WARNING: This poem touches on some sensitive issues. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It contains serious illness, assorted medical details pertaining to same, characters not coping very well with helplessness, hostile language, a lost child, nonsexual intimacy, personal growth under tense circumstances, and other challenges. If these are touchy topics for you, consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
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These Tiny Little Steps
At seven-and-a-half, Adam was
an irrepressible bundle of energy,
so that his fathers despaired
of slowing him down.
"You've spent years coaxing him
to walk and run," Dorottya pointed out.
"It's hardly fair to turn the tables now
and expect him to stop."
When a wave of influenza swept
through the village, though, they had
bigger things to worry about.
They managed to keep everyone alive --
somehow -- although Anne lost a baby
she had been carrying for four months
and was distraught over the miscarriage.
Victor wore himself out to the point that
he got sick too, and he still made
a rather terrible patient despite
his progress in the last several years.
So he grumbled, but he let Igor
bundle him into bed with a cup
of broth and another of herbal tea.
It was a little bit nice, if Victor
let himself admit it, to have
someone else bring him things
so that he didn't have to drag
his aching body down to the kitchen
and then back up to the bedroom.
He felt queasy and tired, fluctuating
between flushes of hot and cold,
too miserable to move much anyway.
He complained louder the next day --
even though he felt worse -- when Igor
wouldn't let him back out of bed
to go down and check the villagers.
"I will do that, and you will stay in bed
where you belong until you get well,"
Igor said firmly, pushing Victor down.
"But you've been looking after the people
in the castle," Victor protested. It wasn't
quite the second village that it had been
when lords of old had brought whole courts
here to live on the mountain, but it had grown
to the size of the little outlying clusters like
the bunch of houses down by the lake.
"I can do both," Igor said.
So Victor let him do that too,
and reminded himself that it was
these tiny little steps which added up
to so much progress in their lives, just as
Adam's toddling had turned in time to
a stiff-legged, ground-eating gallop.
It was just so difficult to surrender,
to allow others to do the things that
Victor wished to do for himself.
Igor sent Kálmán to sit with Victor
and keep him company, for the priest
was one of the few people in the village
who would stand up to the mazil
when Victor wanted to do something
that was, perhaps, not the best of ideas.
"Set a priest to attend a physician, oh yes,
tell me what words of wisdom you have to impart,"
Victor said sourly, glaring at Kálmán.
"Simon's mother-in-law was taken with a great fever;
and they besought Jesus for her," quoted the priest.
"He stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her:
and immediately she arose and ministered unto them."
Well, at least Kálmán had good taste in Bible verses;
Victor never had any head for the things, even as a child
when his parents scolded him for failing at catechism.
Not wanting to seem altogether laggard now,
Victor groped through the febrile haze for memory
and floundered out, "He did the laying-of-hands next..."
"Now when the sun was setting, they brought
the sick unto Jesus; and he laid his hands
on every one of them, and healed them,"
Kálmán finished in his quiet voice.
It would, if nothing else, be a pleasant thing
to fall asleep to, and so Victor agreed
that Kálmán could stay and read to him.
This was tolerable enough until Adam
went missing, whereupon Victor
completely lost his composure.
"I don't give a sodding damn
what Igor says!" Victor roared.
"I am getting out of this bed
so I can go search for my son!"
He floundered out from under
the layers of blankets, and went
from freezing to roasting
all in an instant.
Sweat sprang out on his skin,
soaking through his nightclothes.
Stubbornly Victor ignored
his physical distress, forcing
his body forward with tiny steps
even as his vision began to grey out,
and oh bugger he was too far from the wall
to have any hope of catching himself --
Strong arms wrapped around him
and guided him gently back to bed.
Victor flopped onto the mattress, panting,
too wrung out to protest as Kálmán
peeled off the sweat-damp garments
and dressed him in fresh ones.
"I need to ask you a very great favor,
my friend," Kálmán said solemnly as he
smoothed the sheets over Victor's chest.
"Stay here while I go and find Adam,"
Kálmán said. "Before I leave, though,
you can help by telling me where to look
for him -- you know better than I where
he has spent the most time of late."
"All about the valley," Victor groaned,
twitching one finger in what was meant
to indicate a broad circular sweep.
"He has taken to following me and Igor
when we go on our rounds. But you should
take me with you. I can travel in a wagon."
"I can travel faster on horseback,"
Kálmán said gently. "Now will you
keep me here with more arguments,
or set me free to begin the search?"
Victor clung to his hand, shaking
with the effort of wrestling down
further protests, striving for
the strength to surrender.
It wouldn't be the first time that
Kálmán had helped him find Adam.
At last he pushed the priest away.
"Go. Bring Adam home safe.
The mazil will have your hide
if you fail in this."
"I give you my word," Kálmán said,
squeezing Victor's hand one last time.
"I'll send Ena up to keep you company."
The last thing Victor wanted was
more sodding company, but
the red wolf who slipped into his room
was silent except for the click of her claws
on the stone floor beyond the carpet.
Ena edged the tip of her muzzle
under Victor's fingertips.
With a sigh, he began to scratch,
and she tilted her head until his touch
settled behind her ears where she liked it.
Victor stared at the ceiling and
tried not to weep in fear while
he petted the werewolf.
Presently he fell asleep.
It was dusk when the sound of voices
woke Victor from his exhausted sleep.
He scrambled upright, pushing against
the pile of pillows, only to have Ena
lay her heavy head in his lap and whine.
Plainly he wasn't going anywhere
with a lapful of worried werewolf.
"Well fine then!" Victor said. "Get the door!"
Ena trotted over and opened the door,
letting in Kálmán and Adam, still arguing
about how the boy had (had not!)
taken it upon himself to go and
tend the villagers without telling
anyone where he was going.
That boy was getting to be as bad
as Crina had once been. He wasn't
indifferent to their distress, he just ...
didn't always think of it ahead of time.
"You owe your father an apology,"
Kálmán said firmly as he pushed Adam
toward the big canopy bed.
"But I left a note!" Adam protested,
pointing at the nightstand.
Victor reached a shaky hand
to rummage amidst the clutter
of bottles and cups and packets.
Sure enough, he found a folded paper
with Adam's careful printing upon it,
explaining his errand to the village.
He had even spelled 'influenza' correctly.
Victor dragged his hand over his face
and said, "Very well. You left a note.
Still it would have been preferable
had you informed us in person.
As you have just discovered, notes
may go astray, and we were very worried."
"I'm sorry," Adam muttered. "But you
were sleeping, and Kálmán was in the loo,
and I waited forever and people needed me.
So I left a note and then I went."
"I hope you haven't worn out your legs,"
Victor said, because the valley was so large
and Adam was so small, and even though
his body had gotten better it probably
wouldn't ever be as limber as a normal boy's.
At least the boy wasn't prone to get sick;
like Igor, he spent so much time with
the werewolves that almost no illness
could get past the preternatural immunity
they shared with their human allies.
"I didn't walk, I rode!" Adam said.
"I ride really well now."
That was certainly true.
"Whatever am I to do with you?"
Victor muttered, shaking his head.
"Let me go back to the village tomorrow,
now that you know where I'll be?"
Adam said hopefully.
Victor had to think of something, quickly,
and he could only imagine one thing
that might hold Adam's attention better
than the task he already set for himself.
Without hesitation he flung his pride in the firepit.
"Well now, that's quite a conundrum,"
Victor said. "How shall you look after
all the villagers, I wonder ... when I need
someone to stay here and take care of me?"
"Lord knows I had little enough luck of it,"
the priest said with a wry look.
"Perhaps you'd fare better, Adam."
"But if I stay here in the castle, then who
will tend to the villagers?" Adam asked.
"Perhaps you could delegate that to Igor,"
said Victor. "If you argue your case well enough,
you might convince him to quit fussing over me
and generally trying to do everything himself."
Kálmán coughed behind his hand,
and oh, if that man breathed one word
about pots or kettles right now --
"Very well," said Adam. "I'll ask him."
"Capital," said Victor. "You can start
by cleaning up the nightstand so that
we shan't lose anything else in the jumble.
Take the dirty dishes down to the scullery,
and I'll be wanting a cup of supper
when you come back up."
Adam nodded eagerly, and set about
straightening the mess without
another word of protest.
Victor closed his eyes, just for a moment,
and when he woke up the room was
empty and everything on the nightstand
had been tidied into two neat lines with
the most-used items closest to hand.
The heavy door swung open, and Adam
sidled in with a cup of something fragrant.
"He said yes. So I get to be your nurse."
Well. Maybe this wouldn't be horrid after all.
"Thank you," said Victor. "I can see
that you get your bedside manner
from your other father."
Adam's answering grin made it all worthwhile.
* * *
Influenza has been known for centuries by various names, although it's difficult to pin down diseases from historic descriptions. Although it can produce devastating epidemics, most of the time it is just a big nuisance that can be effectively treated at home. This is one of the instances where a couple of experienced doctors make a significant difference, by teaching everyone the basics and then taking care of the worst cases themselves.
Surrender is a virtue. Learn how to surrender gracefully.
"And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simon's house. And Simon's wife's mother was taken with a great fever; and they besought him for her. And he stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she arose and ministered unto them."
-- Luke 4:38-40
Getting lost is a normal experience. Children should know what to do if they get lost, and adults should know how to cope when their child gets lost.
Communication is a vital part of healthy family life. Understand how to cultivate effective communication in your family.
Good leaders understand how to delegate responsibilities.
Burnout is a widespread risk in demanding jobs, especially health care. Consider that they have two doctors for the entire valley, which is a heavy load. Now add in the midwife and her apprentice, who might be considered nurses; the blacksmith who makes a capable paramedic; and a handful other folks who know herbalism or other useful stuff. Now they've got the equivalent of a small community cliinic's worth of staff -- if they know how to apply that effectively. There are ways to prevent and treat burnout.