|Illustration by Tone Strand.|
The whirling white sparks in front of her eyes slowed and finally disappeared altogether with a blink. Just to make sure, she blinked again. Gradually, words returned to her head in place of spinning shades of blue, green, and orange; and intermittent groans like a gusty breeze makes through small, swaying reeds.
If Chicory had learned anything over the turns, it was not to move right after coming around. From knots on her head to retching up the meal before, moving was not in her best interest. She could wait. Meanwhile, she assessed her surroundings and put together as much information as she could without moving.
It was daytime. That was easy enough. She was not on the ground and the tree branches above her seemed especially close. Good bet that she was on a tree branch herself, which lent credibility to the need to not move. It was hot, so it wasn't morning; there was no breeze from river-way so it wasn't twilight. Somewhere in between. If she could trust her stomach, she might be able to tell which meal she'd missed because there was bound to be one; there usually was. But Lesson Number Two was that she couldn't trust her stomach. While laying on a tree branch in the heat of the day wasn't particularly comfortable, it was always a blessing that the rest of the tribe was likely sound asleep. She hated being found until she was ready to be found. It usually ended up in an argument she never asked for, and eventually, if not at the outset, involved Windburn.
Despite her best efforts at keeping very still and barely breathing, Chicory knew it wasn't doing any good. Her stomach was going to revolt regardless. She broke out in a clammy sweat and shuddered once before lunging over to find a nice soft mossy place to lose her feed. She realized where she was about half-a-breath before she plummeted from the tree limb four wolf-lengths down into the sand near creekside. The jolt of impact shocked her body into not reacting for all of three heartbeats, before she retched, twice more, and emptied out the contents of her stomach.
Shivering and with shaking fingers, she pushed her mussed brown hair back from her eyes. Nothing seemed to be broken. Her arm hurt, as well as the hip she'd landed on, and her chest hurt. She tried to get a deep breath and ended up gagging. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe naturally.
That was a fabulous mixture! At this point, no one in the tribe would agree. But it was! She hoped she'd set any added ingredients out to remember for later.
She probably had. She usually tried to do that before she started mixing things. Lesson Number Three was for a concoction to not kill anyone. On the chance that it could kill someone, she decided it should be her. Which wasn't particularly bothersome since Rainpace knew her 'cataloging' system and would spoil the mixture, bury it, and prevent it from getting on any future list of possibilities -- if ever one finally did do her in.
Poisons 'straight from the snake,' as One-Leg put it, had been used probably since wolfriders had been using weapons. Most were slapdash guesswork, or unpredictably successful at best. It had been turns and turns since Newt had been bitten by a poisonous snake. She knew some snakes were to be avoided; the whole tribe did of course.
From the poor cub's tragedy, however, Chicory had gained some notions, which led to a few basic theories. At first Windburn had been all for them. Always wanting to learn lessons from misfortune so they weren't repeated, and High Ones knew, always wanting Chicory to find some sound purpose in the tribe itself. Generations of wolfriders had been instructed to avoid certain plants, mushrooms, snakes, fish, frogs, and lizards as being "not good." But why avoid them, if "not good" could be turned into "some good?"
The first concoction was fairly simple and straight-forward, once Longshot helped her work out how to keep the lizard-poison-mixture on the arrowhead without touching it themselves. When they demonstrated for Windburn, Longshot intentionally missed the kill-shot. He grazed the tusk-nose along the shoulder. They trailed it for a short while before finding it dead. She assured her chief that would happen every time; a distinct improvement over the former "rubbed off-the-lizard" arrowheads' success rate. And Chicory had been quite proud of herself -- until her brother asked: wouldn't the meat be tainted?
Turned out it was. At least at the point of puncture and the main blood-channel leading to its heart. Windburn informed her that was to be the end to her fascination with dangerous secreting animals. It had been True Edge who'd suggested a variation on his meat smoking process to purify the flesh, however, and it had worked. And as Chicory's constitution had long been known for its exceptional resilience, she was elated to begin experimenting again. (So be it that what Windburn didn't know, couldn't be thrown back at her later.)
She and Notch and others had of course partaken in available 'comfortative' techniques ... besides dreamberries. Smokeweed, and fermented tailcakes, for a nice distraction (Windburn had been known to smell the smoke of smokeweed and enjoy the accompanying lull); stonevine flowers, and cat root to relax -- really relax; gnarly mud-mushroom stems and treefrog skin to see things that other wolfriders didn't.
A secret life of tonics had developed. Which unfortunately became less secret each time she was found before she had ... fully recovered. It was something she tried to control, but depending on the components of the mix, well, she couldn't predict the outcome. Like today, for example. At least luck had been with her and everyone was sleeping away for the time being.
After the initial "what if" question, she would ponder what she knew about a toxin itself, and the plant or creature it came from. What she didn't know, she had to find out some way, right? And here she was. Parents taught cubs for generations that cup kernels were bad to eat. She now understand that dried cup kernels tasted like river salt when ground up and affected mind and muscles. Good to know. What else had gone in; water, she normally allowed for a drop or two of ripe dreamberry juice? Now, how to put it to use?
She'd been playing around with a long, hollow, reed, a teeny, feathered dart, and lung power. And she'd been wanting -- but had yet to find -- something useful to make fishing easier (other than whacking the surface with a wide, hide-taut mallet). Water diluted everything tried so far. To make matters more difficult, fish seemed to be affected most by things that touched them, as opposed to things poked inside the body. Not that a dart was so easy to stick into a fish while it was under water, in any case. But birds ...!
Chicory blinked at the same time she opened back up her eyes. She relished that feeling of her mind piecing itself back together. The snake and lizard poisons she'd put on Longshot's arrows made bird hunting only slightly less demanding. The bird had to be reached before the poison tainted too much of the body to be used. Something like this though, might help the bird to just ... fall over and flop around ... might actually be useful in conserving elf and wolf energy.
"Every little bit helps," that was her adage. Well, after, "What if?" and "Don't Move," and "Don't Trust Your Stomach," and "Don't Kill Any Tribemates."
With the idea to speak with Rainpace and Dreamflight foremost in her thoughts, she attempted to stand. She succeeded in pitching forward. Her legs had not caught up to her mind, yet. With a half-sigh, half-groan, she laid down on her stomach to wait it out. At least she could mull, and doze, and it wasn't nearly as hot down here as it was in the tree top. What to mix the cup kernel powder with to lessen the effects? More water obviously. Oh, and mint! If young spear-mint leaves could be steeped, then re-dried ....