Thea knelt beside the dead calf and stroked its soft ear. “I’m sorry,” she whispered and buried her face in its fur. She could feel the bones of its starved frame against her cheek.
The fur reeked of wildfire smoke, as did the air around her. The summer had been harsh. Both the forest and the fields had burned. Now, villagers were living off roots and vermin.
Her mother took ill with consumption and passed away two weeks prior. Thea also fell sick with a fever and nearly perished one day while working at the castle. She collapsed and her master had scolded her while she struggled to breathe, complaining how hard she would be to replace. Luckily, he knew the incantation to cure her instantly. If only he could have saved her mother and their cow.
The sun was rising, and she had to hurry up the hill. He would not tolerate lateness.
It was cool inside the thick stone walls. The scent of sulfur and herbs filled the laboratory when she brought him tea.
“Put it there, girl.” An arthritic hand gestured at a free spot on the long table. The rest was spread with open books and potion bottles. Her master’s face was hidden inside a massive tome on a stand.
Thea cautiously stepped over the large black dog sleeping nearby. She deposited the cup and started to move away when the dog growled.
Startled, she jumped back and jostled the table. Tea sloshed, threatening to saturate precious volumes.
“Ignorant girl!” The shouting figure leapt up and started sopping up the liquid with his robe.
“Do you know what this is?” He gestured angrily at an aged tome with brown pages. “It’s the only copy of The Book of The Dead, written by Osiris himself. With it, I can bring the deceased back to life!”
Thea helped him clean while mumbling an apology. She offered to fetch him a clean robe and hurried off. A thought tickled her mind.
As she helped him dress, she stoked her courage. He was still thumbing through the ancient book.
“Master, could you use the book to bring back a dead animal?”
“Of course!” He carefully turned a few pages and pointed. “It’s a simple spell.”
“Then, could you please save my cow?”
“What on earth for? Feast upon the damned thing instead.”
With that, he turned away to bury his face in another book on the stand.
Thea memorized the illustration by the resurrection spell, then she left. The image of skeletons rising from the ground haunted her while she cleaned and cooked. She knew she could find the same page again.
Her chance came when her master was summoned to see the king. Unsure of how long he would be gone, she snuck into the laboratory and ran flat out to the field with the book hidden in a cloth.
Breathless, she collapsed by the calf and spread the fabric on the dusty ground to protect the precious tome. She ignored the flies thickly buzzing around them both while she studied. The writing was crabbed and faded in spots, hard to make out. She squinted, determined to try first on the cow, then if it worked…her mother.
“Ah-men-ta-nu…” she stumbled over the words. “Ahh…”
Hoofbeats interrupted her concentration. She looked over her shoulder, then turned back and clenched her jaw. Her hand brushed away flies to stroke the cow once more.
“I’m sorry, Master,” she knelt at his feet when he dismounted. She braced for the blow.
Instead, he squatted by her, his hand heavy on her shoulder.
“My dear, you won’t get the spell to work.”
“But sir, you said it was simple.”
“It is. But only a living person can use it.”
MJ Santos is writing to make the world a better place, or at least trying to give people a little distraction now and then. Find out when more stories are published: https://twitter.com/madjsantos/
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