Bitter Leaf – An Excerpt

Bitter leaf – she loved the stuff.  Morning, when she first woke; afternoon, when she was preparing the inn for visitors; and evening, before bed.  She loved it!  Oft, she’d fall asleep with it tucked between her cheeks and gums to wake up, take a gulp of mead to infuse the leaves for that first buzz of the morning. In fact, she claimed she couldn’t fully wake until she’d had that first wetting (she called it.).

I never understood it – it rotted her gums and teeth; it put her in a foul mood if she didn’t or hadn’t had enough; and if she did have enough it was like she was in a dream world floating along.

And gods, she was beautiful…once. Not by Royalty standards, you understand; but the most beautiful in the brothel she was born in certainly. And more beautiful in the marketplace stall she sold cures at, so she didn’t have to live the brothel life her mom had. See, her mom died when she was five; and the women of the brothel raised her until her first blood, when she had to make a decision – stay or go.

She went. There had been a few women she called Aunts – women that saved coins as they could so they could see her leave with something other than sadness.  When she walked out the door, never to return she had a bag of fifty coins and any valuable possessions that had been kept on her behalf.  The latter was not much, but it was what was left from her room and board over eight years.

She thought best to leave the small town to start her new life.  She knew within two days walk was another town. After buying a loaf of bread, a flask to fill with water, and two apples, she began the long journey to find who she might become.

She was young, but she’d seen enough of life in the brothel to be considered wise beyond her years.  Maybe this is why after the first days walk, she deviated from her plan.  There’d been a fork in the road – right to the next town – left, well, she knew it went to a hedge witch. She’d been tasked by her aunts with going to the hedge for cures when their moon blood stopped, or when there was a complication with a pregnancy the last days and they’d wanted the hedge to help deliver.  Often times, town girls delivered in the brothel when they were husbandless – which was common.  For a common girl with no husband, about to the deliver a baby, there was little place she go to get help.

She’d watched many cures dispensed and many babies delivered – enough so that she understood the profound service the hedge provided society.

And that was why she went left at the fork.

Early in the evening, she’d rested at an inn.  She was able to refill her flask, buy a piece of salted horsemeat and relax near the stables while she ate.  She was too young really to spend time in the inn, but outside was acceptable.  Previously, stable boys allowed her to sleep a few hours before she finished her journey to the hedge.  They didn’t really bother her, because unlike the women who respected and needed the hedge, they were scared this girl who visited her regularly enough had some powers herself.

Walking the roads by oneself was not truly a safe endeavor, but the stable boys had no gossip of attacks or thefts.  She knew how to hide in the brush on the side of the road and wait for others to pass.  However, about an hour into her final leg of the journey, she started to get nervous.

It was darker than she’d been prepared for – the moon was not visible and wouldn’t be for another three days.  The darkness coupled with sounds she heard beside her in the brush was unnerving her in a way she’d never experienced.  She heard what sounded like whispering and faint giggling, but when she focused on the area the sound was coming from there was nothing. Occasionally, out of the corner of her eye, she thought she’d seen a faint flash of light, right after the giggling.  She had no idea what to make of it, but she wanted to complete her journey as fast as possible the more whispers she heard.

She sped up trying to make as much distance as possible – to walk as fast as her feet would carry her without running.  She tried not to appear afraid, but she wasn’t sure she was succeeding.

All at once, she stopped.

The whispers and the giggling had stopped; and a thick mist had rolled in.  In the mist, she was little pin lights – enough that the mist was illuminated and shadows seemed to dance around.

Never one to be afraid of much, she started walking again – more fascinated than fearful. As she got closer to the wall of mist, she heard the whispers again.  They seemed to be calling to her – willing her to join them.

As soon as she walked through, the darkness dissipated and she saw several small people looking at her and whispering amongst themselves.

The group seemed to decide they should speak to her and nudged a beautiful little woman out past the others.

The little woman looked at her questioningly.  Before the woman could say anything, she wasi, a bit hesitantly, “Hello.”

The woman, a bit surprised repeated the word, “Hello” and inched closer and then added, “I’m Numera,” After which she looked at her friends and then asked, “how did you get here?”

She shrugged, then said, “My name is Syra, and I don’t know where ‘here’ is. Aren’t I on the road to the hedge witch’s house?”

The small people looked with great surprise, murmuring again amongst themselves.  One, a small man, stepped out of the group, looked like he puffed himself up and said in a very assertive voice, “Why would you be going to see her at this time of night? No one ever travels this road at night.  Answer the question – How Did You Get Here?”

A bit offended, Syra said again, “I don’t know where ‘here’ is.  I did not mean to trespass, but please, I just don’t know where I am.”

Numera walked right up to her; pulled her hand down so that Syra was at eye level and said, “You, my dear girl, have somehow entered the veil between your world and the rest of the world!”

“What…?” Syra questioned in complete confusion.

The man with the assertive voice broke between the two and demanded to know who Syra’s father was.

“I, I never knew him.  My mother never spoke of him and she died when I was five.” Syra said having a difficult time masking her complete confusion as to why her parentage was important at this moment.

The small man softened up, took her hand and said in a kindly voice, “Come.  Come, I think you may have found your way home.  We’ll have to figure this out of course, but in the mean time, sunrise is coming and we have to move.” Syra, still very much confused allowed herself to be led away, while murmuring how it hadn’t even been a new day when she’d noticed the mist – where had the time gone?

Suddenly, she stopped.  “Wait! I can’t just go with you – I’m not sure where I am, who you are, and why I should have to get off the road.”

Numera held her hand, spoke softly and continued to lead her in a general direction of South, Southwest.  “My dear, I know this is strange for you. Three things have happened to lead you here.  One, you are at a crossroads in your life; two, your father was most likely one of us; and three, you are a new woman now – am I right?”

Syra answered affirmatively, and started to say more, but Numera shushed her, and continued, “these things happen and we’ll explain more when we get to our destination, but for now, eat an apple, drink some water and trust that you are safe.”

Syra, not having much of a real choice, decided to do just what Numera said, she she did wonder how Numera knew she had an apple.  As they walked , the sun broke over the horizon, in a way Syra had never experienced before.  The sun was the yellowest yellow she’d ever seen and the sky was a palatte of bright, bold oranges and purples splashed on a background of the most beautiful blue canvas she could have ever experienced.

She was able to discern they’d left the road and were trekking through a forest.  If she listened closely, she could hear whispering all around her.  A younger small man noticed she was listening – he had been watching her closely – fascinated really by her appearance, her obvious confusion, and her willingness to continue on with them even though Numera had been vague.

“It’s the trees,” I said to her.  My first words to this beautiful and amazing lady of the other world.

“I’m sorry?” Syra said, surprised that I had spoken to her.

“The whispering you hear – it’s the trees.  They are talking amongst themselves about you.  It’s been a long time since one of your kind walked here.  Can you understand what they are saying?”

“I feel like I might be able to, if I could hear them better.” And then after a second, she added, “Wait…why wouldn’t I be able to understand them?”

“They don’t speak your language,” I replied, pretty matter-of-factly, and then dropped a piece of information that hadn’t really been apparent to her, “Neither do we…” I left that hanging in the air, so she could process what the implication of this was.  I wanted to observe how she processed something like this.

“By the way, I’m Enbee.”

After a few moments, she tried my name out, and then said, “nice to meet you.  How is it I can understand you and can speak to you, but you aren’t speaking my language.  Am I speaking your language? What is happening to me?” For the first time since meeting us, she sounded very apprehensive – not scared, no never scared or fearful, just apprehensive.

“I don’t know, Syra.  I’ve never seen anything like this.  I’m not old enough to remember the last person from your world,” and then with a mischievous look at her, I added, “but I’m only 110 years old.  The last other world person was 123 years ago.”

“WHAT?!” Syra exclaimed. “This is all making my head spin.  Are we almost there – where ever ‘there’ is?”

I tried to explain, “we were on a gathering party, about four hours from home.  We have about ten of what you call minutes left.”

“If you don’t remember the last of my kind, how do you know about minutes?” Syra asked reasonably.

“We study your kind.  Always have, and we were once a part of your world…or, more specifically, our worlds were joined, but that was many, many, many centuries ago. But there is time for all that – just take ease in knowing we are almost there.”


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