That's it. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of being sick!
Zana's head continued to pound, unimpressed by her annoyance. As long as she kept her eyes closed, though, the headache and the nausea were manageable. She tried not to listen to all the other aches and pains that were now slowly lighting up in her awareness; there were too many, and in unsettling places.
The light behind her eyelids was pale and steady - daylight, and suddenly she became aware of the sound of rain drumming softly against a windowpane. She was lying in a bed. Her hands brushed over the knobby surface of a woven blanket.
A shadow fell over her. „Zana? Are you awake? Thank the Mothers!"
Galen's voice. He must've been in the room. She hadn't been aware of his presence until now.
„A bit," she whispered. Why was her voice so weak? With effort, she managed, „I'm thirsty."
„Yes, yes of course," She heard a chair creaking and then water gurgling as he rose from his seat beside her bed to pour her something to drink.
„Here, Zana, let me help you sit up a bit..."
It was strange - she wanted to sit up, wanted to open her eyes, wanted to feel better now, but her body very much wanted to lie down again, keep her eyes shut, and sleep, and be left alone. She compromised by stopping Galen once she was in a half-sitting position, and cracking her eyes open just a little bit to squint at the cup under her nose. It was tea, not water, the steam transporting a bitter scent. „What is that?"
„That's a, a tea from maidenhair leaves and yellow root. It reduces the swelling and the inflammation in the head, and makes the blood flow better."
It was a sign of Galen's nervousness that he explained the effect of every ingredient to her. Zana imagined her head was the size of a pumpkin, slowly being shrunk now by the tea. She took a sip, and gagged. „Is there oil in that tea?"
„Ah, yes, that yellow root isn't really water soluble, you see." The rim of the cup was pressed to her lips again. „A lot of people put butter in their tea, even when they're not taking it as a medicine," Galen said encouragingly. „And now that you're awake, you need to drink as much as possible of it. Doctor Lemar said it was important to drink it over several weeks, to prevent later complications..."
Zana forced another gulp down and hoped she wouldn't throw up the next moment. „Doctor Lemar? I thought you were treating me." She cautiously peeked at Galen. Now that she had adjusted to her half-sitting position, her dizziness was slowly retreating.
Galen sighed and sank into his chair again. „Zana, I'm not a doctor. I didn't even finish my studies, and the most I dare to do is treating inflamed udders and feverish humans. I will certainly not lay hands on my fiancée!"
Zana said nothing, and took another sip of her tea, more for Galen's sake than her own. It tasted horrible, oily and bitter. „And you really think an old country doctor in some backwater town is better than you? Where are we, anyway?"
Galen took a deep breath and regarded her with a little ironic smile. „He must be doing something right - you're almost your old, inquisitive self again. This little... backwater town is called Silam, and unfortunately, it still belongs to Pendan prefecture."
„Why unfortunately?" She took another gulp from her mug, determined to empty it, to shrink her head back to normal size as quickly as possible, so that they could move away from a town that seemed to make Galen so nervous.
Her fiancé flicked her a quick glance, maybe realizing his mistake. „You... you don't remember how we fled from that human village near Trion?"
„I do remember, Galen, I'm not senile," Zana said, slightly annoyed.
Galen rubbed his hands over his knees. „No, of course not, but a concussion can result in memory loss. Do you... do you remember what happened... back there?"
Bodies clumping around her, dragging her down like lead weights, scrabbling and digging and biting...
„No," she said, and emptied the cup. „I don't remember anything after you gave me the knife."
„Ah." Galen stared at the floor between his knees. „I see."
It had been the right answer, Zana told herself. He looked relieved. „So... why 'unfortunately'?"
Galen turned his palm upward. „Because Urko will search this prefecture up and down, and probably the neighbouring prefectures, too. And he, he knows you've been injured, so he knows we have to be hiding here somewhere." He quickly told her about their encounter with the general at the border of the Forbidden Zone. Peet had saved them with the human-made explosives he had found in that corridor.
She jerked away from the memory of that corridor as if it had singed her mind. That crawling, tearing, biting darkness... „Humans of old seemed to have been quite fond of blowing things up," she joked weakly.
Galen snorted. „Peet is inordinarily fond of using explosives, guns, and knives," he muttered. „One day he'll blow us up, mark my words."
„He saved our lives with his gun and his... grenades." She formed the human word carefully, proud to have remembered it. Maybe her head was still working, despite its size.
Galen didn't look convinced. „He is a human from that time. If all of them were that war-like, it's no wonder that all that is left of them are ruins." He leaned over to tug at the pillow in her back, and from close up, she could see that he was clenching his jaw. „Warlike and selfish, with no regards to the dangers their obsession poses to others..."
He was talking about Alan, Zana realized. Alan and his insistence on exploring that tunnel, waking up the... the things in it. Like a child poking an anthill. She suddenly sensed the anger that was simmering under Galen's concern for her. The outcome of this adventure had confirmed for him all the fears and prejudices apes held against humans.
She suddenly felt guilty for having let herself be dragged away. Over the last months, Galen had allowed a cautious friendship to develop between himself and the humans; now it seemed as if her carelessness had destroyed that fragile tendril of curiosity and understanding.
I should've fought harder.
A sudden worry lanced through her chest. Had Galen punished Alan for what he thought was the human's fault? „Where are Peet and Alan?"
Galen sniffed and leaned back in his chair. „They are earning our rent, and the doctor's bills... all our expenses, basically. I don't have any money left, Zana - it all went up in flames, metaphorically speaking, when we had to abandon the wagon."
Zana sat bolt upright, all her fears confirmed, then winced as a wave of nausea and dizziness hit her. „You sold them?"
„No," Galen huffed. „Why make a profit of them just once, when I can make one continuously? - I'm not really making a profit," he growled when he saw her glare. „But I need to pay for our stay here, so I hired them out."
Zana let herself sink into the cushions again and closed her eyes. She felt Galen take the cup out of her hands. Maybe she could sleep a bit now. Maybe there had been a third herb in that tea, one that made her drowsy again... „What'd you make 'm do?"
Galen pulled the cushion out from under her head, and she sank deeper, and that sinking feeling didn't stop, and it felt good to just let go...
She didn't hear his answer anymore.
YOU ARE READING
Cornered by Urko and his men, the fugitives have no choice but to hide inside a Forbidden Zone, where apes don't dare to follow. When they discover the ruins of yet another city, Virdon insists they search for technology that might bring them home...