Sunday, July 03, 2005


the child, seventy-seven

The whole camp sprang to their feet at the horrible shriek that came next. James and Morgen were the first to reach the boy. He was sprawled in the tent floor, toughing back the tears, his splinted leg stretched out at a weird angle, as if he was trying to get away from the leg entirely.

But he waved off their help. 'I got it, I got it,' he kept repeating through clenched teeth.

And he was trying again to get up!

Against the boy's protest, James and Morgen scooped him up and laid him gently again on his pallet. James looked every bit as ashen as Forest did. 'I'm so sorry,' he kept mumbling.

'Sorry for what?' Forest snapped.

'I didn't think... I really thought you'd be ready. I'm so sorry! You... How's his leg?'

Morgen was examining it. After a bit, he sat back on his heels, nodding. 'It's fine. The seam where it is healing is intact. He just needs a bit more time.'

James exhaled extravagantly. 'Thank the Master for that!' he said.

'How long?' Forest demanded.

'Another week?' James replied. 'Or two?'

'Two weeks? But the dungeons...!'

'I know!' cried James. 'But it can't be helped. If you can't walk, you can't walk!'

Forest looked up at him - at both of the men here in the tent with him, as well as the crowd at the door peering in. And the boy nodded. 'I see.' And he looked James in the eye, piercingly. 'Then go on without me.'

There was a chorus of protests. And cutting through all the other voices, James' own voice, saying, 'No.'

'I mean it. There are people in the dungeons, dying every day. We are supposed to go to them, to rescue them, to lead them out of the danger that will kill them. I'm not important; they are. Go without me.'

And again, James said, 'No.'

Forest glared up at him. 'What does it take to get it through to you? Go on! Go rescue them. What happens to me doesn't matter!'

'It does to me,' James rejoined.

'And me,' added Jack.

'It matters to all of us,' said Stone. 'We aren't leaving you behind.'

'Look,' said James. 'You were chosen for the journey the same as the rest of us - for a reason. If we leave you behind, there will be one of us left without a partner - right? Josh said we would be making the assault in pairs. If you aren't there - that's one team that won't be in the fight. We go together - all of us. End of discussion.'

'Hmph...' said Forest. He was touched, and didn't want to show it.

'Here,' said a soft voice. Starr, pushing in between Stone and Joy. She knelt by the boy's side, looked him earnestly in the face. 'Give it one more week. All right? Just one. And if you aren't ready then... I'll stay behind with you.'

'Starr...!' Stone whispered, startled down to his toes.

Forest considered. Nodded. 'All right. One week.' He glanced up beyond her to the rest of them gathered round the door. 'And in the meantime,' he said good and loud, 'that's been some of the quietest sword practice I've ever heard these past couple of weeks. Think maybe the lot of you could manage to actually draw the swords from now on, when you practice every day? Hmm?' His glare was piercing, knowing good and well that his orders to practice daily had gone unobeyed.

'That's crazy,' said a shrill voice. Lucy, of course. 'It's too hot to be swinging swords around!'

'Do it in the evening, when it gets cool then.'

'The end of the day? When we're all worn out from hiding from the heat all day long?'

'First thing in the morning then, before the day gets hot,' said the boy. 'But we must practice. We're soldiers making an assault on a fortress. Do you really want to go up against an opposing army, when you haven't done anything with your swords but tote them on your hips for months and months?'

'You're right. You told us to practice. And we didn't do it.' That was James.

'Yeah,' said Forest, 'and now it's two weeks practice time lost. Maybe we need to practice morning and night, to make up for it. But we have to practice. We have to get ready to fight.'

'We'll begin right away, right after breakfast,' said James.

'But...!' Lucy started to protest.

'No but's. Forest is right,' said James. 'Oh, yeah - and he's not crazy.'

'Naw, she's right about that,' said Forest cheerfully. 'I am crazy. But that doesn't matter. Cause I'm still right.'

The clash and clatter of sword on sword a few minutes later brought a grim smile to the boy's face. Even if he couldn't take part in the practice.


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