When Lilith woke to discover that the bear cub she'd rescued had demolished the last of the grain in her larder, she realized she could no longer put off a trek into the village. She scolded the cub, thrashing him with the brush broom and chasing him from the little shed she housed her stores in, but it did not change anything. She still had nothing to make her bread and the burst of temper did not even help her feelings, for the young bear, she knew, was only doing what came natural to him. He was hungry and so he had searched until he found something to eat. He did not understand why she was angry with him and beat the brush broom on his rump until she had broken most of the brush. She had been feeding him since she had found him alone in the forest trying to nurse his dead mother.
Panting slightly with exertion and temper, Lilith dropped the broom and glared at the cub, which had run no further than the edge of the wood and hidden beneath a frond that covered little besides the top of his head. "If you are big enough to break down my shed door then you are certainly big enough now to fend for yourself. Go back into the forest, little man. You belong there and I will not coddle you anymore!"
Instead of obeying her command, the little bear settled on the ground to watch her with mournful eyes as she turned to assess the damage and clean up the mess he had made.
There was not even enough left for a small loaf of bread, Lilith discovered, feeling her spirits plummet and anxiety begin to churn in her belly.
She hated going to the village. Everyone stared at her and whispered about her at the best of times. If she happened to arrive on the heels of someone's misfortune, instead of merely staring and whispering, they glared at her as if their misfortune was somehow her fault.
They thought she was a witch. She supposed she was, but she was no threat to them. The gifts she had could not harm anyone or bring misfortune them.
She knew that much, for she had always feared and hated the villagers, and they had always feared and hated her. There had been many times, when she had been younger and had gone to the village with her mother, that she had left the village so angry that she had tried very hard to curse them, to weave some spell that would teach them a lesson.
She did not have the power even when she had the will, and mostly, she did not have the will. She only wanted to be left alone. She had lived in the cottage her whole life, tucked safely away in the forest with her mother until the winter that had taken her mother's spirit and set it free from her body. Since that time, she had lived alone except for the animals and the trees.
She had the gift of communing with the creatures of the forest, and on occasion, she had found that she could use that same gift that soothed the wild beasts and allowed her to move among them as she pleased to bend people to her will. She knew because her mother had taught her which herbs to gather from the forest to make potions that healed, that soothed pain and fevers.
She supposed that made her a witch, but it hardly made her a creature to be feared and hated and distrusted.
There was no hope for it, though, she realized with dismay. She had no magic to make grain appear. She had no magic to make bread from dirt. She would have to go into the village and trade for grain. And if she had to go for that, she decided that she would make certain that she got all that she would need for many months so that she would not have to go again before the fall.
When she had finished cleaning up the mess the little bear had made, she went to the well to draw water and wash the filth from her face and hands. She stared at her reflection when she had finished bathing off, wondering if it would be better to tidy herself up more, or better to go with her hair all a tangle and wear her most worn and stained dress.
She did not especially like to go into the village looking so slovenly, but she decided that it would probably be for the best. If she tried to make herself presentable and happened to catch the wandering eye of one of the village louts, they would accuse her of using witch craft to lure their men away.
As if she would have one of the pigs! she thought angrily, for there was not one, young or old, who had not tormented her when she was a child, or leered at her since she had reached womanhood and she hated the lascivious looks they gave her. She had not been with a man, but she did not need to to know what thoughts ran through their minds. They wanted to mount her and plow their man things into her body and fill her womb with their nasty seed.