The story so far… Old Wives’ Tale
The other caravan women noticed the dark purple bruise on Amelia’s cheek. It wasn’t the first time she showed signs of Charles’ hand on her pale skin. None of them offered her solace, lest their men put them in their place too.
There must have been something she did to provoke him. She was already suspect because of the abominations she called her daughters. She had to have committed a terrible sin for that sort of punishment.
The only one among the travelers with a whit of concern and sympathy was Grosi Fadri. The kind old woman was a tasseomancer, reading tea leaves, telling fortunes and deciphering omens. She also gave freely of her herbal knowledge. Many of the women came to her for help to stop their monthly menses. Her infusions and tinctures of dried leaves or roots were much sought after.
Fadri knew what Amelia was enduring. Understood that Charles laid blame on his wife for what happened to their children, told her what a failure she was as a woman, wife and mother. When the sting of his words wasn’t enough to console him, he balled his hand into a fist and took out his frustration on her. Seeing the damage he did to Amelia, was a poultice for his own shame.
Charles was gone from their tiny cabin when Fadri came to see Amelia. She had heard the angry noises the night before, knew Charles had come home from the travelers’ camp drunk. When he was drunk, Amelia usually had a new bruise the next morning.
Fadri brewed a pot of bitter stoneseed root tea for the young woman, and tended to her injuries. Using a bowl of snow, she prepared a cold compress for Amelia’s blackened eye. The tea would deal with the harm Charles did that couldn’t be seen.
“Where are your little girls?” Fadri looked around the small room, regarding the empty cradle.
The haunted look on Amelia’s face said it all.
“Charles did them harm?” Fadri offered the young woman a cup of tea.
“I don’t know where he took their bodies, but he said we will bring them with us when we move on in the spring.” Amelia laid her hand on her heart, taking a long, trembling breath.
“Where will you go?” The old woman rinsed out the cold pack, soaking it again in the icy water.
“We’re headed south to Tennessee,” Amelia said. “Charles heard farmers need hands to plant cotton.”
“You could stay with me.” Fadri dabbed at Amelia’s eye.
“I’ll never see my girls again if I do that,” Amelia said. “He would take them, and do monstrous things. I know that.”
“Does he still demand his conjugal privileges?” Fadri already knew the answer.
“He wants a son,” was Amelia’s only answer.
From her satchel, Fadri withdrew two tins.
“This is more stoneseed root. You know how to brew this into a tea. Drink a cup every morning. It will stop his seed from taking root.” Fadri placed the tins in Amelia lap. “This one, is licorice root. Put this into his coffee every morning too. This will drain him of all desire to lie with you, or any woman.”
“How long?” Amelia tucked the tins into her apron pockets.
“As long as you need it.”
“What is to become of me Grosi Fadri?” Amelia held out her empty cup to the old woman, the dregs forming cryptic designs in the bowl.
Fadri looked at the wet leaves, asking Amelia to name the shapes she saw.
“You will find true love where you are going,” Fadri said. “There will be loss, but also a comforting peace.”
“What of Charles?”
“I do not need to read the leaves to know he will come to a foul end, and he will suffer greatly”
A rare smile played across Amelia’s lips.
“Then I can bear this burden a while longer,” she said. “I can only pray I am the reason for his pain.”