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Rated: E · Fiction · Fantasy · #2229720
The beginning of the adventure of a lifetime. Meet Etlhia Greenesdry.
Elthia Greenesdry wiped her brow, the late afternoon sun beating down on her as she tended to her garden. Her day had been spent weeding the beds and pruning her plants. She stretched, looking down at her familiar, a fat white cat, sprawled out on a patch of grass. She smiled to herself and nudged him with her foot. The creature stirred, yawning and letting out a small mew. He looked up at her, squinting his blue and green eyes.

"Layabout Wormwood, not one for fun, can't help with gardening, just sits in the sun," Elthia sang. Wormwood purred in response, pressing his head against her. She bent down and scratched him between the ears, earning a soft mew as Wormwood flipped over onto his back, exposing his rather generous belly.

"I should tell the villagers to stop leaving treats for you," Elthia teased as she patted him. Wormwood sat up, looking at her with eyes wide. Elthia laughed, gently poking his nose.

"Elthia?" She straightened up to see young girl approaching her, carrying a basket. She waved her arm, getting the girl's attention.

The girl stopped six feet away from Elthia, looking at the ground nervously. "I'm Hertha Atwald. Mama said to come here and th-thank you f-for the salve you made for Pa." She glanced up at Elthia. "He's better now." She held out the small basket awkwardly, almost thrusting it forward. "F-for you."

Elthia smiled, taking the gift. "Thank you very much. Tell your mother that I give my greetings and that I am more than happy to help her and her family. Here, take this to her." Elthia snapped off a sprig of rosemary growing in her herb bed and handed it to the girl. "It's for protection. Tell her to toss it into the fireplace tonight."

Hertha nodded and turned to leave, but spun back around. "My f-friend said you have Drycraeft. Is it true?"

Elthia bent down so that she was level with the girl. "Can you keep a secret?"
The girl nodded fervently.
"What your friend says is true, but you can't tell anyone who is not from Wuhdit."

Hertha tilted her head, eyes wide with curiosity. "Why not?"

Elthia sighed, looking at Wormwood and then back at Hertha. "There are some people who think Dry are dangerous and cause nothing but trouble and they...well, they don't want us to live here."

"But you aren't dangerous! You help people!" Hertha exclaimed.

Elthia nodded. "I know, but some people don't understand and they don't want to understand." She looked around, seeing that it was getting dark. She took Hertha's hand, smiling. "You should get back home, I'm sure your mother has a lovely supper waiting for you." She gestured towards Wormwood. "Here, let Wormwood walk you back, he'll keep you safe."

Wormwood reluctantly rose, waddling towards Hertha. She laughed and gently petted his head, earning a purr. She smiled shyly at Elthia. "Th-thank you, again."

Elthia gave Hertha's hand a squeeze and sent her on her way, watching Hertha and Wormwood disappear into the trees. She gathered up fresh herbs, taking a bit of string from her apron and bundling them by type. Gathering up her herbs and placing them in a basket, she made her way back inside, setting her harvest down on her workbench. She hung the herb bundles on a drying rack near the fireplace, stoking the small flame that was still burning from earlier in the day. The fire came back to life as she added a few more pieces of kindling, the flame burning steadily.

She pulled back the cloth covering the basket, revealing fresh baked bread and a small jar of jam. She took out the jam and found a small wooden carving of Wormwood in the basket. This one had been sanded and painted, a fine addition to the small collection of Wormwood effigies she had received from other villagers. She smiled as she added it to her shelf, each item a heartfelt gift of thanks in return for her help. The miniature horse from one of the elders for a tea that soothed their persistent cough, an attentive dog from a hunter who needed a pain tonic, the intricately carved wooden rose from a family who had a colicky baby. She ran her finger over the delicate petals, feeling the thin wood bend beneath her touch.

The villagers still needed her, even after all these years. They protected her secret because she kept them healthy and offered her aide whenever she could. When outsiders asked, the villagers exalted her skills as an herbalist and apothecary. That was enough to satisfy any curiosity about the strange woman living in the cottage in the woods.

It hadn't always been this way. When Elthia first came to the Hyrst Forest, Wuhdit was barely a village, just a few families, nothing like the famous lumbering town it was now. There was no Midlung, no one knew of Svaldr to the north or Khabisa to the south. Nobody was hunting down the Dry and Drycraeft was not something that had to be kept quiet. She had been in the Hyrst through everything, the slow growth of Wuhdit, the development of Midlung, the squabbles with both Svaldr and Khabisa, the treaties with both Svaldr and Khabisa. She had watched the world change around her, watched the world grow bigger. She had watched the world turn against her.

Elthia often caught herself longing for those days, when she didn't need to feel so cautious when she went to market or check behind herself to make sure she wasn't being followed when she stepped into shops. She had learned over the years to keep her trips to Midlung short and to keep her conversations even shorter. The persecution of the Dry had worsened in the past few years and Elthia hadn't been to Midlung in several summers as a result. Occasionally she felt the urge to go and see if anything had changed, to visit the shops she used to frequent. Then she would remember the latest news of Dry that had been imprisoned or worse and the desire vanished. She could get everything she needed in Wudhit anyways. Besides, the only regular client she had outside of the village was Sakhira, a florist in Midlung who purchased flowers. They would meet outside of the city and Elthia had made up the excuse of being allergic to the culture, which always made Sakhira laugh.

A sudden scratching at the door pulled Elthia out of her thoughts. She opened the door to see Wormwood, back from his trip to town and looking quite satisfied.

"I take it you had some of that lovely supper I mentioned," Elthia laughed as Wormwood struggled to his bed, laying down with a dull thump. He meowed softly, cleaning himself and curling up tightly.

Elthia filled her teapot with chamomile flowers, taking some bread from the basket Hertha had given her and opening the jam jar. The tart, sweet smell of wild blueberries greeted Elthia. She spread some on her bread and took a bite, knowing exactly where in the Hyrst the berries had been picked. Nursing her warm mug as she watched Wormwood drift to sleep, she felt a sense of calm fill her. Smiling to herself as she finished her tea, she enjoyed the quiet of the evening. It was one of the last quiet evenings she would have for a long time.
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