Chapter 2 – Determination
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength
while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
~ Lao Tzu ~
It took me the rest of the night to drill a hole through the wall of Small House, sending tubes of water in gradually increasing sizes through it until there was an opening large enough for me to escape. My work went quickly throughout the night, but once the sky lightened I had to take greater care lest anyone discover what I was doing. I sent feelers of water all around Small House to monitor for movement, particularly that of water elementalists who might have become aware of my activities.
Breaching the wall around mid-morning, I crawled out immediately. Once there, I crouched low to the ground and sent hundreds of tiny water streams throughout the prison walls, then commanded them to saturate the walls, turning them to mud. Thanking the water for answering me in my hour of need, I released it back into the aqueducts.
I turned my attention to Tiny House. Through the water-filled glass blocks that made up its walls, I could just make out the identity of the blurry form inside – Iriana Disney. She sat there with her arms crossed over her chest, looking mad as a hornet.
It was simplicity itself to destroy Tiny House. I released the water within the glass blocks, then decreased the viscosity of the glass itself. The walls dripped and melted like hot wax, slumping over into a pile of slag. Irri jumped to her feet, her blue eyes bigger and wider than ever.
“How did you get out of Small House?” the earth elementalist asked, stepping over the melted glass.
“You knew I was in there?”
“Oh, yes!” she said. “I tried to get you out. That’s how I ended up in Tiny House.”
I took both her hands in mine. It was a brave thing for Irri to have attempted, seeing as how her elemental magic was far more suited to healing. She’d never really learned to move earth effectively, a sorry state for an earth elementalist.
“Nobody will be put in those horrible places ever again,” I said. “You’d better hightail it to your parents’ house and hide out for a while, though.”
Irri frowned. “I hate it, but you’re right. The Elementalists’ Third isn’t a good place for either of us right now.”
“Be careful,” I said, giving her hands a squeeze before letting her go. She took off for her folks’ house, heading across the nearest yard and avoiding the main streets.
I ran straight to Danica’s house without a single thought about bathing or changing my dirty clothes. My steps slowed once I reached the footpath through her yard, however. Even from the outside, the place seemed eerily quiet. The front door hung open, swaying slightly in the breeze, giving the place a look of abandonment.
My eyes were drawn to the walkway, where fresh snow had filled our footprints from the night before. There were other others, however, that carried a tale. The first set of prints were small, probably a woman’s, hurried and smeared, as though she had run out of the house and down the walk in a mad dash to accomplish some important task. The second set of prints headed toward the house, treading carefully in the steps of previous visitors as though on a mission that required stealth.
Feeling a chill that had nothing to do with the frigid winter air, I pushed open the door and stepped into Danica’s house. It was colder inside than out, if that were possible. No fire crackled in the fireplace; it had been extinguished by water thrown so forcefully that frozen ashes were sprayed out across the hearth.
I walked to the back of her home, past the row of cots with their curtains pulled closed around them, past shelves of ointments, salves, and jars of herbs and into the washroom beyond. The back door was standing wide open. I couldn’t for the life of me think of a single reason that the earth druid might have for leaving a single door open, much less both of them.
Had Danica taken Charlie somewhere else to recuperate? Had even her home become too dangerous a place for him?
Moving back into the main room, I pondered the closed curtains, remembering that each one was always tied back unless the cot it accompanied was occupied. Filled with sudden dread, I threw each one aside, revealing empty cot after empty cot until I came to the last. I nearly ripped the cloth from its ceiling support and gasped aloud when I saw Charlie lying there face down, his tortured back crusted with blood and filth, his lips blue and his body still.
He’s dead! They abandoned him and he froze to death in the night!
I sank to my knees, trying to hold in a choked sob of horror with both hands. Overwhelmed by deep emotion, a cry tore from my throat my throat, echoing off the walls. In the next instant, Charlie came alive, futilely attempting to rise – his hands and feet were tied to the legs of the cot. Relief and horror warred within me as I reached for him.
“Who did this to you?” I cried, touching his face with my hands. “Who bound you like this?” His skin was warm in spite of the cold, and he began to shiver.
I drew my belt knife and sawed through the bonds, only able to release his limbs. The cruel ropes had chafed his wrists raw, but I was unable to remove them entirely because of his wild thrashing. All I could do was try and calm him, speaking softly and soothingly as possible with my voice cracking and tears running down my face.
“Shhh,” I said, stroking his hair and thinking in a moment of insanity that I should have brought the hat I’d knitted for him. “All is well, I am here. You’re safe, my love. You’re safe.”
“Angie?” he croaked, finally relaxing now that he had recognized me.
“Yes, my love, I’m here. I’m here!”
He laid his head down and I noticed the wounds on his back, smeared with a disgusting green-brown crust. Leaning in close, I took a whiff and swiftly jerked back at the foul odor. Shock and disbelief paralyzed me for a moment, but I quickly recovered. There was no time for speculating on who might have done this, for Charlie would die if he stayed chilled and dirty. Moving to the fireplace, I tossed a few logs into it and pointed a finger at them. A few bursts of white-hot spirit magic had set them afire, and next I fetched clean washcloths and soap from the sink. A small amber bottle of laudanum caught my eye on the way back to the row of cots. I needed to scrub Charlie’s back clean, and the strong pain relieving tincture would keep him from suffering too much.
“Here, drink this,” I said, helping him sit up and putting the bottle against his lips. “Just a little sip.”
He tossed back rather more than I would have liked, but I wasn’t the one who’d been cruelly lashed.
“I’m sorry, love, but I don’t have time to let that start working before I scrub your back.”
“Just do it.” His voice was hoarse.
I went to work, wetting his skin and rubbing with the soapy washcloth. Charlie moaned, bracing himself with his hand on his knees, arms shaking. Teeth clenched, the muscles in his jaw worked as he tried to keep from crying out. Thoroughly cleaning his wounds took several attempts, and I held his hands or stroked his face between times to give him a break from what was undoubtedly torture. I rinsed his back with warm water one last time, and could no longer see any visible contamination. Drying his skin with the gentlest of hands, I helped him move to a clean cot.
After throwing the soiled cot out the back door along with the washcloths and towels, I returned to his side.
“You should lie down,” I said.
Reasoning that the laudanum would put an end to his stubbornness far sooner than I ever could, I went to the cabinet where Danica kept her tea remedies. The little glass jars were labeled with the names of myriad herbs, most of which I’d never heard of. I don’t know why I had expected to find jars labeled for their purpose instead of their ingredients; an earth healer would need no such assistance. A frustrated sigh escaped my lips.
“Are you all right, Ang?”
I turned to see Charlie gazing at me with an intensity that was surprising, considering that he was exhausted and in terrible pain.
“You’re asking me?” I said, incredulous.
“Were you hurt last night?”
“No, I was… No. I’m fine.”
He didn’t ask where I’d been, or why he’d been abandoned in his time of need. I hesitated to tell him the truth, afraid he wouldn’t stay put and rest. I went and knelt before him, placing my hands on his.
“I was… Sebrina locked me up.”
Bemused, either from confusion or the laudanum, Charlie quirked an eyebrow. “What prison could possibly hold you?”
“A box constructed entirely of earth, using magic.”
“Ah.” He frowned. “How did you get out?”
“As it turns out, water is not the useless element the ArchDruid thinks it is.”
The corner of his mouth curled in a half-smile, and to my astonishment, he chuckled.
“That’s my girl,” Charlie said, then placed a kiss on my forehead.
He was always so brave and strong. He was selfless and caring when he shouldn’t have been – when no one else would have been able to – and it nearly broke my heart.
“Have you slept?” he asked.
“No. It took me all night to get out of the prison,” I said, then added: “It’s just past noon now.”
“Where is everybody?” he asked, gingerly craning his head to look out the window.
“It’s too quiet. Something’s wrong.”
He was right, but I didn’t care about anything outside this room. As far as I was concerned, nothing could be more wrong than the events of last night. I placed a hand over his forehead, letting my fingers trace the contours of his face.
“You feel hot.”
“Your hand feels good,” he said.
“I think you’re going to need more than that,” I said. “I’m going to see if I can find something for you.”
He nodded and I went back to the cabinet full of herbs in jars, spying the container of willow bark tea almost immediately. Why didn’t I see that before? I knew about willow bark tea for treating fever and wasted no time setting the tea kettle over the fire.
I wish I was a fire elementalist. Uncle Padraig could have brought it to boiling in seconds. Where in the grove was he?
“Don’t fall asleep,” I told Charlie, noticing his heavy eyelids. “I’m making you some tea.”
He muttered something that sounded suspiciously like Quakes, she’s trying to poison me, but I ignored it. It was a good sign that he had the strength to protest. While waiting for the water to boil, I perused the titles of a shelf of books with titles such as The Natural Apothecary, Wisdom of the Earth, and The Alchemy of Plants. Running my finger along the edge of the shelf, I saw a book titled Fever and Infection and grabbed it. I flipped through it to find something – anything, really – that might help.
The glass jars weren’t in alphabetical order, so I guessed that they were organized by purpose. Using the book as a reference, I decided echinacea and goldenseal were what Charlie needed to help him fight an infection, along with the willow bark tea for fever. By that time, steam was rising from the kettle. I filled a large tea ball with the willow bark, dropped it into a teapot, added a couple of cinnamon sticks, and poured hot water over it. A quick search of the kitchen cabinets provided me with a second teapot. There wasn’t another tea strainer so I spooned the herbs into a square of cheesecloth and tied it tight before dropping it into the second pot.
Charlie was starting to nod off when the fever tea was ready, but I put it in his hand and made him drink all of it. Surprisingly, he downed it with little resistance.
“What did you put in that?” he asked, eyeing the bottom of the empty mug with suspicion.
“Cinnamon and honey. There’s no reason not to sweeten it up a bit.”
“Tell that to Grandmother,” he grumbled.
I fetched the second mug and handed it to him. “I added honey to this one, too, but I don’t think it improved the taste much.”
Charlie took a sip, barely suppressing a shudder. “You’re right about that,” he said, and drank all of it in a few swallows. I set the cup aside and fluffed a couple of pillows, placing them on one end of his cot.
“You should sleep now.”
“So should you,” he murmured, slurring the words.
“I will,” I lied.
He didn’t argue, and even let me help him lie down and position his pillows for the most comfort. Charlie murmured my name and I kissed his heated brow, then watched as his eyes slowly drifted closed, their dark lashes resting against his cheek.
I didn’t know much about healing since it wasn’t within my elemental skill, but realized how much danger he was in nevertheless. The multiple lacerations inflicted with the whip would have left him vulnerable to infection even without further assault from offal. Panic began to rise in my chest. Danica was gone and Padraig disappeared with her.
Charlie was right. There was something wrong in the grove, but I couldn’t leave him for a moment to seek help. At best, he would fall dreadfully ill; at worst, any one of the many druids who resented his presence here could kill him in his present state.
I had to be strong; now was not the time for me to give in to fear and weakness. There was no earth healer to cure him with magic, but there was medicine. Danica’s infirmary was stocked with herbs and tinctures, bandages and dressings, the supplies to make a plethora of remedies and medicines, and a shelf full of books on how to use it all.
Pouring myself a cup of tea, I set to work.