(If this is your first visit, the myth is better recounted here, and this story starts with Wings on His Fingers.)
Dragon swam on top of the water as he approached the huge old oak tree they’d chosen for their rendezvous, so she would know it was him. Orchid was finishing the last of the huge bag of food he’d cooked for their lunch as he pulled out of the water under the tree.
He really had thought he was going overboard when he gathered more seaweed while he swam, just in case.
Orchid greeted him with a smile and a huge yawn, the empty net bag dangling from one foot. “Thanks for the food. I really needed it.”
He couldn’t help grinning back. “Feeling better?”
She nodded. “I hoped I could fly over the camp and see something of what’s going on, and where my mother is right now, before you headed in to get her. But now that I’m not hungry any more, I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open.” She frowned. “It’s not fair, I already slept half the day away. I shouldn’t be this tired yet.”
“Don’t worry about it. You’ve been sick—you were poisoned, remember?” He handed her his other net bag, the one filled with more seaweed. “I could go fishing some more, and cook again—”
“No. Go get my Mom. I really like your cooking, but I’d rather eat this stuff” she made a face at the seaweed, “and know she’s all right.” She yawned again.
“You tuck yourself up in the tree, out of sight, and take a nap, and I’ll go get her.”
She stuffed one last bit of food into her mouth and nodded, then climbed the tree one-handed. “Be safe.”
“I’m going home, to my own people. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”
She leaned over, hanging almost upside down, to put her face level with his. “I keep remembering that creepy dream. Be careful. OK?”
Dragon smiled. “You just keep out of sight up there, and I’ll have your Mom back here before you wake up again. I promise.”
She nodded at him gravely, and disappeared up into the tree.
As he swam, he thought about the best approach. It would be easiest of course, if Mist was near the lake, maybe talking to Coral and Minnow. Then he could swim right up to her and get her attention. But if she wasn’t, what then?
He decided if he started sneaking around, that would definitely bring him to Eel’s attention. And if Eel thought he was doing something wrong, he could detain Dragon and keep him from finding Mist. So if he couldn’t see Mist as he approached from the water, he figured he should just walk into town, as if he was returning from an errand. He grimaced. He’d been thinking so much about feeding Orchid, he forgot to gather anything for Lotus, as evidence of the imaginary errand he’d told Skimmer he was on. Should he grab something along the way?
He shrugged, a graceful movement that didn’t slow his progress through the water. That would take time, and Orchid wanted to see her mother right away. And it wasn’t as if it would be the first time he’d returned empty-handed from an errand. He could endure Lotus and Coral being a little disappointed in him for supposedly wasting so much time, in return for seeing Orchid’s smile when he brought her mother to her.
Now, what would he claim Lotus asked him to find? Something that couldn’t be found too close to here, and something he hadn’t seen at all on his swim. He tried to remember everything he’d seen, and settled on an herb used to treat stomach-aches. It grew far enough inland that it couldn’t usually be seen from the water. So he could feasibly have spent all this time swimming to likely spots and then walking inland and not finding any.
Proud of himself for figuring out a good cover story, he swam boldly right into camp, pulling out of the water right by the food tent. He didn’t see Mist in his first glance around, so he strode toward the sunshade where Lotus was usually presiding over food, one way or another. Lotus would know where the healer was, and anyway, that was always the first place he went when he’d been out swimming.
It was only a few steps, just long enough to realize that things didn’t look normal. There were people lying on the ground, though it was mid-day. Others were wandering around, looking drunk or sick. And some of Eel’s cronies were standing around glaring at people—mostly at the sick people.
Dragon started to wish he’d snuck around some. This wasn’t normal. What was going on?
He was grabbed from behind, strong, wide dark blue hands, with a scar on one forefinger. “Hey—Crab! What are you doing?”
“My duty” Crab snarled from behind. “We’ve been looking for you, fireborn!”
“What? I’m not fireborn, I was out looking for herbs for Lotus!” Dragon twisted, trying to face Crab, which only resulted in Crab tightening his fingers painfully around Dragon’s wrists.
“So, where’s the herbs?”
“I didn’t find them!”
Crab laughed, a low, ugly sound.
From behind, purposeful footsteps sounded. “What have we here?” Eel sounded strong, confident, almost cheerful. Better than he’d sounded in months. Dragon looked around at the people laying sick on the ground, and spotted Mist, who was as sick as Orchid had been, and tied up as well. Was Eel crazy, tying up a Healer and drugging her?
Eel walked around to face Dragon. “It’s Walnut, the little fireborn boy!”
“I’m not fireborn!” Dragon protested.
Eel smiled. “We’ll find out.” He walked over to a pot sitting near the fire, and used a ladle to pour some of what was in it into a mug. He then walked over to where Dragon was struggling to get a hand free. “Drink it.”
Eel shoved the mug between Dragon’s teeth before he finished the word and pushed his head back, forcing the liquid into his mouth. Dragon spluttered, but ended up swallowing some of it. Eel smiled. “Tie him up.”
Dragon found himself tied, hands behind his back and feet tied together, and thrown on the sand next to Mist. Finally, he caught sight of his grandmother. Lotus looked exhausted and upset, and was washing vomit off of a little boy. Dragon thought she was avoiding looking at him.
Starfish came over to him and inspected the ropes holding him, obviously making sure they weren’t tight enough to hurt him. Very quietly, she said, “Don’t be afraid. If you are fireborn, you’ll have to leave town, but that’s all.”
Dragon started to feel weird. It was hard to think, and his stomach started to feel odd. He was glad he hadn’t eaten since morning. He thought about trying to pretend he was feeling just fine, but didn’t see much point. Even if Lotus and Coral stayed here, he knew he didn’t want to live in Sturgeon any more. Maybe if they thought he was too sick to move, he’d get a chance to escape.
When Lotus finally came near him, he gave her a weak, wry grin. “I was going to tell you I’m hungry.”
She sighed, and laid wet cloths along his skin. “This will help you to keep from getting dehydrated until you can face drinking water again, young Dragon.”
That was the first time she’d used his adult name. He looked up, eyes sharp, and opened his mouth to speak, but she shook her head slightly, and he laid his head back down again. At least, he knew he could count on her. If he could think of what to do next.
It wasn’t until well after dark that he didn’t have someone watching him closely, and he was able to turn to Mist and whisper that her daughter was all right. But Mist didn’t respond, and he couldn’t tell if she’d heard him or if she was seeing nothing but nightmare visions caused by the nofiera.
The story continues here.)
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