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Fiction Teens & Young Adult Drama

“Val!” 

“Yes, Mama!” 

“Take this salve to that guard outside!” 

“On it!”

A typical day in Oakfield. A graying old woman would bellow, and the younger coal-haired girl would answer. Despite the monotony, Val was very much content with her life. Helping her foster mother run a clinic, assisting the wounded, she was happy to be part of that cycle. 

“Here you go,” Val said as she put the salve that her mother had just concocted in the guard’s hand. “Apply to the sprained area twice and it’ll work.”

“Twice?” he lifted an eyebrow. 

“Are you doubting Mama’s salve?” she folded her arms and stared at him in disapproval.

The guard scrutinized the salve and smelled it as if it was a harmful substance. “A salve can’t possibly—”

“Just try and see for yourself,” Val said, not without a whiff of disgust. She sashayed away and muttered, “Heathen.”

And just like that, the cycle repeated itself. Her mother bellowed and she answered.

*****

It was an odd one, sure it was. A clinic with the fastest healing rate, a clinic which had never failed to cure any illness. People tend to call it Oakfield’s Magical Clinic. It was a result of their satisfaction, although little did they know that their nickname held a piece of truth to it. On her eleventh birthday, Mama had told Val about the true origin of her otherworldly healing ability. She had gaped in disbelief, believing that her Mama had been joking. However, she came to realize that she was deadly serious. Her Mama had never lost her warmth, she had never trembled in fear —the Mama that she knew was always fearless— but not that time. Her hands had shook when she gripped Val’s shoulders. Her eyes blazed a sturdy, unwavering gaze. A pair of red irises replacing her normal blue ones. Val knew a few days later that her Mama’s irises would change every single time she used her power. She had said, “Never tell anyone. Ever.” 

Never tell anyone. Ever. That I’m a witch. That I charm every salve, every potion that I give. All for the sake of this village. 

She had made her foster daughter believe every word when she uttered a magic word that had lit a candle up. It was a small display of magic, not grandiose, not as far-fetched as those she had seen in stories, but it’s real. Val had thought that it was awesome, she didn’t understand her Mama’s fear —if it were her, she would’ve shown everyone her magic, flaunted it even. Yet, Mama had shushed her and told her the story of witches and fire. Of agony and pain. Of sorrow and rage. And that had sealed her lips ever since. Not a word, not even to her closest pal, Eric. 

*****

“Hey, you done for the day?” Eric had graced the clinic with his handsome presence the moment the sun had crawled back into the horizon. 

“Sure, just a second,” Val said as she cleared the papers littering the reception desk. 

Eric approached her and let his arm rest on top of the desk. “Tough day?” 

“Very tough. Those guards had just come back from who-knows-where and all of them were injured. Small injuries, really —you know, sprained ankle, broken arms.” she shrugged. “But still, busy day.”

“Kind of rare seeing them pass through our small village,” Eric replied, his finger playing with the knickknacks on the desk.

“Very rare indeed. Probably they’ve heard of Mama’s clinic?” she stopped and considered, but then shook her head. “Nah, they doubt Mama, so no.”

“Well, who cares?” he smiled and shrugged. “Let’s just go to the hilltop, the stars are going to be pretty tonight!”

“The usual?” Val smirked.

“The usual.”

*****

Eric ended up waiting for Val a full hour. She had washed herself of the day’s grims, and changed into a comfortable tunic and pants. She had told Mama that she was going while the latter was in bed, reading a tome of magic. After that, she and Eric had also scoured the last of the market for some buns with honey cream filling. They had earned a bagful of them and headed for the hilltop.

The stars had started to peak out into the night. It splattered the dark sky with its tiny light, more beautiful than they had expected. The two of them sat on the grass, putting the bag of honey-cream buns between them and started to munch.

For Eric and Val, it was a ritual. They had memorized the nights when the stars were going to shine so gracefully, they had made a pact to eat underneath them on every of those nights. Though there were times when the stars hadn’t shown up due to the relentless weather, most of the times it did show up.

“The filling is too sweet today,” Eric began.

“Maybe Jo’s too lovesick to bake well. I mean, have you seen the way she looks at Neville these days? She won’t be able to bake nicely for a while.”

“For a busy person, you’re very observant.”

“Can’t miss the gossip, right?” she elbowed Eric and chuckled.

They both stayed quiet for a few minutes, gobbling down their share of buns while looking at the vast night sky. After the entire buns were stuffed in their stomach, a crease of worry entered Eric’s feature. It took him a few minutes before he finally broke the silence.

“We’re nearly adults now, Val. We’re sixteen.” 

“So?”

Eric sighed and looked at her. “Have you figured out what you’re going to do once you’re of age?”

“Trying some booze?” a sly smirk decorated her lips.

Eric heaved a laugh. “You know what I mean.”

“Well, I think you might’ve guessed me too. I mean, of course you know what I’m gonna do, it’s quite obvious,” Val said and smiled at him.

“Clinic, then?” he side-eyed her.

“Duh.”

“Well, great for you that you’ve got your life planned out. While here I am, struggling to even think of something I love that might bring me fortune.”

Val brought her hand to Eric’s back and patted him. “You’ll be fine. I’ll help you, just think about it slowly. If you run out of time, then I’ll give you a job at the clinic.”

That got Eric’s attention. “A job? What kind of job?”

“Security guard? Not every patient is the weak sort, you know. Some might… I don’t know… attack us? Well, that is if you know how to brawl though.” she poked his lanky arm. 

That got the two laughing, easing the knot of uncertainty. “That rarely happens. Especially not in Oakfield where the people are all sunshine and spring,” Eric stated.

“Fair point,” Val answered. “But I’m not kidding though. I promise I’ll be with Mama handling the clinic, and if you need help just come to us.”

*****

Three days had passed since the hilltop and the stars. As always, Val had been helping her Mama with the patients while Eric was gallivanting hither and there searching for his own wants. It was the usual day, even though it didn’t last long when a few horses trudged through the peaceful village. 

They came without warning —the rhythmic clatter of hooves, the marching horses and their riders with a familiar crest on their chest. It was most definitely a strange sight in Oakfield. Stranger than the injured guards even. Val who was tending to the patients outside heard it before she saw it. Their rapid march ran a turmoil inside Val, she didn’t know why but looking at them gave off a bad feeling. 

Her hunch was proven right when the horses came to a halt right in front of her clinic. It sent Val’s heart lurching, she wondered what might they want from her. The insignia on their chest was a gold shield with two crossing swords. The capital guards. They ranked higher than the guards whom her Mama helped three days ago. They could even be said as the Royals’ right-hand men. 

She and Mama were treading dangerous water here, and thus the reason why she bowed her head as deeply as she could, ignoring the eyes of the on-lookers. 

“Rise and take us to the healer,” the scraggly-bearded guard said. 

Val rose and said, “May I ask for what reason do you need to—”

“Just take us.” The guard’s glare was a dagger, Val knew better than to take him to her Mama, but at this point no one could save her —if she disobeyed, who knew what the guards may do. So, she prayed. She took them down the corridor to Mama’s healing chamber and knocked.

“Mama, the capital guards are here to see you,” she said, her voice nearly cracking.

This is why a security guard is needed. You might as well try it now, Eric, she thought. As Mama’s footsteps trudged the wooden floor inside, Val glanced at the window. How she hoped someone would come and help them. She knew that it might be nothing, but she feared for the worst. Mama’s story. Stake, fire, witches. Agony. 

Mama opened the door with a crack, her face lost all its gentleness, in its place was a cold mask. “May I help you?”

The scraggly-bearded guard back-handed Val that she hit the ground with a thud. Mama’s face was horror-stricken, she took the guard by his collar and yelled, “What do you think you’re doing?”

The guard snickered and had his fellows held Val as a hostage. One of them put his dagger to Val’s neck. It nicked her skin a little until she could feel the slight trickle of blood. Val felt her cheeks throbbing and her vision blurring. She didn’t know if the tears were from the pain or the fact that this was happening. She hoped that her worst suspicion was false, although by the look of it, she couldn’t help but thought that this was the end. The scraggly-bearded guard was chuckling lowly as he stared into her Mama’s fierce eyes. Mama lashed out, pushing the guard, but her weaker build lost. The guard slammed her back to the wall instead, wrapping his nasty hand on Mama’s neck, making her splutter a choking cough.

“Yes, that’s what I’m waiting for, wench,” he sneered. “Let those eyes turn red and everything shall be proven right. You’re out of luck the second those guards saw your magical healing salve to their injuries.”

“Die…” Mama gasped. “Die.”

“Take her,” the guard said and threw Mama to his friends. They shackled her with a chain and punched her. Val couldn’t help but scream as she watched. Why does no one come to help? She thought. Why do they just watch? Can’t they help a little here? She wanted to curse all of the onlookers. They’d been helped by Mama their entire life, but when Mama needed it, no one came to her aid.

“Take the girl too,” the guard commanded and pointed to her.

Val was about to scramble and kick the hell out of him until Mama said, “Wait…”

They looked at her and she muttered, “She is a foster daughter. She knows nothing. She’s not of my blood.”

“And why should we trust you, witch?” the other guard said and kicked her back. Val truly wanted to yell and whack the bastard’s face. 

“You seem to know that magic is mostly instinctive. If she does have a knack of magic, her eyes wouldn’t have stayed that color with all of this going down, don’t you think?” 

“Good point.” The guard scanned Val and noticed nothing magical on her. At this moment, Val wished she could’ve had magic, at least to get to the same place as her Mama when she’s taken.

“Get your hands off Mama!” she screamed.

“Leave the girl,” he shouted and took Mama by the chain. 

“Mama!” Val was going to run to her mother, but one of the guards caught her and sent two sets of punch, one to her face and another to the gut. Her nose cracked and her gut felt like splintering. It hurt. Everything hurt. Yet, she hated to stand down while the guards heaved her mother onto one of their horses. The villagers didn’t even approach them, none of them but one.

“What— what are you doing?” A familiar voice. A voice which saved Val’s soul from drowning.

“Stay away boyo, get your nose outta the business.” The scraggly-bearded guard pushed him.

“Where are you taking—” at that moment, Eric noticed Val on the floor, bruised and bleeding.

“Val!”

He almost ran to her before Val screamed back at him, “Get Mama! Please!”

The guards had hoisted themselves onto the horses, but Eric had heard the cue. “Where are you taking her? Get her off!”

He tugged at the guard to no avail, which made plenty of sense judging from the size difference. He had tried to shove the guard, to yank the chain off Val’s Mama. It was an entertainment to the capital guards, looking at the helpless lamb. 

“Enough nonsense!” The guards said and kicked Eric’s chest. His breath caught and the horses started to trample the ground, away from the clinic and Eric. 

“Hey!” 

He glimpsed at Val for a second before he finally decided to chase them. It was utterly hopeless, and both he and Val knew it. Even so, they’re still trying to grab the glimmer of hope despite how far it was.

The horses quickly went out of sight. Eric’s lungs and limbs were burning. He had run faster than he ever had, especially because he knew that it wasn’t just one Mrs. Maeville —Val’s Mama. It was also Val’s entire dream, entire future, and entire life. He did not dare step back to the clinic knowing that he had let them slip from his grasp. That he had been too late.

The onlookers whispered and walked away, looking sheepishly at their magical clinic —not so magical anymore now that Mrs. Maeville was gone. Eric didn’t know how to face Val, but he remembered the last time he saw her. Bleeding and bruised. That memory alone brought him back from his reverie of shame. 

He walked to the clinic and saw Val weeping. She was still occupying the same spot. He gently closed the clinic door and crouched beside her. 

“I’m sorry,” he said, not without remorse.

Those words alone made Val’s reserve of tears explode. She cried even harder, gripping the front of Eric’s shirt, as if it was the only tether that held her to keep on living.

“I’m sorry,” Eric repeated and patted her head. 

They stayed that way for a long time, and Eric did not mind. Val had promised to always be there for him whenever he was troubled. This time, it was his turn to be there for her. 

*****

“I’m sorry.” Eric had been repeating it for God knew how many times. Val had silenced herself as Eric worked on her wounds. The wounds still ached, yet it was nothing compared to her heart. It had shattered, broken into pieces. The thought of never seeing her Mama ever again had the tears welling. Her warm and compassionate Mama, taken and gone. She couldn’t imagine what kind of torture her Mama needed to endure in the capital. Mama’s story about witches had been echoing in her mind for the past hours. 

“We have to get her back,” she whispered.

“Val—”

“We have to go to the capital and get her back, break her out of the chain, anything. Please, Eric,” she muttered, her voice cracking.

“Val, please.”

“I’ll go first thing tomorrow. I’ll do whatever it takes to reach there,” she said.

“The villagers—”

“To hell with them. They just stood there and gawked like we’re in a play. They’re stronger, most of them are stronger than me and Mama, than you even. Yet they did absolutely nothing.”

“They’re capital guards, Val,” Eric said as he whisked away the bloody tissues.

“But you’re brave enough to stand up to them! So, how could they have excuses?” Val half-yelled, raw anger was painted on her face.

Because I don’t want to see you hurt. Because I don’t want you to lose everything. Eric abandoned his own reasonings and said, “So… what do you have in mind then? For the rescue mission?” 

“I’ll think about it along the way. I’m sure they’re bringing her to the capital, so I’ll go there first,” Val said and tightened her hand into a ball of fist. “I’ll get them for what they’ve done. I’ll do anything as long as I can bring Mama back, even the terrible things.”

“First thing in the morning, eh?” Eric questioned as he washed his hands on the sink.

“Yes.”

“Alright, let’s hope I won’t wake up late tomorrow. I’ll pack some food for us,” he continued and allowed himself a comforting smile.

“What?” Val whipped her head to look at him. “Us?”

“I’m joining. I can’t let you go off alone, can I? Not when I’ve promised the same thing as you do,” he replied. “I’ll be with you. Always.

With that, alas Val’s lips gave way to a flicker of smile. A start. “Thank you,” she whispered.

Anything, Eric thought. Val might have lost her sense of purpose, lost her anchor to her world, but this time it gave Eric a chance to gain his —also a chance to regain hers back— and he’s taking it. 

“See you in the morning,” he spoke to the girl who’s sitting in the dim light.


January 30, 2021 07:02

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