But Kit wasn’t ready to give up. Not now that there was hope.
When she was sure she had the path firmly in her mind, she rolled the map again and slipped it into the pouch holding her meager belongings. She would need food to make the journey. The sparse collection of coins in her pocket wouldn’t buy much. Maybe a week’s worth of meals if she was prudent.
She made quick work of gathering supplies; bread and dried beef, a few apples and a block of hard cheese, and a small knife in case the rose stems were tough. With each item carefully packed in her pouch, Kit dropped her very last coins in the open hands of a young priest seated in the hot sun, then set out to find the garden of curses.
It had been three days since Kit had found her way to the hidden garden. A place she’d found surprisingly unremarkable given the magic that lay inside. While the roses themselves were glorious, the garden was like any other she might see in town. Well-tended, but utterly plain with its orderly rows of multi-colored roses. Even the scent, while heavenly, as all roses are, smelled like that of any other rose garden.
She’d reached the small patch of flowers at the last possible moment to save herself. The evil thing inside her had begun to stretch and take hold. It was with great effort that she forced a hand, no longer completely her own, to take a rose.
Still, in that moment, she had the presence of mind to remember the healer’s warning. She scanned the small rows of roses for the smallest, least beautiful, least colorful bud, and plucked it. She hoped that whatever magic the garden and its caretaker held, would appreciate her restraint. Perhaps the curse that came with the tired-looking burgundy bud would be a minor one.
Kit felt a certain kinship for the flower that even now stuck out of her pack as fresh as the day she picked it. She too was always overlooked among her more beautiful, more colorful sisters. It was her longing to step out of their shadows that had wrought the ailment for which she’d sought a cure.
All her life, Kit had heard the warnings. One must never do magic for selfish gain. One must never do magic to cause harm. And one must never, ever, do magic on themselves. She had only wanted to know what it was like to be the center of attention. To feel Galen’s eyes on her the way her sisters did, but barely noticed.
When she found the book of spells while out on her daily walk, it felt almost as if the book had found her. She’d been compelled to take a faint dirt path she’d never noticed before. As she followed it, she felt a sense of growing excitement. She was meant to take this path. Meant to find whatever lay at the end of it. When she reached the hollow tree and found the book hidden inside, she’d thought it a gift. If only she’d known the evil it would release.
Kit pushed the memory away and focused on keeping her feet on the path. She would be out of the Keening Wood by midday if she kept up her pace. So far she’d felt no trace of the garden’s curse, only the lightness of having her wicked illness removed. Buoyed by three days of freedom, she was beginning to believe that she’d made the right choice. That it was the brightest, most beautiful roses that carried the highest price. Kit felt most certain that she could happily return to being the least noticeable of her sisters if it meant she was forever safe from evil.
When she reached the small brook that traversed the path out of the wood, she stopped to drink and admire her plain reflection in the water. The water rushed and swirled around the rocks, and the tall trees blocked most of the sunlight, making it too dim and choppy to see herself properly. Kit made a promise to herself that as soon as she reached town, she would find a looking-glass and appreciate the face she’d long wished would be different.
As she burst from the woods and into the outskirts of town, Kit brimmed with a joy she hadn’t felt in years. It was good to be alive and to be herself, faults and all. She cheerfully greeted the few strangers she met on the road with a smile and a, “Good day!” but none responded in kind. No matter, thought Kit, rudeness could not spoil this good day.
It was only once she reached the town center that Kit began to sense that all was not well. She’d asked a merchant the price of an apple, but he ignored her repeated requests. She attempted to inquire about working in exchange for a room at the inn, but the innkeeper stared through her as though she weren’t there. She wondered if word had gotten out about her troubles. Had the healer warned the town against her?
Kit bit her lip to keep it from trembling. So this town would be like the last then. Afraid of her evil, unwilling to help. She was surprised to find she felt more anger than hurt this time. She was cured. She was certain of it. She choked back a frustrated sob and left the inn. She was hungry and tired and had nowhere to go.
“Are you alright, lady?” Came a gentle voice below her.
Kit looked around until she saw the young man sitting against the corner of the inn. It was the priest she’d given her last coins to before entering the wood. Kit sighed with relief. At least someone in the town still had some decency.
“No sir, I’m not,” she said honestly. The graveness of her circumstances hit her all at once. She was tired, hungry, penniless, and still an outcast despite being cured.
He tilted his kind face toward her and Kit realized he was blind. “Ah,” he nodded, knowingly. As though he could see all of her troubles without the use of his eyes. “Perhaps I can help.”
“Oh, thank you.” Relief rushed through Kit.
“Follow me,” he said, as he rose carefully to his feet.
She followed as he lead her slowly down the alley to a small doorway. “Rachel,” he called into the little wooden building barely bigger than a shack. “I’ve got a young lady in need.”
Kit braced herself for the moment when the cheerful woman approaching got a good look at her face and realized who she was. She took a deep trembling breath. If these two wouldn’t help her, she didn’t know what she’d do.
The priest sensed her unease and sought to reassure her. “Do not worry, young lady. Rachel is a good-hearted woman.”
Rachel frowned as she reached them, running a brief eye over Kit before turning to the priest. “Father Malcolm? Who are you speaking to?”
Come back Friday for the conclusion by Lacey!
Photo by koalie via Flickr Creative Commons.
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