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The summer day was glorious, and Maalon squinted up at blue sky and scattered clouds, trying to appreciate it.Author's Notes
It was hard to appreciate anything.
Every position, sitting, standing, even lying in her furs at night, was another kind of discomfort. Usually, it was just a dull, sullen ache from her hips to her shoulders, draining the energy from her, but sometimes, if she moved just wrong, it was sharp, piercing pain, ripping her from restful sleep and driving tears into her eyes.
Some days, it seemed the pain would never ebb. She would never walk easily again, never do simple tasks like weaving or gathering without agony. She was destined for a lifetime of discomfort and weeping misery that she struggled to keep hidden.
Worse yet, it kept her from doing anything useful.
She eyed the pile of herbs. Herbs that other people had gathered, while she sat uselessly, futilely trying to find any position less painful than the others.
"I see you looking at those herbs," Kalitelm scolded, coming to sit beside her near the fire. "You are supposed to be resting, not working."
Maalon had tried doing simple tasks that didn't require much reaching or lifting, but even simple handwork had proven to cause her pain, and Kalitelm had commanded her to lay everything aside for a time.
"I resent not working," Maalon said, hearing how choked and miserable she sounded. "I hate feeling like I will never be anything but a burden."
She and Kalitelm had been good friends since the young Kalitelm, who was crippled with amukiiron, first began to pursue her studies as a healer. As a specialist in gathering and storing herbs, Maalon's interests were often in alignment with Kalitelm's, and they enjoyed comparing notes and offering suggestions to each other.
Since Maalon's accident, when a fall from a snow-unicorn had wrenched her back, leaving her crippled in pain, she had come to appreciate Kalitelm's kind nature and skills as a healer even more. She knew that her pain would be worse without Kalitelm's care and concoctions, and she was grateful for the woman's cheerful optimism and quiet, steady energy.
But even her gratitude felt swamped by her despair.
"Isn't it funny?" Kalitelm started.
Nothing seemed funny, but Maalon tried to play along. "What's funny?"
Kalitelm gestured above them, her short arms still expressive. "The clouds. Isn't it funny how it looks like we're in the only blue spot, surrounded entirely in horizons of clouds?"
Maalon looked, curious. It did look as the healer described. Above them was blue sky, scattered with clouds like wads of snow-unicorn fur. And in each direction, the clouds seemed to get denser and denser, until they seemed solid where sky met hills and mountains.
"It's just an illusion, though," Kalitelm said in contagious wonder. "The clouds are scattered just like this, all the way to the edges of the sky. They only seem to be getting closer and closer together as they get further away because of our perspective. We're at such an angle from the far away clouds that they seem continuous, but if we were under them, we'd see that there is actually much more blue sky than cloud, just like there is here."
Maalon looked at Kalitelm suspiciously. Was this an attempt at pointing out that Maalon was being unnecessarily pessimistic about her prospects? Kalitelm wasn't as heavy-handed about keeping her spirits up as some of the elders could be, and Maalon was grateful for her delicacy.
"Yes," she sighed, managing a smile. "That is kind of... funny."
Kalitelm gave her a warm smile in return, and a gentle hug from the side. She was frail under Maalon's arm, and slight. The amukiiron left her limbs dwarfish and twisted, but even her torso was small. She seemed to consider her work here complete, and she hopped down from the bench carefully.
Maalon watched her limp away, suddenly reminded that the healer had always been in the kind of pain that Maalon now considered unbearable, and that Kalitelm had still always managed an affectionate smile and cheerful demeanor.
She felt small and guilty for her self-pity, though she knew too well that Kalitelm would scold her for that, as well.
It didn't matter who hurt more, or for longer. They were all like family, and loved each other and did the best they could. If Maalon rested now because she needed to, the only one who would resent it was Maalon herself.
Looking ahead, wondering if she would ever heal, it seemed that there were only clouds on every horizon. She could not imagine being without pain any longer.
But if she looked up, she could see so much blue sky.
It was all a matter of perspective.
Written for MG Ellington's prompt at Muse Fusion #44 (well, written some months later... but the prompt stuck with me!).