My only wish is to be free as the wind,

To be tossed in the storm, blown ragged in the rain,

And touch my lover’s skin with breezes and sighs.

Unknown

 

Ionas followed her no matter what she did, whether it was writing people’s names and their medicines on a board at the back of the cellar, or putting everything away and dusting the cottage until the sun began to set.

He’d only let her leave his eyesight long enough to change. Her brown woollen dress had long sleeves. If it wasn’t for the ache, she could have pretended she wasn’t hurt at all.

In the end, she gathered all her belongings – two sets of clothes, book, blanket, and sewing kit – and a few precious cloth-wrapped packages of medical supplies into her basket, and stepped outside her front door. When she shut it, she set a heavy rock in the middle of the doorway. Empty. Stay out.

That done, she walked through the glasses to Mistress Junker’s. The kitchen door was open. She walked in, listening to the creak of the floorboards, the way the house groaned as wood settled back into place.

“Mistress?” she called out, when she thought she knew Mistress Junker was close to the stairs. “Are you willing to talk?”

“Come up,” Mistress Junker said. “I’m in the back bedroom.”

Sarea turned and looked at Ionas. He cleared his throat. “I’ll stay down here, shall I?”

“You do that,” she said, and walked up.

All the back bedroom had held for years was old furniture. Sarea stood in the doorway. Mistress Junker sat at a table in bad need of staining, between a stack of furnished chairs covered in dusty cloth and a wardrobe that’d seen better days. The wardrobe was open. The table was full of an brown paper package bound with string.

“You’ll be leaving, of course,” Mistress Junker said.

Sarea swallowed. “I -”

“We used to talk about it, Tineke and I. The day you spread your wings and flew away from here. That was when you were just her dark-eyed shadow. Afterwards, I realised the world had clipped your wings before you came to us. Tineke believed, though. She always believed.” Mistress Junker didn’t look up, running her wrinkled hands over the package. “The day before she died, she came to me and she said, ‘You must get something for her. She’ll come for it, even if she doesn’t know it.’ Wise woman, Tineke.”

“Yes,” Sarea said quietly.

“I saw a night lit up like day and I knew, Sarea, I knew.”

Sarea curled her hands. Give me some sunlight. Let me in. “If I knew -”

“I found out, you know. I didn’t ask, but I could imagine. Once, she was young, and she wanted a future, so she changed her name and left. Hedge witch to this little village? She was worth more. Certainly more than her name.”

“She was a good aunt,” Sarea said. “She always tried to -” Words failed her, then.

“You will tell him what your grand-daddy did, my girl, and you will not run from him.” Mistress Junker looked up. “Never. Be what she thought you could. Shine bright as the sun. Prove to the world that the Durasoona family are as proud and honourable as they ever were. Swear it to me.”

Sarea bowed her head. “On my aunt’s grave and my father’s cowardice.”

“Then you can have this, with my blessings.” Mistress Junker stood. “Don’t leave without saying goodbye, my dear,” she said, and moved past her. Sarea listened to her walking down the stairs, the bright, “Good day to you, mister Pachin!”

She closed the door behind her and set her basket on the floor.

The knot on the package hadn’t been tied by Mistress Junker. It came apart too easily. Sarea looped the string around her hand and unfolded the paper with care.

The package was a true traveller’s pack. Tall and stout, the dark brown canvas had been waterproofed with wax. The outside was littered with straps to tie on pans and the like. The inside was… full. Why full?

She unbuckled the top, reached in, and pulled out a pair of trousers and a belt. Then a thigh-long men’s tunic, not cut for a man. After that, a black bundle that fell apart in her hands to become a coat. A long, fleece-lined, hooded coat. The colour was so rich… how much had it cost? Who’d believe her a poor traveller with this?

But she’d be a warm traveller. Even in the worst winter.

Mistress Junker wanted her to make the Durasoona name good again. Ionas wanted her to help him save everything inside the Wall. What did she, Sarea Sahar Durasoona, want? She fingered the soft lining. She wanted –

She didn’t know what she wanted. Safety? Peace and quiet? Love and respect?

She dropped the coat on top of everything on the table, cupped her hands, and whispered, “Fire.”

It took a moment, but a lick of flame blossomed from her skin, low and steady. She breathed on it and it danced in the wind of her breath. She smiled, breaking her hands apart. The flame guttered and disappeared.

In the temple, the people before had left behind their world. They’d had oceans and forests and strange, alien buildings that could touch the sky. They could, maybe, even walk on the moon. She wanted to do that. She wanted to be tall and strong and clutch stars in her hands. It might be impossible, but she’d have to learn how to use her magic before she tried it.

She wanted to know.

She picked up the coat again and held it out in front of her.

:-#-:

The trousers were stranger than the tunic. She’d never worn trousers before. But complete with the coat, all her belongings secure inside a pack not even half full, basket strapped to the top of the bag, she thought she could get used to it.

Ionas looked up from his forkful of pie and stared.

Sarea shifted from foot to foot. “What?”

“Oh,” he said. “You’re brighter.”

What was that supposed to mean? She frowned at him.

“Nothing like a new set of clothes to make a person light,” Mistress Junker said. “And you will take some food, Sarea? I can’t bear the thought of you starving out there.”

“I will,” Sarea said. “There’s some things in the cottage for you to take. I wrote down what every person needed in the cellar, you’ll have to visit the nearest witch and tell her you need a new one. And Mistress Treeback will be needing to trade for supplies from the wood -”

“I’ll trade with her on your behalf,” Mistress Junker said firmly. “It’s your house, your land. Always will be. Now sit yourself down. You’ve always been skin and bones, my girl.”

Sarea wanted to open her mouth and say that if it was her house, where would the new hedge witch live? What if she never came back?

Ionas grinned at her. “Ann refused to tell me which berries are in this,” he said. “I couldn’t bear to leave with a mystery. You come here and tell me.”

Sarea smiled despite herself, set her pack on the floor, and went to him.

:-#-:

By the time they left, it was night. Her pack was full with food – she’d said yes to some, not emptying the pantry! – and facing the entire world, cool wind of her face, it didn’t seem full enough.

Mistress Junker was waiting to watch them go. She’d keep watch until they were out of sight. Ionas took Sarea’s hand.

“We’ll walk until there’s no more walking left,” he said cheerfully. “How about that?”

“You’re mad,” she said.

“I’m a mad fool, Sarea Sahar.” He nudged her. “You be the sane wise woman. Come on.”

One step at a time. She sighed, squared her shoulders, and walked.

 

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