The Kingdom of Georgia’s oppressive heat made stripping stiffened corpses all the more difficult. However, most of the dead men’s blood had pooled in their lower extremities, making any necessary cutting much easier. At least these carcasses aren’t bloated yet, the Medicine Girl thought. She would never get used to the feel of skin slippage and the smell of purge fluid. She made quick work of looting anything of value, expertly sizing up a dead body close at hand before moving on to the next. A new pair of oversized black boots hung over her shoulder, tied together by thick laces.
The gleaners had been there earlier, as she watched from the woods outside of Attapulgus, before the militias ran them off, catching very few. It was a capital crime to pilfer from the dead; extrajudicial sentencing was summary and swift. Executions were painful and gory, loudly celebrated on the scrapping fields by a militia’s distinct call-and-response chant, punctuated by battle cries. Deep into the night, the Medicine Girl could hear them, making the hairs on her arms prickle.
The remaining citizenry minded their own business as most things were capital crimes. Especially being an escapee from the free range penal colony of Florida. Especially a girl with a bounty on her head, offered by her father who’d survived her poisoning attempt, although paralyzed on one side. The Medicine Girl kept powdered black cherry leaves on her person just in case she was captured. She had heard too many stories, witnessed too many things. She was prepared to die in as little pain as possible, since her father knew all the ways to prolong it.
She needed to get to the Republic of Crimson Tide as quickly as possible.
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Long before being betrayed by her father, the Medicine Girl’s mother had taught her all she knew about life and death, how the body knows what to do as either one approaches, how a tea or a broth or a piece of bark can aid the body to do what it needs to do. All we can do is prevent suffering, her mother said, whether helping a Floridian warlord’s wretch give birth or hastening the death of an old one, the ones who still talked about electricity.
Always find ways to help someone out of misery, her mother advised, showing the Medicine Girl how to cull seedlings and extract oils with her deft hands. The Medicine Girl needed to be shown only once before becoming proficient at a task. She learned quickly mainly to garner one of her mother’s rare smiles.
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The Medicine Girl still had her mind set on walking to the State of United Dakota. It was 1500 colony-miles from her father’s lair in Tallahassee, meaning a month-long walk, cutting up the midsection of the United Authority, critically weakened by local militias. Especially the Militia of the White Crosses.
Walking eased her mind, especially when the summer nights cooled a bit, enlivening her senses. She disappeared, as nimble as a spright, quickly into trees and bushes and rock formations when others appeared.
Generally, militias were easy to spot from afar with their young men leading and little boys following close behind, pulling handcarts full of weapons and provisions. The older men brought up the rear, calling out commands and making raucous remarks.
Watching the procession, the Medicine Girl thought of her dead maternal grandfather who had studied history, back when those things mattered. He had talked of endless war—wars and rumors of wars—and the old lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. The Medicine Girl had seen enough of death to know it was neither.
Sometimes when one of the older militia members walked off the trail to relieve himself, the Medicine Girl would use twenty colony-inches of fishing line to garrote him. It was quick and silent. She’d count to fifty in Latin, like her grandfather taught her, until the man’s eyes bulged out and his loins loosened. She’d count to fifty again just to make sure. Nihil. Ūnus. Duo. Trēs. She purloined a leather satchel, several knives, and a small machete that way. Even a pistol with two bullets. Even her father did not possess a gun.
As the sun set, she stopped to study her hand drawn map on a piece of corrugated cardboard. Perhaps she could skirt Lake Seminole and head north on the Eight Four to Dothan?
She rearranged the items in her satchel, retrieving a strip of dried squirrel she had taken off one of the militia men, chewing thoughtfully as she journeyed on.
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Another Georgian field covered in bodies, gore, death. With a practiced eye, she saw that the gleaners had left precious little. As was her custom, she waited, observing the abandoned area, far and wide. It was quiet, especially in the years since all of the frogs had died.
As dusk fell, she heard a low moaning by the perimeter, just at the edge of the clearing. She lowered herself to the ground, making her way through the overgrown wasteland. After waiting a considerable time until she was sure there was no danger, she stopped, peering over the landscape.
A small movement came from the same direction near the despairing sounds of a person in great pain.
It was a young man, dressed in the robes of the Militia of the White Crosses. He laid on his back, right leg hopelessly impaled by a crude weapon made of rebar. Somehow the boy managed to tie a tourniquet around his upper thigh to stanch the bleeding. She cautiously approached him.
“Drink this,” the Medicine Girl said, holding out her flask of water and crushed mint. He took it, draining it entirely.
“Thank you,” he replied, handing the flask back to her. He laid back down, exhausted by the effort.
“Your leg is putrefying. It needs to come off,” she stated matter-of-factly.
“Can you do it?”
“I need flint.”
He reached into his shirt pocket, retrieved a flint stone, and threw it to the Medicine Girl who caught it with one hand. She gave him the remaining squirrel jerky and watched him eat it far too quickly.
She busied herself by making a small fire, sterilizing her knives, extinguishing it quickly when the job was done. She laid out her tools and made rags from a dead man’s shirt. She handed the young man a thick stick to bite on while she worked.
“I don’t need it,” he said, looking her full in the face.
The Medicine Girl shrugged and began.
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He jolted awake, grabbing her by the throat. When he realized it was the girl nursing him, he released his grip and melted back to the ground in a pool of sweat.
“You passed out,” she reported.
“Did I cry out?”
“You were as silent as these others,” the Medicine Girl said, motioning to the dead all about them. She silently ate the wild raspberries that she’d found by the lake.
“Thank you,” he said. She responded by giving him a handful of the tiny fruit.
“Do you have people to care for you?”
“I belong to the Militia of the White Crosses.”
“Will they come to collect you?” she said, looking around, fully on guard now.
“Yes,” he said, reaching out to touch her arm. “But I carry a Universal Pass. Take it with you. You will be given passage in any part of the United Authority,” he said reassuringly, reaching deep into his pants pocket.
He felt nothing. Panicking, he began to frantically feel his other pockets. He looked up in time to see the Medicine Girl’s small smile.
“Travel well,” he said.
As she started to leave, he looked down to see a new black boot on his remaining foot, perfectly laced into a bow.