Hands scrubbed clean with lye and lemon twist in her skirts. Blessed rain has her near soaked to the bone, hair stuck over her cheeks. The road stops here, gone to dust from the neat cobble of the village, gone to mud in all this downpour. Her pulse flutters, wingbeats at the thin skin of her throat.
She sets her jaw and screws her determination on tight.
The cottage door creaks and groans when she pushes it open.
“You’re Anka,” a voice calls before she’s even stepped all the way inside. She drips dreadfully all over the wood floor.
“It worked!” Anka delivers the good news, forgoing any kind of greeting. Awe still bubbles above her fear of this place. Old, dusty books with cracked spines. Bottles and vials and glasses of viscous concoctions that shimmer in every color, from lethal foxglove violet to a starry night ebony. Vines snake up the walls and over the floors, and there are bones scattered all about. A raven perches in the windowsill.
“You had doubts?” the voice from before asks, its owner stepping around a far corner. Outfitted in draping robes, face half-covered. A deer skull sits over the head, masking eyes from view, but the lips, curled into a satisfied grin, are stained in shades of blackberry bramble.
Anka fumbles somewhat, cowed. Of course she had doubts, everyone did, but how could she say that face to face?
“This drought, no one could do a thing against it. You’ve saved us,” she says and reaches for the stone tucked in the pocket sewn to her skirts. It’s only a chunk of common flint, not worth a few coins. But it’s all that was asked for, days ago when everyone was a skeptic.
“For you,” Anka says with a hand outstretched in offering. “For the good fortune you brought us. For the rain.”
The raven from the window swoops in a flurry of feathers to snatch the stone. And when Anka looks again, the deer-skulled witch is gone, only the lingering scent of fresh rain remaining.