She tended the herb gardens, braiding, twisting or binding the plants to dry among the rafters. She foraged in the ancient woods, hidden leas, forsaken moors. Dried mushrooms and mosses; scented pine cones.
She saw to the chickens and goats, kept the kitchen garden from becoming the home of thistles and binder-weed.
At night, by the light of tapers and hearth, she mended her smocks and aprons, knit stockings, cut bandages while lilting the ancient songs.
She might easily be thought a young girl, or when guised in leggings and jerkin, hair pulled up into a cap, a boy. Tiny breasts, no waist nor hips to swish and sway, she smiled at the thought of her hawking cures for certain diseases and love potions during the carnavelesque fairs. Basket on hip, calling out to the festive crowd.
No, healers were best small, plain, invisible. Able to slip into fever and plague houses without notice. To minister to the living and the dying. Without fear or disgust. They wore their skirts short, avoiding the blood and pus that might cover the floor. High aprons to absorb what may come their way. Their special potions and adherence to the old ways provided a shield against disease.
Today, brushing a wisp of her raven’s hair out her eyes (“I must have too loosely braided”, she thought), she scrunched her face as she recited the ingredients for soothing salve – putting the right plants on to steep, readying the bee’s wax, and counting out the jars.
Some still made the journey, cross the wind-carved cliff tops, to seek her knowledge. But these were few, now that the town physics mesmerized the people with their vials, and test tubes, blood letting, and books. “Those hrtedyp are fey – ancient crones who crackle your bones and speak to ravens for cures.” The physics were men; they held the healing power now.
She carried on as if she were not the last hrtedyp – the natural born healers who once were highly prized and their wares in high demand at the seasonal Long Fairs. In the time that once would be spent healing, she worked on her herbarium; pressing and drying the plants, then scribing their names and uses. So the knowledge would not be lost. If she allowed herself the thought, she could feel bereft that no-one would know feverfew helped with the sweating fever; a tincture of chamomile eased sore throats and coughs; a twist of dried poppy juice mixed with ale helped numb pain.
It was hardest during the wintering, when the icy fingers of the North knocked on her windows and rattled the lock on her door. She felt the cold loneliness. Even fewer called upon her for comfort, or hope.
She rocked her old chair, creaky with well-worn rockers and arms. Dreamed of the olden times. Times when hrtedyps were a valued and valuable member of the community. Dreamed of her mother, grand-mother, great-grandmother. Letting her stand on a stool and stir the tincture into the bees wax. Singing her songs of the Ancients. Of dark forests and magic.
Then one night, as a blizzard lashed the landscape, came a faint pounding on her door. Wrapping her shawl tighter, she undid the bolt, and a half-frozen man fell into her house. Perhaps there was still need for hrtedyps, and, as she helped him to the hearth, perhaps she might not be the last. Smiling, she sang an encantment to the Ancients, as her foremothers taught.
Written for mlmm’s tale weaver: making sense of non-sense, “the-last-hrtedyp.”
image: young wise“lady”