Mark of the Shadow Part 8: No Time For Breakfast
Miss the beginning? Start with part 1.
I asked Rolph who that man Carriage was, but Rolph wouldn’t talk much. We ended up finding a cheap broad bellied boat with a couple of rotting oars. It’s all we could afford.
We didn’t stay in town much longer. Rolph said something dangerous was going down here. He didn’t want to be here when the spark lit.
He said the plan hadn’t changed. We were still going to the lake. Finding a cure for me, was more important than anything else now. Truth is, I didn’t feel bad, or weak or, scared. I was too preoccupied to be feelin bad. How did Rolph know general Grant? Did that mean he’d met the president too? I wondered, what else was there to know about Rolph.
I asked him about it that night. We camped lakeside, where we’d left Carlson who surprisingly had not run off. I guess he was trying to get on our goodside, for he’d cooked us a little meat, that he’d been savin, to go with the now usual bowl of beans. The air was cool, and the sky clear, it shone with stars above the great western sky.
I wrapped myself in an animal skin as I asked, “Rolph, how’d you mean, you was sent here by Grant?”
“Me and Grant go back. We used to hunt together. Then some things happened. Now he’s the commander of the Army and I’m his nobody assistant. He sent me here, because he believed that the illness growing in the territory was not purely man made. I’m not so sure.”
“But the shadows,” I said.
“Ah, yes. There here, probably attracted by the strife, but I don’t believe they are the root.”
“I’m sorry, we’re to understand that you’re here on a secret mission from the commander of the Union army? And you were sent to Utah,” said Carlson.
“I don’t belong in war, Grant knows that. We served in the Mexican War together. It wasn’t pretty.” Rolph returned to his food, seemingly done with conversation.
“Does this mean we can go to Washington and meet the president after this is all done?” I asked exited at the prospect.
“Time for sleep,” is all he said in reply. He moved quickly to his sleeping spot and crashed down.
Carlson looked at me worriedly, I tried to smile, but I get the feeling I wasn’t doing a great job. He too put himself to sleep.
I was woken bright and early by Carlson who pointed to the boat, which Rolph had pushed to the shoreline. There was a bag, about the size of my head in the boat already.
“What’s for breakfast?” I asked, adjusting my eyes to the light.
My skin felt rough. Like the salt in the air around me had burrowed its way through my skin. My stomach rumbled.
“He says there’s no time for breakfast. I say never say never,” said Carlson producing an apple from his personal bag.
The apple was a little smushed but it felt good to have something juicy and fresh again. We left most of our belongings on the shore. I tossed the gnawed at apple core into the lake, and watched it create a pattern of ripples. I started to drift off, losing myself in the calmness of the quite lakefront, when Rolph picked me up from the shoulders and placed me into the boat.
“Your only coming to watch,” Rolph barked at Carlson.
Rolph and Carlson pushed us off the bank with the oars that looked to be practically falling apart in their hands. The boat was surprisingly smooth, although Carlson made it clear he’d never ridden a boat before. Neither had I, but I didn’t heave up last nights meal like my poor uncle. The day was still early, the air crisp and cold, and the sun not yet bright. A low mist hung over the still lake, providing an air of mystery to our expedition.
Every few minutes Rolph would stop and pull some herbs out of his bag, mixing them with the lake water in a vial, before dumping the contents back in the river. Every now and then the water in the vial did something strange, becoming like jelly, or turning a rare shade of orange. Whatever was happening it didn’t satisfy Rolph.
By the time Rolph was happy with the results it was past noon, and we were heaven knows where on the lake. The water in the vial turned a deep red, just for a few moments before returning to its natural state. Rolph dumped the contents and re-mixed the ingredients to make sure. This was it.
Rolph dumped the vial, and told Carlson to make sure we didn’t move from this spot. He grabbed a handful of herbs from his satchel, and mixed them together in a small stone bowl. He added a handful of the lakes water, and drank half of it. Then he offered it to me. I took the bowl.
“Drink,” he said.
I lifted the stone bowl to my lips, and tilted it back. The water was horrid. Salty, and, and something else. Something I did not know how to describe. The water burned my throat and unsettled my stomach as it went down. Someone grabbed the bowl, as it seemed I was going to drop it. I stopped breathing.
Carlson lurched forward trying to help me, but Rolph held him back, yelling something. I couldn’t hear anything. I fell violently, banging my hand on the boats coarse deck and scrapping my arms. A silent scream erupted from my mouth. Somewhere, deep in my lungs something was fighting me. My lungs seemed to expand, and it felt like they would push right through my skin. In a moment of insanity I thrust my head under the surface of the water.
The shock of the cold caused me to recoil, and the world returned to me. A gasp of air here, a word there.
“…te..a..so…” Sound was returnin to me.
“Wear this,” said Rolph apparently unfazed by my reaction to his drink. I looked at him wearily. He smiled, “You did good. He,” he said pointing a thumb at Carlson, “wouldn’t have made it. I knew you’d pull through though.”
I didn’t feel like I did good. Though Rolph assured me the worst part was over. He gave me a beaded bracelet, although I supposed it was more of an armband, as it covered practically my whole forearm. It was beautiful though, complete with a mural, with a whale and a hunter.
Rolph attached a similar breast piece to himself, although in his case it showed the hunter extracting something from the now dead whale. I liked mine better.
“Ann, whatever happens stay on the boat. As long as you can breath, I can breath. Remember that.”
With that he rolled off the boat and swam down into the lakes depths.