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Birdsong, the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle, and a cool breeze came through the spacious windows of the infirmary. The hazy morning light and humid air spoke of an approaching storm. Ina tried to clear her mind, focusing only on the rhythm of her breath and the healing energy that was supposed to be coursing through her hands, but was nowhere to be found. Her gaze drifted up to the window again.

Photo of honeysuckle in bloom.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Ina sat in a wooden chair beside a cot where Phoenix rested in a comfortable nest of pillows and blankets, with the broken left leg neatly splinted. Rowan bustled about at a nearby table, assembling ingredients for herbal medicines. Bright flashes of red from the healer’s long dress danced at the edge of Ina’s vision, and the hem swished softly over the stone floor.

Breathe, Ina told herself again, closing her eyes and trying to block out all thoughts of how Phoenix had been injured two days ago, chased by a mob of ignorant, murderous villagers. Phoenix had done nothing to deserve such hate; she was a gentle soul, whose fragmented memories of long-ago abuse made the villagers’ cruelty even more unforgivable. No, stop thinking about it, and just breathe.

“Your anger is blocking the flow of life energy.” Rowan’s voice came from directly behind Ina’s chair. Opening her eyes, Ina looked down at her hands, hovering uselessly above the injured leg she had been trying to heal. She felt no energy at all flowing through them. This had been a complete waste of time. She could never be an intuitive healer like Rowan.

“Let it go.” Rowan spoke softly, and Ina felt a surge of warming energy as her shoulders relaxed under Rowan’s gentle touch. She hadn’t even realized how tight they had been.

Ina let her hands fell into her lap, inert and defeated. “I really did try. Being a healer just isn’t…”

“Enough of such talk.” Rowan reached down to pick up several rough cloth sacks from a basket under the table. “Here, take these and go out gathering. We have a few hours before the storm blows in.”

Ina stood up, taking the sacks by rote as she tried to make sense of this sudden change of instructions. “What do you want me to gather? Are we short of any herbs in particular?”

Rowan smiled as Ina put the folded sacks into the deep pockets of her dress. “Let Nature be your guide today, Ina. The forest is full of abundance, as is Mother Earth herself. Your task for now is to let yourself accept the truth of it.”

Leaving the compound through a small side gate, which was starting to get overgrown with thorny shoots of wild blackberries in flower, Ina had to admit she wasn’t in an accepting mood. One of the brambles caught her sleeve, and she stepped in a pile of rabbit dung while getting herself untangled. Whatever Nature might be showing her today, Ina wasn’t finding much of use in it.

She made her way aimlessly through the familiar paths of the forest, noticing a fallen tree here and a trickle of water over mossy rocks there, but feeling no sense of direction. After a while, the path narrowed, winding through dense trees and granite boulders that Ina thought she had seen before, although she wasn’t entirely sure when she had been here. Stepping between two huge pines, she found herself in a meadow overlooking a wide lake, with a log cabin on the far shore.

Yes, she recognized this place. The cabin belonged to Nellie, one of the leaders of the mob that had chased Phoenix, screaming of hate and killing—but who also had spoken kindly to Ina, long ago. How had that happened? Sifting through memories that felt fuzzy and jumbled, Ina plucked one clear thread: she had followed Nellie’s little girl, Mabel, around the lake to the cabin, early in the morning of the summer solstice. She had told Nellie she’d lost her way in the woods, but that hadn’t been true. Even now, almost a year later, the meadow still vibrated with the echoes of strong magic.

Ina heard her own voice, clear and certain, before she realized she had spoken aloud.

“This was where it happened.”

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