*Start at the beginning!
Nervously, she measured the last ingredient and ever-so-delicately pushed it into her old stone mortar with a slender finger. This stage was critical and ultimately determined the success of her formula, but she would not be deterred. This time she would produce her finest work. Her laboratory was too warm, she decided. She reached over her work and unlatched her caravan’s only window. Pushing it open, she heard a thud below her. Freezing, panic washed over her face. The wireframe spectacles on her nose slid down as her eyes opened wide. She slowly looked below and saw that she had overturned the mortar. Its precious ingredients spilled on the unclean wood. Had it mixed incorrectly, she wondered? She saw no reaction, so perhaps the mixture could be saved. Relaxing slightly, her world slowed to a standstill as she watched her spectacles complete their journey from her face. They fell in increments of eons. She prepared for the worst and when those crystal lenses fell into the blended powder, absolutely nothing happened. Standing upright, she offered her accident a scowl and a furrowed brow. Retrieving her spectacles, she placed them back into position without dusting them off. As the powders mixed with the moisture on her face, the resulting thunderclap knocker her to the floor, where she landed with a thump on her hindquarters. She was unharmed, and otherwise well, but the cloud of smoke was rather unpleasant and she wafted it away revealing a soot-marked face. She wondered where her spectacles had landed.
“Well. Mr. Honeycutt, it looks as if tonight’s celebration will have to be postponed. I seem to have exploded the cake.”
There was no response to her comment, but Mr. Honeycutt rarely had anything to say. He just sat on his shelf and judged her in his bearish fashion. Today was no different and her old childhood friend sat and stared and judged.
“I told you that wouldn’t work, you mangy bear,”
She switched to the voice she imagined Mr. Honeycutt to have.
“But, Kismet, you need to use Herald’s Bane in order for the frosting to properly glow. Blah, blah, blah.”
Kismet located her spectacles under a nearby chair. All traces of the various powders had been consumed by the explosion, leaving only soot. She ignored it and put them on, adding more soot to her face. Shaking her head, she proceeded to tidy up the caravan. It was a small space, but she was small, too. It suited her. Surveying the damage told her she would be cleaning for hours. She took solace in the fact that Mr. Honeycutt was now a black bear, after his timeworn brown fur had been thoroughly covered with soot. “He deserved it. Such a smart aleck,” she thought.
Upon making acceptable progress in her cleaning efforts, which meant nearly no progress, she threw herself into her short desk chair. It was the only seat, besides her bunk, in the caravan. Her desk was piled with books and manuscripts of all manner. Most had scribbled notes in the margins and empty ink pots lay precariously around the edge of the desk. Her lone quill could not be accounted for. Kismet found a place for her elbows and peered into the polished silver mirror tacked to the caravan wall in front of her. What she saw would be humorous to anyone else, but it only spoke of a lifetime of failure to her.
How long had she been in this camp? Had it been more than ten years? She was certain it had been. Kismet was lonely here, but she felt her exile was earned. Over that span of time, her friends had stopped visiting. No letters came. She was totally isolated in this high place. All because of her inability in, well, everything. The mirror showed a face wrenched by self-doubt and sorrow. Her thin face, covered in soot, was considered lovely by most. Braided tresses of black hair hung on each side. Her dirty spectacles, too large for her, sat in perpetual reminder that she was not like them. She didn’t walk the path of her people and they exiled her for it. Kismet rested her head on a stack of parchment.
“What did you say, Mr. Honeycutt?” she said, head still down.
“That literally makes no sense,” she retorted to nothing.
She lifted her head and turned toward the bear’s shelf. A stuck piece of parchment fell from her forehead, where it had swapped soot for ink. She looked at her only friend, revealing a look of dismay beneath some inky arcane sigil just above her brow line.
“I will not. There is no way that’s even possible, so hush,” she said in response to a glittering glass bear eye.
Declining to comment further, she considered what came next. Bathe. Yes, a good bath at the spring would help her feel better. Gathering her needed items, especially the soaps for body and clothing, she set out to get cleaned up. The spring wasn’t far and there was plenty of daylight left.
Mr. Honeycutt, still covered in soot, sat in silence. He seemed to consider how nice some time alone might be.
An hour later, Kismet headed back toward her caravan. She had achieved an acceptable level of cleanliness, which couldn’t be defined as less than intensely scrubbed, and felt a great deal better. It was getting close to dark and the forest around her encampment was calm and quiet. She’d made an arrangement with the forest creatures. Everyone gets along by sharing responsibilities. It had been a hard negotiation, but her insistence carried the day. Nearing the trailhead, she hummed a Mother’s ditty to herself and felt a little bit of peace come back to her. Back home. Again.
Her camp was in an extremely remote part of the rolling foothills. Off to the north, she could see Mother and Father touching the sky above them. Those weren’t the official names of those particular mountains, but she felt a need to personify them. It helped to have more company. Kismet’s caravan was old and falling to pieces. She didn’t have the equipment to repair it, but she felt it would live through her sentence. It sat in the middle of a mostly level clearing. The horse had left years ago. He was terribly bored. Useful weeds grew where he would normally be hitched. Behind her home, she saw her pride and joy: the herb garden. Kismet had started with barely any seeds, but had managed to coax a truly diverse array of plants from the soil. Her encyclopedic knowledge of such things empowered her brilliant mind in ways that she didn’t fully understand. She’d certainly never concede to it or even be aware of it, but it was still true. Smiling for the first time that day, Kismet called for the horse to shush his neighing.
She paused and considered that no horse lived there anymore.
She felt a rush of cold in the fearful places. She was not alone. Sliding a hand beneath the hem of her vest, she silently withdrew a razor-sharp butcher’s knife. “Who would dare come her?” she wondered. Pushing her spectacles back into position, she scanned the camp, struggling with the fading light. Her eyes settled on the overgrown space between the leeward side of her caravan. The weeds had been pressed toward the inside in a large swath. Something, no, someone, was under her little house. The horse neighed again and this time she registered that it was probably on the opposite side from her. Kismet cursed her constant woolgathering, but couldn’t really see a variety of options. She cleared her throat.
“Um, Mr. Honeycutt, are you still inside the caravan?” she said too loudly.
“When you’re done, I need you to carry some very heavy things because you are so strong. Incredibly strong, I might add.”
Kismet heard the horse shuffling and thought she caught a glimpse of movement from beneath the caravan.
“Oh, Mr. Honeycutt, I’ll be right back. Can you wait a few minutes before coming out? It’s no rush.”
She turned back down the trail and took cover behind a large oak. Watching, she wondered if the trespasser would use this moment to leave. Nothing happened. Flustered and becoming a little impatient, she clenched her hand around the knife-handle and made a fist with the other. Putting on her most fierce face, she stomped back into her clearing.
“Look here, you. Get out from under my house right this instant!” she yelled.
“I’m warning you. I’ll call Mr. Honeycutt again and he’ll take an arm or leg. Get out!”
She heard a resigned sigh from the dark place beneath the caravan. There was some shuffling and a strangely accented male voice let her know how rude she was. She watched as a booted left foot was put forth, followed by a right. He was coming out on hands and knees, but in reverse. A right arm appeared and tossed out the longest sword she had ever seen. She noted the strange cap on the end of the scabbard. After more crunching of weeds and shuffling, the man stood up with his back to her. A good two feet taller than Kismet, he seemed a giant, but he was only a few inches taller than the average for the local folk. He raised his hands to show peaceful intentions and slowly began a turn clockwise. Once he had completed his half-rotation, he stared at her with a skeptical look. Raising an eyebrow, he asked,
“Child, where are your parents?”
Kismet’s face darkened and she retorted,
“I am no child, human.”
Raising her free hand, she muttered a rhyme and watched as the spell unfolded. Brilliant yellow and orange ropes whipped toward the human and slammed him into the side of the caravan. One might think a transparent coil of ropey magical power had little weight, but they’d be wrong. The complaints of the startled horse confirmed that the caravan had rocked to a side and bumped him. The noise of the impact was probably a little frightening, too. Kismet marched her four-foot frame over to her catch and looked more closely. He was a human, for sure, and a bit worn for wear. He had lots of facial scars and was quite dirty. She toed his side between her spell’s coils.
“Hey, friend, you ok?” she queried to the unconscious man.
Giving him a once over, she decided he was probably fine and lit the lamp that hung just outside the caravan door. He’d probably awaken soon, so she sat down to watch over him. In actuality, she was more interested in the weave of her spell, since she had never used it before. As darkness became complete, Kismet’s illuminated face could be seen close to the surface of her coils. She made notes and calculations and even gave the human a healing elixir when she realized he wasn’t breathing too well. Satisfied that she had documented very important information about the coils, she watched as the human opened his eyes.
“Oh, hello!” she said.
“What in the name of the Pit was that for?” he demanded.
Kismet leaned back on her haunches and considered this question.
“Um, Mr. Honeycutt told me to do it.”
It sounded more like a question.
© CGT, 2017.
*Go to the next installment.
Obol is a poet and an infrequent writer of prose.