Thursday, March 25, 2010

Decker #15

It was night when Decker awakened. His mouth was a pot of metal-flavored library paste. He was face-down on the stone sea-walk. When he moved his head, his entire body cried out in agony. He let his head roll back to its resting place and attempted to gather the strength and fortitude necessary to roll onto his side.
It seemed an eternity before he was on his feet, leaning against the the stone rail of the quay. In the light of a half moon, he saw Degren staggering toward him with one of the water jugs from the boat. Ah, good Degren, wise Degren, he thought! Water....
They shared the jug, back and forth, until Decker felt it sloshing nauseously inside him. He could see the aching, searing, stabbing pains he felt mirrored on Degren's face. Cautiously, tenderly, he reached out to hold his friend. "Damn, man," he crackled, "I've gotten you in a shitload of trouble, haven't I?"
Degren carefully put his arms around Decker. Wrapped in this comforting embrace, they stood silently for long moments.
Degren finally broke the silence. "You mustn't blame yourself, Decker."
"I have to blame myself for what I'm feeling now," Decker nearly sobbed, ""Your friend, your, er, mate, is off who knows where, probably lonely and confused, and missing you, Degren! And here I am, starting to think it wouldn't be so bad to just stay here, it would be so much easier to just give up and accept...who I am now. It's not right!"
Degren sighed. "I must tell you, Decker, that I have had similar thoughts. It is not easy to seek to strive after something that seems to be right next to you. Often of late I have wondered what would be wrong with...why we just can't....but you are not Furge."
Decker stiffened, slowly released his hold. "Yeah, you're right. So we have to keep trying. But we can't go diving while we have these goddam bleeding wounds. Who knows what might come swimming up? And I'm nowhere near strong enough right now, anyway. What the hell are we going to do, Degren?"
They stood side by side, looking down at Cletus, until the sun rose. Their exhausted, despondent reverie was broken by the sound of hooves on stone. The satyrs had obviously gone to acquire tools to repair their carriage, and now they had it in working order. They pulled up alongside the two men, and a look of concern crossed their faces. The lead satyr on their side, who Decker somehow recognized as Tharlo, seemed to commune silently with the group, then said, "We will take you to a safe place where you can heal."
"Um, what about our friend?" Decker pointed to the tattered, bloody remains. "We need to bury him."
"You are in no condition to do that. We will take care of him. You will be consulted on the means of his disposal." Three of the centaurs dropped their traces and retrieved a large sheet of canvas from the cargo area of the carriage, and set to wrapping the body.
"B-but how will we pay you?" Decker asked. "What money we had was scattered to the winds during the storm!"
One of the satyrs picked up a pouch that lay next to where Cletus had fallen, shaking it; it was his pouch of coins that Lady Gudren had given him. Tharlo angled his head to point a horn at the pouch. "By the sound of it, you have plenty of money. However, due to the circumstances of your present condition, and the responsibility we must take for failing to bring you safely to your destination, our code requires us to assist you until you are able to continue as though our failure never happened. Your wounds from the Kazenrey," he pointed to the fallen carrion birds, "you will have to compensate the doctors to dress."
"What will we do about the boat?" Decker pointed to the vessel they'd been using.
"Does it belong to you?" The satyr raised an eyebrow.
"Um, no...."
"We will secure it at the quay. Perhaps its owner will find it there."
Decker nodded reluctantly, then followed Degren into the carriage. Decker was handed Cletus' money pouch. They were secured inside, given extra pillows and blankets to cushion them against the rough roads, and left to rest. Decker felt the carriage begin moving, wondered at the good fortune of the satyrs' return, and slowly lapsed into an aching, troubled sleep.
The sun was almost directly overhead when they pulled up to a store front on the lone, narrow cobbled street of a town at the foot of a single, large mountain. There was a white mortar and pestle painted on the door; the universal symbol of the apothecary trade, it seemed. They were led inside, where two middle-aged women in knee-length white togas sat behind a dark wood counter. All around the little shop, in every narrow aisle, in baskets hanging from ceiling hooks and neatly arrayed on shelves, were paper packets, ceramic and glass jars, books, scrolls, artifacts of bone, glass, and many other materials, carved images, and assorted other oddments
Upon seeing them, the two women sprang immediately and silently into action, one gathering medicaments while the other led Decker and Degren to a back room that held four neatly made single beds. Once both men were properly arranged on the beds, the two women looked them over, removing the makeshift bandages, eliciting grunts and groans by their prodding, nodding to each other and sending hand signals back and forth. Decker cast a questioning eye at Tharlo, who had accompanied them into the little clinic.
"Falgra and Fiona are deaf and mute," he answered the implicit question. "They have been so since birth. In dedicating their lives to finding a cure for their condition, they learned a great deal of the physician's and the apothecary's arts. Sadly for them and fortunately for you, they have as yet not discovered that which they most fervently seek."
"Oh." Decker wondered how they could know their patients' complaints. "Um, what will you do now?"
"We will go back to our duties. Our commitment to you is nearly complete. I will return each week until you have recovered sufficiently to travel, and then we will take you to whatever destination you ask, within reason. Then you will most likely see us no more."
He bid the satyr goodbye and thanks.
The ministrations of the women were painful but soothing. When they saw the pain in each man's eyes, their hands went into a flurry of symbols, then they each nodded. Fiona ducked out of the room, returning swiftly with a small vial and two glasses of water. Into each glass she dripped seven drops from the vial, then handed one glass to each man. Both drank thirstily, noting a pleasant herbal savor. When the water was gone, Decker found the herbal taste growing in hos mouth, becoming aromatic, wafting into his sinuses and his brain. The pain was receding from his body and a warm sense of peace and well-being flooded through him. He felt no need to maintain watchfulness, no sense of threat seemed present. He lay back on the bed and let the soft, pastel-color drift of an herb garden flow across all his senses, let it paint muted rainbows and beautiful blurry birds on the insides of his eyelids. Dreamy, content, he laid back and settled in to watch the show.
He awakened to the dull ache and itching of his wounds. One of the women sat in a chair at the center of the room, glancing back and forth at Degren and himself. When she saw his eyes open, she was quick to offer another glass of water, which Decker eyed suspiciously. Her face lit up in a mirthful grin, and a sound somewhat resembling laughter fell from her lips. She shook her head, showing him the vial that contained the pleasant medicine he'd taken before, then setting it aside. She offered him the glass again.
"It's just water this time," Degren's voice issued from behind her. He was propped against a pile of pillows. "It might have a little lemon in it, but that's all. I had a glass not long ago."
"Well, I am parched," Decker said, taking the glass and draining it. He handed it back to the woman and asked, "So now how do we tell which one of them is Fiona and which is Falgra?"
She studied his lips as he spoke, then pointed to her chest and uttered, "Thee-orh-nhah." She seemed embarrasses by the clumsiness of her speech, almost immediately rising and backing toward the door. Unsure why he did so, Decker said, "I'm sorry."
The next few weeks went by like a soft May breeze, punctuated only by Cletus' passing ceremony, a simple rite offering his body to the sky and setting it ablaze on a wooden bier. As the days passed, they spent less time in the clinic and more wandering the gentle foothills around the town, which greatly resembled the terrain he'd seen in travel brochures for Italy, but without the artifacts of man. Falgra and Fiona spent most of their time now attending other patients and minding the store, though they seemed to have grown attached to the two gray-furred men. After the second week they offered them their homemade wine each evening, sharing it with them and trying to show them some of the elementary aspects of their sign language. Degren picked it up fairly rapidly, but Decker could only grasp the simplest of action words.
At the end of three weeks, Tharlo returned for the third time. "I see that you have recovered greatly. Are you ready to go?"
In fact, the two men had begun planning for their departure almost a week before. Afternoons together, out on the pastel hillsides amongst clusters of olive trees, they had hesitantly found some solace in each others arms. They both realized that the time to decide was upon them; continue their quest for Furge or make their lives anew. Decker knew he had fallen for Degren; knew he could spend the rest of his life with him. Degren accepted this as well, though there was a deep sadness in his eyes when he spoke of it.
Decker had made the final decision. "I think we should take this out to its bitter end," he said one evening as they lay together watching the sun set. "It wouldn't be fair to Furge if we stopped before all possibilities had been explored."
Degren's face vacillated between reluctance and relief at Decker's statement. "I agree."
So they told Tharlo they'd be ready to go back to the deserted hotel the following morning. Falgra and Fiona seemed disappointed that they would leave so soon, but accepted half the contents of Cletus' money pouch in payment for their services. They brought out several bottles of their wine that evening; much dustier than the ones they'd previously shared. Fiona held the bottles to her chest as though they were babies, but poured generously and jovially once they were opened. There was much laughter and hand signing that evening, in fact, when the sun peeked up over the mountains and the carriage stood awaiting them, the four were just finishing another bottle of Fiona's and Falgra's excellent wine.

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