Water dripped from her hairline to her eyebrow, and she absentmindedly swiped it away, lest it blind her eye to the world inside her home. She did not keep a mirror, for mirrors allowed Other—worlds, entities—the opportunity to enter her own. All that she kept in her small stone house was a sturdy table of the same dense wood as her front door, two chairs, a bookcase with various, painstakingly hand-copied tomes about herbs and anatomy, her bed, and an old armoire where she kept a sparing number of durable gowns, more-durable aprons and an old rabbit poppet a cousin had given her.
Though she kept no glass, she Felt the hair on the nape of her neck prickle, and knew an Other stood in the room watching. Her eyes darted up and she quickly found the shimmer that waited not ten feet from her bath, to her left. With another Thought, she quickly envisioned a ball of Light around herself and knew she was Protected, then, and then she threw a separate ball around the shimmer. The shimmer became plain within the confines of her device, and she knew another angel had come.
Nessiah remembered when she first knew God was real. She was raised to respect the holiness of the Church, and she never had quarrel with its followers, even though she never attended unless ordered by her guardian. She never felt she belonged to the things others in town did.
As a child of six winters, for she was born in the winter, she voluntarily accompanied her one close friend, Aleesa, to Church. She was sorely disappointed, for those she heard there said that she should seek to redeem her sins, whether or not she had earned any. No, her place was to thank a man who was martyred on a cross. Why must she pay for the sins of others, she wondered. Why was her world, where the universe kept its own order—Balance—not proper? Why should she simply believe in something that she felt nothing for? Why not enjoy the stars on a dark night, or curl beneath a strong, green tree and know she was safe? It was twenty-one years before the Other spoke out loud.
For sixteen of those years, she’d known she could Heal, and did, and not many were the wiser. She was the silent girl in the village, one that many of the boys mooned for. Her disposition, however, was one that did not allure, even though her voice was always sweet and her face was comely, and even though they’d never known her to have business of her own there, many thought she would take Vows with the Church. She was an odd sort, and they were not ones to force, though they did talk often, so figured her goodness would eventually help her find her way.
Sometimes she did find her way, though not for lessons of morality. No, her interests lay with the harp that one of the priests kept. Knowing her tendency to avoid the pews, he thought he might school her himself. To bring her into the fold, he offered her harp lessons to reel her in when he saw her looking into the distance with her head cocked one afternoon, listening to him play. It had not taken her long to learn to pluck it, a mere couple of moments. It also did not take her long to learn to string it when one of the strings broke, less than the time it took for her to learn to place and curl her fingers and twist just so to send forth the harp’s sweet, shivering tone. The harp lesson she’d had that first day took less than an hour, but Nessiah had demonstrated technique it took the priest several weeks to master. He called her a natural. Bashful, her face pinked and she looked away.
She looked out the door of the priest’s small, bare room and saw a straight-backed man walking at a fast clip toward where she sat. Setting aside the harp, she noticed the priest frown, but she knew the man approaching would need her Light. She stood as he arrived, his breath puffing slightly, and she met his weathered eyes, saw the stains of dust rubbed into his thin coat, and wondered what the next illness would be.
Standing a moment to catch his breath, for he preferred dignity to haste, though a mote of panic still sparked his eye, he blurted, “Risherd’s got the Devil in him.”
Nessiah raised a brow. “The devil?” That was just a cautionary tale told to children who preferred mischief to obedience. Surely, he meant a cough that wracked his body, or a cold that’d swept from him his senses.
“Just come with me, will you? I know you can help him, you help everybody.” An urge within her rose, and she thought she might as well follow.