Hot Herb Tea and a Happy Ending: Part Two
I woke up, stretched and opened my eyes, to find that I could open my eyes. They didn’t hurt like they did before; now it was an almost-silent pain. Now I could finally see the room around me. The walls and floor were dirt. The source of lighting was several small torches dug out of the wall. My tub was not the only one; it was one of three in a triangle pattern. A single door was carved into the side of the room.
“Your eyes are open!” Turns out, I was so busy actually seeing, I hadn’t noticed Rubia enter the room. When she saw my whites, she dropped the wooden goblet, spilling the jelly on the ground. “You must be healing, and this calls for celebration. Hold tight for a minute.”
She scooped the jam back into the vessel and left the room. When she returned, she held a plate with a small loaf with one wing.
“It’s typical forester bread. Hope you like it.” In response to her offering, I set up my body in as good an eating position as I could get it in. I took small bites out of it until it was finished. She withdrew her wing from in front of my mouth.
“Honestly, what you’ve been eating is probably for the better. This is just a treat for now, but when you’ve recovered, you can have more.” I nodded as well I could in my injured state.
“There is another thing you need. Something I have been pondering for a while, but I still haven’t thought of a name for you.” She gave a sudden jerk. “I know! Cerulean! I always wanted to give somebody that name, and your stripe is the right color. Sometimes, it seemed I was saving that for that Creator’s Child that would come to me, but never did... until she made you.”
A wave of relief washed over me, Cerulean, that little Xweetok who wasn’t quite one of their Xweetoks, the helpless adoptee. The path ahead of me seemed slightly clearer now. Before, Rubia was struggling to keep me okay. But now... I was healing. It was all going to be alright. I wasn’t heading downhill.
“Let me tell you another legend, Cerulean.”
But what did the Xweetoks do? Why does Rubia hate my species? She told me I was different. Different... how? Why? These thoughts circled through my mind over and over, refusing to stop troubling me. According to Rubia, there was something that distinguished me. But what was it? Today, I’ll find out, whether my step-in mother likes it or not...
“Cerulean, I can’t find any traces of pit sand on you and your structure looks completely healthy. You’re cured!”
I have to thank Rubia then for releasing me from that cycle of emotions that had consumed me. Her words were true: I realized then that I did feel a lot more powerful. With this knowledge, I sat up, as I was perfectly capable of doing so.
“Finally! I cured you!”
“Th-thank you...” I responded, fully capable of speaking.
“Thank the Creator for sending me you. Whenever somebody sick or injured turned up at my doorstep, I would take him or her in, and care for it until it was well and could return to its own home. I loved it when they came, and hated it when they left. But why did she want one of your species?”
“But what did we do?”
Rubia hesitated before replying, and when she did, she changed the subject. “There is a conference tonight among the foresters in this area. I can’t keep you concealed much longer, and if I could, I would want you to be free; have the run of the woodland. This evening, I’ll have to show you. Odds are, I would be banished from this county for caring for a Xweetok, and you’ll be banished for being a Xweetok. But I doubt we have a choice...”
“Cerulean, the hour is coming closer. The meeting is in half of an hour. I have a plan to keep you hidden until I explain: I’ll be sure we’re the first to arrive. Before anybody else comes to the house it’s held at, I’ll hide you in the tree it’s under. I know the exact spot. You’ll have to wait out in the rain, though, until I call you.”
“Why can’t you introduce me right away?” I felt sorry for Cerulean. He didn’t know. I would have told him, but the trauma would have slowed his restoration. But after the meeting I would tell him, I would show him...
“I can’t. If we’re going to be the first arrivals, we should better get going. Nobody will catch us if we take the roundabout way.”
Cerulean didn’t object this time and followed me as I opened up the door leading to the hall. The basic style of the room was the same as the bedroom, simply no style at all. Holes were carved into the walls as torches. Four doors were in the passage: one for the bedroom, one for the closet, one for the furnace and one for the lobby.
With the gift the Creator sent me walking at my side, I pushed open the door to my foyer. It was also my workspace, as there was a bed of a tree stump in the center and a door to a small storage on one wall. On the wall opposite, there was the entrance.
“Come on, we need to move fast or someone will get there before us.”
“No buts,” I said as Cerulean slipped outside for the first time in a month. I shut the door behind me and lead him into the rain.
“Doesn’t it ever stop raining?” I inquired.
“It doesn’t. I have never felt the sunshine that I described to you in my stories. The only reason any of us know about it is because of the stories from our parents.”
“Well, the rain is to acknowledge the fact there hasn’t been any happiness among our world ever since...”
“Ever since what?”
“I’ll tell you after they kick us out of Deepwood County.”
“I’ll take that as my cue to change the subject. Can’t we move a little faster?”
“For the walk so far, you haven’t said ANYTHING among the lines of that, you know. But who’s to say I won’t?” Rubia briefly shifted her gaze back to me and accelerated. It was hard keeping up with her, but I managed to stay a few feet behind her constantly, despite the fact she kept slithering faster and faster.
Soon I was at the same pace I was at when I had first woken up in the forest. A wave of freedom washed over me as I realized how much I enjoyed running through here. My legs kept me propelling forward, causing me to nimbly be bounding through the woods.
The rain pouring off my fur, the sheer freedom... As much as I loved being curled up in that bed full of warm water, listening to Rubia telling me of times long gone, I loved leaping through here. No boundaries. No end. The cold rainwater pounding against my back.
Finally, Rubia came to an abrupt halt. When I stopped right behind her, she turned around, lifted me up, and carefully nestled me behind a set of branches.
“Stay there and stay quiet.”
I hastily rapped on the door several times. It was taken from its own tree, just like the rest of the forest homes. Pansaru’s house was the official meeting place of Deepwood County, despite the fact he was only the second-in-command. Torich was the head. Although he didn’t talk much, the chubby Yellow Lupe was a very wise leader.
Pansaru answered me. “You’re early. Usually, two others come before you. Is there a reason behind this?”
“Pansaru, what’s the point in being suspicious around everybody? Sometimes, some of us just want to get the rain over with fast.”
The Halloween Hissi scowled, but allowed me inside anyway.
His house was slightly drab in decoration: leaves that were dyed black covered the floor and were pinned to the walls with shed claws. Very comfortable chairs and couches were carved out of stumps, which was the only cheerful part of his home. Then again, the rest of his house might have been different, but how were we to know? His den was the first room in the house, and everybody was forbidden to go beyond it. As if we could see another door anyway...
I settled down next to Torich on the sofa he sat on every meeting.
“I see you have a friend with you this time, Rubia...” He leant back and crossed his legs, as if he was saying a casual remark.
“How do you know-”
“I don’t have any objection against Cerulean. I won’t tell Pansaru...” He drifted off.
Still nervous, I inched further onto the couch. Everybody knew that Torich had a secret. Nobody knew what it was. Every once in a while, he would say he knew what you least expected him to.
Once, he had told me that somebody was coming to the meeting with a gift for him. Out of courtesy, he pretended to be surprised when a Kacheek presented the walking-staff to him. He's used it every day since. It was made of the choice lumber of a fallen branch with SOMETHING wrapped around it. It was clear and rubbery; the sunlight always made it sparkle.
At the time, the stick was propped up next to where he was seated. Pansaru eyed it with curiosity from where he was situated in his elaborate throne across the room. All thought was interrupted by another forester’s arrival.
Callie the Faerie Kacheek sat down in one of the various chairs after greeting us. Not much was ever said while waiting for the other pets to arrive. Now, Pansaru stared at me. He really had a knack for staring at things and people. Nervous, I squirmed further into the cushioning of the loveseat, hoping Tor would block out Pansaru’s view of me from his throne. It didn’t work, as Pans kept staring at me until the others arrived.
“We shall begin.” Pans wrung his wings. “To start our monthly gathering, we shall talk of our Xweetok sightings, as usual. Vereilla, please tell us all your sightings from the past month. Skip the usual spots she comes to.” He had a way of emphasizing words. In those few sentences, he over-pronounced “please,” “skip,” and “she”.
“Well, she has started eying the Sacred Grove,” she noted.
“Hmm...” Pans appeared to be in deep thought, and then snapped, “On to you, Hill!”
The Baby JubJub put his jaw harp to his teeth-just-growing-in and strummed several times.
“He says nothing unusual,” I translated for the others. As usual, I began next.
“About my sightings, I-”
“I did not permit you to speak. This time, I forgive you, as I would have allowed you next anyway. Do not make that mistake again. Resume.”
“Well, I haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary, but I have some very important news about Xweetoks, I mean-”
“I didn’t say anything...”
“Yes. You very much DID. Something important about XWEETOKS. A... close encounter, perhaps?”
“I told you, I didn’t say anything!”
“You can’t back out, Rubia. You said something,” Callie pointed out.
The other twenty foresters started protesting. “Hurry up!” “What do you have to do with XWEETOKS?!?” “Come on, the meeting doesn’t last all night!”
“Fine. I have a Xweetok from the Age of the Creator.”
“You have harbored a monster?” Pans rose from his throne to stare at me, his eyes flashing in a rage.
“Wait. She said her Xweetok was from the Age of the Creator. They have four legs, not two, so that could be her proof. Besides, Rubia, how long have you had it?” Typical Callie, always trying to be helpful and logical.
“He first came to my house for shelter the day after last meeting. I turned him away, but went out a few minutes after he left to warn the others. When I was about to get to your house, Pansaru, I saw him in a pit-sand trap and rescued him.”
“Rule one of the forests, never trust a Xweetok.”
“Rule two: Xweetoks never fall in their own traps. Rubia’s is clearly different, if she’s telling the truth. Besides, if she had this so-called monster for a month, would she be here tonight?”
Pans grabbed my neck and picked me up by it, leaving me dangling in midair. I tried wiggling out of his grasp, but the bigger Hissi had me. For a moment, I thought I faintly saw some giant creature in his place. It was huge and furry: it was a... no, it wasn’t. The Xweetok was replaced by Pans’ usual form.
He looked like he was about to bite me. But, as a Hissi, I was immune to poison from my own kind. Instead, he hurled me over his head. A giant paw rapidly caught me and shoved me outside. “Go!” Tor yelled.
“Curses... a miss...” I heard from outside his home. I direly hoped that somebody was covering Hill’s ears.
To be continued...