I woke up to the sound of crickets chirping and the hard clatters that sounded like pot meeting kettle. I blinked my eyes open and squinted against the streaming sun through the open windows.
“Rise and shine, darling.” A loud voice boomed into my ears and I cringed. I groaned as my head throbbed painfully. Hell, I think I had a major concussion. I sat up slowly and rested my back against the wall. I lifted a straw mat off my body and nearly screamed.
“What did you do to me?!” I screeched at the boy in front of me.
He jammed his ears with his pinky. He snorted at me, his hands resting on his hips.
“A simple thank you would’ve sufficed for saving your life yesterday. But what did I get? A flat-chested woman screaming like a banshee to your only saviour? Ungrateful little wench. I shouldn’t have saved you.” He rolled his eyes.
I glared at him, my hands covering my chest.
“What did you do with my tunic? Why did you undress me, you child pervert!” I said in aghast.
He sighed and sat cross legged next to me. He was around my height, although from the look of his boyish face, I wouldn’t peg him for more than fifteen years old. He had ashen blonde hair with a small ponytail tied at the back. His fringe was long but choppy and on one side of his face, his fringe was braided with multi-coloured beads.
“I took off your tunic because it was dirty. It was a common courtesy for a gracious host like me. I didn’t know that a lanky, feminine male was actually a female.”
“Who are you?” I asked. My voice a lot calmer after knowing I wasn’t molested in my sleep.
“The name’s Maximell. I am your saviour. Although I have never seen anyone who couldn’t defend themselves against a lesser demon like you encountered earlier. Even a child could’ve killed it.”
“That was a demon?” My jaw dropped in surprised. Demons and witches? What’s next? I felt like I was suddenly thrown into a RPG game without any game manual. Damn, if it was indeed RPG, I could’ve picked a better character for myself, like maybe an elf.
“Aye. How can you not know that?” he said in surprised.
“I’m not from here,” I mumbled under my breath.
Maximell merely raised his eyebrow.
“Oh crap, my horse!” My body went rigid, remembering I left the poor fella behind. What if Kyrie had got eaten by the demon?
“I got it. I found a horse tied to a tree and figured it belonged to you. It’s outside, safe and sound,” he assured me. I let a sigh of relief.
“Anyway, I’m more curious about you. Why are you walking around and pretending you’re male?” He cocked his head in curiousity.
I contemplated my answer. How much did he need to know?
“It was necessary for me to disguise myself since I was travelling alone. I did not want to attract any unnecessary attention.”
He blinked, his brows wrinkled thoughtfully. “Fair enough. Strange for a woman to be travelling alone. You don’t have a companion? What was your family thinking letting you go alone in your travels?”
“I have no one. I’m alone in this world,” I said firmly.
“Ah. An orphan.” He nodded his head in affirmation.
I clenched my jaw. I willed myself not to punch his face and wipe off that cocky look on his face.
“You don’t smell like a commoner. Nor a slave. So mayhap you’re a noble. You didn’t even know what a demon looked like so you must’ve been sheltered from the horror that we ordinary folks suffered on the daily basis. But what’s a noble doing travelling alone in this part of the world?”
“I need to get to Sirandil,” I said simply.
“Sirandil of the Kingdom Rentera? That’s a weeks’ worth of journey and you wish to travel alone by yourself?” He said in surprised.
“I don’t care. It’s something I have to do. And don’t interrogate me. You don’t even know me.” I scowled at him.
“Maximell, you’re bullying the only guest we have had for months? My, don’t the ladies run from your prickly nature.” An older man stepped into the house.
He had a kind face, although he looked tired from age and labour. His hair was cropped short and he was wearing a long, grey robe. He carried some herbs inside and placed them on the table. I whiffed at the smell. It smelt like oregano and dill.
“Silas, I was on my best behaviour.” Maximell whined and rolled his eyes.
Silas chuckled before turning to me. “I’m Silas. This boy here is my idiotic apprentice.”
“I am not an idiot!” Maximell said indignantly.
“Did you check her wound?” He asked.
“By the gods, not yet.”
“Maximell-” Silas said sternly.
“Getting to it, father.”
Maximell reached for my head and unwound the bandage around my head. I hadn’t even realised it was there. I winced when the bandage stuck on my wound and he ripped it off like a band aid. He brought a small, wooden bowl from the floor and dipped his fingers in some green gunk before he rubbed his fingers against my wound. The throbbing eased as the cool salve took place.
“That feels good,” I confessed.
“Of course,” he snorted. “Silas is the best physician in Slovania. He could cure anybody. And I’m his apprentice,” he announced proudly.
“You flatter me, kid. I’m just a humble physician.” Silas smiled fondly at him before turning to me. “Now pray tell, what is your name?”
“Alice. My name’s Alice,” I said.
“Alice? Queer name. Never heard of it,” Maximell interjected.
“It’s a beautiful and intriguing name,” Silas said smoothly. “If I may, can you let your hands out for me to touch? I wish to know of your wellbeing.” He held his open palms out and waited patiently.
Wellbeing? Was he trying to figure out if I was a psycho? I frowned but complied. Might as well just roll with it. I placed my hands on his palms and he clasped them tightly. My skin tingled from his touch. His eyelids fluttered close and his face bunched up into a deep concentration.
When he finally opened his eyes, his eyes were glistened with mist. They were beautiful as if they held planets inside them.
“Oh Alice,” he simply said.
I frowned harder.
He got up and brushed the dust from his robe.
“I shall make lunch. We shall have a feast of potatoes and deer stew. Finish with what you’re doing, Maximell.” He turned towards the back door. I assumed the kitchen was at the back.
I looked at Maximell, his fingers still gently massaging my scalp. “Is he okay?” I gave a pointed look at the back door.
“Silas? I guess so. Must be your lucky day, Alice. We normally have deer once a year. Deer are quite hard to find especially when the forest is crawling with demons,” he said.
“Why did he want to touch my hands?” I asked, confused.
“Ah. Silas is a seer. One of the strongest ever existed,” Maximell said before he quickly put his hand on his mouth, his eyes widened by a fraction. “Although, you cannot tell anybody that. It’s kind of a secret.” Maximell looked guilty for exposing his master.
My eyes widened. “He’s a seer?” My voice reached in high octaves. If he was like Romena, then he might believe in that prophecy crap. I gnashed my teeth together. I hope he didn’t spout out some prophetical nonsense. However, I would love any information on getting back to my own world.
That afternoon, I had a bowl of deer stew for lunch. Finally some meat. I didn’t care what meat it was, as long as it was meat. I craved for meat. And the deer was juicy and tender in my mouth, mixed with vegetable gravy and potatoes.
“You’re a good cook.” I admitted to Silas.
Silas laughed mirthlessly. “I’m a herb practitioner. I know how to flavour my stews.” He winked at me.
Later, Maximell grabbed the dirty bowls and carried them off to a nearby stream to wash. I sat alone with Silas, drinking a hot herbal tea. I liked being in the presence of Silas. He had that calming aura around him and it felt almost peaceful to be here listening to the gentle rustling of the wind. Yesterday’s bashing by a demon felt like a dream.
“Maximell’s a good boy, although his tongue is a little sharp. But he’s a good soul.” Silas started.
My lips quirked.
“I’ve no doubt. He’s like a brother you don’t really want to have.”
“We live in a brutal world, Alice. I found Maximell when he was five. He was wandering around in a village of ruins. Everybody was eaten by demons but somehow, they missed him. By the time I met him, he was all skin and bones and he was starved.”
I blanched in horror. “He went through that? I didn’t think- he looked so normal.”
Silas nodded. “The boy kept a brave front despite everything he’d been through in the past. I took him under my wing and he grew up into a respectable person. But I worry the boy will be stuck here with me forever and not seeing the world. He’s a bright lad. His life is out there. My grave is already here. I planned to live the rest of my life in solitary. But I did not want him to follow me. He was meant to be for greater things.”
“What are you saying?” I asked.
Silas turned to me, his eyes were serious.
“Alice, I know you’re embarking on an important journey. What I felt from you back there… I can feel it. There’s something about you that makes you special and I know you will play an important part in this world. I want Maximell to be part of your world. Let him follow you.”
“Wait, what?” I said, flabbergasted. “I can’t bring him!”
“I told you, his life is not meant to be here. His destiny is somewhere else. Perhaps with you, perhaps not. But let him follow you for a part of your journey at least. I know you will start on something big. I feel Maximell will also play an important role. I’ve a feeling your journey is a long road full of treachery and pain. Maximell will be a gift. He is a physician.”
“What do you mean by treachery and pain?” I narrowed my eyes at him.
Silas only smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “It’s just a feeling I have when I gazed upon your eyes. Your eyes held pain and loneliness, and I fear the roads won’t go easy on you.”
His words digested uncomfortably in my stomach. I had no idea what to make of it.
“You should discuss this with Maximell then. Only he gets to decide on what he wants to do,” I said finally.
“I will. But you agree to this, yes?”
“Only if he says yes, although I do not wish to carry excess baggage.” I pulled on a face.
“I believe he will be a great asset. Have faith in that, Alice.”
“Is that seer talk? What did you feel when you touched me?”
Silas tipped my chin up with his fingers. I felt naked under his scrutiny. He looked at me as if he could see to the deepest corner of my soul. It was unnerving.
“There’s fire inside you, Alice. I can feel it awakening in the depths of your soul.”
“...That’s a good thing?” I asked, my brows furrowed.
“Aye. We need spirit. But take heed. Be wary of fire. It may be your friend but like all fire, it could burn and consume you and everything around you. Fire is life and destroyer. Control it rather than be controlled.” His eyes were heated as they penetrated through my gaze. I could almost see the flames reflected in his eyes. I suddenly felt strange, as if scorching warmth spread inside me. I shuddered involuntarily. All this omen talk was starting to creep me out.
He let go of my chin as Maximell came into view, carrying the clean dishes. “It’s why I think he’ll be good for you. He is an ocean to your fire. He can be your tranquillity.”
Silas stood up and ruffled his hair. “I need to talk to you, son.” He said before he disappeared inside the house.
“What’s with him?” Maximell asked, bewildered.
I simply shrugged.
That night, as I tossed around on a thin mattress, I tried to ignore the hushed conversations between Silas and his apprentice. Maximell’s voice rose higher and higher as he argued over something Silas said. I fixed my gaze on the ceiling and wondered what Romena was up to. I hoped that she survived against all odds. I hoped she escaped, hid herself or the soldiers took pity on her and let her live. I didn’t dare to dwell on her. I needed to focus on getting to Sirandil and finding a witch to get me home.
I absently fingered the pendant on my chest.
Mom, are you watching? I will be there with you, soon. I promise. After I avenge you.
There was a loud bang as Maximell slammed the door hard. He came into the room with tears in his eyes. I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep. I could feel him staring at me; I felt those invisible daggers stabbing me with his glare. Then I heard him leave the house and take off somewhere into the woods.