Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter 120

written 13 September 2009
Nan had a spot in the attic at Esmeralda's that was all hers. She had full run of the shop, no longer needed a light to find items in the cellar, and could mix most of the daily potions and lotions without help.

Esmeralda was proud of her young apprentice, and had taken to resting more, visiting at further distances, and even leaving the village for a day or two at a time.

Today, she was visiting Helena, whose sick headaches had been increasing rendering her less able to cope with the chores of the farm. Peter was worried about her. Esmeralda was, too. Helena didn't complain without reason.

Which left Nan to her own devices. The expected chores over, she had set an extra bell on the shop door so she could hear if a customer stopped by and had scampered up to the attic. Though her shoulders still hurt on occasion, she had grown used to it and knew that holding still was ultimately worse than the temporary discomfort of lifting and climbing. Once in the attic, she opened the windows wide and poked her head out one, looking up at the sky and then down at the sunny courtyard in back.

It was a communal courtyard, shared by Esmeralda's shop, her aunt Nancy's home, and several others. The sun came over the rooftops and kept the center warm and bright most of the year, so tender plants grew well. There were plants that Esmeralda had known as a child, and some from eveh further afield that visitors had brought over the years. Nancy was sitting on a little bench in the shade and she looked up and waved at her niece when the window flew up, then turned back to her book. There were no clouds on the horizon.

Satisfied, Nan pulled herself back inside and looked around. A little broom stood in the corner, ready for action. A cat had followed her up, and was curled on top of a chest in the sun. Nan smiled. Some things, at least, were predictable.

A large, colorful screen stood at one end of the attic, separating the purely storage end from Nan's space. She had made several large pillows and her brother Andy had made a fancy table for her, with little drawers on one side to hold bobbins of fine threads on spindles. Her mother had provided her with a neat apron, fitted with pockets for scissors and tape measure, and Ava had lent her a wonderful sewing bird that Adam had given her on their first wedding anniversary. Here, Nan settled herself and set to work.

She had paid close attention while she recovered at Helena's home, and now stole time here and there to practice and refine her technique. Today, she was determined to finish a collar she was making for Helena. It was of a fine, soft material that Tor had brought from a seaside town, and had small pockets under the points that would hold little sachets of herbs that Nan knew were effective for headache. The collar was bordered with a band of fancy lace, resembling the pattern Helena had perfected, but with a band of extra color near the points.

Nan was pleased with her efforts. The border was worked, not parallel to the collar's edge, but in sections, each one being attached partway through, in three places. It would repeat eight times, an auspicious number for people recovering from illness, according to Esmeralda. The flowers in each section were slightly different, one a lily, another a daisy. Each one indicated one of the herbs in the sachets Nan had made.

She worked quickly, and before lunchtime had finished the collar. Standing up, she stretched and glanced again out the window overlooking the courtyard. Nancy had gone, probably a meeting of some kind. Though she lived closer to her aunt, Nan still saw her only rarely. It was much nicer, she mused, to be a healer than a politician. More time time visit. A jangle of bells startled her out of her reverie, and she dashed to the window overlooking the street.

"I'll be right down," she called to the tall young man standing by the door, and shut the windows resolutely.

Leaving her work on the little table, Nan danced downstairs and opened the door to one of Doris's beaus. He was a handsome man, though his face was pockmarked from an illness he had survived. His dark hair curled nicely over his collar, though, and Nan couldn't help feeling a bit wistful at Doris's luck. Someday, she consoled herself, she would also have a beau. The young man coughed, a hacking, gasping sound that told Nan which herbs he needed.

She rummaged around behind the counter and found the papers to wrap the tisane in. It didn't take much to help a cold, or even a fever, but time. In the spring and summer, she and Esmeralda scoured the valleys, and in the autumn the hillsides as well, before the snows came. They would spend days at a time, using the small cart as shelter, filling it with roots, bark, berries, blooms and leaves. And then home, to spread them out on the roof, and in the courtyard, even hanging the light-sensitive ones from the rafters in the attic and the cellar.

Some few would be boiled to make a syrup and bottled quickly. Others pounded into paste and added to beeswax for soothing balms. But most were dried for later use as teas, or infusions, or incense. There were dozens of preparations and hundreds of mixtures. And Nan knew them all.

"Put this," she told the young man, "into a clay pot that is warm, and fill the pot with boiling water. Let it sit for half an hour, then strain it off into a clean pot. Drink a half mug with every meal and again at bedtime. Come back for more when it's gone."

The young man bobbed his head in thanks and rushed off.

Nan glanced at the shadows in the street and judged it was near enough to lunch time to leave the shop for a bit. Humming a little tune, she closed the front door behind her and set off for her Mother's house with a small jar of honey-tea. It would be a good day for a visit.