Few people came to see her in the fall, and those that did were either desperate or doomed.
For now, watching as the young woman approaching picked her way over the wet bridge, Dawn had to sigh. The thick cloak she wore kept the cold off her old frame, but it did little to keep it out of her heart as she stood, moving to the door and counting.
She opened it just before the young woman could knock and glowered at her.
The girl couldn’t have been much more than maybe fifteen, the thick scarf she wore around her neck the only protection she’d taken against the bite of autumn air. Her eyes widened with fear, but rather than run as Dawn rather expected, she stood her ground.
“May—may I come in?”
The request surprised Dawn as she studied the girl. She might have thought her a trapped rabbit with the way her too-wide eyes sat in her face.
“I suppose,” Dawn said and turned, stalking to the hearth and stoking the fire. “And I suppose you’ll want tea.”
“No, thank you. I came here for another reason.”
“Spit it out then,” Dawn snapped.
“I was told you could make a protective charm,” the young woman said. “And I need one for my sister.”
In the middle of fussing with the tea pot, Dawn stopped and looked over her guest. She had heard a lot of things from those who came to her in the fall, but not that.
“What’s your name?”
“My name?” The question caught the girl off guard and she shifted her weight about. “My name is Juniper.”
“Then tell me, Juniper, why do you need protection from your sister?”
“Oh, no, I don’t need protection from her, I need something to protect her. She’s only nine and she’s very sweet.” Juniper’s fingers twisted together. Dawn could see a faint mark on the one wrist, mostly hidden by her sleeves. Suspicion based on years of experience and observation bloomed.
“Well sit down,” Dawn snapped and then shuffled to the fire with the filled tea kettle, putting it on over the flames. “And take that scarf off.”
“Do you want my help or not?”
Hesitation crossed Juniper’s face for just a moment before she reached up and unwound the scarf. As she did, the truth of what the scarf had been protecting was revealed.
Bruises marked the sides of her throat where she’d been grabbed. They were dark, speaking to the freshness of the attack.
Juniper pulled her hair forward, spreading it to hide the marks as best she could. Her suspicions confirmed, Dawn settled into the seat opposite, glowering at the girl as she considered it.
This timid girl hadn’t come here for protection for herself, but for her sister. There were bruises on her wrist and neck, ones she tried to keep covered.
“Who do you need protection from?” Dawn kept her voice low.
“My…My uncle,” she said.
“Your parents don’t know what he’s been doing to you?”
“They died when I was ten. My sister was only four and my uncle took us in. We don’t have anyone else.”
And her sister was nine, she’d said. Dawn could see where the pattern was going. It implied volumes of unseen abuse, more than the timidity and attempts to keep hidden did.
“Your sister’s almost the same age as you were when he first started using you,” Dawn said quietly and Juniper’s head dropped a little.
“I was eleven,” she said. “At first I didn’t know what was happening, didn’t realize it was wrong. But it just got worse over time, and he’s starting to look at her the same way. I’m her older sister. I’m supposed to protect her. I can’t let him do the same things to her.”
“So you came to me.”
The vigorous nodding moved her hair out of the way, exposing the bruises again. “Everyone in town says you can work magic, says you have a talent. Please, whatever the price, I just need something to protect her. I have a few pieces of jewelry, they’re worth—”
“Silence,” Dawn said and Juniper’s voice died. They sat like that for a minute while Dawn turned her options over.
A protection charm could be a finicky thing, especially now, in the autumn of all times. How far that protection extended usually depended on what spirit felt like assisting in it. And this was autumn, a time of harvest and preparation. The spirits most likely to respond would not necessarily be lenient with any threats.
“It’s good you come to me now,” Dawn said at last. “This is a season of preparation, but I will need some things from you.”
“Anything,” Juniper said.
“To start, a lock of your sister’s hair—and yours as well.”
“I’ve found honest intentions are usually the most helpful in providing protection,” Dawn said. It wasn’t entirely a lie, but it would cover the real reason she needed it.
“Alright. I can bring them both tomorrow.”
“Good. I’ll expect you then. Go on. If you want that charm, I have things to do.”
“Thank you,” Juniper said as she stood. She was already pulling her scarf on around her neck, winding it up to hide the bruises. “Thank you so much.”
“Yes, yes. Go on.”
Dawn followed her to the door, watching as Juniper hurried back across the bridge. When the girl had vanished from sight, she latched the door and turned with a sigh.
A protection charm was simple enough, but she reached up all the same and undid her cloak, pulling it off to let her wings out. They glittered, their color shifting from gold to pink as the morning sunrises did.
“A protection charm for two. Ah, the work is never done.”
Not that Juniper would know who she’d sought help from. Such was the work of a Fairy Godmother.
By A.J. Helms