“The River Rungh begins in the mountain. Its waters run white over rocks until it carves its way through the soft farmers’ fields, brown with mud. When it comes to the Wall it ends. This is the truth.

Who says there is land beyond the Wall? Who says the river continues to flow? There is nothing beyond the Wall. Nothing. It is the end of the world.”

Job Pennyworth

 

Sarea sat at the kitchen table, head in her hands, eyes closed. When the timbers creaked, it sounded like the voice of lost, wasted years. The wind whispered secrets she couldn’t hear, rushing through birdsong and the first drops of rain on the glass windows. To be as free as the wind, she thought. To blow and storm and brush over skin like a lover’s hand.

She shook herself, opening her eyes. Idle dreamings never got dinner done, Tineke said once, and they most certainly wouldn’t get the dishes clean. Sarea gathered them and took them to the washing bowl. The water was warm to touch.

Outside the rain fell heavier still, and the wind rattled shutters upstairs. The floorboards above her creaked, and a horse whinnied –

Sarea paused. A horse?

A fist pounding on the front door.

“Who’s out in this weather?” Mistress Junker muttered, sweeping past the kitchen door, then a louder, “Coming, coming! Break that down and you’re paying for it!”

The hinges squeaked, the front door saw so little use.

“Good morrow,” she said. Sarea could imagine her, hands on her hips. “And what would you want?”

“We got a man for the witch’s brat,” said a man, voice rough. “She’s here, isn’t she?”

Sarea stiffened.

“What’s wrong with him, rolling around like that? If that cart marks my driveway, young man – !”

“Is she here?” he said, louder.

“And you can use her name!” Mistress Junker snapped. Sarea rose to her feet, drying her hands on her dress, walking to the kitchen door. The older woman had her finger in old farmhand Talinn’s face. “Come here, banging on my door, calling her -”

“What’s the problem?” Sarea said, in her best imitation of Tineke’s calm commands.

Talinn went to tip his hat to her, hesitated, dropped his hand. “Boss went off to deal with a sheep in the east fields and didn’t come back. Howling in pain he was, when we went to find him. He’s out in the cart.”

“Oh,” Mistress Junker said, deflating. “Well. Bring the poor fellow in, then. Lay him on the kitchen floor.”

‘Boss’, for Talinn, was the tanned and muscled Farmer Ishibas. Talinn and his son carried him in, his arms around their shoulders, feet dragging on the ground.

“Nuh,” he said. “Not her -”

“Only healer we got,” Talinn grunted.

Sarea stepped aside to let them pass. She caught a glimpse of Ionas, peering out of the parlour, before she shut the door.

The man wore shorts and vests when he worked: it was painfully obvious what was wrong. His legs were red and swollen, knee to foot. She knelt down beside him, running her hands over them lightly. Hot to the touch, too, with hard lumps.

He groaned. “Get her off me!”

Sarea sat back, lacing her fingers together. “I saw this two weeks ago,” she said. “Farmer Jimny’s grandson stumbled into a hive of swarm wasps. He’s deathly allergic to them. So are you.”

“I’m gonna die!” Ishibas jerked upright.

“No, just suffering intense pain,” she said. “Your reaction is much weaker than his, and you were stung in less -”

“You bet I’m hurting,” Ishibas snarled. “Gimme something to make it go away! I’ve animals to bring in!”

“You will have medicine,” she said quietly. “But you need to rest.”

“Bullshit, girl! You want us all brought down, you are – a curse on whoever keeps you -”

“Odd way to talk to the person treating you,” Ionas observed, behind her. Sarea didn’t jump, much. In a way that would be noticed. Instead, she dropped her eyes to the tiled floor.

“Please fetch something for me,” she said.

“It’s the least I can do,” Ionas said.

“Behind the house is a cellar door. Go down into it and pick out the medicines marked with Alphlin and a large blue J.”

“Poisons,” Ishibas said. “You’ll kill us all. Lying scum.”

“Master Jimny’s boy was ill,” Talinn’s son ventured. “In bed, he was. Jimny had her fetched in the night, and in a day he was well enough to eat. I was visitin’ Jess. I saw.”

Sarea raised her head, looking at him.

“Don’t think anyone could have saved him ‘cept her,” the boy said, cheeks going pink.

“Your name is Quen, isn’t it?” she said.

He nodded.

Ishibas said nothing, face as red as his legs.

“With that glowing recommendation, I’ll run fast as I can,” Ionas said brightly, making for the back door.

“The witch’s brat never hurt a soul, boss,” Talinn said, voice low. “Lie down. That’s gotta be hurtin’ you more.”

“When the witch was alive to stop her,” Ishibas muttered, but he let his farmhand help him lie down again.

Sarea rose to her feet. “We’ll need cloth,” she said. “Can you help me?”

Talinn never learned to read nor write, but he wasn’t stupid. “Sure ’nuff,” he said, standing.

Outside, near the front door standing open, cool wind blowing, rain on the floorboards, she said, “He won’t stand on his own for another day, and he needs to stay off his feet for another three, or he’ll hurt worse. The poisons linger. After that, it’s light work.”

Talinn shifted on his feet. “It’ll be hard,” he said. “But I bet I can get the girls to gather in the kitchen. Softens the blow, it does, to be around sweet young things.”

Sarea twisted her lips into a smile. “I’m sure.”

“An’ I’m sorry for the yelling,” he said. “He doesn’t mean it.”

She sighed. “Don’t ruin this by lying to me,” she said.

Mistress Junker emerged from the parlour, a bundle of discarded clothes in her arm. “You’ve dealt with it?” she said.

“We’ll need a cloth for treatment, but yes,” Sarea said.

“Good. Some of the men around here can be so crude.

“We’re bigger and tougher than the city puff heads,” Talinn said. “That don’t bother us none.”

“Oh, shoo off back to the bear and his thorn. I’ll fetch you a scrap of cloth.” Mistress Junker pushed past him, trotting up the stairs.

Talinn chuckled. “Fine, fine lady.” He touched his cap to Sarea and went back to the kitchen.

Sarea sat on the bottom step. Her hands trembled.

A curse, not a gift. A thing to be kicked from the doorstep, ignored when it spoke, hit and shouted at and never trusted. That was a Durasoona. Always. Quen looked at her and blushed, but Talinn wouldn’t approve if he dallied near her. No one wanted her in their family, not when there was a chance that she could –

“Oh, Sarea Sahar,” Mistress Junker said, from the top of the steps. “Don’t you listen to that ignorant beast.” She came down, sitting beside the girl, an arm around her shoulders. “You’re bright and smart. Solved the problem in a moment, you did!”

Sarea managed a smile, but it felt weak even to her. “Of course I am.”

Her mask passed the test. Mistress Junker kissed her cheek. “Yes, you are,” she said firmly. “Here’s a scrap. Deal with him so I can get him out of my house!”

 

back home forward