A Shopping Run and a Birthday
Her nose itched and it was a struggle to fight back the sneeze that threatened as Amarynthe picked through the baskets of dried herbs and ingredients in the herbalist’s shop. She could feel Auntie Parkins’s dark, thoughtful eyes on her as she rifled through the selections, taking her time with each piece before she made her choice.
With a huff, the elder woman finally spoke as she smacked the front of her brown skirt into order, “One would think you would have a knack for picking by now.”
Amarynthe’s lips curled up at the corners of her mouth and she simply swiped a strand of dark brown hair behind her ear so that it wouldn’t linger in her face. “One would also think rushing picking ingredients for cooking or magic efforts might be a bad idea,” she quipped back.
“Cheeky little brat,” Auntie Parkins laughed outright, sauntering over with all the glee of a woman half her age. “Oh, I do enjoy your visits, Amarynthe,” she grinned, her unusually well cared for teeth framed by slightly chapped lips. Brown hair stuck out at all angles from her hasty horsetail and various stains marred her fingertips and the fabric of her beige shirt, but she was all smiles.
Amarynthe raised one eyebrow, picked up a dried stick of cinnamon, and chuckled, “You enjoy the money from my visits.”
Auntie Parkins snorted in the back of her throat, hands fluttering dismissively before she planted herself next to the shorter woman and looked over the selection in her basket with a thoughtful eye. “I never said I didn’t. A businesswoman doesn’t turn away money after all.”
“See?” Amarynthe pointed with the cinnamon stick before settling it in her basket next to the sage bundle and carefully packaged ground worm root. She squeaked when arms encircled her shoulders and gave her a big hug. “Auntie…” she groaned playfully.
“Oh hush,” the older woman chided, keeping her grip. They weren’t related but Auntie Parkins had earned her title when she acted like an aunt to everyone that came into her store. She just happened to favor Amarynthe since the ‘poor dear had nothing but men around her.’
“How am I supposed to finish shopping if you won’t let go?” Amarynthe smiled plainly, allowing herself to enjoy the affection. She pretended she didn’t like it, but in truth, it reminded her of her mother – and Auntie Parkins knew it; the two had been close friends after all.
“Feh. There’s time enough for that,” she smiled, letting go with one hand to trace too long bangs out of Amarynthe’s face. “Your father will miss you regardless and those boys are probably driving you half mad by now. Irritating little buggers,” she winked, well aware of their antics and those of young men in general.
“Auntie! They’re… not that bad,” she admitted with a wrinkled nose and a reluctant smile.
The look Auntie Parkins gave her clearly said she thought otherwise. “Humph. It wasn’t that long ago you came trudging through here all covered in muck from that mudroot run of yours.”
Amarynthe cringed. “That was months ago,” she reminded the older woman. “Your memory is getting as bad as my father’s.” To lighten the words, she gave the older woman a gentle nudge with her shoulder.
Auntie Parkins let go and stepped back as if wounded, theatrically clutching her chest as she did so. “To think I am being compared to Mage Scrivener now.” She clicked her tongue behind her teeth and ducked around one of the shelves to return with a bundle of herbs. “Memory weed,” she winked, picking through the packet and retrieving a couple handpicked pieces. “I steep it every morning,” she explained, handing some to Amarynthe. “Make sure your father tries it,” she insisted in a motherly fashion, keeping her finger pointed at the younger woman until she put the herbs in her basket as well.
‘He already has,’ Amarynthe was tempted to say but she accepted the gift with a grateful nod. Auntie Parkins was more understanding of her father’s eccentricities. Some of the other villagers weren’t as prone to help in that manner. “Thank you,” she bowed slightly, letting her eyes trail over the goods in the store.
Row upon row of dried plants hung from the ceilings and along the walls while jars and vials of powdered or more loose seasonings, reagents, and ingredients were crammed into every inch of shelf space. Motes of dust danced in the rays of the sun that filtered through the open window. It really did make her want to sneeze every time she came here but Auntie Parkins’s Earthy Ingredients was the place to go (nearby) if one wanted something for cooking, magic, medicine or anything similar.
Sensing Amarynthe’s readiness, the older woman meandered back to the front desk and waited patiently, her calm eyes observing the villagers outside before resting on her guest. “What else is on the list for today, Amarynthe?” she inquired, accepting the basket and searching through the selections to tally up the results.
The young woman shrugged her shoulders and took a shallow breath. “We’re running low on bread,” she mused thoughtfully.
“Mr. Baker will be happy to see you,” Auntie murmured with a nod.
“And those hungry boys have eaten through the meat again,” Amarynthe said with a heavy sigh and a shake of her head.
That brought a laugh and another comment, “We both know Brendan only looks grumpy when you show up.”
“He’s happy because those two eat more than enough to make me come back every week,” she scoffed, waving her hand in mock annoyance. “But even grumpy, he’s better company than the mayor. And his daughters,” Amarynthe couldn’t help but add as she noticed the tall, handsome gentleman on the other side of the square.
“Is that a hint of jealousy I hear?” Auntie Parkins teased with a light chuckle.
“No,” Amarynthe immediately denied as she turned away from the window.
The shop owner hummed to herself and began writing on her receipt sheet. “His daughters are lovely, to be fair.” Amarynthe’s mouth thinned slightly and she huffed again. “And always interested in your boys,” she added with a knowing look.
“They’re not my boys,” the younger woman retorted too quickly.
“Your father’s, of course,” Auntie grinned, pushing the receipt with the total cost towards her.
“Well they can have them,” Amarynthe mumbled as she accepted the slip and frowned at it for a moment. “This isn’t-”
“Of course it is,” the older woman cut her off with a wink. “I’m the owner, aren’t I?”
“Auntie,” she exhaled in a show of irritation, though they both knew she was quietly grateful.
“Now off with you to the rest of your errands,” Auntie Parkins shooed after Amarynthe handed over the appropriate coins. “And come back to see me next week. I do enjoy your visits.”
“I still think you enjoy my money,” Amarynthe teased with a playful show of her tongue.
“Impudent little brat!”
Amarynthe laughed to herself as she fled the lighthearted tone. Her mood immediately shifted when she happened to notice the trio of Mooneys they had just been discussing in the shop. Young, pretty, and primped up with the best their father’s money could buy in such a small town, Priscilla, Sara, and Aimee were tall, thin, and… well, beautiful. And they were infatuated with the Mage’s apprentices.
Just as Amarynthe made up her mind to try and avoid them, the youngest spotted her. “Oh! Amarynthe!” Aimee called in her annoyingly sweet voice. As a group, the three, who were all around her age, picked up the hems of their finely woven dresses – one yellow, one red, and one blue – and minced over. How they negotiated the uneven ground so swiftly in heels was beyond Amarynthe, but the action made their neatly coiffed hair bounce attractively and she wilted just a touch to know that hers would never do that.
Putting on a falsely bright smile, Amarynthe squared her shoulders. “Good morning ladies,” she smiled, offering a slight, awkward curtsy. To their credit, they didn’t laugh at her attempt and simply swarmed around her with too much dainty energy.
“Just you today?” Sara asked gently, her full lips in a seeming permanent half-smile.
“Like usual,” Amarynthe nodded, feeling nervous and out of place in their midst.
“When’s the next time that Jerich will help you with your errands?” Aimee inquired as she played with a strand of chestnut colored hair.
“When my father decides to send him?” the shorter girl shrugged, eager to be free from their company. They weren’t bad exactly, but she just didn’t like being around them.
“How about Zachariah?” Priscilla practically purred with a pleasant voice that age had done wonders for. As the eldest among them, she had grown up quite nicely and if she was any indication of what was to come, both Sara and Aimee were going to be turning quite a few heads in the future.
“Same,” Amarynthe nodded matter of factly. “You can always visit them,” she reminded with a glance towards the tower they could all see from town.
The trio pouted at the suggestion and Aimee answered, “But it’s so far.”
“And dirty,” Sara added with a slight frown.
It was a struggle not to snort at their answers. “Well then,” Amarynthe managed instead, ducking her head once. “I’ll be going now. Can’t keep them waiting too long,” she murmured, already retreating.
The trio shadowed her annoyingly. “Oh! Do tell Jerich I send my regards,” Aimee urged, laying a soft gloved hand upon Amarynthe’s forearm.
“And Zachariah,” Priscilla added on her other side while Sara nodded in agreement, mostly just shadowing her sisters.
“Sure,” Amarynthe agreed, if only to get them to go away faster. She jumped when the three giggled in high pitched delight and moved off as a group, chatting and laughing among themselves with backwards glances towards her. She couldn’t help but feel they were talking about her but it was a relief to simply be away from them. With a shake of her head, Amarynthe tweaked her considerably plainer dark green dress, flung her dark brown hair over her shoulder, and marched on towards the baker’s. Arden would undoubtedly make her smile if nothing else.
It was nearing midday by the time Amarynthe finally managed to make her way back to the house with her basket filled with goods and another cloth sack slung over her shoulder. Arden had been very generous with the leftover bread and she grinned with the knowledge that he’d remembered it was her birthday today. The endearingly goofy blonde with a bright smile had even given her a small sweet for the occasion. She couldn’t wait to eat it later. But she had lunch to prepare first and she was already behind.
She was startled from her thoughts when Zachariah emerged from the tower doorway and spotted her first. “Oh! You’re back!” he beamed, hurrying to close the distance between them with legs that had grown in the past few months. He’d hit a growth spurt in that time before another birthday had passed. At ten and four, he’d filled out further and lost some of the baby fat in his cheeks, giving him a more grown appearance.
“Sorry,” she apologized as he got closer, juggling her supplies carefully. “It took a little longer than usual. The shopkeepers wanted to talk,” she laughed, handing the heavier basket to him automatically.
“And you didn’t?” he teased with a knowing smile. They weren’t always the best company since most of what they talked about was magic.
“Of course I did,” she confirmed with a nod. Her smile wavered just a touch when she remembered her run in with the sisters earlier. “Also, the Mooney girls send their regards.”
“Ah. Run into them again did you?” he laughed and reached out to ruffle her hair, creating fuzzy strands that would take her effort to smooth out again.
“Zachariah!” she huffed, swatting at his hand while he fled indoors before she could hit him. “You aggravating… boy!” she called when no other insult came to mind.
“Man, thank you,” he shot back with a wink as he set the basket next to the counter at the rear of the house.
“Not yet, you’re not,” she scoffed, smacking his back with an open palm as she got closer.
“When then?” he responded, apparently genuinely interested as he stood by her side and waited for an answer.
Amarynthe’s eyes darted up to meet his, reminded yet again of their difference in height. She frowned with a slight furrow to her brows and then raised a finger to tap him on the nose. “When you start acting like one.” Before she could see his reaction, she turned to unpack her goods, focusing on that task instead.
Zachariah groaned. “You always say that but what does it even mean?” he asked, gesturing with his hands as he angled himself towards her.
They both sighed when Jerich seemed to magically appear in the doorway long enough to hear the last part of their exchange. “It means that you’ll never be a man,” he grinned cheekily, earning a look from both of them. Amarynthe eyed the bundle of crumpled fabric in his hands.
“You’re one to talk,” Zachariah shot back, standing upright and crossing his arms over his chest.
“What do you mean? Of course I’m a man,” Jerich flashed his trademark smile, dimples appearing in his cheeks as he stopped just short of the two.
“Says the ‘man’ who comes to me to mend his clothes,” Amarynthe muttered with a deadpan expression. “I already told you, no.”
“But…” he pouted, losing whatever charm he’d managed to hold onto.
“Zachariah can mend his clothes. I don’t see why you can’t either,” she reminded with a glance at the slightly shorter of the two.
“It’s not that hard, Jerich,” Zachariah nodded in agreement. “I can help you if you’d like?”
Jerich frowned – it was closer to his original pout really – and settled his best puppy dog eyes on the young woman. “Amarynthe…”
“I’ll teach you more sword fighting tonight,” he offered in a wheedling tone.
That caught her attention and Amarynthe’s hands stilled as she thought it over. He’d given her some lessons already and she’d enjoyed them. Not only that, but she wasn’t terrible with a weapon either. With a slight narrowing of her eyes, Amarynthe looked over her shoulder – up again, and pursed her lips. “Deal. But you’ve gotta help me with lunch,” she bargained shrewdly.
“Done!” “But I was going to help with lunch,” the pair spoke at the same time.
Amarynthe laughed at their responses and didn’t even bother trying to suppress her smile. “You can both help me with lunch then. Go ahead and set the robe on the table. We’ll get to it later,” she nodded before scooting over so Jerich could join them. Immediately, he stepped up, pushing his sleeves back as he did so. He was just about to reach in when Amarynthe stopped him. “Hands.”
“Oh. Right,” Zachariah caught on first, stepping outside to the washbasin. Jerich groaned but didn’t complain as he followed suit. “What next?” the stockier of the two asked, practically hovering over Amarynthe’s shoulder as she continued sorting the goods from her run.
“You can start washing and cutting the potatoes.” She nodded towards the rucksack filled with the vegetables. “And Jerich, why don’t you chop the onions?” She jerked her head towards the hanging line of them against the wall.
“But they make me cry,” he whined.
“They make everyone cry,” she laughed back with a shake of her head.
“Fine…” Jerich grumbled, snatching a well used board and throwing himself into a seat at the table with a couple of onions in hand.
When Amarynthe was done sorting, she stepped outside to wash her hands and then moved back in so she could start with the rest of the stew. They’d gotten better about helping and as long as she didn’t ask them to do any of the actual cooking, nothing burned. With a watchful eye, she saw Zachariah make short work of his task, but then she eventually took pity on the blurry eyed Jerich when he literally couldn’t see because he was crying too hard.
“Why don’t you go check on my father?” she urged to give him a chance to collect himself.
“Because he’ll ask why I’m crying,” Jerich muttered, refusing to move from his chair while he wiped at his eyes.
“You can tell him you were cutting onions,” Zachariah winked with a nudge to his shoulder.
“Men don’t cry, not even over onions,” he retorted with a sniffle that hardly helped his image.
Both Amarynthe and Zachariah giggled at the response and the latter volunteered instead. “I’ll go get him. Be back in a bit,” he grinned, brushing his hands off before he hurried out and shielding his eyes from the sun when he stepped out.
Idly, Amarynthe wondered if her father had remembered it was her birthday. When the slightly distracted Mage returned following Zachariah, it didn’t seem as if he did. Amarynthe stifled her disappointment. After her mother’s passing, every year was harder to predict.
“Smells good,” her father grinned from under the flop of his messy black hair. “How were the villagers?” he asked, placing his hand on Amarynthe’s shoulder in a tender gesture.
“The same as usual,” she smiled, scrunching her face when her father kissed the side of her head. “Auntie Parkins sent some memory weed for you too,” she added with a nod towards the separated parcels resting on the drying racks.
“Oh? I thought she needed it more than me,” he chuckled, hovering when he didn’t appear to know quite what to do just yet. Lunch wasn’t exactly ready and they were just waiting for it to finish.
“Cups?” Amarynthe prompted, her eyes settling on the wooden containers sitting nearby.
“On it!” he cheered, gathering the four into his hands and rushing out to the rain barrel. Jerich followed him since the Master Mage was notoriously bad at carrying all four at once.
Lunch was a pleasant affair with the boys talking about magic, as per usual. Madeus did single Amarynthe out to help him work on preparing a specific reagent concoction while his apprentices practiced their casting. That was nice. “It’s the one you showed me in the book the other day, right?” she prompted to make sure they were talking about the same thing.
“Exactly! It takes time and patience, which these two are lacking,” he added in an offhand manner. The words weren’t insulting exactly. They were true. Zachariah and Jerich looked at each other sheepishly and shrugged. “Besides,there’s a new spell they’re supposed to be working on.”
“Yes sir,” the pair murmured almost together with accepting shrugs. That was normal enough.
When they were finished and the table had been cleaned, Amarynthe frowned at Jerich’s torn robe and set it aside. She’d fix it later once he fulfilled his promise to practice sparring with her. For now, there were several books she needed to look over to make sure she would know how to make the reagent her father wanted. She was proud of being able to read but goodness those texts were boring sometimes. At least the prospect of enjoying her birthday treat from Arden while she studied helped make the thought more acceptable. It was hard to be anything but happy when savoring one of his pastries.
Exhausted from the day, mentally and physically, Amarynthe collapsed on her bed feeling battered and bruised. Jerich hadn’t exactly gone easy on her with their sparring and while she appreciated that, it also hurt. With a deep breath, she turned her head to the side and blinked at the picture of her mother. The usual smile appeared on her face and she reached over to brush her fingers against the frame.
“I know you wouldn’t like me learning to fight, but I do love it,” she explained. “I just wish you were still here to help me take care of the bruises.” Her whole body ached and she knew she’d be sore in the morning. Enough so that the prospect of getting up was actually daunting. She wrinkled her nose and hissed preemptively.
Before she could sit up though, a quiet knock sounded at her door. “Amarynthe?” her father’s subdued voice filtered through.
“Yes?” she called back, reluctant to sit up.
“May I come in?” he asked hesitantly.
Stifling a groan, Amarynthe bit her lip and hauled herself into a more appropriate pose before she answered. “Of course.”
Quietly, the door creaked open and Madeus peeked his head in with a rather abashed expression on his face. “Hey baby girl,” he smiled, slipping inside with one hand hidden behind his back.
“What is it, father?” she asked, a curious smile on her face.
“Your mother would have been mad at me today. I forgot something very important, didn’t I?” he asked, shifting to take a seat on the bed next to his daughter.
“Maybe,” Amarynthe agreed with a small nod.
“She was always good about remembering things,” he sighed, letting his eyes settle on the same picture in the room. He took Amarynthe’s hand gently in his and inhaled once. “I’m still trying to figure out what happened-”
“Don’t, father,” Amarynthe interrupted him, holding his hand in both of hers. “Not today. Mother wouldn’t want that,” she promised with a light squeeze.
He looked at her with dark but clear eyes and gave a genuine smile. Love shone bright in his face and he pulled his other hand free to extend his closed fist towards her. “Open it,” he chuckled when she frowned at him in confusion.
Laughing once, Amarynthe hooked her fingertips under his and gently peeled back. A small gasp escaped her lips as she laid eyes on a delicate, silver necklace coiled in his palm. The thin chain failed to hide the intricately wire wrapped amethyst gemstone nestled within. “It’s beautiful,” she whispered, her fingertips barely touching the smooth metal.
“Happy birthday,” he smiled, picking it up and holding it out to her. Amarynthe turned her back to him and lifted her hair so he could attach the adornment around her neck. The gem settled smooth and warm against her chest and she could feel a faint thrumming of power within it.
“Thank you,” Amarynthe beamed, staring at the necklace before she turned to give the same wondrous smile to her father. “I love it,” she promised as she leaned close to hug him tight.
“I’m glad,” he whispered into her hair, cupping the back of her head with one hand while he held her tight with the other. “It’s not much but it should bring you luck and protection.”
“Should?” she couldn’t help but tease as they separated.
Her father shrugged and laughed. “Magic is sometimes fickle, but yes. It should work just fine,” he winked, slightly ruining the moment by touching the top of her lip instead of tapping her on the nose.
“Father!” she groaned, scrunching her face and sighing.
“Sorry,” he apologized, clearly not, before standing up. “I won’t keep you but I wanted to make sure I gave you that.”
“Thank you again,” Amarynthe smiled, standing up with a wince to give him another hug. She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes, feeling her hair warmly caress the other side of her face as she did so.
“I love you, Amarynthe,” he murmured, pressing his lips to the top of her head.
“Love you too,” she responded, sniffling once as she stepped back to look into his face.
“Now get some rest. And tell your mother I said hello,” he winked, cupping her cheek with his palm tenderly.
“Always,” Amarynthe smiled, curling her fingers around the necklace.
“Night baby girl. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Madeus waved, awkwardly stepping back until he could pull the door open and sneak outside once more.
“Night father,” Amarynthe waved after him, flopping back down on the bed so that she could look at her mother’s picture one more time. “Hear that, mother? Father says hello. You should be proud of him. He did remember.”
Go to Chapter Three