Crouching down, Adelaide held out her hand to the cat while it approached her. "Come on..." she said softly. The cat extended its neck and delicately sniffed her fingers. It looked up at her, then pushed its head at her hand. She let her magic trickle through her fingers and into its body as she petted it. It was healthy, but... why do I keep thinking she's only half there? That's – oooh. Maybe? She looked up at the sky but it was covered in gray clouds. "Harlan, was there a full moon last night?" she asked.
"Don't recall Misst'." he replied from somewhere behind her. "I was asleep." His horse's hooves clopped on the road as he lead it to a nearby tree.
She looked at the cat again. She had sat down and watched her attentively. I need a different approach, she thought. Putting her hand on the ground in front of the cat, she spread her magic, letting it climb up through the cat's feet and spread through the body. Ah, hey, there it is. Haven't had a were around here since Veda left and that was – Nineteen? Twenty-one? – Years ago? Has it been that long? Poor Veda. She stood up, "Show me your friend, Lady Cat." she said. The cat stood and lead them to the person lying on the ground.
"It's a woman!" Harlan exclaimed, as Adelaide kneeled down again.
That's obvious, she thought, but did not say anything. The woman's face was flushed, and her skin was hot and dry. A cup lay on one side next to her, and a folded cloth was on the ground near her shoulder. Adelaide picked up the cloth, it was still damp. Holding it to her nose, she sniffed: mint but just barely. Setting it down again, she picked up the cup. There were a few drops of tea drying inside. She ran her finger around it, spreading her magic. More mint and willow bark. Something lightly bumped her side, she turned and the cat rubbed her face against her side.
"Been carin' for yer friend, Lady?" she asked softly.
"She goin' t' be all right?" Harlan asked, bending over.
"Prob'ly. Soon as I figure what's causin' the fever." Adelaide picked up the woman's arm and pulled back her sleeve, laying her fingers on her wrist. The pulse was too fast. She put a hand on her chest and extended her power. The woman's heart fluttered like a trapped bird under her ribs. She increased her power, imagining sand flowing through her body and breaking down into smaller and smaller grains. The poison tasted like bitter acid in the back of her throat. "Like last nights' dinner after you've left it in the privy." She repressed a smile at the memory of Great-Uncle Boyce's laugh. He'd always been there for her when she'd run away again from her cousins' vicious teasing. Even if he couldn't do anything for her, he'd at least given her a shoulder to cry on. She shook her head. Enough woolgathering, she told herself, focus! Closing her eyes, she fell into her magic trying to trace the source. It was too diffuse, obviously it had been too long since she'd been bitten. She picked up the woman's arm again, looking for the sting. It was clean. She ran a finger around her neck, under the collar of her shirt. Still nothing. Reaching over, she picked up the opposite arm. Harlan, watching her, moved a step closer and blocked the light.
"Harlan, I'm goin' t' need t' take her to the house." she said, not turning around. "Would ya hitch up the horse?"
"Yes, Misst'!" he exclaimed, eager to be of service, and hurried over to grab his horse's rope.
Adelaide looked back at the woman on the ground in front of her. Where is it? She ran her fingers under the waistband of the woman's breeches, then pulled aside the cloak that covered her legs. One boot was off and lay between her ankles. She looked at the foot which was still encased in a stocking. Was that ankle swollen? Her knees complained as she moved down to examine it closer. Picking up the foot, she steadied it in her lap. The stocking was stiff and the ankle definitely felt swollen. Turning the foot, she saw the stains where the blood had seeped through. She carefully pulled it off.
"There it is." she sang to herself. The skin had been scratched raw and drops of blood grew where the fabric had pulled off old scabs. In the hollow below the ankle was a tiny red bump, smaller than the nail on her little finger.
She stuffed the sock in the boot. "Harlan," she called. "Ya almost done? I want t' get her in the wagon."
"Just a moment, Misst'." He fussed with something in the back of the cart. "I made a bed." he announced proudly, stepping back.
"Thank ya." she said. Standing up, she walked over and stood at the woman's feet.
Harlan walked to the woman's head and put his hands under her shoulders while Adelaide picked up her feet. "One, two, three!" she counted, and together they carried the woman to the cart. Walking back, Adelaide picked up the cloak and the canvas she had been laying on, shook them off and folded them.
"Ya want me t'...?" Harlan trailed off as Adelaide handed him everything and walked over to the bay gelding. Grabbing the rope with one hand, she pulled his head down and put her other hand on his nose.
"Follow us." she said, looking the horse in the eye.
Harlan shrugged and climbed in the wagon. The cat jumped in the back and laid down on the woman's chest. Adelaide climbed up and sat on the bench next to Harlan. Together they rode down the hill and back to her farm.