Prompt Short Story: Balance

The knock came at her door just as Bryten settled down for a well-earned breakfast after a night spent treating one of the villages’ young men, injured trying to climb one of the harder sections of the mountain. Wanted to impress his friends, he said, eyes glazing as much from the pain as from the other pretty young man holding his hand and pressing a cold cloth to his forehead.

The youngster would be fine, her magic was strong and his breaks and wounds – inner and outer – would complete their healing over the next 24 hours. He had been left in the care of his pretty young man, and Bryten had returned home for a large breakfast before sleep.

Apparently it was not to be.

Wearily, she stumped to the door, pulling her greying hair back into a ponytail, and flung it open.

The two figures outside flinched slightly.

“Yeah? Who got hurt now?” Bryten prompted, squinting to try and recognise the villagers in the dim morning light.

“Hi Mama Bryten, do you remember me? Ami?”

Bryten smiled, one slightly crooked tooth catching on her lip as she motioned the people in, “Ami, of course I do! I remember all my little loves. Come in, tell me how you’ve been, and your young fellow – I don’t believe you’re from around here? You made it out into the wide world, then, love?”

Bryten forked out her breakfast onto two extra plates and poured herbal tea for them both, before sitting and beginning to eat.

Ami shuffled uneasily, “Well, I made it to the foothills, and a bit further. I stopped overnight in an inn and met Heper here,” she motioned to the young man who swallowed hastily.

“Soon as she walked in I asked her to stay,” he smiled. “An’ she did! We got wed last year, an’ Ami wanted to come see you.”

“So we came back, and we stopped at the village down the foot of the mountain. I’d only passed through on my way out, but coming back, it was late so we wanted to stay, then we decided to make it a couple of nights so we were well rested…”

“Well you musta set out just gone teatime to get up here this time of the morning, love, what happened?”

“Well…” Ami gulped tea and cleared her throat. “Up here we tell tales about you. How you help us and heal us, perform miracles of magic.”

Bryten nodded, frowning slightly.

“Down there, they talk about you, too. Only not as Mama Bryten. They call you – well not you, they don’t know you, but they have a…a thing they call Kilen.”

Bryten leaned forwards, “I don’t follow, love.”

Heper put a hand on Ami’s shoulder, “Yesterday, Mama, did someone hurt themselves real bad? Broke bones, inside bleedin’, lotsa wounds?”

“Well yes, a young fool. You’ll remember Mifil, Ami? He tried to climb the overhang and he fell. I was with him all night. You’ve been here waiting for me?”

“No, Mama,” Ami took over again. “We started up, risking the dark, as soon as we realised. Mama the things you heal. Where do they go? The injuries. What happens to them?”

Bryten, thoroughly confused, moved them all over to the corner she called her living space, taking her creaking armchair and giving the couple the sprung sofa, patched and in need of new upholstery.

“Ami love, I dont…magic is…well hard to explain. I do the spells, sometimes with some potions, and the wounds and illnesses they heal. It’s like making time pass at high-speed but only to that specific thing. They heal, fast, and then the injured or sick person is left to sleep off the exhaustion of the body that went through a whole healing cycle in minutes. Now tell me what you want to tell me.”

“Whenever you heal someone, Mama, it doesn’t just heal. It transfers. To the people at the foothill village. They’re terrified of people getting hurt or sick up here because it means one of them will suffer the injuries and illnesses. Last night I watched a healthy young man suddenly get broke bones and inside bleeding and open wounds, out of nowhere! Mama every time you use your spells, they suffer!”

Bryten, a cloak of dread settling on her shoulders, sat back heavily in her chair. “I always thought…I mean, it’s what she taught me…balance is necessary but that’s the tributes. Look, I pay tribute. In grains, in meat, in prayer. That’s what I was taught by my gramma, when she showed me how to heal. She told me that’s how to keep the balance. Never that it transferred. Gods… All these years. All those people.” Bryten’s face paled and drew in on itself. “Gods…”

Ami knept by her, taking Bryten’s hand in hers, “I told them. I told them there was no way you knew. I knew you could never do that on purpose.” Ami brought a handkerchief, wiping the tears Bryten unknowingly shed.

“Please leave me,” Bryten whispered. “Go to the village below. Tell them they are free. Tell them…tell them I’m sorry.”

Ami nodded and stood,  “Then we’ll come back. OK Mama? Wait for us. We’ll come back.”

Heper placed a hand on Bryten’s shoulder, “Please, wait for us.”

Bryten turned her head away, staring at the peeling plaster on the wall by the fire, barely hearing the door close.

“All these years. Gramma…did you know? Did you tell me wrong?”

Bryten held her hands out in front of her. All the blood on them over the years. All the magic flowing through them. All the hurt and sickness taken away, and…sent somewhere else? To someone else?

She was a healer. Three generations of her family had kept this village alive, never leaving,  never turning anyone away, accepting payment in housework, repairs, donated food, and sometimes simple gratitude when the afflicted had nothing else. She had loved them, birthed them, healed them and buried them. How could she turn away those who came to her for aid, even knowing what she knew now? How could she explain it to them if she did?

Never one to linger over a decision – second guessing oneself could be the difference between life and death – she sent the options through her mind, and settled, calmly, on a solution.

She creaked to her feet, her steps heavy with the weight of all the hurt she had caused. They would be back, they said. Well they could return, indeed, but she would not be waiting for them. The village could mourn, and the couple could explain.

Quickly mixing a potion with one hand and scrawling a note with the other, Bryten prayed for mercy.

A quick swallow, and drowsiness quickly overtook her.

She lay down on her cot, allowing her eyes to close on her final tears as she said goodbye.

She would go to the Gods and explain herself. Perhaps they would understand.

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Writing prompt used:

You’re a local healer, a good one, and your people love you. But you do not truly heal wounds, merely transfer them… The people of the valley below know you under a different name.

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