Eve woke up first out of the family. She stretched, catlike, and padded over to Margaret on stocking feet.
"How is he?" Her voice was a little husky from sleep. She coughed to clear her throat.
"Better," said Margaret.
Eve nodded toward the hem of Margaret's skirt. "You don't have a leg."
She looked at Margaret's face to see how Margaret would react.
"I have one and a half. I think that's pretty good. Three out of four is still a pass."
Eve smiled back. "I didn't notice until you answered the door. This whole time I thought you had a limp or something."
"Well, I do." Margaret leaned toward Nerold and checked his temperature. Eve watched her. The way she placed her hand over Nerold's temperature seemed graceful, like a dance. "Normal. He'll still be ill for a while, though, and I can't tell exactly how he'll heal."
Eve didn't look away from Margaret.
"Good," Eve said, and sat on the ground next to Margaret's chair. Margaret didn't react.
Over on the other side of the room, Eve's mother stirred. She woke up quickly once she was awake, and nudged Eve's father. They came over to Nerold together.
"How is he?" Eve's mother asked, like Eve had. Their voices were similar, but Eve's mother's seemed to be worn thin from time and worry.
"He'll be all right. Whatever comes next, he'll be all right." Margaret looked tired, but energized from something.
"I'll need to wake him," Margaret said. Perhaps one of you would like to instead, so he can wake up to someone he knows?"
Eve wanted to wake him, but she let her father knelt gently beside his son. "Nerold, wake up, dear." He gently stroked Nerold's cheek. Nerold's eyes fluttered open and he groaned.
"I hurt," he said. "And I've got a headache.
Margaret knelt gently beside him. Eve's father stepped back. Eve looked at Nerold's face. It looked tense. It reminded Eve of when he first cut his finger, the first time he'd tried woodcarving. He looked too young. Eve was much more used to him being her swaggering big brother. This vulnerability scared her. Nerold hated showing how he felt. It had to hurt a lot, for him to drop his guard like that.
"I need you to drink something," Margaret said gently. Nerold coughed. "Are you still nauseous?"
"My throat is dry," Nerold said. Margaret nodded. She stood and limped to the table. She grabbed a bottle from the table and brought it back to Nerold. Eve was mesmerised by Margaret's gait. It was asymmetrical but even, enough out of the ordinary so that Eve couldn't look away. Perhaps Eve ought to be embarrassed. Her mother would be. Eve didn't care. Margaret knelt down again. So she had to have a knee, Eve figured. One and a half legs.
Margaret propped Nerold's head up like she had the night before. "Do you think you can sit up?" She asked. Nerold nodded, and she helped him sit against the wall at the head of his bed. He winced when his leg scraped across the mattress. Margaret let him hold the bottle in his hand, and she supported his arm.
"This feels pathetic," Nerold said, and Eve let out a breath. There was her brother.
"You'll have the strength to lift cups again soon, I promise," Margaret said.
Eve grinned. Nerold drank. When he finished, Margaret set the cup down.
"I'm going to touch your leg again. It might hurt," she said. Nerold nodded and braced himself, looking grim. Margaret unwrapped his bandages and pulled them aside. Some blood had soaked through to them, and they'd crusted over lightly. Margaret reached the layer under the splint and pulled those aside without moving the splint or hurting the leg.
The leg was a mess, but less of a mess than it had been before. The stitches, in a black thread, stood out against the blood. Eve supposed that must be the pont, though she would have preferred a light brown or darker each, to blend in more to her brother's leg. Margaret slipped the bandages out from under the splints and dabbed some of a different potion on a rag. Eve couldn't keep track of all of the vials Margaret kept pulling out of her bag. Eve flinched a little when Nerold flinched, and she ground her teeth a little while watching. After cleaning the wound, Margaret changed the bandages and rewrapped it. Nerold watched her stand and take the bandages out.
"Have you got a bucket?" Margaret asked Eve's mother.
Eve's mother looked a little weak seeing the bloody bandages.
"Try right inside the stable," she said. Margaret nodded and ducked through the stable door and dropped the bandages into a bucket with a gentle thump.
"I'll wash them, later," Margaret said. "We can reuse them once they're clean."
Nerold watched Margaret walk back to beside his bed and sit in the chair where she'd watched him all night, The potion seemed to have made him more alert already.
"How will my leg heal?" he asked.
Margaret looked at him for a moment. Then she said, "I don't know."
"What do you mean?" His eyebrows creased.
"I mean you won't lose it," she said. "But I dont' know how well it will heal. I believe you'll be able to walk again just fine, but you might not. I know that no matter what happens, you'll be all right." Margaret leaned forward, taking one of Nerold's hands in her own. "Just focus on healing now, okay? Then we can deal with whatever comes along."
Nerold held her gaze for a few moments. Margaret didn't blink.
"You only have one leg," he said.
"One and a half," Margaret said. "Yes."
"How's that working for you?"
She smiled. "You and Eve don't mince words, do you?"
"We don't mince anything else, either," Eve said. "Dad's the only one who can cook."
Margaret turned to look at Eve, her smile not slipping, her eyes sparkling stil.
"That was a terrible joke," Nerold said. There was nothign Eve would have liked to hear more.
"Nerold's back to his old self," Eve said. She went to stand next to Margaret by the side of his bed.
"Shut up," Nerold said. "I can't deal with any more pain than what I'm already getting from my injury."
"Don't be a wimp," Eve said, and felt herself about to cry, so she turned to Margaret. "So, how does that work for you?"
"The legs?" Margaret leane dover and pulled her skirt up to the knee. Eve saw two straps going up under her skirt, connecting to the wooden leg and wrapping around MArgaret's knee. "This strap goes around my waist and holds the wood on." She dropped her skirt again. "I'm fine on even ground and hard ground. If it's sloping, or soft enough that the point of my leg will sink into the soil, then I'll use a staff as support. Or I use it anyway. It looks cooler."
"Do you think I'd look all right with a staff?" Nerold mused. "I think I'd look dashing."
"You'd look like a wizard without any spells to cast or enemies to cast them on," Eve said.
Margaret stood. "If it's all right, I'll make a soup," she said.
As Margaret was preparing a healing soup, Eve's mother brought Margaret a cloak. "You're not dressed," she said. Margaret looked down. She was wearing an old dress that did look ridiculous, if one was going to be out of her house.
"Is that a problem?" Margaret accepted the cloak and swung it around her shoulders. Eve laughed.
"This generation," Eve's mother said.
"I'd say Margaret's done pretty well," Eve said, and winked. Margaret grinned at her. The night before had been so tense, Eve was glad that they could relax a little.
Margaret pulled the cloak closer around her shoulders. "Thank you," she said, and laughed. "We haven't been properly introduced."
Eve's mother put a hand over her heart. "Well, then," she said. "I'm Mrs. Gould."
"Margaret," Margaret said, and curtseyed. She did it well, for only having one ankle. Eve's mother laughed. She seemed exhausted even after sleeping through the night.
Then there was a knock at the door. Eve's mother answered. It was Mr Moorey. He only came around to bear bad news about the town, usually. Eve instinctively went to cover Nerold. She didn't want to show weakness in front of the Lord.
"Margaret," he said, "The Lord demands to see you."
Margaret stepped forward. "For his Lady?"
Margaret sighed, then stood straight, like she'd taken a moment to deflate and now was allowing energy to run through her. "Is it an emergency, then?"
"She has fainted once more," said Mr Moorey. Margaret nodded and turned to Eve. Her face was set.
"Eve," Margaret said, "I have to make sure she's okay. Monitor Nerold-"
"I can monitor Nerold!" said Nerold. Margaret turned to him.
"Eve's your backup," she said, and winked at Eve. It was unexpected, given the gravity of the situation, but Eve liked it. It made her less stressed. Margaret grabbed her staff.
"Keep the cloak," said Eve's mother. "If you're to see the Lord."
Margaret smoother her hair and turned to Mr Moorey. "If I may grab a remedy from my cottage-"
"We have the herbs you used last time," said Mr Moorey. "Come with me."
Margaret sighed again. She looked a bit frustrated, almost. "Yes, Sir," she said, and there was almost a note of teasing in her voice. As she left, she turned back.
"I think you'll be all right as long as I'm gone," she said, and then she was too far to speak. So she called, "Don't do anything exciting till I'm back!" and winked at Eve again. Eve's mother had already huddled over Nerold, so she didn't noticed, but Nerold did, and smirked.
"She's pretty," Nerold said.
Eve drew her finger across her throat. "You're weak," she mouthed. "Weak." She spun on her heel to finish stirring the soup Margaret had almost finished before she was called off.
Margaret returned home late, and she looked exhausted. Eve was in the barn, feeding the sheep some grass she had picked. They hadn't grazed all day. She'd remembered Margaret's instructions on giving Nerold the remedies, and his color was improving, but he was in more and more pain as the day wore on. Eve's mother was collecting berried and greens for a meal, and her father was farming. Eve opened the door, and Margaret staggered in. Well, it wasn't really staggering. It was just tired limping.
"Let me sit a minute," Margaret said when she entered, and she collapsed on a chair. Or sat down. Whichever. She looked so tired that everything looked more dramatic, but Eve was pretty sure Margaret wasn't going for a dramatic look.
"How long has it been since you slept?" Eve asked her. She was kind of worried. Margaret looked pale and the bags under her eyes were the color of a night sky. Dark. "Or eaten?"
Margaret waved her off. "How's Nerold?" she asked. She sat up straighter, which looked like it took some effort.
"Sleeping," Eve said. "Which is what you should do."
"I sleep when the patient is better," Margaret said. "Where's the pack I left? There are some staying awake leaves in there-"
Eve gave her the bag. She would have hidden it and forced Margaret to sleep, but she didn't want to jeopardize Nerold's recovery, and besides, she didn't know Margaret that well. Margaret popped some leaves into her mouth and, if anything, she looked worse. Almost like a corpse inhabiting a person's body.
Eve wondered what had happened with Lady Taeryette, to exhaust Margaret like that, but even she knew when not to ask things. "Please, eat a bit," Eve begged. "Just a bit of bread."
Margaret agreed to that, at least, and swallowed a few quick bites ravenously before going to bend over Nerold. Her eyes weren't closing, at least, so Eve supposed the caffeine leaves were doing their job.
"Nerold," she said, "I need you to wake up really quickly."
Nerold did, and gasped in pain. Margaret's face contracted for a moment.
"Oh, hon," she said, "I forgot to leave with numbing instructions. Here, take this." She scrabbled for a vial and read the label, Eve noticed, before giving it to Nerold. Good to know it wasn't poison.
"Hmmmph," Nerold said, and Eve saw him relax as he drank it.
"Now I'm going to clean your leg again," Margaret said. Eve watched her as she did like she had earlier, unwinding the bandages and changing them and cleansing the wound. The cut looked better, and the stitches seemed to have stopped the bleeding rather well. Well enough. Better than before, at the very least. After Margaret finished, Eve made her sit down and have some soup. Not the healing soup, but a pumpkin soup that Eve had made. Then Eve's mother came home, and made Margaret go to sleep. At that point, Margaret seemed so tired she didn't even protest at using Eve's parents' bed. Eve usually shared her bed with Nerold, or they'd have offered that to Margaret instead.
Margaret was about Eve's height, but she looked small in her sleep. Maybe it was because she was so tired and curled up. Her hair flared across the pillow. She really looked dramatic without even trying, Eve thought. Eve had to put so much more effort in if she wanted to be dramatic. Unfair.
"She's pretty," Nerold said sleepily. Eve looked at him, and back at Margaret. She was pretty. Eve agreed. Eve had thought that from the moment she saw Margaret in the witch's cottage garden. It had been a nice surprise. There's a new witch, hooray! And she's pretty, hooray!
"Shut up," she said to Nerold anyway. He chuckled a little before falling asleep.
Eve and her parents fell asleep after dinner, Eve's parents in Eve's place on the ground and Eve in a chair. She had to drape a leg over an armrest to be really comfortable, and she knew for a fact she'd be sore the next morning. But she hoped that Margaret was comfortable before falling asleep.