NO GRAVE for the ORCHIDS
A voice spoke to him, an urgent whisper, dragging him from his reverie to unforgiving coldness. His teeth clattered together, so noisy inside his head he barely heard the words uttered.
‘Get up, Aiden. We can’t stop here.’ Sophia’s palm felt cold on his brow, which was vaguely unsettling as he felt icy inside. ‘You’re burning up.’ She patted his cheeks with her hands and pushed some snow between his lips. ‘Aiden, we have to move. Do you think you can? We need somewhere sheltered.’ He nodded and leaned heavily on her to get himself upright.
A jaundiced crescent moon peered through the mist, a wry smile mocking him. ‘Not far now,’ Sophia said. ‘Nearly there.’ Desperation edged her soothing words and Aiden shuffled along the path, panting with exertion, his breath spurting milky clouds into the murkiness. Nearly where? He wanted nothing more than to lie down.
Off to the side of the road they sheltered in a narrow cavern deep enough to wedge themselves in. Aiden leaned against the stony wall as his sister made a fire beyond the entrance. Sparks rose one foot in the air, then died in the cold, consumed by the dampness. Sophia took out a handful of yarrow from her pouch, soaked it in snow and washed his face and wrists with the infusion. Aiden drifted towards sleep.
He woke in the night, sweating and kicking his way from covers Sophia had placed around him. The fire burned and sputtered and he stared, mesmerised by the warm, flickering colours. Deep within the blaze he saw a face, feminine and childlike and horned. She sang in a sweet voice words he didn’t understand, but how he wanted to. Reaching out to her, he willed her to be still. Heat seared his hand before being snatched back by Sophia. ‘Don’t,’ he mumbled, pointing at the fire. ‘Lila’s here. Can you see her?’
Sophia stared into the fire. ‘It’s your fever talking.’ She fed him more snow, settled him against the rock wall, then sat across the entrance, barring his exit.
Stirring to consciousness, the remnants of dreams lingered, predominantly of his mother. The smell of her breath as she kissed him, the feel of her arms in a hug, anxiety wove through his thoughts when he failed to conjure her smile, banishing the last traces of sleep and he opened his eyes to a dreary morning.
Bustling in the small space, Sophia performed her little rituals as though she was on her own. A pan placed in the embers of the fire with some snow thrown in, a sprig of hawthorn added to the flames. Then the fanning to cast the fumes and a muttered prayer. Aiden never knew how he felt about this spiritual side to his sister. Most of the time he ignored it. Sophia rooted through her medicine pouch. He guessed she was searching for some concoction for him but already he knew his fever had broken.