Tuesday, July 12, 2005
the child, eighty
In a way, it was starting the journey all over again. After three weeks in camp, they weren't quite up to making a long day's walk - not like they had been before. Forest, of course, pushed himself as hard as he could. But he wasn't used to the crutches yet. And the rough terrain was not the best for crutches. And he had been more or less lying on his back for the past three weeks.
So even he needed frequent breaks and an early end to the day's march.
That is why, when Malachi found a cooling stream when there were still two hours left before sunset, James went ahead and called a halt, and had everyone begin to set up the tents. And Forest, predictably, began to protest about it.
Began to. And then he considered the ache in his broken leg, and the pain under his armpits from the crutches, and the blisters popping up on his hands from gripping the crutch poles all day. And he fell quiet instead. And set about helping with the tents.
Yes, on his crutches. He might not have been much help. But he was enthusiastic about it.
Supper came a bit early. And then, as the heat of the day was dissipating, James stood up and drew his sword. 'Time for practice,' he said. 'Get up here, buddy!'
Forest looked up at him, surprised. And then the next second a gleam shone out from his eyes. With a whoop, he grabbed his crutches and got himself upright, then tossed down the right-hand one and drew his sword as well. 'Have at you!' he cried.
The others got quickly out of the way as the pair of them went at it. Parry and thrust. Feint and lunge. Disengage. Riposte. Haha!
James was holding back for the injured boy's sake, not wanting to risk more injury to his weakened opponent. Until Forest got past his defenses and landed a smart smack across James' upper arm with the flat of his blade.
'Hey!' cried James, his free hand automatically springing to cover the spot. He felt skin, and glanced at his shirt. 'Hey! You tore my sleeve!'
'Oops,' said Forest impudently. He was grinning, that snotty boy was, his eyes flashing, waiting for James to get back into the drill.
And now James' eyes flashed too. 'You runt,' he said. 'Just for that...!'
And now the battle was on in earnest. No more holding back for the injured kid! On and on they lunged and parried, breaking each other's defenses, recovering and guarding, fighting, fighting...
Until at last they were both winded, their swords glued inside their cramped hands. Panting, James said, 'Yield?'
'Oh, you're yielding to me? I accept,' Forest panted back.
'No! Will you yield to me?' James roared.
'Does the word 'never' have any meaning to you?' Forest responded, even though he could barely lift his sword arm anymore.
'Does the word 'brat' have any meaning to you?' James snapped back. At the same moment, Stone raised his hands and called, 'Time! That's it.' And then he added, 'Don't you guys ever know when to quit?'
Slowly James let his aching sword arm go limp. And only then did the competitive Forest let down his own sword. And he grinned. 'Good game,' he said.
'Yeah,' James panted. 'You too.' He frowned and added. 'Were you always this good? You about ran me ragged.'
Forest chuckled and boasted. 'You kidding? When I'm at my best, ain't no one can beat me!'
'Really?' That was Jack. 'No one can beat you? You're that good?'
'Nope,' said Forest proudly. 'Not anyone I can think o...'
But Jack was interrupting with, 'Not even Josh?'
Forest stopped talking, his mouth still hanging open in mid-brag. He stared at Jack for the longest time, and then slowly, slowly, said, 'Oh. Well. I mean, Josh, yeah. Josh can beat me. But then, he's the sword master!'
'All right,' said Jack, nodding. 'Just checking.'
'Checking what?' said Forest. But Jack only grinned in reply.
After a very long pause, Forest at last sheathed his weapon, then stuck out his hand to James. James swapped his sword to his left hand to grasp the boy's hand and shake it.
'Good game,' Forest said again, much more seriously this time. 'And, Jack...'
Forest's eyes were deep and solemn as he said to him, 'You too.'
And as Jack and James exchanged puzzled looks, Forest accepted his other crutch from Joy and headed off to the tent by himself to lie down and think.
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