Hefting another bale into the loft, Maakul felt the pain shoot through his shoulder once more. He rotated his shoulder, shrugging to release tension.
For several months, the same trader came to Zuuk bearing loads of hay for the horses. Maakul's brother Huug, before he died, had handled the transactions. He arranged deliveries, unloaded the bales, and made payments. Then the illness struck Huug: a rash that stood out as bright spots against his skin together with a high fever. Within a week, he was gone.
And now, Maakul dealt with the trader. If only his muscles didn't hurt so much. Clearly, he lacked the strength of his late brother. He'd need to try harder, though he preferred studying and reading to any physical labor.
"I need to check the ledgers anyway," Maakul said to himself as he headed into his hut. He'd let the books go during his brother's illness, and the latest delivery should be entered.
As he opened the payment register, a slip of paper fluttered to the floor. He recognized his brother's handwriting and picked it up.
"Beware the ruby necklace."
Maakul frowned. They couldn't afford necklaces, much less rubies. What did his brother mean? Shrugging, Maakul threw the crumpled note into the brazier beside his desk, draped a cloak over his legs, and settled down to bring their accounts up to date. He felt so cold.
That night, Maakul saw his reflection in his wife's concerned face. She'd found him, coughing and shivering at his desk. She half-carried him to bed. A line of red welts, the tell-tale rash, encircled his throat.
"Rubies," he mumbled, clawing at his skin as the Knahaten Flu claimed its latest victim.