Sunday, 14 March 2021

[Glory Brats 23] Peppermint and sunglasses

 Back with the others, Sparrow had no time to look at the map any closer until much later. Caris was determined to get as much work out of them as possible so she set them all to various tasks around the house. She ushered Sparrow and Bee into the front room and started explaining what each of the many herbs and plants were used for, and how to prepare them properly. 

"You can start with the very simple ones for just now. Here, take this one..." She reached up to the ceiling and pulled down a bunch of leaves that was hanging there. "Now crush the leaves between your fingers a little, that's it...now, smell it."

"Mint!" Sparrow said quickly, recognising it from their garden at home. Dad would chop it and stir it through the new potatoes with butter.

"This is peppermint. Made into a tea it helps if you are feeling sick. But we're going to mix it with another herb too - now try this one..."

Sparrow felt as if her head would burst with all the new things Caris was saying. She tried hard to listen and take everything in, but every so often her attention would wander. It felt like school again.

Bee liked the plants. She liked that everything was organised and in it's own box or place so that she could find it. She could tell which plant was which by the scent it left on her fingers when she crushed it.

The moment Caris left the room, Sparrow pulled out the folded map from beneath her jumper, and knelt down on the floor to study it.

"What are you doing?" Bee asked, hearing the crinkle of the paper.

"What is it?" Zed asked, leaning over the side of the bed.

"It's a map. A sort of picture of where everything is. It'll tell us how to get to Exchange. When you're better of course."

"I feel better already." Zed said earnestly, swinging his legs down to the ground. "Look, I'm well enough to get up now." He pushed himself up from the bed and took a few steps towards Sparrow, before stumbling forward and clutching at the edge of the table for support. "I just got up too quickly, that's all..."

Sparrow helped him back to the bed, and returned to looking at the map. It was crudely drawn on thin paper, but it was better than nothing. She heard footsteps outside and had just enough time to stuff the paper back under her jumper before Caris came back, carrying a basket full of freshly cut herbs. She looked at Sparrow kneeling on the floor. Sparrow slowly got to her feet, feeling guilty. Caris held the basket out to her.

"Tie these up with string so they can be hung up. They'll shrink as they dry so make sure you tie the knots tightly."

***

On the top floor, above their room, Caris had a rooftop garden, which made the most of the early morning sunlight. There were boxes filled with all kinds of growing plants, some clambering up stakes and others creeping over the sides. There was even a small greenhouse, made with salvaged windows from old buildings, and in here Caris grew the tender herbs that needed heat, and shelter from the wind and the rain.

She also grew a small selection of fruits and vegetables, some to eat and others to sell. She instructed Sparrow in how to care for them, how to pick them and prepare them. Jem watched from a chair in the corner, sipping on some tea.

"You should be working too." Caris said.

"I'm an old woman," retorted Jem, "I've earned this rest."

"I thought you didn't like being called old?" Sparrow pointed out.

"She's got me there..." Jem laughed. "I reserve the right to be contradictory in my old age."

"She's old when it suits her..." Caris said, shaking her pruning knife at her aunt.

Sparrow stood on her tiptoes to look out over the wall that ran around the roof. She couldn't quite see down to the street but she could see far over the city settlement around them. She noticed a crowd of people gathering in one place and pointed it out.

"What's happening over there?" She asked.

"Market." Caris said shortly. "And we're late."

The market was held in a square just off the main road. Some people had proper stalls with tables to display their goods, and other people just had a blanket or sheet laid out on the ground to protect things from the dirt. There were people selling everything from old clothes to freshly made bread. Sparrow saw tubs full of scrap metal, piles of faded fabric, and even stalls selling hot food cooked in big pans over burning coals.

After paying the stall fees, and collecting a folded table, Caris led them over to a space inbetween two other stalls. Sparrow helped set up the table and lay everything out on it. Jem had a canvas sheet that she spread on the ground. Caris was selling some vegetables in a basket, but mainly pots of healing salves, bottles of tonics, and different kinds of dried teas. Jem was selling anything and everything. Sparrow recognised some of the things they had collected on their journey. The scrap metal dealer came over when he saw them arrive, and rummaged through the pieces in Jem's cart. A crowd gathered around Caris, clamouring for this particular salve for bad backs, or burns, or for that special tonic that cured the autumn fever.

***

Near the end of the day, Jem called Sparrow to her side and handed her some coins. "You found some of the stuff, so it's only fair you get some of the cash."

Caris raised an eyebrow, "And what's she going to do with that?"

"Whatever she wants." Jem replied. Caris muttered something about a fool and his money, but didn't say anything else.

Sparrow wandered off to explore the rest of the market while Caris and Jem were busy haggling over prices with some last minute customers. She turned the coins over in her pocket, wondering what to do with them. All around her, the different sights and smells were vying for her attention. She stopped in front of a stall selling clothes and other things, and picked up some sunglasses. Dee was always complaining about the sunlight hurting his eyes. 

Just then, she saw Dee, pushing his way through the crowds. She ran over and grabbed him by the arm. 

"What's wrong? What are you doing here?"

"It's Zed! Bee said to come and fetch you."

Sparrow looked around. Caris and Jem were still busy with customers. Dee's pale white hair was beginning to draw attention, so she pulled him over to the side of the square.

"Oh, I got these for you." She handed him the sunglasses. He held them in confusion until she opened them up and fitted them on for him. He smiled and then frowned.

"Bee said to hurry. She said he's burning up, and he was talking all funny..."

Sparrow took his hand and together they ran out of the square and back to the house. Tekla and Rat were sitting on the step outside. They moved apart to let Sparrow and Dee through. Sparrow burst into the room and rushed over to the bed. Zed was lying back on the thin pillow, his eyes closed. Bee was kneeling next to him, a damp cloth in her hand. She put it to his forehead and he turned towards her, mumbling something that Sparrow didn't catch.

"How long has he been like this?" she asked Bee.

Bee continued to press the cloth to Zed's forehead, "I don't know. I went into the kitchen to boil some water and when I came back he was talking nonsense. I've tried to cool him down but he still feels really warm."

Sparrow tried to remember back to her first aid lessons in school. What else could they do for fever and high temperature? "Fluids!" She said eventually, "We need to make sure he drinks something." She ran into the kitchen and filled a glass with water. Together, she and Bee tried to help Zed to sit up and drink. A little spilled as they held it to his lips but he managed to swallow some of it.

They laid him back down onto the bed and sat quietly. Suddenly, Zed began to shiver uncontrollably, his fists clenched and arms strained, shaking the bed frame underneath.

Sparrow looked on helplessly until the shivering stopped. She turned to Dee. "You need to go back to the market and fetch Caris. She'll know what to do."

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