Ch. 32 - Life in the Balance

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The Wished were quick to come to their leader’s aid. Surprisingly, the humans helped as well. Riley crumpled up his own cloak to staunch the bleeding. Cooper tore strips of bandages and took charge with a calm but firm voice.

“Star—some boiling water, now. Renelle, take three others and make us a stretcher. Emmet, I need a bed cleared for her, and clean blankets.”

Ms. Tona shoved up her sleeves and crouched down beside Ezerelle. The schoolmistress peeked under the wadded up cloak to see the damage. “If we can stop this bleeding, we can save her. Nerry, dear, quick fetch us some moss—you know the kind we need?” 

Miss Nerry nodded and dashed off to a spot by the lake edge where it was shady enough for moss.

“Right,” Cooper said in agreement with Ms. Tona, not even recognizing that this woman had been her enemy only moments ago. “Arley, put a knife in the fire. We may need a hot iron before we are done.”

Lacey sat back watching everything happen. She stared mutely at the blood on her hands—for the third time in how long? It had only been days since Niva…had it only been a few weeks since the battle at the road. Lacey’s mind drifted as she tried to track how many days it had been since she had first chased that white rabbit into the Wish Wood. Devan’s blood had been the only wound that was truly a work of her own hands, but she couldn’t help but feel responsible for all of them. All because she could not control her impulses. Her attention jerked back to the scene in front of her as four people hefted Ezerelle’s body onto the makeshift stretcher.

Lacey’s cheeks burned—what was wrong with her? This was not the time to let her mind wander. She jumped up and followed behind the procession.

“Cooper, what can I do?” Lacey asked.

“Nothing, child. Just stay out of the way. You have done enough.”

Cooper’s words were not blaming, but Lacey felt them like a stab in her own chest. She stumbled back into a log and sat down, heavily. She had done all of this. If she had just left that stupid rabbit alone—if she had listened to Mama, been less of an animal, none of this would have happened. She looked down at the coarse black hairs on her forearms, wanting to just rip it out.

A hand rested on her shoulder timidly. Lacey knew it was Mama, by the smell of fresh bread teasing through the smell of blood, by the safe feeling that spread through her at that touch.

Mama hugged her and began wiping with a wet cloth at the blood that had caked onto Lacey’s hands.

A ragged sob escaped Lacey and she leaned into Mama’s warm softness.

“Shh, it’s ok, my Little Lacey.” Mama didn’t blame her, or ask her what was wrong with her, or tell her what she should have done different. In that moment, she was just Mama.

After Lacey choked out a few tearless sobs into Mama’s shoulder, she looked around. People were milling in the camp, Wished and human. Nobody really knew what to do; only a few were needed to help with Ezerelle, and the rest had only just been fighting the people standing next to them. It was disorienting for everyone.

Some had started to pick up the debris--make sloppy attempts to reattach doors. The master carpenter from Pine Ridge stood with his hands on his hips, surveying the little shantytown, obviously calculating and cutting in his mind.

Hope flickered in Lacey’s heart. Maybe something good would come from all this. A truce could mean a better quality of life for the Wished.

“Why did you attack the camp Mama?” Lacey asked, suddenly. She couldn’t understand it, even with the Envoy urging them on. The villagers were not aggressive like this. Miss Nerry of all people? Lacey thought as she watched the rotund chicken keeper hurry past with her curls bouncing.

Mama gasped, and held Lacey at arms length again. “Lacey! Where is—”

Before Mama could finish her question, Lacey spotted Devan bending down to pet Meemu, who was curiously staying away. He had always been standoffish around Mama.

The water!

“Devan!” she shouted and ran over to him. “The water, from the cave.”

Devan’s eyes shone with understanding. The waters had healed him. The wound in his leg should have taken much longer to heal—probably should have killed him or at least taken his leg. But it was entirely healed, with barely even a scar now. He looked around nervously, his eyes lingering on Berellan and then Blayd.

“Devan I promise you. They are people like us. Forget what they look like. Forget what they have done. They feel happiness and hurt, just like us; they make mistakes, just like us. Help me save her.”

Devan’s lower lip trembled and tears came to his eyes. “I have made a lot of mistakes too.”

He didn’t say anything more. He dumped out his water skin and grabbed Lacey’s hand. They ran toward the Wish Wood.

“Lacey!” Mama cried behind them. “I need to know what happened to—”

“Not now, Mama. We have to save Ezerelle!”

Lacey knew the way by heart. Devan followed her lead. She hoped one water skin would be enough. Maybe she should have snatched a bucket too—maybe she should have listened to what Mama was trying to say. It sounded important. But there was no time for maybes. They crashed through the Wood, heading for the cave and it’s healing waters.

A/N - We are getting close to the end. Will Lacey save Ezerelle? What did Mama want to ask Lacey do you think? What is with Meemu suddenly not being there--doesn't he always snuggle her when she is upset? And where is Goeden in all this???? 

So many questions that I am getting really excited and anxious to share with you all. But also I hate to think of Lacey's story coming to an end. Please leave lots of comments. I love hearing from you. I think all my readers are amazing, and anyone who has made it this far I think is super amazing!

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