Here is the next instalment of Lindy. I have nothing much to say about it, but those who are new to the story can find the beginning at Chapter One, and those who would like to have the story thus far in a single file can find it in both .pdf and .rtf formats on the Longer Works page.
In Which Lindy Meets the Inhabitant of the Mysterious Cottage
When Lindy woke, she was lying on a bed of straw and wrapped in a heavy patchwork quilt made from fabrics dyed in earthy reds and browns and yellows. It was nicely warm under the blankets and nicely cool on her face where the blankets did not reach, just the way she most liked to wake, and she would have felt quite content if her body did not hurt her so much and if the pain did not then remind her of what had happened the day before.
All in a rush she remembered Khurshid taking the crown and Moe lying crumpled on the ground and the creatures swarming over her in the dark and most of all the picture of her mother, and she began to realize truly what she had done. She had gotten her mother captured, and she had probably gotten Moe and Cleanna killed, and she had lost the final crown to Khurshid, just as The Crofts had said she would, and now there was nothing to keep Khurshid from taking The Weald and doing what he wanted with it. She felt a sudden sadness and guilt that went right to the centre of her. She was sick in her heart, too saddened even to know what to do, and she laid there feeling more and more hopeless and miserable by the moment.
Just then the door to the cottage opened on creaking hinges, and Lindy looked, expecting to see the young girl from the night before, but she saw instead a grown woman who was closer to her middle-age than to her youth, though she was just as beautiful in her way. The woman met Lindy’s eyes and smiled a smile so open and so sincere that Lindy knew immediately that she could be trusted, and there at the woman’s feet, following her through the door, was the beetle that had led Lindy home the night before, though it did not seem to be glowing now.
“Good morning, Lindy,” said the woman. She was dressed plainly and neatly in what looked like homemade clothes, and there was something so motherly about her that Lindy half expected to see children trailing after her skirts as she came to the bedside. “My name is Amena,” she said, laying a hand on Lindy’s forehead as if testing for a fever. “I was hoping we would meet under better circumstances, you know, but at least you’re here now, and I’ll wager you’re not so hurt that you won’t recover .”
Lindy started to thank the woman, only her face was so sore and her mouth was so swollen that she only ended up making a muffled kind of sound and hurting herself even more, and this made her realize again how sorry she really was, and she began to cry.
“Now, now,” said Amena, “You’ll do no good by getting yourself upset. There will be more than enough time to talk about things when you’re strength is back.” She took the edge of her heavy wool apron and wiped Lindy’s eyes. “The best thing for you right now is to eat what I feed you and sleep when I tell you and heal as quick as you can.” She stood and went to the small fireplace on the back wall of the cottage’s single room. She ladled something into a wooden bowl and then returned to the bedside. The bowl held soup of some kind that Amena began feeding to Lindy, a clear and wholesome soup with some vegetables in it that Lindy did not recognize, all cut very small and cooked very soft. It was warm and comforting it her belly, though it hurt her jaw quite a lot to eat it.
When she had finished the soup, she was pleasantly full, and she thought that she could sleep again. She watched Amena busy herself around the cottage, washing dishes in water that she carried in buckets from outside and heated over the fire, mending some clothes that Lindy recognized as her own, and then preparing some food at the table. Actually, it would be truer to say that she half-watched Amena do these things and half-dozed, all the while wondering things like what had happened to the girl who had been standing in the cottage door the night before and how it was that Amena had known her name. Though she still knew that there were far more important things to worry her, she could not seem to focus on any of them, and she drifted comfortably on the edge of sleep all that afternoon.
Lindy came fully awake only when Amena took the stew from off the fire and began serving it into bowls on the cottage’s little wooden table along with some dark bread and two glasses of red wine, one filled almost to the rim and the other only a little less than half way. Amena did all this across the room with her back half-turned, so it was only when she turned to the bed that Lindy realized it was not Amena at all but a much older woman. Lindy shrank back in her bed. There was much about the older woman that reminded her of Amena, and she was wearing the same clothes that Amena had been wearing, but she was easily old enough to be Amena’s mother.
“Who are you?” asked Lindy, a little frightened and drawing the blankets up around her.
“Oh, Lindy,” the woman laughed, and her smile was the same open smile that Amena had smiled that morning to win Lindy’s trust. “I’m still the same Amena. I’m just a little older now, and I will be older still by the time you go to sleep tonight.”
“But how…” Lindy began.
Amena laughed again. “It’s just the way I am. Each day I grow older, from daughter to mother to grandmother, and each morning, at the very first hour of the morning, I became a girl again, like I was when you found me last night. Do you remember?”
“Yes,” said Lindy,” I do remember. There was beautiful girl standing at the door of the cottage. And that was you?”
“That was me. And I will be the same again not very long from now, when the last hour of night turns to the first hour of morning.”
“I told you. It’s just the way I am. The way I’ve always been. And I have been a very long time.” She reached out and took Lindy by the hand. “Now,” she said, and her tone said that she had changed the topic of conversation, “Enough questions. I think you’ll find that you’re well enough to get out of bed for a short while so you can wash your hurts and eat something. This cottage is the kind of place where people heal quickly, and you’re healing even more quickly than most.”
Lindy allowed herself to be helped to the washstand where Amena had set a basin of water. It was very cold in the warmth of the cabin, but it felt good to wash herself a little. Her body hurt her much less than she expected, though her shoulder was still very painful and her face looked a horrible mess in the small and cloudy mirror that hung over the washstand, all red scratches and blue bruises.
Amena sat Lindy down in one of the cottage’s two rough wooden chairs to change her shoulder dressing. The wound was quite deep in places, and it was still very much open and bloody, but there did not seem to be any infection, and there was already new pink skin showing at the edges. Amena washed it carefully in salt water and then put some kind of salve into it that burned sharply and smelled a little like vinegar. Then she wrapped it again and helped Lindy dress in her old clothes again. Amena had washed and mended them so well that there were no blood stains to be seen and the carefully darned tears could hardly be noticed.
It felt good to be back in her old clothes again, and it felt even better to get some food in her stomach. The stew was thick and tasty and filling. Though Lindy was at first sceptical about eating rabbit in a stew or any other way, her hunger soon won her over, and before she quite realized how quickly she was eating she was already wiping her bowl with a piece of the heavy, dark bread. She was feeling drowsy again by then, especially once Amena made her drink the half glass of wine. Lindy had sometimes had a sip of her mother’s wine, but just a sip, and Amena’s wine tasted very strong on her tongue, and it was almost half a glass besides, and Lindy was soon in bed again and sleeping soundly.
She woke only once that night sometime shortly after midnight to feel something climbing on her feet. She was startled, and there was a split second when she imagined herself out in the forest being attacked by the night creatures again, but she soon saw that it was only Amena’s beetle, whose name she had learned was Saffi, making itself a nest in the blankets at her feet. The fire was low in the hearth, and there was little light in the cottage, but when Lindy looked out from her bed, she could see a very young girl, young enough to be Amena’s daughter, but somehow also unmistakably Amena herself, sitting in one of the wooden chairs and reading something by the firelight. Lindy suddenly felt truly safe again, maybe for the first time since she had jumped off the wall into Mister Hat’s garden. She was asleep again a moment later, and she did not wake until morning.