This short story by LaKase Cousino appeared in Issue 4 of The Seelie Crow.
My bones are slow to bend. The gale winds no longer burn as they should, but ache, and send a burning tightness through my knuckles as I work to push out the healing center of an herb. The fire helps. It thaws the crackling marrow.
The birds with bright plumes have flown South. All that remains are the ravens and the crows, the storytellers with piercing voices that shake me out of deep slumber. It’s getting deeper every day. It is harder to rise, but still I work. I toil over the fire to bring my tinctures to boil. It is my duty to keep the village well and good. It is through my hands that babes pass from darkness to light. I am the one who will bring your greatest sorrows to an end with a paste, or a vial. There was one before me, but she, too, grew slow to rise. I was her apprentice and now I am the master of fates.
Winter is a maker. She undoes the binding of Spring, the industriousness of Fall, to lay us all at her feet. She makes us stronger. Our bonds are deepened, or otherwise cast out. My hair was thick and dark in my first Winter as the woman of the village. Now, my strands are thinner than my middle, which grows wider each season. My back is bowed, but holds strong against the profession I undertake. Winter is a maker and so am I.
My knuckles ache this morning. They are rounding out as my grandmother’s did all those seasons ago. My knees alert me to the coming wind, thus I shutter my windows. It is time for me to serve the old ways. I am bent to the flame, murmuring in our ancient tongue. Has my skirt caught the coals again? I put it out, but never stop the words. This water mixed with dried plants will go to the girl who wears green.
“It helps me to remember to hope.”
I remember to hope. I hope it cures her ailments. Her flesh was far too red, too raised, for a girl so new. I hope it cures what harms her.
Today I will bring a mixture to the girl in green.
Someone is at the door. I turn to the sound of a confident hand rapping at my old oak door.
“Nana? Have you time for one more?”
I know that voice, but not that form. It changes as it will.
“I have time.”
She is bright. Her dress is pale blue and her eyes are shining with the confidence of a body that has not yet begun to fail. Her flame is in her hair and her hands are lined with rings.
It changes as it will, but I remain the same.
“It’s been many years.”
I don’t have time for pleasantries. The girl in green has need of me.
“Take what you will and be gone.”
When did my voice become so full of sand and stone? My body will hold, I know it will. It has been mine all these years, after all.
“This village is mine now, Nana.”
I’ve known this woman, her voice, her countenance many times before. Spectre of the wild world that knows no respect for a woman at her hearth. They call me “witch”. They call her “beast”. We are one in the same upon a forked road. We split at the dawn, where I chose to feel the sun. They will come for us both in the end. But today is not mine.
“Your remedy is on the table.”
Her brow would furrow if it could. Instead, she tips the vial over to watch the contents swirl below the stopper. It glows in the dim light of my home. The mixture is one you have to feel with your spirit to put together.
“I have no use for a remedy! Did you not hear me? This village is mine.”
The vial glows in the light of my home, where I make my remedies. It glows so bright that even a beast cannot deny its pull.
She cannot deny its pull. Had she been able to, the girl in green would not get her remedy. It calls for the crackling of a witch’s marrow. A piece of magic that has been twisted is the only cure for a young girl so new to her own power.
I strike. She falls. We meet again.
I am old. There have been many before me, yet here I am. The girl who wears green to remember to hope will be there next winter to remind me to toil.
Winter and I are makers.