Mist dozed a little, feeling sore and headachy, probably from handling so much nofiera, and being near to, even if upwind from, the fire. She was awakened by Coral, who asked for more of the milk substitute. The sun was rising, a large red disc, with purple and orange clouds frosted with gold clustered around it. Fire colors. She had to somehow tell Orchid—
“Quickly would help,” added Coral, and she pulled herself far enough out onto the bank that the baby couldn’t simply swim up and breastfeed. She shaded her eyes with one wide-spread, webbed hand, and winced as if even that small effort hurt. The baby kept trying to get to where he could breastfeed, even pulling himself out of the water for a moment. His complaint was audible, until he ran out of air and slid back in.
Quickly, Mist mixed the powder into paste, and then added more water to thin it to the correct consistency. Then she stood and handed Coral the nippled bottle. The baby calmed some, though he kept reaching as if to drag Coral downward toward him.
Mist watched them, remembering Orchid as a baby. She wished she could simply send Orchid back to stay with Frog or Cirrus, but short of asking their parents to lock the girls up for the duration—not a request Orchid would deliver—there was no way to do it. Orchid had lately gotten it into her head that Mist needed taking care of when she had a patient, and while Mist was proud of her for noticing that sometimes Mist forgot to stop for a meal, it meant Orchid wouldn’t leave simply leave, without a clear explanation that there was danger, and exactly what that danger was.
Mist whistled, *skepticism*. She knew better. Orchid would not leave her in certain danger, especially if Orchid might be immune to that danger. If Mist insisted she go, she might get Orchid to take wing. But Orchid would simply take her friends most of the way home, give them some excuse to go on without her, and sneak back. And not even have the scant protection Mist could give her.
But still, Orchid needed to know about the danger, and what symptoms to watch out for if she was sensitive to fiera. Also, how to spot an awakening fireborn with no training, who might inadvertently be dangerous. And of course, the whole talk about maybe being fireborn, and their family being fireborns.
As the sunrise brightened into a beautiful day, Mist brooded about how to tell her. She finally settled on a plan, or the start of one. Get her off alone, for a few minutes, and then tell her that there was something she had been waiting to share until Orchid was older—she could say, until Orchid turned eight. Yes, that would help, saying she had planned to tell her very soon in any case. And then admit to being fireborn. But then the words failed her. She kept remembering images from her childhood, being teased because her parents were fireborn and she was not; and then her teen years when people were afraid to tease, afraid to be her friends, because she was, after all. And her fireborn friends’ stories. Whether they had known it might happen or not, having the talent changed their lives forever.
And Orchid was such a strong, daring, happy child. Mist didn’t want to change her life forever. For the first time, she wondered if this would be easier if she had stayed in her parents’ village, or at least chosen to be a known fireborn healer, insteadof living with that part of herself hidden. Then, Orchid would have grown up knowing.
Coral’s baby fell asleep, and Mist checked on Coral, who was exhausted and unsteady. Cautiously, she extended her fire sense, finding Coral less tainted from the fiera. Soon, she would be able to monitor Coral with her fire sense, and it would be much safer for her to sleep, but at least the worst danger had passed. “I need you to stay awake for a few more hours, Coral, if you can.”
The woman sighed heavily. “I’ll try.” She sank back into the water, to float with her sleeping baby.
Mist looked to where the girls were sleeping in a heap, like kittens. Should she wake Orchid now? She thought about how far Coral’s school was, and how long it would take Nautilus’ apprentice to swim there with the news. Orchid had to know before danger arrived, but Mist was pretty sure no one would arrive sooner than noon, and more likely mid-afternoon. She could wait until after breakfast; then she would have to find a pretext to speak with her daughter alone.
In the meantime, she needed to settle her thoughts. Perhaps a bit of meditation would clear her mind, help her to find the right words.
But whether it was from exhaustion, or stress, or the exposure to nofiera, when she composed her mind for meditation, she quickly slid into a deep sleep.
This is a pay at whim serial, currently being published about twice a week. I look forward to your feedback.