Thursday, August 12, 2010

Servant of the King Chapter 25

Chapter 25
            Lakhoni was waiting for her when she came in the morning. After she had left the night previous, he had sat with his back against the pelt for a long time. Not long before falling asleep, an idea had come to him.
            So he had woken early, excited to see his plan through. While waiting for Simra, he had been tempted to push himself to his feet and go find her, but he wanted to maintain the surprise.
            She walked in the door, a bigger dish in her hand this time, her face in shadow due to the strong light behind her. It was only a few steps from the door to his sleeping mat. As she knelt, she looked at his face. She noticed the wall next to him.
            "Lakhoni," she read.
            Eyes widening in surprise, then stretching in delight, she turned to him. "Your name is Lakhoni?"
            He nodded, a fierce, too-strong joy filling him at seeing her reaction.
            She smiled at him for a moment and shook her head. "I can't believe I didn't think of that."
            Lakhoni grinned and held up the piece of charcoal that he had used.
            Simra closed her hand around his hand that held the charcoal. "Your name is Lakhoni."
            Brown eyes held his for a long, heart-pounding moment.
            "Lucky I can read," she said. She cocked her head to the side, a musing expression on her face. "Lucky you can write." She gently released his hand, sitting back on her legs.
            He made a show of looking around, waving his hand in the air.
            "You need something you can write on."
            Lakhoni nodded.
            She rose to her feet and ambled around the hut. "Maybe a flat stone, or even a tough piece of leather. It will have to be a light color." She paused and addressed him. "You'll have to tell me how you learned to write. Father taught me because he is the healer and he expects me to help him, but who are you that you've been taught?" Turning back to her search, she continued her monologue.
            Lakhoni set his charcoal down and reached for the deep plate she had brought in, the smells of eggs and fried vegetables too much for him to resist. Real food, he thought, mouth watering.
            "I hope you can write fast, Lakhoni. I have lots of questions for you. Lakhoni, that sounds like a name from the west—one of those warrior names. Is that where you're from?"
            He looked up, his mouth full. He had decided the story he would tell her would be as close to the truth as possible. He nodded.
            "Hey! You're supposed to wait for me to help you." She made to move toward him.
            He shook his head and used large movements to show her he was well enough to feed himself.
            A strange expression flitted across Simra's face. She looked sad for a second there. Isn't she glad I'm getting better?
            As he gobbled the food, he watched Simra wander around the hut. Eventually she stepped out the door. He guessed she was still looking for something for him to write upon. He scraped the last of the eggs and vegetables off the clay plate, setting down the pronged stick Simra had brought with the food and using his fingers to clean the plate off.
            A thought occurred to him. He looked closer at the plate. He turned it upside down.
            He was writing as small as he could with his awkward-shaped piece of charcoal when Simra came back in, holding another, far cleaner plate.
            "Lakhoni, I think this plate will be perfect." The last word was suddenly quiet. "Oh." She walked quickly over to him. "But I am sure I thought of it first."
            He flashed a smile at her, shook his head and pointed at his chest, and went back to his writing. The charcoal smudged easily if he wasn't careful, but it showed up very well on the pale brown plate. He heard Simra settle to a seated position next to him. I wonder if she would visit me if her father hadn't made her take care of me. The thought seemed to come from nowhere. He pushed it away.
            A moment later, he held the plate out to Simra. Before she took it, he pointed at the other side of it, reminding her it was dirty.
            "Yes, I know it had your breakfast on it." Simra took the plate. "And no, I'd rather not touch it, thanks."
            He rolled his eyes dramatically and pointed at the plate she held.
            "Fine, relax." She made a show of peering at the plate, cocking her head to one side and forcing a confused expression. "Wait, are you sure you know how to write?"
            He wished he could shout at her to get on with it, noted the irony of his wish, and flicked her arm gently with one finger. The crafty smile she offered him from under heavy-lidded eyes set his heart pounding.
            "Okay." She cleared her throat and began to read aloud. "I'm from a village far to the west. Everyone was killed in a raid." She gasped softly and looked up at Lakhoni. "Really? I'm so sorry."
            He nodded, hoping he hid well the sudden pain he felt in his throat.
            After a moment of seeming to search his face, she turned back to the note he had scrawled. While she read, he grabbed the clean plate she had brought back with her and began to write.
            "I was hurt bad," she continued aloud. "They thought I was dead. I think my sister might be alive too. I think they took her."
            He glanced up quickly as she finished what he had written and held up a hand for a moment. In another minute he was done with the second note.
            They traded plates and she continued reading as he scrubbed the first note off and began writing again.. "I tried to follow them, but I am not sure where they went. Someone told me they might be in Lemalihah. I came here to find my sister."
            In his haste to keep up with Simra, his writing had become larger, giving her less to read on each plate. They traded again.
            "I thought someone was trying to capture me, so I traveled in winter to get away from them. I can't say who they were, or if they followed."
            Another trade.
            "I ran out of food. I tried to kill a deer and broke my string. I ate part of my cloak." At this, Simra burst into laughter. Lakhoni laughed too, although the noises he made sounded like a dying dog to his ears. "I ate winter moss too."
            She took the next plate. "I kept going because if I stopped, I thought I would die. I want to find my sister. I found your village."
            When Simra finished reading the last note, she straightened and gave Lakhoni a stern glare. "That was somewhat abbreviated, wasn't it? Are you sure you can't give any more details?"
            Lakhoni raised his eyebrows and hands in question. Like what? he thought. He was proud of the story. There were no outright lies.
            "Like why your sister would be in Lemalihah and who took her and killed everyone in your village. Or maybe about who you thought was trying to follow you. Or maybe about how you survived on pieces of cloak and winter moss while you traveled through the heart of winter?"
            Lakhoni picked up a plate, using his hand to clean off the previous note. She read while he wrote. "I think the king's warriors did it."
She sat back quickly. "Why would you think that?" she asked.
            He wrote more. "Somebody had seen them do something like that before."
            "And you think they kidnapped your sister and now you think you can go find her? And what? Do you plan on getting revenge?"
            He held up one finger and nodded. Then two fingers and he shook his head.
            "Yes to the first question and no to the second one?"
            He nodded and wrote one more line. "I just want to find my sister. She's my only family."
            Simra regarded him for a long, quiet minute.
            Lakhoni hoped she would be satisfied with his story. He didn't want to try to explain the Separated or the murder of the young boy. Every time he tried to understand those people, he ended up just becoming confused. And her question about revenge touched too close to home regarding the justice he still felt he needed to find or administer for the deaths of his family and village.
He tried to think of something more to write that would end the somewhat awkward moment. As he searched Simra's face for a clue to her thoughts, he had the impression that she was trying to decide if she would believe his story.
She nodded.
Tension he had been holding in his shoulders left him. He leaned forward to try to push himself to his feet. He had been sitting and lying down long enough.
"I know there's more you aren't telling me."
He glanced at her face, her brown eyes, but looked away quickly. Pushing himself to his knees, he met her gaze again. He nodded. I can't. For lots of reasons.
"Maybe you'll decide you can trust me," Simra said. She put out a hand to stead Lakhoni as he eased himself to his knees. "Until then, I suppose that story will have to do." She rose with him, clearly ready to either catch him or slow his fall if he couldn't keep his feet.
The room didn't spin, although his legs felt shaky and boneless. He found his breath coming fast and could feel his heart beat in his ears.
"Take it slow," Simra said. "Give it time."
He stepped off the sleeping mat. He felt shaky like an old man, every muscle in his legs and torso protesting. He extended a hand toward a hut wall, but Simra was there. She stepped under his arm and wrapped her left arm around his back.
"I'll help," she said.
He pushed a small smile of thanks onto his face, taking another step. He felt like he had been running for miles!
He stopped and tried to slow his breathing. And this is just walking!
"Just make it outside. You can sit in the sun for a time," Simra said.
Her hand and arm were warm and strong. This was a new experience for Lakhoni. He wished he felt more like himself so that he could savor the experience of her touch on his back. As it was, it was all he could do to stay upright.
After a minute of standing still and taking long breaths, his heartbeat had slowed considerably. He pushed forward, taking one step, then another. Maybe two more paces to the door.
On his next step, his foot bumped against a slight unevenness in the dirt floor of the hut and in a moment of panic he knew he didn't have the strength to keep from falling. He clenched his jaw and stepped back leaning heavily on Simra. Her arm tightened and she grabbed his hand that draped over her shoulder with her right hand.
Her voice was soft in the hut that had been his home for over two weeks.
            "It's okay. I won't let you fall. We'll do this together." 

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