Red Girl Rising – 11

Thus began a long autumn for Rossa.

She spent almost all her time in her late grandmother’s basement, reading through her old notes, trying to piece together at least a little bit of the vast knowledge that had managed to protect Ferravia.

Memories of that day did not really abate. For the  first week, Rossa managed to sleep only when her body grew weary enough to collapse, folding on itself like the pages she kept turning.

After one month or so, with the new moon and the first cool winds of autumn starting to spire through the pines, she had gathered enough of her bearings to build a modicum of protection that was different from her daily blood ritual.

For thirty-three days she had walked in a circle around grandma’s house, bloodletting from her wrist as she added yet another spiral of scars to her wrist. She reinforced yesterday’s warding circle against the prying hands of the forest. She would peek past the trunks and notice not all shadows stayed still.

Rossa did not speak for a week.

The Woodsman brought her to his home, because her provisions were almost over. Even after he found her lying on the burned grass and dripping blood like a skewered boar, he probably still deemed her little more than a victim.

Even as the girl gripped the head of her spear with both hands.

The Woodsman’s hut was a simpler abode than her grandma. It was built on only one floor with a thin and dark loft, which held most of his food and spare clothes. He was a man of skill, but he did not possess the spark that had animated her grandmother, so he dealt with Eerie and the forest through iron and fire rather than salts and blood.

Rossa found the first few days after the ritual to be a blur. She managed to gather her strength only after some time, crawling out of the dull cycle of night and dawn that slithered over her pale skin.

The Woodsman washed her skin and took care of her. She never let go of her spear, but he took the measurements of the blade and while she  was asleep he fashioned an appropriate shaft for her new weapon, wherever it might have come from.

“Why did you take me?” Rossa croaked on the seventh day of silence. She lay on the bed while the Woodsman brushed against her spear’s shaft with scraping paper.

He turned to look at her with a relieved expression which made her feel a pang straight into her chest.

“Would I need a reason?”

He most definitely would, considering what she had done.

“It’s my fault,” she whispered in a boiling hiss. Her hands gripped the weapon even harsher. “I broke the rules. I taught them the way in. I am responsible for this.”

The Woodsman’s face darkened. He stopped his work and came to sit next to her on the creaking bed.

“Then what you are going  to experience will be your penance.” He took her hands in his and rubbed their thumbs together, trying to calm her down. Rossa was still shaken by guilt, but she managed to look up in his eyes. “Pain will not go away, but it will simmer. It’s burning now, isn’t it?”

“Like a flame.”

“It will slowly turn into embers. They will never leave you, and you will forever carry these wounds. Now, the question is what you are going to do with them.”

Her grip on the blade grew so tight she almost cut herself. But she already had her answers, did she not?

She took one of her locks and saw how they were all turning grey, losing their natural colour forever.

A small price to pay compared to everything else.

“Hunt,” Rossa stated.


The Woodsman might have tried to dissuade her, but his skills rested in carving and making. He was an artisan to heart and no warrior, even though he had learned how to take on the forest enough to survive on his own.

Rossa began training with her spear the moment he set it atop the shaft he had created and he helped her practice for a few weeks, adding what wisdom he could to her.

He watched her lose every semblance of colour to her hair. They turned grey at first and then completely white, so that from behind she might look like an old woman. But Rossa’s body was growing stronger with each day, her instincts more honed.

As autumn gave its last few fruits, she learned how to better read the forest and its sparse gifts. Rossa accompanied the Woodsman on his hunting trips, gathering more experience on how it worked. She learned which herbs to avoid and which ones would clean her wounds.

But she did not intend to become a healer.

No, the burning hate and sorrow that she felt did ebb and flow and slowly diminish, but just as the Woodsman had said, it never left her. How could it? It was now part of her just as much as her scars and her blood rituals, which she kept practicing as well, even though she did so in secret.

She periodically came to grandma’s house. The first time she saw everything destroyed and ripped apart, save for the basement’s door which had enjoyed a different degree of protection. She took her time to salvage as many books as she could.

Winter came and with it the chance to apply what she had learned.

Days turned into just a few hours of sunlight. The forest scratched and howled just as the sun began to set. The Woodsman would usually prepare a circle of iron spokes and burning embers for the night, but Rossa welcomed the chance to use her skills. She practiced by creating bloodied circles that would weaken the Eerie that approached the hut, and then she would use her new combat skills to dispatch them one by one.

The first night she got scratches all over her torso, her arms and one over her face.

The second night, the blood running down her thighs was not her own anymore.

The third night, she came back inside with an Eerie’s deformed head impaled on the tip of her spear. She showed it to the Woodsman, who nodded, and then she came out to burn it on one of the braziers.

Winter might have come, but it recoiled before the fury of Rossa.

She started to practice meditation by day, sitting outside the porch with the Woodsman as he took care of his own job, cutting down lumber and making repairs, while she focused on the skills she had learned from her grandmother.

By the afternoon she’d cut her wrists and bloodlet all around the hut, performing the same spell, each time a little stronger, each time a little better.

Winter sank its teeth deep into her flesh, but Rossa had learned how to deal with that.

And word began to spread: the forest had a new Witch.

Author’s Notes: Quite the outward and boorish interpretation of Strength, but considering how the rest of the story goes, I think it’s the correct one.

Thanks for reading.


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