For Isabel, though, life was the same as ever. She and 3-year-old Sophia were busy every day in the neighboring forest collecting food to supplement Edmund’s income. Everything their father made went to the local alehouse keeper, so Isabel did what she could to supplement the family’s income, selling the eggs and fish she and Sophia collected that they didn’t need to feed the family of five. If she had wanted to, Isabel could have called all of the fish in the river and driven them into town to sell, and was tempted to do just every once in a while. She knew, however, that would not help her convince her uncle she was not a witch.
That week after the flood, Isabel and Sophia spent more time in the forest than usual, trying to stay away from the public eye. One of these days, she knew, Peter would begin telling everyone what he had seen her do, and then her life would be forfeit. She only prayed that she would have enough foreknowledge to be able to flee the village before her uncle came to collect her.
Isabel and Sophia were returning to the village one late afternoon with a collection of fish, eggs, herbs, and other assorted foodstuffs when a stranger stepped out of the underbrush onto the path in front of them.
Isabel pushed her little sister behind her and stood ready to defend her little sister if necessary.
“What do you want?” she asked, perhaps a little more harshly than she had intended.
“To thank you for saving my sister,” Peter said, his brown eyes locked on hers. There was an emotion there that Isabel could not read.
“I… I do not know what you are talking about,” Isabel stammered.
“Do not worry,” he said, holding up his hand. “I simply wanted to assure you that I will not tell anyone about what you did and Mary is still too emotional to remember much. Your secret is safe.”
Isabel had no idea how to take this new information. Why would the badger’s boy, who did the odd jobs around the village his father refused to, help her in any way? Especially after what happened between their families.
Peter and Mary’s father had once sold her father a few rare supplies he needed to finish a dress for a noblewoman, but then claimed to the magisters that the tailor shortchanged him. The local solicitor and mayor heard the case and ruled in the favor of Isabel’s father, and the badger had never let anyone forget it. After a time, the badger was told to stay only on his side of the river, and was never to return to Isabel’s side.
“Why?” was the only thing she could think to ask. “Why are you doing this?”
“Why are you even asking? You saved my sister’s life,” Peter said, taking a hesitant step toward her. “You are amazing.”
Isabel looked over her shoulder at Sophia, who was looking up at her with wide, fear-filled eyes the same color as their mother’s had been.
“We should get back home. Edmund will be worried if we tarry too long.”
Peter smiled widely and for some reason Isabel felt her heart leap at the sight. “That is why I am here. Your brother has hired me to be his caddie. He told me to come find you and bring you home.”
“You?” Isabel asked. The thought of being reminded day in and day out that her life was forfeit if she, or now Edmund, did anything against this boy filled her with dread. However, she had learned to trust Edmund’s decisions in the past three years, and if this was his decision, she would have to live with it.
“We will be able to see a lot more of each other,” Peter said. “I do hope we can become good friends.”
Isabel looked at him strangely. Why would this boy—knowing what she was—want to have anything to do with her? While they rarely saw the badger himself in Mass, Peter always made sure that his younger siblings were in every Mass unless they were practically dying of the plague. Why would such a righteous person want anything to do with someone as “touched by Satan,” as her uncle always put it, as her?
Shaking her head, she allowed Peter to lead the way home. Whatever the reason, they were not able to discuss it with Sophia around. Maybe one day, they would find themselves alone somewhere where they could speak freely.
Photo credit: James Allan