Lizzie ate her soup and mopped the bowl with some dusty bread that had been reclaimed from the wreckage. She pumped water from the kitchen spigot and washed the bowl out, then dried it on her apron. She dried it rather a long time; she could feel the others. They had come closer, left whatever they were doing, and now they waited for her to say something, to explain this, to tell them what would happen next. She closed her eyes.
Blackwings the Raven, Keeper of Secrets, I wish you were here to tell me what to say. What’s the word that will bring us all to life again?
She waited, then sighed and turned to face them, a tight smile on her face. Then she softened. The looks on their faces— they were scared, but they were whole. Pock marked and pitted, maybe, but every eye could see, every shoulder had an arm extending from its socket. Taisia was gone, yes, but they were here, alive, and well enough.
“You don’t need to be saved,” she said. Some of them blinked. “It feels strange to say it, strange to hear it, doesn’t it? But you don’t.” She spread her arms. “Look at us! Out of the tower! None of us feels our best, do we? But we don’t feel our worst.” Heads nodded. “Well done, all of you— all of us. You helped me every moment. You helped me to see, you gave me a family— you gave me hope. Thank you.
“I can’t tell you what to do next. But together, well, we should have some ideas, shouldn’t we, such a lot of brave and clever women? Maybe we’ll go back to our old homes. Maybe we’ll split up. Maybe we’ll stay together. Maybe, strange as it seems, some of us will stay right here. We could keep our names or pick new ones. Go to Baba Yaga’s hut for our old shoes, or walk on barefoot and see what happens. It’s all rather terrible and glorious, isn’t it? But we’ll help each other. We can do it, because we’re together.”
Some weeks later, when the first crops were making the fields green and the baby birds were fledged and testing their new wings, a traveling minstrel came upon a place his path had never crossed before, though he’d walked this way many times.
There was a ruined castle, a ring of thirty-six upright stones, and, growing from the rubble, a thick white patch of forget-me-nots.
END OF BOOK ONE
READER RESPONSE: Leave a comment and tell me what you like, what images stand out, or your curious questions. (No suggestions/grammar critiques, please). Thanks for supporting my work-in-progress! -Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux