Nearly a month after the flood, after seeing Peter everywhere every day, Isabel was surprised to hear him volunteer to go foraging with her. Over the past month, she had been busy. Her brother insisted that, as part of Peter’s wages, she provide him with the fattest fish she could find on her adventures in the woods. She had been feeding his family of four all this time without anything to show for it.
Peter, of course, was always very gracious when he took the fish, and yes, he had kept his promise not to tell anyone of her abilities, but that was it. Would she really be putting in all of this work for the foreseeable future for nothing more than his silence? While his silence kept her from the stake, was it truly worth it?
When Peter asked to come with her that morning, though, Isabel knew that, finally, they would be able to talk freely without the worry of anyone overhearing. She had questions she needed answering, and he always seemed to have something he wanted to say to her.
Their foraging took them through back trails Isabel had never been through before, very deep into the forest where, according to her uncle, witches dwelled. Peter, armed with a bow, was constantly on the lookout for game as well as danger.
Isabel did her best to keep her eyes on the ground to look for wild plants the apothecary would eagerly trade for. Jacob had come down with a stomach illness and they needed to be able to purchase some medicine for him. Their father, unfortunately, had been reminded of the anniversary of their mother’s death, and had spent every coin he could find in the house on a three-day ale binge. If it was not for Edmund and Isabel, the children would be starving as well as sick.
Keeping her eyes on the ground, though, was difficult. Isabel had never noticed before how handsome and well-built Peter was. His brown hair and eyes and his quick and playful smile made it hard for Isabel to concentrate on anything else. She wasn’t the only one, she was happy to discover. More often than not, when she looked up at him, he was already looking at her.
The dark forest gave them no indication of the time until they came to a small meadow. A break in the trees told Isabel that it was close to mid-day. A small brook ran through the meadow.
“I will build a fire if you want to catch us some fish,” Peter said.
Isabel pursed her lips. What did he know about her? Had Edmund been talking about her abilities?
“I did not bring my fishing gear,” she said. She did not bother to mention that her fishing gear only consisted of a bag to carry the fish.
“I am sure you will figure something out,” Peter said with a smile. “You’re resourceful.” He looked away before adding, rather nervously. “As am I.”
Now what did he mean by that? Isabel thought to herself as she walked to the brook. Was he like her? No, he could not have been like her, otherwise he would not have stayed on the bank when Mary fell in the river. He would have simply gone in after her. Perhaps he was similar, but with a different ability. Did God grant different abilities, or was Peter touched by the Devil same way she had been touched by God?
She quickly found and coaxed a few chub into her hands and pulled them out of the water, thanking them in the process. When she first realized she could control, or at least persuade, aquatic life to do what she wanted, she felt guilty for coaxing them into her bag just so they would be eaten. Her mother, however, had been extremely helpful in helping her realize that her method was much easier on the fish than catching them unwillingly with a hook or a net.
Peter had the fire burning hot when she brought him the fish, which he spitted and began cooking immediately.
“Will you not sit down so we can speak?” he asked. It was only then that she noticed she had been standing apart, ready to run at a moment’s notice.
“Of course,” she said, sitting down hesitantly.
“Are you finding everything you need?” he asked, starting the conversation light.
“I believe so,” Isabel told him. “I will look around the meadow after we eat to see if there is something else that may be of use, but I think we have everything that the apothecary asked for.” In fact, she was surprised that she had been able to find everything so quickly. It was as if Peter knew exactly which path to take that would allow them to collect everything they needed in a timely fashion.
Peter nodded. “Isabel, shall we talk about that day? We have been avoiding it for too long, do you not agree?”
“What day?” she asked innocently.
“There is no one here to overhear our conversation, we can speak freely,” he assured her. “If you are too frightened to say anything, I will go first.”
Peter, looking into the fire, sighed. “As I said before, I am … resourceful as well. My gifting is slightly different than yours, however. God has seen fit to give you the ability to swim with—and like—the fishes. I have been given the gift of insight. I hear the Most High’s voice in my head telling me where to go, what to do, who will be the best person to work for,” he looked at her, “and who I should spend my life with.”
Isabel was taken aback. “What?”
“We are to be married,” Peter said with conviction. “I have seen it. God has spoken. Not yet, not now, but some day, when you are ready. We both have brothers and sisters who need us, and we cannot leave them yet, but one day we will and we will be together all of my life.”
“How…” Isabel started, but then stopped.
“I have heard the voice of God,” Peter said with a shrug of his shoulders.
“If Father Gerard heard you speaking that way, he would have you burned as a witch.”
“If he knew you could speak to fishes and swim a raging torrent as if it was the duck pond behind your house he would have you burned as well,” Peter pointed out. He removed the fish from the fire and handed the skewer to Isabel. “In another time, I may have been called a prophet.” He sighed. “But not now. Now, we must hide who we are if we are to use the gifts the Lord has seen fit to give us.”
“I do not know what to say,” Isabel told him, taking the skewer and pulling off bits of flesh and burnt skin.
“There is nothing to say yet,” he said, pulling his legs up to his body. “I simply needed to tell you that you are not alone, and you will not be alone as long as I am alive. I ask, though, that if I should ever come to you and ask you to run with me, that you do so.”
Isabel thought back to the prayer she had repeated the whole month—that she would have foreknowledge of any evil her superstitious uncle had in mind for her. Was this the answer the Holy One had sent her? Peter? The badger’s boy?
“Our families will not approve of this union,” she said with the slightest hint of a grin.
Peter grinned. “There is talk of a play performed in London about just such a couple.”
“You would compare us to Romeo and Juliet?” Isabel asked with raised eyebrows. She looked at Peter’s playful, mischievous brown eyes and knew then that she could easily look at them for the rest of her life. “Are you suggesting we marry now, in secret, as they did in the play?”
“No, no,” Peter said. “With as much scrutiny as is on our two families at this time, I think waiting would be best. And we do not have the money as yet to set up our own household. Honestly, Isabel, I do not yet know that we will live here. We may need to fly from the village in the dark hours of night in order to save ourselves. No, we must wait to marry. But we can use this time of uncertainty to learn more about each other and our abilities.”
Isabel knew it was wrong. She knew she shouldn’t do it. She knew what her family would say, but how could she just stand by and not do anything? The little girl was drowning and she was the only one in her small English village who could save her.
The rains, which Father Gerard had called “God’s wrath on the ungodly witches that stalked unseen in our midst,” had swollen the small river that ran through her village into a raging torrent. Trees and other debris pushed downstream by the usually-tranquil river had taken out the small footbridge that connected the two sides of their small, close-knit community.
Isabel, the oldest daughter of the town’s tailor—and Father Gerard’s niece—had been designated the “watcher of the water.” The rains in the village had stopped the day before, but the river continued to rise. If the water hit a certain point, she was to run to her uncle so he could sound the church bell. The people had been trained—through many natural disasters and plagues—to gather what they could and leave the village when the church bells pealed for anything other than to call people to Mass. It was an important job, to be sure, but the 16-year-old girl knew she had been chosen to have this mind-numbing job because her father and uncle knew of her fascination with water and wanted to instill in her a fear of the element.
The longer she sat there, watching the water’s destructive power, though, the more Isabel fell in love with the river. It seemed to be calling to her. She wanted to swim in the frigid deluge, to feel the weightlessness she loved so much when bathing in the family’s small duck pond. The strength of the current did not concern her; she knew she could swim against the river if she had to, and she was just waiting for the chance.
When Isabel heard the splash and a panicked call for help from the other side of the river, she knew she had to do something. Squinting through the mist rising off the angry water’s, she saw the local badger’s daughter foundering in the swift current. The girl—Isabel seemed to remember her name was Mary—tried clutching at the weeds growing along the side of the river, but the swift current and the overly-saturated bank made the reeds and saplings give way under the strain of holding the small body. Mary was quickly being dragged through the water, battered on all sides by all manner of floating debris.
The girl’s brother, a boy she had seen around the village often doing odd jobs to help support their family, was running along the bank, trying desperately to get ahead of his sister. The boy was looking for a place to pull Mary out of the water. Isabel knew just by looking at the river, however, it was not going to give up its prize easily.
Without stopping to think, Isabel stripped out of the heavy jacket, skirt, and shoes she was forced to wear every day and slipped noiselessly into the churning water in just her shirt and hose.
In the silty water, she was not able to even see her hands in front of her face, and the dirty water stung her eyes. Taking a deep breath, Isabel, closed her eyes and allowed her other senses to guide her closer to the girl.
Isabel had always been a powerful swimmer. Her late mother had often joked that Isabel was part fish—though never in the presence of her overly-superstitious brother. Mama would always remind Isabel, in private, that the gifts she possessed were from God, to be used to help others. The Apostle Paul talked about spiritual gifts, and her ability to swim as well as she did was just one that he forgot to list, Mama said. Mama hadn't known everything, though.
Isabel had always been the one to bring home the largest fish from the river for dinner, catching them by hand. Though she never told anyone—the village would have branded her a witch without even thinking—she had befriended many of the local river otters, asking them to provide her with some of the goods she now used to feed her father and siblings. When in the water, too, Isabel was able to hold her breath for an extraordinary length of time, much longer than when she had contests with her older brother above the water’s surface.
Different animals in the water, she had learned over the years, created different ripples and waves than the water running over and around rocks. Now, she used her special abilities to find Mary, who was floundering wildly in the choppy and swift-moving. Going up under the panicking girl and wrapping her arms around her chest, Isabel’s head broke the surface a few yards from the shoreline.
Mary was still flailing around, splashing Isabel with water and trying, in her panic, to break free. Any other person would have been pulled under the surface, even in calm water, but paddling with one strong arm, Isabel was able to make it to shore fairly easily.
Mary’s older brother, Peter, was waiting anxiously for them on the riverbank. As soon as Isabel dragged both Mary and herself out of the water, Peter was at their side, pulling his sister away from the river as quickly as he could.
Peter and Isabel locked eyes for just a moment before Isabel, suddenly aware that she was severely under-dressed, leaped back into the water and swam back to the place she left her clothes. She thought that perhaps Peter may have called out to her as she dressed quickly and ran back to her house, but she prayed he didn’t. If her special abilities were made common knowledge, not even Most High would be able to save her from her uncle’s fear and wrath.
To Be Continued.....
So, I'm supposed to write something about myself. Well, I am a Christ-follower, first and foremost; then a wife, now of 14 years; then a mom to a very busy almost-10-year-old; and then a writer. All of that, unfortunately, means my writing sometimes gets pushed to the back burner.
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