He reached over to the small pile of wood they had collected and placed a few choice pieces onto the coals. Soon they began to flame yellow. The cave became brighter. He turned his head toward the back of the cave and saw his horse watching him.
"I'm going to take my horse to the river for a drink," Bran said as he stood and felt the room spin as he staggered. He grabbed for air, trying to catch his balance.
Estella jumped to her feet and rushed to catch his elbow before he fell into the fire. He stood for a moment. "Woah. What was that?" he explained.
She noticed then that his forehead was beaded wet with perspiration. She placed her palm above his brow and felt it hot.
"Sit back down, Bran."
She helped him lower himself to his bedding and leaned him against the saddle.
"You stay here. I'll take your horse to the river. Relax. You're not well."
She took her kilt and laid it over Bran to keep him warm. He was shivering. This was not good. She pulled the tree branches away from the opening of the cave and saw that the dark moon was but a sliver. The rain had stopped. She took his horse for water and thought about what to do.
This was something his mom would know. She was an experienced healer.
She led the horse back to the cave and saw Bran lying very still. She could not see his chest moving. A pain ran through her heart at the thought of losing him.
She leaned over his body and placed her ear against his ribs. The heartbeat was faint.
Quickly she got up, picked up his saddle, and placed it on his horse. She gathered up all their belongings and packed in the saddlebags. Then she lifted Bran onto her shoulder like a bag of grain and placed him on the saddle, tying both his feet and hands across the belly of the horse to hold him steady.
She put out the fire, walked the horse out the cave, placed the branches back over the door, and began the final stretch of the journey back home.
The road to the forest cabin took them the length of the day.
She stayed close to him, walking next to his horse as she looked over to his still form from time to time. She kept talking to him as the sun sunk and dusk appeared.
When they entered the valley where the cabin stood, from behind the grove of aspen where the spring giggled appeared Ascentia. She was wet from bathing with a robe wrapped around her.
When Ascentia saw Bran strapped over the saddle she feared the worst and ran over.
Estella explained the days events, the sickness, Bran falling unconscience.
Together they untied Bran and carried him to the cottage. They laid him on a blanket on the floor by the fire.
“This is not good.” Ascentia said as she continued to look down into his face. “His spirit is leaving his body.”
Stella looked at Ascentia. “It is the sickness from the town. Many are dying.”
Ascentia said, “Remember Stella. There is no death. Just life changing form."
Stella nodded. Still the thought of loosing the form of this man in her life was very difficult to bear.
Ascentia then looked up. “We can bring him back. But it is up to you Stella.”
Stella looked into Ascentia’s face. She understood. The feelings she had for Bran were very powerful. They were there for a reason. She had the power to heal Bran. And in doing so she would learn her purpose.