Author: Kevlin Henney

The flood water had receded enough for the warden to take the bridge from the town, but there were puddles and pools and fallen branches enough to swallow the road and stymie his progress.

“He’ll be here soon. Be silent and still,” Walda said, standing by the roots of her home. “Make yourself a bit scruffy while you’re about it.”

Walda looked up at her house and nodded. The steps spiraling up the trunk were broken enough to show a storm’s passage, along with a missing half wall — the warden would see her kitchen as he approached — and the roof was intact but raised on one side like a lid.

Walda went to the log pile between her tree and the forest and picked out pieces that looked better for mending than burning.

“Morning, Missus Walda,” the warden said as he walked the path up from the road.

“Never married nor betrothed, Warden Greaves, as you know.” She dropped the wood by the long table next to the path.

“Some might prefer… well, folk might talk about a woman on her own.”

“Would some of these folk, by chance, be named Greaves?”

“Not for me to say, Mistress Walda.”

“Just Walda is fine… as you know.”

“Thought to check on you after last night’s storm. See that you were unharmed and whether your, umm,” he waved up at the house nestled in the branches, “home was in need of much rebuilding, perhaps a carpenter’s visit.”

“As you can see, I have this in hand.” She waved at the collected wood, axe and saw by the table.

“From the damage you must have had, I see your progress is good… very good.”

“I think you’re trying to say something, warden, but you’re struggling to spit out the words.”

“Mistress Walda, the word is you practice unnatural arts. I myself am surprised such a rickety house not only survived the storm, but has been mended with such speed as might catch the eye of the justice and the mayor.”

“Only if someone’s turning their heads, Warden Greaves. What is so unnatural about living in the woods? In the trees like the birds and the squirrels? Besides,” she pointed to the town colors flying from the pole midway between the bridge and her path, “that’s the limit of your law. Now, unless you’re lending a hand,” she picked up the saw and a log, “I suggest you stop disturbing the peace of any woman versed in herb lore and see who properly needs help the other side of that flag.”

“As you were, then,” the warden said, turning back down the path. “Just remember, Mistress Walda, flags can be moved.”

“As can weak minds, Warden Greaves,” Walda muttered as the warden receded down the path.

Once he’d crossed the bridge, she looked up at her home.

“As you were.”

As if it had never been any different, the house was whole and built — spiral stairs unbroken, kitchen hidden inside, roof firmly closed.