I grinned at Lyndia. “You’re the best, mistress.” I gave her a hug. I skipped over to my coat, put it on, and dashed out the door. I knew the officials would listen to me. They had to. There was no way Lyndia could be arrested. Not her. When I convinced them she was innocent, and she only did good things, we would be able to go back to our regular lives, and just get on like it was usual. It wouldn’t be like it was before Chloe died, but it would be a sort of normal.
My feet pounded the hard packed dirt path as I shot down the hill towards the village. The cold autumn air blew directly at my face, and I shivered. The leaves were starting to turn bright red, and the people I saw were starting to be seen wearing coats.
Someone grabbed my arm and started to pull me in the opposite direction.
I pulled in the opposite direction and tried to get away from the person’s grip. I had to get to the inn- to where the officials would be staying. I had to!
“Kezia, we need you!” said the voice. I recognized it as Mrs. Weaver- Mercy’s mother. What would she want from me? I remembered many times when Mr and Mrs Weaver had turned a blind eye from the mistakes of Mercy, and had instead insisted I had do it.
“Mercy is sick, and we need a healer. Now.”
I wanted to shake her and ask, why me? I had never been able to heal anything more then a few common illnesses, and those had been with Lyndia, or at least her instructions and cures.
“Why don’t you send for Lyndia, then,” I snapped, finally managing to pull out of her grip. I had to get to the officials- the sun was almost directly above me, telling me it was almost noon. They’d be coming to arrest her soon, if I couldn’t manage to convince them.
Mrs Weaver stuck her nose in the air. “She has been accused as a witch, you silly girl. We sure aren’t going to ask one of those devil children to heal our Mercy girl.”
I blinked. “And why would you think I’m not a witch, then?” It dawned on me that I was stupid. What if she thought I was also a witch? I held my breath for a second. If she thought I was, Lyndia and I would burn together- unless I got stoned to death.
Mrs. Weaver brushed it off. “Let’s face it,” she said, in a long-suffering voice, “You just wouldn’t have it in you, Kezia Dustin.”
I felt like someone had just socked me in the eye. Not have it in me to be a witch?
“You’re too… fearful.”
What? I blinked. She had to be kidding. Sure, I was afraid of chickens, but that was because they were evil. And I didn’t much like fire… or Mr. Weaver… but those were it!
“But you may know some healing. Come, help Mercy.” She pushed me into the house.
I hadn’t ever been in the Weavers’ house before. It definitely felt strange to be standing where Mercy lived.
Mrs. Weaver steered me over to a curtain, opened it, and pushed me inside.
Mercy laid on a small bed, next to a larger one. The quilts on the beds were bright colors- red and blue and green. They were obviously worn, and looked like they were sewn from the petticoats Mrs. Weaver and Mercy had outgrown, or worn out.
“Why’d you bring her?” Mercy moaned, as she looked at me with a distrust. “I told you to bring Lyndia.”
“Honey, Lyndia has been accused of witchcraft. This girl is the best I could do.”
Mercy groaned, and let her eyes shut. Her head fell back down against the pillow. “You’ll pay if you make me suffer, Kezia Dustin,” she hissed when I went over to her bed. “You’ll pay mightily indeed.” I gulped, and Mercy, as sick as she looked, still somehow managed to let out a small cackle before she started coughing.
“What do you feel like, Mercy?” I asked, placing my hand on her forehead. She had a fever, and seemed to be shaking a bit too much.
This was never going to work. She was going to continue to give me these sorts of answers until my voice stopped working. That was just who Mercy was.
“Mercy,” I said, in a serious voice, “You may have a very deadly sickness. Tell me how you’ve been feeling.”
Mercy’s eyes snapped open, and I almost giggled when I saw the terror in them. She didn’t have a horrible sickness, really, and it did feel a bit wrong to mix her up. But after all she’d put me through, I thought she probably deserved some of her own medicine so to speak.
“I’ve had a sore throat, a cough, and-“ Mercy said. Then her eyes narrowed, as she obviously caught onto the trick. “Kezia… I’m going to g-“
I shook my head. “No, Mercy, you need to tell me. Otherwise I may not be able to help you.” I gulped. “And with Lyndia being arrested soon, you’ll have to go without a healer.”
Mercy took a shuddering breath. “That’s it. Sore throat and cough.”
“Does your head ache?”
“Yes.” Mercy glared, and I felt a bit helpless. She was going to be stubborn, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I had a hunch of what sickness she had, and I also knew I had the exact cure in my pocket. But I didn’t really want to give it to her. I didn’t want to make her hate me more, either. And I knew Lyndia would want me to.
“And I guess I’ve been feeling a bit dizzy, too.”
I knew if I didn’t give it to her, Lyndia would be very upset at me. Besides, it might make her hate me less.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small bag of leaves. I had taken to carrying around the cures for common sicknesses so Lyndia felt less overwhelmed. It also gave me a small taste of what it was like to actually have people listen to me.
“Use this as tea. Drink it twice a day.” I didn’t tell her it was so bitter she would probably want to drink honey with it. It was my own way of getting back at her. Let her drink the bitter tea.
“Goodbye, Mercy.” There was no reply, and I shrugged. It was Mercy. What did I expect?
“Did you help her?”
I jumped at Mr. Weaver’s voice. Despite the fact he was quiet, slight, and almost as short as I, he still scared me.
“Very good. Now, on your way.”
I nodded and backed up until I had walked out of the door backwards. Then I turned and sprinted through the town. I had taken so long- what had I been thinking? I had to find the officials, and before it was too late.
Still running through the town, I slowed down when I reached the inn.
The building in question was a plain structure made out of grey wooden boards. It was two stories tall, which towered above the short single story houses which lined the rest of the streets. It had at one time been painted a bright green, and remnants of the paint still clung to the walls in places. The door was the same boring grey, and had I not known it was there I would have just assumed it was part of the wall.
I walked through the door, feeling a little nervous. I had gone in most of the stores many times, but never had I wanted to set foot in the inn. Before then I hadn’t had any reason to visit it.
I walked up to the counter. “Ex- excuse me, sir?”
The innkeeper glared down at me with beady eyes. He reminded me of a rat. “Yer the servant to the witch, arn ye.”
I restrained myself from telling him she had only done good. Better just figure out where the men were, before he kicked me out of the building. “I am her servant indeed, sir.”
“Why’re ye here, witch’s servant?”
“I came to talk to the men who are here to take away L- the witch. I heard they were staying here…”
“Yer outta luck. They left cerple of hours ago.”
I felt panic rise in my chest. My eyes widened involuntarily. They had already left?! Didn’t that mean Lyndia would be gone? Please no. Please, please, please no.
“What time is it now, sir?” I asked him. I had to save Lyndia. She had to be at home, still. She couldn’t’- They couldn’t have taken her yet.
“Half past noon.”
The panic exploded in me. She’s gone! She can’t be gone. She can’t be gone. Oh please, please let her not be gone. She can’t be gone. The panic changed to fear and I turned, and started to run. I ran past the Weavers, Smiths, the Bakers. I passed the town square, and the church. The cold air pushed at my back, making a noise which, to my ears, sounded like ‘hurry, hurry, hurry… shhheeee doesn’t ssstand a chanccceeeee. Hurry, hurry, hurry…’
Taking the wind’s advice, I sped up, my heavy boots making a thudding noise against the ground, like the noise of a butter churn with no cream in it.
I reached the door of our house. I pulled it open. No one.
“Lyndia?” I called, and, hoping for an answer, waited.
“Kezia.” The answer I had waited for came, but something was wrong about it. It wasn’t the right voice, for one. And… it sounded faked. Like the owner of the voice tried too hard to make it sound sad. But that must have been my imagination.
“Kezia, she’s gone.”
My hair whipped my face as I spun around. She can’t be gone…
Zilla stood near the door. She looked sad, but like the tone of her voice, it seemed… off. She coughed. “They came early- they’re probably already miles away from here.”
No. They couldn’t be. I shook my head. “They can’t. She can’t. She can’t be gone.”
Zilla gave me a sympathetic face, and came closer to me. “It’s true, Kezia.”
Something changed. The reality hit me. The dream-like quality left. It was like a fog lifting. Everything seemed sharper, but it also seemed less comforting. Like now I could see, but it wasn’t covered up. She was gone. She wasn’t coming back. If she was found guilty, she would be burned at the stake, stoned, hanged, or some other method of death.
“No. No, no, no. It- She can’t be gone. This can’t be happening.”
“Before she left,” Zilla continued, ignoring me. She took a couple of steps towards me. “She told me to tell you I would give you a good home. You can stay with Unity- Ardmorr’s sister, you know.”
I nodded, but something still seemed wrong. Lyndia wouldn’t tell Zilla that. She had already told me a couple years before she’d send me to Ardmorr’s family. I don’t know why she chose them, but she had. And Lyndia never broke her word. She wouldn’t send me to Zilla.
I shook my head no.
Zilla’s expression changed to disbelief. “You aren’t interested? I have a good family, Kezia. You would be able to have a new start. Make friends. Be respected.”
The bit about having a new start caught my attention. I would love a new start. To be able to not be just Kezia Dustin. I could be someone else, someone completely different. Someone who stood up for herself. I could be someone who didn’t give in to the taunts to a girl like Mercy. It would be marvelous.
I was about to answer ‘yes’, when something caught my eye.
Laying on the floor was something shiny. A feeling came over me, telling me not to let Zilla see it. The feeling was irrational- why shouldn’t I let Zilla see something that happened to be on the ground? It couldn’t be important, or it would be put away.
But nevertheless, the feeling was there, and I moved slightly, blocking Zilla’s possible view from the thing.
“I will think about it,” I said, finally. “But I wish to be…”
“Alone,” Zilla finished for me. “I understand. A lot has been going on in the last few days. I shall need the answer by tomorrow morning though.”
I nodded. “I shall have made up my mind by then.” Though it may not be what you want to hear.
Zilla gave me a calculating gaze. “Good.” She nodded. “It’s been a pleasure.”
She nodded one more time and then turned around. She strode across the room and exited the house, letting the door thud closed behind her.
When I was sure Zilla was gone, I knelt down, and picked up the shiny thing.
It was what appeared to be a charm or something similar. There was a small bronze oval, with an anchor engraved on it. It hung on a bronze chain. Where had it come from? I racked my brain, trying to remember. Something about it seemed familiar. Why was it so familiar? It took me a while, probably about half an hour, to get it.
I remembered Lyndia wearing it. She wore it all the time. And here it was. Not on her. Because she was gone. The thought almost brought me to tears, but somehow I couldn’t get myself to cry. I should be crying. I should be weeping my eyes out. Lyndia was gone, and Zilla was- Zilla wasn’t sad. Why wasn’t she sad?
I puzzled over this thought. Zilla should be more upset then I was, it was her sister, after all. Lyndia was just my mistress. Why, then, was she not sad? It baffled me, and not in a good way. There was something wrong with Zilla, and again I got a gut feeling Lyndia wouldn’t want me with Zilla. But where to go?
I looked down at the necklace in my hands, and knew I had to rescue Lyndia. She couldn’t burn. I couldn’t let them burn her. I couldn’t let her die because she used herbs to heal people, or because she sometimes meddled in magic to do well for people. People were superstitious. I knew that. They thought all magic was evil. But it was up to the person who used it to choose. If they used it for evil, for the wrong reasons, it would indeed be bad. But if it was used well, carefully, and without evil intent, it could be helpful and amazing. And the good was how Lyndia used it. I couldn’t let her come to a premature end because someone generalized all magic as evil. Someone had to save her, and since no one else was willing, it’d have to be me.
I pulled my hair into a thick braid, again cursing the curliness of it. I had already packed a bag. Clothing, food, and herbs from Lyndia’s medicine room. I didn’t know if I’d need the plants, and I had really no clue how to use most of them, but I didn’t want to leave them. I wore the amulet around my neck. I hadn’t told anyone where I was going, because it was my quest. Besides, who could I tell? Mercy? Ardmorr? He wouldn’t help me. He wouldn’t understand about Zilla. It was partly because of his sister.
Ardmorr didn’t like Zilla, either, but for different reasons. A couple of years ago, Zilla had set him up. She had said if he could accomplish a task before sunset, she’d pay him well, and he would be thankful. If he didn’t though, she’d take something of his. Poor Ardmorr had gone along with it. His family had needed the money at the time, and Ardmorr had always trusted those who were older then him. Of course, Ardmorr had failed. Zilla had set him up with an impossible task (I forget what), and she knew he’d fail. She said because he got almost nothing done, she would have to take someone who would be able to work off what Ardmorr had left unfinished. As a result, she had taken Unity, Ardmorr’s sister. She, while apparently feeding, clothing, and housing Unity, wasn’t a kind mistress like Lyndia, and Ardmorr often came with reports of Zilla sending Unity without food for a day because she had spilled a bucket of water or something similar. As a result, Ardmorr probably wouldn’t dare to go up against Zilla, for fear of risking his sister’s well being.
I picked up the bag of stuff, and slid my feet into my boots. I remembered this time to take my coat, and I put it on, buttoning it up. It wasn’t going to be warm out, at least not at night.
Peering out the door, I saw no one. Good. I took a cautious step outdoors, making sure to watch to make sure no one saw me. I knew I could come up with a good excuse to get out of trouble if I was found, but I would much rather just get out of the town without incident, then have to come up with a lie.
I was pretty sure that Lyndia was being taken to Salem. It was the center of the witch hunts, and I had heard that if someone was arrested for witchcraft that they were taken to Salem for their trial. On to Salem, then.
I crept down the hill, towards the forest. There wasn’t a road, an actual road, that was close to Brookdale. Not for a mile or two. But if I could get through the forest, I could start doubling back, towards the road. It was difficult to know that I had to go away from Lyndia first, but if I wasn’t careful it would be easier to find me, and I’d never get to her.
The forest was dark, and it scared me. I had never ventured into the woods at night, and the trees looked like people in the dark mist. They spooked me as I walked through them and I kept having to remind myself they were only trees. There was no wind at all. Everything was still, like the trees watched me and the wind held it’s breath. The rustling from fallen leaves made it almost impossible for me to hear anything- if there was anything to hear. If anyone crept up on me, I wouldn’t be able to hear them. The thoughts of being caught and arrested, of Lyndia burning, and the memories of Chloe being stoned haunted me, making it impossible to think of anything else.
I shivered, and periodically looked behind me and to the sides, checking if anyone was there. I couldn’t see anything, and every snap of a twig and rustle made me spin to locate the sound. The tension, combined with the constant spinning soon made me feel quite nauseous. When I twirled towards a suspicious sounding snap, I felt a tree trunk collide with my head. The feel of tree bark dug into my forehead and nose, and I fell to the earth, twigs breaking, leaves crunching, and a throbbing pain in my head.
When I woke up, a mist covered the entire forest floor. The white substance was now I thought of it, more like a fog. It hid tree roots, the bright colors of the leaves, my own feet, and, unfortunately, my bag of supplies.
I sat up, and started feeling around, trying to find my bag. My head started to throb, and I brought a hand up, accidentally scraping it against the tree trunk. Ouch. A large bump was forming on my head. I groaned. Perfect. I put my down on the ground again and the texture of cloth touched my palm. A small smile lit my face. Sure, I was lost, there was a fog, my mistress was probably going to burn at the stake, I was alone, no one was on my side except possibly Ardmorr, but I had found my supplies again. I’m coming, Lyndia.
I stood up and balanced for an entire five seconds before I became dizzy and fell over again. My head really hurt. Grimacing, I carefully stood back up, making sure to hold onto the tree so I wouldn’t fall over again. It worked this time, and I looked around. I had no idea which way to go. One way looked correct for some reason, I decided to follow it. The worst thing which could happen was I’d get lost again. And seeing how I already was lost, it wouldn’t make much of a difference.
As the sun rose the fog started to dissipate at a rapid speed. It seemed one moment I couldn’t see my feet, and the next time I could almost pick out the exact shapes of leaves.
I made it a game. “One leaf. Maple. Two leaves- oak.” It kept me from thinking about Lyndia.
I looked up to see a large green smudge in front of me. I started traveling towards it, curious as what it was. As I approached it, I groaned inwardly. I stood in front of Lyndia’s herb garden. I was right back at the start.
I sat down at the ground, and stared at the herbs. “So, how am I going to do this?”
They just sat there, as I knew they would. They weren’t alive in that sense, after all.
“Do you think I can do it?”
“I’m going up against everyone.”
Still nothing. I knew I could sit there and ask questions forever, and I still wouldn’t get an answer. Herbs weren’t going to suddenly grow mouths and gain the ability to speak.
I sighed, scuffed my feet on the ground, and stood up again. Time to find Lyndia.
It took me the entire morning to get out of the forest. By the time I finally stumbled out of the woods the radiating heat of the sun had thankfully burned away the fog. The last thing I needed was to knock myself unconscious again.
I rubbed my forehead as I sat down on the ground and looked across the fields in front of me.
They had been harvested, and the barren corn stalks stood, standing straight against the breeze. Some of the grey stalks had blown over, and the fields were covered with the downed stalks of corn.
I shivered. Excluding the forest the night before, nothing I had seen had been this… creepy. But never mind that, I had to find Lyndia. I couldn’t let her burn. I wouldn’t let her burn. She wouldn’t burn. I wouldn’t let it happen. To save her, I had to cross the fields. So be it.
I tromped across what seemed like hundreds of acres of cornstalks. Every time the wind blew through them, they’d rattle, and I’d stop moving and listen, to make sure no one followed me.
Nearing the middle of the afternoon, I finally spotted the road. It wasn’t much more then a tired looking dirt path, with ruts where wagon wheels had beaten, smashed, and worn down the earth. But it was a road. And all roads went somewhere. At least, I hoped they did.
I stopped a couple of feet from the road, so I was still hidden by the stalks of corn, and peered in both directions. Nothing. I took a step onto the road, and breathed a sigh of relief. There was, to my eyes, no one around. I accepted this as fact, and started on my way.
For the first hour or so, it was quite enjoyable watching the trees and fields and grasses going past me. The sun shone down, and it quickly warmed up the world.
I took off my coat, wondering if the previous days had just been a warning to get us ready for autumn. It was while I walked I realized just how tedious that traveling is. All the trees started to look the same. The sun started to burn the back of my neck. My bag and coat felt heavy, and my feet hurt. They never talked about how hard it was to walk after a while, in those stories that Ardmorr and Lyndia used to tell me when I was younger. They always seemed to skip those parts, like they could erase all the unpleasant scenes. I wished I could do that now.
“Well,” I said, thinking out loud. “What should I do now?” It was evening, and I mused whether to stop and sleep, or continue to walk. My feet ultimately made up my mind. Their aches told me they wouldn’t be walking any more that night.
I pulled out my familiar blanket. Unlike most of the blankets in Brookdale, this one was not a quilt. It was just a large piece of loosely woven fabric. It wasn’t even a bright color- just a nondescript blue. But it had been mine since I could remember, and it stopped me from feeling quite as hopeless.
I laid on top of it, staring at the stars. Poor Lyndia. Poor Ardmorr. Poor Chloe. I was about to think “poor Zilla”, but something stopped me. I didn’t actually feel sorry for her. I didn’t think this was a… bad thing for her. I wasn’t sure why I thought that, but an internal feeling was telling me just to stay away from Zilla.
I thought about it for a minute or two before I shrugged, and closed my eyes, letting myself drift off to sleep. After all, I was laying down to sleep, not to wonder whether or not Zilla deserved pity.
I woke to the smell of smoke. This was not an unusual thing for me to wake up to- Lyndia often tried to make bread in the morning for breakfast. When I remembered where I was, however, I shot up immediately. Smoke should not be out here. At least, not as strong as it was, unless the field was on fire or something.
I looked around, searching for flames, or any indication there was fire. I didn’t have to look very long.
“Morning, Kezia,” came Ardmorr’s voice, and my eyes went incredibly wide. “Breakfast?”
“A-a-a-ardmorr,” I stuttered. “What in the world are you doing here?”
“Um, well,” Ardmorr looked a bit confused himself. “Zilla was looking for you, and I told myself, I said ‘Kezia’s mistress has been taken, if I know Kezia, she’ll be going to find her’, I told myself, and I knew where you’d go, so I went to find you.”
“But Ardmorr,” I said, sighing. “I didn’t want to be found.”
“I know. You wouldn’t have run away, otherwise,” he said, as he handed me a plate of what looked to be burned meat. “Sorry it’s burnt,” he apologized, “I sort of forgot about it.”
I sighed, but took the burnt breakfast. “It’s no problem. Thanks. I know you tried.” I picked at the food for a second or two, before setting to the not so pleasant task of actually eating breakfast.
After we had finished the rest of the burnt meat, Ardmorr sat, staring at me.
“What?” I asked him, a bit nervous. It was, in my opinion, never a good thing to have someone staring at you, especially after you had just run away.
“You have to go back, Kezia,” he stated, not removing his eyes from me. “Zilla was really frantic.”
I shook my head. “You don’t understand.” I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths before continuing. “I have to save Lyndia. She needs me. I can’t let her burn. It’s, well, it’s my duty.”
Ardmorr raised his eyebrows. “Come on, Kezia,” he said, and his voice sounded a bit impatient. “We’ll get them to release her. Zilla wields quite a bit of power, you know. I’m sure she can talk them into letting her sister go. You and me, we don’t stand a chance. Why would they listen to-“
“To two children?” I finished. “Well, what if we didn’t talk to them. What if we just got her out?”
“No.” Ardmorr said, and I could tell he had already made up his mind. “We can’t go breaking the law, Kezia. You know that would just make it worse.”
He had a point; I had to admit. If we failed, then what would happen to Lyndia? The punishment would most likely be worse, and Ardmorr and I would probably face a death punishment. Death wasn’t on my agenda, but I had to rescue Lyndia- didn’t I? Then there was the question of whether or not we could trust Zilla. If Ardmorr had already made up his mind about going back, then I had made up my mind about trusting her. She hadn’t seemed to try very hard before to get her sister freed. Why would she do it now?
“Come on, Kezia,” Ardmorr said, as he dumped dirt on the fire. The sparks flew up. The last huzzah. The fire flickered into oblivion.
“Let’s go. If you can convince me on the way back, then we’ll turn around. I really don’t want to be unfair, you know. At least this way you have a good chance.”
I had a suspicion he was lying. I knew perfectly well the chances of me being able to convince him on the way home were about nothing, and even if I did, we would probably be so close to the house we would be sighted, already.
“Come on, Kezia,” he repeated. “We have to go now. You can’t save Lyndia, and if we try, we’ll most likely die. Come on. Let’s go home.” He grabbed my hand, and pulled me to my feet.
I sighed, and picked up my coat and bag of supplies. Ardmorr continued to pull me in the direction on the road of Brookdale, and I had no choice but to follow, still wondering if I was doing the right thing.