The Way of the Word

15. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 26

Waking up the next morning was difficult. Ghenni stretched and felt the kinks in her muscles. She didn’t feel any less tired than she had when she’d gone to sleep either.

If only Habbassin hadn’t told her of his adventure.

Ghenni stretched again and got up. She saw her mother hover over Lejani at the hut’s other side.

“Good morning,” she said. Opona looked up and tried to smile. It wasn’t terribly convincing. “How is she?”

“No better,” Opona said, rubbing her eyes. Ghenni came a bit closer.

“She looks funny,” she said. Or would have, if she hadn’t been sick. Her skin was splotchy. Although her eyes were closed and she seemed to be asleep, she sniffled almost constantly.

“Somehow, I don’t find the way she looks amusing,” Opona snapped. She wiped a strand of hair out of her face. “I’m sorry, Ghenni. It’s just… I just don’t know what to do. You know?”

“I suppose. Do you think I should go fetch Elomei?”

Opona bit her lip and looked at her younger daughter.

“Please.”

“On my way.”

Ghenni ran as fast as she could. People stopped and stared. They did that a lot since all this had started, but Ghenni didn’t bother with them. All that mattered was finding Elomei.

Who sat quietly in her hut, brewing some potion. Ghenni wrinkled her nose at the smell that rose in a small, steamy cloud from the cauldron.

“What is it, child?” the old woman said without looking up.

“It’s Lejani. She’s very sick, and it doesn’t look like she’s going to get better.”

“What is the problem?” Elomei said, turning. Ghenni described the symptoms. Elomei closed her eyes and bowed her head. “I am sorry,” she said after an eternal moment. “I have never heard of such a sickness before.”

“What can we do then?”

“I need to look at the child myself.” Elomei rose and gathered some herbs and potions into a bag. “Let us go,” she said finally, walking past Ghenni as if she weren’t there.

“Yes, let’s,” Ghenni said with a shrug and followed the old witch-woman. It wasn’t as if she were needed to guide Elomei to where they lived. Elomei knew where everyone lived. Over the years, she had cured everyone of some sickness or other, and she had midwifed every child in the village for ages; so far as Ghenni knew, Elomei had even helped her mother see the light of day.

Elomei was already at Lejani’s side when Ghenni arrived. Opona stood in the far corner, wringing her hands and not taking her eyes off Elomei’s every move. The old woman was talking with Lejani. Ghenni couldn’t hear a single word they were saying, but from the way Elomei spoke, and then listened to what Lejani said, she gathered that Elomei was asking her sister questions, which Lejani answered. Throughout, Lejani coughed, sniffled and moaned. She scratched her arms, where some of the strange patches had shown up. Elomei took her hands away gently.

“I know it itches, child, but don’t scratch,” the old woman said. “Scratching will only make it worse.” She smiled. “I shall give you some ointment to ease the itch.”

“Then you know what it is?” Opona said. Ghenni thought she heard a strange pitch to her mother’s voice.

She’s afraid!

Opona stood and slowly went over to Opona’s side. She put an arm around the younger woman’s shoulders and led her to the hut’s other side, near where Ghenni’s bedroll was still on the ground. Ghenni, thinking invisible thoughts, edged closer.

“I do not wish to frighten your child,” Elomei said, “but I am not at all certain what ails her. I know the ointment will ease the itch; I have used it on similar rashes in the past. We need to bring down the fever too. Bathing her in cold water will help. Wrap her in cold wet blankets. I don’t know what to do about her runny nose, or the aching joints. I have ointments for the aches, but those will only ease her pain. They will not fight the disease.”

“What can you do?” Opona said.

“I will ease her pain,” the old woman said patiently. “We will break the fever. I will cast some spells that will reveal what is hurting her. Once I know what I am up against, I will know what to do to make her well again.”

“This isn’t like the other times she was sick,” Opona said. She sniffled and rubbed her eyes with her knuckles. “Or Ghenni, either. Usually, we knew what was wrong, and what to do about it. This is different.”

“So it is, I fear,” Elomei said, patting Opona’s shoulder. “But do not be concerned. We will conquer this evil. I’ll not allow your child to…” The witch-woman broke off when she noticed Opona’s terrified stare. She tried a reassuring smile, but it didn’t even convince Ghenni. Elomei blinked and turned her head to look directly at Ghenni.

“She won’t die, will she?” Ghenni whispered. She turned and looked at her sister, who seemed to have fallen asleep. Lejani turned as if any position she found herself in was uncomfortable.

“Not if I can help it,” Elomei said. She put one hand on Opona’s shoulder, the other on Ghenni’s. She looked both in the eye. “I promise you that.”

“I didn’t realize it’s that bad,” Opona said, blinking furiously. “She isn’t really in any danger, is she?”

“It may be nothing, something that hurts her for a while and then eases off. I told you I do not know it yet. I will go now and fetch my herbs. Ghenni, will you help me carry?”

Ghenni looked once more at her sister. How often had she said she wanted to be rid of the crab? She couldn’t count that far.

“Of course,” she said. “I’ll do anything you say. Just make her better.”

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