They left the horses at a stable by the gate. Rosa tried to take Rat away to get her hands seen to, but Rat struggled and ran back to Sparrow and the others. "I'll go with her," said Sparrow. "Sometimes she bites."
"And you others would like some food? Hana - take them to the kitchen and fix them up with something. You - come with me."
Sparrow and Rat followed Rosa through the muddle of houses and into a wooden building, painted white inside and out. It was set up like a hospital ward, with beds running along the walls. This reassured Sparrow. She hadn't been sure what Outsider medicine would be like, but it appeared to be similar to City clinics, if a little basic.
Rosa rang a bell just inside the door. There was a wooden bench underneath. She nodded her head at it, "Sit there and wait."
Sparrow sat on the bench. Rat crawled underneath it. A man stalked across the ward floor to the entrance. "What can I help with?"
"Hey Doc. We found these kids in the woods," Rosa said. "They say the one underneath the bench has burnt her hands. I need to go report now, but I'll come back when I'm done."
The doctor knelt on the ground to get a look at Rat. He took in her bared teeth, sock-wrapped hands, and her mud-encrusted clothes. He looked up at Sparrow.
"Can you tell me what happened?"
"She burnt her hands in the fire trying to get the dead bird back, and we poured water over but we didn't have enough so then we took her to the river and put her hands in the water, and then we covered them with socks so she wouldn't scratch. We used my socks." Sparrow stuck her legs out to show her bare feet inside her gym shoes.
"I can see that." The doctor risked another glance at Rat. "What's this one's name?"
"We call her Rat but her name is Em. It's on her wrist. Be careful, she bites."
The doctor went to a cupboard and came back with some thick gloves on. He knelt down again. "Hello Em. I'm going to help make your hands better. Why don't you come out and I'll take a look?"
"She doesn't speak. She'll come out if you have some food."
Rat looked up at the mention of food. Standing up again, the doctor picked up a plate on the desk and brought it over. It had some bread on it. He held a piece out to Rat and she grasped at it clumsily with her sock-wrapped hands, stuffing it into her mouth.
"My name's Sparrow by the way."
"Hello Sparrow. Do you know why she's so scared?"
Rat by this point had crawled out from under the bench and was crouching by it, eyes focused on the plate with the bread.
Sparrow picked the last bit of bread up and waved it in front of Rat's face. "You want this bit? Then you'll have to behave. No biting!"
Rat reached out to take the piece but Sparrow shook her head. She stuck her arms out in front of her and indicated that Rat should do the same. The doctor took off his gloves and slowly began to peel away the sock from Rat's skin. Rat squirmed and opened her mouth showing her teeth, but Sparrow held up the bit of bread and she became still again.
'I don't know why she's like this." Sparrow said at last. "She just is."
Once Rat's hands were checked and bandaged up, Rosa took them to join the others. They were in one of the grass covered houses, sitting on benches at a long wooden table. Bowls of soup were in front of them, being hastily demolished. Inside the house it was dark but cosy, with lamps hanging from the ceiling and dotted around the place. Sparrow and Rat sat down at the table and each got some soup and bread. Rat tried to lift the bowl with her bandaged hands and dropped it. A bit of the soup slopped over the side onto the table. Rat bent her face down and licked it all up.
Sparrow sighed and lifted up Rat's spoon. She fed Rat a mouthful and then took some from her own bowl. Then she fed Rat again, who was waiting, mouth open like a baby bird.
"You kids certainly can eat!" Hana remarked as she cleared the table. "I'll show you where you can sleep tonight."
She took the others upstairs, leaving Sparrow and Rat to eat alone. Once they were finished, Sparrow stacked their bowls with the others next to the sink. Then she wandered up the stairs with Rat clambering behind.
Upstairs was a long room with a high, pointed roof and a window at the end. Beds lined the sides of the room, covered in colourful blankets made from scraps of different fabrics. Hana was lighting a lamp at the top of the stairs. It was made of metal and pierced all over with holes, casting striking shadows on the floor and walls.
"I wasn't sure if you'd want a light or not."
"That's fine." Sparrow said politely.
"Sparrow - the beds are so soft! You sink right into them." Dee called out from one of the beds.
"Oho so you can speak..." Hana said, turning round, "I wasn't sure - you were all so quiet."
"Rat's the only one of us who doesn't speak." Bee said, stroking the soft fabric of the quilt. "Sometimes the others talk too much."
"You're not supposed to talk in front of the adults." Zed said quietly. "They don't like it."
"Well, talk as much as you like now. No one else is here so you've got the place to yourselves. People will be coming and going downstairs so give a shout if you need anything. Night, kids."
She placed the lamp on a hook on the wall. They heard her thumping down the stairs. Sparrow ran over and jumped on one of the free beds next to Tekla. Rat climbed onto the last bed and burrowed into the blankets.
Sparrow slept for a long time. Even so, she was still the first to wake up. Or so she thought. Then she noticed Bee sitting by the window at the end of the room. She was sitting in a shaft of sunlight and the wrap from around her eyes was lying on the floor. Sparrow swung her legs round to get out of bed and at the noise Bee's fingers flew to fix the wrap back in place.
"You don't have to wear it...."
"What do you know...City Girl?"
"City Girl yourself! And I bet you're just scared, scared of what people will say." Sparrow taunted.
Bee stood up. "So what if I am? People don't like my eyes."
"Well they'll never get a chance to like them if you don't let them see them."
"You want to see my eyes, Sparrow? Do you want to tell me you like my eyes?" Bee pulled the wrap off. Her eyes were whiter than Dee's eyes, and she had faded bruising around both eye sockets. It looked so different from anything she had ever seen that Sparrow wanted to be sick. Instead she stayed silent, wondering if they hurt.
"Thought not..." muttered Bee, and tied the wrap back over her eyes. She stalked across the floor and found the stair railing with her hands. "I'm going downstairs."