“Take a vial a day at the same hour for the next five days. Come back on the sixth day and we will see if anything has changed. Please remember, while I am optimistic this tonic will cure the disease, I have yet to test this combination, so it may fail. Please, keep this in the forefront of your minds over the next six days,” Azalea said while handing each of us a leather pouch. She squeezed each of our hands with both of hers.
“Do you want us to keep a log about any potential progressions that your tonic may bring?” Fletcher asked, slipping the pouch into the inside pocket of his jacket.
Azalea’s eyes lit up as she clasped her hands together. “You two would be willing to do that?”
“Sure, you’re doing so much for us. Getting ingredients and logging any changes is the least we can do to assist you,” Fletcher quirked up the right side of his lips.
“Thank you! I wanted to ask you both to do that, yet I didn’t want to overwhelm you during this time. The handful of other people who I have tested my tonic on had quite an array of emotions and thoughts, but all tended to prefer being alone in it all,” Azalea dug around on the desk that was behind her under curled parchments and stained white rags.
The smooth, cool leather felt extremely heavy in my left hand. My curled fingers traced the lines of each vial. These five, small glass vials could do anything. They could cure the infection. It could remedy the symptoms of the infection, but not cure it. It could even make it worse or even kill us. Our fates couldn’t be charted. The certainty of the course of my life that my mate scar once gave me as an adolescent and young woman was further being tattered, destroyed, and buried behind me. Yes, a mate scar and having a soulmate could direct your life in some ways, but guaranteed nothing and most certainly not a charted course.
“What happened to your other patients,” I asked my eyes flickering around the dimly lit room. Several fat candles cast long shadows along the dark, burgundy walls of her tiny office while giving the air a floral, perfumed scent. All the available space along the walls was occupied by tall, wide oak bookshelves. The books ranged from medical techniques, botany, herbal treatments, charts of Voyia, and magical creatures.
“My tonics have offered relief or slowed down the progression of the symptoms, but nothing more promising than that yet. Most of them periodically visit so I can reevaluate them and see if I’ve succeeded yet. Unfortunately, four of them have already passed away from it,” Azalea had a distant look, the nearest candle flickering in her violet eyes. She frowned as her grip on a deer-hind journal tightened. Shaking her head, she turned to face us again. Taking three steps forward, she held out the journal to Fletcher. “I am afraid this is the only empty one I currently have. If you could both mark your recordings with your initials that would be helpful,”
Fletcher held one of his vials at eye level, the sunlight illuminating the dark gold liquid. He swirled it around before popping the cork off it. He bumped his left knee into my right leg. “You ready?”
I sighed while tilting my head up to take in the clouded sky painted by shades of purple and red. The blue ocean and white coast were miles off with Azalea’s quaint hometown in the valley below us. The rustling of the trees nearby and the croaking of a frog were the only sounds nature offered.
Releasing my clenched right hand, I let my fingers slide across the coarse, gritty boulder we sat on. I understood why people tended to be alone during the testing of Azalea’s tonic. How could anyone else come to understand the complexity of our situation? You wanted to be hopeful, yet you couldn’t be so much that you risked crushing yourself under a false hope if the cure didn’t work. But you couldn’t be so pessimistic or fearful that you choose not to try it and risked being uncured. It was consuming, isolating, and burdensome, yet unlike others, I wasn’t alone.
My gaze drifted over to Fletcher, the breeze causing his long hair to skim over his eyes. I reached out my right hand to him which he took in his left. I interlaced my fingers with his calloused ones and uncorked my vial.
Dinging them together, we both took them in one gulp. Scooting closer, I rested my head on his left shoulder. All we could do for now was wait, but at least we were finally navigating this uncharted path together.