These evenings with Jared more than compensated for any parts of the day that made her wish for Willow River, Vixen decided, opening the door to her own room.
Oddly, there was no sign of Tylla; only a single lamp glowed, but after so long with the shyani, dim light was an old friend. She left the door ajar and settled herself in the nearest chair, closing her eyes and focusing on her breathing. It felt like there was always someone around. A moment of peace was no bad thing.
“I'm so sorry, milady...” Tylla slipped in the open door, headed straight for the single lamp.
“It's all right. It's late, we lost track of time. If I'd had the foresight to wear something I could get out of alone, I'd be just as happy if you were asleep in your own bed.” She frowned. “You're shaking. What's wrong?”
Tylla paused with a spill in one hand, not yet lit, that would allow her to light more lamps. “Milady, I...” She sounded badly torn, and something in it only increased Vixen's certainty that something was going on.
“Tylla. Please. Don't tell me it's improper or not relevant. I'm not going to get angry or get you into any trouble over it. I don't think you're just tired. What is it?”
Tylla sighed. “It's my son.” Her voice caught on the last word, and she sank down on the edge of the bed.
“I didn't know you had a family.” Of course, she hadn't thought to ask, either. It was too easy to drop back into old habits of class.
“My husband was the steward. He died some years ago when Cole was small. His Grace's father, bless him, let my son and me stay in our quarters, and my son's learning what he would've if his father were here. His Grace says my son's a bright boy.”
“From Jared, that's high praise. What's wrong right now?”
“He has these... spells. He gets terribly sick, then it goes away again. The physician has seen him, more than once—I'm upper house staff, I'm entitled to that. He doesn't know what it is. He's tried purgatives and bleeding and tonics and none of it does any good. He won't even see him any more, he says there's no point and it's a waste of his time.”
“And he's sick right now?”
“Yes, milady. I went to check on him, that's why I wasn't here.”
“And knowing I'm a healer, you didn't think to ask?” Vixen chided gently, standing up. “Where is he?”
“Improper, and probably grounds for losing your job, to inconvenience a guest with your own petty concerns? Like the well-being of your son? I'll take care of it. After all, what are you going to do, upset the guest you're responsible for by flatly refusing to cooperate with her mad ideas? Alys will be quite happy to believe the worst of me. Now, are you going to take me yourself, or do I go ask the first servant I can find where you live?”
Tylla gazed at her for a couple of heartbeats, eyes wide, then a tentative smile flickered across her face. “Of course, milady.”
Servants had their own hierarchy: lower servants slept in shared rooms, upper servants had private ones. Lower servants who married generally got a room to themselves, but upper servants who married, in a generous household, might do better. And Hyalin appeared to treat its people well, so Vixen doubted Tylla was sharing a single sparse room with her son.
“Sick how?” Vixen asked, as they wove their way through the maze of corridors.
“He gets terrible headaches, bad enough sometimes to make him cry. Sometimes he vomits, but he always feels nauseous, and his bowels are loose for the next few days. And his mood changes. Often for several days he's intensely melancholy and hopeless and has trouble concentrating on anything. He's tried twice to harm himself, after the headache has faded.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“Some two years. He's fourteen now. The first bout was very bad, then it was less severe for a while, but it's gradually getting worse. Stronger and more frequent, but not so regular that we can predict it. Sometimes a new one strikes before he's entirely over the last. Sometimes there's space between.”
“Headaches and nausea are bad enough, but the rest could have severe consequences as far as working later. If he can be kept alive that long.”
Tylla gave her a grateful look. “Yes, milady. That's what frightens me most. It hurts to see him hurt, but to not know whether he can have a future...”
“I'll do my best. I work in a completely different way than a physician does, maybe I'll have more luck.” Repeated attacks in a pattern like that, for this long, didn't sound to her like it was caused by any disease, though she didn't know them all and could be wrong. Something systemic that was out of balance, maybe? Triggered by the physical changes of puberty?
Tylla led her to a wing some distance off, though on the same floor, and opened a door midway along it.
The sitting room beyond wasn't large, but it felt cozy and friendly to Vixen. The furniture was rather worn, probably discards from highborn or guest suites, but in good repair and it looked comfortable. Two mid-sized windows, made up of small diamond panes that let light in without allowing any real view, flanked a small cast iron stove, enough to heat the space and allow some very basic food preparation without going to the kitchen.
Each side wall had two doors; one was open, allowing a glimpse of a bathroom, and the other was closed but Vixen's guess was that it was a small room for storage. The outer pair would be bedrooms.
An actual suite like this put Tylla well into the aristocracy of the household servants, but then, it would be appropriate for a married house steward, and Tylla was certainly not just a common housemaid.
Tylla crossed the room to one of the farther doors, and opened it quietly. “Cole, sweetheart,” she said softly. “It's just me. Milady Vixen wants to see if she can help you. Trust her. It's going to be all right.” She beckoned Vixen over.
The room was very dim, only a single lamp with a horn shade over it to mute it—light sensitive, Vixen noted, and probably sound sensitive as well, given how quiet Tylla was being.
The small room held a narrow bed, and in it someone lay, blankets thick over him muffling his shape. Tylla perched on the edge of a nearby chest, hands in her lap with her fingers twined tightly together.
The boy in the bed, lying on his back with his eyes closed, resembled his mother in ways, though Vixen thought he must have his father's nose and jaw structure and his hair was several shades darker.
“Cole?” she said gently. “Just lie still. This may feel strange, and you may see odd things, but nothing will hurt you.” She knelt beside the bed in a sweep of long skirts, briefly cursing the restrictions of her beautiful dress. As much as she loved what she saw in Hyalin's many mirrors, she was habitually too active for these clothes to be at all practical. Wearing stays and long skirts for more than a few days would definitely require a significant change in her behaviour.
He mumbled something she couldn't entirely make out; he flinched from her hand on his forehead, but didn't try to move away. His temperature was elevated. Could it be disease after all?
Well, no point in trying to figure it out from the available information, it didn't match anything she could think of even remotely, and obviously matched nothing the physician knew of either.
She began to sing.
This was more complex than simply healing Ilsa's bruises, and there were going to be multiple stages involved. To start with, because the assistance of someone's spirit animal was a necessary part of how a shaman worked, she sent out a call for his—he was a little older than shyani children typically were for that, but not much.
It came without hesitation, needing no coaxing by Vixen or encouragement by Red Fox: a yellow and white and dark brown snake, though much larger than its vermin-eating brethren who lived in the garden. It coiled itself protectively around the boy, resting its head on his abdomen.
Cole sighed deeply, and some of the tension faded.
What's the source of the problem? Vixen asked it, Old Tongue words a part of her song, but it didn't answer, didn't move.
Sometimes spirit animals could be contrary, but not usually when it came to the safety of their chosen.
Or was it already telling her?
She flipped back the blankets, still singing, and laid her other hand over, or rather through, the spirit-snake's head. What was right there? His diaphragm, but this wasn't a breathing issue. His stomach?
Nausea, vomiting, loose bowels.
His body struggling to clear itself of something?
She searched deeper, testing the flows of energy through his body and with them the flow of blood and all the complexities that kept countless systems functioning in precarious balance. Abdominal gas, more of it than there should be, and chronic irritation of the lining of his stomach and small intestine. That supported the idea that he was ingesting something his body couldn't process. Not necessarily something normally toxic: she knew one shyani who developed fearful hives from even brief contact with eggs, and she'd heard that the results of eating even a bite were dangerous. But what could have changed to cause these outright attacks to begin?
What is it he's reacting to? she sang to the snake. It's something he eats. What is it? Why does it make him so sick?
Hassss outgrown it, the snake said.
What food could you outgrow?
No creature in the world save humans and shyani and weyres continued to consume it past weaning. The majority of the milk from shyani goats became cheese, and a little went to the very young or very old or to nursing mothers. Human diet, though, included butter and cheese and cream and milk as ingredients in many foods.
Milk? she asked the snake. He ingests milk or things made from it, and his body rejects it and that makes him sick?
The snake didn't answer, but she didn't really expect it to. Not talkative, snakes, unlike her own fox.
That gave her a long-term plan, and some idea of what to do now: sing his body into clearing the toxins, or what it perceived as toxins, more effectively; reduce the inflammation that was causing the nausea and the headaches. Which, she hoped, would mitigate the after-effects as well as making this particular bout pass quickly.
Aware that her own strength was beginning to flag, she let her song wind down and moved her hands away.
“He's asleep,” Tylla whispered. “Peacefully, not restless.”
Vixen nodded wearily. “Help me up? Let's let him sleep.”
Tylla immediately came nearer, sliding an arm around Vixen's waist to support her to her feet. That worked to reach the sitting room, at least, so Tylla could close the door to Cole's room.
“Milady, what can I do?”
Vixen shook her head. “Not much. I'm just tired. There was a lot to fight, some of it old. Keep him from eating anything that has even tiny amounts of milk or cheese or butter in any form in it. His body sees it as a poison now that he's nearly an adult. Nothing I can do will convince it of anything else. Stay alert and I think he'll have no more attacks like this. I think he'll heal quickly now, if there's no more. Possibly not everything, there were a lot of parts of his body affected, but mostly.”
“Milk? That's all? Something so ordinary?”
“Yes.” Her own room felt like a very long way from here. She sighed to herself. A few days in Hyalin, and she'd exhausted herself on shamanic work more than she normally did in a month in Willow River. “I truly don't think I'm going to make it back to my room without resting, so I'm afraid I'm going to have to have a nap on your sofa.”
“Milady, my bed is...” Tylla hesitated.
“I'm not putting you out of your own bed.”
“Looking after you is my job, and you just tired yourself this much to help my son. Come on, now.”
Vixen surrendered, let Tylla steady her to the other bedroom. The maid unlaced her dress with quick deft hands and helped her out of it, then the stays beneath. She flipped back the blankets so Vixen could sink down on the edge at an angle, and briskly unpinned the braids of her hair. Not as thickly padded as Vixen's own bed, but she'd slept in worse places.
“You need sleep too,” Vixen pointed out, the words a bit slurred. “It's a big bed.” It wasn't unheard-of for a maid to share her mistress' bed while travelling, though the length of the house was less distance than normally was involved.
She fell asleep before she found out whether Tylla was going to be sensible or not.
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