Thursday, July 28, 2005

 

the child, eighty-four


They were both off-balance when the wolves rushed in. Stone's was on top of him so fast, he didn't have time to get either club or sword into place. The savage animal - if it was an animal - bowled him over, scattering both his weapons.

It snarled, gloating, towering over the fallen man.

To its surprise, Stone snarled back.

'No - you - don't!' the man panted, as he planted his two hands round his attacker's neck. Strength quite beyond his own flowed through him, and with a snap, that wolf was down.

Stone scrambled up. Looked around, focusing. Here was his sword. And here his club.

And here Starr, thrown on her back, the awful wolf fastened on her forearm, savaging, worrying her like a rag doll. She was trying to bring the sword in her other hand around to do the wolf some damage. But her pain was so great, and her strength so frail.

Stone strode over. With the club he firmly bashed the wolf's head - one hearty backhanded blow - and it let her go. Turned on him, of course, but what did that matter? It was not going to hurt Starr anymore; that's all that counted.

He didn't give it time to make a full-fledged attack. As soon as its back was completely turned on the whimpering girl on the ground, Stone struck. And struck true.

And then he slid the expired wolf off his blade and went to Starr.

She was crying, of course. Bloody, of course. 'It was too fast!' she whispered.

'It was my fault. I wanted to get a second weapon, and wound up putting us both off-balance. If I hadn't squatted, and had you do the same...'

He shrugged off his backpack, rummaging in it for something cloth - he didn't care what. Pulling it out, he tenderly wrapped up her ravaged arm, trying to find that balance between tight enough to staunch the bleeding, and not so tight as to cut off the blood flow entirely.

That done, he looked around and found some leaves to use to clean the blood from his sword. Sheathed it, then checked hers. There was little blood on the edge, but he cleaned it anyway, then sheathed her sword for her.

He put his pack back on, then took Starr up in his arms. Gently, like holding a baby. Her good arm she wrapped round his neck.

And she buried her face against him once more and wept.

'It's all right, honey,' said he. 'Everything's going to be all right.'

Getting his bearings, he set out downhill. They had been running uphill, he reasoned, so downhill should inevitably lead them back to the path along the valley, and so back to the rest of the group.

A final glance around to be sure he had left nothing behind. Hmm. Well, that wasn't surprising, was it?

The wolves' bodies had vanished.

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