My eyes drifted around at the world around me. I saw a woman, slightly younger than the old woman at the cottage, standing close by, feeding the birds. She wore a dark tunic, pants. Over those, she wore a fleece coat. Her hair was black and pinned tightly to her head in a bun. She stopped, watched me for a moment. I looked away. Then she slowly came to me.
"Are you all right?" she asked, her voice full of concern.
My voice was calm. "Yes." What could I say? I need help! Creatures stole my life from me.
No. I doubted she would understand and I knew, even if by some small chance she did, that rock would not allow her to do anything.
"You look like you have the weight of the world on your back." She sat down next to me. "If you need someone to talk to, I'm here." I shook my head. "Are you sure?"
My eyes met hers. "I'm looking for a job."
She smiled. "Oh! I can help you there. I'm Loctus. I run a public house, the Pu and Pon. I'm looking for a worker, someone to clean up, wait tables. Are you interested?"
"Well then! See, I knew I should speak with you!" She led me then to her place, a dark, square area near by. It smelled in there, stinking of the local grown smoke-weed and old ale. I saw a dark haired lady setting chairs upright. I saw game boards on the wall. Though it was early, two men sat in the corner, talking, eating, drinking.
"The workers from the port come here. I have two women working for me now but I need a third. I tend bar. I only serve ale, dark, red and white." She patted my hand. "Now, don't worry. You'll catch on."
I had waited bar before but I didn't tell her that. There was no need. "Where do I change?"
"Back room. You have different clothing then? I was worried. What you're wearing looks a little dirty, ragged."
"I do have other things. My cape doubles as a carrier. My extra clothes are inside, in inner pockets." As was my heart, my mind taunted me. I shivered.
Beaming, she showed me the door to the back room. I went there, threading my way through the tables and chairs. There was a young woman in the back room, buttoning up her dress. She looked up as I entered. Her hair was dark, cut close to the scalp. Her dress was deep red. Her smile was large, real, welcoming. Returning the grin, I shut the door. She said, "Hi. I'm Gaeven."
"I'm Sheraden." Briefly, we touched fingertips.
"She just hire you?"
"Working here's not too bad. The tips are good, especially from the port workers. But I have to warn you, your feet will hurt all the time, no matter what kind of shoes you're wearing." She smiled once more. "Good luck." She left the back room and I pulled fresh clothing from an inner pocket. I chose a high necked tunic, to hide what those ugly creatures had done to me. I went out, leaving my cloak hanging on the wall, my old clothing folded neatly inside a pocket. I glanced in the mirror hanging on the wall. I didn't look any different. My dark brown hair was still dark brown, my green eyes still green. Sighing, I went out.
The night was long, the noise great. My head ached, my feet were in agony by the time the place closed.
Gaeven came to me. "Your feet hurt?" I nodded. "That's the only bad thing about this job. You new in town?"
"Do you have a place to stay?"
"I was going to sleep in one of the alleys."
"I've done that, more than once. There are ratlings out there. They squeak, they scurry about." She shuddered. "And forget about the thieves. They'll steal your shoes if they get the chance. You can stay with me, if you want. I just have a little room and you'd have to sleep on the floor, but I keep it clean. It will do for tonight. Old Mother has empty rooms. She'll rent you one tomorrow."
"Are you sure? I don't mind sleeping out in the open."
"I don't mind. Come on. I live down the alley in a boarding house." So I went with her. She was quiet as we walked, too tired I think, to talk. Her little room was on the second floor. We walked slowly up the stairs. "If you want to change, the bathroom's down the hall, or you can swap your clothing here while I go down for something to eat."
Since I didn't feel like walking down the hall, I told her, "I'll change here." She nodded and left. I pulled off my tunic, and she came back in.
"I forgot to ask . . ." She stared at my heart stone in shock, a feeling that turned to astonishment and then awe. "You're a Heart's Blood!" She came to me, her whole being trembled with delight. "Why in the world are you waiting tables?"
I hid the stone with my tunic. "I need money."
"But you can heal," she told me in enraptured.
"You didn't know? They didn't tell you?" I shook my head. "You can heal my feet, take away my tiredness." She clutched my arm with tight fingers. "Please!"
"I . . ." I had begun to tell her I couldn't, but the gem had a mind of its own. My left hand touched the stone. My right hand dropped the tunic and touched her. A red light ran through my arm, from my fingers and into her. I saw the change immediately. All exhaustion left her face.
"Oh! Bless you!" Her voice shook with the great emotions she was experiencing. She smiled at me. "Bless you!"
While I still touched the stone, that jewel healed me. Collapsing to the floor, I tried desperately to collect my thoughts. I pulled my blouse up to cover the red crystal, to hide it from my eyes, but I still felt it, a living, thriving thing that had become a part of me. No cover in the world would remove that. All embarrassment left me, gone in the night, sent there by that . . . thing.
"Are you all right? Well, of course you are. What a silly question." She giggled. "I almost forgot. Do you want water or milk with your food?"
"Water. Gaeven? Don't tell anyone."
"Why? Do you know how much money you can make with that stone?"
"Please." I felt cold inside, a feeling that immediately vanished for I was still touching the Heart Stone. It was clear she thought I was crazy, but she agreed. While she was gone, I begged the jewel embedded in my chest, "Please, leave me alone! Let me live my life!" But I knew without being told, it would not.
One of the men who came in regularly, worked at the port as a dock worker. He had recently become Gaeven's boyfriend. His name was John. Several trouble makers came in after I had been there a couple of weeks. A fight started. John, an innocent bystander, was badly injured. Gaeven held him, unconscious in her arms as she cried hysterically. The law guards came then. They arrested the trouble makers and took them away. A doctor was called in for John, but Gaeven did not want to wait. She looked up at me. "You can heal him! Don't let him die! Please! Don't let him die!" The others still in the ale house looked at me, bewildered. Me? A healer? Had Gaeven gone mad?
Though I fought it, though I struggled, the heart stone won.
John was healed, and knew my life would change for I saw the hopeful looks on their faces. All of them would either want healing for themselves or someone they knew, and I did not want to do it.
I hurried out of that drinking establishment. Gaeven followed quickly. "Why are you leaving?" she asked, confused.
I stopped, turned, stared at her. "You wouldn't understand."
John came out. "Thank you."
I cried out, "It wasn't me!"
Gaeven announced, "She's a Heart's Blood!" He didn't understand, so she repeated, "She's a Heart's Blood."
"Sweetheart," he said truthfully, "that doesn't mean a thing to me." I listened as she explained what I had become. It sounded grand, her words, but I knew better. It was a taker, that rock, for it took my life from me. I was no longer Sheraden the traveler, the woman who was seeking her father, I was Sheraden the Heart's Blood, Sheraden the thing. He looked at me in awe. "Does it hurt?"
I hurried from them. She called after me, but I did not stop. I was at the end of the block when the two thieves grabbed me, one seizing me from behind me. My hand went up and clutched at his heavy arms, trying to pull him away. I failed of course for he was very strong. His smell made me ill. Another robber stepped out, stared at me. He grinned. "Why, hello." Panic set in then. I knew I had to get away from them or forfeit my life. In my struggle with the one holding me, I touched the gemstone half buried in my chest. A bright, red light surrounded him and me and he dropped down instantly. Without planning it, my hand shot up and the red light spurted from my fingertips. A look of horror appeared on the other man's face and he then he too dropped.
I stood there, staring down at their bodies. Logic told me I should be experiencing something, revulsion, fear, but there was nothing, not even relief when they began to rouse. I finished the walk back to the boarding house. I was eating when Gaeven entered the small kitchen.
"I didn't mean any harm," she told me quietly.
I nodded. "I know. I'm not angry," I told her.
"I'm aware of that. The stone won't let you be furious." What could I say? She was right. She got her food and sat down next to me. Our meal was finished quietly. Afterwards, she went to her room and I went to mine.
"But why?" Gaeven demanded when I told her the next day that I would no longer be going into work with her.
"I will be looking for another job."
"But . . . Oh, I understand. It's because they know you're a Heart's Blood, isn't it?"
"Well, there are a lot of taverns here, us being so close to the port and all. I wish you good luck."
I looked at her. "You sound as though I'll need it."
"You think by going somewhere else, you can go into hiding, don't you?"
"You can't keep something like that hidden."
Someone knocked on my door. I opened the door. It was Loctus. "I came to see how things were. You're not from our world and this whole thing might be overwhelming." She took my arm gently. "Let's sit down and talk about this."
I did but I told her, "I won't be coming back."
"That is your choice, but I think I have a way for you to make more money than just waiting my tables. I know you're saving up to leave our planet."
"People will always need healing. That's a fact of life. By now, the whole town knows you're a healer. Words spread like wildfire here in this town. That's also a fact. They'll come to you. Offer an exchange, your help for payment."
"But I'm not a healer."
She smiled at me. "No, but the crystalline life is. Might as well take advantage of it. You'll never be free of that gem. Look at it this way, think of how much money you'll make by doing this. You can leave this world faster, and who knows? You might be able to locate someone out there who can remove that stone."
Oh, I did like that idea! To be back to normal! But, I wasn't born yesterday. "What do you get out of this?"
"Twenty percent. You can do it at my bar. I'll advertise. What do you say?"
For one brief moment in time, triumph surged upwards. I did not fight my fingers moving to the jewel. Let it take my emotions from me now, one day . . . I told her yes.