“I beel awbul,” Foxtail complained out loud to no one. Her head pounded, and she felt like it had swollen to twice its side, it was so hard to move. With great effort, she forced herself into a sitting position, then slumped forward, putting her head in her hands. “Ooohhh,” she groaned.
It was going to be a long night, Foxtail knew. It had already been a long day, full of fitful sleep, sweats, and chills. She’d started coughing the night before, but she hadn’t thought much of it. And when her mother had advised her to drink some herbal tea, she had laughed it off, telling her she’d be fine.
But she wasn’t.
Pressure on her bladder meant she had to get up, walk, and find a place to relieve herself. Being the middle of the summer, Foxtail preferred not to keep a pot for pissing in her den, which meant she had to leave her den.
But her head was spinning and throbbing.
Knowing that she could either urinate right there on her bedfurs, or force herself to move, Foxtail moved. It took every bit of energy to get herself into a standing position, but she did it. Now she needed to find strength to get herself outside.
Mentally forcing herself to move, Foxtail put one wobbly step in front of the other and worked her way to the den entrance. Once there, her knees gave way, and she found herself sitting at the entrance to her den. She wouldn’t make it to the ground level at this rate.
High Ones, she felt awful. Tears filled her eyes and spilled over.
Foxtail looked out her den, raising her chin to grant her neck the mercy of a cool summer breeze. The light was still too bright to be late evening, so Foxtail guessed that others were still sleeping. She didn’t want to wake anyone to ask for help, but she really had to go.
She couldn’t walk. But she could crawl. She hoped.
Again forcing herself to move, Foxtail put one hand in front of the other, one knee in front of the other, and slowly crawled her way out of her den. The breeze that had moments ago been refreshing now chilled, and she shivered.
A cough was building again. She tried to cough softly, but felt the gunk catch in her throat. She’d choke if she didn’t cough again, so she did, but then she couldn’t stop. Balanced as she was on the steps on the outside of the Dentrees, she was not in the best position to be coughing. The cough wracked her frame, and she tried to lean against the great tree.
The feel of the bark on her skin hurt. Thinking about it, her clothes hurt, too. So did her hair. She let the tears flow freely.
And then she heard her.
“Foxtail?” her mother’s voice called softly from the den near her. “Is that you?”
Foxtail didn’t have strength to answer, but simply sent, **Sick. Help?**
She could imagine her mother, huffing at the inconvenience of an early start to her day, feeling irritated that her plans for whatever weaving or sewing needed to be done had been interrupted. She imagined her mother, frown on her face, upset that Foxtail had not simply listened to her mother’s instructions. She imagined it all, and decided she didn’t care.
She needed help. And her mother was coming. That had to count for something.
Whispersilk arrived a moment later and knelt next to Foxtail’s sweating, shivering frame. Her mother touched her forehead, then nodded to herself, “Fever.” Foxtail gathered that her mother was sending to someone, but she didn’t have the strength to protest. She was being taken care of now.
Her mother helped her to stand, then walked with her to a place where Foxtail could relieve herself. When she finished, her mother helped her back to the Dentrees, then asked, “Do you want to stay in our den?”
Foxtail didn’t want to stay in her parents’ den, but she knew she didn’t have the strength to go to her own. Her mother must have known that, because without a word, she guided her into the Chief’s den. Foxtail didn’t protest. Wearily, she collapsed onto the bedfurs, which her father had pulled back for her.
Windburn knelt next to the bed and dipped a cloth into a bowl, then sponged her head. The cool, damp cloth felt so good, but she shivered. Whispersilk covered her with the bedfurs, and her father continued with his ministrations. Foxtail marveled at the sight of both parents caring for her, and decided she was having a fever dream.
Foxtail coughed. She coughed a little louder. She sighed. She was getting better. The worst of whatever illness had left, and now, so had her parents. They were back to their regular duties. But for a few, wonderful-even-though-she-felt-awful days, they had been there, taking care of her. Her mother had brought her teas, sat and sewn near her, had made certain that she ate. And her father had kept her supplied with cool water. She smiled to herself – yesterday, when she’d commented on an old cup he had painted and said she liked it, he had given it to her.
She reached for the cup and drank down the water inside it. Then she held the cup in her hand and turned it, looking closely at each of the hand-painted flowers. It was beautiful.
“I’m glad to see you’re feeling better,” her mother’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
Foxtail looked up. Her mother was smiling at her. Foxtail wondered whether her mother was simply happy that she would have the den back to herself. It was probably that. It must have been a terrible inconvenience to have Foxtail there in the family’s bed bowl. She bit back a sigh and blinked back tears. She had thought she was having a fever dream when her parents took such care of her. Maybe that’s all it had been.
“I’ll be out of your den by sunrise,” she mumbled quietly.
“Foxtail, you know that you are welcome to stay as long as you want.”
Foxtail looked up, genuinely surprised. Her mother moved to a position on the edge of the bed bowl and reached out to her, pulling her close. Foxtail stiffened at the unusual show of affection, then relaxed to enjoy it. Moments like these could be counted on both hands.
“Thank you, Mother, for caring for me while I was sick.”