Sunday, August 14, 2005

 

the child, ninety


Stone was feeling fine in the morning, far better than he had felt in ages. He and Mac saw nothing out of the ordinary on their watch, then woke the others at dawn. Breakfast, and cleaning up afterwards. And then, before breaking camp - sword practice.

Forest surprised them all by throwing down both crutches this time. He stood, sword drawn, balancing with most of his weight on his good leg. 'Let's go, James!' he cried.

James rose to the challenge. The boy was as agile as ever, putting more and more weight on his wounded leg as the exercise progressed. And suddenly, to everyone's shock - the boy sent James tumbling, sprawling. The man's sword flew from his hand.

In a trice, Forest was on him, pinning him, his own blade held to James' throat. The boy's eyes sparkled with glee. 'Yield?' he crowed.

James gaped up at Forest in shock. And then, suddenly, the man's eyes too sparkled - but not with glee. Fury flamed up in them.

Abruptly, almost too fast for eye to follow - everything was reversed. James flung off the boy, sending Forest's sword spinning. And now it was Forest pinned, with James atop him, his forearm jammed against the boy's neck.

'You mutt,' James breathed, his voice rasping. He was pressing harder, harder against Forest's neck, and still harder...

'Ah... ah... yield!' the boy sputtered. 'J-james... I yield...' Forest's eyes were wide, and just a hint of fear dawning in them. For James did not let go.

And then he did. Sat back. Fear was in his own eyes, at what he had just done, and almost done. He stared at Forest - Forest stared back - for a very long moment. Then the boy stuck out his hand. 'Help me up?'

James sprang up. But he did not reach to grasp Forest's hand. Instead, his face ashen, he bolted from the camp.

Alone. The very thing he had ordered everyone not to do.

Jack leapt to his feet. 'Forest? You all right?' James' brother asked as he swiftly scooped up this fallen sword and that one.

'Um... yeah,' said Forest, his hand feeling of his throat.

Jack passed the boy's sword to him, keeping hold of James'. 'Morgen, you come with me. Everyone else, break camp and be ready to go when we return.' And off they went, Jack and Morgen, in the direction they had last seen James take.

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