For my new friends, the story starts here.
Mist was distracted through dinner, trying unsuccessfully to catch a glimpse of Orchid. Either she was working hard to avoid her mother, or she simply wasn’t there. And it wasn’t like Orchid to skip a meal, especially after flying off in a huff—Mist was well aware of her daughter’s tendency to fly off her anger, and remembered how hungry that made a growing girl from her own childhood.
Once people were mostly finished eating dinner, the Mayor wasted no time in chasing people out of the center of the sunshade. They settled into a rough circle, mostly under the sunshade, but the mothers on infant duty and a few others gathered within earshot in the water.
The mayor wasted no time on introductions. “So, Healer, who is the fireborn?”
Mist stood up. “Mayor, “ she bowed, “Sturgeon School” she looked across the various people gathered in the big sunshelter and nodded, then nodded toward the water too. “I have not yet established whether there is a fireborn among you.”
There was a great deal of comment, and Mist waited. When the volume kept going up instead of dying down, she raised her voice, using her powerful windborn lungs to project over the crowd. “May I continue?”
The Mayor crossed his arms and frowned at his people. “Let us not be impolite. We asked advice from this healer, so, of course we should listen to it.”
The crowd hushed, and stood still. Mist walked to one of the lidded barrels and sat down, inviting them to sit as well. Many did. “My first conclusion is that you have a lot of gossip and rumors, and few facts. No two people saw quite the same thing. For instance, one person saw a fish that might, or might not, have been healed, but the fish is long gone. Several saw fish behaving oddly in Fisher’s Cove, but the descriptions are different. Another report from Fisher’s cove is that the water tasted fruity. And there are several reports of odd lights and colors, from Fisher’s Cove and other locations.”
As she spoke, various people in the crowd nodded, as if to silently testify that they had indeed seen those things.
“It is true that each of these things could have been done by a fireborn. However, it is also true that each of these things could happen, or seem to happen, in other ways. The fish could have received a second wound, for instance, much newer than the first.”
They nodded. Then the woman with the playful fish tattoos stood. “But the lights? The odd behavior of the fish?”
The mayor nodded. “Thank you Joy. Healer Mist?” Several other people had started to stand as well, but the Mayor gestured and they returned to sitting.
“As you know, I’m windborn.” Several children laughed at her statement of the obvious. “We pay a lot of attention to the weather and other sky conditions. Not only can there be lightning during storms, but also, rarely, at other times. Besides normal lightning, there’s something called ball lightning.”
Some of the people started shifting restlessly, and one angry young woman gouged the sand in front of her. And there was still no sign of Orchid.
Mist projected her voice carefully, wanting her words to carry through the fidgeting without seeming angry. “Perhaps more to the point, in the last month, a few of my people noted the aurora lights playing briefly in the sky. It is possible that the aurora, or lightning, shining through water, caused some of the things people observed. In addition, sometimes people think they see colors when none are there to be seen, and the odd behavior of the fish is what makes me think this may be what has caused your problem.”
“What do you mean, healer?” The mayor spoke quickly enough to speak for his people. They all leaned forward.
“There are some plants that are not often seen this far north that can cause visions and odd behaviors. The first thing I propose we do is this. If you have some paper or cloth I can draw on, I will draw them. Then we can see if anyone has seen them, and you can send a party to Fisher’s Cove to check the islands there. I will give them instructions on how to safely gather the plants, to bring them back so I can confirm the identification. A couple of them are dangerous, especially to children. If your people were exposed, I will have some detailed instructions for Starfish and the parents, and will use the plants to educate your people on how to protect themselves.”
The mayor nodded, cautiously. “That is a prudent plan.”
Lotus stood, “The school has paper and pens. If the healer wants, I’ll bring paints as well.”
Mist nodded. One of the plants differed from local plants mostly in color. She would ask for the help of someone skilled with mixing colors after the meeting.
Joy stood again. “And if we don’t find any of these plants?”
“Did anyone notice woodborn fishers near Fisher’s cove while you were living there?”
“Woodborns don’t often come out near open water--well, except for our Mud, of course.” Coral spoke up, from the lake. “There’s usually some in the woods near there, however.”
“Some woodborns use a toxin to make fish sleepy when they fish, though you are right, they usually fish in streams, not lakes. But if one was fishing in a stream near enough to the lake, that could account for the fish behaving oddly.”
“What if the fireborn hurts someone, or kills someone?” A voice from the back of the crowd.
“If” Mist accented the word heavily, “there’s a fireborn, and if he or she wanted to hurt people, it was pretty dumb to wait until you have a full healer handy.”
The crowd all started talking again. Mist heard snatches of a dozen worries-- that the fireborn would simply lay low until she was gone, people wondering if this or that small injury might have been caused by a fireborn, even a comment that a windborn healer might not be able or willing to help lakeborns.
Mayor Eel strode into the center of the sunshade, his toes digging furrows into the sand. “Shame on you, talking all at once during a proper meeting.” He stared them down, toes flicking sand sideways. There was a sudden quiet, and the children who had stood up with their elders darted behind them. “And shame on you,” he looked at a particular man, but did not name him. “For your comment that this healer, who went out of her way to help our lakeborn Coral; a healer who my Starfish has reported is very competent besides, might not help us if we need her.” The man glared back at the Mayor, but Eel turned away from him. “Healer, did anyone report any injuries?”
“Well, if anyone has anything like that to report—“ there was some movement in the crowd, “After the meeting, and after she’s drawn these plants, I’m sure she’ll be willing to assist you.”
“But if someone was hurt—“ The same man again. This time Mist could see that he had shells tattooed on his shoulders.
“If someone was hurt badly enough to need a healer’s attention immediately, of course they wouldn’t have waited this long to mention it.” Mayor Eel drew himself tall, and Mist saw people nodding.
“I still want to know what we will do if it’s not the plants.” Joy jiggled the baby on her hip.
The mayor answered, “We’ll investigate. It might be one thing or more than one thing.”
“I don’t like coming up with a dozen different maybe this and maybe that explanations!” An older man, his skin tattooed with sleek black fish, spoke.
Mist spread her wings. “Neither do I, though the incidents might not be related. But that’s why my first suggestion is to check out these plants—it is a single explanation for all of the odd things. But in case that’s not what it is, while we wait for the mayor’s search party to come back, I’ll keep collecting information. If the Mayor approves, if anyone else sees something unusual, I’d like them to report directly to both of us, rather than starting more rumors. As you know, the stories get more and more fantastic every time they are repeated.”
“Yes.” Eel spoke up. “That’s a good idea. The healer reported to me that in one incident an eyewitness reported fish swimming in a formation ‘like a triangle’. But she heard about this incident from quite a lot of people, and the people who heard about that incident from others reported that they heard fish were swimming in a formation that ‘looked just like Mt. Zadkiel’.” People laughed. He smiled and laughed, “Now, I admit, Mt. Zadkiel does indeed look a lot like a triangle except for the very tip.” He shook his head, “But for getting people all riled up, a mountain or volcano of fish sounds a lot more dangerous than a simple triangle.”
Finally, Mist noted, people were looking a little bit less tense.
Eel continued. “The landborns have a phrase, making a mountain out of a molehill—“ many of them looked blank. Had they ever seen a molehill? “If we’re lucky, we’ve all been making a hurricane out of a summer storm, here. “ This time people nodded. “I’m committed to keeping you all safe, whether it be from an untrained fireborn or some southern plant or just our own big mouths.” This time nearly everyone laughed. “Ok, meeting’s over. “ He looked at Mist. “Can you have those drawings done by breakfast? “
She nodded, noting his change of phrase regarding the unknown fireborn. Had he been listening to what she had been saying to his people in that sunshade? Who else had been courting sunburn, and listening? Well, no harm done, but she would remember they weren’t as private as they seemed.
“I’ll have the drawings posted in the morning sky sunshade. Everyone look at them before wandering off after breakfast, and report to me and the healer if you saw any of them.” People nodded. “Come see me if you want to be in the search party. Since some of these plants are dangerous, I’m sending only healthy, level-headed adults.”
“Aw, man!” Mist wasn’t sure which boy had complained.
The Mayor ignored the interruption. “And as for the rest of you, I know it’s hopeless to say don’t talk about this, but try to swim smooth. I don’t want to hear anyone retelling any more Mt. Hurricane stories with regard to this matter.” He glared at them. “I’ll call another meeting when we know more.”
When people sat there, waiting, he walked over to a basket of fruit, picked a piece, and started eating it, as if he were all alone in the tent. Suddenly Mist was sitting in the middle of a disintegrating circle. Watching the lakeborn families gather, mothers hugging their children as they headed for wherever they would spend the evening, she ached to be hugging Orchid. But though Cirrus and Frog came to get hugs before running off to play with Mud and several other girls, there was no sign of Orchid anywhere.
The story continues here.
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