There was no pain. With blank eyes, Sable watched her separated hands. The black flames had vanished, their source of power cut off. Her wrists had become stumps with blood gushing out.
“Ah...N—“ She gurgled random sounds, but could form no proper words. She thought it would hurt, but there was nothing; no hellish pain, no suffering—nothing.
She felt her strength leaving her body through the stream of blood pouring out of her stumps.
Her eyelids felt heavy. Her body forcefully pulled her into a deep sleep.
* * *
Sable did not expect to wake up again. She expected to bleed out and have her body fed to the dogs. She assumed her hands would be sold as a trophy—why did the witch hunter not take away her hands? Perhaps that sadistic man wanted the sight of her severed hands to be the last thing she saw in this sorry world, to take away even the serenity of death.
But when she woke up, she found that somebody had carefully bandaged her bleeding stumps with a few dirty rags and had placed her hands in a rough cloth bundle beside her.
Pitch black clouds covered sky. At first it was a gentle drizzle but the rain soon hailed down with such a force that one could scarcely breathe without swallowing water.
Sable opened her mouth and drank from the puddle that had formed around her. The act of swallowing took so much effort that it left her exhausted; but as soon as the first drop touched her throat, her body was reminded of how thirsty it was. Her breathing became rapid and the tiny sips turned into gulps. She drank until her stomach was sloshing and she could not drink anymore.
She sat up. How her body found the energy to move was a mystery to her. She examined her arms. Where there was once a hand there was nothing but a stump left.
Her heart broke. She curled into a ball and her whole body shook with grief and self-pity. How could this world be so cruel? “Wahh....wahh,” she wailed. She could not think of what she had done to deserve this; all she had done was helping these people who so desperately needed help. And these people had sold her out without a second thought; the red haired girl, Raven’s brother Hens and Grandma Gartha.
In her despair, only the rain offered a little comfort.
When she was too exhausted to cry more, did she pick up the bundled hands with her teeth and stood unsteadily. Her first steps were like those of a newborn—without balance and confidence. She slipped several times, falling with her face in the mud. But no matter how many times she fell, she always stood up. She didn’t do this out of an inner strength—no, it was the only thing she could think of doing.
Walk away before the villagers came out.
Walk away before the witch hunter came back.
Sable stopped when she reached the edge of the village. Her tent and everything inside it were gone. Her wooden cart had been taken away and the leftover goods stolen. The only thing that remained was her chest and her Iron Horse, Oats.
How could they be so heartless? she wondered. While she was unconscious, the villagers had taken everything she owned. Her cart, her tent, her money…
But deep down she already knew the answer; these villagers were not heartless; they were simply trying to survive.
“Oh...Oats...,” she stumbled over and collapsed against his hard body. She could see a few scratch marks on his metal legs and the reins were torn. The villagers had tried to steal her Iron Horse as well, but the loyal steed refused to go with anyone but his master.
Sable kicked open the chest and using her stumps, pulled out her broken witch hat and put it on. She pushed her severed hands into the empty saddlebags, and then with agonizing effort, managed to climb onto Oats’s back. She rested her head on his neck, drifting back into a merciful slumber.
* * *
She was abruptly awoken by the cries of children. She unwillingly opened her eyes.
Two children stood before Oats with their tiny hands raised into the air.
“S-stop!” they cried.
Sable narrowed her eyes. Her vision was blurred and a headache was pounding against her skull, but she recognized them. They both had gaunt green eyes—like their mother. But this time, they did not cling to their mother’s skirt. They had come alone.
“Yes?” she said in a barely audible whisper.
“Uhm...,” the boy began and the two children fidgeted, looking at each other with uncertainty. “We, uhm...mother told us...”
They picked two bundles off the ground. The girl said: “Mother told us to give you this...some food and medicine for your wound.”
Sable’s lips formed an ‘Oh’.
“Well...,” the little girl began and glanced at her brother. He nodded and continued for her. “Mother said that we should help you. I mean…uhm, she said you are the kindest soul she ever saw—helping her for free. Uhm…she…she said ‘Are we not decent people?’ and sent us packing when we...”
Their mother was the woman whom Sable gave some cloth and leather on credit.
Sable’s heart trembled and she felt a lump in her throat.
“Put it in my saddlebags...thank you.”
The two children approached her gingerly and quickly deposited the bundles, then stepped back. Sable smiled ruefully when she sensed their fright. How much of her black flames had they seen?
And while the children were apprehensive, they also felt concern—a concern born out of innocent curiosity. This witch appeared so sick that they wondered how she managed to stay in the saddle. Her face was deathly pale, her gaze lacked the gleam of life and her shoulders sagged. She appeared so weak that a gentle gust could finish her. In these hard times, they had seen people with bodies like hers before and they never lasted long in this state.
“Are you a witch?” the boy asked.
Sable nodded weakly.
“Why did you not use magic to escape? I mean…before…”
“Magic…,” Sable whispered. She reached behind her back and touched the metal gloves that were tied around her waist. “Why indeed…”
She mumbled a word of gratitude, then spurred Oats to go forward.
“Where are you going?” the little girl asked.
Sable did not answer. She had already fallen asleep.