Greta looked up and saw a big man carrying his little six-year-old daughter to the roundhouse. The daughter cried because of the pain. Her lungs sounded full of fluid. The man cried as well. Aw, hell, Greta thought Gerraint’s words.
Greta found her way to the fish house well after dark. The others were already snoring, having spent a hard afternoon felling and trimming trees and without any sleep at all the night before. It was not hard to find Uwaine in the dark. She recognized his breathing. She curled up beside him, not touching, but close enough to touch, and shortly went to sleep. She felt tired.
The next morning, she threw the boys out and took over the fish house for a work space. They would have to sleep outdoors. They said they did not mind sleeping around the fire, but she knew the days were closing in. She satisfied herself by thinking that they would be so tired after a hard day, they would probably sleep anywhere, and she collected Lucan and went to work.
Three days later, she threw her hands up in frustration. No one had died or even gotten worse in that time, but no one had gotten better, either. There were two new cases, besides, and more houses to burn. For her part, Greta had no incubator, her Petri dishes were wooden bowls, her microscope was a roman magnifying glass she had in her bag, and she could not produce anything approximating penicillin to save her life.
“Manannan!” Greta ran to the shore and cried out. “Manannan!” The god did not answer. She called again and again, and Lucan stood by, shocked at first, but patient thereafter. Greta opened her mind and her ears before she shouted herself hoarse, and then she had a thought; or perhaps Manannan gave her the thought.
“Pincher!” Greta called, not knowing if the dwarf might even be alive yet. “And Pincher’s mother,” she added. “Runabout!” The name came to her. They were hers, after all, and she could command their presence, though whether they could help or not felt uncertain.
A mother dwarf and her young son appeared, sure enough. The dwarf shrieked. Lucan screamed. Son of the Cow dropped his sword and ran for his life. The dwarf child, Pincher, looked at Greta and smiled.
“It’s all right. Don’t be afraid,” Greta said hastily to whoever listened. “I just need your help for a little bit.”
“What. Me?” Runabout asked
“Me?” Pincher echoed.
“Yes, both,” Greta said, and she coaxed them toward the fish house figuring Lucan would recover soon enough. Greta explained what she was trying to do. “If I can distill it to liquid form where it can be taken internally, it should kill the invading bacteria and the people could be healed.”
“Yes, I see,” Runabout said. “But what makes you think that I can do anything you can’t do?” Greta frowned before she answered, and then she had to choose her words carefully.
“Because I have a feeling about young Pincher, that he may be a healer one day,” she said.
“Why?” Runabout asked. “We never get sick.” She spoke of the little spirits of the world, the dwarfs, elves, light and dark, the fee, and generally the sprites of the four elements, and for the most part, what she said was true.
“But he is not entirely a spiritual creature, is he?” Greta countered. Runabout said nothing. She looked around, embarrassed to speak the truth. “He is half human, is he not?” Greta pressed.
“He might be,” Runabout admitted sheepishly. “But, how would you know that?”
“I also know what Runabout means,” Greta said. “But that is not important right now. Producing the right stuff to heal this pneumonia outbreak is. People are suffering, terribly.”
“Well, I suppose it would not hurt to have a look.” Runabout eyed Greta with great suspicion.
“Can we?” Pincher asked with some enthusiasm, and Greta took the young one by the hand and dragged him inside. Runabout became obliged to follow, and Lucan came in a short time later.
After three more days, they had a mixture which Greta thought might have a good effect. One man died in the meanwhile, but word of the dwarf, and the assumption of magical help, stayed the anger of the Picts. Then it would all be in the delivery, and Greta took the mixture to the little girl, personally. After six days of waiting, the girl and a number of others were at death’s door.
It seemed touch and go at first, but not really more than a day or two before people began to breathe, literally. Gerraint’s crew went happily to work after that, knowing they would live. The Picts even began to smile now and then, and the women laughed a little.
Greta almost let Gerraint come home, but excused her staying on by saying she wanted to be sure there were no relapses. No new cases had come forward once the houses were burned, however, so it was really to see the little girl back on her feet and watch the young Pincher at work. He did, indeed, pinch his patients at times to get their attention. Runabout stayed in the fish house, smelly as she said it was. She claimed to be naturally shy in front of humans, as most little ones are, though Greta noticed she was not especially shy in front of Son of the Cow, once he got over his fright.
Pincher, on the other hand, became fascinated with this whole medical process. He insisted on accompanying Greta and Lucan to the Roundhouse to administer the drug and watch its’ effect. Fortunately, the people there saw him as a young boy, short, but not dwarfish in particular. That grace, Greta allowed him, and in the years to come it would permit him to move freely between human and dwarfish worlds.
“But can’t I see the dwarf?” Ellia, the little girl asked when she felt much better. She had told Greta her real name and her father made no objection seeing as how Greta saved the girl’s life.
“But you do see him,” Greta said and set Pincher beside herself.
“Him?” Ellia turned up her nose. “He is just a grubby little boy.”
“Here.” Greta took Ellia’s hand. Suddenly, Ellia became able to see as if through Greta’s eyes and the little girl’s eyes got big as she took in Pincher’s dwarfish half. “Now rest.” Greta let go. “Doctor Pincher and his mother need to go home now, and you need sleep. Sleep is still the best medicine.” She said that last to Lucan, but Lucan dutifully translated it anyway.
“What do you mean, go home?” Lucan asked when she caught up.
“Do we have to?” Pincher asked.
Greta merely nodded as they walked to the fish house. Runabout sat there, waiting, and anxious for her own part.
“Something you should know first.” Runabout spoke when they were ready. She looked down as she added, “Son of the Cow told me all about it.” Greta waited patiently until Runabout swallowed her embarrassment and got ready to go on. “The chief, Moonshadow, is against making peace with the Scots. He has been very strong about it and has won many chiefs to his way of thinking. He says the Ulsterites, as he calls them, were not invited into the land, and yet they have spread like a plague until the whole of the lowlands are now in their hands. He says if they make peace, more Scots will find a pretext to move north until there is no room left and the Picts will vanish altogether from the face of the earth.”
“This is true,” Lucan confirmed. “Moonshadow is unbending on this.”
“Yes,” Runabout continued. “But last spring the god of fire and water came here and spoke all kindly about peace and love between the two peoples. When Moonshadow refused to listen, however, the god threatened. He said Moonshadow called the Scots a plague, then so be it, and he vanished.”
“And the summer turned as dry and hot as fire,” Lucan picked up the story. “And the fall has been as wet as the sea, and people began to get sick. We feared. We might have all died if you had not come along.”
“I do not like the idea of working against the god,” Runabout said frankly, and then she had a moment of complete honesty which was utterly uncharacteristic of her kind. She almost came to tears as she spoke. “I tried to ruin the cure, but my magic seems ineffective in this place.”
“Just a precaution,” Greta said, and she kissed Pincher on the forehead, squeezed Lucan’s hand and went home. Gerraint returned, clothed in his armor, his weapons in their proper place at his back, and the cloak of Athena over all. Lucan gasped. She had forgotten. “And now it is time for you to go home,” Gerraint said.
Runabout also gasped. “No wonder,” she said. She finally realized in whose presence she stood and tried to bow, but Gerraint spoke quickly.
“I will see you again, no doubt.” He laid a hand on each head. “Go home.” And they did.
“Is it over?” Lucan asked. Her eyes were shut. She had decided the magic would not be so shocking if she did not see it. She shrieked all the same when she saw Gerraint face to face. He seemed her age now, and surprisingly, she did not look as old as she did before. He sighed and lead her back to the roundhouse, totally confusing poor Son of the Cow.
“Ellia,” he called the girl.
“How do you know my name?” The girl asked.
“Oh, I know all about you,” he said. “Even where you giggle.” He tickled her a little and she responded. The little girl paused, then, and looked deeply into Gerraint’s eyes.
“My lady.” Ellia guessed at last. “But where is she?”
“She has gone home, my dear, and so must I.” He drew her smile to his heart. “I have a little girl myself. Her name is Guimier, and I miss her, terribly, and Enid, my love.” Ellia suddenly bound up and threw her arms around Gerraint, much to Lucan’s surprise.
“Thank you for saving my life,” she said. Indeed, she recognized him, and her lady in him.
“Use your life wisely,” he answered, and let her go.
Gerraint and Lucan went out to the woods where the chopping and shaping of the trees was in full swing. He got a rousing welcome from his fellow travelers.
“Decided to pull your weight at last,” Urien said.
“She went home?” Uwaine asked.
“Where she should be, in her own time and place,” Gerraint answered.
Moonshadow and a number of Picts came running up then and they did not look too happy about the weapons at Gerraint’s back. Gerraint merely shrugged and put out his hand.
“You’re welcome,” he said. Both Lucan and Dayclimber translated.
Moonshadow slowly put his hand out. “Thank you,” he said, and they shook. Then Gerraint removed his weapons and set them aside. They had several houses yet to build.
One potential disaster is averted, but that does not mean they are out of the woods yet. It is still a long way to safe ground. Next Monday, Gerraint and his company are Winter Bound. Until then, Happy Reading.