Tuesday, May 10, 2005


the child, fifty-nine

It was every bit as torturous as James had warned it would be. It was only the fact that Forest's pride was even greater than the pain, that kept the boy for screaming for the belt to bite on after all. Stone was stunned at how much effort it took to get the leg pulled straight again.

So was James. Sweat was pouring off his forehead by the time he felt the bone click over into the place it had snapped out of when the boy landed. Quickly, James took up the two halves of the tent pole and Mac's cloth strips, and bound the splint into its place. And then he sat down and mopped at his face with his palm.

'I'm glad that's over,' he muttered.

Stone was glad too. He felt exhausted, as if they had just hiked all night and day for a week.

And Forest... To the amazement of everyone who happened to be watching, the boy began to try to roll over to get to his feet.

'What on earth do you think you're doing, Forest?' said James.

'Getting ready to move on. Tell them to take the tents down. Why'd you put them up? It's time to get moving.'

'Moving!' James gaped at Forest as the boy continued to try to get his injured leg under him to stand up. 'You weren't listening to me earlier, were you? As usual! I said you weren't going to be going anywhere on that leg for weeks - and I meant it. You are going to rest that leg and let it heal. You hear me?'

'Yeah, yeah,' muttered Forest. He was still trying to get up.

James shook his head, incredulous. 'Stone!' he said at last.

'Yes, James?' said the big man.

James waved a hand at Forest. 'Pick him up and carry him into our tent. I don't want him coming out for two weeks.' He glared towards the boy. 'Clear?'

'You can stay here if you want to. I'm heading for the dungeons to carry out our mission. Alone, if I have to.'

'Forest!' Stone was almost certain he saw steam coming out of James' ears. 'You aren't getting it, are you? We are staying here for you. You are the one with the broken leg. You are the one who isn't going to be able to walk for weeks. This is for you, buddy.'

Buddy? Stone and Mac both shot a sharp look at James. Where had that name come from?

Even Forest quit trying to force himself upright and instead stared at James. 'Buddy? You've never called me that before.'

'Well - you've never nearly died before.'

'I didn't nearly die!'

'For all we knew, you had. Or could have. Forest, you went over a cliff. The least you can do now is, well, humor me. For now. Stay in the tent, rest up your leg, give it a couple of weeks to heal. All right? And then after that, if you're feeling up to moving on, we'll move then.'

Forest went on staring at James. Stone was staring too. Who was this? This didn't sound like their usual James.

'In fact,' James went on, 'tell you what. Instead of Stone carrying you, he'll get your one side and I'll get the other,' and he did so while he was saying it, 'and the two of us will help you walk into the tent. All right?'

Still stunned, Forest nodded.

'Good. At least two weeks' rest, all right? And then we'll see how things are going from there.'

'All... all right,' Forest stammered, astonished at the way James was acting towards him. He couldn't have been more amazed if James had suddenly sprouted wings and offered to fly the whole group one by one to the dungeons.

'Good,' James replied. 'I want you to rest now. It's while you're resting that your body can put all its energy into healing.' And with that, he and Stone helped the boy into the men's tent, where Jack had already laid out a blanket for Forest to lie on.

That done, Stone came out of the tent and went to see what Starr was doing at the moment.

He had no idea what he was about to walk into, just because he wanted to see Starr.

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