5th September

How the Toad...

The earth blinked. A red, wicked hint of life.

She was crouched in the herb garden, gathering ingredients for an infusion for her sister: sage and peppermint for her aching head, rosemary for her fatigue. There was horseradish there too, which might ease her blocked sinuses, and it was while she was grubbing among the roots and reaching back for her knife that the earth blinked. Her hand had brushed a movement. She leaned back on her haunches, and now the movement became a small eruption, an old man clambering sulkily from his bed.

‘Ah, it’s yourself,’ she said. She chided herself for being startled. That a toad should surprise her!

The toad did not acknowledge that he had been addressed. He pulled himself into the open, left hand, right foot, right hand, left foot. When he had sorted himself he sat scowling at her like a fat monk.

‘I am sorry,’ she said. ‘I did not mean to disturb you.’

She had never seen one so big, nor with such red eyes. She put her finger towards him. He puffed himself up, becoming even more impressive.

‘I will not hurt you,’ she said. But she knew what the village boys would do with such a beast. Poke him. Flip him on his back. Blow him up with straws. Torment him as they tormented her and her sister.

She thought, They need to fear him. This would save him from their cruelties.

She thought, They need to fear me.

She said, ‘Toad, come and bide in the house. Be in the pocket of my apron from time to time. We will protect one another.’

What a weight was in him when she gently encouraged him aboard her palm. Into her apron he went, and in went some soil and leaves of lady’s mantle for his bedclothes.

She heard her sister crying, and the loud boys coming down the street.

She was not just a woman. She had knowledge and soon she would have power. Enough knowledge to make her useful to the villagers. Enough power to keep them at a distance.

She started for the gate. To show them her new accomplice. To warn them.

Reader: Kate Molleson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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