't have to answer that question, little one. If you ever come across magickal creatures, you should keep them a secret for their safety and for yours." Her grandmother said patting her head.
"Would you like to learn magick?" Her grandmother asked her as she worked a lather on her granddaughter's hair.
The little girl stood up and raised her hands in a sudden movement splashing foams of soap everywhere. She nearly slipped on the bathroom floor but managed to steady herself. A bubble of soap landed on her grandmother's nose.
"Yes, grandma! Yes!!!" She replied her eyes gleaming with excitement.
Her grandmother laughed.
"An old friend of mine will be coming over tomorrow. She'll be teaching you everything you need to learn about magick. You'll be her little apprentice starting tomorrow."
"Is she a witch?" The girl asked.
"Well she knows everything there is to know about magick." The grandmother replied as she finished her granddaughter's bath.
The girl ran out of the bathroom as soon as her grandmother threw a towel over her head.
"I'll be a mage!!!..." She sang as she ran and jumped round the room holding the towel over her head. The wooden floor underneath her rang a dull thud as she ran.
"Now get dressed or you'll catch a cold." Her grandmother said as she closed the bathroom door.
The little girl clumsily took her nightgown and tossed it over her head struggling to find her hands through the arms of her gown before she realised it her head would not budge through the gown and her hands faced a similar fate.
"Grandma ... Hellpp..." She pleaded.
"Now what did I tell you about having patience while putting your clothes on." Her grandmother could not help but laugh at her clumsiness.
"I still have a lot to learn. I want to learn them all as soon as possible so I can boast about it to grandma when I return... when she gets better." The girl took the woman's hand and pulled herself up.
"Well aren't you an impatient little one." The woman smiled.
"With that determination you'll grow along the path soon enough. Don't worry too much."
Back in the room dimly lit by a candle, the grandmother smiled sadly.
"...Why didn't you tell her the truth?" The herbalist asked.
"Words will lose their magick if one tells a lie and I have little time left to teach her all that remains..." She replied weakly.
The herbalist looked at her amused.
"So you want to spare her the trouble so she doesn't have to lie..."
"People are becoming more cunning, you see. It'll be difficult if they're prying, if she knew the truth and they ask her about it... She has yet to learn the Art of Reconstruction ." The grandmother replied.
The herbalist sighed.
"If only people knew the truth..."
The woods were obnoxiously quiet. The owl had stopped hooting and dawn began to break. The two returned to the house.
"We're back." The woman said.
The herbalist stood up and made way for the girl to stand beside her grandmother's bed.
"Don't get too close." The herbalist told her. The girl nodded her head as she walked towards her grandmother's bed.
Her grandmother was sound asleep. She seemed peaceful, her breathing slow and unlaboured.
"Did the girl sleep well?" The herbalist asked the woman.
"We were outside the whole time. We'll be heading home now. The girl wanted to see her grandmother before she leaves." The woman replied.
The herbalist took her seat on the chair at the corner of the room and tilted her head back to rest her aching neck.
"I see...You both should go get some sleep. The girl seems tired. Oh ...and before you leave, do remember to carry the jar your grandmother gave you."
"I'll never forget the jar." The girl replied. She took one last look at her grandmother peacefully sleeping in her sick bed then turned to the herbalist before she left with the raven-haired woman.
"Please take good care of grandma." She said as she bowed her head as a humble gesture.
The herbalist smiled.
"I'll do my best."