“Mam, please, let me call the herb women,” Jerra pleaded with her mother. Ambra was suffering, that much was clear to her oldest daughter, but from what, Jerra didn’t know. The wise women in town were healers, users of herbs and natural remedies for a multitude of illnesses, but Ambra refused to see them.
“Jerra, they can do nothing,” she coughed, phlegm accompanying her words, “for this is not of Buranga, but of Masica.”
Jerra cocked her head, her long, curly auburn hair swinging loose from the restraining maiden’s braids. She looked frightened, not sure now that her mother would recover from the fever racing through her body.
“Masica,” she asked. “Does that mean I’m going to catch it? Or Genn and Tair?”
Struggling to sit up, her mother shook her head, “No, at least I don’t think so. I’ve never seen it before, but I’d heard stories, cautionary tales, during my training.”
Jerra helped her once plump and hearty mother sit up in her sickbed and gently demanded, “And?”
Ambra gave her daughter a scolding look before a coughing fit took hold of her, but it worked on her daughter, who ducked her head and sat back on her heels beside the bed.
“And,” Ambra choked out, “this fever, this disease, only affects those Mascia who leave the city and the magical influxes there. I don’t imagine it will affect you and your sisters, but I have been wrong before. Until you were born, I didn’t even know it was possible for Masica and Buranga to breed together.”
As if speaking their names drew them, the younger girls peeked their dark heads around the door of their parents’ bedroom.
“Is Mam alright,” asked Genn.
“Can we come see her,” chimed in Tair.
Ambra smiled at her rambunctious eight-year-old twins. “Mam’s fine,” she told them, holding her arms out for their rowdy embrace.
Jerra nodded at her mother over the twins’ heads. She waited for Ambra’s return nod before leaving the bedroom to go find her father.
Ander was in the barn, sitting on the milking stool, head in his hands when his oldest child found him. His head jerked up when he heard her footsteps shuffle through the dirt and loose hay. Jerra could see the stains of recently fallen tears on his rugged face.
His voice cracked, breaking Jerra’s heart. At only sixteen years old, she knew what losing her mother would do to her father. Her father cared deeply for Ambra, despite the fact that the woman he’d married was Masica.
“No change, really,” Jerra answered him. “She’s still refusing to let the herb women come, though.”
Ander sighed. He had hoped his wife would tell Jerra the reason for her refusal of the healers, but she was stubborn. As was Jerra, who would continue insisting until she knew the truth.
“Jerra,” he said, “daughter, you cannot call the wise women to come here. Your mother is right.”
He held up a hand to forestall his oldest child’s protests, “She cannot maintain her Buranga appearance. She does it for the twins. And you, I suppose. But at night, when you children have gone to bed, and Ambra is alone with me, she lets go of the magic. It costs her too much. And that is why she cannot allow the herb women here. They would discover our family’s secret.”
Jerra gasped. Her mother was dying, she was sure of it, now.