She unpacked her boxes with quick, confident movements. Her fingers knew where each vial was, each bowl, each jar.
There was pleasure, she knew, in each new beginning. She paused in her unpacking and breathed it in – the uncertainty of the people she would meet here, the thrill of new problems to solve, of answers to be found. It filled her with a sort of boiling excitement, bubbling up within her and making her hands work faster to get everything ready. She wanted to meet this town and its challenges head on. She wanted to heal them all.
The chimes she had hung in the doorway sounded as a young man pushed the door open and stepped through, peering around at all the bottles that lined the shelves.
“Hello,” she called from the back room, quickly drying the knives she’d been washing so she could move to the storefront.
She watched the young man as he took a hesitant step, then another. His eyes took in the herbs she had hung on the back wall, the various mortars and pestles, the dried flowers resting in waterless vases.
“Can I help you?” Her tone was not pushy, but warm and motherly. She knew the right tones to use with new patients. She had, after all, had quite a bit of practice.
“I was just curious…” the young man said. A few more slow steps, a few more glances around the store, “I saw the new sign.”
“Ah, yes. Have you ever had an apothecary in this town?”
The man’s eyes stopped roaming and settled to rest on her, as though he were just now fully realizing she was there.
“No,” he said softly, color rising in his cheeks. “I don’t…I’m not quite sure…”
“What it is that I do?” She finished his sentence for him.
This was not the first time she had come to a town where the people had no inkling of what it meant to be a healer. No recognition of the word ‘apothecary.’ And if she were to be honest with herself, she preferred it that way. She wanted to show them what she could do. Not try to fill some role of any other healer that had come before her. She knew, better than anyone, that there was freedom in the unknown.
The man nodded, having the grace to look apologetic for his ignorance.
“Not to worry,” the woman said, giving a warm grin and turning to the fireplace behind her to start some water boiling. “I am a healer. I fix your problems. I heal your ailments. Cure your illnesses.”
She turned back to glance at the young man as he shifted from foot to foot, looking uncertain.
“Are you…pardon my asking…are you…”
“A witch?” She finished for him again.
The man nodded, looking more apologetic than ever.
She studied him. He was most uncertain. But he had not run. He was not afraid. At least, not more afraid than he was curious. Yes, she had picked this town well. It would be easy, this time around.
“No, dear,” she said with warmth still coloring her words. “Not at all. Witches use spells, do they not? And potions? Magical ingredients and secret words?”
The man nodded.
“I don’t do anything of the sort. Do you know what this is?” She picked up a handful of herbs.
“Lavender, I think,” the man said, still uncertain.
“Yes, indeed. And this one?” Another handful.
“Very good. If you look around, you’ll see that you probably know all the ingredients I use. I do not brew magic. I only use that which grows naturally to help ease whatever ails you. So, may I be so forward as to ask: what ails you?”
“Oh, nothing really,” the man sputtered, though his fidgeting had subsided. “Sometimes…I have trouble sleeping.”
“Ah, an easy cure!”
She grinned and wiped her hands on her apron before getting to work, pulling herbs and bottles down and making quick work of them.
“Some chamomile, some scullcap, some honey, some water.”
She pulled the boiling water from the fireplace, poured a splash of it into the bowl in front of her and mixed everything together. Once it had cooled, she bottled and stoppered it.
“Drink this tonight, an hour before you wish to sleep.” She handed the bottle over the counter to the young man.
When he didn’t reach out to take it, she gave a small shake of her head. “No charge. Just try it. Tell me tomorrow how you slept.”
He hesitated, gave a small smile, then took it from her with anxious fingers.
“I will. Thank you.”
He left, the chimes tinkling in time with his departure.
The apothecary smiled. The young man would sleep wonderfully tonight, no doubt. But she knew it would not be in thanks to the herbs. It, like most ailments, was all in his head. She knew, from years of travel, how to talk to people. How to assure them she could help. And that alone often seemed enough to cure most things.
Tomorrow he would be back. He would pay for more of this mixture, which was hardly more than a home-brewed tea. And then he would tell his friends. And they would come to her, paying for an ear to listen and a coin’s worth of cure.
She hummed to herself as she continued to tidy the store. There truly was freedom in uncertainty, but even more in the power of words. In mere suggestion.