Sunday Short: Close Enough, Part VI

If my life were a story, like the ones I used to sneak from Mother’s personal library and read when everyone else was snoring in bed, everything would have changed after Vinia’s visit. Sami would have become the model apprentice, quick to mend her ways, eager to learn everything she could, and a pleasure to have in one’s company. Alas, my life was not a story any more than Silas was a reliable companion.

The week after Vinia’s visit, Sami was better than she had been, but that was not saying much. A flock of pigeons would have been a better apprentice than she was through sheer chance. After a week, the threat of a teacher who wanted her to leave and the fear that I had hoped would make her wise had faded like water from the storm.

Her belligerence I could deal with, I held court with a talking cat so stubbornness did not trouble me as much as her lack of fear. That would get her killed.

I finished scouring the kitchen as Sami had left the counters still speckled with signs of cooking and the floors with tracks of now damp dust. At least she had the decency to be in a hurry to get to her lessons in the greenhouse. Perhaps today she would finally learn lesson three.

It was a beautiful day for working with living things. Plants always felt fresh in the morning, like people. Perhaps it would be a good day for talking, for listening, for learning.

I walked into the greenhouse and yelled before I was half-conscious of why I was yelling. Everything froze in place, even Sami. Blood rushed to my cheeks and through my ears, a roar like the ocean, and I smelled some acrid and rotting sweet. A breath of it, enough to panic.

But I would not let him win so easily.

I grabbed the candle, its flame unmoving yet burning, from Sami’s grasp. Her confusion behind her eyes did not match her languid motions, like a person in a dream. I paid her no more mind as I licked my fingers and snuffed out the flame. I pried the knife from her left hand and threw it so it stuck deep into the wooden beam by the door. Then I swept my arm across the bench and the drawings in chalk with their manic curling lines blurred like sand on the tideline.

I looked around my greenhouse for signs of taint, but saw none and whispered the words that let everything move and breathe again. The plants sighed and Sami fell forward at the bench, gulping for air.

If I were Mother, I could be gentle in my wrath and find the lesson in every moment. I am not Mother.

I swung around and grabbed Sami’s chin with one hand. “You have no idea what you have done!”

She slapped my hand away and pushed herself back from me. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I know.” I looked away towards the north and saw a dark line forming on the horizon. “And for that you may well die.”

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part V

“You want to get rid of me?” Sami slammed the hallway door shaking its frame.

“I see you’ve been listening.” I began wiping down the counter of useless, wetted flour and moved to the much smaller space by the stove to resume kneading the dough.

“What? I….”

The silence would not last. But it was nice for the moment as Sami puzzled her way through which subject was of most importance to her. I knew what would win, in the end, but focused on kneading until she did, too.

Down and back, pushing and pulling the lump of dough as the surface tightened and began to hold, pulling away from the counter to cling to itself. It never failed to amaze me how simple flour and water could turn into something so much more than the sum of its parts.

“That’s not important!”

Ah, the silence was over. And no sign of Silas. Sometimes, not infrequently, I envied that cat.

“And what is? Clearly not your studies.” I placed the ball of dough in the bowl and covered it with a towel before I turned to Sami who had an expression on her face I did not expect.

“You want to get rid of me?” she repeated in a hush.

“You have made it clear you are not interested in what I have to teach you. You chafe against everything I have you do. Would you not be happier with another mentor?”

“I….” she trailed off as the first tears began rolling down her cheeks.

Tears, like rain, too often came without warning. Perhaps I was a fool.

“Sit down.” I motioned to seat that Vinia had vacated in a huff. Sami collapsed in it and stared at her hands. I poured her a fresh mug of tea and one for myself as I sat down beside her, already wishing it were time for bed.

“I don’t want to go. Please don’t make me.” She hadn’t touched her tea. She sniffled and wiped her face against her sleeve. I gave her my handkerchief, which she knotted in her hand.

“It appears you are stuck with me and I with you.”

“Really?”

“So declares the Sisterhood.” I sipped my tea and felt the burn against the roof of my mouth. “But tell me, why would you want to stay?”

“I have nowhere else to go. And…” She looked away, out the window at the rainclouds roiling by.

“And?”

“And I’m afraid.”

“Ah. At last, we have something in common.”

And we finished our tea in silence as we waited for the sun.

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part IV

Some people like surprises. They like the unexpected. They revel in the entropy of life.

I am not one of those people.

I went to the sink to wash the rest of the flour off of my hands and the dough that was sticking to the underside of my nails. There was nothing to be done in the time it would take a rider to reach my front door about flour in my hair or apron.

Silas had made himself scarce as had Sami. The one time the girl did not want to be first to the door. A peal of thunder shook the sky. I took a deep breath that turned into a sigh.

The rider pulled the reigns of her horse sharply and the horse skittered to a stop. Mud sprayed and caught the hem of the rider’s traveling cloak. Somehow, that was going to be my fault. Everything with Vinia was always my fault and had been since we were both apprentices.

She daintily hopped between the puddles forming on the path to the front door. Sami had complained it was not stone or brick, but merely packed dirt. It seemed, in this instance, she had a point. Another part of me hoped Vinia would fall and cover her enter backside with mud. That was a part of me that I did not voice.

I opened the door before she could knock. She almost rapped my nose instead and cut me off before I could speak.

“I suppose this is your doing.”

“You know as well as I that no one controls the weather.”

She huffed. “Are you going to make me catch cold on your doorstep as well?”

I gestured for her to come in and she flounced by me, not bothering to remove her shoes. I ground my teeth and held back a curse while lightening crashed over my neighbor’s field.

She had seated herself without asking, folding her hands carefully on the table. Her riding gloves in a pile, pooling water on the flour making it useless. Great Mother, why did you always send me such trials?

I pulled the kettle from the stove and poured to mugs of tea, waiting for her to start talking. Vinia hated being rushed and would only be longer if I showed any signs of impatience. So I waited, feeling Sami’s eyes on my back, as she thought I did not know about the knothole in the door to the back hallway.

”I had to come all this way, through this horrible storm, because you were complaining about your apprentice…again.” She tried to fluff her hem. “Why do you keep causing problems for me?”

I blew on my tea. “I simply believe she would be better served with a more compatible mentor. Do not we all want what is best for the Sisterhood?”

“Of course, but do you dare to think you know what’s best?”

“Only when it comes to mentoring apprentices.”

Her face clouded at my words. Of course she would find slight where none was meant.

“You will do what the Sisterhood asks of you and you will ensure your apprentice is ready by the next cycle of testing.” She stood up and grabbed her gloves, spraying droplets across the table and into my tea. “Do not bother Mother with your complaints again.”

In my younger years, I would have had a retort. Now, I was glad she would be going so soon.

Vinia stomped to the door and yanked it open. She turned and hissed at me, “Don’t think about trying to go around me. Focus on getting that apprentice ready or…”

“Or what?” I leaned closer. “What more could you possibly do or want from me?”

She glared and turned away without answering.

When she had mounted her horse, I called. “Vinia, what is my apprentice’s name?”

She opened her mouth, but if she spoke, it was lost to the wind and rain as she kicked her horse into a trot.

I smiled and when I closed the door, it stopped raining.

Close Enough: Part III

If Sami’s mood could have influenced the weather, there would have been a hurricane, tsunami, and an earthquake the next morning. But only a Sister could do that. Thankfully. And I was not in the mood to converse with the weather gods. Sunshine was fine with me. Sami’s sulking, however, was not. A bird had brought word this morning that the weather around the Sisterhood’s compound was not nearly so balmy and that one was riding out towards my homestead this morning.

Thankfully the bird had only seen the colors of the forest trees and stream on the bridle of the horse and coat of the rider.

Mother was not coming, not yet.

Even still a visit, an unplanned visit, usually did not go in my favor. But I would not let Sami see that as she stabbed her broom at the dust rather than sweeping and continued to mutter under her breath.

“You will have to do much better in your studies than that to curse me,” I said without looking up from kneading the dough on the counter.

She started. It was unmistakable even in peripheral vision. She, like others, assumed failing hearing was simply an inevitability with age.

“The dust has had enough. Move on to your lessons.”

“But I haven’t even had breakfast!”

“And whose fault is that?” I stopped kneading to look at her. I wished my face would stay impassive, but I knew it didn’t by Sami’s deepening scowl.

“Yours! You locked me out. I couldn’t get in all night. I still have grass in my hair!”

“And what in the name of the Sisterhood does that have to do with not eating breakfast?”

“I…assumed that would be part of my…punishment?”

I took a deep breath before replying. Dear Sisters, give me strength. “You assumed. Do not assume. It could get you killed or, in this case, almost miss breakfast. There is still some on the stove.”

Sami dropped the broom at once and practically dove for the pot still simmering on the stovetop. I resisted both the urge to scold her and to grab the broom with my flour-drenched hands. She was quiet and I could focus on finishing the bread in peace. The morning was looking up, then Silas jumped up into the open kitchen window.

“Are you expecting visitors today?” he asked as he smoothed a patch of fur on his head.

“No.”

“Then perhaps you should. There’s a rider coming up the lane. She looks like she’s eaten a chokeberry.”

And, of course, it began to rain.

Saturday Short: Close Enough, Part II

I did not see Sami for the rest of the day. Her chores were left unfinished and I found the rosebush laying in a pile of dirt on the floor of the greenhouse. Its pot shattered around it and its petals scattered like forgotten confetti. I repotted it with deliberate care as I considered and rejected various forms of torture as punishment for such ignoble behavior.

The Sisterhood was fortunate I was so loyal as to not throw Sami out without another word.

Sami was fortunate I had renounced physical violence after the last war. Other forms of violence had always been off-limits, not for my lack of skill but because my stomach could not handle the devastation my words and magic could rain down like a well-honed scythe.

Instead, I wrote a note to the current Mother of the Sisterhood and sent it by way of fox. Again, I reiterated my case on why Sami should be expelled as an apprentice and my concern over the lax standards of recruitment. It read like a letter from an old woman and I had to consider the possibility that I was one.

It did not bother me.

The rest of my time was spent preparing for the coming winter with jars filled and boiled with the harvest of the day. It was hot, delicate work and it was perfect for ignoring my problems.

“It’s a shame there is no fish for canning,” Silas said as he pushed the screened door open on his way into the kitchen.

“Fish does not agree with your stomach,” I replied without taking my eyes off the strawberry jam about to burst into a boil.

He huffed and coiled himself back to jump.

“Stay off the counter and I will get you cream.”

“Fine.” He then ignored me and began cleaning himself, which was fine with me.

He had his cream and I had my jam cooling on the counter before the sun lowered itself enough to begin calling the time evening.

There was still no sign of Sami when Silas stretched and left the kitchen to begin whatever rounds he made at night. I never asked. It would have been impolite.

I washed up and retired to my room after securing the house. I no longer trusted my memory nor the house, if I were honest, to make sure it was locked tight when the sun went down. There were portents that only the oblivious would not see. I had been called many things over the years, but that was not one of them.

I dosed my light and fell asleep to the sounds of the breeze across the meadows. I did not dream.

I awoke with a start, my hear racing as the house shuddered. Someone was trying to break in. I grabbed the crowbar I kept under my bed and was about to race downstairs when I heard the person swear.

I placed the crowbar back under my bed and climbed back under the covers. The banging and swearing continued, though the house shook it off as it came to the same realization I had. It would do Sami some good to sleep outside tonight. After all, fresh air was healthy and it would not hurt her though she might be sore in the morning from bedding down in the barn. But that was not my concern. I smiled as I closed my eyes and returned to sleep.