بخش 04

مجموعه: چهارگانه بخشنده / کتاب: Messenger / فصل 4

بخش 04

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متن انگلیسی فصل

Eleven

“Tuck it inside your shirt, Matty, so it won’t get rumpled. You have a long journey ahead.”

Matty took the packet of folded messages in the thick envelope, and placed it where Leader indicated, inside his shirt next to his chest. He didn’t say so to Leader, but he thought that later, when he gathered his traveling things, he would probably find a different place for the envelope. He would put it with his food supplies and blanket. It was true that here, inside his shirt, was the safest and cleanest place. But he had planned to carry Frolic there, against his chest.

There was not time, in three weeks, to make journeys to all the other places and communities. Some of them were many days away, and a few places could be reached only by riverboat. Matty was not qualified to go by river; the man called Boater was always the one who took messages and trading goods by that route.

But it had been decided that the message would be posted on every path throughout Forest, so that any new ones coming would see it and turn back. Matty was the only one who knew all the paths, who was not afraid to enter Forest and travel in that dangerous place. He would post the messages there. And he would go on to his own old place as well. There had been ongoing communication between that place and Village for years; now they must be told of the new ruling.

Leader was standing now at the window, as he so often did, looking down at Village and the people below. Matty waited. He was in a hurry to be off, to begin his long journey, but he had a feeling there was something that Leader wanted to tell him, something still unsaid.

Finally Leader turned to Matty, standing beside him. “He’s told you that I see beyond, hasn’t he?”

“Yes. He says you have a special gift. His daughter does, too.”

“His daughter. That would be the girl called Kira, the one who helped you leave your old place. He never talks about her.”

“It makes him too sad. But he thinks about her all the time.”

“And you say she has a gift, too?”

“Yes. But hers is different. Each gift is different, Seer said.”

Do you know about mine? Matty thought. But he did not need to ask.

As if he had read Matty’s mind, Leader told him, “I know of yours.”

Matty shuddered. The gift still frightened him so. “I kept it secret,” he said apologetically. “I haven’t even told Seer. I didn’t want to be secretive. But I’m still trying to understand it. I try to put it out of my mind. I try to forget that it’s there inside me. But then it just appears. I can feel it coming. I don’t know how to stop it.” “Don’t try. If it comes without your summoning it, it is because of need. Because someone needs your gift.”

“A frog? It was a frog first!”

“It was to show you. It always starts with a small thing. For me? The very first time I saw beyond? It was an apple.”

Despite the solemnity of the conversation, Matty chuckled. A frog and an apple. And a puppy, he realized.

“Wait for the true need, Matty. Don’t spend the gift.”

“But how will I know?”

Leader smiled. He rubbed Matty’s shoulder affectionately. “You’ll know,” he said.

Matty looked around for Frolic and saw that he was curled in the corner, asleep. “I should go. I haven’t packed my things yet. And I want to stop by and tell Jean I’m going, so she won’t wonder where I am.” Leader kept him there within the comfortable curve of his arm. “Matty, wait,” he said. “I want to . . .” Then he gazed through the window again. Matty stood there, wondering what he was to wait for. Then he felt something. The weight of the young man’s arm took on a quality of something beyond human flesh. It came alive with power. Matty felt it from the arm, but he knew, as well, that it was pervading all of Leader’s being. He understood that it was Leader’s gift at work.

Finally, after what seemed an unendurable few moments, Leader lifted his arm away from Matty. He exhaled. His body sagged slightly. Matty helped him to a chair and he sat there, exhausted, breathing hard.

“Forest is thickening,” Leader said when he could speak.

Matty didn’t know what he meant. It sounded ominous. But when he looked through the window, to the row of underbrush and pines that was the border of Forest, it looked no different to him.

“I don’t understand it exactly,” Leader said. “But I can see a thickening to Forest, like a . . .” He hesitated.

“I was going to say like a clotting of blood. Things turning sluggish and sick.”

Matty looked through the window again. “The trees are just the same, Leader. There’s a storm coming, though. You can hear the wind. And look. The sky is turning dark. Maybe that’s what you saw.” Leader shook his head skeptically. “No. It was Forest I saw. I’m sure. It’s hard to describe, Matty, but I was trying to look through Forest in order to get a feeling for Seer’s daughter. And it was very, very hard to push through. It was—well, thick.

“I think you had better not go, Matty, I’m sorry. I know you love making your journeys, and that you take pride in being the only one who can. But I think there may be danger in Forest this time.” Matty’s heart sank. He had hoped to be given his true name, Messenger, because of this trip. At the same time, something told him that Leader might be right.

Then he remembered. “Leader, I have to!”

“No. We can post the messages at the entrance to Village. It will mean new ones will have to turn back after terribly long journeys, and that’s tragic. But—” “No, it’s not the messages! It’s Seer’s daughter! I promised him I would go and bring Kira home. It will be her last chance to come. His last chance to be with her.” “And she will want to come?”

“I’m sure she will. She always intended to someday. And she has no family there. She’s old enough to marry, but no one would want her. Her leg is crooked. She walks with a stick.” Leader took several deep breaths. “Matty,” he said, “I’m going to try again to see beyond Forest. I’m going to try to see Seer’s daughter and her needs. You may stay with me now, because whether you make this journey will depend on what I learn. But be aware that it is very hard for me to do this twice in a row. Don’t be distressed as you watch.” He stood again and went to the window. Matty, knowing he could be of no help, went to the corner where Frolic was asleep and sat down beside his puppy. From there he watched Leader’s body tense, as if he were in pain. He heard Leader gasp and then moan slightly.

The young man’s blue eyes remained open but no longer seemed to be looking at the ordinary things in the room or through the window. He had gone, eyes and whole being, far into a place that Matty could not perceive and where no one could follow him.

He seemed to shimmer.

Finally he slumped into the chair, shaking, and tried to catch his breath.

Matty went to him, stood beside him, and waited while Leader rested. He remembered how he felt after he had healed the puppy and its mother. He remembered the desperate need to sleep.

“I reached where she is,” Leader said when he could speak again.

“Did she know you were there? Could she feel you there?”

Leader shook his head. “No. To make her aware of me would have taken more energy than I had. It’s so very far, and Forest is so thick now, to go through.” Matty had a sudden thought. “Leader? Do you think two gifts could meet?”

Leader, still breathing hard, stared at him. “What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure. But what if you could go halfway—and she could, too? So you could meet in the middle with your gifts? It wouldn’t be so hard if you only went halfway. If you met.” Leader’s eyes were closed, now. “I don’t know, Matty,” he said.

Matty waited but Leader said nothing more, and after a while Matty feared he was asleep. “Frolic?” he called, and the puppy woke, stirred, and came to him.

“Leader,” Matty said, leaning close to him, “I’m going to go. I’m going to get the blind man’s daughter.”

“Be very careful,” Leader murmured. His eyes were closed. “It is dangerous now.”

“I will. I always am.”

“Don’t waste your gift. Don’t spend it.”

“I won’t,” Matty replied, though he was not certain what the words meant.

“Matty?”

“Yes?” He was at the top of the stairs now, holding Frolic, who still couldn’t manage the staircase on his own.

“She’s quite lovely, isn’t she?”

Matty shrugged. He understood that Leader was referring to Kira but the blind man’s daughter was older than he. She had been like a big sister to him. No one in the old place had thought her lovely. They had been contemptuous of her weakness.

“She has a crooked leg,” Matty reminded Leader. “She leans on a stick to walk.”

“Yes,” Leader said. “She’s very lovely.” But his voice was hard to hear now, and in a second he was asleep. Matty, holding Frolic, hurried down the stairs.

It was late in the day by the time Matty was ready to go. It had rained heavily, and though the rain had stopped, wind still blew, and the leaves of the trees fluttered and revealed their pale undersides. The sky was dark, from the storm and from the approach of evening.

He placed the packet of messages inside his rolled blanket. By the sink, the blind man was putting food into Matty’s backpack. He could not carry enough for the entire journey; it was too long. But Matty was accustomed to living on the food that Forest provided. He would feed himself along the way when what Seer packed was gone.

“While you’re away, I’ll be fixing the spare room for her. Tell her that, Matty. She’ll have a comfortable place to live. And she can have a garden. I know that’s important to her. She’s never been without a garden.” “I won’t need to convince her. She’s always said she’d come when the time was right. Now it is. Leader could tell. So she’ll know, too. You said she has a gift.” Matty, folding a sweater, tried to reassure the blind man.

“It’s hard to leave the only place you’ve known.”

“You did it,” Matty reminded him.

“I had no choice. I was brought here when they found me in Forest with my eyes gone.”

“Well, I did it. Many have.”

“Yes. That’s true. But I hope it won’t be hard for her.”

Matty glanced over. “Don’t put those beets in. I hate beets.”

“They’re good for you.”

“Not if they’re thrown on the ground. And that’s what they’ll be if you put them in.”

The blind man chuckled and dropped the beets into the sink. “Well,” he said, “they’re heavy anyway. They’d weigh you down. But I’m putting carrots in.” “Anything but beets.”

There was a knock on the door, and it was Jean, her hair curlier than usual from the dampness that remained after the rain. “Are you still going, Matty, in this weather?” Matty laughed at her concern. “I’ve gone through Forest in snow,” he boasted. “This weather is nothing. Yes, I’m about to leave. I’m just packing food.” “I’ve brought you some bread,” she said, and took the wrapped loaf from the basket she carried. He noticed that she had decorated it with a leafy sprig and a yellow chrysanthemum blossom.

Matty took the loaf and thanked her, though secretly he wondered how he would ever fit it in. Finally the blind man found a way to tuck it inside the rolled blanket.

“I want to stop on my way out of Village and see Ramon,” Matty said. “I’d better hurry or I’ll never get started.”

“Oh, Matty,” Jean said. “You don’t know? Ramon’s very sick. His sister, too. They’ve put a sign on the door to their house. No one can enter.” Troubling though the news was, Matty was not surprised. Ramon had been coughing, feverish-looking, and increasingly unwell for days now. “What does Herbalist say?” “That’s why they put the sign up. Herbalist is afraid it may be contagious. That an epidemic could come.”

What was happening to Village? Matty felt a terrible unease. There had never been an epidemic here. He remembered the place he had come from, where many had died, from time to time, and all of their belongings had been burned, after, in hopes of destroying the illnesses carried by filth or fleas or, some thought, sorcery. But it had never happened here. People had always been so careful here, so clean.

He could see that the blind man’s face had taken on a worried look, too, at the news.

For a moment, Matty stood there thinking while Seer arranged his pack on his back and attached the rolled blanket below it. He thought of the frog first, then the puppy, and wondered if his gift could save his friend. He could go to Ramon’s house now, and place his hands upon the feverish body. He knew it would be indescribably hard, would take all of his strength, but he thought there might be a chance.

But what then? If he himself survived such an attempt, he would be desperately weakened, he knew, and would have to recover. He could not possibly make the journey through Forest if he first weakened himself on Ramon’s behalf. Forest was already thickening, he knew, whatever that meant. It would soon become impassable. The blind man’s daughter would be lost to them forever.

And, most important, Leader had told him to save his gift. Don’t spend it, Leader had said.

So Matty decided with regret that he would have to leave Ramon to his illness.

“Look,” Jean said suddenly. “Look at this. It’s different.”

Matty glanced over and saw that she was standing in front of the tapestry Kira had made for her father. Even from where he stood, he could see what Jean meant. The entire forest area, the hundreds of tiny stitches in shades of green, had darkened, and the threads had knotted and twisted in odd ways. The peaceful scene had changed into something no longer beautiful. It had an ominous feel to it, a feel of impenetrability.

He went near to it and stared at it, puzzled and alarmed.

“What is it, Matty?” Jean asked.

“Nothing. It’s all right.” He indicated with his eyes that she should not speak aloud of the odd change in the tapestry. Matty did not want Seer to know.

It was time to go.

He wriggled his shoulders to adjust the pack comfortably on his back, and leaned forward to hug the blind man, who murmured to him, “Be safe.”

To his surprise, Jean kissed him. So often in the past, teasing, she had said she would, one day. Now she did, and it was a quick and fragrant touch to his lips that gave him courage and, even before he started out, made him yearn to come back home.

Twelve

Frolic was afraid of the dark. Matty had never noticed it before, because always they had been indoors, with the oil lamp glowing, at night. He laughed a little to hear the puppy whimper in fear when night fell and Forest turned black. He picked him up and murmured words of reassurance but could feel the dog’s body tremble, still, in his arms.

Well, thought Matty, it was time to sleep, anyway. He was quite near the clearing where the frog had been and perhaps still was. Carefully he made his way across the soft moss, holding Frolic against his chest and feeling the way with his feet. Then he knelt in the gnarled root bed of a tall tree and removed his pack. He unrolled the blanket, fed Frolic a few pieces torn from the loaf of bread, nibbled at it himself, and then curled up with his puppy and drifted off.

Churrump.

Churrump.

Frolic raised his head. His nose twitched and he flicked his ears curiously at the sound. But then he buried his head again under the curve of Matty’s arm. Soon he too slept.

The days of the journey passed, and after the fourth night, the food was gone. But Matty was strong and unafraid, and to his surprise, little Frolic did not need to be carried. The puppy followed him and sat watching patiently as he posted the messages along divergent paths. Doing so lengthened the journey considerably. If he had gone straight through, he would be approaching Kira’s village, his own home in the past, quite soon. But he reminded himself that being a messenger was his most important task, and so he took the side paths, walked great distances, and left the message of Village’s closure at each place where new ones coming could be advised to turn back.

The scarred woman and her group had come from the east, he knew. There was a look that identified the easterners. He could see, on the path to the east, remaining bits of evidence that they had come through not long before: crushed underbrush where they had huddled to sleep, chunks of charcoal where a fire had been, a pink ribbon that had fallen, Matty thought, from a child’s hair. He picked it up and put it in his backpack.

He wondered if the woman had left her son behind and returned alone to her other children by now. There was no sign of her.

The weather remained clear and he was grateful for that, because although he had bragged about past journeys through snow, in truth it was very hard to fight the elements, and almost impossible to find food in bad weather. Now there were early-fall berries and many nuts; he laughed at the chattering squirrels who were storing their own provisions, and with little guilt robbed a nest he found that was half filled with winter fare.

He knew places to fish, and the best way to catch them. Frolic turned up his nose at fish, even after Matty had grilled one on his small fire.

“Go hungry, then,” Matty told him, laughing, and finished the browned, glistening fish himself. Then, as he watched, Frolic cocked his ears, listening, and dashed off. Matty heard a squawk, then a flurry of wings and rustling leaves and growls. After a bit, Frolic returned, looking satisfied, and with a bit of feather stuck to his whiskers.

“So? I had fish, you had bird.” It amused Matty to talk to Frolic as if he were human. Since his other puppy had died, he had always traveled the paths alone. Now it was a treat to have company, and sometimes he felt that Frolic understood every word he said.

Although it was a subtle change, he understood what Leader had meant when he said that Forest was thickening. Matty knew Forest so well that he could anticipate changes that came with the seasons. Ordinarily, at summer’s end, as now, some leaves would be falling, and by the time snow came, later, many trees would be bare. In the heart of winter, he needed to find water at the places where streams rushed quickly and didn’t freeze; many of the quiet pools he knew well would be coated with ice. In spring there would be irritating insects to brush from his face, but there would be fresh, sweet berries then, too.

Always, though, it was familiar.

But on this journey, something was different. For the first time, Matty felt hostility from Forest. The fish were slow to come to his hook. A chipmunk, usually an amiable companion, chittered angrily and bit his finger when he held his hand toward it. Many red berries, of a kind he had always eaten, had black spots on them and tasted bitter; and for the first time he noticed poison ivy growing across the path again and again, where it had never grown before.

It was darker, too. The trees seemed to have moved at their tops, leaning toward each other to create a roof across the path; they would protect him from rain, he realized, and perhaps that was a good thing. But they didn’t seem benevolent. They created darkness in the middle of day, and shadows that distorted the path and made him stumble from time to time on roots and rocks.

And it smelled bad. There was a stench to Forest now, as if it concealed dead, decaying things in the new thick darkness.

Camping in a clearing that he knew well from previous journeys, Matty sat on a log that he had often used as a seat while he cooked his meal. Suddenly it crumbled under him, and he had to pick himself up and brush rotting bark and slimy, foul-smelling material from his clothing. The piece of log that had been there so long, sturdy and useful, had simply fallen into chunks of dead vegetative matter; never again would it provide Matty a place to rest. He kicked it away and watched countless dislodged beetles scurry to new hiding places.

He began to have trouble sleeping. Nightmares tormented him. His head ached suddenly, and his throat was sore.

But he was not far, now, from his destination. So he trudged on. To divert himself from the discomfort that Forest had become, he thought about himself as a little boy. He remembered his earliest days when he had called himself the Fiercest of the Fierce, and his friendship then with the girl named Kira who was the blind man’s daughter.

Thirteen

Such a swaggering, brash little boy he had been! With no father, and only an impoverished, embittered mother to try to make a life for children she had not wanted and did not love, Matty had turned to a life of small crimes and spirited mischief. Most of his time had been spent with a ragtag band of dirty-faced boys who carried out whatever schemes they could to survive. The harshness of his homeplace led him to thievery and deceit; had he been grown, he would have been imprisoned or worse.

But there had always been a gentle side to Matty, even when he had disguised it. He had loved his dog, a mongrel he had found injured and had nursed back to health. And he had come, eventually, to love the crippled girl called Kira, who had never known her father, and whose mother had died suddenly and left her alone.

“Mascot,” Kira had called him, laughing. “Sidekick.” She had made him wash, taught him manners, and told him stories.

“I be the Fiercest of the Fierce!” he had bragged to her once.

“You are the dirtiest of the dirty faces,” she had said, laughing, in reply, and given him the first bath he ever had. He had struggled and protested, but in truth had loved the feel of warm water. He had never learned to love soap, though Kira gave him some for his own. But he felt the years of grime slip from him and knew that he could turn into someone cleaner, better.

Roaming as he always had, Matty had learned the intricate paths of Forest. One day he had found his way to Village for the first time, and had met the blind man there.

“She lives?” the blind man had asked him, unbelieving. “My daughter is alive?”

It was very dangerous for the blind man to return. Those who had tried to kill him, who had left him for dead years before, thought they had succeeded. They would have slain him instantly had he found his way back. But Matty, a master of stealth, had brought him secretly, at night, to meet his daughter for the first time. He watched from a corner of the room as Kira recognized the broken stone that Seer wore as an amulet, and matched it to her own, fitting it to the fragment given to her by her dying mother. Matty saw the blind man touch his daughter’s face, to learn her, and he watched in silence as they mourned Kira’s mother together, their hearts connected by the loss.

Then, when darkness came the next night, he had led the blind man back again. But Kira would not come. Not then.

“Someday,” she had told Matty and her father when they begged her to return with them to Village. “I’ll come someday. There’s time still. And I have things to do here first.” “I suppose there’s a young man,” the blind man had said to Matty as they traveled back without her. “She’s the age for it.”

“Nah,” Matty had said scornfully. “Not Kira. She has better stuff on her mind.

“Anyways,” he had added, referring to her twisted leg, “she has that horrid gimp. No one can marry iffen they got a gimp. She’s lucky they didn’t feed her to the beasts. They wanted to. They only kept her ’cause she could do things they needed.” “What things?”

“She grows flowers, and—”

“Her mother did, too.”

“Yes, her mum taught her, and to make the colors from them.”

“Dyes?”

“Yes, she dyes the threads and then she makes pictures from them. No one else can do it. She has like a magic touch, they say. And they want her for that.” “She would be honored in Village. Not only for her talent but for her twisted leg.”

“Turn here.” Matty took the blind man’s arm and guided him to the right side of a turning in the path. “Watch the roots there.” He noticed that a root lifted itself and stabbed slightly at the man’s sandaled foot. It made him very nervous, guiding on this return trip, because he could feel, being familiar with it, that Forest was giving small Warnings to the blind man. He would not be allowed to come through again.

“She’ll come when she’s ready,” he reassured Kira’s father. “And till then, I’ll go back and forth between.”

But it had been two years since he had last seen Kira.

Matty emerged from Forest with a stumble, blinking at the sudden sunshine, for he had been in the dim thickness of trees for many days now and felt that he had almost forgotten light.

He fell on the path and sat there panting, slightly dizzy, with Frolic pawing worriedly at his leg. In the past he had always—what would the word be? strolled—from Forest, sometimes whistling. But this was different. He felt that he had been expelled. Chewed up and spat out. When he looked back toward the trees, in the direction he had come, it seemed inhospitable, unwelcoming, locked down.

He knew he would have to reenter Forest and return by those same dark paths that now seemed so ominous. He would have to lead Kira through, to the safety of her future with her father. And he knew suddenly that it would be his last journey in that place.

There was not much time left, and he would not be able to linger here, to look up his boyhood pals, to reminisce with them about their pranks, or to brag a little about his status now. He usually did that when he came. He would not even have time to say good-bye to the stranger his brother had become.

Village would close in three weeks from the time of the proclamation. Matty had calculated very carefully. He had counted the days of his journey, adding in the extra days it took for his side trips to tack the messages in place. Now he had just enough time to rest, which he badly needed to do, collect food for the return journey, and persuade Kira to come with him. If they moved steadily and without interruption through Forest (though he knew it would be slower with the girl, who had to lean on her stick) they would arrive in time.

Matty blinked, took a deep breath, got to his feet, and hurried on to the small cottage around the next turning, the place where Kira lived.

The gardens were larger than he remembered; since his last visit almost two years before, she had expanded them, he saw. Thick clumps of yellow and deep pink flowers fringed the edge of the small dwelling with its hand-hewn beams and thatched roof. Matty had never paid attention to the names of flowers—boys generally disdained such things—but now he wished he knew them, so that he could tell Jean.

Frolic went to the base of a wooden post that was entwined with a purple-blossomed vine, and lifted his leg to proclaim his presence and authority here.

The door to the cottage opened and Kira appeared there. She was wearing a blue dress and her long dark hair was tied back with a matching ribbon.

“Matty!” she cried in delight.

He grinned at her.

“And you’ve got yourself a new pup! I hoped you would. You were so sad, I remember, after Branchie died.”

“His name is Frolic, and I’m afraid he’s watering your . . .”

“Clematis. It’s all right,” she said, laughing. She reached for Matty and embraced him. Ordinarily uncomfortable with hugs, he would have stiffened his shoulders and drawn back; but now, from exhaustion and affection, he held Kira and to his own amazement felt his eyes fill with tears. He blinked them back.

“All right, stand back now and let me see you,” she said. “Are you taller yet than I am?”

He stood back grinning and saw that they were eye to eye.

“Soon you will be. And your voice is almost a man’s.”

“I can read Shakespeare,” he told her, swaggering.

“Hah! So can I!” she said, and he knew then for certain how changed this village was, for in the earlier days, girls had not been allowed to learn.

“Oh, Matty, I remember when you were such a tiny thing, and so wild!”

“The Fiercest of the Fierce!” he reminded her, and she smiled fondly at him.

“You must be very tired. And hungry! You’ve just made such a long journey. Come inside. I have soup on the fire. And I want news of my father.” He followed her into the familiar cottage and waited while she reached for her walking stick that leaned against a wall and arranged it under her right arm. Dragging the useless leg, she took a thick earthen bowl from a shelf and went to the fire where a large pot simmered and smelled of herbs and vegetables.

Matty looked around. No wonder she had not wanted to leave this place. From the sturdy ceiling beams dangled the countless dried herbs and plants from which she made her dyes. Shelves on the wall were bright with rolls of yarn and thread arranged by color, white and palest yellow at one end, gradually deepening into blues and purples and then browns and grays at the other. On a threaded loom in the corner between two windows, a half-finished weaving pictured an intricate landscape of mountains, and he could see that she was now working on the sky and had woven in some feathery clouds of pink-tinged white.

She set the bowl of steaming soup on the table in front of Matty and then went to the sink to pump water into a bowl for Frolic.

“Now. Tell me of Father,” she asked. “He’s well?”

“He’s fine. He sends you his love.”

He watched as Kira leaned her stick against the sink and knelt with difficulty to place the bowl on the floor. Then she called to Frolic, who was industriously chewing a broom in the corner.

When the puppy had come to her and turned his attention to the bowl of water, Kira rose again, sliced a thick piece from a loaf of bread, wedged her stick under her shoulder again, and brought the bread to the table. Matty watched the way she walked, the way she had always walked. Her right foot twisted inward, pulling the entire leg with it. The leg had not grown as the other had. It was shorter, turned, and useless.

He thanked her and dipped one end of the slice into his soup.

“He’s a sweet puppy, Matty.” He half listened as she chattered cheerfully about the dog. His thoughts had turned to Frolic’s birth and how close to death the pup and his mother had been.

He glanced down at her twisted leg. How much more easily she would be able to walk—how much more steadily and quickly she would be able to travel—if the leg were straight, if the foot could be planted firmly on the ground.

He remembered the afternoon after the puppy and his mother had been saved. Today he was tired, very tired, from the long journey through Forest. But on that day, he had felt near death.

He tried to recall how long it had taken him to recover. He had slept, he knew. Yes. He remembered that he had slept for the afternoon, glad that the blind man had not been at home to ask why. But he had arisen before dinner—weary, still, but able to hide it, to eat and talk as if nothing had happened.

So his recovery had taken only a few hours, really. Still, it had been a puppy. Well, a puppy and its mother. Two dogs. He had fixed—cured? saved?—two dogs in late morning, and recovered from it by the end of the day.

“Matty? You’re not listening! You’re half asleep!” Kira’s laughter was warm and sympathetic.

“I’m sorry.” He put the last bit of bread into his mouth and looked apologetically at her.

“You’re both tired. Look at Frolic.”

He glanced over and saw the puppy sound asleep, curled into a mound of undyed yarn heaped near the door, as if the soft pile were a mother to doze against.

“I have work to do in the garden, Matty. The coreopsis needs staking and I’ve not had a chance to get to it. You lie down and get some rest, now, while I’m outside. Later we can talk. And you can go into the village and find your friends, for a visit.” He nodded and went to the couch to lie down on top of the knitted blanket that she had thrown across it. In his mind, he was counting the days they had left. He would explain to her that there was no time to visit with old pals.

He watched, his eyes heavy with exhaustion, as she took his bowl to the sink, placed it there, and then, leaning on her stick, gathered some stakes from a shelf, and a ball of twine. With her garden tools she turned to go outdoors. The twisted foot dragged in its familiar way. He had known everything about Kira for so long: her smile, her voice, her merry optimism, the amazing strength and skill of her hands, and the burden of her useless leg.

I must tell you this, Matty thought before he slept. I can fix you.

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