Fluttering wings draw me away from soundless darkness. My eyelids lift lazily. I watch a murder of crows fly high above the trees. My back is wet from the decomposing leaves and mud that I am lying on. I realize it is not a dream. I was not supposed to wake up. Something has gone very wrong. The potion has not worked.
I roll over and lift myself off the ground. Anger works its way from the pit of my stomach and consumes me. My only wish is to die, but I cannot even be granted that justice.
“Did you think that I was so evil that I would give a poor orphan boy poison to end his life?” sounds the familiar voice behind me.
“Witch!” I yell, turning to face her. “I paid you all that I own for that concoction.”
She tosses my four silver coins at me.
“Take them back.”
Her face is hidden behind the ebony veil that she always wears. I nearly lunge toward her to tear it away in hopes to expose the ugliness she is undoubtedly hiding. I fight back angry tears.
“Tell me why you deceived me!”
“I knew your mother,” she says softly.
“I have nothing to live for. My mother would not want to see me starve to death as I attempt to walk these lands to the next city, which will spit on my face as the last one has.”
“I am an outcast as well, you know. I am a woman who practises medicine, but they all call me a witch. It pains me so, even now, that you requested a deathly potion from me, when I have studied for the purpose of healing people.”
I swallow hard.
She takes a step forward. Smoke has permeated the air around us, but I do not care where it is coming from at the moment. Maybe the forest has caught fire and the smoke will choke me.
“You chose to give in and die while others’ lives are taken away from them as they beg for mercy!” she shouts.
She has no idea how every inch of me feels tortured just to live for another day. She has not suffered as I have.
“You should turn around,” she says.
Before I can ask why, I hear a deep growl emerge from the bushes. I already know what it is before it pokes its skinny crimson head out from the green leaves. My heart races as fire surges out from its open mouth.
The witch crosses her arms while I gape at her in confusion.
“So, you did not give me the lethal compounds because you preferred to see my burn to death?”
“You want to die, don’t you?”
“Not like this!”
Fear replaces madness.
“Please. Maybe…” I stutter.
“I don’t want to die. Maybe I was wrong.”
She snaps her fingers and the dragon’s svelte body slithers over to the witch as though it were an obedient dog. I take a step backward, half expecting her to command it to incinerate me.
I hold my breath. I can feel her eyes staring at me from behind her covering.
Then, she turns and walks in the other direction, until the forest’s shadows swallow her whole. The dragon follows her.
I stand in place for several moments, but they do not return. I look to the dirt path ahead. I am still afraid, but I am amazed at how relieved I feel to still be breathing. Have I been wrong? Yes, yes I have been.
I feel alive and grateful that I am living. I have the woman with the ebony veil to thank for that. When I make something of myself, I will return to her and thank her. But first, I need to go out there and do something worth living for.