Orchid started yawning as soon as she and Mud ate their fill of the fruit, confirming Mist's thought that she should wait for morning to have Orchid fly to Rain to ask her to come nurse Minnow. It would be a little awkward, of course, for windborn Rain to sit in the water that long, for of course, Minnow couldn't come out into the air to eat, but Rain loved children, and would claim it was no bother.
What to do about Coral's school, however, wasn't so easily solved. Finally, Mist decided she had to call for help. She checked on Coral, and cautioned her to stay awake.
Coral looked up from Minnow's enclosure, which Mist had helped her to enlarge, and nodded. "I'll sing to Minnow. I'm feeling a lot better under water, but at least now I can't drift to where you can't reach me."
Mist nodded. Without the problem symbolized by the pile of nofiera that still lay on the bank nearby, she would have been reluctant to have the woman totally underwater, but right now she was grateful for the privacy. "Just wave your hand above the water every few minutes, then, so I can see you're OK."
Mist moved away, and found a rock to sit on where she could see Coral's hand waving, but next to an inlet of the lake that Coral couldn't see. She sat down and entered a trance, focusing on her breathing, then expanding her focus outward, slowly. First to her own body, then to the small animals nearby, the insects and fishes and clams. Then, stretch, to feel the slower plant forms.
A part of her noted Coral waving, and she relaxed deeper into trance. Finally, she reached between all the living things, to feel the place itself. It was a strain, had always been a strain, her gift had always resonated best with living things. But at last she found the place-strings, and praised the one that corresponded to the bit of lake in front of her until she could feel it shine, bright and strong.
Then she reached for one of the few place strings she had practiced accessing, and plucked it gently, like pulling on a bell cord, creating a resonance between that one and the one in front of her. Her mentor would have simply stepped from string to string and knocked on the door; Mist could do that, but one trip would exhaust her, and the return trip would leave her sick for days. She had a patient; that wasn't an option.
Now, to hope Nautilus was home. She might be waiting for a while, so she gently released her focus and rose up out of trance state. Coral waved again, only her hand breaking the surface of the water, so Mist didn't bother to wave back. Instead she started to gather driftwood for a fire.
It wasn't long until a head and shoulders broke through the water in the inlet. The lakeborn man had bright, firey tattoos on his head and shoulders. "Mist, I thought that was you calling. What's up?"
"Nautilus, it's good to see you. I've got something of a situation here." Mist explained the problem.
"Ah, so you've got a whole school swimming scared, and possibly a fireborn youngster coming into his powers out there."
"Yes. And underwater where I can't go, even if I wanted to expose my daughter to such a mess."
"How is Orchid? Showing any signs of talent yet?"
Mist frowned. "You know how I feel about that."
"The fire is strong in your family, Mist, and in her father's. She is most likely fireborn."
"And if she's not, she will never have to feel lacking. She's a strong, fast, bright, beautiful child, a born leader. She doesn't need the fire to have a full life."
"Peace, Mist, you know I wish her well regardless."
She sighed. He did. She knew he did, but still, it was a sore point for her. "I spent years feeling I was a disappointment to my parents before my talent started to show. I don't want that for her."
"You should warn her, though. That it might show. And that she won't lose you, won't scare you," His voice betrayed pain, and she realized she didn't know the story of his childhood, or how he'd come to be possibly the most public fireborn in the country. He trailed his hand through the water, quietly pushing a volume of it behind him. "Anyway, you have a more immediate problem here."
"So, can you go to the school and deal with that part of things?"
He laughed, standing further out of the water, so she could see scenes from some of his more famous exploits drawn in firey colors on his chest and arms. "Look at me, girl! If I show up, with the school all in a tizzy already about stuff vague enough that that poor woman didn't even know what scared her friends and neighbors, they'd all panic." He shook his head. "No, you have to deal with this one, you have a nice, safe, friendly reason to interact with them."
"But I can't swim down to them."
"No, so we'll have to get them to come to you. Though you'll have to take care of all of that stuff--" he wrinkled his nose and waved toward the pile of nofiera, "before they get here." He thought for a moment. "One of my fosterlings can go to Sturgeon School. Say that he came upon you when he was foraging on this island,"
"There's berries here."
"For berries. Good. He likes berries. He might even drop by again for some more, and to see how things are going. If you find a fireborn who needs fostering, he can bring the boy to me."
"Or girl." He gestured awkwardly. "Anyway. You told him that Coral is ill, more than just having hit her head, and Minnow needs a wetnurse. And Coral could use familiar faces, to help nurse her through it. I assume that she'll be willing to play sick for a bit?"
"She won't want to explain that she's afraid the nofiera made her sick, and might make her baby sick, so I'm sure she will."
"Good." He nodded. "Give me a moment."
Mist knew he was reaching out with the inner fire to talk, mind to mind, with his apprentice. She envied him the obvious ease in doing something several levels more complicated than what she'd done to call him; he didn't even appear to have to drop into trance to do it.
Barely a minute later, a pair of heavy leather gloves appeared in his hands, and his eyes focused again on her face. "I spoke with Amali. His shoulders are tatooed with dragonflies."
"For this to work, there can't be any nofiera left nearby. That stuff, and the patch it was cut from, you'll have to burn the old fashioned way. Be careful of the smoke. The rest--well, that's one thing I can do to help. The stuff's a weed; I won't get all the seedlings,much less seeds, but I'm pretty sure I can find and destroy all the patches big enough to harvest."
"Pretty sure." I know I sounded worried.
"Hey, I'm good, girl, but not godly!" He laughed, then sobered. "And I can't guarantee that none of them will have any with them, in any case. You'll have to be careful." He handed her the gloves, and she saw they were old and stained with charcoal and splatters of silver. They must have once belonged to a windborn or woodborn metalsmith; the fingers would cover her long hands, claws and all, comfortably. "Use these to handle the stuff, and burn them after."
"No. Thank you, for finding this problem, hopefully in time to keep one of our youngsters from getting killed, or worse." Nautilus seemed about to say something else, then shook his head. "These situations where a village is already scared, the fireborn child--if there is a fireborn child, and it's not all a mistake, or a hoax--it's so--" He gathered water in his webbed hands like a cup, and opened them to let it spill away. "I know what it's like, to be a boy in that situation. I want to charge right in and save them, but the one time I tried, well, it ended badly. Thank you for doing what I cannot."
"But you've fostered so many--"
"When the family has more love than fear, they don't send someone to harvest nofiera."
He dove into the water, and Mist watched while the ripples spreade, then faded. Then, with a sigh, she tucked the gloves into her waistband and carried the driftwood she had collected to where the nofiera was piled on the shore. The wind direction at that spot seemed safe enough, blowing away from both the sleeping girls and the part of the lake where Coral and Minnow were resting under the water. Coral lifted her head out of the water. "What are you doing?"
"I'm burning this stuff."
"It's dangerous. I'm not letting anyone use it, not on you or the kids or anyone else."
"But the mayor--"
"You're sick, and hurt. You couldn't stop me. If he doesn't like it, he can discuss the matter with me."
"Oh." Coral seemed surprised and a little awed at Mist's resolve.
Mist smiled. "Being a healer, well, when someone they love is hurt or sick, even a mayor can need a talking to. You--you learn to face people. You have to."
"So, a young man came by, planning to get some of those berries Orchid and Mud were talking about. He's going to swim to your school and tell them you're quite sick, and you and Minnow need them."
"But--they'll come here!"
"That's right. And Minnow will have a wetnurse who's comfortable in the water, and maybe I can figure out what's got your folk in a tizzy before anyone else gets poisoned."
"Oh." Her voice was very quiet.
"So, I'm burning all of this stuff now, here and where you picked it from, and I'm going to tell them you're very ill, and you're going to play along, so your people will stay here until we can find out what has them scared, so it will be safe for you to stay with them, after. And if one of them is fireborn, one way or another, we'll get him or her safely out of town."
"You can do that?"
"Fireborns take on fosterlings and apprentices just like everyone else. I've worked with fireborn healers."
Mist leaned in to look more closely at her patient. "How are you doing?"
"I'm feeling a little better, though I'm awfully tired--um, I mean, I'm really feeling dreadful, just like you said."
Mist smiled. "Good. Don't forget."
"If you don't mind, I'm going to go back to floating now."
"Good. Just keep waving, so I know you're all right while I take care of this stuff."
It was nearly dawn by the time Mist had pulled up all of the noxious plants by the roots, but the wind remained steady. Checking to see that the girls remained asleep, she got out the sparking kit, but barely went through the motions of using it, setting the fire with her inner fire instead. Then she tended the fire for a while, adding more driftwood and fallen sticks, until she was quite sure all the nofierra was burnt to ashes.
Then, finally, she went over to her proper place, to sit by her patient.