"Now be sure you listen to everything he says," said the old lady as she hobbled along by my side, "Bow when you meet him, do not say anything while he speaks, and be polite in your replies."
We were on our way to see the Chief of the village. Apparently, he had asked to meet with me as soon as possible. Which in this case meant as soon as I was healthy enough to be able to walk. The old lady refused to let anyone come near me while I was any weaker.
"Now remember, child, he is just trying to help you. Do not be afraid of him."
The old lady was Lisette, the village's healer, and apparently very good at her job. As I had lain in one of the inner rooms of her house, my mind floating at the edge of consciousness, treading the fine line between reality and the world of dreams; I had heard her speak. Sometimes she was outside, talking to those who had come to her for aid- they were always polite to her, even deferential, and they always went back with a smile, even when Lisette gave them bad news. I could hear that smile in their voice, in the final words of gratitude with which people always left Lisette's door.
But more often, especially after night had fallen, Lisette would be inside, grinding herbs, making poultices and lotions or cooking. She was an amazing cook, and many a times had I lain with aroma of broiled boar meat wafting through the air, knowing that in a little while Lisette would come to prop me up and feed me, for even then my arms were not strong enough to lift the bowl to my lips. though I could swallow the delicious food with some pain.
When she had none of those things to do, she would sit and knit. And she would talk. Lisette knew that I could not respond to anything she said, the strain of speaking would leave me exhausted. My imprisonment in the crystal had leeched my body of all strength, and now it was slowly being restored bit by excruciating bit. But she would still talk.
She talked about so many things: the villagers, the complaints they brought, how she diagnosed them and what herbs she gave them. She talked about how much it made her happy to be able to correctly diagnose a malady and administer the cure. The villagers were reckless, often failing to recognize the seriousness of a problem. They sometimes came to her too late, and then Lisette even with all her skills could not help them.
There was one such case during my time at Lisette's house. It was a little girl, Audry. Her father had discovered a bite mark on her leg some days back. He had initially dismissed it as a bug bite, until the would turned purple and started festering. Baldwin brought his daughter over to Lisette immediately. It was late at night and I remember being woken by all the banging on Lisette's door.
Lisette was angry when Baldwin revealed to her the details. She admonished him for being a fool in failing to recognize a mushroid bite despite having lived in the village all his life. Audry's leg was already infused with the venom and there was little Lisette could do. She suggested Baldwin leave her in Lisette's care for a few days.
I remember those terrible nights. Audrey was feverish most of the time and would thrash about in bed, moaning in pain. Lisette spent hours making new poultices to apply to the bite and potions to feed the little girl. Though Audry had taken up almost all her time, somehow she still had enough to tend to me and attend to all those who came to call upon her. She would deal with everyone in short sentences and clipped tones, suggesting herbs and remedies with prompt efficiency. Then she would go back to comforting Audrey, unless she had to tend to my needs. I tried to be as less of a burden to her as I could, sometimes suppressing my needs for a time. She sensed this little deed of mine and often squeezed my hand, though she didn't say anything.
Audrey suffered for two days and two nights. Her father came to see her as often as possible and would cry, holding onto his daughter's little hand. At these times Lisette would stand behind him with a hand on his shoulder speaking words of comfort and encouragement. Her anger at him for having failed to report the incident earlier had already vanished.
When Audrey finally exhaled her last breath on the morning of the third, just as the sun peeked from behind the hills and the skylarks started to chirp in the trees, I saw Lisette cry for the first time. She was composed while she called Baldwin and informed him of her daughter's death. She was composed while she saw the man break down in tears of anguish. She was composed while she wrapped the child's body in a shroud and accompanied her father and some of the villagers to bury her. She was composed when she came back and resumed her duties, preparing medicine for the other villagers. It was only late that night that I was woken once again, this time by the sound of broken sobs. There sat Lisette with her silver haired head resting on mys sheets, her face turned to the side and tears streaming down her eyes.
A wave of grief passed through my own heart as I remembered the little girl who would sometimes bring herbs to Lisette or run other errands. She had even stopped to see me sometimes and often brought little flowers picked on the hillsides or in the fields. It broke my heart to think the child was gone. I raised one wasted hand laid it on Lisette's silver head. It was the first time since my awakening that I had moved a limb on my own.
"Are you listening, child?" said Lisette, peering at me anxiously from under her bonnet.
I gave her a cheerful smile as I brought myself back to the present. She smiled back and pointed in front of us.
"We are here," she said, and I found us standing in front of a large two storey house, the house of the Village Chief.
*Any good piece of art is the either the result of long and careful study, or the accidental inspiration of fortune.