Chapter SIX – Ayer
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Ayer stood with a dirty rag in one hand, the scrub brush she'd been holding in the other having slipped from her grasp when the heavy iron door at her back opened and closed unexpectedly, upsetting her concentration. With a muttered curse she turned around, expecting to find Edril or Foswida standing there in their finery with some new demand to crowd her already cumbersome schedule, but it was only her brother.

"What is it, Zan?" It was difficult to conceal her exasperation. This wasn't his fault, not really. 

She bent down and retrieved the fallen scrub brush, running the back of her hand over her sweaty forehead and tucking a limp lock of black hair behind her pointed ear. Cleaning cauldrons was sweat labor.

"Gee. Good morning to you too, sis."

Ayer sighed and clucked her tongue at him, turning back to the half-cleaned cauldron she'd been working on for the better part of the morning. Domira had cooked up something downright nasty in the pot and had forgotten to take it off the flame before it burned. The cauldron was caked with thick brown sludge hardened into an impenetrable crust, which had likely started out as one of the witch's favored combinations of bone broth and blood. Hidden within the crust, like cysts, were pockets of congealed stems, twigs, and shards of bones so tiny they could only be reptilian or avian. It stunk so badly whenever she burst one of these pockets open, that Ayer had to hold her breath and pray to the Goddess she wouldn't faint. 

She held out the scrub brush to Zan. "Do you want to trade places? I doubt your humor would remain with you long."

Zan chuckled, drawing out a pouch from inside his long jacket. "That's probably true. You know I'm doing all I can." By which he meant putting himself in danger trying to keep her safe until he could sneak her out of the Coven. "I need a measure of ground goat hooves."


She laid the rag and scrub brush down on the table beside the cauldron, rubbing her dirty hands on her dirty apron. She was filthy all the time, aside from the odd nights when the witches held their Revelries. For those debauched festivities, they'd have Ayer groomed and primped so they could put her on display. But even then she never felt truly clean.

"There's talk of unrest beyond the gate, and farther south the ley lines are reactive."

Ayer sucked in a breath. "Oh Zan, please don't leave. Not now, while it's so dangerous."

"I'm not leaving Blackwater." His meaning wasn't lost on his sister. Her little brother wasn't guaranteeing he would stay inside the Coven's perimeter like she'd prefer, only that for now he needn't journey far afield. "There are satyrs with information that could prove useful, but they won't be in Blackwater long. They're here for next week's Revelry. I can't miss this opportunity."

"Satyrs? I see," Ayer murmured, her gaze alighting on the grime speckling the ground where she'd dropped the brush. She looked back up, finding her brother's striking hazel eyes upon her. "Be careful, Zan. I don't know what I'd do if..."

"Don't worry, the feeling is mutual." 

A loose smile played across his rosy cheeks. Ayer forced herself to smile back, even as darkness clouded her mind. It was no secret that Zan spent most of his time risking his hide for her sake. Ayer's days were never easy, but now her concerns intensified. She didn't want her brother getting himself captured or worse on her account. If it would keep Zan safe, she would endure servitude to the witches for a thousand years. She had never asked him to protect her; she had just given up trying to convince him otherwise.

"You know I always worry," she whispered, taking the brush back in hand. If she lagged for too long, she'd never catch up, and if she failed to complete her duties, the witches would punish her.

"What are big sisters for, right?" Zan winked.

Ayer begrudgingly supplied him with the ground hoof powder and sent him on his way. They didn't hug; she was covered in too much filth to get close. Instead, they saluted one another, a habit they had adopted long ago. 

She went back to work with feverish conviction, all the while worrying what kind of mischief her brother was getting himself embroiled in. Trouble followed that boy everywhere, and she feared it was only a matter of time before his good luck ran out.