Wednesday, August 17, 2005
the child, ninety-one
'What happened?' said Joy.
Stone had gone to Forest and helped him up. Starr fetched the boy his crutches, but Forest only accepted one of them, tucking it under his left arm. He sheathed the sword Jack had retrieved for him. And for a moment, they all just stood, not quite sure of themselves. Joy's question was echoing within them all: what had happened?
Lucy broke the silence. 'Well,' she said, 'Jack said to break camp, so let's get on with it.'
'But what happened?' said Linda. 'Why did James do that? He could have hurt Forest!'
And Forest, who had seen for himself up close the look in James' eyes, knew but did not say what he had seen in them - the sudden lust to not just hurt the boy, but to...
Forest shook his head. He didn't even want to think that word!
'Does it matter what happened?; Lucy said sharply. 'Can we do anything about it? No, we can't,' she added, giving no one time to answer. 'Jack and Morgen will see to James. And while they do,' and she set to work collapsing a tent, 'Jack said to break camp. So let's do it!'
Linda planted her fists on her hips, her eyes flashing, obviously offended at Lucy's bossiness-as-usual. 'Oh! You haven't changed a bit!' she accused.
'I...!' Lucy retorted. Or began to. She stared back at Linda, anger flaring in her eyes. Flaring. Dying. Drowning into tears.
'Oh! Oh, Linda! I'm sorry...'
And as suddenly as the contention sprang up, it was over, as Linda and Lucy forgave each other with hugs.
They broke camp then. Collapsed each tent. Pulled up the stakes, knocked the dirt from them, then piled then in the center of the tents they came from. Coiled the ropes and piled them in as well. Reserved two ropes from each tent, one to bind up its tent poles, the other to tie round the tent once they had folded it up into a tight package.
Stone and Starr went to fetch fresh water as the rest finished the packing. The memory of her vision of wolves from that other time they went for the water flashed into his mind. But he thrust it aside. No more wolves! he told himself gladly. For after last night, that wolf was dead too.
He sighed happily, in freedom.
They reached the stream quickly. Sword drawn, Stone stood guard as Starr rinsed and filled the canteens.
She was silent as she worked. He was sorry that she wasn't talking. He would have preferred to hear her voice just now, for her to prattle on, happy as a child, chattering on about inconsequential things, her sweet voice echoing in his ears.
Silence echoed in his ears just now instead. Not surprising. The events of this morning had them all a bit stunned yet.
What had happened? What had James been thinking? Stone wondered how many of the others had spotted that flash of fear in the boy's eyes, and how many had realized what it meant. He had realized, and the realization had paralyzed him in his seat.
James had nearly killed Forest. Had come to his senses just in time. Had fled.
But why? The rivalry between the two of them had been settled weeks ago. Why start back now?
And Lucy and Linda. They too had started in with a quarrel. At least they had caught themselves quickly. But again - why?
Silence echoed in Stone's ears. It took a moment for it to dawn on him that this silence was more complete than a few minutes before. He frowned.
The water. He no longer heard the sound of water bubbling into canteens. Confused, he looked around and down.
Starr was staring up at him.
And suddenly his face was burning in a blush. He'd done it again! Wool-gathering! His sword was in his hand, supposedly to guard them both. But his mind - where had it been? Not here!
'You know what's happening, don't you?' said Starr. She rose to her feet, a cluster of canteens dangling from the fistful of straps in her hand.
'It's the enemy,' she said. 'We came into unity, so he's doing his worst to shatter it again.' She shook her hair back out of her eyes and reached for Stone's hand.
'We've got to go tell James,' she said.
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