A/N: Y'all are lucky I rewrote this before publishing. Not great but loads better than previously. ANYWAY. Eighty-three-year-old Chosen One Edna Fisher has successfully stolen the Sword of Destiny, but in doing so she's landed in the hospital thanks to smoke inhalation. She's learned a little more about her newest companion, a teenage girl named Clementine Rodriguez, and is now being dosed with magic by a witch/nurse for pain.
Question for reviewers who have been reading along or feel like they have a good gauge on Edna's character: does the existential crisis in this chapter feel natural? It seemed like the right way to go at the time, but I want to know what y'all think of it. If I'm going to keep it, does Edna need to have more doubt in previous chapters? Or does this work as-is?
Edna settled back on her pillows. She should’ve been a witch. She didn’t mind the white hair and wrinkles and bad vision—she’d been near-sighted all her life anyway, and wrinkles, she thought, were a sign of a long life lived well.
But it’d be nice to have both her real hips and knees.
And to—well, if she’d been a witch, couldn’t she have just made all that smoke suck itself right up? She could’ve saved the church, and kept Clementine from looking so frightened and pitiable—she could’ve divined Theobald Smith for sure, found the right one on the first try, and gotten the sword before it was too late. Clem would’ve come too late, found it gone, and returned to wherever she’d come from.
Why, she wondered, why on earth had the wizards named her as the Chosen One? She was old and alone and she didn’t even know magic.
The nurse ran her hands over Edna’s chest and throat. Edna resisted the urge to giggle, but her mouth turned up at the corners. It felt ridiculous. The nurse wasn’t doing anything. Just running her hands in the air. You’d think there’d be, Edna wasn’t sure what exactly, but maybe magical sparks or a golden glow. Something. But there was just a middle-aged red-haired woman in scrubs moving her hands along in the air.
To Edna’s surprise, however, she felt it working. A moment ago her head had felt like anvil and speaking had been a burden, but now she felt—perhaps not ready to get out of bed, but like she could sit up, at least.
“Better not,” the nurse said. “This is just for the pain. You’ll still want to rest everything.”
“But it’s magic,” Edna said. “Can’t you just poof me all better?”
The nurse chuckled, and even Clem cracked a smile. They exchanged a glance, and then the nurse said, “Now, Mrs. Fisher, surely you know better than that.”
The door opened a third time, and this time it really was Benjamin, with Theobald Smith—and, to Edna’s surprise—Methodius in tow. Despite the nurse’s advice, Edna sat up and enfolded Benjamin in a hug.
“You’re all right!” he cried hoarsely. His eyes were red, like he’d been crying. “God, I’ve been so worried.”
“I’m all right, dear. I’m all right.”
The nurse stood up and smiled at them. “I’ll give you some privacy.”
Then she wagged a finger at Benjamin and added, “You take care of your mother, young man. Make sure she stays in bed.”
“If I can figure out how to make her do anything she doesn’t want to,” Benjamin said in what Edna suspected was only partially fake exasperation.
The nurse nodded to Theobald and Methodius on her way out. Edna felt around for her glasses and put them on. The room leapt into focus.
“Your mother?” she said.
“We had a bonfire,” Benjamin explained. “You’re my mom, and Clementine’s my daughter.”
“It’s Clem,” Clem said. Benjamin ignored her.
“Theobald’s your neighbor,” he said. “He saw the fire go out of control and rushed over to help. They were a little confused as to why he didn’t have any smoke inhalation, but he went into a whole thing about all the ways to keep smoke out of the nose and lungs.”
“Used to be in the volunteer fire department,” Theobald said from the doorway.
“And—Methodius?” Edna said, with a glance at the wizard. To her even greater surprise, Methodius was holding a vase of carnations from the hospital gift shop.
“That nurse knows him,” Benjamin said. “But I guess she, er, well, she knows about his past with Theobald—”
Methodius blanched and Theobald scowled, but neither of them said anything.
“—so we made up some garbage about him being in the neighborhood. I guess he works pretty closely with covens all over the world.”
“Trying to get some witches into the Council of Wizards,” Methodius said. “It’s been difficult. The council can be very stubborn about tradition.”
He deposited his vase on Edna’s bedside table.
“Are those for me?” she asked.
He reddened. “Well. Yes, since you asked.”
Well, well. Would wonders never cease? Edna admired the carnations, but now the room had fallen silent, and she didn’t know what to say. It felt as if they were all waiting for her to—what? She wasn’t sure.
“They want to keep you a couple more days,” Benjamin said at last. He was still standing beside her bed, in a manner that suggested he didn’t know what to do with himself. “Make sure everything’s working right and that you don’t have a reaction to the magic or something.”
A couple more days? That wouldn’t do at all. They’d finally found the sword, but they hadn’t exactly been secretive about it—they’d left a burnt-up church and a ruined auction in their wake, and Edna knew how these thing went. She’d been so preoccupied with finding the Sword of Destiny that she hadn’t given that much thought to Redway, but she thought of him now. Did he know the wizards had named a Chosen One? Did he know the Sword of Destiny was meant for him? Did he know it had been stolen?
The enormity of what she was supposed to do hit Edna for the first time. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and started looking about for her clothes. If she was going to save the world, she wasn’t going to do it in a hospital gown that showed her backside to the whole world.
“Edna, what are you doing?”
“I can’t stay a couple more days,” she said.
“Why the hell not? Edna—”she tried to stand up, but Benjamin put his hands on her shoulders—“stay in bed.”
She did as he said, feeling like a wrung-out sponge. All she could think of was Redway, Redway and his dragons and the Knights he’d killed and the towns he’d attacked. She was just one old lady.
“Edna,” Benjamin said, “what’s wrong?”
She folded her hands in her lap and looked at them. She wasn’t sure what she didn’t want to see in Benjamin’s eyes—whether she thought he’d look relieved or disappointed or simply like she’d lost her mind—but she couldn’t stand to meet his gaze just now.
“Oh, Benjamin, why did I ever agree to do this? I’m an old woman, and not even a hag or an enchantress or a witch or a priestess. I can barely walk, for heaven’s sakes. Why on earth did they think I could do this? Only,” she said, “they don’t think I can do this, did they? Methodius doesn’t approve at all—do you?” With a glance at the wizard. “It’s just that one wizard who named me, isn’t that what you said?”
Methodius flushed. Benjamin opened his mouth to say something, but she kept talking.
“I don’t know how to wield a sword. I don’t know how to cast a spell. I don’t know how to do anything! I’m eighty-three years old, and I don’t know how to do anything. Except knit. That’ll be useful, won’t it?”
She sounded bitter, she knew, and she knew everyone was staring at her, but she couldn’t help it. It took energy to be so cheerful all the time, and she didn’t have any right now.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” she said. She dabbed at her eyes with her sleeve. Something seemed to have gotten into them.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up to see Theobald beside her bed. He towered over her like a giant, but he crouched down beside her and said gently, “Mrs. Fisher, it’s all right if you decide you want to go home.”
“I don’t have anywhere to go.”
“There’s the nursing home,” Benjamin said.
She laughed. “Not a chance, my dear.”
“I’m not going back there.”
They sat in silence for a long moment. Theobald’s hand was warm and heavy. He’d worn nothing but frowns before, but now he seemed like the only one who was comfortable. Benjamin looked unsure of what to say; Methodius gazed at the floor, the color of a bad sunburn; Clem’s frown had deepened.
“I don’t think,” Methodius started finally. He paused to clear his throat and finally looked up from the floor. “Mrs. Fisher, I—I apologize for what I said, back at the nursing home. It’s true, Philostratus is considered, well, a little, shall we say, unorthodox around the council. We’ve always chosen teenagers, and when he named you—anyway, Centius the Wise does think very highly of him, and if—you know, when you were named, I did advocate for you.”
Edna dabbed at her eyes again. “You did?”
“Yes, I—well, I told the others we ought to hear Philostratus out, anyway, and accept his choice, which—I didn’t realize what would—well, anyway. Mrs. Fisher, I pride myself on considering all sides of an issue fairly and coming to a just decision, but I’m afraid I’ve treated you unjustly. You’ve already stolen a sword and survived a terrible fire. I think, perhaps, the council judged you too hastily.”
“As usual,” Theobald said. Edna waved his comment aside.
“It’s up to you of course,” Methodius continued. “If you really feel that way—no one would blame you if you went home now. The smart money was on young Clementine here—”
Clem’s eyes blazed as she looked at him, but she didn’t say anything, just leaned forward, glued to his every word.
“—so if you did decide to pass on the mantle of Chosen One, well, she could hold the sword for us until we made it official. But if you choose to continue, you have my blessing, as little as that may matter. Philostratus returns from Mars in a month. Perhaps he can tell you what it was about you that made him decide you were destined for this.”
Looking disappointed, Clem settled back in her seat.
“So what do you want to do?” Benjamin asked. His expression was one of resignation, which Edna took to mean he already knew her answer.
“Get me my clothes,” she said. “We’re checking out.”
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