(Photo by Kat J on Unsplash)
This is the chapter 4 of my ten-chapter fantasy novella, The Healer of Istagun. Click here to read chapter 1. I hope you cry!–I mean, enjoy! 😉
When Prima and I reached the tiny huts, horror shot through my veins.
A small redheaded girl was lying dead on the ground, her body covered in tumors. As we drew closer, I saw that many bodies of children scattered across the ground, with living children mourning over their brothers and sisters.
I felt like a peach seed had caught in my throat that I could not swallow. I didn’t know if I wanted to gaze at the sight out of silent reverence or turn and run away from the overwhelming spectacle.
Prima began sobbing violently. “Dahlia—it can’t be! I never knew this was possible.”
I enveloped her in my arms, as tears slipped down my own cheeks. “Come on, Prima,” I murmured, trying to build a strong wall around my heart so it wouldn’t break.
When Prima only cried harder, her wings unable to flutter, I gathered her up in my arms and carried her slowly through the children. Soon we reached the familiar thatched hut that had branded a place in my heart. I had never knocked on this door before, but because it had been so long, I felt I no longer had a right to just walk in.
At the sound of my knocking, a yellow fairy opened the door. Her usual sunny smile was replaced by blue eyes filled with pain. “Who are you?” she asked quietly.
“I’m here to see Hollis.” I averted my eyes from her. Perhaps my slim eighteen-year-old frame looked young enough to be thirteen.
“Dearie, I’m so sorry, but we do not allow anyone above the age of thirteen. Go back to Summer, ma’am.”
Or perhaps not.
Prima came to the rescue, brushing back tears and speaking hoarsely. “I brought her by the queen’s orders.”
The yellow fairy grimaced for a moment at the green fairy in my arms, but then swung the door wide. “Anything for the queen.”
As we stepped inside, the Spring pixie sighed. “Who did you say you were here to see?”
After I set Prima down in a cushioned-back chair, I stared blankly around the half-empty room. A few young boys and girls lay in beds, and the Spring fairies rocked crying infants in their arms. But many of the beds lay empty, including Hollis’ in the far corner.
I pointed to her pallet, my finger shaking. “W-where’s Hollis?”
The yellow fairy’s wings wilted. “I’m very sorry. I don’t know what happened to that one, ma’am. Some of them died from the plague but others were taken away to Summer whether they were old enough or not—just so they wouldn’t catch the plague. I go around to many huts. Too many to keep track of.”
I grabbed a hold of Prima’s chair, suddenly feeling like I might fall over. “Those tumors—they look just like the ones she had.”
Prima clutched my arm. “Dahlia, it’s going to be okay.”
My heart broke into fine pieces. How could she say that, after she had seen so clearly the devastation outside? Hollis was dead. I should have known.
“Maybe she got better, and they took her to Summer.” Prima shrugged.
“Get along now, or the other fairies might get suspicious.” The yellow fairy lowered her voice. “Not everyone is loyal to the queen, you know. The queen never ordered the children to be taken to Summer before their Time, but many fairies are doing it secretly to save lives. But I don’t tell on them either. Lucky for you I don’t choose sides.”
When I just stood there in a trance, Prima pulled me gently out of the hut.
I yanked my hand out from her grasp. “Are we really supposed to believe her? What if Hollis’ dying in Winter with the other sick ones, or what if she’s already dead?”
“Then it’s too late,” Prima said firmly, strength returning to her tear-stained eyes. “But if she’s still alive in Summer, there may be a chance.”
Her words shook me. She was just stating the facts, that was all. Hollis was probably dead, but if I wanted to keep hoping, I had to go to Summer.
“But—I don’t understand. Why would fairies disobey Queen Hazina’s orders like that?”
“We just passed the mud walls, Dahlia. We aren’t very loyal to the queen either. There are more Gesu-followers in Istagun than you think.”
A young boy ran up to me and hugged me, giving me a start. “Dahlia! It’s been so long. You’ve got to help us.” His tousled brown hair drooped over his weary young eyes. “My brothers are all dead. I don’t want to die, too.”
“Kari,” I choked, remembering his three other brothers and their bright dimply smiles. “I’m so sorry. Maybe we will find them in Summer.”
If there was any hope for anyone, it was in Summer. Had Hollis been in Summer for weeks, months, or years, and I simply hadn’t seen her? I ached at the thought. Had this trip to Spring been pointless?
Prima looked at me, understanding filling her eyes. “Ah, yes. Let’s go, everyone. It’s freezing here!”
I wanted to laugh at her joke, for it was only slightly cooler here than in Summer. No doubt Winter was much worse, if water actually turned into a solid there. But I only grimaced for the sake of the horrors surrounding us, as I clutched Kari’s little hand.
A young girl carried a bucket of water on her head, stepping in between the children’s bodies. She brought it from the river, I knew. The river that quenched the thirst of all four seasons. There were not many children to taste the cool refreshing water anymore.
We trudged slowly back to the mud wall. The stench of death filled my nostrils, making me light-headed and nauseous. Deep within me, I bled for the children. Whatever had caused this, I could not stand by and do nothing.
As I searched for Hollis, I had to search for the cure of this awful plague as well.