Chapter Three (part I)

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By talon, by tusk, by tooth, by claw,
Hear your children cry, Mother.

A fire blazes and Father finds your children.
Blind Father's eye with mint and bridewort.

A fire rages and Father follows your children.
Bind Father's foot with berry and nettle.

A fire roars and Father calls for your children.
Stop Father's mouth with fennel and thyme.

Hear your children cry, Mother,
by claw, by tooth, by tusk, by talon.

(charm against fever, The Northerns)

.:.

For the next three days, I lay abed, shivering and sweating and coughing. Doctor Brown quietly scolded me, leaving me every morning with firm instructions that I was to stay in bed if I valued my life or the effort others had made to save it. And in the evenings, Bram came and scolded me again.

It was all unnecessary -- I couldn't have gone out again if I'd wanted to; I could barely even stand -- but, in truth, I could not quite manage to feel ashamed of myself. Thusnelda bought beans, bones, and onions enough to feed us for a month. Oscar got boots that did not give him sores. The girls bought blankets and cloth and thread, and took turns brushing my hair with my own hairbrush.

I did wonder, though, if my efforts would prove the end of me, if I would die coughing, as my father had. I coughed til I retched. I coughed til I wet myself. I coughed til my lungs seized up and I gasped to draw in breath. And one gray morning, I coughed til I spit two stringy blobs -- pink and fleshy and glistening, like worms -- into Doctor Brown's handkerchief.

I stared at what had come out of me in horror, all my thoughts squeezed into, "Oh, Mother of All...!"

Doctor Brown's eyebrows lifted. "May I see?"

He took the handkerchief from my fingers -- I did not resist him -- and studied my castoffs for a far longer time than seemed reasonable.

At length, he asked, "How do you feel now?"

"Ach..." My ribs ached, my throat burned... I swallowed and tasted blood. "Raw? And battered."

Doctor Brown grunted thoughtfully. "And your breathing...? Take a deep breath in. Slowly."

He put his ear to my chest, and I obeyed, slowly breathing in and out, again and again, til I couldn't fight the tickle any longer and the cough seized hold of me.

Between wheezes and sputters, I said, "It's a bit easier, perhaps."

"It's a lot quieter."

Doctor Brown sat back on his heels, almost grinning at me. "It's still too soon to say yet, but I think you may be past the worst of it. Or rather, you may have passed the worst of it." He nodded, cheerfully, to the stained handkerchief.

I scowled. "Is that a joke?"

Doctor Brown didn't answer me. He peered into the handkerchief again, utterly engrossed by it. "I wonder if it is only an accumulation of mucus, or if there might be a foreign body in there..."

"What?"

Doctor Brown glanced up at me. He said, "Like a pearl," then he tucked the handkerchief into his pocket and gave me a nod. "I'll let you know what I find. Now rest, dear girl. I will try to find some marshmallow root. It may help your raw feeling."

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