Four sisters discover that they are born into a line of women with powers to control the Elements. Plucked from their normal college lives and thrust into a battle to save the Earth, can they defeat the evil Montatre?
Gwynellian took a deep breath, blew it out and walked toward the cottage. She paused before the door and took another breath before raising her fisted hand to rap against the oak. A voice called from within before her knuckles touched the wood and the door swung slowly inward.
Gwynellian stepped inside. Temporarily unable to see in the dim light of the cottage, she waited for her eyes to adjust, and pushed the door softly shut behind her. She looked around the single room. Sparsely furnished, the room had only the absolute necessities. Against the far wall stood a narrow bed, with a shuttered window above it. To Gwynellian’s left a fireplace made of river rock crackled warmly. Fitted between the fireplace and the adjoining wall the old woman stood at a wooden counter before shelves of jars filled with roots, herbs and colored candles. An old table with four wooden chairs filled the center of the room.
The domed ceiling gave extra headspace the old woman didn’t need but Gwynellian certainly did. Her father and brothers had all stood well over six feet tall and though her mother had been of average height, Gwynellian inherited her father’s height, and stood just an inch below six feet herself.
“Hello,” Gwynellian said with a nervous smile. She fidgeted as she looked around the room, glancing at the old woman now and then. “I-I’m Gwyn,” she stuttered nervously.
The old woman turned slightly and peered at her visitor with steely eyes. Age had lined and creased her face but Gwyn could tell she had been beautiful as a younger woman. Her drab brown dress was as shapeless as her body, her breasts hung nearly to her waist and her hips were no longer rounded. The hem of the dress she wore nearly touched her bare feet, and her toes were nearly as gnarled as the fingers that continued to pluck at various herbs on the worktable.
“I know who you be, girl,” the old woman said. She transferred dried roots to the mortar, used the pestle to quickly grind them into powder, tapped them into a jar and poured steaming water over them.
“I need your help,” the girl whispered.
The old woman glanced at Gwynellian for a moment, went back to the task before her. She knew what the girl had come for, had known she was coming before she’d arrived; however, the old woman only pursed her lips tightly together and continued working with her herbs. She wasn’t going to make it easy, nor would she help her in the way the girl wanted either, though Gwyn would find that out soon enough.
“I heard you could help me,” Gwyn continued. “I’m, um…” she faltered, took a deep breath, tried to calm herself and build up the courage needed to continue. “I, well, that is, I need a concoction to…” Gwynellian tried to keep the tears from falling. She took another deep breath and chewed her bottom lip for a few moments. She wanted to turn and run from the cottage as quickly as she could, but she had to get what she came for. A little voice in the back of her head told her to forget it, to turn and run, and face the consequences of her actions. Instead, she tightly fisted one hand around the fingers of her other hand and forced herself to speak.
“I’m in need of a concoction to rid myself of the child that grows within me,” she blurted out on a rush of air.
The old woman didn’t look at her, didn’t pause from her work. She continued chopping and mincing and macerating herbs, roots and leaves. After a few moments of silence she said, “I don’t provide concoctions for that purpose.” She heard Gwyn sob, and the scraping of chair legs on the packed dirt floor as the girl sat heavily at the kitchen table. The old woman turned to face the girl. “I am a healer, girl. I make rubs and potions for what might ail a body. A little of this for a cough, a little of that for a fever, something warm for a chill, but what you are asking for is something to kill. I won’t help you kill the child you’ve made.”
Gwyn looked up with tears streaming down her face. “If anyone finds out, I’ll be cast aside. I’m unmarried and betrothed to a man I have never known in the way a woman knows a man. My fiancé will come in the spring and I cannot be presented to him with a babe at my breast. But you have strong magic!”
The old woman smiled, the wrinkles and lines on her face deepened. “Aye, I have magic in what I do with my herbs, a gift for healing. I can manage a few parlor tricks still.” She pointed a finger at the candle in the middle of the table and the flame came to life. She waved her arm and a brisk wind swirled through the cottage and the flame went out. The old woman rose off the cottage floor and hovered momentarily before setting her feet back on the packed earth.
“Parlor tricks,” the old woman said dismissively. “But what you are asking of me I cannot give you. My gift has been handed down through the blood, generation after generation, and the greatest oath I, and all who came before me has kept is, ‘An harm none.’ I cannot harm, and especially not the innocent life of the child that grows within you.”
She took a breath, not enjoying the pain she could see in the girl’s eyes. “Where is your lover? What has he to say of all this?”
Gwyn looked away, her hands fidgeted with the material of her dress beneath the table. “He, uh, he has gone,” she finally stammered.
The old woman clucked her tongue and went back to working her herbs. “Without thought for you or his child, he has left you to fend for yourself alone, to explain to your betrothed. What kind of man is he that would dishonor you and himself?”
Gwyn shook her head sadly and said nothing.
“Were you thinking of the consequences of your actions, either of you, when you laid down together? Did either of you think to ask for the concoction that would have prevented the conception before it occurred? No. But now the deed is done and your lover’s seed has taken root in your womb. Only now do you consider the consequences of your actions. Only now do you consider your betrothed who expects a virgin bride in the spring, and expects to plant his own child within you.
“I cannot give you the help you seek, but I can offer you this. Stay here with me. I will deliver you of your child in the winter and you will nurse the babe till early spring. You may leave the child in my care and go to your betrothed.”
“No. I cannot give birth to a child. My betrothed will know I am not a virgin. He will know when he touches me there has been someone before him.”
“Do you think he will not know anyway? Do you think to begin your marriage with a lie?”
“I must. It will dishonor my family’s name if he refuses the marriage. There is a great deal depending on this marriage. You must give me the concoction.” Gwyn wailed and rose from the table. She paced nervously around the small room, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Please,” she begged pathetically.
The old woman looked at Gwynellian with rheumy eyes that seemed to peer straight through her. “I’m sorry, child,” the woman said softly. “That is all I can do for you and your child.”