As Dragon watched her friend start to topple over, the color drained from her scales. She stared, her reptilian eyes bulging, her mouth open wide.
“Dwarf!” She screamed again as she leaped to catch him. The huge beast held her diminutive friend tenderly, and she gently lowered him to the floor next to the others. “Oh, Dwarf!” Choking sobs wracked her massive body as she carefully positioned a pillow under her friend’s head and placed a blanket over him.
Cleric raced over, but she stopped short as Dragon snarled at her.
“Dragon!” I glared at the large beast as I moved quickly between her and the gentle healer.
Dragon immediately ducked her head, and her color morphed to a washed-out blue. Smoke bubbles dripped from her nose, as often happens when Dragon is embarrassed or confused. “I am sorry. I do not know what came over me. Please, Cleric, draw near and attend the dwarf.”
I kept an eye on Dragon as I addressed Cleric. “Were you able to prepare the healing herbs you need?”
Cleric nodded. Her face was flushed, and she looked warily at Dragon. “Sorceress had just placed everything on the table for me, right before she collapsed.”“Then please, administer your herbs.” Dragon’s voice cracked with emotion as she looked down at my Old Dwarf, prone at her feet. “Please.” She mouthed the word as her voice failed her.
I pointed to my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. “You will start with those who were first to fall ill.”
“What?” Dragon turned red. Her head shot up, she glared at me, and she snarled again. Cleric and I jumped from the path of the flames that shot from the beast’s maw. “The Dwarf will be treated first!” Dragon’s voice was a deep growl, and there was a feral glint in her reptilian eyes.
“No. The afflicted will be treated in the order in which they fell ill.” I put as much steel into my words as I could muster. I squared my shoulders and stared at Dragon. I stood my ground as she advanced on me, and I never broke eye contact with her. I knew the bond she shared with my Old Dwarf was a deep one, one I could never fully understand, but I could not allow Dragon to place the welfare of her friend above that of the others.
She closed the distance between us in two steps. She stood, towering over me, growling and spewing thick clouds of black smoke. I did not back down. Finally, Dragon grew quiet. She turned, her shoulders slumping, and I saw a single teardrop trickle down her cheek.
“You are right, of course. Forgive me. I know the others have been ill longer and are in more immediate need of aid.”
Cleric still looked wary, and she turned to me. “Mistress?”
“Start with the elf and his cohort. They were the first to succumb to the illness, and we do not even know how long they have been comatose. When they were found unconscious in the shed, by my Foreman and the lads, there was no way to determine when they had become ill.”
Cleric nodded. She took some of the healing herbs she had prepared with the help of her friend, Sorceress, who herself was now among the afflicted. She moved to the end of the row of still forms, knelt, and began.
Dragon watched Cleric as the priestess administered the curative herbs and offered healing prayers over each of their unconscious comrades. It was a slow, painstaking process, and Dragon started pacing as she waited for Cleric to finally reach my Old Dwarf. Dark smoke drifted from her muzzle, and she clasped and unclasped her clawed hands.
Cleric worked slowly and methodically along the line of my comatose characters. After ministering to my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One, she moved on to my Young Hero. Finishing with him, she attended my Foreman, then Sorceress. Finally, she moved on to my Old Dwarf.
Dragon moved closer, watching Cleric’s every move. Just as Cleric was about to begin administering the herbs to my Old Dwarf, my husband entered the room. He was carrying the limp form of my Gypsy. “We just finished preparing the broth and had placed it on the stove to simmer when he collapsed.”
“Place him here, next to my Old Dwarf.” I grabbed a pillow and placed it on the floor as Miles gently lowered the youth, then I covered the lad with a blanket.
Cleric and Dragon gaped at the latest victim, then turned to me. I saw the fear in their faces. Their eyes were round as saucers, and their chins both trembled.
Cleric blurted, “We are the only ones left. What happens if we also succumb to this malady?”
I frowned and raked my hand through my hair. “What did someone recently tell you, when you faced another adversity? Have faith?”
Cleric nodded uncertainly. She chewed her lower lip and furrowed her brow.
“So, have faith and continue administering the herbs.” I turned to Miles. “Do you know how long the broth needs to simmer?”
“The Gypsy said he was not sure, but it would be obvious. He said we would see a distinct change in the color and consistency.”
“Then you go up and continue to watch the broth. I’ll join you in a few minutes.”
Miles dashed off, taking the stairs two at a time.
Cleric looked at me again. After a long few moments, she nodded, straightened her robes, and squared her shoulders. She took a deep breath and continued administering her healing herbs and praying over my Old Dwarf.
Dragon hovered over Cleric. When she saw the warning look on my face, she ducked her head again, and resumed pacing, smoke drifting from her nose, and hands clasping and unclasping. After a few moments, I felt certain that she would pose no further threat to Cleric. I slipped out of the room and went upstairs to the kitchen.
Miles looked up as I entered the room. “How’s it going down there?”
I sighed and shook my head. “There have been no results yet. None of the patients have regained consciousness yet.”
Miles frowned. “How do you propose we get broth down the throats of the unconscious without choking them to death?”
I dragged my hand through my hair and shrugged my shoulders. “I guess we’ll worry about that when the time comes. Right now, I’m more worried what’s going to happen if my last two characters keel over.”
Miles took the lid off the stock pot and gave the contents a stir. “Honey, have you given any thought to what happens if we get sick?”
“I try not to think about that possibility.”
My husband replaced the lid and turned to me, frowning. “We don’t even know what’s causing the illness.”
I nodded, but before I could say anything, Miles continued. “It’s obviously something contagious. What happens if we catch it, too?”
I took his hand and tried to calm him. “We can only hope that we’re immune to it, that it just affects my characters because they are not from this world. Either that or we hope the healing herbs and the broth prove effective in curing the illness before we also need to be treated.”
“That doesn’t give a lot of hope, does it?” Miles sighed again.
I gave my husband’s hand a squeeze. “No, it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean we throw in the towel. I’m going back downstairs and see what’s happening. Bring the broth when you think it’s ready.”
Miles nodded, and I headed once more for the conference room.
When I entered the conference room, Dragon was weeping over her friend, my Old Dwarf. I looked at Cleric. “Is he . . .?”
“No, he is not dead. But he is no better. None of them are.” She hung her head. “I have failed.”
“Let’s try some of this.” Miles walked in, carrying the stock pot and a big spoon.
“Are you sure it’s ready?” I looked at him dubiously. “That seems awfully quick.”
“Well, the pot full of thick, muddy-brown broth, chock full of veggies and mushrooms and I don’t know what else, is now a bright, clear, golden-colored liquid with absolutely nothing in it. The Gypsy lad said it would change color and consistency. I am assuming this is what he was referring to.”
I nodded. “Let’s see if we can get a few drops down each patient’s throat without them choking. Cleric, do you have an eyedropper?”
“Yes, Mistress. You gave Sorceress and me a few when last we were working with our potions.”
We started with my Bounty Hunter. Miles got him into a seated position, I gently opened his mouth, and Cleric placed a few drops of broth on the back of his tongue, letting it trickle down his throat. After a few seconds, I noticed a reflex swallow. “Well, he’s not choking.”
“He’s not waking up, either.” Miles sighed. “I wonder how much we need to give him.”
“I don’t know. Let’s see how much he’ll take.” I opened his mouth again.
Ten minutes and two teaspoonfuls later, my Bounty Hunter had not revived. We moved on to my Arrogant One, then to each of the others. We were able to get about the same amount of broth down each person’s throat, but it did nothing to resuscitate them.
“Should we start again and give them each a second dose?” Miles looked at me wearily, his brow furrowed, a scowl tugging at the corners of his mouth.
I shrugged and raked my hand through my hair. “We might as well.”
But the second dose did nothing, nor did the third or fourth.
“We’re not doing any good.” Miles heaved a huge sigh. “I’m ready to throw in the towel.”
“No!” Dragon gaped at us and dark smoke poured from her snout. “You must save the dwarf! You must save all of them!”
“We have tried everything we can think of.” Cleric looked at her friend through red-rimmed eyes. “My ministrations have failed. The Gypsy’s broth has failed. What more can we do?”
“I do not know.” Dragon lowered her eyes. “I only know we must do something.”
“Well, we’d be happy to entertain any notion you might come up with.” I sat down wearily next to my husband. “But if the efforts of a cleric, and the grandson of a village wise woman, together were not enough to revive the victims of this illness, I don’t know what will.”
Dragon looked devastated. She walked over to my Old Dwarf and gently picked him up. She held him tenderly and wept. The huge teardrops splashed down on the diminutive figure in her arms. Suddenly, the dwarf was squirming around and sputtering. “Wot be ye thinkin’? Ye be puttin’ me down, ye big beastie! And ye be stoppin’ alla this wailin’! I do na be no fishie! I do na be breathin’ under water! Ye be gonna drownded me wit all yer tears!”
Dragon’s mouth dropped open as she looked at the squirming figure. She was so startled, she almost dropped her friend, then hugged him so tight, I thought she might crush him.
“Dragon! Dragon! Put him down. Now!” I raced across the room.
My Old Dwarf gave a mighty push and squirmed out of her arms, falling to the floor and landing on his head.
“Ye be tryin’ yer best ta kilt me here, beastie!” The old reprobate jumped to his feet and glared at Dragon, who was beside herself with joy to see her friend alive and well.
Dragon was so happy, she shrunk to the size of a bird and flew around the room, whooping and trilling. Finally, she stopped, landed in front of my Old Dwarf, assumed her former size, and gave him another hug.
“Ye consarned beastie! Ye be puttin’ me down right this minute!” Only the twinkle in his eye belied my Old Dwarf’s annoyance with Dragon.
I took my Old Dwarf by the arm and led him to a chair. “It’s good to see you on your feet again!”
“Eh, ye can na be keepin’ a good dwarf down.” He grinned.
“I only wish the others had your fortitude and constitution.” I nodded toward the others, all still comatose.
My Old Dwarf scowled. He furrowed his brow and scratched his chin. “Mebbe it do na be havin’ so much ta do wit me constitution as it be havin’ ta do with the beastie’s tears.”
“What?” I tilted my head and stared at my Old Dwarf. “What do you mean?”
“Where tha big beastie’s tears be splushin’ down on me, I be feelin’ all warm an’ tingly-like. Thet be wakin’ me outten me sleep.”
Miles jumped up. “Of course! In some folklore accounts, dragon tears have remarkable powers to heal and restore, even to bring people back from the threshold of death.”
Dragon bent her neck and thrust her face at Miles, so she was almost nose to nose with him. “And you could not have remembered that earlier this day?” Her toothy smile was anything but pleasant.
Miles jumped back, sputtering.
“I should think you would have known the power of your own tears.” I raised an eyebrow at Dragon, as I placed a hand on my husband’s arm and pulled him to safety next to me.
“Well, I did not. I do not imagine I had learned that yet, by the time you wrote of me in your books, the books from which I, and your other characters, fell into this world.”
“So’s ye be knowin’ now, beastie. So’s ye best be gittin’ ta work and be wakin’ tha others.” My Old Dwarf poked Dragon’s leg and beckoned her to start.
“Yes, you need to see if you can revive the others!” Cleric gave her large friend an encouraging smile.
Dragon looked at me. “Even the annoying elf and his cohort?”
I chuckled. “Yes, even them.”
Dragon grimaced in reply but did not argue. She went to the far end of the room and started with my Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One. She had great difficulty shedding enough tears over the two of them to resuscitate them.
My Arrogant One started screeching as soon as he awoke, yelling at everyone, and blaming everyone for his predicament. His voice kept getting higher and higher, until it reached his usual glass-shattering tone. At that point, my Old Dwarf stomped up to him. “Iffin ye do na be wantin’ a relapse, elfie, ye best be shuttin’ yer pie-hole.”
The annoying elf yelped and jumped behind my Bounty Hunter. He peeked at my Old Dwarf, but kept his mouth clamped shut.
It took only minutes more for Dragon to awaken the rest of my characters. Once awake, everyone started talking at once. The din became almost unbearable.
Finally, my Old Dwarf whistled shrilly. All conversation halted immediately, and everyone turned to face him.
“I do na be knowin’ aboot the rest o ye, but being unconscious be givin’ me a grea’ big ap-o-tite! An’ by my figgerin’ we be awake jest about in time fer dinner!” My Old Dwarf patted his belly and scooted up the stairs toward the kitchen, leaving the rest of us following in his wake.
Well, it’s good to have all my characters up and well again. I wonder if we’ll ever know what caused the illness in the first place, or why Dragon, Cleric, Miles, and I never fell ill. Be sure to join us again next week. Who knows what new adventures await, or what new mischief my characters might initiate? Whatever lies ahead, we’d love to have you join us, and bring some friends! We’ll leave the porch light on for you.