It’s been seven weeks since the first proposal of the shop was brought up- I’m still growing herbs in the front and the side gardens while we wait for the resources to be procured and then used to build the Blue Phoenix, Aspens Rest own Apothecary Shop. My excitement is not helpful when I’m trying to study the plants though. I accidentally burnt a brew with sunflower and cinnamon and forgot to write down what else so when it caught fire .IT DIDN'T GO OUT WITH THE WATER BUCKET. It burnt out after a few minutes but everything placed on top of it to smother it or put it out just kept burning away.
I’ll have to take a stock of my supplies to figure out what the other ingredients were. If I were being honest I may have lost track of it due to also making coffee at the same time and I mixed up the timing for them but the results were amazing! I wish I weren’t so poor at organizing things and record keeping. I’ll have to start looking for a co-shop keeper or else this will end in bankruptcy within a week.
Maybe Oonagh or Airel would be interested. On second thought, Oonagh has her hands full with the hyena pups so maybe Ariel? I could also ask Gwion but she has been pretty preoccupied with the Green Goddess buisness and I would hate to distract her from that.
I would also hate to get more involved- I’ve had my share of interactions with gods and goddesses. I would like to keep them at arms length from myself personally. I don’t want to hold anyone back on their journeys, but if the choice came down to divine being interference or no divine intereferrence I would go with the latter, personally. Things get way too devastating when divines get involved.
I need to distract myself from this trail of thought or I’ll end up with flashbacks again.
“Perfect timing Tristan! Come on in kids,” I call out.
Seven scraps of little people barge through my front door. Tristan wasn’t the oldest in age, only 11, but he was with the village since the Winter Council and had a level head. Rena and Vithi were sisters, 12 and 9, and had only been at Aspens Rest for a week when they learned where the ‘odd’ orphans ran off too to stay out of trouble. Nidran,5, and Lum, 4, were the youngest ones and cousins, and then there was Lucienne, 6, and Verona, 10.
The townsfolk called them’odd’ because they weren’t considered good farm children or hunters. They had the mindset of scholars, adventurers, whatever you wanted to call children who weren’t happy with fitting in with normal societal standards. They liked to listen to my stories of the Reverse. They also listened to me more than the other folk because I was an orphan like them, I had been a slave like most of them, and I was willing to give them attention when others were not.
Lucienne was 6 years old at best guess, had wandered in from the alone, had a terribly infected and mangled arm that was eventually amputated, and was nonverbal. She was still recovering from her operation technically, but Verona, who was the second longest standing orphan resident of the bunch, dragged her along in a makeshift wagon. I provided comforts of blankets and pillows for the little one from my few possessions- the child had grown ill from being too cold in the cart once and I felt guilty since she had been visiting me.
None of them would stay away though and I don't want to ask them because I fear they would end up similarly to myself. I know how orphans are treated from the Reverse- I’ve managed to contain my guilt and feelings of heartbreak from what I’ve witnessed and even worse, caused. I may have started anew here in Osterra, but this is the first chance for them and I don’t want them to have to wait to get a second one.
“What are we learning about today Lady Jay? Griffons again? Dragons, like the one Leader Gwion fought a few months back? Can you tell us about your adventure you just got back from?” Rena was the oldest, being 12, and the most outspokenly curious.
“I’ve told you not to call me ‘lady’- being a member of the Grove doesn’t warrant titles, grand deeds and proclamations by the king does. And you are doing some reading and writing today while I try to figure out what I made this morning because it burnt through 3 layers of blankets,” I pulled out some scrap paper and graphite for each of them except Tristan.
“This again? That’s the third lesson this week,” he pouted. He had had the most lessons with me and new basic arithmetic and words. The younger ones were struggling as they had never needed to know anything except how to live off of the land before they came to Aspens Rest. Tristan’s father had been a merchant though, before perishing at the hand of Orcs back before the Council War.
“It’s getting closer to when I’ll be running the shop and if you all want to learn more about the wonderfully magical world I’m from and all the fun man-eating beasts and their magical abilities then I’m going to need you all educated in basic reading and writing so we don’t have to back track later on,” I hand him a book I had bought about local wildlife- herbivores mostly and their behaviors but there were chapters on predators as well. Hyenas in particular. “You’ll be copying this chapter on these animals- since you all had shown such an interest before.” They brightened up at that.
“Gwion approved the quest for the Hyenas?”
“No, she approved it and we already have them. You will have no part in it though if you can’t read and write- so you all study, I’ll be over in that mess of a monstrosity over there,” I point to the kitchen where this morning's misadventures happened.
They chattered and asked questions and I didn’t admonish them because I know it was how they learned- it had taken them awhile to realize I wasn’t going to beat, yell, or throw things at them like other folk had done in the past. The town was scared. The people were lashing out. And these kids had no one to really stand up for them when they really needed them too. No parents, no family, no real friends who would risk anything for them. No one but each other.
Lucienne had been spotted and then left behind out there at first for an hour in the woods before word got to the Grove. That had been an... educational conversation with the man who had done so.
Tristan had been pushed into the river by some other kids when I was out patrolling- the mothers nearby informed me it was charcter building and necessary for him to endure to be strong one day.
Similar situations were happening all over Osterra and the mindset of a culture cannot be so easily changed. It was like that in the Reverse too, but I like to think that doing a little bit of change here at Aspens Rest was meaningful. It was a nice start. It’s what the Grove stood for.
“Miss Jay, you already counted the mint- three times now. Are you alright?” That was Vithi. She was sharp- not just observation wise either. Technically she didn’t need to be studying and could help Tristan with the others but sometimes she mixed up the letters and her confidence plunged terribly. But she could draw an eagle-eye view of the whole town in under an hour with roads and houses with frightening accuracy. And she was only 9.
“Yes I’m alright- I’m just distracted with my thoughts today. I don’t think I’m gonna get much accomplished over here, so scoot over. I’ll participate with you honey badgers today,” and they made a space for me on the hardwood floor.
“What’s a honey-badger? Is it magical like those Griffins you were telling us about before?” Verona asked.
“It’s not magical, unless you consider an indomitable spirit and being a kick-ass beast for something the size of my leg to be magical.”
“What’s in-dum-nomable?” Lum piped up.
“A word you are going to practice on paper and in person. Here’s the spelling…”
We sat there until just before lunch time studying the book, the little ones writing out letters and sentences for the older ones. They helped me with the gardens afterwards and had to leave to do chores for the matron of the Orphanage. I checked Lucienne first before she and Verona left to make sure she wouldn’t get sick again- I knew no one would make their journey back hard after the last time. Being a member of the Grove had it’s perks among the townsfolk. Being able to sneak up on them in broad daylight and hold cheery conversations of where to throw their waste, aka not on other people or children, was also a nice factor in them being left alone.
The townsfolk and refugees are a hodgepodge of nomadic tribesmen, mountainous village people and farmers. Their sense of community has grown leaps and bounds under the leadership of Gwion and with the Grove members modeling for them the mission statement of being a safe place for all. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than where they started from.
I look to the north west, towards the Caste territory and the Plains of Sorrows. I can’t hear or see anything, but I feel the weight of despair wash over me. I feel the pang of abject horror and suffering that is being inflicted from that direction and let it pass through me- the feeling grips me for a few minutes as I relive various days from the Reverse. I hate it, but I know better than to try to suppress it once I’m caught. It’s aweful and agonizing, reliving those days of ‘Royal Servitude’ and murder and ‘majestic living’ and divine retribution.
But then it passes. My eyes adjust to the sun filled sky and gentle breeze whispering through the gardens at my home, in Apsens Rest. I am breathing, I am in Osterra, and I am free.
And Fate be willing, so will those people.
A Raven comes to land on my shoulder- Persephone, my personal messenger bird. Her presence brings a smile to my face and I read the message she carries.
“Guess we could go for a walk to visit Oonagh.”
Oonagh has gotten help from townsmen for the Hyena pups she took. They were adjusting to the new environment well and she was doing wonderful in their training. Hopefully the demons won’t be expecting some wildlife defenses. Hopefully my knowledge will be helpful in the upcoming battles. Hopefully, I’ll be decent enough to not perish as many times in a fight. It was all wishful thinking, but I was becoming full of wishes since my arrival in Osterra. It wasn’t terrible to be wishful.