Shock and anguish registered on my Gypsy’s face. His eyes were wide, and his mouth hung open. He stood for a moment, rooted in place by fear. Then he raced to the side of his best friend, my Young Hero, now slumped over in a chair, unconscious. My Gypsy grabbed his friend by his shoulders and shook him, at first gently, then with more force. “Wake up! You must wake up!” His voice cracked with emotion.
“Nay, laddie, yer fren’ be beyon’ hearin’ right now. Ye mus’ be gittin’ ta be cookin’ thet broth ye be tellin’ aboot. An’ tha lassie wot kin be healin’ be needin’ ta be gittin’ ’er herbs. Thet be tha best way ta be helpin’ ’em now.” My Old Dwarf gently pulled my Gypsy away from the limp form of his comatose friend.
“The dwarf is right.” Dragon lifted my Young Hero from the chair and placed him gently on the floor, near her illusory fireplace. “You and Cleric must go now with Mistress Writer and Master Miles to get the items needed for healing the victims of this illness. Sorceress, the foreman, the dwarf, and I will do our best to make the boy and the others as comfortable as possible while you are gone.”
Sorceress nodded as she positioned a pillow under my Young Hero’s head and covered his brow with a cloth. She carefully placed a blanket over him, gently tucking it around him. Then she stood up and made small shooing motions at us. “Time is of the essence. Go.”
My Foreman gently shepherded us out of the room. He clasped my Gypsy’s shoulders and looked him in the eye. “I vow we will do everything we can for him while you are gone.” They stood there for a long minute, neither one seeming to want to turn away. Finally, my Foreman released his young friend and turned to the rest of us. His eyes shone wet with unshed tears, and he spoke in a hoarse whisper, barely able to choke out the words. “Hurry. Please hurry.”
My Foreman went back into the conference room, leaving the four of us in the hallway. I looked at my two characters, one in her clerical robes, and the other in his medieval garb, and spoke sternly. “You need to change into acceptable, modern clothing and do it quickly. Miles and I will meet you in the garage.”
They nodded and raced up the stairs.
I turned to Miles. “I need a minute on the computer to find someplace nearby where I might purchase the herbs Cleric needs.” I started trotting down the hallway to my office, but Miles stopped me.
“Wait! What about that great organic farm right off the main highway on the way out of town?”
I frowned and scratched my head, then brightened as I remembered the place of which my husband spoke. “That’s right! They had an impressive variety of herbs!”
We turned and headed up the stairs toward the garage. “I hope your Gypsy doesn’t need anything too exotic for this broth. I’m hoping we can find everything at the supermarket right here in town.”
“If he can’t find what he needs there, try the same farm you just mentioned. And don’t forget that store we were in a few weeks ago. They deal mainly in exotic and ethnic fruit and vegetables, but they also had an entire section of heritage produce.”
Miles nodded. We heard footsteps on the stairs and looked up. Cleric and my Gypsy, in the modern clothing they wore for outings, raced down the steps. In a few moments, Cleric and I were in my beat-up old clunker, driving toward the organic farm, and Miles and my Gypsy were in my husband’s sedan, heading in the opposite direction.
* * *
Cleric and I were heading back home within the hour. As Cleric looked over our purchases, she smiled. “Mistress, we must plan to revisit that shop someday, and take Sorceress and your Gypsy! I was amazed at their selection of herbs and botanicals, and the proprietress was extremely well versed in herbal medicine!”
As soon as we arrived home, we immediately took the cache of herbs to the conference room. Sorceress ushered Cleric to a private alcove where the two women could prepare the herbs and other components to be used in Cleric’s healing spells.
I checked on the victims of the illness. There was no change. The three figures were still in front of the fireplace. Dragon shook her head and whispered to me. “They are still very shallow of breath, pale and cold as death.”
My Foreman kept pacing around the great room. Every time he passed by my Young Hero, he faltered. He stared at the youngster with tears in his eyes, and his chin trembled. He looked over at Cleric and Sorceress. “How long does it take to prepare a few healing herbs?” Before they could answer, he turned back to me. “And what could be keeping Master Miles and your Gypsy? Should they not be back by now?” He looked down at my Young Hero once more, and then resumed pacing.
Several tense hours passed, full of pacing and impatient outbursts. Finally, I finally heard the car pulling into the garage. I ran upstairs.
“Help us get this into the kitchen.” Miles made his way in from the garage with an armful of bags from various stores.
I relieved Miles of several bags. “What took so long?”
Miles grimaced. “We had to go to seven stores to get everything, and they were spread all over two counties.” He sighed. “And still your Gypsy couldn’t find exactly what he needed. He is hoping the substitutions we found will work.”
My Gypsy, his arms full of bags as well, glanced down the stairs toward the conference room. “How is he?” The lad turned toward me, fear showing plainly in his face.
“There has been no change.”
“I need to see him.”
“You need to prepare this broth!” I placed my hand on his arm. “Everything that can be done is being done. Sorceress is helping Cleric prepare her healing herbs, and Dragon, my Old Dwarf, and my Foreman are keeping my Young Hero and the other two comfortable.”
My Gypsy looked as if he were going to argue. Then his shoulders slumped, and he heaved a huge sigh. “You are right, of course. Let us prepare the broth.”
The three of us hauled the heavy grocery bags into the kitchen and laid them on the table. My husband walked toward the pantry. “You two should take everything out of the bags and organize it. I’ll find the big stock pots and get them ready.”
Once I had helped empty the grocery sacks, I slipped back down to the conference room, leaving Miles and my Gypsy to do the cooking.
“What happened? I was only gone a few minutes!” I stared at the figures on the floor by the hearth. There had been three when I left. Now there were five.
“Get some more blankets!” Dragon pointed to the pile of blankets in an open cupboard on the other side of the room. I grabbed some and placed them over the pale, still forms of Sorceress and my Foreman, as Dragon placed pillows beneath their heads.
“It be happenin’ so sudden-like.” My Old Dwarf spoke softly, as he held Cleric and tried to comfort her. “One minute, tha Foreman be talkin’ and pacin’ around; tha next, he be puttin’ ’is hand on ’is head, he be turnin’ white as a ghostie, and then he be fallin’ down. An’ tha magic lass, she be helping this lass wit ’er herbs. She be bringin’ a bunch o vials an’ flasks ta tha table, and barely be gittin’’em situated when she be topplin’ o’er.”
Dragon stood up from examining the latest victims. “They are just like the others – pale, cold, shallow respiration. I do not know what could be causing this.”
“Tha Gypsy laddie had best be hurryin’ wit thet broth o ’is. An’ lassie, you best be gittin’ ta applyin’ yer healin’ herbs . . .”
In the middle of his sentence, every bit of color drained from my Old Dwarf’s face. He gave me a strange look, as if I had just said something he could not understand. Then he stiffened, spun around, and just keeled over.
What is happening? What is the source of this malady? Will Cleric’s healing herbs and my Gypsy’s special broth be able to cure their fellow characters? Will anyone else succumb to this illness? Be sure to join us again next week, as we race against time to save the ill and protect the healthy. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.