Fantasy Fiction posted April 10, 2014 Chapters: 1 2 -3- 4... 


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TRYING TO HEAL A DYING AXTILLA

A chapter in the book The Trining

HIS TURN TO HEAL

by Jay Squires




Background
Thank you GaliaG for your stunning artwork!
 WHAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED:  Mended now, our nameless protagonist and the spear-wielding young lady who holds him captive leave the cave through a crevice in the far wall.  He fears for his life after he gets wedged in and is unable to breathe, but using a strange magic in her hands, his captor is able to widen the chasm so he can slip through.  Thinking he is Pondria—who, according to her people's legend comes from the sea to beguile them with his words in preparation of defeating them—she had been testing him: if he were the true Pondria he would have used his kunsin (magic) to extricate himself.  Now she is truly confused!
 
In a critical moment of his captor's inattention he wrestles away her spear and instead of killing her (as she expects), he attempts to break the spear over his knee and fails; the clownish act of his hopping around, in pain, on one leg later draws them together.  He asks her name and she reluctantly gives it as Axtilla.  He admits he doesn't know his own name.  When he asks her where her people are, she stammers—in a moment of high emotion—that she is banished.
 
ENJOY THE CONTINUING ADVENTURE …
 
 Chapter Three
  
My people banished me here. Those words formed an uneasy loop in my brain as I followed her along the path's now slight decline toward the level ground of the mountain's base about a hundred yards ahead. I knew it was a sensitive subject, but it was important for me to broach it soon. Unless this was an Island, far from her home land, there would likely be guards patrolling the area. If I unknowingly wandered outside the parameters, I could be shot while out on something as innocent as a quest for the elusive eggs.
 
I was having a hard time wrapping my brain around what this sensitive, young woman could possibly have done to warrant banishment. No one got banished anymore! Banishment was for things like acts of treason. It was a last resort when a person's actions were a threat to the nation. How could she be a threat to her people? Later on, when we settled in for the evening, I'd get to the bottom of it with her. In the meantime, some lighter fare to talk to her about. Something like the reason for our leaving the cave today. I figured it would be scavenging for food, perhaps wood for the fire. Whatever it was, she hadn't planned it to be at a leisurely pace. She had an agenda that she didn't have a need to make me privy to and a time frame to complete it in.
 
We were approaching a bushy area that grew out from the hillside and across half the path. I was at the point of initiating some small talk about the possible availability of eggs in the bush, when I heard a hissing sound. She gasped, reached down for her ankle; losing her balance she fell into the brush, which collapsed in on her and she and it tumbled down the hillside.
 
"Axtilla!" I screamed, scrambling down the slope after her, bent over spider-like, trying to keep my balance while keeping my eye on her. What seemed like a full minute probably didn't take more than ten seconds before we both stopped our slide—she first and I a split second after—rather roughly against a hollowed-out tree trunk, lying across our path. It gave slightly against our impact, but held.
 
Getting to my knees, I began ripping off the brambles, leaves and branches in which she was entangled.  Soon I had her free. I laid her on her back. Her face and arms were scratched and bleeding. She was whimpering as she had after I knocked her unconscious. Also, her amber irises performed their comical dance, as they did then, bobbing beneath and ricocheting out from under her half-closed eyelids. I didn't have time to observe the phenomenon with anything but passing wonder, back then, because she regained consciousness.

Now there was time, but I had a more pressing concern than curiosity.
 
I tapped my fingers against her cheek. "Axtilla," I said. "Can you hear me?" As if on cue, she moaned. Her irises were still bouncing around, madly.
 
"Can you move your arms or legs? Can you hear me," I asked again. I remembered then the hissing sound and her grabbing for her ankle—it was her right ankle. Raising the bottom of her gown, which had wrapped itself around her leg, I examined that ankle, turning it one way and another until I found what I was looking for. On the outside, roughly an inch above the ankle bone, I saw two puncture holes. The skin was blanched in a quarter-sized circle around the holes. I didn't know about the wildlife in this area. But this looked like a snake bite and while I didn't remember ever knowing anything about first-aid it seemed fundamental that the poison needed to come out.
 
I searched the ground around me for anything sharp, sifting my hands through the loose dirt and leaves. The rocks were not plentiful and those I did find were small and rounded. I broke off a brittle branch from the trunk. At its break one side was jagged. It would have to do. There would be no way to sterilize it, but getting the poison out was more important now than potential infection.
 
Stretching out the surface between thumb and forefinger, I took a calming breath and drew the branch across the circle, opening a slit between the punctures. Bits of splintery material flaked off and I blew them from the fresh wound. I heard her in some far-off background whimpering like a puppy. Not knowing whether it was necessary or not, but having a memory from somewhere prompting me, I brought the branch across from a different angle, making an X across the circle; the puncture holes were where the two lines crossed. Bending over her leg, I put my mouth over the oozing wound and sucked until I tasted the bitter liquid on and around my tongue. It immediately began to numb. Careful not to let any of it trickle down my throat, I spat it onto the ground, bent over her ankle again and repeated the process. She continued to make her puppy sounds.
 
I lay down on my back beside her. Lifting her head, I cradled it between my shoulder and chest. I was ashamed I didn't know what the next step should be. If it had been a loss of blood I was sure I'd have had to apply a tourniquet, but where? In this case I could make a tourniquet from my shirt, but what if she needed an uninterrupted flow of blood to the wound. I’d make it worse. I lay my palm on her forehead and cheek, then on her arm. Her skin was warm, not clammy. Doesn't that mean she's not in shock?
 
Other matters pressed in on me. It would be dark in a few hours. And, with the darkness would be the cold. Assuming I could get us both up the hill and on the path, we were at least a mile from the warmth of the cave. I was still weak from my ordeal. Definitely not a hundred percent. There was no way I could drag her up the hillside, hoist her into my arms and trudge along that narrow path to the cave. No, I'd have to wait for her to come to. Suppose that didn't happen until after dark. I had to assume the worst and hope for the best. I'd have to plan for us to spend the night right here, pressed up against this log.
 
What had to be number one on the agenda was clearing an area for a fire and gathering enough wood for the night, and then—something that would be harder—finding the means to light it.
 
I'd check out Axtilla one last time. She moaned as I slipped my arm from under her and eased her head to the ground. Her breathing was regular. Moving down to her ankle, I reached out my hand, gingerly. Heat radiated from the wound I'd made. Was it my fear and dread coloring my judgment, or in just these few minutes had her ankle started swelling? That couldn't be a good sign. There was no water. The only other treatment I had heard of to combat infection was to cauterize the wound. Dry twigs were abundant. There would be dried parts of this hollowed-out log. I reached in it and broke off a chunk from the inner wall. This would do. Next, I'd have to find a couple of rocks. With a little luck, I'd be able to strike them together enough times that an eventual spark, landing in the kindling, would start smoldering. Then I would fan it into flame. A lot of ifs proceeded from a couple of rocks that I wasn't sure I could find.

My every instinct told me that something had to be done, though, and soon.
 
On my hands and knees, I ventured out away from the log, careful to not put my weight against a loose part of the terrain that might send me sliding and rolling all the way to the bottom. I noticed about twenty yards from me a small mound bulging out from the slope. It could be a root. But it could also be a rock. My legs were starting to feel the strain of keeping them tensed against losing my balance. Moving closer now, I extended an arm and brushed the leaves and other debris from the surface.
 
It was a rock—that was good! But it was larger than I'd hoped, and securely anchored in the hard soil. Not good …. With my fingers, I dug around the base of the side facing the down-slope. I leveraged myself as best I could and bending over it I rocked it back and forth. It seemed to be giving way a little. I dug deeper around the side of it and rocked it again. After about five minutes of rocking and digging, I was able to slide my hand down the back side of it and, with comparative ease, pluck it out.
 
I left it to retrieve on my return and continued on. The next discovery was far less dramatic and tiring. I was getting surer in my balance and was able to crawl at a faster pace to a fairly sizable bush concealing a ravine that snaked down the hillside to the bottom. On the wall of the ravine closest to me were three small rocks, there for the taking. Each was about the size of a grapefruit and half the size of the rock I'd spent precious time digging out.
 
With one gripped in each hand, I clomped like an exhausted Clydesdale, slamming one stone hoof and then the other into the soil, pulling myself forward, and then repeating the process, passing the larger rock on my way back to the log and Axtilla.
 
I leaned against the log and caught my breath. She hadn't moved since I left. Her chest was rapidly rising and falling. I didn't have to get any closer to see her ankle had swollen. Sweat beaded her forehead. Her irises still fluttered under her half-closed lids. I squeezed my eyes shut. Think! Think! There was no water. Nothing to clean the wound. Cauterizing it was the only alternative—if I had the guts to pull it off. A fire! I need to start a fire.
 
The sun was behind the mountain, whose cold shadow slipped down the hillside toward us. In about an hour it would be dusk; in three, darkness would make any moving about treacherous. I needed to get started. I gathered twigs, small pieces of bark and a handful of dried leaves. Clearing a space, I dug down through the loose dirt to the firmer soil beneath. In the center of the cleared area I crumbled some of the dried leaves, then broke up some of the twigs and put them loosely on top of the leaves.
 
Axtilla moaned and mumbled something. I shot a glance at her. "Hang in there, Axtilla," I whispered, staring at her a moment longer, before continuing the prep work. "We're gonna get you through this, you hear me?"

I held the rocks, tested their heft, and then brought them together smartly. Nothing. At an angle would be better. I tried that a few times, but the rocks were hard to control and my forearms began to tire. This could take some time. I didn't want my muscles to cramp up on me. Straddling the tinder-pile, I braced my left elbow against my inner knee, holding the rock a few inches from the pile. I brought the other one against it with a glancing blow. I clacked them together a second, then a third time. On the fourth pass a spark shot out but missed the pile. A start! I put the rocks down and shook my hands, wiggling the stiffness out of my fingers. I briefly massaged my lower back before retrieving the rocks and resumed my efforts to coax another spark from them.
 
It was getting dark now. I realized I had developed a muscle awareness of the placement of the rocks so I could crack them together most effectively in the growing darkness.
Axtilla moaned somewhere to my right; I felt so helpless. Sitting here bashing these rocks together was the only thing that made any sense. We needed fire to keep warm—crack!—and perhaps to keep wild animals away. I wasn't too sure—crack!—about cauterizing the wound. Would I even be man enough to do it?
 
In the midst of my helplessness and self-doubt I brought the rocks together and two blue sparks spit out onto the pile. I dropped the rocks and began fanning the tinder. Before I could see any evidence of a flame, a faint smell of smoke teased my nostrils. Then a tendril of flame rose from the crumbled leaves and wove through the twigs.

Other flames rose.

I gathered kindling from where I piled it nearby. There were some broken branches up to an inch in diameter, but most were smaller. When I turned back to feed the tinder, I noticed the leaves were glowing a pulsing red-orange. I gently laid some of the smaller branches onto the now fully engaged fire and went back for more. I knew when I added the generous chunks of bark from the decayed log that we had warmth, light and protection for the night. The bark was close to an inch thick, so I figured a dozen or so would get us through. I could always break more off the log as needed.
 
Time to attend to other matters. I could see by the fire light that the skin was stretched so tightly on Axtilla's ankle, swollen to half again its size, that it was ready to split like an over- ripe fruit. Her breathing was rapid and labored. The branch I used to perform the earlier surgery lay at her feet. I picked it up, examined it. The tip was black with dried blood. I thought of the X I had carved across the wound and smiled a grim smile. Did the good doctor's surgery spread a new poison in you, Axtilla? And, would my next bungling act finish you off? You were the great healer when I lay dying. And, that was when you thought I was your enemy. Now you are dying and I am about to do something that may speed up the process. Axtilla, I am so sorry!
 
I held the tip of the branch in the fire, pulling it out every minute or so to check its progress. After about five minutes it was ready—and my heart was in my throat! I took one more look at Axtilla's face … and dropped the branch. Her head was turned in my direction. She stared at me through huge wide-open eyes, amber irises perfectly still. Or, were those eyes really staring at me?
 
Extending a trembling hand to her neck, I placed two fingers against the cool, moist flesh.
 
"What are you doing?"
 
 


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