The first chapter of Fireborn, Wings on His Fingers, can be found over here. And there's a link at the end of every chapter leading to the next, so you don't have to scroll through my whole journal to read the story! (Or you can use the table of contents here.)
After lunch, Orchid asked Mist to go walking in the woods with her. They were barely out of sight of the people of Sturgeon School when Orchid stopped. “The girls told me everyone’s afraid there’s a secret fireborn in town.” And she poured forth all the gossip she’d heard, both before lunch and sitting with the girls and boys at lunch. Mist listened carefully, this was first time she had had a chance to get anything resembling a coherent account of why these people thought there was a fireborn among them.
Lights, colors, fish swimming in pictures, sudden weather—there was cause to be suspicious, but nothing clear, nothing pointing to any specific person. And if you discounted the woman who always had headaches, nothing at all to make her fear that anyone was in danger. She listened very carefully, asking questions. “Thank you. You did right to tell me all this.”
Orchid beamed. “Do you really think there’s a fireborn?”
“There could well be—and if there is, he or she is probably about your age, or a little older”.
“Why my age?”
“You’re about the age that fireborns start to develop the talent.” She was so used to hiding, it was automatic to speak of fireborns in third parson. Them, not us.
“Oh. That would be weird, I think. I mean, I’ve always known I’m windborn.”
“So whoever it is could be scared.”
Mist nodded, “And for good reason – that plant that the Mayor sent Coral to gather is a poison that’s especially dangerous to fireborns, and to their relatives. Do you have any idea who it might be?”
Orchid shook her head. “Most of this I got from the girls. They didn’t seem particularly worried about the nofiera, just about Mayor Eel being in a temper. And the boys, well, all they could talk about was getting tattoos. Dragon seemed to think that the Mayor made this up because he doesn’t want to admit his daughter’s growing up, and is ready to get a name-tattoo.”
“Do they think the Mayor might have started the rumors?”
“Nobody said anything like that.” Orchid looked at her mother earnestly. "So, what do we do if there is a fireborn here?"
"A fireborn child, or youth, would need to be fostered with other fireborns, where no one would fear him or her." Mist watched her daughter carefully, relieved to see no fear on her face.
"So how would we do that?"
Mist looked away, wondering how to tell her. “I--” Children screeched, surprisingly near and her courage failed. What if someone heard? Nautilus’ warning that the Mayor could have some nofiera rang in her memory. Even a little would be enough to incapacitate her and Orchid. “I know some fireborns.”
“And you didn’t tell me?” Orchid leapt to the air and hovered, just out of reach. “You don’t trust me! You tell me how responsible I am, how proud of me you are, but you don’t trust me to even know your friends!”
“It’s not that--” Mist reached for her daughter, but the girl was well out of reach, flying hard. Mist sank down again. If she tried to follow right now, her daughter would only push harder to stay out of reach. But her heart ached. Now, telling her daughter that she, herself, was fireborn would seem only a confirmation of Orchid’s accusation. But so would not telling her.
She sat there for a while, trying to think what to say, and how, once her daughter flew back to her.
“Healer.” It was Mayor Eel. “It appears you burned all the nofiera growing nearby.” He had quite a group of people with him, lakeborns and one dark-furred seaborn.
She looked up. “That’s right. It’s a poison. It’s dangerous.”
“To fireborns.” His entourage nodded.
“No,” A tall woman, tatooed with climbing vines and small insects, spoke up. “It makes most people a little sleepy, maybe a little stupid, that’s all.”
Mist was in no mood to mince words after the conversation with her daughter. She stood, spreading her wings to make up a little in size what she would never have in height. “That’s all? Have you been in a town where everyone was dosed with that poison?” She’d just had this conversation with the Mayor. Why was he bringing it up now, in front of witnesses?
Boldly, she stepped toward the crowd, trying to look each person in the eye in turn. “I have. I treated a man who cut off his own finger with his cleaver because he was a little stupid, and helped bury a baby whose windborn father, who was a little stupid and sleepy, dropped the infant from the height of a tall tree. And I treated dozens of other injuries caused by that poison.”
“But did they find the fireborn terror?”
“You see, that’s the thing. It’s not only fireborns who can have a bad reaction to the stuff. So, some people got very sick in the first day after taking the poison. But nofiera takes two or three days to get out of your system, and by the second day, people were also getting food poisoning because they were too stupid and sleepy to notice food had spoiled. Either way, anybody who got sick, the townspeople tied them, hand and foot, and gagged them. Even a poor child who was vomiting got gagged.”
At least they had the grace to look uncomfortable at that. “Of course, the gag didn’t stop him vomiting.”
“What happened?” This from a teenage boy, one she had not yet met.
“Luckily, most of the vomit poured out his nose. How he got it clear enough to breathe again, I don’t know, but he did. The rest went into his lungs. And then he laid there in that mess, getting sicker and sicker, until a traveling bard called healers to the town. He would have died, had he not been treated by a fireborn healer.”
“But he was fireborn, right?”
“No.” He probably had a fireborn ancestor, but many people did, and Mist wanted to scare them, wanted to somehow make them ashamed of what they planned to do. “He was just a normal landborn boy, before. After--well, he spent months recovering, and never will have much strength or stamina.”
“But if we can’t use nofiera, what can we do?” This was an older woman, the fear on her face contrasting with her tattoos, colorful, playful fish darting in and out of strands of seaweed. She held a toddler on one hip, the other hand spread wide above its head, so the webbing shielded its face from the sun.
“Perhaps you’d better tell me what’s made you so afraid. Has anyone been hurt?”
“Not yet.” The mayor got in the first words, but then the crowd started talking all at once. It seemed everyone had heard of something, lights or sounds or fish behaving oddly, but none of the bits Mist could make out seemed particularly alarming, or even a guarantee that there was a fireborn among them.
After a couple of minutes, she raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps one at a time?”
The mayor bristled. “We can handle our own affairs.”
“You asked for my advice, as a healer.” Mist’s formal words seemed to sooth him, though in fact he had not asked. But the formula called on a history of respect for healers, as well as a tradition that traveling healers did not meddle in the politics of the towns they visited. “How can I give good advice without knowing the situation?” Here, the traditional word was symptoms, but no one questioned the substitution.
Mayor Eel nodded. “Current, you first. The rest of you, let’s give the healer some space. Let’s put her in the morning sky sunshade.
Over the next few hours, Mist spoke with many of the townspeople, under a sunshade painted with clouds and birds, watching as people went about their daily work. It was next to the largest sunshade, empty now of people eating lunch, and which proved to be the school. Older kids toweled dry and grabbed books while younger children practiced writing and sums in shallow trays of mud. Mist noted, with approval, that Cirrus and Frog were with the other girls, Cirrus in the group with actual books. Frog looked like she thoroughly enjoyed the novelty of writing in the mud, though she used her claws instead of a stick.
At first, the Mayor directed people to her; those who had themselves seen something, or thought they had. Unfortunately, the people who had actually seen something didn’t have a lot to say. Light like sun dappling the water, when they thought the sun was behind clouds. Fish swimming in an odd formation, but only briefly. A tiny, beautiful fish with a huge wound, which was healed along most of the length of the wound, odd in that the fish survived, and that the unhealed portion of the wound looked very fresh.
Maybe it was all a hoax or a mistake; Mist wasn’t certain. She knew how easily rumors could magnify things, especially with the Mayor being alarmist. If there was a young fireborn coming into his or her talent, she couldn’t get any clue from the people she spoke with as to who it might be. There was no consistency as to who was nearby, when she asked who might corroborate any of their stories. And she dared not inquire too directly. She still didn’t know if the Mayor was trying to trip her up somehow, or if he had deliberately maneuvered her into helping to control the situation. The second option was safer, but it rankled—he could have asked!
She also kept in mind, as the mayor had pointed out earlier, that a scared young fireborn’s talent could manifest in quite dangerous ways. And scared adults usually led to scared kids. So every chance she got, she mentioned fireborn healers, and the stories of fireborns who risked their lives to save others.
After the first five or six people, the Mayor stopped designating who should speak to her. People still came to her in ones and twos, mostly with third-hand rumors, but Mist didn’t turn them away; it was a chance to at least try to soothe their fears, but she feared she was not having much success.
Besides, when she was done, the Mayor would expect her Healer’s advice, and she didn’t yet know what to say.
And all afternoon, she watched the sky, as best she could from under the sun shade, hoping for her daughter to return, though she didn’t know what to say to her either.
The next chapter is here: I'll Show Her!
As I have mentioned before, if you, my readers, collectively sponsor this at a rate of at least $10 per chapter, I'll post the next one in short order.
In addition, sponsors get access to fiction set in this world, which no one else has seen yet, as well as my gratitude. The first sponsor thank-you post is already up, it's a piece of flash fiction showing a peek at the history of this world. Any new sponsors will be added to the filter as soon as I get your sponsorship.
There is also content for people who comment, curently a list of the people in the story, so you can try to guess who the lakeborns are all afraid of; the link to that will be promptly updated too.