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An Unsafe Path
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Summary: A treavelling apothecary seems to be an easy target for robbers. But she has a trick up her sleeve.
Content Notes/Warnings: violent death, not described in detail.
Three brothers who liked money better than work overheard a farmer they knew thanking a stranger, an old woman who carried a small cabinet on her back.
“Thank you so much. How can I repay you for healing my daughter?”
“It was a small thing. I have some of the greatest medicines in the world with me. But there is the greatest of all, which I am looking for. The Wandering Well is supposed to be in these mountains now. Have you heard anything of it?”
The farmer shook her head. “Not since my grandfather’s grandfather’s days.”
“Oh, well. Could you recommend me a path to get higher into the mountains, then?”
She did, sending the old woman to a long path that wound up the sloped in serpentines.
And the brothers talked quietly.
“Those medicines must be valuable. That she would just give one away,” Said the youngest brother, shaking his head.
“Maybe she will give the rest to us,” said the oldest, “and we can sell them as dearly as they deserve.”
They took a steep path known to them that joined the serpentine way the apothecary had been sent on, so they could ambush her.
When they stopped her, knives drawn, she begged, “Please let me live! All I have is my medicines, and those will do you no good if you don’t know what they are.”
The oldest brother spoke for all of them. “So, a deal. You give us your potions and powders and tell us what they are, and you keep your life.”
She nodded, eyes cast down as if in fear.
The robbers gathered round while she set the little apothecary cabinet she had carried on her back on a flat rock, and pulled a key from her collar.
“What do you have in there better be worth a lot, or I might change my mind.”
“Oh, it is priceless. Priceless.”
The woman turned the key, and the doors flew open. She ducked, the robbers jumped away from the shadow rushing from the cabinet, a shadow with teeth and claws. Their screams were cut off quickly.
When the apothecary had straightened up and dusted herself off, there wasn’t even a speck of blood left of the brothers.
A giant beast, black as a hole in the world, stood before her.
“Well done, my dear. Thank you. Will you goo back inside now?”
The beast made a sad murring sound.
“Oh, if you’d like to stretch your legs a bit…” She looked up and down the path, thinking back to the description she had been given. “I don’t think anyone’s around to see us.”
The beast rubbed its head against her shoulder, and she scratched its neck. Her hand hardly sunk into it at all.
“Ah, more substantial than usual, after such a meal.”
The next sound the beast made was undignified hacking, prompting the woman to pat its shoulder in worry. After a few moments, it spat out a dagger.
“Yes, you really need to walk that off. Get some fresh air.”
The woman re-locked the doors of the cabinet, and opened them again with a key from a ring she carried in a pocket, to add the dagger to a collection of knicknacks, none of which were medicine or surgeon’s tools.
She shouldered her cabinet again, and told her shadow beast, “Let’s go. We’ll find the water of life yet.”