Bear woke up later than usual and stretched along the rag rug. He rolled on his back and looked up at the ceiling, the beams crisscrossing along the open space between the floor and roof logs. He lay there, luxuriating in the feeling.
After a while, he wondered why he wasn't hearing Girl, so rolled over and got to his feet. Padding into her room, he started to give her some smart-ass greeting but stopped once he was through the door. She had the sheet and blanket pulled up to her chin, her eyes were closed, and her face was pale – too pale.
"Girl?" he said softly.
Nothing happened. He moved slowly closer, "Girl?" he said with more urgency. Her eyes fluttered open, and she smiled weakly, "Oh, hi Bear. How are you?"
Bear moved forward, and placed his nose against her forehead. It felt hot.
"You've got a fever. How are you feeling?"
She coughed slightly, then said, "No, I'm fine, really, Bear…" and broke into a coughing fit.
Bear sat, "No, you're not. But who can I call?"
After a moment, he got up and padded from the room.
Girl closed her eyes, and time passed. She wasn't sure how much time, but when she opened them again, Bear was sitting there, looking concerned.
He didn't speak, but just watched her, his eyes big.
Girl heard footsteps on the front stairs, and said, "Bear…Bear! There's someone at the door!"
Bear nodded, got up, and padded out of the room. He returned followed by a man with copper skin, who walked tentatively into the room, eyes fastened on Bear. He was dressed in cargo pants and a sweatshirt with the sleeves rolled up that said Dodgers. He swallowed deeply, then looked at Girl, and said, "Why am I here?"
Bear turned to him, and said, "She's sick. Owl tells me that you can help us."
The man stared at Bear. "Owl said…?"
"Who are you?" he asked Bear, wiping his face. "And are you…talking?"
Bear nodded. "Yes. Or else you're having one hell of a nightmare. Now, she…" he nodded at Girl, "…is sick and needs your help."
The man's head turned to face Girl. He licked his lips, and seemed about to say something, then came over to her, knelt down, and gently took her wrist.
He felt her pulse, but unlike doctors, he didn't compare the pulse against a watch, or listen with a stethoscope. Instead, his eyes closed, his head bowed, and he held her wrist as if in meditation.
He stayed that way for many minutes, then leaned down to her face and said, "Exhale."
She breathed in his direction, and he sniffed.
He hesitated, then said, "I must listen to your chest. Is it permitted?"
Girl stared at him, then nodded. He turned his head sideways, and placed his ear against her chest, leaving it there for some time as her chest rose and fell.
After a long time, he lifted his head and stared closely into each of her eyes, then sat back in his heels in thought. Finally he nodded. "Bark" was all he said, but got up and left.
Bear sat, unmoving the whole time, waiting.
Girl stared after him, then finally said, "Bear, who is that man?"
Bear shook his head, but didn't answer.
After a long time, the man returned, "I need to boil water."
Bear immediately got up and the two left the room.
After a time, Girl could smell something astringent, herbal, and clean.
The man returned, cradling a cup in his hand like some precious object. "Drink" was all he said.
Girl looked at Bear, who nodded. She took a sip.
At first, it tasted bitter, but then it seemed to soothe.
She slowly drank it, a sip at a time, then found, when she reached the bottom, that she wished there were more.
The man took the cup, nodded to her, then looked at Bear and said, "May…may I ask a boon?"
"Would you … would you come to our fire next full moon. I'd like Wise Woman to speak with you."
Bear stared at him, then slowly nodded. "Yes – but only if no one outside of your group ever hears of this."
The man looked at Bear, then nodded.
The two looked at each other, then the man held out his hand to Girl. Tentatively, she took it, but instead of shaking it, he bowed over it.
"You are a Blessèd One. Thank you."
He turned on his heel, and left. Shortly, Girl heard the door close.
Bear sat there, a serious look on his face.
Girl stared at him, then finally said, "Blessèd?"
Bear nodded. "The Spirit Bear is said to have a companion from the stars. She brings blessings to the Earth and Her children."
Girl stared at him, tears forming in her eyes. "That's a lot to live up to…"
Bear padded over to her, touched her forehead to hers. "And you are not only blessèd, you are a blessing."