Purple blossoms growing on skinny green stems, reach towards the sun through the glass ceiling of the greenhouse. I inhale their sweet scent, trying to remember the name my mother had given them.
She said they can be brewed into teas to calm and relax the sick. Or they can be infused to soothe insect bites and burns. I use it in my hot water baths; I love the otherworldly smell it leaves on my skin.
I clip five stems placing them in the separate flora pouch of my satchel, along with other healing plants to hang up to dry. I pick up the watering can and move on to watering the rest of my plants babies. I grow everything my mother uses to heal sick villagers, along with most of the vegetables and fruit our family eats.
Putting the watering can down, I leave the greenhouse and stop to feel the refreshing breeze as it hits my sweaty face. I smell something delicious in the air, knowing my aunt must be baking again. I hear her singing as I walk through the back door.
I see her taking bread out of the small brick oven and I sneak a glance at the strawberry tarts spread out on the kitchen table. I snatch one and shove it into my mouth before Aunt B can stop me.
“Hey! Those are not for you!” Aunt B smacks my hand before I grab another one. “I’m taking these to Oliver. He’s had a rough week.”
I can’t help but smile. Aunt B’s had a crush on Oliver, the village blacksmith, for as long as I can remember.
“Of course, that’s why you’re baking all this. It has nothing to do with the fact that you like him.” Aunt B silently smiles, packing the baked goods in a small woven hand-basket. “I’ll come with you. I have to see Ekeen anyway. She needs some ginger root. She’s been having some stomach problems lately.”
The dirt path leads to the village of Sealah. It connects to Ekeen’s house before it gets to the trading market, at the village center. I see her outside when we get close to her house.
“You can’t just leave. Who is going to help me with Father, and the farm?” I can now see she is arguing with her twin brother.
“I’m going to fight those red caped bastards and make sure the true heir sits on the throne of Tarsia! I want there to be peace.” Her brother, Etan, yells before noticing me and turns around, going back into the house.
Ekeen turns around, seeing me. “Lara! Hey!” I walk up to Ekeen. She hugs me and I hug her back, smiling.
“What’s going on with Etan?” I say, noticing that Ekeen’s smile drops as she looks to the ground.
“He is leaving to join the Resistance. There is this rumor that the capital has been taken by Tarsian War Knights. They’re here looking for the true heir, who they think is the leader of the Resistance.”
“But how does he even know where they are? What does your father say? He can’t be okay with this.” I’m shocked, the war has come to Hydor.
“He’s heard rumors on how to find them. He says there’s secret signs in Hye Grove that lead the way. But that’s insane. They’re just rumors.” She sighs, exasperated. “And Father doesn’t say anything anymore. Ever since mother passed away he hasn’t been the same. He only works the fields, trying to keep busy. I had to take over at the trading market since he won’t talk to anyone. Now Etan is leaving and I can’t do this by myself.” Ekeen starts to cry as she realizes the situation she’s in.
“Whoa, calm down. It’s all going to be okay. I’m here; I will help you anyway I can.” I hug her, rubbing her back as she settles down.
“Thank you. You’re right. Everything will be fine. Plus Nuri said he could help me with fixing some of the old plows. I can do this.” She smiles and I smile encouraging her.
I pat her on the back and pull the wild ginger root out of my satchel. “Here for your stomach. I’ve got to go, Aunt B is waiting for me. Try to talk to Etan again; I’m sure you can make him see sense.”
While I talk with Ekeen, Aunt B waits by the road so we could talk in private. “Is everything okay with Ekeen and Etan?” She says when I reach her.
“Yes and no. He’s joining the Resistance. She fears for him but also for her father and the farm.” We continue our walk toward the village. “Ekeen told me he said that the Tarsians have taken Ishrose. He said there are signs in Hye Grove that point the way to the Resistance and that the true heir of Tarsia is commanding them. But that’s crazy.”
I look at her and she is staring at the ground with a solemn look on her face. “That’s crazy. Right, Aunt B?”
When I say her name, she realizes I am talking to her. “Yes, my child. That is absurd. The true heir is dead like all the others of his bloodline.”
Did she say ‘his’? Does she know who the true heir is?
Before I can ask, Oliver the blacksmith steps in front of us. His large frame casting a shadow over us; I have to look up at him. He smiles at Aunt B as she blushes at his attention. I excuse myself so they can talk without prying eyes.
There’s tents scattered around the dusty trading market in all different colors. I make my way to one with beautiful looking scarves and jewelry. I start going through the scarves, when I notice an alluring green stone, small enough to fit in my palm, on the table. It’s carved precisely, in all the right places, to shape a howling wolf.
I pick it up and watch it shimmer in the summer sun. It intrigues me and it has to be mine. I look up at the tradeswoman and catch her eyes already on me.
“Hello, I would like to trade for this please.” I reach into my satchel and grab the small jar of willow bark.
“Hello, child. Your hair is a stunning color, that golden yellow is one I haven’t seen in a long time. It is very refreshing. Keep that trinket, dear. It is from your homeland, after all.” The old woman takes my hand in hers when she talks and squeezes it shut around the carved wolf. Patting my hand, she turns around.
Before I can question her, I hear my name being called behind me. I see Aunt B waving her arms, telling me to come over. I turn around to thank the woman but she is gone. Not seeing her anywhere, I leave the jar of bark on the table. Shaking my head, I turn walking towards my aunt who stands beside two large ceramic jars.
“Lara can you please help me carry these back to the cabin?” I sigh and go to pick up one of the jars. It’s so heavy I use both arms and hug it to my chest. This is going to be a long walk back.
When we finally make it back to the cabin, I place the heavy jar down and fall into a chair in the sitting area. “Oh no you don’t. Take that to the kitchen and help me prepare supper. Your mother will be home today from the coastal port so let’s make her a special treat.” She smacks me on the leg as she passes, walking to the kitchen. “Come on, you can rest later.”
Hours later when the sun has already set, I pull out the apple pie from the oven. I hear the front door open and I immediately run to greet my mother.
“Mom!” I wrap my arms around her and she hugs me back. My mother’s the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen. Her hair’s the color of fire and her eyes are as green as the leaves in the summer.
“My little cub! I have missed you so much. Let me look at you.” One of her hands grabs my face while the other grasps my shoulder, as she looks me over.
“Mom, it’s only been a week. I haven’t changed.” I grab her hands, pulling them away from me.
“Oh yes you have. I will always remember you as that little fair-haired babe that ran around naked.” There is a smile on my mother’s face but her eyes share pain and sorrow. “Where is your headscarf? I told you to always wear it.”
“Calm down. I’m home. I just took it off.” The truth is I completely forgot to put it on this morning and I didn’t wear it when I went to the village. But no one said anything to me about it, except that tradeswoman.
I help my mother by grabbing one of her bags and we walk further into the cabin.
She greets my aunt and they begin to whisper as I put my mother’s bags away. They stop talking when I return but I can tell my mother’s upset by what Aunt B told her.
“Is everything alright?” My mother shakes her head at me and I walk to the pie I made her. “I made you, you’re favorite. Apple pie. Aunt B found a trader selling apples, can you believe it? It’s been so long.” I show her the pie hoping to cheer her up; I missed her and don’t like seeing her upset.
It does the trick as she jumps up and grabs the pie. “Thank you, little cub. It has been awhile. Let us enjoy this meal and this delicious treat.”
While eating I ask my mother how her trip went. She tells me how she got me some new seeds, including some tart fruit from the Western Isles called lemons. I smile and tell her how the new rose bush I planted is starting to grow.
“The Khonji festival is likely to happen in the next couple weeks, we are reaching the peak of the Pyron season. Do you think we can go to the capital and celebrate with the rest of the kingdom?” I ask my mother hoping that now I am older, she might let me leave the village.
“You know we can’t. Especially now, if the rumors are true then war has come to the Hydorian Kingdom. We must prepare to leave. We’ll leave in the morning. It’s not safe here anymore.” My mother speaks with no emotion and looks at Aunt B. “You know what we need to do. Pack the food. Lara, go grab as much willow bark, mint, and yarrow leaves as you can.”
“Mom, what are you talking about? Leave Sealah? Where would we go? Our home is here.” My mother’s standing beside me now, reaching down to hug me. I can feel my eyes start to fill up with tears but my mother’s soft smile stops them from spilling over. I always imagined leaving Sealah to go explore the other kingdoms, but I always expected to come back. To not have a home here anymore, makes my heart clench with dread.
“My little cub, there are so many things you do not know and it was selfish of me to keep the truth from you but we have to leave. I’ll tell you everything once we are safe, I promise. But for now just go get the plants, please.”
“O-okay, Mom. I love you.” I hug her back as she pulls me up out of the chair and pushes me towards the kitchen.
“I love you too, little cub.” She chuckles at me as I accidentally ram my shoulder into the adjoining wall between the two rooms.
An hour later, my satchel bag’s filled with different plants and my only other dress. My mother has a bag filled with salves, infusions, and clean cotton linens. My aunt is trying to fit her pots and pans in her bag but they won’t fit.
“Baia, you can’t take those. We have to travel light.” Aunt B looks hurt that she has to leave her cooking equipment behind. “Fine, take one. It might come in handy.” Aunt B beams a smile at her and starts trying to figure out which pot she loves the most.
After all the bags are packed, my mother tells me to get some sleep. We will have a long day tomorrow. I fall asleep when my head hits the pillow but it’s not a peaceful sleep. I dream that night of death and fire.