A Game of Hands
Rolan had already heard from his son that Karim was sick. Therefore it was no surprise to see Allana at the healer’s house. However, to hear her so distraught…
“We tried that! Her fever is getting worse! I’m trying to quarantine her like you asked, but it’s difficult-.” He couldn’t make out the healer, but Allana’s distressed voice rang out clearly in response. “Of course I care about my family!”
Allana shook her head and showed her hands in a gesture of helplessness in response to the healer. When she turned away and towards him, it was easy to see that Karim’s mother was quite upset. She froze when her eyes meet his and her eyes shifted away.
Rolan nodded simply to Allana as he stepped up to her. “She has a fever, you say? There may be some old local remedies that could help, if you will accept them…”
Rolan turned to walk with Allana back to his house. “And, if you need, we can make room for her at my house. We have the space.”
Allana followed him. She wrung her hands fretfully, more a worried mother than the confident woman she normally was. “The remedies the healer gave me aren’t helping. She came down with this last night…”
“We had to move the other girls to sleep in the living room. If Karim came down with something…” Allana shook her head. “She’s never been ill. Nothing like this! I’ve never had to worry about it before!” Her voice wavered in a note of near panic.
Rolan put a reassuring hand on Allana’s shoulder. “An ocean of calm will speed even the unsteadiest of ships. Step back from the worry and let us see what we can do, yes?”
The two kept walking towards Rolan’s house, which sat on the edge of the village center. It was close to everything except the things which wanted to be far.
“I have encountered many illnesses in my travels. Most that are uncommon here are common back home. Karim is strong in both body and will, and I know not of any sickness that could break her easily. In fact, I almost fear for the illness itself…”
Rolan smiled as his house appeared around the bend. “Now, tell me of her symptoms.”
Allana takes Rolan’s words to heart and manages several deep breathes. “A high fever. A dry, racking cough that shakes her entire body. And… It’s been nearly impossible for her to keep food down… When she has an appetite.”
Her voice wavered slightly, “To see her like this…” She paused, “None of the other children have shown signs of it, but I’m afraid of how they would fare. And if I get sick….” Her hands are clasped together, white-knuckled.
“I’ll take any help possible at this moment.” Allana looked ashamed. “We… We can’t afford some of the more expensive remedies.”
Rolan nodded and opened the door to his house. Inside sat young Rejard, his eyes red with tears.
“Can you help her, daddy?” He asked; a hint of hopefulness in his tiny voice.
Rolan stepped over to his son and knelt in front of him. “We can help her, Rejard. You and I. She may be staying here for a few days.”
Rej nodded, swallowing down a lump in his throat. “I can help her, too?”
Rolan nodded. “You can, but you’ll have to keep your distance while she’s sick. I’ll put her in your room, and you can sleep with me in mine, deal?”
Rej inhaled a shuddering breath. “But I can’t go see her?” His lower lip quivered slightly.
“It’s only for a few days, and she’ll be right here. In fact, right up there, in your room.”
Rejard sniffled but nodded.
Allana watched Rolan console the young Rejard. It had pained her to turn him away earlier, but she hadn’t wished for him to catch what Karim had. She hadn’t realized how deeply it had affected him though.
Rolan turned back to Allana. “I hope I’m not presuming too much? You will allow her here? The remedies I have are very time critical. They must be given at precise intervals in specific doses. It would … just be easier…”
Karim’s mother nodded, “If you can help her… Anything for my daughter. I would be deeply in your debt. You will give me updates on her condition…?” Her shoulders relaxed. “And… How do you wish to get her here? I can have my husband bring her if you wish…”
“Please have him do so. I must prepare the room for her arrival. Keep the other children away for now. The first few days are usually contagious.”
Rolan stepped over to one of the cabinets and opened it. Inside were hundreds of tiny vials of differing colors. He chose one and turned back to Allana. “Have her drink this first. It will help her sleep and make her easier to travel. Bring her to me at sundown, and I will be ready.”
Taking the vial, Allana nodded. “I will. It will just be Danneth. I’ll have to watch over the children.”
Karim shifted uncomfortably in Danneth’s arms. “Hot…,” she murmured in a sleepy complaint. He trusted his wife. If she said this was the best place for her daughter, then he would take her. However, it did seem odd for her to leave Karim here.
He attempted to shift Karim so that he could knock, but it was an awkward task. He didn’t want to be rude, but… “Rolan! It’s me, Dann-!”
Mid-sentence, the door opened and Rolan ushered Danneth in. “Come in, please. I’ve been waiting.” After closing the door behind Allana’s husband, Rolan motioned for them to follow. He started upstairs.
“Were you able to administer the elixir I gave your wife? And has Karim’s health changed any?”
Startled, Danneth followed. “Yeah, Allie gave it to her, but she’s still sleeping badly. Think the coughs are making it hard and the heat. She keeps complaining about the heat…”
Danneth carried her carefully, ensuring that he didn’t bump or jostle her. “I’m no healer, but… The fever seems to be worse. Her skin looks redder, more flushed. Do you really think you can help?”
“I know I can. I have seen this before and treated it. I believe it to be related to rip-lung, but the treatment is different.” Rolan opened the door to Rejard’s room. To anyone that had seen it before, it was different now. The windows had thick blankets hanging as shades to keep out any light. In the center was a small steel tub, sized for a child. It was filled with water in which clear chunks of ice floated.
“An ice bath will keep the fever in control if used correctly. And the blankets will keep the sun from heating her up more.” Rolan motioned for Danneth to place Karim in Rejard’s bed. “The, uh, plush bear was Rejard’s. He wanted Karim to have it keep her company…”
Her step-father gently laid her down and rested his hand on her forehead for a moment. “She’s never wanted stuffed animals, but I’m sure she appreciates it.”
Danneth watched as she began coughing. She choked slightly and rolled on her side to continue coughing. “Riplung… But not. The healer wouldn’t have known?” Slowly, the coughs eased, but Karim stayed curled into a tight ball. “It doesn’t matter… Just… Do what you can.”
“He said: ’It’s something for her to squeeze, since she likes to squeeze me and she can’t.’” Rolan sighed. “And, no. There are very dangerous strains of common diseases that can be difficult to know unless you’ve traveled.” Rolan stepped over to the basin and dunked a washcloth in the ice water. He folded it over and placed it on Karim’s head.
Turning away from Karim, Danneth looked at Rolan. “I have to get back to Allana. Our house is rather… Hectic at the moment. Thank you…”
“Thank you for bringing her. She’ll be safe, and I’ll keep you both informed.” Rolan bowed as Danneth departed.
Once alone with Karim, Rolan adjusted the sheets and sat next to her. Speaking softly as he waited for the elixir to run its course, he began to recount another story.
“There once was a pretty young girl, brave as brave can be…”
It took a while but Karim groaned and opened unfocused eyes. Her hand reached up to the cloth on her forehead. “Wha? Where am I?”
Coughing weakly, she attempted to sit up. She looked about confusedly. Her breath rasped with the effort. “Where’s mom?”
“Shhhh, Karim,” said Rolan, his voice softer and more soothing than usual. “Your mother’s not far. But you’re ill, and she asked Rej and me to take care of you for a few days.” Rolan wiped the child’s face comfortingly with the cool washcloth.
“I’m going to stay with you until you’re better, alright?” He stroked her sweat- and water-soaked hair, moving strands away from her face. “Rejard left a toy for you. He said you could squeeze it, like you do him.” Rolan smiled as he placed the bear in view of the young girl.
“Now, how do you feel?”
Her hands grabbed the stuffed animal to her chest. She murmured softly, “It doesn’t squeak….” It didn’t stop her from hugging the bear tightly.
“It hurts really, really bad…” Karim’s voice wavered and faded as another coughing fit took her. She weakly pointed to her chest, throat, and head. When the fit ended she looked exhausted and barely focused on Rolan.
Rolan nodded. “I’ve prepared something to help that, Karim.” He stood slowly, so as not to jostle the bed too much, and walked over to the dresser where he had placed a small steaming bowl of water. Inside were crushed herbs and leaves of varying sorts. From the bowl came a strongly sweet aroma, which Rolan added to by lighting a candle very much like the birthday candle Karim had been given.
“Breath this in deeply. It will soothe that burning feeling.”
“Scared…” It was softly spoken as if she may not have been aware of speaking it herself.
Rolan sat gently again on the bed before adding. “Don’t be afraid, child. You’ll be fine.”
Karim’s breathe slowly seemed to ease as she tried breath deeper. As it helped, she struggled to stay awake. “I was supposed to do something with Rej… I can’t remember what it was though.”
Her eyelids fluttered closed, “Tell’im I’m sorry I forgot…” One hand reached sleepily towards Rolan. “You remind me of someone… No… That’s not right…” Her quiet voice rambled off into sleep and her hand lay a few inches short of its goal.
“Daddy? I missed you, Daddy… Why didn’t you come home?”
Rolan adjusted the wet washcloth on her forehead and stroked back her matted hair. “There are things a father must do, my child, for family and home … regardless of where those may be.”
Karim woke up sporadically, only to rest when her lungs stopped burning. Even in her sleep, the coughs shook her body and caused her to whimper. She curled up tightly around the stuffed animal Rejard had left her.
“REJ!” Karim woke up with a start. “I have to help him. He can’t do it without me… He can’t fight the bandits!” She struggled weakly with the covers for a moment before giving up. Her labored breathing prevented her from speaking as she stared worriedly at the door.
Rolan stood and stepped over to Karim, resting a hand on her warm forehead. “Hush, Karim. There are no more bandits.” He placed another ice-soaked washcloth over her to try and keep her cool. “You helped Rejard defeat them last week, remember? I even bandaged your knee after you scraped it. You both got ‘em pretty good, as I recall. They’ll never threaten our back yard again.”
He sat with her until she calmed, lucidity returning just before she slipped back into slumber.
This time when she awakened, Karim shifted slightly and her hand reached out to grasp Rolan’s tunic. “Are you going to leave me too? Did I do something wrong?” Her weak voice was plaintive in a way that she normally never was. Her eyes were wide and almost fearful as she stared up at Rolan.
Startled at the sudden outburst, Rolan grasped her hand gently and held it. “You did nothing wrong. No one did anything wrong. Sometimes…” Rolan paused, uncertain how much he should reveal to a feverish child. “Sometimes things have to be done to prevent others from doing wrong. Sometimes a person has to leave in order to do right.”
Rolan continued to hold her hand, the fear in her eyes not quite leaving, until she fell back asleep. He hoped she would not remember that he didn’t answer her question…
Her arms convulsed about the stuffed animal. Karim frowned in her sleep and mumbled. “It doesn’t squeak… I want squeaks…”
Rolan stroked her sweat-soaked hair and glanced at the door. He could still see the shadow of his son sitting just outside, most likely asleep in the hallway.
“What is to become of you two?” Rolan muttered into the darkness where there was no one to hear.
Blurry eyes blinked several times, “I want to play in the sand… but there’s no sand… Why is there no sand?” Karim slowly fixed on Rolan. “Is there supposed to be sand?”
“You will find the sands one day, Karim. I’m sure of it.” Rolan smiled warmly. “And you’ll be able to play in as much of it as you want. It will be yours, and it will be free.”
Karim slept deeply. She’d been able to take a bit of broth the last time she’d awaken. In typical fashion, she sprawled out on the bed looking infinitely more comfortable. She smiled to herself sleepily as she listened to Rolan. The teddy bear was snuggled up against her cheek in a sweet childlike fashion. “Rej…”
“Rej… here’s your bear back… not that I didn’t like him, but… he doesn’t squeak like you do.” Karim shoved the bear back toward Rejard with one hand and looked away. Her cheeks flushed in embarrassment.
Rejard’s eyes looked a bit watery as he took the bear back and mumbled, “I thought you’d like it.” He made a startled squeak as arms wrapped tightly around his middle.
“You’re better than Rejiebear.” Karim grinned at Rejard.