Kefira the Healer

 “Heat is the only thing that might save Chilaili’s life.” Kefira looked to her young assistant, Tuccia, who quickly added logs to the hearth fire.

  “I gave her the herbal drink you mixed last night,” whispered Edur, “but now, my wife can no longer swallow.”

 All three jumped when Chilaili screamed through clenched teeth, her arms and legs jerking with uncontrollable spasms.

“Shh, shh,” crooned Kefira. She tried to force tea through her sister’s lips, but it flowed down her chin and dripped onto her heaving breast.

Edur cried to hear the pain in his wife’s voice. Then he glanced behind him to see his silent, wide-eyed children, and snatching them up, strode out the open door into the mid-day sun.

When he returned, he was alone.

Chilaili screamed. Whites of her eyes now a deep yellow, silently cried for help.

“Go to the stream,” Kefira ordered Tuccia. “Pick more cool weed.”

“She will die. You can’t save her, can you?” Edur asked Kefira.

“Yellow Fire kills all. But maybe this time . . .”

“Why Chilaili? What did she do? She is a good wife. The best mother in the village. Why does it burn my beloved?”

Kefira closed her eyes and also wondered.

 “Here’s the cool weed you wanted, Healer.” Tuccia held the blue flowers toward Kefira.

 “Crush them in water, child.” Impatience poured out with her words. “Quickly. Give me the sponge.”

As Kefira wiped the cooling water onto her sister’s heated skin, Chilaili tensed.

Then, as Kefira watched helplessly, her younger sister’s body arched. Only the back of her head and heels touched the straw mat. Chilaili grunted, eyes flicking back and forth between husband and sister.

“How long?” Edur choked on his words. “Before the fever leaves her?”

Kefira shook her head and stared at the dirt floor. “Yellow Fire never lasts longer than the time it takes for the moon to shrink from fullness to quarter light.”

“A long time to die.” Edur placed his hands on Kefira’s shoulders and raised her. “I will stay by my wife’s side. Hold her until the spasms stop. Wipe fire sweat from her body.”

“No. I must stay. She is my sister.”

“Healer,” spoke Tuccia, “come home. You’ve had no rest or food for several days. Come home. I will heat some broth.”

Kefira turned and, in a daze, followed Tuccia to the door. Screams greeted her from many huts. She looked past the children sitting in the central area, numb with fear and non-understanding. “I must go to the others.” She turned toward Edur. “Come for me if . . .”

Edur spoke from the bedside, jaw tightened with anger. “If it becomes worse? How much more pain can she endure?”

Tuccia looked into Edur’s eyes. “Call for the Healer if blood colors her urine or sweat.” Then she took Kefira by the hand, as a mother leads a child, and walked to the Healer’s hut at the far edge of the village.

She sat the Healer down onto a low stool by the hearth fire and poked the embers alive. Broth heating, she stripped the Healer’s clothes from her, and after wiping down her body, slipped a sleeping tunic over the silent woman.

“Eat.” Tuccia held the heated broth toward Kefira. “Afterwards, you must rest. I will fan the stingers away. And sing you to sleep as you have done many times for me.”


Tuccia blinked. Kefira’s anguished voice, usually soft and gentle, cracked the air between them. “I do not help my people any more. I will journey with Death Vine for an answer.”

“But you have not eaten for three days, nor slept for five. It will surely hold you in its grip until you cannot return to living People.

“Death Vine.”

Tuccia cried softly, but did as she was told. While the young girl retrieved the journey drug, Kefira walked to the wooden chest at the end of her bed. She looked at all the items carefully arranged in the sacred box, finally pulling out a candle impregnated with power stones, and a shawl which had been embroidered by Chilaili and given to her on her last namesday.

She sat in the middle of the room and gathered a small pile of dirt as a holder for the candle. Placing the shawl over her head, she awaited her apprentice.

Tuccia, swallowing sobs, handed over the Death Vine root. Kefira dismissed the young girl with a flip of her hand. When alone, she sparked the candle into light, and passing the black root three times through the flame, prayed she be shown the way to defeat Yellow Fire. She bit a large chunk off the bitter root and chewed as she stared into the candle flame. It grew bright as the sunset behind the trees surrounding her village.

She forced herself to swallow, feeling the acrid pulp burn her throat, then twinges in her stomach. Still, she chewed, forcing the drug into her body.

The small flame grew larger, brighter. First, Kefira felt light-headed, then sick to her stomach. She scrambled for the door, barely making it to the outside before the scant fluid in her belly spewed into the dust. Dry heaves followed dry heaves, and she became aware of someone crying, but could see no one–maybe it was her. Her bowels rumbled. She waited no longer, but ran for the edge of the trees and squatted. It seemed as though her insides were coming out. Wave after wave after wave pounded through her body. She threw up once more, juice of the Death Vine. She shivered, and pulled the shawl tightly around her.

Clutching a nearby branch, Kefira tried to stand, to go back to her hut and the candle of power. Legs buckling, she fell to the leaf strewn ground. Screams of Yellow Fire victims mixed with anguished cries of their loved ones floated to her from the village. They surrounded her, carrying her from her people, from this world.

From blackness, Kefira blinked, looked around to see a flat plain stretching to the mountained horizon in all directions. She pushed herself to her knees, then upward to stand alone in this wilderness. Through a twilight-gray haze, she scanned the area for life. No one. Nothing. Just sound. Cries of her people echoed in her head, encircling her like a shroud.

A high pitched scream sliced the air behind her. Hands to ears blocking the sound, she turned. Bogath flew from above to land in front of her. “Why did you come, woman? Why have you trespassed into my land? Leave or I will eat you!”

Bogath, commanding life and death in this shadow world, stared her down. It was awesomely huge, hungry looking. “I come,” she finally said, “for a cure. My people die too soon of Yellow Fire. They do not live to see their grandchildren’s grandchildren.”

“Perhaps I have medicine to fight it, perhaps I don’t.” The winged beast hopped around on sharply taloned feet, flexing the clawed paws between its wings. It clacked a pointed beak in front of Kefira’s eyes. Its breath stunk of the dead.

Her knees shook with realization of the monster’s power. “Help, Great One. I ask a gift to help my people.”

“It is no concern of mine.

“Death belongs to all, so must be a concern of all.”

“Are you tasty?” Without warning, Bogath jabbed its beak, gouging a hole in

Kefira’s thigh.

“Oww!” Kefira felt blood flow down her leg and the edges of the wound flare with



Kefira spread her legs, ignoring the pain in her thigh, and demanded, “I will have that which will heal my people!”

“Do you wish to fight for it?”

“Fight you?”

Bogath hopped from foot to foot and spread its wings wide. Flapping stirred the dust, filled the air with rustling.

“I must fight you.” She looked for a weapon, a stick, a stone, anything. Nothing. Before she could consider her first move, the monster beat its wings, rising slightly from the dusty soil. And lunged.

The beast, three times larger than Kefira, scratched and pecked at her without mercy. It grabbed her, the calloused edges of its wings bound her arms to her body, squeezing her lungs dry.

Gasping for air and a plan, Kefira became limp. Perhaps she could make herself smaller. Slip from its killing embrace. The beast squeezed tighter, cackling into the empty air. Perhaps if she became so very limp, it would think her dead and drop her. She sagged against the feathered body. Head backward. Mouth open. Eyes rolling back in their sockets.

Bogath finally looked down noticing she had stopped moving. It dropped her to the ground and cawed in victory. Dancing around her body in the dust, it cawed again.

She stole a glance. It turned away, and she rushed to fling herself on its back. She grasped its thin neck, digging her fingers in, shoving deeper and deeper. Tighter and tighter she thrust and curled her fingers until her arms ached.

The beast croaked, then in a raging fit, ducked its head and spread its wings. Kefira’s hands loosened their grip and she flew head first over the beast’s body, to thud onto the hard ground.

All air slammed from her chest, pain attacking her limbs, chest, and stomach. A pebble ground into the pecked wound on her thigh and grated against bone. Kefira sucked air, tried to defend herself against this monster who held the secret healing for her people. Before she could rise from the dirt, its heavy weight crashed on top of her, a foot on either side of her chest. She could only wait for an opportunity to attack once more.

“You fought well, even though you are not of this world. I give you this.”

“Will it cure my people?”

It stretched out its paws for Kefira to see. One cool weed flower lay in its right, three purple flowers which Kefira had never used, their power too great, lay in its left. It crushed the plants together between its grinding paws, spit on the bruised leaves and petals, ground them together once more. It held the mixture out to Kefira.

Suddenly afraid, she twisted her head back and forth.

The beast stopped. “No matter. You will accept it in your own time.” Bogath spread wide its wings, stared into the sky and screamed. Then its beak plunged down into Kefira’s chest. Her heart burst with agonizing pain. Blackness of the grave engulfed her. Blackness etched with grating throbs pulsed through every cell of her body. Never-ending waves of fire-wracked jolts of lightning jerked her body.

When pain became her whole world, she felt something forced into her mouth. Slightly sweet, it scratched her throat as she swallowed.

Muscles relaxed. Nerves calmed. Pain became a memory. Peace. Her body rocked gently as though in ocean surf or her mother’s womb.

“Kefira! Kefira! Are you alive? Speak to me. Kefira!”

Kefira coughed. It pained her to move. She crawled to a tree trunk and leaned against it, remembering floating on the warm waters of creation.

“Oh, Healer, I thought . . .” Tuccia cried, tears dripping onto Kefira’s face. She wiped them off with the hem of her skirt. “Come. I will take you home.”

With Tuccia’s help, Kefira shakily rose, breathing short, shallow breaths to hold down the pain in her chest. And her thigh hurt. Her sister’s warm shawl gave her strength. She leaned on Tuccia’s shoulder and limped forward a few steps.

“The People ask for you. They wonder why you do not heal the People. And, Healer . . . Ixi has been touched by Yellow Fire.”

“Ixi . . . A suckling babe.” Kefira stepped away from Tuccia. She stared into the black forest of trees and screamed her rage. “No more! Hear me Bogath.” Her voice cracked, grew quiet. “I accept.”

She turned toward Tuccia. “First I go to Fork Mountain.”

“Why? The barrenness of that land frightens me. But if you must go, I will too. You are too weak to go alone.”

“Wait for me with boiling water on a blazing fire. I will return before first light.”

Tuccia hesitated, still holding onto the Healer’s tunic.

“Go. I must do this alone.”

“I must tell you, Healer . . . Chilaili . . . breathes no more.”

“Unnh.” Unbearable pain swept through Kefira’s heart. Her little sister dead. Chilaili’s shawl no longer warming, she let it drop to the ground. She had been unable to heal her.

Kefira silently turned from Tuccia, and stumbled toward the mountain. For over an hour Kefira fought her way through the darkness toward Fork Mountain. Twice she lost her way in the woods, twice she thought of her sister and Ixi and found the path again. Half-way up the mountain, grew the purple flowers, shining darkly in the moonlight. She picked half of the cluster and turned to walk back to the village.

As she walked, unseen holes twisted her ankle, making her fall. Branches scratched at her face. Brambles tore at her tunic and legs. Sap from broken branches irritated her arms, causing angry red rashes which itched and burned. She walked in a trance, concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other. Her eyes burned from lack of sleep. Every muscle in her body cried out for rest. She would survive her pain, it was not Yellow Fire. She ignored her body, refusing to give in to its needs.

She walked back to the People under the swelling moon, finally stumbling into her hut. Tuccia rushed to support her mentor, leading her to the bed.

“I must mix the medicine. I must add my strength to it.”

“A cure. I knew it!” Tuccia clapped her hands and smiled. “Tell me what to do. You rest awhile.”

Without strength to resist, Kefira laid back on the bed, allowing the mat to support her aching body. “Crush one blue flower for every three purple ones. Add just enough water to make a paste.”

“That’s all?”

Kefira nodded, then allowed her eyes to close. Too quickly Tuccia touched her shoulder. “It is done. And none too soon. Ixi’s mother begs for you to come. The little one is in much pain. He can barely breathe.”

Kefira slowly rose. “Bring the paste.”

They walked in silence to Ixi’s hut. Three grandparents of Ixi, and several aunts and uncles squatted in the dirt by the door, crying. Wailing with the baby’s screams.

Kefira did not have to examine him to identity the Yellow Fire. His eyes were deeply yellow, and his tiny arms were forced against his chest by tightening muscles. No tears flowed down his constricted cheeks, no water left for such as that. Kefira undid the baby cloth. No blood. The baby would suffer for several more days before he died of suffocation. If lucky, he would faint into exhaustion before his last breath.

“Save my baby, Healer. Save my Ixi. Only one winter old, he has much to live for.” The mother dropped to her knees and cried on Kefira’s feet. Before she could protest, the woman wiped away the tears with her hair. “My baby,” she moaned. She clutched at Kefira’s legs until Tuccia and the woman’s husband pulled her away.

Kefira took the paste from Tuccia and dabbed her finger into the dark mix, touching it to his tongue. It was not unpleasant, as though a measure of honey had been mixed in. She parted the baby’s lips and sang a lullaby as he sucked Kefira’s finger clean.

She lifted Ixi and sang of a mother’s love and a father’s strong arms. Then she sighed and handed the child to her mother. “It is over.” The baby stopped crying, muscles relaxed.

“Kiss your child,” said Kefira, “one last time.”

“The mix cures the pain. The price is an earlier death.”

The father stared wildly. “What?”

“But . . .”

Kefira stood alone, supported by a deep well of power within. “The paste grows

wings on little Ixi. She’s with Chilaili, now. She will teach him how to fly.”

Kefira walked from the hut, and stopped to caress the cheek of a toddler playing in the dirt. “Who else, Tuccia, has Yellow Fire?”


© 1995