Even during harvest, Midwinter Down was a busy settlement.
There were rows upon rows of huts, little fences put up to keep the goats and hogs from wandering too far from their owner. But no signs for an apothecary, healer, or even a dragon priest.
Panicking, Leasha headed towards a hut with fresh herbs hanging out to dry. She slid from the stag as a woman emerged from the hut.
“Who are you?” The woman snapped.
“I…” Leasha started, trying to explain, as Breanna’s weakening hand held tightly in her own, “we need help,” was all she could manage.
The woman looked between her and Breanna then backed off into the hut.
Leasha didn’t know if she would be back. She didn’t know if she would bring help or soldiers down upon them. She leaned forward and stroked the hair from Breanna’s clammy face. “I’m here,” Leasha whispered, trying to keep her own weakened voice steady, trying not to betray the panic that gnawed at her, “I’m right here.”
“Don’t…” the word was breathless, Leasha leaned closer to listen, “don’t leave me…” Breanna whispered.
The maiden was growing ever distant and as Leasha gripped onto her hand, her whole self and all her magic focused on keeping Breanna with her: She knew in that moment that once she let go Breanna would slip away.
But to keep her alive, she would have to drain herself.
She wouldn’t be able to hold on forever.
Leasha knew there were only two choices; die with her or leave her to die alone.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she whispered, stroking the hair from Breanna’s eyes and she meant it with every part of her soul.
“Cadoc, get them.” Leasha heard the words, but they were distant… far away. “Get them up, that’s it.” Leasha was pushed aside, her hand nearly slipped from Breanna’s.
“No,” her voice sounded drunk, a young lad looked at her, oval faced, round-eyed, and freckled. She shook her head at him, determined and he backed away, his hands held up in submission. Leasha pulled Breanna from the deer and staggered slightly under the weight.
“Let’s get you inside,” the Druid woman muttered, although there was little softness to her voice.
The hut was dark with a low roof and only a little light from the wooden slits at either end of the room; it was cool and smelled of good food.
The woman banged a large wooden table. “Put her down, my lovely.”
Numb, Leasha placed the heavy-weight of Breanna on the table as softly as she could manage but didn’t let go of her hand.
“Cadoc, get the fire going.” The Druid woman nodded to the lad and then turned to Leasha. “Now, what is this sickness? Fever? It ain’t the blight is it?”
“Blight?” Leasha shook her head. “A wound,” she explained, “she was…” Leasha wasn’t sure how much to say, “… attacked.”
“Attacked?” The woman examined Breanna and found the tear in her leathers. She pulled back the tunic and ran her hand over the blood-streaked skin. Dark tendrils stretched away from the point where the Sycorax talon had pierced the flesh, but the woman shook her head. “There’s no wound.”
“I…” The breath in Leasha’s chest seemed to take all of her energy to draw. “I healed her, I’m keeping her alive, but the Sycorax, it…” she touched the place where the talon had entered Breanna’s body.
“Sycorax?” The woman gasped. “Why was you up in the mountains?”
Leasha shook her head, she barely had the energy to explain. “Hunting Grounds.”
The woman shook her head. “You need the herbalist,” she grunted, “it’ll be expensive mind?”
Hope sprang in Leasha’s chest. “I can pay,” she assured her, “I’ll pay whatever it costs.”
The woman narrowed her eyes. “Cadoc, run an’ git Enora.” With a sharp nod, the boy hurried off and the Druid woman turned back to Leasha. “Yer a sight peaky yessel.” Leasha didn’t respond. The woman clanked pots, popped a cork, then handed her a goblet filled with a whitish opalescent liquid. “Drink,” she said, forcing it to the Elf’s lips, “drink.”
The potion surged through her like silver lightning.
It made her skin sharp and her eyes sting. She gasped, doubling over. Breanna winced as Leasha squeezed her hand too tightly.
“Wha-?” Leasha stumbled over the word blinking and shaking her head. A cold, bitter wind was surged through her body and mind. Her blood was ice. She shivered and her breath felt light in her chest. Then she laughed, more in shock than in humour. The surrounding room was suddenly brighter. The colours were vibrant; greens, browns, yellows. The red and orange of the fire crackling into life was a thousand colours shattering and flickering back together. The dark black-brown of Breanna’s hair glistened with iridescence. Breanna’s skin, paling with her sickness, was still a hundred times darker than her own milk-white flesh, and Leasha could see every shade and tint of colour in between.
She felt as if she had never seen the world before as if she had never seen a colour before. “What was that?” The words tumbled from her mouth and for a moment she could almost see them on the air… she wanted to reach out and clasp them, but they slipped away.
“I see it’s workin’ then?”
Suddenly Breanna sat bolt upright. She cried out clutching at her side where the talon had struck.
“No, no, no,” Leasha went to ease her back down but as she did, she caught sight of her own magic, a swirling haze around her hand. She stared at it, barely conscious of the surrounding room.
“Lay back, lay back.” It was the Druid who spoke. Leasha looked for her but there was so much light and sound and colour she didn’t understand how she could see anything amongst so much.
“Rozenn? What goes on in here?” A woman, brusque and tall, oval faced and blue eyed, followed the freckled boy.
“We’ve a sicken, Enora,” the Druid woman, Rozenn, explained. “Got coin and needs fixing up.”
Enora nodded and stepped towards Breanna heaving a pouch onto the table. “Blight?” She asked peering down at the semi-conscious patient.
“Poison,” Leasha explained quickly, “we were in the Hunting Grounds well we were in the river-not in the river on a boat on the river-and then they attacked-and then we actually in the river-Breanna wasn’t with us she was with Cassian but then they got her-I tried to heal it but it’s poison and we rode through the night-and there were oroc and they would have killed only they didn’t and I don’t know how-” Leasha stopped. She’d run out of air and was struggling to breathe.
“I give that one a bottle of jolt,” Rozenn said.
Enora nodded. Her hands were already on Breanna’s side. “Aye, it’s poison all right. A lot of it.” Enora shook her head, tutting to herself. “We have to bleed it out,” she peered down at Breanna, “Do you understand?”
Breanna, her eyes flickering and unfocused, glanced to Leasha. Through the haze of colours and swirls in the room Leasha could those eyes; dark, kind, and brave, but scared; they held her steady when all around her seemed to sway. “I’m right here,” she whispered.
The knife was a fine flint blade with an edge so thin it could have sliced the air.
Within seconds there was a wooden grip between Breanna’s teeth and a bowl to catch what they could. Enora rolled up her sleeves and Rozenn held Breanna’s legs while Leasha stood behind her, clutching her arms.
Enora made the cut.
Breanna jerked her body, crying out. Blood poured from the wound.
It was mercifully quick.
The bowl was half-filled; dark blood splattered on the straw-covered floor and spilled over the table. But as Breanna weakened the dark tendrils of poison receded.
“You, Elf?” Enora said quickly, “You’re a healer? Think you can heal this?”
“Yes, yes, I can I can heal it I-” Leasha forced her mouth to close before more words spilled out in a torrent. Her hand hesitated over the wound; the dark poison was still there. If she healed it, would the poison still kill Breanna?
“We can’t bleed the girl dry,” Rozenn hissed, a panic in her voice.
She was right.
Breanna would die if she lost much more blood. But had they drained enough of the poison? Would Breanna be able to recover? Enora was already pounding herbs together, creating a healing draft. Perhaps it would be enough.
Leasha moved around the table and lay her hand over the fresh wound. It was a simple healing… but it drew everything from her. Whatever the ‘jolt’ was that Rozen had given her earlier had stopped working.
Leasha felt heavy once again. Heavier and weaker than even before.
She couldn’t help as the women gave Breanna the draft and cleaned up the blood. It wasn’t until Enora stood over her, a hand on her shoulder that Leasha knew of anything but how weak she felt.
“Payment?” The words came to her through a thick fog.
She tried to think, her mind ached, but she dug around the neck of her tunic. With one hand still clutching Breanna, she undid the clasp and removed her jade beads. The Elf Princess stared down at the ancient royal jewels for just a moment before handing them to the stunned herbalist. “Thank you.” Was all she could manage before she clambered onto the table, took Breanna in her arms, and fell into a dead sleep.