I was falling.
If I could only draw aside the veil, I would see the other world that I longed for.
"Frida, are you all right?"
The voice snapped me back to reality. My legs swayed, and I grabbed a ledge to steady myself. No, not a ledge, a shop counter. Phials and large stoppered jars heaving with powders and potions crammed the shelves behind the counter. The scents of peppermint and rosemary helped me focus. I was in Parny's Apothecary. Everything was all right.
Parny was looking at me with a concerned expression on his face. He leaned forward and placed his big warm hand over mine. "I know I'm still handsome for an old fella, but I don't normally get pretty young 'uns lookin' like they're 'bout to faint at my feet."
I looked at the man I'd known since I was a little girl, taking in his shaggy white hair, broad, round face and callused hands, and couldn't help smiling at the kindly glint in his eyes.
"I'm fine, I think I just need to sit for a moment." I sank onto the stool Parny kept for reaching the highest shelves.
"If you're sure." He regarded at me dubiously. "Got medicine aplenty here to get you feeling right as rain again."
I assured him I just needed to rest. Lately, these odd experiences, of feeling I was somewhere else, or on the verge of a precipice, were becoming more and more frequent. There was no medicine I was aware of that could fix it. Telling Mama would only cause her to worry. She and Father had enough to deal with, especially now that winter was setting in unseasonably early. I patted the coins in my pocket, satisfied that the herbal concoctions Mama and I had prepared had earned us a modest sum. We grew what we could in our small vegetable garden, but if we could continue making good quality medicines of the kind Parny valued, we'd be able to buy all the supplies needed to make it through the period when the deep snow would cut us off from the village.
Parny's Apothecary was small, and my view from the stool allowed me to see all around the shop, as well as towards the street. I leaned my elbow against the counter while he bustled about, opening drawers and pulling out books and papers.
"Here, you take this home with you." He held out a tiny burgundy leather-bound book. "Small enough to hide from your parents."
Healing with Runes, it said in embossed silver letters. "Thank you." I reached forward and took it from him. Power sparked through me. I flinched and almost dropped the book.
"Some strong magic in there. I trust you to use it wisely." He scratched his chin thoughtfully. "We could've had a bit of a lesson if you'd have got here early, now."
"I know, I'm sorry." And I was. Learning from Parny was something I enjoyed, especially as I was finally improving after so many months of failure. The thought of having to go without our lessons during the coming long winter was a sobering one. Of course I could still practise in my bedroom, but it felt like lying to my parents if I did so right under their noses. It didn't seem so bad somehow if I was at Parny's. I turned the book over in my hand, marvelling at its size. It was so small it fitted inside my oilskin coin purse, with room to spare.
A clatter of hooves on the cobblestone outside distracted me. I looked up just as a horse and rider swept past the window.
"I don't know what your parents were thinking, bringing you out here. You should be going to school." Parny continued to grumble as I moved towards the window. "You should be learning rune craft. Your talent is going to waste..."
Black boots, a flash of brown checked overcoat. The thin, grey-haired gentleman I'd seen yesterday. It had to be him. And where the gentleman went, surely his servant would follow.
YOU ARE READING
The Heart of WinterFantasy
"Wait a moment." His voice was soft and insistent. It seemed also that I heard the words inside my mind, their tendrils brushing gently against my consciousness. I knew I should disobey, but my breath caught. Midnight hair fell across his temple, wh...