My story, A Poppy Against the Sky, was recently announced the winning story in the HWA/Dorothy Dunnett Society Competition.

His hand is on hers, fingers curling around her palm and encircling it. He blinks, quickly. There is moisture in his eyes and she knows that he is anxious not to let it spill. The breeze, or perhaps it is the downward draught of her exhaled breath, lifts his hair and his brow relaxes. He is cooler now, and the globs of sweat sitting on his forehead will stop tormenting him, begin instead to soothe. She gives him back his hand, stands up and moves away so that he can look, once more, at the sky. His breathing is easier; his chest moves with a steady undulation. A single cloud, little more than a wisp, passes overhead and he lifts his head, neck sinews protruding. Sometimes she thinks he is trying to levitate his whole body, away from the ground, towards the sky. He wants to ascend.

She takes the wooden mazer, running her thumb along the carvings on the rim, shaped for her with love, and tips out the dregs before placing the drinking bowl in her leather drawstring bag along with her herbs and unguents. He has swallowed her infusion of agrimony, and she is pleased. The ancients used it for healing wounds, but Juliana administers it because he occasionally clutches his stomach, and his cough is worsening. She looks skyward as she shoulders her bag. The sun is bright, but lower in the sky. Soon it will be harvest time and then the nights will draw in; there will be dewy mornings. He cannot stay outside when the summer is over.

Too near to ignore, Brother Adolphus is by the edge of the pond, lying down, cavernous sleeves rolled up past his elbows as he leans on one arm while he reaches into the water with the other, tickling the trout. Not much sport, she has always thought, to catch already captive fish. The fish are just there in the holding pen; the monk is showing off by making it look like such an art. He pretends he has not seen her.

A glint on the water draws her eyes into a squint. The monk will think that she is scowling at him. Well, let him. It’s no secret how she feels about him, nor why.

Adolphus sits up, shakes his hand and wipes it on his black robes. The wet fabric does not discolour; it is as if he has made the water vanish. He pats it dry as daintily as if he were at a high feast and using a napkin. She can see, even under his habit, his rounded belly. He stands, returning her stare.

He disapproves of her methods. But the soldier wants to be outside, he craves to see the sky, and seems not to want the monks near him. And so they have made a shelter for him where he can heal under the warmth of the sun, and Juliana can tend him. She walks, deliberately languorously, past Adolphus, wishing that every step could send a rumble through the earth to bruise him.

Adolphus sniffs his disdain. “What have you given him?”

“A brew of agrimony. He must have it morning, noon and night. I will come back later.”

“Folk accord agrimony magical powers; it is against Church law to claim the attributes of deity. Your soldier needs proper medicine. And prayer.”

“Prayer does not work and your medicine does not save everyone.”

He hisses at her. “This too; you show contempt and a lack of reverence.” But then he glances away. And when he opens his mouth to speak, she cannot listen.

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