What are you supposed to do when a Lady gives you gifts so obviously important to her. Ash knew the answer already of course, but she heard it echoed by the cat beside her. You use them, of course.
Ash stared at the basket for a long while, the sun was going down, night was creeping in, and she tried to ignore the sounds that were floating to her from across the stream. This wasn’t real, it’s all just a dream. She hadn’t had one of the haunting nightmares from her past since moving to Elsewhere, but this has to be a nightmare. A new one. It has to be.
She closed her eyes tight, breathed the cooling air in deep and took a few steps down the path, back toward the cottage. Only a few though, before quickly scampering back, picking up the basket and flinging herself back down the path and through the front door.
The door clicked shut behind her, heavy and secure. Safe. Her gasp as she looked to the walls of the sitting room was accompanied by the satisfied purr of the small white cat, already sitting on the small table. On the walls, in the bookshelves, every book glowed and shimmered a warm welcoming light, not too unlike her new, wrong, eyes. Dancing light filled the small room, Ash took a moment to bask in it. Even if this was a dream, at least she could appreciate the nice bits, just for a while.
Ash spent the rest of the night hunkered down in one of the comfy chairs of the sitting room, staring blankly into the shifting light. It danced and flickered and mesmerized like fire. She had no idea how long she stayed there just staring, but eventually she fell asleep in the soft chair, with a cat that definitely had too many eyes curled in her lap.
She dreamt of iron bones, and skin of salt and stone, and a heart of fire, and eyes of shifting light. She dreamt of people lost in the woods returned safe back home, of students in despair being helped, of cats caught in burning wires freed. She dreamt of gifts yet given, of stories yet told, of favours yet made, promises yet to come, of people, and creatures, and the cottage. She dreamt she had iron bones, and skin of salt and stone, and a heart full of burning fire, and eyes of dancing light. She dreamt she had a purpose, she dreamt that she could help, she dreamt that she was needed.
When Ash woke and sat herself in front of the large mirror in the bathroom, she wasn’t entirely surprised to see her eyes were still wrong. She stared back at her reflection for what felt like days, understanding bit by bit, that things were different. She felt it deep in her heart ‘heart of flame, bones of iron, skin of salt and stone’ she muttered to herself ‘and eyes of dancing light’. She wondered if the other students knew that things were different, wondered if they could tell her about the Lady. Ash remembered the snippets of conversation she had heard before in class ‘see their eyes’ ‘one of them’ how they had looked at the boy. She wondered if they would look at her the same way. It wouldn’t really matter anyway, she suspected they already did.
When she walked into the sitting room she saw the books first, still all glowing faintly, lighting the room like the last rays of a sunset. She opened the big arched windows of the study next, letting the potted plants soak in the sun light, and then she turned to the basket.
What do you do with presents from a Lady. ‘You use them’ Ash breathed. She had a class later that day, but she probably had time to do some work before then.
Bananas gone soft, weeds with roots, sheets of fabric, string and stone and bone.
‘Well’ she said, mostly to herself but at least a little to the cat ‘at least the bananas could be used well to make cakes’. The cat purred contentedly and followed her to the kitchen. ‘I’ve decided I’m calling you Kat by the way, with a K’ she stated before setting to work.
The cupcakes turned out well, they were the best she had ever made, and had turned out twice as many as she’d thought the ingredients would allow. The weeds were planted in the window pots, alongside the overgrown plants. The string, and stones, and bones had come together to make some charming bracelets. But the fabric remained unused, at least for the moment.
Ash stared at her reflection again, watching the shifting lights dance in her eyes. She’d decided to bring the cupcakes with her to class, maybe a peace gift to lessen whatever torment her eyes might bring. She had them piled in the basket and covered with a sheet of the fabric.
Ash decided, just as she was leaving, to put on one of the bracelets. It felt cool and… safe against her skin.
As she walked along her path the sound of tumbling stones in a river bed accompanied her, the smell of the fresh cakes wafted around her, and a small white cat with definitely too many eyes trailed not far behind.