Northern Witch

The young witch rose at night. Her thick, heavy clothes were unsuited to her current location, but she dare not remove them. Under the moon, she travelled into a new town to ask directions. To her luck, this town was still active late into the night. Street vendors tempted her with food and drink, and farmers presented the last of their fruits and vegetables for the day. She kindly bowed and refused them all. To each, she asked, "Where are the fields? I've come to see them." The warm gestures dissipated with those words. Her entire journey down from the north was like that. Initially, people turned her away because they recognized her robes. Further down, there was another reason for their suspicion. She pulled down her hood and covered most of her arms as she spoke, but she was turned away each time. The witch thanked them for their time and left the town after a while. With how many farmers came to the town, she knew she was close. This was the last task she needed to complete before returning home. Near dawn, the witch lay down in the grass under a clear sky. She pulled the big cloak she wore in around her to use like a blanket. While the sun peeked over the horizon, she dreamt of snow and darkness. Her dreams did not last long. Midway through the day, someone woke her. A young farmer stood over her with two old men not far behind him. He knelt beside her. "Miss, are you alright?" The witch stayed low. "Yes." One of the old men walked over to her and grabbed her the wrist. She struggled to pull away as he held her arm up. "A foreigner, aye? Come to steal our crops?" The other old man came closer. "She's a dark one. She must be from the South. She doesn't look like an islander though. From the desert?" The young man pushed away the man who grabbed her. "Stop that! No wonder you never have guests. Miss, please don't be afraid. I'll help you in any way you need." "Looks like you fancy her looks." The other old man said. "Don't be fooled. Strangers aren't to be trusted, especially ones from so far away. She can't be here for anything good." The man who grabbed her said. "Enough out of both of you. This is my land. You will not bother my guest in front of me. Be on your way!" The young farmer motioned for them to leave. Two old men grumbled and left. Once they were gone, the young man helped the witch up. "I am most sorry about that. They're usually not that rude. Are you alright?" He said. "Yes." She said. "I'm sorry about all that. We've had a lot of thieves lately. It's made everyone act rashly lately. Though I doubt our thieves mean any harm. No one stealing food typically does." He dusted off her cloak. "It's alright. I haven't been greeted well anywhere." "I am sorry. Are you hungry? I have plenty of food." He opened up a bag at his side and offered her an apple. "I don't have any money." "That's alright. You're my guest." He handed it to her. "What is your name?" "Asra." She said. No one used her name in months, including herself. It was nice to hear it again. "Asra. That's a pretty sounding name. I'm Sorley." The man introduced himself. "As I said earlier, this is my land. You're welcome to anything here. Let me show you to my home." She nodded and followed him. Her mother taught her how to determine when others were hiding their true intentions from her and lying. From what she could tell, Sorley's actions were from genuine kindness. She saw no reason to not trust him. His home was a small one, made of wood, mud, and dry grass. Inside, there was one large room and a small loft at the top. Sorley brought over fruits and vegetables from his window and bread he'd made earlier to the table. He pulled up a chair for Asra. She sat down and tried the food before her. Some of it was completely unfamiliar to her, but she fond the taste of everything pleasing. Sorley sat across from here. His eyes were bright with excitement to have a guest. "Where are you from, Asra? Your face tells me the south, but your clothes tell me the north." "I came from the north and was born in the north, but my parents were from the southern deserts." Asra said. "That's a long ways away. Why so far?" He asked. "I don't know. My new mother only managed to get a few details out of my mother. She died in childbirth. My father didn't make it that far. A beast killed him, but that wasn't what they were originally running from. I don't know any more than that." Her new mother found her mother collapsed on her doorstep, already in labor and nearly frozen to death. She told Asra she was amazed she managed to save either of them from death and thought her mother had only lasted as long as she had out of sheer will to save her child's life. Her birth mother died holding her shortly after her new mother cleaned her up. As for her father, her new mother presumed he must have died protecting them. Why they were so far from their original lands, that remained a mystery. "I am so sorry." Sorley said in a sad tone. "It doesn't bother me much. I lived a peaceful life with my new mother. She cared for me as if I were her own and taught me all of her ways." This was mostly true. A part of her did wonder what happened to her parents, but she accepted she would never know the truth of the matter. "Ways?" "That old man recognized me, but most this far down don't. I am a witch. Well, an apprentice witch. My mother sent me on this journey to prove I was ready to live on my own and teach magic myself. I only have one more task to complete before I can return home." Asra pointed to the symbols along her cloak. "These marks show I am her apprentice, the mountains I am from, and that I am a witch in my twenty-second year." "You are twenty-two then? I am twenty-one." He looked over each design. Each symbol was embroidered in delicate detail. He glanced back up at her. "How will she know you have truly completed all the tasks if she didn't come with you?" "Honor and honesty are two of my most important virtues. I would never return if I did not complete them, and she would never have sent out an apprentice who she didn't trust." She explained. "I see. Then she must think very highly of you." The more she spoke, the more he wanted to here about her. He asked, "What are these tasks?" "She gave me a map and marked general areas she wanted me to visit. At each place, I must perform a specific type of magic. By the sea, I controled the tide. In the mountains, the snowfall, and so on. Thirteen tasks in total, she gave me to complete. The final task is to make it rain and help the plants grow in the farmlands here." Asra took out a map from within a sash she wore around her waist. She spread it out across the wooden table and showed him several locations on the map where her mother left her handwritten instructions. "You came all the way from here? You've traveled so far. You must know so much about the world." He always dreamed of seeing the world himself, but he didn't think he could make it on his own. He knew nothing beyond his lands. "I have seen much, but there is far more to learn." She rolled up the map. "I thank you for the food. I hadn't eaten in three days. Will you permit me to do magic on your land?" "Yes. I'd like to see your magic." He happily agreed. "Then, lead me to the center of your land." He did as wanted and led her. Once they were there, she closed her eyes and held up her hands. The wind picked up around them. White clouds turned to gray ones and covered the blue above them. Thunder rolled. Sorley could hardly contain his excitement. He grinned like a child being given a toy. A flash across the sky and then everything poured down around them. Heavy rain drenched him. He held out his open palms to catch the water. In that rain, he felt like the rain somehow cleansed him of all his pain. Asra held her hands close to her heart. "And now for the second part." The plants around them glowed a bright green, then doubled in size. Sorley's eyes widened. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. Asra turned to face him. "It is done." "I've never grown anything this well on my own. Thank you." Sorley picked a head of cabbage and presented it to her. "Here. It's your work." "It is yours as well." She said. She took the cabbage from him and wrapped it in a cloth. The wrapped cabbage was put away in her bag. He motioned to the oversized vegetables around them. "I couldn't do this on my own." "You planted the seeds and tended to them long before I came. They grew from both our hands. You should also take pride in them." She picked another of head of cabbage and presented it to him. "Thank you for this gift." He said. Just then, a great gust of wind blew through the field. The wind knocked around Asra's cloak, revealing what she hid underneath it. Two big black feathered wings were neatly tucked underneath that heavy woven cloak. Her body went stiff and her eyes opened wide. She quickly covered herself. "Avia..." He too stood perfectly still. Asra started moving back away from him. Sorley reached out to her. "Wait! Don't run. It's alright...I don't care. I've just never seen one of you before in person. I've only seen drawings in books and heard stories. I won't hurt you." "Now you know all my secrets." Asra kept the cloak closed tight. "Is that why you wear that heavy thing in this weather? I won't tell a soul. I know many of my kind would kill an avia on the spot." Sorley stood close by her and looked around to check if anyone had wandered into his fields at that time. "Can you fly?" "No. They're not strong enough to lift me. I am only half. My birth mother didn't have wings." Asra pulled her hood down. "I see. Let's go back inside while it rains. I'll start a fire." Sorley offered her his hand. The two of them sat by the fire inside the little house while the rain fed the fields. Asra removed her cloak and let it dry near the fire. Sorley got a better look at her wings. The beautiful pitch black feathers reminded him of raven wings. "Can you move them?" He asked. Asra opened up her wings for him to see. "They're so big...You really can't fly with them?" "My bones are human. They're too heavy." She used to try flying with them when she was young, but she could never get more than a foot off the ground for more than a minute. "So that's the difference...I've heard in outward appearance, avia look almost exactly like humans except for the wings. Then the differences are more internal." Sorley tried to imagine the differences in his mind. "There's more to it than that. I've met full-blooded ones. They are physically thinner than humans, and generally taller." Asra opened her bag. She pulled out a small book containing drawings she made along her journey. She flipped to a page comparing the two races and showed Sorley. "See?" Sorley examined everything in the drawing. Asra had drawn a pair of male and female avia and a set of humans as well with noted differences marked. "Hmm...the men are more feminine looking than human men? How so?" "They have more rounded faces and softer features than the average human man. They're quite pretty." Asra's face had a hint of red after she spoke. "Oh, are they?" Sorley smirked, noting her flustered appearance. "I wish I could see the world as you have. I've never been beyond the town nearby." "Is that so?" An idea came to Asra, but she kept it to herself. The farmer and the witch talked until long after night came, about the places Asra travelled and the things she saw. When the rain stopped, she put back on her heavy cloak and packed up her things. "Thank you for your kindness. I must go now." Asra bowed to him. "You're leaving already?" Sorley's heart sunk. "Yes. I've completed my journey. It's time for me to go home." Asra walked to the door. "Why don't you rest here for a while? Let me pack you some food, at least." Sorley ran ahead of her. She read through what lied in his heart. "You're lonely here, aren't you? Where's your family?" "My family? My sisters have long married and moved far from here. My brothers and father died a few years ago by a great beast. And my mother...she died last year of pneumonia. My uncles live nearby, but I don't visit them very often." His head hung low. "So, then, what ties you to this land?" She asked. In that single question, something awakened in him. He could not give her an answer. "I don't know." "Have you ever seen snow so deep you could hide in it or mountains so high they cast great shadows across the land?" She painted a set of beautiful images with her words to tempt him further. "It snows a bit in winter, but not that much. I've seen nothing greater than these hills. I haven't even seen the sea." "Such a shame. You would like it, I think." With that, she completed a simple spell of words. She bowed again and opened the door. "Well, I must go. I must prove to my mother I have succeeded so I may look for my own apprentice." "Wait!" Sorley followed her outside. "About there an age in which one is too old to learn?" "Not at all." She said. "Can anyone do it?" "If they practice enough." Sorley stood before the doorway of his home, the light from inside shining on him in that realm of darkness outside. He glanced back at his little home, then to Asra, who he could barely see at all under the heavy veil of night. He walked out of the light. "You know...I was thinking...I might like to see the sea and mountains." "What a coincidence. I'm going to see the ocean on my way back." Asra walked just a few feet ahead of him. She slowed her pace for him to follow. "Would be it alright if I came with you?" He asked. "If you wish." Under the dark skies of night, the two travellers left the fields behind and disappeared from that place to somewhere new.