Saturday, April 15, 2017

Chapter 12 – A Matter of Payment

 Toadmila recalled vividly that she used to hate the Domestic Spells class back at the Academy. The embodiment of the perfect student, she had studied it dutifully and had obtained top grades, of course, but as the embodiment of the perfect student with top grades at everything, she had always expected that she would get a good position after graduation, one where household chores would be done by servants. She now found that Domestic Spells was the material she was using the most.
Jane gave her a few days to collect more ingredients. It was a long way to the nearest mill, up on the river, and a good way from there to the nearest town, where a baker could be found. It was time enough for Toadmila to search the forest for things she could use. Close to the Dilapidated Hut, the trees were all dead. There was no undergrowth left alive either, and even spiders did not venture here. But further away, the forest was alive, and filled with treasures. She found honey in a wild bees' nest, and wild jasmine growing at the edge of the forest, and thorny clumps of dog-rose still carrying fruit on their branches.
On the third day, a Saturday, there was a shy knock on Toadmila's door. Toadmila sat herself at her table, trying to look imposing in spite of her small stature, and waved the door open. Jane did not look too cheerful. She carried a small bundle, and opened it to place its contents on the table. She;d brought the lye, the oil, and the three drops of water in three small clay jars. Next, she pulled out the branch from the rose bush, dead leaves still clinging to it. Finally, it was time for the payment.
“The miller didn't need any help,” Jane said. “But the baker had some pans that needed scouring. Lots of pans. He gave me these.”
She held out two small buns, hard and slightly burned, bearing each a dark streak of mold. Toadmila looked at the girl's hands. They were red and raw. She thought for a moment of all the potions and salves she could have used, but she had been too busy rebuilding and furnishing her hut and she hadn't prepared anything. The ingredients waited patiently in her herb garden, but it would take too long to make something now. She made a mental note to always have a basic set of salves in stock.
“Show me your hands,” she said.
The girl, having placed the buns on the table, gave her a questioning look, but presented her hands obediently, with her palms turned upward.
“This shouldn't hurt,” Toadmila said, quoting from her textbooks.
She waved her wand above Jane's hands in a complicated pattern, as if she were weaving invisible threads, whispering a spell. Jane winced. If it didn't hurt, at least it probably stung quite a bit. The redness faded away. And the skin on Jane's hands, healed and restored, looked supple and strangley pale. Jane looked at her hands in amazement. She rubbed the back of one hand against her cheek and her eyes went wide.
“It's so soft!” she said. “My hands have never been so soft! What have you done? And why are they so white?”
Toadmila was also staring at the results of her work. She'd practiced the spell before, in school, she'd practiced the motions and the words, but she'd never had actually damaged skin to practice on.
“The skin is new,” she said, trying to sound like this was something she did every day. “It hasn't been touched by sunlight yet. It will darken in a few days.”
Jane seemed satisfied with the answer. She was now rubbing her other hand against her cheek, as if there could be a difference in softness between them Toadmila turned her eyes to the buns on the table, old and inedible. She raised her hand above them, pointing the tip of her wand down at them, and began to spin the air over the bread, to turn back the time. It was a simple spell, one that wouldn't work on living things. Her schoolbooks prescribed its use for restoring old furniture and other valuables. It worked on the bread well enough. The mold faded away, the burned crust paled to a caramel brown. When Toadmila stopped the spell, the two buns on the table looked fresh and soft, and steam was gently rising from them. The smell of freshly baked bread filled the room. Jane had stopped rubbing her face and was staring at the buns with round eyes.
“You can do that? Can you do that with people too?”
Toadmila poked one of the buns with her finger to check if it was cold enough to eat.
“It won't work on people,” she said.
By the look on Jane's face, the girl was still impressed with the spell, even if it wouldn't work on people. Toadmila breathed in, trying not to let it show how much she'd missed the smell of bread. It was the smell of breakfasts at the Academy, of plentiful meals she hadn't had since graduating. She took one bun and tore it in two, revealing the fluffy center. She threw Jane a glance. The girl was still standing there, staring at her.
“I'll need time to prepare the... spell,” Toadmila said. “Come back in the evening. It will be ready at sunset.”
Jane nodded and took a step backwards toward the door.
“And keep your hands out of sunlight for a while,” Toadmila added. “new skin burns easily.”
“I'll try,” Jane answered.
She threw Toadmila one last look and turned to leave.

“One more thing,” Toadmila said, sinking her teeth into one half of the bun in her hands. “I don't need this much bread. Take the bun that's on the table. Eat it. You look too skinny.”

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