Monday, April 11, 2016

The Runaway - Part Three

Hey again, digressors. How are things going for everyone? Things have been interesting for me. A combination of physical and mental health issues have made getting things done complicated, but at last I appear to be on a bit of an upswing, so I am again getting a few things done. And among those things I'm doing is writing! I'm doing Camp NaNoWriMo, as I do twice a year, every year, regardless of whether I have much chance of winning. It gives a distractible person such as me a bit more motivation to be organized and set achievable goals. 

Speaking of distractibility, you probably didn't click on this post to hear me talk about my schedule, did you? Well, if you did, I apologize, because at the moment I don't have much of a schedule to speak of -- just a list of things I need to catch up on doing. So as I run off to do some of that catching up, I shall give you something that is long overdue... 

The Runaway
Part Three

The rest of the day passed in a blur of classes and practice sessions with some of the more established recruits, and the next morning Jorthen awoke to more of the same. Except by morning, there were also whispers everywhere, and if he listened hard enough, he heard words like “Shamindo”, “spy”, and “horse thief”. 
“I heard,” said a wide-eyed, raven-haired girl who had arrived with last month’s batch of new recruits, “that he set fire to a family’s house so that he could have their horse. That way there were no witnesses, and so he would have gotten away with it if Lieutenant Lavahr hadn't caught him.” 
Caught him, indeed. Jorthen quickened his step to get past the clump of teenagers before they could spot him. Besides the sensitivity of the issue, the fond tone the girl adopted when she said his name unnerved him even more. 
When he arrived at Geram’s quarters — just off of the medical room — he took an extra moment to listen at the door before knocking on it. He heard no yelling or objects smashing, only a less than intelligible grumbling, so he gave himself permission to enter. 
The door creaked as he opened it, and across the room, Geram spoke but didn't turn. “About time you got here.” 
“I’m sorry, I was delayed.” Jorthen walked forward until he could see past Geram and smiled politely to avoid grimacing. “Good morning, San.” 
The boy sat quietly as Geram worked on him, but his eyes flitted just as nervously as ever between Geram and Jorthen. He was upright this time, and his hands fiddled nervously with each other in his lap. They were burned, but not nearly as badly as his back, which was thankfully turned away from Jorthen. 
In lieu of getting an answer, Jorthen cleared his throat and addressed Geram. “Is he fit to be moved yet?” 
“He’d better be, if your recruits are going to keep crowding the area in an attempt to see him.” Geram cut a length of bandages free and flung the roll back into its respective basket. “I’m a physician, not a showman.” 
“I apologize,” Jorthen said. “If you say he’s well enough, I’ll work on finding him a place to stay.” 
“You mean you’ll be taking him to confinement.” 
Jorthen blinked. “Confinement? Why would I do that?” 
Geram sighed heavily and wrapped the new bandage around San’s freshly salved arm. “The boy’s a criminal, Lavahr. He has to face trial.” He hesitated in his work and said more quietly, “Sorry, lad. That’s the way it works around here.” 
San swallowed hard and looked at his still twitching hands without response. 
Something about the reminder of how the system worked awoke a knotting feeling in Jorthen’s stomach. He glanced at the door. “What if I took him?” 
“We’ve just addressed that.” 
“No, I mean if I took him into my custody.” He turned again to look at Geram. “I could do that, couldn’t I? Take responsibility for him until the council decides what to do with him?” 
Geram studied Jorthen and seemed to mull over his question as he secured the bandage. “Aye, I suppose you could. But it would involve paperwork.” 
“I’m used to paperwork.” 
A raspy voice asked, “Would I live with you?” 
Jorthen had nearly forgotten how much the smoke had affected San’s voice. Or was it always like that? He stepped forward cautiously. “It would be safer. But then, it would also mean you’d have to follow me around a fair amount. I’d be your guardian.” 
“I don’t trust guardians.” 
“…An older brother, then. Temporarily. How does that sound?” 
San flinched and coughed a few times but didn’t manage to articulate a response. 
Jorthen chose not to wait for his approval. “Geram, will you help him get cleaned up and ready to go while I clear the way?” 
Geram nodded. “Just so long as he cooperates with me and you don’t try to rush me into releasing him before I’m through with him.” 
“Fair enough,” Jorthen said. “San, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” 
“Fine,” San managed, then said no more as Jorthen turned and left the room. 
“All right, now you listen well, lad, and know it’s for your own good. For the next week or two, you come back in here once a day so I can check on those burns and make sure everything’s in its place. You can tell Lieutenant Lavahr I said so, and he’ll listen. If you go running off or don’t show up for check-ups, I won’t be able to help you. You understand?” 
San wasn’t sure what part of his silence made him look like an idiot to outsiders, but at least Geram’s lectures weren’t violent. He nodded and bit his cheek hard to distract from the way the motion made his head ache. He didn’t know what kind of air was actually in the room, but it tasted like smoke, and his lungs still burned with every breath. Would the old man be able to fix that in any of these check-ups? 
“You know, we’ll have to do something about this strong, silent act of yours,” Geram said, lightly cuffing one of the few unburned patched on San’s arm. San managed to limit his defensive reflexes to a twitch this time. “I can do my work just fine with your silence, and Lavahr will make do with it, but you won’t fare well at trial if you don’t speak up in your own defense.” 
“Don’t matter,” San croaked. 
“Sure it does. Why wouldn’t it?” 
San looked down at his hands and fiddled with them to avoid looking at Geram. Maybe if he just didn’t speak, the man would give up on talking to him and leave. 
“You know, the council’s feelings for Shamindo illegals are less hard than they used to be. If you can give a good reason for your crime, they might let you off.” 
Geram stepped back and sighed heavily. “And just why’s that?” 
San dragged his gaze up to meet Geram’s. But then the memories he had came flooding back. A pale face turning purple. His hands screaming as they gripped something fleshy and fragile. Claws in his head and the scent of wood burning as beams came crashing down around him. 
His head split again, and he grimaced as he grabbed at it and moaned. 
“Easy there,” Geram said, and patted the pillow that sat on the bed to San’s left. “You lie down yourself — I’m not risking it.” 
San struggled to keep his breathing even as he followed the man’s orders. He pitched to the side and nearly fell off the bed, but Geram caught him and eased him onto his back. So much for not intervening. San wanted to scream, to tell Geram to leave him alone, to weep and to thank the physician for caring all at once, but all that came out was a pathetic whimper. 
“Pathetic little meatbag. Did you really think you could defy me?” 
As soon as the words surfaced in his mind, he panicked, stuffed them back into their box and clamped his eyes shut. It wasn’t real. It was just your imagination. It didn’t happen. 
But what if it did? 
He didn’t know. He just didn’t know anything anymore. 
He could feel Geram’s eyes on him still, could hear the silent question echoing on the air between them. 
“C-can’t tell them,” San wheezed. “’Cause I don’t remember.” 
“Because I said so, that’s why,” Jorthen told the disgruntled crowds as they groaned at him. “San might have broken a few laws, but he’s been through a traumatic experience, and things will work out better for everyone if we can all just give him a little space to recover.” 
“Why are you protecting him?” 
“I’m protecting all of you, not just him. His defensive reflexes are strong, so if you go after him, expect him to fight back.” 
Most of the crowd continued to murmur, but dispersed, except one heckler who called out, “You can’t hide him forever, Lavahr! If he’s a spy, we all have a right to know.” 
“He’s not a spy,” Jorthen said flatly, “and he’ll be in my custody as soon as Geram clears him for release. Now are you going to follow my orders, or do I have to speak to your supervisor about your insubordination?” 
The heckler glared at him, then spun on his heel and strode away, shoving his way through the rest of the crowd. 
Jorthen deflated as soon as the crowd was gone, and without the noise, his head grew a good deal clearer. And with that clarity came the first doubts he’d allowed himself to humor since San had tumbled into his life yesterday evening. Why was he taking responsibility for a criminal? Young or not, injured or otherwise, he’d stolen someone’s horse, and unless the Guard could track them down and obtain their permission to release San, that fact could very well get him executed under Reshan law. That would mean that Jorthen had just agreed to take charge of someone who was one trial short of death row. What sort of damage might that do to his law-abiding reputation? 
But the memory of those haunted green eyes flitting about in terror and the long scars raked across the boy’s back brought back enough determination to send him striding determinedly to the inspector’s office to start the paperwork. 
It took him all of ten minutes to sign the most essential documents and get ahold of the stack which he had left to sort through, and as he walked back through the halls, he checked around every corner to be sure there were no more lurkers about. 
He reached Geram’s door and knocked twice, then entered. The sight of San flat on his back gave him pause. “Do you need more time?” 
San’s eyes opened and Geram moved to help him sit up, but his efforts were denied, and soon the boy sat upright and slid onto his feet beside the bed. He pulled self-consciously at his right sleeve to cover a set of horizontal scars on the inside of his wrist and said nothing to either of the other men. 
Geram approached Jorthen and handed him a satchel containing whatever supplies a physician deemed necessary for a recuperating criminal. “He’ll need this. See to it that he comes to check-ups regularly.” 
“Thank you, sir,” Jorthen said, and slung the satchel over his shoulder. “San, you ready to go?” 
San nodded and shuffled forward, glancing wordlessly at Geram as he passed. 
Jorthen led him out of the room and through the halls, where despite his efforts, a few people still managed to show up and gawk. San made no remark about them, but inched closer to Jorthen until their elbows nearly touched. 
“It’s all right,” Jorthen said. “I won’t let them hurt you.” 
Another nod, followed by more silence. The merest hint that San might have begun to trust him. 
Jorthen only hoped his trust wouldn’t prove to be horribly misplaced. 
They got to Jorthen’s quarters, and Jorthen gestured to the lone bed in the back corner as he set his stack of papers onto his desk. “You can use my bed if you need it. I have a spare bedroll I can lay out when it’s time to sleep.” 
San glanced at the bed, then stared up at the ceiling. 
Jorthen followed his gaze and frowned. “What? Is there a spot I’m not seeing?” 
“There aren’t any cracks.” 
“…Yes, and…?” 
San shrugged and looked at the bed again. “Must be nice.” 
His voice was as scratchy as ever, but something about the different environment seemed to have put San more at ease. Why else would he say more in the first minute here than in the night and day he’d spent in Geram’s quarters? 
Jorthen cleared his throat and nodded. “It is. Anyhow, you should probably be warned that I snore. My first roommate was a light sleeper, so he complained about it.” 
“I scream.” 
“In your sleep?” 
“Halfway.” San made his way to a bedside table and poked at a lantern there so hard that it shifted to the edge of the surface. 
Jorthen lunged, then stopped himself as San righted the lantern on his own. He inhaled deeply. “The cabinet in the far corner should have some spare clothes. You can try on anything you think might fit.” 
San sniffed. “No offense,” he said, “but I don’t think your clothes would even stay on me.” 
More words. Spiteful, perhaps, but they were words, at least. “Some of my old things might. I didn’t join up last week, after all.” 
“I still don’t—” 
“Here,” Jorthen interrupted, then strode to the cabinet and pulled out an old but well-maintained uniform from when he was fifteen or sixteen. This he held out to San. “Try this one. We can worry about boots later.” 
San barely had time to accept the clothes and eye them suspiciously before Jorthen headed for the door. “Where are you going?” 
Jorthen halted and fought a growing itch in his legs. “I have other responsibilities to address. I’ll be back soon.” 
Silence met his words, and San looked back down at the clothes, suspicion fading into blankness. 
“San,” Jorthen said. 
He looked. 
“I will be back. I promise.” 
“…If you say so.” 
“I do say it,” Jorthen affirmed. “So don’t go anywhere. Understood?” 
Another sniff. “Sure.” 
Good enough. Jorthen obeyed his itch and left the room, but locked the door behind him, just in case San should get it into his head to wander. An angry seventeen-year-old would be much easier to face than the possible consequences if the same boy got loose and fell under the scrutiny of those who already resented his presence. All the same, Jorthen hoped the hints of spite that had gleamed through in the room would not prove to become his usual manner. If they did, well… keeping him safe might soon become exponentially more difficult. 

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