Thursday, July 07, 2005

 

the child, seventy-eight


If ever a week both flew and crawled past, it was that week. Except for the addition of twice-daily sword practice, once in the cool of the morning and again in the cool of the evening, this week passed as the previous two had. Lucy and Linda finding more wild geranium. James and Jack searching for signs of enemies. Stone and Starr falling ever more deeply in love together. And Joy keeping Forest company as his leg healed.

But there was an important difference this week. For as the company practiced with their swords - at every clash of blade against blade, they were reminded of Forest telling them to get ready to assault the dungeons. And as the women sought the medicinal wildflower for Joy, they remembered how Forest could not rise from his pallet to come to the cool of these woods with them.

As the men protected the camp, they were mindful of how much Forest would like to be able to guard the camp as well. And as Stone fell more deeply in love with Starr...

He thought of the sacrifice she had offered to make. To stay behind, here with Forest, separated from the man she loved, to tend to this boy till his healing was complete.

And at every memory and reminder of Forest and his broken leg - they prayed. Everyone in the camp, for their own reasons. They prayed for his healing. That when the test came again at the end of this week - that Forest's leg would bear his weight and not collapse under him again.

Forest prayed too. How he wanted to go with the rest! To make the enemy eat his taunts that the boy ever heard echoing within his head, that he would never set foot anywhere near the fortress. That he, Forest, would be left behind.

He wanted to be there for the assault so badly, he could taste it more keenly than he tasted his daily food. His leg must heal!

The seven days passed. And then dawned the eighth.

They gathered, all of them, at the men's tent door. Stone was last of all to join with the rest, standing just slightly apart from the others, with his hands carefully hidden behind his back.

All eyes peered in, to see what would happen this time. All hearts prayed, to see Forest stand this time and not fall.

'Do you want any help to get up?' James asked.

The boy shook his head. Then, just as he had the week before, he began rocking himself violently from side to side till he rolled over onto his stomach. Once again, he gathered his hands and one good knee under himself. Once again, he pushed himself upright and stood.

A collective breath, as each and all held theirs. The moment of truth.

Small beads of sweat popped out on the boy's forehead. Now that it came down to it, he found himself hesitating, remember the shock of pain that had spasmed through the length of his leg the last time.

Hmph. Push that away! Nothing was going to stop him from walking this time! And no silly doubt - he could almost picture an ugly demon standing by his side, whispering doubts and fears into his ear - was going to keep him back from trying to walk.

He gritted his teeth. Shifted his leg forward. Shifted his weight onto it...

Lifted his other foot. Wavered...

And his other foot stepped forward. One full stride, completed!

Silence - and then noise! Laughter, congratulations. Cries of 'Do it again!'

Which he did. He took several steps, round the inside of the tent. He got a bit overbalanced on a couple of them, but always waved off any help. He was going to do this, and do it without help. He was going to walk, and not burden any of the others in doing so.

James stuck out his hand to the boy, and Forest, beaming, shook it. Other hands reached to him and he shook them as well, or found himself on the receiving end of a hug. Someone's hand ruffled his hair, and he automatically reached up to smooth the hair again.

'Forest.'

Stone's voice cut through the rest of the sound, as the man's tall frame cut through the crowd to reach the boy's side. 'I, uh, made something for you. Here.'

The big man's hands came out from hiding behind him now, thrusting into Forest's hands a pair of long, hand-hewn wooden crutches. 'If the size isn't right, I can shorten them,' said Stone.

Forest said nothing. Thoroughly caught by surprise, he wordlessly ran his hands over the gift. Touched. Deeply touched.

'Um...' He had to clear his throat before he could at last reply. 'Um - thanks, Stone. I, uh, had no idea. These look great.' He tucked them up under his armpits, trying out the length. 'Hey, you guessed it well. They fit fine.'

'You sure? I can take the ax and trim them a bit shorter, if you need me to...'

Forest shook his head. 'No, they're fine. Now. If someone will part the crowd for me...'

The crowd parted on its own. And awkwardly, still learning how to use the new gift of crutches, Forest swung out the door to look for the first time in three weeks up at the sky, and out at the day, and over at the tall cliff opposite.

The place he had fallen from.

He studied the cliff for a long moment. And then he turned and grinned at James. 'Moving day. Eh?'

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