It did not take long for the fingers to begin pointing, and as always tongues were wagging in the villlage. For the three days previous I had gone into the square to purchase what little provisions were available in the market, each time I had seen the sly looks, the whispers behind hands, the reluctance as the sellers handed over their wares, and how they dropped the coins I offered them as if the metal had been hot enough to brand them. I understood immediately; such was the way of life for people like us, my mother had told me one day as we pounded the herb mixture in the mortar.
"Never forget, Seraphina," she had said, grey eyes solemn, "that people like you and me, the gifted ones, will often be persecuted for our skills. The ordinary ones like those in the village, they will seek our help and just as easily shun us. Superstitious fools, they will burn and destroy what they simply refuse to understand because they cannot contemplate things beyond their narrow existence. In years to come, their fears will all be proved irrational."
She had laughed softly, but her eyes had watched my distracted nodding with a sadness I had never known the reason for. Now I suspected she had the talent for seeing the future, as she had told me many of our ancestors had been able to, including her own mother. Had she seen mine, and tried to warn me?
I stood by the roughly hewn cross I had used as a gravemarker. I was not much of a carpenter, yet I felt she deserved something to let people know she was there. Edra had existed, and died. That morning I had collected some flowers growing at the side of the dirt path on my return from the market, and I laid them reverently at the foot of the cross.
A bitter stench overpowered my nose and I turned to see a choking cloud of black smoke bleeding into the sky like spilled ink on parchment. With sinking heart I knew that it was the bodies of the dead cattle, useless and infected and heaped for burning before their diseases spread. Things were worsening. As I looked down the hill upon which our - now my - humble cottage perched, I had a view of the market square. The butcher's stall had almost nothing to display, just gristle and the thinnest meat. As if they could feel my gaze burning between their shoulderblades like a musket ball shot, I saw the faces of the grim shoppers turn upwards.
Even from here, I could tell the expressions they wore were of suspiscion, resentment, perhaps even hatred. Arms rose into the air, indiscreet as they pointed out the root of their troubles. Even from on high as I was I heard the murmur of their whisperings like the stirring of fallen autumn leaves.
I stood, still as a marble statue over my mother's tomb, as if we could afford such splendour. The first of the cries rang through the morning air like the cawing of ravens.
"The witch child!"