On Her Own
As Caran recovered, Tarra grew unhappy with her place in the family. Although she loved them all in very special ways, the tension between her and Chilcoat had grown to the point that something had to change.
Caran hugged her warmly and tried to assure her that she still needed her, but Tarra decided to move into a nearby apartment. The loss of so many had left several dwellings vacant, and she felt ready to have a place she could call home. Chilcoat stood by in silence. He cared for her dearly, but knew that it was best that she not be too close. The suffering of so many had transformed her into an independent woman of considerable stature, and he found a restless place in his thoughts for her.
She entered the doorway of the vacant apartment with the medicine pouch over her shoulder and a small bundle of sticks she had fashioned into a rack for it. She decided that Thoma and Tangar could rest for a while and that a simple utility rack served her needs more effectively. She set the rack up near the doorway and draped the bag over it. As she placed the two talking-sticks in the nearby alcove, Lannon dragged the remainder of her possessions callously into the sleeping chamber. He stood in the naked kitchen and watched her position the sticks in different settings.
“Are you sure they care?” He goaded.
“No, but I do.” She fidgeted with the stick Chilcoat had carved. “You can go. Thanks for your help.” She set the stick down and held her arms out to pull him close.
“You going to be OK? I can hang around for a while if you want. Maybe I can help clean up or something.”
“I’ll be fine, and if I’m not, I know where I can find you.”
“Has Chilcoat said anything about you moving?”
“No. We, sort of, have an understanding. He doesn’t talk to me and I leave him alone. I’m happy working the fields and he has more important things to do.”
“What about Caran? You two seemed to get along pretty well.”
“She’s the one who asked me to move. Not in words—she’s old and wants to be alone when the end comes. She thinks it’ll hurt less.”
“What are you saying? She’s not that old and she seems to be better now, except for her eyes, she gets around pretty well.”
“I’ve seen this many times now. She has the sun-sickness. It will take her soon and she doesn’t want me to be a part of it.”
“No! That can’t be right. She’s strong. She’ll be alright.”
“For now, she wants this time with her husband—alone.”
“Does he know?”
“No. He doesn’t want to know, and you had better not tell him. It’s between them.”
“How can you be so calm about it? Isn’t there something you can do? Some kind of herb or spell or something?”
“You’re such a fool. Do you think, like the children, that I’m a witch? Don’t you think I would’ve done something already if I could? Vau will soon leave her just as She will leave us all. Until then, I’ll do what I can, what Caran will let me do. I’ll give her herbs and I’ll sing prayers for her.”
Lannon shuffled quietly through the door and stood looking back at the young woman. “I don’t know how you can face him.”
“The same way you will. I’ll work and I’ll pray and I’ll avoid them as much as I’m able.” She spread her arms gesturing at the apartment.
He left without speaking and she returned to her stick arrangement, crying quietly, and praying for her family. The apartment seemed so big and empty to her. She had never lived without a whole gaggle of people milling about.
She found a small table in one of the sleeping chambers. The previous tenants, the Tornas couple, had left it. She had only known them briefly before they succumbed to the illness. She had treated them for three days, but it was of no avail. The strain of the journey and their age was too much to ask of Vau.
It wasn’t much of a start, but somehow it felt right. She considered the table’s placement, it was really too short to sit at, but it provided a convenient podium as she settled in. She spread some of her bedding nearby and sat facing the little platform. It had a simple pattern of interlocking rings inlaid in its surface that seemed oddly familiar to her. She spread some of her medical supplies out on it and inspected the quantities of each. She had enough leaves for two of the important herbs, but she had only a small amount of the most critical component. It was already the powder she needed, but there was only enough for three measures. She would have to find more. She took the twig tied to the little bundle and inspected it.
It was kasis vine, she knew that, but what she didn’t know was where to find any close by. She hadn’t seen it amongst any the plants growing on the plateau, and the guide stick tied to the packet referenced the winter village so it didn’t point to anything close.
Spreading the medicine cloth on the table, the sunburst of summer glared up at her. She knew that it was nearly time for the seasons to change but they were miles from the path that led to the seashore. She wondered if Chilcoat had decided what to do about the gathering. She turned the cloth over where the sunburst was less dramatic with small even flames emanating from the large circular disk. She looked at the image for a moment before she realized that the disk was a caricature of the winter temple with its central garden and ring of outer structure. She had never really paid much attention to it before. She confirmed that the kasis stick fit the path leading north along the shore. The stick showed only a weeklong hike out of the temple, but they were too far from the winter village, she would need to find some closer or maybe she could find another herb to use instead.
She looked critically at the symbol lying before her. It was so useless here in the citadel. She searched the room and noticed her father’s talking-stick resting near the door. “Are you speaking to me again? Am I to follow another whim? No— I have to stay here where people need me. Caran will need me soon, and I don’t think either of the guys would be up for another hike.” She spoke to the wand. “Besides, you’ve brought us here. Show me a better way. Show me the way of God.” She gathered her implements and packed them tightly into the medicine bag returning it to its rack. She kept the kasis stick out as a token. “I’ll have to tell Chilcoat about it. That should be worth a couple of laughs.”
In the meantime, she mixed up a batch of lotion for Caran. It will give her three days of relief and then it will be between her and Vau to find comfort. She cried as the last of the ingredients blended into the salve. Her father’s words again haunted her. “Cry the tears of the heart; they are the most sacred prayer.”
She wanted to do more; she hated her father for not given her the potion she needed. You brought me here and gave me these people to love and now you abandon me with this potion: too dangerous to use and too weak to cure her. She hated herself for the part she had to play as she poured the salve into a jar and set it aside. She dreaded the moment she knew would come when she would have to go to Caran.
She walked along the outer path of the garden as the sun set. The workers began strolling toward their plots along the curved paths. This is where I’ve seen the circles etched into my table; they’re the same design as the garden paths.
She stopped at the shadow cast by the chimney stone. The long silhouette stretched across the garden as the last few rays of the sun bled from the far horizon. Watching the edges of the shadow soften into the general gray of dusk, she followed it out across the garden to its source. The sighting stone stood in complete darkness at the eastern edge of the plateau. A shadowy figure stirred from the base of the stone. She could tell it was Chilcoat by his swaggering gait. He teetered stiffly as he wove his way back across the unkempt ground outside the garden paths.
“Is it time for the seasons to change?” She asked as he passed without speaking.
He stopped and turned to look at her as if he hadn’t noticed her. “It’ll be soon.”
“Are we going to the gathering this year?”
He gazed at the woman before him. “You always have the easy questions… I don’t know. It’s far, and few are healthy enough to make the journey. Maybe we can have a gathering of our own this year to celebrate our new home, and maybe next year we’ll have had time to prepare.”
“Will you offer me for pairing this year?
He spoke after a moment’s hesitation. “I will if you want me to.”
“I’ll think about it.” She resumed her walk toward her garden duties. She thought about the kasis stick but decided that it wasn’t a good time to broach the subject.
As the days passed, she tended her small plot of herbs and joined the regular gardening crew harvesting and tilling.
“Tarra!” Charona called from across the garden. “Tarra, Caran is calling for you.”
She dropped her task and rose slowly to stand silently staring into the heavens. The stars were startlingly clear and a crisp breeze out of the west spoke of autumn. She prayed softly to the evening sky. “YodHeaVau, please whisper ever gently on her soul.”
She collected her tools and bid farewell to her coworkers. They simply lowered their heads and resumed working knowing the task she had to perform.
Caran was lying in her room quietly with Chilcoat sitting nearby. “She’s in pain and asked for you. She said you would know what to do. What’s going on with her? She was fine a week ago and now she can’t get out of bed.”
“The sickness has changed her. She has pain deep inside. I’ve seen it many times now. There is nothing I can do except try to make her comfortable and pray with her. I’m sorry… I wish I could do more.”
“No! You have to do something! She can’t leave me.” He wept openly.
“Be brave.” A frail voice trailed up from the bed. “I told you I won’t leave until I must, but now Vau pleads for release from this tired shell. Now, you alone are destined to bear this burden to its end.”
Tarra began massaging the lotion along her arms and Caran winced as she spread it on her belly. Tarra chanted softly until she slept then gathered her things and packed them into the pouch. “You can use the lotion four times a day. There’s enough for three days. After that, she’ll be in great pain.”
“Well, make some more.”
“I need an herb I don’t have, and it is too far away for her. It’ll take weeks to find it.”
“Can’t you just use the stuff you gave to Randa?”
“This is the stuff I gave to Randa and it needs kasis vine to make it work, and the closest kasis is a weeklong trek outside of the winter village.”
“I thought it was tanasin…”
“It is, but it needs kasis or it will kill her.”
“There must be something else you can use that will do the same thing.”
Tarra handed him the jar of salve. “You stay with her, get her to drink sweet tea, and listen to her wisdom.”
“Will you stay with us?”
“No... This time is for you.”Chilcoat did his best to follow her directions, but he found himself sitting silently staring at the nearly lifeless form of the woman he loved. The children sat with him occasionally but they understood that she was very sick and didn’t really want to be a part of it. Maybe they understand it better than I. They accept that she will pass while I relive the years of pain and struggle that she endured for me.