Tasunke's eyes narrowed as he tried to find his brother's tracks. If Wicasa thought that he was going to beat him this time, he was wrong. He stretched out his senses. He knew Wicasa had laid this trail at least three hours before he'd been allowed to start tracking– but it was so like his brother to double back so he could watch him fail.
Only this time he wasn't going to fail.
He allowed himself a slight smile as he saw the tracks off to the side of the trail. Wicasa had doubled back. He started to follow the second trail when he heard something off the track– it sounded like a wounded animal crashing through the woods.
‘Animal or man,' he corrected himself. The footsteps were unsteady... possibly human. Either way– it was his job to find out which. The tests would have to wait.
Tasunke stopped tracking his brother and headed towards the sound. Once he had cleared his brother's trail, Wicasa dropped down from a tree in front of him.
"I heard it too," Wicasa stated quietly. "Shame– you would have caught me this time."
Tasunke smiled. His brother's admission was an acceptable consolation. "That way," he said nodding towards where he'd heard the sound.
Wicasa nodded. "I'll come in from the ridge– be careful."
Tasunke nodded and move off, quietly making his way to the source of the sound.
Tasunke stood at the tree line where he could see the still, very human form laying where it had fallen. He looked up to the ridge and waited for Wicasa's signal. When he heard his brother's low whistle, he moved in.
He gently rolled the still form over, careful of any injuries he may have received from his fall. It was an elf.
‘An elf, wearing a flannel shirt– smelling of the lake... and fish,' he corrected himself. Once he was sure the man was still breathing, Tasunke gently ran a hand over the man's chest, arms and legs– nothing seemed broken, but he could feel the fever that was burning the man up.
He quickly gave Wicasa a warning whistle. There was no point in exposing his brother to whatever ailment the elf was suffering from.
Then he began work on a travois. There was no other way he was going to be able to carry the man out on his own.
Wicasa watched over his brother as he tended to the injured man. He'd almost headed down when he found no-one else around, but Tasunke's whistle had stopped him.
The man was sick.
He wondered if it was the sickness that the others had suffered– whether it would now claim his brother, being this close to one so sick.
‘No,' he told himself. Witashnah knew the sickness, had fought it: she would not let her brother die of it-- not Tasunke or the stranger.
He smiled to himself as Tasunke started rigging something to carry the stranger out– carry him to their sister. He was indeed ready to join the others as an equal.
Tasunke eased the man onto the travois. It had taken him longer to make the device than he liked– but most of the branches and timbers that lay near the man were rotten.
He was worried. The man had not made a sound since Tasunke had found him and his fever was getting worse.
He tried to ignore the smell that was settling over the area. It was almost as if the disease that was effecting the man was effecting the land around him.
He looked up to where he knew Wicasa was waiting. The enemy was far closer than they believed.
He moved into the clearing and began signing.
Wicasa gasped as he ‘listened' to his brother.
The enemy was near. Near enough to have touched this man– to have given him the slow death.
Wicasa wanted to tell his brother to move away from the man– to go to their sister... but he knew his brother would not– should not do such a thing.
He gave a single answering whistle.
They would take him to Witashnah. She was their only hope now.
Witashnah knelt beside the man her brothers had brought to her. Just sitting near him she could feel the heat that radiated off of him. She took the herb laden cloth and moistened it, then gently mopped his brow.
She flinched slightly as he moved-- trying to fight off some nightmare conjured by his fevered mind.
As he calmed, she continued to bathe his face. Once the herbs and water began to take effect, she moved to his chest, carefully folding back the blanket to his waist and continuing to apply the blessed liquid until again, she could feel the heat dissipate.
Then she pulled the blanket back up to his neck and then folded the bottom of the blanket to his mid-thigh.
He was thrashing less now, but there was no recognition in his eyes. She returned the cloth to the bucket and pulled the blanket back over him. She bowed her head and was starting to pray when she heard him speak.
She looked up at him and smiled-- waiting for him to speak in his own time.
He closed his eyes slowly and then opened them again-- "Please..."
His voice was stronger, his words clearer and yet... it was as if they were gaining their strength by robbing him of his.
Her eyes narrowed slightly as she listened, trying to get him to say more, but there was no more– the fever had drawn him back into its grasp and did not seem to want to let go.
It was then that she noticed the stench of the other. It had poisoned him as it had poisoned the land. He was dying– even as the land was dying.
‘He will not have you,' she swore to herself. She took the cloth again, and again began trying to draw the fever out, but he gently pushed it away.
His words were so soft she could barely hear them.
"They.... they have them.... "
Her eyes widened.
There were more... and taken prisoner?
What was the enemy planning?
She had to know.
Witashnah listened as her brothers discussed what she had told them.
The other was getting more powerful. It had taken twice as much effort to bring the man's fever down as it had the others. She could not help but look at her brothers and worry what would happen if she did not defeat the enemy.
Visions of them laying fever ridden like the stranger filled her inner sight-- it was too much for her to bear.
She knelt by Tasunke, placing a bucket of herbs next to him. She silently laughed at the mortified look he gave her.
He shook his head, but she would have none of it. He had to admit, he felt better, just having her nearer but... this was too much.
Wicasa chuckled kindly. "Sister– please, I know he must be cleansed but... give him some dignity.
Witashnah turned towards him and smiled. There was a sparkle of mischief in her eyes. "You're next," she signed.
Tasunke laughed as his brother shared his ‘reward.'
Tasunke could feel the difference now. The herbs and Witashnah's care had drained away the wrongness he'd felt, and now– now he could see the trail of disease that had followed the man.
When he nodded towards the path, Wicasa nodded. "We must stop its spread before it is too late."
"Witashnah will care for the stranger– we shall use her herbs and words to bring healing.
Tasunke looked towards the fire where their sister knelt caring for the stranger.
"She will be all right."
Tasunke nodded at his brother's words. "But– will he?"
Wicasa looked at the man and shook his head. "I do not know. But if he doesn't– it will not be from a lack of trying."
As they watched, Witashnah eased the man's head onto her lap and tried to get him to drink.
"Come– before it is too late," Wicasa urged as he gathered the pot and herbs together. "There are others to worry about."
Tasunke nodded and headed down the trail without a word.
Witashnah silently urged the stranger to drink, but his throat was too swollen. He shook his head weakly and then tried clumsily to push it away. He looked up at her his eyes pleading. He was past the point where he could talk now, but she saw the plea in his eyes.
She nodded, tried to reassure him, but without a voice it did no good.
He was too weak to move, but that did not stop him from trying. He tried to get up, tried to go back to the ones he'd left behind.
She wept in frustration as she tried and failed to calm him down again.
Finally he slipped into unconsciousness. What she could not do, the other's curse did for her. She looked at the man and took his now still form in her arms and cried.
‘Such is the fate of those who oppose the other,' the woods seemed to tell her.
She prayed it was not so.
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