Everyone knew that the lady that lived in the house at the end of the street was a witch. Mothers would pull their children closer to their sides when they passed, and soldiers often lingered as though contemplating whether slaying this figure would bring peace to their village. On days where she ventured out into the forest to gather supplies for her potions, the roads into and out of Minara would be eerily silent and bare.
Only those who were desperate came to the witch for help. And Elenor was one of those desperate few. Tyrus, her little brother, had been sick for over a week, his eyes becoming more sunken by the minute. Their father had died three years ago, and her mother had run off with some lord from the next town over, so Elenor was left to care for her brother alone. She tried all the medicines she could afford from the town market, but nothing seemed to assuage the terrible cough that rattled around in Tyrus's ribcage. As he coughed again, Elenor made up her mind. She grabbed what little money she had and, giving her brother a swift kiss on the forehead, walked out of their one room home and headed down the dirt covered street.
With every step she took closer to the witch's house, her stomach churned and roiled. There was no shortage of whispered gossip about people who had disturbed the witch and been turned into snakes or bugs, or those who had been unable to meet her rates and were forced to sign their souls over to the devil. Elenor trembled at the thought, but shook her head. If selling her soul was what it took to save her brother, she would gladly do it. Before she could banish all the thoughts from her head, Elenor was standing at the doorstep of the witch.
Though Elenor had only seen the house from afar, up close the home hardly resembled the abode of a Satan worshipping hag. The door was painted bright yellow, and on a peg sat a small wreath of marigolds. The light coming through the windows was not the ghastly shade of green that she had been expecting, but rather the soft glow of a fire. Trembling slightly, Elenor raised her fist and knocked three times. She scampered back automatically, afraid of being to close to the powerful sorceress. Villagers passed behind her, sharing startled glances between one another and hurrying on their way. Eventually, Elenor heard rustling from inside the house and the door slowly cracked open. While Elenor had expected an old wizened crone with bony crooked fingers, the woman that stood before her could not have been older than fifty years old. Her ebony face stood in sharp contrast with the sea of white villagers that ebbed and flowed behind Elenor, and her eyes, rather than the piercing cat eyes that the other villagers had insisted she had, were a beautiful hazel. The witch smiled down at Elenor.
"Is there something you need, child?" she said in a low and melodious voice. Elenor's eyes immediately flicked down to her feet, and she gave a quick nod. The sorceress opened the door wider. "Why don't you come on in and we can discuss what you need."
Elenor took one more glance down the street, noting the growing crowd of frightened villagers that had gathered several houses away, and with a deep breath, strode through the now completely opened doorway. The door swung shut softly behind her, and Elenor could hear the gentle click as it slid back into place. The home was much warmer than Elenor was expecting. A huge fire raged in the hearth at the far end of the room, and from the ceiling hung an assortment of herbs and leaves. The scent of decaying flowers fluttered past her nose, and Elenor couldn't help but smile at the sweet scent. As her eyes surveyed the room, she noticed the witch standing near the hearth, watching her intently.
"I... I'm sorry for bothering you," Elenor stuttered out. "Your home is quite beautiful, madam sorceress."
The witch smiled. "Thank you darling. And it is no trouble at all. That's what I'm here for after all. Oh, and you can call me Tiama dear." Elenor's head snapped up at the name. According to legend, it was dangerous for a witch to give out her name, as it could be used in counter curses or hexes, but this one had willingly given Elenor hers without even asking for her own in return. As Elenor opened her mouth to respond, a loud screech from the corner had her turning around in fear. Perched on a small stand was a brilliant bird. Red feathers faded to green and then blue, and its eyes seemed to hold an unusual amount of intelligence for most birds.
"Is that a phoenix?" she asked in awe, her fear of the witch all but gone as she stared at the magnificent creature. Tiama laughed gently and crossed over to the bird, which nuzzled against her palm lovingly.
"Phoenixes are merely legends, dear. What you see before you is a Scarlet Macaw. They come from far away from here."
"He's beautiful," Elenor intoned. The macaw pulled its face from its owner's hand and looked inquisitively at Elenor. "Where ever did you get him?"
Tiama's smile faltered a little, and when it returned, there was a note of sadness within it. "A trader had brought him to the village I was living in. The people there had no need for such a bright and extravagant bird, so he simply left it in the wild to die. I found him and brought him home."
"Why would someone do that?" Elenor asked gently, inching closer to the bird.
"Things that are different are often abandoned," Tiama answered sadly. "I guess you could say we were kindred spirits." At that, the macaw flapped its wings and quickly hopped onto Tiama's shoulder. Elenor continued to stare at the bird, taking in his majesty. "Now," Tiama's voice shook her out of her stupor, "what can I do for you? I hardly think you came all this way to stare at my bird."
Elenor swallowed. "No mam. I come to ask for you help. It's my brother. He's very sick, and he's been sick for a week, and I have tried everything from the apothecary in the market, but nothing has worked.
Tiama laughed. "Of course not. Brutus is an inept as a healer as my macaw is." The bird twittered and rubbed up against Tiama's face. "No offense Katai."
"I was hoping that with your powers, you would be able to help him." Elenor reached over and took out her money bag. "I know that it is not a lot, and I have heard of you taking people's souls in exchange for help, and I am willing to do that if it means that Tyrus lives, but--"
"Stop." Tiama took one of Elenor's hands in hers, but rather than the fear she expected to feel, Elenor felt nothing but warmth. "Don't worry child. I am not going to take your soul. Truth be known, I have no more affinity with the devil than you."
Elenor's eyes grew wide. "So, you're not a witch." Tiama shook her head.
"No. I am a healer though. I learned from the best physicians before I moved here. Explain to me all of your brother's symptoms and I will see what I can whip up." With that Tiama crossed to a small work bench and began to pull out various items. As Elenor explained Tyrus's illness, she couldn't help but wonder at the unusual woman in front of her. If she was only a healer, why would she not simply correct the town's people?
"I can hear you thinking over there," Tiama said as she plucked a dried flower from one of the bundles hanging from the ceiling and threw it into the mortal bowl before grinding it into a powder. "Feel free to speak freely in here my dear."
"If you are not a witch, why do you let everyone say that you are? Why let people be scared of you?"
"My status as a witch is not the only thing that people of this town reject me for. However, if they are scared, at least there is less of a threat of them running me out of town. Besides," she continued, snatching leaves from the bundle right above her head and tossing them into the small pot hanging over the fire, "if fewer people bother me here, I can focus on my clients that come from the surrounding areas more. Those who can't get much help from their own healers." Elenor nodded, reading between the lines.
"Well, for my part, I am sorry that I ever thought you were a mean old witch."
"Thank you." With a twinkle in her eye, Tiama took the pot off of the fire and poured the liquid into a small glass vial. Elenor stared at the silver liquid. "Now, give your brother a spoonful of this twice a day, and you should start seeing improvements within the next few days. If not, feel free to come back and I can brew you a different remedy. It's hard to judge which one will work better as I have not seen your brother, but I am fairly confident in this one." She placed the vial in Elenor's hand. Elenor's fingers unconsciously coiled around the precious bottle, and she smiled up at Tiama.
"Thank you so much. Here," she held out the small coin bag. Tiama reached in, drew out two coins, then pushed the bag back. Elenor cocked her head to the side.
"I don't need much more than this, dear," Tiama said, stroking her macaw. "Now, you should be getting home. I hear you have a brother to tend to."
"Yes," Elenor said, heading for the door. "Thank you so much. I will make sure that he takes it. Thank you again." She paused at the doorway and looked back at the kindly woman bathed in the light of the fire behind her.
"You're quite welcome. Now, run along." With a quick nod, Elenor stepped out into the street, the scent of decaying flowers wafting behind her as she made her way home.