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Remembering Rue: Part Six


by hedgehog_queen

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Four years. That was how long her years of instruction lasted. Four years crammed with knowledge that should have taken twenty years to master.

      It helped, Rue noticed, that many things seemed familiar to her, like she’d read them before—which she probably had. Some of the books on Jean’s shelves were the same as her old ones that she’d sold. She hadn’t read all of her old books—well, she’d read them before she lost her memory.

      Rue supposed that her instruction might have been longer if Jean was a bit younger. The Pteri seemed anxious to speed up her education—Rue didn’t blame him; he was, after all, getting older by the day.

      Sometimes, though, she grew frustrated when she didn’t understand something and Jean was pushing her forward into more advanced material still. Jean grew impatient with her at these times, and Rue shouted at him and heard her mother in her voice when she had argued with Rue’s father.

      Sometimes Rue almost wished she had stayed in Happy Valley—but these thoughts never lasted. She enjoyed learning to be a witch. Perhaps she had dreamed of becoming one in the past when she read her books on plants and herbs and magic.

      When Jean left, Rue felt it was too soon—and she became even busier. She spent most of her time reading feverishly; rereading the books that she’d labored over before. She read them again and again, until she could close her eyes before she turned a page and know exactly what would be there.

      Sometimes Rue would hurl her books away from her, frustrated, and feel as though everything she’d crammed into herself would explode and she’d have nothing left.

      But the cramming helped—there was no room left in her head for past memories. She could think of her mother and father and even, fleetingly, Stacey, and no memories would be triggered. There was no need for the sewing packet to take her mind off things anymore, and now she had spells to sew her clothes for her, so Rue stuffed the packet in the back of a book and stuffed it under her bed and forgot about it.

      Barely a year had passed since Rue began her self-instruction that she met Henry.

      She thought of the story many times—she’d gone out into the woods to gather plants, and taken Jean’s old crossbow with her just in case. Rue had never used it to defend herself, and as far as she knew, Jean hadn’t either. But all the same, Jean had made her practice with it almost as often as he made her practice spells and potions—but archery didn’t come nearly as naturally as magic came to Rue. Learning magic was more like remembering something forgotten than learning a completely new material. Learning archery, to her, was as impossible and ridiculous in her mind as learning to jump up to Faerieland in one single, spectacular leap. It couldn’t be done.

      So Rue was very surprised when she came upon a young Xweetok running for his life from some beast, screaming—didn’t the fool know that screaming would only wake more horrible creatures? When the monster bent over the boy, Rue almost turned away—she knew, certainly, that the boy was finished and that when the monster wad done with him, it would go after Rue next.

      Rue looked down at the boy, and saw Stacey’s scared and vulnerable face looking up at her.

      She couldn’t save Stacey.

      But she could save this boy.

      She figured it was a shot in the dark—which it was almost literally, given how much shade the trees provided—but Rue aimed and fired the crossbow. It struck home, and the monster fled.

      Of course, Rue had brought the little potion that warded off the strangling vines along with her—she’d had to use it twice; the vines were much more common than monsters in this neck of the woods. As the vines withered, Rue peered into the bottle—it was empty now—and tossed it aside. Getting the boy to safety was more important than worrying about the bottle—it would be difficult to carry the crossbow, the boy, and the bottle all at once, and she definitely wasn’t leaving her crossbow.

      Rue took the Xweetok home and found that his name was Henry—it seemed like the kind of name Ruth would like, given how she’d named her own children Ruth Jr. and Eustace. Rue took the boy back to his home in Neovia on her broom—another thing that she rarely ever used and was not very good at using, but she did not feel like fending off more vines and monsters while looking after a terrified young Xweetok all the way to Neovia.

      She dropped Henry off at the edge of Neovia and flew back to her cottage, already forgetting about him.

      She was quite surprised when he showed up again, over ten years later.

      “Please help me,” he gasped, and half-fainted through the open doorway.

      Rue picked him up and set him on the same stool that Jean had sat on when she first met him many years ago.

      “I don’t brew potions for people,” Rue said immediately.

      “You must help me,” the Xweetok insisted. “As you helped me once before. Remember? I’m Henry, the boy you rescued from the Bori.”

      “Ah.”

      And he explained to her, how Crystal—his wife—was very ill and weak with a disease no doctors could cure, and how he thought that perhaps Rue might be able to make a potion to cure her.

      So Rue did this, despite her saying that she didn’t make potions for others—she never had, and she supposed that it wouldn’t hurt to do it just once.

      It was hard. Rue knew many, many different potions, but this one required improvisation and doing the impossible: completely curing Crystal.

      Rue did not tell Henry that it would be impossible to completely cure Crystal, but he seemed to know anyway. Rue gave Crystal many, many different kinds of potions—they seemed to help her, a bit.

      But, contrary to what might have happened after so many failures, Rue became even more determined to help Crystal. She had never failed completely, and she did not plan to start. If she could not cure Crystal, she would at least ease her pain.

      Still, Rue was more than a bit reluctant to take on Crystal’s daughter as an apprentice at first. She doubted that she’d have the time or patience to teach her.

      But then, Rue remembered how willingly Jean had taught her, and kept her safe from the monsters and vines, and shown her ways to protect herself when he was no longer there to protect her.

      So when Henry left, Rue decided to call the young Xweetok Chris. Ruth had called her daughter who’d she’d named after her by a nickname, so Rue would too. The Purple Krawk didn’t much care for the name ‘Crystal’ anyways.

      Chris was a slow learner. Rue never told her this; perhaps it was not true at all and Rue was unfairly comparing her student to her own accelerated learning pace. Rue felt the same frustration that the wizard Jean must have felt many times when teaching Chris. Thankfully, Rue did not have to cram all of Chris’ education into a few years—Rue feared that when Jean had done so—not that he’d had a choice—some of his magic had been lost.

      Rue kept Chris from learning about her family. She never told her what had happened to bring her to the Haunted Woods.

      Rue did not mean to hurt Chris; on the contrary, she did not want to have Chris go through what she had gone through. Ignorance was bliss.

      But despite all her precautions, Chris grew more and more curious on the subject of her beginnings. Rue, in her short-tempered way—teaching a young child did not do good for her patience—tried to stop Chris, which only seemed to make the girl more determined to find out more about her family.

      Rue almost couldn’t blame her. Had she not been curious, many years ago, what had happened to cause her family to leave Meridell, and what had happened to Stacey?

      But now that she knew, she almost wished that her memory had been completely wiped, and there would be no sudden flashbacks or memories.

      But now that many, many years had passed, remembering did not hurt so much anymore. Perhaps it was because she had forged so many new memories in the past thirty years.

      But then Chris took matters into her own hands, and after reading Rue’s notes, she took one of her books and fled.

      Rue followed her, and watched as she summoned the ghost of her mother.

      She watched as, impossibly, Henry appeared, and reclaimed his daughter, and behind him were Chris’ two sisters.

      She watched as they left, and Chris dropped the book and followed her family back home.

      She was happy for Chris at having found her family. But when Rue had found her mother again, it had not been happy.

      Rue bent and, more for the sake of something to do, picked up the spell book that Chris had used to summon her mother.

      Something fell out of the back pages.

      Rue picked it up—it was the sewing packet that she’d stuffed inside the book so many years ago.

      The stitching that held the little cloth booklet together was becoming frayed and undone now. Rue moved her fingers toward the neat little row of stitches that held one side of the booklet shut and undid them.

      A piece of paper fluttered to the ground.

      Rue picked it up and read it.

      ‘Dear Rue:

      I’m sorry.

      There are so many things to say sorry for, and I couldn’t say them to you, not when you so obviously wanted to leave—needed to leave. I knew you wouldn’t listen.

      I don’t know when you’ll read this. It may be on the boat that takes you to wherever you go, or it may be years from now.

      I’m sorry that I took you away from Meridell. I have regretted it every day since I left.

      I’m sorry that I had no time for you or Stacey. I’m sorry that I couldn’t understand you. I wanted you to be like me. But it’s because I wanted you to be happy.

      If you ever want to come back, I think you’ll understand when you see that our flat has been sold to the Thompsons, like how I sold Stacey’s room to them.

      And I think that, if you should ever come looking for me, you’ll know where to find me.

      --Ruth.’

      Rue folded the letter and put it in her pocket. She placed the book carefully on one of the bookshelves in her cottage, and began to walk.

      When she got to the docks, she went to the little skipper that would be leaving for Meridell soon.

      Rue did not have a book with her, or a cloak to sew. She sat on the deck near the edge of the boat and turned her head away from the Haunted Woods, and looked forward.

The End

 
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Other Episodes


» Remembering Rue: Part One
» Remembering Rue: Part Two
» Remembering Rue: Part Three
» Remembering Rue: Part Four
» Remembering Rue: Part Five



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