Abandon The Haven
Rachel’s head fell dejectedly, her chin dropping to her chest with a rattling of chains. She had paraded her innocence before the court for the past week and a half, to no avail. The sun glaring down on the open court burned the back of her neck, and she shoved dark curls of hair back to protect it. She was well aware of the others watching her as she stood alone in the circle created by the audience, jury and judge seats. Eyes dull, she listened to the judge reel out his sentence.
"You have been found guilty for the murder of Yuki, God of Ice and Snow," the judge restated, looking her up and down in disapproval. "I declare that you, Rachel, Apprentice Goddess of the Roses and Muse of the Weary, be stripped of both title and powers."
Two golems made of dark onyx with rubies for eyes moved forward as the silver-haired judge moved from his seat. The guards each took one of Rachel’s arms in their vice-like grip as the judge approached. The goddess watched him with icy eyes. Being stripped of her title was nothing to worry about, but if he believed she would give up her powers, he was only kidding himself.
"Get away!" She demanded as Thorn, the judge, closed the gap between them. He shook his head.
"You brought this upon yourself, Rachel." He reached forward and gripped her chin tightly in his hand, forcing her to look up at him. "It will all be over in a moment." He softly blew a chilling stream of air over her face.
Hands of ice raced down her spine, filling her entire body a cool flood of despair. She bent double in the guards hands, screaming, as every bit of magic that had created her was stolen away. Thorn withdrew from her, the capture magic spiraling into a tight silver rose in his cupped hands. He tucked it into his large robe sleeves and nodded to the golems. They released her, and she pitched forward with a strangled sob. The god of justice caught her carefully as she fainted, easily sweeping her up into his arms.
"I strip you of your title," her murmured to her unconscious face, and if one looked closely, they could see a shine of regret deep in his eyes. Lifting his head, he looked at the court seats packed full of fellow gods, goddesses and their young apprentices. "It is done," he declared loudly, noting several teary eyes belonging to Rachel’s young friends.
"This is foolish!" A god in the back of the audience stood. His light-blue hair and sea-deep eyes glared about the others menacingly.
Judge Thorn regarded him coolly. "You have something to say, Misu?" He questioned.
The angry water-god puffed his bare chest out in rage as the others turned to watch him. "That girl kills my brother, and all you’re going to do is take away her power? Her status?" His face was slowly turning a dark shade of blue, not from lack of breath, but from anger.
"She claimed to be innocent, despite the evidence. If she had confessed to being the killer, we would have traded her blood for his. You know our laws; there is always a chance, and when there is a chance, we do not act in a way that cannot be undone." Thorn responded.
Misu’s face grew another shade deeper; he was almost purple now. "I demand that she be punished, guilty or not!" He shouted angrily. "She made my brother suffer before he was killed, and she has to suffer the same fate! It’s the ancient law!"
Thorn looked at the pale face cradled against his shoulder. Rachel’s brows were furrowed, and he could see sweat crawling down her face as her body expelled any magical excess. It pained him to see his favorite apprentice in so much pain. "Yes, the law does dictate equal suffering." He agreed reluctantly, feeling Rachel’s rose of power pressing against his arm. What could have driven the girl to commit such a crime, if she did indeed do it?
Misu forced his way through the crowd and easily stepped over the gate separating the two parts of court. "Yuki was my brother, so I will decide the punishment!" He declared, unconscious of the flinching gods behind him.
The judge ran through the ancient rules he had memorized long ago. Misu was the only living member of Yuki’s family, which meant that he was allowed to dictate the murders punishment. He could do anything as long as it wouldn’t kill Rachel, and knowing Misu’s constant threats towards the girl for disturbing his work, Thorn couldn’t help but feel nervous.
"Yes, that is the law," he said apologetically to the horrified faces behind Misu.
Misu snapped his fingers, and the water in the decorative vases about the courtroom drifted up into a steady stream. With barely a thought, the water god formed the strands of liquid into a spiraling mirror. A picture was reflected in its depths.
Below the Haven, on Earth, it was winter, and the broad valley shown in the picture was coated in snow. Two steep mountainsides tumbled together to form a flat-bottomed stretch of land cut in half by a frozen stream. A cobblestone road followed both sides of the river, and a wooden bridge occasionally crossed the ice. Clusters of brick buildings sat around the center of the river on both sides, and the onlookers could make out a tavern, store and dress shop. In the very center of the little village, hidden behind a large courtyard and a fountain, was the court house. Farther down the road in both directions were smaller houses, their land stretching from the river to the mountains foot, separated by stone fences and tree barriers. Some braver farmers had cute stone terraces into the mountain wall, giving more space for their crops. Spaced evenly between all of the houses was a large barn, one for each different stretch of farmland that extended from the town. It was a shared storage for the crops, and even as they watched, two men bundled in coats opened the door to the east barn and helped a horse pulling a cart of food onto the snowy road. A few of the small wood farmhouses had smaller barns for their animals, but only three of the twelve farms had these.
Delta, a gold-haired apprentice goddess and Rachel’s best friend, stood in shocked horror. "That’s giant land!" She exclaimed.
Misu nodded absently. "Yes, it is, isn’t it?" He gave her a soft smile, revealing a pointed shark’s tooth that replaced one of his own. "I believe Rachel will have a nice, long visit with them."
Phineas, a black-haired god, stood angrily. "You cannot allow him to do this, Thorn! The giants are our enemies; we do not serve them, and they do not serve us! They will kill her." He declared.
Misu gave him a scorning look. "She is no longer a god, Phineas. They will have no reason to hurt her. They obey the laws of Mother Nature, and to kill an ‘innocent girl’ would be against Mother Nature’s ideals. She will be perfectly safe."
Delta was still standing, "But she hates giants! She’s absolutely terrified of them! You can’t send her there!"
The water god’s cheeks began to color once more. "And yet she is allowed to send my brother to hells gates?" He asked mockingly before turning to Thorn. "This is my punishment: abandon her to the giants, and let them do with her what they will. She is no longer a goddess. She is no longer one of us."
The water mirror swiveled to face Thorn, and the judge could do nothing about it. The golems had been spelled to carry out the orders he emotionally could not, but he’d never forgive himself if the last touch of warmth Rachel had from his land was from the fingers of a golem. Despite his heavy, aching heart, he held his head in as a true judge and moved towards the mirror. The water shimmered and focused on a snowy clump by the river, becoming not a mirror anymore but a portal. Gently, Thorn shifted Rachel in his hands and moved her through the water, resting her gently on the pile of snow. She twitched at the sudden change, but settled down at the judge placed his hand on her forehead.
"Goodbye, Rachel," Thorn whispered as he withdrew his hand. Misu closed his fist, and the water mirror cracked, before dissolving and soaking the tiled floor beneath their feet.
"And that," the smug water god said, "is that."
"Zytka, this is foolish," Rachel hissed to her friend as they slid through the mouse hole dug into the foundation of the church. "If the Giants find us, we’ll be killed!"
The black-haired goddess shrugged. She was studying to be a Lily Goddess, and their love of flowers often brought the two friends together. Grey-green eyes glittering, she turned to face her friend. "I’ll protect you, Rachel," she took the girls hand. "We won’t get caught. I promise!"
They came into the main chapel and looked about the large pews and stained glass in wonder. At the front of the domed room, on a round marble pedestal, was a statue made of jade. A beautiful woman with jeweled flowers in her hair stood before them, the amber making up her eyes sparkling mischievously in the dimming twilight. The two friends stepped forward and climbed onto the pedestal, their own eyes gleaming in amazement.
"She’s so beautiful!" Rachel gasped, reaching out and touching the ruby rose winding around the woman’s ankle.
"It’s Mother Nature. I met her once; she was really nice. She likes to laugh," Zytka mused. They wandered around the bottom of the statue, appreciating its pronounced beauty.
The two girls paused, listening to the murmuring on the other side of the door that led to the churches courtyard.
"Enough, James," An old rough voice demanded.
"Zytka, we should—"
Rachel was cut off as the door to the chapel flew open, revealing an old priest dressed in white robes and a young man in a vest and breeches. They bowed to the statue from the doorway, a custom in the giants’ respects. The man opened his eyes as he lifted his head, and his face took on a mask of picturesque horror as they landed upon the girls standing about the bottom of the statue.
"Demons!" He hissed. The two looked about; demons were a rarity in church. The girls exchanged shrugs: there were none about.
The priest held out his gnarled hands to the man. "Stop, Demrix!" He shouted, a moment too late. The young man was running towards them, an angry light in his eyes.
"Rachel, lets get out of here!" Zytka suggested, noting the impending danger. The two grabbed hands and jumped off the edge of the stage, running towards the mouse hole that had let them in before. They dodged between the pews as the man pursued, coming closer with every earth-shattering step.
And then he was upon them. Rachel went sprawling as he grabbed up her friend, unconsciously crushing the fragile girl in his fist. The muse saw the small mouse hole ahead and scrambled on her hands and knees into it, bumping a startled mouse out of place. Hot tears poured down her face and someone was screaming and screaming—
"John, what’s wrong with her?"
Fingers, rough and calloused from hard days of work on the farm, caressed the girls face, wiping away her tears. She took in a gasping breath, coughing against the harsh smell of grease and lye.
"Nothing’s wrong; she just had a bad dream," The fingers retreated, "She probably woke up the whole village with that racket."
"Maybe we should take her upstairs with us."
"Are you mad? I’m not having a demon in our room while I sleep!"
"John, you’re being unreasonable—"
"Have that dog of yours look after her."
"If that will make you happy. But if I hear her screaming again, she’s coming upstairs with us."
"Yes, yes, fine."
The heavy, pressing shadow that had been leaning over Rachel disappeared. She took in a shallow breath, feeling ill. Thunder—no, footsteps—pounded up stairs somewhere near by. Softer steps, cushioned by cloth slippers, approached her. The soft terry cloth she had been wrapped in was tucked tighter around her body, still shaking from the attack of the dream.
"Cocoa, come here."
Padded feet—paws—clicked across the wood floor, and a large wet nose was pressed against her forehead. Rachel flinched away, terrified. She had spent much of her free time with Fang, the god of animals, but then she had been able to hold the dogs in her lap. Now the dog could easily hold—and eat—her.
"Cocoa, I want you to watch over her until morning, okay?"
To the woman, the dogs answer sounded like an excited bark, but to Rachel, he was clearly saying, "Of course, ma’am!"
The soft footsteps pattered off up the stairs, and Rachel found herself once again assaulted by the large, wet nose of Cocoa the guard dog.
"I know you’re awake. Please don’t be afraid." A heavy tongue soaked her cheek.
Wiping slobber from her face, Rachel opened her eyes and looked at the dog leaning over her. He was a dark chocolate lab with a wise look in his blue-grey eyes. She forced herself into a sitting position, shoving away the terry cloth towel that had been her blanket.
"Don’t hurt yourself." Cocoa the dog warned. Shivering, the goddess ignored him and looked about. They were in a small wooden kitchen. Counters lined one wall, while a staircase climbed up another. There was a door to the back under the stairs, and a doorway into a small sparsely-furnished parlor on the adjoining wall. A large oak table sat in the middle of the room, surrounded neatly by four matching oak chairs. Behind Rachel was a large fireplace, which had burned down to embers while she slept. In the corner beside it was a ragged pillow-like bed covered in dog hair.
"It’s not much," Cocoa said happily as he watched her look around, "But its home." His tail wagged as he said this, and Rachel had to smile at the loving gesture. "You’ll like it here; John and Martha are really nice." He noted the horrified look that crossed her face. "What’s wrong?"
"I can’t stay here!" She gasped.
"Why not?" Cocoa’s tail thumped the ground irritably.
"That man—he’ll kill me!" Rachel insisted, extracting herself from the confines of the terry cloth bed.
"John? He wouldn’t hurt you!" The dog whined unhappily, watching the girl slide to the wood floor. She leaned against the blanket for a moment, getting her bearings.
"You didn’t hear him out on the road," She pointed out, looking towards the back door. It was a long ways away. Grimacing, she began her walk. Cocoa tilted his head and watched her.
"The doors locked; you can’t get out." He mentioned. Rachel ignored him.
"We’ll see," she muttered, trekking across the floor and coming up to the large doorway. The wood dropped all the way down, leaving barely any room for even an ant to crawl through. She paced about the bottom of the door space, tilting her head upwards to look at the knob and keyhole far above. So caught up in her wild scheming, she didn’t see the paw until it was too late.
Cocoa watched as she bounced back from running into his paw in amusement. "You should watch where you’re going." He advised, sitting back as she glared at him.
"You shouldn’t put your big feet in people’s paths." Rachel retorted, and the dog’s tail beat a warning against the ground.
"Even if you did manage to get out, I can’t let you leave." The dog lay down, trapping Rachel between his forepaws. "Martha said I have to watch over you."
"Do you always do everything your told?" She asked irritably. The dog nodded, and she sighed, leaning against his paws. "But he’ll kill me," anxiety began to creep into her voice, "He really will."
Cocoa carefully nuzzled her stomach with the tip of his nose. Irritated, Rachel pushed him away. "I’ll protect you," he promised.
"Even from your own master?"
He thought for a moment, ears cocked in his ponderings. "Yes," he finally decided. "I just won’t bite him like I would anyone else."
"How loving of you," Rachel closed her eyes and gave a heavy sigh. The dog nuzzled her stomach again.
"Do you want to go back to your bed?" He asked, moving his paws so she could stand.
"It’s not my bed," she muttered, turning away from the dog and moving slowly across the room towards the terry cloth bed. Cocoa padded softly behind her, taking small steps that matched her pace. She climbed up onto the hand towel and curled up beneath the make-shift blanket. The dog stretched out on his bed and settled his chin on his paws, watching her intensely. She covered her head with the blanket, blocking out his piercing eyes. Can this day get any worse?
For three days, Martha and her son watched over Rachel. She had fallen into a series of fevered dreams, one coming right after the other, only waking to beg a bit of water from what she assumed were her ‘cruel captors.’ They were only too happy to oblige. Kevin had set up a small chest that had belonged to his older brother, Matthew, into a sick room for her. He padded the bottom with a towel and made a little bed out of a washed cigar tin and a folded baby blanket. The chest stayed in his parents’ room, where Martha could keep a continuous eye on her patient. Cocoa never left Rachel’s side, and often spent his nights curled around the chest to stay close to his new friend.
John thought the entire venture was a waste of time. He ignored the chest, and often closed it without thinking, only to get a scolding from his wife. Rachel acknowledged none of his selfish acts, however. She was too caught up fighting her past demons to worry about the new ones.
On the fourth day, as Martha sat in the parlor, working on a simple dress for her little patient, Rachel stirred from her fevered dreams for a moment.
"Kalyca?" She whispered softly, staring up at Martha in quiet awe. "What are you doing so far from home?" The mother leaned over the chest nervously.
"Rachel, dear, are you alright?" She asked.
"I don’t feel well Kalyca," Rachel’s eyes were still glazed over with the fever, "Oh, no, I can’t go home. I was banned, remember? Everybody thinks I killed Yuki...but I didn’t, Kalyca, I didn’t! We were playing at the stream, and something in the water grabbed him and I couldn’t do anything to help him!" Martha’s heart broke as hot, silver tears began to fall down the goddesses face.
"You poor thing," she whispered, taking her from the tin and holding her tightly. "Oh, we’ve got to break this fever."
Cocoa, who had been sitting by the chest, sat up, ears perked. He sniffed at Rachel, ears drooping back down. Martha rubbed his head gently.
"I know, dear, I know. If only Mother Nature was here to help us."
Cocoa gave an excited bark, "I’ll get her," and ran into the kitchen. It was noontime, and Kevin had come in to get something to eat. Cocoa grabbed his pant leg and tugged fiercely, running back and forth between the door and the table.
"Calm down boy, what do you want?" Kevin laughed. Martha appeared in the door, cradling the sobbing Rachel to her chest.
"I don’t know what happened. All I said was that I wished Mother Nature was here and he got all excited." Kevin stared at her. "What?"
"Mom, you’re brilliant!" He cried, jumping to his feet, "Mother Nature; that’s the answer to the fever! We don’t know about caring for gods, but she does!"
Martha immediately set herself against the idea. "We can’t bother her, Kevin! Who knows what could happen?"
The boy clasped his hand about his mother’s shoulders, looking at her sadly. "She’s the one that gave us Rachel; she wanted us to care for her. I know she would be angry at us for not coming to ask for help."
Martha thought for a moment. "Alright, fine, but she stays here. I’m not going to let her out into the cold weather."
"Of course; Cocoa and I will go fetch her!" He kissed his mother on the cheek and ran out of the house, snagging his coat from the door on the way.
One Hour Later
Kevin hiked his coat higher about his face, shielding it against the swirling snowflakes. A surprise storm had hit only a few moments ago, but now it was a full-blown blizzard. Shuffling over the frozen dirt road, he pressed on towards the wilting skeleton-like weeping willows that sheltered the goddess Mother Nature. Cocoa romped about beside him, enjoying the snow, his fur keeping him warm.
The boy ignored his pet, tucking his hands into his armpits to keep them warm. The trees loomed before them, and he paused for a moment, considering what he was about to do. The preachers at church urged them to never bother Mother Nature; they said it was an immoral thing to do, especially if you went to ask for favors.
Cocoa grabbed the bottom of his coat and tugged him through the close-grown trees. He swept aside a curtain of brittle branches and stopped cold.
The willows grew in a circle, cut in half by the same stream his father had found Rachel at. Outside the circle, he was sure it was grey and snowing, but inside, it was alive. Green grass covered the ground, and the stream laughed happily over brightly-colored stones. The inside of the weeping willows were graced with bendy branches and fistfuls of leaves. Mushrooms, flowers and ferns popped up everywhere, guiding a small dirt path to the side of the stream. It widened into a cobble-stoned circle, which was decorated with a metal-wrought table and two chairs. The sun beat down on everything, including her.
Kevin felt his breath steal away. He stared at Mother Nature, at her beautiful green skin and kind, dark eyes. Her pink silk tunic rustled as she motioned him into the small haven.
"Good afternoon Kevin," she greeted in her gentle voice, "I wasn’t expecting a visit; please excuse my manners." She stood, an intricate gold bracelet flashing from her right wrist. "Welcome to my home."
Kevin stopped; how had she known his name? Cocoa, however, trotted forward happily, barking. "Good afternoon, Mother Nature. Are you well?"
"Oh, yes, Cocoa, I’m very well indeed," she scratched his ears. "Although something tells me that is not the case with you?" She looked to Kevin. "Come and sit," she motioned to the table, which now held a tea set he was sure hadn’t been there a moment ago. Shaking away the thought, he nodded in thanks and took the seat she had offered. She poured him a cup of tea before sitting and pouring one for herself. "Now then, what’s the trouble?"
He hesitated; would she listen to him? Would she want to help Rachel? The goddess reached across the table and touched his hand, a comforting smile on her lips. Without thinking, he blurted out the entire story.
"It’s Rachel; she’s really, really sick! She has a fever, and she’s always having these terrible dreams. We can’t wake her up during them, but even when she’s awake she doesn’t remember us at all. She’s terrified that we’re there to kill her, but she begs us for water even when she’s scared. She can’t eat, and she’s so tired and upset and—"
Mother Nature stood, cutting him off with a sharp question, "Your father?"
"He doesn’t care about her at all; he’s hoping she’ll die so he won’t have to worry about her killing us in our sleep." Kevin was trembling now. She nodded.
"Drink your tea," she ordered before turning and jumping the stream. A moment later she was back, two large mares trailing behind her. Behind them, he could see a sunny path leading to a glade, where the horses had been resting. "Come along, Kevin. You’ll ride Sunrise." She pulled the sun colored mare forward, before gracefully swinging herself, bareback, onto the darker horse. Sunrise was also bareback, but it didn’t bother Kevin; that was how he often rode. Without another word, the two raced off into the evening, Cocoa running after them.
Martha had tucked herself into a corner of the couch, still cradling the sick Rachel against her chest. The girl had gone back into a fevered dream, but it now seemed more—controlled, as though she had figured out it was only a dream.
With a small cry, the girl awoke, and Martha’s previous hopes of the fever breaking were dashed. She screamed and desperately tried to claw her way out of the mothers’ hands. She tightened her grip ever so slightly, not crushing the poor girl, but letting her know that she was not getting away. With a strangled sob she collapsed into Martha’s hands, covering her face with her hands. The woman felt like crying herself at the sad sight.
"Please," the fingers in front of her face parted, and she looked up at her caretaker with large, frightened eyes. "Please, don’t kill me." She was trembling all over now. "I didn’t mean to come here, I really didn’t!" Large silver-gold tears fell down her cheeks.
"Where are they?" A female voice demanded as the door in the kitchen banged open.
"In the sitting room," Kevin’s voice replied, and he appeared in the doorway, preceded by a beautiful woman Martha had only ever seen in the chapel. She began to shift to stand, but Mother Nature shook her head and glided to the mother’s side.
"Don’t move her," she ordered, bending over Martha and peering anxiously into her cupped hands. The girl screamed at the new face and curled herself up tightly, sobbing. "Oh, Rachel," Mother Nature looked completely devastated. She ran her finger down the goddess’s spine, feeling terrible as the girl pulled away from the touch. Drawing back, she ran a hand through her silky hair. "She’s been separated from her magic for too long."
"Her magic?" Kevin asked, leaning over the back of the couch to look at the girl. "What can we do to help her?"
Mother Nature tugged absently on a strand of hair before turning to the boy. "Go back to my glade and gather as many roses as you can. Take Sunrise to help carry them."
She nodded. "As many as possible." Kevin nodded and ran from the room. The two women heard the door crash open and an excited barking from Cocoa.
"Why roses?" Martha asked as she cradled the terror-stricken Rachel against her chest. Mother Nature sat beside her, still playing with her hair. ‘She’s as nervous and worried about Rachel as I am,’ Martha mused to herself, feeling a sudden kinship with the goddess.
"They are her magic," the green-skinned woman stroked Rachel’s hair with a finger. "Her powers were taken from her when she was banned, but her body still believes she has them." With a sigh, she sat back, closing her eyes and rubbing her temples. "She’s been around roses her entire life, and the sudden absence of a constant is destroying her from the inside out."
"How terrible," Martha whispered, shocked, "Will she be alright?"
Mother Nature smiled, squeezing the woman’s empty hand, "Yes. The roses from my garden are full of life and magic; they will heal her." She peered at Rachel with unbound love. "I’ll have Solace come and look after her tonight so that you may get some rest."
"Solace?" Rachel stirred as Martha said this, and the two women glanced down and smiled with relief at the sight of her calm, sleeping form.
"She is a goddess, and a dear friend of mine. She comforts the weak and ill."
The two lapsed into silence, watching Rachel and thinking sadly of what fate had given the girl. Time passed, and the back door banged open. A sweet perfume wafted into the room, closely followed by Kevin, his arms full of roses. Mother Nature stood quickly, taking some the flowers before he could crush them.
"Spread them about the bottom of her room," She motioned to the chest that had been converted into a sick room. He did so, and soon there was a carpet of pink, orange, yellow and white roses across the bottom.
"I tried to pick a red one for her," Kevin dusted some pollen off of her bed, "But when I touched it a thorn grew into my finger!" He held up the injured finger, displaying the puncture mark.
Mother Nature took the offended hand between her own and examined the mark. "Yes, they don’t like to be picked; I should have warned you." She touched the cut and new skin blossomed over it, leaving a light scar. "You’ll have a mark there, but it’s not too noticeable."
Kevin flexed his finger. "Thanks," he examined the cut. "It sort of looks like a star."
Martha looked at Rachel, and then at the roses. "This will heal her?" She asked, still doubtful at the power of simple roses.
Mother Nature smiled and motioned to the tin bed. "Lay her in the bed and let her sleep. Solace will come tonight so that you may rest." She stood, placing one last rose beside the bed. Martha complied with her instructions and placed the sleeping Rachel onto the bed, covering her with a corner of the baby blankets. The girl struggled for a moment against the blanket, as though wanting to fight her way out. She turned onto her side, nearly burying her face into the last rose. At once she stilled, her breathing taking on a normal pattern.
The goddess nodded in satisfaction. "That’s all she needed." Helping Martha to stand, she smiled at her. "I need to go now. I’ll come back and check on her in a week."
"Thank you," Martha squeezed the goddess’s hand.
"It was nothing." Mother Nature seemed to blush a bit. Freeing her hand, she nodded to Kevin and swept out the backdoor.
Fingers, long and dainty, combed through her hair. Tired as she was, the ex-goddess managed to open her eyes. A beautiful woman, her features soft and kind, held Rachel’s head in her lap. She was singing softly, words that were not understood by the mind but the heart. The woman stopped, her clear green eyes smiling down at Rachel.
"Go to sleep, little one," She whispered, moving wisps of hair out of the sick girls eyes. "You are ill yet, and need your rest."
"Ill?" Rachel moved her head to a more comfortable position. "I’m sick?"
"You have faced a fever for several days now." The woman gently traced a finger down the side of her face, relaxing her. "You gave us all quite a scare."
Rachel struggled against sleep. "Who—are you?" She stuttered around a yawn.
The woman smiled. "My name is Solace. I am a goddess, like you."
"But I’m not a goddess," Rachel began to feel sick in the pit of her stomach, "I’m not anything."
Solace sensed the sudden knots twisting in her patient’s stomach. "How can you say that?" She asked, gently taking Rachel’s hair and braiding it, working her magic through the girls’ body. "You’re a beautiful young girl with a lot of promise." She laid a finger across the girls’ mouth, stopping her protests. "Shush. You need sleep. Everything will be so much clearer in the morning."
Rachel moved her head to the side, looking about the chest walls and carpet of roses. "Where are we?"
"Your friend Kevin made this for you," Solace explained, "He’s going to do a lot more to make this into a comfortable place to live. I saw him working on a table earlier." She laughed softly, a musical sound. "I’m afraid he’s a terribly clumsy whittler, but I’m sure his father will help him."
Ice spread through Rachel’s stomach. "No, he won’t. That man hates me," tears began to gather at the edges of her eyes. "He’d rather kill me than help me."
Solace wrapped her arms around Rachel gently. "Don’t you dare think that he can hurt you," she whispered. "He won’t lay a finger on you. Do you see all these roses? They’re from Mother Nature’s own garden, and if anything were to happen to you, she would know right away."
"Mother Nature’s own garden?" Rachel looked at the flowering carpet. "Really?"
"Yes." Solace settled her back into her lap. "Now sleep. Kevin and Martha will want to see you in the morning."
Rachel obeyed. She closed her eyes and settled back against Solace’s lap. The goddess began to comb her fingers through her hair once more, humming softly. Within a few measures of song, she was asleep.
Kevin looked down at Rachel’s room in satisfaction. He had worked hard all last night, and it had paid off. The roses had been moved to the side, and in the center of the floor were a simple table and an equally simple chair. The girl’s bed had been moved to the far corner of the chest, beneath a thick ramp that stretched the long back wall. Hanging from the ramp was a piece of dark silk that separated the bed from the rest of the room, giving her some privacy. It split down the middle, and the two sides could be pulled apart to offer in light. Near the bed—but far enough to prevent a fire—was a stubby candle for the evenings. On the outside of the chest, at the top of the ramp, a second, steeper ramp fell along the short side of the chest, reaching to the floor so Rachel could occasionally escape the room.
The boy leaned back and thought of the unfinished projects sitting on his workbench in the barn loft. He was making a standing closet, and twisting little hangers out of chicken wire for the clothes his mother was working on. She had been working on long-sleeved dresses, thankful of the days she had spent making doll clothes when she was younger. Among the dresses were cloaks for the cold winter nights and a long nightgown to comfort her in bed.
"Is she awake?" Martha asked, leaning over her sons shoulder and looking down at the room.
"No," Kevin slid to the side and stood, stretching. "Solace said it would take time; Rachel was really sick." Scratching his head, head wandered towards the kitchen. "I’m going to go work on some more stuff," he explained.
"Alright, I’ll send John to get you when dinner’s ready." Martha promised, kneeling beside the chest. She gently swept aside the little curtains and examined the sleeping goddess. Rachel was fast asleep, her naturally pale face cushioned against the felt blankets. The mother moved a piece of hair out of the girls face, carefully touching her forehead. It was warm, but not hot enough to cause alarm. Her body was still reacting to the sudden lack of magic. She sighed; it had been an entire day since Mother Nature had come. When would Rachel be well again?
It was another two days before Rachel came fully awake. She lay in her sheltered bed, confused for a moment as to where she was. After rubbing the sleep from her eyes and stretching her sore limbs, she managed to sit up and pull back the curtains of her bed. For a moment, she could only stare at her beautiful room (now including the closet, a bookshelf heavy with presents from Solace, and a series of pictures made from postage stamps).
"Martha! Kevin!" She pulled herself out of her bed and looked about the room in wonder. Spotting the ramp, she scrambled up it as fast as possible, looking over the chest edge for her caretakers. She was in the middle of the sitting room. Martha was asleep on the couch, covered by a heavy quilt, Cocoa lying across her feet. Kevin was sprawled out in one of the overstuffed chairs, facing the dying fire. Rachel smiled lovingly at the two and retreated back into her home. She would let them sleep for now, despite her gnawing hunger. With a sigh of content, she flopped back onto her bed and curled up under the blankets, leaving the shades open so Martha and Kevin could awake her in the morning.