Waiting for Anna: Part Two
Anna wakes up to warmth on her face and a blanket over her, and to the oddly new sensation of her foot feeling nearly normal. She shifts, and cold air washes over her as the blanket slides with her motion. Her foot aches dully, but that's all; as she pushes the sheets back and sits up, it slides across the bed with almost no pain at all.
A fire crackles in the fireplace in the nearest wall, and its warmth pushes back the cold. The Aisha feels the warmth on her face and leans into it. She can almost taste the heat of it on her tongue.
Motion elsewhere in the room calls her back, and Anna turns quickly. Her mother is sitting by the opposite wall in a chair, watching her with a fond smile.
"Where... am I?" Anna asks, surprised to find that she does not know.
"In Eroun," the blue Wocky says, naming a town near their farm. She stands up to come over to the bed; standing next to it, she strokes Anna's head gently. "We went to Kelva first, but their doctor recommended we come here. He said the doctor here would be able to fix your foot better than he would be. He didn't even charge for it. It's been three days now."
"Three days!" the Aisha exclaims, sitting bolt upright; her mother's hand slips off her head and onto the sheets. "I slept for three days?"
Her mother nods. "I'm sorry, darling. They said it was best that you sleep, so the Eroun mage came in to lay a spell of sleep on you."
Anna nods, and then stops. "A mage? There's a mage here?"
"Yes," her mother says, lifting her eyebrows inquisitively. "Why?"
The Aisha opens her mouth, and then shuts it again. "There isn't any mage in Kelva," she says. It is not a reason, or even an excuse. Even to herself it sounds weak, but her mother seems to accept it.
"Eroun is a great deal larger than Kelva," the Wocky says. "They have a few mages here. You've never been here before, have you, Anna?"
Anna shrugs, tugging at the hems of the sheets. "I don't remember being here," she says absently. Inside, her heart is soaring. A mage--a real mage, here in town! She has never seen a mage before, though stage magicians have occasionally travelled through the smaller villages nearer to their farm. She has seen them, and watched their movements carefully for replication later, but they are nothing compared to real mages. The Aisha knows this from reading.
Her mother nods. "Perhaps when you were a small child you were," she acknowledges, and then steps back from the bed. "How are you feeling? Up for traveling?"
"Maybe," Anna says. Her mind races as she tries to come up with a reason to meet the mage of Eroun. "I don't know, though. My foot still hurts a little."
The Wocky clicks her tongue. "May I?" she asks, putting a paw on the blanket. Anna nods, and her mother pulls the sheets back to uncover the Aisha's foot. The Wocky examines it carefully.
"I can't see anything," she says at last. "Do you think you could walk?"
"I can try," Anna says doubtfully. She slides to the edge of the bed and slips her feet off to rest on the ground. When she stands, it is shakily, and her foot aches more than it did before, but she is standing. Spreading her arms for balance, Anna turns her head to look at her mother. "I can stand, at least," she says. She forces a smile.
The Aisha takes a step, and then another. The ache in her foot makes it difficult to stand on it alone, and she finds herself limping as she makes her way around the room. She is walking, and usually that would make up for any number of limps.
Her mother watches her, smiling through a sheen of tears, and Anna feels like crying too as she slowly lowers herself back onto the bed. There is no reason for her to see the mage now that she can walk.
When they leave from Eroun the next day, it is in a hay wagon heading toward where they live. Anna and her mother sit in the front with the Kacheek driving the wagon, and the suitcase Anna's mother had brought to Eroun is stowed neatly underneath the seat.
Each time a rut or bump in the road jolts the wagon, the Aisha's foot aches more, but she tries to ignore it, staring determinedly out at the scenery as her mother makes small talk with the farmer. When they part ways, it is in a village, and Anna hobbles into the village inn with her mother as the sun is setting. Her mother pays for a basin of warm water, and she helps the Aisha bathe her foot in the water.
The next morning they barter for another ride, and, later, another. It takes three days to travel back to the farm, and when they finally arrive at home, Anna feels like she has traveled over all of the worst roads in Meridell in the wagons that jolt around the muddy ruts the most.
But they are home, and even Darren's comments on her intelligence in not telling anyone can't get Anna's spirits down. Her bed is worse than the one in Eroun, but it is her own, and it feels softer than a stack of pillows the first night they are back.
She stays around the house for the next few days, and doesn't walk if she doesn't have to. The Aisha sits in the kitchen and watches her mother work, and sometimes helps her, chopping up vegetables for dinner or stirring a pot while the Wocky starts another dish.
Her foot aches less each day, but she still limps as she walks. On the third day, her father comes in at dusk with a walking stick for her: a branch smoothed out and polished to a high finish, cut to just the right height for Anna to use. She hugs him and thanks him, and spends the evening marveling over the qualities of the cane.
The next day Anna goes on a walk into the woods, leaning on her new walking stick for support. It seems like a long time since she's walked here--months, perhaps. She leans on her stick and breathes in the cold winter air. Though it's chilly, it hasn't snowed yet, and the leaves still lie dry on the ground. The Aisha slowly lowers herself down to pick one up, and she twirls it in her hand for a moment before standing back up again.
She remembers the motion well: the quick flick of the hand that makes the leaf appear to have vanished. She knows it as well as she knows how to walk, or how to speak, it seems to her.
The Aisha does it, but as she moves her hand, it trembles, and the leaf merely drops from her paw to rest on a bank of its fellows.
Anna tells herself it is because she hasn't been keeping in practice. It's only her long absence which makes her hand tremble, which makes her wrist tense up when it should stay loose.
She tries again, and this time she has to face facts as the leaf flutters free from her hand. She knows that it was not this gesture which broke the jar she cut her foot on, and yet it seems that the Aisha's body is not listening to her certain knowledge. It has failed her.
Determined now to triumph over herself, Anna picks up another leaf and tries again. It does not disappear, but neither does it fall. It flutters, and that is it.
She bites her tongue, trying not to scream in frustration, and swings the stick out of the way to fall to her knees on the frost-hardened ground. The Aisha works her way through the pile of leaves. Some sail away through the air, others fall, some just tremble, but none vanish. None disappear.
At last Anna flings the whole lot of them into the air, throwing fistfuls of leaves up into the sky in her anger. Red and yellow and orange whirl up into the air.
Blind to the world, she does not notice at first that only one in a hundred is floating back down on her, and that there is no wind to touch her skin.
When she does notice, the Aisha tips her head back, staring up at the gray of the winter sky. There are no leaves borne away on unfelt currents of wind, no leaves caught in the skeletal branches of the trees. There are no leaves anywhere, save the few scattered on the ground and the one she still holds in her paw.
She breathes out, and it is a hope and a wish and a prayer in the form of moist air billowing out of her mouth, white in the chill of winter.
And the leaves fall. By the hundreds, they fall.
To be continued...