Cymbyliene slept fitfully, tossing among her quilted blankets like a stormy sea. The silent second floor of the clinic echoed her restless murmurings as she conversed with someone in a time that was not in a time, in a place that was not a place; the world she knew as memory.
"Meet me by the mirror pool at midnight, Cymbyliene......" It was like hearing it all again, night after night in her dream. The lovely place she knew as Havenwood, the little village outside the borders of anyplace important had been the setting for the beginning of life for Cym. Mother taught her many skills, and Papa doted on her, the only child of a wife he loved so well. Havenwood, the place of beauty, the safe place, and the place where everything changed when she became a woman. She remembered, dreaming feverishly....."Midnight at the pool....come to me, my Cymbyliene...." And then all was terror. Torches, angry faces, cold metal binding her hands......
She woke suddenly, flailing at the bedclothes as if to throw them from her, releasing herself from the terror of memory, of nightmare. She stood and looked around, orienting quickly to time and place.....the clinic, her room, the small clock in the corner with its pendulum swaying back and forth, back and forth...... She issued a shuddering sob and sat down in a chair by the window. Looking out into the night, seeing nothing there but the darkness of Merchant's Row, her heartbeat slowed again, her breathing normal. She relaxed, her cheek against the coolness of the windowpane. The tension flowed from her body as she whispered her thanks at being awake, and safe.
As she rose to return to her bed, exhausted from the tension and the aftermath of fear, a shadow of movement in the street caught her eye. She moved to the pane, drawing aside the curtain to peer outside more carefully. All was still....shadow and silence. Shaking her head silently at her own fancies she climbed into the disorderly blankets, and on a whim, lit her little bedside lamp against the darkness.
The morning found Cym awake and cheerful....spring crept upon the city with ever-increasing tenacity and it made the inhabitants stir like the earth itself had begun to do. She let the girl Margaret into the clinic to do her chores as she bundled her kit of medicines together and reached for a light cloak.
"I'll be out for awhile, Margaret....you may handle any people who come in to retrieve their special orders, or take new orders for me, but for anything else, please ask the customer to return in an hour."
The girl nodded with a soft smile. "Yes, Mistress."
Cym smiled at her and stepped out into the street, headed for the rougher side of town. Margaret's mother Janie was ill.....Cym hadn't told the girl, but she intended to treat the woman now, in the earliest stages of her illness. Her nutrition was poor, she didn't sleep well, or enough and she had pneumonia; a late case so close to spring. Cymbyliene barely looked up at the name of the tavern she stepped into; they were all the same. She found Janie behind the bar, pale with flushed cheeks and a hacking cough. A grubby looking man stood beside her, sizing Cymbyliene up dispassionately.
Cymbyliene approached the bar quietly. "Janie....I have some things for you. Can you speak to me outside?"
The woman looked at her a moment tenatively and darted a gaze at her grubby employer. The man grunted, "She's working."
Cym leveled a gaze on him. "She's ill. She won't be any good to you in a couple days if you let her go on like this."
He shrugged. "I got other girls."
Cym sighed. "I'll pay you for her time." She put money on the bar.
He looked at it with another small grunt. "Five minutes."
She watched as Janie came out from behind the bar, her gait unsteady and trembling. They stepped outside to the alley beside the tavern and Cym drew out two small bottles, putting them in Janie's hand. "This one......rub it on your chest when you go to bed at night. It will ease the breathing and the coughing. The bigger bottle has a liquid....put a teaspoon of it in water three times a day and drink it down. It will taste awful...but it will help. Can you do that?"
Janie looked up at Cymbyliene. For a moment her perpetually wrinkled brow smoothed, and Cym thought that the woman must have been very pretty when she was younger. "I don't have anything to give you....." she murmured apologetically.
Cym examined Janie a moment. She was a proud woman, not likely to enjoy being beholden to another. Cym nodded, very matter of factly. "Consider it part of my payment....I mean, for letting Margaret do chores for me. She is a fine helper." At Janie's answering smile, Cym turned to go, but then turned again to the woman. "If you get really bad....you know where to find me, yes?" At Janie's nod, she turned and walked the moderate distance back to the clinic.
She surveyed the outside of the building; it could use a coat of paint. As she reached for the door handle, she heard a whisper.
She turned quickly and saw no one, searching also the small alley that lead around behind the clinic. Her legs trembled slightly as she walked. Her shaky steps lead her back to her front door, which she opened with a shake of her head, and stepped inside. "Margaret.....did anyone visit while I was away?" she asked, curious.
Margaret shook her head. "No Ma'am."
Cym widened her eyes a bit. "Thank you......I'll be upstairs." She wandered up to wash her face and hands, giving the strange whisper not another thought.
Cymbyliene fell asleep in a soft chair by her window as the dusk dimmed to full night. It had been a long day....influenza was upon the city with a familiar ferocity. Her dreams were filled with tangled vines of memory and daily life. She wandered on the pathway again to her old life, to Havenwood.
She remembered sitting in the kitchen of her little cottage in the forest outside the town's boundary. She looked over at Cullin.....so handsome, young and usually smiling. That night however, he was not smiling.
"Cymbyliene, the priest says that it isn't decent, your living out here all alone and independant.....no one to look after you."
Cym looked up at him with a half smile as she ground the bergamot into powder. "Father Ian would never say such a silly thing, Cullin. What are you on about?"
He frowned. "Well, Father Ian has moved on...and Father William says that women need someone to look after them" His eyes darted to her herbs and powders. ".....someone to make sure they do not stray to evil."
Cymbyliene put her grinding stone down a moment and folded her hands. "Cullin.....my father died two years ago. I do not want another daddy now. I'm a little too old for that. Besides, I take quite good care of myself." She looked back at the bowl and continued to grind the herbs, now irritated.
Cullin took her hand gently in his. "Cym...you know I love you. Let me marry you; take care of you."
Her gaze softened as she looked at her hand, tucked in his. "In time, Cullin....everything has its time. We still need to get to know one another better, and I'm fine, really. But I do care about you." She smiled fondly at him.
He pulled her from her chair and kissed her lips softly. With a soft sigh, she melted against him, returning his kiss. He held her more and more tightly, until she felt her air restricted and she struggled against him slightly, pushing away.
He looked at her, his eyes flashing as he broke the kiss. "You see, Cymbyliene, what you drive me to do? I can't let you go.....you've put a spell on me." He laughed a little bit but his face was without humor. "Evil came into the world through woman, Cymbyliene......I tell you, girl, you need me. I'll make a good, decent woman out of you."
Her expression hardened and she took a few steps away from him. "I've never heard you talk like this. What's gotten into you, Cullin?" She shook her head. "I think you should go. Come and see me tomorrow, after a good night's sleep....get your head on straight. Now go." She pointed to the door.
His cheeks were flushed but he moved to the door. "I'll see you soon, Cym.....we'll be talking about it soon."
She closed the door behind him and sat down again at the table, her unease settling at his departure. So unlike him.....she thought.
Waking slightly now to the sound of the chiming clock downstairs, Cym stirred a bit in her chair, the dream cast aside. She rubbed her eyes and rose to make a cup of tea. Taking a cup from the cupboard, she turned to the window. The cup dropped from her fingers and shattered on the floor in a million pieces as she gasped in surprise. On her window, scrawled in some sort of sticky, dark substance was written:
She flinched and looked away, turning to it again. Her trembling legs took her around the shards of cup and saucer to the window. She put a hand on its cool surface. Trying to convince herself she had been the recipient of a cruel joke, she took a bucket and sponge and went out into the darkness to wash it off, hurrying as best she might to get back inside out of the darkness.
The scrawling on her window and the strange whisperings she had heard in the last couple of days gave Cymbyliene pause as she prepared to go to the market that morning. She clutched her little basket to her chest as she looked out the shop window. The cathedral rose high above the other buildings in the distance. One never knew whether a church may be a haven or a prison, and that depended, in Cym's experience, with the clergy in residence. When she lived in Havenwood as a child, Father Ian had always been a good and loving man, very tolerant of people with different ideas and belief systems. Cym's mother practiced the old religion and she remembered her mother spending time with Father Ian comparing notes on their herb gardens. Havenwood always had that sort of tolerant and giving feeling for many years, until the changes came. She closed her eyes, her hands still clutched around her basket and let herself remember.............
Havenwood, two years prior
Cymbyliene dipped her fingers in the clear, shining water of the mirror pool. It was a lovely, small pool of water fed from an underground spring, and she had come here often as a child to stare into the dim depths and pretend that she was a fairy princess pining for her lost prince. Now, the face that stared back at her was a woman grown; all of her childhood left behind when her parents died of the fever the previous spring. The pool was still her special place to go and think, and today she had brought a basket to collect the precious flowers and plants that grew around the pool. The little green one with stout leaves cured rashes, the purple flower was soothing on burned skin and the yellow flowers......well, her bedroom needed some brightness in it.
Movement through the low brush and trees behind her startled Cymbyliene. The sound was too loud for a deer.....she turned and saw Cullin. He smiled at her awkwardly, "I thought you might be here. I.....I have not seen you since we quarreled and I wanted to know that you were all right."
Her heart warmed a little bit. "Of course, Cullin, I'm all right. I appreciate that you came to check in on me. I really don't understand what has gotten into you lately." She turned to dig up a moisture-laden patch of moss and drop it in her basket.
His smile faded just slightly. "I don't understand why you insist on living out here in the woods, in that cottage by yourself digging at plants and roots when you could be my bride and live with me in town and be done with all this nonsense."
She looked hurt. "Nonsense? I do this because I can, and because people get sick and I know how to help them. It isn't nonsense, Cullin!" She stood up and made to leave. He had ruined her quiet time and she wanted to be far from him.
He stepped in front of her. "It isn't seemly, Cym......I saw how you cast glances at the blacksmith yesterday. You didn't know I was watching, but I was! You've got too much of your mother in you, Cymbyliene, and I'm going to cure you of that. You'll marry me, and I'll have none of your woman's wiles and your strumpet witchcraft!" He grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her forcefully. It hurt and she wriggled out of his grasp.
She was so surprised that she dropped her basket to the ground and slapped him across the face, hard. She stumbled back a couple of steps with a soft sob. "How do you dare! You don't know anything about my mother...or about me! Benny's arm was burned at the forge and I went to give him some ointment, that's all! It is what I do....I help people." She lunged forward and grabbed her basket up off the ground and darted into the woods.
He called after her, "Cym....I'm sorry! Do you hear me? I said I'm sorry!" Cym kept running and soon she was out of his sight. She ran until she got to the cottage and shut the door behind her, tight, drawing down the lock bar so that it would not open. She put her head down on the little kitchen table and cried.
© 2001 Stormpoint Writers Guild
All rights reserved