Meah opens her eyes. She’s covered in sweat.
A breeze blows through an open window and she shivers. At first she doesn’t recognize where she is. She sits up and her eyes search the dark room.
She remembers. She’s lying on her bed in her bedroom in her small home.
Meah places a hand on her head and sighs. She closes her eyes and her mind fills with the shadows from her dream. The other times, when she’s dreamed of the shadows, they were always the same. They stood in a strange stillness, watching.
Opening her eyes, Meah turns her head and looks at the window. The sun is rising and birds cheerfully chirp their morning songs. A breeze wafts through the room and chills the sweat soaked clothes stuck to her skin.
She stands and recalls the shadow figure with the symbol made of blood. A shiver runs through her and goosebumps form on her arms and legs. She had never felt so terrified in a dream before. She rubs her arms as another breeze moves through the room. She moves to the window and closes it, locking it tightly. She stares at her reflection in the window and sighs. Her green eyes stare back at her. A small movement catches the corner of her eye. She jumps when she sees one of the shadows standing behind her and quickly turns, but she is alone in her room. She takes a moment to calm her beating heart and leans against her window.
“Just a dream.” The words meant to reassure do anything but as her voice shakes.
She washes her body and hair quickly and throws the sweaty clothes into a small pile by the bed. Grabbing fresh clothes, she dresses quickly. She braids her still-damp auburn hair before making a meager breakfast of bread with jam and eggs. The jar of jam is almost empty. She adds collecting berries to her list of chores. She washes the dishes and cleans the kitchen and dining area.
By the door she puts on her shoes and grabs her market basket and a smaller basket for berries, placing a cloth inside.
Before she leaves she stops at a small table. Sitting on top is a portrait of three people, her mom and dad holding the child Meah between them. Her mom’s dark brown hair contrasts with the fiery red jumble on her father’s head. She smiles and touches the picture. Hanging off the top corner is a woven bracelet made of four different colored silks— green for the earth, blue for the sea, white for the sky, and red for the sun. Meah grabs it and ties it securely to her wrist, smiling as she walks out the door.
Light from the rising sun sparkles off the dew covered leaves and grass. The birds fly happily from tree to tree while smaller animals scurry across the ground. Meah stands outside her door and takes a deep breath. The air cools and comforts her.
She walks down the small path from the house into the surrounding forest. The trees have large leaves casting shadows on the forest floor, but through the treetops Meah can see the tops of mountains surrounding the forest. The path makes a sharp descent and the tops of houses appear among the trees.
Oula Village comes into full sight a few feet further down the path, resting at the bottom of Foula Valley. The valley stretches for many days in both directions and provides the little village ample protection from lands beyond the mountains. In the winter it is impossible to reach, becoming isolated by heavy snowfall in the north and flooding in the south. During the summer, trees provide shade as well as cover whenever sudden heavy rain falls. To the north of the village flows the River Garen, a great source of fish and fresh water. Though the village is a few days walk from the river, so most villagers draw their water from wells spread throughout the village.
Meah’s home sits outside of the village, a choice she’d made after her mother and father died. She appreciated the villagers for their warmth after her parents’ deaths, but she couldn’t stand to see their faces full of pity whenever they saw her.
It’s springtime in Foula Valley and wildflowers bloom amongst the trees, covering the forest floor in a wild cache of colors. Insects fly greedily from one promising bloom to the next. Meah collects several flowers as she walks, thinking they will bring much needed color to her tiny cottage.
She makes the final trek into Oula Village and is happy to discover most of the village awake, preparing for the day’s work. She walks to the market at the center of the village and the stall owners greet her happily. She trades for eggs, milk, and meat while listening to each respective owner’s stories of their families or recent events.
She finishes her shopping and heads for the other end of the village. She only needs to collect berries before she can head home. Those passing by smile at her and provide small conversation before continuing their chores. The sun rises higher in the sky and the valley warms.
Meah quickens her pace. She can see the two small shacks that mark the edge of the village. She wants to pass them and enter the forest before anyone else stops her.
“Meah,” a friendly voice calls from behind.
Meah turns to see the village elder, Mircien Alluvia walking quickly towards her. His gray hair is cropped close to his head and stubble grows on his chin. His gray eyes are sunken and a dark spot is visible on his head. A slight hunch makes him appear shorter than he actually is, but doesn’t diminish his graceful elegance.
“Good morning, Elder Mircien.” She gives him a slight nod and his smile falters.
“I hate to bother you so early this morning with unpleasant things, but we need your help.” Elder Mircien places a hand on Meah’s arm and leads her back through the village.
Meah looks over her shoulder at the two huts and sighs. She almost made it. “I hope it isn’t anything too unpleasant.”
Mircien shakes his head. “It is one of the little ones. They were playing by a growing sapling. Paki was climbing it and fell when one of its larger branches broke beneath him. His mother believes he may have broken his leg.”
Meah’s hand moves to her bracelet. She plays with the soft silk nervously. “Elder, I’ve never dealt with anything more complicated than a finger before. Have you had Iria look at him?”
“Paki’s mother specifically asked for you, my dear.”
Meah swallows and follows him in silence. They reach a gathering of villagers. Meah hears a cry and prepares for the scene to come.
Mircien clears a path through the small crowd and ushers Meah beside him. She sees a group of children standing off to the side. Most have their hands in their pockets while one has her hands in her mouth. They are staring with wide eyes at the boy cradled in his mother’s arms. She holds her son tightly, being extra careful not to touch his right leg. It is bent at a right angle at the knee, aiming to the right.
Meah grabs Mircien’s shoulder and leans close to his ear. “You told me you thought it was broken. It’s almost twisted off!”
He places a hand on hers. “If I told you what it looked like you wouldn’t have come.”
“I don’t know if I can do anything to help.”
“If anyone can help the boy now, it is you. It definitely wouldn’t have been Iria. He doesn’t have your gift.”
Meah takes a deep, calming breath and hands her basket to Mircien. She kneels beside the mother and child. The villagers move closer to get a better look as Meah reaches out for Paki’s leg. Her hands stop above it and she locks eyes with his mother. “Please, hold him tightly, Zuri. I can’t do anything with the leg bent in the wrong position. This will hurt.”
Paki’s mother nods and squeezes her son. His cries are muffled, but Meah knows it will only last for a moment. She returns her attention to the injury and places her hands on the leg. She takes a calming breath and grips the leg in her hands. She forcibly twists the leg back into a normal position. Zuri has trouble holding him completely still as his screams intensify. An audible gasp ripples through those standing around Meah and a couple of the children echo the boy’s screams.
“I need him to stay as still as possible while I heal him,” Meah says, surprised at how calm her voice sounds. Zuri nods again, unable to speak as tears roll down her cheeks. She holds him down as he tries to move away from Meah. Then strokes his hair and whispers into his ear.
Meah closes her eyes and does her best to block the world out. Paki’s screams fade and she feels a calming sensation fill her. Warmth gathers in her chest and she concentrates on it. She imagines it moving down her arms and into Paki’s leg, feeling it move inside her. As she imagines the warmth moving from her hands and into Paki’s leg, images fill her mind. She can see the leg clearly in her mind. The boy’s clothes and skin fade away until she can see how the injury is affecting the muscles, bones, and tendons. Muscles are bruised, bones broken, tendons torn, and the knee dislocated.
The images of the injury slowly morph as the leg repairs itself in her mind. Torn muscles and bones reattach. The dislocated knee moves back into position and blood flow returns to normal. Pain shoots up Meah’s arms and into her chest, but she knows it is only what she’s taking from Paki. It lasts only a second and the warmth returns to her chest. The warmth fades and Meah opens her eyes.
Paki has stopped crying. She looks at his leg and releases a quiet sigh. His leg is fully healed beneath her hands. She knows there will be no bruising and leans back onto her heels. She removes her hands from Paki’s leg, but his mother grabs them before she moves too far away.
The tears are much heavier now, but they are tears of joys. “Thank you, Healer! Thank you,” she gasps between sobs. Her son sits up and wraps his arms around her. They sway gently back and forth.
The villagers around them make sounds of awe and echo Zuri’s words of thanks.
Meah smiles and stands. “Please be more careful climbing trees. I won’t always be here to help.”
Paki nods his head and wipes his tears away. Meah leans down and runs her hand through his hair. He smiles as his mother continues to thank Meah over and over.
Mircien grabs Meah’s hand and pulls her away. He dismisses the other villagers and walks her back to the two huts at the edge of the village. “Thank you, Meah. I know I promised to stop asking you to use your magic to heal every little thing, but this was a special case.”
“I understand. I do love helping the villagers, but I haven’t been properly trained. I don’t know if I could handle anything more complicated. I wasn’t even sure I could heal this one.”
“You don’t give yourself enough credit. Your magic is a great gift and you have a natural talent for it. Your parents would be proud of you.”
Meah’s smile softens. “I like to believe they would.”
“I know they would,” Mircien says. “And they would not want you to blame yourself for what happened. Your magic didn’t emerge until long after their deaths. You couldn’t have saved them.”
“I know. But I still think about what might have been if my magic had appeared sooner?”
“They would never have wanted you to blame yourself. Though I’m not sure they would understand why you choose to live so far from the village.”
“I appreciate all that the village has done for me since the passing of my parents, but I’m the only magic user. The other villagers already treated me differently after my parents died. Once my magic became evident, it was as though I became a stranger to them. Living outside the village, I feel less like a rarity for everyone to ogle at.”
Mircien places his hands on her shoulders. “Meah, you are as much a part of this village as anyone else. They treat you differently because they respect you as a magic user. There hasn’t been one in this village for centuries. They believe you will bring many years of good luck. Please don’t push yourself away from us.”
Meah thinks about what Mircien is saying and hugs him. “Thank you. Now, I have to get going. If I don’t finish my chores before lunch, I never will.”
She says goodbye and Mircien heads back into the village. After he is gone, she leaves the village and follows the path a short distance. She looks behind her to make sure no one is watching her and turns sharply into the forest.