Bewildering Stories

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chapter 7: The Range
conclusion of part IV

by Tala Bar

Gaia began in issue 88.
Part IV began in this issue.

“We’ll have to set it, and you’ll have to be very brave, Zik. You don’t want the bone to set up wrong. Lilit can help us in soothing the pain, but I don’t know how far her power works. You’ll have to keep very still, Zik.” There was compassion in her voice, but also decisiveness, no wavering. The boy had gone through so much! She crouched again, taking his head in her palms, turning it to look straight at her. “You’ll have to be very brave, Zik,” she repeated, “but I know you can do it. What do you say?”

Slowly, he nodded, his eyes widely open, staring at her as if hypnotized. “All right, now,” Dar said as she straightened again. “Nim, can you find that elastic bandage we got from the ruined house? That’s the only thing we can use to hold the foot in place, having no splint or plaster.”

As Nim was complying, she continued with her instructions.” When you get it, come and sit behind Zik, take hold of him tight so he can’t move. You, Nune, will help me with the foot, hold it as strongly and gently as you can so Zik can’t move it about and break the set up of the bone I am creating. We’ll have to pull it straight, so you’ll have to be both careful and determined. Lilit can help by easing the pain as much as possible.”

They took their places as she had told them to. Having given her the bandage, Nim came and sat behind Zik, her legs stretched along the sides of his body. She took hold of his body, her arms encircling his waist. Nune sat down beside the young man, and Dar gently put his foot on the fisherman’s lap.

To get a better anchor, she kneeled down. “Ready?” she said, then took hold of Zik’s calf, pulling it hard. The young man screamed.

“I think he’s fainted!” Nim cried.

“That’s good,” Dar approved, “hold him very still!” She ordered. She then proceeded to wrap the elastic bandage around Zik’s ankle. “As long as he’s out, we can hold his foot in place without him feeling anything. I can only hope it will set right, and he won’t limp — at least, not too much. I’m afraid we’ll have to stay in this place for a while, keep Zik from moving.”

“Where can we go, anyway?” Nim asked. No one answered.

“We should take turns sitting with Zik,” Dar said quietly. “You all go to sleep, and I’ll call you up, Nune, after a few hours. We should hold his leg on our lap, keep from moving as well as keep Zik calm and peaceful. It’s bad enough we don’t have any strong painkillers, so we must do as well as we can without them.”

She sat herself down, took Zik’s leg and put it in her lap. Nune and Lilit helped Nim release Zik’s body and lay him on a blanket, placing an open sleeping bag on top of him. They wrapped another around Dar.

“You’re sure I shouldn’t stay up with you?” he asked, anxiously.

“I’ll be all right. You go and keep Nim warm, and I’ll call you in a few hours. Get a good rest, because I don’t know what else is in store for us.”

The two settled down in one of the sleeping bags, lying right next to the physician to make it easy for her to call them up. When she was settled, Dar looked around for Lilit. Having helped Nune settle Zik, the woman left them again and was now walking slowly around the walls of the pit. In the very dim light Dar could see her as a dark shadow, moving and stopping occasionally, then going back to one of the spot she had stopped at before. Then Dar thought she saw her nodding her head.

She then turned and came up to Dar, sitting down beside the sick man. “I’ll see that he falls asleep. This state is not the best for him,” she said softly. She crossed her legs in an Oriental position, closed her eyes and bent her head over his body. Dar could barely see her breathing. An age passed before Lilit raised her head, her eyes wide open. “He’s sleeping now, and has begun to heal. I’ll sit with you until you call Nune.”

Dar did not know how long they sat together, but in some way she was feeling a bond being created between them. When she felt unable to keep her eyes open, she called Nune softly. He was up in a minute, getting out of the bag and coming to sit beside her. Silently, she put Zik’s leg in his lap, crawled toward the sleeping bag and entered it to lie beside Nim. The girl moved a little in her sleep, then threw her arm around the woman’s body. Dar hugged her, soon falling asleep. She forgot all about Lilit.

She woke when a thin line of light fell on the wall opposite, the reflection touching her eyelids. The first sight she had was of the old woman still sitting by the sick man. Nune was still holding Zik’s leg, but he was nodding in slumber. Dar slipped out of the bag, stood and stretched. “Lilit?” she said.

The old woman straightened in her sitting position. Raising an arm, she passed her hand over the young man’s body. “He’ll be all right now; he could walk with some care,” she said, as if answering an unasked question.

Nune opened his eyes, sending a questioning look at Dar as he shrugged the open sleeping bag off his shoulder.

“We’ll see,” Dar replied. She took the discarded bag, folded it and put on the ground by Zik, then took the young man’s leg and lay it on the bag, releasing Nune.

The fisherman rose and stretched. “What now?” he asked.

“We can’t stay here,” Lilit said. “The weather might change at any minute. It’s still winter, remember, even if it feels warm inside here. But when rain or snow comes, we can be trapped.”

“But where can we go? We can’t climb back up, can we?” said Nune.

“No, there’s another way. Let’s organize for moving, then I’ll show you.”

“Are you sure Zik can walk yet?” asked Dar. “He certainly shouldn’t put his foot down for quite a while.”

With all her qualifications and experience as a physician, she was baffled by the old woman’s skill, feeling as if she were again a novice — very much in the same way she had felt in company of the Ancient One in the jungle.

“The bones are set, though not yet firmly enough,” replied the old woman. “He can walk with care, but needs to be supervised. And I’ll see to it that he does not have too much pain.”

Nune had wakened Nim in the mean time, and together they packed all the backpacks. Dar came touched Zik, who was still sleeping. He opened his rounded, soft, dark brown eyes, staring at her. “Dar, what’s happened to me?” He asked with some alarm in his voice.

“You had broken your ankle and we had to take care of it,” she answered, crouching beside him and softly pushing the long hair off his forehead.

“It doesn’t hurt,” he said. “I remember now, I had a terrible pain yesterday. How can it be?”

“That’s Lilit’s doing. You’ll have to get up now, we are leaving here. But be careful not to step on you foot yet. You have to give it a chance to heal properly.”

The young man rose gingerly, as she supported him. “Are we going back up?” he asked, worrying.

“No, Lilit is going to lead the way. I think we can trust her, don’t you?”

He smiled at her, then. “I trust you, Dar, you know that!”

She smiled back, holding his waist, turning to the old woman. “So, Lilit, what are we going to do now?”

“Come this way,” the other said, approaching that spot near the cave’s wall Dar thought she had been examining last night. As she was looking after her, Lilit suddenly vanished, only her strange purple headdress showing above the cavern’s floor. The next minute it was also gone.

“Hey, where’s she vanished again?” Zik cried. “That woman really can move — one minute she’s here and the next she’s gone. I wonder how she does it!”

Nune went toward that spot. He had already put on his backpack, as had Dar and Nim, having divided Zik’s baggage among them. Nim came after Nune. “I can’t see her anywhere!” she cried in a panic.

“Here she comes back. Look how she’s peeping out of the earth. What is there, Lilit? Can we go that way?”

“We’ll have to, there’s no other way,” they heard her muffled voice coming up, with her head following her voice. “I suggest Nune go first, scouting, then Nim; Dar should go after her, helping down Zik who would come behind her. I’ll come after Zik, have my eyes on him and soothe the pain in his foot if he has any.”

They followed Lilit’s instructions, passing her by as she pushed herself against the cavity’s wall. Nune came first, saying, “Come, Nim,” stretching his arm to help the girl down. “There’s a drop here, but don’t be afraid. I’ll hold you as you go down.”

Dar saw him dropping, vanishing from sight. Nim crouched, looking down.

“Come on, Nim, it’s not such a long jump and I’ll catch you in my arms,” they heard the fisherman’s muffled voice coaxing the girl, coming as if from the belly of the earth.

Nim sat down on what looked like the edge of the floor, her legs unseen. Then she dropped and disappeared from sight.

“Let’s go, Zik; you can lean on me,” she said, drawing him in the direction of the drop. As the two of them reached the brink of the cavern’s floor,

Dar looked down over the edge. “I’ll go first and ease you down — you’d better sit on your bottom, never mind how undignified it is — that’s the best way to go.”

“What is this place?” He demanded, hesitating.

“It looks like a tunnel, I don’t know how far it’s going. You should sit down on the ledge, the way Nim did,” she added. “And Lilit is going to ease your pain again, as she did before.”

“She did?” He asked, sitting down to comply with her instruction.

“You don’t remember because you’d passed out. But you’ll be all right now, with both of us with you. Come!” she commanded.

It seemed to her that all his physical courage as an adventurer geologist had gone out of him when the fitness of his foot was gone. He slipped down at last, uttering a cry as he landed half in her arms, half on the sloping floor of the tunnel.

“Does it hurt?” Lilit asked.

The man smiled bashfully. “Not very much,” he admitted.

“Let’s go, then.”

Dar sent a last look up and back. A small, vanishing patch of blue sky peeped among looming cliffs. Ahead of them, there was nothing but a black hole in the earth, piercing the body of the mountain range.

“We’re going under the range, then?” she asked Lilit, knowing quite well there was nowhere else for them to go. ‘Expecting to emerge on the other side, I suppose’, she added to herself.

“Like being reborn,” replied the woman, obliquely. Then the three of them moved on to catch up with the two ahead. Then Dar found they could not walk upright at all: they had to crawl on all fours inside the tunnel, advancing toward an unknown future of rebirth.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar

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