Images flittered in and out of Tyra’s consciousness. People whispered, and every breath, every movement hurt. A wail in the distance; a mourner, or a dying fylgja? Voices raised and lowered, like waves washing over her aching body.
“Are you awake, Mistress?” A blurred face focused into Nanna.
Her eyelids fluttered, and she fought the headache numbing her thoughts. “Honey.” Did she say the words, or just think them? “Willow, heal-all, cure-all-root!” She pushed into a sitting position, but fell back in pain. Black dots danced in her vision. The stench of garlic and sour ale filled her nose as Nanna mopped her forehead. It stung against her decaying skin. She closed her eyes, whimpering.
“Rest, Tyra-little.” Nanna touched her cheek, a wisp of memory from times long gone. When she was not the Jarl’s wife, and long before she became mistress of Tanum fort.
“The herbs.” She gasped, using the last of her energy.
“I know.” A smile played in Nanna’s voice. “You taught us well, before—”
“Before it was my turn.” She coughed, turning her head away. Blood stained the sheets. “How many?” No answer. She forced her head up, meeting Nanna’s eyes. “How many sick? How many dead?”
“Too many. Mistress Val died today.” Nanna mopped her forehead again. “Rest. I do not want to lose you.”
Maybe you have to.
She slipped back into the other world, where she no longer heard Nanna or the sick. Under her feet, broken herbs dyed the skin green, and her hands were stained as well. Each breath tore through her lungs, and her head spun. Then she spun, twirling on blackening feet as the meadow turned to ashes and dust, ground into the bedrock of the ancient cliffs.
“You are not alone.” The voice sent shivers up her spine. “Who am I?” The entity wore a deep-red tunic trimmed with yellow and blue braid, and her head was crowned with a wreathe of henbane, nightshade and heal-all.
No words came out as Tyra opened her mouth. She wet her lips and tried again. “You are Eir. Am I dead?”
“Not yet.” She offered a posy of white, yellow and purple.
Tyra stumbled back, but her legs failed underneath her, and she tumbled to the ground. “Those are death.”
“Death to you. Life to them.” She pushed the posy into Tyra’s unresisting hand, just as the cliffs faded and the physical world bled through again.
She screamed in pain as the sickness returned ten-folded, and in her scream a fox’s cry echoed. The hand that mopped her forehead and caressed her cheek was younger than Nanna’s. Dread chilled her body, and she tried to sit up.
“Shh, she is just taking a break to eat.” Ieniva coughed, hiding it behind her hand. “She is still well.”
“You are not.” Tyra stared into the other woman’s blue eyes. Eyes dulled by fatigue. “Why are you taking care of me? I have given you little reason to care for me, and Randulfr even less.”
Ieniva wet her lips, a faint smile playing on her pink lips. Her freckled face was framed with short, red locks. “Am I likely to be free, go home, if I ignore this?” Tyra shook her head mutely. “I thought not. And as far as mistresses go, you are kind and caring.”
Tyra coughed out a chuckle and wiped her lips on the linen. “Am I, now?” Jealous, rather.
Before the thought ran its course, her body shook with spasms, and she screamed. Her nails dug into the bedding, and she writhed. The sweet stench of decay invaded her nose. From her own skin.
Ieniva murmured comfortingly in her language, and soon the spasms were over. For then, at least. In her laboured breathing, a song flittered through her mind. A rhythmical chant echoed by wispy voices flickering through time. Ieniva’s blue eyes was the last she saw before the roaring ocean replaced her bed.
She sat on a cliff, with grey water licking her bare feet, and the blue and purple islands glittering on the horizon. The wind picked up, with the scent of heather, and whistled the melody to a long-forgotten song. She coughed, each breath threatening to tear out her lung, as she struggled to pick up the words. Her grandmother’s song.
Her grandmother’s presence behind her. No, do not turn around. What if she is not there? She hummed along, and her grandmother’s deep voice joined in, guiding her through the passages in the repetitive song. The ocean joined, and the ancient cliffs. Even the fox slunk closer, adding its yipping to it.
Through weakness and pain, she soared on wings of mottled feathers. High above the fort she circled it. She choked on smoke from the pyre and the stench of dying.
“You cannot do it alone.” Her grandmother whispered in her ear. The wings faded, and Tyra sank as a rock, screaming in pain.
Ieniva shivered and wrapped her arms around her. The sweet and sour stench of the longhouse filled her nose. She should leave. She should try to run away; who would go after a thrall now?
“No, no, they are getting me! Stop them, the ants—” Erik choked on his own tongue, his body convulsing. She knelt by him and forced his chin up.
“It is just a dream.” She mopped his chest and the swellings in his armpits with the sour mixture Mistress Tyra had first created. It had not stopped anyone from dying, but at least it occupied her hands.
The young boy closed his eyes. No longer convulsing, he whimpered in pain. A layer of sweat covered his skin. It glistened on both the healthy reddish paleness and on the blackening tip of his nose.
“Drink this, it will make you feel better.” She helped him up into a sitting position. Just touching his decaying skin filled her mouth with bile, and she struggled to keep her face calm.
He greedily drank the entire mug, gasping between gulps. When it was empty she lay him down again. He closed his eyes. His face did not seem as pinched, and she caressed his cheek lightly. Once his heavy breathing had changed into the calmer sleep, she stood.
Coughing she stumbled towards the door. Her forehead burned, and her body itched.
Nanna found her outside, throwing up what little she had in her stomach. The crone patted her back gently.
“You have done good. Rest now. I have slept; I can take over.”
“Have … you seen anything like this?” Ieniva struggled to get to her feet. She coughed through lungs that seemed too tight.
“Never.” The thrall wrapped an arm around Ieniva’s waist. “I wish we had—”
“Had what?” Ieniva leaned into her frail friend.
“When my Mistress Tyra was little, her grandmother taught her herbs, and how to honour Eir.” She sighed heavily, staring into the distance. “She died before my little Tyra could learn healing magics. And I do not know anyone else who can heal.”
Ieniva’s mind swum with strange images, and her body strained under the thoughts. She lay down on the cot outside the longhouse and closed her eyes. Nanna patted her cheek.
“I will get you something to eat and drink. Rest for now.”
She nodded as her body convulsed with painful coughs. Alone, her mind moved to the cross. To Columba and his God. Her God.
“I believed.” Her lips barely moved as she muttered the words. “Why am I here, far from my people?” She coughed again, and panic gripped body tightly. Her hand was splattered with blood.
A bird called in the distance. It was a weird call, like an owl with a sore throat. The wheezing hoot called again. It called for her, she knew that with a certainty that scared her.
Before she had finished the thought, she was walking towards the sound. Strange, though, she felt lighter than she had, and she did not hurt. Glancing back, she saw a body laying on the cot. Her own!
“But how …?” She wet her dry lips with her tongue, stumbling towards the sound. Her hands looked like they should, but a sense of unrealness clung to them.
Rather than being met by a raptor, a lanky cat with black tufts on its ears approached her. The forest around them darkened, and her heart pounded in her chest. Trembling, she held out a hand to it.
The cat sniffed her before giving her hand a comforting lick. She touched its spotted head. Either she was dreaming, or she was already dead, but either or, the animal seemed to not be threatening her.
It accepted the caress, before padding deeper into the forest. She stared after it, frozen in place. It turned her head and made that half-roar, half-chirp noise again, as if it was beckoning her to join it.
“I might as well.” She followed its lead.
The rock underneath her bare feet was covered with pine needles, but her fear was left behind.
“Where are you taking me?” She hurried up alongside the cat. “And who are you?” The image of her and the animal walking side-by-side appeared in her mind. Placed there, it felt, by the cat. “You are my … companion? Follower?”
She bit into the inside of her cheek, glancing around. Above them, the sun hung among lazy clouds, and the path had disappeared behind them.
Nervousness danced along her spine, and she opened her mouth to pray, but the words caught in her throat. This was far from her own lands.
A stranger, in a strange place. Would the God Columba spoke of hear her?
Would he care?
Tears welled up in her eyes, and her fylgja stopped. It pressed a shaggy head against her hand. The dam broke and she fell to her knees. Wrapping her arms around the animal, she sobbed into its spotted fur, seeking comfort as images swum in her mind.
Randulfr Jarl. Strong, terrifying as he howled into battle, but his fingers and lips gentle against hers.
Her uncle, introducing her to the man she was to marry. A dream that disappeared when the norsemen took her from her home.
Tyra Brorsdotter, with green eyes twinkling with mirth, and lips that she had wanted to kiss. Awkward enough even without sharing the bed with her and Randulfr, but the greenness was now dulled.
She sniffed, closing her eyes. “I do not want her to die. I do not want anyone more to die!”
Toke, his eyes open in death, and his body convulsed. Burning on the pyre. His body had been dead before he was.
Her vision blurred through her tears, and instead of the forest, she saw a grieving fort. Randulfr and the men he had taken off to hunt returning to the dead. Pyres large enough to burn all the longhouses.
“I do not want to see more.” She screamed against the world. “Stop this, whoever will listen! My God, why did you forsake me? At least send me a sign that you are here. That you listen, and care.”
Silence answered her. Not even birds chirped.
The big cat tugged at her hand, and she followed. What else could she do?
The landscape opened up to reveal the ocean. In the distance islands lay, with people moving without the cares of the rotting sickness that crippled the fort.
Something pulled her back. The landscape and the cat faded, and with a gasp she sat up, gulping in air.
Nanna shook her shoulder, concern written into her wrinkled face. “You are alive! I thought we had lost you. I came out with the—”
The pain rushed back into her body, confirming what she had not wanted to think of: she would soon join the others. She coughed, pushing out a brief smile.
“Thank you.” She accepted the mug and gulped down the hot liquid. The taste of honey competed with strange herbs, and the pungent flavour of the bulb. The bread was not the heavy, dry bark-blended one the thralls generally ate, but rich and with butter and a thick slice of cheese on it.
Nanna patted her cheek. “Old Mistress Val has given the order that anyone that takes care of the sick will be treated to the best we have.” She glanced away, and seemed to almost choke on the words as she continued. “Because of Mistress Tyra. If we lose her …”
Ieniva shuddered uncontrollably, and the mouthful of cheese grew. She sipped the potion and forced the clump to slide down. “Will … will they punish us? If we lose her?”
“I do not know.” Nanna sank down next to her. “Maybe. Probably not.” She met Ieniva’s eyes, and Nanna’s were grey and tired, with wrinkles around them. “But she is dearer to me than my own child. I saw her first steps. I helped her the first time she cooked porridge.” A small smile flittered over her face. “And pretend that it was I who had burned it, and not her.”
Ieniva took the crone’s hand, squeezing it. “We will find a way. I promise.” She finished the last of the bread and drink. “Come, it is time to look to our sick.”
“Should you not rest?” Nanna struggled to her feet. “You have barely finished.”
Ieniva shivered, glancing towards the fort’s entrance. Beyond it lay the forested cliffs, and even further away the ocean. “I have … I cannot rest more.” She coughed again, wiping away the blood. “And you know why. While I can still stand, I have to …”
Tears glittered in Nanna’s eyes, and she nodded mutely. They walked together back to the sick, the dead, and the dying.
Tyra woke up from her daze again. Her head hurt, and she refused to look at her hands and feet. She croaked out a noise. Thankfully Nanna heard it and rushed to her side. Tyra eagerly drank from the mug, making a face at the taste. At least the honey sweetened it, and it had soothed her aching head before.
“Find me—” She cleared her throat, trying to raise her voice. “Find me a length of rowan wood. And plants.” She coughed, overruling the pain even as she knew that she coughed up blood. How long did she have? It had to be long enough. To face Hel, and her grand-mother, with failure written on her face was not an option.
“Which plants, Tyraliten?” Nanna’s voice was parts soothing, parts … she was not sure what. Reasonable, in a condescending way.
“Nightshade. Hemlock.” She coughed again, the pain tearing through her body, as if she was pulling flesh along. “Henbane. All-heal. In, in, in my chest. A bag, from home. Red leather.” She closed her eyes and lay back again, the exertion taking the last of her energy.
An animal cried from beyond. Not the fox, it sounded like a glypa. In her mind, the cat’s calls of distress blended with reality.
“Ieniva.” She gasped and sat up. “Nanna, Nanna!”
The older woman hurried to her side. “What is it, dear child?”
She probably should scold Nanna—she had not been a child for more than fifteen years, when she married Randulfr—but the anguish of the fylga overrode dignity. “Ieniva. She is— you need to get her here. She is hurting, badly.”
“Shhh, rest.” Nanna mopped her head with the sponge. “I will find her. Do not worry.”
When she woke up again, no light came in through the roof hole, and the air was filled with the herbs burned to honour Eir. A sacrifice in hopes that the gods would see their plight.
“Are you awake?” Ieniva whispered next to her, her breathing as heavy as Tyra’s.
Ieniva’s features flickered between the freckled thrall with blue eyes, and yellow eyes in a spotted cat’s face. She held out a hand, and Tyra took it hesitatingly.
“Why did you save me?” Ieniva coughed, covering her mouth with her free hand. “No one would have missed me.”
How could she answer? She stumbled to form words around the few thoughts that flickered through her mind. “I heard it. Your animal spirit.” She gasped in pain as she had forgotten to focus her mind away from it. “I had to do something.” She looked away. “Why did you stay? As you said … no one would have missed you. You could have left, and been far away from here.”
“I …” Ieniva coughed, whimpering in pain. “Rowan tree. Nightshade, hemlock, henbane and all-heal.”
“What did you say?” The sudden turn of her head radiated pain through out her body. The swelling on her neck stung. It broke, and the stench of the content made her wretch.
Nanna ran up to her, and the sour ale-mixture stung like death on her neck. Tears dripped down her cheeks, and she dug her nails into the covering sheet. She screamed, but one thought was a beacon through the painful fog: what did Ieniva know?
Merciful oblivion soothed her mind with darkness.
Ieniva lay back. What had she seen? She looked at her hand, the one that had touched Tyra’s. It looked like it had before the vision, before she knew—what even were those? Rowan she knew, but the flowers that she had named. She had never seen those, and never heard their names, but now she knew where they grew. But why?
Tyra coughed next to her. A single first, and then more and more and more, as if her body was tearing itself out of her. Ieniva closed her eyes, trying to shut the sound out. The end was near.
“Ieniva … why did you say that?” Tyra wiped her mouth.
“I do not know. I saw …” Her mind teasingly waved around fragments of the vision: a fire, the staff, chanting or singing. “We burn it. The herbs.”
“No.” Tyra tried to sit up, but her body seemed to fail her. “They mean death. I will not allow you to—”
“We are dying.” Ieneva coughed and held out a hand to Tyra. “Are you going to do that?”
“Yes.” She glanced away. “I have to.”
“Then I will be by your side.” Hesitatingly she caressed Tyra’s palm with her thumb. She was overstepping everything, but what did it matter? “Forever.”
Tyra gasped for air, but did not pull away her hand. “Why?” She clumsily caressed Ieniva’s hand in return.
“Because … because it was your body that I wanted against mine.” She flushed. As long as no one saw. And Tyra did not hate her for it.
“You … hate him, for what he did?” Tyra coughed again, closing her eyes, but her hand still held Ieniva’s firmly.
“No. He is— he brought me to you.” Her voice warmed.
Before Tyra answered, the door opened to let in air that swirled the cloud into strange faces and slender hands. The reached for the two women, moving through Nanna as she scurried closer.
“I found some rowan and the herbs. What are you going to do, Mistress?” The curtsy was delayed, probably because of the worry carved into her prune face. Tyra struggled to sit up. Ieniva helped her, throwing her a worried glance.
“Set up—” the coughing fit interrupted her, but she ignored it. “—a fire outside. Get the carved armchair from the dining hall.”
Nanna’s eyes widened. “You are going to perform sejd? You are not well enough.”
“And neither is anyone else.” She turned away, coughing again. “Do it. If I die, I die with honour.”
“Very well, but you will rest until everything is ready.” The crone shook a finger at Tyra. The younger woman lit up, and the smile was equally amused and tired.
“I will, but I remind you that you are not my minder anymore.”
Nanna patted her cheek awkwardly. “I know, Mistress.”
“Go, arrange.” She closed her eyes. “And get mead out. Both for myself and Ieniva. And any woman who can sing, get them there, to help us.”
“Both of you?” Nanna’s gaze flickered between the two. “Of course, Mistress.” She curtsied again and limped towards the exit.
The longhouse was empty. All eyes seemed to be directed towards Ieniva and Tyra, and even the moaning had stopped.
“What are we supposed to sing?” Ieniva rested against the cot.
“If you are supposed to come with me, you will know.” Tyra’s face scrunched into a mischievous grin. She had not seen that since they had confirmed that the sickness was spreading. Tyra’s pale lips were temptingly parted, but Ieniva forced herself to look away.
“Let us hope that you are right.” She closed her eyes, allowing the fatigue to consume her. “Rest, until it is time.”
“I am not letting you go out there naked and covered in blood.” Nanna returned with two clean shifts, and thralls carrying buckets of warm water in tow.
Tyra nodded and sat up carefully. Ieniva’s hand burned against her back as she forced herself to her feet. “Thank you.” She stumbled to the closest bucket. The fresh water refreshed her temporarily, and she slipped into the shift while ignoring the painful swellings. Her feet hurt, but if she pretended to not notice it, it would go away. Right?
Nanna caught her as she fell, and she clung to her old minder. “I …” She gasped for air, her lungs refusing to release more than a little. “Get me someone who can carry me.” She drew another heavy breath. “Ieniva?”
“I can walk.” Ieniva pulled on the other shift, her hands caressing the soft material. It was probably far from the short, heavy wadmal of the thrall shifts.
The two thralls who had carried in the water wove their hands together into a throne, and with help from Nanna and Ieniva, Tyra climbed into their arms. On her right, Randulfr’s half-brother Knut, and on her left Geir, whose lover had died third. Both of their faces were as carved in stone as they carried her out, trailed by Nanna and Ieniva.
“Thank you.” She glanced between them. “I am sorry for Bodil, Geir.”
Tears glittered in his pale eyes. “Save my daughter. The cough, she started—”
“I will if I can.” She rested heavily into their muscled arms. “A more proper seat for a sejdkona is hard to find.” The murmured half-thought danced in her mind. “Do you have the strength to stay, to hold me up?”
The thralls glanced between each other.
“Is that an order, Mistress Tyra?” Knut’s voice was controlled.
She shook her head and closed her eyes. “I have no strength for orders.”
A moment of silence followed her words, and she could almost hear Knut and Geir thinking.
“Then we will stay.”
Her seat wobbled and lowered as they knelt in front of the fire. The air outside was fresh, far away from the incense of the longhouse, or the stench of the pyre. She opened her eyes and held out her hand.
“The length of rowan wood and the pouch.” She clumsily grasped the rough stick. Her could barely feel it, and she fought back tears. Would she even live until dawn? “Ieniva, sit on my left. Draw deep breaths of the smoke, and sing what comes to you.”
Ieniva trembled and sat down, making herself comfortable on the quilts that had been placed down on the ground.
“All-heal, to ease and relax.” Tyra coughed and threw a handful of powder on the fire. It came to life with a roar. Without waiting, she threw another handful of powder onto it. The smoke circled them, and Tyra drew it into herself.
Images came to life, and her head spun. Her grandmother’s song filled her senses, and she released it. The monotone melody deepened in power as Ieniva’s high voice clashed with her own. One by one, the women around the fire joined the chanting, and Tyra grasped the staff-material with both hands. She raised it high above her head.
“Ancestors, hear me.” She rocked in her seat as she sang, shaking her staff. “Spirits of our lands, hear me.” Her eyes glazed over, and her heart beat the rhythm of the repetitive chant. She lifted from the seat and floated in the air. Below her, the fylgjas flickered into view. A spotted glypa with black ear-tufts nosed on Ieniva, a small bird nested in Val’s hair, and her own fox lay on her shoulders like a fur stole.
Ieniva met her eyes, and Tyra reached out for her. The other woman grasped her hand, and together they floated above the fort and the chanting below.
“Where are we going?” Ieniva squeezed her hand.
“I am not— there, do you see?” Tyra steered them towards a shimmer in the air. The shimmer mirrored them, but with a sense of wrongness. She reached out to touch it, touch her own fingers, and it engulfed her, drawing her in.
“I am coming, wait for me!” In the distance Ieniva’s call was muted, and Tyra landed with a painful thud on the cold bedrock.
The sun had set here—if it had ever risen—and frost laced still-green leaves. The fox hopped down from her shoulders and nosed at her leg. Though her head felt heavy, the overreaching pain had dulled into a steady beat.
Ieniva landed next to her, followed by her fylgja.
“Where are we?” She rubbed her lower back, glancing around the area. Tyra shook her head and pushed her curls back.
“I do not know. Where we need to be, I guess.” The length of rowan wood had reformed into a polished staff. “If you see anything that draws your attention, tell me.” She held out her free hand to Ieniva.
“I will.” Ieniva took it and squeezed it gently. “How are you feeling?”
“Headache. Feverish. But better, for now.” It was not a lie, though her toes were still blackened. Even if she lived, she would lose some—or all—of them.
The trees around them reached high up, so high that she could not see their crowns, no matter how she arched her neck. No birds sang and the suffocating scent of anticipating silence lay like a blanket over the area. Every step she took, the forest swallowed them deeper and lured them towards the centre of the maze.
The path winded through shadowy trees, and opened up at the door of a longhouse. The scent of incense and decaying flesh came from inside. Tyra lay her hand on the lock, pausing before she unlocked it and walked inside, trailed by Ieniva.
The smoke from the fire was laced with green, but apart from that, it looked like the longhouse in their world, complete with themselves. It was eerily quiet, though, with the sick not even moving.
Ieniva glanced back, her lips parting in surprise.
“I see something. Do you as well?” She pointed at the door. Tyra shook her head, her focus on the sick.
“No, but if you do, then go, follow it. I need to figure out how to cure our sick.” Each cot had an animal by it, either curled up on the patient, or laying next to it. They looked as miserable as their patient.
The door closed behind Ieniva, and Tyra moved to the first cot.
Following herself, Ieniva walked back out and left Tyra in the longhouse. The world morphed to bring the entire fort into being. Would that be true for Tyra as well?
She led herself into one of the houses closest towards the back wall, and there she turned around and put her finger over her lips before she faded, leaving herself standing by the door. Her head hurt just trying to figure out what had just happened, but shadows moved deeper into the house.
Dagny, speaking with her husband. When not dead or dying, she had reddish-blonde hair with darker roots, and pale blue eyes.
“My love, I thought of you when I found this.” He gave her a packet wrapped in leather. She unwrapped it to reveal the finest wool fabrics, both undyed and dyed, but it was a speck outlined in radiant black that drew Ieniva’s attention.
A small flea crawled from between the folds, and then another one, and a third. Dagny and her husband did not seem to see them, but their bodies were filled with pulsating black. Just like the black surrounding the victims in the longhouse.
She felt a tug, and the scene shifted. Tyra, healthy and strong, giving comfort to the new patients. Few enough that they still believed it to be containable, but the first victims—Dagny and her thrall Toke—were already dead.
The blackness pulsated around the smooth swellings of the victims, even the ones who coughed blood. Then the blackness morphed and shot out into the lungs of the young girl Embla. Now it radiated through her coughs, spreading in droplets across everyone and everything.
The fleas fled from the vinegar, but with Embla spreading the sickness through her cough, the other patients were also infected.
And then Tyra, breathing in just a drop that she was not quick enough to avoid. Without even noticing it.
Ieniva fled out of the sick house. Rats, fleas. They carried the sickness. And now, the blood of the sick.
A coughing fit came over her, and she looked at her hand. The blackness flickered through the blood in her palm.
“We have to heal ourselves, we have to get back.” She gasped for air. “Why am I seeing this? I do not want to see this!”
“Because it is your destiny.” A voice spoke behind her, a deep and sensual female voice.
“Do not get any closer, I am dying. I can kill you.” Ieniva sank to her knees, and tears flowed readily.
A hand touched her shoulder, and when she looked up, she was filled with awe and attraction. The beauty of the woman filled every pore, every part of her bloodstream.
“I cannot be affected by those sicknesses.” She rested a cool hand on Ieniva’s hot forehead. “And you saw what you needed to see. Because of who you are.”
“I am the niece of a king.” She murmured, almost to her surprise. She had not thought of that since Tyra took ill. “And a thrall to a warrior.”
“And a seer. You came here to fulfil your destiny.”
“I am a Christian.” Her fingers moved to her neck, where the cross should have hung.
“That is none of my concern.” The deity shrugged a perfect shoulder. “Find your lover, and help her. Only together can you stand against this.”
The bodies of the sick lay immovable as Tyra examined them. Blackness shimmered over them, tainting both them and their fylgjas, but how could she get rid of it?
Her back ached, and she straightened up, glancing back as Ieniva returned.
“Are you alright? You look as if you have seen a ghost.” She rubbed at her back, wincing as fingers hurt as well.
“I know how it spreads.” She shivered. “And that there are two kinds.”
“Two kinds? Are you sure?” Tyra glanced down at the closest patient. “The blackness seems identical in all.”
“The first kind …” Ieniva glanced around. “Here, you see that the sickness spreads along here?” She trailed her fingers up along the leg. Tyra stared, before nodding.
“But on some, it is also around the lungs. These are two different illnesses?”
“Yes. The first one is spread—” She interrupted herself, glancing away.
“How is it spread?” Tyra lay a hand on her wrist. “Tell me.”
“Through fleas that travelled in … in goods that the men stole when they stole me.”
“I see. You are worried you would be blamed for it?” Tyra shook her head. “No, it is not your fault. We do not need to tell them.” She patted Ieniva’s hand gently, grimacing as the pain intensified in her back. “And the second one?”
“It spreads through the coughs.” She shivered. “Embla was the first to die from it. And we both have it.”
Tyra wrapped her arms around herself. None of the deaths had been pleasant, but Embla’s had been the worst. She sank to her knees, pain and fatigue washing over her.
“Then I will not live to see the light of day.”
“You have to.” Ieniva knelt down next to her and wrapped her arms around her. “We have to do it together, and … I think that I saw the origin so that you can stop it.”
Tyra trembled in Ieniva’s arms. Grief and pain flooded her system, and she lost control of it to sob against Ieniva’s shoulder.
“I do not want to die. I do not want you to die.” She clung to her, seeking comfort. Could Ieniva even give it to her?
“It is okay. I do not want to die either.” Ieniva caressed her cheek without reminding her of the time, of the rush. She did not need to; every moment the pain intensified. Tyra pulled away.
“I will try on myself.” Dark amusement bubbled through her senses. “Watch, and try to see what I do.” She shook her head. “If I die, then maybe something can be used. If so, you are to try to heal yourself, but they have to know.”
“I agree.” Ieniva squeezed her hand. “Tell me what to do.”
“Just be here, and give me strength.”
Around them, the long house faded, and in a strange way they were in several places at once. Below was the fire, with the women chanting, and both of their bodies in trance. By them were the cots with their life forces, and alongside them the dying fylgjas. The weight of their future lay on Tyra’s shoulders and she stared down at herself.
“Grandmother, help me.” She shivered and brushed a strand of white hair from her own forehead. It was sweaty and warm. “Eir, I give my life to you, if you give me the way to cure my people.”
Trust in yourself. The wind, scented like her grandmother, whispered around her. You have all you need.
Did she? Her hand trembled on her forehead, and she closed her eyes. It would be easier if she pretended that it was not her that she was treating.
She let both of her hands run over her patient, sensing for wrongness. She found it; the sensation stung like nettle against her fingertips. She flicked at it gently, and it moved under her hands.
“I can draw it out.” But through where? She opened her eyes and studied the life force as it flickered through her body. And as it was duplicated in her womb.
She shivered, touching the tiny life growing inside of her. Tears trickled down her cheeks.
“Tyra, what is wrong?” Ieniva touched her hand. “Can you not cure yourself?”
“I can. I have to.” Her lip trembled. “I am pregnant, Ieniva. After this long, I am pregnant, and I may never live for it to live.”
Ieniva gasped, tracing the little creature’s shape as well. “What can I do to help?”
“I need to get the blackness out. From the lungs, I can force it out with air, but not the one that is inside of me.” Tyra drew her hand away from her heir, forcing herself to focus on the problem. “We will start with the lungs.” She lift her staff, and with a single shriek she formed a golden thread that flowed out of her mouth. With the staff she wove the thread into a glowing bag that settled around her mouth. “That should catch it.” Hopefully.
She closed her eyes again, focusing on the sensation against her fingertips as she flicked the blackness towards her mouth, exhaling in short, heavy blows. The sickness clung to her body with thousands of tiny thorns, but when she took help from the staff it pushed the final bits of lung sickness into the golden bag.
She knotted it and threw it down on the fire. “Fire and water both cleanse. Fire more destructively.”
She sat down, dizziness overcoming her. “We have to return. If it worked, then … then I have a long day.” She forced a smile in Ieniva’s direction. “And you do too. Find every way that this sickness infects. Clean everything, kill every rat. The sour ale and garlic wash should work for this as well.”
She closed her eyes again, allowing herself to fall gentle down into her own body.
She drew a deep breath. The poison was cleared from the fire, and the smoke tasted of all-heal and resin, and her lungs filled in a way they had not done since she fell ill.
“I can breathe.” A smile flickered over her face. “I can finally breathe.” Then fatigue and pain returned, through the haze of all-heal. “And I am still sick.” She rested back into the two men. “Find me a blanket. I will rest outside here until I have strength.” She threw a glance at Nanna. “Wash your hands, cover your face with fabric. The worst kind spreads through breathing.”
“You can cure it?” Nanna knelt down by her, touching her cheek. “Did you find how to stop it?”
“I think so.” She patted Nanna’s hand. “Together, Ieniva and I found it.” She leaned in to murmur the secret she and Ieniva shared into Nanna’s ear. “But do not let anyone else know. Not until all is well.”
“May Sif protect you, little one.” Nanna smiled warmly.