Written 8 October 2020
She never asked his name, only called him “boy” or sometimes simply shouted insults or swears to get his attention. He took no offense from this, and only retaliated by calling her “hag”, a name that merely made her laugh. They were immune to each other’s venom, and fell into an easy routine. The people in the nearby town called him Stehell, stranger. His name was Orea.
He had taken on the responsibility of maintaining her home, and in turn she taught him every bit of magic she knew. She did not tell him how she had learned, and in fact ignored his every attempt at learning of her past.
He only got an answer once, and it had done nothing to sate his curiosity.
“Why the hearts?” he had asked late one night as they fed her garden.
She was silent for so long he thought she would simply ignore him as she always did. Finally, she straightened and cast her eyes to the stars, as if they watched her and knew of all she had done, all she had never told.
“Some magicks are old.” she began softly. “Far older than civilization. Maybe older than men.” He stopped his work and sat down cross-legged in the dirt, giving her his full attention. “Old magic is bloody, Boy.” she growled. “Nature will only give you its power if you give something else in exchange. Something of yourself, usually. But the old ways were not particular. The price was blood, and it cared nothing of whose.” he dared not fill the silence, knowing she wasn’t done.
“If blood is the power, hearts are their source. More than that, hearts hold the magic that keeps us alive, keeps us feeling. The only way to truly kill something is to destroy its heart.” Vines curled around her ankles, not daring to touch her. In the moonlight, she looked ancient, and he could believe that she was as old as the magic she spoke of. “Destroying a heart normally meant throwing it into the fire. Doing so returned the magic to its source.
The silence that followed lasted long enough for his legs to grow numb, but he did not dare make a sound.
“Eating the hearts gave that magic to you. The blood price was paid and the power was incredible. I had many enemies, and I killed all of them. Then I took their power for my own.” Her head sunk back to focus on the garden, and there was a finality in her posture that told him she would say no more tonight, of this or any other topic.
He pushed his questions down and finished his task, silently offering his arm when she struggled up the steps of the garden.
“Impetuous boy.” she grumbled, taking his arm.
“Stubborn hag.” he retorted with a smile, and some of her strange mood lifted.
He refused her help as he went about his nightly chores, and waited until she was fast asleep before creeping out the back of the house and into the forest beyond.