When the mounts and teams were finally calmed I tried to let go where I had been holding onto Gid to keep from being thrown off while he took his horse, a fiery mustang he called Rook, in hand. “You can stay that way,” he said when I tried to untangle myself.
“You can’t want me in your space like this.”
“Can too, but I suppose that’ll have to wait.” His suddenly stiffened and then muttered a curse. “What is he on about?”
I turned to see that the wagon train was going off the road and disappearing into a structure that looked like it was made of stone. “He’s taking us into shelter. That is what remains of something called a parking garage. There used to be conveyances called cars …”
“Aye, I attended school. I know the history … or at least some.”
I nodded, sorry that perhaps I had sounded arrogant or insolent. When I didn’t add any to what I had been saying he asked, “What of this … this parking garage.”
“It is made of something called concrete. It is like a very strong plaster or adobe that turns to stone and won’t melt in the rain.”
“Aye, I’ve heard of it. They make a type of it in our village. Because of tight space we’ve had to grow up rather than out.”
I nodded. “Our community used to make clay blocks and fire them in a kiln and called them bricks. Or they would pick up rubble from the nearest old-cityscape and mortar the bits together with clay. In other places they only have wood or woven grasses to use.”
“What of this place? You’ve been here before?”
“A lot of travelers use this spot to get out of bad weather. I’ve been here several times. Just don’t let the children go into the levels beneath the ground, you can get lost down there and there are … are artifacts that can cut and cause an infection. There’s also mold spores that cause lung sickness. Most leave the tunnel covers in place but there are some too curious for good sense that disappear down there every season. In the far corners and old stairwells below there are also bones of men and women long dead littering the floor.”
“How do you know this?”
“Once, as punishment, Aunt put me down there and had them pile rocks so that I couldn’t push the panel away to escape.” Gid uttered a particularly nasty curse that had heat rising to my ears, something that hadn’t happened for a while because Wash’s curses were very … creative … and I thought no one would ever best him in that department.
We rode into the area and dismounted. Tad came over and took the reins from Gid. “I’ll rub him down.” Despite his words to me it was obvious that Gid was still angry at Tad and I felt pulled to do something.
I kept my head bowed but said quietly so none but we three could hear I said, “What’s done is done but it need go no further.”
I thought my words had fallen flat but I jumped when Gid put his finger under my chin to lift it and turn it to see Tad. He looked at me confused. “I … I shouldn’t have hit you.”
“Your heart has been troubled. I don’t wish to add to that load.”
More confusion but he did say, “It won’t happen again.”
I nodded and then followed Gid until he located Miz Lana who was in a foul mood. “Bah! Not a dry stick of wood to be found and nothing to make fire with that isn’t twice as wet as that. My tinder box tipped when the horses went crazy and got soaked.”
I eased my pack off my shoulders and pulled out the fur wrapped bundle I had left over from the night before. I reached into the pack again and pulled out a bag of downy cattail fluff. Turning to Gid I said, “I was saving this to piece out flour with but if the wood in under the wagon canvas is dry, we’ll at least be able to start a small fire then heat a skillet. If we share the fire and share what dry wood we have between us, there should be enough though eating will have to be done in shifts.”
It wasn’t easy. Only one could cook over the fire at a time so instead of a full course meal all the women threw in together and fried up batch after batch of a type of hash. The wagon master’s wife brought over the largest skillet I had ever seen and that is the cook surface we used. We cooked on one half and served from the other.
Eventually all were served and even Tad and Ern seemed content with their portion. Gid had saved me some from his bowl and tried to feed me but I shook my head, too nauseous to eat. The heat from the fire had caused new blisters to rise on my burns and all I wanted was to find a place and curl up with my misery.
I heard Miz Lana tell Gid, “Get her to wherever you be sleeping. Try and get another cup of willow bark tea down her though not too much as she hasn’t eaten. She also needs to drink as much of a skin of water as she can to put the water back that the burn has taken away. Then let her sleep. It’s the only cure for what ails her.”
The rain continued off and on through the night but not so hard that it blew in and wet our refuge. The ground was cold and hard and I slept fitfully. I woke in the wee hours to the feel of my skirt bunched up and hands where they’d never been before, but they weren’t moving. A snore in my ear told me they wouldn’t be moving any time soon either. I was too tired and sore to try and escape, all I could do was fall back into the half sleep something had roused me from.
The next time I woke it was to feel someone gently righting my skirt and I jumped. “Shhh. I’m covering your temptations.” His breath on my neck caused a sensation that didn’t leave me entirely comfortable.
I didn’t know what to say. He had rights. I accepted that. But I was confused nonetheless. “Let me up and I’ll fix …”
“Shh. There’s not enough wood left,” he whispered in my ear. “People will have to make due with water, but not too much. It will be well past noon before we reach clean water that won’t sicken anyone. Is you water skin filled?”
“Tad took it and filled it last night when he watered the horses.”
I felt things I shouldn’t as Gid continued to arrange and then rearrange my clothing. “What are you doing?” I whispered frantically after one particular move.
“Torturing myself,” he muttered hoarsely.
Soon enough he left off with the torturing and crawled out telling me to fix things right as he had doubtless all but buttoned and tied it all inside out. I was nearly tempted to crawl to the below ground when I realized he was right.