Tawney smelled the thick brew she was making. It was almost ready, but she felt like something was missing. She stirred, trying to decide what. Maybe a pinch more salt or maybe—
“Mother, they’re calling a meeting,” said Pierre as he entered, not even waiting for the door to swing all the way open. Tawney looked up in time to see it narrowly miss the water bucket before it slammed against the wall.
“When?” asked his mother, whose name, Tawney had learned, was Marianne.
Tawney glanced between them as she stirred the pot of medicine, leaning against her walking stick.
“No surprise. It’s probably about the villagers. They’ll be wanting to warn anyone who doesn’t already know. It’s a bother, though. I’d hoped to stay with Jane.”
“I suppose I could go alone, Mother, or with Abby. Then you could take care of Jane.”
Tawney turned her gaze back to the pot of medicine and gave a small, “Oh!”
In her distraction, she’d stopped stirring, and the mixture had begun to boil fiercely and was threatening to overflow. Tawney dropped the spoon and grabbed the handles of the pot to pull it off the fire and set it on the floor. Her walking stick hit the floor with a loud bang. There was a short pause, and then she slapped her hands against her leggings and hissed through her teeth at the burns, bouncing her weight from foot to foot. A second later, pain shot through her twisted foot.
“Tawney, sit,” commanded Marianne. Tawney quickly obeyed, hopping on one foot backwards to the wooden bench. She lifted her smarting hands to stare at the red skin.
“Pierre, get fresh, cool water,” said Marianne, taking long strides across the room, picking up the water bucket by the door as she went. She set it in front of Tawney and said sharply, “Soak your hand.”
Tawney obeyed, dipping her hands into the water and shutting her eyes. “I’m sorry, but it was boiling. I didn’t want it that hot.” She paused and sniffed the aroma coming from the pot, adding, “It should be ready soon, I think. It just needs more salt.”
Marianne shook her head. “Don’t be sorry to me. Now, stay here and tell me how to finish it. Then when Pierre gets back, I’ll bandage your hand.”
Tawney gave a small nod, squeezing her hands into fists under the water, and then releasing them. “It should only take a pinch of salt, thoroughly stirred in. Then put a couple full scoops in a small bowl for Jane. The rest can store. I am sorry, though. I should have been paying attention.”
Marianne rolled her eyes, picked up the pot from where Tawney had left it on the floor, and proceeded to add salt. Pierre returned as she was ladling the brew into a wooden bowl. She glanced up at him and said, “Leave that water by the door and get Tawney some ointment and bandages. I’m going to take care of Jane.”
Pierre gave his mother a nod, and went to the small cabinet. He barely gave its contents a glance before grabbing a jar and a roll of white bandages. Coming over to Tawney, he said roughly, “Let me see your hands.”
Tawney pulled them out of the water and hesitantly held them out. They prickled and looked red, but nothing worse than that. Pierre opened the jar and applied a thick ointment to them, and almost as soon as it touched, a cooling sensation ran through her hands. After he had rubbed it around he started to wrap her hands in bandages.
Tawney bit her tongue anxiously. Pierre was working with a frown on his face that scared her. Though she was curious, her shyness won out and she remained silent until he finished. Then she asked, “Who’s calling a meeting?”
The boy shrugged. “The people like us, who live in the woods.”
“You mean you’re not the only ones?” said Tawney in surprise.
Pierre gave a wry smile. “Yes, because only one of us could have escaped your knowledge. Obviously, your village could not have been ignorant of an entire society of people like us, living in peace in the forest and hoping that your folk wouldn’t disturb us, and therefore being very careful to remain hidden.”
Tawney blushed. “I’m sorry, it’s just… I’m sorry.”
Pierre grunted, then stalked out of the house. Tawney slumped back against the wall.
To be continued…