Old Magic (Part 1)

Prompt: she had quit eating hearts a long time ago Written 30 July 2020

The townspeople stayed away from the cottage covered in vines. Erected long before the town, it sat half a mile away from any other building. Many rumors flew about her and her garden. Every plant was poison of some kind, every trespasser killed and their heart eaten.

In truth, she had stopped eating hearts a long time ago, and her garden supplied her with most of her meals. This did not make her safe, however. The vines that sprawled over her land were alive, and hungry, and she kept them that way. Her reputation was earned, and it fueled her peace in her old age. Those heroes who wished to defeat her had died off generations ago, and none had risked her wrath to earn her knowledge.

Until a tall, scrawny, slip of a boy arrived on her doorstep, unarmed and untouched by any of her charms. She stands in her doorway, eyeing the newcomer warily. She notes the point of his ears, counts the bony joints, and watches as his hair floats along a wind she cannot feel.

“What is your business, changeling?” she croaks, her voice dry and soft from underuse.

He smiles, a bit too wide, and a bit too sharp to be human. “Surely your Sight is not so limited that you do not know the answer.”

“My eyes are old.” she snaps. “I do not See as far as I used to.”

“I hoe my journey is not in vain.” he replies. “I would hate to find you are no use to me.”

“We will see, boy.” she turned around and left to her kitchen, not glancing back as he followed, two steps behind. She returned to the herbs she had been grinding, shoving a prickly specimen into his arms. “Separate the spines from the twigs. The rest are on the table. Grind them when that’s done.”

He obeyed without a word. When that task was finished, she directed him in what to combine the herb with, and how to contain them. After that, he cleaned her kitchen as she bustled around it, deftly stepping out of her way as he worked. When she moved her work outside, he took the opportunity to prepare their evening meal.

He was sitting patiently at her table when she came back inside after nightfall. His legs were crossed under him, and he was reading a small book she hadn’t seen with him when he arrived.

“Stew is on the stove. It’s still warm.” he said, setting his book down and moving to serve them both a bowl.

“You have not eaten yet?” she croaked suspiciously.

“It is your home.” he said in answer.

She took the proffered bowl as he returned to his seat. “You are after a mentor.” It was not a question.

“If you wish, I will go hunting tomorrow. Get some meat for supper.” he said.

She examined him again. His hair still floated in a gravity-defying mess, and his clothes were torn and dirty. He held himself with a subtle confidence she didn’t usually see in any his age.

“Easier to run to the market in town. I need eggs and flower, as well.” she said, confirming his unspoken request. “There’s a bed in the attic. Can’t promise it’s clean.” she added.

He rose, offering to take her empty bowl. She passed it to him and stood. She could make use of his strength and youth, she thought. And it had been a long while since she’d seen her kitchen clean, or had meat and bread on her table. For these things, she could teach him her tricks. And if he ate her heart once he surpassed her, then so be it. She had lived long enough already.

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