I huddled inside my little cottage deep in the woods, waiting for them to come for me. I was powerless to escape my fate, all because I had failed to heal Mistress Prudence’s son, but there was only so much a simple healer could do when a soul’s time on Earth was done.
We would run, as we always did, and at least this time we had the luxury of forewarning and did not have to bear things we had borne before.
We had found out about the plot by accident. We knew approximately when they would come for me, to put me on trial for witchcraft, to punish me for worshipping Satan.
If I worshipped Satan and he did my bidding, the boy would have lived. Logic, however, had nothing to do with this. Mistress Prudence was angry and she would get her justice. There would be no one to stop this, even if that did mean the rest of the village lost their healer and midwife. In fact, I had caught Mistress Prudence’s boy, and saved her from the death of birthgiving, but that seemed to make no difference.
Then they started thinking about it, about me, about my appearance, about how long I had lived here and served the village.
Why I didn’t age.
“We stayed too long,” my husband said.
I looked down at the giant black Italian mastiff sitting at my feet. “I suppose you want to say ‘I told you so.’”
“I told you so.”
I had time to gather my things and run. But where would we go this time? What would we do when we got there? I did not fear death; I feared the pain of being burned alive. I knew what that felt like; it had happened before. Jesus Christ was said to have endured worse, and His disciples after him, but I was not a deity who could save myself if I chose, not brave, and I did not like pain.
But, I reminded myself as I often had to, I had chosen this life when I chose to stay with my beloved husband.
So we would run. Again.
I gathered provisions for travel through and sojourn in the wilderness. Food, ale, shelter, clothing, and weapons. I packed carefully, as I did not know how long we would be running this time.
In the woods.
In the winter.
We had made a life for us here, and now we had to leave it all behind. Again. My mistake was in getting too comfortable and forgetting that years flew by faster for us and I lost track of time, although my husband did not. He’d wanted to leave fifty years ago.
So they would burn our home down when they found me gone. Would we ever be able to live in peace? Would there ever come a time when people did not fear that which they did not understand? Where we could stay in one place and no one would ever notice—or care—that we did not die?
I prayed snow would not fall.
I finished loading my handcart. Of course I took my books with me, my quills and ink and parchments. They would claim that my ability to read and write was a sign of my service to Satan. Women did not read and write, but I was more learned than any man in the world, save my husband. Women envied me. Men feared me.
It wasn’t me they needed to fear.
I layered my woolen dresses and stockings so that I did not have to waste room to pack them.
Satisfied by what I had chosen to bring, and satisfied that our cottage looked as if I would return any moment, I took out, my husband somewhere nearby, scouting and guarding.
I trudged through the woods until sundown, fearing that every crackle of leaves and twigs would give us away. Even after sundown, we kept going, my husband leading me.
We were going southeast, away from the village, and if previous travels taught me anything, we would be able to make France by spring. We’d been back and forth across Europe, Britain, and Scandinavia for centuries.
After a full day, a full night, and another full day of walking and pulling my cart, my gloves had worn through and I had blisters on my hands and feet. Yet we were far enough away and still deep enough in the woods that we did not hear or encounter anyone else.
“Amala,” Alaric said, “’Tis time for you to rest.”
I looked down at the dog and sighed wearily. “Aye, I know.” My endurance was at an end. We had stayed so long in Scotland that I had lost some of my physical abilities. I should have known better, but each day was an adventure of the mind and I forgot to exercise my body too, doing the least amount of work necessary to keep myself alive and in some comfort.
It was near sundown. I set my cart down, prepared it for my sleep, and made a fire whilst Alaric fetched us supper. Rabbit, as expected. By firelight, I skinned it and roasted it on the spit. He was not able to eat, so whilst I ate, he lay with his head in my lap and attempted to sleep. Once I had eaten my fill and washed it down with a full bladder of ale, I stroked and caressed his thick black fur, scratched his head, and generally wondered what it would be like to die.
“Stop wishing for that which will not happen,” Alaric murmured, rousting himself to all four feet. He shook himself out, then disappeared. I doused the fire and crawled under my tented handcart onto the nest of blankets I made, Alaric patrolling. I could sleep as long as I wanted knowing he would keep me safe.
He was not able to sleep; he had not been cursed with the weaknesses of a mortal dog’s body. He had been cursed to be ever near me, but always away from me, ever hungry, ever tired, but unable to eat or sleep.
It was the Italian witch’s curse upon him for sacking Rome twelve hundred years ago.
I had chosen to stay with him; thus, I was as immortal as he, and as ever separated from him. I had begged the witch on my hands and knees for him to be allowed to think and talk. She had determined that it would be more of a curse for him than a gift, so she had allowed it.
There was no god, no sorcerer, who could undo this curse. There had been no caveat, no loophole, no god who would or could save us.
I went to sleep and dreamt, as I did every night, of what it would be like to die.