Chapter XXV.

22 Jun

Dr. Sural arrived at the inn the following morning. He was a short, tubby man with white hair and jade-colored eyes. His steps and movements were slow, nearly ponderous. As soon as he saw the sick traveler he made a diagnosis based on years of professional experience.

“Blackwater fever, that is what this is. You are an outsider, young man? This fever is endemic to our area. That is the kind of region we live in. Conditions have been like this as far back as historical memory exists. You are only in the first stage of the illness. There will be a period of temporary recovery, then a second stage will attack you with fury.”

Ranid and the standing Glia gaped at the physician.

The face of the patient was deadly pale. His fingers were cold and white, the nails had a blue tinge to them. Ranid said nothing, remaining mute and wordless.

Sural turned to Glia. “Has he been urinating?”

“Yes,” she replied. “I have taken his water with a small pot.”

“It has come out clear, like clean water?”

“Yes, indeed,” she answered, confirming his foreknowledge.

The doctor turned back to the sick man in the bed.

“In the second stage, your skin will burn and become flushed. This is the period of what is called dry heat. There will be little urination, and what there is will take on coloration that can alarm you. Do not be afraid, that stage will also pass by, though it will cause great pain for you. Patience is what is called for. You must allow nature to take you through a very torturous process.”

Glia asked the physician a question next. “Can you give him something to alleviate the coming crisis he will have to go through?”

Dr. Sural slowly turned and faced her directly.

“I am sorry to have to tell you that there is no way to prevent the dry heat. A few alleviating pads can be placed on the skin at various points, but there is no medicine that can be applied at any stage of the illness. He must go through all three, however painful these turn out to be.”

“What is the third period like?” demanded Glia, desperation in her voice.

“It is one of profuse sweating. Only after that can any recovery begin.”

“And nothing can be done for him?”

Sural shook his head. “I shall bring some pads to use when I return later.”

The medico excused himself and left.

Ranid soon fell into the second stage of Blackwater Fever, that of dry heat.

The physician returned with prepared pads to be placed at different points on the body of the tormented patient. Glia aided the doctor in this task. When they were finished, Sural spoke to her in a low tone as Ranid lay sleeping.

“This disease has been rampant for generations, but nothing to combat it has ever been found. It is a futile fight that gives me endless frustration. I wish that there was some weapon that I could use against this plague, but I know of none. No one has ever found a way to prevent the full course of the illness.”

“It is a swamp fever?”

“That is the popular idea of this disease. But nothing is known about the cause.”

She asked the question weighing most heavily on her mind. “Is this often fatal?”

His first response was a nod of the head. “In approximately half the cases. The outcome often depends on the strength of the body of the patient. That can be the primary variable.”

Dr. Sural went away, promising that he would soon return to see the man in bed.

Glia sat down in a chair beside where Ranid lay. He began to mumble to her as if in delirium, as if asleep in a dream.

“There has to be some connective. Nature always creates something that serves as counteractant. Why is there no medicament, though? Something must exist, but where is it? If I recover my health, I will look for a curative. The people of this region need an answer to this. I will give them one, yes I will…”

The patient continued babbling in this vein. His body grew ever warmer.

At last, the dry heat stage began to disappear on its own.

Ranid and Glia both felt relief as his condition saw improvement.

When Dr. Sural returned, the one in bed was able to speak to him in a rational manner. “I have been considering what is to be done once this is past for me. My intention is to hunt for a remedy with which to fight this painful illness. That must be done, for I am certain that a solution is possible.”

The physician bent forward, taking hold of Ranid’s wrist in order to feel his pulse.

“For ages, we have tried to discover what can bring about a cure. But no one can determine whether there exists a single cause for this dreadful disease. The factor behind it remains a riddle.”

“I promise that I will join that effort once I somehow escape the last stage.”

The final, most dangerous phase of the illness descended upon the patient. Sweat poured over all portions of his body. His skin became drenched in the moisture exuded by him.

Glia used a pile of clean cloths to try to absorb some of the wetness. She bathed his limbs with clear water, yet the sweat continued to pour out of him without a stop.

He sporadically urinated into a pot that she held for him. A thick, brick-red sediment formed in the vessel, alarming her. She showed it to the doctor when he came back to examine the suffering Ranid.

“Hematuria,” he told her. “Blood-filled urine is characteristic of this last, critical stage of the Blackwater Fever. That may be the derivation and the origin of the name of the disease. The great swamp that surrounds us on all sides may be the creator of all that is suffered by the victims.”

Glia gazed down at the weakened Ranid, sharing in his pain and anguish.

All that anyone could do now was to wait for the finale of the physical crisis her husband was passing through.

The sweating came to an end and quick recovery of strength resulted.

Within two days, Ranid was on his feet again.

He had not forgotten the vow he had made to himself while under the fever.

“I must go out into the swales of the swampland and find out what can be learned about the terrible sickness that I went through,” he revealed to Glia. “The object of my search will be unknown, of course, until I am fortunate enough to find what I am after. But I will surely recognize it when I meet with what I am after. Does that make any logical sense to you?”

What could Glia say in reply? She merely smiled with sincerity and warmth, yet not too hopeful that he would ever succeed in such a quest to find an answer to Blackwater Fever.

“Does our mission here to spread the message of conjoining the two streams of Amphibiotism into a single current continue? Are we going to attempt the recruitment of supporters in this area?” she inquired with visible anxiety.

“Of course,” answered her spouse. “In fact, a discovery of the truth about the fever would bring a lot of attention and trust to our cause, that of spiritual unification of the frog and the salamander worshipers.”

Glia nodded her forehead in agreement. “I see what you mean,” she sweetly said to him.

The first local convert to Conjoinism turned out to be Dr. Sural himself.

It did not take a great deal of argument to convince him of the value of unity. He accepted the basic concept as if it were originally his own.

“Yes,” he agreed. “That is the surest pathway to an end to this chronic conflict between the two strains of thought and belief. I have for years refused to identify myself with either. But a concordance around a general amphibianism will overcome doubts for both me and for many others at the same philosophical crossroads. Unity is the only possible solution.”

Both Ranid and Glia rejoiced at this initial victory.

Sural invited them to stay at his cabin on the periphery of the town of Paludia. The two were able to look out the window into the Blackwater Swamp and take walks into it. One afternoon, while they were returning from a hike, Glia slapped the side of her neck.

“What was that?” inquired her mate.

“A gallinipper was biting at me and I wanted him to go away before he could do me great harm.”

Ranid stopped, thinking a moment.

“The swamp is packed with them,” he reflected. “They know what they want and like to hover close to where people are. We seem to offer an attraction to them.”

“The pests want our blood,” said Glia with a sneer for the mosquitoes.

“It is the female who does the biting,” remarked Ranid. “I believe there are several varied species of them in the swampland. I wonder…”

He stopped, deep in inner thought.

“What is it that you wonder about?” she asked him.

“I have to ask Dr. Sural whether that insect could possibly act as contagium agent to transmit the fever through its bite. Does the gallinipper infect human targets with the disease when it takes blood?”

“That is an interesting question, Ranid.”

“Let’s go back and see whether we can find an answer to it.”


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