October 16, 2010

beginning of Chapter 2

As Gweneth quickly retraced her steps toward the little cottage hidden on the outskirts of what had once been a small but thriving village, she thought about the young man. Philip, he'd said his name was...why did that strike a chord in her memory? No time to think about that now. She quickly filled her satchel with bandages, salve and vinegar. Pausing in the small kitchen garden outside the cottage she picked a few sprigs of yarrow. She hurried back down the trail stopping only long enough to harvest some plantain leaves.

When she arrived at the campsite, Philip was sitting by the fire looking rather sheepish, cradling his hand gingerly on his lap. He looked up hopefully and moved back so she could take a closer look. Gravel from the fall was embedded in the wound and the blisters were full and red. She looked at him pitifully because she knew that initially, her treatment would hurt. Being as gentle as possible, she washed the cuts with warm water. Deftly removing the bits of stone, she quickly cleaned most of the grit from the area and rinsed it again. Philip pulled back in pain. She took out the cider vinegar and bathed the burnt area. He winced again but didn't seem to mind that she continued to care for the burns and cuts.

In his embarrassment, he couldn't bring himself to look at her. While his hand was soaking in the vinegar, she bruised the yarrow and put it in a small pot with some hot water to steep. When the infusion had cooled she soaked a bandage in the tea and held it over his hand. The pain seemed to ease a bit and he turned to look at her with appreciation. She made some tea and offered him a cup which he took gratefully. It seemed now that the tables were turned; he was the shy one, unable to look at her without blushing with embarrassment. No words to say and an uncertainty or confusion written all over his face. Was he frightened? She smiled to reassure him but still refused to speak except to give him instructions about caring for his hand.

Once the salve had been applied and his hand wrapped in bandages, she sat back for a minute. He began to look tired and before long had drifted into a fitful sleep. Thinking it best to stay with him for a while, she sat across the fire watching him. Now that she could take a moment to reflect, she began to think about her childhood and the days leading up to her life in the forest. Images that she hadn't thought of in a long time came flooding back. She couldn't put her finger on it but there was something in those memories that was trying to speak to her.

Gradually, she became aware that she was being watched, too. Looking up, she saw that Dynny was looking at her with a curious mixture of suspicion and approval. She met the horses gaze with a puzzled , questioning look. Dynny whinnied and nodded his head.

She moved closer to the steed and examined his saddle and trappings. They were much too nice to be a peasant's horse. Was he stolen? But Dynny and Philip seemed to have a familiar relationship going. Maybe it was his master's horse and Dynny was used to having Philip care for him. But it seemed like more than that. She noticed that there was a sword cleverly concealed along the saddle under the packs. Drawing it from it's sheath, she held it up to admire the craftsmanship. The horse snorted and pressed his head against her shoulder. She quickly returned the sword to it hiding place. He began nuzzling and snuffling around her apron pockets. She remembered a handful of grain that she had saved for the birds when she was grinding a bit of flour one of the farmers had traded her for some herbal salve. Taking the grain from her pocket, she slowly held out her hand to the curious animal. He licked at it gratefully, his warm tongue tickling her small hand. She giggled and pulled it back. The little bit of grain was gone quickly. Looking around, she realized that the horse was probably thirsty. There was a spring nearby so she took the pot from the fire and started off in the direction of the water. Twigs snapped behind her. She turned to see Dynny trying to follow her through the thick undergrowth. Going back, she led him to a spot in the little clearing near the sleeping Philip and tied him to a bush. He followed her longingly with his eyes as she started off toward the spring again.

When she returned with the water, the horse drank it quickly and noisily. She chuckled to herself and patted him on the head. She removed his saddle and rubbed him down. It had been a long time since she had had the opportunity to brush a horse. It was a task she had always enjoyed. The smell of warm hide; the strength of the muscles that twitched beneath her hands as she rubbed across the massive shoulders. Pictures flashed in and out. More memories prodded her mind. She stopped grooming the animal and stood starring thoughtfully into space.

Coming back to the present, she moved around the fire. Taking a blanket from the packs, she spread it over Philip. His sleep seemed more peaceful now. He'd be alright and if he followed her instructions, his hand should be good as new in a few days. When she was sure that he was resting comfortably, she tiptoed off toward the path. As she turned to look back, she saw Dynny looking at her wistfully. She waved and whispered, “He's all yours, now. Take good care of him.” After taking one last look at the huddled figure lying beside the fire, she disappeared into the bushes.

For a couple days she stayed near the cottage fearing that she might meet Philip again if she wandered farther into the forest. Something about him haunted her like a reoccurring dream calling her back to a time in the past. Had she seen him before? Was he a farmer from one of the neighboring farms? She just couldn't figure it out. Why couldn't she remember?
Time went on as usual with daily chores and visits from folks needing remedies from her stores of salves and teas. She was glad she had something useful to offer her friends. They often relied on her to help them heal their families when they were injured or taken with illness. When the plague had threatened to steal the lives of a few families further down the valley, they had come to her. The silver cross pendant that hung from her neck was a stark reminder of just how quickly things could change. The tea that she had made from rainwater steeped with the silver cross had stopped the disease from claiming the lives of entire families. How had she known what to do? She wasn't sure.
The following morning, she felt sure that Philip would have returned to his home and it would be safe to go into the forest again. She gathered a few herbs to dry for winter and even found a patch of tubers that she could prepare like potatoes. When she returned, she was surprised to find that her berry basket, filled to the brim with blackberries and a bouquet of wild flowers were waiting near the back door. Looking around, she found herself quite alone and was surprised to notice that she felt a little pang of regret. Then, chiding herself for her foolishness, she went inside.

Thoughts of Philip and his inquisitive steed kept her company that evening as she sat close to the small fire in the fireplace. It was the first of the autumn season. The nights had been warm enough so far but there was a chill in the air that made her shiver. She wondered if he had a warm place to sleep. Was his hand healing properly. Had he been able to go on with the hunting that he'd mentioned? She began to nod in her rocking chair. The warm blankets on her bed were a welcome comfort as she slid underneath their weighted protection. She drifted into sweet daydreams in which she saw herself in a sea of tall grasses; laughing and dancing through endless flowers...their heady scent...filling....the warm....sunlit......field. Sleep.

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