Mrs. Mrisch was a thin old lady who lived alone. She was sweet in her voice and manners but hard to look on, with deep carved wrinkles, a long nose and only one eye.
The trip to her house took most of the morning. We rode in silence, -or well, I followed Edan in silence as he didn’t turn his head to acknowledge me the whole journey.
Mrs. Mrisch’s was a shattered house, small and in a dark and damped corner of the forest. Crows stood on branches of dead trees, gray clouds clogged the sky and a thick mist made difficult to see what lay ahead.
As we approached the entrance, Edan stepped down his horse and gave me a sharp look. “You stay here. Don’t move.”
“Not that I will go anywhere – I don’t know where I am.”
The door opened before Edan had even knocked. Mrs. Mrisch was behind, welcoming him with a big, toothless smile.
“Edan, dear. You are bigger and even more handsome than ever.”
Edan bowed his head shyly. “Good day.” The bag he carried dropped besides Mrs. Mrisch’s feet. “My grandfather sends you this.”
“Oh, good old Abed. I’ve said to him – how many times? I am old but I can take care of myself.”
As the old lady inspected the bag, her gaze met my eyes. “By the Gods, who is that young lady you brought today, Edan?”
Edan looked over his shoulder and scratched his head. “That’s an apprentice. He is staying with us for a few days…”
“An apprentice you say?”
Mrs. Mrisch walked pass Edan and leaned close to Motet. “That is a big horse for a young girl.”
I removed the hood that covered by bald head.“I am not a girl.”
“Oh – you can fool a man or two, but your eyes…You can’t hide the pure heart of a young lady. Even if you cut your hair. What are you doing so far from home?”
Edan cleared his throat. “Mrs. Mrisch; my grandfather wanted me to ask you for –”
“Firebird dust,” Mrs. Mrisch said, her one eye fixed at mine. “I have some. Come in, come in.”
The inside of the house wasn’t any less gloomy than the outside. Abed’s house seemed like a castle in comparison. The only room held a very small table, two stools and a chair, and a fireplace where a big pot boiled something over shy flames.
There weren’t any candles or lamps and Mrs. Mrisch almost faded into the darkness as she went inside.
“Sit, sit, you two. Must be hungry.”
Edan stepped in with reservation, standing next to the door as if prepared to leave at any moment. “We appreciate the offer, but we are to get back immediately. We need to pay a visit to Mr. Hullbergh –”
“Nonsense,” Mrs. Mrisch interrupted. “You two lovers don’t think you can pay an old lady a visit and not expect to share some time with her. Do you?”
Even in the darkness, I was afraid the redness warming my cheeks was noticeable.
Edan choked on his own breath and cleared his throat. “We are not –”
“Oh, sit down, sit,” Mrs. Mrisch said, already putting two long bowls on the table.
It was rude to decline the invitation so I stepped in, my eyes getting used to the darkness.
“I am hungry,” I said, giving Edan a daunting look.
Mrs. Mrisch leaned close to the pot on the hearth and using a big spoon, fetched a portion of a thick broth. She poured it in the bowl on front of my seat and smiled. “I am afraid young lady, that this is as common-folk food as there is, but I hope you enjoy it.”
I smiled. “Oh, not to worry. I’d eat anything. I am starving.”
Mrs. Mrisch returned my smile with one of her own and turned her head to the door. “Edan, come in. I know you are hungry too. What’s the hurry?”
Edan rolled his shoulders. “I guess, we can stay for a little while.”
Mrs. Mrisch went back to the pot on the hearth and scooped another portion of broth. Once Edan’s bowl was filled with the hot, brown looking potage, she sat and stared at us attentively, with a smile on her face.
“I am very glad you came to visit, Edan. I was afraid something must have happened to you or your grandfather. I don’t know if you heard, but there were King’s men riding these woods a few days back.”
Edan’s hand went to his nose. “Oh…We didn’t know…”
Mrs. Mrisch bobbled her head. “I don’t remember the last time armed men entered these lands. The Black Woods protect us – that’s always been the case.”
I scooped a spoon of the soup and put it close to my nose. It smelled of wet soil, roots and leafs. I did my best not to look queasy and smiled. “What’s in this?”
“What an old lady like me can fetch from these woods. Dead birds, tree crust, pigment grass and a couple of roots that I grow in my garden.”
“It…it smells good,” Edan said, putting the spoon inside of his mouth. His eyes twinkled as he looked at me from across the small table.
I followed his lead, and forced the broth through my throat without taking a breath. “Very good,” I said after.
Mrs. Mrisch bowed her head, her toothless smile bigger than ever. “There’s nothing I enjoy more than sharing my goods with others. Thank you so much for being here you two, young lovers.”
“Oh, Mrs. Mrisch; we are not –”
“Now, I have to look for that firebird dust your grandfather needs,” Mrs. Mrisch said, interrupting Edan before he could clarify we were not lovers.
She stood from her chair and disappear into what seemed to be an underground room as the one in Abed’s house.
As we waited in silence, Edan cracked the joins of his fingers. I tried to break the quietness by making small talk.
“You know, it doesn’t taste so bad. It’s just the smell.”
Edan raised both brows and pressed his lips together. “I tried to talk us out of this.”
“I thought it was rude. She’s such a nice lady.”
“I know that! That’s why I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by not eating her food. I always come, leave the provisions, take whatever my grandpa needs, and leave. That’s it.”
“Well, that’s just rude. Who knows how often she gets a chance to talk to anyone. You don’t know how bad it is when there’s no one to talk to.”
I put another spoon in my mouth, and even when I tried my hardest to prove Edan it wasn’t that bad, I couldn’t swallow.
“Was that a feather?”
“She said she used some dead birds. Didn’t say she plucked them…”
“By the Gods!”
Edan covered a small giggle with his hand. He took a sharp breath and stood from the table. “Come on. Let’s get this back.”
I was confused. Back where?
Edan walked to the pot on the heart and dropped the containers of his bowl back where they came from.
“Come on, give yours.”
“I won’t fool her.”
Edan rolled his eyes. “And what are you going to do? You can’t eat that.”
“Oh I can,” I said, stubbornly putting another spoonful in my mouth. This time I swallowed, but I regretted it immediately.
Edan shook his head. “Oh boy.”
As I gagged, he snatched my bowl from the table and dropped the broth back on the pot. “She won’t know we didn’t eat it.”
Edan had just enough time to put the bowls back on the table before Mrs. Mrisch had returned.
“Here, dear. Firebird dust. I wonder why your grandfather needs it. Did he tell you?”
Edan grabbed the bag she carried from her hands. “I am afraid he did not.” His eyes went to the empty bowl in front of him. “But I know he thanks you for it.”
Mrs. Mrisch nodded, and looked at the table, where both bowls sat empty. “Oh, dear. You two must have been hungry. Did you finish it all?”
“Yes,” Edan said, already stepping towards the door.
“Me too,” I said, still nauseated. “I was very hungry. Remember?”
Mrs. Mrisch’s mouth kept open as she look at my empty bowl. “I am glad you liked it.”
“Very much,” I said, lying.
By then Edan had opened the door and was waving a goodbye. “I’ll be back in a couple of weeks, Mrs. Mrisch.”
“Yes, Edan. And please, be careful with those King’s men out there. Don’t know what they are looking for.”
“Yes, I will.”
Instead of allowing me to say goodbye from the door as Edan had done, Mrs. Mrisch leaned towards me and kissed my forehead. “Dear, you got yourself a kind boyfriend. Take care of him would you?”
I inhaled. It made no difference if an old lady thought Edan and I were together. It was definitely easier than explain we barely knew each other, and in reality, there was this weird good feeling to think about Edan that way.
“Yes,” I said, after a little moment of silence.
Mrs. Mrisch gave me a second kiss, and I felt an overwhelming sensation through my body. One that I hadn’t felt since my mother died.
We left the house and took the path north, slower than we did when we came, but in the same awkward quietness.
“She was…nice,” I said, trying to break the silence.
Edan did not respond. The day was cold but the sun stood above our heads. It was midday.
“I am still hungry,” I said, pushing Edan to talk.
“We’ll eat when we get home.”
I smiled from the inside. He did talk this time.
“Now where?” I asked.
“Mr. Hullbergh,” Edan said, and jolted his horse to go faster.
Part of The Princess of the Secret Blood
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