Only She Can Save Them
After putting their mother on the bed next to their father, Luke nodded at Esmé, saying, “I’m going to get Doctor Thomson now. If they wake up, make sure they’re comfortable, and if they fade, try your very best to keep them responsive.” Esmé nodded and turned to them. He went to the door and added, “Do whatever you can. If their hearts stop-” “Luke stop. That’s not going to happen!” He sighed heavily at her, then he looked at them again. “Go!” she said. He shifted his head away and ran out. She walked over to a chair, wrapping her arms around her body. For a while, she listened to the sounds of their breathing and thought back on how the morning went; how everyone behaved, what they ate and where they went. She turned toward Fiona and Jeremiah again, her gaze traveling up their legs to their faces. They were just fine before she and Luke left. Surely whatever is was, it couldn’t have been from the garden...
“I wish you two could tell me what happened...” she nearly whispered.
As Luke went up the street, he looked around at everyone watching him in concern. Some villagers tried to stop him. He bumped into a few who grabbed him by the arm and asked what was wrong. His mind was a wreck. Anything he said in reply was a jumbled mess of words. What a mistake! He didn’t have time to worry about that! He knew he would soon regret behaving this way toward them.
He ran straight to the doctor’s house and knocked on the door obsessively. How much longer would it be before something absolutely horrible might happen? While he was sure Esmé hoped and tried to convince herself their parents would be alright, he became more and more nervous. They’ve never seen anyone experience this, or become so ill they couldn’t wake up!
The moment the doctor opened the door, Luke spat out, “Mr. Thomson, my sister and I need your help!” Mr. Thomson leaned back in amazement. “My dear boy, whatever is the matter?!”
“Our parents! They won’t wake up! We tried everything we could but they still won’t wake up!”
Mr. Thomson gently waved his hands at him, “Calm, calm yourself! Let me get my supplies and I will be right there, alright!” Luke’s shoulders slumped. The doctor gathered everything in a little bag and came back out. The boy snatched his hand, yanking him away.
The people they passed were even more worried now.
“Luke! Mr. Thomson! What’s going on?!” An old woman cried out as they passed her house. Mr. Thomson waved his bag at her, unable to respond. Luke pointed at her, “Later Mrs. Harris! I’ll explain later!” She made large eyes at him.
They arrived at the house and Esmé opened the door before Luke could reach it. The doctor jerked out of the boy’s grip and went inside, grumbling to himself. Esmé explained everything to him as she guided him into the master bedroom. She told him, “We found them face down on the ground. They’re deep asleep and we can’t find anything wrong with them. They don’t appear to have been harmed in any way. Please Mr. Thomson, please tell us what’s wrong!” He studied their parents from head to toe, his expression curious and contemplative. He nodded without looking at her and carefully pulled up their sleeves and lifted Jeremiah’s shirt. “Well then, let’s have a look, shall we? ...Nothing here... No... nothing here either...” He pressed two fingers to their necks for a few moments. “...Calm, relaxed pulses...”
He then checked Fiona’s dress for any cuts in the fabric. There weren’t any that he could see. He glanced at the twins and said, “I will have to remove her corset. Stay if you wish.” They only stared at her. The side of his mouth twitched up, he breathed out quietly and then began taking it off her. He checked the front and back of her. Not a scratch! No markings. Her skin was smooth as a baby’s bottom. But then he paused while looking toward her legs. His eyebrows lowering in anticipation, he gently pulled up her dress and saw a small black dot on her calf. Luke and Esmé moved closer, their mouths falling slightly. Mr. Thomson lightly brushed his fingers over the spot and then gestured one of the twins to check Jeremiah. Luke quickly lifted his pant legs and blinked in astonishment to finding the same thing on him. “Why didn’t I look here?” he mused.
“What- what are those? Insect stings?” Esmé asked. “Could they be poisonous? Could they be deadly?” The doctor looked at her seriously as he scanned through his memory for a diagnosis. “...Tell me what they were doing.” He said. Esmé and Luke exchanged questioning glances with each other, then Esmé said, “Last we saw, they were in the garden weeding. We left them alone and went down to the beach.” Doctor Thomson rubbed the spots again. They looked like stings but didn’t feel like it. There was no inflammation or redness. He smelled his fingers. No scent either. This was quite... unusual. He’d never seen anything like this before. Even with his firm grasp of knowledge in the subject of entomology couldn’t help him point to any reason for these marks to exist; there weren’t any insects in this area that would leave such a wound...
“Mr. Thomson... how do we fix this?” Luke asked.
“One moment laddie.” The doctor took out a vial of some sort of clear liquid and poured a little on his handkerchief, then he dabbed the wounds. Next, he retrieved two utensils from his bag and pressed down gently around the spots. Nothing was coming out. He pressed harder. And still, nothing. This made absolutely no sense. It seemed impossible to him. He shook his head slightly, taking a step back but he never looked away from Jeremiah and Fiona. “I’ve not seen this before.”
“How long will it take for you to figure out a way to fix them?” Esmé asked, unintentionally raising her voice by the end. Mr. Thomson gave her a wary look. “Young lass, I’m afraid I don’t have a precise answer to that question. It may take me days. My assistant is away at the moment.” His response depressed and discouraged the twins. All hope was beginning to seem as though it were slipping away the more they imagined all the things that could happen from this point on. But maybe something miraculous would happen—maybe they would wake up and everything the doctor said wouldn’t be true. Then another thought lingered... Maybe it was all true and this was only the beginning of a time in their lives that everything would go downhill from here until they had completely nothing. What a thought to have.
As the tense silence surrounded them, an idea suddenly came to Luke. An idea so... brilliant it could possibly solve the problem!
He asked, “Do you think Gianna would know anything?” Everybody looked at him, shocked he said that. A glimmer of hope began to shine in Esmé’s eyes.
“Well, dear boy... you could try.” The doctor said. That, made Luke gradually smile, proud and (almost) relieved. He may have just solved the problem! What a genius idea! “I’m going to see her right now!” He ran over to the door and Esmé said, “Luke, wait! Don’t tell anyone what’s happened! It’s only between the four of us right now!”
“Yes Esmé, I know!” He shut the door and hurried off.
Along the way, thoughts of how he would save the day ran through his head at the speeds of shooting stars. Luke, the boy who bravely reached out to the great mother Gianna for help to rescue his parents from an unknown, terrible illness not even the most talented doctor he knew could diagnose. Luke, the brave. The praised. The hero! The BEST son who ever lived in Arkenshire village!
While he kept his eyes focused straight ahead, he passed a little girl named Agatha, the daughter of one of his parents’ hunting companions; and was severely infatuated with him. He didn’t know she was outside watching him until he heard, “Luke! Where are you going?” A little startled, he glimpsed at her. “Not now Aggie! I have something very important to do!” She hurried after him. “Wait! When will you find time to spend with me?!” she grabbed his hand and pulled him to a stop, “Luke Pane, I’m in love with you!” He blinked at her repeatedly. “Agatha- You’re eight and I’m sixteen! That wouldn’t work!” he said. Her mouth fell open a little and her eyes began to water. “Look, I’m sorry! I’ve got to go now!” he started running again. How he yelled and forcefully yanked his hand away from her felt close to her heart shattering. He never treated her this way. What could be wrong with him? Why was he in such a hurry and why did he seem so bothered? She rested her hand against her chest and held it there with the other. When she sees him again, he had better have a good excuse for his rude behavior!
When the young man got to Mother Gianna’s gates, he called out, “Mother! Mother Gianna!” As he went through the gates, the wind was starting to pick up. His wavy hair swept in his face many times. Trying to keep it out of his eyes, he saw Gianna slowly rising from her throne. She was standing up! She wasn’t attached to the tree. Or so, that’s what it seemed! While he felt confident about being able to ask for her help, the moment he saw her stand completely still with her head back slightly, a sort of sinking feeling began to twist in the pit of his stomach. It was a sudden extreme change in mood and atmosphere; Darkness flooded in, all light seemed to be dimming around them.
He swallowed down a big lump in his throat as he stopped in front of her, suddenly finding it almost unbearably difficult to speak. He couldn’t see inside her dark hood as she stood so still, so curious and interested in him. She didn’t seem like the same Mother he knew before—she was just different in a way he couldn’t fathom. Something wasn’t right. No, not at all...
He finally spoke—nervously; “...Mother, please—you’ve got to help us. Our parents won’t wake up. We’ve tried everything and not even Mr. Thomson knows what’s wrong. They have marks on their legs but they don’t seem to have the same characteristics any insect bite or sting leaves on skin. We’ve tried all that we could to wake them, Mr. Thomson inspected them from head to toe, he touched those marks and found no inflammation, no smells-” He stopped at that, running out of air; he couldn’t speak fast enough, and all that was going through his mind at that moment—the intensity of it all just pounded him down deeper and deeper into the dirt. So much sadness. So much anxiety. He said, “Please Mother—help us,”
She didn’t move an inch, nor did she say a word. He stared deeply into her hood, his body trying to force him to look away because of anxiety, but he bravely resisted.
“Why, child... by the way you describe it, it sounds to me they may have been poisoned by something.” His eyes flashed in shock. She said, “No insect would leave behind a marking like this... no... But plants... yes indeed. There is a certain plant called the Dawnbell Flower; it’s a very special flower. The Dawnbell is a bulbed plant that goes dormant for many, many years. Sometimes they are dormant for half a century... It all depends on the soil. We are in an age now where all circumstances allow it to grow perfectly healthy. It feeds on vegetable roots for two seasons and grows relatively fast if the soil is fertile enough. Though, if any animal comes into contact with it, it will attack by stabbing the creature with its thorns.”
He watched her with the expression of a small boy hearing the most unbelievable story ever told. His wide eyes moved left to right and then fell, “You’re saying they were... poisoned?”
“I’m afraid so, dear Luke... They have gone into the Death Sleep.” He quickly looked back up to her. “The Death Sleep! What can I do to save them?”
“Your sister... She can save them.”
“She has something special in her blood. She has what’s called the ‘Hybrid Gene’. It has been carried on among humans for thousands of years. Some have it, but it’s dormant. Your sister has it, and it’s active. With this gene enabled, she can use a special power that has the ability to heal them.”
“Is this magic? How do you know this...?”
“The moment she was born, I sensed a very different sort of energy in the air. Magic? No...” Gianna lifted her hand at him, “Bring her to me, and I will help you fix this.”
His brow creased. “How can she have this Hybrid Gene and I don’t?!”
“Bring her to me... Luke...”
He searched the darkness of her hood with frustrated eyes. Esmé was right; she was different. He dipped his head and raced out of her gates.
As he raced up the road, there was a clash of thunder and clouds were coming in from over the ocean. All the villagers were going inside, preparing for the storm. He nearly slipped and fell before getting to the front door of the house.
“Esmé! Esmé, stop what you’re doing!” he said, yanking it open. She rushed into the living room and saw the urgency and worry in his features. Her hands dropped. “She can’t help, can she...?” He ran up to her, shaking his head, “No, no it’s not that!”
Doctor Thomson walked into the room with a towel in his hands, all ears. Luke looked at him, then back to her. Leaning a little closer, he said, “Gianna wants to see you. We have to hurry. It’s very important.”
“What about Mr. Thomson?”
“I will watch over your parents dear. You go on!”
The twins glanced at him. He waved the towel, “You both had better hurry! The rain is coming! Be careful!” Luke nodded and took her hand, rushing her out the door. When it shut, Mr. Thomson stared deeply at it in wonder, then turned and walked back into the bedroom. What would the great Mother Gianna need Esmé for? She was a clever girl, yes, but it had to have been more than that. Gianna wouldn’t speak to him. She only spoke to these twins. Why...?
As Luke and Esmé ran, Esmé said, “Can she help us or not!”
“Yes, yes she can! But we need you to make this work!”
Esmé grimaced as she tried to keep the wind out of her face. “I don’t understand!”
“I don’t much either, but we will!”
The two slowed down as they entered Gianna’s gates. The tree spirit leaned forward in her throne as they approached her. She waved her hand out, creating a magical bubble around the tree to keep out the weather.
“Mother Gianna,” Luke bowed his head, and Esmé did the same. Gianna looked at both of them. “Children... I’m sorry to hear what your parents are experiencing.” She lowered her head at Esmé, “Your brother has explained it all to me. I know what is wrong with them... They have been poisoned by an ancient flower called the Dawnbell. The flower must have attacked them as soon as they made contact with it, and now they have fallen into the Death Sleep.” Esmé’s eyes filled with horror and rage. Her hands were beginning to shake. “Poisoned... How could we have not seen this flower before?”
“Do you doubt me Esmé?”
“What-! No—no mother... of course not.”
“The Dawnbell is a bulb and only comes out when there is a threat.”
“...What is the Death Sleep? Is it like a coma, but they will inevitably die in their sleep?”
Gianna slowly nodded, “Yes...”
Esmé pursed her lips and looked at Luke. He wouldn’t turn away from Gianna. Out of all the things she’s studied about the world, she never even considered something like this. Something like this attacking their parents.
Flaring her nose, trying to hold herself together, Esmé returned to Gianna. “How can I help?”
“You are special Esmé... You are what spirits call an ‘Anomaly’; you have something in your blood that gives you an abnormal ability for a human. Only humans can be Anomalies. I can sense what you’re capable of; you can enchant objects. Whenever an enchanter Anomaly enchants an object, only they can use it. There is a downside to this though; since you have just learned this about yourself... you will not be able to save them in time. We must find another way to save your parents. That necklace around your neck...” Gianna said, and looked to Luke, “There is another enchanter Anomaly in Tanimil that can help you. His name is Johann.”
“Tanimil!” they gasped.
“Yes... Now Luke,” Gianna said, “You will need to travel there and see to it Johann gives this necklace the enchantment of regeneration; it will heal your parents completely. They will be immune to the Dawnbell forever.” As she spoke, Luke’s eyes lowered to the ground, staggered at the information and task she was giving him, and Esmé’s mind was shooting in all directions; everything was happening so fast for her. She knew there was something different happening to her. She knew it!
“That’s what I will have to do? Esmé is coming with me, right?”
“No.” Gianna flatly said.
“What?!” The two gasped.
“Esmé will have to stay here. Being out there, other magical beings can detect what she is very easily. They would do anything to have her.” Her words stunned them even more.
“I can’t imagine the horrors we’d face... Luke, you’re not an Anomaly?” Esmé asked, turning to him with her hands together.
“He does not have the gene.” Gianna answered as she and Luke stared at each other. “The world is not what you think it is, children. There is more light out there than dark. Luke is a strong, clever boy; he is a warrior at heart. He will go alone.”
“I... I don’t know the way...” he said.
“Don’t worry... I will provide a map.” Gianna reached up and the branches above their heads began to shudder. A few leaves fell, swirling in the wind. A bird flew down with a small black box in its beak and gave it to her, then it went back up into the tree canopy. The twins watched curiously as she held it out and said, “Go on... take it.” Bewildered at first, Luke gently took it and pulled the top open only to find a small cream colored piece of paper. He looked up at her once more before unfolding it. It was the strangest map he’d ever seen. It made no sense whatsoever. “Mother, all I see are scraggly lines... Surely, the path isn’t like this?”
Gianna gently touched it and lines separated from each other, creating roads and pictures of cities and landmarks.
“That is the safest way to go.” Gianna told him. The way she pointed to led through the highlands into a fairly large goblin village named Ti-Tuk. She trailed her leafy appendage from there on; to Bleeding Tower Isle–a little island surrounded by a bridge over a wide lake, and a city named Clakiwen–an all dessert place from what he could see.
“Wow...” he mused, “...What should I expect when I arrive at these places?”
“In Ti-Tuk, the goblins are very friendly, hospitable and good blacksmiths. They are also very sharp-minded at bargaining. They will offer you good protection. But I must advise you not to bargain with them too much.”
“Bleeding Tower is abandoned. Do not enter the tower; it’s dangerous. Cross the bridge, and remember–whatever you do, do not stop moving. There is a thick fog in the area; it will flaw your perception; you may hear things that aren’t there, and you may see things. Be very careful, do as I say, and use your judgment wisely.”
“Clakiwen is a city of tall antlike people. They are quiet and also swift. They are very intelligent, cultured and secretive. They will not allow you to pass over their city; you must be escorted through their city in order to be on your way to Tanimil. Don’t worry dear–they would be delighted to have you. They admire humans.” Gianna said. Her explanation of Bleeding Tower Isle worried Luke the most, though he didn’t show it. The idea of visiting these places at all put him in the kind of emotional state he’s never had before–and he didn’t like it.
“Mother Gianna, you said they don’t have much time!” Esmé panicked. Gianna looked at her, “Do you want your parents to survive?” Esmé gave her a long, hard stare. “What happens when he returns with the enchantment? What if I can’t use it?” she asked.
“You will... because I will teach you.” Gianna said. ‘You will teach me?’ Esmé thought, not realizing the grimace she had was disappearing to something more curious and stunned. How was she going to do that?
Luke grabbed his sister’s arm, “Let her do this, and let me go.” Speechlessly staring at Gianna, Esmé said, “I believe you mother...” She glanced at him and thought a little more about the situation before finally responding; “Let’s hurry.” He turned back to Gianna, “Good. How long will this take?”
“A maximum of five to ten days.”
“Five to ten days?”
“Correct. You are both running out of time; ask no further questions and be on your way, Luke.” He could feel his stomach twisting and his heart sinking again.
The twins raced outside; rain poured down heavily as they ran side-by-side up the road. The wind was strong and had a ghostly whistling to it. It was beginning to roar like the gods were weeping.
As soon as they met the little walkway to their house, Mr. Thomson opened the door and urgently waved them inside, “Quickly, quickly!” They went in and the first thing they did was ask how their parents were doing.
“Nothing has changed. They are comfortably sleeping.” The doctor said. Luke heaved a quick sigh and nodded. “I have to hurry.” he went into their parents’ room to gather an old traveling bag and their father’s black cloak from a chest at the foot of their bed. There was already a compass packed in the bag. “Young man, what are you doing?” The doctor stopped in the doorway and Luke turned to him, putting the cloak on. “I’m going to save my parents of course.”
Esmé tapped Mr. Thomson’s shoulder and apologetically told him, “I’m sorry, but that is only between him and I. Gianna has agreed to assist us and has sent him out to retrieve something that will help heal them. He is going to Tanimil.”
“Tanimil! The land of magic?! She’s sending you out there?!” He choked. Esmé frowned; “You will have to trust us. Gianna wouldn’t want it any other way. All you and I can do is watch over them and keep them comfortable until Luke returns.”
“And he’s going alone?!” Mr. Thomson put his hand on his forehead. “Oh my heart can’t take this! Laddie, you’re going alone?! Do you have any idea what you’ve been tasked to do!”
Luke walked over to their dresser, packed a few clothes and then looked at him again. “Yeah. I do. And yeah, I’m going alone.” He went to the kitchen and started putting breads, fruits and vegetables in the bag. Both the doctor and Esmé walked out after him, watching him take special preservation leaves from the cupboards and wrap a few meats in them, then gather a flask of water. The bag was getting full, but could handle just a few more things.
Esmé met his side with a bag of their parents’ coin and her necklace set on a rolled-up blanket; he could see the hurt in her eyes.
“That’s their coin.” He murmured.
“Yes, but you will need it.” She replied. He looked down at the bag and the necklace, “...You’re right.” He put those in the travel bag and the blanket down on the table as she said, “And you will need cookware.” She walked over to the cabinets and grabbed a pot, a pan and a couple pieces of silverware. He let her stuff the fork, spoon and knife in his bag, then she took a broken rope from the clothesline off the kitchen counter and tied the pan and pot together. Mr. Thomson folded his arms as he watched him tie the rope to the bag and rest the blanket under his arm. “You are truly going to do this... Kids, I am so sorry this has happened to your parents...” The twins paused and looked at him.
“I am too.” Luke muttered. The doctor walked up to him. In a stronger voice, he said, “You cannot go on foot. Take my horse–Alarich.”
“Won’t you need him for medicinal runs?” Esmé asked.
“I have recently stocked up and my garden is doing quite well.” Luke took in a huge breath, then released it, “Well, you’re right too. Thank you Mr. Thomson.”
“Of course laddie. Here, I’ll take you there.” He smiled in a grandfatherly way, proceeding over to the door. Luke stopped him with a raised hand, “Wait, I must say goodbye first.”
“Yes, go on.” Mr. Thomson nodded. Luke reached his arms out to Esmé. She stood in place, thinking about everything that’s happened in such a short amount of time. Her brother had no idea what he was getting into. Even if he’s studied many cultures and places, when it all came down to it, he was still the goofy one and she was the serious one. She knew he was strong enough to do this, but not having him around, not knowing where he would be, having the worry if he will make it or not–it began to tear her apart from the inside out, little by little. No one was closer to her heart than he was.
She wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder with a small forced smile. “Be safe out there. Take care of yourself Luke. Get what you need and come straight back, ok?”
“I will Esmé–I promise.” He hugged her tighter before letting her go, then he went over to their parents’ doorway to give them one last long look.
Breathing out deeply, he stepped in and over to their bed. “Mom, dad... fight this while I’m gone. Promise me you will make it. If you don’t by the time I return...” he stopped himself to breathe a little, to comfort himself. Then he said, “...I know you can do this.” It was almost like he was trying to reassure himself. He shut his eyes, then turned back to Mr. Thomson, “Alright.”
He walked out and followed the doctor to the front door. Carefully, Mr. Thomson opened the door and saw the weather had died down a little bit. The gusts were still pretty strong though. He opened it farther and waved toward outside, “Let’s go then, shall we?” Luke nodded at him and stayed close behind. Esmé bit her thumbnail as she watched him shut the door. “Hurry back...”
As Luke and Mr. Thomson walked together, Luke held his bag and blanket close. The hood of his father’s cloak flipped back and blew around in a frenzy.
“You know,” Mr. Thomson yelled, “I’ve always hated the weather here!” Luke only glanced at him.
The walk seemed to take a much shorter time than usual. But of course, this wasn’t something Luke was looking forward to. Maybe that’s why.
When they got to the doctor’s house, they found Alarich was quite restless in the stable. Mr. Thomson tried his best to calm the horse down and Luke helped. As soon as they consoled him enough, the doctor started putting the saddle and saddlebags on him. “You can fold your blanket up more and put it in one of these.”
“Yeah.” Luke did as suggested.
Mr. Thomson grabbed some fruit, vegetables and a bowl and put them all in one of the bags; he also added a brush. “Alarich is pampered–what can I say.” He made a small laugh, then gestured Luke to mount him, “Go on! He won’t bite you son!” Luke took a hold of the saddle and climbed up. Alarich seemed slightly annoyed, but accepted him.
Once Luke felt comfortable enough, he reached into his vest pocket and took the map out. What an oddity it was. First, he must cross the highlands, then pass through Ti-Tuk. One place at a time...
“Your sister is very worried about you laddie. You better keep your promise.”
“...I will.” Luke put the map away and grabbed the reins, “Our parents... they are in the death sleep. I have to be back before death takes them.” he kept his head down for a moment, then he finally looked at the doctor again, “Please keep them comfortable and healthy the best you can.”
“I will do the very best I can, Luke.” Mr. Thomson put his warm hand on the shaking teen boy’s. He smiled warmly as a gesture to say everything will be just fine. Letting go, he walked over and opened the gates, “Ride on, adventurer. Use that food sparingly!” Luke’s eyes rose to the gray sky and a long heavy sigh left him. He flicked the reins and rode out, “I will be back!” Alarich neighed and ran faster as he spurred him.