From Chapter 3
This is written in the first person, so “I” refers to Conchobar. He has suffered an injury and finds himself in the healer’s lodge. Three Fingers and Gathers Seeds are the village’s healers. Spits Teeth is war chief, and Conchobar’s adopted father. Black Rat Snake is Conchobar’s adopted older brother, though Conchobar doesn’t know much about his adopted family at this point in the story.
I feel a throbbing pain at the side of my head, and I feel dizzy, like I might fall down again, except I have the feeling that I’m floating. I’m aware of my red dream again, and the bond at the center of my belly. I wrap the fingers of both hands around the cord, and I feel a gentle, nudging tug at my core. I hear two men talking. They speak in the strange language I have been learning. Strangely, I understand every word, not just words here and there. I wonder how this is possible. Rapidly I blink my eyes, open them in a flutter, and see two men staring sympathetically at me. I’m laid out on some kind of table at chest level for the shorter man. They look into each other’s eyes, then they look back at me. The taller man says, “Are you with us, boy?”
Though it hurts to move my head, I nod slightly. My head is swimming, and I’m confused. Is this man speaking my language, or do I now understand his?
The shorter man hurries off, talking as he works. “Something for swelling. Something for the poison. Something soothing. Something slippery. Something for the pain. Something for the itch.”
The taller man addresses his partner. “Let’s not forget something to drink and something to eat. This boy is emaciated, dehydrated, and malnourished, Gathers Seeds.”
Gathers Seeds titters, tongue to teeth like a chipmunk, and scurries about. He tells the taller man that there is soup beside the fire, then returns to his work. He unwraps each tiny woven bag, dropping pinches of their contents into a bowl. Then he smells the contents, tentatively at first, as if committing the combination of smells to memory. Then he grinds the contents together with a smooth rock and adds a generous amount of animal oil.
Soothingly, the taller man tells me that his name is Three Fingers. He explains that I have fallen and hit my head, and that they have examined my wounds, applied poultices and wraps, and that they think my head will be fine in a couple of days. He explains that Spits Teeth and Black Rat Snake brought me to them several days ago. In addition to hitting my head on a rock, I landed on a nest of ground bees. I’ve been stung hundreds, perhaps thousands of times. Three Fingers explains that bee stings are poisonous, some people are more sensitive to their poison, and even those that aren’t sensitive to the poison can be affected when they’re stung by that many bees. Three Fingers’s lips have stopped moving, but still, I hear him talking. I’m amazed. How can I understand this man? Is he putting thoughts in my head? Sympathetically, Three Fingers says, “My biggest concern is how skinny you are. We can fix your head and heal your swelling, but it will take time to heal your body.”
Three Fingers helps me sit and props a back brace on top of the elevated bed table. A warm, soft animal skin covers the brace and feels luxurious against the skin on my back. Then he holds a hollowed-out gourd to my lips and I take a sip of water. It reminds me of the men that found me on the riverbank beside the ocean. I thank Three Fingers and ask, “How is it I can understand you and your language?”
Three Fingers places a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “I have an uncommon ability. I can communicate, brain to brain. I also have a gift for language. I have taught you much and you learn quickly. It would seem you also have uncommon abilities. Now you must eat.” I watch the man walk to the fire and scoop stew from a large ceramic pot into a small wooden bowl. A wooden spoon seems to appear in his hand. He feeds me a spoonful of the stew, and I swallow. It reminds me of the soup that Ferocious Wind brought me on the trail, only it tastes good, bursting with the flavor of mushrooms, something that tastes like onions, and seasonings I can’t name or describe. “Gathers Seeds is a good cook, don’t you think?” Three Fingers rubs the round belly on his otherwise tall and slender frame. I take a few swallows of the soup. Three Fingers vocalizes approval and begins humming―a slow and soothing song. After it repeats a few times, I find myself blinking slowly. Three Fingers wraps his arm around my back, removes the brace, and gently lowers me to the table.
When I awaken again, I am disoriented and I wonder how long I have been asleep. I see Three Fingers and Gathers Seeds holding hands, standing by the fire in the center of the building. I hear Three Fingers say, “His skin is hot. Very swollen. He needs to move. Sometimes he is not with us, yet he is not gone.”