Not a Witch

Walking back through the market, Oriana felt a lot more at ease than she had before. Having a register made her feel about as accepted as one could get in this place. She was just another untrustworthy face in a sea of untrustworthy faces, now. It would have been a perfect time to get back to checking out all the cool things for sale without all the shopkeepers recoiling.

The problem with that idea was that she no longer wanted to explore. The combination of a good deal of time passing, not having much money anymore, and having a general feeling of unease just from being around so many suspicious people was making her want to leave more and more.

In fact, she found herself heading for the meeting place her mother had picked before she'd even consciously come to a decision to end her little adventure.

She had been expecting to find Naomi waiting patiently for her return, perhaps a little worried that she had been gone so long, but there was no sign of her yet. This was most likely due to her mother assuming she would want to explore as much as possible, Oriana deduced. Normally grateful for this kind of thing, Oriana now couldn't help but wish her mother wasn't so understanding.

Five agonizing minutes passed before she gave up waiting.

"Mom? Mom!"

The little girl wandering through the streets calling out a name that at least half of the women in the market could answer to drew a lot of stares. Oriana didn't particularly mind, especially since it seemed to have attracted the attention of a guard on the other side of the crowd. She smiled as she made eye contact with him through the meandering people and he began to make his way over to her. The guard could probably direct her toward Naomi with relative ease; they were sure to be keeping track of the strange blind woman.

The two other guards following in his wake, pushing their way through the crowd with their hands at their waists, made quick work of her smile. All three of them had looks on their faces that Oriana knew weren't good, even compared to the normal demeanour in these parts.

Puzzling over what she could have possibly done wrong, she briefly considered that shouting might be against some sort of rule, here. But that couldn't be it; shopkeepers were peddling their wares in louder voices all around her.

"Mom!" she tried again, but again she received no answer, and the guards were nearly upon her, bringing the stares of the villagers with them.

Oriana was really beginning to hate being stared at.

"Mom!" she screamed, just as the guards, swords now drawn, broke through the last few people standing in their way. By this time, all eyes were on the developing commotion. But still there was no sign of Naomi.

And then, as if the sky itself was defending her, lightning struck the ground in front of the scared little girl, knocking the guards back.

Unfortunately, Oriana didn't come away unscathed either; the light and noise both blinded and deafened her. All she could see was a kaleidoscope of light, and all she could hear was a terrible, high-pitched whine.

One of the guards must have been quicker to recover than she had been, because he had grabbed her and was dragging her away. Unable to see or hear her kidnapper, Oriana blindly flailed and struggled to get away. The soft hand holding onto her upper arm was surprisingly strong, though.

And familiar.

"Mom?" Oriana asked, or at least she thought she did; she couldn't even make out the sound of her own voice. Would her ears and eyes be like this forever?

Trusting her instinct, Oriana stopped struggling and even tried to help herself along. She used her spare hand to feel the arm that had ensnared her and was relieved to find Naomi's soft, thick robes dangling from it. She tried to ask her what was going on, but could neither hear her own words nor those of her mother, if her mother had even answered.

They stopped a moment later, and as soon as the arm let go Oriana fell to the ground. Not being able to see or hear properly had done something to her balance.

Barely a moment had passed before she felt her eye-patch being pulled down to her neck and smelled an overpowering scent. It was like mint and grass and something else she couldn't figure out, and it was the most invigorating thing she had ever laid nose upon. Not only that, but it began to quickly clear her vision, and even dampened the horrid noise in her ears until it was nearly gone.

Her vision back to normal, she looked up into the smiling but worried face of her mother, who seemed to be impatiently waiting for some kind of confirmation Oriana was okay.

"I knew you were a witch!"

Naomi frowned and beckoned Oriana to her feet again, apparently intent on ignoring this accusation.

Hand in hand now, the pair of them rushed through an alley Oriana had never seen before. While Naomi looked very terse and anxious, Oriana was beaming.

"You made that lightning come down, didn't you?"

Her mother's silence as they swept past the backs of dozens of homes was the only confirmation she needed.

"Youuuu aaaaare a wiiiiiii-iiiitch!" Oriana sang, delighted. "I knew it! Ha!"

"I'm not a witch," her mother objected, giving no further explanation.

"Oh yeaaaah? Then how did you make that lightning? And fix my eyes and ears?" Oriana was enjoying this immensely. After years of suspecting it, only to have it be denied, she had finally caught her mother red-handed.

"That wasn't lightning, and it certainly wasn't magic," her mother explained impatiently.

Oriana frowned. "Of course it was."

"I am not a witch," Naomi reiterated. "...I am an alchemist."

Oriana didn't know this word, but she was pretty sure it meant 'witch'. She decided to let her mother think she had won for now, though. There would be plenty of time for grilling her once they escaped.

Reaching a fork in the alley, Naomi stopped and grabbed Oriana by the shoulders.

"Take the way to the left," she quickly explained. "It will lead you back to the main gate. There will be guards there. Wait until they leave."

Oriana didn't like where this was going. "What about you?"

"I'll be the reason they leave," Naomi explained, giving Oriana a sly grin that her daughter would know meant the guards were in trouble, big time.

"But...!"

"Don't worry about me, little one. I'm not the one they're after—they want you."

"Why? What did I do?"

"I overheard them saying that a little orphan boy told the guards he saw a girl with two eyes in the market," her mother explained, and it was a testament to how serious the situation was that she didn't bother to give Oriana a talking to for making what was—in hindsight—such an obvious mistake.

Oriana stared at her feet. How could she have been so stupid! She thought the boy was just being strange, or fearful. Now that she knew he had ran off to rat her out, she regretted spending her money trying to help him. No wonder no one would take him in!

"It's okay," her mother reassured her, "but you must go now! I'll meet you at the cottage!"

Oriana nodded silently. She wrapped her arms all the way around her mother and gave her as big a hug as she could muster.

"Don't get hurt," she ordered.

"Don't worry, little one. They won't even know I was there."

The End

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