~It was raining. Again. Torrent volleys beat upon the thatched roofs from the overcast grey sky over the dreary village of Rimarith; the unpaved muddied streets puddled with pools of the chilly spring rains, and the trees that lined the outskirts of the small town leered over, their branches sodden with water, their weight heavy as the tips of their leaves dripped to the waterlogged ground. Most homes were dark within, the inhabitants choosing to stay indoors huddled close to their family like a mother hen with her chicks over braving the elements to work outside, or visit the tavern. But the tavern was one of the few buildings that had a few of its windows lit up, the dirty frosted glass glowing softly from a small internal fire. The wind blew, rattling the loose boards on most of the houses in the impoverished village, making the sight depressing. There were no new travelers or visitors, the place being off a road that led to the Capital City of Decxt and thus not attracting anyone of interest. The Sherriff of the Northern Province of Lathaire had just come through, taking close to seventy percent of profit share and collecting debts with an obscene amount of interest. The people had near to nothing left to fix their homes, or spend on their families, but just enough to survive until the next tax collection.~
Hyacinthe literally raced through the forest clutching a handful of plant stalks in her right hand, the frigid shower cascading upon her, wetting her hair and plastering it upon her head and bared shoulders. The dirty white linen shirt she wore clung to her body, the sleeves fallen off her shoulders to rest on her upper arms, and the tied laces in front were barely able to contain her bouncing breasts as she agilely ran through the foliage, the small branches snapping back into place as she passed.
Her red linen skirt was muddied and frayed at the hem displaying the wear and tear of travel, but the water raining down from the sky washed away the dirt streaks that were upon her face, giving her features a youthful clean look once more. All of her bangles, anklets, jewels, and bells jingled and danced as she sprinted, running….running, her speed displaying her urgency. Hyacinthe normally loved the rain; it’s cleansing properties and the way it felt on her flesh. The forest seemed so alive in the spring rains, the wetness seemed to always brighten the colors, making the greens more vibrant, the browns more rich, and the rainbow of blossoms more vivacious. But now was not the time to dwell on her surroundings; a child’s life was in danger.
The gypsy finally slowed her pace, her lungs breathing heavily as she neared the forest’s edge and prepared to come to a stop at the well-known tavern she knew she would find. The sight of light in the dimly lit evening air stood out in stark contrast. The building had the look of a seasoned tavern; most of the original black paint had chipped off exposing the grimy wood used to build it underneath, weeds grew all around the foundation, and the sign that read “Bread and Butter Tavern” had a broken hinge, and it swayed in the wind causing one side to swivel and bang against building itself, making a thud thud noise. But some of the frosted windows were illuminated with the flicking light of a roaring fire within, and a small tuft of smoke rose from the chimney carrying the scent of roasting meat to her nose, reminding her stomach that she hadn’t eaten all day.
She had stumbled upon the tavern about a month before, and the tavern owner and his wife had readily taken her in despite the overwhelming hostility towards foreigners in the surrounding areas. The Pvethians were still trying to accustom themselves to the sight of the newly conquered and dark skinned Ajbatharians, being so used to only seeing the milky pallor of their own race for so long. And Hyacinthe herself was an insult to some of them due to her mixed blood. But the young gypsy was stunning in her youth, vigorous in her health. She was intelligent, keen, witty, had a singing voice that could melt one’s ears, and could mix an elixir that could dull the most intensifying pain: How could they not love her immediately? The older couple was also simply devoid of regular company, lacking any children of their own since their only son had died years earlier along with the steady absence of paying patrons, and thus they had readily accepted her.
She had given the Tavern owner a homemade potion of hers to help him with his eyesight, and had given his wife a book on herbs to pay for her visit. This payment had seemed to be enough for them for now, and every week she gave them a few of her copper coins she had earned in her travels to pay for everything else she had taken advantage of.
Helping the woman cook during the day, helping her do laundry in the afternoon, helping her clean the dishes after meals, helping to bring in more firewood, and then entertaining anyone visiting in the evenings, Hyacinthe enjoyed staying in the tavern and working…for the time being. But her restlessness had begun to gnaw at her bones and she knew that soon, she would need to continue her journey with no destination in mind.
Walking to the threshold, the gypsy woman grabbed handfuls of her hair and wrung the long thick, dark locks out of as much excess water as she could. Trails of raindrops still ran down her tan midriff, down to her pierced navel, and every inch of her wet linen clothing clung to the curvature of her body. Luckily the only people inside would be the older woman, the tavern owner himself was undoubtedly asleep already, and a lone mother with her child. She took a deep, steadying breath then placed the open palms of her hands to the heavy oak door and pushed it open before hurriedly pulling it closed behind her to keep the warmth inside. A soft cough could be heard from across the main chamber by the fire, and Hyacinthe turned, her expression saddened every time she looked at the young boy cradled in his mother’s arms.
His mother was sitting on the floor near to the hearth for warmth from the flames, her legs crossed as she held her son of seven years to her chest like a newborn. Rocking back and forth, she peered down at his young face smothered in sweat yet his body shivering as if he were freezing cold. The boy’s right arm was in a cast from a plowing accident a few days before, his body had then taken fever and thus his mother had come to the traveling gypsy for help, knowing full well the tales and reputation of the woman of the Two Worlds who had a taste for magic. Hyacinthe walked over, the hem of the skirt dragging across the floorboards, weighed down from the rain; her long bare toes peeked from beneath the hem, mud clinging to the underside of her feet. She reached them and kneeled down to smile warmly to the mother who had looked up startled at the sound of someone approaching in the dark, but had let out a breath of relieved air when she saw who it was.
“He’s been shaking ever since you left, Talj’Mara,” the woman whispered softly, calling the gypsy by her common nickname bestowed upon her in the Pvethian tongue that meant “Magic Woman”. Hyacinthe lifted up her right hand to move her hair back out of her face, revealing the silver headband she wore across her forehead, and her nostrils flared in pity around the looped nose piercing she wore as the young lad moaned, turning in his mother’s clutched arms.
“Had Glaith brought that pot of boiled milk that I asked for?”
The woman turned with a nod and looked pointedly at a small tin pot with a wooden handle, steam rolling off the rim. Hyacinthe nodded, breaking apart the entire stalk of the plant she had run out into the forest to retrieve, and dropped the broken leaves and stalks into the pot to stir. The woman then picked up the pot by the warm wooden handle, and ran the tip of her long index finger of her right hand slowly around the rim, chanting something in her foreign tongue, whispering softly. The steam rolled and whirled around her finger, the brewed milk turning a light silvery blue as it took in her words and molded into something she desired it to be. All of this occurred and the woman was silent, eyes wide open with fear-inspired wonder as she watched the gypsy tilt her son’s head back and gently bring the rim to his lips for a smooth drink. He didn’t open his eyes, but his lips and throat worked at taking as much of the serum down to his belly before his head rolled and his entire body suddenly went limp. The woman went to shake him awake, fearing the worst when Hyacinthe grabbed her hand gently, but firmly, shaking her head with a small frown.
“He sleeps. His body must take it in with no interference for his fever to break and his arm to heal.”
“Are you saying when he awakes his arm with be broken no longer?” Hyacinthe nodded, and the woman gasped in astonishment. “What divination have you brought into my son, Talj’Mara? Should we all be in fear or you?”
The gypsy woman chuckled without humor as she sat closer to the fire, her clothes wrinkling as the water that had soaked into her clothing began to evaporate. “The type that I am known for.” She turned her bright emerald eyes to the other woman, the pupils flashing and mirroring the same color of so many Pvethian natives in the area, yet her caramel skin reminded everyone where she was really from. “I leave in the morning for Dectx; I have overstayed my welcome here in Rimarith and I must move on.”
The other woman laid her slumbering son on a nearby mat and crawled over to sit next to the gypsy. She nodded. “It’s not that we don’t like you; you have helped most, if not all of us in our time of sickness and need. But you are simply too different for us here in this small town. If my husband knew I had come to you for help, he would surely punish me.”
The flames flickered across both of the women’s skin, tan and cream, as they then sat there in silence, the fire casting its eerie colors of oranges, reds, and golds, its flamed fingers spreading into the darkness as far as it could before fading away completely. The mother yawned, her tired eyes blinking slowly as she tried to stay awake. Hyacinthe spoke first to break the silence.
“What did you tell your husband?”
A moment of pause before the answer: “I told him I was going to visit Glaith about Holon’s fever. The Tavern owner’s wife has helped us in the past with basic homemade remedies.”
“You named your son after the Dark Prince? The Heir to the throne?” Hyacinthe turned to look at the other woman with an odd expression on her face. “Why?”
She shrugged in response before answering. “My husband thought it would show a great deal of loyalty if we named our son after him. I had no choice in the matter so I let it go.”
Hyacinthe snorted, “I doubt that would do you any good in a time of trouble. Especially if his brother, The Wolf, comes through. I’ve heard of that entire family’s vicious acts. It’s a disgrace.”
“The Dread Wolf isn’t entirely bad; he’s simply sensible. Stories are all over the Empire, speculating as to how he got that scar across his right eye. Some say it was in torture from their demented father, others say it was an avenging woman who then suddenly disappeared after she had attacked him in his sleep. But who knows: the history of the DeAlmeidas is a long one, filled with things that should never have been done and should truly never be talked about.” She paused in her speech to look over at the glittering gypsy, taking in how the fire flickered over all the jewelry that adorned the woman’s ears, nose, wrists, fingers, and ankles. Then her eyes took in the light brown henna drawings and tattoos that swirled down her arms to her wrists, stopping at her knuckles, and she could see a small pattern around her ankles, peeking from underneath the skirt that undoubtedly continued to travel up her entire leg. She shook her head with a laugh then turned away. “You plan on going to Dectx looking like that?”
“When will you be leaving?”
“As soon as the sun rises. Before anyone can see me leave and miss me.”
“Then go with care and common sense. Very few foreigners enter in those iron gates and stay long and you will definitely attract a huge amount of attention. And who knows…you may even see The Wolf if you survive long enough.”