Charona rose and gathered up their bedding. “We’ll take the other room, and Tarra, you can use the closet if you want.”
“Ah, yeah, no. I’ll be fine out here. I can sleep on the table. It’ll be kind of fun.” She gestured at the massive platform.
Chilcoat sat quietly considering the girl and her recent devotion to Caran. “You’re welcome to share our room if you like. There’s more space than we had in the tent, and you can help with the kids.” He tried to defuse any suggestion of intimacy.
She considered the offer and looked fleetingly at Charona. “No, I’ll be alright. Thanks anyway.”
“Don’t let me bother you, kid. You can sleep anywhere you want; you’re part of the family.” Charona stepped into her bedroom with Lannon in tow.
The small lamp sitting on the table flickered and sputtered consuming the last drops of fuel. Chilcoat and Tarra both rose on impulse and stood inches apart as the lamp died. “You’re welcome to join us,” he spoke quietly as he brushed past her.
She stepped back feeling for her cloak. “I know.” She spread her cloak on the table and started groping for bedding materials. The fire on the ceremonial platform outside cast pulsing orange beams of light onto the ceiling that danced with mystery and hinted of unknown specters. Charona and Lannon decided to celebrate their new apartment and were noisily involved in “child’s play,” as Charona called it.
Tarra found most of her bedding and spread it atop her cloak on the platform. She lay quietly for several minutes considering her position in the family. She had grown to love them, but she felt that she was causing strife. Chilcoat soon began snoring in a low growling rumble and after a few moments, she thought she could hear Caran weeping softly.
She sat up silhouetted in the flickering orange glow and wondered if there was anything she could do. The passions of the younger pair had subsided leaving only the gentle rhythms of sleep and pain. Caran has hidden her malady from Chilcoat well, but she won’t be able to continue the ruse much longer. Her eyes are getting worse and she’s showing other signs of the sun-sickness. It seemed that while they had been on their spirit-quest, Caran had been restless and couldn’t sleep, so she had spent more time than she should’ve out in the sun. It’s taken a toll and now she has burns that won’t heal and she can’t eat well enough to keep up her strength. Tarra quietly stole into their bedroom dragging her bedding along; she spread her things next to Caran and settled close.
Caran took her hand gently and squeezed it whispering, “You take care of him.”
“Don’t talk of such things,” Tarra whispered.
“I’m not asking you, it’s the truth. You take care of him. For that, I’m grateful. I live the only way I know how, but it just isn’t good enough. I couldn’t stay in a tent all day and work all night. I had to be in the light—when I got blue, you know? I would steal away when everyone was sleeping and walk in the sun by the lake. It made me feel alive to feel Hea’s warmth; it felt like I wasn’t hiding from life. I just couldn’t stand to be inside all day. My spirit needed nourishment.”
“Yes—don’t talk. I’ll make you a lotion. Maybe if he hadn’t been in such a hurry...”
“No! Don’t talk that way. I’m all right for now; I just don’t know what’s to become of me. My eyes are useless, and now here in this strange place, I won’t be able to get around.”
“You’ll do fine. I’ll make you a lotion and you’ll get better, and the people here know you and they’ll help you find your way until your eyes heal.”
Caran took her hand and held it to her cheek. “I dreamt of you while you were gone. I was doing the laundry and I scolded you for staining your robes. You know—the pretty white one you wear for ceremonies. You stained the sleeves with blood and I couldn’t get it out. You argued with me that it wasn’t your fault. You said ’you had to do it’. Well, now I’ll do what I have to do for as long as I can, but I don’t think your potions are going to help me. I hurt deep in here.” She gripped her stomach. Tarra held her close until she slept, then she too wept in pain.
Tarra rose early and went to the gardens. The sun was still below the horizon, but she could easily navigate the network of paths weaving across the plateau. The exuberance of the people had carried into some very callous weeding and harvesting and the tailings cluttered the path. She wondered if any of them were the medicine she needed.
At the far end of the garden, she could see the chimney stone outlined against the horizon. She picked her way around the vines that besieged the cisterns and approached the rocks cautiously. With her spear at the ready, she circled the structure looking for any signs of threat hiding amongst the loosely fitted stones. She drew near the hearth clutching the bundle of Tangar’s guide sticks still wrapped in the medicine cloth.
She held the bundle close to her chest for a moment then slowly placed it in the fire pit just as the sun’s first rays began to creep over the horizon. “Father, I don’t know what to do with the things you’ve given me. Yod has forsaken us and your stories of potions and magic don’t serve me well. I can’t help as you did—I think it would be best for you to take this burden from me.” She covered the bundle with dried leaves and kindling and turned to find the ember pot.
Chilcoat stood at the edge of the clearing. “Are you sure you are ready to do that?”
She turned suddenly, dropping the pot. “…I don’t know. I can’t help—I’m not him. I can’t do this…” Her eyes swelled but she had already spent all the tears she could offer. “I just wanted to help and now people are dying.”
“Who’s dying? You did everything you could for Randa. He was just too sick.”
“I’m not talking about Randa. Haven’t you noticed some of the others? The eyes of many have faded, now they’re getting sick, and I can’t do anything for them. These herbs and potions are useless against the wrath of Hea. He burns the sky and punishes us without mercy.”
“I don’t know if I’d go that far, but you’re right, times are hard. We need all the help we can get and without you, and your sticks and herbs, we wouldn’t be here... I wouldn’t be here.”
“That’s just it. I brought us here, and now people are dying.”
“No one is dying! Some of us will have to deal with bad eyes for a little while, but we’re out of the sun now... It can’t hurt us in this fortress. We can live here sheltered from harm.” He drew her close and held her as the sun climbed on its relentless journey. “I’m all for burning the damn sticks if they are going to be as much trouble as the first one. But, what if that just makes him mad? Maybe it would be better to wait awhile before you chuck them out.”
She pulled away from his grasp indignantly, retrieved the ember pot, and returned to the hearth. She brushed the leaves away exposing the bundle of brown cloth. “They don’t work here anyway.”
“Oh, sure they do. You just drop them and read their stories. Right?”
“No. Remember, they all fit into the symbols on the cloth. The symbols are of the old villages, not here on this cliff. The sticks tell us of paths that are of no use to us here.”
“All right. Have it your way, but I think it’s a mistake to discard the old man too soon. He led us here, not you. You’ve served him well, but he’s the spirit that has brought us here. He loves you and wouldn’t see you harmed.” Chilcoat turned and left her on her own.
She finally returned to the shop with the bundle tucked under her arm and several small clutches of limp plants in her hands. She quickly stuffed the bundle into the medicine bag and considered where to put it. She hadn’t reassembled the mannequin since the children had absconded with some of the sticks to make hunting spears. She knew Tangar would be happy that the children were using his bones to hone their skills, but now she had no place to hang the pouch. A recess carved into the shop wall near the door seemed like a logical place of honor. “Papa, I hope you have fun playing with the children.”
She put the plants she had gathered on the workbench and sorted them. She recognized one as a mild painkiller and another was a likely digestive remedy but the others were unknown to her, except of course the tanasin. She had ventured to the far end of the plateau and found a bush near where they had found the first one. She took only a few new leaves and three small blossoms. “Guide my hands, father. You’re one with Yod. I beg you, please be with me now.”
She placed her mortar on the table and began grinding some of the leaves and chanting rhythmically to accompany the chore. She considered the texture for a moment then added the blossoms one by one until it thickened to a dull gray paste. To this, she added a small measure of kasis she retrieved from the pouch. She carefully scraped it into a bowl and added some tea and the last bit of cooking oil. Satisfied with the concoction, she turned to the alcove where the medicine bag rested and offered it in reverence.
Her solemn mood concerned Chilcoat. He looked to Lannon and Charona for an explanation as Tarra knelt next to Caran and began gently applying the lotion to her arms and chest. “What’s going on? Are you still not feeling well?” He asked.
Tarra paused for a moment but didn’t speak. Caran finally answered. “I have the sun-sickness—I’m sorry.”
“Sun-sickness, what do you mean? Are you burned?”
“It’s burning within,” Tarra interjected. “She’s very sick.”
“What? You’re fine! You walked for weeks with no problems.” He looked around desperately at the others. “Am I the only one who doesn’t know that you’re sick?”
Lannon avoided eye contact.
“I didn’t want to worry you. You have the others to think of,” Caran offered.
“What? I don’t care about the others. I care about you. You should’ve told me!” He dropped his breakfast and went to her side.
“It wouldn’t have made any difference,” Tarra added. “She’s been chosen.”
“No! I won’t accept that. We have to do something.”
“We’re doing what we can,” Caran confirmed. “I won’t leave you until I must.”
“Don’t talk like that. You’ll be fine. You have to be. I need you. We need you!” He gestured around the room.
“You have to rest now,” Tarra interrupted. “The medicine will comfort you.”
Chilcoat knelt close and held Caran’s hand until she slept. “How has this happened and why didn’t I know?” He whispered harshly to the group.
Lannon defended their silence. “She wouldn’t let anyone tell you. She wanted to help you. She wouldn’t be denied in this.”
“Nor will I be denied in treating her,” Tarra added. “We’ll do all we can. You know that, but it may not be enough. This sickness does not answer to medication, as it should. Hea challenges us beyond my knowledge. It changes people, to teach Yod through their sacrifice.”
“Sacrifice… You’ve made her sleep as you did for Randa… Will she wake?”
“She’ll wake, but she’ll be weak, and we’ll need to watch her carefully. If we can get her to drink, she’ll have a chance.”
“What can I do? There must be something. How do I battle with something I can’t see? If it was a cat or bear I could fight, I would gladly do it, but I’m helpless here. I want to do something.”
“Find some honey. It’ll help her strength if she has some honey in her tea. And stop the people from pulling up all of the plants until we figure out what they are. Those fools have pulled things up that may be useful to us. Just because we don’t recognize them doesn’t mean we can’t use them.”
“I’ll go talk to them.” Lannon sprang to his feet and fled the tension of the room.
“And I’ll see if anybody has any honey.” Charona followed her mate out the door.Chilcoat sat silently for several minutes searching his mind for something he should’ve done, something he could do now. “I have to—go,” he slowly stroked Caran’s hair. He gave a guarded look to Tarra and took his daughter by the hand. “Come on, you guys, we’ll go find some medicine to make Mom feel better.”