ACHARIUS - Karina Knows We Speak
Merwood, Dread Hideout
Acharius focused on familiar sounds from the Merwood as he wove deeper into the trees. Following the trail of a wild horse he’d been tracking. Hoping it wasn’t caught in any of his traps.
He glanced up and saw the sun fully in the sky. Karina will be headed to the garden. It’s picking day. Acharius watched with dread as the dark-haired young woman approached.
Several years older than Chastain, she lived alone in the wood. This time each sennight, she’d arrive with her basket and they’d pick plums and apples for her to take back to her cottage.
Karina pushed through the swinging gate.
Acharius skirted the fence to find a crack to see through.
“Where are you today?” The raven-haired woman asked over her shoulder as she grabbed a handful of plums, assessing Chastain’s quiet demeanor. “You don’t enjoy picking fruit today?”
“I do!” Chastain’s eyes slid to her friend. “I-I spoke to someone, Karina.”
Acharius grimaced and turned from the crack. Knowing what her reaction would be his lip curled.
“Of course. Ol’ Mags and Aggie are always around somewhere.”
The other girl gasped, spinning to give Chastain her full attention. “A man?”
“Perhaps?” Karina’s face scrunched up. Blue eyes nearly vanishing in her youthful cheeks.
“Either way, I’m certain he’ll not think of me again.” Chastain said quickly.
“No one could forget you, Chas. Not with your pretty red hair.” Her friend reached to twirl a lock.
“It was just one conversation.” Chastain plucked a ruby fruit for Karina’s basket. “Probably nothing to him.”
“But something to you.” Karina said.
Chastain’s brow furrowed. She stared at the apple in her hand.
Karina looked at her, waiting.
But Chastain thought better of telling more. Turning from Karina to pick fruit.
Karina tossed a narrow-eyed look back at Chastain, for just a moment her face darkened. Lip curling in rage. The plum she pulled from the tree, squished in her tight grip. And her upper lip quivered in contempt.
Chastain sat down to the evening meal of bread and chunky rabbit stew.
“You’ve been quiet tonight, Child.” Margaret commented. Chastain paused. “I’m okay, Mags.”
“You don’t look it. Come Child, tell two old women what plagues ye.”
“I’d like to, Mags. But I think it best to keep to myself.”
Margaret frowned and cocked her head but eventually nodded.
“Keep what to yourself, Dear?” Agatha gave her a knowing look behind scratched spectacles.
One Chastain diligently avoided.
“What’d you do today?” Margaret blew on a spoonful of broth before slipping it to her lips. Thankfully changing the subject.
Agatha’s spectacles lowered and her eyes narrowed on her older sister.
Chastain spoke of picking apples with Karina and stumbling. “My cloak whipped around my face and my basket pelted me with fruit!”
Even Agatha smiled softly, choking on soup. “So clumsy dear. How you manage to stay on your feet at all is beyond me!”
After dinner they sat on the fur before the fire. Kneeling to read from a worn book of myths. Reading their favorite, The Aeternus Tutela, the Eternal Guardians. A book constructed of old leather pages and faded writing in a thick bold script. When the hour struck eight, they shooed her to her chamber.
Stepping heavily up the creaking stairwell, Chastain glanced back and saw Margaret yanking her shawl tight around her shoulders as she rocked. The chair creaking softly.
“Why do one of you always stay down there, Aggie?”
Agatha put a hand to Chastain’s back to guide her. “Much too cold to let the fire die, Dear. Someone must stay and keep it going so the rest of us may sleep sound and warm.”
“What do you do down there?” Chastain’s eyes narrowed.
“We listen. And we tend the fire.”
“And watch. Ensure nothing is amiss.”
“What could be amiss?”
“You ask too many questions Little Dear. Let’s get you abed.”
Each evening Chastain’s face grew mournful as the women led her to her room and tucked the blanket up to her neck. Before they rose and left with stiff skirts swishing. Bidding her a good night’s rest before thunking the door closed.
She stared at the closed door. Eyes narrowing.