All right, here’s one more week of Something Amiss in Alerald. Last week was going to be the last week, but since I’ll be doing the A to Z Blog Challenge during the month of April, I didn’t want to start a new story for just one week. Here, writing to the prompt ‘swallow’, is the last bit of my F/F Fairy Tale.
Don’t forget to return to TUESDAY TALES for more great snippets!
Inside, Reanna turned and looked at every nook and cranny. She stopped at the apothecary cupboard, brimming with bowls dried herbs and cups of various potions, and scanned the contents, bending to take a whiff at several. “It looks just the same in here. You’re the only one that’s different.”
“Aye. I needed to be the ageing, decrepit hag form then. You were in need of a wise woman to speak to, sharing your innermost doubts and concerns. And I needed to be someone who your parents wouldn’t give a second thought to, once you’d departed on your way back to Alerald’s castle.”
“And on the way here, I mentioned to Nahla that I had an inkling that you were…”
“I was what?”
“One of us…you know…a girl that loves girls…albeit a much older one.”
Derowen chuckled with delight. “But my dear…I am one, too. I’ve loved girls my whole life. Never have had the urge to feel a man’s arms around me.”
“That’s why you were so understanding that evening. I remember talking till almost morn’s light, spilling out my frustrations and questions. It was so comfortable talking to you, as if you understood.”
Nahla, standing as close to Reanna as she could, finally found her courage and spoke up. “She did understand. But…Derowen…why didn’t you show yourself to Reanna that night? Why did you remain in the form of the old woman?”
“For several reasons. For one, she was not ready yet.”
“I’m confused. Because you’re so young and beautiful…you could have shown yourself and maybe you two would have fallen in love…” Nahla trailed off as a scarlet flush started rising up her neck.
“My sweet, uncertain Nahla. That is the other reason. It was not for us to fall in love. I was meant to simply be an ear and a shoulder for the Princess. Reanna already had given her heart to her true love. You see her image each day you bend your heads towards the pool.”
Reanna turned and wrapped her arms around Nahla, holding her in a tight embrace. “See, my dearest, I told you that you are the other half of my heart.”
Derowen scuttled about the room, setting her basket of freshly picked foliage on the table. Pulling out three mismatched wooden goblets, she turned and interrupted her guests as they murmured sweet nothings to each other. “So, my lovelies…what were your plans…once you’d escaped the King’s clutches?”
“Ummm…to get away before my Father married me off to some lecherous clod?”
“And then what?”
“I hoped to find the cottage with the old woman. That being you, of course now I know. I’d hoped that she’d be sympathetic to our plight and might offer us shelter for a few nights. Then, once we we’d hidden for a bit and my Father stopped searching…” Reanna paused, searching for the right words to continue. “…I thought we might search the forests and find a piece of land, far off the traveled paths, and maybe build a simple abode…just enough to give us shelter…and we could be together.”
“And you?” Derowen turned to Nahla, who hadn’t offered much to the conversation. “What were your plans?”
Nahla blushed and peered down at her dusty slippers, as if they held a clue to her answer. “My plan? I had no plans, nor any thoughts of what might happen. Reanna said ‘Let’s go’ and I followed her.”
“Even if it meant the end of your life, if you’d been captured by the King’s knights?” Derowen tipped Nahla’s head up and gazed intently into the girl’s eyes, looking for her own answer in the dark, smoky depths.
A steady, unwavering stare was returned. Nahla spoke up with a courage she was unaccustomed to. “Most definitely, my friend. I would follow her to the ends of the earth, and most certainly to the ends of the Kingdom of Alerald, even if it meant my death. ‘Twas a better finale than living a life without her.”
“Just as I thought. Come. Sit. We shall have some tea. I have work to do.”
Reanna and Nahla looked at each other, a quizzical expression on both of their faces. Yet, they did as they were bid, and settled on the small, three-legged stools around the hewn oak table.
Derowen checked the iron pot that simmered over a mound of glowing coals in the corner hearth. Taking a blackened gourd that hung on the wall, she dipped it into the pot and filled the three goblets with the simmering liquid. Returning the gourd to the peg, she searched among the multitude of dried herbs that graced the floor to ceiling shelves. She retrieved a small leather bag that was tucked in the back behind several wooden boxes, and sprinkled a pinch in each drink.
“Drink up,” she commanded.
The two runaways shared glances, each afraid to swallow the mysterious concoction. A glare from their hostess forced their hesitation to the side and they picked up their drinks and sipped.
“The whole thing.” Derowen tipped her head back and downed hers in one long chug.
Reanna shrugged her shoulders and did the same, with Nahla following suit.
Derowen held her hands out across the table to the others. “Take my hands. We must sit in a circle. Don’t let go until I say.” As they clasped hands, she closed her eyes and sat quietly. A drowsy, eerie silence filled the cottage as the three sat, bonded together, not even hearing the flies buzzing about the room.
Nahla peeked at Reanna, unsure of what was happening. When Reanna closed her eyes and her chin dropped to her chest, Nahla finally let her eyes droop shut too.
The clearing of Derowen’s throat startled the two guests and their heads bobbed up, instantly awake. “I have seen what I needed to see. You two shall stay with me for a fortnight. You will rest and spend the days learning to love one another outside of the castle grounds. Then…you shall return home.”
Reanna blanched at the thought and spoke up loudly and emphatically. “We can’t return! My Father will marry me off…and Nahla…why, what he’ll do to Nahla is unimaginable! We shan’t. It’s impossible.”
A small smile lifted the corners of Derowen’s mouth. “Ah, but you shall return. I have seen it. You will be welcomed with open arms.”
“But…we…but…” Reanna sputtered.
“Your absence is what was needed. Your parents believe they’ve lost you. Let them stew for a few more days. Let their agony deepen. When they hold no hope that they’ll see you again…and you go riding up…they shall rejoice. Their joy will overcome their resistance to your loving someone they didn’t foresee. I saw a ball being held to celebrate your return home, with both of you as honored guests. Nahla will be received and loved as another daughter. And you two will live in love together – for the rest of your lives. The herbs don’t lie. It is to be.”