Emily couldn't believe it. It wasn’t true, it couldn’t be. But Doctor Mallard was already quarantining her, shooing away all the nurses and closing the doors around them.
“Unfortunately, Miss Green, I have no records of such an illness or anything even remotely close to it in any of my records, but it doesn’t seem to be contagious. I’ll have you stay here in the critical wing for now, until…”
Emily saw the doctor speaking but his words had become soft and inaudible. She touched her lips shakily; a large flake of dried blood broke from her mouths’ skin and drifted to her skirt. She was dying.
No one had thought much of it when it had begun. It was at least two weeks prior to her damning visit to the notorious Doctor Mallards’ and had just been a light cough. It was the winter season, living in a seven child home, everyone coughed in the frigid air so no one had even turned an eye to Emily. It wasn’t until her coughs became violent fits that her mother finally had to take action.
Her mother had her put to bed for several days, thinking it an ordinary cold and giving her a greenish liquid tonic to nip it out while only one child was sick. But the tonic had no effect and Emily’s coughs became worse. It was the morning of the second week of sickness that she woke up to yet another nasty spell, her lungs on fire, and when the fit had finally subsided, found her hands covered in deep crimson blood. In those seconds she was horrified; she had never seen such a large amount of blood (coming out of her no less) and every fiber of her being was telling her to scream. But her younger sisters beat her to the point, all three having been woken by her coughing. The young girls ran from the room, shouting for their mother in high pitched shrilly voices, exclaiming Emily was dying.
The girl’s mother was walking in sluggishly, convinced their ruckus was over reaction, but then saw the blood. Emily’s mother was a strong and stout lady, having born seven children and practically raised them on her own; she was not easily ruffled. But in those moments, Emily could never recall her mother looking so frightened. She immediately washed Emily’s hands and face of the sticky mess and dressed her in her a fresh dress and apron. She fastened her best bonnet around her neck and took her by the shoulders, looking her in the eye.
“Emily. Go to Doctor Mallard’s and tell him of your ailments. Do not come back here unless he gives you a medicine.” She spoke gravely.
The young girl merely nodded and clutched the cross that hung from her neck. Emily left her home that early morning. Dressed in her Sunday best and headed to the doctors alone, she could feel the stares of neighbors and early workers as she made her slow and steady way. The sun had not yet come into the sky and the wind blew around her softly, almost as if Mother Nature herself were sad for her. She took one look back toward the tiny cabin that had served as her home, where her sisters and brothers hung around the porch watching her. Emily tried her hardest to imprint the image in her memory, knowing in her heart she would most likely never see it again.
The ten year old now sat on a low bed in the critical wing, having been told she was fated to die at the hands of an unknown illness. She was afraid, naturally, and shook all over, but demanded her body not give in to tears. Some young nurses were peeking at her curiously from the door and their presence was an annoyance; they were waiting for the first act of her sickly drama and she refused to put on a show. She would not be the subject of gossip for the silly older girls of Auberwood.
She removed the scratchy bonnet from around her head and flopped on her side, curling up on the bed. She shut her eyes tight, trying with all her might not to let a tear escape. She tried to put her mind off the malady itself, reasoning being afraid of the inevitable wasn’t good for her state of mind. Instead, she tried to think her situation through. Ask questions. See if she could answer any for herself.
“Yes, that’s a good plan Emily…” She whispered to herself, and thus the questions began.
She was sick, that was a given, but what now? Sure, her death wasn’t far off, but in the mean time, what was going to happen to her? Were they going to do series of tests on her to find a cure? Or were they going to simply let this run its course? And even if the disease wasn’t contagious, were they just going to keep her quarantined forever? Would she ever get to go home again? Ever get to see her mother or her brothers and sisters again? Then she frowned, disappointed in those last two questions. The fear must have been getting to her for it wasn’t like her at all to ask such stupid questions. Mainly it was stupid because the answers were very obvious. Her siblings cared for her, certainly, but she knew none of them would be too upset if she never came home. And her mother… Her mother had already faced many social shames because of Emily, the last thing she’d do is house a dying child among six healthy ones. Contagious or not, her return home, if at all possible, would not be welcome.
Suddenly, she was aware of giggling. That’s right; the nurses were still watching her. Emily bit her lip, feeling a little angry. How dare they. Was her predicament some kind of cute game to them? Someone was dying and they had the nerve to spy? In a second, she centered all her anger into one good glare and shot it at the nurses who were still staring at her and talking in hushes. The girls gasped in surprise and shut the door quickly. She could hear their hurried footsteps fade down the long hallway and grinned a little. She scared them good, alright.
“Serves them right, squawking about like a bunch of silly hens.”She huffed.
Alone at last, Emily decided that was enough questions. She thought instead she should get familiar with her surroundings, as she might in there a while. She took a good look around the room. There were at least five other white sheeted beds lined up next to hers. In the back of the room there was a small door, probably a closet, behind a thick wooden table full of all sorts of syringes and little sharp knives. To her right was the door to the hall, where the nurses had been flocking, an end table to right of it. She looked to her left and felt a little delighted, noticing a lone low window. Pale light flooded through it, entrancing the child. She stood and walked to it slowly, reaching her hand out and touching its cool glass. Emily unlatched the thick copper lock on the windows ledge and pushed it open. A breeze wafted in, but it was peculiarly warm. It was still the dead of winter, so how on earth could the wind be warm? Emily sighed a little; no more questions, no matter how strange the thing being questioned was. Besides, she thought, it would be far smarter to simply enjoy such an occurrence.
She closed her eyes and the warmth consumed her, the smell of light flowers and coming rain invading her senses. And then another thought suddenly occurred to her. Emily opened her eyes and got on her tip toes, sticking her torso out the window. Could it be seen from here? Of course, there it was.
The critical wing where she was being kept was at the back of Doctor Mallard’s hospital. The back of the long squat building sat about six or seven feet from the wall. She stared up at in awe, seeing nothing thick tree trunks and leaves shooting up from its peak, dark clouds passing even above that. Auberwood, Emily’s small home village, was located in the middle of a vast and dangerous forest. The forest had no name and it was not talked of very often, despite their inhabitance there. To the good Christian people of the village, it was even thought to be bad luck to mention it. But its heritage could not be denied. The forest was an ancient home of Fae Folk and Cryptic beasts; of frightening tales to warn young children at night and beautiful ballads that would open even the most closed mind.
But for all its awesome power, the forest was cut off from the people of Auberwood. Standing between its dense trees and the village stood a thick wall. Emily remembered learning about its and the towns origins in school. Apparently, the village had been established by a man named Christophe Auberwood, his small family, and a group of their companions. They had come to the forest in hopes of trading goods with the Fae Folk, whose items and herbal medicines were very rare and very profitable. But the nature spirits refused to even show themselves to the humans, leaving them to think their trip for naught. Christophe, however, refused to be disheartened by their failure with the Faeries. He saw the rich and plenty of the forest and knew there was purpose in their journey yet. He decided his family and traveling companions would set up a town there, taking from the forest what people in the prairies and lesser forests could not obtain. As Christophe was the founder, they named their establishment after him accordingly, and the town of Auberwood was born.
They chopped down the great trees for housing and uprooted special plants for soaps and tonics. They dug up natural mines of their precious gems and sands for jewelry and glass work. The beautiful flower and grass rich clearings were tilled for crops and the dumb forest creatures were hunted and slaughtered for their lovely furs and feathers. Once a month they would gather enough of this cargo and take it to the great markets, weeks trips away from Auberwood, and sell it for mass fortunes. With the gold and silver they earned, they would buy various seed and tools to plant and grow in the finer soils of the forest, making richer vegetables and fruits and turning a greater profit than what they invested in. Soon enough, through its unusually plentiful means, Auberwood attracted many. Hundreds of people would come home with the market sellers, wishing to live in their beautiful village. And so Auberwood went from a small village to a great town.
But after so many years of success, as Emily’s teacher told it, the Fae Folk became jealous of Auberwood. They were angered that the towns’ people were earning so much gold and silver off the land they’d lived in for so long. Soon they decided to put a stop to it the ‘faery way’. They poisoned crops that had spent the whole year growing, they killed live stock with evil curses and spells, and most horrible of all stole babies from cribs in the night, most likely to eat or offer to the Devil. The people of Auberwood tried to reason with the Fae, even offered them most of the gold that they so sought over, if they would just leave the village in peace. But the Fae refused, declaring all profits of the forest belonged to them and demanded the humans give up all their gold and leave.
In retaliation, Christophe Auberwood (who was an old man at this point) had the village begin the construction of the wall. The wall was seventeen feet in height and made from some of the largest oaks they could find. It was packed tight with mud mixed with a type of sap like glue and laced inside and out with talismans to keep the beasts and faeries out. It’s only entrance and exit being a great gate that could only be pushed open from the inside by at least twenty men. After the wall was built, the Fae were no longer a trouble inside the village. But when the monthly trip to the markets began again, the villagers who manned the carts were viciously attacked by all manner of being, and survivors were rare.
They tried at first manning the carts to counter the Faeries and their weapons with talismans and charms of their faith, but in this they did not succeed. The Fae’s magic was much too powerful and the mortals stood no chance. As the attempts to make it out of the forest continued, the towns’ numbers plummeted till they were once again reduced to a small village. Seeing his people suffer, Christophe and the ten man town council ruled they retreat into Auberwoods’ walls entirely, knowing they had plenty enough means to take care of themselves until they could find a way to fight back against the Fae. A year later, their beloved founder succumbed to old age and died. And with him did the will to continue the growth of Auberwood.
In his father’s stead, Christophe’s son Avery Auberwood took over as chief of council. Under his jurisdiction, it was decided that there was no longer a need to leave the village and all studies going into fighting the Fae were to cease. He reasoned with his people that they had everything they needed and would ever need. That there was no reason to ever again venture beyond the wall. Those who protested this, for there were protesters, were banished from the village. It took time, but eventually the people saw that things were better this way. They really did have everything they needed to live happy, content lives. So why on earth should they try and leave and die at the hands of the Fae? God willing and the Faeries be damned, they were the people of Auberwood! The village was their birth, life, and death. They needed not anything else.
Emily was taught this story of the founding as her mother and father before her and there’s before them. She remembered her teacher shouting that ‘God willing and Faeries be damned’ part. It riled the whole class into hoots and hollers and it took a full half hour to settle them all down.
“Savages.” She muttered at the memory, breaking from the window and sitting back down on her bed.
She and one other boy had been the only ones to not scream in joy back then. She smiled a little at the thought of ‘the other boy’. Ebony Auberwood.
Emily slapped her hands over her mouth and felt her lungs catch fire. Her mind went numb and her throat felt as though it was trying to flip itself inside out. She began to cough uncontrollably and shut her eyes tight. Agony spread into every tip and tuck of her body and she reeled in pain. After a few minutes passed, it was over, leaving the small girl winded. She gasped for air, coughing lightly, and stared down at her hands. Blood dripped from her palms down onto her white apron. Emily shook all over, suddenly feeling sick, but fought it back. She shakily wiped the grotesque liquid on the bed sheets beside her. Emily rubbed her mouth with her sleeve in an attempt to clean her mouth, but merely smeared the blood around her mouth. Feeling disgusting, she stood and walked steadily to another bed and sat down.
The first time she had an attack it was in front of Ebony. There wasn’t any blood then, but it had had her on the ground in pain. When it was over, she hadn’t expected Ebony to still be there. There was many a situation where he would run from her side in fear of anything from a bee to twig snapping in the distance. But this time, he hadn’t. He was there taking her by the shoulders and asking her again and again if she was alright. And then when she was too delirious (and somewhat shocked) to answer, she was suddenly in his arms as he raced to her home, yelling for her mother. The memory made her blush.
“I’m going to miss him.” She said finally, clutching her cross with one hand.
Ebony was Emily’s dearest and only friend. In school, other children didn’t take too kindly to her. It was a common known fact that ‘school’ was merely a place for the mothers of Auberwood to send their young children who weren’t old enough to do much of anything but get in the way. But Emily actually enjoyed school. Mathematics came easy to her and writing was a talent. But of all the things she learned in school, she especially loved to read. Reading, however, is where the trouble started.
While the other girls Emily’s age played with their dolls or sang and danced, Emily preferred to keep to herself and read. Reading in itself was very odd, especially for a little girl, but what was most frowned upon was the content of her books. Emily loved reading fiction. Fantasy tantalized her and she read everything from stories of knights fighting dragons to save pretty damsels, to cross dressing girls fighting in battles. But what she loved most were legends about the Fae. Many people thought it most disturbing, her interest in Faeries, especially given their villages history with them. But Emily couldn’t believe what she was taught in school. In her books, some Faeries were mischievous and tricky, certainly, but they were over all good and majestic. She couldn’t see how they could be the spiteful, evil creatures Auberwood made them out to be.
Because of her beliefs, Emily became a social outcast and spent most of her early childhood alone, her only friends being the characters in books she read. Until she met Ebony. Ebony was also something of a misfit but for very different reasons. He was the heir to Auberwood, the Chief of Councils son. Wherever he went people stopped to tip their hats or curtsey in respect. To approach him was rude, to talk to him was unthinkable, to try and make his company was unheard of. Children were warned that if they were to wrong him in anyway, shame would forever brand their family names. And so Ebony Auberwood was avoided, out of respect, but alone nonetheless.
Having no companions, Ebony spent his days like Emily, immersed in school and books. He always sat in the very back of the school house, reading a book, ignoring the rest of the class but still taking enjoyment in being there. Emily had always noticed him, and he noticed her. They knew they were of the same kind, but neither dared approach. Then one day, Emily did what she does best. She reasoned. She didn’t understand why she should avoid the one person in her whole village who could possibly want to be in her company, just because he was the chiefs’ son. Why should she deny him and herself the pleasure of having a friend? For fear of being further condemned by people who thought nothing of her in the first place? Ridiculous.
So one morning, Emily built up her courage and instead of sitting at her normal seat in the middle of the class, she sat in the empty chair next to Ebony. Everyone was quite shocked, Ebony most of all, but she made no attempt to make contact with him. She simply sat at the desk and read, as she did every day. And so her action was ignored, until class ended that is. As the other children gathered their books and papers and ran out the door to play or head home, Emily looked to her neighbor and asked very politely if he would like to accompany her home. Ebony sat in shock for a few moments, then numbly shook his head yes. He walked Emily home and sat in the yard with her under a tree and the two read from a book he’d been borrowing from his father’s study. From that day forward, two were inseparable.
Naturally, the whole village was in an uproar. How dare the odd little book worm be so disrespectful? How dare she try and influence the Chiefs son with her odd ways? But neither child paid any mind to the adults talk and enjoyed each other’s company immensely. They played pretend, read together, went on little explorations through the crops, and sat in front of the wall. Ebony, being the Chiefs son, knew all about the Fae and beyond the wall. He would enchant Emily daily with stories of beautiful Faeries in long glittery robes that smelled of flowers and earth; of horrific creatures with long talons and jagged toothy jaws.
As her Emily’s friendship with Ebony grew, so did her questions about what truly lay beyond Auberwood. She would sit with him in front of the wall and tell him how she secretly wished she could meet the Fae, that she could leave the village and go out into the world like the settlers of the past. And he would admit to the same hopes. They both knew, however, that such talk was purely fiction. It would never happen. Ebony would grow up and become a great Chief of Auberwood like his father before him, and Emily would marry and have children while her husband would tend to the crops like their fathers before him.
She laughed. Her voice echoed loudly through the empty room. Ebony would grow up to be a respectable Chief, sure, but Emily would not. There was no ‘growing up’ for her. She was dying.
Emily let go of the cross that she still held tightly in her hand and looked down at her palm. It was still red with dried blood and the imprint of the pendant lined out clearly against her skin. She gritted her teeth and in a sudden moment of rage sat up from her bed and raced to the window. She grabbed the cross in her bloodied palm and tore it from her neck, tossing it strongly into the sky. It disappeared into the tall grass. A low moan escaped her throat.
“God willing.” She croaked, sliding down to the floor.
Emily Green drew her knees to her chest and finally began the first tears of a long night of sobbing.