The little boy sat on the weathered cypress porch playing with a little stuffed lizard Misca had stitched together for him. He cradled it gently, occasionally made it wiggle in front of him in a parody of walking before hugging it to his chest again. The boy rocked gently and peered with wide dark eyes into the dim evening light that filtered through the moss that hung from the swamp trees.
“All saints, he looks like he hasn’t ever had a toy before.” Miscas wife, Thierry, remarked.
Misca murmured in agreement and wound the extra thread back on to the spool, tucking it into her side pocket again. She licked the end of the needle and slid it into the lapel of her jacket with the others, a descending line of sewing needles, silver, steel, brass and copper. They gazed across the still surface of the swamp together in their easy silence for awhile. Across the water in front of the cooking lodge two younger witches dumped mussels into a large copper pot. One of them stood, caught sight of the two older women and waved a greeting before wiping her raw hands on her apron and stepping back inside. A dragonfly buzzed past the boy and he rolled away, squealing and clutching his new toy.
Thierry laughed. “Luken, come here, child.” She reached out her large hands to him and he scuttled a zigzag path to her. She lifted him under his arms to set him in her lap. “They look big and scary, but they’re harmless.”
Luken looked up at her with his huge watery eyes. His mouth hung open.
“See,” Thierry pointed. “Look at it out there playing with its friends.”
Luken buried his face in her chest.
“Oh, sweetheart. It’s alright.” She rocked and hummed. The boy put his fingers in his mouth and shut his eyes. Thierry heard Misca draw a weary breath from beside her.
“What are you thinking there, old woman?”
Frustrated, Misca ran a hand over her short grey hair. “Skin Magic is a hard discipline for anyone. It’ll be traumatic for him with all he’s been through already. Not to mention he’s the youngest I’ve ever heard of to start learning it and he has no inherent knack I can suss…”
Thierry hushed her wife. ” Don’t break your head thinking of things we can’t change, ey. We convened with the others when Greeta sent him to us. It’s the only way to show him how to control it.”
Misca glanced over at Lukens slight back, frowning at the fresh cut across his shoulder blade. The village Skin Witch, Green Sally hadn’t wanted to do it and Misca hadn’t wanted to see it happen. Not that they had a choice when the fearful child started to burn. Sally’s hand shook when she pressed her palm to the wound she had made and concentrated. It took a great deal to turn a Skin Witch’s stomach Misca knew from experience.
“This will be hard, is all I’m saying. And the Ostermen will not stop hunting for him. You know that.”
“So we protect him. We protect our own.” Thierry shrugged. “What was that beautiful thing you told me when I first came here?” Thierry swept her arm in a grand gesture. “‘We are all threads woven into a dense and beautiful tapestry. We will hold together.‘”
Misca groaned and made a face.
“I was drunk when I said that. I was just trying to impress you.”
“I married you though, so I must have been very impressed.”
The two of them watched the fireflies rising up into the gloom in silence for a moment. Misca spied a small dark head peering around the corner of their shanty.
“Who is that there? Bryony, is that you? Come here, girl.” Misca beckoned to the shy girl creeping out from her hiding place.
Thierry gently pulled Luken away.
“Luken, would you like to make a friend?” She asked kindly.
Luken shook his head fiercely.
“Bryony, maybe if you showed Luken your trick? Luken, look.” Misca pointed at Bryony who had reached into her pocket and pulled out a tiny seed. The little girl looked at him from under her dark bangs and smiled a slow proud smile.
“Hi. Look what I can do.” She held the seed in front of Lukens face. “I just learned.”
Bryony tucked her tongue into the gap of missing milk tooth and concentrated. The shell of the seed split. A thin green vine twisted up from it, sprouted a heavy bud which burst open into a bright red blossom. Luken held on to his stuffed lizard and leaned over to look. Bryony offered it to him.
“You can have it. I can do lots of different ones now!”
Luken took it but buried his face back into Thierry’s neck. Misca sighed.
“I’m Bryony…” The little girl tried.
Luken didn’t show his whole face but still, one dark eye opened and muffled against Thierry’s skin he said quietly,
And that was a small thing, but it was something.