The Witch

Posted on November 20, 2017 in GT Fiction by

My entry for the UnawareOct story contest

“How did this happen?” Carolynn asked, although she already knew the answer. The burns were red, seeping wounds that covered the man’s arm like a sleeve. Her patient tried not to wince as she treated them with a skill that came from years of practice.

“The dragon,” the man replied. “I went out to feed my animals, and it came out of nowhere.”

Carolynn reached for some clean bandages. “You’re lucky that it didn’t bite you. Most people don’t survive their venom.”

The farmer looked at his arm, then at her. “You know, I’ve heard people in town talking about you. They say that you’re a witch and that you dance with the dark gods every new moon. But you seem like a good person to me.”

She shrugged, having heard it a hundred times before. The townspeople were always eager to accuse her of being a witch, but they changed their minds when she delivered their babies or set their broken bones. This was why she hadn’t been driven away like other women; she provided them with a valuable service, and so they reluctantly accepted her. When Carolynn had been younger, it had bothered her. Now, as the first gray hairs appeared in her auburn hair, she realized that she no longer cared.

What currently bothered her more was the dragon. No one had seen such a creature for decades, and yet here it was, dangerously close to town. If it managed to get beyond the town gates, she could only imagine the destruction that it would cause. The question was how to stop it. If she were actually a witch, she could turn the monster to stone or teleport it far away from here. But her only power was to heal people.

Carolynn finished bandaging the patient and left him with a promise to return the next day. She was glad that she hadn’t waited longer to return home; already the sky was becoming the pinkish-orange of twilight. With her medicine bag clutched to her side, she hurried along the dirt road. Most days she wouldn’t have worried so much, but she knew that the dragon could be lurking in the nearby woods or soaring overhead. So she practically sprinted down the road, keeping an eye out for trouble.

When she heard the crashing from the forest, she realized that she had found it.

Her entire body froze except for her hand, which snaked into her bag. She didn’t have many weapons, only a knife that probably couldn’t cut through a dragon’s armored scales. Still, she clenched it tightly and waited, expecting the monster to spring out from between the trees. A minute passed, and then two, and finally she stepped forward, peering around.

She saw something, and her first thought was that it was the dragon.

But it was bigger than a dragon, and human-shaped. Carolynn approached with caution, the knife quivering in her hand. The details slowly came into focus: a crimson tunic with silvery embroidery, dark breeches. And then she saw the head with the thick tangles of blond hair, and she understood that she was looking at a giant, not a dragon. He was laying on his back and didn’t move. Carolynn’s healer eyes spotted the big, wet splotch on his tunic, the color a deeper red than the fabric. Clearly he was injured, and from the way that his chest slowly rose and fell, he was still alive. For now, at any rate.

Giants were even rarer than dragons; the majority of them had been wiped out in the wars with mankind long ago. Carolynn didn’t know much about them besides what she had read, and most of the accounts contradicted one another. Some said that they were noble, enlightened beings; others claimed that they were cruel and devoured humans alive. Obviously, she couldn’t tell much from this giant, not when he was unconscious.

It occurred to her that the wise thing to do would be to run away, before he woke up. Maybe the rumors were true, maybe he would eat her if he caught her. Or maybe not. Carolynn couldn’t be sure. What she was sure about was that he was hurt, and she could smell the metallic odor of blood lingering in the air. She glanced at the stain on his tunic, wondering if he had companions who could help him. Whatever was wrong with him, it looked awful, and from the paleness of his face, it was possible that he wouldn’t survive his injury.

While it would have been easy to simply walk away, Carolynn was a healer, and she had sworn to help people. And wasn’t he a person? He certainly looked like one, even though he was massive. She studied his face, which was turned in her direction. His eyes were closed, but she could see how long and thick his lashes were. There was a roguish handsomeness to him, and perhaps if he hadn’t been so large, she would have been attracted to him.

“Hello?” She called out, and with a rumbling groan, the giant moved his head. Without opening his eyes, he muttered something in an incomprehensible language. Carolynn listened to the strange, thunderous words and quietly debated what to do. She made a decision and left, dashing to her cottage. By the time that she had reached it, night had fallen and she knew that the lack of light would make her task even more difficult. She moved swiftly, cramming more bottles and bandages and tools into her bag. On her way out, she grabbed a lantern.

As quickly as she could, she headed back to her patient.

***

He hadn’t moved, although she could still hear his labored breaths. Once again, she shouted out to him, just in case he was conscious. The giant didn’t stir, and so she cautiously approached the right side of his torso. Even sprawled out, he towered over her, and she had to grab fistfuls of his tunic to pull herself up onto him. He was larger than she had thought; five full-grown men could have stretched across his chest.

You’re making a horrible mistake, Carolynn, a voice chided her. He’ll wake up and eat you. They won’t even find your remains.

Of course, she had no reassurance that he wouldn’t do that. But he was wounded, and she couldn’t just let him die. His heart continued to beat beneath her, slow and steady, and she could feel the warmth of his skin through the cloth. It was a reminder that he was alive, for now.

Carolynn teetered across his abdomen. It was an odd sensation, walking on flesh and bone. Despite the darkness, she could make out the large stain on the tunic. She crouched down and cut away the cloth, sawing away at the huge threads. As the fabric peeled away, she saw triangular teeth marks punctured in the giant’s skin, and she knew that only a dragon could have done this. So it was worse than she had thought. The poison was probably in his bloodstream, and had he been a normal-sized man, he would have already been dead.

Most healers would have left him to die, but Carolynn wasn’t like most healers. Nervously she walked toward his head, her lantern illuminating his chin and cheeks. His mouth was slack and she could see his teeth, the canines terrifyingly sharp. She tried not to think about the less-than-pleasant tales about man-eating giants as she rummaged around inside of her bag. Eventually she found the glass bottle marked “Essence of Black Calla Lily” in her neat handwriting.

A drop of the violet fluid would knock out a man for an hour, and anymore would stop his heart. So how much should she give a man who weighed several hundred tons? Carolynn made a few mental calculations and climbed closer to the immense mouth. His hot breath blew rhythmically across her face. Uncorking the bottle, she poured the sweet-smelling liquid between his lips.

Here was to hoping that he stayed asleep. If he awoke and found her on him, he’d most likely swat her like a fly.

Carolynn returned to the wound and laid out her tools. How much time passed, she wasn’t sure, but she was exhausted when she finally finished. She knelt there, her bones aching, aware of the rippling flesh all around her. Slowly she placed her hand on his skin.

As she tried to muster the strength to put away her things, the colossal body moved. She looked over, her heart galloping wildly. In the dim light of the lantern, she could see that his eyes had opened a crack. He seemed to be staring off into the distance, and she prayed to the gods that he would fall asleep again. Beside her, his hand rose up, the powerful fingers stretching out. It was too late for her to run, and she waited to see what her fate would be.

The giant’s eyes closed, his hand falling back down to the ground with a loud thud. Breathing a sigh of relief, Carolynn watched him and wondered who he was. He was dressed in such elegant clothes that she had to believe that he was a nobleman of some kind, if giants even had noblemen. Had he been hunting the dragon, or merely stumbled across the beast? What did he think of humans, if he even noticed them? Were they old enemies, or pests, or something else? She wished that she could have discussed these things with him, but even if he were awake, they didn’t speak the same language.

Carolynn packed up her tools and then lowered herself to the ground. Whether he lived was up to the gods; she had done everything in her power to save him. She decided that she would come back in the morning and see how he was doing. And she did exactly that, rising early and making her way back to the forest. Although she saw evidence of the giant, including smashed trees and enormous footprints, he was gone. So he had survived. She didn’t have much time to congratulate herself; she had to see her other patient, the farmer.

He was more talkative today, but Carolynn’s mind was on the giant. She wondered if he was going back home, wherever his home may be. She inspected the farmer’s burns, changed the dressings. Today she would go into town, despite the fact that she disliked the unkind stares and whispers. She needed to replenish her supplies, especially after last night.

Carolynn followed the road toward the town, and as she came within sights of the stone gates, she spotted the crowd. Curious, she wandered amongst the townspeople, ignoring the whispers of “It’s the witch” and “What’s she doing here?” As she pushed past several men, she saw what had attracted the attention of so many: it was the dragon, or what was left of it. The creature’s spine had been broken like a twig, its gleaming black wings tattered and nearly ripped from its body. No human could have done this…it would have taken someone with the strength of an entire army.

“The giant just dropped it here,” someone said from behind her, and Carolynn recognized the man. His name was Olivre, and she had saved his daughter from a terrible fever. He was one of those who treated her with reluctant respect.

“What?” Maybe she hadn’t heard him correctly.

“A giant showed up from out of nowhere, and he was carrying that dragon by the scruff of its neck like it was a puppy. He put it down and left before the guards could do anything,” Olivre told her.

She silently contemplated this.

“It’s the strangest thing…I mean, why would he do that? But at least the dragon’s dead, so we don’t have to worry anymore. Praise the gods, right?”

“Yes,” Carolynn said, nodding. “Praise the gods.”