Saturday, July 30, 2005

 

the child, eighty-five


Forest spotted them first. He wasn't really taking an actual break. No, he was just pausing to adjust the crutches under his arms. And while he made that adjustment, James stopped. And then Jack stopped. And the women, as they drew closer, made signs of stopping as well.

'I got it, I got it,' Forest called, not wanting them all to stop on his account. 'There. I'm ready,' he said. And as he glanced around to be sure the others didn't plop down and take what might turn into a lengthy break, he spotted something.

There, behind them. His eyes, at first, didn't make sense of what he was seeing. And then what he saw got a touch closer and snapped into sharp focus.

Stone, carrying Starr. Why was the man carrying Starr? Hey, they all knew he was nuts over her, and she was nuts over him too, but carrying her? Wasn't that taking things a bit too far?

And then - then he saw the blood. 'Oh, no!' the boy cried, and started hobbling in their direction.

'What?' said James. And then he saw too, and started running.

By the time Forest could reach Starr and Stone, the rest had already gotten there before him. Someone had spread a blanket there in the path for her, and Stone had set her gently down on it. The man looked utterly ashen.

But what was surprising was that the person who seemed to be taking the whole thing the worst of any of them - was Lucy. She had flung herself down alongside the stricken girl, wailing, anguished.

Maccabees was just now kneeling down at Starr's other side, preparing to unwrap the hasty bandage and have a look. 'Who has water?' he asked.

Lucy flung her canteen off and shoved it at Mac the first of any of them. 'What else can I do?' she insisted.

'A wolf did that,' Stone panted. 'Pretty mangled. She needs...'

'Wild german!' Lucy cried. 'Linda, let's go find some.'

'Wait!' ordered James. 'Mac, do you want them to go find this wild whatever-it-is?'

Maccabees had been gingerly peeling up the cloth on the woman's arm, only to suddenly stop and clasp his two hands round her arm instead. Fresh bright red appeared through the cloth - and Stone turned even more ashen.

'To staunch the bleeding, yes,' Mac said, his voice much calmer than might have been expected. He glanced up and back at his two tent-mates.

'I'll go with them,' Malachi volunteered.

James nodded. 'Good. I was just going to suggest someone go along with the women. If wolves are attacking again, we all need to be on our guard.'

'Wolves that disappear after you kill them,' put in Stone.

James' head snapped up and stared at him. 'More of those!' And to Mal and the women, he added, 'Be especially careful. And quick!'

'Fetch more water, if you can,' Mac added.

Malachi nodded, and with a quick scan of their surroundings, he led the two women off in a very definite direction across the valley and a bit backwards along their path.

'Stone, what happened?' Jack asked briskly.

Briefly, Stone told the tale. When he was done, James turned to his brother. 'Come with me. I want to check out where this happened.' Jack hefted his pack and started with him.

'I'm coming too,' declared Forest.

'No, you stay here,' James replied automatically.

'Why?'

'Because you're, well, you're on...' He had obviously been about to say that Forest was on crutches, and wouldn't be of much help. But then he thought of how Forest had bested him at sword practice recently, and changed his mind. 'All right, buddy. Let's go. Morgen, you keep guard here.'

Morgenstern nodded his compliance. Mac continued to compress Starr's arm; Stone sat at Starr's side, gently pillowing her head against his leg. Joy, a bit at a loss for what she should be doing, had a sudden inspiration, and set about with a set of tent poles and some stakes and cords, to rig up one of the blankets into a temporary shade over the injured woman and her attendants.

And there they were still when the others came back.

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