In the morning, Mother was worse.
Lyssa hadn’t opened the diary for months now, not since the snows began. There were no herbs to collect now, and the ones she had collected she knew how to use. But this fever of Mother’s wouldn’t respond to any concoction she had tried. Maybe there was something else, there had to be something else, she could do.
The soft leather cover brought back memories of walking over the hills in the sunshine, listening to Brother Amos' gentle voice name every plant and flower. Lyssa hadn’t realized how much she’d missed him. She opened the book and turned the page to the pale winter sunshine coming in through the chinks in the window covers.
Silent. He wasn’t there.
A sick panic grew in Lyssa’s stomach. Had he gone? She flipped the pages, one by one. The drawings of the plants she recognized, but the words there she could never read. She needed him to tell her what he’d written.
"When the snows come, perhaps I can teach you to read," he had said. At the time, Lyssa couldn't think of any reason she would want to learn such an impossible thing. But now...
“Where are you?” Lyssa asked. From the other room, she heard her mother coughing. A desperate, deep cough that made Lyssa tremble. She rushed to get a cup of hot broth, and in her hurry she splashed a few warm drops on the open page.
After her mother had swallowed a few spoonfuls and fallen back asleep, Lyssa returned to the book and picked it up.
“Lyssa?” The voice was so soft, she thought she might be imagining it.
“Are you there?” Lyssa said. “Can you hear me?”
“It’s been so long. I thought you’d lost me,” the faint voice had a hint of gentle laughter in it.
“I can barely hear you! I need you! Mother’s sick. Please!” Lyssa felt the tears start in her eyes.
“Fresh sage? Can you get some?”
Sage? That wouldn’t help mother, Lyssa thought. Then she remembered the day she’d found the diary in the abandoned hut, and the leaf of fresh sage she had put between the pages. That was when he’d first begun to speak.
Where to get fresh sage in the middle of winter?
“Will dried do?” Lyssa asked.
There was no answer.
On a wild hope, Lyssa ran out into the garden. Maybe in some corner, by a wall, sheltered from the snow, there would be a tiny new leaf growing. Perhaps in the barn, where the animals kept warm, or by the dung heap where the steam would rise on frosty mornings.
There was nothing. Nothing but bare stems. Dead and bowed down under the snow.