Djaq was exhausted. She hadn't slept well for weeks-the fear of her charade as a boy being discovered had allowed her fitful, paranoid rest at best, and she had needed to rise before the sun each morning to relieve herself and bathe in order to maintain her cover. She was not sure who she had feared the most-the ugly brute of a slave trader or the bored, desperate men with whom she was packed together every day in that cage. And today had been especially draining, though she was thoroughly pleased with the outcome- after all, they had successfully freed the slaves, blown up the mines, and saved both Little John and Marian, all in one day. She wondered hopefully if life was like this every day in Robin Hood's Gang of outlaws.
There was one person, however, who was not quite as happy with the results of the day's events as Djaq was. And the reason that she could not sleep, despite her weariness, was because said person was currently just a few feet away from her at the edge of the tree line, on his hands and knees, retching noisily.
The physician within her, a natural affinity cultivated by the loving guidance of her late father, took over and she rose from where she had bedded down at the edge of the camp and went to kneel next to the stricken man. Her sharp memory supplied his name almost immediately- Allan. He had been the one that had ridden in the cart with them, dressed as a slave, and then put on such a show for the Sheriff's guards to make them believe that her people had some kind of awful disease. He had not protested against this plan when volunteered by the talkative one-Much-even though the task was dangerous on multiple levels. She had decided that she at least respected, if not liked, him for that, until he had turned around insulted her, implying that she, a physician devoted both to her craft and the people she helped, valued coin over the life of a brave man.
But now, doubled over and shaking, not even seeming to notice that Djaq had come to kneel at his side, Allan was no longer the confident, cocky man she had seen earlier. Maybe, she thought, he was just as afraid of our people as I was of his. He had never seemed to believe in that "Turk Flu" nonsense as his friend Will had, but he had stated his humble origins for himself- perhaps he had never really known people so different from him, and it unsettled him.
Allan retched yet again, bringing up still more of the disgusting black substance that had originated from the plant that he had mistakenly swallowed in an attempt to make his act more convincing. It seemed as though its hallucinogenic effects had worn off now, and all that remained was the unpleasant task of removing the residual matter. Djaq put her hands around his torso to steady him, feeling the muscles of his stomach contract as his body tried desperately to rid itself of the foreign matter. She reached up and laid the back of her hand gently across his forehead. His temperature felt slightly elevated; this was confirmed when he leaned instinctively into the coolness of her touch. Though it was not necessarily a good sign, the low fever did not worry her too much-it was more than likely just a protest by his body against the physical act of being sick, rather than a response to the toxin. Allan continued to heave even after he had expelled the remainder of the offending plant matter, wincing with pain as he did so. Knowing that there was nothing to do but wait it out, Djaq tried her best to make him more comfortable, holding his trembling form steady so that, in his weakness, he would not accidentally fall forward into the mess. She murmured gently to him, telling him that it was all right and it would be over soon.
Finally, the convulsions eased, and Djaq allowed a softly moaning Allan to sink back against her, his breathing labored. After giving him a couple of minutes to rest, she helped him to lean with his back against a nearby tree. He seemed to notice her for the first time, and stared at her with an expression that was a mixture of confusion, exhaustion, physical pain, and maybe even a little fear. She gave him what she hoped was an encouraging smile in return.
"I've got just the thing to make you feel better. I will be right back."
When he didn't respond, Djaq went over to the dying fire from that night's meal, which had been cooked but not partaken of by their currently fasting chef, Much. She located a small, deep pan, which she filled with water and put on to boil. Then, glancing over at the sleeping cook to make sure that he would not catch her sneaking around in his "kitchen", Djaq opened the lid of the chest where Much kept his herbs and spices. It did not take her long to find the characteristically oddly-shaped root which she sought. A quick whiff confirmed that she had selected the right ingredient, and she tossed it into the pan of water. Robin had said no food or drink for a day and night, but he had been worried about additional foreign matter reacting with the toxin Allan's system. Having just witnessed Allan ridding himself of said toxin, Djaq was confident that the drink would not hurt her patient. While she waited for the beverage to warm, Djaq went over to the spot near the edge of the camp where Allan had been trying all night to sleep, his efforts as unsuccessful as hers had been, and picked up his water-skin and blanket. She brought these items over to where Allan, though still trembling slightly, had remained in the position in which she had left him. He obediently washed out his mouth at her urging, and then gave a small sigh of relief when she tucked the blanket about his shaking shoulders. Finally, she brought over a steaming cup of the now-finished drink and held it out to him.
"Drink this. You will feel better." Her tone was gentle but firm.
Allan shook his head vehemently. "My stomach..." he croaked.
"You will keep it down better if you take little sips." She offered the mug again, and this time he accepted it reluctantly, holding the cup with both hands so his unsteadiness would not cause the drink to spill. He took a swallow, and Djaq saw a momentary wave of nausea cross his face. But the edge of the effect seemed to subside as quickly as it had come, and Allan continued to drink slowly. After a few minutes, the mixture seemed to take effect enough for him to trust himself to speak.
"Why are you helping me?" His tone was curious, and slightly guilty, Djaq thought.
"You are unwell; I am a physician. It is what I do." She gave him a small smile, which he returned cautiously.
"Even though I made you mad earlier?" he asked, one eyebrow cocked.
"You spoke out of turn, yes, but you also helped us escape from the slave trader, even though you knew there were risks involved. Obviously."
He snorted softly. "Obviously. I try to help, and this is where it gets me." He took another sip from the cup and then asked, rather suddenly,
"Are you really a girl?"
Djaq was taken aback by this question. She had not stopped to consider that Allan had been enduring plant-induced delirium whilst her secret had been revealed by that well-meaning but slightly infuriating carpenter boy. It was apparent to her that Will thought her gender to be a limiting factor to her ability to function as a member of Robin's Gang, and she did not appreciate this sentiment. It was this thought that caused her to say, defensively,
"Well, obviously that's a yes, then." Allan grinned, mischief sparkling in his eyes.
"Fine then, yes."
"So I wasn't imagining it." He smiled. "Was I not imagining the fluffy pink rabbits flying at Much, either?"
Her defenses lowering, Djaq giggled. "There were rabbits flying at Much, but they were not pink."
Allan laughed, then grimaced and put a hand to his stomach. Djaq regarded him with concern.
"Is the drink helping?"
He nodded. "For medicine, it's awfully tasty stuff."
"It is only ginger tea. It is good for all kinds of things-an upset stomach, colds, pain..."
"You really know your stuff, don't you?" She nodded, blushing slightly in the darkness. "I'm not being funny, but we could use someone like you around here. You know, in case Much's cooking poisons someone or something."
Djaq briefly wondered Allan was capable of paying someone a compliment without poking fun at someone else, but decided that she should be grateful for his good humor, as it meant he was feeling better.
"It is time you got some rest," she told him, hoping that by telling Allan to go to sleep she would save poor Much from being the inadvertent brunt of any more jokes.
Allan allowed her to tuck the blanket tighter around him, closing his eyes as though he were just now realizing how tired he was. Djaq smiled and turned to go the few steps back to her own bed when she heard him call softly from behind her.
She turned. "Yes?"
"I... never caught your name. You know, delirium and all that."
"Djaq." The name was sounding more and more like her own every time she said it.
"Djaq. I'm Allan A'Dale."
"It was nice to meet you." It really was, she thought as she nestled beneath her blanket, though the meeting was a bit unconventional.
"Good to meet you, too. And... thanks." He said the last word more quietly, with true sincerity.
Djaq felt the corners of her mouth turn upward as she drifted off into a peaceful sleep, her first in many weeks.