Heilari was a travelling healer and a nascent empath. With her panniers full of healing salves, draughts, and powders, she rode from place to place seeing to the needs of the ill.
Born to the calling, she intuitively knew which preparations might best ease discomfort, heal wounds, cause sleep and the hundred other services a healer performs.
She dressed in grey smocks, hemmed shorter – to just below the calf, and oft hitched up above the knee. Her high aprons’ strung with pouches and pockets. When she dressed in jerkin, leggings and boots stuffed to fit, she scarce looked a woman. Yet, she braided her cascade of raven hair with ribbons, and sprigs of lavender.
She worked in kind: for a night by the fire; lodgings for her horse, Traveller; bread, cheese and a mug of ale or a flagon of wine. When she required ducats, on market days she sold bundles of sweet herbs, salves, and flower crowns – what ever the season and nature had to offer her.
She mainly journeyed alone, sometimes falling in with merchants, artisans and farmers, troupes of actors on their way to various market or feast days. Although she enjoyed the comradery, the laughter, she was never sad when roads diverged with a wave and a fare thee well. Proficient with a knife and a staff, she was not afraid as a woman travelling alone.
Her travels took her east towards the blasted Easterlies Gates. A strange land, full of wonder and danger. Heilari sought Valspar, the mythical hot springs. Said to soak away a life-time of sorrows, Heilari needed to cleanse herself of the invisible demon’s spittle left on the skin and the toxins that soaked deep. Healers could not escape the devil’s work of disease and sickness. Steam rising through a clearing in the trees revealed the springs location. She thankfully set camp in a small copse of larches. Once encamped, she took one of the bundles lashed to Traveller and headed to the springs.
From her pack, she withdrew drying linens, soap salve, new ribbons and lavender, fresh jerkin, leggings and boots – seemed wise to ride in a strange land as a lad. She rued her boyish figure: tiny breasts, no waist nor hips, but it did allow for disguise. She loosed her braid, allowing the ribbons and lavender to fall to the shore. Naked, the coolness of the air raised goose pimples, soon remedied when she dived into the soothing, steaming springs. She gave organismic passionate sighs at the bliss of being surrounded by warm caressing waters like a lover. Or so she imagined never having laid with a man.
She soaped her body and water, rippling under the steam, floating, stroking, even splashing as a child. One last long dive, to cleanse her skin and soul. Dried, dressed, she sat on a rock on the edge between forest and springs. As she braided new gold, red, and purple ribbons into her hair, she heard a cry, a call neither human nor animal, of pain. The woods were cool and misty in contrast to the steamy heat of the springs. She strained her ear for that sound, any sound, in the suddenly silent forest. Again, the inhuman cry of pain. Locating it to her right, she slung her pouch across her chest, took up her staff, and slipped her knives into their places. This could be a ruse, danger, or something in need of help.
None of her years of healing; no experience in the magical worlds she had travelled prepared her for what she found in the clearing. A wood nymph, struggling to emerge from her birth tree, caught by her arms and legs. Her wooden face displayed the pain of being crushed. When the nymph became aware of Heilari’s presence, these features hardened into heart wood. Though the rest of her body remained defined.
“I am a healer; perhaps I can be of assistance.” A flicker of eye lid opening revealed a dark brown specked eye. “I heard your cries, so I know you can speak. What is your name?”
The mouth, round mottled lips and perfect brown teeth contoured out from the smooth surface, “Thicket. I burst too soon and am forlorn in pain.”
Heilari, unused to dealing with woodland spirits, had little to offer the poor creature. Yet, she ministered to Thicket: a human potion for pain; sweet salve rubbed on the rough splinted elbows and legs. She sang to Thicket songs learned from a lutenist last time she had traveled with a troupe. She needed some magic, mystical cure.
Then she remembered watching a wheelwright. Steamed wood expanded, and could be bent. Scouring the woods and caves, with luck, she found an old pot, buckets, kettles, and a grill. Back at camp, she gathered all the cloth she had, and collected Traveller. Thus began the tedious chore of bucketing hot spring water to the large pot, set on the grill over the fire. She warned Thicket that she would smell smoke; she didn’t want the young nymph to panic. When fat bubbles roiled in the water, she threw in the material, stirring with a stick.
Wedging a rope around the space between the birth tree and Thicket’s waist, she looped it gently. The other end was similarly looped over Traveller’s neck. Bandaging her hands, Heilari wrapped the fissured tree trunk with hot cloths. First right, then left, gradually Thicket was able to wiggle a fraction as the wood swelled with the moist heat. Traveller followed her motions, his pulls choreographed to her movements.
More water, more heating, more wiggling. Darkness was settling; long shadows cast. Sparks danced. Again. Harvest Moon rising. Thicket gave a scream of pain as she shoved hard against her capture’s grip, then joy as she fell forward, nearly knocking Heilari to the ground. Unsteady on leggy trunks, and the camp a trek through moon-shine forest, Heilari worried for Thicket, and for herself. But wood nymphs are born with all knowledge of their woods, and Thicket, resting against Traveller easily guided them home, to camp.
Thicket embraced Heilari, kissing her on the cheek, “How can I ever thank you? Repay you?”
“I work in kind,” she answered, “So I will think upon it.”
In the golden air of fall, Heilari and Traveller rested by the springs. Thicket proved an excellent story teller – born with knowledge of the natural world, man’s world, and the mystical, and magical. Heilari luxuriated in the nurturing, caressing springs, listening to tales of the blasted gates, and wars between kingdoms. It was with a deep sigh she realized the small voice inside her was the Easterly Gates calling to her. Been calling for a long time.
One morning, just before dawn’s orange fingers woke the forest, Heilari asked Thicket what she would do. “Why guard the springs of course,” she said. “And should the right person come to bathe, I may tell a story or two. You have taught me that is my calling.”
Heilari mounted Traveller, turning him east, “You stories have shown me that the gates call – time that I answered.”
Thicket cried, “But, you may not return, and I have not repaid you for freeing me and ending my pain.”
“But you have,” Heilari replied. “I have knowledge of the natural and the magical; wonderful stories in my head.”
Thicket and Heilari waved; Thicket took up her featureless sentinel stance. Heilari and Traveller moved on through the orange-suffused forest air.
Imagined for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Tale Weaver Fairy Tale #91: The Wood Nymph
© my frilly freudian slip