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Frantic knocking sounded against the door of Enfri's home.

Enfri snapped awake. Someone needed the sky woman. Of course they did. Someone always needed a sky woman when the last one around was tired as sin and forgot to make dinner the night before.

"Come in," she called out as she worked to throw herself from Grandmother's rocking chair. She reached for her shawl while the knocking continued.

"Winds, I said come in!" she shouted. Enfri put her hair back into a tie and covered it with her shawl. "It's a door, not a blustering drum!"

Enfri looked to the windowsill, then around the room. Deebee hadn't yet returned. How long had she been asleep? It must not have been very long.

The family that worked the farm two miles away had a pregnant daughter, her third child. She wasn't to give birth for another week, but stranger things had happened in pregnancies. Perhaps that was the reason for Enfri's late night visitor.

More knocking.

"Winds and storms, come in!"

The door cracked open with a definite air of hesitation. Enfri was tossing bundles of herbs and tonics into her basket when her tormenter finally worked up the nerve to pull the door open wide enough to come through.

It was a young man, several years Enfri's senior. He had fair skin and also tilted eyes the shape of almonds and the color of brandy. Like most in the nearby village of Sandharbor, he was a pureblooded Althandi. Enfri didn't like to dwell on how different she was from the other villagers. Her brown skin and blonde hair revealed her foreign blood, but she did possess Mother's eyes. Those, if nothing else, showed her Althandi heritage over what distant land it was that Father hailed from.

The young man's gaze darted to the bundles of drying herbs around the single room of Enfri's home and settled on the kettle hanging over the cold hearth. The dope likely thought there was something sinister ready to be brewed inside.

"What's the problem, Haythe?"

Enfri recognized the boy's face. He was the eldest son of the blacksmith. Goodman Smith kept his house and forge a half-mile outside of the village. Mother had taken Enfri there often when she was younger, when a sky woman was needed to tend to illnesses or injuries.

Haythe blinked. The look of bewilderment looked natural on his handsome face. He may have been a skilled blacksmith's apprentice, but he wasn't quite as sharp as the knives his father made. In fact, Mother had said in private that Haythe was about as sharp as his father's anvil.

"How do you know who I am?" he asked with big eyes.

"We've met," Enfri said flatly. Though, in Haythe's defense, it was easy to overlook the little hunchbacked girl in the corner when a bone was being set on the other side of the room. "My mother was the sky woman who fixed up your arm after you dropped an anvil on it."

He blinked again in bewilderment. He seemed to do that often. "Where is she? I'm supposed to bring a sky woman."

"I'm the only sky woman now," Enfri replied. "My mother's dead."

It used to be shocking how so few noticed Mother's death. Even fewer took note of when Grandmother passed. It didn't seem fair how the women who spent so much effort looking after the villagers were beneath everyone's notice when it came their turn to be on a deathbed. Enfri and Grandmother buried Mother alone. Grandmother had to settle for a pyre because Enfri wasn't strong enough to dig a hole deep enough for a grave.

"Oh. Well..." Haythe stammered and shuffled his feet. Enfri glanced in his direction and blushed. Winds, but she wished someone as dull as him wouldn't have such a nice looking face.

Sky Woman: Book One of The Empress SagaWhere stories live. Discover now