"Huba?" Kalina repeated Blagovest's words curiously, but in a quiet tone. It was a name that people rarely spoke. No one wanted to remember the tragic fate Huba Petrosinova met just like many others of her family before and after her. Her images stood in the family home, in the royal palace, and in some churches she had patronaged, but a few dared to look at them, for when they did all you could hear were deep sighs, followed by poor attempts to hide the tears. "So young, so beautiful, so pitful..." were just a few words people would mumble as they walked away.
"I am sorry, I am old and my eyes play tricks on me more often than I want them to." His lips shaped into a smile, but the sad look in his eyes stayed. Kalina's eyes had more green, while his - more blue in them, like turquoise sea waves. He stroked her hair, gently, at the same time she felt like he was afraid to touch her, as if she was some kind of a vision, that would disappear at any moment. "Aren't you a beauty, pile." His voice was raspy and deep, but also comforting and loving, like that of an old wise man or a loving grandfather. And in a way, he was both to her. He was old, in his sixties, but his face did not have that many wrinkles. Still, you could tell years have left their mark on him - he had a wise face, with sunken cheeks, like he was surviving day by day, rather than living. His hair and beard were grey, not white. She was once told that it was typical for their family, but there was no one of that age living with them, or living at all. Besides Blagovest...
"Why don't we get inside, it is cool and you could have a rest." Asya put one of her white hands on Blagovest's right shoulder, while she pointed to the house. The expression on her face had changed, just like it did on Delyana and Beloslava's ones. Were they too haunted and tormented by Huba's ghost? "I will make you banica, just like you like it. And baked rooster. And your favourite apricot rakia." Her voice was energetic and she had no patience to show how good of a hostess she was, even though on Blago's face it could be read he would be fine with some wine, bread and sirene. Asya led him by the hand into the first floor of the house, while Delyana made a sign to the girls to stay.
"Confused, aren't you, Kalinka?" she asked, just to start the conversation. She knew the answer, she always knew by looking into a person's eyes. She was a witch of sense after all. The most powerful witch of sense among the living and the dead."At first glance, you really do look like her." She tried to fix a piece that had gone out of Kalina's long braid, but when it did not work she moved her palm onto her cheek. The girl covered it with her hand instantly, moving on instinct. She was after all the closest thing to a mother she got, after losing her birth one in such a gruesome way. Everyone still talks about the demise of knyaz Svetlin and knyaginya Bisera, everyone still wonders how she survived. Why did she survive, but they did not... She felt a sharp pain above her chest...her scar... she moved her hand over it, her face became paler, her vision blurry...flashes of that night appeared, her body was shaking from the pain... she was gasping for air, but the pain was increasing with each breath she took... she moved her hand to reveal fresh blood that had started flowing.
"Kalinka, what's happening?" Delyana's worried voiced echoed. "KALINA!"
"Sestrice" Beloslave rushed to her. "Come on, lean on me."
Delyana's scream had driven Asya and Blagovest out of the house. With four people surrounding her from all sides, Kalina was finding it harder to breathe, with each new take of air feeling like a knife stabbing her in the chest. Her eyelids had become led and she couldn't keep them open anymore.
"Let's get her in! Quickly!" Asya lifted the already collapsed knyaginya. Blagovest took her in his arms and carried her inside the soba. Most people were using it as a dining and living room as well as a bedroom, however, in Asya's household, each member had their own room. This one was the brightest room in the house, with white walls, lace drapes, colourful chergi on the wooden floor, and an elaborately decorated wooden ceiling, a spinning wheel and a weaving loom near the fireplace. They placed her on one of the benches beside the window, with soft wools placed on it.
"Bela, bring me murtva and zhiva voda, you know where they! Hurry! Hurry!" Delyana's voice was shaking a bit, but it was demanding and powerful no less. Beloslava, though scared for her posestrima and reluctant to leave her side, nodded and with the speed of a cat left the room. The colour had left Kaina's face by now. Her breaths were silent, with more time between each other.
Beloslava rushed into the room, almost dropping the two phials with water. Delyana stood up and grabbed them from her hands. She opened the one with the black cap first, put some water on her right hand and rubbed it over the opened wound, while in the meantime, Asya had ripped the girl's riza, which had become brown where the blood was, to reveal the wound, that started from her left collarbone and stopped a bit over her left breast. Kalina's breathing stopped, but so did the blood. The one that had not dried started returning into her body. The witch opened the other, with the golden cap, and just like before rubbed the water onto the wound.
Nothing. Nothing happened at first. Blagovest was sitting on the side, with eyes wide opened, his keeping his breath, not daring to make a move. He knew there was little he could do at this moment. Asya and Delyana must have done it this many times already. And probably not only with Kalina. Who knew how many people with a living wound they have helped. No, help is not the right word for what they were doing here. They were keeping her alive through this, this... Living wounds were a curse, not a curse meaning someone put one on the people with this condition, but in the meaning that it felt like one. People who were so close to death yet managed to get back, but the manner they received the wound was so severe, gruesome, or treacherous, that the person is not quite the same after that. And when they remember the moment they received the wound, it doesn't matter how long has it been since then, that it healed and it is just a scar, it opens as if it's newly received. And the pain, the pain they felt in their mind was indescribable, but the one thing he knew was that it was unbearable once it becomes physical.
Kalina's cheeks had become a slight shade of pink, while he had become lost in his thoughts. Delyana had taken off her ornated headpiece and let her black hair down in two long braids, that reached her knees, while Asya was no longer wearing her zabradka. Her hair was purple today. The last time he saw her it was a very bright shade of orange. It seemed her potion brewing still made her hair change colours. Funny, she had lived a thousand years, but hadn't found a way to get rid of this...or she did not want to. The laying girl started moving a bit. Then her movements became sharper, she was gaining consciousness. Bela jumped from the three-legged chair near one of the walls she was sitting on, while Delyana kneeled next to her head.
"Kalinka, Kalinka" she brushed her face gently "Shh, it's fine now, the pain is gone, you are safe, and no one will hurt you. You are in the safest place in the country. No one besides us knows you are here, instead of Zhegavica."
Kalina tried to stand up, but everything in front of her appeared pitched black for a moment. Her attempt was too fast. Beloslava helped her and put a pillow that Asya gave her under her back.
"Are you feeling better?" She felt stupid for asking such a question immediately. How could she be fine after her living wound reopening? The bond between posestrimi is strong, but they were also witches, which made it even more special. She should know better what to do, but she felt helpless due to her lack of experience. She felt like the best thing she could do for her is to give an encouraging look with her silver eyes and a calming, warm smile.
"I am fine. Don't worry about me." She returned the smile to her dear Bela, who always got into trouble because of her. How could she cause her trouble now? "I should be apologizing for making you worry because of me. And now of all times, when we have a guest!" She looked at Blagovest and immediately looked down in shyness and shame, that a stranger saw her like this. He was family, and that made her want to leave a good first impression on him even stronger.
"Worry not, my dear. It is not something you could control easily. You are still young, you will learn to do it... How old are you now, if I may ask?" His voice was calm and sincere. The sadness, plaguing his eyes previously had been replaced with worry for her, but she could see strength. A certain strength that he was trying to pass to her.
"Fifteen, dyado, ugh, no, chicho" She bit her lips nervously. "I don't know how to call you, knyazhe."
Blagovest laughed, but it was in no way intended to mock Kalina. He tried to kneel, like Delyana, but his bones made a cracking sound, ah, the years were calling. Asya helped him sit.
"Don't worry about such things. You can call me however you like. And it's not necessary for you to call me by my birt title, I gave it up a long time ago." He hadn't stopped smiling when talking to her. He patted her head and was more confident in doing it this time.
"Then, can I call you dyado?" She smiled back at him and revealed her white teeth. They were a bit crooked, but beautiful nonetheless. Her tone was low, kind of childish, but also sincere, innocent and naive, with no trace of what happened a little while ago. Kalina never knew her grandfather, Vulchan and Albena remembered him vaguely, while Bozhana was born three weeks before his death. Her grandmother had died when her father was still a boy, and the parents of her mother - as if they never existed. No one talked about them, no one even knew who they are!
"Dyado...Dyado!" Blagovest almost jumped from his chair from happiness! He grabbed her hands and smiled even brighter at her. "Yes, yes, you can call me that. Strahil would be happy too, had he been here. Can you see us, bratko, I have to take your role as a grandfather?" He said those last words in a quiet tone, with eyes looking up in the ceiling, no the sky, even though he could not see it through the decorations, he was certain his words were heard. Sadness came back into his eyes as memories of another beloved person came back at him. How he wished to be the one who could go back, back in those days when he, Huba and Strahil were inseparable. When they would come here and join Asya in her work...
"Kalina, Beloslava, go to your room and rest. We will prepare everything. You don't have to come down for dinner if you don't want to." Asya's words once again returned him to the present. He thought how should stop dozing out like this.
With the help of Asya and Bela, Kalina stood up and leaning on her posestrima, she was taken up the stairs, in the bedroom they shared, to rest.
"How often does this happen?" Asked the old man. His voice could express nothing else but concern for the girl. He followed Asya as she walked in the kushti, the room where the food was usually prepared and where they would dine most of the time. In many peoples homes, it was the most important room as it was where the fireplace was built. In the meantime, Delyana had changed into her informal clothes, which looked almost identical to the ones her sister was wearing. Her sukman was black, while Asya's one was dark blue, but both had colourful pieces of fabric decorating their necklines and hemlines. Both were wearing pafti on their belts, while the embroidery decorating their rizi was red and black, located on their wrists, neckline and hemline as well, but the one on Asya's one was not as elaborate as Delyana's, but the younger sister was always the more skilful when it came to it. Both were not wearing sokai, the rich hairgarmet some women in Tzarichevo - the capital of Suntolua, Kostica and other regions closer to it had adopted imitating noble women, or any other type of headcover in the house, as neither of them was married after all.
"When she is with us, two or three times the most, when she is at home - the palace or her sister's, I can't tell for sure. More often than she'd like to share for sure." Asya had rolled her sleeves and had started mixing the flour and water to make the kori for the banica.
"It's not as severe as it used to be when she was younger, don't know who to thank for that, though. You can thank God, but we..." The times when he could not understand the emotions in Delyana's voice, and now it was such moment. She placed a cup of wine in front of him. He had missed the taste of this particular wine, that they made. She gave one to her sister as well and finally filled one for herself.
"Uff, why did you pour from this one?! It's the one the girls made last year. Tastes like vinegar!" The mirror witch made a disgusted face from reminiscing the taste. Blagovest placed the cup near his raven like nose and sniffed. It didn't smell bad.
"Pff, you think I will let them break a damadjana with the nice wine?" Delyana smiled widely, her eyes having a mischievous spark. "I switched them, so our pretty ones have a taste of their work. We are not going to be the only ones that suffer from its taste." And she took a big sip.
Asya followed, relieved to hear that the nice wine was not wasted. Blagovest also took a sip, after being able to sit and take a rest from his long journey.
As Asya was done with the dough, she separated it into a few balls and let it rest for a while. Delyana finished her cup and head outside, towards the chicken house.
A final cry was heard - the roster that was going to be part of their dinner.