The Sorceress' Knight
I do not own any of the characters in this story - they are the property of Squaresoft.
'Edea! Edea! Wait up!'
Edea turned and smiled as she saw who was calling. Raine came panting up.
'You walk too fast,' she complained. 'I saw you pass the bar from the upstairs' window, and by the time I get outside you're already across the bridge!
'Where are you going anyway? Would you like some company?'
'I'm only going to the store, but yes, I would like some company. I would have invited you, but I thought you would have been needed at home.'
Raine pulled a face. 'Well, yes, I am,' she admitted, 'but the lunchtime rush is over. Dad can cope for an hour or so. Anyway, I could do with visiting the store, too. Look, I came prepared,' and she lifted her right hand which held a basket.
'Let's go then,' said Edea smiling.
The two women strolled along the main street of the little town of Winhill. Behind them was the town square. On one side was the mansion of Lord Winhill, and opposite that, the River Winhill flowed swiftly under the wooden drawbridge. The bar which Raine ran with her father stood on the left hand side of the square, and there were some small shops on the other side.
Raine was in her early teens, and her father's state of health meant that she ran the bar almost single-handed. Edea had arrived at Winhill about two years earlier. Little was know about her past, but she had gained a reputation as a healer. She had established herself in the empty house next door to the bar, which had once been home to a woman believed to be a witch. This information did not deter Edea, and the inevitable rumours had begun.
Now Edea walked a precarious line. The voices raised against her were growing louder and more forceful, and her attempts to cure Raine's father were obviously failing. Although she had the full support of the younger woman, she felt her hold on the situation was slipping. If - when - the old man died, she would have to move on once more.
In the fields to either side, the town's food supply for the next year was growing well. Farm workers called out a greeting, grasshoppers chirped, swifts swirled through the air. Edea breathed deeply of the heavy air which was scented with wild flowers and dust.
'Where will you go?' asked Raine suddenly.
'Pardon?' Edea looked at her in surprise, thrown by the question.
'I mean when you leave here. I know you will be leaving, soon, and I get the feeling you've had to leave other places, too. And I don't want you to go, but I know it's too dangerous for you to stay, and I want to keep in touch.' Raine spoke in a rush, desperate to get the words out before the tears overtook her.
They had stopped walking, and stood in the shade of a tree. There was no-one else in sight, but they were very close to the houses which formed the lower part of the town. Edea was anxious to help Raine to collect herself before anyone saw them and assumed the worst.
'Raine, I won't lie to you. I will be leaving, but it won't be anytime soon. And when I do go, I'll make sure to let you know where I am. Now dry your eyes before someone sees you. That's right. Keep your head up, whatever happens. Never let them see you upset.'
'It's OK, Edea. I feel better now. I just had to get it off my chest. Let's get on with this shopping!'
The journey through the houses was far tenser than the one through the fields. Here there were no friendly greetings, only silent stares, some of them openly hostile. The store was the last building in the town. The owner was a thin woman who always looked to Raine as if she was sucking a lemon.
'Yes?' she snapped as they entered.
Raine and Edea silently handed their lists. The woman had lived and worked in the store all of her life. She moved around the shelves with a kind of grace, hardly looking up from the lists to check that she had the correct items, as she assembled the groceries. When she had finished, the other two women paid as quickly as they could, and prepared to leave.
Edea was ahead, and as Raine turned towards the door, the woman grabbed her arm.
'You watch yourself around her,' she said, nodding towards the door. 'If you know what's good for you and your father, you won't let her near him no more.'
'That's our business,' Raine flashed back.
'That's as may be, but the tide is turning. She's running out of time. There's not many would want a witch living amongst them. How is your dad, then?'
'As comfortable as Edea can make him,' replied Raine, with all the dignity she could muster. Then she pulled her arm out of the woman's grasp, and left the store with her head held high.
Edea raised her eyebrows in puzzlement as Raine left the building. The younger woman shook her head. 'I'll tell you later,' she said as they turned for home. However, before they could go any further, they were stopped by a young man wearing travelling clothes and covered in dust.
'Excuse me, ladies,' he said, 'can you please direct me to a hotel or lodging house?'
Edea smiled and pointed behind him. The young man turned, and read the sign above the door of the Hotel. He flushed slightly as he turned back to them.
'Oh, dear. Now you will think that I was just looking for an excuse to speak to you. Oh, how embarrassing.'
'Don't worry about it,' replied Edea. 'It's not a very clear sign.'
'Thank you, madam. Since you have been so gracious, might I assist you and your companion with your shopping?'
Edea laughed quietly. 'My dear sir, from the look of you, you need our assistance! Go into the Hotel and get some rest, for goodness sake.'
The man looked down at himself, and joined in her laughter. 'I see what you mean,' he said wryly. 'Well, thank you for your help. I am sure I will see you again, soon.' With that, he bowed and left them to enter the Hotel.
That evening, a stranger entered the bar. There was an immediate hush, and every pair of eyes followed his progress to the counter.
Raine gave him her brightest smile in a vain effort to raise the temperature. 'Yes, Sir, what can I get you?'
'Hello, again! A mug of beer would be fine,' came the reply.
Raine looked more closely. 'Oh, it's you! The dusty traveller! I hardly recognise you.'
The man nodded in acknowledgement. 'The Hotel manager's wife is still scrubbing her bath-tub, I'm afraid. An excellent establishment, except that they don't serve beer,' he said, accepting the overflowing mug which Raine handed him. 'They recommended the bar on the square, but I didn't realise you would be serving.'
'This is my home,' Raine replied simply. 'By the way, my name is Raine, Raine Leonheart.'
'Oh, my apologies, I haven't even the manners to introduce myself!' the man exclaimed. 'I'm Kramer, Cid Kramer. I am travelling, seeking knowledge of the world, and gaining blisters on my feet. I am very pleased to make your acquaintance. And your friend, where is she?'
'Edea lives next door. She doesn't go out much at night.'
'Don't you believe it,' came a voice from the bar. But when Raine tried to locate the source, all of her customers became suddenly very interested in their beer and their earlier conversations.
A slight frown creased Raine's brow. Cid noticed it, but said nothing.
Cid was young and strong and in return for a little cash worked in the fields for the remainder of the Summer. This paid for his lodging at the Hotel, and for the odd mug of beer at the bar. He established a firm friendship with Raine, but met Edea only occasionally. However, Raine, recognising a sympathetic listener, told him as much of Edea's history as she knew.
One evening he arrived at the bar to find it closed, and a crowd gathered around the building next door. He recognised one of the farm workers and asked him what was going on.
'It's that witch,' the man replied. 'She's finally killed Raine's old man. This time, she'll get what's coming to her!'
There was an ugliness to the man's face that Cid had never seen before. His instinct was to get as far away as possible, but first, he wanted to find out more. He knew from his conversations with Raine, and the comments of the townsfolk over the last few months that Edea was the 'witch' the man referred to. But what did he mean, 'get what was coming to her'?
In reply to Cid's query, the man nodded across the square. One of the local farmers was approaching - and he was carrying a gun.