Friday, June 10, 2005

 

the child, sixty-nine


When Stone and Jack had left that morning, carrying so many canteens with them to be refilled, they had first emptied the canteens into the cooking pot again, leaving the water behind for Malachi to tend to Joy's wounds.

She looked like one big bruise this morning, her skin turning livid under the bandages from head to toe. It hurt for her to move; it hurt for the others to even look at her. Starr in particular found that her heart ached for the poor girl. If only she could bear Joy's wounds in her place!

With nothing to do with themselves once the clean-up from breakfast was over - for though Forest had insisted on the group practicing with their swords, no one seemed to be doing so today, and Lucy was certainly not going to remind anyone! - Linda and Lucy drifted back to their tent and watched as Malachi and Starr tended to the wounded girl. 'Is there anything we can do to help?' Linda asked after a long time of idly watching.

'Thank you, no,' replied Malachi. 'Too many hands would become quickly too crowded.'

'Well,' Linda added, 'would you like us to go searching again for that little plant? We might find some today.'

Malachi paused in his work and looked at the pair of them. After considering for a bit - they were not arguing now, but who knew what the next few minutes might bring? - he responded with, 'I will let you know.'

The morning wore on. The slow work of removing the bandages one by one, cleansing each scrape, then rebandaging, went on. The tent, which had been made for a shelter through nighttimes and through rain, had no windows for daytime use, and so was soon hot and sweaty inside. It was not surprising, then, that a heated word would soon be spoken to touch off heated tempers.

It was a silly argument, of course, as arguments so often are. Lucy suddenly stood up and declared that she was going outside; it was simply boiling in here.

'But where will we go?' asked Linda, reluctantly getting to her feet as well.

'No one said you have to go,' Lucy retorted.

'Ah, but James said no one was to leave the camp alone,' put in Malachi.

Lucy looked ready to snap out a sharp retort, but instead shut her mouth, fury blazing out from her eyes. 'Fine!' she muttered at last. 'Come along if you have to, Linda. I'm going into the woods to look some more for that wild german flower. At least the woods have shade.'

'Wild geranium,' Linda corrected.

'Wild german.'

'Wild geranium.'

'Wild german!'

'Wild gera...!' Linda broke off suddenly, as the frown on her face shifted into a different sort of frown. 'Never mind,' she said. 'It doesn't matter. Whatever the name of the flower is, let's just go look for it.' And she went to the tent door and held it open for Lucy.

Shooting an odd look Linda's way, Lucy went out, and Linda followed her.

Quiet in the tent.

'Thank goodness,' Joy sighed.

'Thank the Master,' Malachi said.

'Thank you, Master,' whispered Starr. For she had just witnessed something remarkable: Linda, who had once told her she wouldn't stop arguing unless Lucy stopped first - had in fact just stopped first, even while Lucy was arguing on!

Starr felt within her a stirring of hope.

And then a moment later, she felt a different stirring within. For Stone suddenly appeared in the tent door, his voice ragged and his face pale. 'James wants to see you, Starr,' he said tightly.

Yes, a very different stirring rose up within her, a feeling very unlike hope. Quickly, trembling, she rose up to follow Stone.

What was stirring inside her just then, was fear.

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