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For the Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge, Five Random Words.

“Bless you, dearie. Granny can always count on you two.”

The words rang in Caroline’s ears as she and the mass of wrinkles beside her picked their way through the woods towards the city. To be fair, the wrinkles were mostly on Seymour’s face – the long, beige body of the hound was sleek and muscular, the body of a creature bred for hunting and snatching prey. To Caroline, there was a understated beauty about her most reliable companion. Every wrinkle told a story. There was no duplicity in the hound’s eyes, no tricks, no facade of civilization hiding a monster within.

The same could not be said for the bustling figures in the streets before her now.

She pulled her flat cap down towards her eyes. With her disheveled and dirty clothes nicked from some other urchin years ago, she could pass as a boy. This suited her just fine. She saw girls her age flit here and there, decked in finery and giggling to one another about parties and parents and lessons and boys, always boys. As much as the dresses and hairstyles were pretty, Caroline wondered if they had any idea what the world was really like as she and Seymour picked their way through the crowd towards their destination.

Granny needed some small things to complete her work. A topaz, some foxglove, a raven’s wing bone – not unusual requests from Granny. They passed the building bearing the sign ‘ORPHANAGE’, and the girl shoved her hands in her pockets and kept her head down as they walked by. Her orphanage was in the past, as was creepy Mr. Harrigan and his wandering hands. She reminded herself to go back one of these days and burn the place down.

Not today. Today Granny had sent her on a mission. “A love potion” were the words Granny had used, and Caroline couldn’t think of a sillier thing to waste precious time and wonderful charms trying to make. Granny could work miracles with her gnarled hands and spindly fingers; why a love potion of all things?

It wasn’t Caroline’s place to ask, though. She reminded herself that it was Granny, a hermit who owed her nothing, that had found her when she ran away, taken her in, given her a chance at life. A life in transit, mostly, of moving from place to place almost constantly and having very little to call their own, but it was a life all the same, and it was freedom and adventure and challenges and the world, the real world, not the one these people around her tried to close off with doors and windows and wine and employment. It was a gift, this life, and all that came with it, including Seymour. And it was a gift Granny had given her, only occasionally asking something in return.

Seymour nudged her towards the proper street. Caroline shook her head and stroked the hound’s fur. She had no idea if this town had leash laws or anything, but she didn’t plan on sticking around long enough for it to be an issue. Seymour was always close by unless she told him to stay somewhere, and even then he had a keen awareness of where Caroline was and if she was being threatened. A feeling deep in her guts told her that such skills might be required.

A gesture put Seymour right outside the front door of the jeweler’s. Caroline walked in, finding the large man behind the deck at the other end of the floor engaged in conversation with a young couple. She looked through all of the display cases until she found the semi-translucent beige stones she had been sent to acquire. Granny only needed one for her potion, but Caroline saw no reason not to pocket a few for herself. She reached for the case.

“Miss? Can I help you?”

Caroline turned, putting on her best smile while silently cursing to herself. “Just browsing, thank you.”

“Looking for something in particular? A gift, for Mom or Dad?”

The shopkeeper leaned closer, and Caroline glanced towards the large windows facing the street. As if on cue, Seymour started barking. The shopkeeper looked away and turned towards the noise, giving Caroline the chance to do a turn of her own and slip her blade into the seam of the display cases’ lock, tapping it open.

The young couple had also moved to the big windows. Caroline pocketed the gems and slipped past the adults to get outside. Upon seeing her, Seymour immediately stopped making noise and fell into step behind her. She kept her pace at a brisk walk until she was around the corner. The cries of “THIEF!” didn’t emerge until they were a block away, and by then, she and Seymour were running.

They stopped for breath not far into the forest, and Caroline immediately spotted some foxglove. With that, they returned home. However, the hearth was already burning despite it being warm and mid-day, and Granny usually didn’t start her fire until it was cold, dark, or she had all of her ingredients.

Caroline and Seymour stepped into the tiny log cabin. Stretched out on the couch Caroline had helped ‘liberate’ from a trash heap was the woodsman’s boy, a gangly kid with straw hair a few years old than Caroline. They’d met, made nice, bickered and even on one occasion fought before.

“Oh, dearie, dear, thank all that’s good you’ve returned,” Granny said. “The boy’s been snake-bitten, he needs medicine.”

“One thing at a time, Granny.” Caroline placed the potion ingredients on the table. “What does he need?”

“Find the snake. Don’t kill the poor thing, of course, just bring it to me. We can milk it for a little venom to make medicine.”

“I’ll find it. Seymo-”

The dog was already sniffing the wound, and was out in a flash. Caroline turned to follow, then looked back at the boy.

Suddenly, she understood why Granny would want a love potion.

My words: Hermit, Hound, Topaz, Foxglove, Orphan.