Her world was burning.
The smell of smoke, burning trees and burning homes, the terrified screams of families as they tried to flee. The dying screams of those who would not make it out, the squeals of animals and birds as they tried to flee, the sound of roofs collapsing. It was deafening, the sound of death and destruction. Out on the edge of the wild, Rowan ran as fast as her legs would carry her, clutching her bag at her side for she knew that she would need it.
Once she got close enough to see, she was horrified, seeing fully that the city on the lake burned for the second time, the destruction of Smaug unbelievably come again in her lifetime. It could not be, she chanted to herself, over and over as she raced through the edge of the woods and back to the far edge of Lake-Town, back to where she hoped her home would still be. She ran and ran and ran, until finally, she came upon what was left of her home. What was left of her family's home.
She fell to her knees, stumbling as the heat and smoky wind engulfed her, the smell of singed skin and burning wood overwhelming her senses. She would lose her entire family that day.
Her sister would pass first, her eyes clenched shut in fright as death took her, her little chest heaving mightily as her charred lungs grasped for the air that she could not reach. She was suffocating, her lungs closing as she slowly died. The heat that emanated off her, off her mother, off the house…Rowan would never forget that feeling. Her mother and sister quite literally burned alive, and she was here to watch them pass from this life to the next, a mostly unhelpful spectator. She had no idea where her father and brother were, and could only assume they were still inside the burning house. Tears rolled down her cheeks, muddying the soot and ash that coated her skin.
“Rowan,” her mother whispered. “Take her hand. Help her to let go.”
Doing as she was instructed, Rowan quickly grabbed her sister’s hand and closed her eyes as her body became enveloped in pain. She winced, her skin burning and her eyes watering but she held fast. She could keenly feel what her sister was feeling, could feel the agony and terror, the suffocating fear of death as it lurked around the edges and waited to come in. After some moments, Rowan looked down, having gotten her wits about her, and stared at their joined hands. Her sister’s burned skin felt strange in her palm, and she prayed that the little one would pass quickly. As painlessly as possible. It was Rowan’s special gift, her mother said, to feel what other’s felt, and in turn, she could influence what they felt in return. She pressed closer, as much as she dared, her will batting with her sister's pain.
“It’s okay, Laurin,” their mother whispered to her youngest. “It’s okay.”
Laurin sucked in a dry, coughing breath, and Rowan sobbed, forcing herself to hide her heartbreak and pain, and instead offer only peace and love and light to her little sister. She pushed aside the burning pain that her sister’s touch was causing her, and focused on peace and coolness, on respite and relief, and prayed with all her might that this would just be over. For all of them.
“Yes, Laurin. Open your eyes and see me,” Rowan forced a wobbly, pained smile. Her sister’s golden-brown eyes opened, the whites bloodshot with pain. Rowan’s own eyes met hers. “My little golden sister, I love you.” Rowan nodded sweetly, not breaking eye contact. She placed a palm gently at her little sister’s breast, right above her heart, and nodded as she whispered: “I love you so much. You can let go. I love you.”
In that moment, Rowan felt when her little sister was passing. The burning eased, and her own skin began to feel cool as Laurin’s lifeblood waned. She closed her eyes as Laurin did, and her heart rate began slowing, just as Laurin’s did. The image of her sister was burned in her brain, and she would never forget how the hair had been burned off her scalp, her dark eyebrows gone, her skin peeling, and lips cracked, the bleeding and blistering already begun. Her mother lay beside her, crying softly as she watched her child die before her very eyes, and all Rowan could do was cry for them both. A few more deep, laborious gasps, and the little one was gone. With her little sister finally at peace, Rowan turned her attention to her poor mother.
“Mama! What do I do? Please tell me!” She cried helplessly, not knowing where to touch her only remaining family member.
“Rowan…daughter...You must let me go.” Her mother’s voice sounded charred, a hoarse whisper that would haunt her daughter’s dreams for years to come. “I cannot bear this pain. Please…help me…”
“What do I do?” Rowan’s hands hovered over her mother’s skin, and she winced at the heat that was emanating off her.
“The belladonna. You know what to do.” A single tear pushed it’s way out of her mother’s eye and rolled down her cheek, it’s trail zigzagging through and over the cracked and blistered skin. They both knew what was being asked, as Rowan’s touch alone would never work on her mother; It never had, despite her trying to use it to get out of so many things as a young child.
“But I cannot stay here alone, Mama,” Rowan sobbed. She could not survive in this world, alone.
“I must go to your father. I must take care of my children. Please, you have to help me.” Her mother somehow lifted a charred hand to her daughter’s face, cupping her wet cheek in her burning palm. Rowan flinched, now feeling the full weight of her mother's suffering. “You are strong. You are a healer, dear child. We heal. We do not hurt. Please, release me from this pain.”
Rowan held her mother’s hand at her cheek, and with tears in her eyes, she reached in the small satchel at her waist, and pulled out the vial of the deadly nightshade. Her family cultivated this plant, and used it for good, to ease the suffering of those who were dying painfully. They were healers, and despite being labeled as witches, they did not poison people. They helped, and they healed.
And now she was about to kill her mother, she thought ironically. She frowned down at the bottle, and her mother saw her reluctance.
“We are helpers, my sweet daughter. We do not use our gifts to hurt others. Only to heal.” Her mother’s hand fell away to the grass, her strength fading as her body painfully died. “Please…”
Rowan could no longer bear her suffering, and she knew what had to be done. With shaking hands, she uncapped the cork lid and carefully leaned over her mother, the vial held between trembling fingers. Her eyes were full of tears that dripped down her cheeks, her heart breaking into even smaller pieces as she pressed the small tube at her mother's lips. The dark liquid flowed in, and Rowan saw her mother’s throat constrict as she did her best to swallow.
“I love you, mama. I am going to miss you so much. But I’m going to make it better. No more pain.” Crying softly, and summoning what courage she had left, Rowan poured a bit more, wanting to ensure her mother would pass quickly. She took in a deep breath, and Rowan saw her mother's shoulders relax into the grass.
With the formulation they had created, she knew from past use on other patients that it would not take long, maybe a matter of minutes before her mother passed into a deathly sleep. She watched as her dear mother’s eyes closed, and as she faded, a rage began festering deep inside the young girl, a cold, all-encompassing fury that urged her to destroy as she had been destroyed. As her family had been destroyed, so would she destroy in return. Her mother gasped, her body futilely fighting the poison, and then with one upward jerk of her torso, she was gone. Rowan watched, her breath held, for any sign that her beautiful mother was still with her, but intuitively, she knew she was gone.
In that moment of deafening silence, Rowan had never felt more alone.
She had never felt more abandoned, more scared of anything in her entire life. She corked the vial of poison, and tucked it back in her small bag, and then, unable to hold herself up any longer, collapsed on the grass next to her. Her sister was on the other side of her. Her father and brother remained inside the still-burning cabin. From somewhere nearby, she heard her small pony, Lily, neighing as she returned to the homestead. A few moments later and the horse was nudging at her knee, concerned with the goings-on. Rowan wiped her eyes, and looked over the treetops, her fury focused on the Lonely Mountain, it’s ominous peak rising out of the fog, and her once-soft heart began to harden.
It was because of him that this had happened. It was his fault. This was all his fault.
His, and his alone.