Shooting through the maze of beds, she fell at Alis’s side. Her mother looked worse than ever, her livid face twitching and stiffening in pulses as she moaned. Gracia came up beside them, touching Alis's wrists, chest, and forehead, muttering under her breath. No one called on her for a verdict, but they waited. Gracia’s eyes lifted to meet Cecily’s, and they understood. “Call on yourself, child. Nothing else is going to save her.” Alis’s body twisted and deformed with pain. The muscles grew slack, then convulsed, and it was all the bystanders could do to not cover their ears to shut out her shrieking.
|louisa afternoon, a photo by theloushe on Flickr.|
“I think your strength will avail more in this instance. I’ve been working on the others all this time, and I’m all but spent. Even that hasn’t been enough to save them all.”
“But I don’t think—”
“Don’t think! You know what you want, now take it.”
A darkness grew in Cecily’s mind. A darkness with no name but longing. The little group that had gathered around Alis’s pallet dissipated and Cecily stumbled to her feet, pacing to the front of the chapel and back, biting her nails.
“I believe that you are more in need of me than your mother.”
Cecily looked up to see the vicar. “Thank you, but I do not think I need your help.”
“I have not come with platitudes—”
“Please leave me, vicar.”
“—only to say that God’s ways are not our ways. Do not despair of his love and mercy, child.”
She turned on him. “Are you saying that God wants my mother to die?”
“No, only that if it is his will then it is for the best.”
“Thank you for your condolences. I would like to be left alone.” Cecily returned to Alis’s bed just as Rivens arrived.
“Is it true, girlie? Is yer mother really failing?” She only had to point. Alis lay still now, the only movement in her fitful rising chest. “Is she very bad?”
Cecily wondered if he really wanted to hear the truth. “She’s been weak for months, losing her strength and never gaining any of it back.” His arm slipped around her shoulders and she leaned her dry face against him. It was too late for tears, the quiet torture of days had wrung her eyes stiff and empty.
“Is there nought ye can do?”
“Oh, there’s plenty we can do.” She jabbed at a bag of fresh cut herbs. “We can make poultices and mix ointments and smear oils all night but none of it does a bit of good. There’s only one thing I can think of that might help.”
“An’ what’s that?”
“Gracia’s power.” She watched his expression, but saw no change. “She told me that I’m the only one who can save her.”
“That’s a risk.”
“I know, you told me to be careful. The vicar told me as much this evening. Do you think I should just stand by and watch her die?” They both turned to Alis, lying slack and pale beneath them.
“Do whatever ye can, Cessy. Only don’t blame yerself if it doesn’t work.”
“I hardly believe that it will. I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t know if it won’t do more harm than good.”
A low, purring hum had started unnoticed in the back of Cecily’s mind. She only noticed it as it grew louder. In a few moments it was filling both her ears, and in another moment it had drowned out the sounds of coughing and crying.
Alis’s eyes snapped open. “Cessy?”
“Yes, Mum! It’s me. I’m here.”
“I’m sorry, dearest, I’m so…sorry.”
“Don’t be. You can’t help it, none of us can.”
“It’s happened again, and I’m just…too…weak to fight. Can’t fight, Cessy.” Her body shook and juddered, wrenching upward and then collapsing with a moan. Her eyes stared wild in Rivens’s direction. “Colyn? Colyn is that you?” Cecily froze at her father’s name and Rivens ducked his head between his knees, rocking back and forth.
Cecily gripped her mother’s chapped fingers. “Then I’ll fight for you.”
She closed her eyes and tried to put herself back in the forest, back to the moment when she had imagined wind, whipping and shaking. She tried to remember what it felt like, sounded like, tasted like. Then it snapped into place.
“Mum, you’re going to get better. You’re going to be well. Listen to me, come back. This is not the end.” She imagined it with as much strength as she could muster—Mum, well again. She pictured the healthy glow of her skin, no more tired lines, an end to the screams and twitches. In an hour—no, in a minute—there would be a smile on that face. Peace.
A sense of surety built in her, and a warm thing spread through Cecily’s veins. She could beat this horrific thing. She could force back fate and turn death itself backwards. Soon there was no thinking or willing, only feeling and hearing the power work its way through her fingers. Speak to me. Oh please, say something.
Her ears strained to the brink of breaking and her legs went numb against the stone floor. She couldn’t see them, but everyone in the chapel had their eyes fixed on Alis’ pallet and the kneeling girl. A few gathered around her. Gracia put her fingertips to Alis’s temples and spoke low words.
If their eyes weren’t imagining things, Alis’s chest had begun to rise in a steadier rhythm. Cecily clutched her mother’s hand and leaned over her body, every inch of her tense. A mouse scuttled in the loft and they all heard the patter of each tiny feet.
|Church Candles, a photo by supermuch on Flickr.|
Slow, achingly slow, but perceptible, came a relaxation. One of Alis’s hands, help up tight and twisted like a claw, drifted down to lay upon the blanket. Her taut tendons eased, and the sense-starved eyes closed together.
The chapel door squeaked open and Bess tiptoed in. Two second’s sight of Alis and she stifled a laugh of joy, then ran to the pallet. Gracia gave her a small smile without stopping her quiet speech. Bess watched Cecily—whose eyes were still closed—and waited for the miracle to be complete. Five minutes passed, and the flesh which had been burning and bitten was now mellow and cool. Five minutes more and Alis looked more alive than dead.
Cecily felt wet patches of sweat under her arms and tasted blood on her lips for the first time as the pounding hum retreated from her mind and left it aching. Her mum’s eyes opened without effort, and Cecily saw and recognized.